Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Response to Buracker on Israeli Idols

BJ Buracker aka StupidScholar has posted a response (link to response) to an earlier post of mine on the Israeli idols of Elohim (link to my post).

BJB writes:
1. The use of Elohim (God or “gods”) is inconclusive. It may refer to Yahweh, but does not have to. Something else would have to suggest that before we make that conclusion. TF seems to recognize this in the post, but he holds that the use of Elohim suggests that the reference is YHWH.
I answer:

Agreed.

BJB writes:
2. The link between the calves and the Exodus event is, likewise, inconclusive. It certainly fits a Yahwistic interpretation, but it fits others, as well. If the Israelites did not intend for the calf in Exod/Deut to be YHWH, surely they would claim that this new god had been the real deliverer. This is (or could be) an instance of attributing to a false god the attributes of YHWH. For instance, if they had said, “This is the elohim that created us from nothing,” then they would simply be attributing YHWH’s creative ability/acts to the idol, not necessarily claiming that the idol was (or represented) YHWH.
I answer:

This argument is problematic because another god with the name "Elohim" is not one of the options at (1). This argument is also problematic because it is unclear why anyone would think that other gods than Jehovah were deliverers. Saying "surely they would" isn't very persuasive for me. If the Israelites are going to embrace polytheism, why attribute the acts of one god to another?

BJB writes:
Hence, I don’t find the Israelites’ reference to the Exodus to be convincing proof that they intended the calf to be YHWH. Given that the Exodus was so significant and recent and that the calf would be used as their national god, it only makes sense that the new national god would be “given” credit for that deliverance.
I answer:

I'm not sure what would be "convincing proof," but perhaps that's irrelevant. The temporal proximity of the Exodus is a double-edged sword: while it would be significant, it was also still fresh in their memory as to who did it. To transfer the credit would seem odd, to say the least.

BJB writes:
3. There is ample evidence that calves were symbols/idols of other national gods at the time, particularly of Canaan and Phoenecia. In fact, other Jewish literature (e.g. Tobit 1:5) links the calf with the idol Baal explicitly. It seems possible, if not probable, that the Israelites were adopting the gods of other nations.
I answer:

a) No, Tobit does not link the calf with Baal. It links a calf with Baal.

Tobit 1:5 Now all the tribes which together revolted, and the house of my father Nephthali, sacrificed unto the heifer Baal.

b) Baal seems to have been a generic name for false gods, not a specific god. Thus, Scripture sometimes speaks of Baalim (the plural form of Baal). But since Scripture frequently uses the appellation Baal for Baal and Baal worship, it is unclear why Scripture would not use that description if a false god was being worshiped here.

c) It also does not fit well with the Nehemiah account.

BJB writes:
Matthew Henry (see his note on Exod 32:3, 4) actually believes that the calf was an Egyptian god rather than a Canaanite or Phoenecian god, although calves were important religious symbols there too. He supports this with reference to Ezek. 20:8; 23:8, where the prophet says that they had not forsaken their Egyptian ways. This also makes sense of Stephen’s statement in Acts 7:39, 40 that the Israelites had turned back to Egypt in heart (though not in location).
I answer:

As far as the weight of Matthew Henry's opinion, I agree that it is mighty. Nevertheless I think the counter-arguments are significant. As far as the calf being taken from the surrounding nations, I agree. I would tend to think the best guess is Egypt, as Poole suggests. Yet, while that is the ante-type, they don't name an Egyptian deity here (nor any other deity), and the deliverer is the one who delivered from Egypt.

BJB writes:
4. The fact that one idol was taken to Dan and another to Bethel does not prove that they signified YHWH. It at most indicates that the calves were to signify the same god. As with point #1, further evidence would have to be used to show that this one god was, in fact, YHWH.
I answer:

The point of the argument regarding Dan and Bethel was to note that "Elohim" in that instance should not be thought to be referring to more than one deity, since the two calves were not supposed to be two different gods. That's an underminer for the argument that the use of the plural form "elohim" is indicative of a god other than Jehovah.

We find additional confirmation of the matter from 1 Kings 14:7-10

1 Kings 14:7-10
Go, tell Jeroboam, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Forasmuch as I exalted thee from among the people, and made thee prince over my people Israel, and rent the kingdom away from the house of David, and gave it thee: and yet thou hast not been as my servant David, who kept my commandments, and who followed me with all his heart, to do that only which was right in mine eyes; but hast done evil above all that were before thee: for thou hast gone and made thee other gods, and molten images, to provoke me to anger, and hast cast me behind thy back: therefore, behold, I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel, and will take away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam, as a man taketh away dung, till it be all gone.

