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

The Whip of God’s Anger!

Isaiah 10

5“Destruction is certain for Assyria, the whip of my anger. Its military power is a club in my hand. 6Assyria will enslave my people, who are a godless nation. It will plunder them, trampling them like dirt beneath its feet. 7But the king of Assyria will not know that it is I who sent him. He will merely think he is attacking my people as part of his plan to conquer the world. 8He will say, ‘Each of my princes will soon be a king, ruling a conquered land. 9We will destroy Calno just as we did Carchemish. Hamath will fall before us as Arpad did. And we will destroy Samaria just as we did Damascus. 10Yes, we have finished off many a kingdom whose gods were far greater than those in Jerusalem and Samaria. 11So when we have defeated Samaria and her gods, we will destroy Jerusalem with hers.’”

12After the Lord has used the king of Assyria to accomplish his purposes in Jerusalem, he will turn against the king of Assyria and punish him—for he is proud and arrogant. 13He boasts, “By my own power and wisdom I have won these wars. By my own strength I have captured many lands, destroyed their kings, and carried off their treasures. 14By my greatness I have robbed their nests of riches and gathered up kingdoms as a farmer gathers eggs. No one can even flap a wing against me or utter a peep of protest.”

15Can the ax boast greater power than the person who uses it? Is the saw greater than the person who saws? Can a whip strike unless a hand is moving it? Can a cane walk by itself?

16Listen now, king of Assyria! Because of all your evil boasting, the Lord, the LORD Almighty, will send a plague among your proud troops, and a flaming fire will ignite your glory. 17The LORD, the Light of Israel and the Holy One, will be a flaming fire that will destroy them. In a single night he will burn those thorns and briers, the Assyrians. 18Assyria’s vast army is like a glorious forest, yet it will be destroyed. The LORD will completely destroy Assyria’s warriors, and they will waste away like sick people in a plague. 19Only a few from all that mighty army will survive—so few that a child could count them! (Isaiah 10:5-19, NLT)


Assyria is an ancient nation that at one time was THE biggest, baddest empire around.

As is typical of big, bad empires, they conquered other nations, took captives, plundered and slaughtered people and generally enforced their will wherever they went.

In this chapter of Isaiah, God describes the Assyrians as “the whip of my anger.” Its mighty military power is described by God as “a club in my hand.”

God explains that He is going to use the Assyrians as His tool to punish the Israelites, His people who have continually forsaken Him, despite many warnings about the consequences of abandoning the Lord for other gods.

After the Lord has used the Assyrians to accomplish His purposes, He explains that He will then punish the Assyrians.

Why would He punish the Assyrians if they were simply God’s tool to accomplish His plan of destruction against Israel?

Verses 12-15 give the answer. The reason Assyria will be punished is because of pride and arrogance. The Assyrian king won’t acknowledge that He is subordinate to God and that the Lord was simply using Him as His vessel of discipline. Instead, the Assyrian king will embrace the belief that everything he’s accomplished is because of his superior nature over those whom he’s subjugated.

The king of Assyria will essentially make himself out to be a god as he mentions all the gods he has conquered from the various lands he now controls.

God reminds the listener that Assyria is no different than an ax, a saw or a cane. They are all just instruments that are completely useless unless there is an active agent to employ the tool for its purpose.

Assyria, at one time, WAS the big bad empire bullying all the surrounding nations of the Ancient Near East. WAS! Somewhere between 612 and 605 BC, Assyria was destroyed. They were overtaken by the next big, bad empire – the Babylonians, but not before God fulfilled His promise of using the Assyrians to discipline and punish His people who had forsaken Him.

Reflection

Under what circumstances are you tempted to take credit for actions and outcomes that are ultimately orchestrated by God?

The Assyrians were supplanted by the Babylonians, who were supplanted by the Persians, who were supplanted by the Greeks, who were supplanted by the Romans, etc. Why do you suppose empires come and go? What conditions do you think would be necessary for an empire to last?

What do you think is the difference between pride/arrogance/boasting and confidence and self-assurance? How can you ensure that you’re confident in yourself without being boastful or proud?

 

Photo by Jamil Kabar on Unsplash