They worshiped the LORD, but they also served their own gods according to the customs of the nations from which they had been carried away.
I. ITS EARLY GODLESSNESS. The land of Samaria was now deprived of its Israelitish inhabitants. The King of Assyria colonized it with heathen immigrants. "At the beginning of their dwelling there, they feared not the Lord." What a mistake to go anywhere without taking God's presence with us! How many journeys are undertaken, how many a business is entered on, without ever a word of prayer being offered to God! How many a home life is commenced without a family altar! As the young Scotch lad said of a house where he stayed for some time, and where there was no family prayer, "There is no roof on that house." "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it."
II. ITS SUBSEQUENT JUDGMENTS. "Therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which slew some of them. Wherefore they spake to the King of Assyria, saying, The nations which thou hast removed, and placed in the cities of Samaria, know not the manner of the God of the land: therefore he hath sent lions among them, and, behold, they slay them, because they know not the manner of the God of the land" (vers. 25, 26). It was judgment that first made them think of God. It is often so in the history of human life. Men live without God, prayerless, godless lives, so long as all appears to be going well with them. But when sickness comes, or troubles overtake them, or death is drawing near, they cry to the Lord then. There is something mean about this. It is better to call upon God and to come to him in trouble than not to call on him at all; but how much better it is to serve him in health as well as in sickness, in prosperity as well as in trouble!
III. ITS MIXED RELIGION. Samaria tried the experiment of serving the true God and the gods of the heathen at the same time. It tried the impossible task of serving two masters. "They feared the Lord, and served their own gods, after the manner of the nations whom they carried away from thence" (ver. 33). In their case, as in every case, it proved to be an impossible task. "Unto this day they do after the former manners: they fear not the Lord, neither do they after their statutes, or after their ordinances, or after the Law and commandment which the Lord commanded the children of Jacob" (ver. 34); "So these nations feared the Lord, and served their graven images, both their children, and their children's children: as did their fathers, so do they unto this day" (ver. 41). They "feared the Lord:" that was profession. "They served their graven images." that was practice. Yet there are many who are trying the same impossible task. They have a certain amount of fear of God. They are afraid to die, afraid of the judgment to come. So they think it desirable to be "religious." They go to church. They read the Bible occasionally, perhaps. They hear the name of good Christians. But it is a name only. Their life cannot be called a Christian life. They serve God on the Sunday in a kind of way, and the world or sin the rest of the week. They try, perhaps, to serve God and mammon. They try to serve God and the world. They are liberal-minded Christians. But this kind of mixed religion is no religion in the sight of God. He cannot have a divided service. This is emphatically brought out in the first chapter of Isaiah. There the inconsistency and uselessness of a religious profession combined with a godless life is clearly shown. "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me?" "Bring no more vain oblations;" "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow." Here it is plainly taught that a religious profession is worthless without a religious life. If we regard iniquity in our heart, the Lord will not hear us. It is interesting to remember that even this degraded people of Samaria, with their mixed and corrupt religion, were permitted twice at least to receive the gospel message. They were looked down upon with contempt and aversion by the Jews. But there is mercy even for the most degraded. A city of Samaria received Christ himself, and many of its people believed on him, for the saying of the woman who testified, "He told me all things that ever I did." It was even in the apostate city of Samaria that, when Philip went down and preached Christ unto them, "the people with one accord gave heed unto the things which Philip spake," and many of them believed and were baptized. And we read that "there was great joy in that city." Even to these Samaritans, aliens from the ancient Jewish faith, a people despised and hated by the Jews, the gospel of Christ brought great joy. Surely there is here an encouragement for the greatest sinner. Surely there is here a reason for us to hope and work for the salvation even of the most degraded. Surely an encouragement for Christian missions to the heathen. - C.H.I.
