American Journal of Biblical Theology
Copyright © 2007, J.W. Carter Scripture quotes from KJV
The church has always been responsive to the culture in which it is immersed. Referred to as a ďpeculiar peopleĒ by Peter (2 Peter 2:9), Christians are clearly taught by the LORD Himself, as well as by the prophets and apostles, to live a life that is clearly above that expected of those who reject God. The Christian life is to be one of integrity in both attitude and action as one who loves the LORD listens to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and learns diligently the teachings of Godís word. The result of obedience to the LORD is a changed life that is characterized by a continuing lesser desire to sin and a greater desire to please God. A Christian should stand out in a godless culture like a lighthouse on a dark seashore, as a city on a hill that cannot be hidden (Matt. 5:14-16).
However, there is a clear and present risk involved when one takes a stand against the wickedness of this godless culture. Our innate desire for acceptance by others will be met with rejection by those with whom we no longer share a similar world view. To live above the world necessitates a lifestyle of self-control as one turns away from attitudes and behaviors that are inappropriate testimonies to the love and grace of God.
Consequently, the church as a community, and Christians as individuals are immersed in a conflict that will always exist as long as the church strives to live by the word of God. Many churches are choosing to become more and more like the world, and by so doing it is losing both its relevance and its witness. In becoming more like the world, the church has left behind its zeal for evangelism. Many children of church members see little difference in the culture in the church than there is in the world, and do not return once they leave home. They see only hypocrisy between the message of the Word and the message of the church. Whole denominations of Christian churches are embracing worldly politics and vices, no longer standing for godly virtue. Consequently, churches are closing their doors far faster than new churches are opening them. Most church buildings in the northeastern section of the United States are either empty or have been converted to secular use. It is estimated that 80% of our current churches will close in the next 25 years because of the lack of a younger generation to carry on the ministry. A desire to be more like the world has robbed the church of its distinctive purpose and is threatening to result in its absorption by the world that it was intended to change.
This is not the first time that this phenomena has threatened the spiritual integrity of the church. It may be instructive to recall how Israel, Godís chosen people, the nation called to bring the message of God to a lost world, lost its zeal for God, lost its purpose as a nation, and ultimately lost its identity as it was absorbed by the world.
The period of time from the call of Abraham to the exodus of Israel from Egypt was about 400 years. The period of time from the exodus to the anointing of its first king, Saul, was about 400 years. The period of the Kings of Israel, from the reign of Saul to the destruction of the kingdoms was also about 400 years. The first 400 years served as a time of incubation as the nation grew in size, character, and identity. However, during the 400 years following the exodus, the people continually desired the sinful lifestyle of this world over the life of integrity that God requires.
It was not God's purpose that the nation would be led by kings, but rather that the people would simply accept Him as their Lord and follow Him as He revealed Himself and His purpose, through the scriptures and through the voice of the Holy Spirit as heard through godly men.
God's original purpose for mankind and his plan for their salvation have never changed. It is mankind who, by their free will, has chosen to reject God and follow their own path. This rejection of Godís plan led to Godís removal of his protection and His Spirit from the nation of Israel, resulting in dramatic and devastating consequences when its people chose to live like the godless and pagan world.
Rejecting the LORD as their king, the people of Israel wanted a human king and a physical throne so that they would be like the rest of the world. It was their desire to be conformed to the pagan world rather than be seen as different or peculiar. This desire for conformity was greater than their desire for godly obedience, and the period of the kings is representative of the consequences of that decision. The people not only rejected God's leadership of the nation, but they also rejected His Word, choosing instead to conform to the pagan culture, accepting its priorities, its pagan nature, and its pantheon of gods. Their claim as ďGodís chosen peopleĒ became evident only in their own words.
