The person God chooses: I Chronicles 1-2

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Today’s reading: I Chronicles 1-2.

Sometimes two witnesses to the same event will give different descriptions of what happened. Both may be right; they just have different perspectives. That helps to explain some of the differences in the Gospel accounts of Jesus. It also applies to the books of First and Second Chronicles. They cover much of the same territory as  First/Second Samuel and Kings, but they tell the story from the point of view of the exiles returning to Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. Not much is said about the Northern Kingdom; the emphasis is on David and the Temple.

The writer takes us back to Adam and then carries us through all the geneology of Israel, showing how God continually narrows his focus first to one person, and then another. So Seth is chosen, rather than Cain. Among the sons of Noah, Shem is chosen. Among his sons, Arphaxad and so on down to Abraham. It’s Isaac, not Ishmael; Jacob, not Esau. Among the sons of Jacob, the writer focuses on the tribe of Judah, for David and all the kings of Judah (and Jesus) will come from that tribe.

The sons born to Hezron were: Jerahmeel, Ram and Caleb. Ram was the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, the leader of the people of Judah. Nahshon was the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, Boaz the father of Obed and Obed the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of Eliab his firstborn; the second son was Abinadab, the third Shimea, the fourth Nethanel, the fifth Raddai, the sixth Ozem and the seventh David. 1 Chronicles 2:9-15

These few verses cover the time from Israel’s journey to Egypt with Joseph (Hezron was Judah’s grandson) to the time of the exodus from Egypt (Nahshon led the tribe of Judah at that time) to the time of the Judges (when Boaz married Ruth) to the time of the united kingdom (David). The writer gives no commentary to explain why one man is chosen over another, but studying “the whole counsel of God” gives more information.

First and foremost, God determines by his sovereign will whom he chooses to use.But God is the Judge; He puts down one and exalts another.” Psalm 75:7

God often chooses the least likely person in order to magnify his own glory. “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong.” 1 Corinthians 1:27

God sees the inner value of a person rather than the physical appearance.  “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

It is by God’s grace that any person is used by him. “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” 1 Corinthians 15:10

We have already seen that the people God chooses and uses are not perfect people, but men and women “with a nature like ours” (James 5:17). Yet by God’s grace and God’s power such men and women are able, like David, to accomplish great things for God.

Image by Vic on Flickr, CC by 2.0

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After so many failings, the fall of Jerusalem: 2 Kings 23-25

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Today’s reading: 2 Kings 23-25.

Not even a great king, Josiah, could atone for all the failings of the Israelites. Eighteen years into his reign of thirty-one years, workers in the temple discovered the book of the Mosaic law. How many years had it been lost, unread, and unheeded? Josiah ordered the observance of the Passover, and the writer says no Passover celebration like it had been held since the time of the judges (six hundred years earlier). Josiah also removed all the idolatrous practices in the land of Judah. It’s a long list:

  • From the temple itself, he removed articles devoted to the worship of Baal, Asherah, and the starry hosts, including an Asherah pole.
  • He did away with the pagan priests who burned incense on the high places, and desecrated all the high places.
  • He threw the male shrine prostitutes out of the temple.
  • He destroyed the altar to Molech in the Hinnom Valley outside Jerusalem, where child sacrifices had been common.
  • He destroyed the pagan shrines at the city gates.
  • He destroyed pagan altars that Manasseh and other kings of Judah had set up in the temple. He destroyed the altar at Bethel that Jeroboam had established to worship the golden calf, and the pagan shrines that Solomon had built to the east of Jerusalem to honor Ashtoreth, Chemosh, and Molech.
  • He removed the statues of chariots and horses, dedicated to the sun, from the temple.

The reforms of Josiah failed to save Judah and Jerusalem from God’s coming wrath. It wasn’t so much a case of too little/too late as much as the legal failure of the people of Israel to abide by the terms of the covenant they established with God when first entering the Promised Land. The list of abuses noted above makes it clear how far the nation had transgressed. God also said repeatedly that the excesses of Manasseh were so great that he could not overlook them.

