26 September 2011

"They do not worship the Lord and they do not follow the statutes or the ordinances ... that the Lord commanded the children of Jacob." (v. 34)


Read first the paragraph that begins in verse 34 and continues to verse 39! It expresses the yardstick this author uses to evaluate all history. Every nation (and especially Israel) must worship only one God (the Lord) - and no other gods. (The Lord had been revealed to Israel as their saviour God when they were rescued from slavery in Egypt.) All nations must also faithfully keep the law given by the Lord. In return, the Lord will protect nations who worship rightly and obey the Lord in every aspect of their life: this is the 'covenant' the Lord establishes with the nations.

The remaining verses in today's passage give the author's regretful verdict on what had happened about 150 years earlier (in the 8th century BC) in the northern kingdom of Israel. Betrayal of God's covenant was evident. So Israel had been overrun by Assyria and its people taken away into permanent exile. Their sacred territory, now renamed Samaria, was repopulated by people from many nations who were forcibly deported there by Assyria. The newcomers brought their traditional gods with them. The Lord's demands were not kept. Both Israel and Samaria had merited and received God's judgement.

To our ears this way of interpreting history seems odd. No history book written in the past two centuries has adopted this approach. But it is normal in the Bible. How shall we use this interpretation of history? Perhaps the best we can do is to discern the deep convictions of the biblical authors about God's nature and will; then ponder their impact on:

  • our personal inner longings and intentions
  • the values on which the Church shapes its common life
  • our perception of the work Christians need to do in the modern world to make a good society (like challenging injustice, caring for the poor or brokering peaceful settlements to disputes).

This passage is emphatically not a stick with which to beat the emergence of a multi-faith society in contemporary Britain.


To Ponder

The word of God first pierces the heart of an individual: so what does this passage say to us today about worship and prayer, and about the values we live by?

The word of God also forms the Church, so that with integrity it lives and proclaims God's love. Where and how is your congregation being creatively challenged by these ambitions?

What most helps you today to be hospitable to people of other faiths and sensitively to share with them your faith and values?

Bible notes author: The Revd David Deeks

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