There's a story in 2 Kings I've never been able to shake. King Ahaz, of Judah, was faced with a terrible dilemma. I'm not sure if he didn't see the immediate solution (repentance) or was just too focused on the enemy army of Damascus. He opted to send the instruments of God's house as a gift to the king of Assyria to make a pact for the wicked king's protection. Nearly defeated by the Damascus army, he must have figured it would be better to submit Judah to the Assyrian king rather than the other guy. The king of Assyria besieged Damascus. Ahaz was happy.
Most people equate this to modern churches doing what works, rather than preaching sin, righteousness and judgement...but there's something mentioned in chapter 16 that stunned me. As King Ahaz goes through Damascus on his way to meet his Assyrian benefactor, he sees an altar. Mesmerized, he has the priest in the house of God create a duplicate. Then he has the bronze altar (God's), deposed to the northern part of the temple and places this new one where the bronze altar should be.
Here's where it gets weirder for me. "On the great new altar," said Ahaz, "burn the morning burnt offering, evening grain offering, the king's burnt sacrifice, and his grain offering with the burnt offering of all the people of the land, their grain offering..." anyway all offerings on behalf of the people and the king. THEN he refers to the BRONZE altar, "And the BRONZE altar shall be for ME to inquire by."
Keep in mind, pagan altars were usually earthen structures and I believe some later were of marble (the greeks preferred marble). As far as I can tell, the bronze altar was God's altar so the king intends fully to hang out with both altars. Scholars seem to think that he kept both the pagan and God's altar handy (until later he pretty much did away with the temple).
So there he is, caught between two altars. Part of him devoted some sentiment (or not even that) to the altar of God and part of him devoted to the pagan altar's allure. He's not offended by the sinful idolatry. He's not aware of God' terrible holiness.
Why did he do this? Damascus wasn't the city that won the battle...I mean if you were going to vest your faith in something that was powerful, why not copy the altar from the Assyrian temples? But no. He liked the Damascus altar. I suppose because it entertained him.
What's bothering me is that King Ahaz's two altars to me represent a divided heart. I am increasingly convicted about how I spend my time, my energy, and my money.
Don't get me wrong, I don't have a lot of money. Yet I find money to spend at the movie theater or on some small project but I haven't given money to missions or to some work in the church. I have more time than money to be sure but how do I spend it? Energy. It amazes me that I make time for my tea and favorite shows when I haven't skimmed even a page of God's Word for that day. I'll gladly use the energy it takes for work and to pursue those things that flex my career...but I can't spend my energy on my face before God groaning with intense prayer and intercession? I don't even want to talk about fasting...
Dare I say it? Is my heart divided? Am I kneeling at the altar of entertainment and the bronze altar? Of ambition and the bronze altar? Of ease and comfort?
Before you say I'm being too hard on myself, consider that surely if we will all give account "of every idle word spoken"
that we will all give account for every idle DEED spent! Think of the churches in Revelation whom Christ rebuked. Think of men of old who, when they got saved, abandoned the "movie houses" and sporting events because of vulgarity (what would they say now?!) to devote themselves to spending time with Christ, in the Word and prayer and fasting and preaching the Gospel.
Leonard Ravenhill. John G. Lake. A.B. Simpson. A.W. Tozer. They just didn't have a taste for entertainment, selfish ambition and wealth anymore. They died to it all. In exchange, they lived incredible lives spent on God's work. They didn't ask for money. They didn't ask for titles. They didn't seek fame. They continually sought and continually found Christ. Most of them died poor...and most of us wouldn't realize they really died rich.
More and more I find this culture in America maddening; it's sickness vexing the depths of my soul.
How did we get here? I'm afraid the answer is too shocking. I'm afraid the divided hearts of God's people have made us fall silent about sin, righteousness, and judgement...the very things that make men tremble and wail and seek relief at the Cross.
We've been saturated by a society who flaunts sin and the things of this world (the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life) and I'm not so sure we're bothered much by it anymore.
Would to God that His people would HATE sin! Would to God that we would burn our altars and weep and wail and gnash our teeth over the idolatry IN US! God did say that if MY people repent and turn from their wicked ways He would heal the land. Could it just be that if we repent that we will be so ablaze with God's Spirit, so consumed by zeal for Him that the world will see a difference and be struck to the heart?
I'm willing to try it. It worked for Israel. It's worked in every revival of REPENTANCE that's ever swept a nation. Dear God, let it begin with me and you.