Ecumenism – Part II – 2 Chr 25: Amaziah

In my last blog we briefly defined ecumenism and then looked at an example of it in Ezra 4. I’d encourage you to check out that blog (at least the introduction of it before reading this one). Now we’re going to look at another example from the life of Amaziah, king of Judah…

2 Chr 25:1 Amaziah was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jehoaddan of Jerusalem. 2 And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, but not with a loyal heart.

Other versions say he obeyed God, but not wholeheartedly or not with his whole heart; he’s a great picture of half-hearted devotion to God. The problem with half-hearted devotion is it leaves half of your heart for something else and we’ll see that play out in Amaziah’s life.

3 Now it happened, as soon as the kingdom was established for him, that he executed his servants who had murdered his father the king.

Amaziah’s father was Joash, and in the previous chapter you can read about him being assassinated. Amaziah punished the men who murdered his father.

4 However he did not execute their children, but did as it is written in the Law in the Book of Moses, where the LORD commanded, saying, “The fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall the children be put to death for their fathers; but a person shall die for his own sin.” (Deut 24:16)

You might wonder why there’s discussion about him sparing the children of the men who murdered his father, and the reason is the standard practice in the Old Testament involved executing the children as well to prevent any of them from later taking revenge. God strictly forbid that though and to Amaziah’s credit he obeyed God in this area, which was a big deal because of how hazardous it was to let the children live. Basically, he put his faith in God to protect him instead of taking matters into his own hands

Bible scholar C. Knapp said, “He made a good beginning in thus adhering closely to the law. Happy would it have been for him and for his kingdom had he continued as he began.”

5 Moreover Amaziah gathered Judah together and set over them captains of thousands and captains of hundreds, according to their fathers’ houses, throughout all Judah and Benjamin; and he numbered them from twenty years old and above, and found them to be three hundred thousand choice men, able to go to war, who could handle spear and shield.

He’s getting ready to go to war against Edom and he has 300,000 soldiers, but he felt like this wasn’t enough so…

6 He also hired one hundred thousand mighty men of valor from Israel for one hundred talents of silver (approx. 4 tons).

Here’s the ecumenism!!!

Amaziah decided to hire an additional 100,000 soldiers, or mercenaries, from the northern kingdom of Israel as well. 4 tons of silver is 120,000 ounces and silver is valued at about $35 per ounce, so this would be around $4.2 million today.

More than likely most of this money was paid to the king of Israel who ordered the mercenaries of Israel to aid Amaziah against Edom. In other words, the mercenaries probably didn’t receive any money; their pay would come from the plunder of the battle.

7 But a man of God came to him, saying, “O king, do not let the army of Israel go with you, for the LORD is not with Israel—not with any of the children of Ephraim.

“man of God” is a technical term used about 70 times in the Old Testament to refer to people who spoke for God.

Ephraim was the largest tribe in the northern kingdom of Israel, so sometimes Israel was simply called Ephraim.

The man of God came to Amaziah and told him he couldn’t go to battle without the 100,00 mercenaries he just hired, which means he’ll be out the money he spent. Now why didn’t God want Amaziah using these mercenaries from Israel? There are probably two reasons…

First, Amaziah’s great-grandfather was King Jehoram, and King Jehoram’s father was King Jehoshaphat (Amaziah’s great-great-grandfather). They both got into a lot of trouble for working with Israel. Specifically, Jehoshaphat made an alliance with Ahab, the king of Israel, husband of Jezebel. If you took a poll of the wickedest men in the OT, Ahab would be near the top of every list.

To seal the alliance between Jehoshaphat and Ahab their children (Jehoram, Jehoshaphat’s son and Athaliah, Ahab’s daughter) married. Obviously nobody should marry a woman whose mother’s name is Jezebel. If you took a poll of the wickedest women in the OT, Athaliah and Jezebel would be number 1 and 2 on every list. They make Delilah look godly. Jezebel is the woman who slaughtered hundreds of God’s prophets and had Naboth murdered for his vineyard. Her daughter Athaliah murdered all her own grandsons (except for one that sovereignly survived to continue the Messianic line), so she wouldn’t lose the throne to them.

The point is that by now Israel was really wicked and God didn’t want Judah having anything to do with them and Amaziah should’ve known that. In fact, when Jehoram was king, you’d think Judah would’ve been stronger because of their alliance with Israel, but they actually became weaker because their real strength didn’t come from political alliances, but spiritual health. Judah is about to go to war against Edom, who used to be vassals to Judah. Edom actually rebelled against Judah during Jehoram’s reign, because his relationship with Israel weakened the nation so much they were no longer afraid of Judah.

The other reason God didn’t want Judah working with Israel is because he wanted them to depend on Him, and not some other nation for support. If Judah succeeded in defeating Edom (which is what’s going to happen) it would have looked like it was because of Israel’s help instead of God’s help.

The point is God doesn’t want His people working with anyone and everyone just for the sake of success.

Some people say, “Sure God wouldn’t want us working with Muslims and Buddhists, but He must be okay with Christians working with groups that call themselves Christians.” Consider this: God wasn’t discouraging Judah from working with some foreign nation like the Assyrians, Babylonians, Moabites, etc. He was discouraging the Jews from working with Israel, their brother nation!

