Mattot & Masei
For the week of July 10, 2010 / 28 Tammuz 5770
Torah: Bemidbar / Numbers 30:2 - 36:13
(English: 30:1 - 36:13)
Haftarah: Jeremiah 2:4-28, 3:4
The Search for the Authentic
And now what do you gain by going to Egypt to drink the waters of the Nile? Or what do you gain by going to Assyria to drink the waters of the Euphrates? (Jeremiah 2:18; ESV)
Some serious students of the Bible are keen to establish what they believe to be an authentic expression of biblical faith. While this could be said about almost all serious believers, some are more concerned than others that the various forms of faith today have their roots, not in the Bible, but from paganism. This approach believes that if a custom can be found to be derived from a pagan source, then it is automatically deemed to be inappropriate for believers in Yeshua.
This seems to be what God is saying through Jeremiah in this week's Haftarah. The people of Israel were under God's judgment due to many years of rebellion against God. Failing to heed warning after warning, they were on the verge of destruction and exile. One of the things that Jeremiah was confronting in his day was that his people, instead of turning back to God, gave up on him altogether and were turning to foreigners and foreign ways. Instead of accepting that this was the sort of thing that got them into trouble in the first place, they believed their God had let them down.
I have the impression that some in search for the authentic see themselves as walking in Jeremiah's shoes. Believers may or may not be facing impending doom, but at the very least we are viewed as living far below God's expectations. The reason for this according to the searchers of the authentic is that we have turned from the authentic and replaced it with foreign concepts and forms, thus resulting in God's disfavor.
I agree with this to some extent. God in the Scriptures has revealed to us his ways and we cannot improve upon that. But a commitment to the Scriptures is not the same as the so-called search for the authentic. I say "so-called" because there are some foundational wrong assumptions about such a search. I will mention two of them.
First, the search for the authentic assumes that if something is shown to originate from a pagan or ungodly source, then it is automatically bad. There are many customs that God's people must avoid, but they are wrong because God says they are wrong, not simply because of their pagan origins. If I could show that books with pages as opposed to scrolls were invented by pagans, then should believers avoid them? How about paper money? Or languages besides Hebrew? The real issue has to do not with origins but with how they are regarded by God.
The second wrong assumption is that the authentic customs and forms are easily identified. The searchers for the authentic seem to believe that the New Covenant Scriptures provide sufficient information as to the forms within which our faith is to be expressed. I do believe that the whole Bible, including the Hebrew and New Covenant writings do provide us with all we need to legitimately practice our faith both individually and corporately. However, we are not given a complete picture as to how first century followers of Yeshua did that. More importantly, God has given us relatively few commands regarding the forms of our gatherings and many other practical aspects of faith.
This is not to imply that God has nothing to say about our customs and forms. The Bible is clear on many areas, but we must be careful not to put words into God's mouth, establishing as authoritative that which God himself has not established.
I agree with the searchers for the authentic that we would do well to be more biblical in how we live out our faith. But in order to be more biblical we need to carefully and diligently study the Scriptures, relying on God's Spirit for guidance as we allow him to reveal his will to us. As we do that, we will be better equipped to determine the difference between godly and ungodly customs.
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