For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 4:7-8)
Things get old and lose the attraction we once held for them. Certainly, this is obvious with material things like cars, houses, stuff that goes in houses, jewelry, gadgets, etc. There are few things more exciting than getting a new car – the new-car smell, the sparkling paint, the way that it handles on the road. After a few years, though, the interior smells of stale hamburgers, wet dog or baby vomit. The shine fades and obscures the dings, dents, and scratches from parking too close to the entrance at Walmart. Driving then becomes just a thing you do to get from here to there. That car we fell in love with is just a thing now, and we take it pretty much for granted.
We do the same with traditions and relationships. It is bad enough when we take human traditions and relationships for granted, but it is worse when we treat God and the things of God the same way. We find a good example of this in the account of Ahaz, king of Judah.
No doubt Ahaz was brought up in the traditions and ways of God. He came from good stock, beginning with King David. His father Jotham, his grandfather, Azariah (a.k.a. Uzziah), great-grandfather Amaziah, and great-great-grandfather Jehoash (a.k.a. Joash) were all “good” kings and “did that which was right in the sight of the LORD.” However, even though these kings faithfully obeyed God for themselves, they failed to lead the nation in that regard by not removing “the high places” where the people followed pagan practices. By allowing idolatry to continue, rather than stoning idolaters to death, God’s commandments were largely ignored or followed only by rote. The recommended capital punishment for idolatry may seem extreme to our liberal ears, but God’s reasoning is impeccable. “And all Israel shall hear, and fear, and shall do no more any such wickedness as this is among you” (Deuteronomy 13:11).
So, even though Ahaz had good, Godly fathers, what he observed around him caused him to regard the things of God of little value. Perhaps the pagan practices he observed looked like a lot more fun. He could enjoy all the sex he wanted, and if his promiscuous acts produced offspring, he could sacrifice those to Molech – all the fun and none of the responsibility! (Sound familiar?)
During his short reign of 16 years, the Assyrian Empire was rising up. At that time, Pekah, king of Israel, and Rezin, king of Syria joined forces to come against Jerusalem, but they could not overcome the fortified city. Ahaz needed help, so rather than turning to God, he sought help from Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria. In order to buy the help, Ahaz robbed the treasures of the Temple of God (which had been robbed in the past beginning with Rehoboam.). When one reads the spare-no-expense details of the building of Solomon’s Temple, it is sad to think of what had become of the once “wonder of the world.” Now, it was just a rundown building useful only for buying alliances. It was of little value to Ahaz, and the LORD God was not better than any other god in Ahaz’s eyes.
After Tiglath-pileser defeated Rezin, king of Syria, and carried off all the Syrians, Ahaz paid a visit to Damascus, the capital of Syria. There he saw the temple of Baalshamin (Baal), and he was deeply impressed by the altar to Baal. Not having a cell phone with a camera, he sketched a drawing of the altar along with the exact dimensions and sent them to the Urijah the high priest with orders to build a replica in the Temple in Jerusalem.
When Ahaz returned from Damascus, he instructed Urijal to move the original brazen altar built by Solomon to the north side of the Temple. In its place on the east side before the entrance to the Temple, Ahaz erected the Baal altar and offered sacrifices to God on a pagan altar. The brazen “sea” (it was a mikvah for the priests) that rested on the backs of twelve brass oxen was removed. Ahaz was trading the old for the new. More than that, Ahaz erected other altars to pagan gods around the Temple. In his estimation, this new way of worship exceeded the way that had been around for hundreds of years.
Many churches these days follow Ahaz’s example. Oh, they don’t build altars to pagan gods. However, perhaps in some ways they do. Some “worship services” seem more like rock concerts. The house lights are dimmed while the “altar” is ablaze with stage lighting, spotlights, and strobe lights. As the “worship team” rocks out their worship tunes, the congregation stands with arms waving in the air swaying as if in a trance. This is new! The old way of singing hymns out hymn books accompanied by piano and organ is too old-school. We need something new and “vibrant” so that young people can “experience” worship. Too many sermons from such pulpits are designed to make the congregants “feel” encouraged. No need to talk about sin and hell, much less warn about Christ’s soon return. Talk like that might turn people off, and they might not come back, or worse, they may stop contributing to the church. Such churches sacrifice the Gospel (old) for the audience (new). The Laodicean Church flourishes in our day.
Ahaz’s reign only lasted 16 years. His son Hezekiah, a “good” king, restored the Temple and the Temple sacrifice. However, the Scripture does not record whether the altar Ahaz built was dismantled or not. We can assume that it was. We can be sure that sacrifices offered on a pagan altar would be unacceptable to God. Scripture notes that following the first Passover celebration in the restored Temple that “Then the priests the Levites arose and blessed the people: and their voice was heard, and their prayer came up to [God’s] holy dwelling place, even unto heaven” (2 Chronicles 30:27). That tells me the sacrifices were done properly and on the proper altar, the old fashioned way. Hezekiah did the opposite of his father; he traded the new for the old, and that pleased God.
I can only hope that we could learn that lesson before God “smites” our nation. Perhaps the smiting has begun. When governors boast that “we” have beaten this pandemic and chide that God had nothing to do with it, we may be beyond help. I hope not, but either way, my hope is in Christ. How about you?