This devotional is about 1 Kings 16.
Evil is evil, right? If one sin condemns a person to eternity in hell, then it doesn’t really matter whether you are the least of sinners or the greatest of sinners.
Not so; the paragraph above this one may sound logical, but it is false. It is true that one sin is too many for God to overlook; his perfect justice demands complete accountability for every sin. But that does not mean that each sin is of equal weight or that every sinner is equal in God’s sight. Sometimes we sin because the comfort of the crowd sinning around us gives us confidence to ignore the warnings of our conscience and give into the lusts of our hearts. But there are some people who are leaders when it comes to wickedness. They are innovative in the ways that they find to sin or they are more consistent and aggressive in how they sin.
Ahab, king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, was one such leader of wickedness. We saw that in verse 30 when we read that, “Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him.” There were many wicked kings who led Israel before him but Ahab surpassed them all. And how did he do that? Innovation, baby: “He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria” (vv. 31-32). Translation: he happily and without pause did everything the kings preceding him did AND he brought Baal worship to Israel, even institutionalizing it by building a temple in Samaria, the capital city of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
Verse 33 says, “Ahab also made an Asherah pole….” This phrase helps explain why this form of idolatry is worse than the idolatry that Jeroboam created in Israel. One key difference is that Jeroboam’s idolatry was a perversion of the worship of the true God. He created golden calves, yes, but he credited them with the Exodus story (see 1 Ki 12:28-30). What he did was idolatrous and sinful and offensive to God, but he did it for political reasons (1 Ki 12:26-28) and he tied his idolatry to Israel’s history.
Baal worship was in a different category. It was imported from outside of Israel through Ahab’s marriage to Jezebel (16:31) and the reference to the “Asherah pole” Ahab installed (v. 33) suggests that Baal-Asherah worship had a sexual component to it. Baal was the male and Asherah was the female in this unholy idol-couple. We are not given details in the scriptures of how these pagan idols were worshipped but we know this: Ahab’s actions in creating a temple for Baal and setting up an Asherah pole “…did more to arouse the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than did all the kings of Israel before him” (v. 33b). Something about the way Baal and Asherah were worshiped was worse than the other forms of idolatry that Israel practiced. At the very least, it would cause them to blend in more and more with their pagan neighbors instead of being/becoming the holy people God set them apart to be in his covenants.
The lesson I’m taking away from this passage today has to do with leadership and sin. Ahab was a leader in sin because he was willing to sin the way everyone else before him did AND go beyond them. This is especially bad because, as king of Israel, he could create a climate where such sins were acceptable and openly practiced. We cannot force anyone to sin, but we can cause people to stumble into sin; those who look to us for leadership see what we find acceptable and unacceptable. This can give them the moral go-ahead to follow their own evil desires because it allows them to rationalize. “Hey, if king Ahab is hanging out around the Asherah pole, then there must be nothing too wrong with it.” But Jesus warned us about causing others who are immature, impressionable, and under our leadership to sin: “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” (Matt 18:6-7).
Consider, then, the affect your sins have on your children and on other Christians who look to you for moral leadership. It is one thing to answer to God for our own sins, but Jesus promised accountability for those who mislead others into sin.