How God Preserves Pure Religion
A closer look at the detail in God’s law forbidding idolatry

At the heart of both the Old Covenant and the New Covenant is a marriage relationship—between a God and human beings! That is truly awesome to think about.

In his booklet Marriage and Divorce, under the subhead “Marriage Covenant IS the Gospel!” Herbert W. Armstrong wrote, “Jesus came as the Messenger of the covenant! (Malachi 3:1). He was the Messenger bringing us the message of the New Covenant, which is the marriage covenant which will establish the Church as the Kingdom of God.  … [J]ust as the marriage at Sinai set up the kingdom of Israel, so the marriage of the Church to Christ will set up the Kingdom of God on Earth! … That divine marriage, which simply is the New Covenant … was typified by the Old Covenant. It was God’s marriage to carnal, physical Israel …” (emphasis added).

What is the number one quality that defines a godly marriage? Contemplate how the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) answer that question, in particular the two commandments that specifically address marriage—the Seventh and Tenth.

What does God’s law focus on preserving? Faithfulness. The purity of the bond. Marriage is a one-on-one, exclusive relationship. That is because it points to that eternal, perfectly faithful relationship Christ seeks with His wife under the New Covenant.

The First Two Commandments

The world at the time of ancient Israel was full of weird idolatrous practices; people worshiped hundreds of gods in thousands of ways. In the midst of all that religious confusion, God called out one nation and established a pure, exclusive, marriage relationship. Stay away from all that filth, He said. Here is how to worship the true God.

This is also true of God’s Church today. The world is full of error and idolatry, concepts and images that get in the way of our being able to worship God as He intends. God has quite a job pulling people out of this world and smashing the idols and false religious concepts that Satan has foisted upon us. But only then can He be at one with us.

Study the first two commandments (Exodus 20:1-6), and think about what they reveal about the nature of the relationship God wants with His people.

God introduces the Ten Commandments in verse 2 by saying, I brought you OUT of the paganism and filth so rife within this world, which is cut off from me and ruled by Satan! He then explicitly demands an exclusive relationship with His people: Nothing can come before Him. He follows that by outlawing religious practices such as making idols and worshiping the creation. Such customs were common anciently, but they are equally accepted today.

Think about God’s statement in verse 5 that He is “a jealous God.” That word means zealously protective. Its root word elsewhere refers to the emotions of a husband over his wife. How special that God is jealous over you—that He is emotionally wrapped up in preserving this exclusive relationship with you!

God doesn’t want us chasing after another god. He doesn’t want us picking up false religious ideas from the world around us; He doesn’t want Satan’s counterfeits to pollute our relationship with Him. He wants to have a direct, pure, spirit-level connection with us. How unique and special, how wonderful!

What a beautiful law! These two commandments in particular show God reaching out to establish this exclusive, intimate relationship with us.

Consider what the Seventh Commandment does for a physical marriage: It creates the environment that enables the special marital love relationship to blossom. When you obey the letter and even the spirit of that commandment, the marital bond grows. Those who disobey it have no idea the joys they are denying themselves by failing to cultivate and preserve that exclusive love.

The same is true of our relationship with God. God seeks a bond unpolluted by false and pagan ideas, physical worship aids, idolatry of any kind—anything that would compete for our love for Him. And the first two commandments safeguard that love.

Dealing With Foreign Nations

God’s laws reveal His desire to protect Israel from the idolatry that saturated the surrounding peoples. “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues,” Revelation 18:4-5 say. “For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.” That is a command to us as well, which is why the specific laws God gave Israel on this point are so relevant today.

When God brought the Israelites into the Promised Land, He used them as His instrument of judgment against the idolatrous pagans. Contemplate His command in Deuteronomy 12:1-3. Consider how this precisely parallels what Christ is going to do when He returns to this Earth (e.g. Revelation 19:11-15). At the same time, this command was also meant to protect the Israelites and preserve the one true religion.

