23. Not the End

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 23. Not the End

Lk 1:5  In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah

Mt 3:1 In those days John the Baptist came

The Long Silence: There has been a silence from heaven for over four hundred years, and then suddenly there are angelic appearances to a few individuals, some unusual things taking place, then another thirty years of silence and then a prophet appears in the desert and a whole new ball game starts, that picks up and follows on from the last book in our Old Testament canon (Mal 4:5).

Israel in the ‘Silent Period’: Pre the coming of John the Baptist and Jesus, life did not stand still. The following may help us grasp something of this period:

  • the rebuilding of the Temple is complete by 516BC
  • Ezra goes to Jerusalem 458BC, Nehemiah comes about 445BC. (see books of Ezra & Nehemiah)
  • With the fall of Babylon back in 539BC the Persian Empire had prevailed as the dominant power, first with Cyrus and other following kings.
  • Between 486 and 465/64 the Persian king ruling was Xerxes I, otherwise known as Ahasuerus.
  • He features in Esther 1:1 thus identifying the period where Jews’ lives were threatened throughout the Persian Empire (which stretched from India to Ethiopia Est 1:1) and were only saved by the activities of a man named Mordecai and his niece, Esther, who lived in one of the four Persian capitals, Susa. Although this was not a struggle than involved fighting, nevertheless the very existence of the returned people, and the many Jews scattered over the Persian Empire, was under threat.
  • Thus the historical books of Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther, together with some of the minor prophets, such as Malachi are the last Biblical books giving details of the lives of the Jews at that time.
  • Round about 330BC the Persian Empire was overcome by the Greeks under Alexander the Great who brought Greek culture and language (known as the Hellenistic period which lasted for a little less than two hundred years). His kingdom was eventually divided among four of his generals.
  • One of these, Ptolemy, was given the rule of Egypt and established himself as king and created a dynasty that lasted from 305BC to the Roman conquest of 30BC (the Egyptian Ptolemaic Empire) and they had control over the Jews. They are significant in that a number of Jews settled in Egypt and particularly in Alexandria and between 250 and 130BC a Greek translation of the Old Testament, which we now call the Septuagint, was produced to help those Jews living outside Jerusalem and beyond Canaan who were becoming more Greek orientated.
  • About 198BC the Syrian Empire to the north gained control over the Jews and put pressure throughout their empire to spread the Greek culture, even seeking to stop the Jews following their traditional ways of life and even turning the temple into a pagan shrine.
  • A revolt occurred in Israel and eventually, Judas (Maccabeus) from a priestly family took control and independence was eventually gained. In 164BC the temple was cleansed and the event became the annual celebration in December of Hanukkah, the ‘Feast of Lights’.
  • The period of 164-63BC now tends to be referred to as the Hasmonean or Maccabean Period. (Hasmonean coming from the Hebrew name, Simon, one of the early Maccabean leaders). Nine rulers followed Judas Maccabeus, and as time passed they became more dictatorial and corrupt. Internal strife eventually led their leaders to ask the Roman general, Pompey, to come and restore order and thus Roman rule started in 63BC and continued until well into the next millennia.
  • In 40BC the Romans appointed Herod the Great as king of Judea and he died about 4BC. Thus the nation existed under the rule of Rome at the time of Jesus’ birth.
  • In 67AD came the great Jewish revolt and in 70AD the Romans destroyed the Temple and much of the city and the great dispersion of the Jews occurred (Read the allegorical description in Rev 12).

Israel to the Present Day

  • Thus the Jews became the diaspora or ‘the scattered Jews’, until the establishing of the state of Israel in 1948, followed shortly by the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 with violence continuing from 1950 to 1967 and the so-called Six Day War in June 1967, and in 1973 the Yom Kippur War with ongoing mixes of attempts at peace accords and frequent eruptions of violence between Palestinians and Jews, which continue to the present day.

And So: The history of this nation has been remarkable.

  • Originating in Abram, then Isaac and then Jacob, renamed Israel, growing from a family to a nation in Egypt,
  • delivered miraculously out of Egypt in the famous Exodus, eventually delivered into the Promised Land of Canaan, (later given names such as Palestine or Israel), held together by God-raised deliverers called Judges, followed by a prophet,
  • calling for a king that opened the way for a sequence of kings, Saul, David, Solomon, and then a double string of kings in the divided kingdoms of the north and south, again and again turning to idolatry, forgetting or rejecting the God who had formed them and delivered them and made them the unique people they were,
  • until the northern kingdom was swept away after a little over two hundred years by Assyria, and then a little over another hundred years later the southern kingdom swept away by the Babylonians in the Exile, to be returned forty years later by another alien king.
  • Then a little over four hundred years of being a vassal state to the Persians, the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Syrians and the Romans, when they eventually become what I call a God-environment to receive the Son of God from heaven, welcomed by a few, used by many and rejected by the authorities so he could become the Redeemer of the World.
  • Then destruction followed by obscurity for a little under nineteen hundred years until they are granted a fresh identity and on ongoing struggling area.

Behind this general sweep was the will of a benign God, seeking to raise them to great heights in the view of the world – achieved in the early part of Solomon’s reign, but thereafter largely lost. Through it all the incredible grace and mercy of God is seen by those with eyes to see, alongside the awfulness of Sin that runs rampant throughout their history, revealing to mankind what we are all like, sinners who need a Saviour. For nearly two thousand years they largely suffered ignominy and persecution, scattered around the world, and yet becoming so often successful which only added to the mistrust of the world.

And so today, many still scattered around the world, they have now reconstituted a nation that exists in the midst of Arab hostilities, maybe still to discipline them and turn them to the Savior who still holds his hands out to them, to whoever will respond to him. They formed the basis of the early church and it was only when larger numbers of Gentiles from around the world came to Christ, did the church lose its distinctive Jewishness. The struggles go on and they continue to remind the world of their presence and thus the presence of the God who is not only the Creator and Redeemer of the World, but also the One who formed a people to be a reminder and revealer of Him. Has the Lord finished with them? Definitely not. There is still a lot of unfulfilled prophecy about them, it would seem.

And Us?  I hope, as we draw a close, you feel as I do about this series that it has provided a major backdrop to your knowledge and understanding of the Lord and His purposes with this special people. For myself I have a greater sense of the awesomeness of the big spread of history as it affects this nation, drawing attention, not only to them but to their various neighbors and the big powers who came and went and who, for a while at least impacted this people.   I feel we often get very parochial in our outlook and I hope this series has done something to extend our vision upwards and outwards. Right, what’s next?

22. Review

PART TWO ‘C’ – To Conclude

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 22. Review

Isa 4:2 In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel.

2 Tim 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness

The Big View:  We have worked our way, OK rather laboriously, through all the kings of Israel, examining their spiritual outlook and the struggles they went through both spiritually and physically in struggles with their neighbours, but as we come to do a review of what we have seen I want to remind us that we have been reading the inspired, God-breathed, word of God. Some of it – indeed much of it – has not been very inspirational but nevertheless it is there to teach us, give us knowledge to help bring about understanding and hopefully wisdom, if we will but learn from it. I have included above a brief reference from Isaiah as a reminder to us that the long-term outcome for Israel is not determined by their bumbling activities but by the will of God which has always been for them – and for us – good. His end goal is always blessing.

