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2 Kings 17; 2 Kings 18; John 3:19-36 (The Message)

1 In the twelfth year of Ahaz king of Judah, Hoshea son of Elah became king of Israel. He ruled in Samaria for nine years. 2 As far as God was concerned, he lived a bad life, but not nearly as bad as the kings who had preceded him. 3 Then Shalmaneser king of Assyria attacked. Hoshea was already a puppet of the Assyrian king and regularly sent him tribute, 4 but Shalmaneser discovered that Hoshea had been operating traitorously behind his back - having worked out a deal with King So of Egypt. And, adding insult to injury, Hoshea was way behind on his annual payments of tribute to Assyria. So the king of Assyria arrested him and threw him in prison, 5 then proceeded to invade the entire country. He attacked Samaria and threw up a siege against it. The siege lasted three years. 6 In the ninth year of Hoshea's reign the king of Assyria captured Samaria and took the people into exile in Assyria. He relocated them in Halah, in Gozan along the Habor River, and in the towns of the Medes. 7 The exile came about because of sin: The children of Israel sinned against God, their God, who had delivered them from Egypt and the brutal oppression of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They took up with other gods, 8 fell in with the ways of life of the pagan nations God had chased off, and went along with whatever their kings did. 9 They did all kinds of things on the sly, things offensive to their God, then openly and shamelessly built local sex-and-religion shrines at every available site. 10 They set up their sex-and-religion symbols at practically every crossroads. 11 Everywhere you looked there was smoke from their pagan offerings to the deities - the identical offerings that had gotten the pagan nations off into exile. They had accumulated a long list of evil actions and God was fed up, 12 fed up with their persistent worship of gods carved out of deadwood or shaped out of clay, even though God had plainly said, "Don't do this - ever!" 13 God had taken a stand against Israel and Judah, speaking clearly through countless holy prophets and seers time and time again, "Turn away from your evil way of life. Do what I tell you and have been telling you in The Revelation I gave your ancestors and of which I've kept reminding you ever since through my servants the prophets." 14 But they wouldn't listen. If anything, they were even more bullheaded than their stubborn ancestors, if that's possible. 15 They were contemptuous of his instructions, the solemn and holy covenant he had made with their ancestors, and of his repeated reminders and warnings. They lived a "nothing" life and became "nothings" - just like the pagan peoples all around them. They were well-warned: God said, "Don't!" but they did it anyway. 16 They threw out everything God, their God, had told them, and replaced him with two statue-gods shaped like bull-calves and then a phallic pole for the whore goddess Asherah. They worshiped cosmic forces - sky gods and goddesses - and frequented the sex-and-religion shrines of Baal. 17 They even sank so low as to offer their own sons and daughters as sacrificial burnt offerings! They indulged in all the black arts of magic and sorcery. In short, they prostituted themselves to every kind of evil available to them. And God had had enough. 18 God was so thoroughly angry that he got rid of them, got them out of the country for good until only one tribe was left - Judah. 19 (Judah, actually, wasn't much better, for Judah also failed to keep God's commands, falling into the same way of life that Israel had adopted.) 20 God rejected everyone connected with Israel, made life hard for them, and permitted anyone with a mind to exploit them to do so. And then this final No as he threw them out of his sight. 21 Back at the time that God ripped Israel out of their place in the family of David, they had made Jeroboam son of Nebat king. Jeroboam debauched Israel - turned them away from serving God and led them into a life of total sin. 22 The children of Israel went along with all the sins that Jeroboam did, never murmured so much as a word of protest. 23 In the end, God spoke a final No to Israel and turned his back on them. He had given them fair warning, and plenty of time, through the preaching of all his servants the prophets. Then he exiled Israel from her land to Assyria. And that's where they are now. 24 The king of Assyria brought in people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and relocated them in the towns of Samaria, replacing the exiled Israelites. They moved in as if they owned the place and made themselves at home. 25 When the Assyrians first moved in, God was just another god to them; they neither honored nor worshiped him. Then God sent lions among them and people were mauled and killed. 