This passage serves as a bit of an epilogue to the end of the kingdom of Israel.
After the Israelites were deported to Assyria, other people were brought in by the Assyrians to settle in the Israelite towns. But soon, the people there were getting killed by lions and the Assyrian king was told that it was because the new settlers didn’t know how to worship the Lord.
When I first read this, I struggled with the idea that the Lord really sent the lions. The writer clearly says God did, but looking at the rest of the passage, it was hard to understand.
The reason being that the king of Assyria commanded them to take one of the priests they had taken captive and to bring him back to Samaria in order to teach the people how to worship God. Supposedly after that, the attack from the lions stopped.
The problem is, all the priests from Samaria were corrupt. They were not true priests. They were all appointed by Jeroboam I to take the place of all the true priests who had gone to Judah (II Chronicles 1:13-16).
Furthermore, they were not teaching the true worship of Yahweh, but a corrupted worship of Yahweh, in the form of the golden calves. So it was hard for me to understand why God would’ve stopped sending lions for a corrupted worship of himself.
On reflection, however, I suppose it’s possible that he did punish them and relented later simply because of their ignorance. As Jesus would later say,
That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. (Luke 12:47-48)
At any rate, even having been taught about the Lord, the new settlers continued to worship their own gods. And thus you have two seemingly contradictory statements. In verse 32, it says, “They worshiped the Lord,” but in verse 34, it says, “They neither worship the Lord nor adhere to the decrees and ordinances, the laws and commands that the Lord gave the descendants of Jacob.”
I think what God is saying here is very simple: “Worship” isn’t worship when you’re trying to serve two masters. One of the first things that God told the people from Mount Sinai was that they were to not have any other gods before him. And it is this command that the writer of Kings brings up in his condemnation of the settlers of Samaria in verses 34-40.
How about you? Are you serving the Lord alone? Or are you trying to serve two masters? Some people make money their master, and it was for this, that Jesus condemned the Pharisees. He told them,
No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. (Luke 16:13).
For other people, possessions are their god. Or sex. For others, it’s their hobbies. Whatever you place in your life ahead of God, that’s your god.
And God says that if you place another god before him, he will not accept your worship. Your worship to him becomes as meaningless as the worship of the settlers in Samaria.
Who is the master of your life today?