Observations: As we have gone through the chapters of 1 & 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles, I find various things stand out:

  1. Both kingdoms succumbed to terminal judgments:
  • The northern kingdom with the fall of Samaria in 722BC (a 208 year life)
  • The southern kingdom with the fall of Jerusalem and start of Exile occurred in 587BC (a 343 year life)

after the breakup of the kingdom after Solomon about 930BC

  1. The difference in ‘constancy’:
  • the northern kingdom was constantly in a state of idol worship and none of the kings appeared spiritual or sought to change the spiritual state of the nation.
  • the southern kingdom varied immensely.
    • Some kings were no better than the kings of the north
    • Some kings were good throughout
    • Some kings were good as long as they had a good mentor
    • Some kings were mostly good but failed later in life, either by drifting away from God of falling to pride.
  1. The lengths of reigns

The lengths of reigns in both kingdoms appear to have NO correlation to the spiritual state of the land or the spiritual state of the king.

Some Conclusions: These similarities and differences suggest the following to me:

a) There is nothing ‘mechanical’ about the way God works.

  • We cannot say only ‘good kings’ would flourish because a number of ‘bad kings’ had long reigns.
  • Without further revelation we cannot say why this happened – was God giving some of them extra time to repent because they were on the edge of that, even though it never happened?

b) Nevertheless there are some obvious consequences

  • Bad kings often suffered invasion and/or assassinations.
  • Good kings often became secure under God’s blessings.
  • Although we cannot guarantee these things, there are definite trends.

c) Good kings rarely made it to the end unblemished

  • There are only a few who appear unblemished, if we may put it like that.
  • As we’ve noted, a number started well but didn’t continue like that.
  • We should add that two bad kings actually repented and were preserved for it.

d) Consequences are Part of God’s Design

  • We have observed a number of times that actions have consequences; what we say and do always has consequences, good or bad.
  • Some of those consequences seem ‘natural’, i.e. they naturally flow out of the behaviour, while some are clearly brought by God, either blessings or curses in the form of discipline.
  • ‘Discipline’ at a national level, say in respect of Israel, appears to come only when the nation had turned away from God and mostly comes in the form of invasion by neighbours who oppress Israel until they come to their senses.
  • Repentance – seen as the nation cry out to God – is immediately followed by God’s activity, often in the form of prophetic calling and empowering of the Spirit to enable an individual to rise up as saviour-deliverer of the nation.
  • The fact of the complete removal of the northern kingdom and the Exile for the southern kingdom shows that although God’s grace seems incredibly elastic, it will not be stretched indefinitely and so more severe consequences follow.

e) God works with Imperfect People

  • The fact of God calling into being and using Israel is the classic example of this, a people who constantly found fault with Him, grumbled and complained and constantly (at least in the long-term) turned away from Him.
  • The vast majority of the kings (all of those in the north!) did not live up to the potential God offered them and, indeed, failed to remain faithful to the end of their lives. Nevertheless God allowed them to reign in His name in His nation.

And So? And so we appear to come to the end as we have come to the Exile and subsequent restoration but for the big picture of Israel and its struggles that isn’t the end, so we will pick this up in the next and final study. Meanwhile, for us, can we look back over these observations and conclusions and learn from them? Will we indeed let Scripture teach, rebuke, correct and train us as Paul said, even such a large and varied part as these historical books that we have been considering?

21. Through to the End

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 21. Through to the End

2 Chron 33:33 Josiah removed all the detestable idols from all the territory belonging to the Israelites, and he had all who were present in Israel serve the Lord their God. As long as he lived, they did not fail to follow the Lord, the God of their ancestors.

2 Chron 36:15-19 The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. 16 But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy. 17 He brought up against them the king of the Babylonians, who killed their young men with the sword in the sanctuary, and did not spare young men or young women, the elderly or the infirm. God gave them all into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. 18 He carried to Babylon all the articles from the temple of God, both large and small, and the treasures of the Lord’s temple and the treasures of the king and his officials. 19 They set fire to God’s temple and broke down the wall of Jerusalem; they burned all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there.

Quick Summary:  We are now on the downhill run of the southern kingdom to the point they are taken into exile. Here are the basics:

Manasseh (55) Did evil in every way possible Disciplined by being carried to Babylon
Amon (2) Did evil Was assassinated
Josiah (31) Mostly nothing wrong. Possibly the best king of both kingdoms Died after battle he did not need to fight
Jehoahaz (3m) 3 month reign, presumably bad Deposed by Egypt
Jehoiakim (11) Did evil Taken to Babylon
Jehoiachin (3m) Did evil Taken to Babylon
Zedekiah (11) Ignored the Lord & did evil Refused the Lord, taken into exile in Babylon

Highlights: Two of these kings stand out for special mention, the rest as you can see above simply turned away from God and led the nation more and more towards destruction. The two kings are Manasseh and Josiah.

i) Manasseh: So much negative is written about this king (see 2 Chron 33:1-9) that I won’t try quoting it here, you will be pleased to note! Except – “But Manasseh led Judah and the people of Jerusalem astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites.” (v.9) Now I include that to emphasise the wonder of what followed:

– the Assyrians came and took him to Babylon (v.10,11)

– there he repented and so the Lord returned him to Jerusalem (v.12,13)

– he then brought about a spiritual clean-up (v.15,16)

Amazing! However Ammon his son stupidly did not learn from his father, only ruled two years, and so he was assassinated!

ii) Josiah: Came to the throne aged eight, ruled 31 years (2 Chron 34:1) as an amazing reformer. (see v.3-33 plus 35:1-19) Sadly showing his feet of clay that every human seems to have, he unnecessarily confronted the king of Egypt in the south and, despite disguising himself, was hit by a stray arrow, rushed back to Jerusalem where he died! Thirty one years of good rule brought to an end by a foolish whim. Nevertheless he certainly set the nation up to continue following the Lord which makes the shear folly of the four kings who followed him even more incredible.

And So? We cover a period here of roughly 113 years. It is perhaps difficult to comprehend the scale of historical periods (especially when they are considerably longer that our own lifetimes) but what we have here is a bad time followed by a good time (Manasseh), a short bad time (Amon), a startlingly good time (Josiah) which should have been a beacon for following kings but instead we find the final four are stupidly foolish, living under the shadow of the increasingly dominant Babylonians who turn up three times to take more and more of them into exile (after Jehoahaz was replaced by the king of Egypt with Jehoiakim):

  • Jehoiakim – 11yrs (2 Chron 36:5-8) (approx. 605BC)
  • Jehoiachin – 3 months (v.9,10) (approx. 597BC)
  • Zedekiah – 11 years (v.15-21) (587 BC)

Further Perspective:  Following only the historical books does not give the full picture of all that was going on through these years and to do that we need to read Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. I always liken these three to three modern-day TV reporters sent to cover a major event in the world. Jeremiah is in Jerusalem for decades before its eventual fall, prophesying his heart out to the kings and the people of Jerusalem. God’s warnings kept coming to those final kings again and again and again through this man. Daniel was deported in 605BC in Nebuchadnezzar’s first sweep, and he gives us the perspective of those years from within Babylon, from within the royal court. Ezekiel was taken off to Babylonia in 597BC in Nebuchadnezzar’s second sweep, to live among the common people and prophesied over the nation of Judah from afar right up to and through the destruction of Jerusalem, a voice that came to his people in Babylon and which was also carried back to Jerusalem. All three men played significant roles on God’s behalf through these years. Amazing!

