Nehushtan

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.

Nehushtan

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

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

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

principles of judgment

Principles of Judgment

Now the king of Assyria went throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria and besieged it for three years. In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria took Samaria and carried Israel away to Assyria. (2 Kings 17:5-6)

It took a three-year siege, but eventually the king of Assyria conquered Israel, the kingdom made up of the ten northern tribes. We read, the king of Assyria went throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria and besieged it for three years. This was a long, dedicated campaign to finally crush the rebellious kingdom of Israel, who had defied the power of the Assyrian Empire. Though it took a three-year siege, it was worth it to the Assyrians.

principles of judgment

The walls surrounding Samaria were good – good enough to keep the enemy out for three years. But the strength of the walls could not stand against the judgment of God, and the Assyrian army was in fact an instrument of God’s judgment against Israel. This shows us that when God brings His judgment, He may use human instruments to do it.

When the capital city of Samaria fell, they then carried Israel away to Assyria. This is what the Assyrians did regarding many of the nations they conquered. They deported all but the very lowest classes back to the key cities of their empire, either to train and utilize the talented or to enslave the able.

So, 200 years and 19 kings after the time of Solomon (the last king over a united Israel), the Northern Kingdom of Israel fell. It was not because the God of Israel was unable to help them, but because they had so forsaken God and ignored His guidance and correction that He finally stopped actively protecting them and let them rot and degrade according to their desire.

As they carried Israel away to Assyria, they followed their typical custom.  When the Assyrians depopulated and exiled a conquered community, they led the captives away on journeys of hundreds of miles, with the captives naked and attached together with a system of strings and fishhooks pierced through their lower lips. God made sure they were led in this humiliating manner through the broken walls of their conquered cities (Amos 4:2-3). This shows another principle of God’s judgment: When it comes, it may be humiliating and degrading.

This should give us a sober fear of the judgment of God. Israel had enjoyed a heritage of rich blessing in the past, but that in itself would not protect them from God’s judgment if they continued to mock God and rebel against Him.

More so, it should make us grateful for the work of Jesus. When Jesus died on the cross as our substitute, He took the judgment we deserved. God did it through human instruments, and Jesus was (humanly speaking) humiliated on the cross. Jesus bore all that so that those who put their trust in Him would never face God’s judgment.

Click here for David’s commentary on 2 Kings 17

Worst Kings

One of the Worst Kings

Also he removed the Sabbath pavilion which they had built in the temple, and he removed the king’s outer entrance from the house of the LORD, on account of the king of Assyria. Now the rest of the acts of Ahaz which he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah? (2 Kings 16:18-19)

Ahaz was one of the worst to reign over Jerusalem and the Kingdom of Judah. He brought in corrupt pagan innovations to the temple of God. Ahaz took away many of the good things that stood before. The record of 2 Kings 16 tells us some of the story, but not all of it – the rest of the acts of Ahaz are found in 2 Chronicles and a few other places.

Worst Kings

Ahaz did what he could to discourage the worship of the true God at the temple of God. For a time, he even shut down the operation of the temple and established small pagan altars all around Judah (2 Chronicles 28:24-25).

I think that in many ways, Ahaz is a warning to our generation. He could be considered a church leader from the 21st century on several points.

– Ahaz was a man with an artistic sense of style.
– Ahaz was impressed with technology and brought the Babylonian innovation of the sundial to Jerusalem (2 Kings 20:11).
– Ahaz loved innovation and new things, and brought those innovations into worship.
– At the same time, Ahaz seemed to be a nice man. He did not have the persecuting spirit of his grandson Manasseh (2 Kings 21:16).
– Yet, Ahaz had the advantage of great prophets and messengers (such as Isaiah and Micah).
– Ahaz had the blessing of a great deliverance when God spared Jerusalem and Judah from conquest.
– Ahaz also had the influence of a godly father and a godly heritage from the line of David.

