Saturday, 4 March 2017

Lessons from Judah's Religious Life

Lessons from Judah 922 to 587 BC

These are the things that particularly strike me from the historical narrative in 2 Chronicles which I summarised last post:

1. The natural tendency was to false religions.
You notice how the comment about good kings that they removed the altars of Baal, cut down the Ashera poles and removed the high places keeps reappearing. Sometimes it is repeated even in the reign of a single king! So clearly even in the reign of reforming kings, as soon as the official eye was somewhere else the ordinary people started rebuilding these at worshipping idols. Bad kings led the way by rebuilding these sites and often going even further multiplying idols thoughout the country, and even in the courts of the Temple. Part way through the narrative we find kings sacrificing their own sons and daughters “in the fire” presumable in the cult of Molech, where the idol was turned into a furnace and “fed” infants.

This reinforces the observation I made about the time of the “Judges” that the natural human attraction was to human devised religion. I said then that some – like the fertility cults with their prostitution and adultery appealed to fallen human nature but others – like the Kavardi were cruel. The human sacrifices were of a level of cruelty that hard to explain as “just” human nature. I would attribute the sadistic twist in these in part to fallen human nature but additionally to demonic influences. Whilst the O.T. stresses that idols are dumb, powerless and useless – which of course they were in comparison to the true God. The N.T. stresses this but also the need for believers to avoid the feasts at the pagan shrines because they are worshiping demons (see I Cor. 8:4ff and 10:14ff).

Applying this to the present day, we should expect to see a continual drift from true religion to human religion. Just as the ancient Israelites aped the religions to the nations around them, we should expect to see churches continually infected by “the spirit of the age”.

So for instance whist “liberal theology” has been disastrous for churches mission and for the faith of many, it was at heart just an aping of the materialist and anti-God sentiments in the intellectual circles that peaked a century or more ago.

That in the last half century or so churches have drifted into promoting left wing politics instead of (and indeed pretending to be) faith in God through Jesus Christ is similarly disastrous for their mission but entirely explicable. 

The fruits of seeking God: loving justice and mercy for his sake, loving one's neighbour as oneself, even down to exercising a beneficent rule over the natural world as a gift of God for all humankind, have been corrupted. Perhaps a better word would be “morphed” - they have been gradually, subtly altered by the social activism and “social engineering” in the surrounding popular culture. In the end they have become the human rather than the divine way of fixing the problems they propose to address. There is a scripture (Prov. 14:12) “there is a way that seems right to a man but, but in the end it leads to death.” The human way of fixing the problem is a failure! For instance Communism: It has great aspirations and Marxist-Lenninist dogma has widespread appeal to the present day. Yet everywhere it has been tried it has increased not diminished human misery!

Worse still, once corrupted these “-isms” have become the religion, with belief in God a means to attaining this end rather than the proper end in itself. That is “religion” becomes an under-girding and means for making people obey rules which are merely human constructs. (see Jesus use of Isaiah's words in relation to his day (Matt. 15:9) “their worship of me is in vain, their teachings are merely human rules”.

2. If his people abandon God: he abandons them
This comes out as a statement over and over and similarly as a historical demonstration: the nation or even just the king abandon God and they are overcome by their enemies. Even kings who had been devoted to God in their early years, when they abandoned him as they grew strong or proud found God abandoned them, or sometimes actively punished them.

The West has, over the past century, definitely been rescued from Nazism and Japanese expansionism. We could probably add rescued from Communist expansionism, and the whole world saved from the possible nuclear holocaust over the duration of the “cold war”. 

That was a period of high belief on God. Since, I would guess the mid to late 1960's Christian belief and devotion have been on the wane. We are now seeing the gradual white-ant-ing of public honouring of God in our countries break out into open derision and opposition to Christianity. We, as nations, Have abandoned God: it is fair to suppose that he will now abandon us to our fate. That is not a pleasant thought!

3. God's compassion and mercy never fade
This is more born out in the narratives of the “Judges” where again and again when the people abandoned God and he then abandoned them to their enemies there are comments that God could not bear their distress, and as soon as they cried out to him he started to rescue them.
Under the kings, God's compassion is seen in sending prophets to warn the people. True, both kings and populations seldom heed the warning, but God keeps trying to bring them back to his care.

Manasseh is an example of God's mercy and readiness to forgive the repentant sinner. Manasseh had done evil on a scale that dwarfed that of his predecessors. Yet when disaster struck he repented and cried out to God, and God helped him. It is an intersting comment that he “then knew that there is no god but God.”

The lesson for the present day is that perhaps not all is lost. A revival of Christianity leading many to come to their senses and return to God may save whole nations from disaster.

Next post a similar look at the state of the northern kingdom “Israel” during this period.

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