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.

11. Historical & Geographical Context

PART TWO: POST DAVID AND SOLOMON

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 11. Historical & Geographical Context

1 Kings 12:20  When all the Israelites heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. Only the tribe of Judah remained loyal to the house of David.

Health Warning:  I think as we progress with this series I need to give a health warning – it is not for the faint-hearted. I have the feeling that this is possibly the most intense series – in terms of the amount of information and biblical quotes included – that I have ever written. It may be that you might find it more helpful to copy and paste the material (if you are reading it on something capable of doing that) in order to use this material as a future resource. I don’t think the church is usually very good at teaching of the history of the Old Testament and my hope is that this series may in a small measure remedy that or at least provide material to do that.

Recap: We have noted David’s successes and his failure and the consequences, and then Solomon’s success and then failure and further noted the Lord’s word to Solomon about dividing the kingdom. We now need to see how this works out and how the outcomes ‘fit’ our overall goal of examining the struggles of this nation. To do this we will have to now follow two streams, that of the north and that of the south. We will start with the northern kingdom as they lasted for roughly 135 years less than the south.

As we move on we are going to find a string of names of the various kings and I will endeavor to clarify them by printing them in bold. I will also seek to pick out their enemies similarly.  2 Chronicles describes the activities of the southern kingdom and 1 & 2 Kings mostly follows the northern kingdom (although there are some descriptions of the things of the south). For this reason, in the next part where we cover the northern activities, our resources will come from 1 & then later 2 Kings.

Warning: Now I am aware that as you read through this particular study, as I indicated above you may feel overwhelmed by ‘information’ which may leave you feeling that this is purely an academic study. In no way do I suggest you will remember all this detail but it may be in the subsequent studies you may wish to return here to put everything that follows into the historical and geographic context that I hope to provide here. I will make further comment at the end of this study.

Context:  Earlier on in the series, in Study No.7, we identified the various tribal nations that occupied Canaan when Israel went in to clear it out. Now many years later we will keep finding reference to other nations who the Lord used as a thorn in Israel’s side. It will be helpful therefore if we focus in this study  on the various nations interacting with Israel, and we gave a mini-description of each of these:

In study no.7 and into no.8, we covered the Philistines and saw them throughout David’s story. After that they ceased to be seen much and perhaps because of their geography (coastal plain in the south) they did not feature with the northern kingdom.

When Israel were transiting up the east side of the Dead Sea before entering the Land by crossing the Jordan, we identified the various nations to the south and east of the Dead Sea as follows: to the south is Edom, north of them is Moab and north of them Ammon, west of which dwelt the Amorites at the city of Heshbon, and then further north still, Bashan. Let’s pick up on some of these who also appear later in Israel’s history:

Edom: Edom was another name for Esau (Gen 36:1) and so the Edomites were descendants of Esau, who had clearly migrated there very early on (Gen 32:3, 36:1-8), absorbing the Horites who already lived there (Gen 14:6). Seir, which is often mentioned, was first a mountain in that area and then was the land in that area that became better known as Edom. Saul had fought against them when he came to rule (1 Sam 14:47), David subsequently conquered them (2 Sam 8:13,14). Later in Jehoshaphat’s time they joined with the Moabites and Ammonites to fight against the southern kingdom. In the reign of Jehoram in the south they rebelled (2 Kings 8:20-22). They were thus an opposition in the south mostly against the southern kingdom. They helped the north on one occasion (2 Kings 3:9)

Moab: Moab was the son of Lot (Gen 19:37) whose descendants settled the land that was to the east of the southern half of the Dead Sea, north of Edom. As we saw in the third study, they were protected by the Lord when Israel passed by on their way to enter the land further north. (Deut 2:9) Saul later fought with them (1 Sam 14:47) and David later subdued them (2 Sam 8:2). After Ahab died they rebelled (2 Kings 1:1, 3:5) against Joram but were routed by Joram, Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom (2 Kings 3:24). Later they simply took to raiding Israel every Spring (2 Kings 13:20). They were later subdued by Assyria until their power waned.

