17. The End or the Beginning

Meditations on “The Big Picture” 17. The End or the Beginning

Rev 21:1-4    Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

The fact that there are various schools of theology in respect of the end times suggests that everything is not as clear as we might like to wish it to be. Time is coming to an end, the day of the material world that we know is rapidly coming to an end. History as we know it is about to be wound up. Apart from the return of Jesus again (see Acts 1:11, Mt 24:30,31, 1 Thess 4:15-17, Rev 1:7, 19:11-16) which is quite explicit, the details of what will happen at the end leave us with questions. Are some of the things figurative or literal?

The book of Revelation is almost our only source and it is prophecy which means very often the language used is figurative rather than literal. But what does it say?

  • Jesus comes down and subdues his enemies (Rev 19)
  • Satan is subdued for a thousand years (Rev 20:1-3)
  • Those who had been martyred will reign for that thousand years (Rev 20:4-6)
  • At the end of that period Satan will be released to deceive and war against God’s people but his followers will be destroyed (Rev 20:7-10)
  • Then will come judgment, all before the throne of God (Rev 20:11-15)
  • Then comes a new heaven and a new earth and a new Jerusalem (Rev 21:1-5)
  • Judgment is imposed on all unbelievers (Rev 21:6-8)
  • The bride of Christ (see Rev 19:7-9) is revealed as the new Jerusalem (Rev 21:2,9-26)
  • There is the throne of God (Rev 22:1-5) dwelling with His people

To summarise those things, Jesus is coming to wind up the world as we know it. There appears to be an interregnum, if you like, where the world continues but without Satan’s influence, then a releasing to show nothing has changed with him or with sinful mankind. This is followed by a final judgement where Satan is subdued and all created beings stand before God for an accounting. Those who have not received the Lamb go to judgement. Those who are his followers enter into a new experience, a new heaven and a new earth and they, as a people, will enjoy the Lord in their midst in a new unlimited way for eternity. Shortening it even more, the end of evil and an eternity for the followers of the Lamb in the glorious presence of God.

And that is it. The end of what is now and the beginning of the experience of eternity with the Lord. Everything has been working towards this. The whole history of the Bible has been about revealing God to His world and looking for response to Him by people. Many reject, many receive Him.  Those who receive Him have an inheritance in eternity that is really beyond our understanding or explanation. Perhaps that is why it is so limited in scripture. There is a plan. There is a beginning and an end to it and yet the beginning and the end refer only to the material existence part of the plan which is limited. It is the bit we are largely concerned with today and it is the bit that takes up 99% of the Bible, and yet it is only part of existence. There is also a spiritual dimension, another existence that somehow exists without time, outside of time, beyond time, and yet an existence that can be comprehended, understood (when you are in it) and communicated.

The present material world appears massive to us, in fact beyond our imaginations even as we try to comprehend millions of galaxies, billions of light years and so on, and yet in comparison to the real existence is so limited.  Solomon caught a glimpse of this: He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Eccles 3:11)  The psalmist also caught it: “The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed in majesty and is armed with strength. The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity.” (Psa 93:1,2)

There is a material world existing in time-space history and there is another dimension called eternity, and God is Lord over them both. In Proverbs, wisdom personified, revealing the Son, begotten of the Father, declares, “I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began.” (Prov 8:23) The son stepped from eternity into material world existence as he stood alongside the Father creating the wonder of the world that we know: “I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.” (Prov 8:30,31) Father and Son and Holy Spirit together from ‘the beginning’ but then eternity doesn’t have a beginning.

But this is their book, this is their history, in brief sketchy outline at least, this is their account and they are in it from the beginning when “God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light.” (Gen 1:3) through to the end: “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.” (Rev 22:12-14)  Amen! Hallelujah!

16. The Rule of Jesus

Meditations on “The Big Picture” 16. The Rule  of Jesus

Rev 1:4,5    Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

Some would refer to the present ere as the day of the Spirit but the names of the Holy Spirit include ‘the Spirit of Jesus’ and so the Holy Spirit is the executive arm if you like of the Godhead, but He administers the will of Jesus in his people while Jesus sits at his Father’s right hand in heaven exercising his rule, deciding and determining what will be. Now of course many of us would prefer to focus on the works of the Spirit as seen, say, in the Acts of the Apostles and that is certainly the starting place.

