1. Introduction

Short Meds in Getting Ready in Covid-Advent: 1. Introduction

Throughout Advent we are going to let the accounts leading up to the Nativity speak to us near the end of this year of Pandemic

Lk 1:5 In the time of Herod king of Judea…”

History! We are all caught up in history. In years to come we will look back on this present time and reflect on what it was like. This year has been the most restrictive and uncertain year of our lives. We didn’t plan it that way, it just came. But the outward events of this year are just one aspect of it. In it all, God is still here, working out his purposes, purposes He knew about and the Godhead planned before the world began.

Did He make it happen like this, as many ask? No, I believe God allows sinful humanity to get it wrong so such things as the present Pandemic are released, but He did know it was going to happen and He works into the midst of it. Jesus IS still ruling at the right hand of the Father (learn 1 Cor 15:24,25).

But this is history, the activities of mankind that roll out as each of us exercise our free will and consequences follow. That is what history is all about, people and events.  The same is true of the biblical events of what we call Advent (the time of waiting). Few of the ‘players’ had a clue of what was coming.

But it is history, it happened. It started in the land of Israel in the time when Herod the Great (so-called) was the king of Judea, appointed by Rome to be their local ‘Jewish’ representative, (although there were questions over his Jewishness,) and the Romans had their own governor in Jerusalem. It was not a happy time for Israel. But isn’t that history, ups and downs of individual and national lives. We don’t choose the big environment of human history but are born into it and then, as we live in the prevailing environment, it is full of the interactions of people as well as climatic interruptions – gales, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcano eruptions and so on.

The thing about history is that we live in it, we cope with it, or at least try to cope. Sometimes though, although it is a ‘fallen world’, we are people who do impact history, even if in only small ways, impact other lives, and that is what we find in this story. But the biggest interrupter in this history is God and we will see Him speaking into that period and bringing changes that changed the world for ever, although at the times they were not perceived as that. This month catch afresh the sense of destiny within each of our histories and rejoice in the midst of the darkness that although it may appear dark, the Light is working in the midst of it.

11. Looking for the Best

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 11. Looking for the Best

Ex 32:10  Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

Recap: In the previous study we moved on from considering some misconceptions to thinking about how we respond to finding sin, either in ourselves or in others, what sort of heart we should have towards others around us who fail to come up to the mark, who stray off God’s path, who blow it, lose contact with the truth, or whatever other way we may soften the word ‘sin’. Today we consider another aspect of being faced with sin, what could come out of it (in one specific way).

The Example of the Golden Calf: Israel have arrived at Mount Sinai, have had an amazing encounter with God, received the Law and committed themselves to following the Lord. And then Moses goes up the mountain again – and stays there. He stays there forty days! i.e. over a month passes and no sign or sound from Moses or God. Israel down on the plain below the mountain are getting bored. Their leader has gone, the memory of hearing God has gone and some of them at least start getting restless. They want some visible sign of leadership, they want some visible sign of God in their midst and so rashly, despite what they have heard from God, they demand that Aaron does something. He is at a loss. He doesn’t know when Moses will be coming back – IF he will ever come back. He doesn’t know how to handle the situation and so concedes to their demands and he makes a calf of gold for them to worship. In retrospect, from our viewpoint, it is crass stupidity, but mankind does this sort of thing in the face of a crisis. It is wrong, it is idolatry but they are grasping at straws, they are not mature in their faith and do something stupid.

God’s Initial Response: The next part demands maturity of response because when Moses hears the sound of revelry down below – and initial wrong so often leads on to further wrong, and they are now indulging in self-centred revelry – God tells him what has happened and declares our starter verse above, that He will destroy them and make a new nation from Moses. So often our response would be ‘cut and run’ give up and go home, call it a day, but not so with God. Don’t see this as God giving up on Israel. He is first of all testing His man, how will he respond to this?

The Heart of a Man of God: Moses argues with God and pleads, don’t waste what you’ve achieved (v.11), don’t let the Egyptians hear about this and laugh at your inability to deal with these people (v.12), remember your big plan that started out with Abraham (v.13), don’t destroy this people (v.12b). And so God ‘relents’ (v.14), He appears to agree with Moses. (There is an accounting for those who instigated this, the revelers, but the vast majority will be saved.)

