A Voice in the
"And he (Hezekiah) did what was right in the eyes of Jehovah...he removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, chopped down the groves and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made...he trusted in Jehovah the God of Israel...for he clung to Jehovah; he did not turn aside from following after Him, but kept His commandments, which Jehovah had commanded Moses. Jehovah was with him; he prospered wherever he went." (~2Ki18:3-7)
Recently in the "Who is God?" series, God's comparison of Himself to idols sparked some Q/As and proclamation/exhortation to "get rid" of idols. We have just come out of a season of the year wherein our western cultures are immersed in idolatry; and we have observed periodically over the years that even so-called "christianity" has its idols. Some cling to their idolous images of the effeminate hippy, crosses, fish symbols. Others, like one subscriber of western origins, living in the Far-East, -surrounded- by idolatry, responded quizzically as to, 'why' so-called "christians" don't understand/recognize their idolatry for what it is? She could not understand the comments that some use their idol/trinkets, thinking them to be objects as "witnessing" tools. Where she lives she sees, as I did as a child growing up in Japan back in the 50s, idols all over the place. In Japan one could not go anywhere without seeing little built-in hutches with rice cakes, strips of paper with names of relatives being worshipped. Even hiking up in the mountains, away from 'civilization' they were there, stone images along the path. Most Japanese yard 'decoration' includes stone statues, I suppose their version of the "sacred pillars". They would not build a new building but what, first, once the frame had been erected, before the building was roofed and finished off, they would place objects of religious dedication on the top... rice cakes, paper strips with prayers, bow-and-arrow to chase away the demons, etc.
So, as I was then in high school in Mandan, ND (catholic/lutheran country), all the catholics had their statues on the dash-boards of their cars. I spent time in Montreal in professional music and had my first exposure to the inside of a cathedral where the outer walls were build out as nooks, where statues proliferated. Having seen it in Japan, I recognized it as "idolatry". Spent half a year living in Salinas, CA where the whole region proliferated with these little outdoor shrines... what looked like iron bathtubs propped up, with statues of the Queen of Heaven inside.
And then, as one adds up all this pagan evidence in one's memory, and walks into the so-called "christian" churches, there are the symbols of the cross, dove, fish and statues/pictures of the effeminate hippy anti-christ!
Now, we can condemn such idolatry in the pagan world. But most people who call themselves "Christian" mentally DRAG THEIR FEET at the notion of GETTING RID OF the so-called "christian" idols. And I suspect they drag their feet because, while the evidence can be presented to them, they don't really, in their heart of hearts, see anything wrong with them! They see them as being "good". They see them as being a 'loving' way to witness, and of symbols of 'mutuality' with others.
OK, now, I'm not going to brow-beat you-all over the 'need' to get rid of your idols. You are going to do whatever is in your heart, and you are answerable before God. But for you who understand what we've been observing, and your hearts seek to be "perfect before Jehovah your God" (De18:13), the next question is, "How?" How do we go about getting rid of our idols?
Now, if you see nothing wrong with your idols, and are in ecumenical unity with everybody in your area, you might as well stop reading here, because I can guarantee that you are not going to like what we are about to observe next.
We started out observing Hezekiah. He was praised for being a one-of-a-kind king. In his zeal he also got rid of the bronze serpent that Moses had made in the wilderness. It had been made for a specific one-time purpose in the wilderness, but then, the people treated it as an object of worship, burning incense to 'it'. (2Ki18:4) That bronze serpent was Israel's "cross". What Hezekiah did would be the same as if today he were to storm into all the churches and rip the big crosses off the front walls behind the pulpits, throwing a cable around church steeples and pulling them over with a tractor, going to the cemetaries and taking a sledge hammer to the crosses that adorn the tops of monuments. You wearing a cross on your necklace or as earrings? Grabbing them and ripping them off.
Remember, when Jesus died on the cross, that was a ONE-TIME EVENT. He died "once for all" (Rom6:10, Heb7:27, 9:26, etc), and proclaimed, "It has been finished!" (Jn19:30) While we, along with Paul, "boast..in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.." (Ga6:14), nowhere in Scripture are we exhorted to make "little crosses". Jesus instituted a physical manner of "remembering" His death; the LORD'S SUPPER. (Lk22:19, 1Cor11:24-25) Jesus never repealed God's Law: that we are not to make "any likeness" (Ex20:4) Yes, in the O.T. they had the ark of the covenant, altar, etc., but they were specifically commanded to not be offering sacrifices in every place of their own choosing. (De12) They were not to duplicate the worship items for their own personal use. (Ex30:37) They did not make little "arks" for people to wear as jewelry, or to decorate their homes with.
