The Recipe for “Salad Bar” Religion

2 Kings 17

24And the king of Assyria transported groups of people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim and resettled them in the towns of Samaria, replacing the people of Israel. So the Assyrians took over Samaria and the other towns of Israel. 25But since these foreign settlers did not worship the LORD when they first arrived, the LORD sent lions among them to kill some of them.

26So a message was sent to the king of Assyria: “The people whom you have resettled in the towns of Israel do not know how to worship the God of the land. He has sent lions among them to destroy them because they have not worshiped him correctly.”

27The king of Assyria then commanded, “Send one of the exiled priests from Samaria back to Israel. Let him teach the new residents the religious customs of the God of the land.” 28So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria returned to Bethel and taught the new residents how to worship the LORD.

29But these various groups of foreigners also continued to worship their own gods. In town after town where they lived, they placed their idols at the pagan shrines that the people of Israel had built. 30Those from Babylon worshiped idols of their god Succoth-benoth. Those from Cuthah worshiped their god Nergal. And those from Hamath worshiped Ashima. 31The Avvites worshiped their gods Nibhaz and Tartak. And the people from Sepharvaim even burned their own children as sacrifices to Adrammelech and Anammelech.

32These new residents worshiped the LORD, but they appointed from among themselves priests to offer sacrifices at the pagan shrines. 33And though they worshiped the LORD, they continued to follow the religious customs of the nations from which they came. 34And this is still going on among them today. They follow their former practices instead of truly worshiping the LORD and obeying the laws, regulations, instructions, and commands he gave the descendants of Jacob, whose name he changed to Israel. 35For the LORD had made a covenant with the descendants of Jacob and commanded them: “Do not worship any other gods or bow before them or serve them or offer sacrifices to them. 36Worship only the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt with such mighty miracles and power. You must worship him and bow before him; offer sacrifices to him alone. 37Be careful to obey all the laws, regulations, instructions, and commands that he wrote for you. You must not worship any other gods. 38Do not forget the covenant I made with you, and do not worship other gods. 39You must worship only the LORD your God. He is the one who will rescue you from all your enemies.”

40But the people would not listen and continued to follow their old ways. 41So while these new residents worshiped the LORD, they also worshiped their idols. And to this day their descendants do the same. (2 Kings 17:24-41, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

About 700 years before Christ, the Assyrians, who were the dominant world power at the time, invaded and conquered Israel, the northern kingdom.

A common template for a conquering army was exporting the defeated nation’s people back to the nation of the invading army where they would be assimilated and/or acculturated into the dominant culture.

At the same time, it was common for the conquering power to bring its own citizens in to occupy the conquered land, thus expanding their cultural reach even further.

This is what’s happening in 2 Kings 17. The Assyrian army has conquered Israel and shipped off most of its citizens to the motherland. In exchange, people from various parts of the Assyrian empire are brought into Samaria in order to repopulate the area with those who are already assimilated into the Assyrian way of life.

But there’s a problem. These new people don’t worship God. They have their own regional deities whom they worship. So the Lord sends in lions to kill some of the inhabitants.

When the king learns that some of his selected subjects are being taken down by lions in his newly acquired province, he’s told that the reason is because the people don’t understand how to worship the local deity (God) and so they are being punished by lions that have been sent to kill them.

The king decides to send an exiled priest back to Israel to instruct the new inhabitants in how to worship the Lord, thus hoping to appease the local deity and quell the lion attacks.

This exiled priest does what he’s asked to do. He instructs the new inhabitants in the proper ways to worship the Lord.

The new inhabitants are quick to comply. After all, who wants to get killed by a lion?

The problem is that even though these new inhabitants begin worshiping the Lord according to the pattern they are taught by this exiled priest, they never give up worshiping their previous deities. They worship the Lord but neglect to forsake their former gods.

It occurred to me that we do the same thing today. We may not have regional deities we’re worshiping in addition to God as these people in 2 Kings 17 did, but we may have things besides Jesus that seduce our affections and take priority in our lives.

The truth is that not much has changed in the 2700+ years since this was written. Many people come to church and add Christianity to their philosophical library but they neglect to forsake their former idols and previous ways of life.

As a result, many people end up with what I call a “salad bar” approach to their religious views. I call it a salad bar because if you’ve ever been to a place like Souplantation or a similar buffet-line style eatery, it is a great illustration for how people develop their religious views.

In a salad bar or any kind of buffet line, you grab your plate and you walk down the food line and you put food on your plate that you like and you pass over the foods you don’t like. You pick and choose the things you enjoy while rejecting the things you don’t prefer.

When you reach the end of the buffet line, you pay the cashier and you walk to an open table holding a plate that has all of the delicious items and tantalizing desserts you prefer without any of the foods you dislike.

This isn’t true Christianity. It’s more like what we see here in 2 Kings 17. Just because a person says they believe in Christ and they worship Jesus doesn’t mean they have forsaken all of their previous idols and it doesn’t mean that they have abandoned all of their previous wordly philosophies and dogmas.

The true Christ-follower recognizes that Jesus is calling us into a relationship that is best illustrated as a marital covenant. I wrote about that here.

As is true of any marriage relationship, there is an underlying expectation that both parties will be faithful and true to their one and only partner.

When we add Jesus as just another side dish on our plate of religious philosophies, we have not really made a true commitment to Jesus because saying “yes” to Jesus requires us to first and foremost, forsake all others.

Reflection

What were the idols or gods in your life that you worshiped or gave priority before you came to Christ?

What are the things that tend to compete for you affections as you seek to make Christ Lord in your life?