The Big Lesson: When we come across a fellow believer who has blown it, etc., let’s remember these three things, and remind God of them in prayer – although they are more for our benefit as we slowly comprehend the heart of God:

i) Consider the testimony of this ‘sinner’, what has happened to them before this fall, all that they have achieved, all that God has done previously in and through them. Will this be wasted?

ii) Consider how this will appear to the watching world. Will they just laugh with scorn at Christians who are really, “just the same as me!” and deride God’s name?

iii) Consider the ‘big plan of God’, His desire to redeem the world, to redeem individual ‘sinners’. That plan wasn’t just to sort you out when you first turned to Him, but to continue to keep on sorting you out throughout your entire life. As long as your heart is inclined towards Him, He will continue to work with you when you occasionally stumble and fall. His desire is to pick you up and restore you. And if it is that for you – and it is – then it is also for your sinning friend!

So what is the big lesson here? It is not to see this as an opportunity to write off this other person but an opportunity to restore and redeem them. Jesus didn’t write off

  • the silly people who ran out of wine at their wedding in Jn 2, or
  • obtuse Nicodemus in Jn 3, or
  • the arguing Samaritan woman at the well in Jn 4, or
  • the paralytic who had given up at the Pool of Siloam in Jn 5, or
  • the five thousand who followed him without thought for provisions in Jn 6, or
  • the adulterous woman in Jn 8.

No, in every chapter he redeemed the situation and the people.

And Us?  Will we see failure in those around us, not as a time to exalt in their guilt, but an opportunity to seek the Lord for His wisdom and grace to bring correction, repentance, restoration, healing and redemption, maybe even bringing them into a better place than they had been before. That is the sort of Savior we follow. Let’s not disappoint him with heart responses that are less than his.

6. Command Two: No Imitations Please (2)

Revisiting the Ten Commandments: 6. Command Two: No Imitations Please (2)

Ex 20:4,5   “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them;  

Significance: What do these verses say? They say, put most simply, that God will not tolerate imitation competitors or substitutes and will hold His people accountable if they do hold to such ‘competitors’ (though they are in reality no competition!) or substitutes. We said in the previous study that an idol is “an image or representation of a god used as an object of worship,” and as we noted previously, this command requires the people of God not to have any substitute ‘gods’ or make any such representations of those ‘gods’ who we considered in detail in respect of Israel and other nations in history.

But why? Why was it that Israel kept turning to idols? We highlighted it before: they wanted gods and idols that they could see. But it is more than that, they wanted something closer to them who they felt they could speak to and though whom they could feel reassured about daily life, who they felt they could rely upon. There is something about expressing out loud your concerns. We do it through prayer and we must assume that Israel did it with their idols in some measure or another.  They would burn incense to these idols as a means of ‘doing something’ they felt might please the idol, the god. There was a reliance there upon the god, through the idol.

An idol, therefore, was a substitute for God although it is difficult not to assume that in the case of the three golden calves (at Sinai and on the north and south borders of the northern kingdom) these idols were initially, at least, supposed to represent God. The Eastern Orthodox Church uses icons as ways of directing their thinking towards God. The Roman Catholic church uses statues of Mary similarly. Both would deny that they worship these as God but are simply tools to help their faith, yet whether it be in modern forms or in the life of Israel, such practices can easily become a substitute for a real, live, vibrant relationship with the Living God.

And Us? An idol today, therefore we might say, is anything we use as a substitute for God but that doesn’t take us to the heart of the matter.  The apostle Pail wrote, Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.(Col 3:5). To the Ephesians he also wrote, For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” (Eph 5:5) Now we tend to simply equate greed with idolatry here but, if we read it properly, the truth is that he is saying in both cases – and this is very important – that all of these things that “belong to your earthly nature” are the thing (the expression of ‘self’) with which we replace God.

The person who rejects God does so because they make ‘self’ the all-important heart of their life. They rely upon themselves to the exclusion of God. It is not a case of making one particular thing in their life – money, ambition, fame, family, work, an expensive car, two houses, a yacht, all the things that usually come to mind in these conversations – but the whole issue of what their life is given to, worshiping and relying upon self, or worshiping and relying upon God is what is important. Those things in that list I have just given are not in themselves wrong, none of them! They become ‘wrong’ when they are the expression of God-excluding-self.

