2 Kings 17:24-40

The exile of the people of Israel is complete. God has spoken and it has come to pass. They no longer exist as a nation and have now been scattered throughout the world as slaves. It is an ignoble ending. The king of Assyria now has unoccupied land to take care of and leaving it empty is a bad idea. Israel was fertile and extremely well situated geo-politically. So he moves his own people into the land. They come from several different areas that have been conquered by Assyria and bring with them all of their own cultures and gods. These are the people who come to be known as the hated “Samaritans” of the New Testament.

The first problem these new settlers face are lions. Yup, actual lions. They are roaming the area and killing the inhabitants. The people of this time believed that the gods occupied certain territories and the “God” of this territory needed some worship in order to call off the lions. One of the exiled priests is returned to Israel to teach the people how to appease the God of the land. There were two problems that arise with this plan. First of all, the priest sent back to teach the people had no real knowledge of the True God. He was a priest of the apostasy. He did not know the ways of God. Had he actually known God, Israel may not have been dispersed in the first place! Second, while the people took in the worship practices taught to them, they mixed them with the worship of their own gods, brought with them from their own cultures. Spiritually, it’s a mess.

The Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians addresses what we need to pay attention to as we read this story.

11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.
12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.
1 Corinthians 10:11–14

This story speaks to us on several key points. First, you must know the Bible yourself. Pastors and priests are important, for they are trained beyond the normal believer. But – if you don’t know what the Bible says, you will fall prey to those who would deceive you with their own twist on the Word. As we see in today’s reading, the priest didn’t exactly have a good grasp of the Word of God. Second, regular study is critical if you want to know the Bible. It doesn’t happen by osmosis. I often wished I could learn math by osmosis but it never happened. You will never come to know what the Bible says unless you actually read it yourself! And finally, you cannot mix in a few pieces of philosophy or idolatry with your practice of the faith. That hybrid is an abomination to the Lord!

As we learn from Paul, this is a cautionary tale for us. Awareness of the possibility for idolatry is the first step in practicing true worship of the Living God. And even when we stumble and fall into false belief, Jesus blood covers our sin and the Spirit is ever willing to set our feet back onto the path of God.