Yes, there we see on the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit being poured out on the believers and them being equipped to be Jesus’ witnesses (see Acts 1:8, 2:1-4,14-21).  Yes, there we see Peter preaching the first sermon and three thousand being saved (Acts 2:22-41), there we see the apostles performing miracles (e.g. Acts 3:1-10) and then taking the opportunity to share the Gospel (Acts 3:11-26) And so it continues. The Holy Spirit moving through the early church with signs and wonders accompanying the preaching of the Gospel.

Others may wish to observe the roles of the Church and Israel. It is a fact, forgotten by many, that the early church was entirely Jewish in nature with all the apostles being Jews and Jerusalem being the heart of the church. As the church reached out with the Gospel more and more, it was obvious that it would change its nature with believers coming from the larger population of the world and thus became more Gentile orientated. Indeed Acts shows us quite clearly that it was Jewish hostility that forced the apostle Paul to move on sometimes and thus pushing the Gospel out even further. (Some modern historians suggest that Jews continued to be saved in numbers until the seventh century). With the fall of Jerusalem  – and the church leaders had already moved on – Judaism was also dispersed into the world (see Rev 12)

As far as individual Jews are concerned, they are no different from Gentiles in terms of needing salvation: there is no difference between Jew and Gentile–the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Rom 10:12,13) yet when it comes to them as a people, “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved.” (Rom 10:25,25)  Some will say that word ‘Israel’ simply means all believers whether from Jew or Gentile background, others will say it means the Jewish people will eventually be saved. Time alone will tell. That they as a people still have a part to play in the plans of God seems fairly obvious.

Which leaves us coming back to Jesus revealed as:

  1. a) the one seated next to the Father in heaven (Mark 16:19 / Acts 2:33 / Acts 5:31 / Acts 7:55 / Rom 8:34 / Eph 1:20 / Phil 2:9 / Col. 3:1 / Heb 1:3 / Heb 8:1 / Heb 10:12 / Heb 12:2 / 1 Pet 3:22), and
  2. the one with all authority (Rom 8:34 / Eph. 1:22 / Heb 2:8 / 1 Pet 3:22 / 1 Cor. 15:25 / Isa 9:7  / Psa 110:1,2) and
  3. the ruler of the kings of the earth (Rev 1:5, Psa 110:1,2, 1 Cor 15:24,25)
  4. the one ruling over the church (Rev 1:12-20)
  5. the one who will return sometime in the future in power (Matt 24:42,44, Matt 25:31-32, Acts 1:11, Eph 1:9,10, Rev 1:7)

It might be well to emphasis the 1 Cor 15 verses: Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:24,25) We may not be able to discern his works but the truth is that he IS reigning over this world – from heaven. He brings things about by his Spirit working in his followers, he will use Satan and his demons and powers as he sees fit (this is too big a subject to cover here, but he does) and he will work to manipulate circumstances, yet overall it is a mystery for most of the time. BUT he IS ruling; this is the era of Christ’s reign from heaven.

However when we see the praise given to him in heaven there comes a surprise: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (Rev 5:9,10) We the believers should be reigning. Now there will be some who say that is in the future but when you consider Jesus’ words, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 16:19 & 18:18) there seems a certain amount of ‘exercising rule’ about that. There is a similar hint in Eph 1:22 – “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church,” Perhaps, as with so many things it is a partial reign this side of heaven, fulfilled completely in the new heaven new earth where, “they will reign for ever and ever.” (Rev 22;5)  Some room for more reflection there!

Pre-AD1 (say) Christ sat with his father in heaven, waiting for his day on earth to come. Somewhere about that time, about AD30-33  He expressed his father’s kingdom in his ministry on earth. Since that time he has been reigning from heaven. At some point in the future he will return again as a conquering king (see Rev 19) and will then preside alongside his Father in eternity over the new heaven and new earth. The present ‘stepping stone’ of history is unknown to us as to duration for the time being – so watch the skies.