This desire for conformity with the pagan culture went up the ladder of social authority to the kings of Israel and Judah. More than any other King, David sought to lead Israel under the authority of God. However, he failed to pass this heart-felt desire for obedience on to his son Solomon, whose desire for godly reign lasted only a short while. Solomon took the control of the nation into his own hands, choosing his own priorities for the kingdom. This included enslaving its people and nearly bankrupting the nation in his drive to build the cities. His son continued this pattern, alienated the other tribes of Israel, and split the nation. The kings of the nations continued to wander away from God, sanctioning the worship of pagan gods within their homes, throughout the nation, and even within the Jerusalem temple that Solomon had built.
In the second year of Joash son of Jehoahaz king of Israel reigned Amaziah the son of Joash king of Judah. 2He was twenty and five years old when he began to reign, and reigned twenty and nine years in Jerusalem. And his motherís name was Jehoaddan of Jerusalem.
In chapter 14 of 2 Kings, we meet Amaziah, son of Joash, king of Judah. In chapter 11 we find that Joash was unique among the kings. Secretly abducted from his murderous grandmother who attempted to destroy the Davidic line of kings, he was raised in the temple and took over the kingdom as a child king under the tutelage of the high priest.
And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, yet not like David his father: he did according to all things as Joash his father did. 4Howbeit the high places were not taken away: as yet the people did sacrifice and burnt incense on the high places.
Condoning Godless Living.
His temple upbringing resulted in his service in a manner that was "right in the sight of the Lord." However, as Joash and the high priest cleaned up the pagan practices in the temple, they failed to end the worship of the pagan gods throughout the nation. The king had the authority to forbid such worship and declare the LORD as God, but the desire of the people to conform to the popular culture was so great that Joash did not make such a controversial declaration. Amaziah took the throne of his father Joash and continued this compromise.
Like his father, Amaziah allowed the worship of pagan gods on the "high places." It was thought that the top of hills and mountains were closer to the pagan gods, and so it was there that such worship took place.
Neither Joash nor his son Amaziah intended that they would play such a great part in the fall of their nation into apostasy. Apostasy starts with compromise. It starts with the acceptance of attitudes and actions that are outside of God's will and purpose, a testimony that implies that God is the Lord of all except ______. Amaziah was satisfied to have a godly temple, keeping holiness within its walls while allowing pagan practices in the community. By so allowing, Amaziah gave the clear message that God is not the LORD of all. His leadership taught that what one does outside of the temple is not effected by what takes place inside the temple. The importance of the temple diminishes in the view of its community, as it becomes only a traditional but meaningless weekly stopping place for only the most devout. Amaziahís compromise to the world culture fueled the further demise of the kingdom as it replaced obedience to God with the surrender to personal and natural godless attitudes and actions that are only characterized by sin.
And it came to pass, as soon as the kingdom was confirmed in his hand, that he slew his servants which had slain the king his father. 6But the children of the murderers he slew not: according unto that which is written in the book of the law of Moses, wherein the LORD commanded, saying, The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor the children be put to death for the fathers; but every man shall be put to death for his own sin. 7He slew of Edom in the valley of salt ten thousand, and took Selah by war, and called the name of it Joktheel unto this day.
Compromising Godís Word.
Amaziah was given the throne following the murder of his father. Amaziah's response to this event gives us a glimpse of his true heart and motives. The Mosaic Law prescribes that when such an incident takes place that the father and sons are all to be put to death. That may sound harsh and unjustified by today's culture, but it is reasonable in this ancient culture that believed the future of the father was lived through its sons. In this culture, the sons would rise up to repeat the act of their father. Amaziah used the words of the Mosaic Law out of context in order to suit his own purpose. What we see here is a tendency on Amaziah's part to do things his own way rather than to listen to God or to his prophet, Elisha.
The writer of 2 Kings states little of the background surrounding Amaziah's choices, but the writer of 2 Chronicles 25 provides more detail. Amaziah initially went up against Edom without confidence in the Lord, or in his 3,000-man army to go to battle against an Edomite army of 10,000. In order to bolster his strength, he conscripted 100,000 Israelite men as mercenaries, producing an army that would overwhelm the much smaller Edom. Elisha openly criticized Amaziah's strategy for its lack of faith in God. Amaziah sent the conscripts back to Israel, and took his army to Edom where they experienced a victory under the hand of the LORD. Upon taking of the spoils, Amaziah also took for himself the worship of Edom's gods, an act for which Elisha again criticized him. This time, however, Amaziah rejected Elisha's statements, preferring to bask in the glory of his newfound victory, a victory that he completely attributed to himself and his army, rather than to God.
