God is…A Study of Monotheism
If you could ask God one question, what would it be? Maybe you would ask a big question: What is God’s purpose for you? Or, what’s going to happen to you after you die? Or, why does God let people suffer? On the other hand, you might ask a question that seems minor but still perplexes you: What would your life be like if you had married a lost sweetheart? Or, why did God make the sky blue? Maybe you should just ask God: Who are you? Or, what are you? Or, what do you want? God’s answer to such a basic question would go a long way toward answering other questions. Who and what God is, what God wants-these are aspects of God’s nature. And the nature of God, after all, underlies everything else-why the universe is the way it is, who we are as humans, why our lives are the way they are, and what we should be doing with our time.
Has anyone ever lived who didn’t puzzle-at least a little over such profound questions? But, we humans can begin to grasp the answers. We can begin to understand the nature of God.
The Lord Our God Is One!
Judaism. Christianity. Islam. These three great faiths all look to Abraham as their father. Abraham differed from others of his day in one vital respect: He worshiped only one God-the true God.
Monotheism, the belief that but one God exists, marks the starting pointof true religion.Abraham was not born in a monotheistic society. Centuries later, God reminded ancient Israel: Your fathers, including Terab,the father of Abraham. . . dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham on the other side of the River, led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his descendants\ (Joshua 24:2-3, New King James Version throughout) Before God called him, Abraham lived in Ur,though his relatives may have lived in Haran. The people of both placesworshiped many gods. Ur, for instance, was the site of a great ziggurat dedicated to the Sumerian moon-god, Nanna. Other temples at Ur honoredAn, Enlil, Eriki and Ningal. God called Abraham out of polytheism.
In a sense, God’s relationship with Israel began when he revealed himself to Abraham.God made a covenant with Abraham. God renewed that agreement with Abraham’s son Isaac and, later, with Isaac’s son Jacob.Abraham, Isaac and Jacob worshiped the one true God. This set them apart even from their close relatives. Laban, a grandson of Abraham’s brother Nahor, embraced numerous household gods or idols (Genesis 31:30-35)
God Rules Israel From Idolatry
Decades later, Jacob (whose name God changed to Israel) and his children settled in Egypt. The children of Israel remained in Egypt for nearly three centuries.The Egyptians also worshiped many gods. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia points out: The first observation of a person coming to the study of Egyptian religion is the large number of deities, many of them in animal form, or human form with animal heads…. It is possible to list at least thirty-nine gods and goddesses (Vol. IV, page 101)The children of Israel grew in number in Egypt but became enslaved by their Egyptian hosts. God revealed himself as the one true God through a series of miracles that led to Israel’s liberation from Egypt.God then made a covenant between himself and the nation of Israel.
God’s revelation of himself to humanity, as these events, clearly show, has always centered on monotheism. He revealed himself to Moses as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The name God called himself, �1 am (Exodus 3:14), implies that other gods do not exist in the same way God does.
They are not!Because Pharaoh refused to release Israel,God humbled Egypt with 10 plagues.Many of these plagues directly showed the impotence of Egypt’s gods. One of the Egyptian gods had a head in the shape of a frog. God’s plague of frogs upon Egypt ridiculed the worship of that god.Even after witnessing the devastating effects the 10 plagues had on his nation, Pharaoh still tried to prevent the Israelites from leaving. God finally over threw the Egyptians in the midst of the sea (Exodus14:27)
This action demonstrated the impotence of Egypt’s sea god. The children of Israel sang triumphantly (Exodus 15:1-21), exalting the omnipotent God of Israel.The True God Found-and LostGod led the Israelites out of Egypt and up to Mt. Sinai, where they ratified a covenant. God stressed in the first of his Ten Commandments that he alone was to be worshiped: You shall have no other gods before Me. (Exodus 20:3) The Second Commandment forbade the making or worshiping of idols (verses 4-5)
Time and again, Moses pleaded with the Israelites not to worship idols (Deuteronomy 4:23-26; 7:5 ; 12:2-3; 29:14-18). He knew Israel would be tempted to follow the Canaanite gods when they arrived in the Promised Land.
A saying known as the Shema (after the Hebrew word for hear, which begins the saying) captured Israel’s duty to God. The Shema starts: Hear, 0 Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love
the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)Of course, Israel again and again lapsed into worshiping the Canaanite gods, among them El (a standard term for deity that is so applied to the true God), Baal, Dagon and Ashtoreth (also knownas Astarte or Ishtar)Baal worship particularly troubled the Israelites. As they colonized the land of Canaan, they became dependent on crop production. Baal, the storm god, was worshiped in fertility rites. God’s prophets warned the Israelites to turn from their waywardness.
