2 Kings 17 describes the Assyrian capture of Israel and the Assyrian king’s resettlement of Samarian land. He brings in several groups of people with pagan backgrounds who worship a multiplicity of false gods – people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim (v. 24). It’s specifically noted that they “did not fear the Lord” when they first settled there . . . and as a result, they are attacked by lions. So the Assyrian king suggests what he thinks would be a fair solution: that “the god of the land” (referring to Yahweh) essentially be added to the people’s collection of gods. He sends an exiled priest to the pagan settlers to “teach them the law of the god of the land” (v. 27).
Seems great, right? An inspiring story about a missionary priest who converts the pagan settlers? Unfortunately, we don’t see true repentance or conversion from these Samarian settlers, but rather something much more nebulous and familiar. The passage continues: “But every nation still made gods of its own . . . So they feared the Lord but also served their own gods . . .” (v. 29, 33).
I almost glossed over these verses in my personal reading, but then found myself extremely convicted and moved by them. Not only have they described the tendency of my own heart, but also the general attitude of the culture I live in (including the culture of the Western church). This is called spiritual syncretism, which refers to an attempt to blend different religious beliefs together in a manner similar to crafting your own sandwich at Subway. You stand at the counter and say, “I want a foundation of Christian fundamentalism, with a tiny handful of pagan superstitions, and a sprinkling of secular pragmatism. Toasted, please.” And we often try to make room for this approach to life by downplaying it or ignoring it altogether. We tell ourselves that as long as we do ABC in a generally “Christian” way, then surely won’t be all that bad to do XYZ according to the world’s prescriptions.
Essentially, we are all guilty of the inconsistency described in 2 Kings 17. We may wear it proudly as culture does, in the name of free-thinking and tolerance, or it may be something we aren’t even conscious of. Regardless, we who call ourselves followers of Christ must constantly examine our hearts for areas – behaviors, desires, relationships – that we have devoted to gods other than the true God of Scripture. These gods may be other people, obsessions with self, aesthetics, political philosophies, you name it. It is idolatry, plain and simple.
It might seem harsh to say that. But we have to realize that humans are made to worship – our souls are never neutral. Where we do not submit to God, we will submit to something or someone else. And God does not tolerate being part of a collection of idols like those held dear by pagan cultures. He has no interest in being included in a pantheon. That’s what the Samarian settlers were doing, merely accepting the God of Israel as one god among the many. They feared Him in part, but they weren’t willing to give up their other gods. And for this they were destroyed. Why? Because we become like what we worship. If we worship created things that change and pass away, we shouldn’t expect to flourish.
Only the one true God is worthy of our devotion, and He calls us to surrender our whole selves to Him.