What are the views or teachings of Christianity that you have a hard time believing – those beliefs that if they were in a salad bar, you’d prefer to pass over instead of putting them on your plate?

Also, what are some views and thoughts from the culture or your previous way of life that you’ve had a hard time discarding from your plate, even though they may stand in contrast to clear biblical teachings?

What are some things you can do to avoid a “salad bar” theology?

 

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

A “Twilight Zone” Episode from the Old Testament

Rod Serling narrates The Twilight Zone – Season 2, Episode 2 – “The Man in the Bottle”

2 Kings 8

7Now Elisha went to Damascus, the capital of Aram, where King Ben-hadad lay sick. Someone told the king that the man of God had come. 8When the king heard the news, he said to Hazael, “Take a gift to the man of God. Then tell him to ask the LORD if I will get well again.”

9So Hazael loaded down forty camels with the finest products of Damascus as a gift for Elisha. He went in to him and said, “Your servant Ben-hadad, the king of Aram, has sent me to ask you if he will recover.”

10And Elisha replied, “Go and tell him, ‘You will recover.’ But the LORD has shown me that he will actually die!” 11Elisha stared at Hazael* with a fixed gaze until Hazael became uneasy. Then the man of God started weeping.

12“What’s the matter, my lord?” Hazael asked him.

Elisha replied, “I know the terrible things you will do to the people of Israel. You will burn their fortified cities, kill their young men, dash their children to the ground, and rip open their pregnant women!”

13Then Hazael replied, “How could a nobody like me ever accomplish such a great feat?”

But Elisha answered, “The LORD has shown me that you are going to be the king of Aram.”

14When Hazael went back, the king asked him, “What did Elisha tell you?”

And Hazael replied, “He told me that you will surely recover.”

15But the next day Hazael took a blanket, soaked it in water, and held it over the king’s face until he died. Then Hazael became the next king of Aram. (2 Kings 8:7-15)


The Daily DAVEotional

I grew up watching reruns of the classic TV series “The Twilight Zone”. Every black and white episode was introduced by series creator and narrator Rod Serling, who, in his classic opening line of “Imagine if you will…” posed a seemingly normal scenario that ultimately ended with an ironic twist of fate that often left the audience wondering if the next installment might be as paradoxical as the last.

This section of scripture from 2 Kings reads like an old Twilight Zone TV script.

Elisha goes to the King of Syria who lays in bed sick and is wondering if he’ll get better. The king tells his servant Hazael to take a gift to Elisha so that they might consult him regarding God’s outcome for his illness.

As Elisha interacts with Hazael, there is an awkward exchange where Elisha breaks down in tears. When asked about the reason for his sadness, Elisha reveals to Hazael that he’s weeping because he foresees the future, and in this future he sees all the evil things Hazael is going to do to the people of Israel.

Hazael doesn’t think too highly of himself as he refers to himself as a “nobody” but he seems to express some excitement at the prospect that he might actually accomplish these “great feats.” Still, he wonders how it’s possible.

Elisha tells him that God has informed him that he will become the king of Aram.

This revelation seems to set forces in motion for Hazael as he tells the king that he WILL recover from his illness but then promptly murders him the next day, replacing him as king of Aram and thus fulfilling Elisha’s prophetic vision.

The question is: did God simply foresee events that would happen and then tell Hazael what He saw, or was this revelation the seed that CAUSED Hazael to take the action that he did?

In the Twilight Zone, the viewer is often left to ponder for himself this very question. One could make an argument either way, which is one of the reasons there was wide appeal for the show, which, even more than 50 years later, are still running daily on local TV stations.

So which is it? Is it divine foreknowledge? Or did God cause the events? It’s the age-old debate: does Hazael freely choose his path or did God fore-ordain it?

It’s both. Clearly God sees everything. And clearly God is sovereign over everything and is able to orchestrate people and circumstances to accomplish His purposes.

What is interesting to know is that back in 1 Kings 19:15, Elijah was told by God that he was to anoint Jehu to be king of Israel, anoint Hazael to be king of Aram and anoint Elisha to be his successor.

Immediately after that passage, we see Elijah calling Elisha to be his successor, but we are not told what happened with Jehu and Hazael.

Now in 2 Kings 8, we see the rest of the story unfold. God’s plan was always for Hazael to be king; we just weren’t informed how and when it would come about.

From the story, it appears that Elisha’s revelation to Hazael plants the seed in Hazael’s mind that he can be someone of greater significance than he previously had imagined.

God, in His sovereignty is able to orchestrate events to fulfill His ultimate purposes, but at the same time, Hazael acted of his own free will when he decided to murder the king and take his place.

Like the Twilight Zone ending, we are left to ponder exactly how these two separate but equally true realities intersect: God knows all and yet is able to accomplish His purposes through people who are completely and fully responsible for their own actions which are made of their own free will.

Reflection

When is a time when you saw God orchestrate circumstances to accomplish a purpose? What are some examples in your own life of events unfolding that seem to coincidental to be anything other than God’s intervention?

God first told Elijah to anoint Hazael king in 1 Kings 19 but we don’t actually see him do it. We see the fulfillment of Hazael becoming king of Aram eleven chapters later. Why do you think there is a such a gap in this story? 

Most people do not have the luxury of having a prophet of God tell them their future. What are the voices you are listening to regarding your future and your destiny? Short of having a prophet visit you, what are some ways you can get God’s perspective on your life and future?

What do you think we can learn from studying the lives and decisions of these kings who lived over 2500 years ago? How can we apply these stories to our own lives and our own culture?

 

Screenshot from Dave Lowe