Tag Archives: idolatry

God’s People, part 82: The Bronze Snake

Read Numbers 21:4-9

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“He removed the pagan shrines, smashed the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke up the bronze serpent that Moses had made, because the people of Israel had been offering sacrifices to it. The bronze serpent was called Nehushtan.” (2 Kings‬ ‭18:4‬ ‭NLT‬‬)‬‬

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

img_1005Part 82: The Bronze Snake. For today’s devotion, I want us to travel back in time for a moment. Before we do, I would like to remind you that that King Hezekiah was a godly king who lived in the ways of the Lord and brought the people of Judah back into a right relationship with God. One of the things that he did was destroyed all of the foreign shrines and idols and enforced that all worship be done in the Temple of the LORD in Jerusalem.

One of the idols that he destroyed was named Nehushtan. That, according to 2 Kings, was the bronze serpent mounted staff that Moses made hundreds of years earlier. It is written that Hezekiah destroyed this relic “because the people of Israel had been offering sacrifices to it.”

Now let us time travel back to the time of Moses. If you recall, Moses had led the people out of Egypt and they had been wandering around the wilderness for 40 years. The reason it took them so long to cross what was relatively a short distance was because they were constantly griping, complaining, and disobeying God. The greatest of those instances came when they abandoned God and demanded that Aaron build a golden calf for them to worship.

According to Numbers 21:4-9, the people were in such crazed fit, angry at God and at Moses for leading them out of Egypt. Now imagine this, they had been miraculously liberated from slavery in Egypt; yet, there they were complaining that God and Moses had led them to where they were. Were they hungry? No. Were they thirsty? No. They had been provided for by God from the beginning.

So, you might ask, why were they angry? Well, they were pulling what kids often pull on their parents. “Dad, we have nothing to eat, nothing to drink in this house.” Of course, if you open up the refrigerator you will see plenty of food and drink; however, what is really being said is, “we don’t have what we would like to eat, we are tired of eating this stuff.” That is exactly what the Hebrews were doing. They were griping against eating the manna that God was sending them, calling it “nothing.” How ungrateful.

So, angry, God sent out poisonous snakes to bite them. Okay, this seems like an outlandish response, but suspend disbelief and bear with it for a moment more. Moses, naturally horrified, prayed to God and repented for the people. He stated, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take away the snakes” (Numbers‬ ‭21:7‬ ‭NLT‬‬). So, God instructed Moses to create a bronze snake and put it on staff. God then instructed the people to look at the snake. Once the people did, they were instantly healed from the snake bites. God’s point was made.‬‬

Unfortunately, what was once holy and healing became perverted into an idol that people worshiped. What was once a reminder of God’s sovereignty and God’s holy presence, became a god unto itself. People forgot that the healing source of the bronze snake was God, and instead worshiped the snake as if it had the power to heal. So, for this reason, Hezekiah destroyed the idol and redirected people to the Temple, where the one, the true, the imageless God was to be worshiped!

What has God done to bring healing and wholeness into your life? How have you taken such things and made idols of them? How have you forgotten what God has done for you? How have you forgotten the sovereignty of God? How have you forgotten our gracious, holy God and how have you turned your eyes away toward other, less-than-holy things? Today is the day for honesty. What has become your bronze snake? What has become your idol. Today’s challenge is to assess what those things are and to eradicate them, as Hezekiah eradicated the bronze snake, from your life.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Man’s mind is like a store of idolatry and superstition; so much so that if a man believes his own mind it is certain that he will forsake God and forge some idol in his own brain.” — John Calvin

PRAYER

Lord, purge me of my idols and set my heart and eyes back toward you. Amen.

God’s People, part 79: Jotham

Read 2 Kings 15:32-38; 2 Chronicles 27

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Uzziah was the father of Jotham. Jotham was the father of Ahaz. Ahaz was the father of Hezekiah.” (Matthew 1:9 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Uzziah_-_Jotham_-_AhazPart 79: Jotham. Different people see things differently and history is always in the point of view of the historian. This is true in the Bible, as much as it is in any historical account. No matter how objective people try to be, they cannot completely shake their biases and/or agendas. This is human nature. We are subjects that try to be objective; however, subjectivity and objectivity are not the same and we can never fully know anything objectively due to our subjectivity.