But why – again! We still haven’t, I feel, yet got to grips with why people do this. In the first of this series we spent some time considering the absence of wisdom when we focus on behaviour rather than identity, on self-effort achievement rather than change that flows out of a Cross-centred and Holy Spirit based love relationship with God through Jesus. As I ponder on the two verses above from Colossians and Ephesians, I can’t help but feel that the heart of it is the effect of the presence of sin in every person seen in the form of that propensity that we have to ‘self-centred godlessness’ (my usual definition of Sin). The fallen world around us is often unpleasant and unkind and we want to take protective steps against that but with it comes a blindness (2 Cor 4:4) which can even remain in believers (Rev 3:17) and which so often prevents seeing life as it is, or the reality of the Gospel as it is.

So what changes that? The word of God that is the Gospel that comes by the Spirit usually through the mouths of others, and certainly on the pages of the New Testament. This and this alone, I would suggest, is how God brings a blend of conviction and hope that brings us – whether unbeliever for the first time, or believer perhaps again and again – a reason for turning away from ourselves and turning towards Him, of giving up our reliance upon ourselves and declaring our reliance upon Him. That reliance has to be in respect of the Cross – the foundation for any reassurance that forgiveness, cleansing and a new life is possible – and the presence and filling of the Holy Spirit – who is our power source to enable that divinely supernatural life to be lived.

Not that Simple: Now that may appear simple (when your eyes have been opened) but there is a little verse in Scripture that should bring warning. When Israel, the northern kingdom, were deported by Assyria in 722BC ending their existence after about 208 years, the king of Assyria did what was common practice back then of importing people from elsewhere but also sent back a priest to teach these new people about how to respond to God (see 2 Kings 17:24-28) but sadly it proved semi-abortive because those new people then exercised a mixed religion – “They worshiped the Lord, but they also served their own gods.” (v.33) Do you see that? Worshiped God (great!) BUT they also served their own gods.

Now from what we have been saying, the options we presented are worshiping the god of self or the One True God, but the verse above reminds us that you can try and do the same – apparently worship God but at the same time hold on to major expressions of self.

So How? It isn’t a case of focusing on individual ‘bits’ of our lives, for that simply takes us back to behavioral theology, self-effort, the try harder approach that we rejected at the beginning. Yes, it is important to teach and face these things as stumbling blocks in our lives, but the bigger issue is still all about identity. This, we said at the beginning, is all about who you are in Christ, this is the wonder of what he has done for you, this is what he thinks about you, these are the resources he has provided for you, and here is the wonder of the life that you can aspire to with the help of his Spirit and his word.

Focusing on individual imaginary ‘idols’ simply brings us guilt, a need for more self-effort and likely sense of failure. Recognizing the wonder of who we are, in its fullest, sense – loved and accepted children of God, forgiven and cleansed by the work of the Cross, now indwelt by the Holy Spirit – these are the remedies for that self-life, these are the things that are at the heart of the Gospel, and these are the things that deliver us from the guilty wonderings of how to apply this commandment.

If you have been brought up in a legalistic Christian environment that has left you with guilt, shame, and an ongoing sense of failure, may I invite you to read back through the fairly detailed content of this particular study and ask the Lord to open your eyes to the wonder of who you are in him, and set you free from your past. Amen? Amen!

(There is more that could be said about this particular command but I don’t want to detract from what we have here, so we will simply move on to the next command in the next study.)

Application: May I suggest we conclude this study praying something like, “Lord Jesus, thank you that you have saved me and delivered me out of the dominion of darkness into your kingdom of light. I affirm you alone are my Lord and I give my life to you afresh this day. Amen.”

4. Command One: Only One God

PART TWO: First Four Commandments – about God

Revisiting the Ten Commandments: 4. Command One: Only One God

Ex 20:1,2    And God spoke all these words: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

Ex 20:3 You shall have no other gods before (or besides) me.