As Poole explains:
Other gods, and molten images, or other gods, to wit, (for so and oft signifies among the Hebrews, as hath been formerly noted,) molten images, namely, the golden calves; which he calls others gods, not as if the Israelites esteemed the calves made of their own gold to be gods indeed, which it is incredible should find belief with any man in his wits, especially with the whole body of the Israelites, who knew that the ark and cherubims, though made by God’s special direction, were not gods, but only pledges of God’s presence, &c.; nor as if they thought them to be other gods in a strict and proper sense; for it is apparent that they still pretended to worship the God of their fathers, as the Jews at Jerusalem did, though in a differing manner: but only because God rejected their whole worship; and howsoever they called or accounted it, he reckoned it a manifest defection from him, and a betaking of themselves to other gods, or devils, as they are called, 2 Chronicles 11:15, by whose instigation they were led to such idolatrous practices, and whom alone they served and worshipped therein, whatsoever pretences they had to the contrary.
Likewise, Matthew Henry (whom you found to be persuasive with regard to the Exodus account):
3. He charges him with his impiety and apostasy, and his idolatry particularly: Thou hast done evil above all that were before thee, 1 Kings 14:9. Saul, that was rejected, never worshipped idols; Solomon did it but occasionally, in his dotage, and never made Israel to sin. Jeroboam's calves, though pretended to be set up in honour of the God of Israel, that brought them up out of Egypt, yet are here called other gods, or strange gods, because in them he worshipped God as the heathen worshipped their strange gods, because by them he changed the truth of God into a lie and represented him as altogether different from what he is, and because many of the ignorant worshippers terminated their devotion in the image, and did not at all regard the God of Israel. Though they were calves of gold, the richness of the metal was so far from making them acceptable to God that they provoked him to anger, designedly affronted him, under colour of pleasing him. In doing this, (1.) He had not set David before him (1 Kings 14:8): Thou hast not been as my servant David, who, though he had his faults and some bad ones, yet never forsook the worship of God nor grew loose nor cold to that; his faithful adherence to that gained him this honourable character, that he followed God with all his heart, and herein he was proposed for an example to all his successors. Those did not do well that did not do like David. (2.) He had not set God before him, but (1 Kings 14:9), “Thou hast cast me behind thy back, my law, my fear; thou hast neglected me, forgotten me, and preferred thy policies before my precepts.
Likewise Gill:
for thou hast gone and made thee other gods, and molten images, to provoke me to anger; the two calves of gold; for however he might colour things over, and pretend he did not look upon these as gods, but as representations of God, and that he did not worship them, but God by them, yet the Lord considered it as idolatry, than which nothing is more provoking to him:
We see the same implicit understanding in the so-called "Apostolic Constitutions" (which are plainly forgeries):
For you know undoubtedly that those that are by us named bishops, and presbyters, and deacons, were made by prayer, and by the laying on of hands; and that by the difference of their names is showed the difference of their employments. For not every one that will is ordained, as the case was in that spurious and counterfeit priesthood of the calves under Jeroboam; [1 Kings 13:33] but he only who is called of God.
- [Pseudo-]Apostolic Constitutions, Book 8, Section 5, Paragraph 46

The same implicit commentary is in Athanasius:
For when the lawful Bishops, men of advanced age, had some of them been banished, and others forced to fly, heathens and catechumens, those who hold the first places in the senate and men who are notorious for their wealth, were straightway commissioned by the Arians to preach the holy faith instead of Christians. And enquiry was no longer made, as the Apostle enjoined, 'if any be blameless [Titus 1:8]:' but according to the practice of the impious Jeroboam, he who could give most money was named Bishop; and it made no difference to them, even if the man happened to be a heathen, so long as he furnished them with money.
- Athanasius, Apology to Constantius, Section 28

