Month: May 2018

Promise Maker, Promise Keeper (2 Kings 25:27-30)

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God promised king David (2 Samuel 7:11-16) that God would establish for David a ‘house’ (a lineage, a family, a clan or tribe) that would endure forever! In the context of the books of the Kings where king after king was overthrown some within days of their appointment as king, with whole lines of families being wiped out by successive kings more than once in Israel with the constant threat of invasion and capture from powerful nations all around – in that context these are massive promises to David.

And God kept His promise! As one reads through 1 & 2 Kings phrases like this are embedded in the storyline a total of eight times;

Yet the Lord was not willing to destroy Judah, for the sake of David his servant, since he promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever. (2 Kings 8:19)

God was faithful to His promise to David, because God is faithful, He cannot be unfaithful even though we are unfaithful to Him as Scripture declares;

“If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is.” (2 Timothy 2:13 in NLT)

And so here at the end of 1&2 Kings in the midst of lament and the tragedy of the siege and sacking and the exile to Babylon, there are four verses that offer a ray of hope, a glimmer of God’s eternal promise to David – which still stands.

Jehoiachin and the royal family are deported and not killed by king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (2 Kings 24:15) and then after 37yrs in prison in exile king Jehoiachin (also called Jeconiah in the NT) is released from prison by Nebuchadnezzar’s successor and is given a place of honour and provision for his family! God is faithful, God is the promise keeper, not one of God’s promises fall to the ground.

And so the line of David is preserved, the promise still stands, and in Matthew 1:12 we read of Jehoiachin/Jeconiah’s place in the storyline that all culminates in Jesus the King of kings the one who ultimately fulfills the promise made by God to David, and He is enthroned as King forever and ever.

The whole Old Testament is really about Jesus, it points to Him, shows us our desperate need of Him and anticipates His coming. As Isaiah prophesied of King Jesus;

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government
and of peace there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Worship, Jesus! Thank God for His unshakable faithfulness. Trust Him.

Perfect Prophet, Priest & King (2 Kings 24-25)

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By this point in reading through 1&2 Kings it is hard not to feel exhausted by the cyclical pattern of ungodliness in the leadership of Israel and Judah.  But all of this long story of hundreds of years of  cyclical ungodly leadership is to there to tell a story…

A story which started way back when God’s people had clamoured for a human king as recorded in 1 Samuel 8, they wanted to be like the nations around them rather than be lead by God as their king leading them through his appointed prophets/judges.  God had warned them that this rejection of Him would not be a blessing to the people and 1&2 Kings records that it definitely wasn’t a blessing!

In 2 Kings 24-25 we read of the final sacking of Jerusalem and the exile to Babylon of Judah, approximately 120years after the Assyrians overthrow and exile of Israel.  2 Kings 24:2-4 expressly makes God the active agent as Chaldeans, Moabites, Syrians and Ammonites and finally the Babylonians raid Judah and finally overthrow it with a siege and burn the city and the temple and break the walls down.

The sad summary statement in 2 Kings 25:21 reads; “So Judah was taken into exile out of its land.” 

The Promised Land is vacated by all except a remnant of poor people, the Temple as the place of worship is ruined and ceases to operate.  

What will happen next?  What has happened to the covenant?  

God’s place – the Promised Land and the Temple lies in ruins, God’s people have been exiled from it.

Israel’s history is littered with priests who failed, prophets who failed & kings who failed.

The people have been unfaithful to the covenants they made and to God’s word to them.

This is the riddle of the Old Testament really.  

  • God is holy, we are not – what can we do, what will He do?
  • God’s people, we need a better, a perfect, an eternal prophet, priest & king.
  • God’s people long for a place where we can dwell with God, where worship is not defiled & never ends
  • God’s people need forgiveness that’s eternal and truly transforming…
  • All this points to the ONE who was to come – Jesus!
  • Our Saviour, our perfect Prophet, Priest & King!

One-Generational? (2 Kings 21-23)

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Hezekiah was a mighty man of God, yet sadly his son Manasseh did not follow his father’s example.  Even worse than that Manasseh actually undid all the good his father had done and re-erected altars to Baal and Asherah, he even had altars to these false gods erected inside the Temple!  He burned his own son as an offering and consulted fortune-tellers and mediums provoking the Lord to anger.

How does this happen?  Father follows God incredibly, and yet his son is evil personified.  

Sadly, the bible has a number of this sort of one-generational God-following.  