And More: There is a further historical dimension to our starter verses above, that we have been considering. It is found in verse 2: “who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” Now, perhaps, we will shortly be able to see why the first of these ten commands is so important. All the knowledge of Him that we pick up in the Bible, (and I realize this is a much bigger topic) is that He is one, He is the Creator of all of existence, He is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-wise and He is eternal and, of course, He communicates.  These are some of the minimums that come through in the Bible about Him. It also declares that He is love, He is good, He is holy, and He is perfect. In other words He is utterly different from any of these other ‘gods’ we soon need to be considering.

Historical Context: Now He can now be identified as the one who delivered Israel miraculously out of the hands of the most powerful despot in the world, from Egypt. In earlier meditation No.2 we emphasized the need to observe the historical context when approaching these laws. That is especially important with this verse. The law is simple and straight forward in this first command: God says, “You shall have no other gods before (or besides) me”, i.e. “I am God, there is only one of me, so don’t worship anyone or anything else,” but it comes in the context of a people living in the midst of a nation where ‘gods’ proliferate!

‘gods’ of Egypt: Bear in mind Israel had only recently left that fear-driven, superstitious nation, Egypt, which we are told had over 2000 ‘gods’. Many had similar characteristics and appeared all over the country but with different names.  Birds, crocodiles, snakes, turtles, frogs, cattle, dogs, cats and other domesticated animals were considered to be the living images of a particular god or goddess. One historian declares, ‘All parts of life were covered and there were gods for beer, plants, digestion, the high seas, female sexuality, gardens, partying etc.’

The best-known gods of Egypt we may have heard of – Ra, the god of the Sun, the most important god, lord of all the gods. He was usually shown in human form with a falcon head, crowned with the sun disc encircled by a sacred cobra – judge of the dead, and father of Horus, god of the sky (the Egyptians believed that the pharaoh was the ‘living Horus’) – Tefnut, goddess of the rain – Anubis, who guided the dead to the next life via the court of Osiris in the Underworld – Sobek, god of Nile who had the head of a crocodile, and many others (followers of ‘The Mummy’ films will know some of these names). But ‘gods’ appear all over ancient history.

‘gods’ of Canaan: In Canaan, gods we come across in the Bible were Asherah, the walker of the sea, a mother goddess, Baal, god of fertility, Dagon, god of crop fertility, Molech, god of fire, and there were also many, many others. A simple Google search reveals that virtually every nation had ‘gods’.

‘gods’ of Greece & Rome: Later in history we may be more familiar with the Greek gods – Zeus, god of the Sky – Hera goddess of marriage, mothers and families – Poseidon, God of the Sea – and so on. Following them, the Romans with their gods, mostly the same but with changed names, for example, Zeus, the king of the gods, the ruler of Mount Olympus, and god of the sky and thunder, Pallas Athena, is the goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, law and justice, Mars was the god of war, Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation, and so on.

Characteristics of ‘gods’: A study of such gods shows us six things:

  • First there were lots of them! In fact there were gods for any and every situation or feature of the world.
  • Second, they created or maybe were the result of superstitious fear, the insecurity of living in a changing and uncertain world.
  • Third, they were never benign, it seems; they all required some form of appeasement.
  • Fourth, when these gods took human form, or were thought of as being in human form, they also took on human foibles and struggled and fought with one another and did not have humanity’s best at heart!
  • Fifth, and this becomes very significant as we move on, the idea of the existence of such ‘gods’ meant that humanity’s attitude towards them was one of superstitious subservience.
  • Sixth, because we know that such secondary beings are purely expressions of superstitious imagination, there is never any way to measure the reality of interchange between a human being and a ‘god’. Indeed one wonders if there was really any real relationship involved. (how can there be a two-way interaction with a carved block of wood?)

And then: When we come to the Bible. We see A God who reveals Himself, first to the Patriarchs and what became Israel, and then to Moses and then to all of Israel but, as we’ve already seen He is utterly different from any of these other ‘gods’ we have just been considering.

The call to follow Him alone is surprisingly, and contrary to the crusading atheists claims, a claim to be free of superstition and a call to come to One who will bring love and goodness and security. For Moses and his people they already knew something of Him as revealed through His dealings with the Patriarchs and now recently His deliverance of them from Egypt. He was a God who appeared to want to be friendly, a God who had the power to deal with enemies on one hand and bless His friends on the other.

