2 Kings 18:1-12 (Part 1) – Remembering What We Worship

Posted: September 17, 2019 in 12-2 Kings

2 Kings 18:1-12 (Part 1 of 2)

Hezekiah Reigns in Judah

When I read this passage this morning, I picked up on the fact that something that was once a symbol of deliverance was destroyed by King Hezekiah. You know how sometimes you read through a passage and run through a sentence and they start the next and then your brain goes, “Whoa! Hold on a minute! Go back! That previous sentence rings a bell!” That’s what happened when I read v. 4. King Hezekiah smashed into pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made. What was once a symbol of God’s deliverance had become an idol to which offerings were made. It got me to thinking about how we are in the church in some cases.

We know that in other religions like Buddhism in central and southern Asia and Japan, Hinduism in southern Asia (mainly the Indian subcontinent) there are physical idols that are visual displays for people to worship. In the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), one would think that there are no idols, particularly in Christianity. In these religions, there is but one God. Judaism and Islam worship a unitarian God while Christians worship God expressing himself in a trinitarian state. And it is true that each of Abrahamic religions will clearly state that they do not worship idols as do the eastern religions and they go on to state that they do not worship any artistic representations of God.

However, in Judaism and Islam, you will find that there are sacred places that are held in such high regard that they could be considered idols. The Western Wall of the former Temple in Jerusalem is considered such a sacred place that locally it is place to pray while facing. Sporadically around the world, Jews make pilgrimages just to pray at the wall at some point in their lives. In Islam, the Kab’ah is a place that all Muslims must visit in their lifetime as part of their pillars of faith. If they don’t visit personally during their lifetime because of health issues, they must find someone who will visit Mecca (where the Kab’ah is located) for them. All prayers each day, you must face toward Mecca and the Kab’ah while doing so. The tomb of Muhammed in Medina is a place that is held in great veneration and is considered a privilege to go there and if you are able to visit there, it is said that Allah will grant you forgiveness just by visiting the grave of the prophet. Are these things, idolatry? You decide.

Are we immune in Christianity? The answer is sadly no. The original church, the universal Christian church, the catholic church with a small c, when we were all united simply under the name of Christ insisted upon not making idols of anything. It was not until the Christian church became an institutionalized part of society in the 3rd century when it became the official religion of the Roman Empire that we begin to see the drift toward building grand buildings with icons to be revered. During the Middle Ages we see shrines built at places believed to be the exact locations of important events in Jesus life and so on such as the tomb where Jesus was laid prior to His resurrection and His birthplace. With the Protestant Reformation, we see Christianity regain many of its pure roots without all the ornate excess that had become the universal church had drifted toward prior to it. However, as the Protestant Movement has aged over the last 500 years since it began in 1517, we see that we Protestants can do the same thing. We may not venerate icons or statues but we have our unique venerations at the local church level. We may not do it a global level like the Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox faiths but at the local church level, we too can have our THINGS that we hold in high regard. It can be a building itself where we hold it in such high regard that we don’t want anybody to use it. It can be any of a number of objects, things, that are held in a similar level of reverence.

After reading about how an object that was a simple symbol of God’s deliverance to the people of Israel during the Exodus from Egypt had become an object of reverence and worship, it reminded me of the fact that we can do the same thing in modern times. we can hold things, objects, and customs in such high regard that they can cause friction within our midst. We can split churches over things, objects and customs. It was that thought that came to mind when I read 2 Kings 18:1-12 this morning:

Chapter 18

1 In the third year of King Hoshea son of Elah of Israel, Hezekiah son of King Ahaz of Judah began to reign. 2 He was twenty-five years old when he began to reign; he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Abi daughter of Zechariah. 3 He did what was right in the sight of the Lord just as his ancestor David had done. 4 He removed the high places, broke down the pillars, and cut down the sacred pole.[a] He broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it; it was called Nehushtan. 5 He trusted in the Lord the God of Israel; so that there was no one like him among all the kings of Judah after him, or among those who were before him. 6 For he held fast to the Lord; he did not depart from following him but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses. 7 The Lord was with him; wherever he went, he prospered. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and would not serve him. 8 He attacked the Philistines as far as Gaza and its territory, from watchtower to fortified city.