Not the End:  So Jerusalem is utterly destroyed in 587BC after a year-long siege by Nebuchadnezzar’s army. The people are all (with the exception of a small minority that included Jeremiah – see Jer 39:11-14, 40:1-6) deported to Babylonia, the start of the Exile which was only broken 40 years later when Cyrus felt the Lord’s prompting to send some of the people back to rebuild the Temple (see Ezra 1) and later Nehemiah was allowed to return to rebuild the city (see Neh 1) Although the first exiles started returning roughly forty years after the destruction of Jerusalem, the rebuilding of the Temple was not completed until 70 years after the destruction thus fulfilling Jeremiah’s seventy-year prophecy (God’s place in the midst of His people restored).

And So: Here we will come to the end of the detailing of the decline, fall and exile of the southern kingdom, but we will carry out a summary in the following study. What is blatantly obvious in this study is the intervention of the Lord by His prophets to warn, warn and warn again these foolish kings to try to head off their eventual destruction. What is also blatantly obvious is the stupidity and stubbornness of the various kings who refused to heed His warnings. Grace and Sin alongside each other. The choice is always there for every one of us – God’s grace or our own sinful self-rule. May we be able to see it so clearly that it is really a non-choice!!!

20. More Lessons

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 20. More Lessons

2 Chron 31:20,21 This is what Hezekiah did throughout Judah, doing what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. In everything that he undertook in the service of God’s temple and in obedience to the law and the commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered.

The Kings:  The next block of kings we’ll consider following on from those in the previous study are  Amaziah, Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. As we have been seeking to cover both spiritual and physical struggles, we will first consider how each king is described in Scripture and then what interaction they had with other nations.

Descriptions:

Amaziah: “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but not wholeheartedly.” (2 Chron 25:2)

“When Amaziah returned from slaughtering the Edomites, he brought back the gods of the people of Seir. He set them up as his own gods, bowed down to them and burned sacrifices to them.” (2 Chron 25:14)

Uzziah: “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Amaziah had done.  He sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God.” (2 Chron 26:4,5)

“But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense.” (2 Chron 26:16)

Jotham: “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Uzziah had done, but unlike him he did not enter the temple of the Lord. The people, however, continued their corrupt practices.” (2 Chron 27:2)

Ahaz: “Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord. He followed the ways of the kings of Israel and also made idols for worshiping the Baals. He burned sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and sacrificed his children in the fire, engaging in the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites. He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree.” (2 Chron 28:1-4)

Hezekiah: “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done.” (2 Chron 29:2)

Consequences:

Amaziah: “Amaziah, however, would not listen, for God so worked that he might deliver them into the hands of Jehoash, because they sought the gods of Edom. So Jehoash king of Israel attacked.”  (2 Chron 25:20,21)

“From the time that Amaziah turned away from following the Lord, they conspired against him in Jerusalem and he fled to Lachish, but they sent men after him to Lachish and killed him there.” (2 Chron 25:27)

Uzziah: “As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success.” (2 Chron 26:5) “God helped him against the Philistines and against the Arabs.” (26:7)

“Uzziah, who had a censer in his hand ready to burn incense, became angry. While he was raging at the priests in their presence before the incense altar in the Lord’s temple, leprosy broke out on his forehead.  When Azariah the chief priest and all the other priests looked at him, they saw that he had leprosy on his forehead, so they hurried him out. Indeed, he himself was eager to leave, because the Lord had afflicted him.” (2 Chron 26:19)

Jotham: “Jotham waged war against the king of the Ammonites and conquered them …. Jotham grew powerful because he walked steadfastly before the Lord his God.” (2 Chron 27:5,6)

Ahaz: “the Lord his God delivered him into the hands of the king of Aram. The Arameans defeated him and took many of his people as prisoners. He was also given into the hands of the king of Israel, who inflicted heavy casualties on him.” (2 Chron 28:5)

“At that time King Ahaz sent to the king of Assyria for help. The Edomites had again come and attacked Judah and carried away prisoners, while the Philistines had raided towns in the foothills.” (2 Chron 28:16-18)

“The Lord had humbled Judah because of Ahaz king of Israel, for he had promoted wickedness in Judah and had been most unfaithful to the Lord. Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria came to him, but he gave him trouble instead of help.” (2 Chron 28:19,20)

Hezekiah: “In everything that he undertook in the service of God’s temple and in obedience to the law and the commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered.” (2 Chron 30:21)

“After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah.” (2 Chron 32:1)

the Lord saved Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib king of Assyria and from the hand of all others. He took care of them on every side.” (2 Chron 32:22)

“But Hezekiah’s heart was proud and he did not respond to the kindness shown him; therefore the Lord’s wrath was on him and on Judah and Jerusalem. Then Hezekiah repented of the pride of his heart, as did the people of Jerusalem; therefore the Lord’s wrath did not come on them during the days of Hezekiah.” (2 Chron 32:25,26)

Summary: Interactions with Neighbours: From the above we can pick out the times enemies came against the people of God:

  • First of all we see Amaziah who, although not attacked by enemies from outside, provoked Israel with the result that Israel come against them and defeated them (see 2 Kings 14:8-14), i.e. civil war.
  • Second came Uzziah (otherwise known as Azariah) who took the initiative and went to wage war against the Philistines (2 Chron 26:6) and had victory because he was so strong.
  • Third, came his son Jotham who inherited the strength of the nation from his father and so attacked and quelled the Ammonites (2 Chron 27)
  • Fourth, Ahaz was a bad king and Aram came and defeated him (2 Chron 28:5a), together with the king of Israel (2 Kings 16:5,) who could not overcome him but brought many casualties. (2 Chron 28:5b)
  • Fifth Hezekiah was mostly good, yet the king of Assyria came against him but the Lord delivered him. (This seems not so much disciplining as simply testing).

And So: Within this group we find a relatively good period with Uzziah being strong and victorious over the Philistines, his son Jotham following in his footsteps and defeating the Ammonites, and Hezekiah restoring the kingdom spiritually and the Lord dealing with Assyria on his behalf.

On the negative side, Amaziah took on board the gods of the Edomites and was thus disciplined by an attack from the northern kingdom, and Ahaz was simply a bad king and was disciplined by being defeated and subdued by Aram and the northern kingdom.

Thus we continue to see a direct link between the physical struggles of the nation and their spiritual activities. The attack on Hezekiah by Assyria slightly confuses the picture because it is not discipline for bad activity but more a simple testing and when they called on the Lord (passing the test!) the Lord removed the threat.

And Us?  The lesson continues on, “a man reaps what he sows”, i.e. there is a direct link between the way we live our lives and the consequences that follow. It is a lesson that the world around us fails to observe. May we not be like that.

