June 16, 2008

They Feared the LORD and Served their Own gods

That is what 2 Kings 17.33 says about the pagan people who lived in the territory surrounding Israel, and eventually moved into the vacated Promised Land when the Israelites were booted out (for serving other gods) in 722BC. “They feared the LORD and served their own gods.”

It was true that these new inhabitants of the land “feared the LORD” whose temple was built there, and whose fingerprints were on Old Testament monuments everywhere one turned. After a rocky start in their new homes (because they had not initially paid attention to the Lord’s ways and word), they hired themselves an Israelite priest (2 Kings 17.27) to “teach them the custom of the God of the land.” And, in many ways, they seem to have listened to what he said. They came to understand the temple, and what it was for, and what sacrifices were to be offered. They learned the ethical teachings of the Law. And, in some measure, they must have attempted to put what they were learning in practice – thus it was said that “they feared the LORD.”

But yet, in spite of these few and good efforts, these Promised Land squatters still “served their own gods.” They built shrines to them on the hills of Israel. They brought them dried fruit; they made sacrifices to them. They continued in the customs which were part and parcel of their own national ways of doing things. So “they feared the LORD” – they tried to stay on His good side; they hoped to keep Him happy; they knew He could punish them if they didn’t; and they made a few small efforts to accommodate themselves to His ways. But the dominating themes of their lives were still “their own gods.”

Now there is a way to fear the LORD that is more than just a token effort. Charles spoke of that a few Sundays back. But that kind of fear is not what is in view here. This was a merely self-preserving kind of fear. And it seems to me that this kind of fearing takes a lot less effort than serving. A self-preserving fear does the bare minimum to stay safe. It wants God on its good side, and it is willing to be religious to achieve that hope. But a person who serves actually works at a positive goal, puts sweat behind it, and does so, not for his own benefit, but for the good of the person being served. That was how the Canaanites “served their own gods”, but not the LORD.

And, sad to say it, but these ancient Canaanites seem to have quite a few spiritual descendants living in America to this day. I – and many other pastors – see them every week. People who ‘amen’ the more tender and merciful portions of the gospel; people who may even ‘amen’ certain moral portions of the Scriptures; people who want to hear about God because it seems to help them get along a little bit better; people who, in some measure, “fear the LORD.” But for many of these same people it is quite obvious that they are still serving “their own gods.” Still putting more effort into the business; into the lawn; into the overtime; into the soccer league; into the family’s recreation than into the service of God. And the church suffers for it.

I’m afraid it has become almost a Sunday tradition. The hired priest stands up to do as he has been asked – to “teach them the custom of the god of the land.” The people listen. Some of them even enjoy. A few of them offer words of encouragement. Most all of them respect the word preached – “they fear the LORD.” But then many of them – maybe most of them in some places – rush off to the business, to the ballgame, to the overtime, to the recreation, to six days of pouring their time and energy into “serving their own gods.”

What about you?

1 comment:

Jeremiah said...

Kurt, it is painful to see some that appear to attend our worship service with this attitude. Token attendance during Sun morning worship, quickly out the door. A minimalist approach to involvement with the body. A "check-off" mentality that has the impression that God is pleased as long as there is some attempt made to adhere outwardly.

It’s almost like “fearing the Lord” is simply a hopeful means of achieving what they really want. God give us grace to exhort those who are resting content in this state.

I also praise God for the many encouraging believers in our congregation whose “fear” runs deeper than this.