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You shall not plant for yourself any tree, as a wooden image, near the altar which you build for yourself to the Lord your God. You shall not set up a sacred pillar, which the Lord your God hates. (Deuteronomy 16:21-22)

As we consider this command, one of the first things that comes to mind is the fact that there are instances in Scripture when a pillar was set up, seemingly, with God’s approval. For instance, Jacob set up a pillar at Bethel (Gen. 28:18) and regarded it as God’s House. So why was that one alright and others are not? Obviously, the pillars He is referring to above are distinguished from anything holy — these pillars and images are those dedicated to false gods. In fact, in Hebrew, the text says not to “plant an idolatrous (asherah) tree … or set up a pillar.” This demonstration of idolatry is equivalent to ignoring God’s word and is considered as a treasonous act.

Now let’s consider something else about this instruction — why is it given on the heels of several commands related to judges and pursuing righteousness and justice? I would argue because the concepts are connected. Think about it: the appointment of unqualified or unprincipled judges to oversee God’s people would be equivalent to planting an idolatrous tree and, thus, opening the gate to idolatrous worship and the lifestyle that goes with it. In short, Moses gives this warning about idolatry to juxtapose with the criteria for judges worthy of the position.

Underscoring the point is the fact that, in Scripture, men are often likened unto trees both good and bad. Moreover, John the Baptist and Messiah made this connection and warned that every tree (man) that does not bear good fruit will be “cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:7-10; 7:17-20). Messiah also warned that “Every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted” (Matthew 15:13). So the point is to recognize which “pillars” in our society are dedicated to righteousness and which are dedicated to idolatry.

Let us rally around the former and resist the latter. Perversion of justice, like idolatry, leads to national decay which is why Israel was warned of it. The principle holds true for our time and society and, so, let us remain steadfast in our resistance to the unholy whims of the day. Let us be those trees that are planted by the rivers of water that bring forth good fruit and whose leaf will not wither.

Blessings and Shalom,  




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