After Solomon, the nation Israel was divided into two kingdoms: The northern kingdom from this point on is called “Israel” and the southern kingdom from this point on is called “Judah”. Each would have its own kings but would develop different spiritual destinies. “Israel” from its very first king to its last would never follow God and instead fall deeper and deeper into the worship of false gods and false religions, completely forsaking the One True God. Sometimes Judah would possess a righteous king that would lead the people back to God but often had leaders that weren’t much different from the northern kingdom’s. Both would eventually suffer God’s judgment for their unfaithfulness, first Israel in being given over to Assyria, and several hundred years later when Judah would be given over to Babylon.
The judgment of Israel was supposed to serve as an example to Judah that they might learn firsthand the consequences of life without God. This passage summarizes the cause and effect of Israel's actions and God’s responses which resulted in final judgment. The northern kingdom of Israel would never again exist after its Assyrian captivity and destruction.
Although this might be interesting historically, the application we’re seeking here is whether or not there are similar behaviors or choices in our life that are driving us away from God or back to Him.
Read verses 7-8
Q: It has obviously been many hundreds of years since Israel was brought out of Egypt by God and the people to which these words are being uttered are obviously many generations removed from that event. Why does the discussion begin with reference to being brought out of Egypt from under Pharaoh’s rule?
A: It’s a reminder that they were “saved” to be under God’s rule rather than Pharaoh’s, called to be devoted to God rather than an earthly master. It’s a reminder that every generation/Believer is supposed to live a new, changed life.
Q: According to these verses the fall of Israel ultimately came about because “the sons of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God…” What are the three specific causes of their fall indicated in these verses?
(v.7) “…feared other gods"
(v.8) “…walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord had driven out…”
(v.8) “…walked…in the customs of the kings of Israel which they introduced.”
Q: What does it mean to “fear” other gods?
A: “Fear” means “to respect”, “to be properly subject to”. The Israelites were not just looking at other gods, they were giving them the power, respect, and attributes once given to the One True God.
Q: What is the difference between the last two charges, walking “in the customs of the nations” and “in the customs of the kings of Israel”?
A: The “customs of the nations” were so despicable in God’s eyes that He used Israel as the tool of His judgment to drive them out and destroy them. Israel should have learned from this example what happens to a people when pursuing false gods. The “customs of the kings of Israel” refers to the fact that leadership over Israel became so corrupt as to replace the One True God with the ways of false gods. Israel was guilty first for succumbing to the ways of non-believers and secondly for knowingly following false leaders.
Read verses 9-12
Q: List the 6 things in this passage that precisely specify the actions Israel undertook that resulted in their fall which was detailed in the previous verses.
(v.9) “…did things secretly which were not right against the Lord…”
(v.9) “…built for themselves high places…”
(v.10) “…set for themselves sacred pillars and Asherim…”
(v.11) “…burned incense on all the high places…”
(v.11) “…did evil things provoking the Lord…”
(v.12) “…served idols…”
Q: How is the first item – “…did things secretly which were not right…” – different from their other actions? What might it show about their relationship with God?
A: It probably shows a total and complete turning away from the Lord in that they not only OPENLY worshipped other gods but also SECRETLY turned to other gods. They had sold both their external and internal selves to another.
Q: What’s the significance of the reference to “Asherim”?
A: This is worship that involves sexual practices. Whereas most of the other acts of false worship might be an attitude or an external activity, this indicates giving over the physical body to false gods as well.
Q: What is the common trait in these actions?
A: They are all a conscience decision that replaces the One True God with a false god. Considering the many times that God has described Israel as a bride, taken together they are the documentation of Israel’s unfaithfulness in their relationship with Him. [For more on this, study the book of Hosea.]
Read verse 13
Q: What was God’s first response to Israel’s unfaithfulness? Did He immediately execute judgment on them?
A: According to v.13 He “warned Israel…through all His prophets and every seer…” In other words, He relented to give them the opportunity to return to Him.
Q. What does God say the Israelites had to do to show that they were truly returning to God?
A: “…keep My commandments, My statutes according to all the law…”
Read verses 14-15
Q: According to v.14, what was Israel’s response to God’s appeal for repentance communicated through His prophets and messengers?
“…they did not listen…”
“…stiffened their neck like their fathers, who did not believe…”
Basically, they exhibited all the characteristics of disobedience and placed their self over God.
Q: What was the next step in their response? What did they reject outright?
