Every year Transparency International publishes a corruption index. In 2007, India ranked 72nd, along with China and 6 more countries. Indians may sense some national pride that it is ahead of its neighbours Sri Lanka (94th), Nepal (131st), Pakistan (138th), and Bangladesh (162nd). However, India is way behind Bhutan; but, since the country is small and not in rivalry with India, we don’t feel too bad about that.
For us, corruption is not just a word, it is stark reality. We feel frustration, anger and helplessness in the face of the rampant corruption that even the Right to Information Act has not yet curbed.
Sadly, the Church in India and its institutions have not remained unstained. Last year, a sting operation showed pastors of churches in Delhi taking bribes to issue membership certificates to non-Christians so that they can gain admission to Christian institutions. Mission schools and colleges, that were once identified as representing the highest because of the Christian ethic, have also resorted to corruption in admissions, examination results, etc.
One synonym for the word “corruption” is “rottenness.” For something to rot, it must first be good. That is why corruption is terrible, because it rots what was good to start with.
The history of the Kings of Judah shows how a kingdom was corrupted, how the internal rot destroyed it. Truly, “Righteousness exalts a race, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Pro.14:34).
When Solomon strayed from God’s ways, the kingdom was divided. Ten tribes broke away to become the kingdom of Israel, while Benjamin stayed on with Judah to form the kingdom of Judah.
Israel’s first king was Jeroboam. As he thought about the fact that the focal point of Jewish religion was the temple situated in Jerusalem, a part of the kingdom of Judah, he was afraid of losing the loyalty of his people. So, Jeroboam decided to introduce idolatry in Israel, to counteract the attraction that the people of Israel felt toward the temple (1 Kgs.12:25-33). Except for Jehu, the reformer who killed wicked Ahab’s family (2 Kgs.9:14-10:31), every king of Israel went down that road.
On the other hand, a number of the kings of Judah were reckoned as those who did right. But, a closer examination reveals that, while a number of them started right, they ended wrong. Some of them were even reformers. How/why did reformers become corrupt?
Faithless in Trouble
Asa came after Solomon, Rehoboam, and Abijah. The sacred historian informs us that he did good and right “in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Chro.14:2). He was ardent in destroying idolatry (v.3). He commanded repentance: his subjects should turn from their ways to do what the Lord wanted of them (v.4). God favoured Asa’s rule giving Judah peace and prosperity (vv.6-7).
When an enemy did attack, Asa trusted God. He prayed, “O Lord, no one but you can help the powerless against the mighty! Help us, O Lord our God, for we trust in you alone. It is in your name that we have come against this vast horde. O Lord, you are our God; do not let mere men prevail against you!” (v.11). God answered with deliverance (v.12). A prophet commended his faith and exhorted him to keep on trusting the Lord (15:1-2,7).
Encouraged, Asa continued with the reformation in Judah (vv.8-15). He even deposed his grandmother for committing idolatry (v.16). He was “fully committed to the Lord throughout his life” (v.17). Whatever gifts of silver and gold, he and his father before him had pledged to God, he brought into the temple (v.18), instead of keeping back what had been promised by earlier generations or forgetting his own promises. How often people make promises when they are in trouble, but fail to keep their promises when the Lord has extricated them from their trouble! The Word of God counsels us that it is better not to vow, than to vow and not fulfil the vow (Eccl.5:1-7). Asa would agree, for he was a promise-keeper.
For 35 years Asa and the people of Judah enjoyed peace (2 Chro.15:19). Other races were afraid because God had fought for them (14:13-14).
After all those years of peace, Israel threatened Judah by fortifying along the border (16:1). Asa was quite unprepared for an attack from Israel, a nation of Judah’s brothers. Strangely, Asa lost his faith and courage in the face of this threat from kinsfolk and turned to an idolatrous king for help. Asa gave the treasures of the temple to the idolater (vv.2-3).
