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A King like Ahaz

June 7, 2020, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee (2 Kings 16:1-20) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: 2 Kings
Preached at a Combined Service service

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Listen to sermon recording with the play button or download with the download link. 您可点播或下载讲道录音。
About Rev. Wong Siow Hwee: Rev. Wong is the moderator of Jubilee Church, serving there since 2002. 王晓晖牧师是禧年堂的主理牧师。自2002年,在那牧会将近20年。
Bible passage (ESV) of the sermon can be found at the bottom of the page.

Peace be with you brothers and sisters. In 2 Kings 16, we are introduced to King 2 Ahaz. He was “unlike David his (fore)father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God.” 4 He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree. David was known for his complete devotion to God. Sadly, his descendant Ahaz was a superstitious king who worshipped all the pagan gods in his land, even offering his own children as live sacrifices. In terms of idolatrous worship, this was considered the absolute most detestable thing to God. God commanded in Deuteronomy 12: 31 You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods. I want to be absolutely clear. On one hand, Ahaz was most certainly responsible for his own evil deeds. On the other hand, I wish to highlight that this weakness of idolatrous worship was already present in the kingdom he inherited. The flaws were merely exposed blatantly once an insecure person like Ahaz, son of Jotham, took the throne. We were informed in the previous chapter in 2 Kings 15: 34 Jotham did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Uzziah had done. 35 The high places, however, were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there. So, even though Jotham himself worshipped God, he kept the high places his father Uzziah left behind; the same high places where his son Ahaz now worshipped. But was it really Jotham’s fault, or was it his father Uzziah’s fault? If we were to trace back earlier to 2 Kings 15: 3 Uzziah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Amaziah had done. 4 The high places, however, were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there. Jotham was merely following the footsteps of his father Uzziah. And Uzziah was merely following the footsteps of his father Amaziah. And when we trace it back to Amaziah, we found this in 2 Kings 14: 3 Amaziah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but not as his father David had done. In everything he followed the example of his father Joash. 4 The high places, however, were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there. This was the same King Amaziah mentioned by Pastor Naihwei at the start of our sermon series on the minor prophets. [1] We see from our tracing that the roots of Ahaz’s “infection” originated from generations before him. He was not an unlinked case, but part of an infectious cluster right in the royal family, though they had appeared asymptomatic for quite a while. But if we were diligent in our contact tracing, we would eventually trace it all the way back to King Solomon in 1 Kings 11. It was Solomon who set up all these high places for all the foreign gods of his foreign wives. 1 Kings 11: 8 who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods.

Let’s probe this deeper. From Solomon to Ahaz, there were at least 5-6 kings who were faithful to God, and 4 of them were the great-great-grandfather, great grandfather, grandfather, and father of Ahaz; 4 consecutive generations from Joash to Amaziah to Uzziah to Jotham. Why didn’t they remove the high places, knowing that their continued existences could lead to the worship of foreign idols? If I were to sum it up in one word, the word is Compromise. These high places were the traditional places of worship long before the Temple was built in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 12:2-3). Some of them were used to worship God, although they should have been discontinued after the Temple was built. But many others were used by the Israelites and Canaanites to worship idols of the local Canaanite gods. As stated earlier, Solomon then erected many more for the foreign gods of his hundreds of foreign wives. So you have both local cases from community transmissions and imported cases from neighboring countries. The generations of kings before Ahaz compromised because there were many in the kingdom of Judah who were still idol worshippers, some even belonging to the royal household. They compromised because these high places had become convenient places of worship for the people. The further away they were from the Jerusalem Temple, the bigger the scale of these high places, as more forms of religious services were needed for accessibility (Deuteronomy 12:21). More importantly, these kings compromised because these places were used to collect the annual tithing (Deuteronomy 14:24-26). In short, more high places, more taxes collected. But because of the compromises, the dangerous yeast was left there, unremoved in the dough. And in the unfortunate right conditions, the yeast would spread out of control. In our passage today, the desperate and superstitious Ahaz prayed to all the idols he could find in his land. The judgment of God was near and already happening (2 Chronicles 28:5-8). Nothing short of a circuit breaker could stop the entire country from complete destruction.

