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.

20. Redeeming Israel – Jesus

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 20. Redeeming Israel – Jesus

Gal 4:4,5 when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.

Mt 1:21 you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

 A Waiting People: We move on a little over four hundred years in the life of Israel and, as I have pondered many times before, it is quite possible that many in Israel had given up any expectation that God would come and speak as in the centuries before through prophets. One Christian scholar has suggested that there were then, at least six characteristics of the world that had come about, in what we tend to call the Middle East, that made that time one of the best times, if not the best time, to enable the Gospel to be carried around the world. Was this what was behind Paul’s “when the set time had fully come”?

Voices to the Nation: And then came John the Baptist and crowds flocked to him to hear an ‘in your face’ message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  (Mt 3:2) Then, a little while later, Jesus came with the same message but accompanied it with amazing healings and miracles. It was indeed a new day. Some, when they saw his miracles, aware that their prophetic history spoke of a coming Messiah, a deliverer, wanted to make him their king (see Jn 6:15), and when he entered Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday, that must have surely been in the minds of many. Of course as our Matthew verse above shows, Joseph had been told that Jesus would “save his people from their sins” but perhaps only the “save his people” bit stayed in people’s memories. And yet it had been a word from God.

Redeeming Israel? How would Jesus save his people from their sins? By dying on the Cross for them. No more and no less. The same way as any other people. The Cross is there for every sinner, whatever background, whatever nationality, whatever colour. Because there is often so much romanticism attached to Israel today, we need to emphasize this. Don’t confuse individual salvation with the fact of God using Israel, as a people, as a light to the nations – and we’ll see more of this later. If there is one thing these latter studies have shown is that Israel were not and are not a demonstration of a wonderful, righteous and holy people; in fact, exactly the opposite. But this is not meant to be character assassination of Israel for I have said more than once, that they simply demonstrate what the whole world is like – sinners in need of a redeemer.

People or a Nation? This distinction between individuals and a people becomes even more clear in their response to Jesus and, subsequently, to the Christian faith. All Jesus’ initial followers were Jews. The vast majority of the early church were Jews, and yet when you observe Paul’s travels, it was the Jews who persecuted him, and it was only in AD70 when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, that the church fully relocated, and Israel ceased to be the central hub for the new faith and the Gentile emphasis came to the fore. History tells the story: individuals, Jews and Gentiles around the world, accepted the new faith but ‘as a people’ there was still what the apostle Paul called a blindness over his people, ‘as a people’ (Rom 11:25)

But yet more: Judaism failed to accept their Messiah and the consequence is graphically told in John’s prophetic picture in Revelation 12:5,6 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.” The woman can be none other than the nation of Israel and the child is obviously Jesus. Note what happens to the nation – it flees into the wilderness, into the world, to a role or place designed for them by God. But note how long – 1260 days or three and a half years. Seven is the number of perfection, a perfect length of time in God’s economy, and so half of that says, a period of time set by God, but which is only PART of His time for this part of His economy, i.e. there is more to come!  And thus for nearly two thousand years, ‘Israel’ were ‘hidden’ by God in the world. Near the end of that time designed by God, the enemy sought to thwart the purposes of God through what we now call the Holocaust and millions of Jews died, but that very action provoked a rising up to give Israel their land again, and in the middle of the twentieth century ‘Israel’ became visible again.

Observe the elect: And here we move into prophetic mystery again. Let’s recap some of the things the apostle Paul taught in Romans. Are they rejected by God because of failing to receive their Messiah? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”  So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.” (Rom 11:1-5) i.e. the nation may have rejected Jesus but there are many individual believers, part of ‘the elect’.

Observe the Hardening: “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” (Rom 11:25-27) i.e. although they hardened themselves against Jesus and his ministry, nevertheless it was through them that he came, and he came to save them from their sins, as we saw above, as individually, one by one, they believe. Many have not of course, but is that the end of Israel? Clearly not.

All Saved? In the verses above we have this phrase: “in this way all Israel will be saved” and many who I have referred to as having romanticized views of all this, see this as meaning that every single Jew in existence will be saved. Now think about this rationally and you see that this cannot possibly be, unless God moves in sovereign reviving power and makes every Jews believe by the power of His incredible presence being made manifest in their midst at some time – which could be. There IS a special place for them on God’s heart as Paul said: they are loved on account of the patriarchs,” i.e. Abram etc. were chosen by God to reveal Him to the world. Nothing has changed in that respect. In their struggles with their embryonic faith, learning to believe, they earned the Lord’s special love. It is that love that allows them to continue as a visible people, but unless God does move in that sovereign revival power (and past ‘revivals’ where that has been seen, never meant that every single person in an area became a believer) then there will always be (as revelation shows later in the book) some who will reject Jesus, and thus to talk about them receiving salvation would be a mockery.

