2 Kings 17:24-41

Foreigners Settle in Israel

Back in the day, when I was in high school in the late 70’s-early 80’s, one of the biggest bands around was Fleetwood Mac. One of their biggest hits of that era was “You Can Go Your Own Way”. It is that title which is from the chorus of that song that I thought of this morning as I read through this passage. You can go your own way. That’s what we do when we do not know or even want to know the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior. We go our own way. Reading this passage this morning reminds me of our nation as we stand here almost one-fifth of the way through the 21st century. It in particular reminds me of myself prior to my own salvation in December 2001. In those days prior to meeting the true Christ as my Savior, I had molded a belief system around the Jesus Christ that I imagined in my mind. I molded a Jesus Christ that was suitable to me.

I believed that Jesus existed and that he was a real person. But I did not believe in Him as the Son of God, God in the flesh, a part of the three expressions of the Godhead. I thought of Jesus as this anti-establishment rebel who spoke of loving your neighbor and killing people with kindness. I believed in a Jesus that would call out hypocrisy where he saw it. I believed in a Jesus that was a great philosopher. I believed in a Jesus who was against the established bigotries of the day and any day. Because of his outspokenness against the status quo of the day, it got him in trouble with the establishment and living in the age that he did, it got him killed. I had a hard time believing in the whole resurrection thing, the whole miracles thing. I just thought of him as this anti-establishment rebel rabbi. To me, he was so much cooler than the church version of Jesus. Because I created my own version of Jesus, I made him OK with my lifestyle. Jesus and me had a deal with any of my favorite sins because of all the things that I had been through in my life. I deserved my little sin outlets and Jesus was granting me a dispensation of sorts for them. That way I did not have to repent of any sins that I found suitable to me.

It was not until December 2001 that I truly understood that Jesus was the Son of God and not just some hippie anti-establishment rabbi. I finally began to get what the Bible was saying about Him. God’s Word is foolishness to those who are perishing and do not even know it. It was foolishness to me until the Holy Spirit did his work in my heart. He made me realize that I am a sinner no matter how I justify my sins. That I sin every moment of every day and that Jesus in His perfection as the Son of God died willingly to pay the penalty for my sins. The Holy Spirit made me see that there are no deals. That God doesn’t just accept anything that I do because He just wants me to be happy. Because of the Fall of Man, we are all decayed with sin. Because of the Fall, we cannot stop ourselves from sinning and we will never be able to do enough good to offset our sins. We are like a glass of water that has a drop of ink dropped into it. It forever changes the water and you cannot “un-ink” the water no matter how hard you try. We are permanently stained. We cannot change it back to clear water, ever! Yet, we think we are OK because we rationalize away our sins because we “are basically a good person”. We pride ourselves in the good we think we do. But it doesn’t change the drops of ink that we put in our water every day. There is no way to “un-ink” our water. Our first sin condemns us to hell plain and simple. Nothing can offset it. No matter how much we do that is good. It does not change the permanent alteration of our soul created by our first sin. We are condemned to hell by our first sin. Add to that the fact that we commit sins each and every day that add to the prosecutorial evidence against us as habitual sinners, we have no hope in front of God in the absence of a Savior.

However, many of us want to see ourselves as in control of who we are and want to continue to live in the manner in which we desire. We begin to negotiate away certain things that the Bible says are sins so that we can continue to dabble in those sins. We develop grand arguments as to why our particular sins that we have no desire to repent of are actually not sins at all. We rationalize away that what God called sin thousands of years ago was for that time. We thus tear out pages of the Bible in essence because we say they are no longer valid to us today so that we can continue to sin in the ways that we want to sin. We rationalize away that God just wants us to be happy so that we can continue to sin. That was me. This is many of us. We mold Jesus into what we want we want Him to be so that we can continue to be the sinners we want to be and call it goodness and call it OK in the sight of God. That was me. This is us. It was this thought that came to mind this morning as I read this passage, 2 Kings 17:24-41, this morning. Let’s read it now:

24 The king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria in place of the people of Israel; they took possession of Samaria, and settled in its cities. 25 When they first settled there, they did not worship the Lord; therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them. 26 So the king of Assyria was told, “The nations that you have carried away and placed in the cities of Samaria do not know the law of the god of the land; therefore he has sent lions among them; they are killing them, because they do not know the law of the god of the land.” 27 Then the king of Assyria commanded, “Send there one of the priests whom you carried away from there; let him[a] go and live there, and teach them the law of the god of the land.” 28 So one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and lived in Bethel; he taught them how they should worship the Lord.

29 But every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the shrines of the high places that the people of Samaria had made, every nation in the cities in which they lived; 30 the people of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, the people of Cuth made Nergal, the people of Hamath made Ashima; 31 the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak; the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim. 32 They also worshiped the Lord and appointed from among themselves all sorts of people as priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the shrines of the high places. 33 So they worshiped the Lord but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away. 34 To this day they continue to practice their former customs.

