Lord, I understand the consequences of abandoning You.
Read 2 KINGS 17:24–41
24 The king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Kuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim and settled them in the towns of Samaria to replace the Israelites. They took over Samaria and lived in its towns. 25 When they first lived there, they did not worship the Lord; so he sent lions among them and they killed some of the people. 26 It was reported to the king of Assyria: “The people you deported and resettled in the towns of Samaria do not know what the god of that country requires. He has sent lions among them, which are killing them off, because the people do not know what he requires.”
27 Then the king of Assyria gave this order: “Have one of the priests you took captive from Samaria go back to live there and teach the people what the god of the land requires.” 28 So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria came to live in Bethel and taught them how to worship the Lord.
29 Nevertheless, each national group made its own gods in the several towns where they settled, and set them up in the shrines the people of Samaria had made at the high places. 30 The people from Babylon made Sukkoth Benoth, those from Kuthah made Nergal, and those from Hamath made Ashima; 31 the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak, and the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire as sacrifices to Adrammelek and Anammelek, the gods of Sepharvaim. 32 They worshiped the Lord, but they also appointed all sorts of their own people to officiate for them as priests in the shrines at the high places. 33 They worshiped the Lord, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.
34 To this day they persist in their former practices. They neither worship the Lord nor adhere to the decrees and regulations, the laws and commands that the Lord gave the descendants of Jacob, whom he named Israel. 35 When the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites, he commanded them: “Do not worship any other gods or bow down to them, serve them or sacrifice to them. 36 But the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt with mighty power and outstretched arm, is the one you must worship. To him you shall bow down and to him offer sacrifices. 37 You must always be careful to keep the decrees and regulations, the laws and commands he wrote for you. Do not worship other gods. 38 Do not forget the covenant I have made with you, and do not worship other gods. 39 Rather, worship the Lord your God; it is he who will deliver you from the hand of all your enemies.”
40 They would not listen, however, but persisted in their former practices. 41 Even while these people were worshiping the Lord, they were serving their idols. To this day their children and grandchildren continue to do as their ancestors did.
New International Version (NIV)
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“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything” (Matt. 5:13, ESV).
Deuteronomy, which has strongly influenced the theology of Kings and especially this chapter, says that Israel is to live by God’s laws as a testimony to other nations who would see God’s wisdom and character (Deut. 4:5–8). While Israel was not required to go out and actively convert pagans, they were called to represent God in their lifestyle. Yesterday, we noted where Israel had gone wrong. Today we see further implications.
The incident with the lions (25) seems harsh and unsettling. Why should these hapless people, forcefully resettled like the Israelites, be punished for not worshipping the true God they do not even know? We must remember, however: Old Testament writers frequently emphasize God’s sovereignty by stating that he acts directly, when we might say that he “allowed” or “used” events for his purposes. In this instance, the horror of the lions opens the way for the true God to be known and worshipped (27). Many who come to faith today are first awakened to spiritual realities through hardship or tragedy. May we, as Christians, find ways to share God’s love and concern for them.
Sadly, the new settlers end up with a mixture of God’s commands and local idolatry. We are not told if the Israelite priest’s teaching was deficient (28); if so, it underlines Israel’s failure as a witness. Striking, however, is how much Israel’s earlier actions are no different from that of the pagans. In fact, verses 34–41 (especially when read without paragraph breaks) merge the actions of the two so that at times it is hard to tell who is being described. Certainly, however, this passage reinforces the conclusion that Israel has failed miserably. Worse, it highlights how much more at fault they have been as God’s own people: delivered from slavery, in covenant with him, supplied with a priestly class to teach them, yet failing to fulfill their high calling.
Reflect on your own life and ask God to help you live up to your calling in word and deed.
Lord, we know from the New Testament that we are a peculiar people set apart for a higher purpose. Don’t ever allow us to lose sight of this reality.