26 This message was then sent back to the king of Assyria: "The people you brought in to occupy the towns of Samaria don't know what's expected of them from the god of the land, and now he's sent lions and they're killing people right and left because nobody knows what the god of the land expects of them." 27 The king of Assyria ordered, "Send back some priests who were taken into exile from there. They can go back and live there and instruct the people in what the god of the land expects of them." 28 One of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria came back and moved into Bethel. He taught them how to honor and worship God. 29 But each people that Assyria had settled went ahead anyway making its own gods and setting them up in the neighborhood sex-and-religion shrines that the citizens of Samaria had left behind - a local custom-made god for each people: 30 for Babylon, Succoth Benoth; for Cuthah, Nergal; for Hamath, Ashima; 31 for Avva, Nibhaz and Tartak; for Sepharvaim, Adrammelech and Anammelech (people burned their children in sacrificial offerings to these gods!). 32 They honored and worshiped God, but not exclusively - they also appointed all sorts of priests, regardless of qualification, to conduct a variety of rites at the local fertility shrines. 33 They honored and worshiped God, but they also kept up their devotions to the old gods of the places they had come from. 34 And they're still doing it, still worshiping any old god that has nostalgic appeal to them. They don't really worship God - they don't take seriously what he says regarding how to behave and what to believe, what he revealed to the children of Jacob whom he named Israel. 35 God made a covenant with his people and ordered them, "Don't honor other gods: Don't worship them, don't serve them, don't offer sacrifices to them. 36 Worship God, the God who delivered you from Egypt in great and personal power. Reverence and fear him. Worship him. Sacrifice to him. And only him! 37 All the things he had written down for you, directing you in what to believe and how to behave - well, do them for as long as you live. And whatever you do, don't worship other gods! 38 And the covenant he made with you, don't forget your part in that. And don't worship other gods! 39 Worship God, and God only - he's the one who will save your from enemy oppression." 40 But they didn't pay any attention. They kept doing what they'd always done. 41 As it turned out, all the time these people were putting on a front of worshiping God, they were at the same time involved with their local idols. And they're still doing it. Like father, like son. 1 In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, Hezekiah son of Ahaz began his rule over Judah. 2 He was twenty-five years old when he became king and he ruled for twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Abijah daughter of Zechariah. 3 In God's opinion he was a good king; he kept to the standards of his ancestor David. 4 He got rid of the local fertility shrines, smashed the phallic stone monuments, and cut down the sex-and-religion Asherah groves. As a final stroke he pulverized the ancient bronze serpent that Moses had made; at that time the Israelites had taken up the practice of sacrificing to it - they had even dignified it with a name, Nehushtan (The Old Serpent). 5 Hezekiah put his whole trust in the God of Israel. There was no king quite like him, either before or after. 6 He held fast to God - never loosened his grip - and obeyed to the letter everything God had commanded Moses. 7 And God, for his part, held fast to him through all his adventures. 8 And he drove back the Philistines, whether in sentry outposts or fortress cities, all the way to Gaza and its borders. 9 In the fourth year of Hezekiah and the seventh year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, Shalmaneser king of Assyria attacked Samaria. He threw a siege around it 10 and after three years captured it. It was in the sixth year of Hezekiah and the ninth year of Hoshea that Samaria fell to Assyria. 11 The king of Assyria took Israel into exile and relocated them in Halah, in Gozan on the Habor River, and in towns of the Medes. 12 All this happened because they wouldn't listen to the voice of their God and treated his covenant with careless contempt. They refused either to listen or do a word of what Moses, the servant of God, commanded. 13 In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the outlying fortress cities of Judah and captured them. 14 King Hezekiah sent a message to the king of Assyria at his headquarters in Lachish: "I've done wrong; I admit it. Pull back your army; I'll pay whatever tribute you set." 15 Hezekiah turned over all the silver he could find in The Temple of God and in the palace treasuries. 16 Hezekiah even took down the doors of The Temple of God and the doorposts that he had overlaid with gold and gave them to the king of Assyria. 17 So the king of Assyria sent his top three military chiefs (the Tartan, the Rabsaris, and the Rabshakeh) from Lachish with a strong military force to King Hezekiah in Jerusalem. When they arrived at Jerusalem, they stopped at the aqueduct of the Upper Pool on the road to the laundry commons. 18 They called loudly for the king. Eliakim son of Hilkiah who was in charge of the palace, Shebna the royal secretary, and Joah son of Asaph the court historian went out to meet them. 19 The third officer, the Rabshakeh, was spokesman. He said, "Tell Hezekiah: A message from The Great King, the king of Assyria: You're living in a world of make-believe, of pious fantasy. 20 Do you think that mere words are any substitute for military strategy and troops? Now that you've revolted against me, who can you expect to help you? 21 You thought Egypt would, but Egypt's nothing but a paper tiger - one puff of wind and she collapses; Pharaoh king of Egypt is nothing but bluff and bluster. 