I have a love-hate relationship with the story of Jehu. He is obviously used by God and he obviously is very zealous for the Lord, but he uses such horrible means to achieve his God-given goals. As I was reading through his story again, and thinking about this, a new thought came to me: despite how bad things had gotten under Ahab and Jezebel in the Northern Kingdom, God was still able to find someone who worshiped the Lord in Jehu.
As I was thinking about this fact, I came upon these verses in Jehu’s plan to eliminate Baal worship from Israel:
Then Jehu and Jehonadab, Rechab’s son, entered Baal’s temple. They said to Baal’s worshippers, “Make sure there are no worshippers of the Lord here with you. There should be only Baal worshippers.” Then they went in to offer sacrifices and entirely burned offerings.
The plan was to get all the followers of Baal in the main temple in Samaria and then kill them all. Here is what struck me–there were evidently still worshipers of the Lord in Israel since Jehu needs to ensure none of them are in the temple when he kills the Baal-worshipers. While I probably should have known that fact, I apparently did not realize it before now. My usual thinking of the history of the Northern Kingdom was that it continued to decline into idolatry and worship of false gods to the point where there was no one left who knew the Lord and they were destroyed by Assyria.
While the ultimate destruction of the Northern Kingdom is true, the rest of the image I had is not true. During Elijah’s time there were 7000 people who were as loyal to the Lord as Elijah was. Jehu was a worshiper of the Lord. And there were enough followers of the Lord that they needed to be distinguished from the followers of Baal during this judgment on false worship.
My previous understanding was easier to hold, though. When it seems like the people are falling into apostasy across the entire kingdom, it is easier to see why they were exiled and their kingdom destroyed. The fact that there were people who worshiped the Lord in the Norther Kingdom is more problematic, and disturbing.
This is disturbing to me because this means that even though there were people who worshiped the Lord and did not follow after the false gods of the peoples who were in the land before the Israelites arrived (or do the detestable things required in the worship of those gods), they could not keep their kingdom or their land. The culture around them still grew darker and darker, until God pronounced ultimate judgment on them and destroyed their country. Their worship of the Lord did not stop what was happening around them.
I think of this, and then I think of a large church-planting conference I attended last month. At that conference I heard about how so many different congregations and networks are being planted across the United States and how, if you were to add up all the new believers in these congregations it would amount to hundreds of thousands of new Christians. And then I see how our culture is still growing increasingly dark.
Worshiping God is not enough. Worshiping the correct God is not enough. Our lives need to be changed by God so much that it affects the way we live. If our faith is strong enough only to take us to church once or twice a week, it is not much of a faith and it will never stop the downward slide in our culture. Our faith must be strong enough to transform our actions and reactions into the image and likeness of Christ. When Christians live out their faith day to day in the public square, then we will begin to see a change in our society.
This is the difference between the idea of freedom of worship and freedom of religion. The freedom to worship says that no one can interfere with how I praise my God in church. This is very acceptable to the vast majority of our country, as it is contained within the four walls of a building once per week. The freedom of religion says I am free to practice my faith every day of my life. This is what changes nations and societies.
There were Israelites who freely worshiped the Lord, and their country was still destroyed in judgement by God. Worship, by itself, is not enough.