2 Kings 17:15 (NAS): 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.
I came across this wonderful passage while reading the book of 2 Kings. It’s the writer’s assessment of the nation of Israel after being conquered by Assyria and thrown headlong into exile. I was immediately struck by how well constructed and poignantly it was written. How apt it was to be repeated. I admired its literary mastery. It’s short and compact, yet it carries a punch. It’s stated so simply, but it means so much. The truth of it is so clear, so obvious and yet unexpected. It’s startlingly obvious. It’s not like we don’t know that we become what we pursue. Or don’t we? Is it with us as it was with Israel? Is it only in hindsight that we realize our vain pursuits have lead to our vanity?
After my admiration of the adage wore off, I continued to consider the statement. It had a hold of me and I couldn’t understand why. Then the gravity of the context in which it was used returned to me. Vanity is not to be trifled with. Israel doesn’t simply become enamored with themselves. They don’t become a people who look longingly at themselves in the mirror.
2 Kings 17:20 (NAS): The Lord rejected all the descendants of Israel and afflicted them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until He had cast them out of His sight.
Yet their demise was so complete it could be summed up so very casually in the words; they followed vanity, and became vain. How do you come to see what may seem clear only in hindsight? How does our story not end the way Israel’s story ended?
First, let me suggest that we reflect often on the nature of what we are pursuing. Sometimes I know that what I want is vain, but I want it nonetheless. I convince myself that its okay because of the volume of vain pursuits around me. More often than not, my pursuits don’t reveal themselves to be vain; hence the need for reflection. Vanity slips easily in and out of the shadows, avoiding the light of reflection.
Second, I believe we must trust the truth of the passage.
We will become what we pursue. (<–Click to Tweet https://ctt.ac/gyUV0 )
If we follow vanity we will become vain. The pursuit of vain things is not harmless. As with Israel, it leads to destruction, emptiness, and uselessness, only to be removed from the Lord’s sight.
2 Kings 17:20 (NAS): 20 The Lord rejected all the descendants of Israel and afflicted them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until He had cast them out of His sight.
Third, we must know that vanity comes quickly. The brevity of the statement suggests that we become vain suddenly. While we are pursuing vanity, it suddenly apprehends us. And while not choosing to become vain, we find that we have become just that; vain.
Lastly, if we believe, the passage may actually work for us. If it is true that we become what we pursue, what could be said of us if we pursued Christ. Wouldn’t it be more wonderful and poignant if it was said of us,
“They followed Christ and became Christian.”
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