Living with the Consequences
All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They worshiped other gods and followed the practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before them, as well as the practices that the kings of Israel had introduced. The Israelites secretly did things against the LORD their God that were not right. From watchtower to fortified city they built themselves high places in all their towns. They set up sacred stones and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every spreading tree. At every high place they burned incense, as the nations whom the LORD had driven out before them had done. They did wicked things that aroused the LORD’s anger. They worshiped idols, though the LORD had said, “You shall not do this.” 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.”2 Kings 17:7-23 NIV
But they would not listen and were as stiff-necked as their ancestors, who did not trust in the LORD their God. 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.”
They forsook all the commands of the LORD their God and made for themselves two idols cast in the shape of calves, and an Asherah pole. They bowed down to all the starry hosts, and they worshiped Baal. They sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire. They practiced divination and sought omens and sold themselves to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, arousing his anger.
So the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them from his presence. Only the tribe of Judah was left, and even Judah did not keep the commands of the LORD their God. They followed the practices Israel had introduced. Therefore the LORD rejected all the people of Israel; he afflicted them and gave them into the hands of plunderers, until he thrust them from his presence.
When he tore Israel away from the house of David, they made Jeroboam son of Nebat their king. Jeroboam enticed Israel away from following the LORD and caused them to commit a great sin. The Israelites persisted in all the sins of Jeroboam and did not turn away from them until the LORD removed them from his presence, as he had warned through all his servants the prophets. So the people of Israel were taken from their homeland into exile in Assyria, and they are still there.
Repeated covenant-breaking has serious consequences. The flipside is that covenant-keeping has positive outcomes. Notice in this passage the central importance of Torah (law) and Israel’s chronic recurrent problem of slipping back into all forms of idolatry.
Modern Western society is permeated to its core with idolatry, with one particular ism extending its grasp beyond any other – materialism. Unchecked materialism has so infiltrated Christianity and other religious systems that it goes virtually unnoticed by the majority. Unless humanity, led by people of faith, can turn a corner quickly, the spiritual, interpersonal and societal consequences in today’s interconnected world will hold us captive in ways ancient Israelites could have never conceived.
Following is a quotation from author, educator and environmentalist Bill McKibben’s call for communities of faith to return God to the center of life:
“Consumption is an issue uniquely suited for faith communities. Among the institutions of our society, only the communities of faith can still posit some reason for human existences other than the constant accumulation of stuff!”
If we in religious communities are going to do anything about it, we have to recognize just how strong the consumerist ethos is. It has taken root in all of us, basically unchallenged. Fertilized by a million commercials, it has grown like a wolf tree, a tree whose canopy spreads so wide that it blots out the sun. In the same way, the consumerist ethos blots out the quiet word of God. Churches, obviously, do not have the power to compete head-on, and few of us junkies are ready to go cold turkey. But increasingly there are signs that people are asking, ‘Isn’t there something more than this?’
Theologian and educator Marva Dawn would answer McKibben’s rhetorical question with a resounding and unapologetic yes. Dawn would assure us that churches, pastors and individual Christians who struggle with a perceived ‘need’ to compete with the world may rest easy. Our God has everything under control, today as in every age, no matter what its unique set of challenges:
“The kingdom is always alive and well. Many Christians refuse to accept the gimmicks, the quick-fix techniques, the appeal of success, the power of money, the lure of fame, and other cultural idolatries because they have a deep sense of profoundly countercultural call, the call to live as kingdom people.”
Try to answer the following questions as you reflect upon today’s passage: how is materialism woven into the fabric of your society, what does it look like for you to live as a ‘kingdom person,’ and what changes could you make in your life to look more like a kingdom person?