Lasting Revivals and Normal Idols

Scripture Focus: 2 Kings 23.10-14
10 He desecrated Topheth, which was in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, so no one could use it to sacrifice their son or daughter in the fire to Molek. 11 He removed from the entrance to the temple of the Lord the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun. They were in the court near the room of an official named Nathan-Melek. Josiah then burned the chariots dedicated to the sun. 

12 He pulled down the altars the kings of Judah had erected on the roof near the upper room of Ahaz, and the altars Manasseh had built in the two courts of the temple of the Lord. He removed them from there, smashed them to pieces and threw the rubble into the Kidron Valley. 13 The king also desecrated the high places that were east of Jerusalem on the south of the Hill of Corruption—the ones Solomon king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the vile goddess of the Sidonians, for Chemosh the vile god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the people of Ammon. 14 Josiah smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles and covered the sites with human bones.

Reflection: Lasting Revivals and Normal Idols
By John Tillman

Around the world, Christians, including myself, pray for a revival like Josiah’s in our countries. But there’s a problem…

Josiah forcefully and radically changed Israel and Judah’s religious landscape. He tore down the infrastructure of temples, altars, and idols. He put out of work or killed the personnel of priests, prostitutes, and workers. He restored true worship for the first time in generations.

Josiah’s reforms were a massive change for the nations of Israel and Judah. These changes would have affected the job market, the economy, housing, and agriculture. Josiah cleansed Israel and Judah from top to bottom, but the next generation went bottom up. The changes didn’t stick. Why?

Josiah tore down the altars on the hillsides, but he couldn’t touch the ones in their hearts. He burned and ground the symbols of false gods into dust, but he couldn’t grind down the people’s habitual addiction to their images. He destroyed temples of gold and silver, but he couldn’t melt from their minds people’s comfortable familiarity with idolatry.

We need revival deeper than Josiah’s. If we want lasting faith in the next generation and a revival beyond a few changes to architecture, we need to base it on something other than force and power. We don’t need a strong man enforcing showy spirituality, religious observance, and moral behaviors.

Rather than dictatorial destruction, we need grassroots growth. Rather than pharisaical enforcement, we need Christlike engagement. We also need to clean our own houses first and do so with honesty.

It’s easy to be judgmental of ancient people’s idols. They seem so simplistic, terrifying, or just weird. “Storm gods, sex gods, and chaos monsters, oh my. How could they believe this?” But these gods were normal to the culture. Engaging with these idols was practical SOP that promised financial ROI.

When we look for idols in our lives, we shouldn’t look for weird things. We should look for normal things. The idols of a culture don’t always dress up in flamboyant costumes. They often hide in normality and ubiquity.

The idols we find in our lives are unlikely to appear as mystical beings or golden statues or be found in shrines and altars on hillsides. But they might resemble institutions, brands, or revered leaders. They might hide among private shrines of belief, our pet sins, and our longings for comfort, safety, and control.

Lasting revivals start small. May one start now.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Come now and see the works of God, how wonderful he is in his doing toward all people. — Psalm 66.4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 23 (Listen 7:43
Psalms 77 (Listen 2:12)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Kings 24 (Listen 3:21Psalms 78.1-37 (Listen 7:12)
2 Kings 25 (Listen 5:24Psalms 78.38-72 (Listen 7:12)

Read more about Nameless Prophets
Many tales, like this one, lack obvious takeaways. However, we know that God is on a mission of reformation and restoration. The process will be painful.

Read more about The Cost of Repentance
Josiah is known for religious reforms…a leader who not only recognized sin but called it out, determined to live differently, and worked to get rid of it.

Responding in Kind

Scripture Focus: Psalm 76.5-12
5 The valiant lie plundered, 
they sleep their last sleep; 
not one of the warriors 
can lift his hands. 
6 At your rebuke, God of Jacob, 
both horse and chariot lie still. 
7 It is you alone who are to be feared. 
Who can stand before you when you are angry? 
8 From heaven you pronounced judgment, 
and the land feared and was quiet— 
9 when you, God, rose up to judge, 
to save all the afflicted of the land. 
10 Surely your wrath against mankind brings you praise, 
and the survivors of your wrath are restrained. 
11 Make vows to the Lord your God and fulfill them; 
let all the neighboring lands 
bring gifts to the One to be feared. 
12 He breaks the spirit of rulers; 
he is feared by the kings of the earth. 

