Fallen is Virgin Israel – the Assyrian Exile

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Read Amos 5:18-25 and 2 Kings 17

Woe to you who long
    for the day of the Lord!
Why do you long for the day of the Lord?
    That day will be darkness, not light.
19 It will be as though a man fled from a lion
    only to meet a bear,
as though he entered his house
    and rested his hand on the wall
    only to have a snake bite him.
20 Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light—
    pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?

21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
    your assemblies are a stench to me.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
    I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Remember how in 1 Samuel 8, the people gathered around old Samuel and asked for a King and God’s heart was wrenched? God said they were rejecting him as their king and then he went on to say that if they play the game of thrones they thought would make for a good time, they’d find themselves begging for God to rescue them? Well, in the words of T-Swift, if you play stupid games, you win stupid prizes.
After Elisha died, Israel went to war against Judah and Israel won. Israel looted the Jerusalem temple and became very wealthy. Under the reign of Jereboam II Israel experienced a time of great prosperity through deceitful business practices. Big companies took over small landowner’s properties and international trade began. Building activity flourished and their elaborate buildings with furnished elaborately. Their main industries were wine and beef. Why does this sound familiar?
Enter the prophets. Sure, yes, Elisha is dead at this point — but the writing prophets enter history at this point. Hosea, Amos, Micah, Joel, Jonah — they all show up around this time in response to this corruption and greed.
Hosea is told to have children and name them, “not loved” and “not my people” because God has about had it (up to here). Isaiah cries out that God hates their solemn assemblies and sacrifices and really just wants them to care for the widow and the orphan and enact justice. Amos plays a trick on the people with his first prophecy. He uses a map — announces that God will finally bring judgement down upon the heads of the neighboring nations. Imagine the people cheering. But as Amos lists the nations, he’s jumping from north to south to east west — proclaiming that God was finally going to punish them for their wickedness. Amos was circling Israel like a shark …. catching them in their own folly. Imagine if God judged us by the same measure with which we judge others? Amos 2:6-7 is it.
For three sins of Israel,
    even for four, I will not relent.
They sell the innocent for silver,
    and the needy for a pair of sandals.
They trample on the heads of the poor
    as on the dust of the ground
    and deny justice to the oppressed.
Father and son use the same girl
    and so profane my holy name.
So what was the ‘punishment’? What does it look like for God to be ‘fed up’? Well, let me tell you about the world’s first True Empire. Assyria was a ruthless war state with the world’s first professional standing army. They used seige tactics and torture unlike anything the world had ever seen. All of the world’s empires have been influenced by the Assyrians. Nineveh was the capital but the empire was massive. They invested a tactic called ‘Exile’ where they deported people from the lands the conquered and re-located them to other parts of the empire and reestablished the captured land with others from different areas. Essentially, they scattered everyone and confused their languages — it was a cultural genocide. At the peak of Assyria’s power, King Tiglath Pileser III invaded Israel and destroyed it. The Israelites were deported. God blew them into the wind like a child to a dandelion.
Read 2 Kings 17:5-23. The Israelite boarders were never restored again — the people of Israel never again participated in the life of the promised land. The remaining few became hated enemies of the Jews (they came to be referred to as the Samaritans).
I think this text is an invitation for us to stop focusing on all of the other people and all of their sins and to stop trying to be like the ‘nations’.  We are corrupt in a lot of ways — we are hoarding resources and love and forgiveness and living as if we are at the center of it all. The land where God dwells is a land of abundance, of milk and honey. The people who dwell there with Him are to be unlike other people — different, set apart.
Now listen, my job as your pastor isn’t to tell you to stop sinning. I have a log in my own eye that requires my full attention. My job is to be fully present to the work of renewal, in your midst; to model abundant life and publicly engage in the hard work of healing, forgiveness, patience, hope. I regard this task with grim sobriety. I do not lust after it. If I am motivated by insecurity, or a need to prove myself or a fear of failure or rejection or mediocrity — this land will swallow me whole and vomit me out. My job is to be awakened and trust the one through whom all things hold together; that my awakening is your awakening. In Isaiah 1:18-20 God says, “Come now! Let us argue it out – though your sins are like scarlet they will be as snow. If you are willing and obedient you shall eat the good fruit of the land, but if you refuse, you will be devoured.”
So, argue it out! Do the work. Deal with your shit. I’m not talking about behavioral modification (not smoking and not cussing isn’t the hard work….sheesh people, calm down with the moral therapeutic deism). I mean the hard work of being made new – wholly flourishing – not stuck in a loop. These prophets call us to stop faking it — stop being fake woke or fake spiritual – fake healthy and please stop fake worshiping. God wants the real deal.  He’s so sick of fake religion. The world has had enough of judgmental, hard-hearted, angry, greedy, closed off and afraid, guarded and rigid, ambitious and meddlesome people. God has invited YOU (not your spouse, not your neighbor, not your parents or you teenagers or the church elders or the board … YOU) to dwell in God, open and fully alive. You matter! You’re worth being alive for. You, emitting joy, love, peace, patience, goodness, gentleness, self-control, faithfulness — you, poor in spirit and pure in heart — you, merciful and hungering for righteousness– you, persecuted by the empire and not co-opted by it — THAT’S ABUNDANT LIFE! THAT’S MILK AND HONEY baby! THAT’S SOMETHING DIFFERENT! That’s a river of justice flowing for the entire global community. That’s the Kingdom of God, the Grand Ecology. It’s resistance – it makes the system tremble.
You’ve been invited to dwell in this land with God, participating in the grand scheme of new creation – heaven on earth.The message is clear: bear real fruit and engage in real surrender to the one who makes all things new.
In what ways do you fake it?
What will genuine renewal look like in your life?

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