The following statements come from the Didache, an early church manual of instructions for practical living for new Gentile believers: (NOTE: This revision of the Didache into modern English is based on the translation of J.B. Lightfoot)
1:1 There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between the two ways.
1:2 The way of life is this.
1:3 First of all, Love God who made you;
1:4 Secondly, Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
5:1 But the way of death is this:
5:2 First of all, it is evil and full of a curse…
They are also part of the final instructions that Moses gave the Israelites as they prepared to enter the Promised Land and take possession of it. “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known.” (Dt 11:26-28)
These verses come from the beginning of our Torah portion for this week. Later the instructions that are given detail the utter destruction of the pagan worship sites and paraphernalia used by the Canaanites in the worship of their idols and gods. The purpose for this destruction is to eliminate every trace of what and how the pagans worshipped so as not to tempt the Israelites to worship their gods or incorporate the pagan manner of worship into their own worship of God. But the instructions go even farther and command the annihilation of every man, woman, child and animal of the Canaanites. To us that may seem to be an extremely harsh judgment and an abhorrent command, but is it not a physical picture of a spiritual reality? Is that not what the Scriptures teach will happen to anyone who does not believe in the atoning work of Jesus, the only begotten Son of God? For did not the Psalmist say, “For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” (Psalms 1:6) The Apostle Paul said, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 6:23) and Jesus Himself told Nicodemus that “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:18)
The picture continues in the next chapter when Moses tells them, “But you shall seek the place that the LORD your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there. There you shall go, and there you shall bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, your vow offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock.” (Dt 12:5-6) God is again setting His people apart from the rest of the nations. Contrary to the rest of the nations who worshipped their gods anywhere, Moses tells the Israelites that God would choose one place among them where He would place His name and sanctify it as the only place they were to come and offer their sacrifices and offerings to Him. God had specific things they were to do and ways for them to worship Him. But even so it was not through their action of offering the sacrifices that they were saved, rather it was through their faith in God to forgive their sins and redeem them that they, in faith, performed the sacrifices and gave their offerings to show their love for Him and His salvation.
Salvation has always been by faith. It is written of Abraham, “And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” (Gen 15:6) The Lord told the Prophet Habakkuk to write “… but the righteous shall live by his faith.” (Hab 2:4), and the Apostle Paul taught, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph 2:8-9)
So in His instructions God presented His people with one way only that was acceptable to Him and they were not to deviate from those instructions or God would not accept them. The same is still true today, for there is still only one way to find salvation and that is through faith in Jesus who died to pay the price for our sins.
But the Israelites did not follow through with God’s instructions and eliminate anything and anyone associated with the pagan worship in the land they were to possess. As a result, just as God warned, those things they did not eliminate became a snare to them and over time they were enticed to incorporate within their worship of God some of the pagan practices. They knew what God expected and faithfully went through the actions of offering the prescribed sacrifices and observing the festivals, but their hearts were far from God as they also went about offering sacrifices to pagan idols and gods. As a result God brought the judgment He said would come if they did these things.
But we too have not been careful and over time we have been enticed by the enemy to adopt the world’s ways in our worship of God. God has not changed nor have His warnings of judgment on those who do not follow His instructions. He clearly states in many places and ways that it is His desire that NONE should perish but leaves the decision up to us. He has not hidden anything, but through His Word clearly lays before us the options that we have. God freely offers us blessing but we choose curses if we don’t follow His instructions. He freely offers us life but we choose death if we try to do it our way. If we desire God’s blessing and the eternal life He offers than it is time we recognized God’s call to be a set apart people. God is a God of love and mercy but He is also a Judge and He has openly laid out the rules by which His righteous judgments will be made. The day will come when we will have to answer for what we did with our lives, now we can go through the motions and make it look good but God looks on the heart and knows the truth. “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” (Gal 6:7) The Scripture also warns us that “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Pro 14:12) Now is time for us to evaluate what we do. Is our worship really from a heart of love for God? Are we truly seeking God with our whole heart so we can walk on the path He shows us in His Word? These are serious questions with eternal consequences that we dare not ignore. May God in His love and mercy help us to choose the path of life and blessing that He freely offers us.