An Independence Day Reflection

It’s July 4, and so many of us are celebrating the birthday of the United States. It is a great gift from God to have been born in a nation where the gospel of Jesus Christ has been clearly preached in many places. I’m grateful to God for the freedom to worship the Lord, to preach the word, to share the good news of Jesus. I’m grateful that this nation has never established a government-controlled state religion or required its people to worship or not to worship in any particular form. I’m grateful to the Lord for men and women who have sacrificed of themselves in countless ways to establish and protect the freedoms we enjoy.

 

I am also deeply concerned for the future of the nation where I was born and for which I am grateful. Though we are most certainly not the nation of Israel under covenant with the Lord, we can and should learn from the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel. I say that because I believe that we as a nation are guilty of so many of the very same things that brought the judgment of the Lord on that people.

 

For you who do not know the story, let me sketch in the history. In Genesis, God promised to send the Messiah (or Christ) into the world to rescue sinners, crush the devil, and set right what went wrong at the fall of man. God chose one particular family, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to carry this promise. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel and promised that Israel would be a nation through which God would fulfill his promise. And Israel agreed to obey the commands and ways of God in order to have God bless and protect the nation. Eventually, this led to the nation being led by a king named David, and God promised that David’s family line would carry his ultimate promise.

 

In around 9:30 B.C., The nation of Israel divided. Ten of the 12 tribes separated from the leadership of the descendants of King David and went their own way. That nation was still called Israel or the northern Kingdom while the descendants of David and carriers of God’s promise were called Judah after David’s tribe. In 722 B.C., the Northern Kingdom was conquered by the Assyrian Empire.

 

Look at how Scripture describes the fall of Israel and the reasons for its fall.  

 

2 Kings 17:6-8 – 6 In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

7 And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods 8 and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had practiced.

 

Here we see that the nation of Israel had turned away from the things that please God and had begun to do things that god had forbidden. They modeled themselves after the surrounding nations instead of following the terms of the covenant they had made with the Lord. Israel did this even though the covenant agreement included severe consequences for violating God’s commands.

 

What did Israel do? From verses 9-18 of 2 Kings 17, God lists the offenses of Israel. They refused to worship God. Instead, the people of Israel began to worship false gods. They bowed down to idols. They even began to sacrifice their children to their false gods. Other books in the Bible tell of how God warned Israel to change. Amos, for example, called Israel to stop allowing the super-rich to live in luxury while they oppressed the poor and needy in their land. Many prophets instructed Israel to stop practicing sexual immorality and all forms of wickedness. But the nation would not repent.

 

And here we are, over 2,700 years later in a nation that the people of Israel could never have dreamed would exist. We are privileged beyond anything we could have ever imagined. But I wonder how long we will be able to stand. I do not doubt the American drive or the strength of will of our soldiers. But I do wonder if the Lord will allow this nation to stand strong forever given the way that we so eagerly embrace the things that brought God’s judgment upon Israel. No, we are not a nation in covenant with God like Israel. But, throughout biblical history, God would only allow the nations around his people to live in sin for so long before his judgment on them would fall.

 

As a nation, we have seen gloriously good things. We have seen the Lord honored as our people have preached and spread the gospel. It was our soldiers who made a dramatic difference to put down Hitler’s Germany in World War II and helped to rescue the world from one of the greatest threats in history. It was the U.S.A. that stood against the threat of Soviet Communism to see the Berlin Wall fall and that wicked system of oppression collapse. And I am so grateful for those things.

 

But we are also a people who have embraced things that God has called wicked in his word to a degree that is beyond imagining. We, as a nation, have allowed the sacrifice of our children, not to a statue of a false god, but by abortion to the idol of human freedom and autonomy. We have openly embraced what God calls sexual immorality, redefining marriage, loosening any restrictions on divorce, and leaving generations of children without fathers. We have allowed in years past the kidnapping and sale of human beings to serve as slaves simply based on their color of skin. In the present, we still fear one another and hurt one another if we look different from each other. Now the modern slavery involves the kidnapping and sale of young boys and girls into prostitution through human trafficking, a very real American sin. In truth, the things God commands are ignored in our nation while the things God forbids are celebrated.

 

So, I ask, how shall we stand? Even if we are not Israel, even if we are not in covenant with the Lord, how shall we stand? The answer, dear friends, must be repentance. Our nation has been great in many ways. Our nation is great in many ways. We have been blessed in many ways. But if we, as a people, are not willing to turn from our sin, bow to the Lordship of Christ, and seek his mercy, I fear for our future. The Lord let his judgment fall on nations as great as ours in the past. Egypt fell. Assyria fell. Babylon Fell. Persia fell. Grease fell. Rome fell. Every great empire in human history has fallen. So we dare not take our freedom and our stability for granted. We need to bow, turn to Christ, and seek the mercy of God.

 

I’ll wrap up with a prayer recorded in Scripture. The Prophet Daniel, a God-fearing, God-loving, righteous man, prayed a prayer of national confession and repentance. In so many ways, Daniel was not personally guilty of what others around him had been doing. But he did not pretend that his own goodness would save the nation. Instead, Daniel prayed to God, confessing the nation’s sin, and asked the Lord to have mercy. Perhaps we could do the same, praying that the Lord have mercy on the nation we live in, on the nation he has so blessed, on the nation we love, on the nation that has so turned against him and his ways. May we pray for God’s mercy as we celebrate our independence, but not an independence from our Creator.

 

Again, Daniels’ prayer is for the people of the house of David, Judah. We are not, in America, the people called by God’s name as they were. But perhaps we can learn from this prayer to seek the mercy and favor of God as we turn from sin and to him.

 

Daniel 9:3-19 – 3 Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. 4 I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 5 we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. 6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. 7 To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. 8 To us, O Lord, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. 9 To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him 10 and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. 11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him. 12 He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers who ruled us, by bringing upon us a great calamity. For under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what has been done against Jerusalem. 13 As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth. 14 Therefore the Lord has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us, for the Lord our God is righteous in all the works that he has done, and we have not obeyed his voice. 15 And now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and have made a name for yourself, as at this day, we have sinned, we have done wickedly.

16 “O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us. 17 Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. 18 O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. 19 O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.”

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