Ahaz had man advantages yet was a terrible leader for the people of God. The key to understanding Ahaz is to note that he had no relationship with God. Ahaz destroyed the link that his father Jotham made between the palace and the temple, and this was an illustration of his destroyed relationship with God. With his love of the latest trends and fashion he was the opposite of Jesus, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Ahaz had a vague spiritual interest, and that was not enough.

In the end, Ahaz put his trust in himself and in man – instead of the living God who reigns from heaven. Therefore, his reign was a disaster, one of the worst among the kings of Judah.

How can you avoid the same disaster? Don’t put your trust in yourself, in your gifts, in your strengths, in the latest style, or even in good people who want to help you. At the foundation, put your trust in God. Jesus is worthy of our trust.

Click here for David’s commentary on 2 Kings 16

eternity bethlehem here

From Eternity to Bethlehem to Here

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting. (Micah 5:2)

Bethlehem was well known as the hometown of David, Israel’s greatest king; yet it was never a great or influential city. It was truly little among the thousands of Israel. Yet God chose it as the birthplace of the Messiah, the Ruler in Israel. This passage pinpoints the birthplace of the Messiah hundreds of years before He was born.

eternity bethlehem here

The Messiah was going to Bethlehem, but He was coming from eternity: Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting. This glorious promise was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and Micah’s prophetic voice declared that though Jesus came from Bethlehem, He did not begin there. His goings forth were from eternity past.

The Bible tells us that Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. (Revelation 22:13). This means from the very beginning, Jesus was there. There was never a time when the Jesus did not exist. Before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, He existed as the Second Person of the Trinity (John 17:5, 17:24). The eternal Son existed before He revealed Himself as “Jesus.”

Knowing that Jesus’ goings forth are from of old, from everlasting shows us some important things:

It shows us the glory of Jesus, that He is far more than a man. Many people are willing to count Jesus as a great man, or even as the greatest man. This is not enough. Knowing what Jesus claimed to be – eternal God in human form. Jesus is the is Lord of all creation – the one from eternity.

It shows us the love of Jesus, that He would leave the glory of heaven for us. It’s hard to move from a great place to a lesser place, and no place is greater than heaven. Yet He left the ivory palaces of heaven, giving leave to heaven out of love for us.

It shows us the nature of Jesus, that He would add humanity to His deity. It’s wrong to think that Jesus was half man and half God, or that He was God on the inside but man on the outside. The incarnation was addition, not subtraction.

It shows us the sympathy of Jesus, that He remains fully man and fully God. 1 Timothy 2:5 reminds us that Jesus is still truly man and truly God. He didn’t give up His humanity when He ascended to heaven. This means that the Savior born in Bethlehem – just as Micah prophesied – has an enduring sympathy with us.

This blessed place of Bethlehem – little among thousands – was specially chosen to bring forth the greatest gift of all: God becoming man. God can use a little place and little people to bring forth great gifts. Receive His gift thankfully.

Click here for David’s commentary on Micah 5

child born son given

The Child and the Son

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

In the computer age, it’s pretty easy to give our words emphasis when we write. You just use a bigger, bolder, or different color font. Ancient writers didn’t have these tools, but they did have emphasis. In the Old Testament, one of the most common ways to make a point was to repeat it, usually using slightly different words.

child born son given

When Isaiah wrote, unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, he used this tool of repetition to emphasize the point. Yet we recognize the hand of the Holy Spirit in the specific wording.

It starts out, unto us a Child is born. This tells us that the victory-bringing Messiah would be a man. Theoretically, the Messiah could have been an angel, or even God without humanity. But only a true man could be our Savior and High Priest as Jesus is. The Child had to be born. What amazing mystery! There is nothing weaker, more helpless, more dependent than a Child.

Isaiah continued: unto us a Son is given. This would be more than a man. He is also the eternal Son of God, the Second Person of the Godhead. The Messiah wasn’t just a sinless angel or a perfect man like Adam. We needed a perfect, infinite Being to offer a perfect, infinite atonement for our sins. We needed Immanuel, God with us (Isaiah 7:14).

