18. Redeeming Israel – The Divided Land

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 18. Redeeming Israel – The Divided Land

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. 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 for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.”

 Redemption despite failing people: I did originally consider making this a study about Solomon, but the truth is that this is about a significant event in the life of Israel and involves a number of people, none of whom come out of this very well.  And that is the point that comes through again and again in these studies – and which we need to see for our own lives – that these are stories of people who fail, people who get it wrong and yet are also people who do not put God off from His goals. I suspect the truth must be that all these things the Lord sees, right there before the foundation of the world, when the Godhead decides on the plan of salvation for the world that will involve the coming to earth of the glorious Son of God.

Yes, the truth is that God knows all these things will happen, but that does not stop Him intervening and speaking into our affairs. This is both the one and the same God who sees it all from above and outside of time, so He knows what will come, but also involves Himself in the individual affairs of mankind in time-space history. This redemption involves Him not only acting into history to save individuals and a nation but perseveres with them to get them through to a good end, an end He is always working towards – and that applies as much to your life and mine as individuals, as it does to Israel as a nation and the world at large.

The Players (1): So, let’s note each of the players in this particular episode in the life of Israel, first of all the main players and then the secondary but significant others. First we must mention the Lord who presides over all that takes place and speaks to the various individuals. Second, there is Solomon, a man who started out with wisdom, was given more wisdom and became the richest and most powerful man on the earth. Tragically he gradually drifted away from the Lord as he took on new foreign wife after new foreign wife, each one who came with their own pagan religion, which eventually permeated the royal household and Solomon himself so that, eventually, the Lord speaks the words of the verse above which decrees what will follow. Now it is always important to understand that the Lord does not MAKE people do sinful acts, but He does a) step back and lift off His hand of protection and b) allow Satan to provoke the hearts of sin that are always there.

The Players (2): The third ‘player’ in this drama is Hadad the Edomite, a child refugee from an earlier time (see 1 Kings 11:14-18) who entered the Egyptian royal family (v.19,20) and who, when he hears David has died, returns to Israel and is counted as “an adversary” to Solomon, an instrument of disciplinary correction. The fourth player, another “adversary” is Rezin, another thorn in Solomon’s side (v.23-25). These two are not major players but they help create an atmosphere of uncertainty and upheaval in the final years of Solomon. Fifth, a more significant player is Jeroboam (v.25 on) who receives a word from Ahijah the prophet, who spells out Israel’s failure in becoming idol worshippers, and very clearly declares what will happen in line with our starter verses (see v.31-39).  After Solomon’s death, Jeroboam comes back from exile and challenges the heir to the throne, the sixth player, Rehoboam who is very unwise in his initial dealing with the challenge and causes the division (see 12:1-24) so that Jeroboam becomes king over the ten northern tribes.

But why?  The obvious assessment of what took place in the dividing of the kingdom is simply judgment on Solomon and Israel at large, but why divide the kingdom in this way? There are two preliminary answers, but they are only preliminary. The first one is to remove the control of the land from the family of Solomon, Solomon having shown such disregard for the Lord, despite his earlier wisdom, because so often bad example is projected into the next generation. The second one is an act of grace – to leave Jerusalem and two tribes in the hands of the ongoing family of David. David had shown such an example that perhaps that would impact future kings. The truth is that of the kings of the north, none of them put right the matter of idolatry which Jeroboam instigated (see 1 Kings 12:25-33) and none of them could be considered a ‘good’ king. On the other hand, the kings of the south turned out to be a mixed bunch. Both kingdoms were eventually overrun by invaders, so the kingdom ceased, Israel in the north in 722BC to the Assyrians, and Judah in the south in 586/7 to Nebuchadnezzar. Thus followed the Exile which we will consider in more detail in the next study.

Again, but why? Although the above two reasons are obvious, having been described in the words of the Lord in the earlier prophecies to Solomon (1 Kings 11:11-13) and to Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:29-39), they nevertheless still do not explain the Lord’s reasoning. We can but speculate. First, what follows is the breaking up of what had been a great, prosperous and powerful kingdom. It is first of all a humbling experience and second, a bringing to an end of that experience. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away!  Third, it separates off Jerusalem from the larger part of the ungodly and idol-worshipping nation, perhaps in an endeavour to keep it holy with its Temple. Fourth, the cutting down to size of this once great and powerful nation will be seen by the surrounding nations and they will hear that this is a disciplinary act of Almighty God. God is not to be trifled with. A light to the nations? Well in that they convey truth about holiness, righteousness and accountability, yes. Fifth, it is a way to ensure that the nation has a double chance of surviving and remaining in God’s purposes for the earth. Sixth, it will be a lesson, conveyed down through the years to God’s people that they are accountable to Him and that He will act against them if that becomes necessary.  Seventh, it is a sign of God’s grace that He does not completely disown them and start again with some other nation!

In the big picture: Looking at the whole history of Israel, we will see that despite all this, first the northern kingdom and then the southern kingdom simply fail to live up to being God’s people and revert to idol worship. As we’ve already noted, both kingdoms will eventually be brought to an end because of their ongoing folly and intransigence. Yet, nevertheless, despite all this, there will still remain an identifiable people, descended from Abraham who will still be recognized on the earth as “God’s people” and who will create a right environment into which the Son of God will eventually come. It is all part of the ongoing picture of redemption of Israel, a picture that reveals the ongoing sin of Israel and the ongoing grace of God. There are certain unwise crusading atheists who rant about what a terrible God we have. These accounts show how foolish that assessment is.

