2 Kings 17:7-12 NLTse This disaster came upon the people of Israel because they worshiped other gods. They sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them safely out of Egypt and had rescued them from the power of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. (8) They had followed the practices of the pagan nations the LORD had driven from the land ahead of them, as well as the practices the kings of Israel had introduced. (9) The people of Israel had also secretly done many things that were not pleasing to the LORD their God. They built pagan shrines for themselves in all their towns, from the smallest outpost to the largest walled city. (10) They set up sacred pillars and Asherah poles at the top of every hill and under every green tree. (11) They offered sacrifices on all the hilltops, just like the nations the LORD had driven from the land ahead of them. So the people of Israel had done many evil things, arousing the LORD’s anger. (12) Yes, they worshiped idols, despite the LORD’s specific and repeated warnings.
This may look like a short list of problems Israel had that many people read through in less than a minute. But let’s see what happens when we apply a few rules of context to that message. Rules of context are a safety feature God placed in His Word. Rules of context are not some sort of secret code, but more like reading a love letter. What do I mean by that? This part of the message reminds me of that. When we have that love connection with God, rules of context cease to be rules, but a natural checklist used to examine the depth of a love letter.
When Israel was finally destroyed, it broke God’s heart. Put yourself in an intensive care room with a loved on. You watch the heart rate and vital signs on a monitor. You hear the shallow breathing. You see an expression of fear and doubt in their eyes as they face the reality, they are about to die. But you cling onto hope. Your mind races over a hundred ideas, trying to decide which one may work. At the same time your mind races over memories, thinking about the times you shared, and what you wished you had done and said. Your thinking about what you could have done a year ago, an hour ago, or ten minutes ago to save them. If only you knew how to pray, and knew how to ask God to save them. Was it your fault because you didn’t know the right words? Did you forget something in your request? A million thoughts engulf you the moment you see, the time has come. You lean forward for one last kiss. A lack of heat confirms the inevitable. Your loved one is gone, but a piece of you still clings onto hope.
God has to go through that more than a thousand times a day. That doesn’t begin to explain what God felt when He had to let Israel go. The pain of a million lost lives hung on God’s heart, the one who could speak everything into existence at a moments notice, but powerless to save the creation He loves most. Imagine what it feels like to have all that power, and have your heart broken.
If we allow ourselves to look at that list without considering how God faces that loss everyday for more than six thousand years, we miss an image of God the author shed tears over for weeks after recording that message, and other messages like that one. We miss the walls God’s prophets built around themselves to hold in their feelings and emotions when they wanted to shout out, and share the pain they felt inside when no one would listen. Elijah gave us a glimpse into that pain and sorrow. What did God do? God told Elijah to get up and get ready to travel. God had work for Elijah to do. God felt so bad, He stepped up His plans, and took Elijah to Heaven where God could deliver a personal hug. That doesn’t happen to all of us. So all we can do is be there with that personal hug God wants us to deliver and share. Have you ever been there?
How have we been trained to deal with people worshiping other gods? That’s not something we deal with everyday. But we do encounter a lot of people who never met God. How do we introduce them to God? First, we have to meet God ourselves. We have to know God, feel His love, know all His sacrifices. All of them. We can’t allow ourselves to get stuck on one sacrifice and introduce the true living God. We may as well hand people a statue and tell them to pray though a piece of plastic to know God. We have to humble ourselves, meet God at His throne. See God in a form and manner this world falls short of describing. We have to listen to God.
More often than not, God eventually reaches that tough love stage in the relationship. Like this story shows us. It may seem like a long list of don’ts, but they are given in love. If your spouse tells you not to look at other women, or sleep with them, she is telling you how much that would hurt her. That would tear her apart inside and change her life forever. When we love someone, we can look into what they say, and feel the emotion. We can also see details they shouldn’t have to explain to us. The rules of context God placed within His Word teach us how to get back in touch with those emotions. The rules of context remind us how to see the love in God’s Word. The same Word that created this world.
Laws are not only written to protect, but to convey love and emotion. Any sane person wants a spouse able, open, and honest enough to share what would hurt them, what has hurt them, continues to hurt them, and what could hurt them in the future as that love grows. The greater the love, the more the pain if anything did go wrong. The greater the risk of pain, the more rules are introduced to protect that love and relationship. God’s laws are not a list of things to do to get into Heaven. They are a list of things not to do, so we don’t break God’s heart after we begin to share a close, personal love with Him.
How do we begin? How do people begin an affair today? Maybe a message online. Then emails. Trust is built, followed by an exchange of phone numbers. Notice how exchanges build trust. God is the same. God answers prayers. What is on your side of that exchange? How do you react to God when He answers you? Do you keep talking in a one way conversation, dominating the God of the Universe? Or do you sit quietly to listen? Men and women love people who listen. Some may even tell you how much they appreciate your listening skills. God would tell you the same thing if you took time to listen. No one can ever fall in love with anyone if they have not spent time to listen to them.
One book I read recommended talking to God out loud. I tried it, and talking out loud to God works. You can actually hear His voice clearer. And talking out loud to God reminds you to stop and listen. Talking out loud to God is like telling God, you trust Him enough to give Him your phone number.
