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This article is about The historical religion of Israel meant to worship Yahweh. You may be looking for the article on God himself or Christianity.


Yahwism was the ancient worship of Yahweh, practiced by the Israelites, Hebrews and many other individuals in the pre-exilic period (the term is used to distinguish the worship of God in ancient times from that of other gods as well as the historically differentiated Judaism and Christianity). Yahwism emphasized its focus on worshiping Yahweh as the one true God. During the exile, Judaism developed with its own religious practices, distinct from the historical worship of God in Israel.

In the particular manifestation of faith that God revealed to the Israelites in their culture, he asked for sacrifices and religious rituals- consistent with the widespread cultural norms of the time; for the purposes of orienting their hearts to him, teaching them their need for faith and salvation and to set an example to the surrounding nations. Despite the clear laws of God, his miracles, established priesthood and prophets, the worship of Yahweh was hardly consistent with his guidelines and usually became syncretic- mixing the worship of Canaanite deities such as Ba’al, Ashterah, Molech, Chemosh and others with the worship of the one true God.


Description

Yahwism was the worship of the one true God (Heb: Elohim or sometimes El), called Yahweh, in ancient Israel, in contrast to the pantheon of the surrounding nations of the day. Judaism, which added additional and stricter laws did not develop until the exile, Christianity, the realized form of worshiping God (within the limitations of Earth), was not revealed until the incarnation of Yahweh as Jesus Christ.  The worship of Yahweh changed throughout the history of Israel, but the general principles of such remained the same.

Yahweh's original intent was to be worshiped as the sole God, which was to be modeled and perpetuated by Israel. This worship would bring about spiritual and in some cases physical blessing to the Israelites in their promised land.

Sacrifices and Rituals

The worship that Yahweh gave to the Israelites was meant to be based off a genuine heart and relationship with God. The sacrificial system was consistent with the surrounding culture at the time, but had a difference in focus. While the sacrifices of other religions appeased the gods and earned their favor, sacrifices to Yahweh were a way to express authentic reverence and love for him. Rituals and regulations portrayed the uncleanliness of human nature compared to God's holy standard in a way that was understandable for the culture of the time. The nature of loss inherent in sacrifices painted a picture of the consequences of sin and pointed to a right relationship with God (later fulfilled through Christ) as the only means of atonement. In the interim, participation in rituals and feast days, such as the Feast of Unleavened Bread/Passover, the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Booths, etc, offered a symbolic means to atone for wrongdoing committed throughout the year. 

While the rituals, sacrifices and regulations were meant to be a way to express devotion to God, many Israelites abused and misused them. Instead of worshiping Yahweh, people viewed the sacrifices as burdens, performed at the expense of love for God and people[1]. Sadly, there was widespread legalism instead of true worship of Yahweh. 

A God for All Nations

The worship of Yahweh was given particularly to the Hebrews and then to the Israelites, however, many individuals outside of Israel claimed exclusive worship of Yahweh at some point. A clear theme throughout Scripture is that the promises of God belonged primarily to Israel, but were still available to anyone who had exclusive faith and worship of Yahweh. Some rightfully worshiped Yahweh after witnessing or hearing of miracles (such as Rahab[2], Naaman[3], Ruth[4] and Nebuchadnezzar[5]) while others appeared to belong to a non-Israelite Yahwist community (like Jethro[6], Melchizedek[7] and Job).

Many, if not most acknowledged Yahweh outside of Israel, albeit within the context of their own polytheism and treating Yahweh as the national protector of Israel, not sovereign over the whole cosmos. Scripture depicts many foreigners recognizing the power of Yahweh over there own king and gods. Many times this either spurs them into fear (like in Jericho[2]) or to greater devotion to their own god to defeat Israel (like the Philistines[8]). As literature that exalts Yahweh, the portrayal in Scripture focuses on Yahweh’s power and authority over others, while the people involved in events many not recognize this.

The people of Israel did the same as the nations around them by incorporating their gods into their own worship, corrupting proper worship of God into syncretism. From early on in Israel’s history, the Ba’als and the Ashteroeth of the Canaanite pantheon were worshiped in Israel. Other deities frequently corrupted Israel’s faith including Molech and Chemosh.

Yahwist Israel may not have had been exclusively monotheist. They may have been monolatrist, which recognized that other so-called “deities” existed but only Yahweh deserved worship. Both Scripture and extra-biblical literature make it clear that there is a close connection between the worship of false gods and demonic spiritual beings. One interpretation of Deuteronomy suggests Yahweh allowed rebellious spiritual beings to have dominion over other nations where they demanded worship on the level of god[9].

Temples and Idols

In accordance with the culture of the time, God represented himself through a dwelling. While symbolizing his presence in a way familiar to worshipers at the time, Yahweh’s revealed worship was also distinct from every other society at that time; the temple was to be a symbol of his presence, not an object of his presence in itself. Notably, Yahweh specifically prohibited the creation of images depicting him as objects of worship.

In the beginning, Yahweh was worshiped in a moving tent called the Tabernacle, symbolizing that his presence was with the people of Israel wherever they went (at the time a nomadic people) and that they were to be his representatives on Earth. After the Israelites were settled into the promised land, King David desired to build a permanent temple structure to replace the Tabernacle. Through the prophet Nathan, God specifically responded that he never asked for a permanent dwelling structure- nothing could contain him and his worship was not be completely similar to the surrounding nations. Nonetheless, God granted David’s wish through David’s son Solomon.  After a permanent temple was established, people traveled from across Israel on pilgrimages during festivals and to pay proper sacrifices to Yahweh. However, the true worship of Yahweh did not occur at the temple, but in the spirit of every believer[10]


God prohibited the creation of images of himself as objects of worship. Israel failed at this many times creating idols such as the Golden Calf, the Bronze Serpent and establishing high places outside of the temple

History

Before "Religion"

Originally in the Garden of Eden, faith through religion was not required. Adam and Eve had a direct relationship with God physically present in the Garden. The two could literally hear God's voice and movement through the Garden[11] so they did not need "faith", as that is is when what cannot be seen[12]. At that time there was no sacrifices, temples or any other aids to worship God. Life was as it was meant to be- mankind were caretakers of the Earth and praised God in the Garden.

Both Adam and Eve chose to sin and brought forth iniquity in the world. In the process, they were banished from the Garden of Eden. Some time after, two of their sons- Cain and Abel began offering sacrifices to Yahweh. The sacrifices were to be of the best of their respective crops and herds[13]. When Cain did not give his best, while Abel did- God was not pleased with Cain's sacrifice.

The Name Yahweh

Prior to Moses

Verses

  1. 1 Sam 15:22, Psa 50:8-15, Prov 21:3, Jer 7:22-23, Isa 1:11 (Link)
  2. 2.0 2.1 Josh 2:9-11
  3. 2 Kings 5:15-18 (Link)
  4. Ruth 1:16 (Link)
  5. Dan 4:2-4, 34-37 (Link)
  6. Exo 18:10-12 (Link)
  7. Gen 14:18-20 (Link)
  8. 1 Sam 4:7-9 (Link)
  9. Deut 32:8 (Link)
  10. John 4:24 (Link)
  11. Gen 3:8-10 (Link)
  12. 2 Cor 5:7, Heb 11:1 (Link)
  13. Gen 4:4-5 (Link)
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