Worship lies at the heart of any religion. It displays the fundamental principles of doctrine, the significance of adherence to a particular authority (or not), the relationship expected between participants, and the foundational morality expected of all. When people often overlook many of the distinguishing features of a given religious group, they fail to appreciate its essence. As a result, many people lump various believers into generic categories so they can dismiss them casually as a group rather than investigating them on the basis of their independent practices. However, by far the best way to evaluate such matters of faith depends upon seeing both the loftiness of the faith in its origin compared to the amount of corruption people have allowed over time.
The LORD regularly applied this approach to His people as they tumbled from the grandeur of Sinai’s declaration to the despair of Babylon’s occupation. Along the way, the LORD measured the faith of their leaders by the heart of David, and so it was with Ahaz who “did not do what was right in the sight of the LORD, as his father David had done” (2 Chr. 28:1). The report of Ahaz’s corruption included his lack of reverence and complete disregard for spirituality, but from the outset, he provided the clearest evidence of the deterioration of his faith by how utterly and completely he corrupted worship in Judah: “For he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and made molded images for the Baals. He burned incense in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, and burned his children in the fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel. And he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places, on the hills, and under every green tree” (2 Chr 28:2–4).
In relatively little time, Ahaz managed to corrupt his worship in almost every way imaginable.
- He used the wrong model—the kings of Israel.
- He worshiped with the wrong character, seeking carnal images of Baal rather than the invisible image of God.
- He employed the wrong method, burning incense for himself.
- He offered the wrong sacrifice, burning his children in the fire.
- He followed the wrong standard, conforming to the worship of the world around him.
- And he relied on the wrong atmosphere, the physical beauty of creation rather than coming before the spiritual beauty of the Creator.
In these things, Ahaz shares much in common with many religious groups of today, including those espousing some allegiance to Christ. They want to be considered as belonging to the LORD, but their worship betrays their true alliance. If you want to worship the God of heaven, you cannot offer Him anything you please. To the contrary, you should offer Him only that which He Himself has declared as pleasing. “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).