Today’s Reading: 2 Chronicles 28:16-21, 2 Kings 16:10-18, 2 Chronicles 28:22-25
In English we have an idiomatic phrase that is about 90 years old. “Keeping up with the Joneses” started out as a cartoon strip in American Newspapers. The cartoon showed the life of a family that felt that the constantly needed to do as their neighbors did. That is how we use the phrase today.
If your neighbors put in a nice flower bed in the front of the house, then a few weeks later other houses on the block had nice flower beds. If one neighbor gave away full sized candy bars at Halloween, then the next year, the other neighbors had to keep up and they gave away the more expensive candy bars. No one wants to be seen as less than their neighbors.
In economic theory this is called conspicuous consumption. From Wikipedia:
Conspicuous consumption is a term used to describe the lavish spending on goods and services acquired mainly for the purpose of displaying income or wealth. In the mind of a conspicuous consumer, such display serves as a means of attaining or maintaining social status. A very similar but more colloquial term is “keeping up with the Joneses“.
We have another term similar to this called the “Rat Race”. Basically, the idea is that there is some competition to have the best, biggest, brightest, most expensive item so that others see you have stuff. 99 % of the time it is worthless stuff. 100 % of the time it is stuff that is not eternal or valuable in the eyes of God.
In today’s reading we find a prime example of “keeping up with the Joneses” by King Ahaz of Judah.
Judah was being attacked by its neighbors Edom and Philistia. King Ahaz sought help from the Assyrians and he went to Damascus looking for help.
But the real reason for the attacks was clear in the text:
2 Chronicles 28:19 (NLT)
19 The Lord was humbling Judah because of King Ahaz of Judah, for he had encouraged his people to sin and had been utterly unfaithful to the Lord.
A funny part of the story comes up in the passage from 2 Kings 16. While King Ahaz is in Damascus, visiting the “Joneses”. He becomes envious of something they have.
2 Kings 18:10 – 13 (NLT)
10 King Ahaz then went to Damascus to meet with King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria. While he was there, he took special note of the altar. Then he sent a model of the altar to Uriah the priest, along with its design in full detail. 11 Uriah followed the king’s instructions and built an altar just like it, and it was ready before the king returned from Damascus. 12 When the king returned, he inspected the altar and made offerings on it. 13 He presented a burnt offering and a grain offering, he poured out a liquid offering, and he sprinkled the blood of peace offerings on the altar.
Remember from earlier readings, the furniture, altar, tools and items within the temple had been very specifically outlined during Moses day and then again when Solomon built the permanent temple. They were not curiosities that could be changed out on the whims of a King. The temple was a sacred area that the Levitical priest of the order of Aaron were supposed to manage. Again, not the king.
You and I know, if the Lord wanted Judah to be humbled by its neighbors, then going to the Assyrians for help was not going to work. As a matter of fact, after paying the Assyrians for help, the Assyrians collected the money and attached Judah itself. Some help! King Ahaz ended up paying tribute to the Assyrians to stop the attack.
2 Chronicles 28:21 (NLT)
21 Ahaz took valuable items from the Lord’s Temple, the royal palace, and from the homes of his officials and gave them to the king of Assyria as tribute. But this did not help him.
Ultimately, King Ahaz reign in Judah was a disaster. He led them poorly and instead of following the directions, rules and laws of The One and Only True God, he decided to follow the next door neighbors named “The Joneses.”
2 Chronicles 28:22-25 (NLT)
22 Even during this time of trouble, King Ahaz continued to reject the Lord. 23 He offered sacrifices to the gods of Damascus who had defeated him, for he said, “Since these gods helped the kings of Aram, they will help me, too, if I sacrifice to them.” But instead, they led to his ruin and the ruin of all Judah.
24 The king took the various articles from the Temple of God and broke them into pieces. He shut the doors of the Lord’s Temple so that no one could worship there, and he set up altars to pagan gods in every corner of Jerusalem. 25 He made pagan shrines in all the towns of Judah for offering sacrifices to other gods. In this way, he aroused the anger of the Lord, the God of his ancestors.
So often we see the lives that our neighbors live and think that we should be following their example. We convince ourselves that they look happy with al their “things” and therefore we will be happy with more “things”. We see that they do not fret about issues like church and God and Salvation and Forgiveness, why should I think about those issues? We see that they have less value for the integrity of the holy bond of matrimony so why can’t we skip the whole “til death do us part” thing.
You and I should not try to keep up with the Joneses, can’t we learn from King Ahaz’s mistake. Can we learn from the errors of Israel and Judah? We do not have to be just like our neighbors – we are called to be different.