15. Three Liftings

Meditations on “The Big Picture” 15. Three Liftings

John 3:14,15    Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life

We have come to the point in biblical history where Jesus has left heaven, come to earth and is now ministering to the people of Israel, mostly up in Galilee, but sometimes down south in Jerusalem. They see him as a man, a miracle worker, yes; a great teacher, yes; a bringer of a new way, yes, but still a man. The next major step in this history of the world is about to happen. It will all take place within the space of less than two months but after it has happened, the world will never be the same again. The period and events we are about to observe are most certainly the most important and most significant events in world history, and yet they are ignored or forgotten by so many.

Three times in John’s Gospel, the apostle John, reflecting back on that wonderful time, remembers some of the words of Jesus that the earlier Gospel writers missed in their concern to get down the basics. For John there was more than the basics; there were truths spoken by Jesus that revealed him for who he truly was. I say three times he did this but in fact it was dozens of times in his Gospel but I want to just note three specific words. We have the first of them in our verse above from chapter 3 of John. But in very similar vein we also read, So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be,” (Jn 8:28) and then later, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” (Jn 12:32)

Now I am fairly certain that (certainly in John’s mind) each of these refers to Jesus being lifted up on the Cross, but in reality I want to put before you that in less than two months there were in fact three ‘lifting up’ times and each one – yes each one – was as significant as the others and causes the world to change.

The first one is, as we indicated above, Jesus being lifted up on the Cross. In John 3 that is paralleled with the snake that Moses lifted up in the desert (see Num 21:6-9). Anyone who ‘looked on’ the bronze snake after having been bitten by a snake, would live. What an analogy. We have been bitten by Sin and are consigned to death but if we will accept Jesus’ dying on the Cross as for us, we are saved. Hanging on the Cross Jesus took all our sins and ‘became sin’ (2 Cor 5:21) or the sin offering that essentially took on the sin of the person offering it. On the Cross all our sin and guilt and shame were dealt with by Jesus and justice was satisfied as the unique Son of God hung in our place and took that which was due to us, and being God could do it for every single person who would ask for it. That first ‘lifting up’ was critical for the world. It is the only way that justice can be satisfied in respect of every one of us.

But the second ‘lifting up’ was that of the resurrection: “God raised him from the dead,” (Acts 2:24) and “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.” (Acts 2:32) so that “through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 1:4) The resurrection, the second ‘lifting up’ proved who Jesus was. As the dead body was lifted up and the life returned, the indications are that this ‘new’ body was something more than the old one had been. The apostle Paul pressed the logic of this: “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Rom 8:11) Being ‘born again’ (Jn 3) means being indwelt by the Holy Spirit who brings ‘new life’ to us also. This is the significance of the second ‘lifting up’.

Now the third ‘lifting up’ was even more dramatic. No one saw Jesus being raised from the dead, except God but when it comes to the third ‘lifting’ it was quite different: “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going.” (Acts 1:9,10) Jesus’ ascension into heaven was physical and literal. It said to the disciples, ‘don’t go looking for him anymore; he is no longer on the earth.’  If they were not blown away by the resurrection – and they clearly were – then the ascension was even more mind blowing. Where did he go? Which cloud is the doorway to heaven????

Mark adds at the end of his Gospel, Jesus … was taken up into heaven and sat down in the place of honour at God’s right hand.” (Mk 16:19)  The writer to the Hebrews put it, After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (Heb 1:3)  The apostle Paul also wrote, “That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.” (Eph 1:20-22)  The point of the third lifting was that it transferred Jesus from his earthly ministry to a new exalted ministry at the Father’s right hand  (see Rom 8:34, 1 Pet 3:22, 1 Cor 15:25)  As Rev 5 shows us, Jesus is the one who now oversees the end times. There he will remain until the time comes for him to return again (Rev 19), but NOW he is ruling in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1,2). He is Lord.

On the Cross he took our sins, in the resurrection he gave us confidence and a picture of the power we would receive, and in the ascension he shows us where he now reigns. As we said earlier, the world was never the same again!

