When Good Things Become Idols

He removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made; for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it, and called it Nehushtan. (2 Kings 18:4)

After the fall of the kingdom of the norther tribes in 2 Kings 17, chapter 18 begins the story of Hezekiah, one of the best kings of Judah. In verse 3 it simply says of him, “He did what was right in the sight of the LORD.” Then we read about many of the right things that he did – beginning with his work against the idolatry in Judah.


We read that Hezekiah removed the high places. These were popular altars for sacrifice set up as the worshipper desired, not according to God’s direction. Many other kings of Judah – even some of the good ones – allowed these unapproved places for sacrifice.

We read that he cut down the wooden image, which was probably some wooden pillar used in the immoral rituals intended to honor the pagan goddess Ashtoreth.

Finally, we read in verse 4, and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made. What was this all about?

Numbers 21:1-9 describes how during a time of a plague of fiery serpents upon the whole nation, Moses made a bronze serpent for Israel to look upon and be spared death from the snake bites. This statement in 2 Kings tells us that this particular bronze serpent had been preserved for more than 800 years, but Hezekiah looked at it and called it “Nehushtan.” Because he was so zealous to honor God, Hezekiah broke in pieces this bronze artifact and put an end to the idolatrous worship of this object.

This bronze serpent was a wonderful thing – when the afflicted people of Israel looked upon it, they were saved. It was even a representation of Jesus Christ, as Jesus Himself said in John 3:14-15. Yet people could take something so good, and so used by God, and make a destructive idol out of it.

In the same way, sometimes good things become idols and therefore must be destroyed. For example, if some precious artifact from Bible times was discovered, and then became an object of idolatry for many, it would be better to destroy that thing.

God’s people must likewise be on guard against idolatry today. There are many dangers of idolatry in the modern church:

– Making leaders idols.
– Making education an idol.
– Making human eloquence an idol.
– Making customs and habits of ministry an idol.
– Making forms of worship an idol.

The name Nehushtan means “piece of brass” and is a way to make less of this object that was made an idol. It’s always good for us to look for idols in our heart and mind, and to cut them down to size.

God alone deserves our worship and our ultimate obedience.

Click here for David’s commentary on 2 Kings 18

Lions of Judgment

Löwen des Gerichts

Aber der König von Assyrien ließ Leute aus Babel und aus Kuta, aus Awa, Hamat und Sepharwajim kommen und siedelte sie an Stelle der Kinder Israels in den Städten Samarias an. Und sie nahmen Samaria in Besitz und wohnten in dessen Städten.
Und es geschah, als sie zu Anfang ihrer Niederlassung dort den Herrn nicht fürchteten, da sandte der Herr Löwen unter sie; die richteten Verheerungen unter ihnen an. (2. Könige 17,24-25)

Das Königreich Israel, die zehn nördlichen Stämme, waren besiegt. Die brutale assyrische Armee hatte sie geschlagen und dann das Volk gezwungen, sich an verschiedenen Orten des Assyrischen Reichs anzusiedeln. Und dann ließ der König von Assyrien Leute ins Land kommen. Die Politik der Assyrer war, rebellische und widerspenstige Leute zu entfernen und deren Land mit Menschen aus anderen Teilen des Reiches zu besiedeln.

Lions of Judgment

Dadurch, so hofften die Könige von Assyrien, sollten die eroberten Länder von Menschen bewohnt werden, die vorher keine Verbindung dazu gehabt hatten. Sie wollten, dass die Menschen im Reich nur eine Verbindung zum König von Assyrien hatten und diesem loyal ergeben waren.

Doch unser Bibeltext hier erzählt uns etwas über diese neuen Leute, die ins Land kamen: Und es geschah, als sie zu Anfang ihrer Niederlassung dort den Herrn nicht fürchteten, da sandte der Herr Löwen unter sie. Als die Israeliten besiegt waren und das Land nicht verteidigen konnten, hat Gott es auf übernatürliche Weise verteidigt – und zwar sandte der Herr Löwen unter sie!

Dies zeigt, dass nicht nur das Reich Israel etwas Besonderes war, sondern auch das Land Israel. Gott forderte, dass Er von den Menschen im Land gefürchtet würde, auch wenn sie aus anderen Nationen stammten.

Sacharja 2,12 sagt uns, dass das Land Israel ein Heiliges Land ist. Gott sieht es als etwas Besonderes an, und Er wird die zur Verantwortung ziehen, die darin leben und Ihn nicht fürchten.

In 2. Könige 17 lesen wir weiter, dass die Assyrer verstanden, dass die Löwen kamen, weil sie den Gott Israels nicht ehrten. Es ist erstaunlich, dass die Assyrer anscheinend wussten, was das Volk des gerade eroberten Reiches Israel nicht wussten – dass sie den Gott Israels ehren mussten. Sie ließen sogar einen Priester aus Israel kommen um sie die Furcht des HERRN zu lehren (2. Könige 17,28).

Man kann sagen, so wie Charles Spurgeon es tat, dass sie „von Löwen bekehrt“ wurden. Doch 2. Könige 17,29-33 erklärt, es war nicht wirklich eine Bekehrung. Sie ehrten weiterhin ihre heidnischen Götter neben dem Gott Israels.