Some twelve years after Josiah’s death the Babylonians captured Jerusalem, plundered the city, carried off its king, and set up a puppet ruler on the throne. Eleven years later Jerusalem and the temple were completely destroyed after the puppet king revolted against Babylon. The year was 587/586 BC. It had been 800 years since Israel had entered the Promised Land.

Image by Michael Kotter on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0

The power of prayer … and a lost opportunity: 2 Kings 20

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Today’s reading: 2 Kings 20-22.

My head spins as I consider the implications of Hezekiah’s near-death experience. I’m convinced I don’t have the wisdom to sort out all the metaphysical possibilities. So instead of speculating about what might have been, I’ll stick to the things that are certain.

God had determined that Hezekiah was going to die from a severe boil. In the days before antibiotics and surgical skill in draining abscesses, this was the usual outcome. God told Hezekiah plainly that his death was near.

Hezekiah’s prayer changed God’s plan. We cannot know whether God was testing Hezekiah to see how he would respond. We can clearly see the power of prayer to change outcomes, even in matters of life and death. God hears our prayers and sees our tears (20:5). Before the prayer, Hezekiah was going to die; after the prayer God said he would heal him. I don’t mean that prayers routinely bring the dying back to life, only that prayers have the power to change what happens to us.

Hezekiah saw the purpose of God’s healing him. Isaiah 38 fills in the gaps in the events that took place after the king recovered. Hezekiah prayed in thanksgiving this time, acknowledging that God had brought him through his illness:

  • to humble him (38:15)
  • because his sins had been forgiven (38:17)
  • so that he could praise God before men (38:19)

God strengthens our weak faith. God could have insisted that Hezekiah accept his promise unconditionally, but with grace he rolled back the sun by ten degrees to further cement the certainty of Hezekiah’s salvation.

Hezekiah lost the opportunity to capitalize on God’s gift. Ephesians 5:16 says we should redeem the time, because the days are evil. In other words, we should use our time to make a difference in eternity. Hezekiah knew that he had been saved to praise God, and that he had suffered in order to learn humility, but the record of his final fifteen years is a sad one. When a delegation from Babylon came to congratulate him on his recovery, he showed off the wealth of his treasury (pride) instead of giving God the glory (failure to praise). Within the next 100 years the Babylonians would return to capture all the wealth of Judah.

And one more thing: Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh, began to rule Judah when he was twelve years old. He was born within Hezekiah’s last fifteen years. He ruled for fifty-five years. And he was probably the most vile king that ruled Judah.

Some people argue that Hezekiah should have accepted God’s initial plan and accepted his death. I say, instead, that we should praise God for the power of prayer, but humble ourselves and make the most of God’s grace when he does deliver us in the day of trouble.

Why, that man Hezekiah, God had prospered him, and God had blessed him, and God had enriched him, and God had saved him, and God had delivered him, and God had given him the whole world, apparently, in his arms. And Hezekiah’s heart was lifted up. And he walked through his grounds, and he walked through his palace, and he said, “Look. Look. I am the greatest man in the world. I thank God I am not like other men.” And his heart was lifted up [2 Chronicles 32:25], and his heart was proud [2 Kings 20:13; 2 Chronicles 32:27-31].
And when those ambassadors came from Babylon, Hezekiah gave them the impression that it was he, Hezekiah, who had done those marvelous things. For his benefit, the very stars in their courses were changed and the sun went back [2 Kings 20:8-11] – for his benefit. And look what his acumen and astuteness and wisdom had brought into the kingdom; riches beyond compare. And his genius and might had delivered the country and had annihilated the Assyrians [2 Kings 19:32-35]. His heart was lifted up [2 Chronicles 32:25].
And when those people, those ambassadors, came from Babylon to see him, he was complimented. “Look at those worldly people seeking my words of wisdom. And look at these high and affluent and famous people calling upon me. Look, look, look!”
And the Lord God said to Isaiah, “Go tell him. Go tell him. Go tell him. He is the last man in this earth that I ever thought would be lifted up and proud. But go tell him that the day is going to come when every treasure he has” – and wouldn’t that be normal? When the king of Babylon heard of the mighty store of riches that were in Jerusalem, first thing he did was to run it down and to make plans to destroy it, to carry it away, to take it.
“Go tell him,” said the Lord God to Isaiah, “go tell him that the day will come when all these treasures will be carried into Babylon, and when all these people will be carried into Babylon, and when thy very sons shall be eunuchs to the kings in the palaces of Babylon” [2 Kings 20:17-18]. – WA Criswell