22 Or are you going to tell me, 'We rely on God'? But Hezekiah has just eliminated most of the people's access to God by getting rid of all the local God-shrines, ordering everyone in Judah and Jerusalem, 'You must worship at the Jerusalem altar only.' 23 "So be reasonable. Make a deal with my master, the king of Assyria. I'll give you two thousand horses if you think you can provide riders for them. 24 You can't do it? Well, then, how do you think you're going to turn back even one raw buck private from my master's troops? How long are you going to hold on to that figment of your imagination, these hoped-for Egyptian chariots and horses? 25 "Do you think I've come up here to destroy this country without the express approval of God? The fact is that God expressly ordered me, 'Attack and destroy this country!'" 26 Eliakim son of Hilkiah and Shebna and Joah said to the Rabshakeh, "Please, speak to us in the Aramaic language. We understand Aramaic. Don't speak in Hebrew - everyone crowded on the city wall can hear you." 27 But the Rabshakeh said, "We weren't sent with a private message to your master and you; this is public - a message to everyone within earshot. After all, they're involved in this as well as you; if you don't come to terms, they'll be eating their own turds and drinking their own pee right along with you." 28 Then he stepped forward and spoke in Hebrew loud enough for everyone to hear, "Listen carefully to the words of The Great King, the king of Assyria: 29 Don't let Hezekiah fool you; he can't save you. 30 And don't let Hezekiah give you that line about trusting in God, telling you, 'God will save us - this city will never be abandoned to the king of Assyria.' 31 Don't listen to Hezekiah - he doesn't know what he's talking about. Listen to the king of Assyria - deal with me and live the good life; I'll guarantee everyone your own plot of ground - a garden and a well! 32 I'll take you to a land sweeter by far than this one, a land of grain and wine, bread and vineyards, olive orchards and honey. You only live once - so live, really live! 33 Has there ever been a god anywhere who delivered anyone from the king of Assyria? 34 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah? And Samaria - did their gods save them? 35 Can you name a god who saved anyone anywhere from me, the king of Assyria? So what makes you think that God can save Jerusalem from me?" 36 The people were silent. No one spoke a word for the king had ordered, "Don't anyone say a word - not one word!" 37 Then Eliakim son of Hilkiah, the palace administrator, and Shebna the royal secretary, and Joah son of Asaph the court historian went back to Hezekiah. They had ripped their robes in despair; they reported to Hezekiah the speech of the Rabshakeh. 19 "This is the crisis we're in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. 20 Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won't come near it, fearing a painful exposure. 21 But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is." 22 After this conversation, Jesus went on with his disciples into the Judean countryside and relaxed with them there. He was also baptizing. 23 At the same time, John was baptizing over at Aenon near Salim, where water was abundant. 24 This was before John was thrown into jail. 25 John's disciples got into an argument with the establishment Jews over the nature of baptism. 26 They came to John and said, "Rabbi, you know the one who was with you on the other side of the Jordan? The one you authorized with your witness? Well, he's now competing with us. He's baptizing, too, and everyone's going to him instead of us." 27 John answered, "It's not possible for a person to succeed - I'm talking about eternal success - without heaven's help. 28 You yourselves were there when I made it public that I was not the Messiah but simply the one sent ahead of him to get things ready. 29 The one who gets the bride is, by definition, the bridegroom. And the bridegroom's friend, his 'best man' - that's me - in place at his side where he can hear every word, is genuinely happy. How could he be jealous when he knows that the wedding is finished and the marriage is off to a good start? 30 This is the assigned moment for him to move into the center, while I slip off to the sidelines. 31 "The One who comes from above is head and shoulders over other messengers from God. The earthborn is earthbound and speaks earth language; the heavenborn is in a league of his own. 32 He sets out the evidence of what he saw and heard in heaven. No one wants to deal with these facts. 33 But anyone who examines this evidence will come to stake his life on this: that God himself is the truth. 34 "The One that God sent speaks God's words. And don't think he rations out the Spirit in bits and pieces. 35 The Father loves the Son extravagantly. He turned everything over to him so he could give it away - a lavish distribution of gifts. 36 That is why whoever accepts and trusts the Son gets in on everything, life complete and forever! And that is also why the person who avoids and distrusts the Son is in the dark and doesn't see life. All he experiences of God is darkness, and an angry darkness at that."
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