Author Allen P. Ross points out that many scholars argue that Israel simply borrowed ideas for worship from their pagan neighbors, cleaned up the rituals, then tried to conceal what they did by claiming direct revelation from God.
Interesting theory, but as Ross says, after they began worshiping one God, every time the Israelites tried to borrow anything from the pagans around them they fell into idolatry and corruption. The greatest difference between their worship and that of the pagans is the concept of holiness.
Ross says (and I agree) that the similarities are more likely because both Jews and pagans had a common source. In other words, God reveals Himself to all, but what people do with that revelation makes the difference. Each event described in the Bible, from creation on, had a counterpart in the world of pagan rites and rituals, but in those events the Bible calls sin a departure from God’s will, whereas the pagans use sin as part of their rituals.
There are far more explanations and descriptions in the book, but for me, Romans 1:21-25 sum up what Ross is saying:
“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised.”The Lord God makes Himself known through creation, through revelation recorded in His Word, and through His Son, Jesus Christ. My choice is to acknowledge and glorify Him, and be thankful. The other option is refusing His revelation which leads to futility and darkness, and even into the worship of other stuff. That eventually falls into degrading sexual impurity—so it is no surprise that the ancient pagan religions elevated sex in temple prostitution.
At the very least, failure to glorify God (by choosing to glorify me) and refusing to be thankful are warning signs. If either begin to happen to me, my spiritual life is in danger. I need to watch out that I do not slide into those things.
Beyond that, God has shown me who He is. I dare not turn away and begin inventing my own version. Those gods of the pagans were far more human than the God of the Bible. They sinned, fought with one another, did lewd things, and constantly changed in character. All of that is a reflection of the people who invented them. I could never have invented the God that I worship. He is holy and above all that I am. He does not tolerate sin, never mind commit it. I cannot suppose He is like me in any aspect.
In a conversation about God’s desire to deal with the sin in our lives, a young woman who claimed to be a Christian said to me, “Oh, my God is not like that.” She had invented her own God. Sadly, her decision to reject the true God resulted in her losing all moral control. Her husband left her, her young children found other people to live with, and she took up with one man after another, her life in shambles.
Learning about the pagans has a practical application: No one can make up their own god without consequences. Whether I like what I read or not, I must stick to what the Bible says about Him and rejoice and be thankful that He has revealed Himself to me.