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Introduction to Personal Bible Study - Videos (2007)

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Friday, December 1, 2023

The Annual Misguided Christmas Tree Jeremiah 10 Comparison

 Every year we get a few professed Christians who think they've found something in Jeremiah 10 they can inflict on the rest of us. For starters, the passage is to Israel. Of course, that does not mean we cannot take truths from it or learn from it (all scripture is profitable), but we need to be careful when it comes to application and doctrines. 

Right Division demands the following:

  • The PERSON who wrote it
  • The PEOPLE to whom it is written
  • The PLACE it involves
  • The PERIOD (or age) in which it was written
  • The PURPOSE for which it is written
  • The PLAN around which it is written

In this study, in one way or another, we'll have to consider all of these. 

Here is the passage in Jeremiah chapter 10 under consideration:

Hear ye the word which the Lord speaks unto you, O house of Israel:

thus says the Lord,

Learn not the way of the heathen,
and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven;
for the heathen are dismayed at them.
For the customs of the people are vain:
for one cuts a tree out of the forest,
the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.
They deck it with silver and with gold;
they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.
They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not:
they must needs be borne, because they cannot go.
Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil,
neither also is it in them to do good.

Let's start with the good stuff. "Learn not the way of the heathen."  Can't find any fault with that in any age. But when we rightly divide the Word of Truth (2 Tim 2:15), it is not only the way of the heathen we should avoid, we must also avoid practicing the truths for other ages and other hopes. We shall see that scripture has different warnings for believers in different ages under different hopes.

We have covered many of these on this blog (and additionally on the podcast). Too many professed believers today tend to grab anything from anywhere in scripture and assume God is pleased with them for observing what's there. Similarly, they take anything they find and try to find some equivalent for which there is no equivalent. For example, we often here in response to the so-called Great Commission that when the Lord commands the apostles to start in Jerusalem, he really means whatever city you happen to be in. This does violence to the text and to the plan of God for the earth.

Others may perform rituals and practice ordinances connected to an earthly hope and promises made to an earthly people (Israel). We have to leave these issues there and only encourage the reader to seek out related entries.

Jeremiah 10 is specifically spoken to Israel. Still, it is always true that we shouldn't be worshipping anything or anybody but the true God of the Bible. We cannot argue with that, of course. But the conditions and instructions as to what constitutes God's evaluation of our actions differs between hopes and companies of believers. The same one who refuses to put up a Christmas tree because of Jeremiah 10 may also be found to be trying to obey the Lord's words in Matthew 10:5-10 or in Luke 12:33 or the Apostles' instructions to the believers in Jerusalem in Acts 15 and Acts 21 (separating Jewish believers from Gentile believers).

In their correct contexts, these passages have no instruction for us in this age apart from the general principles at hand. Trying to obey them is not only foolhardy, it's disobedience. 

Now, let's break down the Jeremiah 10 passage beyond the context of verse 1.

"Learn not the way of the heathen"

"Heathen" here is a reference to the nations. Hebrew = gôwy. Gentile nations. In the current age, all are Gentiles. We come out from among the rest of the Gentiles and are sanctified (some into The Body, but we'll have to leave that there). Israel was a nation with a Covenant. They were to be God's "holy nation and a royal priesthood" (Ex 20, Old/Sanai Covenant). Priests for whom? For the nations. This is God's plan for the earth which will be fulfilled one day on the earth. Peter, writing to the believing Jews of the dispersion (cp 1 Peter 1:1) refers to this prophetic future (1 Peter 2:9). 

The hope in view today is a heavenly hope. It does not involve a hope for the nation (any nation). We must draw a straight line between the hope of Israel (the earthly plan of God) and the hope of the Body (the heavenly plan of God). There is an earthly kingdom and temple to come, there is a heavenly kingdom and temple being built (Eph 2:21). 

Can we go into the Law, which was never given to anyone but to Israel, and pick and choose what is for today and what is not? Can we do this with the words of the Lord in the Gospel accounts? We may be inclined to say "no," but this is exactly what most of Christendom does. 

The people of Nineveh were of the nations (Gentiles, heathen) while Israel was under the Old Covenant and while God was working out his earthly plan through Israel. When the Ninevites repented and believed, they were still of the nations. They did not become Jews. They did not become part of Israel or partakers in her covenants, promises, or hope. Jonah did not preach the Law unto them. They gained resurrection life by faith, but remained "heathen." That is, they remained of the nations outside of Israel.

We know from Romans 15 that the plan of God for the earth always included believing Gentiles. These people would be blessed through Israel. There were believing Gentiles living among Israel in the Pentateuch. It is from the laws directed to these Gentiles in Leviticus from which the Apostles and the Holy Spirit derive the rules for the grafted in Gentiles in Acts 15. After the call of Abraham, we do not see a Gentile in scripture unless he/they come in contact with a Jew (such as in Jonah). 