Speaking of circuit breaker, the period has finally come to an end in Singapore. Commercial and industrial activities are cautiously restarting. We do hope that social activities, especially church services, can also be resumed; but that would only happen much later, as such social activities also incur the greatest risks of transmission. Many of us probably wish for a day when we can return everything back to normal. However, I read a cartoon that asked a thought-provoking question. Instead of hoping to go back to normal, what if we move forward into a new normal instead? The truth is that the past had been far from “normal”. The pandemic had brutally exposed all the weakest links of the world. At the global level, the lack of leadership for a united fight against the pandemic was much lamented by many political leaders and medical experts. [2] At the national level, our vulnerabilities include the living conditions of our migrant workers. We also observed the challenges faced by elderly hawkers who were not IT-savvy and low-income families without the necessary devices for home-based learning. In the midst of panic and fear, we were not as calm, rational and socially responsible as we pride ourselves to be. The pandemic was a stress test of our social capital and we have been found wanting. I can see from the government’s latest budget and new safety measures that we are tackling these challenges. This is a good sign of moving forward instead of going back to a past that wasn’t really “normal”.

Let’s think about this at our church level, our social cohesion and spiritual depth are also being tested in this pandemic. Can we continue to stay connected with one another despite social distancing? Or are our relationships limited to just superficial greetings every Sunday? Without an official time and place to worship, are we still faithful in devotion to God? Can our theology prepare us for times like this? Or are we no different from those who sprout prosperity and health and wealth gospels? These are crucial questions that only time will tell. The pastoral team is keeping a keen eye of observation on the current situation of the Jubilee community. Just as there are cracks at the global and national level, we should expect and be aware of similar weaknesses surfacing in the midst of tough challenges. These are the high places that we have failed to remove. My point is simple: we shouldn’t be hankering to go back to normal. As we examine our flaws and failings, this pandemic is an opportunity for us to move forward. Whether it is our personal household, or our church ministries and businesses, we should seek to implement a new normal that keeps us stronger and healthier, whether it is our relationships with one another, or our relationship with God.

The crisis that Ahaz had to deal with wasn’t a pandemic, but it was just as life threatening in the form of an invasion from its northern neighbors Israel and Aram. These two kingdoms wanted to take control of Judah, so that they could combine forces to fight against the Assyrians. They had enough of paying tributes to Assyria. They started the Syro-Ephraimite War against Judah. [3] Ahaz suffered heavy losses under their attack (2 Chronicles 28:5-8), though he was still barely holding on. At that critical moment, Prophet Isaiah, in Isaiah 7-8, told Ahaz to stay calm and trust in the Lord. If you fear the Lord alone, then you shall fear nothing else. It is from Isaiah’s message to Ahaz, that we have the sign of Immanuel (God with us), and the promise of the cornerstone (God will start something new). Isaiah saw clearly that the problem was in the sins of the king and his people. But the insecure Ahaz would rather offer himself to the Assyrians and trust in their power. The Assyrians did destroy Israel and Aram for him, but it came at a heavy cost, literally. The servant and son of God became the servant and son of the Assyrian king. The descendants of David had to pay tributes and strip themselves of any royal appearances. Ahaz might have kept his kingdom and his kingship, but in reality the true owner was the Assyrians.