Thinking a little deeper, we see that the Child could be born, because the humanity of Jesus had a starting point. There was a time when humanity had not yet been added to His deity. The Son had to be given, because the Second Person of the Trinity is eternal, and He has existed forever as the God the Son – even before He added humanity to His deity.

While Isaiah may have intended the repetition merely for the sake of emphasis, we see that the Holy Spirit beautifully guided every word! Jesus, the Messiah, is fully God and fully man. There was a time when the eternal Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, added humanity to His deity. He never became less God, but He added a human nature to His divine nature, and so He became one person with two distinct natures, functioning together in perfect harmony.

If Jesus were not fully man, He could not stand in the place of sinful man and be a substitute for the punishment humanity deserves. If He were not fully God, His sacrifice wouldn’t be perfect and therefore wouldn’t be enough to satisfy God’s perfect standard. If Jesus is not fully God and fully man, we remain lost in our sin. We can say, “Thank you Lord, for the Child born and the Son given.”

Click here for David’s commentary on Isaiah 9

Start of Christmas

The Start of Christmas

Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; My ears You have opened; burnt offering and sin offering You did not require.  Then I said, “Behold, I come; in the scroll of the Book it is written of Me.  I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within My heart.” (Psalm 40:6-8)

Christmas doesn’t start on Black Friday or on Cyber Monday. It didn’t start with Santa Claus or even Saint Nicholas. The start wasn’t with Mary and Joseph in a stable. To go to the start of Christmas, we have to leave earth and go the throne room of God. There, before the foundation of the world, in the eternal counsels of the One God in three Persons, is where Christmas started. It started in heaven when God the Father agreed to send; when God the Son agreed to go; and when God the Holy Spirit agreed to guide.

Start of Christmas

Psalm 40 takes the words of David and shows us the heart of God’s own Son as He came into the world. This passage tells us about the start of Christmas.

Christmas started because something was lacking. We read, sacrifice and offering You did not desire. Sin made sacrifice and offering necessary. Yet the sacrifices of animals in the Old Testament were not enough – and whatever sacrifice we make in our life is not enough to take away our sin. Because sacrifice and offeringare not enough, God knew that we needed Christmas.

Christmas started because Someone was willing. We read, My ears You have opened. According to the ancient custom in Israel, this means Jesus was a devoted servant out of love, not obligation. This is also reflected in the words, I delight to do Your will, O my God. Jesus was willing to be the servant we needed to gain our salvation. He was willing not only to feel the feelings of a servant, but to also do the doings of a servant. That is why Psalm 40 says, Behold, I come. Those are doing words, not feeling words.

Christmas started because Someone loved. Love is all over these verses. My ears You have opened – and only love could make Jesus do this for us. In the scroll of the Book it is written of Me – and only love could promise such a plan. God planned it long ago; and He delighted in this plan so much that He couldn’t keep it to Himself. He had to put it in a Book so we could read about it. I delight to do Your will – only love could make the suffering Jesus endured His delight.

When we think where Christmas started – in the heaven of heavens, in the secret councils of the godhead – it should fill our heart with true worship. It should make us humbly ask forgiveness for every time we have doubted God’s love. It should make us acknowledge that we are unworthy, but that His love is even greater than our unworthiness.

Click here for David’s commentary on Psalm 40

king and priest

A King and Priest

And when the king came back from Damascus, the king saw the altar; and the king approached the altar and made offerings on it. So he burned his burnt offering and his grain offering; and he poured his drink offering and sprinkled the blood of his peace offerings on the altar. (2 Kings 16:12-13)

King Ahaz of Judah gave his allegiance to the king of Assyria, and it was a shameful thing for a leader of God’s people to bow down to a pagan ruler. Ahaz also took note of the design of the altar at the idol temple in Damascus and brought that design back to Jerusalem. All of that was bad, but what Ahaz did next was worse.

king and priest

We read Ahaz burned his burnt offering and his grain offering; and he poured his drink offering and sprinkled the blood of his peace offerings on the altar. In Israel it was a strict law that kings should not be priests, and priests should not be king. But Ahaz was so bold in his rebellion that he served as a priest at the altar of his own design. Since he made his own place of worship, it also made sense that he would disregard God’s command that a king must not serve as a priest (Numbers 18:7).

