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Forgotten Symbols

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When we worship God, does He care how—and with what symbols—we honor Him?


A pointed reminder of human stubbornness

What do Mecca, Jerusalem and Vatican City share with London, Paris, New York City, and Washington, D.C.? In these cities, and in others around the globe, sometimes in the most incongruous locations, we often find great obelisks. Some are actual relics from ancient Egypt—where the design originated—while others are modern interpretations of this ancient theme.

Where else is this obelisk design or something very similar to it, often found? Think of the many Protestant church buildings with their soaring steeples, or the minaret towering above a Muslim mosque. Many great Roman cathedrals prominently display these ancient architectural features.

Is the similarity among these obelisks, spires and towers just a remarkable coincidence? Or is there a meaning—a reason—behind their common designs?

Ancient Egyptians worshiped many gods, including a sun god—and the obelisk was an important symbol in that worship. The Egyptians, like many other ancient pagan peoples, ascribed mysterious power to symbols, particularly those picturing fertility, abundant crops or healing. These customs spread to other cultures and remain widespread, even in our present day, where the obelisk and other similar spires have become a familiar icon not only of professing Christianity, but also of secret societies such as the Freemasons.

“Well, what difference does it make?” you may ask. “Those old meanings and associations have long been forgotten. They are just nice architectural features, which can be beautiful.”

These are natural reactions, but what does God say about the matter? Interestingly, if we look into the Bible, we find that the way we worship and honor God the Father makes a great deal of difference to Him. A quick search for the phrase “sacred pillars” in the New King James Version Bible reveals at least 15 references, each associated with instructions to remove or destroy those symbols of pagan worship.

The basis for this instruction is found in the Second Commandment, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them” (Exodus 20:4–5). Further, in His instruction to the nation of Israel, God said, “When you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations” (Deuteronomy 18:9).

The principle is clear. God chooses how He is to be worshiped, and He does not find it acceptable when His people take it upon themselves to use the methods, practices or symbols of false, pagan religions in an effort to worship Him. In fact, not only does He reject such worship; He considers it an abomination. Again and again, throughout Scripture, God instructs His people to remove these symbols of paganism (Deuteronomy 7:5). In the worship of God, there is no room for pagan tradition.

Some may say, “But these are beautiful traditions!” Yes, perhaps they are beautiful to mankind. But Jesus Christ let the people of His day know—very plainly—that in the true worship of the true God, “tradition” cannot be substituted for truth. “He answered and said to them, ‘Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?’” (Matthew 15:3).

It can certainly be enjoyable to worship God in a building of beauty and quality. But He does not require the use of fine buildings. Rather, He insists on being worshiped in spirit and truth (John 4:24). True worship in modest surroundings, even in rented halls, does please Him, in a way that the finest man-made traditions taken from pagan worship never will. We should never forget this in our worship of the one true God.

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