Upon This Rock (7) My House, a Den of Robbers

Previous article in this series: December 15, 2012, p. 136.

Judah’s history demonstrates beyond a shadow of doubt that she hankered after idols no less than her sister Israel. Their histories nevertheless dif­fered, because the Lord graciously raised up in Judah a number of good kings, kings who brought reformation. Reformations, however, proved always to be short-lived. Think of good king Hezekiah. Hezekiah’s wicked fa­ther, Ahaz, had “cut in pieces the vessels of the house of God, and shut up the doors of the house of the Lord, and he made altars in every corner of Jerusalem. And in every several city of Judah he made high places to burn incense to other gods, and provoked to anger the Lord God of his fathers” (II Chron. 28:24, 25). Hezekiah reversed all of that. “He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it” (II Kings 18:4). And then, incredibly, his son Manasseh brought it all back. “After the abominations of the heathen . . . he built up again the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he reared up altars for Baal, and made a grove, as did Ahab king of Israel; and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them. And he built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord said, In Jerusalem will I put my name. And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. And he made his son pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards” (II Kings 21:2-9).

All this . . . in Judah! In His anger, God brought upon Judah “the captains of the host of the king of Assyria” (II Chron. 33:11). Manasseh himself was carried away captive from Jerusalem, and, in captivity, he “humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers”; he was brought again to Jerusalem; and he tried to undo the evil he had done. He “took away the strange gods, and the idol out of the house of the Lord…and cast them out of the city” (II Chron. 33:12-16). Evidently his son Amon brought them all back into the city, for we read that he “sacrificed unto all the carved images which Manasseh his father had made, and served them” (II Chron. 33:22).

And then there was Amon’s son Josiah. He person­ally supervised the breaking down of “the altars of Baa­lim” (II Chron. 34:4). And, not content with simply casting the carved and molten images out of the city, he broke them in pieces, “and made dust of them, and strewed it upon the graves of them that had sacrificed unto them” (II Chron. 34:4).

Hardly could Josiah have made his own abhorrence of idolatry more clear. It is telling, however, that his efforts to root idolatry out of Judah occupied some six years of his reign. We are not told that the people tried actually to prevent the destruction of their idols; but evidently they did not, either, cooperate with the king incense to other gods, and provoked to anger the Lord God of his fathers” (II Chron. 28:24, 25). Hezekiah reversed all of that. “He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it” (II Kings 18:4). And then, incredibly, his son Manasseh brought it all back. “After the abominations of the heathen . . . he built up again the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he reared up altars for Baal, and made a grove, as did Ahab king of Israel; and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them. And he built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord said, In Jerusalem will I put my name. And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. And he made his son pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards” (II Kings 21:2-9).

All this . . . in Judah! In His anger, God brought upon Judah “the captains of the host of the king of Assyria” (II Chron. 33:11). Manasseh himself was carried away captive from Jerusalem, and, in captivity, he “humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers”; he was brought again to Jerusalem; and he tried to undo the evil he had done. He “took away the strange gods, and the idol out of the house of the Lord . . . and cast them out of the city” (II Chron. 33:12-16). Evidently his son Amon brought them all back into the city, for we read that he “sacrificed unto all the carved images which Manasseh his father had made, and served them” (II Chron. 33:22).

And then there was Amon’s son Josiah. He person­ally supervised the breaking down of “the altars of Baa­lim” (II Chron. 34:4). And, not content with simply casting the carved and molten images out of the city, he broke them in pieces, “and made dust of them, and strewed it upon the graves of them that had sacrificed unto them” (II Chron. 34:4).

Hardly could Josiah have made his own abhorrence of idolatry more clear. It is telling, however, that his efforts to root idolatry out of Judah occupied some six years of his reign. We are not told that the people tried actually to prevent the destruction of their idols; but evidently they did not, either, cooperate with the king

Every­ body is involved. Young and old alike. Male and female. All are participants in the worship of the queen of heaven and other gods. And it’s right out in the open—as if to defy what they know to be My command that they not serve the idol-gods of the heathen, but Me alone. Their hearts are set on idolatry.

God’s judgment of it all was declared to the people of Judah by the prophet Jeremiah. “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house,” the Lord said to the prophet, “and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all ye of Judah, that enter in at these gates to worship the Lord . . . . Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not; and [then] come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations? Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Be­hold, even I have seen it, saith the Lord” (Jer. 7:1-11).

A den of robbers. That is what the temple of God had become to apostate Jewry. They had heard the threats of the prophet Jeremiah. But, so they imagined, they had nothing to fear. Why not? Because they had dutifully offered their sacrifices. By bare sacrifice and offering, as they thought, they had appeased the Lord for whatever anger He might otherwise have had to­ward them on account of the sins in which they were living. Thus did the temple become a sort of sanctuary, or shelter, or asylum…for robbers, and murderers, and adulterers, and idolaters. Make amends for their sins, so they thought, that is all they had to do in order to be “delivered to do [that is, continue to do] all these abominations.”

Calvin is instructive in his commentary on these verses: “Hypocrites do not in words express this; but when they make external ceremonies a sort of expia­tion, and seek by such means to bury their sins, do they not make God their associate? Do they not make him a partaker, as it were, with them, when they would have him to cover their adulteries? . . . The prophet now adds, Ye come, that is, after ye have allowed yourselves to steal, and to murder, and to commit adultery, and to corrupt the whole worship of God—at last, ye come and stand before me in this temple. God proceeds with the same subject; for it was not his purpose in this place to condemn the Jews as murderers, and thieves, and adulterers, but he proceeds farther, even to show their shameless effrontery in coming with an unblush­ing front and entering the Temple, as though they were true worshipers of God. ‘What do you mean,’ he says, ‘by this? Ye bring murders, and thefts, and adulteries, and abominable filth; ye are contaminated with the most disgraceful things: by and bye ye enter the Temple, and think that you are at liberty to do anything.’”

“Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, even I have seen it, saith the Lord . . . . Therefore will I do unto this house, which is called by my name, wherein ye trust, and unto the place which I gave to you and to your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of my sight . . .” (Jer. 7:11-15).

One cannot study this sad chapter in the history of the Israel, the church, of the old dispensation without a sense of wonder. Wonder, that is, at the consummate folly of . . . men. Having been miraculously delivered from the cruel bondage of Egypt, having been provided bread from heaven and water from the rock in a waste howling wilderness, having been planted and preserved in the land of Canaan at the expense of heathen nations far stronger than they, Israel had every reason to trust in, and to worship, Jehovah God alone—and to find repulsive the idols of the heathen who were driven out before them. But they did not. What do we find in the Judah of Jeremiah’s day? Like their fathers, but “worse than their fathers” (Jer. 7:26), they worship the “queen of heaven,” they “burn incense unto Baal,” they “walk after other gods whom [they] know not” (that is, had no reason to trust), and then, most horrible of all to relate, they come and stand before God in His house. As if Jehovah were not a holy God, who was a searcher also of hearts—but could instead, like the idols of their vain imaginations, be pacified by mere rituals.

Almost, we would think, incomprehensibly wicked. How could they possibly have such a hankering for the idols of the world that they could make cakes for the queen of heaven on Friday—and then bring a sacrifice to the house of God on Saturday?

“Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers?”

Next time: Judicial blindness.