During King Asa’s reformation in Judah, he convenes a covenant ceremony during the Feast of Pentecost where all of Judah is called to seek after the God of Israel, the one true God who rescued them from Egyptian slavery centuries before. During this ceremony, they are also reminded that “all who would not seek the LORD, the God of Israel, were to be put to death, whether small or great, man or woman.”
Two questions immediately arise: Where did this command originate and does it apply to us today?
To answer the first question, we must go back to the Torah, or the first five books of the Old Testament. The book of Exodus teaches Israel to not worship other gods in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.” Chapter 22 then spells out the punishment for worship of other gods: “Whoever sacrifices to any god, other than the LORD alone, shall be devoted to destruction.”
In the book of Leviticus, chapter 20 prescribes capital punishment for particular religious violations. Any person who gives their child to Molech, a pagan god, was to be executed. Likewise, any person who was a medium or spiritist was to be put to death.
Finally, the book of Deuteronomy reiterates the teachings of Exodus and Leviticus in chapters 13 and 17. False prophets were to be put to death and anyone in the community who was participating in or promoting worship of pagan gods was also to be executed. Therefore, there is clear precedent for the command in 2 Chron 15:13.
Does the command to execute anyone who is worshiping false gods still apply today? No. These commands were only applicable to ancient Israel who was in a unique covenant relationship with God. As Christians living today, we live under a different covenant with God.
The NT clearly states in several places that the Law (embodying the covenant with ancient Israel) was fulfilled by Jesus and no longer applies to Christians. Here are a few passages proving the point:
“By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one [the Law] obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” (Heb 8:13)
“We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” (Gal 2:15-16)
“Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian [the Law].” (Gal 3:23-25)
“But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code [the Law].” (Rom 7:6)
These verses and others clearly state that Christians are not under any obligation to follow the divine commands given to the Israelites as they left Egyptian slavery and journeyed toward the Promised Land. As my seminary professor used to tell us, the Old Testament was written for us, but not to us. It was written to ancient Israel.