Worship can take many forms but the stipulation from Scripture is to worship in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:23-24). There is, however a danger of us committing idol worship. Let’s see what a certain king did once he realised his mistake.
Read the full account first.
“[Manasseh] 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. 16 He set up the altar of the LORD and sacrificed peace offerings and thank offerings on it; and he ordered Judah to serve the LORD God of Israel. 17 Nevertheless the people still sacrificed in the high places, although only to the LORD their God.” (2 Chronicles 33:15-17)
During the period of the Kings of Israel and Judah, there were many kings who in their time adopted the evil practices of the pagan people of the land, which God had commanded them to remove. They were solemnly warned not to adopt them and to have nothing to do with them and for good reason: these practices would steal their hearts and cause them to drift away from the wholehearted worship of Lord their God. We today are likewise not immune to these dangers.
The rot had set in with King Solomon, King David’s son, who married and adopted the religious practices of his many wives. The nation never really recovered from this and were drawn to other gods and idols continually. King Manasseh of Judah sinned in a particularly rebellious way:
“For he rebuilt the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down; he also erected altars for the Baals and made Asherim, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. He built altars in the house of the LORD of which the LORD had said, “My name shall be in Jerusalem forever.” For he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD. He made his sons pass through the fire in the valley of Ben-hinnom; and he practiced witchcraft, used divination, practiced sorcery and dealt with mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking Him to anger.” (2 Chronicles 33:3-6)
Manasseh sacrificed to a false god, worshipped the stars and the planets and practised the occult. But, he humbled himself and repented when he realised that the Lord his God was the true God, the only God who was able to respond when called upon to rescue him from capture. In response he turned his life around and made great reforms in the land and he made the people worship God. But the people continued to worship at the pagan high places, only now they we’re doing it in God’s name instead. It seems human nature never changes in relationship to worship. It has been said that it’s not a case of ‘if’ we worship but ‘whom’ or ‘what’, even for the so called atheist. Here are two of the consequences caused by the King’s evil practice:
Firstly; being forced as a nation to adopt a religion usually means that, for the vast majority, the practice is ritual and not a religion of the heart. They comply but don’t fully understand why, what or whom they worship (the good and the false). For many cultures, their religion is interwoven with their national identity and as such they will sometimes defend it to the death. We are all creatures that have an innate need of belonging and group identity, these powerful ties can easily overrule any common sense and truth. Christianity is not immune and the biggest danger, is that of a cultural religion; the idea that you are Christian because of your geography or upbringing, but a true Christian is one who has repented and follows Christ for themselves.
Secondly; There is a tendency to borrow many pagan practices and incorporate them into worship. New Age practices, for example, are borrowed from eastern thought and have infiltrated the church to such a degree that it’s quite difficult to discern. The more obvious of them is ‘Christian’ Yoga, meditation (of the mind emptying kind) and experiential worship practices (very much like Kundalini). These are the consequences of not knowing God truly through the lens of Scripture, but instead thinking we know Him through the lens of experience. These are the consequences also of being poorly taught from the pulpit and from which a consequential famine of the Word follows. We often lack discernment in these matters and all over the world, many will unwittingly take on practices from the paganism of their own land and others, instead of truly and wholeheartedly having a simple faith in Christ alone.
More subtle, but perhaps just as dangerous, is the tendency towards worldliness and materialism. This is one we can all relate to and can lead to spiritual apathy. We live in this world and the more affluent among us, are surrounded by all the creature comforts and distractions it has to offers. Not that we shouldn’t ever be allowed to relax, have fun or enjoy the things God has given (and of which are a mere shadow of the ultimate joy and rest we will enjoy with Jesus in eternity), but, if we’re not careful even those things which are good can become idols. Some include: TV, hobbies, food, sport, politics, nature, music, celebrities, heroes, even our children or our spouse, our pets, religion, our church, worship, pet peaves or particular leanings and believe it or not, good works (please don’t misunderstand me, but one could include an unhealthy obsession with the news and of the worship of NHS workers* during the Covid19 Crisis); the list could go on inexhaustibly, but you get the idea.
The good news is that we can be rescued, as the King was, from being captive to all these things (which all of us were once) and to be transferred into a new Kingdom (Just like a house is conveyed to come under new ownership, so are we). Once we become a child of God, we come under new headship (ownership). If we truly grasp the reality of who God is, what He has done for us and who we are as a result, surely we wouldn’t want to contaminate or spoil what we have found.
The consequences for Manasseh were dire:
“The LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. So the LORD brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon.” (2 Chronicles 33:10-11 NIV)
The consequences for sin are likewise dire (eternal separation), But:
“In his pain Manasseh asked the Lord his God for mercy and truly humbled himself before the God of his ancestors. When he prayed to the Lord, the Lord responded to him and answered favourably his cry for mercy. The Lord brought him back to Jerusalem to his kingdom. Then Manasseh realized that the Lord is the true God.” (2 Chronicles 33:12-13 NET)
Manasseh found favour and mercy from God by humbling himself before Him in repentance. The Gospel is Good News in a similar way; there is a way for us to be rescued from the consequences of sin. We can be rescued from the consequences of our sin when we turn in humility to God, admitting that He is the only true God, that we have sinned against Him and by trusting in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and thus we will enter into a new life under the headship of Christ, no longer captive to sin, but rescued instead from its consequences (eternal separation).
Our conclusion must be, therefore, that in the context of this story, turning to God must also, by the act of turning, involve a walking away from all other allegiances; we must identify and turn from all idols and pagan practice and give the Lord our God first place in our hearts.
“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)
*Please don’t lynch me, I’m not anti-NHS by any stretch of the imagination. The NHS is doing a remarkable job, putting themselves at huge risk, during the Covid19 crisis; they are amazing people in an incredible organisation and credit should go where it is earned. However, the NHS as a national institute is something of a Sacred Cow and we need to be careful that as a nation we don’t turn to a form of idolatry in the way that we elevate it (anything which gets praise other than God is idolatry), in a similar fashion to that which New York did with the hero worship of the Fire Department during 9/11. Would that the nation stood in the street and clapped and praised God for His continual goodness to His creation (Philippians 2:10-11). Those who exhibit above and beyond actions are after all, only expressing the character of God within them which comes from being made in His image; so it is therefore, God we should be praising. But again, the NHS are doing a superb job for which I am truly grateful.