Monday, December 15, 2014

Reflections on the ACNA Catechism: The Second Commandment

Lord, incline our hearts to keep this law.

Alice C. Linsley

This continues the five-part series on the catechism presently used by the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). The first three parts are linked under "related reading" at the bottom of this page.

“O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need of further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, that I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, ‘Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up  from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.” --A. W. Tozer, “The Pursuit of God”

The Second Commandment

What is the Second Commandment?

The Second Commandment is: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them.”

Comment: Note the specification of things in heaven above, things beneath the earth, and things in the water under the earth. The description of the earth at the center with the firmament (waters) above and the firmament (waters) below comes from Genesis 1. The things above and the things below are hidden from us or only partially known. They cannot be adequately represented by any image that even the most talented artist could create. Any attempt to show an image of these things fails. It always misses the mark, falling short of the glory of God.

Abraham's people understood this. That is why they used the sun as an emblem of the Creator and did not worship the sun. The sun was portrayed as serving God as a solar boat and as YHWH's chariot. The overshadowing of the ruler by the sun meant his divine appointment. This was indicated by the Y, symbolizing the long horns of the Ankole cow. The original context is that of Abraham's Nilo-Saharan cattle-herding ancestors. On ancient images, the Y image appears as a cradle  for the sun and as a crown on the head of the one who is divinely appointed. This is why many of the Horite rulers have names beginning with Y in Hebrew: Yishmael, Yitzak, Yacob, Yosef, Yisbak, Yaqtan and Yeshua are examples.

A widespread image of the Y crown is shown right. This image depicts the divine appointment and overshadowing of Hathor, the mother of Horus, the son of the Creator. The Horites were devotees of the Creator, Hathor, and Horus. At Nile shrines, Horus was often shown as the Calf of God resting in a manger. His mother is shown wearing the symbol of divine appointment. the sun cradled in the long horns of the cow. It was long expected that a "woman" of the ruler-priest lines would be overshadowed and conceive the "Seed" of God who would "crush the serpent's head" (Gen. 3:15).

What does the Second Commandment mean?

God’s people are neither to worship man-made images of God or of other gods, nor make such images for the purpose of worshiping them. (Deuteronomy 4:15-24)

Comment: The bottom line is that images are not to be worshiped or adored. However, as any parent who has sat to read a book to a preschool child knows, images are helpful. We use images in books to educate children.  The younger the child, the more images we use. As the child grows, the books have less images and more text.

Images were used throughout the history of the Church to inform illiterate people about the Gospel. Stained glass windows were used to tell the story of Jesus’ life, passion, death, resurrection and ascension. Statues of Mary and Jesus were placed in side chapels and for centuries people have prayed while contemplating the images. In the Orthodox churches the icons that are front and center are those of Jesus (on the right as one faces the most holy space) and the Theotokos (on the left). Contemplation and veneration of these icons draws the Christian deeper in the mystery of the Incarnation by which God redeems the lost and begins renewal of the material world.

In the eastern churches Mary is rarely shown apart from her Son. Most icons of Mary show her holding the Christ Child. She is the “Theotokos” – the God-bearer, the appointed and overshadowed Woman whose cooperation with God fulfills the expectation of the Righteous Ruler who is salvation (Yeshua). In this sense, Mary is a model of the obedient and fruitful Christian life. The honor the Virgin Mary is shown in the Church is the reason Feminist interpretation of the Bible ultimately fails in logic.

How did Israel break the first two commandments?

Israel worshiped the gods of the nations around them, neglected God’s Law, and corrupted the worship of the Temple, thus earning God’s punishment. (Exodus 32; Judges 2:11-15, Psalm 78:56-72; Jeremiah 32:30-35)

Comment: In Biblical theology disobedience has consequences and the consequences are viewed as divine punishment. Doubtless, some consequences described in the Bible were natural outcomes, but others, such as the plagues of Egypt, represent supernatural interventions. So it is that the Habiru/Hebrew are repeatedly warned not to transgress the order of creation (as in homosex and onanism) or to violate the moral code. The moral code, represented by the Ten Commandments, strictly forbade following after the deities of other peoples. Yahweh alone is to be worshiped and obeyed. He is not like other gods. Yahweh's nature cannot be adequately represented by any created thing. And this is where things become very interesting!

Among the Habiru, the appointed ruler with his council of ruler-priests ideally served as the earthly counterpart of the heavenly council and therefore these rulers were called "gods" or elohim. The Horite ruler-priests were regarded as deified "sons" of God. They are called "gods" (elohim) as in Exodus 22:28: "Thou shalt not revile the gods (elohim), nor curse the ruler of thy people." It becomes evident that in Horite theology the living creature alone can embody righteousness, and among living creatures, only the human has the potential for deification. No image of stone or metal qualifies.

Further, it is evident that the ruler-priests could use this claim to bolster their power among the people, as did Sargon (Biblical Nimrod) when he claimed to be the righteous ruler appointed by God on the basis of his lowly mother's miraculous conception of him while she was in the temple of Azu. No claims made by the ruler-priests could be regarded as proof of their divine appointment. The only proof of the deification of the "son" was resurrection from the dead.