  • Eli and his sons (1 Samuel 2:12)
  • Samuel and his sons (1 Samuel 8:3)
  • David and Solomon (1 Kings 11)

In Deuteronomy Scripture clearly portrays God’s plan for parent to teach God’s ways to their children, to ensure that God-following, that faith is not one-generational but is passed on.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.  (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

And yet this is dramatically not the case with Hezekiah and Manasseh.  Seventy five years later Manasseh’s grandson Josiah who did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, re-discovers the Book of the Law while he was repairing the Temple.  His grand-father and father had been so ungodly that when the priest gives Josiah the Book of the Law it is simply referred to in the following way; 

“Then Shaphan the secretary told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” (2 Kings 22:10)

But when Josiah heard the words of the Book of the Law he tore his clothes, humbled himself and repented.  And because of this God forgave him and granted him mercy (2 Kings 22:18-20).

We then read in 2 Kings 23 that Josiah went on to reform all of Judah, leading Judah to renew their covenant with the Lord.  Josiah went on to purify the temple of Baal & Asherah worship and removed false priests and broken down the high places and even finally fulfilled the prophecy God brought against Jeroboam back in 1 Kings 13:11-32 and his rebel altar at Bethel.

Lastly Josiah restores the Passover festival which has not been mentioned in Scripture since Joshua 5:10-12.  And so as the epitaph over Josiah’s life is a glowing one;

Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him. (2 Kings 23:25)

Hezekiah didn’t pass on faith to Manasseh, faith was lost for essentially 75yrs in Judah and then sadly Josiah although he followed God was another example of one-generational God-following as his son, Jehoahaz turned from the Lord again.

If you’re a parent – what can you do today, and do beyond today that can ensure that your God-following is not one-generational too?

And if your parent(s) have not followed God, can you believe God that you could be like Josiah and break with the past and follow God wholeheartedly and be used by God to accomplish amazing things?

Be Inspired (2 Kings 18-21)

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What do you want said at your funeral or written as an epitaph in your memory?  How about; “there was none like him among all…!” 

Hezekiah stands out in stark contrast to the many who went before and those who came after him the rest of verse 5 tells us.  And what was the secret to this glowing description of Hezekiah’s life and reign as king of Judah?

5 He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel…. he held fast to the Lord. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses. 7 And the Lord was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered. (2 Kings 18:5a,6-7)

Hezekiah believed God, and held on to his belief in God unswervingly.  He did not get into compromise and sin but kept God’s commandments and in response to his faith and obedience God was with him always and caused him to prosper.

Don’t for a moment think that Hezekiah had an easy time following God.  Hezekiah didn’t follow God or lead Judah in a time of ease or peace and security but rather did so in the presence of terrifying threats from the Assyrians!  The Assyrians had recently overthrown the northern tribes of Israel and had also overtaken all the towns around Jerusalem which was surrounded.

And yet Hezekiah trusted God, held fast to his God in the midst of great trials.  Hezekiah’s trust in God is expressed wonderfully in his prayer recorded in 2 Kings 19:15-19;

15 And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord and said: “O Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 16 Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 17 Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands 18 and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 19 So now, O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.” 

What a prayer of faith!  A prayer that’s real about the circumstances and yet more impressed with His God.  And what a response from God through the prophet Isaiah;

“Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. 33 By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. 34 For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”  (2 Kings 20:32-34)

What an inspiration Hezekiah is!  Don’t you want to be like him?  How can you be?

5 He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel…. he held fast to the Lord. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses. (2 Kings 18:5a,6)

Let’s be like Hezekiah, let’s trust God, let’s hold fast to God when life is messy and confusing, let’s not depart from following God and keeping his commandments.  And then let’s see all that God will do in and through us.

Enough! (2 Kings 17)

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After a period of nearly 200yrs since Jeroboam’s succession from Judah, the northern tribes of Israel are eventually conquered by the Assyrians and deported into exile (2 Kings 17:6).  Under the direction of the Holy Spirit, the writers of Scripture are very keen to make it plain as to why this happened.

“And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God…and had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel…” (2 Kings 17:7-8)

This was an event that came about not because of bad military or political strategy (although the passage reveals there were mis-steps made), Scripture attributes the source of the capitulation and capture of Israel by Assyria as being God Himself as the active agent.

The whole of the chapter reads like a charge sheet being read out in a court room, the list of charges against the accused, the guilty one; 

      • You have sinned against your God who brought you out of Egypt and into this Promised Land
      • You walked in the customs of the nations whom I judged and drove out before you
      • You followed wicked evil kings who lead you into sin
      • You built for yourself your own places of worship, altars to false gods & served idols
      • You did wicked things before me, and made sacrifices to these false gods
      • You provoked me to anger (says God)
      • I warned you again and again through the prophets, but you would not listen and were stubborn (vs13-14)
      • You did not believe
      • You despised my commands
      • You even burned your sons & daughters as worship to false gods provoking me to righteous anger

And because of this the judgement comes; 

18 Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight. None was left but the tribe of Judah only… 20 And the Lord rejected all the descendants of Israel and afflicted them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until he had cast them out of his sight. (2 Kings 17:18&20)

23…the Lord removed Israel out of his sight, as he had spoken by all his servants the prophets. So Israel was exiled from their own land to Assyria until this day. (2 Kings 17:23)

Yes, God is ‘slow to anger and abounding in love’ (Exodus 34:6) but that does not mean that eventually God will not say; ‘enough!’  God was patient, forbearing with Israel but eventually love for all those sinned against, all those who lost loved ones, love for all those babies sacrificed to false gods looked like God judging sin.  God had appealed again and again, urged them to turn from their wickedness – but they refused to with hard stubborn hearts.