Asa must have imagined that, since he was enjoying God’s protection and favour, he would never have any trouble all his life. Sometimes, Christians make the same mistake. I know a missionary whose father was dying of cancer. Susannah prayed that he would turn to Christ before death. Somehow she was convinced that God had promised her that this would happen. She went home to be at her father’s side. Her father died without giving any evidence that he had turned his life over to the Lord Jesus. Susannah went into deep depression and it took her a long time to come out of it.
Selwyn Hughes wrote, “Of course, we have to be careful that we do not hold God to promises He has not given. Over the years I have seen the heartache suffered by Christians who have been encouraged to take a statement from the Word of God, turn it into a ‘promise’ and urged to believe that it would come about. When nothing happened, they became deeply discouraged and disheartened” (Every Day With Jesus, 9 Feb. 2007).
We have no promise that our faith will escape testing. Instead, the Lord said, “In the world, you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn.16:33). Read James1:2-4,12.
Annie Johnson Flint gave us the song “What God Hath Promised.” The song is particularly significant in view of Annie’s own trials. Her mother died after the birth of her younger sister, and her father abandoned them for a second marriage. The widow, who was deputed to take them in, had two children of her own and her means were limited. Annie and her sister felt unloved. A neighbour influenced a godly, childless couple to adopt them. After finishing school, she had to take a position near her home, as her foster mother was ailing. Not much later, Annie came down with arthritis. As the disease worsened, she had to give up her work. When the foster parents died, Annie moved to a sanatorium. And it was there that Annie started to write the poetry that has blessed Christendom. Her song says,
God hath not promised skies always blue,
Flower-strewn pathways all our lives through.
How true! Faith that rests on God will weather the storms of life. That is the only promise we have—that God will stay with us and carry us through the storms.
King Asa was clinging to his circumstances, rather than God, and when the circumstances changed for the worse, his faith faltered. Our Lord said that some seed will indeed fall on rocky soil or among thorns. In either situation, the germinating seed is likely to be unfruitful. Quickie converts are not rooted deep in faith. Those who allow their lives to be cluttered with life’s preoccupations (whether pleasures or troubles) will not be able to grow in faith (Mk.4:16-19). Instead, they will be busy trying to manage their own life by their own craftiness, efforts and skills. That is what Asa was doing when he took the treasures of God’s temple to buy the aid of an idolater king.
Asa was rebuked by a prophet of God. Instead of responding positively, Asa imprisoned him. He then became an unjust ruler of his people (2 Chro.16:7-10). When God’s sovereignty is denied and His voice is suppressed, there is no reason to live a moral life. Then, might makes right. Without God as the point of reference, our own desires and pleasures and concerns become the be-all and end-all of our existence. Others exist only to serve our needs and purposes.
Two years later, Asa was inflicted by a disease. The Bible says that he turned to physicians, instead of turning to God (v.12). At first reading, this may suggest that the Bible is opposed to medicine. There is enough biblical evidence to contradict such a conclusion. In the well-known story of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan binds up the wounds of the battered man with wine (to disinfect) and oil (to stop bleeding). Paul advised Timothy to take a bit of wine for his persistent stomach trouble (1 Tim.5:23).
In Asa’s time, physicians were in all probability pagan medicine men, who relied on magic and the occult for their healing powers. Once again, he was guilty of turning away from God to idolatry for answers to his problems. Asa seems to have gone to his grave without a change of heart.
A few generations after Asa, came Joash. He was the sole survivor of the massacre of the royal family by wicked Queen Athaliah. He was just an infant when it happened. He was saved by his aunt and hidden in the temple for seven years by the high priest Jehoiada (2 Chro.22:10-12).
In the seventh year, Jehoiada conspired with middle level officers of the army and brought Joash out from hiding and made him king. Athaliah tried to muster support, was seized and executed (23:1-15).
Jehoiada who had served as protector, became the young king’s mentor (24:2). Joash learnt well, and then took initiative to order the repair of the temple (v.4). Though the Levites took their time going about it (v.5), Joash didn’t give up, and pressed the matter of the repair of the temple (vv.5-14). After Jehoiada died, people who were ungodly sucked up to Joash and derailed him from the path he had chosen under Jehoiada. The repairer of the temple abandoned what he had rebuilt, and turned instead to idolatry (vv.17-18).
