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Religious Mix and Match

The Sins of Jeroboam, Omri and Ahab

Dr. Alex Tang

 

Mix and match are a term I learnt from my wife. When she goes shopping she will buy blouses or T-shirt of different color and jeans or skirts of different colors. Then she wears different combinations of them – mix and match. For me, my mix and match is black trousers and shirt of different shades of blue. Mix and match. This morning, we shall consider a different type of mix and match. Mix and match religion. Today’s text is 1 Kings 16: 29-33. It concerns three kings.

 

29 In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab son of Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned in Samaria over Israel twenty-two years.  30 Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him.  31 He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him.  32 He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria.  33 Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him. [1]

 

Jeroboam

Jeroboam rose to prominent during Solomon’s reign as an organizer of forced labor in Ephraim and Manasseh. He is designed future king by Ahijah, a prophet from Shiloh, and had to flee from Solomon and take refugee in Egypt. When he heard that Rehoboam had succeeded Solomon, Jeroboam returns to Israel and takes part in a meeting between Rehoboam and ‘all Israel’ in Shechem, which ends in the revolt of the ten tribes. Jeroboam was made king. An invasion of Israel by Rehoboam is prevented by the prophet Shemaiah. Jeroboam builds Shechem and Penuel and sets up calf images at Bethel and Dan. When his son falls sick, he sends his wife disguised to Ahijah for help, but Ahijah sees through the deception, denounces Jeroboam’s apostasy and prophesizes the death of the child and the destruction of Jeroboam’s apostasy.

Jeroboam’s false system counterfeited the pattern established by God in the Old Testament Law. Instead of the people of the northern kingdom (ten tribes) looking towards Jerusalem to worship and to travel there 6 times a year (Jerusalem is located in Judah, the southern kingdom), he wants to set up alternate worship sites. He established worship centers at Dan and Bethel, but rather than erect temples, he put up idols—golden calves on whose backs the invisible God was imagined to ride. Jeroboam turned out the levitical priests who would not go along with his apostate plans, and ordained volunteers from among the people. And he set up his own priestly class and sacrificial system. Finally Jeroboam copied the great feasts of the Law in which all Hebrews were commanded to participate. He established his own festivals, set for different times than those ordained by God.

The following are elements of Jeroboam’s false system:

A. Two calves of gold served as idols, even though the invisible God was supposed to be riding astride them. Jerusalem was replaced by Dan and Bethel as worship centers. The Canaanite religion has Baal as the symbol of the bull with goddess Asherah riding on the bull.

B. Priests not of the priestly line were appointed to serve at Bethel and Dan, as well as at “high places” (like roadside shrines).

C. A system of festivals that counterfeited those ordained by God was established.

D. Sacrifices were offered at the northern worship centers, which was again a direct violation of God’s Law.

This whole pattern is summed up in 1 Kings 12:33, which contrasts the system Jeroboam devised in his own heart to replace that which had been devised and revealed by God.[2]  It starts with an intention to set up or modify or improve the existing belief system.

This false religious system had a dual impact on the Northern Kingdom, Israel. First, the godly slipped over into Judah and settled there, so they could worship the Lord as He had commanded. These immigrants were a significant number. At the time of the division Judah was able to mobilize only 180,000 men (2 Chron. 11:1). But just 18 years later, Judah’s army entered the field with 400,000 fighting men (2 Chron. 13:2).

A second impact was on the character of the Northern Kingdom. The first king made a conscious and overtly rebellious decision to break with God and His Law. Each succeeding king continued in the pattern Jeroboam set![3]

Omri

Omri took over a kingdom that had suffered military defeat at the hand of Damascus, and which has recently experienced coup, counter-coup and civil war. By the end of his brief reign of twelve years he had stabilized the country, had built a new capital city at Samaria, had forged alliances with Judah and Tyre, and had extended his rule in Transjordan to the point where the inscription of the Moabite king Mesha conceded: ‘Omri humbled Moab for many years’. Omri thus has the honour of being the first king of the Northern Kingdom to be mentioned in extra-biblical sources. He was also mentioned in the annals of Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria. We do not get to get such a picture of Omri from the Bible because the biblical writers regarded him as an evil king religiously.[4]

 

1 Kings 16:25,26

25 But Omri did evil in the eyes of the LORD and sinned more than all those before him.  26 He walked in all the ways of Jeroboam son of Nebat and in his sin, which he had caused Israel to commit, so that they provoked the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger by their worthless idols. [5]

Omri continued with the religious reforms made by Jeroboam. He then went a step further by arranging a marriage between his son Ahad and the princess Jezebel of  Sidon and Tyre of Phoenicia. Phoenicia is the centre of Baal worship.  The modifed belief system is allied with another belief system.

