Today we will be looking at the core Bible principle of integrity, and how it is only when we understand what God’s perspective is that we can know what’s truly right and what’s wrong.
Deuteronomy 12:28 – Observe and hear all these words which I command you, that it may go well with you, and with your children after you forever, when you do that which is good and right in the eyes of Yahweh your God.
Doing what is right in the sight of God is the biblical definition of integrity. It means following his instruction or acting according to his precepts. Today, I would like to take a look at some examples of ancient Israelite kings who have done what is right in God’s eyes: King Asa and King Josiah. I believe this can help us to understand what this practical righteousness or biblical integrity looks like.
- 2 Chronicles 14:2-5 – Asa did what was pleasing and good in the sight of Yahweh his God. He removed the foreign altars and the pagan shrines. He smashed the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah poles. He commanded the people of Judah to seek Yahweh, the God of their ancestors, and to obey his law and his commands. Asa also removed the pagan shrines, as well as the incense altars from every one of Judah’s towns. So Asa’s kingdom enjoyed a period of peace.
- 2 Kings 22:1-2 Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem thirty-one years. … He did what was pleasing in Yahweh’s sight and followed the example of his ancestor David. He did not turn away from doing what was right.
- 2 Kings 23:24 Josiah also got rid of the mediums and psychics, the household gods, the idols, and every other kind of detestable practice, both in Jerusalem and throughout the land of Judah. He did this in obedience to the laws written in the scroll that Hilkiah the priest had found in Yahweh’s Temple.
Notice in these examples that Asa and Josiah were considered doing what was right in God’s sight because they were taking action according to God’s Word. The texts tell us that “Asa did what was pleasing and good in the sight of Yahweh his God,” and that Josiah “did what was pleasing in Yahweh’s sight.” How did they know what God’s perspective was? It says that Asa followed God’s “law and his commands” and Josiah acted “in obedience to the laws written in the scroll” that had been found in the temple.
These reforms did not get underway until each king had a standard to act on. In the example of Asa, the details of this reform are actually backfilled in the following chapter from the narrative we read previously. Looking at the wider context of his reforms, we can see where his motivation to enact these reforms came from.
2 Chronicles 15:1-4 – The Spirit of God came on Azariah son of Oded. So he went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Asa and all Judah and Benjamin, hear me. Yahweh is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you abandon him, he will abandon you. For many years Israel has been without the true God, without a teaching priest, and without instruction, but when they turned to Yahweh God of Israel in their distress and sought him, he was found by them.
Notice here how Azariah mentions two main points: first, Israel has been without God and instruction for many years and, secondly, he recounts God’s dealings with Israel in the past (i.e., a biblical narrative) that were examples for them to understand and learn from. The narrative continues:
2 Chronicles 15:5-8 – “In those times there was no peace for those who went about their daily activities because the residents of the lands had many conflicts. Nation was crushed by nation and city by city, for God troubled them with every possible distress. But as for you, be strong; don’t give up, for your work has a reward.” When Asa heard these words and the prophecy of Azariah son of Oded the prophet, he took courage and removed the abhorrent idols from the whole land of Judah and Benjamin and from the cities he had captured in the hill country of Ephraim. He renovated the altar of Yahweh that was in front of the portico of Yahweh’s temple.
See how the reforms did not begin until Asa was made aware of God’s perspective from the previous examples from Israel’s history? What is even more startling is the fact that Asa reigned in Israel a scant 100 years after the broad successful reign of Solomon, somewhere around 900 BC. And in that short amount of time the nation had fallen into deep corruption; so deep, in fact, that the Word of God had become lost to where there was no true instruction of God available, and idolatry had quickly overtaken the people.
As amazing as this seems, it’s the same way with Josiah’s reforms, as well. When we look at the “backstory” of his reforms, we find a similar pattern to Asa.
