A brief overview for Sunday school teachers and Bible study leaders of Lifeway’s “Explore the Bible” lesson for Sunday, August 14, 2022, “God Judges.” A video version of this overview is available on YouTube at:
INTRO: You could ask your class: “What is something that used to be acceptable in society, but is not acceptable today?” (Or vice-versa, that used to be unacceptable, but IS today.)
— For example: smoking in public places used to be acceptable, but is not today (funny to see old movies where they’re smoking in restaurants, offices, etc.)
— I was reading a biography the other day, and it described how restrooms, and buses, and water fountains used to be segregated between blacks and whites, but of course that is not acceptable, or even legal, today.
You/your group can come up with many examples of how what is “right” or “acceptable” in society might have changed over the years.
But then I would make the point: many things in society change over the years, but GOD does not change in His view of right and wrong. In Malachi 3:6 God says, “I the Lord, do not change.” God’s moral standards of right and wrong do not change. What was wrong morally in Bible times is still wrong today. The sins God judged Israel for in their day, God will still judge today — which leads us to our focus passage in II Kings 17, “God Judges.”
Much of I & II Kings is “history.” It just tells us what they did and doesn’t necessarily always comment on whether it was right or wrong. But this week’s focus passage tells us WHY, from a theological standpoint, what happened to Israel when they were judged by Assyria, took place.
:7 begins the passage: “Now this came about BECAUSE …” “Because” here is a key word. It implies “cause & effect.” That what people do, has consequences.
Now, for us to understand what he means by “this came about because,” we need to know what happened before he said that. What is God’s writer explaining here? He’s explaining what happened in the first 5 verses of the chapter: that Hoshea the king of Israel, the Northern Kingdom, was evil, and then he decided to stop paying tribute to Shalmaneser the King of Assyria, and he conspired with Egypt to rebel against him, and so consequently Shalmanezer invaded Israel and carried many of them off into captivity into Assyria.
This is one of the KEY events in Old Testament history: the captivity of Israel into Assyria in 721 B.C. Now, remember the difference between Israel & Judah; they had split years ago after Solomon died, with Rehoboam ruling Judah, and Jeroboam ruling the 10 tribes that became the Northern Kingdom, now called “Israel.” (It is also called “Samaria” because that city was the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, so don’t let confuse you. When it talks about “Samaria” here in this chapter, it’s referring to “Israel,” the Northern Kingdom.) So when Assyria took much of Israel into captivity, it was a key moment in OT history. Judah still remained independent in the south — but they wouldn’t last too much longer; only a few more generations. Soon (586 B.C.) they would similarly be taken captive into Babylon. But the key idea here is: these things didn’t just happen to the be flow of “world politics;” God used Assyria & Babylon for His purposes, to judge Israel & Judah for their SINS against Him. “God judges.”
If you want to teach from an outline, you might divide the passage up like this:
I. Israel’s sins. :7-12
II. God’s Warning. :13
III. Israel’s rejection (of God’s warning) :14-18
IV. God’s punishment :21-23
I. Israel’s sins
This is the section I would focus most on, because it is the focal point of this passage. The whole purpose of this passage is to explain WHY God’s judgment came on Israel, so let’s look at what God says were the reasons He judged them. AND let’s learn from them: what did they do, that brought God’s judgment on them, that we should seek to avoid today?
So to begin this section, I might point out that Israel’s sins are described here in :7-12, and then you could either list these for your group — OR you might have your group scan these verses and call out all the sins they see listed, while you write them on a DE board/blackboard. And then after you’ve listed them all, say something about each of them — and then talk about how each one of these might apply to us today.
Some of the sins listed here include:
— :7 they feared other gods
— :8 they “walked in the customs of the nations”
— :9 “the sons of Israel did things secretly” which were not right
— :9b they built high places (we talked about last time; places to worship Baal — or sometimes even YHWH, but God had said they were to worship only at His tabernacle.)
— :10 they set up sacred pillars/Asherim (wooden female fertility goddesses that were common in the land)
— :12 flat out says they served idols
So then after you/your class have listed all these sins of Israel, then APPLY IT TO YOUR GROUP/TO US TODAY. Remember, we don’t want these studies just to be history lessons; always apply the scripture to your group today. So ask them regarding each of these sins: “Are there ways that WE could be doing this same kind of thing today?”
