These are strong warnings!
Mankind has an innate desire to worship God, but he wants to be free to do it according to the dictates of his own mind. The result is a wide variety of religions—in actuality, mass confusion as to which is the true religion—and a world in which true values are lost in an ocean of conflicting opinions about how to live. This, in turn, has helped persuade many people to reach the conclusion that all gods are equally good, or its counterpart, that everybody is worshipping the same god.
We all know God is not pleased with this situation, but He allows it to continue. However, even while allowing it to continue, He is calling people out of it. He has shown His called-out ones that they have been redeemed from the bondage to traditions, described in I Peter 1:18 as "vain," "aimless," or "futile," depending on the translation. However, in the vast majority of cases, someone, presumptuously taking it upon himself to inaugurate a tradition, began practicing them, sincerely thinking he was improving his life. We have all followed these traditions, but the Christian is responsible not to allow the world to squeeze him into its mold of conduct, character, and attitude.
Proverbs 21:16 describes the way many presumptuous sins begin: "A man who wanders from the way of understanding will rest in the congregation of the dead." Like this man, most people do not deliberately set out to depart from God. Nevertheless, carelessness invariably enters the picture, and a person drifts from his former sure fix on his goal. Once his focus on the goal is blurred, he is more easily deceived into foolishly assuming certain things. An especially sad part of this is that the result is the same as if he were deliberately presumptuous.
The author of Hebrews uses a metaphor in Hebrews 2:1-3, portraying a boat slipping from its moorings and drifting away. A person "neglect[s] so great salvation" by allowing himself to be caught in the current of the world's attitudes and conduct. Presumption frequently begins with careless drifting, but the drifting quickly advances from neglect to presumption unless one carefully checks whether he actually has God's permission to behave as he does.
In Proverbs 8, wisdom is personified as a woman crying out to people along the way—to God's Kingdom?—to take heed to her instruction. In verse 36, she utters a profound warning: "But he who sins against me wrongs his own soul; all those who hate me love death." None of us likes to think of himself as foolishly loving death. However, the Bible consistently shows that those who do not consciously, purposefully, and carefully direct their lives toward obedience to God do indeed love death rather than life! Such a person is in effect presuming that all is well with him in relation to God. God does not like being taken for granted—because it is bad for us!
John W. Ritenbaugh
Presumption and Divine Justice
We must carefully evaluate the world's dangers because it has been—in the past, before conversion—the primary shaper of our sinful attitudes and characters. So powerful are the world's evil characteristics that Israelite history reveals that they were drawn into the most perverse and despicable heathen practices. The biblical record proves how easy it is for an individual to return to the old ways and how difficult it is to overcome them.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Two)
Halloween is a custom of the nations. God Himself calls such things abominations, practices that He hates. If we strip away its façade of revelry and feasting, it is idolatrous false worship, honoring spirit beings that are not God. In addition, God never tells us to celebrate this day or in any way to honor the spirits of the dead.
Notice that He warns us not to be "ensnared to follow" the practices of the nations. A snare is a trap designed to catch an unwary animal. The trap itself is hidden, but what is visible is a kind of lure, an attractive trick designed to fool the prey into entering the trap. Once it takes the bait, the gate comes down, a hook comes out, or a spring slams closed on a limb, and the prey is trapped.
God is alerting us to the fact that heathen or ungodly practices—customs, ways of worship, traditions, celebrations—usually have characteristics that appeal to our human nature. They are the lures. We can become caught up in them before we are aware of it. God advises us to watch out for the hidden dangers, the appealing entrapments, that are designed into these holidays.
Many cultures have a form of Halloween in their tradition. It seems that most of this world's peoples desire to celebrate the dead. The holidays or feasts may vary from place to place, falling on different days and following different customs. The common denominator is that they all honor or remember the dead or unseen spirits.
Mexico has its "Day of the Dead" in which participants give out candies in the shape of skeletons and visit graveyards to commune with the dead by leaving them food. In Japan, they honor their ancestors with various celebrations. Certain African tribes set aside days to honor the unseen spirits, warding off the evil ones and placating the good. German, Scandinavian, Spanish, Italian, and many other cultures have a Halloween-type holiday.
In English-speaking countries, Halloween derives primarily from the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced "sow-in"). Samhain, held on the three days around November 1, was a kind of New Year's celebration and harvest festival all rolled up into one.
The Celts believed that these three days were special because of the transition from the old year to the new. They felt that during this time the boundary between the physical and spiritual worlds relaxed or lifted, allowing spirits to cross over more easily. This idea, of course, terrifies superstitious people—that departed spirits could walk among us, especially those who died in the past year as it was thought these spirits desired to return to the mortal realm. For this reason, they believed they had to appease the spirits to make them go into the spirit world and stay there.
The Celts did this by putting out food and treats so that, when these spirits came floating by their houses, they would pass on. They thought that, if they did not appease the spirits, they would play tricks or put curses on them. Whole villages would unite to drive away the evil spirits, ensuring that the upcoming year would be good. Others among them would hold séances or conduct other kinds of divination by incantation, potion, or trance to contact dead ancestors in hope of receiving guidance and inspiration.