They feared the Lord, and served their own godsI. The first thought which I think suggests itself to our mind, is of THE CURIOUS INCONSISTENCY OF THEIR CONDUCT. They worshipped the true God; and, along with Him, they worshipped various false gods. Now, this seems strange to us. We cannot imagine a man being at once a Christian, a Mohammedan, a Jew, a heathen, and an atheist. You must make your choice what religion you will profess: you cannot profess several inconsistent religions together. But it is just because Christianity has so thoroughly leavened our ways of thinking, that there appears to us anything strange in the conduct of these inhabitants of Samaria. For Christianity, we all know, is an exclusive religion. It not merely calls men to believe in itself, but to reject every other faith. It not merely claims to be right and true: but it boldly says that every other faith is wrong and false. The God of the Bible not merely commands us to worship Him: He commands us to worship no one else. This is their great characteristic as compared with all other religions. Christianity is a faith which admits no rivals, no competitors: it demands to stand alone. And the true God is not the God of this land or that land: He is the God of all the earth: He tolerates no brother near His throne. But it was not so at all with the gods of false religions: with the gods whom these poor Samaritans worshipped; no, nor with the gods and goddesses who were worshipped by the polished nations of Greece and Rome. It did not follow that because you held Jupiter to be a true god, you held Mercury or Apollo to be false gods. It did not follow because you worshipped Dagon, that you failed to worship Moloch. It did not follow that Beelzebub would feel himself slighted, because you offered a sacrifice to Rimmon. Each false god had his own province, and he held by that. And so you can see that these ignorant Samaritans, when they "feared the Lord, and served their own gods," had no sense at all of the inconsistency, — of the self-contradiction, — of what they did, such as that which we might feel.
II. A second thing worthy of notice in their conduct is this: THE MOTIVE WHICH LED THEM TO OFFER WORSHIP TO THE TRUE GOD. You observe, that motive was pure and simple fear. They worshipped God, because they were afraid of Him. They worshipped Him, because they thought He had done them much mischief already; and because they thought that unless they did something to conciliate Him, He might do them more mischief yet. Good might have come, in any measure; and they would never have seen God in that. But when evil befell them, such was their conception of the Divine nature, they said, Now, here is the finger of God. The lions came prowling about their fields and dwellings; and this neighbour and the other was devoured by them: and then at once their thoughts ran up to a God as the sender of mischief: that was all they knew about Him: and they determined to worship Him, not because He was good and kind and deserving of all worship; but because, unless they affected some measure of regard and respect for Him, He might send them something worse than even the lions who had already come.
III. It is evident from the entire account of them, that the WORSHIP WHICH THEY PAID TO THE TRUE GOD, WAS NOT REALLY SO HEARTY AND REAL A THING AS THAT WHICH THEY PAID TO THEIR OLD IDOLS. "They feared the Lord": they stood in a vague terror of Him, which prompted them to offer Him a sacrifice now and then; to meet for His worship now and then: but "they served their own gods": — they lived day by day in mind of them: they were not merely the worshippers, at long intervals, of these false gods: they were the servants of these false gods, — obeying them, working for them, from hour to hour. When the two things came together: the worship of a Being from whom they simply feared evil, and the worship of beings from whom they expected good: you can easily see which of the two would have the predominance. There is many a man who has that degree of superstitious fear of what God may do to him, that he dare not cast off God's fear altogether; while yet the love of money, or the love of pleasure, or the love of eminence and honour, really sits upon the throne of his heart! He "fears the Lord": and at the same time he thinks to "serve his own gods," — wealth, pleasure, or ambition. The fraudulent trader who adulterates his wares, and yet is never out of church on a Sunday: the greedy farmer, who will tell many lies to get a sound price for lame horse, yet who would not on any consideration be absent from a sacrament: and I say it with sorrow, brethren, I have known several such: what are such men doing but what the Samaritans did: "fearing the Lord, and serving their own gods!"(A. K. H. Boyd.)