So what can we learn from this for our lives?

May we not ever trust our hearts, which are so prone to lead us astray from serving the living God.  May we hold on to His words, will and ways laid out for us in Holy Scripture.  May we never tamper with His Word and make our own false gods suitable to our fancies and our modern culture’s preferences.  May we repent when and if we have sinned against Him, and may we worship our Holy God with holy reverence and as our loving response to all the love He has poured out to us through the gift of His precious Son, Jesus.

The Stuck Record (2 Kings 15&16)

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Over and over and over again in 1 & 2 Kings there is a type of phrase that repeats itself.  It’s a phrase that always describes the life and the rule of one of the kings of Israel (the Northern tribes) in a negative way.  It’s a phrase that is repeated not 3 or 4 times but is repeated 15 times in 1 & 2 Kings and three time in 2 Kings 15 alone!

It is used in 2 Kings 15:9 to describe King Zechariah;

And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, as his fathers had done. He did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin.

And then again in 2 Kings 15:18 to describe the despicable King Menahem who committed atrocious sins (vs16);

And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart all his days from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin.

And then again in 2 Kings 15:24 to describe King Pekahiah 

And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin.

As we read these chapters we are reading the crescendo of evil that all started with the sin of Jeroboam back in 1 Kings 12-14, sin which continues to be referenced and is repeated 15 times over in the record of the kings of the northern tribes.  As the chapters of 2 Kings progress the reigns of the kings seem to to get shorter and shorter some reigning 1 month some 6 months, there is death and evil and insurrection and calamity…

And all of this is racing towards our the next chapter 2 Kings 17.  God is going to use Assyria to finally punish Israel and to stop forever the successive sinfulness of the northern kings who again and again continued in the sin of their forefather, Jeroboam son of Nebat.

What does this mean for you and for me?

As a father, as a parent; I am freshly struck by the impact we have on not just our own children but on successive generations.  We are modelling life for our children, we can’t turn it off, can’t stop it.  The question is what are we modelling?  What are we passing down to the next generation and the generations to come?

Jeoboam’s sin resulted in a stuck record legacy of ungodliness!  In 1&2 Kings there is a contrast of sorts to this legacy and that of King David.  I say this because there is another phrase that repeats over many of the kings of Judah in the south where God does not punish because of promises He made to David.  Even through King David was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination (he murdered, lied, committed adultery…) the Scripture honours King David as a man who’s heart was devoted to God.

So what will be said of me, of my heart of my life rhythm when I die one day?  Could it be said, will it be said that I was a wholehearted worshipper of God?  No one who knew me would ever be able to say; ‘he didn’t sin, make mistakes…’ but could they say – ‘He loved God and served God all his life’?

We pass on a legacy!  What legacy do you want to pass on?

Enthusiastic Obedience (2 Kings 13&14)

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One section stands out for me in 2 Kings 13-14 and that is the moment just before Elisha’s death when king Joash of Israel visits him. Elisha tells him to pick up a bow and its arrows, then tells him to draw he bow back, and then tells him to shoot an arrow out the east window and he shot the arrow out the east window…

Then Elisha prophesies; “The Lord’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Syria! For you shall fight the Syrians in Aphek until you have made an end of them.” (2 Kings 13:17)

God will give them victory over their neighbours who have frequently tormented them, they will destroy them entirely – the constant threat will be gone.

Up to this point Joash has done everything Elisha told him to do. You would conclude that he has been obedient. But then the story takes a strange quirky twist.

18 And he said, “Take the arrows,” and he took them. And he said to the king of Israel, “Strike the ground with them.” And he struck three times and stopped. 19 Then the man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Syria until you had made an end of it, but now you will strike down Syria only three times.”

Joash obeys the final instruction which does not specify how many times but also doesn’t indicate to stop or do it a short while. Elisha is angry with Joash and tells him that he should have been more enthusiastic essentially and so now because he wasn’t he will not accomplish all that God had planned for him.

Seems a bit harsh?

When I come to passages like this that seem quirky I tend to ask God; Why is this recorded in Your Book? What do you want me to see, hear, understand from it?

I often tell people that quick obedience to God’s promptings is a sign of maturity, but maybe this passage adds another factor – enthusiasm. Without making more of it than one should, this passage does seem to indicate that there is more than one type of obedience. Slow obedience and quick obedience and in addition to that there seems to be such a thing as enthusiastic faith-filled obedience and reluctant faith-deprived obedience.