How can we resolve this conundrum? May I suggest the following: the Lord’s redeeming work that we have been observing through all these studies, never forces people to believe but it does mean that He is working there all the time to encourage good response, even sometimes using disciplinary judgments. Allowing – and indeed enabling – Israel to continue to exist as a nation, simply means that in His love, grace and mercy, the Lord allows this ‘God-society’ to exist so that His name at least is constantly there in the background, acting as a catalyst-reminder to all people in that community that they are potentially at least, the genuine ‘people of God’.

The value of the ‘God-Society’: This brings us back to why Israel were preserved after the Exile. As we considered briefly above, it was into this society that John the Baptist came and then Jesus came and ministered. I have called it a ‘God-society’ because everything about their history and then present culture had a God element about it. They were what they were because they had history with God. They were a people in the midst of which existed a Temple where God was supposed to reside. They still had the Law of Moses which showed them what they were to do with that Temple, and that also involved a number of special periods of celebrating and it was all God-directional, i.e. pointing towards Him. Now we have seen how that became institutional or unreal, a mere formality without reality so much of the time, yet there were times and there were individuals where the light did shine out to the rest of the world. The existence of this ‘God-society’ then and today, keeps the thought of God in the forefront and by that means, the Lord can draw people to Himself. Paul seems to suggest that there will yet come a time where the reality that we have been talking about will grow in many, by a combination of world events and the working of the Holy Spirit, and salvation will come to many more Jews than ever seen before. God’s plan of redemption for Israel has not finished.

23. A Chosen People

Meditations in 1 Peter : 23:  A Chosen People

1 Pet 2:9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Families have a lot to answer for. We very often are what our families have made us.  Here are some parents who are negative about education and so they convey it to their child who happens to be very bright but now with a very low motivation to learn. We could multiply illustrations of how families constrain the individual. But we might say the same things about a nation. National characteristics are a strange thing. When we British think about ourselves we think about the ‘stiff upper lip’, meaning we are known to be unemotional. We tend to be down on ourselves and we go on about the weather. All nations have national characteristics. Being a member of a club or group or gang imposes certain characteristics and expectations.

Peter has just been speaking about those who stumble at Christ, people who are destined for destruction, but now he turns away from them and turns to who we are, we the church, we the Christians as he starts out, “But you…” Then he goes on to give a list of corporate descriptions of who we are. Yes, note that these are all group descriptions. We are what we are because we belong to a group, a special group.

First of all he notes that we are “a chosen people” and we have been chosen, the Bible tells us, by God. The Greek word for ‘church’ is ekklesia which means “called out ones”. God has called us out and chosen us, the ones who would respond well to His Son, Jesus.

But then Peter calls us “a royal priesthood”. Do you remember, he’s already called us that in verse 5: built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”? And we said when we considered that that the role of priest was to bring the people to God in the acceptable manner. But note that we aren’t just a priesthood; we are a royal priesthood because we are sons and daughters of the King who is God. We are those who have been born of God to reveal the Lord to the rest of the world, to seek to bring them to Him in the same way we came – on bended knee.

But we are also “a holy nation.” Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God and Paul wrote, “he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son. (Col 1:13). Speaking of a nation speaks of a corporate people living together under a ruler and as our ruler is holy, so we too are holy. We are distinct, pure, good; those are dimensions of holiness.

Furthermore we are “a people belonging to God.” We belong to God because He has purchased us with the blood of His Son, purchased out of the bondage of sin, purchased from being under the sway of Satan and purchased from a destiny of destruction. He has the rights to us today, not sin or Satan or the world. They no longer have any claim on us, only God does.

But then he clarifies our calling, the purpose of our calling, the outcome of our calling, if you like:that you may declare the praises of him who called you.” We are to be a people who praise God. You praise someone when they have done something well, and God has certainly done very well in the way He has redeemed us. We declare His praises by the words we use but also by the lives we live.

Part of that is the corporate dimension, the way we live together. Jesus prayed, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (Jn 17:23). Throughout the Old Testament there were clear signs that Israel were to be a light to the rest of the world to reveal God to the world. Now we, the Church, are to do the same. God has called us out of darkness into the glorious light of the kingdom of His Son, and this is indeed something that we should be shouting about. Tragically so often we let the enemy subdue us and we forget how wonderful all that He has done for us is. We need to take hold of these things afresh.

He, we have already noted, has called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. This is a cause for great rejoicing. Look and listen carefully to the lives of the people who live around us who do not know Jesus, and recognise the darkness in which they struggle. Life is hard and life is difficult and they anguish and suffer and struggle – and we take it all for granted!  We must not! We must see the awfulness of their darkness and realise afresh the wonder of living in the light. Then perhaps we may become again a praising people and as we do so we will reveal the Lord to the world and many will be drawn to Him. May it be so!