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.

Snapshots: Day 131

Snapshots: Day 131

The Snapshot: “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge.” (Josh 20:2) This is civilization in the making, the people of God in the making. This is the recognition of the Lord God of Israel that mankind struggles with sin in its various forms. The ‘cities of refuge’ were first a recognition that upsets happen and in the midst of upset things get said and then done that shouldn’t, even death, then regret. But that is only one side of the story. The other side is the onlookers, the family whose loved one has been killed. An eye of an eye, a life for a life!!!! Not when it was an accident. Killer, flee to a safe place to give them time to cool down! This is the God who seeks to cool tempers, bring peace, prevent further conflict, then and now.

Further Consideration: I am always amazed that the Law of God is not only full of practical care but also the grace and mercy of the Lord. It reveals to us a God who not only understands us but recognizes and provides for our failures. On Day 110 we considered Deut 21:1 “If someone is found slain…. and it is not known who the killer was…” which again was a recognition of sin in the people and yet which also provided a way for that to be recognised, acknowledged and dealt with appropriately.

The cities of refuge were a similar provision recognizing that in this fallen world, men act badly towards each other and if that wasn’t bad enough they might accidentally end up killing each other – but it was an accident, it was not intentional. But this provision cares for those on both sides of this. On the one side the family of the dead person are likely to be very upset, so much so that they seek revenge, they seek to take the law into their own hands, i.e. they seek the kill the other antagonist. But it was an accident and the Lord wants to both protect him and keep the other side from doing something that drags them down and become guilty of what would then be murder. Thus there were these cities of refuge.

When the fleeing man reached the city, he was to explain to the city elders what had happened and if they accept his story they are to give him protection (20:4) but then there is to be a trial in the city where the case is properly examined (20:6) and if found innocent he can stay on there. Thus both sides are saved from worse ongoing conflict and feud.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” (Mt 5:9) and that simple beatitude undergirds so much of the intent of God for His people. How many times in the epistles do we find in the opening, “Grace and peace to you”? Peace and harmony are to be foundation stones for our lives that flow from the grace and truth that Jesus brought (Jn 1:14) and which also go to make up that foundation. When we blow it and disharmony occurs, how can we heal the breach?

43. Unique to God’s People

Meditations in Exodus: 43. Unique to God’s People

Ex 12:43   The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “These are the regulations for the Passover: “No foreigner is to eat of it.

In the verses we now come to there is an important if not vital principle to be noted: the things of the Passover apply ONLY to God’s people. This may not appear important in respect of the instructions as to the feast, but when we see the wider implication and application through the New Testament, it becomes crucial.

Let’s simply note first of all, the Lord’s instruction to Moses and note its exclusivity: “The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “These are the regulations for the Passover: “No foreigner is to eat of it. Any slave you have bought may eat of it after you have circumcised him, but a temporary resident and a hired worker may not eat of it.” (v.43-45) In respect of the Passover no foreigner can partake of it, i.e. it is only for Israel, God’s people. If a slave has truly been brought into the covenant community (as seen by him being circumcised) then he may eat of it but not anyone who is temporarily with them or who is hired by them. No, this is for the covenant community only. That is important!

Then comes the way it is eaten, individually: “It must be eaten inside one house; take none of the meat outside the house. Do not break any of the bones.“ (v.46) Note, one house per animal, i.e. each home must have their own sacrificial lamb and not rely upon anyone else. Each individual family must be obedient to God and show it by having their own lamb. They are to eat it within their home and not take any of it outside the home and have a picnic outside. No, in Egypt they were huddled in their own home and there they fearfully took their own lamb which was to be roasted whole, without breaking it up; this will have significance in the later application.

Then, we might say, come a reiteration of who may eat it and take part in it, how it is taken corporately: “The whole community of Israel must celebrate it.” (v.47) It is to be taken by ALL of Israel, men, women and children, all who are part of the covenant community. We can’t help repeating this because the Lord does, that is only for those who have entered into covenant with God and so any aliens or foreigners who have joined themselves to Israel must show their commitment to Israel but doing the same things as Israel: “An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the LORD’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat of it. The same law applies to the native-born and to the alien living among you.” (v.48,49) If you wanted to be an Israelite and you were male you would have to be circumcised. No circumcision, no Israelite, no Passover.

And so it is summarized: “All the Israelites did just what the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron. And on that very day the LORD brought the Israelites out of Egypt by their divisions.” (v.50,51) Note the two halves to this: Israel’s obedience and the Lord’s deliverance; one opened the way for the other.

Now to the wider application today, and of course it focuses on Jesus. When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming he heralded him by declaring, Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29) and then later, “When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” (Jn 1:36). It could not be any clearer. This prophet-herald whose job was to prepare the people to meet their Messiah portrayed him as God’s lamb. Isaiah had prophesied, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth,” (Isa 53:7) indicating the meek and humble way the Messiah would come, but John’s emphasis on taking away the sin of the world takes us back to the picture of the Passover lamb. In his Revelation John recorded, “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne,” (Rev 5:6) and the onlooking assembly sing, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,” (Rev 5:9) and in that they encapsulate the work of Christ on the Cross for it is clear this is who it is.

