Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Complete Spring Cleaning

When trying to stop smoking, some people throw out all their smoking paraphernalia...except for those few "just in case" cigarettes or a favorite lighter hidden in the back of a drawer.

After successfully losing weight and buying a wardrobe of smaller-sized clothes, others keep around those larger clothes, pushing them to the back of the closet "just in case" the pounds return.

However, without a complete severing, the fine, wispy strands connecting these individuals to their past can slowly grow into strong cords, once again entangling.

To say these people expect to fail isn't exactly correct. Instead, they think it can't hurt to have those remnants tucked away in the back of a drawer or closet.

In Old Testament Israel, the same ideology seems to apply to many of their so-called "good" kings.

The Kings and Chronicles follows a pretty predictable historical pattern: Israel will suffer from one or more evil kings who lead the land in idol worship. Then, a "good" king will come to the throne and restore the land and its people to worshiping the one true God, Yahweh.

The problem is that from the time of King David's son Solomon until the very end of Judah's history as a nation, not one of these kings ever completely cleaned "spiritual house" in the land. Each always left some vestige of idolatry behind, leaving the door wide open for the next evil king to welcome idolatry back into the favor.

Even when just skimming through the Kings and Chronicles, looking for passages that summarize whenever a king comes to the throne or dies, it's easy to see the king's goodness is repeatedly followed by the word "but" or "however."

For instance, Scripture says, "So Jehu destroyed Baal worship in Israel. However, he did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit—the worship of the golden calves at Bethel and Dan" (2 Kin. 10:28-29, my italics). In other words--Godly guy, but still allowed idolatry to continue.

The same goes for king Joash: "Joash did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all the years Jehoiada the priest instructed him. The high places, however, were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there" (2 Kin. 12:2-3, my italics). Again--Godly king, but one who didn't completely force God's people to worship and sacrifice only at the temple as God intended.

The same "good...but" mentality continues down the line of kings, and the list after the "but" seems to get bigger. One of the last kings was "evil...but" king Manasseh. His divinely-inspired change of heart saw him, too, getting rid of idolatry, but only in the city of Jerusalem: "He also removed the foreign gods and the idol from the house of the LORD, as well as all the altars which he had built on the mountain of the house of the LORD and in Jerusalem, and he threw them outside the city" (2 Chron. 33:15).

In my mind, I see him throwing the idols outside the city during the daylight and smiling that he'd done a great thing; yet, once darkness falls, other shadows sneak outside the walls and carry those carved images right back inside to hide in backs of closets.

But then came King Josiah, a man who cleaned house like it had never been cleaned before.

He not only "tore down the altars of the Baals" and "broke into pieces" the other carved idols. He also "ground [them] to powder" or burned them, then desecrated and defiled the places of idol worship with those ashes so that no one could worship false gods there again (2 Chron .34:4, 2 Kin. 23:4,10).

Unlike Manasseh, Josiah didn't just conduct this house cleaning within the city of Jerusalem (2 Chron. 34:4). Instead, he "beat the Asherim and the carved images into powder, and chopped down all the incense altars throughout the land of Israel" (2 Chron. 34:7, my italics).

The scary thing about all the Godly kings who had gone before him is they had left so much behind!

For instance, Josiah "demolished" and "ground them to dust" those places of idol worship that dated back to King Jeroboam of the two golden calves (2 Kin. 23:15). And even worse, Josiah destroyed high places "which Solomon the king of Israel had built" for several of the false gods his foreign wives worshiped (2 Kin. 23:13; see 1 Kin. 11:7-8).

Such a thorough cleaning of all of Israel, dust hundreds' of years in the making--it wasn't an overnight job. Chronicles records that Josiah began to "purge" Judah of idolatry in the twelfth year of his reign and he didn't finish the purge until the eighteenth year of his reign--that's six years of smashing idols to powder (2 Chron. 34:3,8).

Consider the implications to our own lives. When a person gives her life to Christ, God starts cleaning and rebuilding that house to be a holy temple for His Spirit to reside in. Just like with Josiah, though, grinding a person's idols to powder is not an overnight process. It takes time and a lifetime of constant self-examination.

We must continuously ask ourselves if there is anything in any portion of our lives that we are holding onto, that we have made an idol of--perhaps because our fathers or even our father's father's father did it that way, even if it's not God's way.

Maybe it's an activity, a habit, an object. And no, it may not draw you, personally, back into sin.

But if there's anything we can learn from Israel's godly kings with a poor cleaning policy, it's that ridding our lives of all idol remnants is not always about ensnaring ourselves in sin--it's also about leading others to sin.

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