SMELLING A FRAGRANT BRANCH AND KISSING YOUR HAND
By Curtis Pugh
Ezekiel spoke against the idol worshiping Jews of his day saying, “Then he said unto me, Hast thou seen this, O son of man? Is it a light thing to the house of Judah that they commit the abominations which they commit here? for they have filled the land with violence, and have returned to provoke me to anger: and, lo, they put the branch to their nose. Therefore will I also deal in fury: mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity: and though they cry in mine ears with a loud voice, yet will I not hear them,” (Ezekiel 8:17-18). Job declared himself free from idolatry by saying, “If I beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness; And my heart hath been secretly enticed, or my mouth hath kissed my hand: This also were an iniquity to be punished by the judge: for I should have denied the God that is above,” (Job 31:26-28). Somebody objects to these texts saying that we do not know the precise meaning of them. What does it mean to “put the branch to their nose”? And what does it mean when Job mentions the kissing of his hand by his mouth? Our answer is that while we do not know all the details of these matters, we can discern from the context as well as the statements that Ezekiel and Job were both speaking of idolatrous practices. Seemingly little things, to be sure, but serious things as seen by the judgment of which Ezekiel speaks. Ezekiel was condemning idolatrous sin. Job. On the other hand, was testifying to his cleanness from idolatry. The thing that ties these two passages together is that they both have to do with idolatry among the ancients.
Through Jeremiah, God instructed His people Israel, saying, “...Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them,” (Jeremiah 10:2). Whether then or now, the child of God does not need to understand all the meaning behind pagan practices. Rather he needs to eschew them – to stay away from anything related to the worship of idols. The pagan worship involved in their custom of putting an aromatic branch to their mouth or nose as part of idolatrous worship may be unknown to us, but the custom of bringing aromatic (evergreen) branches into homes and businesses is no doubt connected with this same ancient idolatry. And the honoring of the sun by bringing one's right hand to the mouth as if kissing it when viewing the sun's brightness is of similar pagan origin. All paganism is tied to the sun and is ultimately worship of the fertility gods. Father sun, mother earth, observations of solstices, sunrise worship services, Christmas observance, Easter celebrations – all these things and others are connected to and originated from pure paganism.
But some professing Christians object: these are nice and lovely things to do; our family and our church has always done these things; what will our Christian friends think about us if we stop observing these holidays?” we do not mean to worship idols, won't God excuse us?; can we not Christianize pagan customs so that they are acceptable to God? Space and time forbids dealing with all the different objections. They all fall into the same category: they are objections to just simply being pure from idolatry. For that is what folk are objecting to. They are objecting to purity. They are objecting to carefulness. They are in effect saying, is it not OK for me to go to the roof of a tall building and walk as close to the edge of that roof as possible? The question is not how close to sin can I get without sinning, but rather, how far away can I stay from sin.
The ancient people of our two texts quoted in the first paragraph above knew these things for what they are. The Jews involved in committing the abominations mentioned by Ezekiel had not given up the worship of Jehovah – in their own minds, that is. They had merely added to His worship some of the ways of the Gentiles. So it is with many professing Christians today. (We cannot say whether or not they are true sons). But we can say with Bible authority that such worship is a mixture of truth and lies. And the Lord Jesus said, “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth,” (John 4:23-24).
The Samaritan religion in Jesus' day was a mixture of truth and lies. The Samaritans had a temple and a service like that in Jerusalem. They had a priesthood. They had the Old Testament Scriptures. Their worship had existed for generations when Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well in John chapter four. Because of the mixture of lies and truth in this man-made religion of theirs, the Lord Jesus told the Samaritan woman, “Ye worship ye know not what...” (John 4:22). So it is whenever people innovate in the worship of God: whenever they bring in customs and practices of the pagan people round about, they do not know what they are worshiping. We must be careful to worship the Father “in spirit and in truth.”
Job mentioned being “secretly enticed” when seeing the glory of the sun. There is a constant danger of falling into paganism which is defined for us by Paul. He said “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,” (Romans 1:22). Rather than worshiping God they worshiped creation. Paganism is popular. It is accepted by those in the “camp” of religion. Most professing Christians are pagans. To those whose religious experience is only an imagination of their hearts, paganism is as acceptable as Bible truth. But let those who have been born from above by the Spirit of God mind the Bible: “Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp [of popular religion], bearing his reproach,” (Hebrews 13:13).
Grace Bible Baptist Church
26080 Wax Road
Denham Springs, LA 70726