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. (2 Kings 17:33)
I grew up in a very ecumenical household. My dad was a lapsed Catholic who left the church after his priest told him he couldn’t marry my divorced Methodist mother. One of my sisters was Presbyterian. My brother, my other sister, and myself were all Baptist, although at three different Baptist churches. I had a preference for more liturgical, high church style worship, and had even spent several weekends at the Catholic monastery near our home for prayer retreats.
It was at one of those prayer retreats, while sitting at breakfast one morning that one of the monks came to my table and told me to come to the office for a phone call. It was my mother, telling me my dad was on the way to the hospital with congestive heart failure. After stabilizing him, they determined that he would need heart surgery.
Dad’s cardiologist asked him if he was nervous. Dad smiled and said, “Nope. Here’s the thing. I’m a Catholic who married a Methodist, so I’ve got the Methodists praying for me. My daughter is a Presbyterian, so I’ve got the Presbyterians praying for me. My other children are Baptists, so I’ve got the Baptists praying for me. And my son just spent the weekend at a monastery, so I’ve even got the Catholics praying for me. Doc, I’ve got my bases covered.”
It’s one thing to have Christian brothers and sisters praying for you across denominational lines. But what was happening with the people of Israel in 2 Kings 17 was a different matter.
Assyria had a demonically effective strategy for eliminating God’s people. After overpowering the Northern Kingdom with superior military force and terrorizing them with brutal treatment of their captives, they resettled Samaria. Only this time, they settled it with captives from other people groups they had conquered. The king of Assyria sent priests back to Israel so they could teach these other people groups “the law of the god of the land” (2 Kings 17:26). But it was law divorced from relationship. They had something like “the fear of the Lord” (v 33); but it was an add-on. It was a la carte. Which is why verse 34 seems to contradict verse 33 when it says flatly, “They do not fear the Lord.”
They might have thought of themselves as Israelites because they followed the rules, but they weren’t actually people of the covenant. In Jesus’ day, they were known as Samaritans.
Fearing the Lord “also” must be replaced with fearing the Lord ONLY. And knowing the law of the Lord can’t be separated from knowing the Lord Himself.
Today we call that “moralistic therapeutic deism.” It’s the idea that all Christianity is is making people nicer, better versions of themselves. More upstanding citizens. Valued members of their communities. I see lots of young parents who bring their children to church so they can learn how to be good little boys and girls, but they aren’t pursuing a relationship with God themselves.
The result is a whole nation of people who call themselves a Christian nation because we were founded on Judeo-Christian values, but with no knowledge or reverence for God Himself.
The Enemy is perfectly content to let us be moral, nice people, so long as we are never transformed people. He is still using the Assyrian strategy, and it still works.