(Are you still reading? I told you, you wouldn't like it!)
Oh yes... something else you're not going to like: Remember how in the "Who is God?" series we have observed how God orders world kingdoms and even uses pagan governments to effect His will? even where His own people are concerned? Well, for as much as many bewail current governmental sanctions against public displays of "christianity", I see one BIG BLESSING in it all. Yes, indeed! In that they are getting rid of the various so-called "symbols" of Christianity from public view, they are doing God a favor by prohibiting those particular idols. And when the government starts coming after the various organizations, they will be eliminating those aspects of idolatry, too. Just a thought to ponder...
OK, now let's look at some specific examples. Before Hezekiah, there were corrupt kings. Israel's corruption began with Solomon, who built idols and places of worship for all his pagan wives. And that was his downfall before God, and caused God to rip most of the kingdom away from his son. (1Ki11:4-11) Solomon not only constructed the pagan-like sacred pillars as part of the temple (1Ki7:21), he built a high place for Chemosh on the hill just outside Jerusalem, facing the temple. (1Ki11:7)
Now, skipping a few generations, along comes Joash. Before him has been rampant idolatry; and as he is being crowned king, the queen mother Athaliah, a 'daughter' from the idolatrous house of Ahab and Jezebel of Israel, has been reigning for a short spell. Joash (the 7 year old boy) is crowned.
First thing that is done... Athaliah is taken out and killed. (2Ki11:15-16) And then, the people go about... they tear down the house of Baal (vs18), smash the altars, kill the priest of Baal.
Now Joash is called a good king. He is known for repairing the temple. But there is a "but" attached to his reign. "-BUT- the high places were not taken away; the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places." (2Ki12:3)
His son Amaziah rules as a good king, but again he did not take away the high places (2Ki14:4) He was "not like his father David". (vs3) Even though called a 'good' king, there was this "but" in his life. He was serving Jehovah...'BUT'...there was this bit of idolatry lingering in his reign.
Just like today's so-called (conservative) "church" (we're not even speaking of the blatantly apostate groups right now)...this involves the ones who preach hell-fire and brimstone, "Repent and Believe" congregations! They pretty much stick to God's Word in their preaching and teaching, and some of these might even be "separated". They are following the Lord. They are striving to keep from sin and serve God. And yet, they still attach the pagan name "Christ-mass" to their winter observances, adorn their buildings with crosses, wear the various 'religious' jewelry, etc. They are following God, -BUT-....
OK...back on track here...
His son Azariah is a good king, "-EXCEPT- that the high places were not removed.." (15:4) So, in his case, God struck him with leprosy. (vs5)
Are we getting the picture here? Is there a reason certain things are not going well for you? Has God given you your own version of 'leprosy' because of your idolatry? (I told you, you wouldn't like it! We're leavin' off preachin' and goin' to meddlin' here!)
So then Ahaz comes along, and sacrifices his son to the fires of the pagan gods (2Ki16:3), and sacrificed on the high places that his fathers had not removed (vs4), and does the abominations of the pagans around him.
It is in 'this' context that Hezekiah comes along, and does what we saw in our opening Scripture. Hezekiah does not follow in his father's footsteps, but eradicates the pagan worship. Notice that he also takes away those "high places" and chops down the groves. What were the groves? There seems to be a difference of opinion, based on what reference work one looks at, or what translation one reads. Some speak of "asherah" as being a carved wooden image. While there may be some truth to that, I believe in this case the KJV is most collectively accurate (and is what the VW-edition uses) in calling it "grove", because it also involved planted (live/growing) trees/plants. Somewhat of an arboretum, as a 'natural' worship place. After all, if the religions are based on "mother earth", what better place to worship 'her', than with contrived 'natural' surroundings. Thus, Hezekiah was not only smashing idols and altars, but was chopping down certain forested areas...not just a simple matter (translated to today) of backing the truck up and loading the items and hauling them away to the dump, but getting an entire work crew with chain saws and axes, stump-grinders and chippers; maybe a little dynamite to blast the roots out, too.
Notice about Hezekiah's heart... and this is very important... indeed, it is -KEY- to this discussion. "For he -CLUNG- to Jehovah.." (vs6)
In stark contrast to Hezekiah, his son Manasseh becomes Judah's worst king! He does even more than Solomon did. He not only worships all the pagan gods, he brings all their worship, altars and symbols INTO THE TEMPLE of God. Read all about it in 2Ki21. He rebuilds everything Hezekiah destroyed. He re-establishes Baal worship. He practices witchcraft, and consults mediums. He brings astrology into the temple. Sacrifices his son in the pagan fires. It says of him, "..he has acted more wickedly than all the Amorites who were before him.." (vs11)
His son Amon is just as wicked. And then comes Josiah. But before we look at Josiah, let's have a look at the northern kingdom of Israel, because what Josiah does, is tied to them, too...
