When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations.
There is an interesting implication to this command. This command forbids learning to imitate the detestable things done by non-believers. And the implication that I see is threefold.
First, there are sinful practices that are common to everyone. God has given prohibitions against these sins on their own, making no note about how anyone might need to learn to do those things. For example, one needs no instruction to lie; to bear false witness. My daughter lied before she knew what lying was. No learning involved, except the instruction that my wife and I had to give about what lying is and why it should not be done.
Second, there are sinful practices that are not common and that require a bit of learning. For example, one does not just launch out into burning their child alive (the first thing the are told Israelites NOT to do after this verse). Parental instincts generally drive a parent to preserve their child’s life, so one must learn to do something as horrific as sacrificing their child.
Third, it is perfectly acceptable for me to emulate the virtues of anyone — believer or not. Is someone honest? I should emulate that. Is someone a person of their word? I should copy that habit. Where virtues are concerned, God is not worried that there will be overlap between those who are His and those who are not. God loves honesty and keeping one’s word, so there is no issue there. It is when the believer begins to copy the non-virtuous behaviors of unbelievers that a problem arises.
Who am I emulating? Whose behavior am I copying?
Father, thank You for this reminder that some wrongs are learned. Thank You that what has been learned can also be unlearned. Please keep me from the things that would drive a wedge between You and me and show me those — like Your Son — whose behavior I can emulate.