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Know the Whole Story
Many people know some stories from the Bible, but not how the narrative fits together. The Bible is one story that begins in a garden, ends in a city, and all the way through points to Jesus Christ. Open is your guided journey through this powerful, life-transforming story.
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Hoshea Reigns in Israel

17:1 In the twelfth year of Ahaz king of Judah, Hoshea the son of Elah began to reign in Samaria over Israel, and he reigned nine years. And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, yet not as the kings of Israel who were before him. Against him came up Shalmaneser king of Assyria. And Hoshea became his vassal and paid him tribute. But the king of Assyria found treachery in Hoshea, for he had sent messengers to So, king of Egypt, and offered no tribute to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year. Therefore the king of Assyria shut him up and bound him in prison. Then the king of Assyria invaded all the land and came to Samaria, and for three years he besieged it.

The Fall of Israel

In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

Exile Because of Idolatry

And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had practiced. And the people of Israel did secretly against the LORD their God things that were not right. They built for themselves high places in all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city. 10 They set up for themselves pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree, 11 and there they made offerings on all the high places, as the nations did whom the LORD carried away before them. And they did wicked things, provoking the LORD to anger, 12 and they served idols, of which the LORD had said to them, “You shall not do this.” 13 Yet the LORD warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the Law that I commanded your fathers, and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets.”

14 But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the LORD their God. 15 They despised his statutes and his covenant that he made with their fathers and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false idols and became false, and they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the LORD had commanded them that they should not do like them. 16 And they abandoned all the commandments of the LORD their God, and made for themselves metal images of two calves; and they made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal. 17 And they burned their sons and their daughters as offerings1 and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger. 18 Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight. None was left but the tribe of Judah only.

19 Judah also did not keep the commandments of the LORD their God, but walked in the customs that Israel had introduced. 20 And the LORD rejected all the descendants of Israel and afflicted them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until he had cast them out of his sight.

21 When he had torn Israel from the house of David, they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king. And Jeroboam drove Israel from following the LORD and made them commit great sin. 22 The people of Israel walked in all the sins that Jeroboam did. They did not depart from them, 23 until the LORD removed Israel out of his sight, as he had spoken by all his servants the prophets. So Israel was exiled from their own land to Assyria until this day.

Assyria Resettles Samaria

24 And the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the people of Israel. And they took possession of Samaria and lived in its cities. 25 And at the beginning of their dwelling there, they did not fear the LORD. Therefore the LORD sent lions among them, which killed some of them. 26 So the king of Assyria was told, “The nations that you have carried away and placed in the cities of Samaria do not know the law of the god of the land. Therefore he has sent lions among them, and behold, they are killing them, because they do not know the law of the god of the land.” 27 Then the king of Assyria commanded, “Send there one of the priests whom you carried away from there, and let him2 go and dwell there and teach them the law of the god of the land.” 28 So one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and lived in Bethel and taught them how they should fear the LORD.

29 But every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the shrines of the high places that the Samaritans had made, every nation in the cities in which they lived. 30 The men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, the men of Cuth made Nergal, the men of Hamath made Ashima, 31 and the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak; and the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim. 32 They also feared the LORD and appointed from among themselves all sorts of people as priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the shrines of the high places. 33 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.

34 To this day they do according to the former manner. They do not fear the LORD, and they do not follow the statutes or the rules or the law or the commandment that the LORD commanded the children of Jacob, whom he named Israel. 35 The LORD made a covenant with them and commanded them, “You shall not fear other gods or bow yourselves to them or serve them or sacrifice to them, 36 but you shall fear the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm. You shall bow yourselves to him, and to him you shall sacrifice. 37 And the statutes and the rules and the law and the commandment that he wrote for you, you shall always be careful to do. You shall not fear other gods, 38 and you shall not forget the covenant that I have made with you. You shall not fear other gods, 39 but you shall fear the LORD your God, and he will deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies.” 40 However, they would not listen, but they did according to their former manner.