Advertisements

17. Redeeming Israel – the Judges

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 17. Redeeming Israel – the Judges

Jud 2:15,16 They were in great distress. Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders

 Redemption and Israel: The thrust of these studies, I hope you will have seen, is that redemption is not only about the initial event but also the Lord’s ongoing activity to ensure we run the full course. Nowhere is that clearer in the Bible than in the story of Israel. It is not a mere account of a special nation, it is a story of redemption – ongoing redemption, redemption at the hands of a God who is determined to help His faithful people survive, and therein was the problem – so often, so many of them were not faithful and in that they simply reflect the human race as a whole.

The Ongoing Story: Yesterday we finished in Judges 2. Let’s examine verses 10-14: and there we see time moving on:

  • After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, (v.10a) i.e. times moves on
  • another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.” (v.10b) i.e. a sign of poor teaching, not passing on the faith
  • Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals.” (v.11) General statement
  • They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them.” (v.12a) Detail of their folly
  • They aroused the Lord’s anger,” (v.12b) – the effect, “because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.” (v.13) contrary to all Moses’ teaching.
  • In his anger against Israel the Lord gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist.” (v.14) God’s form of disciplinary judgment to bring them to their senses by lifting off His hand of protection so they were attacked by pagan neighbours.

The Cycle: Then comes what we see happening again and again in Judges: They were in great distress. Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders (v.15,16) Whenever the people came to their senses, the Lord sent deliverers. The summary verses that follow spell it out so clearly:

  • “Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. They quickly turned from the ways of their ancestors, who had been obedient to the Lord’s commands.” (v.17)
  • 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 relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them.(18)
  • But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.” (v.19)

Overview of Judges: The book of Judges is essentially a record of how this happened again and again and each of the named judges was someone raised up by the Lord to deliver Israel when they cried out under the present disciplining following their yet again turning away from the Lord:

  • Othniel (3:7-11)
  • Ehud (3:12-30)
  • Shamgar (v.31 – no mention of the cycle).
  • Deborah & Barak (4:1-24 – a longer story + a song of triumph to follow)
  • Gideon (6:1 – 8:35 – note the stories get longer)
  • (a period of internal strife – Ch.9)
  • Jephthah (10:6 – 12:7)
  • Ibzan, Elon and Abdon (12:8-15 three judges in uneventful time)
  • Samson (13:1-16:31)
  • Unsettled times (ch.17-21)

Key Points: Again and again throughout these accounts we see the cycle rolls out starting with, “Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord.”  For the expression ‘did evil’ see 2:11, 3:7, 3:12, 4:1, 6:1, 10:6, 13:1 i.e. seven times this condemnation comes. Again and again, to bring discipline on Israel, the Lord lifted off His hand of protection and allowed the neighbours to attack Israel: Moab, Ammonites and Amalekites (3:12,13), Canaan (4:2), Midian (6:1), Philistines and the Ammonites (10:7), Philistines (13:1). The deliverers the Lord used we have listed above. What should also be noted of these deliverers is that they were not always the godliest of people, indeed far from it sometimes. The truth is that the Lord used whoever (presumably) He saw would respond and become a deliverer.

With some, the motivation was clearly to deliver Israel and yet that motivation was not always clear, for Gideon was certainly a reluctant deliverer and Samson was a carnal deliverer concerned more for his own pleasure, so deliverance was almost an accident! Yet clearly the Lord knew all these shortcomings but also knew the individual in question could achieve the deliverance that was required.

The closing chapters of the book show what a confusing and unsettled time this was in this embryonic nation. Although these judges were mostly warriors of some kind or another, with one exception (a woman) there was virtually no prophetic input at this time which suggests, what we have been considering so far, that their state of almost universal rebellion prevented such a thing, yet Deborah shows that it was not impossible.

Reflections on Redemption: We have observed in the previous studies how the Lord delivered Israel out of Egypt, how He persevered with them through their desert travels to Sinai, how He dealt with them at Sinai, how He persevered with them on their travels to the border of the Promised Land and how He dealt with them when they refused to enter that land. It was one long struggle to keep Israel on the right track and involved a number of disciplinary judgments along the way. We may wonder why the Lord tolerated this and didn’t wipe them out. I suggest, because the story, which has continued on so clearly in Judges, shows two things:  a) the sinfulness of mankind even when God is there to help, and revealing a need of a redeemer, and b) the incredible grace of God which persevere and perseveres, in the face of that ongoing sinfulness, to work to discipline, correct but preserve the nation.  But it doesn’t end there, the rest of the Old Testament follows with a similar picture which we’ll see in the next two studies.

Lessons for Us?  I find the book of Judges tends to have a depressing effect upon me because it is such a catalogue of failures, if not by the nation, by individuals. And yet, there must be this massive lesson that screams out from it: if Israel could go through this long period of continual failure despite all the Lord’s efforts to get them back on track and then deliver them, and He keeps on with them and doesn’t reject them, there is hope for you and me when we get it wrong. This must be the message that keeps coming through. God is there to redeem us – and go on redeeming us! Our failures will not put Him off. Having saved you, you can be assured that He will be there on your case, constantly working to deliver you. Rejoice in that – and purposefully join in with it!

