Today’s passages: 2 Kings, chapter 17; 2 Chronicles, chapter 28; Psalm 46; James, chapter 3
Scripture: 2 Kings 17:28-41 (NRSV) – 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. 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…They also worshiped the Lord and appointed from themselves all sorts of people as priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the shrines of the high places. 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. 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 commandments that the Lord commanded the children of Jacob, whom he named Israel. 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, 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 shall you sacrifice. The statutes and the ordinances and the law and the commandments that he wrote for you, you shall always be careful to observe. You shall not worship other gods, but you shall worship the Lord your God; he will deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies.” They would not listen, however, but they continued to practice their former custom. 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.
Observations: When the people of Samaria were carried off by the Assyrians, the Assyrians brought people from other countries in to resettle Samaria. But this was land that God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to their descendants, so when the new people moved in, they knew nothing about the Lord, and did not worship him. “Therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them.” (2 Kings 17:25) That may strike us as a bit harsh, but the fact is that God sometimes uses difficult situations to get our attention and turn us toward him. The king of Assyria sent back a priest to teach these new people about the Lord, so they could worship him. So they began to learn about what it meant to worship God.
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…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. They thought that they could worship God, and still worship their other gods, too. That’s the same error that the Israelites made when they first moved into the land – the same error that God had warned them against time and time again before they went in. The Lord had made a covenant with them and commanded them, “You shall not worship other gods or bow yourselves to them or sacrifice to them…The statutes and the ordinances and the law and the commandments that he wrote for you, you shall always be careful to observe. You shall not worship other gods, but you shall worship the Lord your God…” The Israelites had started to worship these other gods, and sacrifice to them, contrary to God’s command. They thought they could worship God and worship these other gods, too – and that led to their downfall.
The same danger faces Christians today. God’s command that we worship him and him alone still stands – yet so many times we try to worship God and still hold on to our former customs. “Worship” is not just participation in a religious ritual, not just saying nice things or acknowledging God from time to time. “Worship” means to act in a way that acknowledges God’s supremacy – his “worth.” Real worship is an all-the-time thing; it is not just once a week, or even once each day. God made this clear when he said to the Israelites, “The statutes and the ordinances and the law and the commandments that he wrote for you, you shall alwaysbe careful to observe.”
We often think, “Well, we’re not under that old system of law any more; we’re under grace.” That’s true – but it doesn’t mean that God has no commandments for us. Jesus said that he had not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, and he also said that all of the commandments could be summed up in “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (See Matthew 22:36-40) We’re no longer bound by the cultic regulations of the old covenant, but that doesn’t mean that God’s commandments no longer apply to us. We are still called to mediate God’s presence in the world – to live in ways that reflect God’s values and God’s character. We’re still called to worship God alone – and that means that we need to regularly search ourselves to be sure that nothing else has claimed our worship. And we’re still called to leave behind our old way of life – not to continue to practice our former customs (2 Kings 17:34, 40). If we’re in Christ, we’re new creations; “the old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)
Applications: God is reminding me today how easy it is for us to think that we can worship him and still hold on to our “former gods” – the things that governed our lives before we came to know Christ. Jesus made it clear that we cannot serve two masters; no matter what the other “master” is, no matter how “good” it may seem. To worship God means to live in such a way as to acknowledge his sole authority in our lives. That’s why it’s so important to stay connected to him through reading his Word – because we need him to guide us each day, to make sure that we’re not slipping into habits and practices that give authority to someone or something else. Everything that God gives us is good, and he longs to give us good things – but we can never allow those things to become our master. To worship God means that everything in our lives is submitted to him. Our “former customs” led us toward spiritual death; God leads us to life.
Prayer: Father, you have called us to be part of your kingdom. That means that you’re the King – and everything in the Kingdom is subject to your control. When I start to drift into habits or practices which threaten your authority in my life, remind me that you alone are God. Thank you for the knowledge that your ways are good – that “you are good, and your mercy endures forever.” Help me today to live in ways that acknowledge your sovereignty. May your Kingdom come in greater measure today – on earth, and in my life, as in heaven. Amen.