Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Really Bad Idea: Syncretistic Religion

And Uriah the priest built the altar; in accordance with all that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus, so Uriah the priest made it, before King Ahaz arrived from Damascus.
2 Kings 16:11

King Ahaz is trying to keep the throne in Judah intact. But he is an idolater. He does not worship the Lord exclusively but seems to hedge his bets by practicing idol worship of every stripe, along with symbolic participation as king in Judah with temple sacrifices to the Lord. But for him, survival is now at stake. The superpower of Assyria has been flexing Middle Eastern muscle. When Syria threatens Judah, Ahaz appeals to Assyrian military might for assistance. He knows it will cost him. He does not care. Damascus is overthrown by Assyria, ending Judah's immediate threat from Syria. Ahaz travels to Damascus to meet and thank his new Assyrian overlords.

While in the capital city of his former (now defeated) oppressors, he is enamored with the imposing altar in the temple of the Syrian god, Hadad. He has to have one. It makes no sense according to the common thought of the day. Since Syria had now been conquered, wouldn't that make Hadad a rather weak deity? Nonetheless, Ahaz sends Uriah the priest at Jerusalem a detailed model of the altar with instructions to build one in the temple of Yahweh. Uriah complies with this order and hastily has it ready by the time the king returns from Damascus.

Ahaz then moves his new altar into position in the temple, bumping Yahweh's altar to an inferior place in the court. Now the temple at Jerusalem is in effect dedicated to the worship of two gods, prominently featuring Hadad, former god of the Syrians, now in Jerusalem for a limited engagement. The king's altar takes precedence over God's altar. Ahaz has not abandoned God entirely, he is instead worshiping God PLUS something else. This is syncretism. And it violates the very first of the Ten Commandments: "You shall have no other gods before me."

The sad part is that the high priest has willingly participated in this awful accommodation. The priests have joined with the king in turning from the exclusive worship of the Lord. And it is ironically a picture of defeat from the very beginning. They have built and dedicated an altar to an already defeated idol in the temple. It just shows the increasing spiritual decline. Syncretistic spirituality is a decline of faith and not an increase, enlightenment, or noble tolerance. And it erodes real worship.

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