An interesting aspect of this transition time—the three days of Samhain—is that it was considered to be "no time," a time unto itself. Thus, it became a tradition that the order and the rules by which people lived were held in abeyance during them.
All laws went unenforced. The social order was turned upside-down—the fool became king, and the king became the fool. Men dressed as women and vice-versa. People took on different personas, dressing in disguise and acting the part. No work was done during this period of total abandon, for it was a time for revelry, drinking, eating, making and taking dares, and breaking the law. In a word, it was chaos.
Then Roman Catholicism arrived on the scene and "converted" the pagans. It also decreed a day to honor departed saints: May 13, All Saints' Day. The priests instructed the "converted" pagans to keep All Saints' Day, but they continued to celebrate Samhain because it was so much more fun than attending church to pray for the hallowed saints of yesteryear.
To keep them in the fold, in AD 835 Pope Gregory IV officially authorized moving All Saints' Day to November 1 to coincide with Samhain. He allowed the pagan "Christians" to keep their old customs as long as they put a gloss of Christianity on them. Thus, they kept Samhain in the name of Christ to honor the departed saints.
Like Samhain, All Saints' Day began the evening before, which was called All Hallows' Eve, All Saints' Eve, or Halloween. Since then, Halloween has evolved into its present form, in which nothing remotely Christian remains. It is known for all its pre-Christian Celtic practices—particularly the recognition of the spirit world in the form of fairies, witches, ogres, goblins, demons, ghouls, vampires, etc.
Today, "trick-or-treating" is the most recognized of Halloween activities, and it is simply a form of extortion. Children, whether they know it or not, are acting as the spirits who will play a trick or put a curse on the one who does not pay up in food or treats. Divination and séances are also commonly held on October 31. Hooliganism—tricks resulting in vandalism—often reaches its high point on Halloween. For many years, Detroit was the scene of "hell night," in which rampaging young people trashed large areas of the city, setting fires, smashing cars and windows, looting, and generally creating havoc.
The Celtic feast of Samhain still survives in Halloween. It has simply reverted to our ancestors' Celtic practice.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Both the Old and New Testaments often repeat the principle that to establish a fact requires two or three witnesses. This criterion applies to the death penalty (Deuteronomy 17:6; Hebrews 10:28), accusations against an elder (I Timothy 5:19), disputes with the brethren (Matthew 18:16), establishing iniquity or sin (Deuteronomy 19:15), and problems in the church (II Corinthians 13:1).
What if God gives us a command, not just two or three times, but fifteen times? Surely, such repetition would establish the importance God places on that instruction. In Deuteronomy, we find such a repeated charge, in which God declares fifteen times that we are to be careful to obey all His commands.
Because God felt the need to pound this idea into our minds, following His example, here are the fifteen times in Deuteronomy He tells us to be careful in our obedience:
“. . . be careful to observe them . . .” (4:6).
“Take careful heed to yourselves . . .” (4:15).
“. . . be careful to observe them” (5:1).
“. . . be careful to do as the Lord your God has commanded you . . .” (5:32).
“. . . be careful to observe it . . .” (6:3).
“. . . if we are careful to observe all these commandments . . .” (6:25).
“Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe . . .” (8:1).
“. . . you shall be careful to observe all the statutes and judgments . . .” (11:32).
“These are the statutes and judgments which you shall be careful to observe . . .” (12:1).
“Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it” (12:32).
“. . . you shall be careful to observe these statutes” (16:12).
“. . . be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes” (17:19).
“. . . be careful to observe them with all your heart and with all your soul” (26:16).
“. . . if you heed the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, and are careful to observe them” (28:13).
“. . . command your children to be careful to observe—all the words of this law” (32:46).
The message is loud and clear: be careful to obey every and all commands of God. Some would consider these many statements as mindless repetition. Why this “overkill”? Because humanity has proven since the beginning that it is nearly unfailingly not careful. Were Adam and Eve careful to obey all that God commanded? No, and their progeny, all humanity, has followed in their footsteps ever since.
Was ancient Israel careful to obey? Of course not! Their history is a record of failure nearly at every turn. Was the early church careful? Not completely. So, in various places we find the writers of the New Testament having to admonish those who were missing the mark. What about in more recent times? Were the leaders of our former fellowship careful in their obedience? Like ancient Israel, the answer is the same: of course not! God's church would look far different if they had been.
What about those in the greater church of God today? Most recognize that we are in the Laodicean era of God's church. What is a Laodicean? Scripture describes a Laodicean as one who is lukewarm or half-hearted, suggesting that such a Christian shows a lack of intensity or focus that is almost the opposite of being careful.
To admit that we are in the Laodicean era is to acknowledge the reality that the vast majority of us are not careful in our obedience to God. This situation illustrates the perversity of human nature that, for most of us, the repetition of a command fifteen times is still not enough to make the message stick.
While Deuteronomy repeatedly warns us to adhere carefully to all that God commands, Christ takes it even further, saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word” that comes from God (Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4). In Matthew 5:18, He adds, “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” Not even the smallest letter or word or even one little hook of a Hebrew letter is to be overlooked.
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Deuteronomy 12:32: