“They feared the LORD and served their own gods”

The title comes from 2 Kings 17:33 and describes the people of Samaria during the time of their subjection to the king of Assyria.  We shake our heads in disbelief, wondering how those long ago people could have been so blind.  What were they thinking?

Let’s take a closer look; who was the LORD and who were the other gods?  LORD (uppercase letters) in the AV is substituted for JHVH, the name of God, in the Hebrew text.  Early translators added vowels to make Jehovah; the preponderance of recent scholarship would be that Yahweh is more correct.  All agree that the name is derived from the “I AM” by which God identified Himself to Moses.  French Bibles translate JHVH as “l’Éternel,” (the Eternal) which is an entirely fitting name for the Creator God who has always been and will forever be.

Other gods went by many names, the most common in Canaan being Baal, which means “master” or “lord.”  Baal was the god whom they believed to give increase to family, field, flocks and herds.  He was believed to show himself in rain and thunderstorms.  The worship of Baal tended to licentiousness, making it in some ways more exciting and appealing than the staid worship and strict moral code of the LORD.

It appears that the people tried to reverence the LORD and maintain the outward forms of His worship, but feared to neglect also offering sacrifices to Baal for fear that their wives, fields and flocks would be infertile.  Does this begin to sound like what a lot of evangelical Christians are doing today?

We want to have an assurance that our eternal destiny is assured in the heavenly mansions.  Meanwhile, we want to prove to ourselves and our neighbours that we can be Christians and have it all in this world, too.  Fashion, music and entertainment are very important to our family, friends and neighbours and we don’t want to give the impression that we are being deprived of anything that is good.  In many cases, worship services are heavily infused with these influences and Christians call it good, despite their sensuous nature.

Providing for the needs of our families is a virtue clearly taught in the Scriptures.  Somehow that has become confused in our minds with the need to present an aura of prosperity.  In too many cases this is obtained at the cost of a heavy debt load.

Education is also useful in providing the tools for being an effective Christian witness.  We need to be articulate, literate and numerate.  It is good to have an understanding of history and how government works (it is much easier to be critical of those in government when one doesn’t really understand what’s going on).  Learning another language not only makes us able to communicate with more people, but opens our mind to the fact that other nations and other cultures don’t look at things the same way we do.  A good education is also necessary for making a living.

But what is a good education?  Much time and money is dedicated to obtaining a recognized diploma or degree from a college or university.  In many cases the intellectual atmosphere of these places is hostile to Christian faith.  But that official document is so highly regarded that many Christian parents see no alternative and anxiously labour to get their offspring accepted in a good university.  The losses may be twofold: young people who leave university with a seriously compromised faith; and all the time, money and effort spent to obtain an impressive piece of paper that may not represent skills that are actually needed in the marketplace.

Jesus said “Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 6:24 and 16:13).  Mammon represents all the things mentioned here and much more.  Mammon is not just money, but all the stuff and transient pleasures that money can buy and all the schemes that promise to help us obtain more money.  There is a thrill in all this that appeals to the senses.  In fact, the love of Mammon engenders a sensuality that can lead to excusing immorality before and after marriage and the breakup of families.

Do evangelicals today “fear the LORD and serve mammon”?  Before we answer for other people, perhaps we should look at our own lives, the choices we have made, why we made them and the effects those choices have had on our life and the lives of our family members.

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