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The Fall of Israel

Sermon passage: (2 Kings 17:1-41) Spoken on: June 14, 2020
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: 2 Kings


Listen to sermon recording with the play button or download with the download link. 您可点播或下载讲道录音。
About Rev. Wong Siow Hwee: Rev. Wong is the moderator of Jubilee Church, serving there since 2002. 王晓晖牧师是禧年堂的主理牧师。自2002年,在那牧会将近20年。

Sermon on 2 Kings 17

In our sermon last week, I shared about King Ahaz of Judah submitting himself to the Assyrians to deal with his invaders Israel and Aram. He should have just stayed calm and trusted in the Lord. Regardless of the submission of servitude from Ahaz, Assyria had to fight them anyway to reassert its dominance and regain the tributes from these states. Strategically speaking, the empire needed that crucial passageway to the ports in the Levant to access the Mediterranean Sea to trade freely. Assyria destroyed the rebel alliance and deported people from the 10 tribes of Israel (2 Kings 15:29). [1] The Assyrians were cruel in ruling and dominating over its empire, no matter the costs of human lives or suffering.

The Assyrian king then made Hoshea the puppet king of Israel, to ensure that Israel continued to pay their tributes and remained subservient to Assyria. However, when his son succeeded the throne, Hoshea probably thought that this change of leadership was his chance to fight for independence. He ceased paying the costly annual tributes and sought military support from the Egyptians. The new Assyrian king responded to Hoshea’s act of rebellion and attacked Israel. In 3 years’ time, Israel was conquered in 722BC. Two years later, another new Assyrian king deported twenty-seven thousand people from Israel and resettled foreigners from other places into Israel. Samaria was converted into an administrative centre for the new Assyrian province, Samerina. Since then, Israel ceased to exist as a kingdom. [2]

On one hand, we could look at this piece of history from a geo-political perspective. We can attribute Israel’s demise to a gamble for independence from the superpower Assyria that ended badly. Or we could applaud Hosea as a freedom fighter with at least the guts to try to stand up against the mighty Assyrians, though I suspect he was just an opportunist. On the other hand, our scriptures mention little of such geopolitical analysis. Throughout the records of generations of kings, they could be historically successful in reign or victorious in battles, or they could be shrewd in diplomacy or merciless in politics, but these were just hinted at with short passing remarks. In the records of kings, the only measure that truly mattered to our biblical historians was the king’s and his people’s faithfulness to God. The only measure that truly mattered was who they worshipped and how they worshipped. Why?

The scriptures looked at the fall of Israel from a theological perspective. The key word is Covenant, a holy and sacred promise between God and his people. Detailed in Deuteronomy, the basis of the covenant is that God had saved his people from Egyptian slavery and brought them into the Promised Land. In return, they would fulfill God’s laws as guidelines in their days of living in the land. God’s laws would lead them to love God and to love their neighbors as themselves. Loving God means they will stay devoted in worship to God alone, and also worship in forms that are desired by God. Loving others means all lives should be cherished and justice for all people would be upheld. One can imagine that if God’s laws were fully observed, the people of God would have been such a blessing to all nations when they witnessed the peace and prosperity of the people in the land. That was the vision described in Isaiah 2:1-5 where people from everywhere would flock to Jerusalem to learn the ways of God. [3] Unfortunately the reverse was also true. If they broke this covenant, by turning away from God and bringing violence and injustice into this land, they perverted their calling and deserved to face judgment and destruction for their evil. That was precisely the verdict given in our passage today.

2 Kings 17: 15 They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their ancestors and the statutes he had warned them to keep. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the Lord had ordered them, “Do not do as they do.” This verse states clearly that the people of Israel had broken God’s laws in the holy covenant. In their imitation of the foreign nations, both in worship and in daily practices, they became worthless. This is the same word used in Ecclesiastes to describe vanity or meaningless. The literal meaning is chasing after a breath or a vapor. It means being transient and pointless. It means that when the kings and people of God worshipped non-existent idols, they became as good as non-existent themselves. Who you worship and how you live are intertwined. When the people worshipped idols, the idolatry was not the cause but the symptom that the fear of God was no longer in their hearts. Prophets like Amos and Hosea described how the rich and powerful in Israel oppressed the poor. And if Israel failed to shine as a light for the Gentiles, so that God’s salvation may reach to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 49:6), then they were as good as a broken bulb in the midst of darkness. They became worthless and meaningless. They were as good as non-existent.