19. Lessons to be Learned

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 19. Lessons to be Learned

2 Chron 17:3-6  “The Lord was with Jehoshaphat because he followed the ways of his father David before him. He did not consult the Baals but sought the God of his father and followed his commands rather than the practices of Israel. The Lord established the kingdom under his control; and all Judah brought gifts to Jehoshaphat, so that he had great wealth and honour. His heart was devoted to the ways of the Lord; furthermore, he removed the high places and the Asherah poles from Judah.”

Continuing: In the previous study we followed the first three southern kings after Solomon: Rehoboam (bad), Abijah (better) and Asa (better still). We now move on to consider Jehoshaphat, Jehoram, Ahaziah and Joash.

Jehoshaphat: The start is good as we see from the starter verses above. Because of this fear fell on the surrounding lands who left him alone and even the Philistines brought him gifts (2 Chron 17:10,11). Unfortunately he allied himself to the northern ungodly king, Ahab, by marriage (18:1) revealing his lack of discernment. Possibly it might have been a good intent to bring the two nations together for when Ahab asks him to come with him and fight against Ramoth Gilead in Aram, he does. Rather naively he asks is there guidance from the Lord and when Ahab brings out his 400 false prophets, Jehoshaphat at least has the discernment to know they are not of God. To cut a long story short Ahab is killed and Jehoshaphat narrowly misses being killed (see 17:4-34). When he returns to Jerusalem he is rebuked for his activities (18:1-3) After this (because of it?) a vast army of Moabites, Ammonites and Edomites came against him (20:1,2) and he and the nation respond well: “Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him.” (20:3,4) the Lord brings an encouraging prophecy (20:15-17) and the Lord turns the enemy on one another (20:23) so they don’t even have to fight them. It is a good time (20:27-30) Later, showing he still has this lack of discernment, he made an alliance with Ahaziah of Israel to build ships but was rebuked by the Lord and all the ships were wrecked. (20:35-37).

Jehoram: When Jehoshaphat eventually dies, Jehoram his son takes over and sadly we find, “He followed the ways of the kings of Israel, as the house of Ahab had done, for he married a daughter of Ahab. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” (2 Chron 21:6) During his reign Edom rebelled against them (21:8-10) as did Libnah (on the edge of Philistine country) “because Jehoram had forsaken the Lord, the God of his ancestors.” (v.10) Elijah sent him a letter condemning him (v.12-15) and “The Lord aroused against Jehoram the hostility of the Philistines and of the Arabs who lived near the Cushites.” (v.16) and Elijah’s words against him is fulfilled and he dies a horrible death (v.18,19) and we read, “He passed away, to no one’s regret.” (v.20) What an obituary!

Ahaziah: Jehoram’s youngest son, Ahaziah, is chosen as king as his brothers had already been killed (2 Chron 22:1) He too followed the ways of the house of Ahab, for his mother encouraged him to act wickedly.  He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, as the house of Ahab had done,” (v.3,4) and so “God brought about Ahaziah’s downfall.” (v.7) by Jehu from the north who was conducting a purge after God’s word to him (see v.7-9). This was after he had gone with Joram of the north to fight against Aram (v.5,6) and it was as a result of this that he was in the north and was killed by Jehu.

Joash: Ahaziah’s mother, Athaliah who was evil, then sought to wipe out the rest of the royal family, presumably so she could reign herself, but Ahaziah’s young son Joash was hidden away and protected until he was older and then an uprising brought him to the throne and had Athaliah killed (see 2 Chron 23:1-21).  “Joash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all the years of Jehoiada the priest.” (2 Chron 24:2) Jehoiada had been the moving godly force that had protected Joash and as long as he lived Joash followed the Lord and repaired the temple. (v.4-14) Then we see “After the death of Jehoiada, the officials of Judah came and paid homage to the king, and he listened to them. They abandoned the temple of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and worshiped Asherah poles and idols. Because of their guilt, God’s anger came on Judah and Jerusalem. Although the Lord sent prophets to the people to bring them back to him, and though they testified against them, they would not listen. Then the Spirit of God came on Zechariah son of Jehoiada the priest. He stood before the people and said, “This is what God says: ‘Why do you disobey the Lord’s commands? You will not prosper. Because you have forsaken the Lord, he has forsaken you.’” (2 Chron 24:17-20) Rejecting this word they stoned Zechariah to death but, “At the turn of the year, the army of Aram marched against Joash; it invaded Judah and Jerusalem and killed all the leaders of the people. They sent all the plunder to their king in Damascus. Although the Aramean army had come with only a few men, the Lord delivered into their hands a much larger army. Because Judah had forsaken the Lord, the God of their ancestors, judgment was executed on Joash.” (2 Chron 24:23,24) Joash was wounded and his officials finished the job off and killed him.

Summary: In these four kings we have seen:

  1. Jehoshaphat: His heart towards God was good but failed to discern unrighteousness in Ahab and later Ahaziah. When the Moabites, Ammonites and Edomites came against him, he called on the Lord and the Lord delivered him and destroyed the enemy.
  2. Jehoram: A bad king so Edom and Libnah rebelled against him, he was rebuked by Elijah, attacked by Philistines and Arabs, and died a horrible death.
  3. Ahaziah: Another bad king, unwisely fought alongside the north against Aram and was killed by Jehu.
  4. Joash: Good as long as his priestly mentor lived but turned from the Lord, rejected God’s word of rebuke, was attacked and injured by Aram and killed by his officials.

And So: What a mixture. Jehoshaphat with a heart towards God but lacking discernment of evil. Jehoram, bad, disciplined by enemies from the south, dying a horrible death as judgment. Ahaziah, bad, killed for being in the wrong place. Joash, good as long as he had a godly mentor but soon fell off the rails after the death of that mentor, disciplined by Aram and wounded, killed by his officials.

Note:

  • the disciplinary enemies: Moabites, Ammonites and Edomites with Jehoshaphat, Philistines and Arabs with Jehoram, the usurper king of Israel with Ahaziah, Aram with Joash,
  • the input from the Lord: who helped Jehoshaphat when he called on Him, a prophetic letter from Elijah for Jehoram, encouraged Jehu that resulted in Ahaziah’s death, gave prophetic rebuke to Joash.

With these four kings the mix of physical and spiritual struggles appears at its height. None of them come out with a clean sheet (Jehoshaphat best of all) and with God’s word coming again and again they all should have done well but, in rejecting God’s words, the latter three all fell and died ignominiously.

The lessons remain clear: there is always an interaction between the spiritual and the physical and we ignore this at our peril.

18. And so to the South

PART TWO ‘B’ – The Southern Kingdom

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 18. And so to the South

2 Chron 13:1,2,5,8,10   Abijah became king of JudahThere was war between Abijah and Jeroboam…. Don’t you know that the Lord, the God of Israel, has given the kingship of Israel to David and his descendants forever by a covenant of salt? … And now you plan to resist the kingdom of the Lord… As for us, the Lord is our God, and we have not forsaken him.

