Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Henotheism for Moab?

I’ve been reading the Book of Jeremiah for my daily quiet time.  Allow me to present some puzzling verses, both from Jeremiah 48.

Jeremiah 48:13: “And Moab shall be ashamed of Chemosh, as the house of Israel was ashamed of Bethel their confidence” (KJV).

Jeremiah 48:35: “Moreover I will cause to cease in Moab, saith the LORD, him that offereth in the high places, and him that burneth incense to his gods” (KJV).

Why do I call these verses puzzling?  Because, in many places of the Hebrew Bible, the idea is that Israel is to worship the LORD alone, while other nations are allowed to worship their own gods.  See Deuteronomy 4:19, Deuteronomy 32:8-9 (preferably in other versions than the KJV), and also Judges 11:24, where the Israelite judge Jephthah appears to acknowledge the existence of the Moabite god Chemosh.  Israel is in covenant with the LORD and is thus required to worship the LORD alone, but other nations are not under that covenantal requirement.  Some scholars have argued that this is why the Book of Amos criticizes Gentile nations for international crimes, but never for worshiping gods other than the LORD: because they were not required to worship the LORD alone.

In Jeremiah 48:13, 35, however, the belief seems to be that God required Moab to worship the LORD alone.  Why else would God gleefully say that Moab will be ashamed of Chemosh, compare that to Israel’s shame at her idolatrous site of Bethel, and criticize the Moabites for offering in the high places?

Is Jeremiah (or whoever wrote Jeremiah 48) a voice for universalism, one who believes that all nations should worship the LORD alone?  Or is Moab expected to worship the God of Israel because Moab was descended from Lot, the nephew of Abraham, and thus Moab is close to the Israelite family?

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