We cannot witness the fall of Israel without a critical self-examination of our own faith community. Who do we worship? Who is truly the God of our lives? If not, will we suffer the same fate of judgment as the people of Israel? As Christians, we are the new people of God. God was the one who called us to him and gave us a new covenant in Jesus Christ. So in looking at what happened to Israel, we have to reflect: are we faithful to God in the new covenant? Dr. Hock Seng reminded us to worship the Creator, and not the created. Our priorities in life would indicate if we put the Creator God first, or we put the created things like materials possessions first. Worship goes beyond our Sunday service attendances. It is also about how we live our daily lives. The ancient people of Israel failed to be the light to the Gentiles, but what about us? Jesus is the light of the world; therefore, our lives must be distinctively Christ-like in order to shine. Otherwise, just like the ancient Israelites, we are just mere imitations of the rest of humanity, when we “do as they do”.

In the difficult times of covid-19, there are churches that open up to the homeless, deliver food to the migrant workers, set up programs for the homebound children, and so on. I know of church leaders and church members who comforted the needy and provided necessities like face masks and groceries. I believe it is in the moments of darkness when we should shine the brightest. We must not take our status as the people of God for granted. The honor to serve him is the grace of God. And if we are worthless, like the ancient people of Israel who sullied the divine grace of living in the Promised Land, then God’s judgment to expel the evil might be due when his patience runs out.

None of us are entitled to what we own, especially the gifts we possess. Use them for good, or lose them for good. From a theological perspective, the same can be true as well for those us living in a land like Singapore, or along Outram road.

Sometimes in analyzing history, we speak of pivotal moments: the turning points in history where the course of a person’s life or the trajectory of a nation’s fortunes was changed. In reflecting on the fall of Israel, the pivotal moments could be Solomon setting up the high places for his foreign wives, Jeroboam I (耶罗波安一世) who built the golden calves, Menahem who collaborated with the Assyrians, or Hoshea who betrayed them. We might think that those were the moments that caused Israel to be destroyed in the end. But I disagree. In 2 Kings 17: 13 The Lord warned Israel and Judah through all his prophets and seers: “Turn from your evil ways. Observe my commands and decrees, in accordance with the entire Law that I commanded your ancestors to obey and that I delivered to you through my servants the prophets.” 14 But they would not listen and were as stiff-necked as their ancestors, who did not trust in the Lord their God. Evidently, there were actually countless moments, to turn and obey, to listen and trust. But in those countless moments, there was no turning to obey; there was no listening to trust God. And so the path towards destruction continued on.

So I think we should have a different attitude when we look at the present moment. Any point in your life can become a point of change when you choose to turn and obey, to listen and trust. Like in the story of Jonah, we might say, “Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” (Jonah 3:9)

From this pandemic, we learned that the behaviors of everyone matter, even the little things like wearing a mask or staying at home. We can flatten the curve and change the course of history whenever we choose to do the right thing, no matter how small it might be. And if you are on a path leading away from God, the trajectory of your life might be moving quickly towards complete darkness. Yet you can choose to make a difference, no matter how small.

Every moment is a moment of choice, to turn and obey, to listen and trust. We must shine the light of Christ wherever we are. With the advantage of hindsight, we can look back in history and tell what should have been the right decisions. So in life it is the same. We may wonder when the pivotal moments to change something in our lives are, whether for better or for worse.

But I wish to challenge you. But what about this moment right now? Maybe we are not history makers. But at the very least, you change something about the story of your life. You can do something about the curve. It may be a change of attitude towards someone, to show kindness or forgiveness. It may be a change of habits towards something, to become more proactive and more of team-player. To me, it is about choosing to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and then to trust and obey.

Let me end my sermon with a story as an encouragement to all of us. As we look back in history at the aftermath of the fall of Israel, 23 the people of Israel were taken from their homeland into exile in Assyria. 24 The king of Assyria brought people from (other places) and settled them in the towns of Samaria to replace the Israelites. 28 So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria came to live in Bethel and taught them how to worship the Lord. But God was just one of the many gods they worshipped. Our bible passage ended by saying that the idolatries continued till the day the history was written. It looked as if the people of Israel were doomed.

But somewhere along the way, there was a transformation. The foreigners intermarried with the local Israelites who were left behind, and their descendants were known as the Samaritans. 700 years after the fall of Israel, there was a general creed held by the Samaritans which stated: "We say: my faith is in Yahweh; and in Moses the son of Amram, thy servant; and in the Holy Law; and in Mount Gerizim Bethel (the house of God); and in the Day of Vengeance and recompense." [4] This creed was the evidence that the Samaritans had turned from the idolatry of their forefathers. The Jews might despise the Samaritans for not worshipping in the Jerusalem Temple and not having the purity in bloodlines due to mixed marriages, but at least their Samaritan worship creed indicated that they had the fear of the Lord in their hearts. In the New Testament, the Samaritans eventually accepted the Gospel in John 4 and Acts 8. There were no pivotal moments recorded to suggest what made the Samaritans move away from idolatry in those 700 years. But I believe it was the countless turning points that mattered, when many of these descendants of Israel chose to turn back to God.

[2] Beal, 1 & 2 Kings, Apollos OT Commentary, p 449