41 So these nations feared the LORD and also served their carved images. Their children did likewise, and their children's children—as their fathers did, so they do to this day.

Footnotes

[1] 17:17 Or made their sons and their daughters pass through the fire
[2] 17:27 Syriac, Vulgate; Hebrew them

(ESV)

Overview

God calls us to godliness and righteousness. We are to love God with our whole heart and we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Morality cannot be sustained when we lose the knowledge of God. But when we come to Jesus Christ, He will reconcile us to the Father and lead us in paths of righteousness.

For many people in our culture, “sin” has become a word that describes slightly indulgent things that are entirely legitimate, like eating too much chocolate.

Imagine a thirty-five-year-old husband and father at home on a Sunday morning. Let’s call him Bob. He has finished reading the Sunday paper and decides that he will tackle that often postponed task of cleaning out his basement. As he sorts through the boxes, Bob comes across an old family Bible that belonged to his grandmother. Something inside tells him he should not throw it away; after all it’s old, and there are notes in his grandmother’s frail handwriting on many of the pages. He opens it up and reads that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15).

This strikes Bob as rather quaint. Jesus came to save overindulgent people! Bob likes to enjoy a cream pie and knows that he probably shouldn’t, but he works out and is generally in good health, so what does he need saving from? He flicks over a few pages and reads that God was angry with people who sinned (Hebrews 3:10). This doesn’t make any sense to Bob. Why would sin, as he understands it, make God angry? What kind of God would be angry toward people who indulge in a little bit of pleasure?

So Bob closes the Bible, reassured that he made the right choice to spend his Sunday morning at home. He loves his wife and his kids and cannot see why his grandmother thought the Bible was such a wonderful book.

Sin is always being redefined in ways that make it seem like it’s no big deal. But sin is not a harmless pleasure. Sin is rebelling against God, and if you do not see that sin is your greatest problem, you will not be able to make sense of Christianity.

The Priority of Godliness
Sin is a destructive power. It can ruin a life, a family, or a church. 2 Kings 17 tells us how it destroyed a nation. After the death of Solomon, the ten tribes in the north declared their independence from the two tribes in the south, separating themselves from the blessing God had promised to the royal line of David. There were nineteen northern kings and every one of them did evil in the eyes of the Lord. After about 200 years, God allowed enemies to overrun the northern kingdom. The people were deported and the whole area became a kind of wasteland.

The first king of the ten northern tribes was determined that his people would not go to Jerusalem to worship God. So he established his own religion at Dan and Bethel, where he set up two golden calves.

This man-made religion led to a culture where the rich lived in opulence and showed total disregard for the poor. The streets were filled with violence and God’s people indulged in the obscene practice of giving up unwanted children to be burned in a fire. Horrific!

And yet the first charge God brought against His people was not the violence, the murder, the greed, or even the cruelty to children. God’s first complaint was that His people had worshiped other gods (17:7).

The first four commandments are all about God Himself: “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image… You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain… Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:3–4, 7–8). Our first calling is to a God-centered life.

The Bible calls this “godliness” and this priority is confirmed by the teaching of Jesus. When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus replied: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:36–37).

Godliness Leads to Righteousness
After He calls us to godliness in the first four commandments, God calls us to righteousness in our relationship to others: Honor your father and your mother. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness. You shall not covet (Exodus 20:12–17).

God calls us to reflect His love in our relationships with other people. Christ confirmed this when He said that the second commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39).

Righteousness is built on the foundation of godliness, and so when people reject godliness, righteousness slips beyond their grasp. When a nation turns away from the living God, the result will be moral confusion and the unleashing of sin and evil.

In the northern kingdom, sin began with the people rejecting God, and it ended with them putting their children in the fire. The reason they lost the morality of the Bible is that they rejected the God of the Bible. You cannot have righteousness without godliness.