16. Redeeming Israel – the Promised Land

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 16. Redeeming Israel – the Promised Land

Ex 6:6-8 ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians….  And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.’”

 Redemption and the Covenant: In the previous study we considered the fact of the Exodus as an act of redemption. Now we focus more tightly on the wider act of the Exodus for, in the verses above, we see the Lord revealing a two-part plan: a) to deliver Israel out of the slavery of Egypt, and b) delivering them into the freedom of the Promised Land.  He also reveals that this will come about by ‘mighty acts of judgment’ – which we come to know as the ten plagues, and then the destruction of Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea – and then He will enter into a new relationship with them as a people: “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.” (6:7) At mount Sinai He speaks about that as a “covenant”, a legal binding agreement.

Awareness and Cooperation: Now the question arises, why does this word ‘covenant’ arise so many times in the Bible? For instance, it is first used with Noah (Gen 6:18 – basically you build an ark, I’ll flood the world but will save you) then Gen 9:9-17 not to flood the world again. Next came the covenant with Abram (Gen 15:18 on) and with Isaac (Gen 17:21) and at various times God referred back to His promise to Abram. Now we have ‘covenant’ arising again but this time it is with the newly constituted nation, Israel, at Mount Sinai, to be a ‘treasured possession’. Now here is my question. We know from seven New Testament references that God’s plan of salvation through Jesus was formulated by the Godhead, before the foundation of the world. Now that plan was going to be operated, if I may put it like this, through the ‘environment’ that was the nation of Israel. So if this plan was in the mind of God from the outset and all the things we are observing are a part of that big over-arching plan, why did the Lord bother to announce it; He was going to do it anyway? The answer has to be because He wanted them and us to be aware of it and in being aware, be an active part of it, cooperating with Him in it all the way along.

Land and People: It is clear from the Lord’s original declaration in Ex 6:6-8 that His plan involves a) them as a people (Ex 6:6,7) and b) Canaan as the land He had promised to the Patriarchs (Ex 6:7,8). For us today that is expressed as a) the Church, the redeemed community of God’s people, and b) the kingdom of God, wherever and whenever and however His will is expressed on the earth through us today. People and purpose. The Promised Land was to be the environment in which Israel existed and revealed their relationship with God. Today we do not have a physical land because the ‘kingdom of God’ is revealed anywhere in the world where the people of God express the reign of God.

God’s Purpose for the Taking of the Land: It is clear from the Lord’s declarations that His intent in respect of the Promised Land also included bringing judgment on the inhabitants, the Canaanites. As the other aspect of it was to give Israel a home of their own, it meant that He wanted to use Israel to bring that judgment on the Canaanites.

Understanding the Judgment on Canaan: Now there is often so much mis-information, ignorance or even confusion about this, that we need to deal with it here. First of all, when we consider God’s instructions to Israel and His statements about His own involvement, we find there are 31 references to the Canaanites being DRIVEN OUT, and only 4 references to them being DESTROYED and only 4 to them being WIPED OUT. God’s overall purpose was that the Land be cleared of the Canaanites and their pagan practices, and that achieved by driving out those pagan inhabitants, so only if they resisted in battle would they need to be overcome and destroyed.

Possibilities: Now those pagan practices could be removed (and that is the objective of the judgment that is Israel on them) by a) the people leaving the Land (hence ‘driven out’) or b) they submit to Israel and become part of Israel – and that we see happening in respect of Rahab (see Josh 2) and the Gibeonites (see Josh 9). When God said He would drive them out, it is clear He means a) using fear (e.g. Deut 2:25, 11:25, Josh 2:9,11, 5:1) and b) using Israel themselves.

Failure & Discipline! Now when you study what actually happened, you realise a) Israel failed to do what they were commanded to do, AND b) the Lord accommodated their failure into His overall plan! This becomes clear when we move on into the book of Judges. Their failure is first recorded in Jud 1:27-36 and He holds them to account over this (see 2:3 which echoes Num 33:55 and is seen in Josh 23:13.) The warning had been clearly given that if they failed to clear the land of its people then, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live,” (Num 33:55) God had fulfilled His covenant with Abram etc. (see Ex 33:1, Numb 14:23, 32:11, Deut 1:35, 10:11, 31:20,21,23. 34:4, Josh 1:6) and Israel should have trusted Him but didn’t. That was their failure which was now seen in their failure to completely clear the Land. Now He declares, “I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their ancestors did.”  (Jud 2:21.22)

God’s Persistence: We will see the outworking of this in the next study but what is amazing is that, as can be seen in the way the people grumble leaving Egypt, the way they grumble in the desert on the way to Sinai, the way they turn away so quickly at Sinai, the way they grumble on the way from Sinai to the Land, and their refusal to enter the Land, CONSTANTLY they fail to apprehend the wonder of the Lord’s presence with them and trust Him, and CONSTANTLY they fail to be obedient to Him. Now in Ex 19:5, one of our starter verses above, “if you obey me fully,” is the crucial condition required of Israel but, as we’ve just seen, they fail to do that again and again.  So what is amazing is God’s determination in working this through with Israel. One way or another His is going to redeem them and bring them through to the place where they will indeed be a light to the nations.

Lessons for Us? We must, as we’ve said before, never be casual about sin and never settle for a path that leads us away from receiving all that the Lord has on His heart for us. It is important that we do not live our lives based on our emotions that will go up and down. Growing ‘in Christ’ means we come to rely on the truths of the Gospel, the things we are considering here. However, there are in all this, two things that are really encouraging.

