Friday, March 31, 2017

Friday - I Kings 17 - Hello, My Name Is Elijah

For the next week or so we will primarily be studying the actions of the great prophet, Elijah. His name meant, "The Lord, He is God!" And, just as that was the meaning of his name, it was the focus and purpose of his life and ministry.

James 5:17 indicates that Elijah was not some superiorly pious man who had outgrown the trivial struggles of human life. He had the same problems and "passions" that you and I wrestle with. Yet, he was a man of extraordinary spiritual accomplishment.  In the introduction to his life in I Kings 17:1 we find his bold statement to wicked Ahab: "There shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word."  What startling confidence he had in God!  What refreshing certainty!

Now, God took care of Elijah during the long season of extreme drought in Israel. First, he was fed by ravens at the brook Cherith, and then at Zarephath he was sustained by a widow who had a miraculously unending supply of meal and oil.  Notice that we are hardly into the first few verses of the record of Elijah's life and already multiple supernatural events have occurred. God's power was certainly upon him in unique way.

If Elijah's power over the weather, the birds and the pantry isn't enough to convince us that God had a special mission for this man, a resurrection surely should be. After Elijah had stayed in Zarephath for some time, his hostess' son died (I Kings 17:17). But, not to fear, Elijah knew in faith that the God who can hold back rain can certainly deliver us from death. So, he asked God to resurrect the boy (I Kings 17:21). Simple enough, right? Yes! The boy was revived.  Simple as that!  Is anything too hard for God?

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Thursday - I Kings 16 - The Rise of Ahab

One of the most notorious men from the era of the divided kingdom of Israel was the wicked man Ahab. Sadly, rather than the nation actually improving, the transition of power in Israel went from one evil man to another. Now, when the bad guys are in control, things can get really ugly indeed. Notice the mess that the northern kingdom endured.

First, there was the fairly rapid exchange of power from the hands of one man to another and from one family to another... Baasha died, his son Elah became king for 2 years. Zimri killed Elah... as well as everyone who was a relative or friend of Elah. But, Zimri didn't get to enjoy the fruit of his own efforts. Omri, a military leader in Israel at the time, was declared king. As such, there was a division of power in the north. And, when Omri attacked the city where Zimri was, Zimri burned down the palace which was there over his own head. Then another man, Tibni, rose to claim the power.  But, when he died, Omri was then the lone ruler. Omri didn't live long though, and, as I said, his son Ahab became the new king. Now, as bad as all the guys before him were, Omri’s son Ahab was worse than them all (I Kings 16:30 & 33). And, of all the bad things that Ahab did, one of the worse decisions he ever made was to marry Jezebel and to accept her god as his god (I Kings 16:31). Thereafter, Israel went after Baal… with gusto.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Tuesday - I Kings 15 - Good King Asa & Wicked Baasha

In general, Israel and Judah existed in contrast to one another. Sometimes Judah went astray too, but thankfully they were blessed with some good kings who lived (more or less) in line with the character of their grandfather David. Asa was one such good king in Judah. We will get many more details about his life when we reach II Chronicles 14 - 16.

Asa was king of Judah for 41 years (I Kings 15:10). It was a long and prosperous period in the history of the southern tribes. As Israel waned and dwindled, Judah grew stronger.  Mercifully God had ended Asa's father's reign after a short 3 year term. Abijam (Asa's father) had not been a good king, yet, for David's sake, God allowed his son to reign (I Kings 15:4).

Some of the good things that Asa did are listed briefly in this chapter. He put a stop to the homosexual nonsense. He destroyed the idols that had accumulated in the land. He even dealt with the sin that was in his own family. His mother had taken a leading role in the spiritual adultery of the nation, so he removed her from her position as a head of state... and he destroyed her idolatrous worship center too. He even gathered valuable things again into the temple to replace some of those things which had been removed by the Egyptians during the reign of his grandfather, Rehoboam.

Admittedly, Asa wasn't perfect, but his heart certainly was (I Kings 15:14). We will study in Chronicles how he made some poor decisions at the end of his life; decisions which ended up costing him some... although, at least it wasn't enough to tarnish his overall reputation as a godly king. One of his mistakes was that instead of just trusting God to be his protector, he hired the Syrians to help him against Israel.  And, he used God's money to hire those mercenaries?

Monday, March 27, 2017

Monday - I Kings 14 - The End of the 'Boam Boys

This chapter commences a repetitive pattern in Kings and Chronicles: the relatively quick cycle of life and death in the succession of the kings of Israel and Judah. After 22 years, Jeroboam (in the north) was replaced by his son, Nadab. Somewhat simultaneously, after 17 years, Rehoboam (in the south) was replaced by his son, Abijah. He might have ruled longer were it not for the blight of open homosexuality in Judah (I Kings 14:24). Incidentally, the wickedness of Rehoboam's nation caused God to allow Egyptians to come into the temple to take much of the wealth which had been carefully accumulated by Solomon.

