Perhaps it’s because of what I found myself thinking about with yesterday’s passage, but it feels as though there’s a continuing theme here of how religion, politics and money get mixed up together.
First, the priest Jehoiada takes command of the situation in Judah. He finds Jehoash, the one surviving heir to David, and arranges for him to be crowned king. He then, given that the king is just seven years old, takes the lead in purging the remains of Baal-worship from Judah, and in reinforcing the covenant between the LORD and the king and people, and ‘also between the king and the people’. We’ll come back to that.
During the years when Baal was worshipped, and also when people sacrificed at the high places (probably to the LORD rather than to Baal, but not at the Temple as he had commanded) Solomon’s magnificent Temple had been neglected. So Jehoash commands the priests to use the donations they receive from the people to repair and renovate the house of the LORD. After years have passed and no repairs have been made, Jehoash orders the priests to get on with the job or stop accepting donations at all. Presumably with a good pot of gold stored away, they decide to do nothing, and Solomon’s temple continues to crumble.
Jehoiada steps in again, with the king’s secretary. They set up a very modern-sounding collection box by the altar, and take the donations put there straight to the project managers for the renovation of the temple, who ensure that the work is done and the right people are paid.
Where are the priests in this? Still offering prayers and sacrifices, presumably. The text, though, seems to suggest that they’re not doing a lot, which is why the royal authorities have to step in. As a priest with an old building to maintain and fund, I do have a bit of sympathy. But the suspicion is there, that as the money has come in, the priests have enjoyed a comfortable and privileged life and forgotten what they’re meant to be there for. The meeting place of God and his people has been allowed to suffer, and they seem unconcerned.
There’s no way to avoid issues of money – for as long as we have to live in the same world as other people, we have to use the same money. But the more money and religion are linked, the more potential there is for things to go wrong. Jehoiada’s ‘roof fund’ collecting box and its modern-day equivalents of church clock appeals and restricted funds have an important place in making sure that money goes where it’s meant to. But there’s a wider issue. Our money, whether as individuals, as a church or as a nation, is only on loan to us from God, and we will answer to him for how we use it. How we choose to earn, save, spend and give is a good insight into our real priorities.
Back to the covenants between the LORD, the king and the people. Covenants are paired promises. That between the LORD on the one hand and the king and people on the other is straightforward – they belong to one another, as in a marriage covenant. Faithfulness and love are promised on both sides.
The covenant of king and people is more complicated, and perhaps has something to say to those who exercise authority today. The first thing is that this covenant is within the covenant between the LORD and the people. The king is not a separate source of authority, but is a subject of the LORD like anyone else. Within this broader loyalty, we agree to be governed by a king (or president, or queen, or government of whatever kind). That agreement is part of a covenant, and we must take it seriously. Being active and positive members of society is a Christian duty. But so is protest when our rulers forget the wider covenant within which they rule.
When does that happen? That’s harder to say. But I do believe that ‘faithful obedience to government up to a point’ is part of Christian living.