They do not worship the Lord and they do not follow the statutes or the ordinances or the law or the commandment that the Lord commanded the children of Jacob, whom he named Israel. 35 The Lord had made a covenant with them and commanded them, “You shall not worship other gods or bow yourselves to them or serve them or sacrifice to them, 36 but you shall worship the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm; you shall bow yourselves to him, and to him you shall sacrifice. 37 The statutes and the ordinances and the law and the commandment that he wrote for you, you shall always be careful to observe. You shall not worship other gods; 38 you shall not forget the covenant that I have made with you. You shall not worship other gods, 39 but you shall worship the Lord your God; he will deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies.” 40 They would not listen, however, but they continued to practice their former custom.

41 So these nations worshiped the Lord, but also served their carved images; to this day their children and their children’s children continue to do as their ancestors did.

In this passage, we see that the new settlers in Israel worshiped God without giving up their pagan customs. They worshiped God to appease Him rather than to please Him, treating him as a good luck charm or just another idol to add to their collection. A similar attitude can be found today. Many of us claim to believe in God while refusing to give up attitudes and actions that God denounces. God cannot be added to the values that we already have. He must come first and His Word must shape all our actions and attitudes.

The bottom line is that it is only through the hardness of heart, even as Christians, that we sometimes ignore the sins in our lives and sometimes even call them good things, even when God’s Word says it is sin and that is certainly the case with us before salvation. We want so bad for our favorite sins to be not sins that we fashion God’s Word into what we want it to be. We make deals with God in our minds. We are like the ancient Israelites that fashioned a religion that was not of God but they thought it was and called it that in their minds. Are we doing that today? Are you and I ignoring God’s Word just so we can continue in a path that we want to walk? Are we fashioning a Jesus like I fashioned before salvation? Are we making God what we want Him to be? Changing what God’s Word means to us doesn’t change its original meaning, its timeless meaning, its eternal meaning, just so we can “un-ink” our water from its sin stain.

Help us, Lord, to understand your Word stands eternally and means the same thing today as it did when it was originally written down. Help us to understand your Word as you intended it to be understood and not fashion it into some, changed version to suit our desires in the present day. Help us not to fashion you into what we want to be so that we don’t have to deal with who we are really are in front of you. Help us to see who we are – condemned sinners in desperate need of a Savior.

Amen and Amen.

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2 Kings 17:7-23

Samaria Falls to Assyria

Reading this passage this morning brought up the question in my mind, “Who are we doing to depend on?” This question is for us as Christians in 21st century America. Are we going to depend on our leaders to lead this nation toward God? That’s the question for today.

On one side of the political spectrum, you have the removal of God from the political platform of one of our country’s major political parties in our country recently passed a resolution at its national level stating that they supported “rational public policy based on sound science and universal humanistic values.” It began in the 2012 party convention when there was a move to remove all references to God in their platform. There was such a firestorm back then that they quickly added those references back during a low attendance afternoon session of the convention. In the current election cycle for 2020, that same political party is wanting to remove “so help me God” from oaths given before congressional committees. One pastor of a super-large Baptist Church in Dallas, TX warns that any talk of God from this political party is a God of their own creation when he says, “Don’t be fooled by that. When they talk about God, they are not talking about the real God — the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who revealed Himself in the Bible. They are not talking about the real God. [They] are talking about an imaginary God they have created in their own minds.” To lend support to what this pastor said to a certain degree, a presidential candidate recently stated in a debate that his party “doesn’t talk about God much for a very good reason, which is the party’s commitment to the separation of church and state.”

On the other side of the political spectrum, the other party seems to be caught up in name calling and bullying instead of articulating their own position. They seem to be more concerned with winning a game of who can call who a bigger idiot instead of justifying conservative policies. The current president, though his administration’s tough stance on political issues such as immigration enforcement and other issues, appeals to rural and suburban Americans, he cannot get out of his own way with his abrasive rhetoric. His policy narrative so far has been similar to the Reagan administration of the 1980s. However, Reagan was wildly popular within his own party and was at least highly respected by his opposition. The current president seems to have the attitude of “if you are for me, you are against me!” Thus, the conservative political agenda that appeals to many Christians ends up being a personality debate about the president rather than the issues at hand. With this happening, if the issue is associated as one favored by the current president, then, it is demonized out of hand by his opposition rather than the issue being considered on its own merits. This cult of personality that is the current president does nothing to help expand his party and the values that it holds and will eventually erode away the appeal of his party.

So, where does that leave us, I see the appeal of conservative values continuing to erode away in our country. Because of the cult of personality that is the current president, the secularistic and humanistic values of a large percentage of our nation, mostly in the urbanized areas of our country (where virtually half our nation’s population lives now) will continue to gain traction and Christian values will continue to diminish as the guiding force in our nation’s politics. The nation was becoming increasingly secularistic to begin with, but it seems to have been exacerbated in the past few years. The fashioning of a God that is different from the God of the Bible will continue just as predicted in 2 Timothy 4:3 where the Apostle Paul stated, “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”

The current landscape of politics as it applies to our nation’s collective relationship with God is what I thought of this morning as I read through this passage that gives us the end of the ancient kingdom of Israel, the northern kingdom. From this point right here, the ancient northern kingdom (the northern half of the once united kingdom of the judges, David and Solomon) is no more. Never to exist again. It is that idea of God withdrawing his protective favor from the nations of Israel and Judah that got me to thinking about our own country this morning. We have enjoyed favor from God just like ancient Israel/Judah because our nation once embraced God and sought his favor. However, now, it seems that we are running as far as we can in the opposite direction and calling it Enlightenment, patting ourselves on our own backs for having shed the ancient mystical beliefs of Christianity. I bet that was the very same thing that Israel/Judah did. That’s what I thought of this morning and how it applies to our own country in this, the 21st century. Let’s read the passage, 2 Kings 17:7-23, now and see if you can see the parallels for yourself:

7 This occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They had worshiped other gods 8 and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had introduced.[a] 9 The people of Israel secretly did things that were not right against the Lord their God. They built for themselves high places at all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city; 10 they set up for themselves pillars and sacred poles[b] on every high hill and under every green tree; 11 there they made offerings on all the high places, as the nations did whom the Lord carried away before them. They did wicked things, provoking the Lord to anger; 12 they served idols, of which the Lord had said to them, “You shall not do this.” 13 Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the law that I commanded your ancestors and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets.” 14 They would not listen but were stubborn, as their ancestors had been, who did not believe in the Lord their God. 15 They despised his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their ancestors, and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false idols and became false; they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the Lord had commanded them that they should not do as they did. 16 They rejected all the commandments of the Lord their God and made for themselves cast images of two calves; they made a sacred pole,[c] worshiped all the host of heaven, and served Baal. 17 They made their sons and their daughters pass through fire; they used divination and augury; and they sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger. 18 Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight; none was left but the tribe of Judah alone.

19 Judah also did not keep the commandments of the Lord their God but walked in the customs that Israel had introduced. 20 The Lord rejected all the descendants of Israel; he punished them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until he had banished them from his presence.

21 When he had torn Israel from the house of David, they made Jeroboam son of Nebat king. Jeroboam drove Israel from following the Lord and made them commit great sin. 22 The people of Israel continued in all the sins that Jeroboam committed; they did not depart from them 23 until the Lord removed Israel out of his sight, as he had foretold through all his servants the prophets. So Israel was exiled from their own land to Assyria until this day.

In this passage, we see that the Lord judged the people of Israel because they had copied the evil customs of the surrounding nations, worshiping false gods, accommodating pagan customs, and following their own desires. Those who create their own religion tend to fashion a religion that suits individual freedoms and desires. And to live for oneself, as Israel learned, brings consequences from God. Sometimes, following God is difficult, painful, and against the trends in the cultures in which we operate, but consider the alternative. What God thinks of us is infinitely and eternally more important than what the culture surrounding us or, even on a smaller scale, what the people within our sphere of known people think of us.

Does that mean we withdraw from the world? Does this mean we continue to be in a relaxed state as American Christians? Does this mean we continue to look to our elected officials to lead us in the right direction – toward God? I think the answer to all those questions is no. What’s the answer?

It means that we have the most work to do that Christians have ever had to do. Gone are the days of easy Christianity. We must encounter the culture daily with the love and truth of God. It means that each one of us in every walk of life must engage our spheres of influence in evangelistic ways that draws people unto Christ not away from Him. We must engage people with the truth of God’s Word (which means we actually have to know the Bible and not just what we think it means) in loving ways that draw them unto Christ.

Maybe just maybe if we do this on a daily basis every day of every year, God will honor our efforts and keep His hand of blessing upon our nation.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 16:19-17:6

Israel Falls to Assyria

Does God actually curse people? If we look back at Deuteronomy 28:15-37, the people of God, ancient Israel, were warned of curses. Is God really that way? Does he curse people? If we look more closely at how God states things in the Bible, curses are not necessarily an unprovoked spite by the Lord toward a human or a group of humans. If you read the Bible carefully, curses are more akin to the withdrawal of blessing and protection to those who had been previously experiencing his blessing. This discussion does not address the issue of why bad things happen to good people. That’s an issue for later discussion about trusting in God’s sovereignty. However, here, in this case, we are talking about a nation that, plain and simple, thumbed its nose up at God. And, we see God withdraw his blessing and favor from that nation.

That is what happened with the people of the northern kingdom here. They were cursed by God because they had wandered away from God. They had accepted pagan religious practices and incorporated them into their own worship. So far had they fallen from God, their kings tried to align themselves with other kings to preserve their way of life. Instead of repenting of their sins and seeking renewed favor from the Lord through His forgiveness, they relied on their own political savvy (or so they thought) to preserve themselves. Basically, they were worshiping themselves instead of God. They had fashioned God into who they wanted Him to be, not who He really is. God withdrew his blessing from the northern people and thus left them unprotected by his care. Thus, they became weak and easily conquered by Assyria.

That’s the question we must ask ourselves today. Are we incorporating practices of the world around us so as to appease the culture in which we find ourselves? Are we effectively rewriting God’s Word just so we do not have to deal with the parts that we do not like or that are not popular within the culture in which we operate? That’s where the northern kingdom of Israel found itself. There was an old cigarette commercial back in the day (back when cigarette ads were allowed on television) for Tareyton cigarettes that tried to promote loyalty to their brand. It’s slogan was “I would rather fight than switch!” and each person featured in the ads would have a painted-on black eye. It was a catchy and memorable ad campaign. However, for the nation of the northern kingdom of Israel, the slogan could be reversed, “I would rather switch than fight!”