Wenn man zu Gott kommt, nur weil man Angst vor dem Gericht – vor den Löwen – hat, ist niemals genug. Es kann ein guter Anfang sein, doch es darf damit nicht aufhören. Wir müssen zu Gott kommen und unser Vertrauen auf Seine Liebe für uns in Jesus Christus setzen. Es ist die Güte und Freundlichkeit Gottes, die uns zur Buße führt (Römer 2,4).

they feared the lord, yet

They Feared the Lord, Yet…

So they feared the LORD, and from every class they appointed for themselves priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the shrines of the high places. They feared the LORD, yet served their own gods — according to the rituals of the nations from among whom they were carried away. (2 Kings 17:32-33)

God brought His judgment against the kingdom of Israel – the ten northern tribes – through the army of Assyria. The Assyrians forced them to relocate to other parts of the empire. Then they brought in the conquered from other lands, to re-populate the now empty land of Israel.

they feared the lord, yet

But these foreign newcomers to the land of Israel didn’t honor the God of Israel. The LORD, Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel, sent His judgment against these newcomers for their idolatry. So, the Assyrians sent a priest from among the Israelites removed from the land, sending him to teach the newcomers about the LORD. The newcomers did what the priest told them to do – in part. Not completely.

1 Kings 17:29 says that “every nation continued to make gods of its own.” The priest-for-hire brought in by the Assyrians did not tell the new inhabitants of the land that they must only worship the LORD God of Israel. He did not teach it because, coming from Israel, he did not believe it.

1 Kings 17:33 says it well: They feared the LORD, yet served their own gods. This described the pagan peoples that the Assyrians brought in to populate the area of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. They gave a measure of respect to the God of Israel – after all, they did not want to be eaten by lions. Yet they also served their own gods and picked and chose among religious and spiritual beliefs as it pleased them.

– This accurately described the pagan newcomers who re-populated Israel.

– This accurately described the Kingdom of Israel before they were conquered and exiled.

– This accurately describes common religious belief in the modern world – today.

Don’t you know many people like this? They give some respect to God, and maybe even attend church. Others might look at them and think, “that is someone who fears the Lord.” Despite all that, they serve their own gods.

Charles Spurgeon said this in 1876: “Is not worldly piety, or pious worldliness, the current religion of England? They live among godly people, and God chastens them, and they therefore fear him, but not enough to give their hearts to him.” What Spurgeon said of England is true of many more nations.

Is it true of you? F.B. Meyer wrote, “Are you sure this is not a true description of your own position? You pay an outward deference to God by attending his house, and acknowledging his day, whilst you are really prostrating yourself before other shrines.”

We can bow down before many of our own gods. Ask God to examine your heart and life for hidden idolatry.

Click here for David’s commentary on 2 Kings 17

principles of judgment

Prinzipien der Rechtsprechung

Und der König von Assyrien durchzog das ganze Land und kam vor Samaria und belagerte es drei Jahre lang. Im neunten Jahr Hoseas eroberte der König von Assyrien Samaria und führte Israel gefangen nach Assyrien; und er siedelte sie in Halach und am Habor, dem Fluß Gosans, und in den Städten der Meder an. (2. […]

Lions of Judgment

Lions of Judgment

Then the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel; and they took possession of Samaria and dwelt in its cities. And it was so, at the beginning of their dwelling there, that they did not fear the LORD; therefore the LORD sent lions among them, which killed some of them. (2 Kings 17:24-25)

The kingdom of Israel, the ten northern tribes, were conquered as a nation. The brutal Assyrians defeated them and then forced the people of Israel to relocate to different areas of the Assyrian empire. After that, the king of Assyria brought people into the land. The policy of the Assyrians was to remove rebellious, resistant people and to resettle their former lands with people from other parts of the empire.

Lions of Judgment

In doing this, the kings of Assyria hoped to re-populate their conquered lands, bringing in people who had no previous attachment to the area. They wanted the people of the empire to be attached to and loyal to the king of Assyria, and no one else.

But our Bible passage tells us something of these new people brought into the land: they did not fear the LORD; therefore the LORD sent lions among them. When the Israelites were conquered and could not defend the land, God supernaturally defended it – and the LORD sent lions among them to do it!

This shows that there was not only something special about the kingdom of Israel, but also something special about the land of Israel. God demanded to be feared among the people of the land, even if they came from other nations.

Zechariah 2:12 tells us that the land of Israel is the Holy Land. God regards it as something special, and He will hold accountable those who live there and who do not fear Him.

2 Kings 17 goes on to explain that the Assyrians figured out that the lions were sent because they did not honor the God of Israel. It’s amazing that the Assyrian officials seemed to know what the people of the recently-conquered kingdom of Israel did not know – that they had to honor the God of Israel. They even had a priest from Israel come and teach them to fear the LORD (2 Kings 17:28).

You could say, as Charles Spurgeon did, that they were “converted by lions.” But, 2 Kings 17:29-33 explains, it wasn’t much of a conversion. They still honored the corrupt, pagan gods along with the LORD God of Israel.

Coming to God only because you are afraid of judgment – afraid of the lions – is never enough. It might be a good start, but it can’t stop there. We need to come to God and put our trust in Him on the basis of His love for us in Jesus Christ. It is the kindness and goodness of God that leads us to true repentance (Romans 2:4).

Click here for David’s commentary on 2 Kings 17