What were the Israelites doing wrong when they constructed the holy pillars (2 Kings 17:10)?
As part of His covenant with His people, God lays down guidelines for their relationship with Him. He understands best His plan for our knowing Him, serving Him, and worshipping Him because He made us. The history of Israel’s northern kingdom’s destruction may be found in 2 Kings Chapter 17. What went wrong with the Israelites’ holy pillars is made clear, along with the reasons for the nation’s downfall (2 Kings 17:10).
Israel was conquered and exiled by the Assyrian monarchy in 721 B.C. (2 Kings 17:6). The author provides context for this event in 2 Kings 17:7-18. Israel had rebelled against God by worshipping idols (2 Kings 17:7). In lieu of God-established traditions, the people started adopting those of other countries (2 Kings 17:8). Also, they committed sins in the shadows, angering God in their hearts. It seems they went so far as to pretend they were doing God’s will (2 Kings 17:9). Israel had turned their backs on the destiny God had planned for them. For the sake of honoring their many deities, they erected their own high places in each of their settlements (2 Kings 17:9). This implies that in every one of their cities, the worship of fictitious deities became an integral part of daily life. Asherim, representing a female divinity, were among the holy pillars and idols they erected (2 Kings 17:10). The Israelites’ adoption of foreign rituals for praising their fictitious deities included the construction of holy pillars. At such spots, Israel’s citizens would offer sacrifices to the deities of neighboring Canaanite countries (2 Kings 17:11).
God had given Canaan to Israel centuries before, after rescuing his people from its previous inhabitants. God had told them specifically not to honor the deities of the pagan civilizations they encountered. Instead, they were to be holy, or distinct from the rest of society. The world needed them to stand out as unique manifestations of God. You must never put up a wooden Asherah pole near the altar you make for the Lord your God,” God said clearly. And you must not erect any pillars for the sake of worship, because the Lord your God abhors them (Deuteronomy 16:21–22, NLT).
The Israelites abandoned their holy mission because they want to be more like the countries around them. They stopped loving and worshipping God, and they stopped obeying His commands. They consciously made the decision to embrace the rituals and beliefs of a different culture. They went so far as to construct holy pillars for the purpose of paying homage to these fictitious deities. Building pillars wasn’t necessarily immoral, but these hallowed pillars used to identify and prop up temples to nonexistent deities. God specified Jerusalem as the spot where His people would come to worship Him. God’s presence among his people was felt most strongly at the temple of Jerusalem. Yet the people disregarded God’s plan and looked for spiritual fulfillment in other places.
There is a lesson to be learned from the Israelites’ holy pillars. Because He is the absolute Ruler, God has predestined and planned the means by which we come to know Him and the means by which He desires to be worshiped. Instead of letting Him decide how we would worship (or not worship) Him, we would be stupid to tell Him what to do. The Israelites had to learn this the hard way, yet even despite their mistakes, God showed his people mercy (2 Kings 17:13). Although they rejected Him again and over, He yet showed amazing kindness. They paid the price for their defiance in the end. We should take heed from their example and keep in mind that God observes the “holy pillars” (or foundations) we build for ourselves.