Instead of doing the tougher thing, which was to obey God and to deny their own sinful desires, they gave in to the practices of the cultures around them. It was easier. It was more sensual. It gave validation to their fleshly desires and made them feel OK about pursuing what was clearly against God’s commands in His Word. It was easier to fit in than stand out. It was easier to give in that stand on God’s Word. It was easier to seek favor with man than it is to seek favor from God. Then, they wondered why God withdrew His blessing from their nation.

Let’s read 2 Kings 16:19-17:6 now to see the final end of the northern kingdom of Israel, to see the withdrawal of God’s protection and care.

19 The rest of the events in Ahaz’s reign and everything he did are recorded in The Book of the History of the Kings of Judah. 20 When Ahaz died, he was buried with his ancestors in the City of David. Then his son Hezekiah became the next king.

Chapter 17

1 Hoshea son of Elah began to rule over Israel in the twelfth year of King Ahaz’s reign in Judah. He reigned in Samaria nine years. 2 He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, but not to the same extent as the kings of Israel who ruled before him.

3 King Shalmaneser of Assyria attacked King Hoshea, so Hoshea was forced to pay heavy tribute to Assyria. 4 But Hoshea stopped paying the annual tribute and conspired against the king of Assyria by asking King So of Egypt[a] to help him shake free of Assyria’s power. When the king of Assyria discovered this treachery, he seized Hoshea and put him in prison.

Samaria Falls to Assyria

5 Then the king of Assyria invaded the entire land, and for three years he besieged the city of Samaria. 6 Finally, in the ninth year of King Hoshea’s reign, Samaria fell, and the people of Israel were exiled to Assyria. They were settled in colonies in Halah, along the banks of the Habor River in Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

In this passage, we see the continuing demands for tribute by Assyria which of course was draining the resources of Israel. Because of the heavy toll that the tribute was exacting on Israel, Hoshea decided to do something about it. We see that instead of seeking God, Hoshea tried to align itself with another foreign king. This time it was King So of Egypt. This was not only foolish but also against God’s commands. To destroy this alliance, Assyria attacked and besieged Samaria for three years. This invasion was Assyria’s third and final invasion of Israel. The first wave was just a warning to Israel – to avoid further attack, Israel had to pay off Assyria and give promises not to rebel against Assyria.

The people should have learned their lesson and returned to God. When they didn’t, God withdrew his favor and allowed the events to play out as they did. The second invasion saw the Assyrians take off people at the northern border of the kingdom and resettled them elsewhere in the kingdom. However, the people still did not realize that they were the source of their own trouble and the cause of God’s withdrawal of blessing and protection. Thus, Assyria invaded a third and final time, destroying Israel completely (Samaria the capital falls into Assyrian hands in 722 BC) and carrying away most of the northern kingdom’s people and resettling Israel with Assyrians.

God was doing what He had said He would do (see Deuteronomy 28:15-37). He had given Israel ample warning. They knew what would come, but they still ignored God. Israel was now no better than any of the pagan nations that it had conquered in the Promised Land in the days of Joshua. The nation had turned sour and rejected its original purpose – to honor God and be a light to the world.

What is it that we can learn from this passage that we can use today in the 21st century? I think that it is clear that God’s Word is eternal and timeless and it is His Truth that never changes. It is tempting for us, just as it was for ancient Israel, to adjust God’s Word here and there to make accommodations for the culture in which we live. It is tempting for us to hide those parts of God’s Word away in storage that are offensive to the culture in which we live and now operate. It is tempting for us to ignore God’s Word in certain areas and even re-interpret them so that we fit in better with the culture in which we operate. It is tempting to reverse course on thousands of years of Christian interpretation of God’s Word and say that for thousands of years that’s not what God really meant just so we can not cause friction with the current beliefs of culture. However, that does not change the fact that the Holy Spirit has led Christians for thousands of years to interpret the Bible in the manner that we have for those thousands of years. It does not change the fact that God’s truth is timeless and eternal and will never change and He is the one that has established that truth and guided believers over the millennia to understand those exact truths.

The lesson then is before us. Stand on God’s truth as understood by His people for thousands and thousands of years or become like ancient Israel and simply fashion a religion of our own making because it just makes things easier. It’s easier to the easy thing than it is to do the hard thing. Ancient Israel suffered the withdrawal of blessing from God (i.e., withdrawal of blessing = curse) and the nation was no more in the end. The lesson for us as Christ followers today is that we must obey God even when its not popular and even when its not easy and even when it is the not the culturally popular thing to do.

Lord, give us the strength to resist turning from you and embracing that which is not of you. Lord, give us the strength to see your truths as expressed in your Word as eternal and timeless and unchanging. Lord, help to resist the temptation to rewrite the Bible to make it easier for the world around us. Lord, help to be strong and be faithful to you so that you will not withdraw your blessing from us.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 16:10-18

Ahaz Changes the Temple

Changing to suit someone else. Changing to fit in. Changing to get along in the culture in which we operate. That’s what we see in this passage. Changing who you are just to suit another is what we see in this passage. It so reminds me of the life that I used to live. And this passage is a challenge to us today as the Christian church.