8 But if you go, be gone! Be strong in battle! Even so, God shall make you fall before the enemy; for God has power to help and to overthrow.”

First the man of God tells him if he goes he’s going to lose, then he uses some sarcasm and says, “If you go and take those mercenaries, you better be strong, because God won’t be with you.”

I like the way he says this. Don’t you feel like saying this to people sometimes? You suspect people are going to do what they want to do anyway, so you say, “If this is what you want to do, then go ahead and do it.” It’s like when Jesus told Judas, “Go and do what you want to do.”

9 Then Amaziah said to the man of God, “But what shall we do about the hundred talents which I have given to the troops of Israel?”
And the man of God answered, “The LORD is able to give you much more than this.”

Amaziah was more concerned with the money he’d lose than obeying God. We might be quick to judge Amaziah, but I remember feeling this way after I became a Christian when I had to throw out a lot of movies, music, books and fitness magazines I had. It’s completely worth it though because there’s no amount of money worth being able to lay your head down at night and know you’re obeying God.

Besides: don’t worry about the money. God isn’t broke. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. You say, “I’ve already invested so much…there have already been all these expenses…we already formed a partnership…I’ve went to such great lengths already.” It would be better to forfeit all that for God.

Let’s say you’re at work and you’ve got the opportunity to make more money, but it involves being deceitful, shortchanging someone, stepping on someone to make progress…it would be better to swallow the financial loss and obey God. This is one of the great lessons from the passage that obeying God might mean giving some things up, maybe even losing some money sometimes, but if you honor God, you’re going to be in a better place.

It surprises me when people who say they believe in God aren’t upright in their finances as though their compromise will leave them in a better place:

  • Sometimes people are deceitful on their tax returns. I feel way safer being upright with my taxes and trusting God to provide for us than be deceitful and maybe make a little more money, but not obey God.
  • We knew a guy who called himself a Christian and his son messed up his truck. He lied to the insurance and said he was driving to save some money and I thought, “Wow, you’re that concerned about money and now you think you’re in a better place financially after taking yourself outside God’s will?”

If you ever face a situation where you want to obey God, but it involves some sacrifice, remember the prophet’s words: “The LORD is able to give you much more than this.” I’ve quoted this to people numerous times in counseling when they wanted to make a compromising decision based on greed or covetousness.

Think about Moses’ example. Hebrews 11 says, By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, he thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Christ than to own the treasures in Egypt; for he looked ahead to his greater reward.” Moses was willing to give up so much to be in God’s will, including a life of tremendous luxury and wealth in pharaoh’s palace.

10 So Amaziah discharged the troops that had come to him from Ephraim (or Israel), to go back home. Therefore their anger was greatly aroused against Judah, and they returned home in great anger.

To Amaziah’s credit he obeyed the prophet, lost the money and sent the mercenaries home.

These mercenaries were angry for two reasons:

  1. They were probably insulted at being hired and then sent home like there was something wrong with them
  2. They were counting on additional plunder and spoil from the battle as income.

11 Then Amaziah strengthened himself, and leading his people, he went to the Valley of Salt and killed ten thousand of the people of Seir.

Seir is where the Edomites live, so to say, “the people of Seir” is to refer to the Edomites. So Amaziah had a huge victory with thousands of less men! He experienced great success with much less favorable circumstances.

The application for us in ministry is we shouldn’t look at numbers. We shouldn’t try to produce more favorable circumstances for ourselves. We should obey God and trust Him to make us successful.

Ecumenism – Part I – Ezra 4

If you don’t know what ecumenism is, maybe you clicked on this blog just to find out! defines it as: “A movement promoting cooperation and better understanding among different religious groups or denominations.” That sounds good, doesn’t it? To an extent it is, but in my next two blogs I’d like to look at a couple of Old Testament (OT) examples of bad ecumenism:

  1. The first deals with the Jews in Ezra 4
  2. The second deals with Amaziah King of Judah in 2 Chronicles 25

First let me provide a couple reminders from Paul about the purpose of the OT:

  • 1 Corinthians 10:6 Now these things (the events in the OT) became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted.
  • 1 Corinthians 10:1 Now all these things (again, the OT) happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
  • Romans 15:4 For whatever things were written before (again, the OT) were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.

So according to Paul the OT contains examples for us and was written for our admonition and learning. In other words, even though it discusses events from thousands of years ago, we can find plenty of application for today.

Before we look at the passage, I need to provide a little background information to help the story make sense…

The united nation of Israel consisting of twelve tribes, split into a northern and southern kingdom in 931 BC. The northern kingdom consisted of ten of the original twelve tribes and kept the name Israel. The southern kingdom became known as Judah after the larger of the two tribes (the other being Benjamin). The people from Judah were called Jews.