Remember, the people who were destroyed will be resurrected in the future and given the opportunity to free their minds of satanic idolatry and come to know the true God. Also realize: God has given no such command to any modern physical nation. We are concerned here primarily with the spiritual principle contained with these laws; secondarily, we can contemplate how the failure of Israel’s physical descendants to respect this instruction has caused many problems.

Consider how Deuteronomy 12:29-31 is routinely, directly violated by the modern nations of Israel.

Carefully study Deuteronomy 7:1-6 and see how it reinforces the truth about what God sought to accomplish with Israel. Verse 6 particularly reveals the beauty behind this law.

Read in Exodus 23:31-32 another law that modern Israel ignores at its peril. Most people would argue that strong international relations are essential in today’s world. In a sense that is true, but at the same time, completely ignoring this principle has entangled our nations in many relationships that bring great curses upon us. For example, modern Israel has grown utterly dependent on foreigners for crucial energy needs and for ever increasing lines of credit. This gives these nations tremendous power over us and will prove to hasten our downfall.

Read the law in verse 33 regarding immigration. God did not want idolaters settling within Israel’s borders. He forbade the immigration of anyone who would not accept true religion. Modern Israel erroneously believes that diversity of religions makes us stronger. Yet look, for example, at what a curse Britain’s tolerance of Islamic extremists in its midst has become.

When we keep this law—as God’s Church does in its spiritual worship—the result is beautiful unity and peace, just like God and Christ enjoy (e.g. 1 Corinthians 1:10; 12:12-13; John 17:21-23).

Other Specifics

Besides commanding Israel to destroy idolatrous peoples, God took precautions to forbid several specific practices in order to preserve the purity of His people. Perhaps they wouldn’t have needed all these ordinances had they diligently obeyed the others. Nevertheless, these laws give insight into the dreadful customs of the surrounding nations.

Consider the command in Leviticus 18:21 against sacrificing children to a false god. God had commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac—but this horrifying pagan practice was Satan’s counterfeit! And in our day, many parents give their children over to demonic, evil influences of Satan’s world.

Read Leviticus 19:27 where God forbade hairdos that were popular among idolatrous priests. He didn’t give this law so His people would look freakish—but to prevent them from looking freakish. Read verse 28 where He outlawed cutting your own body out of grief, as well as tattooing or making marks on your body. These practices all have pagan origins. God wants us to treat our bodies with respect and to avoid disfiguring or harming them. God says your body is a temple for the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t want you making permanent marks on it any more than He wants you defacing His house with graffiti!

See the law in verse 26 against forms of witchcraft, including using enchantments (charms or incantations) and pagan practices like astrology (“observe times”—Paul also condemned this in Galatians 4:10). Read verse 31 where He forbids using mediums or wizards to speak to ghosts. See how this law is expanded in Deuteronomy 18:10-14, which specifically mention magic practices including casting spells or seeking the dead. Such practices are common in popular culture, on television and in movies. Satan is captivating people’s minds with these things—and God wants His people to stay well away from them. Read the penalty He prescribed in Exodus 22:18 in order to restrain the practice of witchcraft.

Clearly, God was watching and could see what was going on in the surrounding nations at the time. He is still watching today, and knows of the evils in this world. Ask yourself: What specific things does He see that He simply doesn’t want you to be a part of? We don’t have a detailed list of do’s and don’ts today—but God does tell us, Come out of her, my people, that you be not partakers of her sins, and that you receive not of her plagues!

Think on Leviticus 18:1-4, where God warned the Israelites against adopting the “doings” (actions, activities, business, workmanship) and “ordinances” (enactments, customs, laws, statutes) of the people they left behind and the people they were supplanting. God wanted Israel to take on His culture—His customs and practices—His laws! He was trying to establish something special and unique.

Look how modern Israel defies the spirit of this law, always seeing more to admire in other cultures than in its own, despising its unique history and godly heritage.