Redeemed from godlessness: The first is that the Lord will not give up on us just because we make a mess of life. In fact the truth is that many of us came to Christ because we realized what a mess we were making of life on our own, and we recognized our godlessness – yet on our own we were incapable of changing that. It was when we called out to Him that we found He was there for us and all of our mess didn’t matter. He died to redeem us from our mess.

Redeemed from the failures: The second thing is that although we may continue to get it wrong, and we continue to ‘trip over our feet’, the Lord is there constantly working to get us through to the end where we can come confidently face to face with Him in eternity. Yes, this account of Israel entering the Promised Land and yet not fully taking it, so often epitomizes our lives. We’ve entered the new life in the kingdom of the Son (Col 1:13) and yet how imperfectly we live it sometimes. But not only does the Lord not give up on us, He perseveres in His project which is to change us and see us through to the end, and that is where discipline comes. He will, like Israel in the imperfectly taken land, use the things we tolerate – against us – to help change us! Those things we think are OK, so we don’t get to sort them out, He will use to discipline us until we see what is going on and take steps to completely remove them from our lives. This process is life-long, and it is what theologians call sanctification.

15. Redeeming Israel – the Exodus

PART THREE: Redeeming Israel

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 15. Redeeming Israel – the Exodus

2 Sam 7:23,23 And who is like your people Israel—the one nation on earth that God went out to redeem as a people for himself, and to make a name for himself, and to perform great and awesome wonders by driving out nations and their gods from before your people, whom you redeemed from Egypt? You have established your people Israel as your very own forever, and you, Lord, have become their God

 Redemption and the Exodus: We are going to step back from considering individuals for a moment – we will pick up on individuals in the New Testament again later – so that we can see the big view of redemption in the Old Testament, specifically in the life of the whole nation of Israel. The verses above, about the Exodus, were spoken by King David in prayer and they show us that this idea was well established in the history of Israel. After the Exodus, Moses and Israel sang a song of victory in which we find, “In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed.” (Ex 15:13) in that they were following the terminology used by the Lord Himself before it all happened: Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.” (Ex 6:6)

Wider Application: Now normally when preachers speak about redeeming they focus on a price to be paid, which is natural when we consider Jesus dying for us on the Cross, but the greatest strength of this word is to do with ‘delivering out of’, so when the apostle Paul in the New Testament says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law,” (Gal 3:13) he is using the word in the same way as it was used in the Exodus, to bring us out from living under the shadow of the curse that comes with failure to keep the Law. We have been delivered from that life. Using the Lord’s language in Ex 6, we might say, “Christ freed us from a life of slavery to guilt and shame in trying to keep all the Law and failing.”

Deliverance and Process: Now one of the points I have been seeking to make again and again in these studies so far, is that redemption is not only about the initial act of delivering out of the old bad way but is also about the ongoing process whereby God is working in our lives to make sure we stay delivered. For us as Christians, once we have been redeemed by Christ’s death applied to our lives at conversion, there is this ongoing work of the Lord to ensure the work continues.

The Lifeboat Illustration: Now I know I have used this illustration more than once over the years – and I don’t know where it originated – but I think the lifeboat story is possibly the best illustration of this I have ever encountered.  A ship is foundering out at sea. A lifeboat goes out to it and the passengers are transferred into the lifeboat. They are redeemed. Now the lifeboat turns away and makes the long journey back to the land. They are being redeemed. When they get to the shore they get off the lifeboat and are secure on the land. They are well and truly redeemed. Christ is the lifeboat. We are the passengers. The ship is our ‘old life’. When we get off it into the lifeboat we are now ‘in Christ’ and the journey back to land is our present life. The shore is heaven. We were redeemed, we are being redeemed and we will be well and truly redeemed.

The Deliverance from Egypt: The Exodus should have had three elements. What we tend to focus on and call ‘The Exodus’, the deliverance out of slavery, out of Egypt, was part one. Part two should have been of a few months duration, the travelling through the desert in the presence of the Lord, with Him providing for them as they travelled, culminating in them entering into the Promised Land (part three). Of course we know that part two was extended to forty years because Israel refused to enter the Land under the Lord’s guiding and so stayed in the desert until everyone over the age of twenty at that time, eventually died off and only the younger generation and subsequent generations growing up under them, were then free to go in and take the Land under Joshua.

The Deliverance from the Desert: Now I think many of us are so familiar with this story that we fail to see that what I have just described was God’s act of mercy in redeeming Israel.  How we take for granted these events but consider an alternative scenario: when Israel rebelled and grumbled, as they did a number of times on the journey from Egypt to Mount Sinai, the Lord could have wiped out a portion of them as a short sharp shock to bring them round, but instead, in that period, we find He is most lenient with them. It is like He treats them as an immature child who has yet to learn.

Sinai to the Land: At Mount Sinai they have amazing revelations of Him and yet even while they are still there, they rebel over the matter of the golden calf, but only those who appear to have been involved with it die, a very small percentage of the population. On the journey from Sinai, the level of discipline is higher; they have had revelation should know better. When they get to the border of the Promised Land they have had opportunity after opportunity to learn and to trust the Lord and so when they rebel, God could have wiped them all out with the exception of one or two faithful families perhaps. After all that was what the Lord had offered Moses on Sinai: my anger shall blaze out against them and destroy them all; and I will make you, Moses, into a great nation instead of them,” (Ex 32:10) yet Moses had realised that that was not what was really on God’s heart and spoke against that happening. But it could have if God were not a God of mercy and grace.

