A little bit of history to set the backdrop. When God gave His law to the nation of Israel – which the nation agreed to keep (Exodus 19:8; 24:3-7; Deuteronomy 5:27) – the consequences for obedience and disobedience to that law were clearly laid out. Obedience would result in the blessings of safety, peace, and prosperity. Disobedience would result in famine, sickness, oppression, war, and eventual removal from the land of promise (Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28).
As you know, the history of Israel is one of disobedience, rebellion, and idolatry. And what God said would happen, did. In 2 Kings 17 (about 722 BC), the ten northern tribes of Israel were carried into captivity by the Assyrians.
The chapter not only records the final deportation, it summarizes the reasons why it came to this. And it is a very marked digression. Sadly, it’s also one that looks mighty familiar. Let’s take a look…
STEP 1: SECRET SIN
· They walked in the statutes of the heathen (v. 8).
· They did secretly those things that were not right (v. 9).
· They built high places in their cities (v. 9).
· They set up images and groves in every high hill (v. 10).
· They served idols (v. 12).
The people of Israel did not start by forsaking God. They didn’t start with open rebellion. They just started incorporating heathen practices and heathen gods and heathen worship into their Hebrew lives. They didn’t stop going to the temple. They just visited the grove as well. They didn’t throw away God’s law. They just chose to ignore certain parts.
Does that not sound familiar? Don’t you know saved people (young and old) who go to church and say they love God, but instead of living by the Bible, they walk in the statutes of the heathen? Who get their standards from society instead of the scriptures? Who worship God on Sunday and American idol on Monday? Who go to church on Sunday morning but spend the rest of the weekend worshipping athletes and celebrities? Who might spend a Thursday evening in the church house then turn around and spend Friday evening in a movie house?
It’s not that they’re against God. They’re not opposed to church. Their standards and their morals and their religious devotion is even greater than most of the people around them. They just don’t want to be too peculiar (Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9). They want to be like everyone else – just better (after all, they’re Christians.
STEP 2: HARDENED NECKS
In Israel’s case, God’s response was to send a prophet to preach a negative message – “the Lord testified against Israel” – and call on the people to repent – “turn ye from your evil ways” (v. 13). Their response to the preaching: “They would not hear, but hardened their necks” (v. 14). “And they rejected his statutes” (v. 15).
Because God loved them, he sent them men to preach straight and strong and tell the truth and give them an opportunity to avert the destruction that was surely headed their way. But they “did not believe” (v. 14). They ignored the message and opposed the messengers.
I’ve seen this as well. Our pastor, a guest preacher, or a youth rally speaker will stand and proclaim the truth of God’s word. He preaches strong; he preaches straight. Young people (and older people) are urged and cautioned and warned of the dangers of living after the flesh. They are encouraged and exhorted and challenged to line up their lives with the word and will of God.
But the preaching is rejected. The word of God ignored. First, the hearers simply refuse to respond. They refuse to allow the word of God to change them – which means they don’t believe it (1 Thessalonians 2:13). Next, they begin to criticize the preaching; to find fault with the preacher; to disagree whenever possible. And finally, they will begin to avoid it. This is easily accomplished: sitting in back rows; coming in late; texting during the service; sleeping through the service; getting involved with an NIV, FCA, come as you are, para-church, “Christian” club that meets on Sunday nights.
STEP 3: TOTAL DISOBEDIENCE
· Missing church for school
· Missing church for sports
· Positive hits over Ephesians 5:19 music
· “Moderate” immodesty
· Comfortable, casual, acceptable Christianity
The big deal about what many consider to be little things is not the things themselves; it’s what they lead to. The greatest cause for concern may not be what you’re doing today but what it means you’ll be doing tomorrow. It’s not where you’re at, it’s the direction that you’re headed.
Proverbs 4:14-15 says, “ENTER NOT INTO THE PATH OF THE WICKED, and GO NOT IN THE WAY OF EVIL MEN…” Don’t even take a step in that direction. If you don’t want to go there, don’t even get on that road.
Such was the case with Israel. The secret sins of verse 9 led to leaving all the commandments of the Lord in verse 16. The groves and high places of verses 10-11 led to the sacrificing of children to molten images in verses 16-17. Walking in the statutes of the heathen in verse 8 led to rejecting God’s statutes; going after the heathen; following vanity; verse 15. “Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight” (v. 18).
A little bit of worldliness puts a person on a slope that leans toward all-out worldliness. A little presumptuous sin is the first step on the path of defiant rebellion. Ignoring what God says about a “little thing” (e.g. music) means that before long, you might be ignoring what God says about a “big thing” (e.g. alcohol).
How did it all end up? Well, look what Israel turned their back on: they rejected God’s covenant (v. 15). That is, they forfeited all the rich blessings that accompanied obedience to His law. We’re living in a different day as a different people with different promises of different blessings, but God still richly blesses the lives of those who walk by faith, in His ways. And sadly, many still turn their back on the blessings He offers.
And look what they followed: vanity, they became vain (v. 15). They wasted their lives. Their lives were empty; pointless; meaningless; eventually miserable. They voluntarily returned to what God had delivered them from – bondage (2 Peter 2).
That’s the choice the Lord holds out to every one of us and the choice he would have us hold out to the next generation: enjoy the blessings of obedience, or waste your life pursuing your own pleasure, having nothing to show for it on the day that you stand before God.
May the Lord help us all to choose wisely.