2nd Chronicles 25:14-16, Aaron, Amaziah, Baal, brass serpent, Canaanite gods, copy, Edom, emulate success, false gods, flesh, God, Golden calf, Hezekiah, ignorance, Israel, Jeroboam, Jesus, Jews, Judah, judges, Kansas City Royals, king, losers, Moses, Nehushtan, Northern Kingdom, Phinehas, physical, preoccupation, prostitutes, Romans 8:29, sinful sexual behavior, Solomon, Southern Kingdom, spiritual, support, Transgender, Transition, World Series
Suddenly everyone wants to know the secret of the Kansas City Royals success and copy it. Why? Because they won the 2015 World Series and came within an eyelash of winning the 2014 series in the seventh and deciding game.
In general, it can be said that people who want to win either endeavor to replicate success or improve upon it. So that’s why it puzzled me for so long: why did the nation of Israel, after defeating another nation in battle, start worshiping the false gods of the nation they had just defeated? It made as much sense as if the United States had started to worship Hirohito in September 1945.
Recently, I received insight into the answer to this puzzling question. The victorious soldiers of Israel went after the alluring images of idols that they could see and touch, rather than remaining faithful to God Almighty who had just given them victory, but whose image was mysterious and elusive.
Let’s look at the history of idol worship by the children of Israel. There is a gap in the Biblical history between the death of Joseph and the birth of Moses centuries later. So we have to rely on archaeological evidence as to the extent of which Jewish people began to worship Egyptian gods, just as their ancestors did prior to the time of the Abrahamic covenant with God.
But we do know that it didn’t take long in the wilderness after their escape from Egypt that the Jewish people grew tired of waiting for Moses to return from Mount Sinai and asked his brother, Aaron, to make gods for them to lead them. Aaron, perhaps thinking that he found a compromise position, made them only one god: the golden calf. (And then offered the lamest excuse in the Bible when Moses returned and questioned him: And I said unto them, Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf. – Exodus 32:24)
The next major departure from the Lord occurs as the host of Israel is ready to cross over into the Promised Land. The greatest temptations often occur just before the opportunity for great accomplishments? Ironically, it is the same Balaam who previously refused to curse Israel that is the instigator of idol worship. Sexual immorality with the daughters of the land added to the seduction. But led by Phinehas (grandson of Aaron), the apostasy was stopped. (Numbers 25)
At the end of Joshua’s leadership, with the 12 tribes in their territories, God warns Israel that the failure of some of the tribes to drive out the Canaanites and their false gods will be a snare to the people, enticing them to turn away from the Lord. (Judges 2:1-5) The Jews repent in response. But it isn’t long after the death of Joshua that Israel begins to worship Baal and the other Canaanite gods.
Thus begins a pattern that will continue over the centuries. First, during the time when judges ruled Israel, the people would worship false gods until they would fall into the hands of their enemies because of their disobedience. Then they would cry out to the Lord. He would raise up a righteous judge who would also be their military leader who would give them victory of their enemies and lead them back to God. And as soon as that judge died, the people would fall right back into sinful worship of idols.
Finally, despite God’s warnings to them, the people asked to be ruled by a king the way other nations were ruled. While a king provided for continuity that the system of judges lacked, generally speaking, to the extent that the kings were righteous, they were righteous. When a king restored righteousness and obedience to God after a period of ungodly idol worship, the people rejoiced in anticipation of the return of God’s blessings. But when a king was evil and turned away from the Lord, most of the people followed in lockstep.
When the ten tribes of Israel split off to form the Northern Kingdom of Israel upon the death of Solomon, there was not one king in its entire history who did not worship false gods and idols. This began when their new king, Jeroboam, fearful that the tribes would reunite as soon as they gathered together in Jerusalem to worship during one of the annual ordained times, made not one but two golden calves for the people of the new kingdom to worship. And they did so willingly, even worshiping false gods while paying lip service to the Lord.
Meanwhile, Solomon had planted new seeds for idol worship in Judah (the Southern Kingdom) with his foreign policy of taking in marriage the daughters of all the nations around him. Yes, he had the riches to support all those wives, and combined with the might of his armies, it made for a peaceful time in Israel prior to the breaking apart of the nation. But the king also built altars and planted groves for his wives to worship their foreign gods.
