It was on this day in the year 41 A.D. that a decree by Caius Caligula allowed graven images to be placed in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. This decree was eventually nullified by his assassination. So in ancient Judea, this day was celebrated as a holiday – not necessarily because of Caligula’s death but because of the removal of the pagan items that he had placed in the Temple. Like others before and after him, Caligula was motivated by political policy, intended to bring homogeneity among the peoples of the empire, hence a decree to force other gods upon the Jews. In today’s world, this agenda would be called a push for “tolerance” and “coexistence.”
For the Romans, it was no problem for conquered peoples to continue worshiping their unique gods if their gods were tolerant of the other gods in the Roman pantheon. Their gods weren’t jealous and were more than willing to coexist with one another. But when it came to the Jews and their belief in the One God, this presented a problem. The God of Israel said:
Hear, O 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 strength. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
There is a word in this verse that is central to the belief in the One God. The Hebrew word echad, translated as “one” reveals that He alone is God. Even the spelling of the word אחד echad speaks to this issue. The last letter in this word, ד dalet looks very similar to another Hebrew letter called ר resh. If we were to mistake the ד dalet for the ר resh, then the result would be the word אחר acher, which means “another.” By changing just one letter, the One True God becomes just one god among others – one of many; something that would have suited Caligula just fine.
This demonstrates that we cannot concede to changing one thing about His Word. We must commit ourselves to being a peculiar, set apart people who proclaim the praises of the One, True God. Caligula, and others like him, have tried through the centuries to impose homogeneity or coexistence upon God’s people. But we must not capitulate to the notion that tolerance and coexistence, as defined by today’s culture, is acceptable to Him as a way of life for His people. On more than one occasion, He said that He is a “jealous God,” meaning that He is not tolerant of other gods and will not co-exist with them. Consequently, neither should we.
In fact, all of those other gods are dead. The God of Israel, the Only God, is alive and well, forevermore. Let us declare that “the Lord our God is One.” He is echad.