—2 Kings 18:4
By the time of Hezekiah's reign over Judah, the hearts of the Israelites had gone so far as to make something sacred and good into an idol. When most of us think of idolatry, our first reaction is to see it as primitive silliness. When we think further, we may realize, as John Calvin did, that our own hearts are "idol factories." But how many of us are able to face up to the fact that we are even capable of making the things of God into idols?
The bronze snake story from Numbers 21:4-9 is a rich testament to God's love and His mercy. As the wandering Israelites again lose faith in God's plan and long to return to captivity in Egypt, He sends poisonous snakes to strike them. Many die. God is a jealous lover of His people, and while these actions sometimes offend our milquetoasty sensibilities, who among us wants to be "loved" by someone who does not care if we leave them, or if we hurt ourselves (the Israelites would have been doing both)? God responds, both passionately and justly.
But He doesn't stop there. He also responds to Moses' cry for mercy, giving him instructions to create a bronze snake that will be the means of salvation for the people. It is raised up, and those who look to it after being bitten— an act of faith, because otherwise, what's the point of looking?— lived. A precursor to God's ultimate means of salvation, placing His Son on a cross to save us from the poison of the sin we chose in rejecting God, Israel's story is our story, and it is a story of mercy.
That's the snake that became an idol. Like us, the Israelites tried to somehow place God under their control. Believers often do the same, making gods out of our own systems of "Christian living," proliferating in activities and acronyms, books and bracelets, conferences and CDs. Are any of these things wrong? No, but each is only a means of His grace pouring onto us. He alone must be worshipped. The line is thin and blurry— it is a matter of heart. And as Hezekiah did, we must break anything, anything we choose to worship over God, even if it's something "Christian" that we've elevated to idolatrous heights. Faith, hope, and love are commodities too precious to be invested in anything less than Him. Close isn't good enough.
Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not cease to follow Him; he kept the commands that the Lord had given Moses. And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook...
—2 Kings 18:5-7