Deuteronomy 14:1-2 – What’s The Worst That Can Happen: Man’s Preoccupation with Death

Posted: February 3, 2017 in Book of Deuteronomy
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Deuteronomy 14:1-2

Ceremonies Related to the Dead

We may sit and amusingly laugh at the traditions of cultures long ago. The cultures that surrounded ancient Israel had strange rituals concerning death such as painting, or tattooing, their bodies in honor of the dead. Some would shave their entire bodies including their heads to honor the dead. But to this day, strange traditions concerning celebrating the dead or death continue. In certain parts of the world, strange customs continue. Up until the mid-19th century, women from India would throw themselves into the burning funeral pyre of their husbands. The Malagasy people of Madagascar have clearly never heard the phrase, “Rest in peace.” In an effort to hasten decomposition — what’s seen as an crucial step in the ongoing process of getting the spirits of the dead into the afterlife — the Malagasy dig up the remains of their relatives and rewrap them in fresh cloth. Afterward, the Malagasy then dance with the corpses around the tomb to live music. The cultures of the original cultures of the American Southwest had their totem poles to honor or appease the dead. Even in today’s culture, part of the Islamic belief system is that you will be greeted by 70 virgins that will fulfill your every sexual desire in eternity.

 

According to http://www.medscape.com, in the modern world, unique customs continue. That website states,

 

“Descendents from Caribbean nations and Mexico may practice a blend of Catholicism and African or indigenous folk medicine known as Santeria in Cuba, Espiritismo in Puerto Rico, or Voodoo in other Caribbean nations, and Curanderismo in Mexico. Santeria death rituals are governed by the saints (orishas) as told by the santero (a clergy or holy man) and often include animal sacrifice (Grossman, 1997). Younoszai (1993) asserts that Mexicans have more understanding and acceptance of death because their country is primarily rural, poor, religious, and very young on average. Death is portrayed in Mexican statues, art, literature, and history, and Mexican children are socialized early to accept death, giving Mexicans a “cultural familiarity with death.” Mexicans and other Latinos celebrate “Dia de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead) to remember and honor the dead (Talamantes et al., 1995).”

 

Even in modern America, particularly in the South, there are unique traditions related to death. There are the traditions of stopping clocks at the time of a person’s death and draping a black cloth over clocks and any pictures of the dead. Traditions like the death culture lasting three days – family and friends come to the house on the day of death, visitation at the funeral home the next evening, and the funeral on the third day. We add, “God rest his soul” to any conversations about the dead. We have funeral services in churches and then another service at the gravesite. We have funeral hearses (specialized vehicles for the funeral procession from mortuary to church to graveside). We have tents over the grave. We have pallbearers (it is considered a great honor to carry the casket of a loved one or friend). And, oh, in the South, there is food, food, and more food. That’s how our women pay respect to the family. They cook and load the grieving family up on enough food to feed a battalion of men for a week. Those women who can’t cook or are in a hurry will load you up on Kentucky Fried Chicken. It is a tradition that there is a lot of people around from the time of death until after the graveside service is complete. Then, all of a sudden, in Southern culture, the house full of people are gone and the continuous train of food deliveries ends and life for everyone else goes back to normal. Only true friends are there after Day 3 to help the family recover from the loss of a loved one.

 

Then today there is also our collective Western culture’s obsession with zombies of late. The Walking Dead is a wildly popular show, by today’s fragmented television market’s standards. Regularly, the first-run episodes of the show draws in 22 million cable viewers around the country and then there are the Hulu and other delayed streaming source downloads of the show reach record levels. Part of the appeal of the show is our quiet, in-the-closet, preoccupation with death. We might laugh at the overtly strange rituals of the less-developed nations and the unique, quirkiness of Southerners when it comes to death, but The Walking Dead allows us moderners to feed our natural wonderment about what happens when we die.

 

It is all this fascination with death and the ritualization of it that came to mind when God tells the Israelites not to participate in the traditions related to death of cultures nearby to them. Why? Let’s think about it as we read this short passage, Deuteromony 14:1-2:

 

14 You are the children of the Lord your God. Do not cut yourselves or shave the front of your heads for the dead, 2 for you are a people holy to the Lord your God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the Lord has chosen you to be his treasured possession.

 

The actions described in this short passage refer to the cult of the dead. Pagan religions of the day and some religions of today had or still have some form of worship of or service to the dead. Christianity is different though when it comes to death. Although we mourn the loss of the physical presence of our loved one or friend, we know that they are, if they have accepted Christ as their Savior, in heaven with God Himself praising Him in eternity. We know that they are safe and that they are eternally joyous. We have no fear of death other than not knowing whence it shall come. However, we tend to mix joy with our sadness. We are not overcome by death. Yes, it is tough to handle and sometimes hard to explain. But we trust in the Lord when He takes a loved one away from us.

 

It is when we let death defeat us and consume us that it becomes an idol in our lives. When we allow death to defeat the living that death becomes sinful in our lives. Sure, death of a spouse or a child is hard to handle and it may throw us into dark depression for a long-period of time, but, when we trust in the Lord, we know that death is not the end. It is not the Walking Dead no matter how popular the show is. It is eternal peace. It is eternal joy. We cannot stop living because a loved one or friend dies. We must trust that they are in God’s bosom and would not return to this earth even if they had the opportunity. The joy, peace, and knowledge that they have now in heaven far surpasses anything we could fathom on this side of eternity. They have completeness now. They have no more flaws. They are perfect in Christ and are enjoying an eternity that we shall not understand til we get there with them. I know that this is the joy of my mom who died in 2010. This is the joy of all who have passed on who know Christ as their Savior. We know this because the Bible gives us glimpses of heaven such as the wonderfully beautiful description of heaven in Revelation.

 

Thus, we cannot let death preoccupy us. We know that we are safe in Christ and we should make the most of every minute that we are here on earth. We cannot let death defeat us and for it to become a cult of belief or an obsession. We have work to do as long as we draw breath. God is not done with us yet. At the same time, we know what our reward is. Does that not make you want to live with reckless abandon for the Lord. Nothing on this earth can hurt us truly. Our death will release us into heaven and the wonders of praising the Lord in eternity. Wow, doesn’t that pump you up! Now, get out there and live with an urgency and a passionate desire to serve the Lord. Fight for what the Lord wants. Fight for His truths. Fight for what needs fighting for. What’s the worst that could happen—you die….and go to heaven? Sounds like a pretty good end game to me! Let’s quit fearing death and start really living for the Lord with a passion because we know heaven awaits! Not to be feared but to be anticipated!

 

Amen and Amen.

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