“…rejected His statutes…”
“…and His covenant…”
“…and His warnings…”
These cover the 3 major avenues through which God had communicated His will to them. “Statutes” refers to the law given through Moses, “covenant” to the promises given through Abraham and on down, and “warnings” to the messages sent through God’s prophets. It's not just what was given through Moses, but before and after him as well, ALL of Scripture. It wasn’t like they were clinging to some of these as being more authoritative than the others, but were completely rejecting God on all levels.
Q: What was their final action? Who did they ultimately choose to follow?
A: “…they followed vanity and became vain, and went after the nations which surrounded them…” Another way of stating this is that they allowed pride to place their own self above God. Instead of being different, a witness to all the nations, they became no different than those whose customs were so offensive to God that He committed them to destruction.
Read verses 16-17
Q: At the end of v.17 Israel’s actions are summed up not as simple disobedience or “backsliding”, but as “provoking Him”. What are the things described in v.16 that were the result of their pride taking over and actually provoking God to judgment?
(v.16) “…forsook all the commandments…” (Complete disobedience.)
(v.16) “…made for themselves…images…” (Worshipped idols, things made by their own hand)
(v.16) “…made an Asherah…” (Gave their bodies over to depraved worship)
(v.16) “…worshiped all the host of heaven…” (Worshipped creation instead of the Creator.)
(v.16) “…served Baal.” (The central false god worshiped by the Canaanite nations which God judged for destruction.)
All of these things require a conscience decision followed by indisputable actions to choose something to replace the One True God.
Q: According to v.17, how did they take their disobedience to “the next level” to pass over from sin and disobedience to works of evil?
“…made their sons and their daughters pass through the fire…”
“…practiced divination and enchantments…”
“…sold themselves to do evil…”
Point: God gave His covenant, His promises through the time of Moses when He gave His law and instructions. In spite of disobedience He gave them even more time to repent by sending His prophets. Israel not only ceased listening but crossed over to actively engage in the works and practices of evil, to embrace the most hated of things by God. The picture here is something akin to public adultery in the face of one’s beloved.
Read verses 18-23
Q: What was the Lord’s final response to the northern kingdom of Israel?
A: “…the Lord was angry…and removed them from His sight; none was left…” This is an example of final judgment. God provided the path to Him, warned them repeatedly when they strayed, and committed them to final destruction when they ignored all warnings to the contrary.
Point: What does it mean to be “removed” from God’s sight?
Q: The chief difference between the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah is that Israel, regardless of who was king, never strayed from the false worship and practices established by its first leader Jeroboam, whereas Judah occasionally returned to the Lord under some of their kings. What are the defining characteristics of Israel as stated in v.21-23
(v.21) Israel was driven “…away from following the Lord…”
(v.22) “…walked in all the sins of Jeroboam…”
(v.22) “…did not depart from them…”
Point: Although initial blame can be laid at Jeroboam’s feet for leading them away, the fault is theirs to bear as they never departed from the wrong path, continually walking in it regardless of who was in charge or the many prophets' warnings from God. They were led astray but chose to stay astray.
Consider the Following:
God provides His covenant and promises through Abraham. Although there is more disobedience than obedience exhibited overall by Abraham’s descendants, God provides opportunity to repent and return to Him.
God not only rescues Israel from Egypt but provides the Law through Moses and even the land for their nation. God repeatedly disciplines their disobedience but continues to provide opportunity to repent and return to Him.
In the destruction of the rebellious nations of Canaan God provides an example of what happens when one embraces ways other than those provided by Him.
God provides judge after judge to lead Israel to repentance.
God provides kings, many of which are an example of repentance.
God provides prophets.
It is only after rejection upon rejection of God’s promises, covenants, laws and warnings from all these different sources that final judgment is rendered on people that have clearly rejected God and will not return to Him.
Now read 2 Kings 23:4-25 and observe what a righteous king of Judah did to undo all of the actions outlined above.
We begin to replace God with other things one layer, one item or area at a time. Together they influence us to buy into more and more idols or “replacement gods” until we cross the line towards becoming not merely disobedient but completely rejecting God. Granted our idols today are not wood or stone statues, but you know very well the things that you have placed in higher priority than God. Which of these have become our present day false worship?
Like Josiah, we must completely destroy these things or cut off our association with them, because we cannot control their influence over us. Did you notice that removing the idols was not enough for Josiah? He not only carried them out of the temple (a symbol of our life and its lifestyle), not only broke them to pieces so they could not be re-used, but went so far as to completely remove the dust and ashes they’d become.