 

Ahab

Pulling no punches, the biblical account of Ahad begins by describing him as the most evil Israelite king so far. Two features were singled out for criticism: not only does Ahab marry Jezebel, a princess from maritime city of Sidon and Tyre, but also he even builds a temple to Baal in Samaria. Having thus aroused the anger of God, Ahad is confronted by the prophet Elijah. As punishment Elijah proclaims a prolonged drought lasting two to three years (1 Kings 17:1). Towards the end of this period he presents himself once again before Ahad and enters into a contest at Mt.Carmel with the prophets of Baal, whom Jezebel favored. Elijah is victorious and the prophets of Baal are killed.

Baal-Malquart, commonly called simply Baal in this part of Scripture, was the expression of Baal worshiped in Tyre, Jezebel’s home city. The term baal simply means “owner” or “lord.” In Canaan the baals were nature gods, regarded as owners of particular localities, and believed to control fertility. Thus good crops as well as the human birth rate demanded that a people remain on good terms with the local “owner” deity.

As Canaanite religion developed, it focused on the cycles of the year. And extreme cult activities were required to ensure the coming of the needed rains. A prominent feature of these rites was prostitution by both sexes (see Jdg. 2:17; Jer. 7:9; and Amos 2:7). At times the rites even involved child sacrifice (Jer. 19:5). These orgiastic religious practices are well documented in hymns and poems from the period, which show a deadening moral depravity associated with the religious worship. Jezebel and Ahab went about imposing this entire system on Israel, aggressively seeking to blot out the worship of Jehovah.[6]  Gesenius, who is an authority on all matters connected with Phoenician and Canaanite worship, considers that Asherah was a goddess, identical with Ashtoreth (Astarte, or Venus).[7] The new belief  system was intregrated into the existing system. You see the progressive from what Jeroboam did that led to what Omri did and finally what Ahab did.

 

Syncretism is the process by which elements of one religion are assimilated into another religion resulting in a change in the fundamental tenets or nature of those religions. A mix and match religion. Under these three kings, the worship of Yahweh was mixed into the worship of Baal. No wonder it provoked the anger of Yahweh.

Exodus 20: 1-6

 Then God spoke all these words:

 2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt where you were slaves.

 3 “You must not have any other gods except me.

 4 “You must not make for yourselves an idol that looks like anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the water below the land. 5 You must not worship or serve any idol, because I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God. If you hate me, I will punish your children, and even your grandchildren and great-grandchildren. 6 But I show kindness to thousands who love me and obey my commands.

(NCV)[8]

If you think this type of syncretism, which finally lead to the destruction and exile of Israel and Judah affects only Judaism, think again. Think about our religion, Christianity. Are there syncretic elements in it? Is our motive in worshipping God pure?

Syncretism facing us today:

 

1.                  Worship of God

A.                God + Money

The worship of Money has crept into our religion. Money is such an important influence that it is estimated one quarter of the teachings of the Bible concerns money. No, money is not evil but the love of money is. How often have we heard from the pulpit that loving God will bring you riches and prosperity? That following Jesus will make you successful. That giving to the Lord, and the Lord is obligated to give you back the-fold.

 

Is that what the Bible teaches? Mark 8:34-37

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.  36 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?  37 Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? [9]

 

Christianity has become syncretic with money. The gospel has become a ‘health and prosperity gospel’. And Jesus has warned us about this.

Matt 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.[10]

 

B.                 God + Other Religions

Christmas is a good example of how the Church has tried to integrate other religion and in its turned was assimilated. Christmas has its origin in the fourth century. December 25 was the day the Roman celebrate the birth of their sun-god. When Constantine became emporer, he sought to combine the worship of the sun god with the worship of Christ. As we say, the rest is history. Initially the church tried to adapt it to a purely Christian festival. Unfortunately, it has became pagan, consumer driven and even worshippers of other religions celebrate Christmas.

There is a story about a Sunday school class. The teacher asked, “ Who wants to go to heaven?”  All the children put up their hands except Daniel. The teacher asked, “Daniel, don’t you want to go to heaven?”  Daniel replied, “ No, my mum told me to go straight home after church.”  Do think “ you can enter heaven by grace or you can choose one of the alternative paths God has provided for you.”  The Bible has clearly stated that Jesus is the only way. Yet many bible teachers are teaching that there are many ways to the truth.

Islam has a name for its syncretism with animistic practices. It is called folk Islam. That is why you have black magic and bomohs in Islam. Does we have syncretic elements in our particular brand of Malaysian Christianity?  Do you practice Tai Chi or Yoga for health?  Are you an exponent of Wushu, Karate, Silat or Jujitsu?  Do you practice transcendental meditation? Be careful my friend, these practices are not value neutral. They have behind them, animistic elements.

