Israel Exiled Because of Sin / Paul sails for Rome: July 8th 2021

2 Kings 16:1-17:41

Ahaz became king of Judah. After a recent run of good Judean kings, Ahaz turned to the dark side. He walked in the ways of the evil kings of Israel. He worshipped the Canaanite demonic deities and even performed child sacrifice (2 Kings 16:3).

Ahaz’s capital city, Jerusalem, was besieged by the Arameans and the Israelites. Ahaz sent silver and gold to the king of Assyria and asked to be rescued. The king of Assyria responded and attacked the Aramean capital, Damascus. He captured it, killed the king of Aram and deported its inhabitants.

King Ahaz went to meet his saviour Tiglath-Pileser, king of Assyria, in Damascus and decided he wanted to build a replicate altar to one he saw there. He sent a sketch and detailed plans to Uriah the priest, who had it built before Ahaz returned. This is despite the Lord having told the Israelites not to imitate the nations around them (2 Kings 17:15). Ahaz would use the new altar for sacrifices but would still use the old bronze altar for ‘seeking guidance’ (2 Kings 16:15). He would be lucky to receive any guidance from God with his attitude.

Hoshea became the last king of Israel. For a while, Hoshea paid tribute to the king of Assyria, Shalmaneser, but he traitorously sent envoys to the king of Egypt and stopped paying. Shalmaneser imprisoned Hoshea, invaded the whole of Israel, captured its capital Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria. Even since the Israelites had made Jeroboam king, they had irritated the Lord. Jeroboam had ‘enticed Israel away from following the Lord and caused them to commit a great sin (2 Kings 17:21). They had ignored God’s prophets and so God afflicted them, ‘gave them into the hands of plunderers’ and ‘thrust them from his presence’ (2 Kings 17:20).   

The historian writing 2 Kings summarized that these events ‘all took place because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God’ (2 Kings 17:7). In contrast, the Southern kingdom, Judah, had been fortunate to have many kings that were not as evil as the Israelite kings. God preserved the integrity of Judah thanks to its more positive attitude towards Him, far longer than He protected Israel.

The Israelites had worshipped other gods, most commonly the demonic Canaanite fertility deities Baal and Ashtoreth. They had set up sacred stones and Asherah poles and burned incense in the high places. They worshipped worthless idols making themselves become worthless (2 Kings 17:15). The Israelites had rejected God’s decrees, statutes and covenant. They had carried out child sacrifice, practiced divination and sought omens. They had ignored the warnings from God’s prophets and so God in his righteous anger removed them from his presence.

We now live in such a multi-faith culture that many people syncretize other religions as the Israelites attempted to do. We can attempt to amalgamate and reconcile differing religious beliefs and cultural elements. State run schools are no longer solely Christian focused and will celebrate other faith’s festivals as well as Christmas and Easter. People in the United States feel pressurized to wish each other ‘Happy Holidays’ rather than ‘Happy Christmas’ to feel more inclusive of other faiths. Mohr states that ‘the person most likely to insist on “Merry Christmas” would be a Republican man over 60 who lives in the Midwest; the archetypal “Happy Holidays” proponent is a young (18 to 29) female Democrat living in the Northeast’

Many people today still worship false idols such as celebrity and wealth rather than God. Jesus said ‘you cannot serve both God and Money’ (Matt.6:24). People do not trust God to provide all their basic needs and end up stressed and requiring counselling. They worry about their futures. Jesus said that we should not worry about our lives or what we should eat and drink. We should seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness and ‘all these things will be given to you as well’ (Matt. 6:33).

The Israelites had practiced child sacrifice with even the king, Ahaz, sacrificing his son ‘in the fire’ (2 Kings 16:3). Child sacrifice has become endemic in Western Societies since the 1960’s through the state-sponsored practice of abortion. Over 200,000 unwanted children are killed before birth in the United Kingdom every year for many different reasons including: economic pressures (due to the greed of the rest of society), worship of material possessions and career, lack of desire to be a servant to one’s family and pressure from oppressive / abusive partners who want sex without accepting responsibility for the consequences.

Jesus ‘did not come to be served, but to serve’ (Matt.20:28). In Mark 10:19 he reiterated the commandment: ‘you shall not murder’ and had a particular love for small children ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them’ (Matt.19:14).

The King of Assyria resettled Israel with foreigners, deported from other countries. These people did not know how to worship the Lord, so God sent lions to kill them. The King of Assyria then sent one of the Israelite priests back to Samaria to teach the people how to worship the Lord. However, each national group still set up their own shrines to their national gods. They worshipped the Lord in addition to worshipping their own demonic deities, serving their man-made idols and performing child sacrifice.

Israel was now full of people who did not worship the Lord exclusively, nor did they adhere to the decrees, ordinances, laws and commands that the Lord had given to the Israelites. The country was at a very low spiritual ebb. Many people call themselves Christians in our country but in addition to giving lukewarm occasional worship to God, they also worship other man-made gods and their own desires. It is tempting to follow secular rules and laws rather than God’s commandments. We all need to assess our lives and behaviours to see if we have adopted the attitudes and idols of the non-Christians around us. Are we listening to God and only following him?

Acts 26:24-27:12

Festus shouted at Paul and accused him of being insane (Acts 26:24). Many people think Christians are crazy today but they haven’t actually worked out in their own minds who they think Jesus is. They would rather not think about him at all. There is no denying he is a historical figure – secular historians have confirmed this. Looking at the miracles and wonders he performed, it is true and reasonable to conclude he was the Son of God. He proved this beyond doubt by his resurrection. People who don’t follow Christianity are the ones not living in reality. They deny documented history and will not listen to the truth.

Paul did not lose his cool. He was adamant he was truthful and reasonable. He asked King Agrippa whether he believed the prophets. King Agrippa realised that Paul was attempting to convert him (Acts 26:28). Paul prayed for him and everyone who listens to his words that we will become what he was.

The senior Romans left the room and all agreed that Paul should not even have been imprisoned. He could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar. It seems crazy that they would persist in sending Paul to Rome when they had agreed he was innocent, but God wanted Paul in Rome and they were unwittingly carrying out His will.

Paul was handed over to a centurion called Julius, who would supervise him on the gruelling boat journey to Rome. Luke – the author of Acts – travelled with Paul along with Aristarchus, a Macedonian. Paul was still given a great deal of kindness and freedom during the voyage. Julius allowed him to go to his friends when they stopped in Sidon.

The ships they boarded made slow headway against the wind. It was getting late in the year and Paul prophesied that the trip was going to be disastrous (Acts 27:10). However, the centurion ignored Paul’s advice. They hoped to reach the port of Phoenix in Crete and overwinter there. Just as the devil had tried to sink Jesus’ boat as he crossed the lake to exorcise the Gerasene demoniac, the devil was orchestrating the wind and sea against Paul.

Satan wanted to prevent Paul from reaching Rome as from there his teaching would reach the whole world.

Psalm 81:8-16

Israel would not listen to God so he left them to their own devices (Psalm 81:12). Billions of people do not listen to God today; they follow their own gods and desires – worshipping the false idols of money, career and self.

Our fellow citizens wonder why the world is ravaged by wars, famines, natural disasters and a pandemic. If we would all follow God’s ways, he would quickly subdue our enemies and turn his hand against our foes (Ps.81:14).

The demons have chosen to rebel against the Lord for ever – they and their followers will receive punishment that will last forever (Ps.81:15).

When we repent and turn to God, inviting Jesus into our lives as our personal saviour we will be fed with the finest produce of the land (Ps.81:16)

Image: Alberto Fernandez Fernandez, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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