And So: Everything we know of these other ‘gods’ makes us want to shy away from them and their demands and the superstitious fear-filled life, and everything we come to know of Him says here is One who we would be foolish to reject. It is only that self-centred and godless propensity that we all have, which the Bible calls Sin, that makes us suspicious and fearful of Him.

It also makes us want to stand on our own two feet and foolishly think we can cope in life without Him, hence the popular ‘Don’t you tell me what to do!’ attitude that is the common expression of the rebellious aspect of Sin. In the folly of Sin we cannot believe that this God, who claims to be the one and only God, is loving and good and desires the best for us. But that, as we say, is the folly of Sin. The call to “have no other gods beside me” is, in one way, a common-sense call in accord with reality because there is NO other God, merely the imaginations of superstitious fear. Away with it!

But why, we might ask, do people have all these ‘gods’? Because it is such a big question, we will wait until the next studies and examine the nature of the working out of this superstitious fear seen in the form of worshipping idols. We will then compare this to the nature of God and then the nature of sinful mankind that turns to such things.

Application: May I suggest we conclude this study praying something like, “Lord God, you are so great that you defy my imagination. I confess my mind cannot comprehend the greatness of One who is all-powerful, all knowing and all-wise, and yet you have given us your Word, almost as if to attract us and get our attention, to reveal something of yourself to us. Forgive us Lord that we treat it so casually and so often give so little thought to what we find in it. Lord I need your help to see these things in a fresh light that will break through the confusions of limited understanding. Please help me. Amen.”

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!

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.

13. Conflict within the Nation

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 13. Conflict within the Nation

1 Kings 14:14-16  “The Lord will raise up for himself a king over Israel who will cut off the family of Jeroboam. Even now this is beginning to happen. And the Lord will strike Israel, so that it will be like a reed swaying in the water. He will uproot Israel from this good land that he gave to their ancestors and scatter them beyond the Euphrates River, because they aroused the Lord’s anger by making Asherah poles. And he will give Israel up because of the sins Jeroboam has committed and has caused Israel to commit.”

Focus:  Because of Jeroboam’s folly, that we have already noted, a folly that was repeated by every following king of the northern kingdom, the message above turns out to be a prophecy that will be fulfilled in 208 years’ time when the northern kingdom is swept away.

We have seen the Lord speak against Jeroboam in our verses above and in the previous study. Something I will always maintain is that the Lord desires to bless us all the time, but receiving that blessing is reliant upon us playing our part, living as He has told us and being led as He leads us, rejecting the ploys of the enemy and the ways of the world. This, in the case of Israel, involved relying on the Lord and NOT turning to false idols that were the expression of superstitious worship by ungodly nations.

The ‘struggles of Israel’ at this point in their history, from Jeroboam in the north, and Rehoboam in the south, varies considerably between the two kingdoms and their success or failure is dependent entirely on their spiritual outlook and behaviour. The ‘struggles’ are not merely physical, they are first and foremost spiritual. Although the Lord is rarely mentioned – except when He sends a prophet with a message – we can assume that what goes on is either sent by the Lord or is simply a case of the Lord stepping back and allowing events to unfold as He sees they will.

Conflict between north and south: We have already seen Jeroboam rejecting the Lord’s counsel and instituting his own superstitious, counterfeit religion based on two golden calves. Now we should note the interaction between the two kingdoms. In the south Abijah succeeding his father Rehoboam:

“There was war between Abijah and Jeroboam throughout Abijah’s lifetime.” (1 Kings 15:6):

  • In the south, when Rehoboam died Abijah followed on. When Abijah died Asa became king.
  • In the north, Jeroboam was followed by Nadab but he was killed by Baasha who reigned and then followed by his son, Elah, who we will see, was killed by Zimri.

