By David Faust
In his classic book, Knowing God, J. I. Packer wrote, “Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you.”
How do we view God? Some deny his existence altogether (atheists) or think it’s impossible to know him (agnostics). Some distort the nature of God and view him as a bland bearded grandpa in the sky, a cosmic policeman, or a genie who capriciously grants wishes if we rub the magic lamp and pray the right way. Still others simply disregard God. They affirm that he exists, but in actual practice they ignore his authority and view him as irrelevant to daily life.
Taken into Exile—and Still There
The book of 2 Kings reminds us what happens to a society that denies, distorts, and disregards God. Remarkably, God’s judgment fell upon the very people who had received some of his greatest blessings. Thanks to God, the people of Israel had become a prosperous nation. They had received God’s law through Moses. They knew the commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). They inherited a land flowing with milk and honey. God favored them with miracles and protected them from their enemies. But over time, their culture degenerated in numerous ways:
• “They worshiped other gods” (2 Kings 17:7).
• They “secretly did things against the Lord their God that were not right” (v. 9).
• “They set up sacred stones and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every spreading tree” (v. 10)—idolatrous practices that broke God’s law and broke God’s heart.
• “They did wicked things that aroused the Lord’s anger” (v. 11).
• “They worshiped idols, though the Lord had said, ‘You shall not do this’” (v. 12).
• They refused to listen to God’s prophets “and were stiff-necked as their ancestors, who did not trust in the Lord their God” (v. 14).
• “They bowed down to all the starry hosts, and they worshiped Baal,” devaluing human life by burning their sons and daughters as offerings to false gods (vv. 16, 17).
The situation is summarized with these sad words: “They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless” (v. 15). What a tragic outcome for a nation that had been so uniquely blessed by God! As a result, “the people of Israel were taken from their homeland into exile in Assyria, and they are still there” (v. 23).
Taking God Seriously
Many of us have been greatly blessed. We live in a land of plenty, with easy access to God’s Word. But do we take God seriously? Are there idols among us?
More and more Americans worship at the altar of religious tolerance while around the globe Islam, Hinduism, and other religions hold multitudes in spiritual darkness and the false god of secular humanism continues to gain acceptance. Some alternatives to God are less obvious. The quest for money and material comfort can become an idol. So can obsession with work, sports, success, popularity, beauty, or entertainment. Millions today are enslaved by drugs, drinks, and sexual addictions. Only the true God can set us free.
We tread on dangerous ground whenever we deny, distort, or disregard our Creator. Israel’s exile illustrates the tragic consequences for individuals and cultures that push God to the margins. That’s why another biblical writer warned, “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The Lookout’s Bible Reading Plan for June 28, 2015
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of The Lookout.
2 Kings 16, 17
2 Kings 18, 19
2 Kings 20, 21
2 Kings 22, 23
2 Kings 24, 25