 

2.                  Word of God

A.                Word + Culture

Are these Bible passages?

·        A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bone [11]

·        As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly [12]

·        God helps those who help themselves[13]

·        Do unto others as you like others to do unto you[14]

But many of us assume it is from the Bible. We have added the values of our culture to the Bible. Our Chinese and Indian culture values hard work. And we often seek the blessings of our gods to our hard work.

One of the great failings of Bible interpretation is to interpret the Word of God though our own culture. In his book, Mustard Seed and McWorld, Tom Sine talked about the danger of globalization. The mustard seed is the church and McWorld is the global consumer culture. A culture in which we are conditioned to consume – to buy the latest technology, wear the latest fashion and experience the latest thrills. George Barna in his latest book, Boiling Point said that the number of people who really know the word of God will become less in the coming century[15] so the vast majority of Christians will believe the Bible to be the basis of McWorld.

 

3.                  Church or community of faith

A.                Church + management techniques

It is surprising many easily these words have entered the church vocabulary – vision and mission statements, quality control, Jesus as CEO, 360 degrees feedback, design structural matrix.

Management techniques are not bad. Management techniques are means to an end, to achieve an efficient running church so that we all can be relaxed to worship God. It becomes a problem when it becomes an end in itself. We can become so engrossed in running the church that we forget what the church is all about. Running the church is part of our religion. When we stand before God and He asks, “What is your contribution to Christianity?” – “ well, I attended 1,000 committee meetings and balanced the church budget”

 

B.                 Church + church growth techniques

Megachurches, churches that have more than 1,000 members are the vogue nowadays. Their pastors are the superstars of the Christian community – Lawrence Khong, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren and Datuk Prince Gunaratnam. They travel around the world giving seminars and teaching their church growth techniques. And thousands of Christian leaders flock to these seminars to learn. When Bill Hybels came to Singapore about 3 years ago, about 2,000 church leaders attended his seminar in which he gave 3 sessions. I know, I was there. Unfortunately, church growth technique can only work in the churches they are formulated. It cannot be transplanted.  George Barna noted that in spite of the attention and hoopla given to megachurches, they constitute less than 1 percent of the 324,000 Protestant churches in the USA.[16] But words like seeker-service, purpose-driven church and cell churches are now part of our Christian vocabulary and theology.

But isn’t his consumerism – bigger church building and campus, bigger church budget, state of the art sound system, better musician and choir and the church service as entertainment?

How do we counter syncretism in our Christian faith? How do we prevent the world from fusing with our faith?

 

1.                  Know and love God

God loves us. There s no doubt about that. He loves us so much that He sent His beloved Son to die for us. We are to love God. How do we love God?

q       By obeying Him

q       By conversing with Him in prayer

q       By exercising the spiritual discipline of fasting, solitude, bible reading and service.

Only by being close to Him can we be alert to the things that are not from Him

1 John 2:15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  16 For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.  17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. [17]

 

2.                  Know His Word

There is nothing like studying the word of God for yourself.

q       We must read the Bible, daily if possible.

q       We must have a reading plan, working through the Bible once every year or every two years.

q       We must have  bible study – either in your cell group or in church groups. There are a lot of bible study work books available. For serious student of the Bible, you must have a study bible (NIV Study Bible), a concordance (Strong’s), a bible dictionary (Eerdmans), a lexicon (Vines) and some commentaries ( NICOT & NICNT)

Then get to work. There is no other way to study the bible except to study the bible. The you will know what the word of God says and do not say.

 

3.                  Examine yourself.

Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order in one of his spiritual exercises an examen of consciousness.

q       What it means is that at the end of the day we examine ourselves and confess any sins we have commit.

q       It also means we need to have periodic appraisal of our lives to see if we are living the Christian faith or we have added anything to it.

 

Conclusion

Let us be aware that our belief is not a mix and match religion.

 

                                                                                                                                                     Soli Deo Gloria


 

[1]The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.

[2]Richards, Lawrence O., The Teacher’s Commentary, (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books) 1987.

[3]Richards, Lawrence O., The Teacher’s Commentary, (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books) 1987.

[4] John Rogerson, Chronicle of the Old Testament Kings ( London: Thames & Hudson, 1999) pp.101-102

[5]The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.

[6]Richards, Lawrence O., The Teacher’s Commentary, (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books) 1987.

[7]Girdlestone, Robert B., Synonyms of the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company) 1997.

[8]The New Century Version, (Dallas, Texas: Word Publishing) 1987, 1988, 1991.

[9]The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.

[10]The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.

[11] Prov 7:22

[12] Prov 26:11

[15] George Barna, Boiling Point ( Ventura: Regal, 2001)

[16] George Barna, Boiling Point ( Ventura: Regal, 2001)

[17]The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.

 

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