Sulpitius Severus (lived about A.D. 363 - 420) is somewhat more ambiguous, though he seems to have the same implicit commentary:
But, since Roboam held Jerusalem, where the people had been accustomed to offer sacrifice to God in the temple built by Solomon, Jeroboam, fearing lest their religious feelings might alienate the people from him, resolved to fill their minds with superstition. Accordingly, he set up one golden calf at Bethel, and another at Dan, to which the people might offer sacrifice; and, passing by the tribe of Levi, he appointed priests from among the people. But censure followed this guilt so hateful to God.
- Sacred History, Book 1, Chapter 41

Tertullian's comments are a bit ambiguous - he could reasonably be seen as either agreeing or disagreeing with the thesis above:
For, withal, according to the memorial records of the divine Scriptures, the people of the Jews— that is, the more ancient— quite forsook God, and did degrading service to idols, and, abandoning the Divinity, was surrendered to images; while "the people" said to Aaron, "Make us gods to go before us." And when the gold out of the necklaces of the women and the rings of the men had been wholly smelted by fire, and there had come forth a calf-like head, to this figment Israel with one consent (abandoning God) gave honour, saying, "These are the gods who brought us from the land of Egypt." For thus, in the later times in which kings were governing them, did they again, in conjunction with Jeroboam, worship golden cattle, and groves, and enslave themselves to Baal. Whence is proved that they have ever been depicted, out of the volume of the divine Scriptures, as guilty of the crime of idolatry; whereas our "less"— that is, posterior— people, quitting the idols which formerly it used slavishly to serve, has been converted to the same God from whom Israel, as we have above related, had departed. [1 Thessalonians 1:9-10]
- Tertullian, An Answer to the Jews, Chapter 1

Ambrose's comments are quite interesting. It's unclear whether he simply remembers the story wrong or whether he considers the altar at Bethel to be a temple of God (despite being unauthorized). I'd be hesitant to draw overly strong conclusions from Ambrose's comments, particularly when he refers to Jeroboam's "father" which would be no one of any particular significance. It's quite possible that he has conflated Rehoboam and Jeroboam:
But when in the temple of our God, that wicked king Jeroboam took away the gifts which his father had laid up, and offered to idols upon the holy altar, did not his right hand, which he stretched out, wither, and his idols, which he called upon, were not able to help him? Then, turning to the Lord, he asked for pardon, and at once his hand which had withered by sacrilege was healed by true religion. So complete an example was there set forth in one person, both of divine mercy and wrath when he who was sacrificing suddenly lost his right hand, but when penitent received forgiveness.
- Ambrose, Concerning Virginity, Book 2, Chapter 5, Section 38

What's more, Scripture makes it clear that the golden calves of Jeroboam were not Baal (or baalim), since Jehu eliminated Baal-worship but sinned with Jeroboam:

2 Kings 10:25-29
And it came to pass, as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt offering, that Jehu said to the guard and to the captains, Go in, and slay them; let none come forth. And they smote them with the edge of the sword; and the guard and the captains cast them out, and went to the city of the house of Baal. And they brought forth the images out of the house of Baal, and burned them. And they brake down the image of Baal, and brake down the house of Baal, and made it a draught house unto this day. Thus Jehu destroyed Baal out of Israel. Howbeit from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, Jehu departed not from after them, to wit, the golden calves that were in Bethel, and that were in Dan.

BJB writes:
5. Not one of those passages clearly identifies the idol with YHWH. The closest is the reference to the feast for YHWH, but notice that YHWH is still not associated directly with the calf, only with the feast.
I answer:

Now this is a truly curious counter-hypothesis. Israel ascribes the great deliverance to some other god or gods and then goes on to celebrate a feast for Jehovah? This seems improbable, to say the least.

BJB writes:
Now, I must admit that these passages also do not identify the calves with any other deity either. However, there does not seem to be enough in the passages to demand that the calves were representations of YHWH, as I hope I have shown.
I answer:

There seem to be a lot of evidences in favor of the calf-worship being Israel violating the second commandment as reiterated in the prologue of the Decalogue:

Exodus 20:22-26
And the LORD said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven. Ye shall not make with me gods (elohim) of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods (elohim) of gold. An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee. And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it. Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.

God is talking about the way in which He is to be worshiped, and excluding human artifice beyond a simple dirt or uncut stone altar (setting aside, for the moment, the tabernacle worship).

There's a much more expanded version in Deuteronomy 4, where Moses explains (I've included only a portion of the relevant discussion):

Deuteronomy 4:15-19
Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the LORD spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, the likeness of any thing that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth: and lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the LORD thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven.

