2 Kings 17:7-23
**a note from the present: If you have been reading through my daily posts, or may catch one or two, here and there, you may not be aware that these are recycled posts. I wrote them in 2003, during the first full year of our house church experience in Vegas. Through the encouragement of a publishing friend, I decided to commit to the daily discipline of posting these “Food for Thoughts” on Vibblespace.
It is a strange experience to listen to yourself talk after seven years of hard life experience. I have grown and changed quite a bit since those days. I have grown in my understanding and adoption of a more “emergent” theological perspective. From that perspective, I read the post for today and something in my gut cringes. In today’s reading it says that God becomes angry with Israel and removes them from his presence. I talk about the reality of sin and disobedience to God.
How do I feel about it now? One of the things that the emergent voice speaks about now is the love and grace of God. God loves us and nothing we can do will ever change that. The emergent voice also talks about how much of American Evangelical Christianity today is focused on sin management. We see everyone under only two labels: “saved” or “lost” and we warn people that if they aren’t “saved” then God is going to throw them out, like he did to Israel in this passage.
So, do I not think that this passage in 2 Kings is valid? Do I want to enter into a hermeneutical gymnastic to explain it away because it makes me uncomfortable? No, I don’t. Here are some thoughts that I currently have regarding passages like this:
- 2 Kings was written from the persective of a leader in the Kingdom of Judah, writing to those who survived the holocaust of the Assyrian, the Babylonian, and the Persian invasions of his homeland. He is trying to make sense out of why such heinous things would happen to his homeland– the land that was promised by God to his founding father, Abraham.
- The language of the Old Testament is heavily colored by the theological perspective of the writer (as is all human language, like the words being written right now) and the ethical intention of the writer to the audience. The writer of 2 Kings was sending a warning to the nation. He is saying that Israel was lost because it ignored God’s law. He says, “Don’t let that happen to us.”
- Today, 20 centuries after the revolutionary teaching of Jesus, we live in a very different world and follow a different “law” from God. Jesus gave us two commands: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. He deconstructed the law of Moses. It had its time and purpose in the specific history of Israel and had become more of a hindrance to the Kingdom of God than a support for it.
- While the specifics of the law has changed, God doesn’t. God loved Israel. That’s why he gave the law. The law was intended to protect Israel from its own self-destructive nature. It is easy, from the perspective of the writer of 2 Kings, to say that God became angry and removed them from his presence. I think God does become angry when his children do things that will hurt them. I know I do when my children blatantly disobey the boundaries that I set for them for their own protection, knowing that, by defying me, they will get hurt. I get angry, and frustrated, and hurt. But, I don’t stop loving them. Neither does God.
- What it really boils down to is consequences. When we think about the idea of God’s justice and punishment it is easy to envision a vengeful ogre sitting in the sky just waiting for us to break a law so that he can zap us. I don’t think that is it at all. When I reread this passage in 2 Kings, I saw the opposite. I saw a father who spent years sending prophets to Israel warning them to stop messing with the Baals, to stop doing the things that would hurt them. I see a Father whose heart broke when Israel finally reaped what it sowed.
- The problem for us today is to figure out what our “sin” problem is. Is it the failure to adhere to a moralistic list of “do’s” and “don’ts”, as if God is just waiting for us to fall off the wagon so he can zap us. Or, is it deeper. Have we fallen into the same trap that Israel had at the time of Jesus. They had become so caught up in their cultural religiosity and moralistic self-righteousness, that they had lost the heart of God, which is compassion, grace, and other-oriented love.
- As I read my words from 7 years ago, I still believe them to be true. And I believe that my perspective on God hasn’t changed at all. I just realize that, because of my language, many people may misunderstand me to be saying, “If only America would get back to our Puritan ways, God would bless us again and all would be well.” That is not what I’m saying at all. Paul said it best, “we reap what we sow.” If followers of Jesus sow hatred and violence, then we will reap hatred and violence. It is that simple. If we do not become saturated with the ways of Jesus, and look to the needs of others, regardless of who or what they are, then we are “missing the mark” and will reap the consequences of a world devoid of God’s love.
- Thanks for letting me ramble a bit this morning. now, back to the past.
On Monday we said that journeys and histories are punctuated by bright spots that are worthy of stopping to remember. Unfortunately the same is true for dark spots. The Holocaust memorial and the Vietnam Memorial are edifices that have been built, not in celebration of bright moments in history, but as timeless reminders of man’s capabilities for evil. They exist as a hopeful deterrent to future generations to keep them from following the same tragic path.
Today we must make one of those stops along our journey. Chapter 17 is a haunting reminder of:
- the reality of sin
- the reality of God’s justice
- the reality and the severity of the consequences associated with prolonged disobedience to God.
In our feel-good society we don’t like these moments. We don’t like pain. We don’t like consequences and taking responsibility for our actions. Well, too bad. There it is. Jeroboam blew it, the people had a “go with the flow” attitude, nobody stepped up to the plate to do anything about it, and, eventually, SLAM! the terrible foot of Assyria came crashing down on the nation and destroyed 90% of the nation of Israel…forever.
There is no happy, redemptive, good-guy-wins-at-the-end-of-the-story, rah-rah finish to this tale. Israel was gone.
Chapter 17 is a living testimony to the words of Paul in Galatians 6:7, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” As risky as this may be in a devotional designed to encourage you each day so that you can be fed and face the challenges of the world, we are going to end today on a downer. As you move out into the world today, keep the crushing blow of the Assyrian foot echoing in your soul. In the Kingdom of God there is no time to mess around. There is no space for cheap compromise. God is God. He loves you and invites you into an authentic relationship with Him. He is a jealous husband who will not tolerate a cheating wife. Keep your eyes on Him today and don’t let yourself get distracted.