Aram: Otherwise known as Syria, the history is murky and complex but the name becomes associated with a people of the north and east of Israel, a land that stretched eastwards including northwest Mesopotamia, who are clearly established in the time of the Judges (see Jud 10:6). Absalom married a daughter of the king of Geshur and later fled there (see 2 Sam 3:5, 14:23, 15:8 – Geshur being identified as being in Aram).  David defeated a king from there (2 Sam 8:3) – Zobar is to the north-west of Damascus. Ben-Hadad king of Aram, attacked Samaria in the days of Ahab but was repulsed (1 Kings 20:1,29,30). It was the Arameans that Elisha spared at Dothan (2 Kings 6:8-23). Nevertheless Ben-Hadad again laid siege to Samaria but had ending up fleeing (2 Kings 6:24, 7:6,7). After Hazael killed him (2 Kings 8:15) the Lord used Hazael to subdue Israel (2 Kings 10:32) continuing into the reign of Jehoahaz (2 Kings 13:7,22)

The Kings of Aram we come across in the text are:

  • Ben-Hadad (there may have been a first and second) in days of Ahab (2 Kings 6:24, 8:7-15)
  • Hazael (843BC-) in later days of Ahab and into reign of Jehoahaz (2 Kings 8:7-15, 9:14, 10:32, 13:3-6,22
  • Ben-Hadad (the third possibly, 796BC-) in days of Rehoboam II (2 Kings 15:20)
  • Rezin – (pos. 750BC-) fought against the southern kingdom in the reign of Ahaz, but later killed by the king of Assyria (2 Kings 15,16, Isa 7:1)

Assyria: focused on the Tigris and upper Mesopotamia, in the period of our studies. Went through many phases through ancient history, and was strong and starting to expand about 900BC, lasting until the fall of Nineveh at the hands of the Medes/Persians and Babylonians, Chaldeans in 609 BC.

The Kings of Assyria mentioned in the text are:

  • Tiglath-Pileser III: (745BC-) built the empire and came and deported some of Israel in Pekah’s reign (2 Kings 15:19, 29)
  • Shalmaneser V: (727-) came against Hoshea, overcame Samaria (722BC) and deported the rest of Israel (2 Kings 17:3,5, also 2 Kings 18:9-11))
  • Sargon II:  (722-) came and took Ashdod in the south (Isa 20:1)
  • Sennacherib: (705-) came against the southern kingdom (after the fall of the north) later in Hezekiah’s reign (2 Kings 18 & 19 & Isa 36,37) but was withstood, and then later assassinated by his sons.
  • Esarhaddon: (681-) Sennacherib’s son reigned after his death (2 Kings 19:37)

Babylonia: In Babylon, which had earlier been part of Assyria, the rise of the city state under Nabopolasser (625-605) meant the end of Assyria in 609 and the ascension of Babylonia under Nebuchadnezzar (605-562) and subsequent kings, until the fall of Babylon in 539BC to the Persian, Cyrus, (539-530) who eventually sent the remnant of Israel back (538) to start to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem (537). For the fall of Jerusalem and what followed see 2 Chron 36 etc. (All dates from The New Bible Dictionary)

And So: As I said at the beginning, lots of information and while we may not hold all of it in our memories, I hope that it may enlarge our perspective to see that Israel were just one small nation in a world of change, a world where nations grew and declined, grew and declined. It is for this reason that different nations appear at different times. The nations immediately to the east and south such as Moab and Edom, come and go as irritants in the life of Israel, but the bigger ‘empires’ such as Aram, the Assyrians and later the Babylonians became giants of influence over that area of the Middle East, as we now call it.

As we start to see the geography and see that these latter three empires all come from the north and north-east, we can understand why Isaiah prophesied about Galilee in the north, “In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honour Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan— The people walking in darkness  have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned,” (Isa 9:1,2) when he prophesied about the coming of Jesus. The north of the country had taken the brunt of the big powers from the north and north-east and in many ways had become a place of ‘darkness’.

And Us? From an intellectual point of view, may we be those with hearts open to learn. From a spiritual point of view may we catch something of the greatness of the working of the nations and, as the Bible shows it, the activities of the Lord as He interacts into all that is going on. In the studies as we progress, may we see this more and more and worship Him.

20. Reliant on…

MEDITATIONS IN ISAIAH – No.20

Isa 10:20 In that day the remnant of Israel, the survivors of the house of Jacob, will no longer rely on him who struck them down but will truly rely on the LORD , the Holy One of Israel.