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Even the good suffer: 2 Kings 19

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Today’s reading: 2 Kings 18-19

To begin with, Hezekiah was a good king. The writer of 2 Kings says there was no king like him in all the history of Judah.

  • He trusted fully in the LORD.
  • He removed all the pagan worship shrines in the high places.
  • He restored obedience to Jehovah according to the commands of the Mosaic Law.
  • He eliminated idolatry in Judah, including the worship of Moses’ bronze serpent.

As a result of his faithfulness, God blessed him and gave him success in whatever he did. And yet, in spite of his devotion, Hezekiah soon found himself and his nation in a life and death struggle with the Assyrians. Seven years after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel, the Assyrians captured all the strong cities of Judah and surrounded Jerusalem. Hezekiah and Jerusalem were an island in a sea of invaders.

Why did good King Hezekiah find himself in so much trouble? Why do any believers suffer? As the Book of Job says, “man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards.” We live in a fallen world full of sinful people, including ourselves. Such people do things that hurt themselves and others. Hezekiah lived next to an entire nation that had abandoned God. They should have been standing with him in strength against the enemy; instead God had to abandon Israel to the Assyrians because they rejected him. Also, God was using Hezekiah’s struggles to strengthen his faith. It’s one thing to say we trust God, but when trouble squeezes us the truth comes out. Finally, the Assyrians needed to learn the truth about the LORD.

The Assyrians stood outside the walls of Jerusalem and taunted Hezekiah’s officials. Their words were full of arrogance, but also ignorance. They had no understanding of the LORD they were berating.

  • They thought he was the same god worshipped at the pagan shrines that Hezekiah tore down.
  • They thought he was no better than the gods of the many nations they had already defeated.
  • They claimed he was the god telling them to attack Jerusalem.
  • They swore he had no power to deliver Jerusalem.

Hezekiah prayed in faith that God would defend himself against the ridicule of his name and rebuke the Assyrians. Isaiah, the prophet, confirmed that God would judge the invaders for their insults. He called God “the Holy One of Israel,” and declared that the prideful Assyrians would learn that he is the one who determines their victory or defeat. The next day 185,000 attackers lay dead on the fields outside Jerusalem.

The Destruction of Sennacharib

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!

And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.

And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord.

                                                         – Lord Byron

Image by Eddy Van 3000 on Flickr, CC by-sa 2.0

The end of Israel: 2 Kings 17

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Today’s reading 2 Kings 15-17.

The northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians two hundred years after they separated from the united kingdom at the time of Solomon’s death. Twenty years before that the tribes to the east of the Jordan River had been captured and deported. The Israelites who did not flee were deported throughout the Assyrian empire (modern-day Syria and Iraq). From the first days of Jeroboam to the last days of Hoshea no godly king led Israel.

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. He settled them in Halah, in Gozan on the Habor River and in the towns of the Medes. All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They worshiped other gods and followed the practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before them, as well as the practices that the kings of Israel had introduced. 2 Kings 17:5-8

The Assyrians brought foreign people from throughout their empire into the area around Samaria in the northern kingdom to settle there. They even brought in an Israelite priest to help them know how to live in the land.

So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria came to live in Bethel and taught them how to worship the LORD. Nevertheless, each national group made its own gods in the several towns where they settled, and set them up in the shrines the people of Samaria had made at the high places … They worshiped the LORD, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought. 2 Kings 17:28-29, 33

The situation at this time around 700 BC was exactly what we read about the region of Samaria in the time of Jesus. The people were ethnically different from the Hebrews who had lived there before, and their religion was a strange combination of pagan religions and Jehovah worship.