Ahaz’s grandfather Uzziah also dared to enter the temple and serve God as a priest (2 Chronicles 26). Yet at least Uzziah falsely worshipped the true God. Ahaz falsely worshipped a false god of his own creation.

It was so bad that even Urijah the priest agreed to accept King Ahaz as a priest (2 Kings 16:16). Urijah not only allowed Ahaz to do this; he participated in his evil and idolatrous plans. This was in dramatic contrast to the priests in the days of King Uzziah, who did all they could to restrain the madness of the king (2 Chronicles 26:17-18). It is a sad fact that corrupt political leaders have almost always been able to find corrupt religious leaders to help them.

All this was terrible. Yet even this, in the way of contrast, points us to Jesus Christ. One of the many sins of Ahaz was his demand to be a priest, which God clearly prohibited. That is, until the offices of king, priest, and prophet would all be combined in the messiah, Jesus Christ. He is the prophet, being God’s last word (Hebrews 1:1-2). Jesus is the priest, being a High Priest forever (Hebrews 3:1). Jesus is a king, being the king of kings (1 Timothy 6:15).

It’s also true that God will so work in His people that it is their destiny to be kings and priests with Jesus (Revelation 1:6 and 5:10). The glory that Ahaz pursued in a disobedient and ungodly way is actually reserved for the people of God. But it is only because they are, by faith, connected to Jesus Messiah – who is the true king and priest.

Click here for David’s commentary on 2 Kings 16

God's Altar

Rejecting God’s Altar

Now King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, and saw an altar that was at Damascus; and King Ahaz sent to Urijah the priest the design of the altar and its pattern, according to all its workmanship. Then Urijah the priest built an altar according to all that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus. So Urijah the priest made it before King Ahaz came back from Damascus. (2 Kings 16:10-11)

King Ahaz decided he would rather surrender to the king of Assyria than to the King of Kings. He rejected God and looked to the pagan ruler for help. So, it wasn’t strange that he decided to visit Tiglath-Pileser and make official his submission to the king of Assyria.

God's Altar

When he was there, Ahaz saw something that pleased him: he saw an altar that was set at Damascus. He liked it so much that King Ahaz sent to Urijah the priest the design of the altar and its pattern. Using the plans sent from Ahaz, Urijah imitated the pagan altar at Damascus and had it ready by the time Ahaz returned from Damascus. Ahaz did this both to please his new master, Tiglath-Pileser, and to bring the latest trends in altar design to God’s temple in Jerusalem. 

2 Chronicles 28:23 explains why King Ahaz was attracted to what he saw in Damascus: For he sacrificed to the gods of Damascus which had defeated him, saying, “Because the gods of the kings of Syria help them, I will sacrifice to them that they may help me.” But they were the ruin of him and of all Israel.

Think of it: a king over the people of God actually set up a pagan altar at the temple in Jerusalem. He did it because he knew it would please the pagans, because he liked the fashionable design of the altar, and because he thought it would bring him success.

Doesn’t that sound like a lot of churches today? Many church leaders today put their trust in the tools, the techniques, and the principles of worldly success. They think the gods of Damascus will give them victory. We want to please the world as Ahaz wanted to please the king of Assyria. We are impressed with the fashionable designs of what comes from the world. We think imitating the world will bring us success. It’s sad when the church goes to the world for its methods and principles.

The sin of Ahaz didn’t end with Ahaz. We read, Urijah the priest built an altar. Of course, Ahaz bore the greater blame in this matter, but the high priest Urijah was also at fault. Together, they brought in something that was their ruin and the ruin of Israel.

That’s the problem with the kind of compromise Ahaz allowed and promoted. Like Jesus warned, it is like leaven or yeast spreading through a whole lump of bread dough. Let’s look to the LORD more, and to the world less!

Click here for David’s commentary on 2 Kings 16