God sent prophets to call the king and his people to repentance, but they did not listen to the prophets. Finally, Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada, the priest, challenged their infidelity. Instead of gratitude for Jehoiada’s protection, that he had enjoyed as a little boy, the king ordered that Zechariah be killed for opposing him (vv.19-22). This act of perfidy was so dastardly that it was mentioned by our Lord as a prime example of wickedness comparable to the killing of innocent Abel (Lk.11:51).
When Joash turned from God to idolatry, ignored prophets and killed God’s servant, he found himself under attack from an alien, idolatrous king (2 Kgs.12:17). The sacred historian seems to say that this was more than a coincidence for he connected the dots by saying that it happened “about [that] time.”
Instead of waking up to God’s call, Joash took all the temple’s treasures, dedicated by three earlier generations, and along with what he had himself dedicated, and offered them to the alien idolater (v.18).
Fascination With Exotic Religions
Joash’s son Amaziah succeeded him. His mother’s name Jehoaddin says she was a Jewess (2 Chro.25:1). After Asa, there had been a good king, Jehoshaphat. Though recognised as one who “had sought the Lord with all his heart,” by marrying a woman from Ahab’s family (2 Chro. 18: 1), Jehoshaphat did have an adverse effect on the kingdom that lasted for at least three generations.
Ahab’s wife Jezebel, was an idolatrous foreigner, and gained notoriety in Israelite history for being an ardent devotee of Baal. Marrying into Ahab’s family for political gain was disastrous spiritually. His son Jehoram followed in his steps (2 Kgs.8:18), and so did his grandson Ahaziah (v.27) in continuing to marry into that ungodly family. When Ahaziah was attacked and died of wounds inflicted by the reformer Jehu (2 Kgs.9:27), Athaliah, his mother, a step-sister or cousin of Ahab (8:26), ruled Judah and no doubt continued with all the idolatry. Joash had broken that trend and married a Jewess, who hailed from Jerusalem. Her godly influence was evident in her son’s life for he did what was right when he became king (2 Chro.25:2). He administered justice according to God’s Law (v.4).
Amaziah was keen on strengthening his kingdom and so he began to organise a well-coordinated army (v.5). In the process, he decided to add to the numbers of fighting men, by hiring mercenaries from Israel (v.6). A prophet of God exhorted him not to rely on Israelite soldiers who were doomed by God (because of the national penchant for idolatry). Amaziah told the prophet that he would lose the money he had paid them and the prophet assured him that if he would trust God, God would give him more than he would lose. Amaziah dismissed the Israelite mercenaries and succeeded in the war against Seir/Edomites (vv.7-12).
In spite of this victory given to him by God, Amaziah brought back Edomite idols and began to worship them. How strange this fascination with idolatry! Though he defeated the army that worshipped and depended on idols, he was tantalised by the idols and the ways of idolatry. The idols had shape and size. Not like the God he worshipped, who could not be seen with the eyes. Worshipping idols gave opportunity to indulge in gluttony and immorality and seemed more interesting than confessing sin and seeking forgiveness through sacrifices. God was angry and sent a prophet to confront Amaziah with his foolishness in worshipping the very gods who had not been able to protect the people he had conquered. Amaziah told the prophet to shut up because he had not been appointed the court advisor. The prophet went away saying that he was doomed (vv.14-16) and that is how Amaziah’s reign ended, in defeat (vv.17-28).
Judah, the nation with the temple of God, became corrupt because they progressed from being faithless in the face of trouble to forgetting the truth they had started with, to being fascinated with the exoticism of idolatry. Today, the Church stands in danger for the same reasons. There are those who proclaim prosperity as the sign of God’s blessing and erode the strength of God’s people to face trouble. There are people who claim to follow Christ, but advocate departures from the truth as He gave it. People seem fascinated with anything new, without a concern that when the fountain is poisoned, it is not a source to drink from.