May I, may we be those who live out quick obedience that is faith-filled and therefore enthusiastic!
Amen.

 

Sin is serious & we all have a part to play in the BIG STORY! (2 Kings 9-12)

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In what is a long section of brutal narrative… 

Exactly what God promised through Elijah in response to Jezebel and Ahab’s killing of Naboth for his vineyard in 1 Kings 21 is now fulfilled and Ahab’s sin and Jezebel’s sin and evil is punished by God in 2 Kings 9-10 by Jehu.

What can we learn from this for our lives?

Sin is extremely serious.  If we don’t recognise the seriousness of sin before a Holy God we are deluded, we cheapen grace and ultimately we don’t need a Saviour to rescue us from our sin or to forgive us for our sin.

“Salvation shines forth brightly when it is seen against the dark background of divine judgment. We cheapen the gospel if we represent it as a deliverance only from unhappiness, fear, guilt and other felt needs, instead of as a rescue from the coming wrath.” – John Stott

Don’t prematurely decide that just because people don’t seem for the moment to be accountable before God for their sin and their rejection of Him that they won’t be held accountable by the Holy One.

All people’s only hope is Jesus Christ who was the propitiation for our sin!  That means, Jesus was the sacrifice that was paid in our place for our sin, the sacrifice which took away the wrath of God;

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10)

Another feature of this section and all through 1&2 Kings are the little cameo’s in the BIG STORY of human history and salvation by often unremarkable individuals who did the work and will of God in the midst of a crooked and evil age.

Little cameo’s like;

  • The little Jewish girl who was carried away by Syrians and served in the house of Naaman who believed God could heal her master (2 Kings 5:2-3)
  • The unnamed servants of Naaman who helped him not miss his healing because of his reaction to Elisha’s instruction (2 Kings 5:13)
  • The four lepers (2 Kings 7) through whom God ended the brutal siege of Samaria
  • Princess Jehosheba who hid Joash from Athaliah for 6yrs in the house of God with the priest until the priest anointed him as king at the tender age of 7yrs old.
  • Joash the young 7yr old who listened to Jehoiada who discipled and instructed him and so he did amazingly good things reforming Judah and dealing with sin and Baal worship and repaired the temple.

What can we learn for our lives?

You never do know when you are going to do the greatest thing you will ever do for God, or whether you have just done it! – Michael Eaton

God’s kingdom advances through people just like you and I doing often what might not seem like extraordinary things.  Live every day as if it is the day you will do the greatest thing you will ever do for God, live on the edge in anticipation and serve God with whatever and whoever God puts before you, disciple, reach out, love, speak the words of God….

Magnificent God (2 Kings 4)

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Elisha is the one true God’s representative. In a nation divided and filled with the worship of false gods, the call on Elisha is not just to bring messages for God but to reveal who God is through his everyday life, actions and interactions.

In this chapter we see God revealed in numerous ways through a collection of short stories which all put on display God’s nature as the one who sees, a personal God, involved in the intricate details of people’s lives, who is not indifferent to the cries and the pain that individual people endure. These stories reveal God as the one who is able to miraculously suspend or overturn the normal with His supernatural inbreakings of power at any time on people’s behalf.

Short story 1: Debt (2 Kings 4:1-7)
A poor widow in crisis is struggling with mounting debts and the ongoing challenge of providing for her two children as a single woman has the debt collectors at her door threatening to take away her children as slaves as payment for her debt! Crisis. She asks God by asking Elisha and God provides miraculously an abundance of olive oil which she sells and pays off all her debt and as able to live off the rest. God is the miracle working, prayer answering, need-seeing God who intervenes in remarkable ways for poor or rich people.

Short story 2: Deep Longings & Despair (2 Kings 4:8-39)
A wealthy woman is hospitable and honouring of God’s servant, she was rich but used her wealth to bless Elisha & Gehazi not to gain anything (vs13-14). Elisha discerns the true longing in her heart, one she is not even willing to express for fear of her longing being dashed again, and so promises her a child. She is so shocked she can’t receive this good news (vs16) but she does conceive and a son is given to her. Many years later the child falls suddenly ill and dies will in the fields with his father. She rushes straight to Elisha in deep despair, she would have rather not had a son than have one and then loose one like this! Elisha goes with her, and raises the son from the dead and gives him back to her alive. God knows the deepest longings in our hearts, even the ones we dare not speak of for fear of being hurt or disappointed again or opening up the wound… God is able to bring back to life people, marriages, finances – God is good and is so whether you are rich or poor.