14. Out of another long silence

Meditations on “The Big Picture” 14. Out of another Long Silence

Mark 1:4    And so John came, baptising in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

I suspect that we are so familiar with the Gospels that we don’t see the next big step in the history revealed through the Bible. Israel had been resettled in the Promised Land after the Exile, there are some encouraging and challenging prophetic words we see in some of the minor prophets and then all goes quiet for over four hundred years. There had been a previous four hundred year silence from heaven in the period when Israel were settled in Egypt and the Lord was waiting for the right time to deal with both Pharaoh and then the Canaanites. Now in this present four hundred year period there are various upheavals in Israel and of course eventually the might of Rome takes over control of the Land, but heaven remains quiet and nothing is added to the Old Testament canon.

We tend not to think about this but it is the equivalent of nothing happening in our own country since say 1700. That’s a long time back for nothing to happen. Yes, life had gone on in Israel. Rome had exercised control and appointed Herod the Great as king of Judea under Rome. Religious life had carried on as normal – well, actually Herod had built up the old Temple, the one built after the exile, and made the new one quite spectacular. There were clearly spiritual or religious factions and as far as power within Israel itself was concerned it appeared shared between Rome and the priesthood. And so life just carried on with most people, we would assume, oblivious of impending activity by the court of heaven. There obviously were a spiritual minority, alert and awaiting a break in the silence of heaven: Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” (Lk 2:25,26)

But mostly, life just carried on, and then came John the Baptist. The first sounds from heaven had come a number of years previously when an angel from heaven came to Zechariah a priest and told him that his aged wife Elizabeth would have son – and this was John the Baptist. Shortly afterwards the same angel from heaven came to a young girl named Mary and told her she would conceive and have a son to be named Jesus, and so it was. And so follows what we call the Nativity with angels turning up for shepherds and wise men from the East turning up with financial resources, and of course Jesus being born somewhere out the back of an inn in Bethlehem.  Strange circumstances that we now almost take for granted courtesy of annual nativity plays.  And then silence for approximately thirty years we think and then it all starts happening.

Yes, John the Baptist is first on the scene preaching in the wilderness calling people to repentance and then baptising them in the River Jordan as a sign of being washed clean by God. In modern times he would be reported in Christian magazines and be referred to on Christian TV but then news of him spread by word of mouth. Crowds came and among them, Jesus, who shortly started his own ministry, roaming the Galilean countryside telling people that God’s rule was about to break about – and it did. Later on the Day of Pentecost the apostle Peter summed him up: “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22)  Later he explained it to Cornelius, “You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached – how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.” (Acts 10:38,39) but Jesus himself perhaps explained it best and most briefly, when speaking to John’s disciples: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:5)

Without doubt these three years of Jesus ministry must have been THE high point of human history with so many people being healed, dead being raised, and miracles being performed; this was truly the reign of God, the kingdom of God breaking loose on the earth. But here is the challenge as we look across the earth today. Jesus said, “anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12)  Anyone?  Faith is the only criteria. To do what Jesus did?  “To preach good news to the poor….. to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Lk 4:18,19) and  “preach this message: `The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy,  drive out demons.” (Mt 10:7,8)

Is this what we see when we go into the synagogue, sorry, church, every Sunday morning?  It feels sometimes like we are in the time waiting for the end of the four hundred years of silence, with church just carrying on from week to week. Yes, there are exceptions and yet there are many little glimmers of light but does the Church generally match these descriptions above? Perhaps it’s time to get down on our knees and stay there until it changes. Until we can get up and go and do these things with the anointing of the Holy Spirit. “Our father in heaven, may your name be glorified,  may your kingdom come and your will be done….”

13. Into Exile

Meditations on “The Big Picture” 13. Into Exile

Jer 13:19    The cities in the Negev will be shut up, and there will be no one to open them.

All Judah will be carried into exile, carried completely away.

Centuries pass, Israel, the northern kingdom, is carried away and still the southern kingdom is a mix of blessing and bane. When Israel is carried away, Ahaz was king in the south, a bad king who refused God’s chastening (see 2 Chron 28:1-11,22-25). He was followed by Hezekiah (2 Chron 29-32), essentially a good king though he struggled with pride in his last years. He was followed by Manasseh who was a seriously bad king restoring idolatry in a big way (2 Chron 33:1-11) and was carried to Babylon by God’s discipline where, amazingly, he repented and was restored to his land and to kingship (2 Chron 33:12-20). Then came Amon who only did bad and was assassinated within two years (2 Chron 33:21-25).  He was followed by Josiah (2 Chron 34 & 35) who was a remarkably good king but was killed in an unnecessary battle.