The Habiru/Hebrew broke the first two commandments when they allowed themselves to be influenced by peoples with an inferior moral code and an animistic-shamanic worldview. Such syncretism brings decay and destruction to the True Faith. The catechism cites examples: Exodus 32; Judges 2:11-15, Psalm 78:56-72; Jeremiah 32:30-35. We will consider the last three first, as the example from Exodus 32 is not an example of syncretism.

Example 1 - (Judges 2:11-15): “Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt.  They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. In his anger against Israel the Lord gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress.”

The word “Baal” means Lord or Master. It can sometimes refer to the Lord, as in Baal Shalisha, meaning the Three God (an early Trinitarian reference?); a Deity associated with the number 3, a triune God. The number 3 is repeatedly found in connection to the most enlightening passages and the most astonishing acts of God. Jonah was 3 days in the belly of the whale. Moses was hidden for 3 months (Ex. 2:2). Job's 3 friends struggled with the mystery of why the righteous suffer. Moses asked permission to make a 3-day journey into the wilderness to worship. Abraham traveled 3 days to a mountain only God could reveal and upon which God provided His own sacrifice. The Covenant God made with Abraham involved cutting up 3 animals that were 3 years old. God in 3 Persons visited Abraham (Gen. 18). The 3 measures of flour made into cakes for those Visitors. The 3 gifts offered them: curds, milk and a calf. Abraham prayed 3 times for Sodom. Joseph had a dream of a vine with 3 branches (Gen 40:10-12). The “Son of Man” appeared with 3 men in the fiery furnace. Jesus rose on the third day.

Ashtoreth shrines at high elevations were dedicated to the moon goddess. As the moon merely reflects the radiance of the sun, it was regarded as an inappropriate symbol for the Creator among the Habiru and no lesser god or goddess was to be worshiped.

Example 2 - (Psalm 78:56-64): “But they put God to the test and rebelled against the Most High; they did not keep his statutes. Like their ancestors they were disloyal and faithless, as unreliable as a faulty bow. They angered him with their high places; they aroused his jealousy with their idols. When God heard them, he was furious; he rejected Israel completely. He abandoned the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent he had set up among humans. He sent the ark of his might into captivity, his splendor into the hands of the enemy. He gave his people over to the sword; he was furious with his inheritance. Fire consumed their young men, and their young women had no wedding songs; their priests were put to the sword, and their widows could not weep.” 

The Habiru rebellion expressed itself in accommodating to the cultures around them. So God abandoned them to their dark ways. Their paths led them to destruction. I am again reminded of the demise of the Episcopal Church.

As Christ followers we are to hold fast to the Gospel, not accommodating the received tradition under pressure from the world. As St. Paul reminds us,“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

Example 3 -  (Jeremiah 32:30-35): “The people of Israel and Judah have done nothing but evil in my sight from their youth; indeed, the people of Israel have done nothing but arouse my anger with what their hands have made, declares the Lord. From the day it was built until now, this city has so aroused my anger and wrath that I must remove it from my sight. The people of Israel and Judah have provoked me by all the evil they have done—they, their kings and officials, their priests and prophets, the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem. They turned their backs to me and not their faces; though I taught them again and again, they would not listen or respond to discipline. They set up their vile images in the house that bears my Name and defiled it. They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molek, though I never commanded—nor did it enter my mind—that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin.”

The Valley of Ben Hinnom is the supposed area south of Jerusalem where the offal was burned. It was characterized by fires and constant smoke plumes. Diseased and impure corpses were burned there. It became a metaphor for the wrath endured by the dead in Ge-henna.

The word Molech has a meaning similar to Baal. It means king. Molech was an Ammonite fire deity known among the Moabites as Chemosh. The ancient Habiru did not associate the elements of fire, water, air, and earth with the Creator. To do so would have been regarded as idolatry since these were created. Nor did the Habiru practice human sacrifice. Such practices were found among other peoples, but for the close-knit Habiru these practices were forbidden.

Example 4 - (Exodus 32): When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us a god who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “This is your god, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.”  So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

Exodus 32 concerns the golden calf that Aaron made. This is an image of Horus and is the dynamic equivalent of the idea of the "Lamb of God." The Hebrews asked the ruler-priest Aaron to create for them a graven image (Hebrew: pesel). Apparently, Aaron was one of the members of the priestly caste trained in metal work. The image he formed of gold incorporated the sun and would have been a representation of the divine overshadowing of the Calf of God, and an image of Horus as the appointed. Below is picture of what it would have looked like.

The calf is suggestive of Horus as a child. Horus' anthropomorphic form is either as a adult male or more usually as a boy wearing the sidelock typical of royal Egyptian youth. On cippi, Horus as a boy is often shown dominating crocodiles and serpents. Consider this in light of the Woman, the Child, and the Dragon in Revelation 12. Consider also the red cow of Numbers 19 that stands as a perpetual symbol of Israel's need for cleansing. The cow is sacrificed and burned outside the camp and the ashes used for "water of lustration." (Num. 19:9) This account from Exodus 32 is not an example of syncretism because Horus was not regarded as the calf of God by any other peoples except the ancient Horites, Abraham's ancestors.