The lamb was slain so that the destroying angel would Pass-over the offeror and his family and they would be saved. For the Israelite their lamb was literal. Each individual family had to do it and it would only be applicable for anyone in the covenant community. In the bigger, world-encompassing picture, the Lamb is Jesus who was crucified for us, but his death acts only as a means of staying the destroying angel if we take his death for us; we believe he came and died for us, we claim his death for our own lives and we rely entirely upon his death to save us. We become the covenant community of God by our surrender to God and acceptance of His way of salvation, the death of His Lamb, Jesus Christ on the Cross, and in so doing we are saved. Saved from destruction and saved for a life in God’s presence in eternity. Hallelujah!

Picking up a point from earlier on, the lamb’s bones were not to be broken. When it came to Jesus being crucified, to make it even more obvious for those with eyes to see, his bones were not broken contrary to the usual custom (so the body could not support itself and in hanging in tension would suffocate and finish off the crucified person). See Jn 19:36.

If you have never realised that this is what it is all about when we talk of Jesus, then surrender your life to God right now and accept His Passover Lamb as the means of your life being saved from judgment and for a life with God that goes on into eternity.  Declare your belief in Jesus and his work on the Cross on your behalf and let him lead and guide your life from now on in this new covenant relationship.  My it be so.

19. Holding to the Plan (2)

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 19.  Faith and holding to the Plan (2)

Heb 11:24,25   By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.

A couple of studies back we noted Joseph holding to ‘The Plan’,  the plan spoken out by God to Abram, Isaac and Jacob – this is my land and now it will be your land, for ever, and you will multiply and become a great people. Over four hundred years have passed – four  hundred years, how long that sounds! That was the same length of time that passed between the end of prophetic revelation in the Old Testament period to the start of the events recorded in the Gospels in the New Testament! It’s like us thinking about things happening in the early 1700’s, but with God time is not an issue, His plans and purposes remain regardless of how many years pass.

So Moses is living some 400 years on from the Patriarchs but he knows his history, he knows that he is a Hebrew, an Israelite as they will become. Somehow he’s done his history and presumably kept contact with his natural mother even though he was being brought up for the first forty years of his life as a Prince of Egypt.

Stephen in Acts 7 tells the story: At that time Moses was born, and he was no ordinary child. For three months he was cared for in his father’s house. When he was placed outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and brought him up as her own son. Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action. “When Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his fellow Israelites. He saw one of them being mistreated by an Egyptian, so he went to his defense and avenged him by killing the Egyptian. Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not.” (Acts 7:20-25)

Now of course we know that it all went wrong and the next day one of his own turned on him and it became public knowledge so that he had to flee from Egypt and spent the next forty years looking after sheep in the desert, until God called him to look after over a million human sheep in the desert. But it really all happened on that first day when, as Stephen put it, “he decided to visit his fellow Israelites”. Up until then he had been living a life of privilege behind palace walls, with everything laid on for him. Perhaps it wasn’t that he had kept touch with his family but had just learned about them in his private tuition in the palace and, knowing his own history, how his own palace mother had taken him out of the Nile, he decided to go an look for himself and visit the people from whom he originally came. When he arrived at where they were he saw they were slaves and he saw one of them being mistreated by a slave driver and at that point he stepped over the line and stood for being a Hebrew. All of his history, the history of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob came rushing back from the lessons he had received and he knows these are his people, a people with a special relationship with God, Yahweh.

Yes, at that moment he ceased to be the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and was a Hebrew with a history that could not be ignored. At that moment he decided to stand for them and went too far and killed the slave driver. As the Hebrews writer puts it, “By faith Moses, …. chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.”  The ‘pleasures of sin’ were simply the life of luxury and leisure in the royal palace, self-concerned and godless.

Now there is a possible course of action that we don’t usually think about. He was a Prince of Egypt, no doubt a powerful man. The slave driver is likely to be just another slave as far as Pharaoh would be concerned, two a penny. So he died, so what? These things happen. He could have faced it out, but he didn’t. These were his people and he found himself going back to them the next day, at which point he has to remonstrate with two Hebrews who are quarreling and who turn on him. This is the point of decision. He could have brazened it out – “Who do you stupid slaves think you are? Don’t you realise I am a prince of Egypt, get back to you work or I’ll have you killed.” In his role that was a very real possible way through this – but he’s a Hebrew himself, and it’s got to him, and so “He regarded disgrace ….of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” (v.26) His reward? To be counted as one of the people of God. At that moment he made the decision to leave; he could no longer handle this, being a prince in Egypt while his own people were slaves. He ran, and it was an act of faith. Whatever the future held it must be better than the reality I now know exists here in this land.

But there is an aspect of the record we have missed: “When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian.” (Ex 2:15) We have just examined what could have happened but for that to happen Moses would have to deny his people, deny his own birth and stand up in this situation as an Egyptian who cared nothing about the Israelites – but he couldn’t!