Back to the Beginning: We have followed the kings of the north through to their end and so now we have to pick up on the southern kingdom. Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, reigned in the south in Jerusalem after Solomon’s death and the scripture testifies of him, “he and all Israel (that is the south) with him abandoned the law of the Lord,” (2 Chron 12:1) and “He did evil because he had not set his heart on seeking the Lord,” (v.14) Because of this, Shishak king of Egypt attacked Jerusalem in the fifth year of King Rehoboam,” (v.2) yet, “Because Rehoboam humbled himself, the Lord’s anger turned from him, and he was not totally destroyed. Indeed, there was some good in Judah.” (v.12) Nevertheless, it was clearly not a happy time because, There was continual warfare between Rehoboam and Jeroboam.” (v.15) He had been 41 when he started his reign, reigned for 17 years and then died, presumably at 58. His son Abijah then ruled.

Victory for Abijah: So twice we’ve seen there was war between the north and the south. Rehoboam had not been able to prevail but Abijah is different. When Israel come to fight them, as our verses above from chapter 13 indicate, Abijah shouts out to Jeroboam and his army (twice the size of that from the south), that God is with the south. Jeroboam is canny and sends troops to attack Judah from behind as well as the front. Judah’s response? “Then they cried out to the Lord. The priests blew their trumpets and the men of Judah raised the battle cry. At the sound of their battle cry, God routed Jeroboam and all Israel before Abijah and Judah. The Israelites fled before Judah, and God delivered them into their hands…. and the people of Judah were victorious because they relied on the Lord, the God of their ancestors.” (2 Chron 13:14-16,18) A promising start to the kingdom of the south after its initial shaky beginning.

Next – Asa: After Abijah dies after only a three-year reign, his son Asa takes over and we read, Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God. He removed the foreign altars and the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and to obey his laws and commands. He removed the high places and incense altars in every town in Judah, and the kingdom was at peace under him.” (2 Chron14:2-5) This is better. Abijah may have declared for the Lord but he clearly didn’t do anything to clean up the land after the years of apostasy under Solomon, his son Rehoboam and even under his grandson Abijah. The fruit of this approach? “He built up the fortified cities of Judah, since the land was at peace. No one was at war with him during those years, for the Lord gave him rest.(v.6) Putting the nation right spiritually means an end to the physical struggles.

Testimony & Triumph: Asa is clearly for the Lord and the land is blessed as a result: “Let us build up these towns,” he said to Judah, “and put walls around them, with towers, gates and bars. The land is still ours, because we have sought the Lord our God; we sought him and he has given us rest on every side.” So they built and prospered.” (2 Chron 14:7) But then we read, Zerah the Cushite marched out against them with an army of thousands upon thousands and three hundred chariots.” (v.9) Cush is thought to be part of Egypt and so twice the southern kingdom have been attacked from the south, but with the second attack the Egyptians are facing a very different adversary, for this one calls on the Lord for help (see v.11) and, “The Lord struck down the Cushites before Asa and Judah.” (v.12).

On the way back, “The Spirit of God came on Azariah son of Oded. He went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Listen to me, Asa and all Judah and Benjamin. The Lord is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you….  But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.” (2 Chron 15:1,2,7) These words further encouraged Asa and, “When Asa heard these words …. he took courage. He removed the detestable idols from the whole land of Judah and Benjamin and from the towns he had captured in the hills of Ephraim. He repaired the altar of the Lord that was in front of the portico of the Lord’s temple.” (v.8)

Further Trials: “In the thirty-sixth year of Asa’s reign Baasha king of Israel went up against Judah and fortified Ramah to prevent anyone from leaving or entering the territory of Asa king of Judah,” (2 Chron 16:1) but sadly this time Asa sends to Aram for help, for which he is rebuked: “At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him: “Because you relied on the king of Aram and not on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Aram has escaped from your hand. Were not the Cushites and Libyans a mighty army with great numbers of chariots and horsemen? Yet when you relied on the Lord, he delivered them into your hand. For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war.” (v.7-9) Asa does not respond well and three years later he has a foot infection but does not call on the Lord and so two years later he dies. A good start to his reign but it tapered off at the end.

Recap: Let’s summarise

a) The first southern kings:

  1. Rehoboam – Caused breakup of the kingdom, was unfaithful to God so disciplined as the King of Egypt attacked and took land.
  2. Abijah – Declared for the Lord but his heart was clearly not fully committed to the Lord and failed to clean up the land. No judgments on him.
  3. Asa – A very good start with a heart after God and cleaned up the land and the Lord gave him peace. When a group from Egypt came and attacked, he called on the Lord and the Lord gave him a great victory. Later on Israel attacked him and he sought help from Aram (and not the Lord) against them. Did not seek the Lord’s help in illness in old age – a foot disease possibly from the Lord – and possibly died from it.

b) Their Battles

In the reigns of these three kings we see the spiritual state of the monarchy improving greatly and as a result of that, peace coming on the land. Spiritual impacting physical!

  • Rehoboam was godless and so the Lord used Egypt to chastise him.
  • Although Abijah did not clear up the land, he called on the Lord in battle when attacked by Israel and the Lord delivered him.
  • Asa sought the Lord and the Land was strengthened and given peace. Yet in his reign two conflicts occurred: in the first, against Egyptians, Asa called on the Lord and the Lord gave him victory. In the second, against marauding Israel, he simply sought help from Aram and was rebuked for it.

And So? In our investigating the ‘struggles of Israel’ we have seen four battles:

  • Egypt being used by the Lord to discipline and chastise Rehoboam.
  • Israel simply attacking Judah – possibly the Lord allowing this to prove Abijah who turns up trumps by calling on the Lord and being given victory.
  • Egypt attacking Asa who calls on the Lord and is given victory. Again, perhaps the Lord allowing this to prove to Asa that He is there for him.
  • Israel then attacks Asa but he relies on Aram and not the Lord and is rebuked.

And Us? What can we learn from this?

i) In this fallen world the Lord sometimes allows the enemy to discipline us when we turn from Him and stop relying on Him, in order to bring us to our senses.

ii) When we turn to the Lord He will be there for us.

iii) Sometimes the Lord appears to allow attacks to strengthen us (see Jas 1:2-4) and prove us. His resources are always there when we turn to Him, overcoming the temptation to think and reason our way out and rely on the world’s resources instead.

Lessons the wise do well to learn.