2 Kings 22:8, 10-13 – The high priest Hilkiah told the court secretary Shaphan, “I have found the book of the law in Yahweh’s temple,” and he gave the book to Shaphan, who read it. … Then the court secretary Shaphan told the king, “The priest Hilkiah has given me a book,” and Shaphan read it in the presence of the king. When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes [which was an act of repentance]. Then he commanded the priest Hilkiah, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Achbor son of Micaiah, the court secretary Shaphan, and the king’s servant Asaiah: “Go and inquire of Yahweh for me, the people, and all Judah about the words in this book that has been found. For great is Yahweh’s wrath that is kindled against us because our ancestors have not obeyed the words of this book in order to do everything written about us.”
For context, Asa reigned around 900 BC and Josiah reigned approximately 625 BC. Josiah’s reign ended less than a decade from the nation of Judah’s capture and carrying off to Babylon.
Again, Josiah was motivated to conduct these reforms only when he became aware of God’s requirements, God’s view on how things should be conducted. It wasn’t until Hilkiah the high priest “found a book of the law in the temple” and Josiah was made aware of it that his motivation was kindled. His response to hearing and understanding the instruction of God was to repent of his ignorance and lack of understanding, and then take full action based on the clear directives of God.
By contrast, those who instead follow their own ways do what they think is right, not paying any attention to the commands of God.
- Proverbs 16:25 – There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.
- Proverbs 21:2 – People may be right in their own eyes, but Yahweh examines their heart.
Essentially, we as humans have the capacity to justify whatever we think is right and appropriate for ourselves, whether those things are right in God’s eyes or not. Unfortunately, as Solomon wrote in his Proverbs, typically those ways “end up in death.” This doesn’t necessarily mean that our own ways always lead to our physical death (although many times they do), but the path of “death” in these ancient texts is typically the antithesis of the path of “life.” Our own ways driven by our own understanding cannot come to the realization of what is truly right. This is the symbolism contained within the meaning of the story of Adam and Eve: they had the right to eat from the tree of life (i.e., in obedience to God’s righteous ways) or the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (i.e., operating within their own understanding of what they thought was good or bad). When they chose incorrectly, they experienced “death” and were cast away from God’s presence.
Solomon also says that people may do what they think is right in their own eyes, but God looks at their heart. Similarly, we can see peoples’ stature and the impressive way they present themselves, but unlike God, we don’t always know what’s in their heart.
1 Samuel 16:7 – But Yahweh said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. Yahweh doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but Yahweh looks at the heart.”
We may think that someone is being super-righteous because of their outward actions, but in reality they may actually be hypocritical because they are doing things only to be seen as righteous by others. This is a heart condition that God recognizes, even if we don’t. Yeshua had to combat this type of unrighteousness among the leaders of his day.
Luke 16:15 – He said to them [the Pharisees], “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts. For that which is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”
There are things that are right in the sight of God, and there are things that are an abomination in the sight of God. The key factor is understanding what God’s perspective is, then we can know what’s truly right and what’s truly wrong. He has revealed what he considers right and wrong within the pages of the Bible, and it is up to us to saturate our lives with his Word so we can operate from the baseline of his principles with the power he provides us.
Asa and Josiah were two faithful kings of integrity living approximately 350 years distant from one another. Yet, they had similar experiences of repentance and renewal based on their exposure to God’s Word, demonstrating the power of a constant and intentional review of biblical information.
As kings, they had the ability to make laws and take actions that would guide and protect the people of Israel. They had chosen to take action, to do what was right in God’s eyes (according to his Word), in regard to the corruption and idolatry they saw which had continually crept in among God’s people. They were men of practical vision who recognized that the idolatrous influences of the surrounding cultures had been polluting God’s people, and so they both chose to act in accordance with God’s Word; they did what was right in God’s eyes.
Now, based on the fact that these two stories seem so similar and that this process of reform needed to be repeated, some might say: “Well, look how hopeless things are. Regardless of the faithful integrity of these kings and the widespread reforms they brought about, the nation still fell back into its idolatrous ways and was carried off to Assyrian and Babylon anyway. What they did had no effect at stopping the corruption of the land.”