For me, I was a people pleaser. I was a chameleon. Growing up as a Methodist preacher’s kid, we moved a lot as I was growing up. So, in that process of moving so often, I became adept at fitting in. My brother, on the other hand, marched to his own drummer and stood out like a sore thumb. As for me, I was a blender. I mixed in. I wanted to be part of the crowd. Over the years, I learned the best way not to stick out was to fit in. Along the way, I forgot who I was. I allowed others to determine who I was and how I felt about myself. When you do that, you are in for a rollercoaster of a life. Through two marriages where I made pleasing and appeasing each wife the main aim of life, I was tossed about by the wind just trying to make sure we got along. When you don’t know who you are, you begin to feel that your own feelings are not valid because they have no anchor. You live by what others think of you. You live for their approval. You have to change yourself to make sure you fit the mold of who others want you to be. It was not until I accepted Christ as my Savior at age 39 that I began to realize that I truly had value on my own. I began to realize that my value was not determined by others. I began to realize that I needed to seek God’s approval and not man’s. Sure, we want others to like us but if that is the anchor to our lives and not God then we are making idols out of human beings. I know that is what I did. I do not blame anyone but myself for that. I just so wanted to fit in, to be loved physically and emotionally, to feel approved that I gave away the power over my life to others. When we make approval of others the guiding light of our lives, we allow others to be become our gods and not the One and Only True God.

That is what I thought about today when I read about King Ahaz’s attempts to curry favor with the Assyrian empire’s king. He changed everything that Judah had stood for just to win favor of a pagan king. He was willing to completely change the Temple of God to curry favor with man. It reminded me of myself before Christ and for some time afterwards as I was beginning to mature in Christ. It reminded me also of the challenge that faces the American church in the 21st century. Let’s read about King Ahaz now in 2 Kings 16:10-18 now:

10 King Ahaz then went to Damascus to meet with King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria. While he was there, he took special note of the altar. Then he sent a model of the altar to Uriah the priest, along with its design in full detail. 11 Uriah followed the king’s instructions and built an altar just like it, and it was ready before the king returned from Damascus. 12 When the king returned, he inspected the altar and made offerings on it. 13 He presented a burnt offering and a grain offering, he poured out a liquid offering, and he sprinkled the blood of peace offerings on the altar.

14 Then King Ahaz removed the old bronze altar from its place in front of the Lord’s Temple, between the entrance and the new altar, and placed it on the north side of the new altar. 15 He told Uriah the priest, “Use the new altar[a] for the morning sacrifices of burnt offering, the evening grain offering, the king’s burnt offering and grain offering, and the burnt offerings of all the people, as well as their grain offerings and liquid offerings. Sprinkle the blood from all the burnt offerings and sacrifices on the new altar. The bronze altar will be for my personal use only.” 16 Uriah the priest did just as King Ahaz commanded him.

17 Then the king removed the side panels and basins from the portable water carts. He also removed the great bronze basin called the Sea from the backs of the bronze oxen and placed it on the stone pavement. 18 In deference to the king of Assyria, he also removed the canopy that had been constructed inside the palace for use on the Sabbath day,[b] as well as the king’s outer entrance to the Temple of the Lord.

In this passage, we see that King Ahaz copied pagan religious customs, changed the Temple services, and used the Temple altar for his personal benefit. In so doing, he demonstrated a callous disregard for God’s Word. We condemn Ahaz for his actions, but we act the same way if we try to mold God’s message to fit our personal preferences, our to suit the culture around us. King Ahaz was trying to curry the favor of a foreign king so he changed the entire worship system of Judah, a system that was God-ordained and God-directed.

The biggest challenge to me by the Holy Spirit after I accepted Christ as my Savior was to stop seeking validation through the women in my life. I had lived so much of my life trying to gain acceptance that I confused acceptance with love. I thought they were one and the same. And I was willing to do anything to maintain acceptance. That is also the Holy Spirit’s challenge to us as the 21st century church. Do we bend ourselves like King Ahaz to make everything about the church more acceptable to the culture around us just so we can fit in and feel accepted. Do we altar the temple, so to speak, to suit the needs the culture that we are so desperately trying to win the favor of?

Or do we march to our own drummer – the only drummer who really matters in the end – God? Do we change what two millenia of believers have come to understand the God’s Word to mean just to suit current trends in the culture? Do we change what God’s Word has eternally meant and what He guided believers over the centuries to understand just because of a change in the prevailing cultural norms that exist in the world now? Do we abandon what we have come to understand about the Bible through the guidance of the Holy Spirit? The reason that the theological beliefs of the Christian church have developed over two millenia is not because of man himself defining them. Rather, it is because the Holy Spirit has ensured that the meaning of Scripture has not changed to each generation of believers. The beliefs of Christianity have had consistency through the ages because of Holy Spirit guidance and direction.

