Reading through 1 and 2 Kings, it's tough not to notice that a lot of the kings were just wretched. One that really stuck out to me the last time through was King Ahaz, whose story we find in 2 Kings 16. He's the first of the Ahaz-Hezekiah-Manasseh troika that should drive certain people crazy, namely those who believe that children perfectly reflect the way they're raised (giving credit to the father for the child's righteousness, and blaming him for the child's rebellion). Ahaz was incredibly wicked, his son Hezekiah was the most righteous king Judah ever knew, then Manasseh was beyond evil. But that's a head-scratcher for another day.
As for Ahaz, scripture doesn't really have anything good to say about him. This passage starts off with a description of his wicked idolatry. He was so evil he even sacrificed one of his sons, an act the Bible calls "despicable". In order to obtain a material blessing from a god - usually an abundant crop or healthy livestock - the parents would sacrifice their newborn child to their 'god', killing their child so that they could be better off financially. I'll let you draw your own parallel to a modern abomination. Suffice to say, God does not approve.
Next, we read about when Israel and Syria teamed up to invade Judah. Ahaz got out of it by paying Assyria to attack them, not an uncommon practice in those days. So what's so wrong about that? Well, we read elsewhere a little more of the story. In short, Israel and Syria threatened to attack, and Ahaz freaked out. So God sent Isaiah with a message to Ahaz - don't worry, I'll deliver you, have faith. And Ahaz was told to ask for a sign - anything he could imagine, God would do for him. Just pause and let the magnitude of that offer sink in. Now, consider this - Ahaz blew it off! Instead of asking God for - well, anything - and trusting God to deliver them as He promised, Ahaz decided it would be better to loot the temple and treasury, send the gold to Assyria, and let them handle things. Now that is pure wickedness. (As for the sign that was offered - God decided to give one anyway, one that's a tad bit better than anything Ahaz could have ever dreamed).
Which brings us to the third abomination Ahaz committed, which is what really caught my eye this time through. It's a sin that never gets mentioned in any list of the worst sins, but really, it can make a good case for being among the most nauseating. What did Ahaz do that was so bad this time?
He made a new altar for the temple.
Wait, that's it? That's what gets me so worked up? Surely that isn't really all that bad, is it? Why yes, yes it is. Just on the surface, we see the heart of Ahaz turned to other gods. He saw the altar at Damascus, a pagan altar to imaginary deities. The altar in the temple at Jerusalem was a pretty plain design, pretty much just a big bronze square, but the pagan altar he saw in Damascus was apparently ornate and beautiful. So Ahaz rejected the altar of God, deciding he'd rather have the better-looking altar of the pagans. To Ahaz, God was just one of many, and it didn't really matter which god he worshipped, or how he did it. An altar was an altar, all the offerings go to the same place, right? What difference did it really make - God's altar, a pagan altar, they're all basically the same. In this act, Ahaz completely rejected God's covenant, despised the call to be a holy people and worship him only. Instead, Ahaz wanted to be just like all the other nations. So he rejected God's altar, and made an altar just like the other nations had. In doing so, he rejected God as well.
That's wicked enough, but there's more. Consider this passage from Hebrews 8:
Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, "See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain."
See there why God would be so offended by the altar Ahaz built? When God gave Moses the designs for the tabernacle and its furnishings, it wasn't accidental or random. Everything in the tabernacle/temple was modeled after the heavenly reality. This includes the altar. As God designed it, the altar was a temporal, physical model of a piece of heaven. So when Ahaz spurned God's altar, he was ultimately rejecting heaven. He looked at the temple furnishings, saw a glimpse of heaven, and decided he'd rather have what the Syrians had. In rejecting the altar, he was rejecting heaven itself. Now that is a sin!
God's design for the tabernacle was deliberate. He gave specific patterns for specific furnishings, because these earthly furnishings were to clearly reflect heavenly glory. Because of the awesome, eternal truth represented by these furnishings, God demanded that all worship be directed through these approved channels. You could not just worship God anywhere in any way and expect Him to accept it. No, to truly worship God, it must be through the way God appointed. God will be worshipped how God wants to be worshipped, and no other.
To equivocate and insist that another way was just as good as the God-appointed way is wickedly insane. When Ahaz insisted that the pagan altar of Damascus was essentially the same as God's altar, he committed blasphemy of the highest order. God had clearly revealed how He would be approached; to claim that another method was just as good was wicked arrogance - to think that sinful man can approach God however we want! To imagine that we set the terms of interaction with God transcendent, our creator! No, we can only approach God as He says, and when He has clearly revealed how we are to approach Him, we need to obey. Trying another method is sinful folly.
So when Ahaz rejected God's clear direction (as did Uriah the priest, who sinned through spinelessness) and insisted the Syrian way was just as good or better, Ahaz was guilty of a heinous sin.
And so are many in the church today, those who are infecting the church with ideas of pluralism and inclusivism. Pluralism is the idea that all faiths are basically equal, all ways lead to God, blah blah blah. Inclusivism teaches that, while Jesus is the preferred way to God, there may be other ways as well, albeit inferior and more difficult ways. Both of these run afoul of the clear scriptural proclamation that we can only approach God through Jesus. God has made it abundantly clear that salvation is through Christ alone. What sort of blasphemous arrogance is required to pretend that another way is just as good? Who do we think we are, if we believe that we choose the terms of the covenant, that we decide how God is to be worshipped?
But that sort of teaching is everywhere today, spurred on largely by modernism and greatly accelerated by postmodernism. Few doctrines are less popular that the exclusivity of Christ, and few questions are intended to hurt and embarrass more than "Do you really believe that good [fill in the religion] are going to hell?" We are derided for believing that one major flaw outweighs all the 'good' they do. Yet this is exactly what God has declared - who are we to think we know better than God?
And so, we are constantly assaulted with the mocking of modern-day Ahaz. We are told that the altar in Damascus is just as good as the one God designed for Jerusalem, and it's purtier, too. And the world will like us more if we stop being so... exclusive. So we need to stand firm, and let God be true though every man a liar. Let us believe God, reject all substitutes, and present the full hope of the true gospel.
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