2 Kings 17:33, 41
33 So they feared the Lord but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away.
41 So these nations feared the Lord and also served their carved images. Their children did likewise, and their children’s children – as their fathers did, so the do to this day. (ESV)
Parenting has taught me the incredible value, and elusive nature, of “undivided attention”. It has occurred to me that I would probably be a ton more influential in my daughter’s life if I was a 3 foot tall hispanic girl with a talking, bi-pedal, boot-wearing monkey. The same issue has been repeated many times over as I will attempt to correct Karsten and she will look into my eyes for a moment but gradually her gaze is shifting to the animated feature going on behind me. This tells me pretty clearly that even while she was looking at me there was very little information getting through because I was just a new bit of entertainment for the moment of “scenery change” as I stepped between her and the “Amazing Spanglish Explorer”. So generally I am driven to turn off whatever she is watching and go through the process of focusing her attention on the instruction or rebuke that is coming. Crying and pouting notwithstanding, this “television exile” is an effective tool for allowing the first steps of re-focusing to begin.
In this passage the Scriptures are very clear that God will absolutely not simply be part of the “mix”. He will either be Supreme or He is nothing to you. He will not share the throne of any world or any heart. His reign is singular. He demands undivided attention.
Three distinct times in 2 Kings 17:35-39 the same phrase of instruction and warning is repeated: “You shall not fear other gods” (v 35, 37, 38), and each of those times some aspect of God’s dealing with His people is brought up. There is a powerful reality that God is highlighting: the centrality of Christ in our lives has direct impact on our destiny, purpose, and deliverance. When we make God the center point of everything we do we find that understanding and grace flow from Him, and into us, like tapping an underground water vein into a well. It is senseless to build a well twenty feet from the flow of underground water, it will never channel the power and benefit of the water flow. This failure has nothing to do with the well’s construction, or quality, nor does it have anything to do with the water source being too weak or some other nonsense like that. It is a failure to make the source of life the central thing. Jesus says as much as He is talking with his disciples:
“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in Me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from Me you can do nothing.” (NLT)
Again, this isn’t merely God saying, “I can’t believe you turned your back on me! Don’t you know who I AM!” This is the loving and merciful Creator of the Universe reaching out and saying: “your life will absolutely not make sense on any kind of deeper level if you don’t prioritize your affections.” This, then, puts Persian and Babylonian invasions and the exile of the Israelites into the category of God’s mercy, not His hatred of the people. The Bible does indeed say that He was angry with them for their idolatry, but the Bible is also clear that discipline is an activity reserved for those whom God loves. (Romans 1 would indicate that the most devastating wrath God can bring into a person’s life is to allow them to worship something other than Him and remain practically successful and internally oblivious to their error).
When I step in between my daughter and whatever she is concentrating on it is almost always to bring some kind of correction. I have no desire to rob pleasure or enjoyment from her for some kind of arrogant, twisted satisfaction. And in those moments she needs to hear what I have to say to her, and learn what I have to teach her. Not because I am unfulfilled if she doesn’t hang on my every word, but because my perspective is far greater than hers and my instruction is working for her joy and benefit. I don’t hate jumping on the couch, but I do know that it can lead to busted lips and broken limbs. I believe scissors and knives are extremely useful, but they aren’t to be handled with cavalier indifference as they can do serious harm and lead to permanant problems.
Just like it is merciful and compassionate for me to demand Karsten’s undivided attention, it is the same (but infinitely more) with God. Demanding that the people fear only Him as God was His mercy, love, and compassion for them in that He knew what would bring them the greatest “return” and maximize their joy. It is the same when the Father demands it of us. Malcolm Muggeridge says it this way:
I can say that I never knew what joy was like until I gave up pursuing happiness, or cared to live until I chose to die. For these two discoveries I am beholden to Jesus.