“Happy Mothers’ Day!” to those of my readers who are moms. It’s an important job that you do; I’m glad you’re taking the time to fill yourself with the Word. The proverbist said, “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised.” Proverbs 31:30, NAS95.
As I sometimes do, I’ll begin today’s blog with a little background info. Hopefully, it will clarify a few things.
- Origins of the Samaritans — Both the Assyrian and Babylonian empires practiced a policy of exile / relocation for all their prisoners. The rationale behind it was the suppression of rebellion in the empire. Think about it: if your neighbor to the left is from China, your neighbor to the right is from Venezuela, and the guy across the street is from Africa, you are unlikely to plot rebellion or overthrow; because you don’t speak their language and you don’t know whether or not you can trust them. When Israel was exiled, however, the Assyrians had to fill the territory with someone and they filled it with people from all over the fertile crescent. These foreigners came with their own gods and customs, but before long certain signs (disasters) indicated to them that they needed to worship the God of the land. This was a common idea of the ancient middle east — that gods had their territory, and if you were in “Rome” you would do well to do as the “Romans” (worship the god of the land). They petitioned the Assyrian king for someone to come from the Jews and teach them about the God of Israel. The king consented and before long, these foreigners (wo became known as the Samaritans) started worshipping Israel’s God — after their own fashion. Chapter 17:41 tells us that they basically added the God of Israel to their pantheon, rather than make the God of Israel their only God. Thus, they were considered by the Jews of the return as half-breeds: half-breed racially and half-breed religiously.
- Nehushtan — In Numbers 21:8,9 Israel had once again grumbled against the LORD and He had sent poisonous serpents among them. When Israel repented, God told Moses to make a brass serpent for the people to look at, when they were bitten, so that they wouldn’t die. Israel had kept this relic over the last 700 years, but had begun to view it as an idol. Consequently Hezekiah had felt compelled to destroy it. The name Nehushtan means bronze in Hebrew.
- Rabshakeh — This person is the one who came to Jerusalem to effectively dispirit the citizen of Jerusalem into surrender. Rabshakeh, Tartan, and Rab-saris are actually Mesopotamian titles of nobility rather than names.
- Medes — The Medes were located primarily around modern day Tehran, Iran. The nation of Israel was relocated pretty close to the opposite end of the Assyrian empire.
Apostasy had its reward — Apostasy (falling away) had a guaranteed reward by the LORD: war, defeat, and exile. It all came to pass just as God had promised. Chapter 17 carries a long, well documented lists of their crimes against the LORD. They had fallen away — in spades. If we fall away, are their any promises God has made to us? There are those (Calvinists) who deny that, once someone has been saved, they can ever lose their salvation. Jesus and His apostles all disagree with this theory. In fact, the writer of the Hebrew letter says quite clearly:
“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, ‘VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.’ And again, ‘THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE.’ It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Hebrews 10:26-31, NAS95.
Yes, there is a promise made to those who fall away, Hell. God makes it with no pleasure, “Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’” Ezekiel 33:11, NAS95. But in the same way that He “pulled the trigger” on Israel, God will “pull the trigger” on the fallen away among Christians, too — with the same tear in His eye.
Why are there so few real relics? — Nehushtan provides an easy to see reason why God appears to have allowed so few remainders of biblical history to be uncovered. As part of our very material nature we have tended to idolize what relics do get passed down. Consider what happened to what was thought to be remnants of the “true cross” or the “shroud of Turin”. Indiana Jones’ search for the ark is also a fictionalized example, but fiction or not, based on real human tendencies. It’s not that these things were not real, they were, but men don’t treat them for what they are, just material things.
Mocking what you don’t understand — The emissaries from Assyria tried to convince the Jews of Jerusalem that God would not be on their side, because Hezekiah had torn down all the high places where their God was worshipped. Clearly, they were judging Hezekiah by their own standards. God was, of course, pleased at what Hezekiah had done. When I was in graduate school for counseling and psychology, we had a seminar on homosexuality taught by practicing homosexuals. When I had the temerity to ask, as a minister, how they morally justified what they did, one hostile remark from the rest of the class was, “How do you, as a man of the cloth, ask a question like that?” I don’t think he understood what Christian “men of the cloth” are called to.
Take your troubles to the Lord — When I read through the verses of the story of the heavily distressed Hezekiah laying before God the letter from Sennecarib, pleading for help, I can relate; can’t you? Have you ever been there? Sennecarib’s threat was not idle; Assyria had a cultivated reputation for brutality and cruelty that they seemed to revel in. Saying no to the Assyrians was asking for big, terrible trouble. But taking his troubles to the Lord was what worked! Hezekiah couldn’t defeat him, but God always can. Got troubles? Lay them out before the Lord; do what you need to do; and leave the rest to Him.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.