There is an unusual phrase I have taken out from the middle of that verse 26: “for the sake of Christ.” Now of course he would not have known about Christ, not known about the coming Messiah because that was something to only be revealed through the prophets in the centuries ahead – but we are told elsewhere in scripture that Moses was a prophet, a great prophet and so even here at this early part of his life, he senses there is something more to life, something more of God’s plans. He’s learnt about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and he’s no doubt seen the God factor in their histories and as he catches that in his spirit, something says, “There is something more” and even that is just a glimmer of the revelation that is to come. We’ve seen it in Abraham who looked for a city with God, a dissatisfaction with the present and a yearning for what God has on his heart, and Moses has it as well.

So this forty year old embryo prophet, who doesn’t realise it yet, senses something at this turning point in his life, something of the eternal will of God and in a moment of desperation, he goes for it, he rejects his life in Egypt and has to flee.  He’s caught something from God and he goes for it. That is faith.

Because of the presence of the Holy Spirit indwelling us and making us Christians, we too catch this sense, the will of God. The enemy will challenge it and maybe we will be confronted by difficult circumstances where we have to either own up or shut up, we either stand for the truth or we join the rest who deny truth. We ARE the people of God. Pharaoh doesn’t like it and will threaten us. ‘Pharaoh’ is the world attitude today that denies God, challenges Him and His people and we resist him in the same way Moses eventually came to resist the next Pharaoh, with the will of God, the word of God and the power of God, but we’ll only do that when we’ve made the same decision by faith that Moses made – I am one of God’s people. I am not a prince of this world. I will do His bidding and leave the rest up to him. Amen!

4. God of Partnership

Lessons from Israel: No.4 : God of Partnership
Ex 3:9,10 9And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.    11But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12And God said, “I will be with you.

We are in this series, we said, looking at the lessons to be learnt from God’s dealings with Israel, going right back to Moses, and we have been seeing the initiating of contact by God, the Lord revealing Himself as the God of history who had had dealings with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob previously, and who was here now for Israel who were suffering in captivity in Egypt.

Now the previous meditation and this one are very closely linked. We saw in the previous one that the Lord sees all that happens on the earth and is moved to come to bring deliverance. Now we see HOW he will bring that deliverance. I think so far, Moses would be feeling first amazed at this experience, then in awe at the recognition of who it is who is speaking to him and then possibly very glad that God intended to come and deliver his people, the people he left forty years ago, out of the slavery in Egypt.  So far, so good! Indeed when the Lord reiterates what has happened, it’s still all right: “And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.” (v.9). Yes, the Lord sees and knows, so it’s going to be all right now!

But then the bomb falls: “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (v.10) What? Hold on! Hang about! I didn’t see that coming! Where did that come from?  Those are the various responses we might give today. Moses is not excited by this thought; in fact he thinks it’s definitely not a good idea: “But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (v.11) Moses is a smart guy. He’s been doing the maths on this in his head. Pharaoh, big powerful world leader, me, small insignificant shepherd. Power plus insignificance doesn’t work.  Well no, it doesn’t, but God’s going to balance up the equation: “And God said, “I will be with you.” (v.12). Pharaoh versus an insignificant shepherd = disaster (for Moses!). Pharaoh versus the insignificant shepherd + God = disaster (for Pharaoh!).

Now that is a completely different ball game – except Moses isn’t convinced yet, as we’ll see in the next mediation, because he really doesn’t yet know this One who is speaking to him out of a burning bush. He really doesn’t know if he can trust this voice and it’s all very well for that power to have been there centuries before to enable old Abraham to have a baby, but is that power big enough to deal with a seriously nasty ruler? It’s probable that those were the sort of things going round in Moses’ mind, because they are the sort of things that go round in ours, and Moses was no different from us.

So now we come to the crucial question that must be lurking in the back of any thinking mind: why does God want to bother to involve Moses? Why doesn’t God just get on and judge Pharaoh and just take Israel without asking? He’s got the power, so why not do it the easy way? Why involve an insignificant shepherd?

I suspect the answer is to do with communication and visibility. Communication is the fuel for relationships and the Lord is always looking to build relationships with the human beings that He has created. Love always wants to express itself and God wants to express Himself to whoever will listen, come near and get involved. He’s got Moses’ ear but perhaps Pharaoh would not be able to hear God, because he was so self-centred. By visibility, I mean God making Himself known. By the end of this whole episode in history we are going to have learnt a lot about God. The Bible is all about God communicating with people and revealing Himself to people by the way He acts. By the end of all this there is going to be a story to be told – a long story and a story that will get passed on and on, and every time it does, someone else is going to learn some significant stuff about God. So God is going to use an insignificant shepherd to bring the most powerful ruler around to his knees. oh yes, this is going to be a story worth telling – apart from what it is going it achieve, this is going to be important. Do you remember what Paul said? “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” (1 Cor 1:27)

In the New Testament, Paul refers to us as “God’s fellow workers.” (2 Cor 6:1) Today God continues to work alongside us, using US to bring about His purposes on the earth. Yes, He could do it all on His own but He chooses to reveal Himself through His people. Remember though, whenever He calls you to do anything, He doesn’t ask you to do it alone. The message is still the same: “I will be with you.” His power and presence is always with us. Indeed He’s said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Heb 13:5) which evokes the response, “So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.” (Heb 13:6) Let’s remember that.