17. Ongoing Folly to the End

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 17. Ongoing Folly to the End 

2 Kings 17:22   The Israelites persisted in all the sins of Jeroboam and did not turn away from them 23 until the Lord removed them from his presence, as he had warned through all his servants the prophets. So the people of Israel were taken from their homeland into exile in Assyria

Continuing to the End: How can we take a snapshot of what went on with the northern kingdom as it approached its end? Perhaps simply to list the kings from the point we’ve reached so far through to the end of this part of the nation of Israel:

Jehoahaz (16 yrs) Followed idols like Jeroboam Oppressed by Aram. No record of mode of death
Jehoash (17) Ditto No record of mode of death or other judgment
Jeroboam II (41) Ditto No record of mode of death or other judgment
Zechariah (6m) Ditto assassinated by Shallum
Shallum (1m) Ditto assassinated by Menahem
Menahem (10) Ditto submitted to Assyria, no record of death
Pekahiah (2) Ditto assassinated by Pekah
Pekah (20) Ditto assassinated by Hoshea (after some deportations by Assyria
Hoshea (9) Ditto but not as bad as the others deported by king of Assyria. No record of death. END OF NORTHERN KINGDOM

Their failures: We should first note the record because otherwise you might not believe it:

Jehoahaz:He did evil in the eyes of the Lord by following the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit, and he did not turn away from them.” (2 Kings 13:2)

Jehoash: “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord and did not turn away from any of the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit; he continued in them.” (2 Kings 13:11)

Jeroboam II: “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord and did not turn away from any of the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit.” (2 Kings 14:24)

Zechariah: He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, as his predecessors had done. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit.” (2 Kings 15:9)

Shallum: reigned only 1 month

Menahem: “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord. During his entire reign he did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit.” (2 Kings 15:18)

Pekahiah: “did evil in the eyes of the Lord. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit.” (2 Kings 15:23)

Pekah: “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit.” (2 Kings 15:28

Hoshea: He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, but not like the kings of Israel who preceded him.” (2 Kings 17:2)

Understand: I am sorry if this all seems very repetitious but very often we find it difficult to comprehend the Sin and sinfulness of mankind (and our own sin which we excuse). These chapters of the Biblical record – 2 Kings 13 to 17 – are amazing at four levels. First it is amazing that each and every one of these kings of Israel, kings of the so-called people of God, failed to put right what was clearly wrong and remove the idolatry of the nation. They clearly ignore their history. They come from the background where God chose the Patriarchs, built them into a nation, delivered them out of Egypt, gave them the Promised Land and blessed them by making them strong and prosperous under David and the early part of Solomon’s reign; they ignore and choose to forget all this.  The second amazing thing is the time that the Lord allowed to pass before He eventually allowed them to be taken by Assyria. The apostle Peter’s understanding is applicable here: The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9) That repentance was never forthcoming but they were certainly given to time for it and never say they weren’t warned. The third amazing thing is the number of times God uses ‘enemy nations’ to discipline Israel (see below). The fourth, possibly most amazing thing is the number of times God spoke into Israel and acted on their behalf, despite their folly.

God’s Disciplinary Agents: The following are those in these chapters who came against Israel:

  • Hazael king of Aram oppressed Israel throughout the reign of Jehoahaz.” (2 Kings 13:22)
  • Then Pul king of Assyria invaded the land, and Menahem gave him a thousand talents of silver to gain his support …. So the king of Assyria withdrew and stayed in the land no longer.” (2 Kings 15:19,20)
  • “In the time of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria came and took … Gilead and Galilee, including all the land of Naphtali, and deported the people to Assyria.” (2 Kings 15:29)
  • “Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up to attack Hoshea… The king of Assyria invaded the entire land, marched against Samaria and laid siege to it for three years. In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria.” (2 Kings 17:3,5,6)

It is interesting to note that in respect of these last nine kings of Israel that we have been observing that initially it is Aram who puts pressure on Israel but then as the years pass and the political landscape of the north changes, it was Assyria who took over that role.

Yet, More Grace: Every now and then in these records we find little glimmers of light that reveal the goodness of the Lord, for example in the days of Jehoahaz, while Hazael was pressuring Israel, we read, “But the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion and showed concern for them because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To this day he has been unwilling to destroy them or banish them from his presence,” (2 Kings 13:22) and then in the reign of Jeroboam II we read, “And since the Lord had not said he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam son of Jehoash.” (2 Kings 14:27)

But there is more, because roughly six years after the fall of Samaria and the deportation of the people, in the south Hezekiah was heading up a mini-revival and was holding the first Passover celebration for a long time  and we find, “At the king’s command, couriers went throughout Israel and Judah with letters from the king and from his officials, which read: “People of Israel, return to the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, that he may return to you who are left, who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria.” (2 Chron 30:6). There was clearly an understanding that there was a dispersed remnant of Israel still ‘out there’, and Hezekiah called them ‘home’ where, we later read, Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover,” (2 Chron 30:18) indicating there were quite a lot of survivors out there who returned and Hezekiah prayed for them (v.18,19) and the Lord blessed them (v.20) Amazing!

And So? In these final sets of verses we have seen the Lord’s reticence to utterly destroy Israel. Read the final records of the northern kingdom in 2 Kings 17:24-41 which make fascinating reading for when the king of Assyria had taken the people from the land, he did what kings did then, and relocated other people there, but what is remarkable is that, “the king of Assyria gave this order: “Have one of the priests you took captive from Samaria go back to live there and teach the people what the god of the land requires.” So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria came to live in Bethel and taught them how to worship the Lord.” (2 Kings 17:27,28). Sadly it proved semi-abortive because those new people them exercised a mixed religion – “They worshiped the Lord, but they also served their own gods.” (v.33)

The End? The end of Israel, the northern kingdom, certainly but there is still the southern kingdom and they still have a century to go before they are cleaned out of the Land. I hope we have managed to convey something of the awfulness of what went on with this larger part of the people of God in the north, and I hope that something of reality of the folly or sinfulness of mankind has been indelibly imprinted in our hearts and minds so that we may more fully understand the nature of sin and our need of a Saviour. Time to move on to the south.

16. Ongoing Folly

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 16. Ongoing Folly 

2 Kings 3:1  Joram … did evil in the eyes of the Lord

Continuing with the Northern Kingdom: Let’s observe in our pursuit of the northern kings, the kings following Ahab and the activities of their enemies:

  1. Ahaziah, Ahab’s son, starts to reign, for just two years, but he is a bad king (1 Kings 22:51-53): “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, because he followed the ways of his father and mother and of Jeroboam son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin. He served and worshiped Baal and aroused the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, just as his father had done.” (1 Kings 22:52,53). It must be no coincidence that the next thing we read is, “After Ahab’s death, Moab rebelled against Israel.” (2 Kings 1:1) Elijah is sent to Ahaziah with a condemnatory word and, subsequent to an accident, Ahaziah dies. Note, he had the opportunity to repent but did not take it and subsequently died. (see 2 Kings 1).
  2. Joram, brother of Ahaziah, takes over (2 Kings 3:1) and reigns for 12 years but again is a bad king: He did evil in the eyes of the Lord… he clung to the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit; he did not turn away from them.” (2 Kings 3:2,3)
  3. Jehu, prophesied over to be next king, (2 Kings 9:1-13) kills Joram (9:24) and all of Ahab’s family (10:1-11) and the prophets of Baal (10:18-28) yet, he did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit—the worship of the golden calves at Bethel and Dan.” (10:29)
  4. Jehoahaz, Jehu’s son, reigns after Jehu’s death, reigns for 17 years but, “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord by following the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit, and he did not turn away from them,” (2 Kings 13:2)

Moab & Aram: Note it is early in Joram’s reign that Moab rebels (2 Kings 3:5) and so, like his father before him, he calls on Jehoshaphat to help him (and Edom! 2 Kings 3:9) and with Elisha’s help, they defeat the Moabites (see 2 Kings 3:7-27). (Triumph No.1). It also appears at this time that Aram was still making incursions into Israel (see 2 Kings 5:1,2) which seems to later develop into a full scale war (2 Kings 6:8) which continued until Elisha’s ‘victory’ at Dothan (see 2 Kings 6:8-23). (Triumph No.2). Despite this, a while later the king of Aram comes against Israel and lays siege to Samaria (2 Kings 6:24) but the Lord throws his army into disarray and they flee (2 Kings 7:5-7). (Triumph No.3).