And of course for each of these, the answer is, YES we can. Man’s nature has not changed, and we do very similar things today. I won’t go through all of these, but let me just suggest a few applications:
For example, :8 do WE “walk in the customs of the nations” instead of what God shows us to do in His word? Absolutely. The culture often invades the church, and we end up doing things that fit our culture, instead of God’s word.
??? You might ask your group if they can think of some ways/times they’ve seen that happen in your church or others???
:9 Do we “do things secretly which are not right against the Lord?”
??? Ask your group: What are some ways that we can sin secretly and do things “which are not right against the Lord”?
Some answers might include: Stealing money while no one is looking; commit adultery/immorality and trying to hide it; looking at pornography on the internet (a HUGE sin today; “Covenant Eyes”, an internet filter company, says 79% of men 18-30 watch internet pornography each month); gossiping/talking about people behind their back; you can think of others …
So YES we too “do things secretly” — and God says here He judges those things! Maybe God will convict some of your group members of their “secret sins.” You might remind them of Psalm 90:8 “You have placed our iniquities before You; our secret sins in the light of Your presence.” We never “get away” with anything. God will bring to light, and will judge, the sins we commit in secret.
— we just passed the story in II Kings 5:15-27 how Elisha’s servant Gehazi went after Naaman, and secretly asked for some money and clothes. But God showed it to Elisha, and judged Gehazi for his greed by giving him leprosy. God sees and judges what we do in secret.
— Ananias & Sapphira in Acts 5 is another example of this. They could lie to Peter and the church — but the Holy Spirit knew and judged them.
You and your group can think of others, both in the Bible, and in contemporary society, who thought they were “getting away with something” in secret, but whom God judged. Encourage your group to confess their secret sins to God, and repent of them NOW, and avoid that judgment.
— Then there are the high places. Even when Israel was worshiping YHWH at the high places, that was not where He commanded them to worship. They were worshiping God in a way contrary to what He had commanded them His word. Which reminds us: We are not free to worship God any way we please. We need to be Biblical in our worship. Are there applications of this for today? Absolutely!
— And then the idolatry; we spent some time on this a few weeks ago: anything we put in the place of God, or give God’s time, God’s money, God’s love, God’s priority, is an idol to us. And there are TONS of “idols” that people serve in God’s place today. John Calvin said the human heart is an idol factory.
So I would focus on this section regarding Israel’s sins, and talk about how we have many of the same sins in our own lives, and in our churches, today. Which should be chilling to us — because God judged those sins in Israel. And God does not change. If we do not repent of these sins, we too will be judged. We can count on it. “God Judges.”
And if you teach through the outline I gave earlier, you’ll end that 4th point, God’s judgment. In this case, it came in the form of the invasion by Assyria, and many from the northern Kingdom of Israel being taken into captivity into Assyria.
One HISTORICAL FACT you might want to be sure to share with your group, because it helps us to understand some of the New Testament: 17:24 (right after our focus passage) says that when the King of Assyria took many of the Israelites into captivity to Assyria, he also brought some foreigners into Israel to settle there (this was custom of conquerors in those days, to intermix the peoples of the Kingdom, to make them all loyal to him).
So you might want to point this out and let your class know that THIS is historically where the SAMARITANS came from: the Samaritans are the mixed race that resulted when the king of Assyria brought the foreign peoples into Israel. This is why the Jews of Judah, the Southern Kingdom, who had “pure Israelite” blood and genealogies, looked down on these folks; they considered them despised “half breeds” — and thus the animosity arose that we see between these groups later in the New Testament. This is not only of historical interest, but will also help everyone understand their New Testament better too.
Here’s an illustration you can use on God’s judgment, whether for the introduction, or conclusion, or somewhere in the lesson:
President Andrew Jackson was once on a boat in New York harbor with a group of men, including the Reverend Dr. Peter Van Pelt Jr., in 1833. He said to them: “‘Yes, my wife was a pious, Christian woman. She gave me the best advice, and I have not been unmindful of it. When the people, in their sovereign pleasure, elected me President of the United States, she said to me, “Don’t let your popularity turn your mind away from the duty you owe to God. Before Him we are all alike sinners, and to Him we must all alike give account. All these things will pass away, and you and I, and all of us, must stand before God.” I have never forgotten it, Doctor, and I never shall.’ Jackson wept at the memory.” (Jon Meacham, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, p. 262)
That was true for Andrew Jackson, we see in this passage it was true for Israel — and it is still true for us today. We are all accountable to God. We must all stand before Him. May we too, never forget it.