The fall of Israel, like all events in the Bible, tells us much about the character of men and God.

Leadership matters. The sin of Jeroboam is mentioned repeatedly throughout the account of Israel. Jeroboam, their first king, started the worship of golden calves that he set up in Bethel and Dan so that the people would not travel to Jerusalem to worship. The people of Israel never abandoned this idolatry.

God warns us and gives us opportunities to repent. Prophets such as Elijah and Elisha were prominent throughout the life of Israel, but the people rarely listened to them, and then only for brief periods of time without fully returning to the LORD.

God keeps his word. God promised the people that he would curse them if they did not keep his commands and worship only him. He was patient with them, but in the end their rebellion and idolatry forced him to remove them from the land. They had become no different from the people he had sent them to expel from Canaan.

The worship of God alongside other gods is no worship at all. The practice of worshipping a multitude of gods is common in some religions, such as Hinduism. You could even say that modern America tries to worship God while serving false gods of materialism, pleasure, work, etc. God rejects this as false worship.

Around one hundred years remain for the southern kingdom of Judah before the Babylonians destroy their nation. Still, there are godly kings who will rule during that time, and some of the greatest writings of the Old Testament are yet to come.

Though the destruction of the kingdom of the ten tribes was but briefly related, it is in these verses largely commented upon, and the reasons of it given. It was destruction from the Almighty: the Assyrian was but the rod of his anger, Isaiah 10:5. Those that bring sin into a country or family, bring a plague into it, and will have to answer for all the mischief that follows. And vast as the outward wickedness of the world is, the secret sins, evil thoughts, desires, and purposes of mankind are much greater. There are outward sins which are marked by infamy; but ingratitude, neglect, and enmity to God, and the idolatry and impiety which proceed therefrom, are far more malignant. Without turning from every evil way, and keeping God’s statutes, there can be no true godliness; but this must spring from belief of his testimony, as to wrath against all ungodliness and unrighteousness, and his mercy in Christ Jesus. – Matthew Henry

 

                   

Pride before the fall: 2 Kings 14

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Today’s reading: 2 Kings 12-14.

When King David lived, he would seek to know God’s will before undertaking a risky endeavor such as war. Now, two hundred years later, his descendant, Amaziah, makes his own judgments rather than seeking counsel or God’s will. Convinced that he is stronger than King Jehoash in Israel, he challenges him in battle.

He was the one who defeated ten thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt and captured Sela in battle, calling it Joktheel, the name it has to this day. Then Amaziah sent messengers to Jehoash son of Jehoahaz, the son of Jehu, king of Israel, with the challenge: “Come, meet me face to face.” But Jehoash king of Israel replied to Amaziah king of Judah: “A thistle in Lebanon sent a message to a cedar in Lebanon, ‘Give your daughter to my son in marriage.’ Then a wild beast in Lebanon came along and trampled the thistle underfoot. You have indeed defeated Edom and now you are arrogant. Glory in your victory, but stay at home! Why ask for trouble and cause your own downfall and that of Judah also?” 2 Kings 14:7-10

Pride seems to have motivated Amaziah. The success of his early campaigns caused him to overreach. He greatly miscalculated, and Israel marched down to Judah, breached the walls of Jerusalem, and took many captives including Amaziah. In the end, his own people rose up against him and assassinated him.

God lists pride among the most despicable sins:

There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood; a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers. Proverbs 6:16-19

Pride caused Satan’s fall from grace, and many a man and woman has fallen in the same trap. Proverbs is full of warnings against pride.

  • God considers arrogance an abomination (because we put ourselves above his will)
  • Pride leads to disgrace, because it demonstrates a lack of wisdom
  • There is more hope for a fool than a proud man
  • It is not glorious to seek your own glory
  • The proud man fails to seek wise counsel
  • A proud man does not like to hear when he is wrong

In the end, pride is sin. It’s listed among the three root causes of sin: the lust of the flesh (seeking wrong pleasures), the lust of the eyes (seeking wrong possessions), and the pride of life (seeking wrong power) (1 John 2:16). Jesus, on the other hand, gave us the supreme example of humility as opposed to pride. In his own words, he said he only did what he saw his father doing. His will was to do his father’s will. Paul said (Phillipians 2) that though equal with God, he took the form of a servant, humbled himself, and was obedient unto death.