This is seen in the accounts of King Jotham, son of King Uzziah. The first eleven years of his rule, he was a co-regent ruling along side of his father. Of course, it is inaccurate to say “along side” because his father was living in isolation due to having contracted leprosy. Thus, essentially, Jotham was ruling in his father’s place due to his illness.

The Chronicler records that Jotham did what was pleasing in God’s sight. It is also recorded in Chronicles that he did everything that his father had done as King, with the exception of making the same mistakes. Thus, Jotham learned from his father’s arrogance and did not repeat it. He did not think himself holy enough to enter the inner sanctuary of the Temple and burn incense to the Lord, disregarding the authority and role of the High Priest, as his father had foolishly done.

With that said, 2 Kings presents a more cynical account of his reign. While he may not have followed in his father’s footsteps in terms of his arrogance, it seems that he followed his father in some of his policies. For instance the author of 2 Kings writes, “Jotham did what was pleasing in the LORD’s sight. He did everything his father, Uzziah, had done. But he did not destroy the pagan shrines, and the people still offered sacrifices and burned incense there. He rebuilt the upper gate of the Temple of the LORD.” (2 Kings 15:34-35)

Thus, even while he was building gates to the Temple of the LORD, he was permitting idolatry to persist in the land. The consequences to that were not immediate; however, over time Judah fell further and further away from their devotion to God. What Jotham, and those before him, did not realize was that future generations would begin to reject the prophets of God and would eventually face devastating defeat and exile at the hands of their enemies.

This was not God’s doing, it was their own. This is a powerful lesson for us as well. We are always being invited to destroy and abolish the idols that take precedent in our lives. We are being called to clean house within us and we are being called to turn our hearts back to God. We are being invited back toward faithfulness to the one true God, in whom there is peace, love, joy, hope, wholeness, and eternal life. Failure to do so, failure to put our full trust in Jesus Christ, is to choose our own way over God’s way. Sadly, our way leads to sin, to exile, and to death. Let us choose Christ and turn back to God and to the everlasting life God is offering us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Jesus Christ gives us the power to be defiant to sin and death.

PRAYER
Lord, forgive me for my unfaithfulness. Keep me on the narrow pathway, and lead me in through the gateway to your kingdom. Amen.

God’s People, part 69: Jezebel

Read 2 Kings 9:30-37

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“But I have this complaint against you. You are permitting that woman—that Jezebel who calls herself a prophet—to lead my servants astray. She teaches them to commit sexual sin and to eat food offered to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to turn away from her immorality.” (Revelation‬ ‭2:20-21‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

 Part 69: Jezebel. The name of Jezebel, wife of Ahab and Queen of Israel, has gone down in infamy. She is infamous for leading her husband, Ahab, to worship the Canaanite god Baal. She is depicted in the Bible as an evil, deceitful and murderous queen who used her power to bring destruction upon Israel and God’s people. Her name is so synonymous with being in opposition to God, that John of Patmos used her name to symbolize a person (or people) within the church at Thyatira who were turning the church away from Christ.

Before we can evaluate the Queen herself, we really need to have a bit of background on her. She was the daugther of Ithobaal I (make note of the last portion of that name) who was the king of Tyre, a city in Phonoecia. During his rule, all of Phonoecia, including Sidon, was unified. If you haven’t already thought of this, Phonoecia is the land that came up with one of the first alphabets that allowed for them to improve communication between themselves and those they traded with. In fact, the English and other alphabets owe their thanks to the Phonoecians.

According to the ancient Phonoecian historian Menander of Ephesus (cited by the Jewish historian Josephus), Jezebel’s father was a priest of the ancient Canaanite god Astarte prior to becoming king. This means that Jezebel grew up as the daughter of a priest and was, no doubt, steeped in the religious traditions of her father and people. This would also explain why Jezebel was persistently proselytizing her husband in the ways of her own religious beliefs and traditions. While this certainly made her unpopular among the those faithful to the God of Israel, one can hardly blame her for her devotion to her religious traditions.

So, out of fairness, let’s put the fact that she proselytized her husband aside and look at some of the other things she was known for. Once she became queen, Jezebel wanted all of Israel to worship Baal and wanted the Canaanite religion she observed to become the national religion that all Israelites must observe. She ordered the deaths of anyone who stood in the way of that. Thus, she murdered all of God’s prophets who obviously objected to her and her husband leading the people of Israel astray.

