The Altar to Inquire By
2 Kings 16:10-15
And king Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglathpileser king of Assyria, and saw an altar that was at Damascus…

I call special attention to the last words — "and the brasen altar shall be for me to inquire by." Ahaz directed first of all that his own offerings should be offered upon this new altar. He then commanded that the offerings of the people, the morning and evening sacrifices as well as special offerings, should be offered upon it. Nor did Ahaz stop here; for this is an illustration of the fact that when we begin to interfere with God's plan, and to introduce into the divine economy of things our own improvements, we are only beginning a course of action which will become more daring and irreverent as time passes by.

1. Now I want you to observe how when once a man dares to interfere with Divine ordinances, there is no telling where such a course will end. The history of retrogression in this direction is a very striking one. Even Ahaz would not have dared to do all he did at once; but having once erected a heathen altar in the sanctuary of the God of Israel, the other things naturally followed. The first stop was the one which prepared the way for every other step. Ahaz had not been in sympathy with the worship of God from his earliest days. He had entered more and more into alliance with heathen powers. He had become a diplomatist in everything; even his religion had become a thing of diplomacy. The result was that the great brazen altar upon which the nation had offered its sacrifices for centuries was at length removed by him out of the way, and an altar of his own making was made to take its place. But even now, what did Ahaz say with regard to the old altar? Should it be removed right out of the temple? No, the man was diplomatic still. "The brasen altar shall be for me to inquire by." Now this word 18 ambiguous, as ambiguous in the Hebrew as it is in the English.

(1) Ahaz may have meant to say, "Put that brasen altar on one side for the time being; I will think about it, and see what I shall do with it; I will not yet put it outside altogether. I will consider the matter, and see what can be done." Or, what I think is far more probable:(2) Ahaz, while he was prepared to offer all the sacrifices upon his own altar only, was not prepared to lose sight of the old altar, but intended to consult it whenever he got into difficulty. He thus practically said, "Put this old altar on one side, so that I may inquire by it when I find it necessary to do so." Now that is a very striking course to take, and yet not very exceptional in one sense.

2. This conduct on the part of Ahaz in cautiously postponing the final decision what he would do with the altar he readily thrust aside, exactly illustrates what some men and women have done many a time. There are some here to-night who remember their earliest days with strange and conflicting feelings. Their earliest recollections ought to be to them exceedingly sacred. They remember the hallowing influences which surrounded them in their early homes, when simple piety reigned in that family. But possibly some of you have since then gone out into the world, and have done what Ahaz did. You have formed friendships with other men than those with whom your father would have fraternised; but then you have known more of life, as you say, and you have prospered more than your father ever did. As men of the world you laugh at the simplicities of your ancestors, and smile at the little they knew of the competitions of life, and how unequal they would be for the fight of to-day. Your father, you freely admit, was a good man. There can be no doubt about that; no one ever doubted his sincerity, his faith, for he was so childlike and simple; but, poor man, so you think, he did not know as much as you do; and then, after all, good as he was, hew as very narrow and bigoted in his views. On the contrary, you have learned, you think, to realise that there is good in everything. You favour all that because you say it is expansive, and shows broad thought and profound sympathies; and just as Ahaz never thought for a moment that he was worshipping other gods by his innovation, so you, with your broad charity and expansive views, are bringing into the religion of Jesus Christ what He never ordained, and after all think that the Spirit which inspired the apostles is going on inspiring you, but that very much more is taught you in this enlightened age than was ever taught them. Meanwhile, you have your cultured view of the Cross. You will not thrust it away as a useless thing, but you readily place it on one side. It is no longer the central fact of the Gospel. Christ died for an example; He revealed His unselfishness. Yes, the old altar must be put aside somewhere, somewhere on the north or the cold side, and you will erect your altar from Damascus where the old altar used to be. But in all this you do not want to commit yourselves finally. The thoughtful man, so you think, is the man who always delays decision. Ahaz thought so too, if we accept the first possible rendering of the words, for he practically said, "The brasen altar shall be for me to think about. I will see where I will finally put it. I am not quite sure that even now I have put it in its right place." So you say, "I do not think that even now the sacrifice of Christ and the story of Calvary occupy just the proper niche." They come in somewhere; but where, you think it very difficult to decide. Meanwhile, to make sure, you will thrust it aside and yet keep it within view; by and by you may see your way to have it right outside the temple.

3. Perhaps you have done something else. It has not been to you a question of opinion. You do not belong to these would-be clever and critical people, but still you are a practical man of the world. You cannot enter into the meaning of what they call higher criticism: you know nothing about it save that you have seen a flippant leader in the daily press; and you are not concerned about the discussion: you. are business men, and cannot give time to all that. The Bible may be all that your dear old father thought it was, for all that you know; but then the world has its claims, you say, and you find that it will not do in the interests of your trade or your profession to have the old Cross placed too prominently, and the principles of the Cross observed too faithfully in your daily life, and so you must thrust that a little aside and have another altar that will be more respectable — one of the nondescript altars of Damascus. It was just so with Ahaz. He had to think of the King of Assyria. Suppose the King of Assyria paid him a visit: how very pained he would be to find there was no altar there like his own; or, even if there was, that there was another altar between it and the holy place, and thus precedence was given to that other altar! Thus Ahaz had to consider matters as a practical man. He was a man full of diplomatic wisdom. He knew that as long as he could keep in with the King of Assyria things would probably be right. Why, then, should he sacrifice all his prospects just for the sake of keeping that old altar in its right place? Thus, off it had to go to the northern side.

4. But you tell me you cannot be a Christian and get on. Well, what then? You reply that you must get on, that this is the highest necessity of living. Is it? If you cannot be a Christian and succeed, then let success go. Ah, but you reply that you must succeed. Very well, you follow just the track of Ahaz. You must get on, must you? To that end you must get into alliance with the world, and the spirit of the world, and ignore God and His altar. Face the fact. You go into life and come into contact with men who sacrifice principle upon the altar of gain in the profession or trade in which you are engaged. And you say, "Other men do that, and I must do it in self-defence. I must build this new altar, I must burn incense, not to God always, but burn incense upon the altar of prosperity and worldly advancement. It pays others exceedingly well to do this, and it should pay me." This was precisely what Ahaz said with regard to the kings of Syria (2 Chronicles 28:23) — "Because the gods of the kings of Syria helped them, therefore will I sacrifice to them, that they may help me." I know that all this description may seem to many of you to be exaggerated. Those of us who know something of the spiritual condition of men and women know that there is nothing more common than this. Think of it; look back over your conduct, and ask yourselves what you have done that is distinctly a service to the Saviour. What have you ever said or done in your life that would mark you out as a follower of Jesus Christ? How many a man thinks of coming by and by to inquire by that altar upon which he has offered no sacrifice! What is the altar upon which you offer your sacrifices? If it is the altar of worldly success; then require of it. Be true to your convictions and to your life. Do not be mean, and only turn your back upon worldly pleasure when it has turned its back upon you. Do not look to the world as long as the world can further your purposes, always retaining a thought of God as a convenience for a dark day or a troublous hour. That is the meanest and most degrading motive that can take possession of the human heart.

(D. Davies.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And king Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglathpileser king of Assyria, and saw an altar that was at Damascus: and king Ahaz sent to Urijah the priest the fashion of the altar, and the pattern of it, according to all the workmanship thereof.

WEB: King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath Pileser king of Assyria, and saw the altar that was at Damascus; and king Ahaz sent to Urijah the priest the fashion of the altar, and its pattern, according to all its workmanship.

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