The Discipline of the Forty Years: So why did God allow forty years to pass, forty years in which only very slowly, by natural causes, the people over the age of twenty at the time of the Exodus died? The answer has got to be because the Lord works on the long-term redemption of Israel and that means preserving a remnant who will continue the name and continue the culture. That generation under twenty, and all those born in that forty-year period in the desert, would never forget the fundamentals of what is happening here, that the God with whom they are now related, is holy and requires obedience. The forty years is less for those who died and more for those who survived; they have to learn because they still have the taking of the Land in front of them.

Further Redemption: But can we see this, that the Lord’s intent is to redeem Israel from themselves!!!!! They are in a learning process, they have to grow up and mature, they have to change. He has redeemed them from Egypt and now He has to get Egypt out of them.  And here’s the thing, that is exactly as it is with us. He redeems us from our old life but now He is redeeming us and getting our old life out of us. When we are born again – with a new identity, cleansed from the past and forgiven, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, the past should have gone but when you look at some of the teaching of the New Testament, you realize it is an ongoing process.

Examples: Consider some of the teaching from the apostles. Paul’s teaching in Rom 6 is about the change we are to consider that has taken place in our life when we came to Christ, but he still instructs, Do not let sin control your puny body any longer; do not give in to its sinful desires.” (6:12) i.e. he recognizes that we still battle with sin, a hangover from the old life if you like. When he says, “do not” (twice) he is calling on us to make acts of the will to overcome the old tendency that lurks in the background.  Similarly the apostle John in his first letter says, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1) i.e. he too recognizes that we have a battle with sin and sometimes can fail. When the apostle Paul writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God, (Phil 4:6) by the very fact that he is writing this, he is acknowledging that sometimes life is tough, and we will give way to anxiety, and so he gives us the pathway to overcome it. Each of these three illustrations show us that life is an ongoing battle that we overcome with the grace of God, the help of Jesus at the Father’s right hand, ruling in heaven, and the Holy Spirit indwelling us.

Jesus’ Example: Now we have just said that this phase of our redemption is a process of change and so often we say that it is to change more into the likeness of Jesus. As the NLT says, the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” (2 Cor 3:18) But perhaps we wonder, if Israel was being taught to trust the Lord more, and we are being taught to be transformed into Jesus’ likeness, how does that work? Well, let’s take three simple examples of things that go on in this process of change, where God seeks to ensure we are able to keep on and fully walk out our lives as His children, growing in grace. Remember, Jesus our example.

Learning to resist the enemy with God’s word and God’s presence: See Jesus being tempted. How does he overcome the enemy? With knowing God’s will through God’s word. What is the apostolic teaching: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (Jas 4:7) That’s the order: draw near to the Lord and then you can resist the enemy in such measure that he will flee.

Learning to trust without seeing: Realise the basis of discipleship. Fairly recently I imagined a conversation between Jesus and one of his disciples when he first called him: Hi, I’m Jesus. Yes, I know, I’ve heard about you.  OK, well now I want you to leave what you’re doing and follow me. How long for? As long as I have to train you to carry on doing what I do. How long will that take? Come along and see. What will we be doing? I’ll show you when you follow me. How will we do it? I’ll show you when you follow me.   Do you see the point? It is when we have once started following Jesus that he will then show us the way. As the apostle Paul said, “we live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor 5:7)

Learning to do what Jesus did: Jesus’ teaching is scary: I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12) Now before you panic (“I don’t know how to cast out demons or raise the dead!!!!”) remember that we said this is a process, learning takes time and God knows how fast you can learn and won’t put you into circumstances beyond that which you can cope with, using His grace.

Redemption again: So there it is. Redemption is not only the original deliverance, it is also the ongoing process of change. The scary thing about the picture of Israel in the desert is that it shows us it is possible to resist God and you can stay there and fail to enter into the wonder of all the Lord has for you (the Promised Land = the kingdom of God?) which is why the writer to the Hebrews gave such a strong warning (Heb 3:7-19), warning against hardheartedness (v.8), holding on faithfully to the end (v.14), resisting disobedience (v.18) and unbelief (v.19).  Challenging and encouraging.

14. Manasseh

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 14. The Strange Story of Manasseh

2 Chron 33:10-13 The LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. So the LORD brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon. In his distress he sought the favour of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And when he prayed to him, the LORD was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD is God.

 Manasseh in outline: We have so far been examining some of the lives of the well-known figures of the earlier part of the Old Testament, the Patriarchs, then Moses, then David. Now we consider a king who strangely reigned 55 years in the southern kingdom of Judah, Manasseh, who in a simple summary did evil and was carried off to Babylon (2 Chron 33:1-11) and there repented & was restored (2 Chron 33:12-20). The account above shows the hand of the Lord in his affairs

  • Bringing Assyria against him, resulting in him being taken to Babylon,
  • Being moved by his prayers of repentance and restoring him to Judah.

Manasseh’s work of restoration: Subsequently Manasseh, “got rid of the foreign gods and removed the image from the temple of the LORD, as well as all the altars he had built on the temple hill and in Jerusalem; and he threw them out of the city. (v.15) Then he restored the altar of the LORD and sacrificed fellowship offerings and thank offerings on it, and told Judah to serve the LORD, the God of Israel. (v.16) The people, however, continued to sacrifice at the high places, but only to the LORD their God. (v.17) Now what is remarkable about all this is the depth of wrong-doing that he had sunk to before all this happened.