Over the past few chapters, we’ve paid attention to decisions, and noticed how kings made a lot of them without talking to God. When we look at what scripture says, as well as what it doesn’t say, we can see how communication with God effected people, and how the lack of communication with God effected their actions, decisions, way of life, and with kings, their leadership qualities. We’ve seen how God had the author provide a list of kings and their sons to show a personal side of this story. Now the author used the word, “people,” to expand that personal level. I don’t know if paying attention to characters and how they are recorded is a rule of context, but it is a way off looking into God’s letter and reading between the lines.
In real life, we should have the ability to look into words from a loved one to see what is behind them. We also should be open enough to discuss those inner most feelings. If your relationship with God is restricted to only reading His Word, you have no idea what you are missing. It is time to open up to other forms of communication.
When God writes about Egypt, that is the same as any event your loved one wrote about. What do they want you to do? Think about that event. More often than not, they want you to remember a personal connection you had at that moment, how it was established, and the result. That is what God is doing. He wanted Israel to review their past, where they came from, how God established that relationship at that time, and what happened to it. If nothing else, God wanted them to review the type of relationship He offered Israel, and remember, the offer is still open.
God also wanted them to remember the gifts He gave them. Food and water along their journey, and land with everything they needed. An example as well as expression of unconditional love. But that love had to be returned. Unconditional love does not come without rules. The world may teach that. But that type of teaching from this world is based on greed and selfishness. The idea of getting everything for nothing, no strings attached, and no reason to respond to any expression of love. I know a lot of people have been in relationships that are nothing more than one way streets. They can tell you how painful it is to give all their love to a person, hoping, praying they will respond, and how painful it is when they finally face the reality, their affections were wasted on someone who doesn’t care. Multiple that pain by a few million and your standing in God’s shoes. But when you return God’s love, all that pain goes away. People will tell you, as soon as a new romance is kindled, all that pain disappears. God is the same. God could not exist without the love he gives returning to Him. God is not the God of a one way love affair.
God sees everything. There is nothing He doesn’t see. When we are not loyal to God, He knows it, and waits for us to come to Him to confess. God is patient, and knows we have a difficult time seeing how we hurt Him. Relationships can be like that. One person can be an over whelming, dominating factor, never considering the other persons feelings. They make mistakes and never consider how much they hurt the others feelings. We sin without knowing we sinned. We neglect God without knowing it. God calls us back, tries to explain how He feels, but selfishness and pride blind us. Our relationship is unbalanced and it is up to us to work together with God to find that balance. When we try to accomplish a balance on our own, we are doomed to fail. Our selfish traits allow us to reach out only so far. God is not selfish, so He reaches out all the way. God’s arms are not short. But our emotional arms are often too short to reach back to God and His love.
When we feel a lack of love, more often caused by an inability to return the love we receive, we look for substitutes. People shower children and their spouses with material gifts to make up for the lack of time and attention they crave. Those gifts are nothing more than idols, a payoff for mistakes, and a denial of the lack of communication we are guilty of. God used idols as a symbol to illustrate a lack of communication and compassion.
How foolish are those who manufacture idols. These prized objects are really worthless. The people who worship idols don’t know this, so they are all put to shame. Who but a fool would make his own god– an idol that cannot help him one bit? All who worship idols will be disgraced along with all these craftsmen–mere humans– who claim they can make a god. They may all stand together, but they will stand in terror and shame. The blacksmith stands at his forge to make a sharp tool, pounding and shaping it with all his might. His work makes him hungry and weak. It makes him thirsty and faint. Then the wood-carver measures a block of wood and draws a pattern on it. He works with chisel and plane and carves it into a human figure. He gives it human beauty and puts it in a little shrine. He cuts down cedars; he selects the cypress and the oak; he plants the pine in the forest to be nourished by the rain. Then he uses part of the wood to make a fire. With it he warms himself and bakes his bread. Then–yes, it’s true–he takes the rest of it and makes himself a god to worship! He makes an idol and bows down in front of it! He burns part of the tree to roast his meat and to keep himself warm. He says, “Ah, that fire feels good.” Then he takes what’s left and makes his god: a carved idol! He falls down in front of it, worshiping and praying to it. “Rescue me!” he says. “You are my god!” Such stupidity and ignorance! Their eyes are closed, and they cannot see. Their minds are shut, and they cannot think. The person who made the idol never stops to reflect, “Why, it’s just a block of wood! I burned half of it for heat and used it to bake my bread and roast my meat. How can the rest of it be a god? Should I bow down to worship a piece of wood?” The poor, deluded fool feeds on ashes. He trusts something that can’t help him at all. Yet he cannot bring himself to ask, “Is this idol that I’m holding in my hand a lie?” “Pay attention, O Jacob, for you are my servant, O Israel. I, the LORD, made you, and I will not forget you. (Isaiah 44:9-21 NLTse).
Not many people see the compassion in God’s letter. They read the Bible like it is a history book written by an author they will never meet, or establish a personal relationship with. Sure people read scripture, and see a few things in it, when they need to be comforted. But what do you do when your loved one wraps their arms around you? It should become just as natural to return that embrace from God, as it is to participate in a hug.
Israel missed that opportunity. They missed many more opportunities than recorded in God’s book. No one can count the blessings and messages God sent. No one can count the tears God shed. No one can estimate the time and effort God put into Israel. Finally, Ahaz acted on his own to destroy his brothers to the north, and God stood by as He watched His sons and daughters die. God left kings and nations on their own for a moment to show the world what happens when He doesn’t step in to quiet disagreements and misunderstandings. We have that result to learn from, as well as those details that led up to Israel’s fall. But do we look at them with the love and heartache God used to record those details?