We also see in that same context this practice of referring to the idols themselves as "gods":

Deuteronomy 4:28 And there ye shall serve gods (elohim), the work of men's hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell.

BJB writes:
In fact, those Israelites that turn to these calves do not seem to have any desire to worship YHWH at all. Rather, the people turn away from Moses and (presumably) what he represented, that is YHWH (Exodus 32); Jeroboam makes the 2 calves to rival YHWH worship in Jerusalem (1 Kings 12); and Hosea 8:1-4 indicates that the people were in direct rebellion against YHWH by setting up their own kings, princes, and (probably) calves.
I answer:

a) Wait a second. A minute ago they were celebrating a feast to Jehovah, now they have no desire to worship Him?

b) The more natural explanation is that calf substituted for Moses, and the calves for the temple of Solomon.

c) There is no question that calf-worship was rebellion, just as making any image of God would be rebellion.

BJB writes:
In other words, in each of these cases, the (self-avowed) motivation appears to be rebellion against YHWH and/or fear of some other circumstance (e.g. Moses’ absence; rivalry between the northern and southern kingdoms), rather than a desire to worship and serve YHWH. I would suggest that, in fact, they weren’t trying to worship YHWH at all but rather establishing a substitute deity.
I answer:

Again, this contradicts the "feast to Jehovah" and the seeming reverence that Jeroboam has for Jehovah despite his idolatry. We agree that this sin, like every violation of the first table, is one that is ultimately of rebellion against God.

BJB writes:
Since this whole discussion arose in response to Catholic apologetics, I feel it is important to note that the Israelites motivation is shown to be radically different than those posed by modern Catholics (and Orthodox) in their use of statues and icons.
I answer:

I would not agree, but that is neither here nor there as far as this particular discussion is concerned.

BJB writes:
Therefore (finally!), I don’t find these texts showing YHWH worship through the use of symbols/idols or even YHWH worship at all. YHWH worship is possible but not explicit, and I would argue that it is also not probable. Indeed, I believe that it looks more like the Israelites are worshiping something/someone other than YHWH when they use these golden calves.
I answer:

For the reasons given above and in the original post, I'd respectfully disagree.

-TurretinFan

1 comment:

natamllc said...

This here is an interesting read, to say the least! I could digress and tell you a story about the Grand Canyon and the Texas ranch hand?

While you are pondering that invite, let me spread the table cloth this way and put things on it.

When God has Moses take a staff and throw it to the ground and it becomes a snake, we do not consider the staff an idol, do we? :)

We don't even consider the snake, "of the devil, that old serpent" too? :).

But, when the Egyptians take their staffs and throw them down on the ground we immediately, subconciously or otherwise, consider both idols and idolatry!

Why?

That is the question!!

How's about when God's people are being bitten by serpents and God has Moses craft bronze into a serpent and put it on a pole. Do we consider that bronze serpent an idol and looking at it an act of idolatry? No; in fact, just ask any Hebrew in those days what happened to him when he looked upon that brass worm! He didn't consider it an idol or an act of idolatry!

But, when dear old Aaron and the boys make a calf, well, to be blunt, who cares whether or not it is an Egyptian calf or of Canaan and Phoenecia, I don't and neither does God, but God, multitasking at that moment, tells Moses to get down that mountain and deal with his idolatrous people? Hmmmmm, Moses was thinking, ah, God, why are they my people now? :)

When God made a form for Jesus, [Psalm 40] and now after the Resurrection of the Christ, we partake of the Sacraments as He commanded, we do not consider that an act of idolatry or the bread and wine, idols!

But we certainly would not partake of them if before we partook of the Sacraments, the administrator said something like this:::>

"Today, in honor of our Mormon and Muslim brethren here with us, we will be taking this bread and this cup in honor of their God too....", you might not want to partake then and there, not for your sake, but theirs:::>

1Co 10:18 Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?
1Co 10:19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything?
1Co 10:20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons.
1Co 10:21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.
1Co 10:22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

And:::>

1Co 10:28 But if someone says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience--
1Co 10:29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else's conscience?

So, while we were not there and have no clue of the emotions of the moment, so that those Israelites with Aaron, made a senseless calf and called it God's deliverer, because God and Moses were going long in a meetin', it seems to me that it would be hard to press the point that what they were doing wasn't for God but demons!