Essex Remembrancer.The first source of obligation under which man is laid to constant obedience, is the absolute supremacy and dominion of God. Because He is the author of all things, therefore is He the end of all things. We can assign no reason for the creation of the world, but the pleasure of its Creator: and can conceive of no motive to prompt Him to create, but the display of His own glory. As the glory of God is His object, so it ought to be the aim of every intelligent creature. The moment that man departs from the service of God, he becomes a rebel against his rightful Sovereign; nor can he possibly be restored to the Divine favour, till, feeling his guilt, and acknowledging the rights of the Divine government, he submits all his powers to the governance of God. There is something like a consciousness of this implanted in the mind of man, which forces him to pay some kind of regard to the commands of God, from a slavish fear of His anger, or a desire to be on good terms with so powerful a Being. A striking instance of this is now before us. The people whom the King of Assyria had removed to the land of the Israelites, being plagued by lions, looked upon it as a judgment for not worshipping "the God of the land"; which they could not do, because they knew not how (ver. 27, 28). The King of Assyria took care to have them instructed in the worship of this powerful God, not from any regard to Him, but to save the people from destruction. So a priest came among them, and taught them how they should fear the Lord: and now they unite the worship of Jehovah with that of their own idols. These they loved, but Him they feared. Affection bound them to the service of their gods, while a dread of the God of Israel constrained them to pay some attention to His worship. Now, allowing for the different state of society, how many may be found among us influenced by the same sprat, and adopting, the same conduct as these Assyrians: "they fear the Lord, but serve their own gods." They attend the house of God, and hear with some degree of pleasure the preaching of His Word; they are to a certain extent religious; but they are far from serving God with their whole heart. Their religion amounts to a general commendation of what is excellent; and a compliance with those precepts of God's Word which cost them little trouble and self-denial.
I. THE UNHAPPINESS OF SUCH A STATE OF INDECISION. While you thus endeavour to unite the service of God with the service of the world, there are two forces, of directly opposite tendency, operating upon you, so that the effect of each is obstructed, and you are perpetually disquieted, and receive no real pleasure from anything you do. What can be more wretched than to have a conscience disapproving your conduct, and admonishing you to duties for which you have no inclination? Instead of cheering you with the assurance that the God whom you serve win always be your defence and comfort, it upbraids you with your duplicity and indecision. It speaks so that you would rather stifle, than hear, its voice; and rather run the dreadful risk of eternal misery, than look into your real condition, and enter upon serious reflection concerning your final state. Nor is such a state less unfruitful than it is unpleasant. What advancement in religion do those make who are unfaithful to the light which has been communicated to them? Let me appeal to such. Is it not true, that there has been no improvement, perhaps for years together? What progress have you made in your religious course? Is it not true, that even the light which you once had is darkened? the feelings which were excited, benumbed? and the religion of Christ stripped of much of that glory in which it at first appeared to you? The Gospel, where it is truly received, purifies, but you remain the same: it consoles, but you know nothing of its comfort and joy. Do you ask, What you are to do? If you would enjoy the pleasures of the world as others do, you must serve their gods entirely, and cast off all fear of God, and all thoughts of eternity. If you would be happy in the favour of God, and the enjoyment of true religion, you must serve Him alone, and put away your own gods; for as He is worthy of the whole heart, He will not dwell in any heart that is divided with mammon. And now make the choice; but be determined to count the costs.
II. Such a state of indecision is A STATE OF INCONCEIVABLE DANGER. It strengthens the sinful propensities of the heart; — it deprives the means of grace of their proper efficacy; — and it restrains, and if persisted in, banishes, the Holy Spirit's influences.
1. Be decided. While you halt between two opinions you have the disgrace and disadvantages of both; the supports and joys of neither.
2. Be consistent. Let your conduct prove that your whole soul is engaged in the service of God. Thus will your course through this world be most productive of glory to God, comfort to yourself, and benefit to your fellow-creatures.
3. Be active. Our whole life is but one short day; and too much of that davy has been spent in vanity and sin. Let not the zeal with which we now serve God be surpassed by the ardour with which we have served the world.
How happy could I be with either,
Were t'other sweet charmer away.
It is so with many men and women. They say, "How truly could I serve God, if there were no sin"; adding, "and how delighted I should be to sin, if I knew there were no God." I feel persuaded you can see the inconsistency of having two conflicting opinions which divide your heart, and make your life an unstable as water. Let us, therefore, pray the Lord to give us grace to be decided-for Him; that we may take His principles for better or for worse, in sickness or health; and whatever may happen, to be the Lord's faithful people. Let us pray that we may have grace to resolve thus, and power to carry the resolution out, so that when we have lived our allotted time and finished our work, the Lord shall be able to say, "After all, I did not create that soul in vain." May I give you one or two reasons why there is so much double-dealing? I mean, that while men feel persuaded it is right to worship the Lord and do His will, yet they devote the chief portion of their lives to the service of their own gods.