Before Jeroboam died, he had a son who became ill. Commendably, Jeroboam was confident that the prophet Abijah could give him a word concerning his boy. But, for some reason, perhaps because of his guilty conscience due to his idolatry, Jeroboam felt like he couldn't let Abijah know that he was the one looking for a revelation. So, he sent his wife to inquire and had her in disguise to hide her identity from Abijah. It was a senseless strategy.  God warned the old blind prophet concerning who was coming to see him.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Saturday - I Kings 13 - A Man of God Falls

In this chapter, we find that God sent an unnamed "man of God" out of Judah into Israel to rebuke Jeroboam because of his wicked ways. The man of God prophesied about a coming king named Josiah. He told the NAME of a future king of Judah & what he would do.  But the prophecy didn't come to pass until over 3 centuries later (II Kings 23:16). When Jeroboam heard the words of the man of God, he was offended. But, despite a significant miracle in his presence, Jeroboam remained in his sin (I Kings 13:33).

Now, one amazing thing about this is that God was relatively lax with Jeroboam, but incredibly strict with the man of God. God had instructed his messenger not to do anything during his mission into Israel except what he had been commanded to do. Specifically, he wasn't even supposed to pause for a meal. And, when Jeroboam invited him home for supper, the man of God prudently refused. However, on his way home, an old prophet lied to him and convinced him that God had changed his orders. Well, the man of God paid for his disobedience in this small matter. He paid for it with his life. A lion killed him after he went aside from his mission. God's words are never to be taken lightly. When God makes a decree, we had better take heed.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Friday - I Kings 12 - To Whom Are You Listening?

True, God had predestined Rehoboam to an immediate failure as king. Due to Solomon's idolatry, his son Rehoboam had NO chance to lead the whole nation. But even though God had already decided to take most of the kingdom from Rehoboam, the king had his own responsibility in the matter too. Here is how it happened.

When Rehoboam became king, the people approached him requesting some relief from the heavy-handed taxation to which his father had resorted. Rehoboam's first advice came from elderly men who knew what they were talking about.  They told the young king to relax the vise grip that had been used to oppress Israel in the later days of Solomon. Regrettably, Rehoboam ignored the good counsel of the aged and sought for the opinions of men from his own generation.  They were foolish and inexperienced. They led him down a ridiculously fruitless path. They advised Rehoboam to tell the nation, "My little finger shall be thicker than my father's thighs." Needless to say, that speech didn't go over so well. Rehoboam lost most of his followers that very day.

Rehoboam did send a tax collector into the north to attempt a taxation of the rebellious tribes, but they killed him and refused to submit. The fate of the nation was set. Jeroboam became king over most of the land, and Rehoboam was allowed to retain Jerusalem and Judea. Jeroboam did make an initial attempt to muster enough force to reunify the nation, but God prevented him from going through with it (I Kings 12:22 & 23). Incidentally, God was NOT somehow MORE impressed with Jeroboam than with Rehoboam, or anything like that. Jeroboam led his nation directly into sin and idolatry. King Jeroboam gave Israel 2 religious statues to worship; calves. Israel went quickly away from God under that kind of leadership.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Thursday - 1 Kings 11 - Strange Women

A preacher should always live by his own sermons. That's easier said than done though. Solomon was the writer of Proverbs 5:1-5, "My son, attend unto my wisdom... for the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb... but her end is bitter... her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell." Solomon was wise enough to warn others to stay away from "strange women" - wild women, that is.  But, evidently he later figured that it was something that he could control in his own life. I Kings 11:1 says plainly that Solomon loved MANY of those strange women that he had warned the rest of us about. Actually, he only had a 1000 of them.  A thousand!?

God had warned (in Deuteronomy 17:16-17) that Jewish kings should neither accumulate horses from Egypt, nor wives... from anywhere, but especially foreign ones; idolatrous ones. Again, Solomon was guilty of all the above. It is a heartbreaking story. His wives turned his heart away from God and that cost him everything. His kingdom was divided into 2 unequal sections between a man named Jeroboam and Solomon's foolish son, Rehoboam. One would think that we would all learn from Solomon's mistakes, right? And yet, how successful are you in resisting your "besetting sin" (Hebrews 12:1). It's a sad reality.  Alexander Pope's phrase "to err is human" applies to all of us so precisely. Knowing WHAT to do and actually DOING it ... well, we all know by experience that those are 2 very different things.  Thankfully, "to forgive is divine" is also very accurate.

Now, the effect was not immediate. I Kings 11:4 says that the king was old when he took up idolatry. It is likely that he had already written the Song of Songs and the Proverbs before his fall into sin. Ecclesiastes would likely have been written as a confession at the very end of his life (Ecclesiastes 12:13).