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29 September. 2 Chronicles chapters 15-18
These chapters tell of the reigns of two successive kings of Judah, Asa and Jehoshaphat. They followed a similar pattern: initially they took the advice of prophets not to make war either against the rest of Israel or against other nations, and they worshipped God, and he granted them peace in the land. But each in turn was tempted to abandon that peaceful option and turn to war in alliance with other kings. Asa made an alliance with Aram (Syria) against the other tribes of Israel, whereas Jehoshaphat joined himself with Israel against Aram. Ahab king of Israel ignored the advice of one true prophet and accepted that of four hundred false prophets, allying himself with Judah against Aram – and was killed in the battle, as Micaiah had prophesied.
The offence against God in both cases seems not to have been going to war, as such. Nor was it making war against a particular people, since in the one case the war was against the ten tribes of Israel, and latterly in alliance with them. The offence, rather, was making any alliance with a nation that was itself not under God’s direction and protection (the ten tribes ruled from Samaria being at this time seen by the remaining tribes of Judah and Benjamin as apostates who no longer worshipped the true God).
It may seem, to any of us who follow one of the monotheistic religions, that it is a good thing for an individual, group or nation to declare its faith in God. But that has a dark side, as the stronger the commitment to follow God, the stronger the temptation to discriminate against, separate oneself from, attack or even kill those who do not. There are two very chilling verses here in the account of Asa persuading his people to make a declaration of loyalty to God: “They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their ancestors, with all their heart and with all their soul. Whoever would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, should be put to death, whether young or old, man or woman.” (15:12,13). That sounds as threatening as an Islamist ‘fatwa’, and no doubt at least some of them meant it deadly seriously.
What should the approach of a person of faith be in the modern world? We want to exercise freedom of religion for ourselves, we (hopefully) want to live in peace with neighbours who may have different beliefs or none, while challenging aspects of their religion that we might think tend to disrupt a peaceful society. We may listen to the “mainstream prophets” of our own religion without realising that when they are at their most triumphalist they may actually be going against the will of God, rather than hearing the solitary voices like those of Micaiah who counsel caution and what may appear to be appeasement. How can those sometimes conflicting intentions and sources of advice be held together?