In the current age, after the Acts age ended and the middle wall of partition was taken down (Ephesians), all are essentially Gentiles. Paul was no longer in prison for "the hope of Israel" (Acts) he was in chains for "the hope of Gentiles" (Ephesians). In the age to come, God will call 144,000 to go out as his witnesses in all the earth (Rev 14). God will again be working with his plan for the earthly hope in Israel and the blessing of the New Jerusalem which comes down from the heavens to the earth (Rev 21).  

It is the prophet Jeremiah through whom the Lord announces the yet future New Covenant (Jer 31:31-34). That covenant is for the same people with God had an Old Covenant. It is for "the Virgin of Israel" (Jer 31:4, 21). Jeremiah was a prophet sent to Israel. We have no right to place ourselves into either covenant (old or new) nor into the nation of Israel in this age. When Gentiles were grafted into Israel (see our study: Has the Church Been "Hellenized"?), Gentiles were still second to the Jew. Hebrews 8 restates the New Covenant and emphasizes again that it is for the people of the Old Covenant (Hebrews 8:7-13). 

When Paul visited the Gentile worshippers in Acts 17, he did not quote Moses and the Prophets to them as he did in the synagogues. The Old Covenant was not for Gentiles and the Prophets were sent to Israel. On the few occasions the Prophets preached to Gentiles, it was in their relationship with Israel. The worshippers on Mars Hill in Athens had no connection to the Covenant of Sinai nor to the nation of Israel. The Lord was seeking to graft in Gentiles at that time to make Israel jealous (Rom 11:11). Paul references creation and even their own poets in his witness to them, but no reference to the Law or Prophets as he did with Jews.

Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious [religious]. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; and hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: for in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commands all men every where to repent: because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.

-Acts 17:22-31

 In the Acts Age, in light of God's plans for the earth, Paul makes no reference to these Gentiles to the prophecies which concern Israel. He does not speak of the hope of Israel as to does he to the Jews in Rome as late as Acts 28. He does not reference a Kingdom or the promises of the covenants which pertain to Israel alone. He will only point them to scripture in his epistles after they have already been grafted into the root, which is Israel. 

In his testimony and trial in Acts 26 Paul plainly states that he spoke "no other thing than that which was spoken by Moses and the Prophets."  As with Jonah and the Ninevites, Paul speaks only the basic, earthly truths to those Gentiles at Athens. For in that age, Israel was still at the center of God's plan (as the earthly plan was still in sight). 

For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: who are Israelites; to whom pertains the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.

-Romans 9:3-5

This is another topic we have covered elsewhere, but we note it here to further stress how God's earthly plan differs not only in its scope, but in its blessings. God's earthly plan involves a temple, a priesthood, a land, a Kingdom, a King, and nations coming to Israel to worship.

In our passage at hand, the Lord is speaking through Jeremiah and warning Israel not to learn the ways of the "superstitious" and/or "religious" nations around them. This is key. The nations had false gods. We need to apply this principle to the superstitious and religious elements of the world that have crept into Christianity. 

Pastor and radio preacher, David Jeremiah, was once so impressed with kneelers in another church, for example, that he had them installed in his church. I don't recall such things in scripture (but I can't find a lot of what I see in churches today in scripture). He is free to do whatever he wants, but when he imposes his convictions and religious activities on others, he is guilty of imposing unbiblical superstitions on others. We have no scriptural authority to do this.

Learn not the way of the heathen,
and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven;
for the heathen are dismayed at them.
For the customs of the people are vain

The "customs" here in Jeremiah 10 is a reference to the "ordinances" of the gentiles. In the Book of Colossians, we are warned against the supposed "good" ordinances in the Law. In this current age, we are to not only shun the ordinances of the world's religions, but even "biblical" ordinances that God gave to another people for another purpose. 

And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened [made alive] together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;

-Colossians 2:13-14

Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (touch not; taste not; handle not; which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honor to the satisfying of the flesh.

-Colossians 2:20-23

This seems counterintuitive to believers because many fail to rightly divided the Word of Truth (2 Tim 2:15). They fail to compare the things that differ (Phil 1:10). They fail to distinguish the plan of God for the earth (revealed from or since the foundation of the ages) from the plan of God for the far above the heavens (hidden from before the foundation of the ages and revealed only to Paul, post Acts, Ephesians 3).

The danger to the believer in this age comes from ordinances connected to Israel and the earthly hope and from the mind and religion of men. Some who would warn us about our Christmas trees are themselves enslaved to ordinances; whether ordinances meant for Israel or ordinances (rules) created by the world of religion.  

