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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, December 24 2020

Does God allow us to choose our own religious holidays?

For many, Christmas is the most enjoyable season of the year. Millions of people around the world celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ, sincerely honouring Him and God the Father. But does the pagan origin of the holiday make any difference to God?

by David Treybig

Christmas rituals such as evergreen trees, holly, mistletoe, yule logs, candles and the exchanging of gifts came down to us, not from Christianity, but from pre-Christian practices the pagans used in worshiping their deities.

Many believe the origins of such customs do not matter to God and that He allows mankind to determine its own ways of worshipping Him. They assume God will accept any form of religious practice so long as the worshipers mean to honour Him.

Even the date on which Christmas is commonly celebrated, December 25, is demonstrably not the date, or even the time of year, of Christ's birth. Ancient pagans chose the date because of its association with the worship of their gods.

Two Lessons From Ancient Israel

The ancient Israelites had a similar problem and tried to establish their own ways of worship.

After God delivered the Israelites from Egypt and instructed them concerning the Holy Days of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, He began to reveal more about His laws. As part of this process, God instructed Moses to climb Mount Sinai, where He would speak to him directly.

With Moses absent, the Israelites who were used to the pagan, Egyptian forms of worship, soon reverted to familiar pagan practices to worship God. At Aaron's suggestion, they donated their golden earrings to make a golden calf, similar to idols the Egyptians worshipped. Aaron told them, "This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!" He then commanded an altar to be built and announced to the people: "Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord."(Exodus 32:2-5).

Aaron didn't just induce the Israelites to practice idolatry, he took it upon himself to set a day of worship. He assumed he could establish "a feast to the Lord." The people then took the matter a step further. Verse 6 says they "rose up to play," a phrase that refers to sexual immorality. In explaining this verse, The New Bible Commentary Revised says it refers to an "orgiastic dance, which characterized pagan religions" (p. 137).

God urged Moses to descend the mountain immediately, revealing the people "have corrupted themselves" (Exodus 32:7). The incident cost 3,000 men their lives (Exodus 32:26-28) and God told the Israelites He could no longer stay in the midst of them. (Exodus 33:3-4). He then, once again, warned them to avoid pagan practices and to observe His Holy Days (Exodus 34:12-18, 21-22).

Sadly, this lesson was soon forgotten. In 925 B.C. the 12 tribes of Israel divided into two nations. Ten of the tribes rebelled against Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, who had assumed the throne, and established the northern kingdom of Israel, under the rule of Jeroboam.

Jeroboam feared he would lose his kingdom if the people visited Jerusalem to keep the Holy Days according to divine instructions (1 Kings 12:27) and made two fateful decisions: He created two golden calves for his subjects to worship (verse 28) and ordained "a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like the feast that was in Judah" (verse 32, 33).

This festival was a counterfeit of the Feast of Tabernacles, which begins on the 15th day of the seventh month (Leviticus 23:34), exactly one month earlier than Jeroboam's bogus feast. Jeroboam even consecrated his own priests who would follow his instructions "...he made priests from every class of people for the high places;...and he became one of the priests of the high places." (1 Kings 13:33-34).

Because of this great sin God destroyed the house of Jeroboam and also punished the people for following Jeroboam's counterfeit religion and ignoring His instructions. God told the ten tribes they would be uprooted from their land and scattered (I Kings 14:15-16). This punishment was carried out when the Assyrian army took Israel captive beyond the Euphrates River.

Such were the tragic consequences of two attempts by ancient Israel to establish their own days of worship. We are also reminded of the final warning Moses gave to the Israelites as they were about to enter the promised land, “...take heed to yourself ...that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, 'How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.' You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way; for every abomination to the Lord which He hates they have done to their gods; … Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it" (Deuteronomy 12:29-32).

God has not changed His mind about these matters. A deeper understanding of the meaning of God’s Holy Days reveals the all important truth of God’s merciful and loving plan of salvation for humanity. It is not permissible for New Testament Christians to substitute pagan, non-biblical celebrations and traditions for the Holy Days commanded in the Bible.