Short story 3: Deadly Stew & Multiplication (2 Kings 4:38-44)
There is a famine in the land, Elisha is hosting around 100 of the prophets. He wants to cook for them, but Gehazi is a bad cook or one of the prophets is injudicious in his produce selection and the stew being cooked is bad, so bad it is like death warmed up. They complain. Elisha miraculously cures the pot with a little flour and the food becomes edible to them all. While they are all there, a man brings to Elisha some of his first fruits offering to supply food for Elisha. Elisha tells Gehazi to set it before the men to eat (but there is not enough – vs43). Elisha tells him to proceed and they all ate and yet there was excess and they had food to spare. God is hospitable, able to throw feasts of abundance in the midst of a famine, able to supply all our needs according to His riches in glory (Philippians 4:19).

Our God heals, answers long-lost longings, provides financially and materially. This all makes me think of the song we sung on Sunday;

You’re my author, my maker
My ransom, my Saviour
My refuge, my hiding place
You’re my helper, my healer
My blessed redeemer
My answer, my saving grace
You’re my hope, in the shadows
My strength, in the battle
My anchor, for all my days
And You stand, by my side
And You stood, in my place
Jesus, no other name
No, only Jesus, no other name…

So, cry out to him now!  Tell your Father in Heaven your deepest longings, know that He is good and when you can’t join all the dots of your confusing life, He can and He does and so having asked Him trust Him.

Jealous God (2 Kings 1)

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What do we have here in the opening paragraphs of 2 Kings?  Ahab’s son is as evil as his dad and so when he is faced with a personal crisis he sends for a prophetic utterance not from one of God’s prophets but rather enquires after Baal-zebub or the ‘lord of the flies’!

God’s is a jealous God and won’t tolerate this offence.  So, God sends Elijah to meet the messengers who were on their way to seek the false god Baal-zebub, as they meet Elijah rebukes Ahaziah for his sinfulness.  God’s true words can offend!  This is especially true when we find ourselves in a place of sin and compromise.  

Ahaziah reacts by wanting to silence Elijah and so he sends a company of 50 soldiers to threaten Elijah.  God’s word, however, cannot be brought under human control, and the God of Mount Carmel sends fire from heaven which consumes Elijah’s captures twice over (cf. 1 Kings 18:10&12).

One hundred and two men are dead.  Families are in mourning, children are now without their dads, women without husbands, parent’s have lost children!  What’s happening here?  

Ahaziah is faced with a choice, serve the One true God – Yahweh or Baal-zebub.  Yahweh is the God who consumed the offering by fire just years earlier on Mount Carmel, exposing the futility of Baal worship and exposing all the 450 prophets of Baal on that day and resulting in their judgement and death.  

This whole situation has come about because Ahaziah has acted as though ‘there is no God in Israel to enquire of His word’ (2 Kings 1:3&16) and because God is rightfully jealous and intolerant of the worship or trust in any other.  

Ahaziah is bent on his rejection of Yahweh!  After the first 51 soldiers died in fiery judgement, you would have thought Ahaziah would have relented at sending more.  But he doesn’t, rather this wicked god-forsaken king sends another 51 to the same fate.  More than this, his heart is so hardened that after 102 men have lost their lives and countless families have suffered he sends another 51 men!

Fortunately the carnage is stopped when the captain humbly approaches Elijah and pleads for mercy from Elijah (2 Kings 1:13-14) and he and his men are spared but king Ahaziah dies because of his sin.

Consider: Is God right to be a jealous God?  

Jealousy is something that is almost always frowned upon and yet in certain circumstances it’s appropriate – like the jealous love of a husband or wife…  Ten times God is described in Scripture as being jealous of our wholehearted worship, trust and love for Him – and there is nothing sinful in God (Ex 20:5, Ex 34:14, Deut 4:24 & 5:9..…)

God is jealous for your wholehearted and devoted love for Him.  This is not some needy lack in God but rather an outworking of God’s holiness and God’s love for us.  God knows that for us to serve, enquire after, trust in or worship anything or anyone else is entirely futile and will bring nothing but pain and bondage to us. 

The jealous love of God sent Jesus to the cross to rescue you from satan and to rescue you from yourself  so that He could save you for relationship with Himself.  So love Yahweh, trust and worship, enquire of Yahweh alone.

Real Life, Real Ups & Downs (1 Kings 19-22)

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After being incredibly use by God, Elijah has a sad precipitous decline.  The contrast between chapters 17-18 and chapter 19 is remarkable.  The confident faith-filled Elijah who prophesied no rain, told the king what to do, called the nation together, put on display God’s awesome power, executed God’s judgement on the prophets of Baal and beckoned the rain to come again to the nation – is suddenly fearful (1 Kings 18:3) and depressed and out of gas entirely (1 Kings 18:4) all because of one person he fears – Ahab’s wife, Jezebel!

Is there someone like that for you?  Someone you fear, someone who has an influence over you and over your faith in God?  May you choose to not allow anyone to impact your faith in God in the way that Jezebel did for Elijah.