So, we find, “There was war between Asa and Baasha king of Israel throughout their reigns.” (1 Kings 15:16) The scribes see this as a fulfilment of what the Lord spoke to Jeroboam: Baasha killed Nadab in the third year of Asa king of Judah and succeeded him as king. As soon as he began to reign, he killed Jeroboam’s whole family. He did not leave Jeroboam anyone that breathed, but destroyed them all, according to the word of the Lord given through his servant Ahijah the Shilonite. This happened because of the sins Jeroboam had committed and had caused Israel to commit, and because he aroused the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel.” (1 Kings 15:28-30)

But then a remarkable word comes to Baasha from the Lord and a fulfilment: (a) The word: “Then the word of the Lord came to Jehu son of Hanani concerning Baasha: “I lifted you up from the dust and appointed you ruler over my people Israel, but you followed the ways of Jeroboam and caused my people Israel to sin and to arouse my anger by their sins. So I am about to wipe out Baasha and his house, and I will make your house like that of Jeroboam son of Nebat. Dogs will eat those belonging to Baasha who die in the city, and birds will feed on those who die in the country…..” (b) The fulfilment: Zimri destroyed the whole family of Baasha, in accordance with the word of the Lord spoken against Baasha through the prophet Jehu— because of all the sins Baasha and his son Elah had committed and had caused Israel to commit, so that they aroused the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, by their worthless idols.” (1 Kings 16:1-4,12,13) However the text suggests that Baasha simply died and that Zimri then destroyed his son Elah who had taken over.

We should note in passing that these things never occur because the Lord makes them happen, but simply because He steps back and allows the sinfulness of mankind to act as it does. When He speaks of what is coming, it is because He knows how the sinfulness of the various players will work out.

Perspective: To try to keep on top of the numbers of kings mentioned we note them again: Jeroboam (22yrs) – Nadab (2) – Baasha (24) – Elah (2) – Zimri  (1 week) – Omri (12). To try to keep perspective we should note that this covers a period of over 60 years. We should also note the descriptions in the Bible of each of them:

Jeroboam – set up idols and false religion.

NadabHe 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” (1 Kings 15:26)

Baasha He 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 15:34)

Elah – no description,  but a short two-year reign suggests not very good.

Zimri  – ditto. Killed off Baasha’s whole family, committed suicide.

Omridid evil in the eyes of the Lord and sinned more than all those before him” (1 Kings 16:25) had a son, Ahab, who becomes one of the two most notorious kings of the north and south (Manasseh being the other in the south) but we’ll consider him in a later study.

If we can take a step back and remind ourselves who we are talking about, we should be shocked at these people who constitute part of the chosen people of God of whom years before at Mount Sinai had said, “if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’” (Ex 19:5,6) Holy means distinct, utterly different, pure, true, righteous.  It is difficult to comprehend a situation more at odds with this description than we have seen in these sixty years or so of the reigns of these most ‘unholy’ kings, and this is all Solomon’s inheritance! The struggles we have been observing – for they were real struggles – were simply to exist, to remain in existence. The offer from the Lord had been to make the northern kingdom great, but collectively they had spurned that. What is the biggest wonder is that they still exist at all!

And Us? One of my favourite quotes is, “The one thing history teaches us is that history teaches us nothing.” There must come through here a stark lesson in these studies: will we learn from history, will we allow Scripture to teach us, challenge us and keep us on the right path? The testimonies are there, the teaching is there, will we learn from them? These people we have been observing would have all had the knowledge of what the Lord had been saying and yet they failed to learn, failed to seek Him in their dire times. May we not be like that.

12. Offers & Rebuke

PART TWO ‘A’ – The Northern Kingdom

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 12. Offers & Rebuke

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.

God’s Intent Declared: So, having sought to gain some historical and geographical perspective in the previous study, we now need to step back into the flow of history as it affected Israel. Following God’s word to Solomon about dividing the kingdom, we next need to see the word from God that should have established Jeroboam in creating the northern kingdom: “the God of Israel, says: ‘See, I am going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon’s hand and give you ten tribes. But for the sake of my servant David and the city of Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, he will have one tribe.” (1 Kings 11:31,32) As a declaration, for the moment all it tells us is that the kingdom of Israel is going to be split in two with ten tribes following Jeroboam, forming the northern kingdom, and just two tribes left with Rehoboam as the southern kingdom.