Then Amaziah sent messengers to Jehoash, the son of Jehoahaz son of Jehu, king of Israel, saying, Come, let us look one another in the face.
Confounding Godís Purpose.
It is here that we see a turning point in the reign of Amaziah, a change that would have devastating results for the nation, results that would lead to its ultimate downfall. The relationship between Israel and Judah was never good. The kings of both nations considered their reunion only through the conquest of the other. Like two selfish and arrogant siblings they were constantly in conflict. Having experienced such an emotionally charged victory over Edom, Amaziah turned his eyes northward to Israel. His invitation to Jehoash was not to a simple face-to-face meeting, it was an invitation to face-to-face war.
The foolishness of Amaziah should seem obvious. His army of 3,000 has just overwhelmingly defeated an army of 10,000. However, in turning north, he is facing a potential enemy that holds at least 100,000 in the form of the conscripts alone. They way that Amaziah released the conscripts prior to the battle for Selah enraged them, and upon returning to Israel they looted some of the villages of northern Judah, only serving to heighten the emotional charge that surrounded their conflict with one another.
And Jehoash the king of Israel sent to Amaziah king of Judah, saying, The thistle that was in Lebanon sent to the cedar that was in Lebanon, saying, Give thy daughter to my son to wife: and there passed by a wild beast that was in Lebanon, and trode down the thistle. 10Thou hast indeed smitten Edom, and thine heart hath lifted thee up: glory of this, and tarry at home: for why shouldest thou meddle to thy hurt, that thou shouldest fall, even thou, and Judah with thee?
Jehoash's response to Amaziah is not surprising. Drawing an allegory he describes his own strength as that of a tree of Lebanon, and Amaziah's weakness to a little acorn seedling that has just erupted from the ground. This is probably an apt comparison. Amaziah is early in his reign, and his new army of 3,000 is tiny compared to the hundreds of thousands that Jehoash can garner from the northern kingdom. Amaziah's threat has no more power than the threat of the acorn over the tree, an acorn that is not yet even big enough to defend itself against its neighbors, illustrated by the allegorical beast. Jehoash wisely advises Amaziah to stay at home and not make the mistake of facing off in battle with the larger Israel, a battle that he cannot possibly win. To lose a defining battle against Israel would be to lose the very character of the nation of Judah, and end the line of Davidic kings promised by God. The import of Amaziah's foolishness is impressive.
When one turns away from God, one is removing Him from the throne of authority and placing one's self on it. Rather than look to God for guidance, the apostate is dependant upon his own ideas and solutions, making decisions based on the limited resources that an individual has to draw from, resources that are biased by pride, ignorance, and sin. When we draw only from our own will, we are powerless to accomplish any purpose of God.
The reciprocal action is one of removing oneself from the throne of one's life and placing God there. This is the fundamental act of repentance that all believers must make at some point in their lives. When Amaziah took upon himself the sole authority for Judah, contrary to God's purpose, and contrary to the advice from God's prophet, he was dooming himself to failure. Unabated pride trumps the voice of the Holy Spirit.
But Amaziah would not hear. Therefore Jehoash king of Israel went up; and he and Amaziah king of Judah looked one another in the face at Bethshemesh, which belongeth to Judah. 12And Judah was put to the worse before Israel; and they fled every man to their tents. 13And Jehoash king of Israel took Amaziah king of Judah, the son of Jehoash the son of Ahaziah, at Bethshemesh, and came to Jerusalem, and brake down the wall of Jerusalem from the gate of Ephraim unto the corner gate, four hundred cubits. 14And he took all the gold and silver, and all the vessels that were found in the house of the LORD, and in the treasures of the kingís house, and hostages, and returned to Samaria.