Well, if we step back and look at the bigger picture, God already knew that the nation would remain rebellious despite these reforms; it had been prophesied since the days of Moses hundreds of years earlier. But that’s not the point. The point is that both kings acted with integrity when they were confronted with the Word of God that had become lost in their respective generations. I believe that what we should take away from this is not to feel hopeless in the continual fight against corruption, idolatry and worldliness. The point is for believers to act on what we know is right in the face of that corruption, idolatry and worldliness. God doesn’t ask any believer to single-handedly correct the entire world, only to be faithful with the truth that they have received.
Paul wrote about this type of mindset as he encouraged the Philippian congregation to strive for a mature realization of their faith by continually looking ahead:
Philippians 3:13-16 – …Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Messiah Yeshua. Therefore, let all of us who are mature think this way. And if you think differently about anything, God will reveal this also to you. In any case, we should live up to whatever truth we have attained.
We can’t be faithful in the things we don’t yet know about, but we can be faithful with the truth that we have received, and this is all God expects of us. When we do so, God then has the opportunity to bless us for our obedience to what he has revealed to us so far.
Consider how both kings, and the people under their reign, benefitted from the integrity of these two men.
2 Chronicles 15:12-15 – Then they entered into a covenant to seek Yahweh God of their ancestors with all their heart and all their soul. Whoever would not seek Yahweh God of Israel would be put to death, young or old, man or woman. They took an oath to Yahweh in a loud voice, with shouting, with trumpets, and with rams’ horns. All Judah rejoiced over the oath, for they had sworn it with all their mind. They had sought him with all their heart, and he was found by them. So Yahweh gave them rest on every side.
2 Kings 22:14-20 – So the priest Hilkiah … went to the prophetess Huldah, wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. … She said to them, … “Say this to the king of Judah who sent you to inquire of Yahweh: ‘This is what Yahweh God of Israel says: As for the words that you heard, “because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before Yahweh when you heard what I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they would become a desolation and a curse, and because you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I myself have heard’ – this is Yahweh’s declaration. “‘Therefore, I will indeed gather you to your fathers, and you will be gathered to your grave in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster that I am bringing on this place.’ ” Then they reported to the king.
Because of the faithfulness of these men, the land had rest from its enemies. People under their reigns could prosper within the safety of this favored status before God. Their repentance led to peace; peace with God and peace with their enemies. The integrity of these men had real impact on themselves and the people of their respective generations. Sure, the land would eventually lapse back into their idolatrous ways, but within their lifetimes and within all of their capacity that they had available to them, these men stood as shining lights amidst the darkness of their generations to create a safe haven for those under their rule.
What about us? It is easy for us to become overwhelmed by the negativity, divisiveness, and corruption we see around us every day. But, as believers, that’s what we’re here for. We are to be the city on a hill, the light shining in the darkness, standing up for what’s right according to God’s Word. We have to take action on the instruction of God for it to be impactful in the lives of those around us. It’s been said that believers are the only Bible that some people will be exposed to, so what kind of example of God’s instruction do you want your life to emulate?
As believers, even if the rest of the world doesn’t understand our motivation, we can still do what’s right in God’s eyes. Meditating on his word and understanding it in its entirety provides us the correct context for our outward actions. Like Asa and Josiah before us, this type of obedient integrity purifies God’s people and accomplishes God’s purpose in each generation.
I know it’s popular in these days to be part of a movement that seeks to change the world. But changing the whole world is not our job; that’s God’s job. His expectation for us is that we change OUR world, those people we see and touch and interact with each and every day. We do that by acting on the instruction of God in a way that others around us can see and know what God’s perspective is: what’s right and what’s wrong in HIS eyes. This is how we make a difference for God. And when we collectively do so as faithful individuals of biblical integrity, God ends up, through us, changing the world.
If you enjoy these articles, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.
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