I love the honesty of the bible, love the way it reveals Elijah’s frailty – I can identify with him.  I love the way God cares for Elijah, strengthens him, calls him out from his depressed state (1Kings 18:9&13) and re-commissions him (1 Kings 18:6-18).  But in the end Elijah is never the same again.  God tells him to anoint Elisha his successor.

Do you feel like running away, hiding in a cave from life, from your calling, from God & others?  Know this; your heavenly Father loves you, is kind and compassionate, wants to refresh and restore faith in you!  Reach out to Him in prayer and allow Him to renew you.

Chapters 20-22 recount the end of Ahab’s rule and God’s judgement on him for his many sins.  Twice God sends prophets (Elijah’s belief that he was the only one left was not true, there were many others faithful to God still in his day, he had believed a lie) to Ahab with the express purpose of showing Ahab that “I am the LORD” (1 Kings 20:13 & 28).  Mount Carmel, the rain being withheld and then coming, these incidents – all were designed for Ahab to believe in the one true God, they are God graciously reaching out to Ahab in spite of his gross sin.

Is God reaching out to you in some way, showing you again and again who He really is, wanting you to only believe in Him and put your trust in Him?

Ahab with his wicked wife’s help sins against an honest man who’s vineyard he is coveting – Naboth.  Jezebel has him murdered and Ahab takes the vineyard and this is the final straw for God.  And so, Elijah is told to go and condemn Ahab (1 Kings 21:19).

Remarkably, Ahab repents (1 Kings 21:27-29) and so God relents and decides to delay some of the punishment but Ahab will still be killed by a not so random arrow (1 Kings 22:34) as prophesied by a remarkable prophet who alone heard God correctly and was bold enough to declare it – Micaiah (1 Kings 22:14-28)!

Are you willing to obey God like Micaiah did?  Even when what you’re saying is the exact opposite to what everyone else is saying God is saying!  May you have courage like this one man – Micaiah.

Showdown (1 Kings 18)

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It’s been three years since Elijah told Ahab and Israel that there would be no rain until he said so… God tells Elijah to go to king Ahab.

On seeing him Ahab exclaims; “Is it you, you troubler of Israel” (1 Kings 18:17) This is an important little moment – who is responsible for the suffering in the land? Is it Elijah’s fault because he spoke and the rain stopped? Or is it Ahab’s fault because of his sin?

Elijah greets Ahab back with the following retort; “I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals.” (1 Kings 18:18). Scripture makes it clear, the famine is the result of God’s judgement on the gross sin and idol-worship of Ahab, his foreign wife Jezebel and his predecessor’s.

Ahab might be king, but Elijah is calling all the shots! Elijah instructs Ahab to gather all of Israel and the 950 prophets of Baal and Asherah who eat at his wife’s table (1 Kings 18:19) at Mount Carmel. Elijah inspired by God, wants a showdown to help Israel choose whom they will worship.

Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. (1 Kings 18:21)

Compromise and double-mindedness is massively offensive to God. The Ten Commands start; “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments…” (Exodus 20:1-6)

God wants His people to choose. Either God is God, or Baal is God but they can’t both be God, because God makes an exclusive claim on being God and so makes a rightful jealous call for devoted and exclusive worship and trust. Elijah asks the people to choose therefore, but they remain silent, they say nothing, refuse to choose (1 Kings 18:21).

The stage is set and Elijah (still calling the shots and making demands on the king) tells the 450 prophets of Baal to make an altar, place an offering on it and then to pray for fire… The prophets of Baal cry out for Baal to answer them for hours from ‘morning to noon’ for Baal to send fire.

“But there was no voice, and no one answered” (1 Kings 18:26) “And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation (evening sacrifice), but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.” (1 Kings 18:29)

Poignant! No reply, nothing because Baal like all other false-gods is nothing, man made nonsense that can say and do nothing.

Then Elijah makes an altar like theirs, but does even more than them by dousing his altar and offering with copious amounts of water to underline the sign and wonder that’s about to happen.

Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. 37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”

38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.” (1 Kings 18:36-39)

The One true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Israel and Elijah is personal, He speaks and guides and instructs and answers prayer – He alone is God and worthy of trust & worship. He is the God they should have chosen when Elijah challenged them to make up their minds. Now, on the evidence before them, with this contrasting display of power and God’s responding to the prayer of his servant – the nation fell on their faces proclaiming the truth about God.

Baal worship has been exposed as futile, Baal’s ‘prophets’ exposed as charlatan’s and therefore executed.

What relevance does this have for your life and mine?

Confidence – God alone is Almighty God awesome in power & majesty and ready to respond to prayer!

Consider – Am I in any way compromising by being double-minded effectively, putting my trust in anything or anyone other than God?