Elijah asked: How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him (1 Kings 18:21)God answered Elijah’s prayer to prove that he alone was God. The people acknowledged: The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God! (verse 39) God revealed himself not merely as the greatest of all gods, but as the only God: I am the Lord, and there is no other; there is no God besides Me (Isaiah 45:5) And: Before Me there was no God formed, nor shall there be after Me. I, even I, am the Lord, and besides Me there is no savior (Isaiah 43:10 11). Judaism – Strictly Monotheistic The Jewish religion of Jesus day was not merely henotheistic (holding that God is the greatest of many gods) nor monolatrous (permitting the worship of God alone but acknowledging that othergods might exist) . It was strictly monotheistic, meaning there is only the one God. According to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, on no other point were the Jews more united than on the confession God is one (Vol. III, page 98) Reciting the Shema remains an integral part of Jewish worship today.
Rabbi Akiba is said to have been brought to his execution at the time of the reading of the Shema and to have repeated Deuteronomy 6:4 throughout his tortures, breathing his last on the word one. Monotheism Reaffirmed When a scribe asked Jesus which command was greatest, Jesus replied by quoting from the Shema: Hear, 0 Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength (Mark 12:29-30) The scribe agreed wholeheartedly: Well said, Teacher.
You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He (verse 32) Jesus coming gave the New Testament Church a broadened concept of God. Jesus claimed to be the Son of God and to be one with the Father. Yet Jesus Christ reaffirmed monotheism.
As the writers of the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament point out: Early Christian monotheism is confirmed rather than shattered by the Christology of the [ Testament]…. According to the Gospels Jesus Himself sharpens the monotheistic confession (Vol. III, page 102) Even Christ’s enemies told him, Teacher, we know that You are true, and care about no one; for You do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth (Mark 12:14) Jesus referred to himself as the Christ of God (Luke 9:20) or the Christ, the chosen of God (Luke 23:35) . He is the Lamb of God (John 1:29) and the bread of God (John 6:33).Jesus, the Word, was God (John 1:1)Mark 10:17-18 records for us one of Jesus clearest affirmations of monotheism. When a man addressed him as Good Teacher, Jesus answered: Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.
What the Early Church Preached Jesus commissioned the Church of God to preach the gospel and to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20) . This soon involved preaching to gentiles who were still
immersed in polytheism. When Paul and Barnabas preached and performed miracles at Lystra, the reaction of the people betrayed just how steeped they were in polytheism: When the people saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men! And Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes (Acts 14:11-12) Hermes and Zeus were two gods in the Greek pantheon. The Greek and Roman pantheons were well-known in the New Testament world, and the worship of Greek and Roman gods was widespread during that time.
Paul and Barnabas responded vigorously with the message of monotheism: We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these vain things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them (verse 15) Even then, Paul and Barnabas could scarcely restrain the people from sacrificing to them.
In Athens, the apostle Paul found many altars set up to honor different gods-even one with the inscription: “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD” (Acts 17:23) He used that altar as a starting point from which to explain monotheism to the Athenians. At Ephesus, brisk sales of idols accompanied the worship of the Greek goddess Artemis. After Paul preached about the one true God, the idol trade slackened. The silversmith Demetrius, adversely affected economically, told his fellow artisans in Ephesus, Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands (Acts 19:26)
Here is another case of one of God’s servants preaching that gods made by hand are not gods at all. Just as the Old Testament does, the New Testament proclaims but one true God. The other gods aren’t.
No Other God
Paul states explicitly, We know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one (1 Corinthians 8:4). Monotheism underpins both Old and New Testaments.
God called Abraham out from a polytheistic society. God revealed himself to Moses and Israel and founded the old covenant on the worship of himself alone. God sent prophets to reiterate the message of monotheism.
Finally, Jesus Christ himself reaffirmed monotheism. The New Testament Church that Jesus founded continually battled against worship that fell short of true monotheism. The Church, from the days of the New Testament forward, has consistently preached that which God long ago revealed: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall have no other gods before Me God stressed in the first of his Ten Commandments: You shall have no other gods before Me (Exodus 20:3) . The Second Commandment went on to forbid the making or worshiping of idols (verses 4-6) Though the Israelites politically displaced the Canaanites in the Promised Land, the insidious influence of the Canaanites pagan religion continually troubled Israel. The Canaanite pantheon of gods and goddesses supposedly controlled the weather and soil and animal fertility. Dependent on agriculture, the Israelites were frequently tempted to adopt the practices of Canaanite idolatry. Then the children of Israel. ..forsook the Lord God of their fathers, who had brought them Out of Egypt; and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them, and they. . .provoked the Lord to anger. They forsook the Lord and served Baal and the Ashtoreths (Judges 2:11-13)
Monotheism: Belief in one God.
Polytheism: Belief in more than one God.
Rabbi Akiba: Jewish rabbi martyred in Palestine during the second century A.D.
Shema: Jewish confession of faith (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41)
Ziggurat: Mesopotamian tower. From Archaeology
Ur was the setting of a culture that enjoyed literature and art and understood the value of law. Yet it was dominated by religion that worshiped many gods (Joshua 24:2-3) . God called Abraham out of this polytheistic setting (Genesis 12:1-2) Leonard Woolley’s excavations from 1922 to 1934 at Tell al Muqayyar in LowerMesopotamia established southern Ur as the home of the patriarch Abraham.(The above information was published by THE PLAIN TRUTH, May/June 1993) Christian Information Network