He was followed by the final four bad kings: Jehoahaz (who only lasted 3 months – 2 Chron 36:1-5), Jehoiakim (11 years, 2 Chron 36:5-8), Jehoiachin (only 3 months, 2 Chron 36:9,10) and finally Zedekiah (11 years, 2 Chron 36:11-21).  So much for Judah’s closing history as far as the kings went. The final three kings were all taken  into captivity in Babylon: Jehoiakim, (2 Chron 36:6), in 598BC, then Jehoiachin, (2 Chron 36:10) in 597BC,  and then Zedekiah, in 587BC with the fall of Jerusalem.

Nebuchadnezzar invaded more than once, when he came and took captives to Babylon from Judah:

  1. a) it started in 605, when Daniel and his friends were taken,
  2. b) it was repeated in 597 when Ezekiel and some ten thousand Jews were deported to Babylon (see 2 Kings 24:12-17) and then
  3. c) finally to quash Zedekiah’s rebellion in 588/587. (the siege of Jerusalem lasted over a year before it fell)

Now Jeremiah prophesied from the time of Josiah right through to the end of Jerusalem and the final exile. Many of his prophecies warned of the coming conflict and called Judah to repentance. Probably one of the more significant prophecies comes in Jer 25, delivered probably in 605BC in the fourth year of Jehoiakim’s reign and Nebuchadnezzar’s first year of rule before he came against Jerusalem for the first time. Jeremiah had already prophesied for 23 years (Jer 25:3) and had warned them against apostasy (25:4-7) but they had ignored the warning so now, “Because you have not listened to my words, I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,” declares the LORD, “and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations.”   (25:8,9)  Now that prophecy went on to warn of complete devastation which did not happen at his first invasion but certainly did at his final invasion in 588/587.

While Jeremiah prophesied in Jerusalem throughout that period, Ezekiel appears to have been carried away to Babylon as we saw above in 597 but doesn’t appear to have received his prophetic call until 593 (see Ezek 1:1,2) There he brought his words to the exiles in Babylon and presumably those words were carried back to Jerusalem. In chapters 1 to 24 he prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem for the apostasy of the people. Nevertheless, in the midst of that, as always with God’s words of judgment, there were words of hope: `This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will gather you from the nations and bring you back from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you back the land of Israel again.’ “They will return to it and remove all its vile images and detestable idols. I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God. But as for those whose hearts are devoted to their vile images and detestable idols, I will bring down on their own heads what they have done, declares the Sovereign LORD.” (Ezek 11:17-21) In that remarkable word the Lord reveals His long-term strategy – the Israel that will return will be free of idol worship and will hold fast to the Lord.

In January of 588 the Lord told him that Jerusalem was under siege (Ezek 24:1,2). Thereafter he was instructed to prophesy against Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, Sidon and Egypt. God’s day of judgment was coming but not only on Jerusalem! Eventually he was told that Jerusalem had fallen (Ezek 33:21)  In the chapters that follow the prophetic word brought hope and more hope, e.g.: “For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. …. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land.” (Ezek 34:11,13)

Read Lamentations and catch the awfulness of the destroyed Jerusalem. The walls have gone and the temple has gone; it has been burned to the ground and the vast majority of its people carried off to Babylon. If you were an Israelite you might have thought that this was the end of Israel – except Ezekiel was prophesying it wasn’t (and Jeremiah had prophesied that it wasn’t!).  Forty years after the destruction, something amazing happened: “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing: “This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: `The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you–may the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up.’” (2 Chron 36:22,23) The details are given in Ezra in respect of the temple and in Nehemiah in respect of the city walls. God had restored His people to their land after the most devastating judgment Israel and Jerusalem ever experienced. Incredible! Worship the Lord who is sovereign and who WILL fulfil all His purposes.

12. A Divided Kingdom

Meditations on “The Big Picture” 12. A Divided Kingdom

1 Kings 11:10,11  Solomon did not keep the LORD’s command. So the LORD said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates.”