The consequences of the arrogance of Amaziah were dramatic. Amaziah met Jehoash at Beth Shemesh, only a day's journey west of Jerusalem, deep in the territory of Judah. Though numbers are not quoted, it might be reasonable to speculate that Amaziah's army of 3,000 to 4,000 men witnessed an Israelite battle line containing upwards of 100,000. The scriptures do not record a bloody battle, but rather an explosive retreat by the outnumbered Judeans, leaving their king defenseless against the wiser Jehoash. Taking the Judean king prisoner, Jehoash continued into Judah with his army with the mission of completely eliminating any more threats from his southern sibling. Tearing down 200 yards of the wall of Jerusalem would leave the fortress city completely defenseless. Then, in a similarly destructive move, Jehoash ravaged Solomon's temple, confiscating all of its valuables. Then, in an act entirely out of character with the children of Israel, Jehoash took as hostages those who served the temple. The temple of Solomon was left empty. Amaziah was taken back to Samaria to be held prisoner for the remaining tenure of Jehoash's reign.
What brought about the defeat of Amaziah and the resulting ravaging of the temple? First, Amaziah condoned godless living. Amaziah had taken an oath upon accepting his office, an oath that declared allegiance to the LORD and a promise to lead his nation under the authority of the Lord. Second, Amaziah compromised Godís word. He had the resource of the close counsel of Elisha who brought the clarity of God's purpose to him. However, instead of reigning in submission to God, Amaziah chose to reject God's authority and rule upon his own reason, a form of reasoning that, like with all people, is prejudiced by his own world view. Amaziah's reign was characterized by the conformation to the pagan world culture. Though he maintained the temple orthodoxy that was restored by his father, Joash, he kept his religion inside the temple doors. Third, Amaziah confounded Godís purpose. He removed himself and his nation from the protection that the LORD promises to those who are faithful to Him, resulting in the destruction of what became an irrelevant temple.
Outside of the temple, he was worldly, arrogant, and self-serving. Many people today live similar lives, content to leave the things of faith within the doors of the church, living a life outside of its doors that is indistinguishable from the pagan world. Some would feel that they are giving God his due by their attendance in church for one hour each week.
We see much of the pattern of ancient Israel and Judah in the church today. Though we cannot see the future, we can observe what happened to Judah and Israel.
Now the rest of the acts of Jehoash which he did, and his might, and how he fought with Amaziah king of Judah, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel? 16And Jehoash slept with his fathers, and was buried in Samaria with the kings of Israel; and Jeroboam his son reigned in his stead. 17And Amaziah the son of Joash king of Judah lived after the death of Jehoash son of Jehoahaz king of Israel fifteen years.
The writer of Kings and Chronicles often makes reference to "the book of the chronicles of the kings" as a primary document. This was a secular written record of the history of Israel that was maintained through the years. Because of the care that has been taken to preserve the integrity of Holy Scripture over the years, we have complete confidence that the Bible today is an accurate representation of the original documents, though none of those original documents are currently known to exist. However, no such pattern of protection surrounded the book of the Chronicles of the Kings, and so it has been lost over the years. It is likely that the writer of the "Book of Kings" that we refer to as 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles, made use of the quoted reference books on a continual basis, and by so doing, preserved the content that serves God's purpose as part of the Old Testament. Still, there are many who would like to catch a glimpse of that original document that the writer refers to.
And the rest of the acts of Amaziah, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah? 19Now they made a conspiracy against him in Jerusalem: and he fled to Lachish; but they sent after him to Lachish, and slew him there. 20And they brought him on horses: and he was buried at Jerusalem with his fathers in the city of David. 21And all the people of Judah took Azariah, which was sixteen years old, and made him king instead of his father Amaziah. 22He built Elath, and restored it to Judah, after that the king slept with his fathers.
