by Lindsey Funtik, Coordinator of Volunteer Ministries, Ashland First United Methodist Church, Ashland, Ohio.
At long last, after many cross references and forays into the Psalms for palate cleansing, I have finished my study of 1 and 2 Kings. I have learned so much and I have wrestled with gusto and I have been bowled over by the faithfulness of God when His people just refused to stick to their word. For those of us who have engaged with the "highlights" of Scripture but have not dug into too much else, I highly recommend approaching the books that intimated you. I came to 1 and 2 Kings with trepidation and I left with insights that have stuck in deep.
As I rounded the corner to the finish line of 2 Kings, I began to think more and more about the theme of idolatry that we find all throughout the book. Some kings are terrible, some aren't so bad, but the presence of false gods pervades the narrative. Asherah poles, reverence of the starry host, child sacrifice-- you name it, and the people were probably doing it.
Needless to say, this broke God's heart.
Fast forward to chapters 22 and 23. King Josiah has been crowned king as an 8-year-old and, during the 18th year of his reign, a Book of the Law is discovered in the foundations of the temple (foundations were often used as a repository for documents in the ancient world). Although we don’t know exactly what the book said, it was enough that, "When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes." (2 Kings 22:11 NIV)
In chapter 23, Josiah goes on an iconoclastic rampage. He renews the covenant with God, the people follow him in that (oh, what a good leader can do!), and goes on to smash and burn and demolish everything that was resurrected in the name of something other than YHWH. It was swift, decisive, and brutal. I was convicted.
I began to ask myself: what are the idols that I need to smash? This is not simply a question of habits that I may need to adjust or things I should probably get around to doing or not doing at some point. This is a question of what things in my life do I need to absolutely destroy beyond resurrection? What knock down, drag out fights do I need to have with my sinister darlings so that I might preserve the integrity of my soul? What cheap things are separating me from fully enjoying God?
To honestly ask oneself this question is a very, very hard thing. In the past such considerations have led me to breakups, career changes, and complete life shifts. There is a lot of anxiety attached. What if I make a mistake? What if I can’t live without it? What if there is regret and fallout and shame and pain from taking such action against that which I had heretofore held so very dear?
Let’s see how things went for King Josiah and the people of God.
Prior to Josiah's chosen course of action, he goes to speak to the prophet Huldah (a king seeking a woman’s wisdom wut wut!). Huldah’s news, however, is not rosy.
This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people, according to everything written in the book the king of Judah has read. Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and aroused my anger by all the idols their hands have made, my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched. (2 Kings 22:16-17)
Because of their unfaithfulness to the God with whom they were tied, the people and their land would suffer. Before you start thinking that this proves God is wrathful and unloving, please be reminded that plenty of chances had been given. The people had every opportunity to be faithful and yet turned and turned and turned. To put it in perspective: if I constantly cheated on my husband and he gave me myriad chances to stop, can we fault him for finally having enough and cutting me off? We would not begrudge him if he decided to act, and we should give God the same grace. It is love, after all.
Despite the fact that things weren't looking good for the people of God, Huldah delivers a special message just for Josiah:
Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people–that they would become a curse and be laid waste–and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord. Therefore I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place. (2 Kings 22:19-20 NIV)
So basically, because King Josiah was immediately repentant, he would be spared the trial of having to see things go downhill so intensely. He confessed and turned to God with all his heart, so the Lord had mercy.
While there are many things that can be said about these passages, two things have struck my little idolatrous heart.
First, repentance and the desecration of idols pays off. King Josiah was absolutely heartbroken when he saw how far he and his people had strayed from the one, true God. He was not shy about turning away from those idols and back to YHWH, and that meant that he was able to avoid the coming destruction. I am not saying that God's response to Josiah is prescriptive and that if you smash your idols you will never see hardship again. This is one story. I am saying, however, that God honors our efforts to be His with full fidelity. So the challenge is this is to ask the Lord where you have built dark altars and grab a holy sledgehammer. In the end, I truly believe that our mourning will turn to dancing.
Second, just because we repent of our idolatry does not mean that all of the consequences will be erased. The fallout which Huldah predicts was the Babylonian exile, when God's people were displaced and brought to the land of their enemies. It was horrible and heartbreaking and would go on to last for a long, long time. Despite the fact that Josiah repented and led the people into repentance, there were still consequences to the worship that had been falsely lifted. This is true for us as well. If I worship food, I can repent and seek to be better, but I might still have to lose weight or deal with health concerns. If I worship lust, I might apologize, but I have a husband who will be hurt and will react accordingly. We see this with systemic sin as well: racism, nationalism, oppression. We might recognize it and seek to change, but the scars are there and they need acknowledging.
I will share a present, personal example: I am addicted to performance. The idea of doing well is something that I have placed high and worshipped enthusiastically. The Lord has revealed this to me and I am working on it by seeking to be humble, recognizing that my imperfections are normal, and praying through it when I mess up and don't perform well. I have seen immense growth so far, but those inclinations run deep. The fallout from 28 years of trying to perform is not easily shaken.
But the good news is this: nothing is impossible with God.
He can free you from the idols which suck your life away. He wants to partner with you on that journey. He will empower you and care for you and will not forsake you, come hell or high water or Babylonian exile. Just turn toward Him. Trust Him.
In short, smash your idols and truly live.
Cross-posted from "Reflections on Faith, Words, and The Holiness of Today"