Life Without God
Our friend Bob, who is clearing out his basement on Sunday morning, wants his family to enjoy the benefits of righteousness. He wants his marriage to succeed, and he would like the people who do business with him to be honest and keep to their word. He expects public officials not to tell lies, and he wants his children to be safe.

Bob wants all the benefits of righteousness, but he does not want God, and that is his first and greatest sin. Bob is godless. He is a successful, laid-back family man who wants the best for himself and his family, but he has no place for God in his life.

Our first instinct is not to love God but to resent Him. His power seems to threaten our freedom and His holiness offends our pride. Unless God changes our hearts, we will always resent Him. The sinful mind is hostile to God (Romans 8:7).

Provoking the Anger of God
But God is immensely patient. For two hundred years He restrained judgment and sent the prophets to call His people back to godliness and righteousness, but they would not listen (2 Kings 17:14). “They did wicked things, provoking the LORD to anger” (17:11).

Notice the word “provoking.” Anger is not in God’s nature. God is always holy, He is always love, but He is not always angry. The ancient gods were angry by nature, always smoldering and constantly needing to be appeased. So offerings were given to placate them, but their anger never went away. It was never spent; it was only contained. But the God of the Bible is entirely different: “The LORD is…slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 103:8).

It is not God’s nature to be angry, but He can be provoked to anger, and for this we should be thankful. We do not admire those who stand idly by while others are being abused. How could we worship a god who was indifferent when people put their children in the fire?

Notice what God does when He is provoked to anger: “Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight…” (2 Kings 17:18), a reference to the Promised Land.

At the end of the Bible story we are told that every person who has ever lived will stand before God, and the ungodly and the unrighteous will be driven from the presence of God. That is hell – eternity outside the blessing of God.

God’s Mercy in Action
When God removed His people from His presence, the land He had promised to bless lay desolate and uninhabited. But the king of Assyria repopulated the area by bringing people from all over his empire and settling them there (2 Kings 17:24).

When these immigrants arrived, they faced an unexpected problem. Several of them were attacked by lions. When word of this problem got back to the king of Assyria, he thought the best way to deal with the situation would be to find a priest from among the people who used to live there. He assumed that a local priest would know what to do to placate whatever “god” was causing this problem. So he gave orders for a Jewish priest to be sent back to Israel, and “one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and lived in Bethel and taught them how they should fear the LORD” (17:28).

Here was God’s mercy in action. He brought people from the north, south, east, and west into the place He had promised to bless, and sent one of His priests so that these people could come to know Him.

People from many nations were brought to a knowledge of the truth, but over time they became confused because they continued to worship their own gods as well (17:29). These people came to be known as the Samaritans.

When Jesus went through Samaria (John 4:4), he met a woman there who had some knowledge of the truth, mixed with a great deal of error. She also had a disastrous personal life, including five failed marriages, and she was hung up on the question of where to worship (4:20).

This woman was both godless and unrighteous. But Jesus does not begin by telling her that God is angry over her sins. He tells her that God is seeking “worshipers [who] will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (4:23). He begins by guiding her toward a right relationship with God.

Godliness is the foundation of righteousness, and there is little point in talking about righteousness to people who do not know and love God. Jesus began by speaking to the Samaritan woman about knowing God, because she could only change when she discovered the transforming power of a God-centered life.

Christ died to deal with both our ungodliness and our unrighteousness. On the cross, the Father dealt with the Son as if He had lived a godless life, and as if He were guilty of every kind of unrighteousness. The Father turned away from His Son, and He was shut out from the presence of God. That is why He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

Christ became the godless one and the unrighteous one. He “suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). If you will come to Jesus in faith and repentance, He will lead you into a godly life that will be the beginning of your growth in righteousness.

  1. What has been your “working” understanding of sin?
  2. What is the difference between godliness and righteousness?
  3. Which is the bigger priority for you, pursuing godliness or righteousness? Why?
  4. What difference does it make to you whether God is “provoked” to anger, or anger is part of God’s nature?
  5. If you wanted to become a more righteous person, how could Jesus help you?
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