Manasseh’s sin: He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, following the detestable practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had demolished; he also erected altars to the Baals and made Asherah poles. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them. He built altars in the temple of the LORD, of which the LORD had said, “My Name will remain in Jerusalem forever.” In both courts of the temple of the LORD, he built altars to all the starry hosts. He sacrificed his sons in the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, practiced sorcery, divination and witchcraft, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the LORD, provoking him to anger. He took the carved image he had made and put it in God’s temple…. 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.”  (2 Chron 33:2-7,9), i.e. he:

  • Followed the ways of the Canaanites (v.2)
  • Rebuilt high places, erected altars to Baal, made Asherah poles (v.3)
  • Built wrong altars in the temple (v.4,5)
  • Sacrificed his sons and practiced sorcery, divination and witchcraft (v.6)
  • Put a carved image in the temple (v.7)
  • Did more evil than the Canaanites had done (v.9)

The Lord’s Judgment: We need to see God’s word of judgment, prior to the events recorded above, as we find it in 2 Kings for, in the light of the above, it is equally remarkable: “The LORD said through his servants the prophets: “Manasseh king of Judah has committed these detestable sins. He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols. Therefore this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. I will stretch out over Jerusalem the measuring line used against Samaria and the plumb line used against the house of Ahab. I will wipe out Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. I will forsake the remnant of my inheritance and hand them over to their enemies. They will be looted and plundered by all their foes, because they have done evil in my eyes and have provoked me to anger from the day their forefathers came out of Egypt until this day.” (2 Kings 21:10-15)

  • The Lord’s word (v.10) which is probably an expansion of 2 Chron 33:10 – see above.
  • His sin is worse than the Canaanites before him (v.11)
  • Therefore disaster will come on Jerusalem and Judah (v.12)
  • Jerusalem will be wiped out (v.13)
  • They will we handed over to their enemies (v.14)
  • And this is all because of what they have continued to do (v.15)

A Major Question: The question has to arise, in the light of this incredibly strong word of judgment on Manasseh and Jerusalem and Judah, how did it come about that these things – the destruction of Jerusalem – did NOT happen for another half century?

Answers? One can only suggest the following. Scripture is quite clear that even when the Lord has spoken judgment, when repentance comes, that repentance causes the Lord to ‘change His mind’ so that He does not bring that judgment. Thus at the end of Manasseh’s reign there is no indication of this destructive judgment falling on Jerusalem. So why did it eventually happen? Observe the kings who followed Manasseh.

Amon: He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, as his father Manasseh had done. Amon worshiped and offered sacrifices to all the idols Manasseh had made. But unlike his father Manasseh, he did not humble himself before the LORD; Amon increased his guilt. (2 Chron 33:22,23) Contrasted with his father, did some of what Manasseh had done but did not repent. Was assassinated by his officials within two years. Did he steer God’s eyes back towards that threat of destruction?

Josiah:  A mostly good king (see 2 Chron 34 & 35) who sought the Lord (34:1-3), cleansed the land (34:4-7), restored the temple (34:8-13), renewed the Covenant (34:14-33), celebrated the Passover (35:12-19) but was unnecessarily killed after a battle (35:20-27). One might assume he put Judah in a better light before God.

Jehoahaz: Only reigned a short period before Egypt came against him and so Jehoahaz ends up in Egypt and Jehoiakim left to reign. See 2 Chron 36:2-4

Jehoiakim: (2 Chron 36:5-8) Did evil was taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar after 11 year reign.

Jehoiachin: (2 Chron 9,10) A bad king only reigned for three months before Nebuchadnezzar called him to Babylon.

Zedekiah: Refused the Lord (2 Chron 36:11-14), and after 11 year reign was taken into exile with Judah in Babylon (36:15-21)

Back to Manasseh: Thus, after Manasseh, of the six kings who followed before Jerusalem was destroyed, only Josiah was good. This, despite the prophetic warnings that came again and again, the kings and their subjects refused to turn back to the Lord and thus the word originally spoken against Manasseh was now fulfilled. It was only Manasseh’s repentance that put it off and one cannot help feeling that of each subsequent king has similarly turned to the Lord, that destruction would never have happened.

What have we learned? We have seen murderers and adulterers in these studies and Manasseh encapsulates the summary that “however bad you are, if there is genuine repentance, salvation (redemption) will follow”.  We referred to God’s words through Ezekiel and perhaps we need to conclude with them here to remind ourselves of the Lord’s heart:Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23) and “Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel?  For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (Ezek 19:31,32) and, “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’” (Ezek 323:11) Be quite clear, God’s heart is to redeem whenever there is repentance.

13. Recapping David

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 13. Recapping David

Isa 9:6,7   For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom

 A Necessary Recap: Because we have taken five studies to consider something of David’s life, if we are to get the most out what happened to him, I believe we need to scan back over these studies to see the key points that stand out in this study of God’s redemptive activity in our lives.

The Glory of David: The starting and finishing point of any study of David must be to note that there was so much good that he became a measuring stick for those kings who followed him – despite all the negative things we went on to consider about him.  It was his heart, a heart after God, that was the crucial issue.