I. One reason is that we get into the way of PRESUMING ON THE LOVING-KINDNESS OF GOD. Some of the preaching of the last hundred years has done harm. While I hold as firmly as any man can the doctrine of the power of the atonement of Jesus, yet, at the same time, I also hold that the atonement of Jesus is a means to an end; that is to say, Jesus laid down His life for the purpose of making us pure and unselfish. If a man says he believes in Christ, and yet does not act rightly, he does not liver the truth, whether he knows it or not; he is no more a Christian than he was before he joined the church. "Conversion" is repentance, that is, giving up things: that are bad, and doing only those which are good. Unless our faith lead us to, act rightly, and to deny ourselves for the benefit of others, we do not know Christianity, nor have we rightly read the life of Christ. Christianity is, acting purely in every action and at all times, and denying ourselves for the benefit of mankind. A higher religion than this it is impossible to conceive; one more powerful to bless the world cannot be imagined. But it is needful for us to understand it truly. If we say we believe and yet we do not act cheerfully, purely, and honestly, depend upon it we are mistaken. Believing in Christ is trying with our whole heart and mind and strength to do the will of our Heavenly Father as revealed in the spirit of the Gospel. What is "conversion"? Some people imagine that conversion is like a fortune being left us — that we have no more work to do, and have only to enjoy ourselves with the money. But conversion is like being an apprentice on board a ship, where one has to bear hardship and work for many weary years. Conversion is beginning an apprenticeship to eternal life, and serving our time on earth for the enjoyment and employment of angelhood in heaven. Conversion means literally "turning round," changing from a wicked to a holy life; and such a change cannot be effected instantaneously. Of course there is a moment when the turning-point begins, but it takes a long, long time for the conversion to be completed. The work of conversion goes on every hour and minute of our waking life. It is a battle with unseen foes — a man's worst foes being those of his own house, that is, his own nature. The life of every Christian is one long battle, and as a "devout soldier," the qualities he will need in his spiritual warfare are those which elicit our admiration in a British soldier, namely, order, serf-sacrifice, and obedience.
II. Another reason why we have this divided heart, which, while thinking it right to serve the Lord, yet permits us to follow our own gods, IS BECAUSE WE DISTRUST GOD'S LOVING CARE. It is a sin to presume on God's love; but is it not also a sin to despair of His care? So the troubles and buffetings of daily life, and the turmoil and storm which assail us, will prove a blessing in the end. The discipline is painful, as all chastisement is; but, my friend, these light afflictions which oppress you to-day are working out for you a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. We may be sure that what we have to undergo is for our good.
III. Having shown the reasons why we get into the way of serving our own gods, let me now urge you to follow the steps of Jesus, and to make CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLE YOUR RULE OF LIFE. I have often wondered what made the Apostle John picture the streets of the new Jerusalem as being made of pure gold, as if they were "transparent glass." I think it was because he had seen so much double-dealing that he, in singleness of heart, felt that heaven must be so pure that the very floor is transparent. You can actually see through its pavement; what on earth is dense is in God s home clear as crystal And if the streets are like transparent glass, what must the people be? The lesson is that we must get rid of our double-dealing and duplicity here, for there is nothing but openness and sincerity in heaven. If we are sincere, transparent Christians, our lives shall glorify God, and men shall thereby be attracted to serve their Heavenly Father. Do not feat to act on Christian principles. Perfect love to God casteth out fear. Follow Christ, and give up your life rather than act contrary to the spirit of the Gospel Dare even to die for Christ. Act up to your convictions. Dare to act as Christ would act. Never mind though the entire world be against you if God be with you. If Christ say "Amen" to your life, dare to live it, whatever men may say. Lot your heart and mind be of one aim, that one aim being to follow Christ.
(F. Addison Alexander, D. D.)
I. I shall first call your attention to THE NATURE OF THIS MONGREL RELIGION. It had its good and bad points, for it wore a double face.
1. These people were not infidels. Far from it: "they feared the Lord." They did not deny the existence, or the power, or the rights of the great God of Israel, whose name is Jehovah. They had faith, though only enough to produce fear. They knew that there was a God; they feared His wrath, and they tried, to appease it. So far they were hopeful persons, and under the influence of a feeling which has often led up to better things. It was better to dread God than to despise Him; better slavishly to fear than stupidly to forget.