Our verses above indicate the next serious turning point in the life of the nation of Israel. It will govern what will go on for over 300 years ahead. The starting point, and we need to examine the whole passage to see what was happening and why, comes in verse 9: The LORD became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice.”  Now the apostle Paul was to say centuries later, “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” (1 Cor 4:2) i.e. the more the Lord gives you, the greater the responsibility on you. Now the Lord had personally appeared to Solomon twice. The first time had been in a dream (3:4-5) where the Lord had promised to give Solomon wisdom to rule well, and the second time had been when Solomon had finished building the Temple (9:1-9) where the Lord promised blessing for obedience but judgment on them for disobedience, especially if they served ‘other gods’. That was the starting point: responsibility through blessing.

And then the Lord spells it out:  “Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the LORD’s command.” (v.10) At the beginning of chapter 11 we find these terrible words: “King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women… As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods.” (11:1,4) This wasn’t just a one-off sin but a long-term turning to the gods of his wives. The wisest man in all the earth – so blessed by God that he also became the richest and most powerful man in all the earth – gives it all away and becomes an idolater.

Because the Lord cannot just sit back and turn a blind eye to this (for it would undermine His authority for ever more), He declares He will take the kingdom from Solomon (v.11) but after he had died (v.12) and then not entirely (v.13).  He will do this for David’s sake and for the sake of the name of Jerusalem. Nevertheless the Lord disciplined Solomon in his lifetime by raising up two adversaries, Hadad the Edomite, from the royal line of Edom,” (11:14-) and Rezon son of Eliada,” (11:23) and we read, “Rezon was Israel’s adversary as long as Solomon lived, adding to the trouble caused by Hadad.” (11:25) and then, Jeroboam son of Nebat rebelled against the king. He was one of Solomon’s officials.” (11:26)

Now we also read of how the Lord also spoke to Jeroboam through Ahijah the prophet (1 Kings 11:29) and promised him rule over ten of the twelve tribes (v.31,35) but will leave one tribe with the southern kingdom, for the sake of my servant David and the city of Jerusalem”  (v.31,32).  He explained in detail that God would do this because of all the idols they were worshipping (v.33). He explained He would leave the one tribe with Judah in the south, “so that David my servant may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city where I chose to put my Name.” (v.36)  If Jeroboam would rule as David had done, the Lord would build him a dynasty that would last (v.38).

Solomon eventually died and Rehoboam his son succeeded him (v.43).  However Jeroboam returns and with the people confront Rehoboam and demand a lighter reign than they had had under Solomon (1 Kings 12:1-5).   Ignoring the wisdom of the elders who agreed to this, Rehoboam listened to the folly of youth in his young friends and replied harshly (12:6-14):  “So the king did not listen to the people, for this turn of events was from the LORD, to fulfill the word the LORD had spoken to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Ahijah the Shilonite.” (v.15) Thus the split came about with two tribes in the south focused on Jerusalem and ten tribes in the north with Samaria as their capital.

The explanations we are given for this division are, a) Solomon’s disobedience and b) the memory of David.  What is amazing about the Biblical account is the effect David’s (largely) righteous life had on the Lord’s feelings. Again and again David is referred to and specifically as a factor in God’s responses to various later kings. It really is pure speculation because we are told no more, but one wonders if the Lord allowed or brought about two kingdom to give two different groups the opportunity of getting it right with Him.

It is clear from the outset that the northern kingdom got it wrong with Jeroboam reasoning, “If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam.” (1 Kings 12:27) and so, “After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan. And this thing became a sin; the people went even as far as Dan to worship the one there.” (1 Kings 12:28-30)   Moreover, “Jeroboam built shrines on high places and appointed priests from all sorts of people, even though they were not Levites.” (12:31) and so “Anyone who wanted to become a priest he consecrated for the high places. This was the sin of the house of Jeroboam that led to its downfall and to its destruction from the face of the earth.” (1 Kings 13:33,34) Not a single northern king changed this and so ultimately is appears to be one of the reasons for the demise of the northern kingdom in 722BC.

