As I have said so often before, Christians who do not read the Old Testament are robbing themselves. They are also robbing God, since a full 77 per cent of the Christian Bible is made up of the Hebrew Scriptures. We do an extreme disservice to ourselves and others by being ignorant of such a large portion of our Bible.
In today’s reading I was blown away by one particular chapter: 2 Kings 17. It is a goldmine not only of historical but spiritual truths and principles. It has so much for today’s church. It is a pity so few believers today make use of this treasure house, and all the rest of the 39 OT books.
So let me provide a bit of quick background material here. After Solomon the Kingdom was divided. Jeroboam leads Israel (the northern kingdom with Samaria as its capital), while his son Rehoboam leads Judah (the southern kingdom with Jerusalem as its capital).
All the kings of the two kingdoms are covered in I and II Kings, while II Chronicles covers only the kings of Judah. The chapter we are looking at here describes the reign of Hoshea, the last of the kings of Israel (vv. 1-6), then explains why Israel went into exile (vv. 7-23). Then an interesting report about Samaria is found in vv. 24-41.
Verse 7 begins this way: “All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the LORD their God.” Christians are not deists; we believe God is actively involved in this world. When bad things happen on a big scale, it is always worth asking why these things might be.
True, we do not have prophets as Israel did in the OT to tell us exactly why various things are befalling us, but we can certainly gain some general principles by looking at what occurred to Israel. This text makes it clear that national calamity was directly tied up with sin and rebellion against God.
In these 15 verses we learn about all the horrible things the people did, even though God had delivered them from the bondage they were in back in Egypt. The aware Christian would do well not just to glide over these verses, but to ask God if there are some clear parallels with God’s people today.
We Christians have also been set free from the bondage of sin and self to follow God. But are we any better than ancient Israel? Read what Yahweh says about them: “They worshiped other gods 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. The Israelites secretly did things against the LORD their God that were not right….”
The passage goes on to speak of this wretched idolatry in detail. We read over this and think, “Tsk, tsk, what a bunch of rebels those guys were.” But we never think for a moment that we are probably little different. We may be more sophisticated in our idolatry, but we are up to our ears in it nonetheless.
A.W. Pink reminds us that an idol is “anything which displaces God in my heart. It may be something which is quite harmless in itself, yet if it absorbs me, if it be given the first place in my affections and thoughts, it becomes an ‘idol’. It may be my business, a loved one, or my service for Christ. Any one or any thing which comes into competition with the Lord’s ruling me in a practical way, is an ‘idol’.”
So what is your idol, and mine? It would not hurt for all of us to stop whatever we are doing right now and get on our knees and ask God this question. I do not doubt for a moment that our evangelical Bible-believing churches today are just as full of idolaters as ancient Israel was back then.
The text continues, “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. 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.”
There are of course plenty of modern-day equivalents of these sins as well. Sacrificing children was one of the most despicable of all practices which the Canaanites did, yet incredibly the Israelites ended up doing this as well. Today we do exactly the same, but we use euphemisms for it, like “a woman’s right to choose” or some such thing.
The two abominations are one and the same, and I have tied these two sins together elsewhere: billmuehlenberg.com/2006/09/01/a-different-perspective-on-abortion/
And what about all the Christians today who see nothing wrong with astrology, tarot cards, fortune telling, various New Age practices, and the like? All this was soundly condemned back then, but we are still doing it today. One expects non-Christians to be into all this stuff, but it is scandalous just how many so-called Christians dabble in all this as well.
One of the most wrenching parts of this chapter comes in the end. There we read about how the King of Assyria brought in all kinds of peoples “and settled them in the towns of Samaria to replace the Israelites”. Verse 25 says this: “When they first lived there, they did not worship the LORD; so he sent lions among them and they killed some of the people.”
So the King was told about this and he “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.’ So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria came to live in Bethel and taught them how to worship the LORD.”
The concluding verses are quite remarkable: “They would not listen, however, but persisted in their former practices. Even while these people were worshiping the LORD, they were serving their idols.” Wow, and how much does that sound like us today as well?
How many people are claiming to be followers of Christ yet persist in their former practices? How many folks name the name of Christ, and even tag along to church, yet have never renounced their former idols? How many think they can actually be a follower of Christ and at the same time still cling to their false gods and idols?
But we find this all over the place today. We have “churches” actually blessing abortion today. We have churches ordaining practicing homosexuals today. We have churches deeply involved with interfaith services where Muslims lead a church service and/or readings from a Koran occur. All this is perfectly described in the end of chapter 27.
I began by stating how vitally important that we Christians know our Old Testament, and know it well. I have stated before that reading a mere three chapters a day will get you through the Bible in a year. But there is a downside to all this as well.
The trouble is, Christians today can glibly read through these passages and not for a moment realise that they speak to us just as much today as they did to God’s people thousands of years ago. We can glide over these chapters without even seeing the slightest resemblance to our own situation today.
We may think that those guys were a pretty pathetic bunch, little realising that we are in so many ways exactly like them. So I do encourage every believer to get into the OT. But I also warn them: do not read it as simply a matter of ancient history only.
Read it as the living Word from the living God to the living church today. Learn its lessons and apply its truths. It has so very much to teach us. And if we refuse to read this gift to us, we will one day give an account for this. So read and be blessed. But also read and be challenged, convicted and persuaded when necessary.