WE BECOME WHAT WE WORSHIP
Lord, keep me from idolatry.
Read 2 KINGS 17:1–23
Hoshea Last King of Israel
17 In the twelfth year of Ahaz king of Judah, Hoshea son of Elah became king of Israel in Samaria, and he reigned nine years. 2 He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, but not like the kings of Israel who preceded him.
3 Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up to attack Hoshea, who had been Shalmaneser’s vassal and had paid him tribute. 4 But the king of Assyria discovered that Hoshea was a traitor, for he had sent envoys to So[a] king of Egypt, and he no longer paid tribute to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year. Therefore Shalmaneser seized him and put him in prison. 5 The king of Assyria invaded the entire land, marched against Samaria and laid siege to it for three years. 6 In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria. He settled them in Halah, in Gozan on the Habor River and in the towns of the Medes.
Israel Exiled Because of Sin
7 All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They worshiped other gods 8 and followed the practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before them, as well as the practices that the kings of Israel had introduced. 9 The Israelites secretly did things against the Lord their God that were not right. From watchtower to fortified city they built themselves high places in all their towns. 10 They set up sacred stones and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every spreading tree. 11 At every high place they burned incense, as the nations whom the Lord had driven out before them had done. They did wicked things that aroused the Lord’s anger. 12 They worshiped idols, though the Lord had said, “You shall not do this.”[b] 13 The Lord warned Israel and Judah through all his prophets and seers: “Turn from your evil ways. Observe my commands and decrees, in accordance with the entire Law that I commanded your ancestors to obey and that I delivered to you through my servants the prophets.”
14 But they would not listen and were as stiff-necked as their ancestors, who did not trust in the Lord their God. 15 They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their ancestors and the statutes he had warned them to keep. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the Lord had ordered them, “Do not do as they do.”
16 They forsook all the commands of the Lord their God and made for themselves two idols cast in the shape of calves, and an Asherah pole. They bowed down to all the starry hosts, and they worshiped Baal. 17 They sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire. They practiced divination and sought omens and sold themselves to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger.
18 So the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them from his presence. Only the tribe of Judah was left, 19 and even Judah did not keep the commands of the Lord their God. They followed the practices Israel had introduced. 20 Therefore the Lord rejected all the people of Israel; he afflicted them and gave them into the hands of plunderers, until he thrust them from his presence.
21 When he tore Israel away from the house of David, they made Jeroboam son of Nebat their king. Jeroboam enticed Israel away from following the Lord and caused them to commit a great sin. 22 The Israelites persisted in all the sins of Jeroboam and did not turn away from them 23 until the Lord removed them from his presence, as he had warned through all his servants the prophets. So the people of Israel were taken from their homeland into exile in Assyria, and they are still there.
a 2 Kings 17:4 So is probably an abbreviation for Osorkon.
b 2 Kings 17:12 Exodus 20:4,5
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
“They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so that they cannot see, and their minds closed so that they cannot understand” (Isa. 44:18).
After a brief summary of Israel’s exile into Assyria, the rest of our reading focuses on the reasons for the disaster. Why does it matter, though, when the northern kingdom is gone for good? It is a warning for Judah, who was in essence no better (19). When we see in our lives warning signs of slipping from a loving commitment to the Lord, we should take heed.
What went wrong with Israel? It started with rejecting the God who saved them from oppression (7). The basis of our obedience is our love of God for redeeming us from darkness. We would do well to remember that and nurture our love for him. This laundry list of sins essentially goes back to one central issue from which everything else follows: Israel worshipped other gods. Although we may get the impression that Israel sinned openly from the start, the assessment here indicates a progression from secret sin (9) to open disregard of God’s warnings through his prophets (13,14). Deliberate and repeated sin, even done in secret, will eventually blunt our consciences and harden our attitudes.
Our reading connects what we worship to what we become: “they followed emptiness and became empty” (15b, NABRE). While the NIV reads “worthless” and this is a valid translation, the Hebrew word also carries the sense of “being without substance.” What we trust in for our happiness and fulfillment may prove to be a false basis for hope that evaporates and leaves us empty. Worse still, like idols in the ancient world which had eyes but could not see, and ears but could not hear, we become like them (Psa. 115:5,6,8); we lose our ability to perceive and understand spiritual reality and God’s call on our lives.
“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psa. 139:23,24).
Lord, illustrate to Your people the danger of disregarding repeated warnings from on high about the potentially wayward path on which we tread.