Ahaz did one more thing while he was sealing his covenant with the Assyrians in Damascus. He was impressed by the bigger altar he saw at the temple there and made one for himself in the Jerusalem Temple. He would use that to offer sacrifices for God and all the idols, and keep the original bronze altar aside for seeking guidance. Allow me to share my interpretation of his intentions, since they were not clearly stated in our passage today. Ahaz might be thinking: Bigger altar means bigger sacrifices (献祭), and that means that God or all the idols would be more pleased to offer their blessings (2 Chronicles 28:23). Does that sound familiar to you? There are Christians who think that God’s blessings are correlated to how much offerings they give, or how grand and happening the worship service they attend is. If you believe that, then maybe we should copy Ahaz and build the biggest altar we can fit into our sanctuary. But God said through his prophet Hosea 6: 6 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. For Ahaz, besides the new altar, the old bronze altar must also be kept because, who knows? Maybe the God of his fathers might have some useful prophecies that might come in handy one day? Does that sound familiar to you? There are Christians who pray to God, but also read horoscopes and buy crystals for FengShui, and buy amulets in sacred places when they go on holidays. To them, God is like an extra insurance plan, or maybe a second opinion when they are in trouble. To me, that sounds like you want to be fully in charge, and not letting God be the ultimate Lord and Savior of your life. Is God just providing a service to you? Or should you be in full service to God?

This is how I want to move forward in Jubilee from this pandemic. We should relook at how we stay connected, and how we worship as a community. We have zone cell groups, fellowships, ministry groups and church retreats. Are they functioning well in terms of community building? Or are there many who are neglected in the midst of our busy lives? We have services in Chinese and bilingual and for the elderly. But does the worship transform our lives? Or has nothing changed inwardly and outwardly despite years of regular attendance? This pandemic is a litmus test for us. And this time we can no longer compromise. Let us do what is right and necessary in our generation, to create the biggest potential for the future ones.

[1] http://www.jubilee.org.sg/sermons/?sermon_id=1018
[2] https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/asia/2020-06-04/lee-hsien-loong-endangered-asian-century
[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syro-Ephraimite_War

2 Kings 16 (Listen)

16:1 In the seventeenth year of Pekah the son of Remaliah, Ahaz the son of Jotham, king of Judah, began to reign. Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD his God, as his father David had done, but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even burned his son as an offering, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel. And he sacrificed and made offerings on the high places and on the hills and under every green tree.

Then Rezin king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, came up to wage war on Jerusalem, and they besieged Ahaz but could not conquer him. At that time Rezin the king of Syria recovered Elath for Syria and drove the men of Judah from Elath, and the Edomites came to Elath, where they dwell to this day. So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, saying, “I am your servant and your son. Come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.” Ahaz also took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the LORD and in the treasures of the king's house and sent a present to the king of Assyria. And the king of Assyria listened to him. The king of Assyria marched up against Damascus and took it, carrying its people captive to Kir, and he killed Rezin.

10 When King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, he saw the altar that was at Damascus. And King Ahaz sent to Uriah the priest a model of the altar, and its pattern, exact in all its details. 11 And Uriah the priest built the altar; in accordance with all that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus, so Uriah the priest made it, before King Ahaz arrived from Damascus. 12 And when the king came from Damascus, the king viewed the altar. Then the king drew near to the altar and went up on it 13 and burned his burnt offering and his grain offering and poured his drink offering and threw the blood of his peace offerings on the altar. 14 And the bronze altar that was before the LORD he removed from the front of the house, from the place between his altar and the house of the LORD, and put it on the north side of his altar. 15 And King Ahaz commanded Uriah the priest, saying, “On the great altar burn the morning burnt offering and the evening grain offering and the king's burnt offering and his grain offering, with the burnt offering of all the people of the land, and their grain offering and their drink offering. And throw on it all the blood of the burnt offering and all the blood of the sacrifice, but the bronze altar shall be for me to inquire by.” 16 Uriah the priest did all this, as King Ahaz commanded.

17 And King Ahaz cut off the frames of the stands and removed the basin from them, and he took down the sea from off the bronze oxen that were under it and put it on a stone pedestal. 18 And the covered way for the Sabbath that had been built inside the house and the outer entrance for the king he caused to go around the house of the LORD, because of the king of Assyria. 19 Now the rest of the acts of Ahaz that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 20 And Ahaz slept with his fathers and was buried with his fathers in the city of David, and Hezekiah his son reigned in his place.

(ESV)