2 Kings 19.16
…listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.”

Isaiah 37.22
22 this is the word the Lord has spoken against him:
“Virgin Daughter Zion
    despises and mocks you.
Daughter Jerusalem
    tosses her head as you flee.

Reflection: Responding in Kind
By John Tillman

Our recent reading from 2 Kings 19 included the story of Sennachrib’s threats against Jerusalem and his defeat without Judah even lifting a sword. The story repeats in Isaiah 37, and many Psalms, such as Psalm 76, 46, and 59, reflect on it.

Sennacherib claimed other gods had not saved their lands from him, and Judah’s God would fare no differently. Hezekiah physically brought the letter to the Temple, laid it out before the Lord, and read out Sennacherib’s words. “…listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.” (2 Kings 19.16)

Isaiah brought Hezekiah a response to Sennacherib. Isaiah’s poem (Isaiah 37.22-35) is a scoffing prophecy. It returns Sennacherib’s scorn, spite for spite. Isaiah tells the man who thinks himself a god-killer that God will lead him by a hook through his nose.

Like Isaiah, Hezekiah, and the psalmists, we live in a world that is in love with scorn. Simply by living and believing the words of Jesus, we are targets of derision, mockery, and outrage. For trusting in the Bible, we experience attacks, accusations, and even violence.

There are powerful cultural and political forces in this world that treat our God as Sennacherib did. Powerless. Irrelevant. Laughable. Often, we want to strike back with our own scornful takedowns, bluster, and insults.

There’s an old saying that we don’t have to attend every fight we are invited to. While scoffers and scorners sharpen their arrows, let us turn to God and keep our vows to him. God doesn’t need our defense but he does desire our devotion.

Do we have insecurities or bitterness triggered by insults, harm, or attacks? Are there counter-attacks forming in our minds? Insults bubbling in our hearts?

Instead of responding in kind, let us turn their words over to God as Hezekiah did. Lay out their words and actions before the Lord. Read him the tweet. Forward him the email. Show him what was done or said.

There is a time to speak facts and engage in healthy debate. There is a time for sarcasm and biting wit. There is a time to stand as God does, holding out our arms all day long to obstinate people. (Isaiah 65.1-3) There is also a time to close our mouths, let people be wrong, and pray that in his mercy, God will break through where we fail.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
No good things will the Lord withhold from those who walk with integrity. — Psalm 84.11

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 22 (Listen 3:45
Psalms 75-76 (Listen 2:33)

Read more about Wisdom & Persuasion
Sennacherib and the Assyrians taunted the Israelites…stoking the people’s fear…fear was a potent tactic.

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A Sin We Are Proud Of

Scripture Focus: 2 Kings 20.16-19
16 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord: 17 The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your predecessors have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord. 18 And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”

19 “The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,” Hezekiah replied. For he thought, “Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?” Reflection: A Sin We Are Proud Of
By John Tillman

Hezekiah is one of the greatest kings among the great kings of Judah. The writer of 2 Kings says of him, “Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him.”

Hezekiah drove out idolatry and reestablished true worship. In Hezekiah’s day, the Temple of the Lord had actually been closed up, like a shop with no customers. The lights were out. The doors were barred. 

Hezekiah not only opened them, he covered the doors and other items in the Temple in gold and silver, reopening and restoring the Temple and the priesthood to shimmering glory

Hezekiah is, however, as deeply flawed as his father David before him. Even in our “anything goes” culture, David’s sin is abhorred, but Hezekiah’s sin is one our culture is proud of—pride. 

Other passages about Hezekiah make it clear that God was concerned about Hezekiah’s pride. God tested Hezekiah by sending Babylonians to inquire about Hezekiah’s miraculous healing. Instead, Hezekiah showed off his accomplishments and wealth to them, prompting Isaiah’s prophecy that everything that had been shown to them would be carried off to Babylon. 