What is amazing is that although the Lord clearly used Moab and Aram to discipline Israel, nevertheless, presumably in His endeavours to draw them back to Himself, He clearly fights on Israel’s side and gives His prophet, Elisha, a major part to play in that. In this short account we have observed the Lord giving Israel three victories, which is amazing considering the constant negative descriptions of them. This is the grace of the Lord seeking to win their hearts back. But that was not all the Lord was doing.

The Lord’s Activity: In a strange incident the Lord sends Elisha to the sick king of Aram and to his commander, Hazael, and reveals Hazael will become king and do harm to Israel (2 Kings 8:7-15). Thus Hazael is set up as Israel’s next adversary.

Thus following on from this, during Jehu’s reign, we read, In those days the Lord began to reduce the size of Israel. Hazael overpowered the Israelites throughout their territory east of the Jordan in all the land of Gilead.” (10:32,33) i.e. the scribes recording these things recognised the Lord implying a warning, ‘enough is enough’ it would seem, as he used the latest king of Aram, Hazael, to cut them back. This obviously continues, for in the reign of Jehoahaz we then read, “So the Lord’s anger burned against Israel, and for a long time he kept them under the power of Hazael king of Aram.” (2 Kings 13:3)

The Attackers:  Earlier on in the series we identified the various tribal nations that occupied Canaan when Israel went in to clear it out. We then, in Study No.11 identified and described both the ‘local nations’ such as Edom and Moab and the ‘big powers’ such as Aram and Assyria and as we proceed with these studies you may find it helpful to jump back to No.11 and recap who and what was going on.

Summary: The comings and goings of all these kings can be confusing so let’s summarise again what we have covered in this particular study:

Ahab was worse than any others, repented, but died trying to outwit the word of God, by being killed by a stray arrow.

Ahaziah, followed idols like Jeroboam,  Moab rebels, died from a fall.

Joram, not quite as bad as his father, killed by Jehu.

Jehu, rebuked but no record of his mode of death

Jehoahaz, continued the sin of the north but curtailed by Hazael, king of Aram.

And So?  I have had to agree with you that these are, in some ways, not exactly enlightening times but if we were in any doubt, my conclusion that I have often made – that the Lord allowed Israel to reveal the sinfulness of mankind – rings loud and true as we consider these particular kings who, we have to add, are fairly typical of all of the kings. What we should also now have noticed more than a few times, is that so often when Israel or Judah turn from the Lord, the next thing that happens is that an enemy invader appears and puts pressure on them – most noticeably in this period, Aram. Only rarely though, did they then turn to the Lord for help.

The lessons must be that to stray from the path of the Lord open us up to enemy activity that the Lord uses to discipline us and draw us back to Himself. The struggles that Israel confronted in this period, as we said before, were both physical (neighbouring invaders AND civil war AND assassination) and spiritual, failing to hold on to the Lord, failing to be the people of God they were called to be. It is a shameful period and one that should bring warnings to us that we need to heed.

And yet, to avoid getting swamped in gloom and doom by the folly of these kings, hold on to the things we have seen the Lord doing. In the previous study we saw the Lord sending Elijah, and another prophet and Micaiah, all to speak His will into the situation and challenge these ungodly kings. In this study we have seen Him use Elisha twice and intervene in power Himself once on behalf of these ungodly people. Put all this together and we see that although this is a terrible time that does not stand up well when compared to the reign of David and the early reign of Solomon, it is a time when the Lord is powerfully active by word (through His prophets) and by deed, to act on behalf of His people. They could never ever say that he wasn’t there for them.

And Us? Consider what we have. His word, the Bible. The Church with its two thousand years of history. The testimony of millions of the saving grace of the Lord through the work of Christ on the Cross and the working of the indwelling Holy Spirit. We too have no room to say that He isn’t here for us. Look back over your life and see the hand of the Lord in it. If you’ve never done that, pray and ask Him to open your eyes to see His hand that has been there working quietly (and maybe sometimes not so quietly) in the background of your life. No, we have, like the kings of Israel, no excuses, He has been there for us and is still there for us today. Let’s rejoice in that and worship Him!

15. Ongoing Sin, Grace & Mercy

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 15. Ongoing Sin, Grace & Mercy

1 Kings 16:30  Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him.

1 Kings 22:41,43 Jehoshaphat … followed the ways of his father Asa and did not stray from them; he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.

Focus:  Two kings running in parallel, sometimes working together but mostly working on completely different ways of life, two kings who further show us the struggles – both spiritual and physical – that the divided nation went through. The activities of Ahab are spelled out from 1 Kings 16:29 to 1 Kings 22:40 and they are interwoven with the activities of the prophet Elijah.  Jehoshaphat’s reign is summarized in 1 Kings 22:41-50 but only after we have seen him dragged into a war alongside Israel against the king of Aram (see 1 Kings 22:1-29). That’s all that 1 Kings records of him and we’ll consider him when we look in detail at the southern kingdom. For now we have to face Ahab.

Ahab? It is a strange thing but sometimes the Lord simply allowed Israel, as they pursued their foolish ways of turning from Him, to go their own way and then suffer enemy attack after He has clearly lifted off His hand of protection from over them. At other times, and they are not infrequent, He sends a prophet to rebuke and challenge the king in question. Elijah is one such prophet and a number of chapters are given over to the interaction between Elijah and Ahab.

  • At the beginning of 1 Kings 17 we see that Elijah warns Ahab that there will be a lengthy (“few years”) drought (1 Kings 17:1).
  • After three years of hard drought the Lord sends Elijah to Ahab (18:1,2). When he meets him Elijah challenges Ahab, challenges him to bring all his false prophets to Mount Carmel for a contest (see 18:16-40) – which he wins – and then declares rain is coming (18:41).
  • The kings wife, Queen Jezebel, is angry at the death of her prophets and threatens Elijah’s life and he flees (19:1-3).
  • Moving on, in chapter 20 we see Israel coming under threat from Aram (20:1-12). Amazingly the Lord sends another prophet to direct Ahab to victory (see 20:13-21). The prophet then warns there will be a repeat of this (20:22) but the superstitious advisors to Ahab fear the Arameans (20:23-27).
  • God’s prophetic messenger comes again and promises victory (20:28) which follows, but Ahab spares the opposing king (20:29-34) for which he is rebuked by the Lord (20:35-43).
  • When he further kills Naboth to obtain his vineyard, Elijah is sent with a death sentence for Ahab and his wife (21:1-25, esp. v.21,23).
  • Amazingly Ahab repents and the Lord lessens the sentence (21:27-29).
  • A while later we see the episode involving Jehoshaphat going and fighting alongside Ahab, but not before Micaiah prophesies disaster for Ahab (22:23).
  • When they go to battle Ahab is killed despite going in disguise (22:30,34-37) after ruling 22 years.