Where do you find your value – in others? How did that work out for you? I know for me that it did not end well. King Ahaz was trying to win favor of a pagan king so much that he changed the very basis of who Judea was. For Ahaz and the future of ancient Israel, it did not end well either. Let the church today remember its first love, God, and live for His approval.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 16:1-9 (Part 2 of 2)

Ahaz Begins His Reign in Judah

Yesterday, we saw how far from God King Ahaz was such that he willingly sacrificed his own baby boy to an idol. He was the leader of what was once a nation of people truly favored by God. How far Israel and Judah have fallen since the days of David. Today, as we write about this passage, we look beyond the king himself to the general state of the nations of Israel and Judah. Again, we see in this passage a king that would rather bankrupt his country to maintain his throne than stand and fight. Earlier we saw how Israel’s king had empty his treasuries as tribute to the Assyrians to try to preserve his kingdom. However, in the end, the Assyrian king conquered the kingdom anyway. What did the Judean king think? That it would be different this time? For him?

There is an old saying that “the definition of insanity is doing the same old things over and over again expecting different results.” There is another saying too that says, “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” That’s what I see here in this passage. The king of Judea is repeating the same actions as the king of Israel but expecting different results. He did not learn from the history of the situation in the northern kingdom.

That got me to thinking about how similar to these actions we are today. For those who do not believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior are repeating the actions of history but are expecting different results. As our nation drifts away from God, we do not see what happened to Israel and Judah. Our nation has been shown great favor over the past 300 years. To grow from a fledgling colony in the wilderness of a barely inhabited continent to a world power within less than 300 years is an amazing fact and shows the favor of God upon our nation. Generally, our nation was one that placed God in the center of the public square. God was spoken of freely and made part of our public discourse.

However, in the last half of the 20th century and even more so in this century, we developed a greater sense that it was us that made our nation great and not God. It is very similar to the track of the history of the once unified nation of ancient Israel. As we gained our place on the world stage as the big boy on the block so did our sense of self-reliance. As we gained in material wealth, we also pushed God out of the way and begin worshiping ourselves just as Israel had done. Just as Israel and Judah became obsessed with their own pleasure-seeking so too has our nation become preoccupied with ourselves and our comfort. As Israel and Judah would do anything, make any deal, to maintain their peaceful enjoyment of their own pleasures, our nation seems to be losing its way as the leader in the world. We are more concerned with individual self-expression that we are with doing what is right for our nation as a whole and doing what is right in the sight of God. There is an old song by Don Henley from the 1980’s that is as prophetic as it was a funky tune called, “All She Wants to Do is Dance!”

That was the song that came to mind this morning when I thought about this passage. How Israel and Judah were more concerned about their self-pleasure than they were about preserving their nation. How Israel and Judah were so wrapped up in their idolatrous lifestyle that they could not see that these invading nations were a warning from God to return unto Him. They simply wanted to continue to dance at whatever the cost because all she wants to do is dance.

Let’s read the passage, 2 Kings 16:1-9, now with that idea in mind:

Chapter 16

1 In the seventeenth year of Pekah son of Remaliah, King Ahaz son of Jotham of Judah began to reign. 2 Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign; he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. He did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord his God, as his ancestor David had done, 3 but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even made his son pass through fire, according to the abominable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. 4 He sacrificed and made offerings on the high places, on the hills, and under every green tree.

5 Then King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah son of Remaliah of Israel came up to wage war on Jerusalem; they besieged Ahaz but could not conquer him. 6 At that time the king of Edom[a] recovered Elath for Edom,[b] and drove the Judeans from Elath; and the Edomites came to Elath, where they live to this day. 7 Ahaz sent messengers to King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria, saying, “I am your servant and your son. Come up, and rescue me from the hand of the king of Aram and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.” 8 Ahaz also took the silver and gold found in the house of the Lord and in the treasures of the king’s house, and sent a present to the king of Assyria. 9 The king of Assyria listened to him; the king of Assyria marched up against Damascus, and took it, carrying its people captive to Kir; then he killed Rezin.

In this passage, we see that both the northern kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Aram were both under Assyrian control. They joined forces against Judah hoping to force the southern kingdom to join their revolt against Assyria. However, Ahaz decided to throw his fortunes, metaphorically and literally, at the feet of the Assyrian king, thwarting the plans of the kings of Israel and Aram. It came at great cost though. Judah was now a vassal kingdom under the control of Assyria. He took the treasury of the Temple and the palace to satisfy the king of Assyria. Rather than lead a national revival of repentance return to God, the king decided to make a deal with the Assyrian king that had already proven to his fellow Israelites that he will only keep his word for a time and only if it is to his advantage.

The takeaway from today is that we must learn from Israel and Judah so that we do not repeat its mistakes. Our nation has drifted from God and many of the things that we worship as being OK today that are against God’s timeless and ageless Word will come to haunt us as a nation someday. The favor shown us will be withdrawn. Will we realize it and return to God or will we continue down the same road as Israel and Judah? Will we return to God or will we be more concerned with “all she wants to do is dance!”

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 16:1-9 (Part 1 of 2)

Ahaz Begins His Reign in Judah

If we lived in a nation where babies were offered up in fires as sacrifices to pagan gods, what would our response be? That is what was happening in Israel and Judah during the time of 2 Kings. So prevalent was the practice, even King Ahaz of Judah offered up his own child in such a practice. We condemn it as we read it. Consciously choosing to throw your baby into a fire is an unthinkable act today.

