“They feared the Lord, and served their own gods, after the manner of the nations whom they carried away from thence.” 2 Kings 17:33
After a long siege, Samaria fell to the Assyrian army in 722 B.C., and the people were deported to remote regions. Then the Assyrians took people from other regions and settled them in the territory vacated by the tribes of the kingdom of Israel. These new inhabitants were heathen, and brought with them their idolatrous religion, for they knew nothing of the worship of the true God. When they suffered calamities in their new home, they said it must be because of failure to worship the special deity of the land. On their request, the king of Assyria sent one of the deported Israelite priests back, to teach the new inhabitants “the manner of the God of the land.” The result of this was the hybrid religion of the Samaritans. of whom Jesus said to the woman at the well: “Ye worship ye know not what.” The Samaritans “feared the Lord, and served their own gods.”
Serving God for Selfish Reasons
They did not worship God because they loved him, or had an atom of real devotion or loyalty to him, but because they believed it would help keep the lions away. This selfish religion was the opposite of the COVENANT service of God described in vs. 34 ff. in which God and his people are united in a bond of love and affection. Many people today worship God, not because they really care anything about God, but because they think it will keep lions away: not literal lions, but troubles and evils of various kinds. Respectability, business success, patriotism, promotion of law and order, national prosperity, support for democratic government—these are some of the man-centered, selfish reasons people have for “worshiping” God. This is “God for man,” not “man for God;” “God for America,” not “America for God.” Such is not real service to God. God is only served in reality when people choose and love him for his own sake.
Serving God and Idols at the Same Time
Failing to see the inconsistency, “they feared the Lord and served their own gods.” When a person attempts to serve God and idols at the same time, he only deceives himself, for God is not mocked. Serving God plus serving idols really amounts to serving idols. Yet millions of people have such a hybrid, compromised religion today. They may not bow down to idols of stone or brass, but such are only the outward symbols of idolatry. The real idolatry is in the mind of the idolator.
The supreme object of a person’s loyalty and devotion is his God or his idol, as the case may be. Whether or not there is any outward, material image, idolatry is giving our supreme devotion to anything that is not God. It may take the form of worship of the State, as in totalitarian countries. In the case of many church members in America, it lakes the form of what Jesus called the worship of Mammon—the selfish pursuit of money, pleasure, worldly success, the love of the world rather than love for God.
“Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.”
How many can’t get to church on the Sabbath who seem quite able to get to town for their business on Saturday or Monday! How many have plenty of time to read ordinary newspapers and magazines, but can”t seem to find even a little time for the Bible and Christian literature! How many can spend several hours a week attending “movies” and all kinds of public meetings, who can’t manage to attend prayer meeting even once a month! How many listen to radio broadcasts an hour or more daily, yet can’t find 15 minutes a day for family worship in their homes! How many are more concerned about their financial and business interests than about the broken and serious condition of the Church of God today! How many spend hours in social visiting and casual conversation, yet cannot find 15 minutes a day for private prayer to God!
To worship the common gods of America today is to follow the line of least resistance, which makes rivers and men crooked. To worship the true God is hard; it involves sacrifice; it means we must deny ourselves, and bear a cross.
God calls us, his people, to be covenant-keepers and to yield our undivided devotion to him. Read 2 Kings 17:34–39. This requires an absolute decision between God and idols. God and the world. God and self. You who have been trying to fear the Lord AND serve your own gods, will you not hear and answer God’s gracious invitation and command, and worship and serve him alone? “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shall thou serve.”
–Johannes G. Vos