Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah through all His prophets and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep My commandments, My statutes according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you through My servants the prophets,” (17:13).
One of the saddest commentaries written about God’s people is found in this chapter. Here we read this heartbreaking portrayal of His people who were called to be set apart for Him; a people called to demonstrate the gift of grace extended by Holy God to those who surrounded them; a peopled called to live in fellowship and relationship with Him that others would desire Him; a people called to be blessed in order that they would become a blessing to others.
And rather than receiving, becoming and being all that the LORD had called them to, they became like the very nations around them. And rather than fulfilling their God-given call, they ignored His Warnings for their Welfare, emptying themselves of every good and perfect gift He had so graciously promised.
… And they followed vanity and became vain, and went after the nations which surrounded them, concerning which the Lord had commanded them not to do like them, (17:15 emphasis added).
Consider His Warnings for Our Welfare
Today, we will roll up our sleeves to do some digging into the original language. Consider the Hebrew words, “vanity and vain,” defined in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance in contrast with the definition provided for welfare.
Welfare: “the good fortune, health, happiness, prosperity, etc., of a person, group, or organization; well-being.”
“And they followed vanity”
- הֶבֶל heḇel: A common noun referring to vanity, emptiness, meaninglessness; idols… It refers to the vanity and ultimate emptiness and meaninglessness of all things in this life, whether they seem good or bad… absolute meaninglessness (Eccl. 1:2). Idols and the vain religious customs associated with them are all delusions (Jer. 10:3, 15). It denotes an empty, vain life (Eccl. 6:12)… To walk after heḇel means to go after or follow vanity (2 Kgs. 17:15; Jer. 2:5).
“and became vain”
- הָבַל hāḇal: A verb indicating to fill with false hopes, to become vain, empty, void. It notes that those who reject God’s covenants and statues become vain (2 Kgs. 17:15) in their pursuits as well (Ps. 62:10; Jer. 2:5)…
Rather than good fortune, health, happiness, prosperity, and well-being, God’s people ignored His Warnings for their Welfare and opted for a life that was empty and meaningless, filled with false hopes and void of purpose in all their pursuits.
And it wasn’t as though He hadn’t warned them… time and time again.
Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah through all His prophets and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep My commandments, My statutes according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you through My servants the prophets.” 14 However, they did not listen, but stiffened their neck like their fathers, who did not believe in the Lord their God. 15 They rejected His statutes and His covenant which He made with their fathers and His warnings with which He warned them. And they followed vanity and became vain, and went after the nations which surrounded them, concerning which the Lord had commanded them not to do like them, (17:13-15 emphasis added).
Yet, all His Warnings for their Welfare were repeatedly ignored and rejected. How can we expect to be any different?
How must we respond to His Warnings for Our Welfare?
Although this chapter relates the sad truth and reason for the northern kingdom’s ultimate demise, it also conveys the antidote against winding up in the same situation.
Twelve times in this chapter, the word translated as “fear” or “feared” in reference to God (and other gods) is used (17: 7, 25, 28, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40). Twelve times! Some versions may translate this word as “worship.” Another dig into Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance is necessary to broaden our understanding of what is being communicated in the Hebrew language.
- יָרֵא yārēʾ: A verb meaning to fear, to respect, to reverence, to be afraid, to be awesome, to be feared, to make afraid, to frighten. The most common translations are to be afraid, to fear, to fear God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” is a famous use of the noun (Prov. 1:7 niv); the famous narrative of the near sacrifice of Isaac proved to God that Abraham feared Him above all (Gen. 22:12); people who feared God were considered faithful and trustworthy for such fear constrained them to believe and act morally (Ex. 18:21). The midwives of Pharaoh feared God and did not kill the newborn Hebrew males (Ex. 1:17, 21). The fear of the Lord was closely tied to keeping God’s decrees and laws (Deut. 6:2); people who fear God delight in hearing of His deeds for His people (Ps. 66:16). The God of Israel was an object of respectful fear (Lev. 19:30; 26:2) for Obadiah and Hezekiah (1 Kgs. 18:3, 12; Jer. 26:19). In addition, because Israel feared and worshiped other gods, they were destroyed by Assyria (Judg. 6:10; 2 Kgs. 17:7, 35). They were to worship and fear only the Lord their God (Josh. 24:14).
God used this word twelve times in His evaluation of the nation, their service and worship. And in it, we too hear His Warnings for Our Welfare. It is as we follow Him rather than go after the enticements of this world, as we revere and worship Him with awe and fear that we will be guarded from that which threatens to steal, kill and destroy our Welfare. And it is as we heed His Warnings that we are set free to receive His abundant worth and meaning for this life.
So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free,” (John 8:31-32).
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” (John 10:10).
Let us daily seek Him in an attitude of holy reverence and fear, for He is Holy and so very high above us. The fact that He has reached down from on high to bring us to Himself is too much to comprehend. But He has.
He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
he drew me out of deep waters.
17 He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
from my foes, who were too strong for me, (Psalm 18:16-17 NIV).
Yet even when we are adopted as His children by placing our faith in the blood of Jesus, He reminds us that He alone is God; and He alone continues to be worthy of our awe, reverence, respect, honor, and yes… our fear. And in His grace, He Warns Us for Our Welfare, that we may follow Him in pursuit of all that pleases Him.
…work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure, (Philippians 2:13-14).
Oh, that we would turn from following anything other than Him. Let us commit to seek Him daily, believing He is faithful to fill us as we walk in the fear of the Lord to heed His Warnings for Our Welfare.
that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God, (Ephesians 3:16-19).