Jehoash the king of Israel died while Amaziah was still held prisoner. His son, Jereboam II released Amaziah, allowing him to return to Judah. However, the nature of Amaziah's reign did not exactly win him the allegiance of the nation that has gone on without him for these ensuing years. Before his battle with Jehoash, Amaziah had made his son Azariah his co-regent, a move that could only have been prophetic of his own demise. In Amaziah's absence, Azariah took over as King. Now, upon Amaziah's return, Israel had the odd circumstance of two kings, a situation that could only end in conflict. Azariah, now demoted to the position of co-regent conspired against Amaziah in an attempt to regain the throne of Judah. With no one to defend him, Amaziah found himself abandoned like he was at Beth Shemesh. He ran as far as Lachish in an attempt to elude Azariah's conspiracy, and it was there that Amaziah was killed. Still, having served as a King of Judah, his body was treated with respect as it was returned, with honors, to Jerusalem where it would be buried with the previous kings.
In this act of patricide, we see a pattern for the future of the two nations. Though there would be some periods of peace and prosperity, that peace usually was realized only because their neighboring rivals were too busy with their own matters than to bother with this conflicted brotherhood of Israel and Judah. The succession of the kings of Israel would increase in frequency as the line of Jehu would end at its fourth king, and the remaining kings would attain the throne via violence rather than birthright. The resulting internal intrigue would also keep the two nations at relative peace with one another over the years. The kings of Judah continued to succeed through birthright, preserving the lineage of David. However, like their northern brothers, they turned further and further away from God, conforming more and more to the ways of the pagan world.
Conformation with the world brought with it a short-term benefit: peace. Both nations grew to their largest in geographical size and in commerce. Both had small military victories over its smaller neighbors in conquests that would again insure their peace. However, compared with the likes of Babylon and Assyria, Judah and Israel were still the acorn of the tree of Lebanon that Jehoash had described. The temple would never regain its status in the nation of Judah. Ultimately the two nations would become totally absorbed by the world culture that they preferred when its neighbors would in their own turn conquer each nation, first Israel to Assyria and then Judah to Babylon's Nebuchadnessar.
By its continual conformation to the world, Israel was ultimately absorbed by it, losing its identity and purpose. It is not God's plan that his church be conformed to this world. Paul writes,
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:2).
There is certainly little evidence that ancient Israel or Judah proved ďwhat is the good, acceptable and complete will of God.Ē Instead the nations chose to conform to the world. As we observe the nature and purpose of the church today, let us not make the same mistakes that were experienced by God's chosen people so long ago. To allow conformation to the world culture is only to be assimilated by it, and when man turns his back on the power of the Holy Spirit as he faces the power of this wicked world, resistance to it is futile.
Resistance to conformity with this world starts with the heart and mind of each individual Christian who will have enough integrity to take a stand against this ungodly world. We see the church today trying to be accepted by the world culture rather than taking a stand for righteousness, pointing people to God's quite different purpose. We are currently experiencing one obvious parallel: as the secular world wrestles with the moral issues of the acceptance of Baal and Asherah through the tolerance of illicit sexual lifestyles, the church is amazingly doing the same as it surrenders the truth to liberal compromise. Rather than taking a firm stand against sin, it is in many cases embracing it, and employing its lifestyle among its members and leadership. Abortion is labeled, ďpro-choice,Ē homosexuality is considered an acceptable ďalternate lifestyle.Ē Euphemisms have been employed to put a pretty face on the ugliness of our modern gods of Baal and Asherah.
Some churches are stating that "this is a line we will not cross," in an attempt to hold on to God's purpose for them. The church today, like the nations of Israel and Judah, are in a crisis of identity, and the coming future will reveal if the church chooses to obey God, or if it will continue down the slippery slope as it seeks to conform to this wicked, perverse, and pagan world.
Let us pray that this is not the future of the church. Let us embrace Godís word and listen to the Holy Spirit as He leads us. Let us meditate on Godís word and teach it to our children. Let us each commit to serve God and to His purposes rather than to surrender to the prince of this world who seeks only to destroy the church and its witness.