Joash did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all the years of Jehoiada the priest. 2 Chronicles 24:2
I am reading through the Old Testament again, and the weirdly sad, downhill history of Israel. Here, 2 Chronicles records that Joash did many good things and rebuilt the temple – but only as long as the old priest, Jehoiada, was alive. Immediately, upon Jehoiada’s death, however, the king and the people abandoned the temple and started worshiping idols. Zechariah, the priest, stood up to them and they murdered him.
The next king, Amaziah also starts out good. “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but not wholeheartedly.” Again, weirdly, even illogically, though he listens to God about attacking the enemies of Judah, and God makes him victorious, he then brings back his enemies’ idols. The Bible records that he brought back the gods of the people of Seir. He set them up as his own gods, bowed down to them and burned sacrifices to them (2 Chronicles 25:14). Does this even make sense?
Why is idolatry so irresistible? I think for two reasons, at least. One, you can see and touch them, and God can seem elusive and far away. Two, you can control them. Idols don’t come and rebuke you for your sins. They don’t command you to do things you don’t want to do. You command them – at least in your imagination.
It says that Amaziah “set them up.” In this context, it means to prop up, cause to stand. As God laments through Isaiah:
They lift it to their shoulders and carry it; they set it up in its place, and there it stands. From that spot it cannot move. Though one cries out to it, it does not answer; it cannot save him from his troubles. Isaiah 46:7
This made me think of a kid with a train set, creating this miniature world, where he is “god” and decides where to set up everything and how it should run.
But in reality, “causing to stand” is something that God does:
Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the people of the world revere him. For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm. Psalm 33:8-9
My own hand laid the foundations of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens; when I summon them, they all stand up together. Isaiah 48:13
Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. Romans 14:4
Through him [Jesus Christ] we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Romans 5:2 (ESV)
It is God doing the setting up, not the other way around. In fact, the Hebrew word translated “set” in Isaiah – they set it [the idol] up in its place, and there it stands – is the same word that is translated “put” or “placed” in Genesis 2:15:
The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. (NLT)
God sets us in our place and makes us stand. But, many times, it is definitely not how we would choose to set things up in our own miniature world. He asks us to do hard things like die to self and love our enemies. If we are honest, there are times when we would like to put our enemies on our little train track and run them down. But God commands love. He commands forgiveness.
His commands run directly counter to the message of popular culture all around us – self-care, self-awareness, self-love, self-improvement. How many times have I heard the phrase “you’re worth it” in advertising?
In this environment, God’s voice speaks an ancient, and increasingly unknown language. Put others first; be a servant; die to self; do not be proud; submit to each other; bless the ones who curse and persecute you; do good to the ones who hate you; do not repay evil for evil; live at peace with everyone; do not take revenge; take care of your hungry and thirsty enemy. Love your neighbor. Love one another. Love.
God’s way is always outwards, always towards others. His train is always one-track towards bringing people into the Kingdom. To accomplish this, God commands love in self-sacrifice. In God’s world He is the Worthy one, and the focus is on other-care, other-awareness, other-love, other-improvement. And I can let Him care about and take care of my “self” because He does and He will to the end.
Now to Him who is able to protect you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory, blameless with great joy. Jude 1:24 (NASB)
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. Psalm 40:2
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22:37-39
Jesus answered, “I am the way … John 14:6
Image, Trains by Quinn Dombrowski https://flic.kr/p/LRAueB