In their place, she appointed her own priests and prophets of Baal. In fact, when Elijah stood against the 450 prophets of Baal, he noted how he was the only one of God’s prophets left. Jezebel was someone who would not take no for an answer and was someone whose power had long gone to her head. The Bible even states that she ordered the death of a local farmer after he refused to sell Ahab his vineyard.

We cannot be sure how much of the rhetoric in the Bible depicts who Jezebel was and how much it depicts how she was perceived to be from the vantage point of faithful Jews; however, one thing is for sure: the Biblical account lines up well with the historical record of her devotion to Canaanite gods and, like all people in power, it is not hard to believe that she would get rid of anyone who stood against her as a political or religious opponent. In fact, politics and religion were not separate in the ancient world but were very much one and the same thing.

In the end, Jezebel’s opposition to God’s prophets and her political ambitions led not only her husband but also herself down a destructive road. While she may have outlived her husband, her fate soon followed his. Following being anointed King by the prophet Elisha, Jehu had Jezebel thrown out of a palace window, where she laid a bloody mess, was trampled on by horses, and was eaten by stray dogs. Eventually, the king had her corpse removed and the mess cleaned up. Pleasant, I know.

This, my brothers and sisters, is where unwavering commitment to political viewpoints and dogmatic worldviews end up. Jezebel’s unwillingness to be reasonable, fair, honest and just was her own downfall. Those who live for politics, die by politics. Those who live for the sword, die by the sword. Those who live for God may surely experience death, but they never truly die, for in God rests eternal life. Let us be challenged to evaluate ourselves. Are we open to the grace of God? Do we allow the Holy Spirit to work godly change in our lives? Do we seek to represent God in all that we do? Or, are we seeking our own way, worshiping our own ambitions, and, ultimately, leading others to do the same? Let us lay down our idols, repent of our sin, and turn back to God who calls us with open arms.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Put away your sword. Those who use the sword will die by the sword.” — Jesus of Nazareth in Matthew‬ ‭26:52‬ ‭NLT‬‬

PRAYER

Lord, allow me to use the story of Jezebel as a means of evaluating my own life. By your amazing grace, restore me to righteousness and use me to bring love, peace, hope, healing, wholeness and justice to all. Amen.

God’s People, part 63: Jeroboam

Read 1 Kings 11:28-43

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Then at the LORD’s command, he shouted, ‘O altar, altar! This is what the LORD says: A child named Josiah will be born into the dynasty of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests from the pagan shrines who come here to burn incense, and human bones will be burned on you.’” (1 Kings 13:2 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

img_0879Part 63: Jeroboam. Whe n God holds people and nations accountable, it is seldom painless or smooth. Solomon had gotten a little too big for his britches and forgot that he owed everything he possessed (his wisdom, his reign, his success) to God. The way that such forgetfulness often takes place is by rulers placing themselves and their own interests above the interests of the people. Solomon was no exception to that rule.

He forgot that he was merely the ruler of God’s people, but not God. He forgot only God is truly sovereign and that, as king, he was a representative of God and a reflection of God’s presence with the people of Israel. Instead of serving God faithfully, Solomon served himself and his own lavish, eccentric whims. He raised taxes to pay for an extravagant palace to house his 700 wives and 300 concubines (or sexual partners who were not married to him).

He also raised taxes to pay for the building of the Temple, as well as the building of other temples to foreign gods in order to promote trade and tourism. He forced 30,000 men to build the temple, and continued in his father’s footsteps with regard to offing his political opponents. Solomon saw himself as above God’s law and, thus, he brought God’s justice upon himself.

This is where Jeroboam comes in. Jeroboam was somone who initially found favor with the king. Solomon appointed him when he was a young man to be the superintendent of the people of his tribe. As superintendent, Jeroboam became intimately connected to his people and increasingly aware of the ways in which they were suffering under the weight of Solomon’s rule. Their discontent led him to empathize with them and, eventually, take up their cause.

The name Jeroboam means, “the people contend” or “he pleads the people’s cause”. God must have definitely guided his parents to name him that, for he did end up pleading the people’s cause. God sent the prophet Ahijah to Jeroboam to let him know that God was displeased with Solomon and that God was going to split the kingdom in two, giving ten of the tribes to Jeroboam to rule over.