Facing Failures: The whole thing about redemption is the need to accept the starting place – our failures. God redeems us from those places of failures and takes us to a more glorious place. For David, our starting place was his fall in respect of Bathsheba and Uriah. However, amazingly we were able to note the Bible’s assessment that said David, 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 15:5) Now I have a feeling I did not make sufficiently clear in our studies something quite significant here. The word ‘sin’ was not used here, although we may imply it, but the assessment in this verse implies the measuring stick for righteousness, for that period, is keeping the commands of the Lord – the Law.

A Limiting Factor: However in the course of the ongoing studies we observed that there were two other things that put limitations, if we may put is as gently as that, on David. The first was that he had been a warrior for most of his life and that debarred him from being the one who would build the Temple. That did not detract from his heart after God because, in reality, a number of times he sought the Lord’s guidance (and got it!) for his warfare strategies, yet it did mean that it limited his role in life before God. We should understand that even in the process of redemption, although there may not be moral failures, there can be other limiting factors that inhibit the direction the Lord allows us to go.

 Another form of failure: When we went on to consider David numbering his army, we found a failure that was NOT a failure to keep the Law, for there was no law that said, “Thou shalt not count your army numbers,” or “you shall not countenance pride”. Nevertheless pride detracts from the “Love the Lord your God with all your heart” (Deut 6:5) and is certainly an expression or act of self-glorification that detracts from the Lord being glorified. Giving way to that pride meant a whole other area requiring correction was revealed.

Process for Change: We noted that often it is as if the Lord pulls the rug away from under us to allow our folly to be brought to an end, so the work of redemption can be continued. If we see it as a path that involves sanctification (our being changed, cleansed in practical ways, and being more formed in the likeness of Jesus) it makes it easier to see some of these things as obstacles that hinder progress, things therefore that need dealing with if the process is to continue. It is not so much that our ultimate redemption is at risk (but it is if we give way to sin and eventually drift right away from God) so much as seeing something that needs addressing if we are to receive all that God has for us in His redemption package.  The process that is so often used by God is one of discipline that brings change, if not transformation.

Change by Long-term Strategy: With the case of Bathsheba and Uriah, the Lord allowed (or set in motion) a series of events that can be seen either as Him lifting off His hand of protection from David and his circumstances, or of Him releasing Satan to stir up individuals in rebellion. The temporary loss of the throne and all that went with those events, would certainly have a disciplining effect on David. At the start he responded openly and truly, “I have sinned against the Lord,” (2 Sam 12:13), amazingly he names his second child with Bathsheba, “loved by the Lord,” (2 Sam 12:25) and he retook his responsibility as army commander (2 Sam 12:29-31).  Although he failed to control Absalom, as he flees from Jerusalem and is cursed along the way, we find, David then said to Abishai and all his officials, “My son, my own flesh and blood, is trying to kill me. How much more, then, this Benjamite! Leave him alone; let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. It may be that the Lord will look upon my misery and restore to me his covenant blessing instead of his curse today.” (2 Sam 16:11,12) Again and again, although having failed and being under discipline his heart is inclined in God’s direction.

Change by short, sharp shock: In the matter of being disciplined for his pride and counting his army the correction that comes is immediate and heart-breaking. He will never be the same again.

Ongoing: In subsequent years we see, when confronted by a famine (2 Sam 21:1), he seeks the Lord and puts right past wrongs. When his life was threatened in battle, his men thought so much of him they forbade him fighting any more (2 Sam 21:17). He continued writing songs of praise to God (2 Sam 22) and prophesied about his blessing (2 Sam 23:1-7). After his failure in counting his men he faced the truth: “I have sinned; I, the shepherd, have done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Let your hand fall on me and my family.” (2 Sam 24:17) and went on to sacrifice, following the Law.

Near the End: As he hands the throne over to Solomon before he dies, he commands Solomon, I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, act like a man, and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses. Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go and that the Lord may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’ (1 Kings 2:2-4) Be obedient to God, keep His laws and be the blessing that God promised me. Faithful to the end. His failures had not made him jaded. He concludes his words to Solomon with wisdom as to how to deal with various people, some of whom he knows will be a problem to Solomon if he allows them to live. He himself had not been willing to execute punishment on them as they deserved, and possibly saw them as the Lord’s way of disciplining and changing him, but that need not be true of Solomon. A difficult balance between grace and wisdom from a godly man whose primary concern was the glory of God.

And after: In a dream Solomon encounters the Lord and asks of Him for wisdom to rule His people. The Lord replies, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.  Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honour—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” (1 Kings 3:12-14) and thereafter comes this formula, “like David did.”

Later on, Isaiah would prophesy about the Messiah ruling over David’s kingdom (the people of God) as our starting verse showed, and the apostle Paul would refer to David as one who “had served God’s purpose in his own generation,” (Acts 13:36) and despite those failings that stand out in history, he did it to the end. If it had been us assessing his life, we might have terminated it after Uriah died, or when he counted Israel, might have let him be one of those who died by plague, but God takes no delight in bringing death (see Ezek 18:23,32) but looks for repentance so that the path of redemption can continue. In David He found that again and again. We are not to be casual about sin and should not use confession as an easy opt-out, but we can be assured that the Lord’s determination to pursue the path of redemption with us will continue, even if it does involve discipline!

