2 Kings 24 is a sad chapter of the Bible, for it outlines the fall of Jerusalem and the beginning of the Babylonian captivity. What a sad day this must have been for everyone. But especially for God. I mean, He had done everything to prevent this from happening, yet despite call after call from the prophets, the people had stubbornly continued in their idolatry. Like any loving parent, He wasn’t sitting around saying, “I told you so! You should have listened!” Rather, I am sure that God was very, very sad.
One tiny verse, buried amongst all the other horrors of this day, stood out for me as I read this chapter today: “As the Lord had declared, Nebuchadnezzar removed the treasures from the temple of the Lord and from the royal palace, and cut up the gold articles that Solomon king of Israel had made for the temple of the Lord.” (2 Kings 24:13 NIV).
At first I missed the significance of this tiny verse, as you may have as well. After all, we don’t need those “things” to worship God. The problem is, the people of the day thought they did! The destruction of the temple and the pilfering of its holy items would have been a major slap to them. They relied on their religious system for their interactions with God; and as if losing their city, their freedom, their livelihoods, everything they knew and loved, wasn’t enough, their temple and everything they knew for worshipping God was now also desecrated. For the few faithful followers of God in Jerusalem and Judea, it was surely a sign that even God had abandoned them; and for those who had not been faithful, even if they did repent of their idolatry, how could they return to God when all the items of worship were now gone?
The good news is, God had not abandoned ancient Judea. Even though the temple was desecrated and its sacred articles were taken away, God continued to speak to His people through the prophets – Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel… He continued to ensure that prophecy would be fulfilled. He continued to put special things on the hearts of certain people such as Esther and Nehemiah and Ezra, and in the end, the temple, along with all of Jerusalem, was rebuilt! It was also during this time that the exiled Jews began to organize the Sacred Scriptures into what we now call the “Old Testament”! (See http://www.bu.edu/mzank/Jerusalem/cp/exret.ht )
The point is, the people didn’t need all those sacred objects and rituals and services to have a relationship with God. When all of that “dross” was removed, God was still there, reaching out, longing to restore His people, longing for them to continue to worship Him. And in the end, He blessed those who found a way, despite the circumstances.
How much better might it have been for them if they had learned this before the temple was destroyed. Had they stopped relying on their rituals and religious services and started seeking a personal relationship with God, perhaps they wouldn’t have so easily fallen away into idolatry. Perhaps they wouldn’t have had to go into captivity at all!
Okay, that’s all very nice. But I come back to my initial thoughts: This isn’t significant to us at all! We don’t rely on the temple or its sacred artifacts anymore!
No, we don’t. But I am afraid that so many of us have simply replaced them with their more modern counterparts. We look to our pastors, our doctrines, our rituals, our church programs, our pre-ordained prayers our services and our songs, and we find comfort and strength in these things. What do we do when these things are taken from us, as is the case in so much of the persecuted church?
Yet Jesus says: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20 ESV). We don’t need churches or pastors or pre-prescribed prayers. We don’t need prayer mats or altars or fancy music. All we need to do is listen for that quiet knock, and when it comes, we need to open the door!
I know that when my own, personal religious system crumbled at my feet about 25 years ago, it drove me into a much deeper, fuller trust-based relationship with God. I would come to learn that I hadn’t been worshipping God at all prior to this; rather, I had been worshipping my religious system. With that out of the way, the door was opened for the fullness of the relationship that God intends for each of us to have, that He died to allow each of us the chance to experience (See John 10:10).
Don’t get me wrong. Our buildings and rituals and pastors and pre-ordained prayers, etc., aren’t in any way wrong. They are simply not meant to replace our relationship with God. We aren’t to rely on religion. We are to rely on God and Him alone! And now that I’ve learned that distinction, church is more of a blessing to me than ever.
The world’s wisest man says this: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Prov. 3:5-6 NIV). When we stop trusting in our religious systems and begin to lean on God and Him alone, when we submit fully to Him and not to religion, He promises to make our paths straight!
Does it seem that your religious world is crumbling to the ground? Rejoice! God is about to reveal Himself to you personally!
In His love,
Lynona Gordon Chaffart
Moderator and Associate Director with Answers2Prayer Ministries