Humility leads to all the benefits that pride prevents. It gives wisdom, salvation, and honor. The proud man is sure to fall, but God will exalt the humble.

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Unfinished business: 2 Kings 9-11

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Today’s reading: 2 Kings 9-11.

If you have children, you know what matters most is what they do – not what they say they are going to do. Jesus made that point clear in one of his parables. For us, God’s children, it also matters a lot that our heavenly Father does what he says he is going to do. Fortunately for us, he is always true to his word.

Sometimes the fulfillment of God’s promises take time, but they are always completed at the right time. Elijah didn’t live to see God’s promised judgment on Ahab’s family, but his servant Elisha saw it. In fact, Elisha started the whole process by sending one of his assistants to anoint a new king in Israel.

 Then the prophet poured the oil on Jehu’s head and declared, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anoint you king over the LORD’s people Israel. You are to destroy the house of Ahab your master, and I will avenge the blood of my servants the prophets and the blood of all the LORD’s servants shed by Jezebel. The whole house of Ahab will perish. 2 Kings 9:6-8

Like Clint Eastwood tracking down every last bad guy, Jehu doesn’t stop until he completes God’s promised destruction of the entire house of Ahab.

  • Ahab’s son Joram, the current king of Israel, is slain by Jehu on the very land of Naboth confiscated illegally by Joram’s father and mother.
  • Joram’s mother, wicked Jezebel who brought Baal worship to Israel, is also murdered at Jehu’s order. As God had promised through Elijah, the dogs carry away her remains.
  • Jehu murders Ahab’s seventy other sons.
  •  He tricks all of the priests of Baal in Israel into assembling together, then executes them.
  • Judah’s idolatrous king, Ahaziah, the grandson of Ahab by his daughter, Athaliah, is murdered by Jehu.

All of which leaves Athaliah, Ahab’s evil daughter, in control in Judah. She tries to eradicate all remaining traces of David’s royal family, but her daughter hides young Joash, Athaliah’s grandson. Six to seven years later the priest, Jehoida, and the royal guards overthrow Athaliah and make Joash, now seven years old, the new king.

God kept his word and at the proper time brought justice upon the remnant of Ahab and Jezebel. However, it is interesting to note that Ahab’s blood flows in the veins of his great-grandson, Joash. If Joash had not lived to sit on Judah’s throne, God’s promise to David that his descendants would remain on the throne would have ended at that time. It seems sometimes one of God’s promises may trump another. I’m satisfied to know that Joash turned out to be one of Judah’s godly kings, and the descendants of Ahab who fell under God’s judgment were wicked and idolatrous persons who did not repent despite the delay of their execution.

The greatest delinquent in the house of Ahab was Jezebel: it was she that introduced Baal, slew the Lord’s prophets, contrived the murder of Naboth, stirred up her husband first, and then her sons, to do wickedly; a cursed woman she is here called, a curse to the country, and whom all that wished well to their country had a curse for. Three reigns her reign had lasted, but now, at length, her day had come to fall. We read of a false prophetess in the church of Thyatira that is compared to Jezebel, and called by her name (Rev. 2:20), her wickedness the same, seducing God’s servants to idolatry, a long space given her to repent as to Jezebel, and a fearful ruin brought upon her at last, as here upon Jezebel. So that Jezebel’s destruction may be looked upon as typical of the destruction of idolaters and persecutors, especially that great whore, that mother of harlots, that hath made herself drunk with the blood of saints and the nations drunk with the wine of her fornications, when God shall put it into the heart of the kings of the earth to hate her, Rev. 17:5, 6. 16. – Matthew Henry

Image by Courtney Dirks on Flickr, CC by 2.0