Pleasing God

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?

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….

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.

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?

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.

When Scripture is a mirror! (1 Kings 1-2)

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We are exhorted in Ephesians 5:10 to ‘find out what pleases God’!  Much of Scripture helps us with that pursuit and yet some passages, some whole sections or even books are less about an example but more like a mirror.  There are many passages, many characters in the pages of Scripture that are not an example of the life God desires for us or from us but are a mirror into which we can look to see how not to live.

As we read the books of 1&2 Kings we will come across a great number of kings who are the exact opposite of what God desires for our lives or from our lives.  And when we do come across them, we are to consider Scripture as a mirror.  

Is there anything in their bad example that reflects our lives, our hearts or our thinking in some way?

The context for 1&2 Kings is 1 Samuel 8 that moment in Israel’s history when the people clamoured for Samuel the prophet to give them a king so that they could be like all the nations around them.  They weren’t satisfied with God as their King, they wanted an earthly king….

God warned them through Samuel, that this was not a good request, that it was not good to reject God and to put their faith in man in God’s place, God warned them of all the hardship and evil a human king would bring to them…but they would not relent and so God gave them king Saul.  And from this very first king hardship and pain came to God’s people, followed by David who made many errors and the nation suffered rebellion and wars and death as a result.  As we come to 1&2 Kings we will encounter a total of 40 kings (over Judah & Israel) and the BIG IDEA is that on the whole the kings despite some exceptions were a huge disappointment.

In 1 Kings, king David is dying and even before he is dead his son Adonijah is jostling for position trying to become the next king Israel by scheming and posturing, positioning himself.  And yet, God had told David that his son Solomon was to be the next king and was to have the honour of building God’s temple (see 1 Chronicles 22:6-10).  

So David acts to quell the rebellion of Adonijah and appoints Solomon as king and charges Solomon to ‘walk in God’s ways’ to keep God’s commands so as to see God’s blessing on his life and on God’s people , to see God establish his kingdom (see 1 Kings 2:1-4)…

But the very next thing they do together is to plot revenge for things people did during David’s reign (1 Kings 2:5-9) and then spurred on by this bad example Solomon spends the remainder of 1 Kings 2:10-46 having people murdered to establish his kingdom!  

Solomon doesn’t do what he was charged to do – to obey God and then trust that God would establish his kingdom, NO, he decides to do it his own murderous way.  And so, 1&2 Kings is off to a rollicking bad start.

What relevance does this have for you and me in 2018?

How are you living?  Are you living with the exhortation of Ephesians 5:10 pulsating through your life?  Is it your desire to live in such a way that your life pleases God? (which was the charge David gave Solomon)  Is that a motivation that’s central to your life?  

If it is – then you know that you love God (1 John 3:10).  And you can be assured that God will keep you safe to the very end (1 Corinthians 1:8-9).

Or is there something God has promised you that has not happened yet (like Solomon) and you feel tempted to ‘make it happen’ in your own strength?  Something you feel tempted to do something God’s not told you to do – to ensure it happens…?  

Don’t make the mistake Solomon made. 

Employment issues… (Colossians 3:22-4:1)

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Although there is no time here to extensively address the issue of why it might on a superficial reading of Colossians 3:18-4:1 appear as if Scripture were condoning the slavery (as we understand it in the 21st century) let me make some brief comment before we get to applying this passage to our lives.

Yesterday’s devotion made it clear that the foundation for these imperatives for godly living was that Jesus is now our Lord, our King and this is what His kingdom ought to be like. Does that mean then that slavery is endorsed as part of Jesus’ kingdom?

No. As the ESV translators have said in the preface to their translation; “A particular difficulty is presented when words in biblical Hebrew and Greek refer to ancient practices and institutions that do not correspond directly to those in the modern world.”

Translators seek to translate the original words into the modern equivalent in English and yet sometimes that English word can contain (as does the word ‘slave’) modern meaning that is distracting from what the original meaning was to the original hearers.

Here in Colossians ‘bondservants’ (in the ESV translation) is the word used to translate the Greek word, ‘doulos’ (which can mean either slave, bondservant or servant). In the Roman Empire, a bondservant was someone who was officially bound under contract to serve his/her master for seven years, when the contract expired the person was freed.

Scripture instructs ‘bondservants’ (ESV) or ‘slaves’ (NIV) to ‘obey’ their earthly masters and to work hard, to work as if they are working not just for their earthly masters but for the Lord ultimately (see 3:22-25).

The question is how does this apply to the present day since employment practices have changed so dramatically? The most obvious ‘hermeneutic bridge’ to the present is surely the issue of employment and being an employee or an employer.

Employees have ‘masters’ or ‘bosses’ whom they are contracted to work for. And as Christ followers we are to be the most incredible employees (Colossians 3:22-25)! We are to work respectfully, to work harder than anyone else because in fact we are working for our ultimate Master – Jesus. We are therefore those who are looking not just for the reward of a salary but looking for His reward in eternity for how we worked.

In Colossians 4:1 the instruction turns to those who are called ‘master’ by others. These are the equivalent of employers in our day. And to such people the instruction is clear and bold. Masters are to treat those who work for them in a manner that gives dignity, honour, value & proper respect (see the general instruction in 1 Peter 2:17).

Christ followers who employ other people are to know that their King requires that their faith and their belonging to His kingdom must impact their treatment of others in all spheres of life. And so, those who employ others are to be just and to be fair in all their dealings with their employees. They are to pay fairly and justly, they are to be like their Master, Jesus is towards them.

Finally, they are to keep in mind that they will appear one day before their Master, Jesus and will give an account on that day for how they treated those who worked for them.

What we see in this section of Scripture is that Jesus’ kingdom rule impacts every sphere of life. Employees for whom Jesus is Lord become the best employees on the planet and employers likewise have their employment practices transformed by the Lordship of Jesus so that they become blessing to those who work for them. Nothing in life is untouched by our followership of Jesus.

So in closing; whether you work for someone or whether you employ anyone in any context, contemplate for a moment whether your attitude, your thinking and your treatment of others in those contexts is godly?

Are you treating others (employers or employees) as King Jesus wants you to?

What might need to change?