For me, when I held my first child, though I was scared to death, at age 22 almost 23, I fell in love with the kind of love that you can only know when you have a child. I thought that I could not love another child as much as I loved our first child, but when my second daughter was born 5 ½ years later, I found a completely new love that I didn’t know I had the capacity for. When I felt each child kick in their mother’s womb, I was amazed at this miracle that is the conception and gestation of a child. Each of my girls (including, now, my stepdaughter of almost 10 years) are my heartbeat. I would take a bullet for each of them if it meant that they could continue to live. Then, there is my little granddaughter, now 3 years old. What a joy she is and how she has her grandpa simply wrapped around her finger! These children and grandchildren. These young ladies. What I would not do to save the lives of these girls. That’s where I just cringe when I read about Ahaz sacrificing his own child to a god. I just don’t understand how anyone such as the king in this passage could just throw an innocent baby into a fire to appease an idol.

We are all made in God’s image and He knows us intimately even before we are born:

13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

If God values our unformed bodies and already has our days ordained before birth, it is certain that He values the life of an innocent child after birth. Who is this king to decide for the child whether he or she gets to live or not? It did not take long after either of my children’s births for me to quickly not be able to see my life without them. Same with my stepdaughter. Same with my granddaughter. How quickly our children become essential parts of our lives. How can this king not give his child a chance to become an essential, irreplaceable part of his life? Sacrificing your child in a fire to an idol is essentially making this king his own god. He was deciding whether his own child lived or died. Is that not the prerogative of our God and not man?

That’s the heart wrenching thing that I thought of this morning. How could a parent of a baby throw their own child into a fire as a sacrifice to an idol? It made my think of my own children, stepchild and granddaughter. I would rather die myself in their place than have them suffer a death such as this. As we think of that idea, let’s read the passage, 2 Kings 16:1-9, now:

Chapter 16

1 In the seventeenth year of Pekah son of Remaliah, King Ahaz son of Jotham of Judah began to reign. 2 Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign; he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. He did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord his God, as his ancestor David had done, 3 but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even made his son pass through fire, according to the abominable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. 4 He sacrificed and made offerings on the high places, on the hills, and under every green tree.

5 Then King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah son of Remaliah of Israel came up to wage war on Jerusalem; they besieged Ahaz but could not conquer him. 6 At that time the king of Edom[a] recovered Elath for Edom,[b] and drove the Judeans from Elath; and the Edomites came to Elath, where they live to this day. 7 Ahaz sent messengers to King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria, saying, “I am your servant and your son. Come up, and rescue me from the hand of the king of Aram and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.” 8 Ahaz also took the silver and gold found in the house of the Lord and in the treasures of the king’s house, and sent a present to the king of Assyria. 9 The king of Assyria listened to him; the king of Assyria marched up against Damascus, and took it, carrying its people captive to Kir; then he killed Rezin.

In this passage, the most disturbing thing that we see is that King Ahaz offered up his own son as a sacrifice in a fire to a pagan god. Imagine the monstrous evil of a religion that offers young children as sacrifices. God allowed the nation to be conquered in response to Ahaz’s evil practices. May we take heed of this passage in the 21st century and realize that all life is valuable to the Lord God.

Whether a person is a grown-up, or a baby, born or unborn. Whether a person is red, yellow, black, or white. Whether a person is young or old, God places value on our lives. We are made in His image. He knows us before we are even born. He is the one that knits us together through the miracle of conception and gestation. Even that moment of conception is a flat out miracle of God. That a sperm and an egg create life can be scientifically described and all that and we get that (after all science is simply us beginning to understand the details of the universe that God created), but the way that conception creates a pattern of cell multiplication that turns into a baby over 9 months is a “why” that we still don’t fully understand. That moment of conception begins the process of life. From that point forward, whether we are red, yellow, black or white, young or old, rich or poor, young or old, we have value in the sight of God.

Let us give glory to God for life. Let us give glory to God for the way that He knits us together in our mother’s wombs. Let us give glory to God for how little babies in our arms miraculous make us fall in love with them for life. Let us give glory to God for our kids who grow up to have our grandkids and how we find love we never knew we had in us for each new life that God gives us in our children and their children.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 15:32-38

Jotham Rules in Judah

At my home church, the place where I finally starting growing up spiritually and the place where my call to full-time ministry was cultivated, LifeSong Church in Lyman, SC, we were very active in doing things for our community. We would do things like rent out the local waterpark for an evening and let the entire community come swim and play for free. We would giveaway groceries door to door in various neighborhoods in our community. We had a day where we offered free services such haircuts, free auto maintenance, and other free services in the professions of people of our church. We had a day where we cleaned up the yards of elderly people in the Lyman-Duncan-Wellford communities. We had a day where we gave our free water bottles to people on hot summer days. We had a free professionally done fireworks show on a holiday weekend at our local high school stadium. Certainly, though, the centerpiece of all our outreach work was our annual Thanksgiving Meal Giveaway.

Where some churches would invite the less fortunate to their campuses for a prepared Thanksgiving meal, LifeSong did it a little differently. The church would buy upwards to 500 frozen turkeys from a regional grocery store chain to start the process off. Then, the church members would buy a specified list of fixings to go with each turkey. By the day of the event, we would have 500 turkeys and 500 bags of canned and dry goods – the makings for a complete Thanksgiving Day meal. Our idea was to allow each family who came to our giveaway to be able to take the meals home and be able to have a family Thanksgiving at home (and not some mass dinner on folding tables at some strange public place).