At least David repented of his lust and murder, giving us the beauty of Psalm 51. All we get from Hezekiah when he is confronted with the results of his sin is a shrugging, selfish, justification. Hezekiah says that at least there will be “peace and security in my lifetime.“ 

Our culture has a hard time seeing what Hezekiah did wrong. We hesitate to equate Hezekiah’s sin to David’s. Pride and selfishness don’t seem that bad or dangerous. Storing up for ourselves is prudence. Seeking our own peace and prosperity is honorable. God thinks otherwise. Jesus spoke to his time, Hezekiah’s time, and ours when he said, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then, who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” 

We do not know where Christ was standing when he told the parable of the rich fool, but I like to imagine that he might have been standing next to some of the rubble from the buildings Hezekiah built to hold his treasures of gold and silver, food and grain. Christ’s audience would have understood the significance.

Obtaining “peace and security” in our lifetimes is not a gospel-centered way of living. We are expected to think beyond ourselves. May we humbly repent.

Pride, greed, and love of wealth are sins equally heinous in God’s eyes as lust, rape, and murder. May we humbly repent.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting

Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, God reveals himself in glory.
Let the heavens declare the rightness of his cause; for God himself is judge. — Psalm 50.2, 6

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings

2 Kings 20 (Listen 3:39
Psalms 73 (Listen 2:56)

Read more about The Identical Nature of Greed and Lust
When the prophet Nathan needed an analogy for lust, he chose a parable about a rich man stealing material goods from the poor.

Read more about Pride and Short-sightedness :: Throwback Thursday
The remarkable life of Hezekiah ends in pride and short-sightedness.

Unhealthy Patterns of Insurrection

Scripture Focus: 2 Kings 15.8-12
8 In the thirty-eighth year of Azariah king of Judah, Zechariah son of Jeroboam became king of Israel in Samaria, and he reigned six months. 9 He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, as his predecessors had done. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit. 
10 Shallum son of Jabesh conspired against Zechariah. He attacked him in front of the people, assassinated him and succeeded him as king. 11 The other events of Zechariah’s reign are written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel. 12 So the word of the Lord spoken to Jehu was fulfilled: “Your descendants will sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation.” 

From John
: We return to this devotional from 2021 that may be more needed today. It is concerning that since 2021, even more Americans from every religious, political, and racial demographic have said our country is in such bad shape that we need authoritarian leaders who will “break some rules,” or we may need to resort to violence, including civil war.

“Over three in ten white evangelical Protestants (31%), along with 25% of white mainline/non-evangelical Protestants, 24% of Black Protestants, 23% of non-Christians, 23% of religiously unaffiliated Americans, 21% of Hispanic Catholics, and 20% of white Catholics agree that true American patriots may have to resort to violence…” Source: 2023 American Values Survey

Reflection: Unhealthy Patterns of Insurrection
By John Tillman

As promised, Jehu’s dynasty was the longest in Israel’s history but Zechariah, the fifth in the line, only lasted six months. Stability was not the norm in Israel. Previously, the dynasty of Omri (Ahab’s father) was the longest, lasting three generations. (There were four kings in Omri’s line but the last two were both sons of Ahab.)

Zechariah’s death kicked off a period of political instability and growing threats both inside and outside Israel. Six different kings ruled Israel during this time. Four of them were assassinated by their successors. Only one passed the throne on to his son.

Israel repeatedly resorted to rebellion—perhaps rebellion against David’s sons set a pattern. Insurrection was normalized. Assassination, rather than inauguration, was common.

Recently, speaking at Hutchmoot Homebound on “Faith, Fiction, and Christian Nationalism,” Dr. Russell Moore quoted Wendell Berry’s essay “Discipline and Hope,” published in 1972. Berry said, “The most destructive of ideas is that extraordinary times justify extraordinary measures.”

Many rebels think themselves just and their targets wicked. Many in power think themselves righteous and any resistance or critique is equivalent to wickedness. Such moral relativism is not new to politics. What is new is how completely it has overtaken some Christians.

Many people today have come to believe that the times are extraordinary enough that any measures are justified, even civil war. When convinced that situations are dire enough, any measure, any abuse, any violence, any tactic seems justified. 

For Christians, it is always right to defend the weak. It is always right to rescue those crushed by the powerful. However, there is never a time when a just end justifies a sinful means to attain it. If the means are unjust, the ends are tainted.

