King Hezekiah, the godly king of Judah who began his reign as the Northern Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians, brought about incredible reforms in worship and reliance on God in his own country. Not only did he do away with the Asherah worship, Hezekiah also “broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made.” If you recall, this was used by Moses as a God-appointed symbol of deliverance for the Children of Israel as they were once again being disciplined by God for their grumbling and lack of faith. See Numbers 21:4-9 … “Make a fiery serpent and set in on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.”
Fast forward about 700 years and something strange has happened. The people of Judah and Benjamin have taken the bronze serpent and they have begun to worship it. I’m not exactly sure all that is going on here—there does seem to be a connection between the Asherah worship and snakes—but there is something else involved to which we can all relate.
Yesterday I had to drop my daughter off as she headed back to college. We were in our old stomping grounds—an area in which we had lived and worked for a number of years. A flood of memories came back to me. This was the place in which God had worked powerfully to provide a time of rest and preparation before we accepted a new call to ministry. As I drove around, I started to think to myself, “Things were so much better here. The Lord demonstrated His power and faithfulness here in a big way. I really wish we could move back to this area. It would be a whole lot easier than what we’re going through right now!”
As I headed back into town, where we live, the Lord brought me to my senses with the truth that that afternoon I was worshipping the place and circumstances that symbolize God’s deliverance and provision rather than God Himself. This was in essence what the Jews were doing with the bronze serpent.
In their pagan warehouse full of gods, the people of the Southern Kingdom had latched onto a symbol of God’s deliverance in the past thinking that it would help with their current problems. Maybe there were even some well meaning worshippers who thought that since the bronze serpent was tied in with the worship of Jehovah that it was OK to use it to remind everyone of what the true and living God had done during the Exodus. In either case, though, it was idolatry and Hezekiah was right in having it destroyed.
The human heart is capable of making anything or anyone into an idol. The closer the “thing” is tied into the worship of the Lord Jesus Christ, the more deceptive and difficult it is to detect. We must always be on our guard to never allow events, traditions, circumstances or people to take our affection and allegiance away from the One who deserves our complete faith and devotion.
And to conveniently leave out the bad memories or aspects of our idols (as I did yesterday) is sheer folly. As the Preacher wrote in Ecclesiastes, “Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.”