On the day of the event, we would have families lined up in our parking lot starting at 5am or so before we opened our doors at 8am. Once the doors were opened, we would register people (so we could contact them later with information about attending our church) and then they would proceed into our worship center’s auditorium, where we would have tables set up for them to sit down in groups of about 50 at a time. We had hospitality teams that would serve them coffee and snacks and a team of people to “work the room” (i.e., sit down and talk the people at each circular table). While they would sit there, our pastoral staff would take turns sharing the gospel with them and our worship team would play and sing contemporary Christian songs to them and so on. As they were sitting there, groups of 10 would be called to move to the next station just outside of the auditorium where we had a team of people that would pray for them. As a group of 10 moved out of the auditorium, another group of 10 would be called into the auditorium from those waiting in line. After a group of 10 was finished at the prayer tables, they would be free to move to the next station where they could select coats for themselves and/or their family. These coats were donated by our church members. After selecting coats, they went to the next station where they picked up a bag of dry and canned goods for their Thanksgiving meals. Once done there, they would proceed outside to the final station (which was a refrigerated truck where the turkeys were being dispensed). Once they got their turkey, we had a person for our outdoor hospitality team escort them back to their vehicles.

At the end of the day, we typically served up all 500 meals and usually had to run to the store and pick up 5-10 turkeys or so to serve everyone that came to our doors. It was always a great day for our church. Our people typically got more out of the day than the people that we had served. It was a day of teamwork. It was always a day of spiritual awakening for our people. It was a day in which we felt like we made a small dent in the despair that many people face in this world. It also reminded us that (1) most of us were extremely blessed and (2) how close we all are from being in that same situation. Those were great benefits of the day for our people and certainly moved each one who participated to be more active in our church with their time, talents, and resources.

The thing, though, that our senior pastor constantly reminded us, as the leaders of these outreach events, was that what we are doing – any government agency can do it. What sets us apart is we do it as an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the world around us. If we don’t do that, we are just another humanitarian helps agency. If we do not get to know the folks we are helping, we are just another helps agency. If we do not genuinely love them (and not just doing such events to make ourselves feel good), then we are just another helps agency. If we do not share the gospel of Jesus Christ with them, then we are just another helps agency.

That’s the idea that came to mind this morning as I did my morning Bible reading here as I progress through 2 Kings. In this passage, 2 Kings 15:32-28, we see one of the few kings of Israel and Judah that the Bible says that he did what was right in the Lord’s eyes. Jothan was a good king but he fell short spiritually. He did not put God first in His life even though he was a good man. He allowed the idol worship to continue in the country just as the previous kings had, both the evil and the good ones. They did not want to rock the boat. They did not want to stick their neck out when it came to spiritual matters. Apparently, such things were just not important enough to Jothan. It was not a hill to die on for Jothan, like so many kings before him. Is it not that way with us, we do the all the right things but yet we do not place God as the first and foremost in our lives? We often forget, even as Christians (and I preach to myself here as well), that our primary purpose for being here on this planet on this side of eternity is to project, present, and live the gospel out in front of a watching world. That’s what I thought of this morning. With that in mind, let’s read about Jothan now:

32 In the second year of King Pekah son of Remaliah of Israel, King Jotham son of Uzziah of Judah began to reign. 33 He was twenty-five years old when he began to reign and reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jerusha daughter of Zadok. 34 He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, just as his father Uzziah had done. 35 Nevertheless the high places were not removed; the people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places. He built the upper gate of the house of the Lord. 36 Now the rest of the acts of Jotham, and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah? 37 In those days the Lord began to send King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah against Judah. 38 Jotham slept with his ancestors, and was buried with his ancestors in the city of David, his ancestor; his son Ahaz succeeded him.

In this passage, we learn a little bit about Jothan who followed his father on the throne of the southern kingdom, Judah. Much good can be said of his reign as king of Judah, but he failed in a most important area: He didn’t destroy the pagan shrines. Like Jotham, we may live basically good lives but yet miss the most important thing – fully obeying the Lord. A lifetime of doing good deeds is not enough if we make the crucial mistake of not following God with all of our hearts. A true follower of God put Him first in all areas of life. Likewise, as the collective local bodies of Christ we call the church, if we do good deeds out in our communities but yet do not share the gospel with those for whom we are doing the good deeds, we are offering nothing that government agencies cannot offer. We must personally as Christ followers and corporately as his church place God as the centerpiece of our lives. Anything less and we are just “doing the right things”.

We must see helping others as giving glory to God. We must see helping others as our act of thanksgiving for what He has done and continues to do in our lives. We see helping others as our opportunities to show them the same love we have been shown by our Savior. We see helping others as our opportunities to tell others of the mercy shown us by a forgiving and merciful God. We see helping others as our opportunity to tell them about how they too can enjoy God’s mercy. We must see everything as an opportunity to give glory to God.

We must make giving glory to God a hill to die on. If only that could have been said of Jothan here in 2 Kings. May THAT be said of you and me – that God was first and foremost in our lives in everything we do.

Amen and Amen.