I am aware these recent meditations tended to be factual and have lacked personal application. If you are looking for personal lessons in these chapters you don’t have to look far seeing the life of the once wise Solomon now being driven by sex and the inability to control his emotions or will to resist the alien religions of his eventual wives. Also the example of Rehoboam failing to listen to the wisdom of his elders and going along with the youthful folly of his peers. When we come to observe all the kings of the southern kingdom (because the northern kings are best forgotten!!!) we realise that we all have feet of clay, some part of our lives that make us vulnerable, and it is a wise person who knows themselves and knows the areas to be guarded against or worked against. David sinned on one occasion (apart from the time when the enemy provoked him into unwise action) but was generally known as a man who stuck close to the Lord. You and I may stumble on occasion but may we also be those who are known, despite that occasional stumble, to be those all out for God.

11. From Judges to Kings

Meditations on “The Big Picture” 11. From Judges to Kings

1 Sam 13:14    the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people

I am aware that, having just done two very general meditations, coming back into specifics of history again, and specifics of circumstances rather than of people, there is likely to be a measure of repetition as we consider various events from different viewpoints.  Historically we have gone as far as taking the Land and briefly mentioned the subsequent rule of the judges.

It is at this point that we pick up the thread or the flow of history as we see it in the Bible. We find a summary verse early in the book of Judges that declares, “Then the LORD raised up judges , who saved them out of the hands of these raiders… . . Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the LORD had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them”. (Judg 2:16,18)  In the chapters that follow we see the Lord raising up Othniel (3:9), Ehud (3:15), Deborah / Barak (4:3,4),  Gideon (6:11), Tola (10:1), Jephthah (11:29) and Samson (13:5). After the erratic life of Samson and his eventual death (16:30) the book degenerates into the even more erratic goings on of people and groups in the nation and we find “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” (17:6).

Moving into 1 Samuel, we find the presiding judge is Eli a priest, who is now very old. He sees in the last judge, Samuel, who is also a prophet. Nevertheless, the leadership of Israel is not in a good state:  Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the LORD….. This sin of the young men was very great in the LORD’s sight, for they were treating the LORD’s offering with contempt….. Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting….. His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke. (1 Sam 2:12,17,22,25) To cut a long story short, Eli’s sons die in battle and Eli dies of shock and Samuel is left to lead the nation.

However there comes a time when the people are no longer happy with this: “So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” (1 Sam 8:4,5) Again, to cut a long story short, Saul is chosen to be the first king of Israel. This comes about with God’s acquiescence and Samuel’s guidance and the expectation is clearly that Saul will rule but in a way acceptable to the Lord – but this does not happen.  Saul gets it wrong  at Gilgal where he impatiently and wrongly acted as a priest (13:8,9) and when he failed to destroy the Amalekites as instructed (15:2-9) For these reasons he is rebuked by Samuel: “Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.”   (1 Sam13:13,14)

The second half of 1 Samuel is taken up with the introduction of David as that man after God’s own heart, who is eventually taken into Saul’s service, but then is seen as a threat by Saul who at least twice tries to kill him. So has to flee and spends the rest of the book on the run. It is only when, at the end of 1 Samuel, Saul is killed in battle, that David becomes king. In 2 Samuel we see his rise and his reign .The significance of David’s rule is not really seen until later when we find the following spoken in respect of Abijah the second king of the southern two tribes but really saying much about David: “He committed all the sins his father had done before him; his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his forefather had been. Nevertheless, for David’s sake the LORD his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem by raising up a son to succeed him and by making Jerusalem strong. For David had done what was right in the eyes of the LORD and had not failed to keep any of the LORD’s commands all the days of his life–except in the case of Uriah the Hittite. (1 Kings 15:3-5)

When David dies Solomon, one of his sons, takes over the reign of the country and is promised divine wisdom to rule his country (1 Kings 3:5-14). He starts out very well and becomes the richest and most powerful king in the world. Israel prospers. However, tragically we read, “King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter–Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, “ You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray . As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods , and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God , as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done.    (1 Kings 11:1-6) 

The Lord’s response is strong: “The LORD became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel , who had appeared to him twice. Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the LORD’s command. So the LORD said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe,”  (1 Kings 11:9-13) and that was the end of the single kingdom of Israel. In the next study we will see the divided kingdom. It has been a tumultuous period, this time of the reign of the judges giving way to the reign of the kings.