When Jeroboam is given the 10 northern tribes which become called "Israel" (southern is "Judah"), he establishes idolatry. He sets up golden calves, one at Bethel (which means, "house of the Mighty God") and Dan. (2Ki10:29) It is not the current purpose to go in depth into this, but if you read these books, you will see that he was keeping Israel from making the annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem; he was afraid if people worshipped Jehovah according to Moses' Law with their continual trips to Jerusalem, that he would lose his kingdom. And if you read the history, you will see that every single king of Israel followed in the steps of Jeroboam, with these calves.
Now, along the way, Israel gets a particularly evil king, Ahab. His wife was Jezebel. What Jezebel does in proliferating Baal worship is so great that her anti-type is part of the "church of Thyatira" (Rev2:18-20), with idolatry and sexual perversion. It is this period where we see Elijah and the prophets of Baal, the widow's flour and oil being sustained through the famine, etc.
A couple of kings after Ahab comes Jehu. (1Ki19) He is commissioned to eradicate the seed of Ahab. And he carries out his work with vengeance. He has the royal seed killed, has Jezebel thrown out a window where she is later eaten by dogs, and spectacularly kills all the prophets of Baal in a huge time of "Baal worship" in the temple of Baal, and exterminates them all out of Israel. (2Ki10) And Jehu becomes king. And for all his "zeal for Jehovah" (2Ki10:16) God says to him, "Because you have done well in doing what is right in My eyes, and have done to the house of Ahab all that was in My heart, your sons shall sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation." (2Ki10:30)
--BUT-- Notice... there is a word "HOWEVER"
Even though he "..destroyed Baal out of Israel.." notice: "-HOWEVER- Jehu did not turn away from after the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who had made Israel sin, that is, from the golden calves that were in Bethel and Dan." (vs29) And notice what his -heart- consisted of: "But Jehu took no heed to walk in the Law of Jehovah the God of Israel with all his heart; for he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam, who had made Israel sin." (vs31) And God's judgment ensued... "In those days Jehovah began to cut off Israel..." (vs32)
And this was the case with -all- the kings of Israel, the northern kingdom. Any king that smacked of any slight amount of 'goodness', still followed in Jeroboam's ways, sacrificing to the golden calves. The same sin Israel committed at Aaron's direction, even while Moses was in the mountain with God, receiving the Law. (Ex32)
So now, We've seen Jehu's zeal and subsequent disobedience in Israel. We've seen Hezekiah in Judah, followed by his sons who corrupt Judah worse than the pagans around them.
And now comes Josiah...
Judah has had 57 years of pagan worship. The temple of Jehovah has been neglected while pagan worship has been going on. God's Law has been abandoned. And 18 years into his reign (he is now a man of 26) he gathers the priests and scribes and commands that the temple be repaired, to fix its dilapidation with time. And as they are working they find a copy of the "Book of the Law". (2Ki22:8)
Thus far Josiah has apparently been following God from the conscience of his heart. But now, God's Word is read to him. He hears God's holiness, and sees what his fathers have bequeathed to his reign; and when he learned just how far they had fallen away from God, and hears of God's promised "curse" for disobedience, he "..tore his clothes". (2Ki22:11) In that culture, tearing ones clothing was a physical manifestation indicating the ultimate in grief of one's heart. If someone was extremely sad due to dire circumstances such as death of a loved one, etc. they tore their clothes. And when a person was in extreme remorse-of-heart, they would show this by tearing their clothes.
So, what does Josiah do when he hears of God's impending judgment? Does he hold candlelight vigils and embark on self-esteem seminars? No! He gathers all the people, priests and prophets, and READS TO THEM. He does not make 'signs-of-the-cross' before them, and teach them the symbolisms of trinkets and idols... but READS the WORDS of the "Book of the Covenant"; God's Word; The Scriptures. (2Ki23:2) He covenants with God before the people.
And then... he goes into action..!! He becomes like a Tasmanian devil...
He has the priests bring out of the temple all the objects of worship to Baal and the host of the heavens and burns them. (vs4) He kills the priests of the high places, Baal and zodiac worship. (vs5) He burns, pulverizes the groves, and throws the ashes on people's graves. (vs6) He tears down the houses of the temple prostitutes. (vs7) He defiled the place where they offered babies on the sacrificial fires. (vs10) He destroyed the horses and chariots dedicated to the sun. (vs11) (Sorta like destroying santa and his reindeer!) Some other altars that were in the temple he pulverizes and it says, "..and -RAN- and HURLED THEIR DUST into the Brook Kidron." (vs12) He defiles the high places that Solomon had built. (vs13) (Apparently Hezekiah must not have destroyed those?)