The Terrible Fall:  But then comes the explanation for this: “I will do this because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Molek the god of the Ammonites, and have not walked in obedience to me, nor done what is right in my eyes, nor kept my decrees and laws as David, Solomon’s father, did.” (1 Kings 11:33)

The “they” in that verse must refer to the nation with and after Solomon, now under Rehoboam. That is the state the land had fallen into after Solomon had turned from the Lord and followed the gods of his many foreign wives (see 1 Kings 11:1-6).  From being a great nation under David and an even greater one under Solomon in his early days – so great the Queen of Sheba had declared the greatness she found there (see 1 Kings 10:6-9) – the nation had followed Solomon’s example and followed all his false gods, instead of remaining the holy nation they were called to be. What an incredible and terrible fall!

Jeroboam’s folly: But this word that Jeroboam had received becomes more personal and goes on, “I will take you, and you will rule over all that your heart desires; you will be king over Israel. (The general offer – but see the condition)  If you do whatever I command you and walk in obedience to me and do what is right in my eyes by obeying my decrees and commands, as David my servant did, (the detailed offer) I will be with you. 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.’” (1 Kings 11:37-39) See the five times he refers to ‘you’.

So he knew why the Lord was acting against the nation as a whole and he knew how he should behave as the leader of the new northern kingdom – faithfully to God. So what does he do? Does he rejoice over this wonderful opportunity that is being handed to him, does he take careful note, not only of the offer being made but the conditions attached to it?  No, he doesn’t, he does none of these things! He sets up two idols, one on the boundary at the south and one on the boundary in the north – golden calves no less!!! (see 1 Kings 12:26-33) Moreover he instituted a priesthood of his own and established copy-cat festivals in order to stop the people drifting south to Jerusalem to follow the Lord there.

To see the terrible significance of this, if you read the history-of-Israel part of the Old Testament, watch out for a description that occurs again and again of subsequent kings of the north: He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit,” (for example see in respect of each of the final kings in 2 Kings 15:9,18,24,28). The idols he set up were never removed and their presence seemed to give legitimacy to everyone in the north in the years to come to have their own idols. Even when the king appeared to be on the right track, the people generally weren’t!

Watch what follows. THIS is at the heart, the cause if you like, of all the struggles and eventually destruction that the northern kingdom face. That’s why we are considering this.  “Even after this, Jeroboam did not change his evil ways, but once more appointed priests for the high places from all sorts of people. Anyone who wanted to become a priest he consecrated for the high places. This was the sin of the house of Jeroboam that led to its downfall and to its destruction from the face of the earth.” (1 Kings 12:33,34) If you want to see the awfulness of all this, do a study in Deuteronomy sometime and see the number of times Moses warned and exhorted Israel against idolatry that would separate them off from God (start with 4:15,16,23,25).

And So? What is surprising, and you see it more and more as you follow the history of Israel, the Lord allows these various sinful kings to continue. Why does He do that? Why does He not destroy this people who keep idols at the heart of their national and individual lives? I have pondered this in the past and the following are the reasons I conclude must be there:

  1. He allows us to do what we will, to reveal our sinful natures and reveal our need of His salvation.
  2. He allows sin to build up to show our potential for evil without His intervention.
  3. He allows us free rein because He wants to give us space to repent.
  4. He allows our sin to build up as nations to act as self-destructive discipline.

And Us? Now isn’t that just how it is for us? Some of us grew up with Christian parents and a strong moral and spiritual background, others came from non-Christian backgrounds but were called by the Lord out of that. But whatever our background we are still individually responsible before the Lord for how we live out our lives – today. From time to time (often or occasionally) we may fall short and (often or occasionally) we may experience the discipline of the Lord to bring us to repentance. What is tragic is that most of us do not realize what is going on in our lives in this respect.

What we should be quite clear about is that a) the Lord has blessed us greatly, b) He wants us to live lives that are characterized by thankfulness, goodness and love, c) we are always prone to failure and therefore need to be on our guard against this and be ready to repent quickly when we do fail, and d) the Lord is always therefore working for our good, working to redeem us, working to change us and working to bless us and take us on to maturity and to receive our inheritance in heaven. Part of His working, we should also realize, involves discipline and discipline is always designed to break us free from our reliance on the idols of modern life and get us back on track. Hold on to that in all these studies.