Learn From the Errors of the Israelites

THE Israelites knew what Jehovah expected of them as they entered the Promised Land. Through Moses, God had commanded: “You must drive away all the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their stone figures, and all their images of molten metal you should destroy, and all their sacred high places you should annihilate.”​—Num. 33:52.

The people of Israel were to conclude no covenant with the inhabitants of the land, nor were they to form any marriage alliance with them. (Deut. 7:2, 3) Indeed, God’s chosen people were warned: “Watch yourself that you do not conclude a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you are going, for fear it may prove itself a snare in your midst.” (Ex. 34:12) Yet, the Israelites disobeyed God and were ensnared. What led to their undoing? What warning lessons can we learn from their experience?​—1 Cor. 10:11.

From Fraternizing to Idolatry

In taking possession of the Promised Land, the Israelites won early victories over its inhabitants. However, the sons of Israel failed to obey God’s commands fully. They did not drive out the enemy. (Judg. 1:1–2:10) On the contrary, as the Israelites took up dwelling among the “seven nations” who populated the land, regular contact with the people of those nations led to friendships with them. (Deut. 7:1) How did this affect the Israelites? The Bible states: “They proceeded to take their daughters as wives for themselves, and their own daughters they gave to their sons, and they took up serving their gods. So the sons of Israel did what was bad in Jehovah’s eyes, and they were forgetful of Jehovah their God and went serving the Baals and the sacred poles.” (Judg. 3:5-7) For the people of Israel, fraternizing with the inhabitants of the land led to intermarriage and idolatry. Once marriage  alliances were formed, the likelihood of Israel’s driving the pagans away from the land dwindled. True worship was corrupted, and the Israelites themselves took up serving false gods.

As their friends, the inhabitants of the Promised Land presented a greater spiritual danger to the Israelites than they had as their foes. Consider another way in which religious corruption might have occurred.

From Farming to Baal Worship

On entering the Promised Land, the sons of Israel ceased being nomads and many became farmers. The agricultural methods that they used were probably similar to those employed by the people who cultivated the land before them. Evidently, this transition went beyond the possible adoption of Canaanite farming methods. Associating with the local people also lured the Israelites into accepting their beliefs linked to agriculture.

The Canaanites worshipped many Baals​—gods thought to bring fertility to the soil. Besides tilling the land and reaping its produce, in time the Israelites joined in honoring Canaanite gods as the givers of plenty. Many in Israel thus made a pretense of worshipping Jehovah, but in reality they engaged in outright apostasy.

Powerful Warning for Us Today

It is unlikely that the Israelites had any intention of getting involved in Baal worship and its debauchery when they first came in contact with the people of the Promised Land. Yet, that is where their association led them. Should we not expect such detrimental effects if we fraternize with those who may be friendly but do not share Christian beliefs, values, and principles? Of course, some contact with unbelievers may be necessary at our place of employment, at school, or perhaps even at home. However, the experience of the Israelites is a warning to us that seeking such association is to court trouble. The Bible states this inescapable truth: “Bad associations spoil useful habits.”​—1 Cor. 15:33.

Today, we face many challenges that are similar to those faced by the Israelites. Modern-day society has its share of idols. They include money, entertainment personalities, sports figures, political systems, certain religious leaders, and even family members. Any of these could potentially become our focus in life. Cultivating close friendships with those who do not love Jehovah can lead us to spiritual ruin.

Illicit sex was an integral part of Baal worship that attracted and seduced many Israelites. Similar snares still claim victims among God’s people. For example, the click of a mouse at a computer in the privacy of one’s own home may be all that a curious or unwary person needs to ruin his good conscience. How sad it would be if a Christian were to be enticed by Internet pornography!

“Happy Are Those Observing His Reminders”

The decision to obey Jehovah or not to obey him in choosing our associates is a personal one. (Deut. 30:19, 20) Hence, we need to ask ourselves: ‘With whom do I associate while engaging in leisure activities? What are their values and their morals? Do they worship Jehovah? Will being in their company encourage me to be a better Christian?’

The psalmist sang: “Happy are the ones faultless in their way, the ones walking in the law of Jehovah. Happy are those observing his reminders; with all the heart they keep searching for him.” (Ps. 119:1, 2) Indeed, “happy is everyone fearing Jehovah, who is walking in his ways.” (Ps. 128:1) When it comes to choosing our associates, may we learn from the errors of the Israelites and be completely obedient to Jehovah.​—Prov. 13:20.

[Picture on page 26]

Fraternizing with those who do not love Jehovah can lead us into idolatry