12. The Downfalls of David (4)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 12. The Downfalls of David (4)

2 Sam 24:1   Again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.”

1 Chron 21:1 Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.

 Recap: We are considering the good and the not so good aspects of David’s life, particularly now looking at the incident where he numbered his army. Yesterday we considered God’s anger, was it against David or Israel, how it applies to us, whether it was God or Satan, how God uses Satan and God’s sovereign control. These are all deep and complex subjects and yet all very pertinent to the subject of redemption. In the story so far, David has been incited to number his army, an act of pride.

David’s Reaction: Now what is interesting is that David seems to come to his senses and repent of what he has done even before he is censured by the Lord, yet it is not clear: “This command was also evil in the sight of God; so he punished Israel. Then David said to God, “I have sinned greatly by doing this. Now, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.” (1 Chron 21:7,8) The other account records, David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, Lord, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing,” (2 Sam 24:10) Whatever else is going on, David acknowledges he has done a wrong thing which was, in reality, an act of pride that seeks glory for self rather than for God.

Maintain Perspective: As we move further into this, remember what we said in the previous study about the guilt of Israel. There is obviously something seriously going wrong in the nation – presumably idolatry, a falling away from the Lord – for it to incur what I have referred to as a judgment of the last resort.

 Judgment in David’s Hands: What follows is a unique and incredible incident. It is like the Lord says to David, “Very well, the situation in respect of the nation warrants my severe action to bring change. You are the king and you are responsible for them and have allowed to situation to develop. Not only that, you have taken in pride the glory of the nation and that needs attending to as well, because if you and the nation are to continue – and I want both to continue –  then I must bring change to both the nation and to you. So here is what we will do. Judgment is coming on the nation, but you will decide the form of it.”

A Redemptive Act? Can we see the power and wisdom in this? Judgment IS going to come anyway because of the state of the nation (which the scribes do not describe) and so the Lord is going to use this approach to chastise His son in such a way that he will never be the same again. Again, can we see the steps in this. The Lord sees the nation needs severe correction and sees a weakness in His son, David – pride, just lurking there on the side-lines, as it is with all of us!

A discipline of the heart: Think back to matters we have not covered in these studies but are there in Scripture. First, there was the way David mourned over the death of Saul and Jonathan (2 Sam 1:17-27) “How the mighty have fallen!” (v.27) It had been a compassionate heart cry. Second, there had been his response to the murder of Abner (2 Sam 3:28-39). Another heart cry: “Do you not realize that a commander and a great man has fallen in Israel this day? And today, though I am the anointed king, I am weak, and these sons of Zeruiah are too strong for me.” (v.38,39) Then third, there had been his (almost over the top) response to the death of his rebellious son Absalom (2 Sam 18:33). Yet another heart cry: “My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”  Now consider, if David had reacted like that to the death of individuals, how is he going to feel about having to be the one who opens the way for thousands to die?

David’s Choice, David’s Reaction: Many of us might have rebelled against this order to choose but David, this man after God’s own heart, did not shirk the responsibility or the guilt. When Gad presents him with the three choices he responds, “I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into human hands.” (2 Sam 24:14) and when the plague begins to take lives, When David saw the angel who was striking down the people, he said to the Lord, “I have sinned; I, the shepherd, have done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Let your hand fall on me and my family.” (2 Sam 24:17) He is a broken man.

Sacrificial Cleansing: Immediately David comes to this point, Gad shows him the right path, according to the Law to deal with their sin: repentance, and sacrifice on the altar. Somewhere in the somewhat confused order of things here, the Lord had declared, “Enough!” and stopped the plague. Now we must assume that He has already decided how far the plague would go but seeing the effect of it impacted Him and, in pure mercy, He calls a stop to it. See the combination of actions: sin that justice requires punishing, God who complies with justice but in mercy limits it, David who intercedes by the prescribed method of offering a sacrifice, and God who accepts the sacrifice. Here there is guilt with consequences yet a) the consequences are limited and b) the consequences are used to bring major change within David, the king.

Understanding the ‘big picture’: I am grateful to the theologian-teacher who pointed out to me the basic facts of sin and salvation, and if you have question marks about the deaths here, realise the following: 1. Sin involves guilt.  2. Guilt demands punishment. 3. That punishment is death.  4. Every single human being deserves death. 5. God has provided a means of salvation that is pure mercy (He didn’t have to do it!). This is not the place to work through each of those five items but if you have never done it before, ask the Lord to open your understanding to see why they are true.

The current situation:  Nation and king are all guilty in a greater or lesser measure. We are all guilty of being sinners, but David was guilty of not correcting his people; his people were obviously guilty of apostasy, of going away from the Lord, in such a measure that drastic measures need to be taken to save the nation, save the plan of salvation that would come to the world through Israel.  That is what is ultimately behind all this. To enable that plan to continue, the Lord had to take action to redeem David from his casual state in respect of the nation and from his own pride. He also had to take action to redeem Israel from their apostasy to enable them to continue on to be a “light to the Gentiles” (Isa 42:6) It started when he allowed Satan to provoke and incite David at his weakest point. The rest became history: a redeemed king, a redeemed people. (Just out of interest, where David built the altar was the place where the Temple was eventually built.)

And Us?  Where we fall, and God’s hand comes on us, understand that although there may be disciplinary elements or consequences in all that follow, His goal is our redemption, not just for eternity but also the present. There is yet a life to be lived with Him. Hallelujah!

Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, when I have failed you, I thank you that that is not the end. You are yet working to continue to redeem me.