Do not learn the way of the nations… For the customs of the peoples are delusion.
God commanded His people not to learn the unbiblical, foolish way of life produced by false religions (Jer. 10:2).
- This way of life is actually what we commonly call a culture.
- The culture of the nations came from their religions.
- Their religions and the cultures they produce are worthless.
So then how much should someone learn about false religion? How can you evangelize someone if you do not understand their theology?
God orders His people not to learn their religion in Jer. 10:2, but then…
- He explains their source of knowledge—astrology (10:2).
- He explains their art forms—idols (10:3-5).
- He explains their mental state—foolish and stupid (10:8).
- He explains their jewelry and clothing—silver, gold, and fashions (10:9).
- He lists the names of these gods—Baal and Molech (32:35).
- He tells where they worship demons—the valley of Ben-hinnom (32:25).
- He lists some of their practices—sacrificing their children (19:5).
The command not to learn the way of the nations is not a simple or absolute prohibition. It does not mean or prohibit certain learning. It does not stop a Christian from learning the false religion’s doctrines or the culture’s practices. Those disciplines can be very helpful in convincing the sinners of their errors. We should study their theology so that we can debate and communicate like Paul did (Acts 19:8-9, etc.).
Rather the command addresses the affections. Do not learn about the heathen culture so that you may imitate it.
You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes.
When the Lord your God cuts off before you the nations which you are going in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, 30beware that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations serve their gods, that I also may do likewise?’ 31You shall not behave thus toward the Lord your God, for every abominable act which the Lord hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.
The prohibition to learn is a warning about imitation. Study carefully to refute so long as your heart retains its love for God and its hatred of sin. The Lord Jesus Christ was honored because He hated sin while loving righteousness (Heb. 1:9). Do not learn about the heathen culture in a way that would allow your mind to sympathize with it or learn to enjoy it. Alexander Pope captured the danger in his Essay on Man.
Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,
As to be hated needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.
An Essay on Man, Epistle II, line 217
William Carey required his students at Serampore College to study the theology of Hinduism so that they could effectively answer the arguments and evangelize. To learn about false religions so as to imitate or sympathize is a study forbidden to all believers because it tends to weaken our devotion to Jehovah.