2 Kings 18-19
Finally, we meet another hero. Hezekiah was a good king. What made Hezekiah different than Jehu? Why can we celebrate the life of Hezekiah? Why did God defeat Assyria for him when he used that same nation to destroy Israel? It all comes down to follow-through and a matter of the heart.
There are two points to be made for today:
- Hezekiah was willing to cut down the high places. Ever since Solomon took his nose-dive off of the mountain of godliness, Judah had been infected with the disease of syncretism. Syncretism means “to combine or attempt to combine the characteristic teachings, beliefs, or practices of differing systems of religion or philosophy” (from Collin’s Dictionary). When Hezekiah became king, the people of Judah were still going to the Temple to worship God according to the Laws of Moses, BUT they were ALSO going to the high places outside the city to worship the various gods of the Canaanites. You might say they were covering their spiritual bases. How many times do we see that in our culture? We read news stories about first ladies who drive from their protestant church services over to their astrologer so that they can consult with dead people for guidance. And in response to this behavior, the average American says, “hey, whatever works!” This form of hodgepodge spirituality that picks and chooses pieces of all belief systems (syncretism) seems to be, at first glance, a very loving way to get along in the world. It is most definitely the spirituality of our times. Yet, as bigoted and intolerant as this may sound, that philosophy is the death of a society. It’s what got Israel into trouble, it’s what will get our nation into trouble, and it’s what will get your heart into trouble if you are not careful. Hezekiah knew this, and he did something about it. He tore down the high places and set Judah back on the right track.
(another note from the present: Here is another example of language that I used 7 years ago that makes me cringe a little today. When you read the last paragraph, it could be very easy to slip into what I think is a fundamental flaw in contemporary American Christianity. We have a tendency to equate the United States of America with the nation of Israel. That is dangerous. While I still believe that syncretism is a dangerous practice for the individual follower of Jesus, I think it is equally dangerous for American Christians to develop an attitude that says, “if we just root out all the heathen among us, then this country will get back on track.” That kind of thinking is what got the Pharisees in trouble in Jesus’ day.
The truth is that the United States of America is a pluralistic society. It is a society where people with different perspectives have the freedom and the right to coexist in peace. There is a huge difference between syncretism and pluralism. Syncretism is the practice of blending all perspectives together to make one new perspective, even to the point of forcing people to adopt only the new hybrid perspective. That is scary and dangerous. Pluralism, on the other hand, preserves each perspective and invites each person to the table on equal ground to voice their perspective. It doesn’t ask everyone at the table to agree with one another, it asks them to stop and listen, and more importantly, not kill each other over differences. It is mutual, other-oriented respect. Hey, that kind of sounds like what Jesus taught.
The last thing we need as a nation right now is a bunch of zealous, self-righteous, self-appointed “moral cleansers” running around cutting down everyone else’s high places. What we need, as followers of Jesus, we need to look into our own hearts and ask where the high places of pride, arrogance, and hatred still stand and ask God to tear them down. Yes, our country needs to be infused with the message of Jesus. His message is the only hope for peace. But it will only happen when it flows from our heart and flows out through our behavior.
OK, back to seven years ago…)
- Even good things can become objects of idolatry. One of the most intriguing parts of this story is found in v. 4 where it says, “He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it.” Do you remember the story from Numbers 21? The camp of Israel had been infested with poisonous snakes. In order to counteract this pestilence, God instructed Moses to put a bronze snake on a pole and anyone who looked at the snake would be healed from the venom. That snake had been preserved throughout the nation’s history as a symbol and a memorial of God’s grace and deliverance from sin. Now, in Hezekiah’s time, the people had become so far removed from the truth of God’s nature that they had lost sight of the meaning behind the symbol and had begun to use it as an idol; as something at which to direct prayers.
How typical of we humans. It happens in every generation. One person builds a system of “doing church” or has a truly miraculous experience as they were authentically walking with God, and the next generation venerates it and worships it, as if it was the source of the power. Hezekiah was wise enough, and courageous enough to realize that there was no symbol important enough, not even a cross with a snake on it, to keep around if it was going to get in the way of people authentically knowing God.
Many times you will hear people talking about killing a “sacred cow” in order to save an organization. In today’s reading, Hezekiah was willing to kill a “sacred snake” in order to save the kingdom. What symbols or philosophies are still lurking around in your personal shrine? Are there still forms of worship that you can’t do without? Are there still ways of thinking that are comforting and “easy” into which you slip when the faith-walk of living in the Kingdom of God gets burdensome? Are you willing to let them go in order to know God more fully? Ask God to expose them to you and give you the courage to stand strong like Hezekiah did.