The Darkness Before the Light: an Advent Devotional (Part 1)
My tremendous thanks to the readers who have traveled with me through Kings and Chronicles. Hopefully you are willing to keep trekking as I shift from Israel's Kings to a three-week look at the nation's journey toward exile. Believe it or not, this is the start of my Advent reflections. Zechariah says this of Christ in Luke 1:78-79: “The sunrise shall visit us from on high, bringing light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death." Here's a look at some darkness before the light.
Second Kings 17:6-23 is a sad section in the Bible, it reads almost like a criminal verdict. Verse 6 announces the fall of Israel like a straightforward conviction and verses 7-23 rehearses the facts of the case. In 2 Kings 17:18, the sentence is rendered. Israel falls because of her guilt, God’s justice is served.
Second Kings gives the details of Israel’s crime, but to feel the burning anger of God---the plaintiff, the judge, the prosecutor, and key witness--it’s useful to read a book like Hosea. The Old Testament is filled with the passionate, indignant, yet often tender, words of God to His rebellious people. Hosea, the son of Beeri, is a prophet used by God to deliver such words.
Hosea serves the Northern Kingdom for 28 years, from the tail end of King Jeroboam II to just before the fall of Samaria. Hosea’s writings vividly capture the horror of Israel’s crimes and God’s anger against them. See Hosea 8:4-5:
They set up kings without my consent; they choose princes without my approval. With their silver and gold they make idols for themselves to their own destruction. Samaria, throw out your calf-idol! My anger burns against them. How long will they be incapable of purity?
Israel’s offence and God’s passionate response are summarized in just two verses!
I wrote a few weeks ago about God’s hesed (steadfast covenant love). Israel’s sin abounded and grace seemed to abound all the more in 2 Kings 14:23-27. But we should never presume on the riches of God’s kindness and patience for these are meant to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4).
The crimes ascribed to Israel, just three chapters later, testify to a brazen disregard of God’s covenant. As the people of God, the nation was to worship “no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:1-28). But like a woman who leaves her marriage bed to chase after lovers, the Northern Kingdom abandons covenant intimacy and obedience for idols (Hosea 2:2). Samaria breaks covenant, forfeits God’s covering, and is soon carried away by Assyria, never to return (2 Kings 18:12).
And what has this to do with us?
Israel sacrificed her children in fire and used divination and yet claimed to “know” the Lord (Hosea 8:2-3). In what ways does sin deceive our hearts into believing that we are “close to God” when, in reality, we are far from Him? Does God’s patience and willing forgiveness inspire obedient praise or does it expose a presumptuous heart? Let's examine ourselves this Advent season as we wait to greet the Savior with our full and humble submission, gratitude, and love. Amen.
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