Repent – If you’ve doubted God in any way or been dabbling with the worship/trust of anything other than God, repent and turn back to exclusive worship of God alone.

Enter God’s Agent (1 Kings 17:1-24)

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What an introduction!  There is no mention of Elijah prior to this point, we don’t know anything about him, his upbringing, his faith journey up to this point.  In that sense, he is not like David who is introduced as a shepherd boy learning God’s ways and in preparation for the moment he stands before Goliath.  Elijah just arrives on the scene but does so with remarkable courage and faith.  

I am intrigued.  What lead to this man’s remarkable faith and courage in the gift God had given him?  What multiple little steps of faith had he climbed to get to this place of faith?

He goes to the despicable king of the northern tribes, Ahab and declares;  

“As the LORD, the God is Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” (1 Kings 17:1)

Don’t you love that God-inspired boldness!  To go before a wicked king who could kill you in a flash but to be so much more aware of God than him that you pronounce what God tells you to with conviction.  This is not arrogance but godly obedience.  This is God’s man declaring to this wicked king where the authority really lies – in God alone.

Baal-Hadad (or just ‘Baal’ for short) was the god of storms and rain and so people at the time were tempted to worship Baal, falsely hoping that Baal would provide the much needed rain to make the land fertile.  This prophetic announcement is a direct attack on the falsehood and futility of Baal worship which is what Ahab had allowed to proliferate in Israel.

Having spoken God’s word to Ahab about the coming drought, God leads Elijah to an inhospitable  ravine in the mountains with a little brook in it presumably to wait for the drought he had prophesied to begin having its effect.

But think about it.  God said through Elijah that there would be no rain, and yet God sends Elijah not a city with water reserves but to a ravine in the mountains with a little stream – that then dries up!  Elijah must have felt both relieved and concerned by the brook.  Relieved that God had withheld the rain (1 Kings 17:7) in a display of his power over Baal – just as Elijah prophesied and yet concerned in that his life-support was drying up too.

God spoke again!  ‘At last’, he might have a thought – ‘…time for a big meal and comfy room.’  However, this time God leads him to a town on the coast in the midst of Baal-worship territory (Zaraphath) where  he meets his host – a widow with no food in her house who is about to eat her last meal and then die (1 Kings 17:8-12).  ‘Great!’  I can almost hear him saying under his breath.

Elijah had followed God to the brook (1 Kings 17:5), Elijah followed God to a widow in Zarapheth with no food at all (because of his pronouncement of no rain).  Sometimes following God leads you right into hardship or scarcity in the natural realm.  We make a mistake when we assess whether we’ve been lead by God on the basis of circumstances being good/easy assuming hard/lack = not the will of God….

Why did God send Him here?

Did God send him to a foreign land to show him the extent of God’s power over not just Israel but all nations?  Did God send him here to experience the stress and strain of another person and to bring relief to her as maybe she had prayed to God?  We don’t know…

Elijah tells her to make a cake for him first and then for her a her son and then promises to her that God says that her little flour and her jug of oil will not run out until the drought is over because God ends it (1 Kings 17:13-14)!  And so a miracle of provision is recorded because she believed the word of God through Elijah.

Faith is believing God when we can’t see, when there is no evidence but miracles reside on the ‘other-side’ of faith and obedience.

Is there something God is telling you to do, to trust him in?  Do you, will you?

Who are you listening to?

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There is a plethora of advice out there for us at any given stage in our lives – we need to choose wisely who we listen to!  

As God promised, Israel is torn in two after Solomon’s death as judgement for his many sins and his compromised heart towards God.  1 Kings 12 is one of those places in Scripture where we see the will and actions of men and women and those actions have ‘natural’ consequences and yet simultaneously those actions and consequences are attributed by Scripture to God’s sovereign workings.

After Solomon’s death his son Rehoboam is approached by his people who ask that consider easing the heavy burden of conscripted labour and taxes that his father had placed on them (for all his building works).  Rehoboam calls the old men who used to advise his father – they advise him to heed the call to lighten the burden.  Rehoboam abandons (1 Kings 12:8) their counsel and goes to his young contemporaries who advise him unwisely to speak harshly to the people about making their lives even harder under his rule!  This is bad advise and he takes it.  And as a result the people of Israel all rebel under the leadership of Jeroboam and all the tribes except Judah succeed from Judah and become the northern tribes with their own king.  Israel is divided and is never re-united.

And the king answered the people harshly, and forsaking the counsel that the old men had given him, 14 he spoke to them according to the counsel of the young men, saying, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” 15 So the king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word, which the Lord spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat. (1 Kings 12:13-15)

Rehoboam acted unwisely, was selfish, arrogant, did not listen to and was harsh with his people – it was his doing.  And yet Scripture attributes this moment to God’s sovereign plan – ‘it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that He might fulfill His word…’ (vs15).