What we have is an interpretation of early Horite theology through the lens of the Deuteronomist Historian. The accusation that Aaron failed in righteousness likely comes from the iconoclastic Deuteronomist, the last known editor of the Old Testament material. The Deuteronomist urged the breaking of images. "... thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire." (Deut. 7:5) Failure to do this served as an example of moral failure on the part of Israel's rulers and justified the terrible treatment which the Jews received at the hands of the Babylonians, far worse than they ever experienced in Egypt where their rulers were recognized by the Pharaohs.

The Deuteronomist presents a religion quite different from that practiced by Abraham and his Nilo-Saharan ancestors. It moves the focus from the Righteous Ruler who would be conceived by divine overshadowing to the theology of the land as Israel’s rightful possession if she obeys the Law. This is the beginning of political Zionism.

Why did the nations make such images?

Israel’s neighbors worshiped false gods by means of images, or idols, believing they could manipulate these imaginary gods to gain favor with them. (Isaiah 40:18-26; 44:9-20)

Comment: One difference between the Habiru religion and the religions of other peoples was this matter of gaining favor from the deity. For the Habiru, God could not be appeased by offering food, wine, oil, grain or a sacrificed animal or child. Propitiation involved sacrifice that adhered to the ritual law; in other words, sacrifice on God's terms alone. J. I. Packer in "Knowing God" (p. 207) explains that there is a distinct difference between pagan and Christian propitiation: "In paganism, man propitiates his gods, and religion becomes a form of commercialism and, indeed, of bribery. In Christianity, however, God propitiates his wrath by his own action. He set forth Jesus Christ... to be the propitiation of our sins."

Are all carved images wrong?

No. God, who forbids the making of idols and worship of images, commanded carvings and pictures for the Tabernacle. These represented neither God nor false gods, but rather angels, trees, and fruits from the Garden of Eden. (Exodus 37:1-9; 39:22-26; 1 Kings 6:14-19)

Comments:  God gave explicit instructions to the artisans and craftsmen concerning how objects for the Temple were to be made. He also gave specific instructions as to how all these objects were to be consecrated, that is, set aside for sacred use. God had been doing this with the Habiru for a long time before Moses. Consider how God gave instructions to Abraham and Jacob on how to construct an altar.

Are idols always carved images?

No. Relationships, habits, aspirations, and ideologies can become idols in my mind if I look to them for salvation from misery, guilt, poverty, loneliness, or despair. (Ezekiel 14:4-5; Isaiah 2:20; Ephesians 5:2; 1 John 5:21)

An idol is anything that comes between us and our Creator or that leads us astray from the Truth revealing in Jesus Christ.

How was Jesus tempted to break the first two commandments?

Satan tempted Jesus to bow down and worship him, promising him a world kingdom without the pain of the cross. Instead, Jesus loved and worshiped God faithfully and perfectly all his life. He chose the will of his Father over the promises of the Devil, and accepted the cross. (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 22:39-49; Hebrews 4:14-16)

Comment: Satan and those who serve him are constantly trying to make Jesus into a magician who turns substances into other substances. Satan observed Jesus turn the water into wine at a family wedding in Cana and the next thing we know he is tempting Jesus to turn stones into bread. The religious leaders likewise tested Jesus by asking him to perform some sign for them, but Jesus refused, saying, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.” (Matthew 12:39-42; Mark 8)

Jesus’ love of God was and is perfect adoration. He is the Righteous Son who endured the cross in order to win his bride the Church and to reign eternally. He shall wipe away every tear and in His presence every sorrow shall be forgotten. C.S. Lewis’ explains in “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” that the evil Witch didn't realize that there is an older magic from before the dawn of time. It is the magic of divine love within the Trinity extended to humble clay like ourselves.

How will idolatry affect you?

If I worship idols I will become like them, empty and worthless, and alienated from God, the only One who can make me whole. (Psalm 115:4-8; Jeremiah 2:11-19; Romans 1:18-32)

If we commit to follow a false leader or cause, we will be led astray. Only one leader has the power to lead His people to eternal life: Jesus Christ, the Righteous. He is the firstborn from the grave and by his resurrection He delivers to the Father a "peculiar people." He leads us in the ascent to the Father where we receive heavenly recognition because we belong to Him.

How can you love God in worship?

The Holy Scriptures teach me how to worship God, and the Church’s liturgy guides my worship in keeping with the Scriptures. I can show love to God by worshiping him in this way. (Romans 12:1-2; Hebrews 9:11-14; 10:11-25; 12:18-29; 13:1-19)

Comment: C.S. Lewis wrote in Letters to Malcolm, “Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done.” Trusting God is one way that we worship God. We are more likely to slip into idolatry when we fail to trust and rely on God in the smallest details of daily life.