When people try to serve both other gods and Yahweh, the God of the Bible, at the same time, they are guilty of syncretism. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines syncretism “as the combination of different forms of belief or practice.” In ancient Israel, this sin was a serious downfall among the people. In fact, it’s what led to God allowing first Israel – the Northern Kingdom – then Judah – the Southern Kingdom – to be overrun by their enemies and carried away into exile.
We see this extremely serious situation on display during the reign of King Ahaz in Judah. Keep in mind that Judah wasn’t as bad as Israel; God allowed them to remain in the land for a longer period before He cast them out. Nonetheless, Ahaz provides a perfect example of syncretistic practices.
King Ahaz found himself in a difficult situation. The kings of Israel and Syria were coming against him. Rather than turn to Yahweh, he inquired of the king of Assyria for his help. Assyria defeated the opposing armies, and Ahaz went to Damascus to meet the king who had helped him. We see in 2 Kings 16:10-11 what happened:
When King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, he saw the altar that was at Damascus. And King Ahaz sent to Uriah the priest a model of the altar, and its pattern, exact in all its details. And Uriah the priest built the altar; in accordance with all that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus, so Uriah the priest made it, before King Ahaz arrived from Damascus.
Not only did King Ahaz figure it was a good idea to build this pagan altar, but the priest of Yahweh at His temple went willingly along with it. When Ahaz returned home, he worshiped at this altar. Worse, 2 Kings 16:14 details his next action:
And the bronze altar that was before the Lord he removed from the front of the house, from the place between his altar and the house of the Lord, and put it on the north side of his altar.
He had the primary altar in the temple where Yahweh was worshiped casually set aside, as though it were a lesser altar than the pagan one. Compounding this, Ahaz made his blood sacrifices to the foreign god on the replica altar from Assyria and proceeded to instruct the priest in 2 Kings 16:15:
“… but the bronze altar shall be for me to inquire by.”
Ahaz thought he could revere the pagan gods on one hand and then still inquire of Yahweh for guidance and direction at what he considered a second-hand altar. This was syncretism at its finest – actually, its worst.
Ahaz was only doing what every other unrighteous king did at that time. It’s as though a spirit of stupidity blinded him. Not long after Ahaz’s open disdain for Yahweh through the building and use of the Assyrian altar, Assyria came and destroyed the Northern Kingdom (722 BC). Scripture records the reason in 2 Kings 7-9 that God brought this judgment upon them:
And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had practiced. And the people of Israel did secretly against the Lord their God things that were not right. They built for themselves high places in all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city.
Moreover, 2 Kings 17:12-13 helps us understand:
… and they served idols, of which the Lord had said to them, “You shall not do this.” Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the Law that I commanded your fathers, and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets.”
However, they wouldn’t listen. The text informs us that they despised Yahweh and what He commanded. This resulted in abominable practices as shown in 2 Kings 17:16-17:
And they abandoned all the commandments of the Lord their God, and made for themselves metal images of two calves; and they made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal. And they burned their sons and their daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger.
The golden calves were the idols they worshiped. The Asherah was a phallic symbol, representative of the sexual practices in which they engaged. The host of heaven were all the rebellious sons of God over the nations that led them astray. Baal was the supreme god of the pagans who reigned over the nations in the Ancient Near East. To make blood sacrifices of their children was anathema to everything God stood for, i.e. the value of life in His image. Divination was sorcery and the inquiry of other gods for their blessing and guidance.
As Assyria took over Israel, peoples from other foreign cultures replaced native Israelites. This resulted in greater syncretism in the land. In 2 Kings 17:31-32 we see this on display:
… and the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim. They also feared the Lord and appointed from among themselves all sorts of people as priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the shrines of the high places.
The next verse in 2 Kings 17:33 summarizes the situation, perfectly encapsulating the syncretism of the times:
So they feared the Lord but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away.
Yahweh had clearly commanded them through the Ten Commandments, #1 and #2, that His people were to follow Him alone (2 Kings 17:35-36), but they would not listen. It led to the complete destruction of, first Israel, then of Judah.
Is syncretism a problem today? Oh, yes! We see it in the dumbing down of ecumenicalism, whereby different Christian denominations come together as one and adopt the least common denominator, i.e. the beliefs that completely water down what used to be the Christian faith. Thus, evangelicals combine with Catholics and completely abandon justification by faith alone, and many other key doctrines.
We see a horrid example of syncretism in what is known as Chrislam. This is where Christianity and Islam combine. Naturally, what is lost is all semblance of true Christianity. For instance, since Islam doesn’t believe that God has a Son, then the truth that Jesus is God, as the Son of God, is obliterated.
One more. There has been an increasing amount of New Age practices that have infiltrated the church. Among them are yoga, contemplative prayer, and such initiatives as creating labyrinths for prayer walk meditation.
How do you think God looks at all this? Does it please Him? If the Old Testament is any guide to what God thinks in this regard – and it is! – then the churches in this day and age which have adopted these practices, and the people who engage in them, are certainly storing up His wrath for judgment.
Is there a remedy? Of course. We see it and repeat it often in 2 Chronicles 7:14. God says:
“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
But, that’s the issue, isn’t it? God’s people have to actually turn from these things, repent, and follow hard after Him in order for Him to relent of His judgment.
In these latter days, some few might, but the Bible shows us that the world is on a downward spiral, a collision course, heading toward the Tribulation.
Those who are awake and alert to these apostasies must warn others as we can. That’s a major reason I write these essays. I’m hoping they will make a difference, even in one person’s life.
Time is short. Let us all who have opened our eyes to Bible prophecy and what is soon to come act on that. Let’s be a blessing to those around us with the Word of truth.