The people of God’s Church are in the world but not of it (e.g. John 17:14-16). We must be careful not to get wrapped up in the activities, business, customs and practices of this world. We all must examine ourselves individually and consider things like our dress, our language, our music and entertainment. Consider: God gave Israel specific laws about hairstyle, of all things. Clearly, God does care, and He wants His people to maintain high standards even amid a degenerating world.

Handling Idolatry Within Israel

Despite God’s commands, at times the Israelites descended into idolatry. Anticipating this, God gave laws on what to do to ensure it didn’t spread. Again, His goal was to keep the nation and its religion pure!

These laws directly correlate to New Testament commands about what to do when a Church member embraces dissident material or tries to pollute the true religion (see, for example, Romans 16:17; Galatians 1:8-9; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14; 1 Timothy 3:5; 6:5; Titus 3:10-11; 2 John 10-11). God is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is just as concerned about purity in the congregation today as He was anciently—and, spiritually, He deals with the problem today the same as He did anciently.

Contemplate how the principle in Deuteronomy 13:1‑4 should inform the way we handle a message from a religious source that does not represent the true God. Do not treat that message—whether it be a letter, e-mail, booklet, cd, television program, phone call or personal visit—casually! It is, in fact, a test: How much do you love God? He is jealous, and wants to keep your relationship with Him pure!

Read in verse 5 how God instructed the Israelites to deal with those who tried to turn His people away from Him. Some people criticize God’s Church today for disfellowshiping and marking certain people. But consider how merciful that instruction from God is for New Testament Christians (e.g. Romans 16:17) compared to the law for unconverted physical Israel. Today, a Spirit-begotten Christian who turns to heresy has his eternal life on the line—and God wants to give him every opportunity to repent!

Read in Deuteronomy 13:6-7 of the far more difficult matter of close friends or family members coming secretly to peddle dissident ideas or material. The natural tendency in such circumstances is to do nothing: to reason that everything will be fine; that we can just pray about it; that it’s not really our business; that we shouldn’t “tell” and get the person in trouble; that we don’t want to break their confidence. Deeply contemplate God’s answer in verse 8. Don’t be acquiescent, don’t listen, don’t give him any attention, don’t be compassionate, don’t commiserate, don’t listen to his arguments why he’s really innocent, God says. And don’t try to cover the matter up, hide it, be secretive about it, or hope it will go away! You must bring this out into the open and let the ministry know!

To see how serious God is about keeping His people pure, read His command to ancient Israel in verses 9-11.

God wanted the family member to be the first to put the seducer to death! Surely this reinforces the responsibility each of us has to watch out for and to help those we are close to—to love them enough to encourage him or her to stay close to God! If you have questions, talk to God’s ministry. If someone close to you has questions, encourage them to go to the ministry. If it’s a serious question that could lead to problems, and he won’t go—then you go! Love that person enough to go!

Study verses 12-16 to see how God dealt with rumors of idolaters in an Israelite city in order to ensure that all Israel remained free and pure of idolatry. Consider the profound effect this law would have had on the Israelites had they kept it. It would have put a great deal of responsibility on people to ensure their city remained free of idolatry! If they heard rumors about idolatry in their city, they couldn’t simply dismiss them and say, Well, that’s their business. If they did that, they too could end up being killed! Everyone needed to be vigilant to prevent idolatry from spreading!

One World Religion

Do you recognize the love of God in these laws? Again, they illustrate God’s earnest desire to maintain, preserve and protect an exclusive, pure, beautiful relationship with the people with whom He is entering an eternal marriage covenant! As we follow the principle embedded in these laws, we do our part in coming out of the world and nourishing that wonderful love relationship.

One day soon, God will undertake this same process with the whole world! Christ will return and wipe out idolatry, and banish Satan and all his deceptions. Then He will establish pure religion with all people. He will build an intimate communion with all who will turn to Him, and invite all men and women on Earth into His Family!

Read the prophecy in Jeremiah 31:31-34 for a glimpse at God’s excitement and emotion about that future vision. True religion will be established worldwide. This is what God has been waiting and longing for. It is a beautiful outgrowth of His wonderful master plan!