There is no doubt about it, that parts of Scripture pertaining to the violence that God’s chosen people encountered, is not comfortable reading. The back half of chapter 9 and the whole of chapter 10 are uncomfortable, especially to a modern mind in the comfortable West in the twenty first century. If we personally have not suffered war but only observed it through a TV screen, it is very easy to be judgmental about war and those who are involved in it, especially when God is involved. But let’s take it face on!

The Lord has spoken against Israel in the north: “The Lord has sent a message against …. Israel ….who say with pride and arrogance of heart…” (9:8,9) He challenges their attitude first of all. What are they saying? “The bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with dressed stone; the fig trees have been felled, but we will replace them with cedars.” (9:10) In other words, it doesn’t matter who comes against us, we (implied) are the people of God and we will bounce back! So the Lord had spurred on the Arameans and the Philistines to give Israel trouble (9:11,12) but this had had no effect: “But the people have not returned to him who struck them, nor have they sought the LORD Almighty,” (9:13), so the Lord will come again against them (9:14-17) but still wickedness burns like a fire (9:18) and so the Lord will further take off His hand of restraint and the people will burn with anger against one another (9:19-21). Whatever He seems to do the people will not return to the Lord.

Now we need to note something carefully here. We have just read of the Lord’s hand coming against Israel again and again, but it would have taken time and it is a slow and gradual chastising of this people that is intended to bring them to their senses. This is not a hasty judgment but a slow process of discipline that gives them plenty of time to take note of what is going on. This is the Lord in His grace and mercy moving very slowly with this people to give them plenty of time to think about it, realise their plight and turn to Him. In others words they will have no excuses at the end of this process. You may not like the discipline of the Lord but it does give the people plenty of time to learn and to turn back. Indeed they are foolish of they don’t.

But there is more in Israel that upsets the Lord. Those who make laws make unjust laws, oppressive laws (10:1) that are obviously not the Lord’s laws. These laws deprive the poor of their rights and do down widows and orphans (10:2). This people should know better and so will be dealt with by the Lord (10:3) and it is really simply a case of the Lord applying justice into this situation.

Now there is also more in respect of the nation that the Lord is using to bring His discipline on Jerusalem , the Assyrians (10:5,6). The Lord had wanted then to simply strip the land and undermine the materialism of Judah , but Assyria were unrestrained and wanted to totally destroy Israel (10:6,7). King Ahaz of Judah had originally relied upon the king of Assyria to fight against Aram : “And Ahaz took the silver and gold found in the temple of the LORD and in the treasuries of the royal palace and sent it as a gift to the king of Assyria . The king of Assyria complied by attacking Damascus and capturing it. He deported its inhabitants to Kir and put Rezin to death.” (2 Kings 16:8,9) and then swept on down into Israel and took many of them away (1 Chron 5:26), and now they intend to destroy Judah as well. There is a pride in Assyria that thinks it can do what it likes (10:8-11,13,14) but they will find they will be answerable to the Lord (10:12 ,15-19).

In all of this the Lord’s focus is on dealing with Jerusalem and Judah (10:12) but it is a very controlled form of discipline which, as we’ve already noted is not intended to destroy the whole nation. Oh no, there will be a righteous remnant but they will not rely upon Assyria as Ahaz had done, but will rely on the Lord as our verse today shows: “In that day the remnant of Israel, the survivors of the house of Jacob, will no longer rely on him who struck them down but will truly rely on the LORD , the Holy One of Israel.” (10:20).

Have we caught the picture of what has been going on? Ahaz in Judah heard of the rumours of Aram and Israel uniting against him and so instead of relying on the Lord and turning to Him, had turned to the might of Assyria but Assyria had turned on them as part of the Lord’s discipline. This has all been about reliance. The Lord is trying to teach His people not to rely on political force but upon Him. When they refuse to heed Him eventually He sweeps away the unbelievers and the Chosen People are now left as a remnant that does believe and does rely on the Lord. If we rely on people we will only get deeper and deeper into a mess. The Lord is trying to teach us to rely upon Him. Will we learn the lesson?

17. Confidence in God

MEDITATIONS IN ISAIAH – No.17

Isa 8:16,17 Bind up the testimony and seal up the law among my disciples. I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob. I will put my trust in him.