He doesn't just stop at Judah. By this time Israel has been taken captive, but Jeroboam's high places are still sitting up there. He goes to Bethel and tears things down, burns and pulverizes them. Then, he not only does like we suggest above, with the sledge hammer to the monument crosses, but he digs up human bones and burns them on Jeroboam's pagan altars. (vs14-16) And he further rampages through Samaria (Israel's capitol city) and further destroys the things "which the kings of Israel had made to provoke to anger.." (vs19) Slaughters pagan priests. (vs20)
Now, Josiah doesn't stop with merely the 'public' idolatry. He even goes into people's "personal-private lives", and eradicates "the household images and idols, all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem.." (vs24) Why? "..that he might perform the Words of the Law which were written in the Book that Hilkiah the priest had found in the house of Jehovah."
What did the "Words of the Law" say about all this?
"These are the statutes and judgments which you shall take heed to do in the land which Jehovah God of your fathers is giving you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth: You shall destroy to blot out all the places where the nations which you are dispossessing have served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. And you shall tear down their altars, break their sacred pillars, and burn their groves with fire; you shall chop down the graven images of their gods and destroy their names out of that place." (Deu12:1-3)
And how are Josiah's actions judged by God? "And before him there was no king like him, who turned to Jehovah with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses; nor after him has any arisen like him." (vs25)
Well, some might argue... That was 'Old Testament'. But 'we' are the 'church'! Things are 'different'. We are under a "new covenant"! Well, any of you who feel that way, please tell me... show me from Scripture... where the New Covenant suddenly began to allow and condone idolatry? If you can show me, I will retract these words.
However, in the mean time while you're looking, let me show you some more. Please turn in your Bibles to Acts19:18-19, and if you read the context, in Ephesus, where the pagans were into witchcraft and the occult, when the 'gentiles' converted and came to Christ, those who had just been saved brought all their books of magical arts and burned them in a public display of a huge bonfire. These books were of high monetary value... "fifty thousand pieces of silver".
So, what about those today who claim to "name the name of Christ"? Paul says to let them "depart from iniquity". (2Tim2:19)
Do we go around with cables and jack-hammers, tearing down the buildings of paganism? Do we go desecrating cemetaries? Let us remember that Solomon, Jeroboam, Ahab, Hezekiah, Manasseh, Josiah were 'kings' over God's 'elect'...Israel/Judah. Israel was a theocracy. By national heritage and constitution, they were a 'religious' nation. Whereas, when Paul and companions were persecuted in the Gentile world, it was said of them that they were, "neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of your goddess". (Ac19:37)
Hezekiah and Josiah were not going after foreigners and strangers, but were doing housecleaning in their -own- houses and back yards. God does not call Believers to shoot abortion doctors or tear down structures of the world. But he exhorts us to "come out from among them and be separate". (2Cor6:17) That's the part everybody remembers, but forget the last part of the verse, "Do not touch what is unclean.." We might worship the Lord, and follow His Word...but if we cling to these "likenesses", they are "unclean". We are not to touch them!
Seeing what we have seen here, "how" do we eradicate idolatry from our lives? It starts by making a "pile". What goes into that pile? Whatever is an idol. All those pictures and trinkets of the effeminate hippy anti-christ. Those trinkets of the cross and fish. Those rock albums (indeed, listening to rock is worship of demons!). That's a start.
What about that place-of-worship where you gather? That huge cross up on the wall behind the pulpit! The steeple? Many steeples not only have crosses atop them, many of them also are constructed like the ancient sacred pillars. That is idolatry. Look at catholicism's cathedrals and islam and hindu's mosques and buildings of worship, with their spires and minarets. That is paganism...and a place dedicated to Christ should not have something that looks the same.
But this sort of thing does not come about casually. Jehu was driving around in his chariot like a mad man. (2Ki9:20) Josiah was rushing around ("running") as he destroyed paganism's objects. In a "hurry" to get it done. Once a Believer comes to understand that some of the objects of their devotion are, in actuality, 'idols'...if their heart clings to God, they will be in utter horror over their error, and will not be able to get rid of them fast enough!
But therein is the rub. Where is the -heart-? If the heart is right, the "how-to" will come easily. But such a heart will never come unless the person knows God's Word. Notice again, that it was when God's Word was found, and read, that Josiah received sudden understanding, repented, and turned his repentance into deeds. What precipitated Josiah's 'rampage'? God's Word.
"But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves... But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in his deeds." (Jacob1:22,25)