They worshiped the Lord, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.
2 Kings 17:33 (NIV)
Today’s (rather long) chapter tells the end of the story for the northern Hebrew tribes’ Kingdom of Israel. Their Kingdom was under constant threat from their neighbors. They were paying tribute to the Assyrian Empire, but the successive Kings of Assyria were increasingly aggressive. They weren’t content with simply getting paid off for protection, they were bent on the far more lucrative conquest and control of more and more territory.
Hoshea, the last King of Israel, sends envoys to Pharaoh in Egypt in an effort to escape the power and threat of Assyria. I find it ironic that the former slaves return to their former slave masters to indenture themselves from the very one from whom God delivered their ancestors. Hoshea’s gambit failed. Assyria attacks Israel and sends the Israelites into captivity and exile. They then send people of other conquered people groups to resettle in the towns of Israel under Assyrian control.
An interesting side-note: It was the foreign people groups planted by the Assyrians in the towns of Israel who would mix and intermarry with the Hebrews that were left in the land. They became known as the Samaritans, as in the Good Samaritan of Jesus’ famous parable, and the woman at the well whom Jesus spoke to in John 4.
These people whom the Assyrians planted in Israel embraced the God of Israel, but they also clung to the gods they had always known in their homelands. In worshipping the God of Israel, they appointed their own priests outside of the instructions given to Moses for the priesthood in Exodus. Thus they became the “sort of” Jews who were held in contempt by the “true Jews” in Jesus’ day. To put it in the metaphorical terms of Harry Potter, the Samaritans were “mudbloods” to the “pureblood” Jews in power. Jesus famously crossed those religious and cultural boundaries, Dumbledore-like, and was criticized and hated for it.
In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t get the phrase “but they also” out of my mind after it was repeated in subsequent verses. It resonated deeply within me.
How often could it be said of me, “Tom loved God, but he also…
…loved the things of this world he was commanded not to do.”
…hated his neighbor whom he was commanded to love.”
…refused to forgive [insert list here].”
…treated [insert label of ‘those people’ here] with contempt.”
…cared more about money, pleasure, and comfort than obedience.”
It’s so easy to shake my self-righteous head at the ancient Hebrews and Samaritans as I read about their double-minded, half-hearted faith.
When I point my finger at them, there are three fingers pointing back at me.
I leave the quiet this morning with a humble prayer of confession, and the endeavor to live today in an effort to strike “but he also” out of any description others would make of me.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.