2 Kings 17:8
And you shall not walk in the customs of the nations that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things and therefore I detested them.
I came upon the above passage in 2 Kings last year during my nightly reading of Scripture. The repeated phrase "in the customs" almost jumped out at me.
A Quick Bit of History
A quick study of Israelite history tells you that at this point in 2 Kings, God's people weren't following His laws and commandments; again. They were instead following after the customs of the heathen nations around them. The 'this' in 2 Kings refers to the fact that God allowed the Assyrians to carry away Israel into Assyria as punishment for being "in the custom". And before anyone thinks that the Israel didn't know that following the behavior of their neighbors was wrong, read the 2nd verse I listed above from Leviticus. They had been informed ages ago that they were not to be "in the custom" of the nations around them because God detested what those nations had done.
What does "in the custom" mean? A quick dig in the Bible dictionary pointed me to the Hebrew word huqqah (Strong's #2708). I'm sorry that the Hebrew looks bad but I can't get all of the symbols to show up here on the blog. The word can mean statutes, laws, ordinances, decrees, commandments, or regulations. These are things that can be given orally or be written down. The statutes of the Lord were taught to Israel and Judah so they could discern between what was acceptable and what was not acceptable in God's eyes. Following the decrees of the Lord would help Israel and Judah separate themselves from the activities of their heathen neighbors. Following God's "customs" brought blessings. Not following God's "customs" brought curses. History tells us that Israel and Judah stopped following God's "customs" and bad consequences followed.
My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent...my son, do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths, for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood. Proverbs 1:10, 15-16
Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of evil. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on. Proverbs 4: 14-15
The reason the phrase "in the custom" stuck in my mind wasn't because of the history lesson. I started to think about what I do on a day-to-day basis. Am I doing things that are "in the custom" of the world around me? Should I be like some who avoid technology because the world uses it? If that's the case then this blog shouldn't exist and I'd need to quit my day job because all of those use technology. Should I change my apparel because some of what I wear is worn by the rest of the world? Are there things I shouldn't do or shouldn't say because the world does or says them?
The Three Ls
One must be careful of how these questions are answered. If we answer them in such away that we start putting the following of rules in place of the salvation freely available through Christ, we swing towards Legalism. Some people are extreme in their Legalism in that they follow almost no "customs" of the world. They won't wear worldly clothing, they won't use worldly technology, they don't approve of music that sounds like what the world is making. I know there are more examples that are not listed here. Legalism says there are specific ways to behave and specific things to do in order to be in God's favor. Legalism ignores Ephesians 2:8-9: 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.
The other extreme from this is when people answer the questions in such away that they believe salvation gives one License to do whatever one wants. Those who choose License do not believe that there are "customs" of the world to be avoided. They ignore the Scriptures that ask us to not follow after the "customs" of the world. Their trust is in the world and not in Christ. They ignore Romans 6:15: What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Scripture is clear that neither Legalism nor License are acceptable ways to deal with the "customs" of the world.
If Legalism and License are not what God approves of for us, what option do we have left? Through salvation in Christ we are called to Liberty / freedom (Greek - eleutheria, Strong's #1657).
For you were called to freedom, brother. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. Galatians 6:13
Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil,
but living as servants of God. 1 Peter 2:16
The freedom the children of God have is from the Legalism of the Old Testament. We also have freedom from the rules that others make as they try to impose their Legalism on us. The Liberty we have in Christ gives us the ability to decide for ourselves through Scripture and the Spirit what His will is for our lives.
How do we apply Liberty to our lives? I can't give a definitive list because that would border on Legalism and License. Some examples though, I can provide. Liberty means that for those ladies who feel led by the Spirit to wear a head covering in church or maybe at all times, they are free to choose to do that. They are not free to tell other ladies that they too should wear a head covering in order to be in God's will. That would be Legalism. Music styles can be a touchy subject for some in the area of Liberty as well. This is where I am so thankful that my parents applied Liberty when my brother and I were in our teen years. Their personal preference was not for the up-beat, rap, and rock style of music that my brother and I enjoyed. Instead of telling us that the music wasn't allowed, my mom asked to read the liner notes. If the words were good, then she allowed the music to stay in the house. She might not have wanted to hear it herself but she didn't forbid us from having it. This is a beautiful example of Liberty.
Liberty is in the middle of swing of the pendulum that can easily move toward Legalism or License. Liberty must be used wisely, and Paul talks about this very thing in Romans 14:
Therefore let us not pass judgement on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anything who thinks it is unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died...Do not for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgement on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. Romans 14: 13-15,20-23.
My paraphrase of Paul is that he's saying "Don't use your liberty, your freedom to do an activity that would cause a fellow Christian to stumble in their walk. In their immaturity or in their newness in Christ they may find activities unacceptable that you find acceptable. When you are around them, don't do those activities that would cause them to stumble, to doubt. Don't put them down for finding fault in those activities. If there is an activity that you doubt would be acceptable in the sight of God, then don't do it. If you do it while in doubt, it is sin because it wasn't an activity done in faith."
What To Do
Why should we follow God's "customs"? I'll let Scripture speak for itself:
My son, do not lose sight of these -- keep sound wisdom and discretion, and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck. Proverbs 3:21-22
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2
David was in love with God's law ("customs"). I'll share part of his words regarding God's "customs" here but I suggest you take some time to study the entirety of Psalm 119.
Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord!
Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong, but walk in His ways!
You have commanded Your precepts to be kept diligently.
Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping Your statutes!
Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all Your commandments.
I will praise You with an upright heart, when I learn Your righteous rules.
I will keep Your statutes; do not utterly forsake me!
Psalm 119: 1-8
God's "customs" are good things. They are not meant to bring us harm. They are meant to bring us closer to God and to what He desires for us. God's "customs" provide us a framework within which to use the Liberty He has given to us. Legalism and License are not inside His "customs" framework for us.
Wow, we've discussed a lot so far in this post but we need some application before I close out the post. How are we to see that God's "customs" are good things when the world is telling us they are bad things? How are we to learn to love God's "customs"? Open your Bible and READ IT! Study it on your own and with a friend! I find that I learn more when I study Scripture with a friend than if I study it alone. Pray for your heart to be open to God's "customs". Pray over what you read, asking the Spirit to show you what He would have you learn from His Word. Put into practice what you learn as this is of utmost importance as well. Learning is good but application is the putting of that knowledge into practice in our lives. This is part of the wisdom and discretion mentioned in Proverbs 3:21-22 and in Romans 12:1-2. Wisdom and discretion will help you discern the "customs" of the world that you are to avoid and there by live in the Liberty we have in Christ.
As we seek to be "in the custom" of God, may our prayer be that of the words of Nehemiah:
And I said, "O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love Him and keep His commandments.