God redeems evil acts after the fact, but he doesn’t preemptively give “hall passes” for evil as long as something good happens. Christians shouldn’t either. Good intentions don’t lead to hell, but good intentions pursued by wicked means do.

God’s purposes for our lives do not require a “Christian” government. In fact, arguably, greater kingdom work is more often done by global majority Christians living outside the cushy environment and soft-bodied sloth of the Western church.

May we pray and pursue peace. May we reject the justifications of violence by kings and those who would topple them. Our king was assassinated, yet still reigns. May he be the only king to whom we give allegiance.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus went on to say, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it with? It is like a mustard seed which a man took and threw into his garden: it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air sheltered in its branches.” — Luke 13.18-19

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 15 (Listen 6:21)
Psalms 66-67 (Listen 3:32)

Read more about The Hero We Need Isn’t Jehu
Jehu was an incomplete savior who delivered an incomplete and unsatisfying justice.

Read more about Tribalism and Insurrection
It is difficult to make peace with insurrectionists. They aren’t interested. In a world fluent in violence, when we speak of peace, it is “an unknown tongue.”

Hidden Co-heirs

Scripture Focus: 2 Kings 11.1-3
11 When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she proceeded to destroy the whole royal family. 2 But Jehosheba, the daughter of King Jehoram and sister of Ahaziah, took Joash son of Ahaziah and stole him away from among the royal princes, who were about to be murdered. She put him and his nurse in a bedroom to hide him from Athaliah; so he was not killed. 3 He remained hidden with his nurse at the temple of the Lord for six years while Athaliah ruled the land.

Reflection: Hidden Co-heirs
By John Tillman

A wicked leader sets out to slaughter heirs to the throne, including babies who could one day be a threat. But one child is miraculously, bravely, hidden away until the throne is reclaimed and evil confronted.

We’ve seen this familiar story dressed up as a fairytale, played out in magical realms, and soaring through space in science fiction epics. The “hidden heir” has many faces. Cinderella. John Snow. Luke and Leia. Harry Potter. 

Biblical versions of the hidden heir include Moses, David, and Joash. All were secretly saved or hidden and one day rose to restore righteousness and destroy evil.

There are multiple wicked kings and queens in scripture. Athaliah is less well-known than Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, despite the fact that she more than equals Jezebel in evil. Not content to influence a king, Athaliah takes Judah’s throne herself in a bloody massacre. She rules by violence and bloodshed, reminding us that ruthlessness and violence are not solely male traits.

Bravery and decisiveness are also not gendered traits. They are exemplified by Athaliah’s faithful sister, Jehosheba, who takes dangerous and necessary action to save Joash. Joash is hidden in the Temple and raised by the priest, Jehoiada.

Are all leaders raised up by God? In a way. However, God allows some wicked leaders to worm their way to the top, only to be thrown down. God often uses those hidden away in obscurity to topple those who manipulate their way into powerful positions. Judging which type of leader is rising can be a challenge to our discernment.

The greatest hidden heir is Jesus. Jesus was hidden in the womb of a brave woman, in the indignity of a manger, in the refugee community in Egypt, in the despised town of Nazareth. And finally, hidden in the grave before being marvelously revealed as its conqueror.

In one way, Jesus is our Temple and priest and we are hidden in him. In another way, Jesus hides himself in us and we must bring him out, proclaiming his rule to the wicked kings and queens of this world.

May we proclaim and reveal the hidden-in-plain-sight kingdom of Jesus. Those with eyes to see will follow his light. Those with ears to hear will rejoice at his words. Wickedness and evil will be thrown down and all who follow him will be co-heirs with him when he is marvelously revealed. Amen.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us saying: “Everyone whom the Father gives me will come to me; I will certainly not reject anyone who comes to me, because I have come from heaven, not to do my will, but to do the will of him who sent me. Now the will of him who sent me is that I should lose nothing of all that he has given to me, but that I should raise it up on the last day. It is my Father’s will that whoever sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and that I should raise that person on the last day.” — John 6.37-40

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 11-12 (Listen 7:38)
Psalms 60-61 (Listen 2:27)

Read more about Offal Leaders
God smeared their faces with offal, but some keep trying to wipe it off and pretend nothing is wrong.

Read more about Leadership Material?
Today–just as he did in the period of the judges–God is calling up new leaders for our churches and communities.