When one observes the changes taking place in the world, and the signs of instability and insecurity that there are, it means that sometimes the world appears very confusing. Add to this the Christian perspective where we wonder what God is doing, and it becomes even more so. It is often a very unsettling and confusing place, this world in the early part of the twenty-first century. It was no different in Isaiah’s day.

Isaiah saw, with God’s revelation, that Assyria was about to come and invade the nation (8:7,8) but he was warned by the Lord not to think in the same way as the godless people of the land thought: The LORD spoke to me with his strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people. He said: “Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it.” (8:11,12). Conspiracy meant scheming and plotting, whether from inside the nation or outside it. The gossips of the land, possibly the travellers and merchants who travelled the lands, brought news that there was plotting in the north against the south. It’s all right, says the Lord to Isaiah, you don’t need to worry about the plots of men: The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread.” (8:13).

There is within this almost an implication that what is happening in the north is something instigated by the Lord. They will only do what the Lord wants done. He’s the originator of these things, the One to be feared. Because of this, those who are righteous can take comfort in that, “he will be a sanctuary.” (8:14a). If the Lord brings these nations from the north, He will also look after His righteous ones and be a refuge for them, but that isn’t necessarily so for everyone else: “for both houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare. Many of them will stumble; they will fall and be broken, they will be snared and captured.” (8:14,15) i.e. The Lord will make these unrighteous ones stumble and fall and be broken, snared and captured. What a summary of what will happen!

It is at this point that Isaiah makes his own declaration: “Bind up the testimony and seal up the law among my disciples.” (8:16) i.e. my disciples will hold onto the scrolls that carry both the testimony and the law so that whatever happens to the land, this will be preserved for future generations. The ‘testimony’ refers to what the Lord has done for Israel. It started, as we noted previously, with the Ten Commandments: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Ex 20:2) and is found in many other places in the early books of the Bible. It is a record of the Lord’s dealings with His people. Most of Exodus, parts of Numbers and much of Deuteronomy, speak of the Lord’s dealings with His people. This is the testimony. The Law is that found in Exodus in small measure, Leviticus in large measure, some in Numbers and a large amount reiterated in Deuteronomy. All of this, says Isaiah we will hold on to and preserve, whatever happens.

Then comes his own personal testimony or declaration: “I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob. I will put my trust in him.” (8:17). In other words, the Lord may be hiding Himself from this people so they know little of Him (because of their godlessness and unrighteousness), but I will seek to remain faithful to Him and will simply wait for Him to work out His purposes with this people. I’m going to trust Him. All that I know of Him means I am able to rest in His love and His righteousness, knowing that He will do right.

Do you see what we have here? Isaiah is an insider. He understands what the Lord is doing because he has heard the Lord. He understands the confusing things that appear to be happening between the nations and realises that it is really the Lord at work. Moreover, what he knows of the Lord gives him confidence to be able to just trust in the Lord, to trust that it will all work out for good in the long run.

He goes on: “Here am I, and the children the LORD has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the LORD Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion.” (8:18) i.e. I and my family point to the Lord and reveal His purposes for the nation today. We are part of the Lord’s great communication process. We stand out and speak to the nation of the Lord’s purposes; we are part of His plan to communicate to this people to seek to draw them back to Himself.

Look, he goes on, “When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?” (8:19). This people consult the occult. Whatever are they doing? They are the people of God; they should be consulting God. That is just a sign of their stupidity! Look, he continues, get back to your origins as the people of God, “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.” (8:20). Get back to the records of God’s dealing with us in earlier generations; get back to His design rules for us, measure everything according to this and (implied) if it doesn’t measure up, or if it contradicts the records, throw it out! If you don’t do this, he explains, you’ll end up in a mess (8:21,22).

You see what is at the heart of the lessons here: we have the records of God’s dealing with mankind in His word, the Bible. Read it, study it and understand what it’s about. There is no need to live in chaos and confusion, in pain and hurt, worry and anxiety. The Lord has made it plain. All we have to do is read it, and absorb it and we’ll realise that it is true and we can follow it. God HAS given us all we need already, because He loves us. Just pay attention to it, and come to Him and receive His blessing. That’s the lesson here!