2. Another good point about these mixed religionists was that they were willing to be taught. As soon as they found that they were not acting rightly towards the God of the land, they sent a petition to their supreme ruler, the King of Assyria, setting forth their spiritual destitution. They were quite willing to be taught the manner of the God of the land, and so they installed this priest at Bethel, and gathered, about him to know what they Should do. We have people around us unto this day who are glad to hear the Gospel, and sit with pleasure under our ministry, and if the Word be faithfully preached they commend the preacher and give a gratified attention to the things that proceed out of his mouth; and yet they are living in known sin.
3. Though these strangers feared Jehovah, and were, willing to learn the way of His worship, yet they stuck to their old gods. "Ah," said the Babylonian, "I listen respectfully to what you have to say of this God of the land; but Succoth-benoth for me; when I go home I shall offer sacrifice to him." The men of Cuthah said, "Verily this is good doctrine concerning the God of Israel; but the god of our fathers was Nergal, and to him will we cleave"; and the Sepharvites, though they wished to hear of the pure and holy Jehovah, and therefore learned from His law the command, "Thou shalt not kill," yet still they passed their children through the fire to Moloch, and did not cease from that most cruel of all religious rites. Thus yon see that this mingle-mangle religion left the people practically where they were: whatever their fear might be, their customs and practices remained the same. Have you never met with persons of the same mongrel kind? If you have never done so, your class of acquaintances must be superior to mine. Persons are to be found, without a lantern and candle, who earn their money by ministering at the altars of Belial, and then offer a part of it to the Lord of hosts. Can they come from the place of revelling to the chamber of communion?
II. Let us now consider THE MANNER OF ITS GROWTH. However came such a 'monstrous compound into this world? Here is the history of it.
1. These people came to live where the people of God had lived. The Israelites were most unworthy worshippers of Jehovah; but, still, they were known to others as His people, and their land was Jehovah's land. If the Sepharvites had stopped at Sepharvaim they would never have thought of fearing Jehovah; if the men of Babylon had continued to live in Babylon they would have been perfectly satisfied with Bel, or Succoth-benoth, or whatever the name of their precious god might be: but when they were fetched out from their old haunts, and brought into Canaan, they came under a different influence, and a new order of things. Something else happened to these Assyrian immigrants which had a stronger influence still.
2. At first they did not fear God, but the Lord sent lions among them. Matthew Henry says, "God can serve His own purposes by which He pleaseth, little or big, lice or lions." By the smaller means he plagued the Egyptians, and by the greater these invaders of His land.
3. But notice, that the root of this religion is fear. There is no love on the right side; that affection is in the opposite scale. Their hearts go after their idols, but to Jehovah they yield nothing but dread.
4. One reason why they dropped into this self-contradictory religion was that they had a trimming teacher. The King of Assyria sent them a priest: he could not have sent them a prophet, but that was what they really wanted. He sent them a Bethelite, not a genuine servant of Jehovah, but one who worshipped God by means of symbols; and this the Lord had expressly forbidden.
III. Thirdly, let us estimate THE VALUE OF THIS RELIGION. What is it worth?
1. It must evidently be feeble on both sides, because the man who serves Succoth-benoth cannot do it thoroughly if all the while he fears Jehovah; and he who fears Jehovah cannot be sincere if he is worshipping Moloch.
2. At first I should think that the mixture of the true with the false at Samaria looked like an improvement.
3. These Samaritans in after years became the bitterest foes of God's people. Read the Book of Nehemiah, and you will see that the most bitter opponents of that godly man were those mongrels.
4. How provoking this adulterated religion must be to God! It is even provoking to God's minister to be pestered with men whose hypocrisies weaken the force of his testimony.
IV. THE CONTINUANCE OF THIS EVIL: for the text says, "As did their fathers, so do they, unto this day." I believe in the final perseverance of the saints: I am almost obliged to believe in the final perseverance of hypocrites; for, really, when a man once screws himself up to play the double, and both to fear God and serve other gods, he is very apt to stick there. One reason why it can be said of most men-so do they unto this day, is because it yields them a sort of comfort; at any rate it keeps off the lions.
V. I shall now close by saying a few words BY WAY OF CURE OF THIS DREADFUL EVIL OF MONGRELISM; this fearing the Lord, and serving other gods.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
Blest too is he who can divine
Where real right doth lie,
And dares to take the side that seems
Wrong to man's blindfold eye.
Then learn to scorn the praise of men,
And learn to lose with God:
For Jesus won the world through shame,
And beckons thee His road.
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