Traditions: Man-Made and Divine (Part 2)

In our prior lesson we noted that traditions are a big part of both secular and religious life. When it comes to religious customs, however, some of them are man-made (and thus subject to change) while others are divinely given (and therefore permanent). Knowing the difference between the two is only possible when one is a good student of God's word.

Let us now consider an example from the Old Testament of a tradition that was divinely instituted:


I encourage you to read Exodus 12:1-20, where Moses recorded many details of the original Passover (e.g., when and how to select the lamb, what to do with the blood and meat, how to eat it, what it would protect them from, etc.). He explained what they were to do and why. God made it clear that it was a feast that was to be kept throughout their generations annually. The Passover was a silent witness to what God had done for Israel. It would perpetuate and keep fresh in human memory an act of divine mercy. As long as they kept the Passover and explained the reason why to their children, they would not forget what God did for them in Egypt. And that's precisely what God instructed in Exodus 12:25-28:

"It will come to pass when you come to the land which the Lord will give you, just as He promised, that you shall keep this service. And it shall be, when your children say to you, 'What do you mean by this service?' that you shall say, 'It is the Passover sacrifice of the Lord, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households.'" So the people bowed their heads and worshiped. Then the children of Israel went away and did so; just as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did."

Children are naturally curious. When they witness something they do not understand, they will want to ask about it. Parents should expect questions and even nurture them. The Israelites of old were to teach their children and explain the history and symbolism behind the Passover feast. This was important on a family level and national level if this divine tradition was to be kept and honored faithfully as God desired.

What would happen if the children were not taught and reminded the meaning of this memorial tradition? It would grow into a meaningless (and seemingly) man-made practice after a generation or two. At that point it would be perceived as a tradition that could be disposed of when it was no longer convenient to engage in. Although we are not bound to keep this Passover today, we ought to learn an important lesson from it: If we fail to teach and be reminded of divine traditions and the rationale undergirding them, we may eventually mistakenly conclude that they can be disposed of like man-made customs or opinions. To disregard a tradition that God expects us to keep (whether due to ignorance or apathy) is a serious matter indeed.

In our next lesson we will consider an important New Testament tradition that originated with Christ. It is a practice He intends for His followers to continue keeping.