9 In the fourth year of King Hezekiah, which was the seventh year of King Hoshea son of Elah of Israel, King Shalmaneser of Assyria came up against Samaria, besieged it, 10 and at the end of three years, took it. In the sixth year of Hezekiah, which was the ninth year of King Hoshea of Israel, Samaria was taken. 11 The king of Assyria carried the Israelites away to Assyria, settled them in Halah, on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes, 12 because they did not obey the voice of the Lord their God but transgressed his covenant—all that Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded; they neither listened nor obeyed.

In this passage, we see that the bronze serpent had been made to cure the Israelites of the bite of poisonous snakes in Numbers 21:4-9. It had demonstrated God’s presence and power and had reminded the people of his mercy and forgiveness. However, it had become an object of worship instead of a reminder of whom to worship. As a result, Hezekiah was forced to destroy it. We must be careful that aids to our worship don’t become objects of worship or, at least, extreme reverence, themselves. Most physical reminders, objects, things, customs were not made, given, donated or built to become things held in high esteem and reverence, but were given to glorify the one we are to worship, God!

It is in the nature of man to have symbols of their love and devotion to God. There is nothing wrong with memorializing our love for Jesus Christ. Memorials and objects from the past should be visual reminders of what God has done for us in years, centuries, millennia past. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. In this passage, the reminder of God’s deliverance of his people from the night of the snakes while in the wilderness in and of itself is not sinful. In and of itself it should have been a reminder of just how great God is and how faithful He had been to the people of Israel. However, it became an object of worship itself for the people. They began worshiping a thing, an object instead of God. That transformation from a reminder of God’s greatness to an object of worship in and of itself is sinful.

It is no less different to us today in thinking that places or things have powers of absolution such as visiting a holy site in Israel. Yes, it is awe inspiring to visit what Christians have marked since the Middle Ages as the birthplace and the burial tomb of Jesus Christ. Though we are not completely certain that these are the exact places, they have been made holy by our belief that these are those places. However, to think that these places grant forgiveness in some way just by visiting them is not correct. Maybe that’s why the early Christians never marked these places for posterity so that we would not become so wrapped up in them that we made it part of our faith to visit such places (as is the practice is Islam with the visit to the Kab’ah during one’s lifetime). Similarly, in the Protestant branch of the Christian faith, we must be careful not to make our church facilities and objects within them and even our methodology for worship as “sacred cows”, so to speak, that cannot be touched, changed, rearranged and so on.

This passage is a stark reminder to us all that we should not get so attached to things or to ways of doing things that we forget that it is God we worship and not our church buildings, not our worship style, not the objects for worship lovingly donated by past generations. All of these things could burn down tomorrow and we would still be the church. The first century church did not have sanctuaries. The first century church did not have fellowship halls. They met from house to house. They knew that they were gathered together wherever that might be to worship God. What made them a church was their relationships with one another, their willingness to evangelize the world, and their love of Jesus Christ. They had no objects of worship to aid them. They simply worshiped Jesus Christ.

Help us oh Lord to remember that church is about worshiping You and everything else is secondary. Help us to remember that if all of our usual visual reminders of being a church such as buildings and the objects within them and the traditions that go along with them all burned down and disappeared tomorrow, we would still be the church because it is You that we have come together in what is called your church. Your church is not buildings. Your church is not our worship objects and aids. Your church is not the methods we use to worship you. Your church is the people gathered together in a single place to worship you. Help us to remember that we would still be your church even if we had no buildings, no objects, no methods. Just us together worshiping You.

Amen and Amen.

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