Hearing this, Jeroboam began to act. He started to conspire with others against the king. When Solomon learned of the plan, he sought to have Jeroboam killed. Thus, he fled to Egypt, where he lived under the protection of Pharoah until Solomon died. Following that he returned, and eventually led a successful revolt that resulted in the splitting of the kingdom.

Jeroboam went on to rule the Northern Kingdom of Israel, while Rehoboam oppressively ruled the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Unfortunately, Jeroboam fell into the same pit that Solomon and others before him did. He became paranoid that the people would turn on him, because they had to travel to Jerusalem (in Judah) and worship God. Having to go to another Kingdom to worship their God, Jereboam feared that they would eventually give their allegiance to Rehoboam and kill him.

So, the paranoid king of the northern Kingdom of Israel set up temples with golden calfs in them in order to keep people from going to Judah to worship. Sadly, Jeroboam stopped pleading the people’s cause and began to try to manipulate the people so that he could remain in power. In the end, this led Israel down a destructive and wayward path with devastating consequences.

Hopefully, the tale of Jeroboam challenges us to pause and reflect on our own lives. Who did God create us to be? Have we become all that God desires for us? Have we carried out God’s plan for us, in its entirety, or have we fallen short, turned away, and abandoned who we ought to be at our very core. An honest and humble reflection will always lead us to see our shortcomings and beckon us to change. Let us, unlike Jeroboam, not fail to recognize our need for God and our faithful duty to our God-given purpose. May God, through Jesus Christ, help us to that end.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“To get overprotective about particular readings of the Bible is always in danger of idolatry” – N.T. Wright

PRAYER

Lord, help steer me away from turning to and worship idols of any sort. I desire to remain on the path of faithfulness for you, alone, are my God. Amen.

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Idalotry

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2-3 NRSV)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

fieryIWORKS OF THE FLESH: Idolatry. When Christians hear the word idolatry, they seldom think that Paul is really speaking to them. Why would the apostle be warning followers of the “the way, the truth and the life” of idolatry? Christians today know better than to make idols and worship them, right? If Paul is warning Christians, he must be warning “those” Christians over there. Perhaps he was warning “those” Gentile Christians he was teaching. Perhaps Paul was warning “those” Christians who are in other denominations? But Paul would never be talking to us Christians, would he?

It is true that in Paul’s time, there were more and more Gentiles starting to believe in Christ and Paul played an instrumental part in that reality. It is also true that Paul’s Gentile converts were non-Jewish, many of whom were Greek and Roman. They were raised to believe in many gods, to worship in temples filled with many idols, and to even worship living people such as the Roman emperors; however, in context, Paul is not addressing “those” Gentile Christians, though his message would certainly apply to them as well; however, Paul’s message was addressed to the Jewish Christian community that was trying to force “those” Gentile Christians to be circumcised. It is to his fellow Jewish followers of Christ that Paul is speaking.

For Paul, the Jewish Christians weren’t literally worshiping idols; rather, they were were placing their traditions and their understanding of the law before what Paul believed God was doing in the world. What was God doing? God was radically opening up the covenant from being a Jewish-specific covenant to being a global covenant. All the Gentiles had to do was believe in Jesus Christ, to confess him as their Lord and Savior, and to dedicate their life to Christian service and they were brough into this covenant. No circumcision and no dietary restrictions were needed. To stand in the way of that, to put any agenda over and above God’s plan, was to participate in idolatry.

The question for us then is this, do we worship God above any other? Or do we put other things before God and God’s will for us? Do we worship the true God, or do we make gods of ourselves, our ideas, our agendas and our regulations? Do we put God first in our lives, or do we put money, success, doctrine, dogma, polity, sports, and other things before God? If we do the latter, then we have become idolators. If we have become a people who worship other gods, if we are a people who make gods out of the stuff WE DEEM to be important, then we are producing works of the flesh; rather than the fruit of the spirit. Let us put down our gods and pick up the Spirit and the love of Christ, for God is calling us to be open and LOVING and ACCEPTING of “those” people just as God has been open and LOVING and ACCEPTING of us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“To get overprotective about particular readings of the Bible is always in danger of idolatry.” – N. T. Wright

PRAYER
Lord, guard my heart away from false idols that lead me away from your Spirit of openness, love, and acceptance. Amen.