God’s Grace: What is amazing about all this is that although Ahab is clearly written off as one of the worst kings of Israel, the record shows that the Lord spoke to him through Elijah, another prophet, and Micaiah, a number of times. Through Elijah he performed a miracle on Mount Carmel resulting in the deaths in the so-called prophets of Baal. Was it that despite all this the Lord knew that it was possible to bring Ahab to repentance, as we’ve seen in 21:27-29?  Nevertheless he still shows the foolishness of his unrighteous and ungodly nature which results in him being killed in battle. He hadn’t learned!

Battles:  This series is essentially, on the surface at least, about the struggles of Israel, the battles in which they were involved, and yet again and again we see that physical battles may be one thing but the bigger battle raging in the background, is a spiritual battle.  Will this particular king heed their history, heed their calling, heed the Law, heed the words of the prophets and hold fast to God? It was a battle that raged and which can be observed in the lives and reigns of both Jehoshaphat in the south and Ahab in the north, and it is still as real today in your life and mine and in the Church at large.

Face the Truth: Foolish crusading atheists rant on about God being hasty and hostile and uncaring but if they would only read these chapters and think intelligently about them they would have to wonder about their previous assessments when they look at Ahab. This king follows a bunch of evil and ungodly other kings who all reject God’s overtures of love and grace. He reigns for 22 year, this king, and is described as doing, more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him,” (1 Kings 16:30) so it comes as a surprise that a ‘holy God’ does not wipe him off the face of the earth to prevent this ongoing situation to deteriorate any more. But He doesn’t. He sends Elijah to confront him and in fact two more mouth-pieces to confront him. Come on, he’s the most ungodly king so far! What is going on? What’s the point? The point is that God knows even this ungodly and evil king can come to repentance. That won’t make him perfect and, yes, he will still try to outsmart the Lord, but the offer of salvation is always there for the hardest of sinners. This is grace and mercy at its utmost!

And Us: If there is something in the Lord’s behaviour that we can allow ourselves to be deceived by, it is the Lord’s grace that holds back on discipline or judgment and keeps on encouraging and being there for us, despite our half-heartedness, or even our failures. People come across our paths, leaders fall from grace, public personalities that we call ‘celebrities’ live lives that are ungodly and unrighteous and we are left wondering, perhaps like Habakkuk (Hab 1) why God isn’t acting against them.

I believe the apostle Peter focused it perfectly when he declared, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9) If God holds back, it is not because He approves what we are doing, or what these various people above are doing, but because He is giving us – and them – additional time to put it right. If we don’t, the words of the apostle Paul that we’ve seen before will ring loud and clear: Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows,” (Gal 6:7) and if we expect the Lord’s judgment to come on the world, we need to realize (with Peter again) that, “it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household.” (1 Pet 4:17) God will clean up His church before He cleans up the world so that we will yet be a further testimony to the world that He means business. Amen? Amen! Let’s learn from these things.

14. And Yet…

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 14. And Yet….

1 Kings 11:11-13  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. 12 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. 13 Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.”

Ongoing Folly: The shambles of these foolish kings that we have been observing, forgetting their history and forgetting the Lord, continues as the people reject Zimri who only reigned for seven days (1 Kings 16:16) in favour of Omri. When Omri dies, Ahab his son takes over and a whole new ball game ensures as we soon read, “Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” (1 Kings 17:1) God’s prophet is on the scene and big things will occur.

To hold on to perspective and observe contrasts, let’s just recap again the six kings we’ve been observing:

  1. Jeroboam – He ignored God’s prophetic help and when he became king he established a replica religion with idols. His family will be wiped out. Defeated by Judah. No record of his mode of death.
  2. Nadab – Bad as his father. Killed by Baasha
  3. Baasha – Did nothing to improve Israel ‘s spiritual state & was thus condemned. Rebuked by prophet Jehu. Later died but no record of mode of death.
  4. Elah – Same as his father. Killed by Zimri.
  5. Zimri – Followed the idol worship, committed suicide after a week of rule.
  6. Omri – Was worse spiritually than the others. No record of any judgment.

And So?  Not, you might think, a very edifying passage of history to study. No, agreed! But they do go to show what I have often said was one of God’s reasons for creating Israel – to reveal the sinfulness of mankind left to ourselves and thus our need of salvation.

And Yet: Despite all this going on there is a shadow hanging over all of this – the past testimony of David against which all these kings are measured which is referred to again and again in the south but it’s absence in the north is contrasted with their sins.

In the south again and again we find such words as, “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 11:6) and, Abijah became king of Judah… 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,” (1 Kings 15:3) and, Asa did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as his father David had done.” (1 Kings 15:11) What an example to be followed, what failure to follow. David is held up by the Lord as the measuring stick against which all the other kings who follow in the southern kingdom are measured.

In the north, observe the contrast: Nadab son of Jeroboam…. did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the ways of his father and committing the same sin his father had caused Israel to commit,” (1Kings 15:25,26) and, Baasha son of Ahijah …. did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the ways of Jeroboam and committing the same sin Jeroboam had caused Israel to commit.” (1 Kings 15:33,34) No mention of David. Why?  Perhaps two reasons.

David’s Family Tree: First, in the south it is expected that the royal line will continue on from David: Solomon his son, his son Rehoboam, his son Abijah, his son Asa, his son Jehoshaphat, his son Jehoram, his son Ahaziah, his son Joash, his son Amaziah, his son Uzziah, his son Jotham, his son Ahaz, his son Hezekiah, his son Manasseh, his son Amon, his son Josiah, his son Jehoahaz, his brother (still part of the family tree) Eliakim renamed Jehoiakim, his son Jehoiachin, his uncle Zedekiah made last king of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar. Thus again and again, there is reference back to David as their example who they should be following – because they are all part of his family tree.

A Backup Plan? Second, in the north, God’s offer to Jeroboam – I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you. I will humble David’s descendants because of this, but not forever,”  – appears a genuine offer conditional on them following the Lord. IF they had done that then there would have been a second godly stream in Israel if the family tree of David failed. Of course someone might say, but surely the Lord knew how it would work out in both the north and the south, and the answer to that has to be, yes, but not because He makes it happen like that but because when He gives them the freedom to take up these two opportunities to create two godly kingdoms, it will only be their own foolishness that stops it happening – as it did. Nevertheless the record is still there – for us – and we can see the sinfulness of the free-will of mankind at work. The need for a saviour has never been greater. It is now seen in two streams!

And Us? I concluded the previous study with what is one of my favourite quotes which bears repeating, “The one thing history teaches us is that history teaches us nothing,” and so I will ask again, will we allow Scripture to teach us, challenge us and keep us on the right path? The picture is very clear once you grasp the facts, the testimonies are there, the teaching is there, and the warnings are there. May we not think they simply applied back then. As the apostle Paul wrote so simply to the Galatians, “A man reaps what he sows,” (Gal 6:7) and elsewhere, “The wages of sin is death,” (Rom 6:23) and perhaps as we might put it, ‘the payback for self-centred godlessness is surely spiritual and eternal death’. What a warning. We are now the people of God, empowered by the Spirit, with a wonderful Savour and amazing destiny; that surely should keep us on track.