A Cultural Thing

Once again, my life has been turned upside down, and I am seeing scripture through “new” eyes. Every time YHVH shows me something profound in the Word – something that affects the way I view the entire book of the Bible – I feel as though I have been given new eyes.

Maybe a better description would be that He has given me new lenses. The picture that comes to mind is a prop that was used in the National Treasure. This movie is about a treasure hunter that goes from historical site to historical site looking for a national treasure dating back to the creation of the United States. During one point in his search, he comes across a pair of glasses invented by Benjamin Franklin. Using these particular glasses, he is able to find a hidden message on the back of the Declaration of Independence. The thing about these glasses is that they have multiple layers of lenses, and with each combination of lenses, he sees more of the message.

lenses

Through what YHVH has been showing me, I am officially seeing the entire story of His plan through another layer of lenses, and it begins with culture. Many like to look at the parts of the Bible that they can’t explain or that doesn’t fit their doctrine and say that the things the characters in the Bible dealt with were just cultural differences, and for that reason, we do not have to worry about those things anymore. This statement is only partially correct.

Now YHVH said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.     Genesis 12:1-2

Outside of his genealogy, this is the first thing we hear about Abram. What exactly is that first thing? YHVH calls Abram out of his country, and away from everything he knows – his kindred, his father, all the way down to his culture – to make a new nation, a new kindred, and a new culture. Abraham is not the only person YHVH worked with in this way.

The children of Israel were in Egypt for several hundred years – long enough to adopt the gods and cultures of the Egyptians. What was the first thing YHVH did with them? He took them out of Egypt. He took them away from that nation, the people of that nation, the gods of that nation, and the culture of that nation. What was His purpose for taking them out of all that? To create a new nation, a new kindred, and a new culture, just like He promised to do for Abraham.

and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.”’     Exodus 3:17

In order to understand this culture that YHVH is setting up, we must understand the definition and YHVH’s expectation for holiness.

For I am YHVH who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” Leviticus 11:45

What does “holy” really mean? The Hebrew word for “holy” is “qadosh” and simply means “set apart”. YHVH is set apart from all other gods. He achieves this in all He does, from the way He interacts with humankind all the way to how He carries out His plan (not to mention that He’s actually real). Not only is He set apart, but He commands that we also be set apart. Thankfully, He shows us how to do that.

Just like He did with Abraham, once Israel was free from the threat of Egypt, YHVH gave them instruction in how to treat Him as a set apart God, and He gave them instruction in how to become set apart themselves. As I began studying through the first section of laws that YHVH gave to these people, I realized that these are laws that would separate the culture of Israel (YHVH’s culture) from the culture of the nations that surrounded them. These laws were specifically contrary to the culture of the nation they left (Egypt), and the nations they would fight that inhabited the land YHVH promised to them (the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites).

In this new culture, Israel would treat their servants and women as humans (did you know YHVH was the first women’s rights activist?), they would treat each other with love, they would be good to the stranger, they would help the widow and orphan, they would treat their enemies with love, etc. This new culture was a stark contradiction to the culture of all the nations that surrounded Israel. To refuse to adopt this culture would be to refuse the kingdom that YHVH is setting up.

Our holy (set apart) God rules a kingdom that is holy (set apart). The kingdom of God contradicts the cultures of every other nation in the world. As God, He contradicts all other gods that are in the world. This is the kingdom that Jesus taught and will ultimately rule.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.     Matthew 6:33

but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”     Luke 4:43

Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”     Luke 17:20-21

Jesus came to preach the good news of what? Of the kingdom of God. If we want to be citizens of His kingdom, we must accept His culture. Just as the American culture has its own way of thinking, it’s own government, and it’s own set of laws, the kingdom of YHVH has a culture that sets it apart from America. The kingdom of YHVH has its own way of thinking, its own government, its own God, and its own set of laws. To be a part of YHVH’s kingdom, one must be like Ruth who left her culture for that of YHVH’s.

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May YHVH do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”     Ruth 1:16-17

But, how can we live YHVH’s culture when we are stuck in the middle of the culture of the country in which we dwell? Jesus called it, in a sense, being “in the world, but not of it”.

I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world…As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.     John 17:14, 18

Jesus was sent into a culture that was not his own, a culture that was not YHVH’s, but he did not live like that culture did. Have you ever noticed the disagreements he had with the pharisees? They tried to enforce the rules and regulations of a culture they had created onto the nation of Israel, calling them the Laws of YHVH. By doing this, they changed His culture. Jesus came to reestablish YHVH’s culture to His children by teaching and living the ways of His kingdom as an example. Jesus lived in the culture of the world, but lived according to the culture of YHVH. Just as YHVH sent Jesus into the world, Jesus sent his disciples to do the same.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”     Matthew 28:18-20

This is the very thing that Ruth did when she left her land, her gods, her idols, and her culture for the land, God, Laws and culture of Israel – the kingdom of YHVH. The life of the culture of YHVH was evident in her actions, and were the very thing that caused Boaz to take notice of her.

But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. YHVH repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by YHVH, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!”     Ruth 2:11-12

The rest of the world belongs to cultures of multiple gods, selfishness, greed, and perversion, but the culture of YHVH is a culture of righteousness. Although we live in the culture of the world, we should not conform ourselves to it. As Jesus did, we should live according to the culture of YHVH – a culture that celebrates His feasts, practices His Laws, worships Him alone, and cares for others.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.     1 Corinthians 6:9-10

When we live according to the culture of YHVH, we are going to stick out like a sore thumb. People will take notice. Some of the things we do will annoy people for seemingly no reason. Some of the things we do will cause people to pause, take notice, and take inventory of their own lives. However, there will soon come a day when instead of being a sore thumb, the culture of YHVH will be the norm.

This same culture (kingdom) is what YHVH has promised to those of us who will accept it. This is part of our hope when we make Him our God. From the culture He started us in in Eden, full swing to His mountain, YHVH will fulfill His plan to have a nation of people who will want to live according to His culture.

It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the LORD
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.     Isaiah 2:2-4

So are certain things that YHVH requires from us “just cultural things”? I would say the answer is yes. But keep in mind that not all cultural things represented in the Bible are of the culture of YHVH. I hope that you are able to add a new set of lenses to your vision as I have. I am excited about this new way of seeing things and the understanding it is opening up for me!

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