The Berean Expositor (Volume XXV, 1935) comments:

The association of observances, ceremonials, and the elements of the world with Christianity, made easy the deception of the Colossians and the introduction of angelic mediation and worship a natural consequence. But the believer has died with Christ, and is completely free from the domination of all these things— whether pagan or Mosaic, whether deceitful philosophy or holy law and covenant. From all and everything that would impose upon the flesh, having sanctification in view, he is separated:-- "Wherefore if ye died with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why as though living in the world are ye subject to ordinances?" (Col. ii. 20). "Subject to ordinances" is the translation of one word in the original, and has been rendered "ordinance-ridden". Then follow specimen prohibitions as "Touch not; taste not; handle not". The apostle, writing to Timothy and referring to the false teaching of the latter times [this current age], shows that the doctrine of demons, far from teaching men to be immoral, would veto even those things that God has sanctioned, thus creating a false ground of holiness, and leading away from Christ by some supposed personal merit. 
[highlights mine]

One the grand illusions of the current age and especially in western Christendom is the illusion of self-holiness. This deception often plays itself out in local assemblies of believers adopting things like Advent Candles or Ash Wednesday or any sort of "Church Calendar" event. Those who participate often feel a sense of personal merit or self-holiness by participating. I'm quick to add, not always, but the danger is present.

One who shuns a Christmas tree may feel personal merit in the human ordinance "touch not the Christmas tree" rule. And even if he tries to wrestle it out of Jeremiah 10, it still has no basis in God's instructions for this age. Ironically, the same one who sees an idol in the tree is often the same one who participates in other pagan or earthly ordinances. He may observe feast days and Sabbaths and feel as though God is pleased in his personal merit. He may demand we use the Hebrew "Yeshua" for the Lord and declare all other rendering as Satanic. Yet these are concerns for a corrupted faith (or evidence of no real faith at all).

So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a feast day or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.

-Colossians 2:16-19

That which brings a sense of personal merit may actually be the thing which speaks of a denial of Christ. "Holding fast to the Head" is the calling of this age. We hold to Christ alone. No ordinance stands between us and our Head. Religious acts serve to distance the Lord and puff up the flesh in its vanity.

Israel and King Saul were following the sacrificial laws of Moses, yet God was not asking them to obey those ordinances in regard to the Amalekites. The specific command for that battle was to destroy all. Nothing else mattered apart from God's specific instructions for that people in that time. We cannot apply the command to destroy all in any way today. But Saul did not obey that command and the people went to another of God's commands in regard to sacrifices. When we bring the disobedience in the guise of obedience to another part of God's word, we displease the Lord. 

And Saul said to Samuel, “But I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me, and brought back Agag king of Amalek; I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the plunder, sheep and oxen, the best of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.” So Samuel said:

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
As in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.

For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft,
And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
He also has rejected you from being king.”

-1 Sam 15:20-23

How many today try to bring the offerings of another age, of another people, or of another hope and expect the Lord to bless it?

The other side of this coin is seen in the misapplication of Jeremiah 10 upon others. Imposing the "touch not" ordinances on others. The passage in view makes no case for not having plants or trees in the home, the warning is against idolatry and worship of the tree. I would suggest to you that the one who is most concerned about such a thing probably has idols in his or her life. Admittedly, that is speculation, but it is born out of personal experience. Regardless, these are things for which we all must be on guard.

 Let's back up and look at Jeremiah 10:2

And do not be afraid of signs in the sky,
For the Gentiles are afraid of them.
(Far Above All Version)


It is not the one free from ordinances and the rudiments of this world who lives in fear of "signs." It is the superstitious and religious who live in fear. Their warnings about Christmas trees seem to come, not from a teaching position, but from a position of superstitious fear (along with a sense of "personal merit"). Again, speculation, but Paul warns here in Colossians and again to Timothy of those who will arise in our midst with these ill-intents.

We move on.

For the customs of the people are vain:
for one cuts a tree out of the forest,
the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.
They deck it with silver and with gold;

All that needs to be said here is that no one is cutting down a Christmas tree believing it will bring hope and blessings or that it will answer prayer. That would be a "vain" [empty] thought and hope. There are many other things, however, that bring "vain" hopes to some believers: the aforementioned observances of days and rituals, the "claiming" of verses never given to them, the confusion of the earthly hope with the heavenly hope, etc. How many "honor the Sabbath" as they see it believing God is pleased with them?

We don't put gold or silver on our tree, we put ornaments that have our children's names on them covering many years. Regardless, I've never sat back and expected my tree to speak to me or give me any hope. I have zero faith in the tree. My tree isn't even a real tree. It meets none of the warnings of Jeremiah 10.

They are upright, like a palm tree, And they cannot speak; They must be carried, Because they cannot go by themselves. Do not be afraid of them, For they cannot do evil, Nor can they do any good.”

I can assure you I am not afraid of my tree. Even if Jeremiah was directing his warning to me, he should have no worries. I don't plan of worshipping my tree. I don't expect it to speak to me. I have no hope it will help me. And I have fear it will bring me evil.

That last line should be heeded by the Christmas-tree-phobic. Don't worry about the tree in the house that will be chucked in the trash (or stuck back in the attic) somewhere around New Year's Eve. It can't hurt you. I fear you're the one who is suffering from superstition and religion. 

Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.

-Acts 17:22

Number of worshippers: zero

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