The Assyrians in 722BC (thank you for the correction Mary!) conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. Their practice involved deporting conquered people and importing previously conquered people to resettle the land, spreading out the conquered nation and preventing the people from reuniting and revolting. When Assyria resettled the land of Israel and imported foreigners, they came with their own religions and intermarried with the Israelites who remained. The capital of Israel was Samaria, and the newly established people consisting of half-Israelites and half-foreigners or Gentiles became known as Samaritans.

The religion of the Samaritans was very much like their race: half-Israelite and half-pagan. 2 Kings 17:33 says, “They (the Samaritans) feared the LORD, but they continued to follow their own gods according to the religious customs of the nations they came from.

In 586 BC the Babylonians conquered the southern kingdom of Judah, but their practice was different than the Assyrians: they brought people into their land and hoped to prevent them from revolting by providing them with a somewhat comfortable existence. You can read all about this in the two books discussing the exile: Daniel and Ezekiel. The Jews were in exile in Babylon for around seventy years, and then they were allowed to return to their land. You can read all about this in Ezra.

Since the Babylonians provided such a comfortable environment for the Jews, and since most of them had established roots in the land after being there for seventy years, many of them chose to stay in Babylon as opposed to making the 900-mile, 4-month trek back to Jerusalem. Although we can’t say for sure, most scholars guess around only ten percent of the Jews actually returned. That’s not a lot of people for the monumental building project they had before them. Their city was destroyed and had been desolated for seventy years. They had to rebuild the city, the walls (which you can read about in Nehemiah), and their lives in general.

The main point is this: if there’s ever been a group that had a lot of work to do and could have used the help, it was this group of Jews.

With all that in mind, let’s look at Ezra 4. The verses are in bold with my thoughts in regular font…

Ezra 4:1 Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the descendants of the captivity (the Jews who returned from exile) were building the temple of the LORD God of Israel, 2 they came to Zerubbabel (the leader of the Jews at the time) and the heads of the fathers’ houses, and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we seek your God as you do; and we have sacrificed to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.”

The people who wanted to help the Jews were the Samaritans we discussed earlier. Notice they said, “we seek your God as you; and we have sacrificed to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.” This is referring to when the king of Assyria conquered Israel and resettled the land. The really important point though is they didn’t really sacrifice to God even if they thought they did. They had a religion that was as much pagan as it was genuine. If they were sacrificing to God, it meant they were doing it without a temple, because the temple had been destroyed, and without a legitimate priesthood. In a way, it was almost like their own made-up religion with some elements of truth mixed in.

Remember when Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well? She thought she was worshiping correctly, evidenced by her words, “Our fathers worshiped God on this mountain…” and Jesus said, “You Samaritans worship what you don’t know (in other words, you don’t really know God…you think you’re worshipping God, but you’re not…just like the Samaritans in Ezra’s day)…true believers worship the Father in spirit and truth…God is Spirit and He must be worshiped in spirit and truth.”

You almost have to understand all this about the Samaritans to really appreciate the Gospels. The Jews in Jesus’ day hated the Samaritans because the Jews:

  • Viewed them as half-breeds and not true Israelites
  • Believed they betrayed their nation and their God by marrying foreigners
  • Hated their religion

Now interestingly, Jesus came along and completely ignored the long-standing prejudice between the Jews and Samaritans and told the story of the Good Samaritan. Of course this contributed to the Jews’ hatred of Jesus.

3 But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the fathers’ houses of Israel said to them, “You may do nothing with us to build a house for our God; but we alone will build to the LORD God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.”

Even though they had a tremendous amount of work to do, very clearly they said, “You will have nothing to do with our work for God!” This was a very courageous and uncompromising move on the part of Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the Jewish leaders.

God exiled the Jews in Babylon in the first place because of their idolatry. Fortunately they were wise enough to recognize the Samaritans’ idolatry represented a grave danger. This was a terrible partnership that could have gotten them into a lot of trouble, so to their credit they rejected the help.

I’m sure most people would have looked at them and said they were being intolerant, judgmental, maybe even unloving. I’m sure there were probably a lot of people who wanted to say, “What are you doing? We need all the help we can get!” or “Wait, wait…if they join us, we can witness to them!” or “With their help think of all the work we can get done!” Zerubbabel and Jeshua knew the Samaritans would have had some influence on the Jews as well as the work that was done.

4 Then the people of the land (the Samaritans who offered their help) tried to discourage the people of Judah. They troubled them in building, 5 and hired counselors against them to frustrate their purpose all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.

Now you can see one of the reasons it was a good idea for the Jews not to work with these people: they were bad! As soon as they were rejected, their true colors came out. They got angry and started causing the Jews as many problems as possible. You can read all about this in the subsequent verses.

There are some great lessons for us here:

  • One other reason God might not have wanted the Samaritans to help, is so He’d be seen as the One who helped the Jews. There might be some things God wants you to do so He’s shown to be the One who helped you.
  • Sometimes it’s better to have less and do things right with God’s help, then have more, but not do things the way God would have them done.
  • If you’ve got the opportunity to accomplish something involving some ungodly people or involving some form of compromise, it might look like you’d be increasing your chances of success that way, but it’s better to do things right and trust God.

In my next blog we’ll look at another example of ecumenism from the OT in the life of Amaziah, King of Judah.