So the Southern Kingdom embarks on this spiritual roller coaster of obedience and disobedience, depending on the ways of their king. One of the interesting highlights is when King Hezekiah, breaks the brass serpent that Moses had made centuries earlier. (2nd Kings 18:4) It was not made to be worshipped. God had commanded Moses to make it so that anyone who had been bitten by a poisonous serpent could look upon the brass serpent and live. (Originally, the Lord had sent the poisonous serpents upon the people as punishment. But then we see the graciousness of God providing more to us than we deserve.)
Before the time of King Hezekiah, the Jews began to worship what was a gift of the one true God, in violation of God’s commandment to not make any images or likenesses of any creature on land or in the air or sea to bow down and worship them. Nor were they permitted to make images of God or angels to worship.
This brings us to the event that puzzled me the most. We find it in 2nd Chronicles 25:14-16. In the beginning of that chapter, we are introduced to King Amaziah of Judah. We are told that he did what was right in God’s sight. But he must have done it by rote, because we are told his heart wasn’t right with God. He gathered an army that included conscripts that he hired from Israel. When God tells him not to include those soldiers, he obeys despite some retribution from the soldiers of the Northern Kingdom.
With his remaining soldiers from Judah alone, Amaziah soundly defeats Edom (also known as Seir – the descendants of Esau south of Judah). But then he brings back Edom’s gods and begins to worship them. Why would you bring back the gods of the losing side?
Something that appears throughout the Old Testament is that Israel’s neighbors recognized that the God of Israel was a god, just as their objects of worship were also gods. They saw battle victories as a proof of whose god was stronger. When Israel defeated them, they would acknowledge the God of Israel’s might. But they never abandoned their gods to worship the Lord.
So why did Amaziah go in a totally opposite direction and adopt the gods of the losing side? While this is the most extreme example, I believe the answer lies in the same two primary reasons why Israel went after idols and false gods throughout its history: seduction into various types of sinful sexual behavior (often prostitutes associated with the foreign worship) and the physical appearance of the idols. Physical objects are tangible: they can be seen and touched. So while logic would seem to dictate that gods or idols that can be fashioned by people would have no power at all, people were demonstrating a preference for powerless “gods” they could see, touch and bow down to instead of a real and powerful God who they could not directly relate to in the same way.
Now does this have anything to do with the transgender portion of my blog? Yes! Part of the theme I come back to again and again is that those who denigrate transgender people do so because of a preoccupation with the physical. They only look at God creating the physical part of people and ignore God putting the spirit of people inside of them. They ignore that time and time again, the Bible shows God considering the unseen, spiritual and eternal far more important than the seeable, physical and temporal. They ignore the fact that if you try to define male and female by the physical, then you can’t make “God created them male and female” work for all people.
They ignore the fact that people are created in the image of God, but that God is spirit. In Romans 8:29, we are told that everyone who will be saved will also be “conformed to the image of his Son”. If you were to interpret that physically instead of spiritually, that would mean that every believer, male or female, would look more and more like Jesus as time passed.
Yes, there is importance to the physical. We live in a physical world. We are told that our body is a temple and we are to keep it pure. But being transgender implies no action of any kind. Therefore, it cannot make anyone impure. It is a birth condition. People respond to it in many different ways, although more and more it we see that transitioning from one’s birth gender to their innate mental gender identity results in a far better mental outcome for the vast majority of people, especially the better one’s support system is.
Even so, there are many paths by which transgender people transition. Some take hormones, some take herbal equivalents and some take nothing at all. Some have no operations, some have one, some have a few and some have many.
On the topic of operations, we see one more example of preoccupation with the flesh from cisgender people who make things more difficult for us. Some of them claim that we are mutilating our bodies if we have genital reconstruction (gender confirmation surgery). At the same time, others have demanded that without that surgery, we cannot change our personal identification and birth certificates. Either way, they make transgender lives more difficult and dangerous.
The bottom line? When it comes to those who oppose transgender people and are preoccupied with the physical (i.e. what’s between our legs instead of what’s between our ears), I am not accusing them of idol worship. But I caution them that they are on the road.
For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. – 2nd Corinthians 4:15-18