So who did this?  Rehoboam or God?  Well both.  Rehoboam was unwise and sinful and therefore the kingdom was torn in two and yet God was at work to fulfil the judgement He had made on Solomon and  the prophesy He had spoken through Ahijah to Jeroboam (see 1 Kings 11:28-40).

Now, Jeroboam (now the king of the Northern tribes of Israel – called Israel from now onwards in the book) had heard God speak to him.  He had God promise to bless him and establish him as a king “IF” (there is that word again); 

“If you will listen to all that I command you, and will walk in my ways, and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did, I will be with you and will build you a sure house, as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you.” (1 Kings 11:38)

Jeroboam had heard God speak to him, God gave him counsel… 

And yet Scripture records that Jeroboam didn’t listen to the counsel of God but rather listened to his own thoughts; ‘Jeroboam said in his heart…’ (1 Kings 12:26) & He went up to the altar that he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, in the month that he had devised from his own heart.’ (1 Kings 12:33)

Jeroboam did not believe what God had promised but doubted and thought to himself – I can’t have people continually going back to Judah to worship at the temple in Jerusalem so I will build temples here in the North (in Dan and Bethel which was contrary to what God had commanded) and I will appoint my own priests for these temples (men not appointed by God) and I will make statues of golden calves for these temples (just like Aaron had done in the Exodus)!  More than this Jeroboam found counsellors who agreed with his ungodly plan (1 Kings 12:28).  This plan became sin for the whole nation of the north (1 Kings 12:30).  

Jeroboam had God’s wisdom and advise and promise – and yet he chose to ‘follow his heart’ and found counsellors to confirm his folly!  And so he set the Northern tribes on a disastrous course of idol worship which they never recovered from.

In 1 Kings 13 we read about a prophet sent by God from Judah to denounce Jeroboam’s self-styled worship.  This prophet is told by God to prophesy and then go home and not eat or remain in the Northern territory – but he too doesn’t listen to God and ends up being killed by a lion sent by God.

What can we learn from this all?

I am freshly invigorated to listen for God’s counsel, to read God’s counsel in Scripture and to not depart from it come what may.  I don’t want to be like Rehoboam, or Jeroboam or the prophet who had heard God and knew what God had said to him and yet departed from it to his own detriment.  May I, may we be those who listen to God and obey all He tells us to do.  

Tragedy (1 Kings 9-11)

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The man who loved God (1 Kings 3:3), the man God chose to use to finally build Him a dwelling place, the one who had the privilege of fulfilling promises and had promises made to him by God who revealed Himself to him personally twice, the one God blessed by answering his prayers and going beyond just answering into exceeding blessing and peace and prosperity…

That one, did the very thing his dad had warned him not to do, the very thing God had spoken to him twice about directly in a very personal way.  After the overflowing blessing of chapters 9-10, 1 Kings 11 is a tragedy of monumental proportions!

We can be tempted sometimes to think something along lines of; “if only I had…….. then I’d be content”.  Solomon is probably the clearest example in all of Scripture exposes that thinking as false.  

Solomon had God’s favour as a chosen man with destiny, God’s promises, God’s blessing financially, God’s blessing in his role as king with peace in the nation, God’s blessing with wisdom.  More than this he wasn’t single wanting to be married but was married…

And yet he wasn’t satisfied!  That’s because things don’t satisfy us, only God can truly satisfy us.  

Solomon’s desire for more is most clearly expressed in his insatiable lust for women.  Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines!  His lust for women blinded his eyes and shut his ears to the words of his father and more expressly the words of God and the commands of God which urged him to follow God’s ways and God’s commandments.  

God had specifically instructed him not to marry foreign women for a specific reason – God knew that they would cause him to compromise and would lead him astray to the worship false gods.  And that is exactly what we discover happening in 1 Kings 11. 

So God eventually swore He would tear the kingdom from Solomon, divide the kingdom into two parts.  Was God not gracious in swearing to do this?  Sometimes we read the Old Testament and make a wrong conclusion that somehow the God depicted in the Old Testament is different to the New Testament- but that is not true.  After all, God didn’t make this pronouncement after the first foreign wife or the second or the third or the 300th or 600th….!

God is is gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love and yet God is also holy and pure and righteous and He can not leave sin unpunished…

And so the glorious reign of Solomon has a dark lining – it’s a sad end and at the end of his life Solomon himself declares;

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” Ecclesiastes 1:2 (NIV84)

So sad, what a tumultuous fall from grace and favour!  So what can we learn?  How does this apply to our lives?

If the one guy in Scripture who literally ‘had it all’ wasn’t satisfied by earthly things, by relationships by sex, money and power – do you honestly think you’ll be?

Seek God, find your joy in God, He alone can truly satisfy as God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him (Piper).  So don’t be tempted and distracted by temporal things or even the good blessings given to you by God, love God more than anything find your joy in Him.