2 Kings 22:18-20 and Revival Holding Off Destruction

josiah_I love Josiah, and I love his revival. When I read through 2 Kings 23 and the litany of what he removed from the Holy Land it sounds like the original litany of conquest by Joshua. Josiah even destroyed the original altars and shrines that Solomon built for his wives and the shrine and idol Jeroboam built at Bethel–the beginnings of the national apostasy in which both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms engaged.

Why did he do this? Because a copy of the Law was found in the Temple and read in his presence. When Josiah heard how far away his kingdom was from what the Lord had wanted for his chosen people, the king wept, tore his clothes, and sought the Lord. He inquired from the prophetess Huldah whether or not the judgments that were read to him would come true. Her response was that they most definitely would happen, but there was also a word of grace and hope:

This is what the Lord, Israel’s God, says about the message you’ve just heard: Because your heart was broken and you submitted before the Lord when you heard what I said about this place and its citizens—that they will become a horror and a curse—and because you ripped your clothes and cried before me, I have listened to you, declares the Lord.  That’s why I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will go to your grave in peace. You won’t experience the disaster I am about to bring on this place.

The Lord was willing to hold off on the deserved judgment because of Josiah’s faithfulness! This is amazing! One man can make a difference (thank you Knight Rider). Josiah’s faithful response to what he heard, and his faithful life after that point prompted God to delay the judgment coming on the Southern Kingdom. As things increasingly got worse and worse in Judah one man led a revival of true worship and a true life in line with the Lord and judgment was withheld.

Think about that for a minute for our own situations today. In the Western World our cultures are increasingly sliding away from a more biblical understanding of life and ways of living. Perhaps radical faithfulness and a true revival zeal could postpone judgment. More than that, there are many people who believe the world is closing in on the end of all things and universal judgment. What if there was a spectacular revival of the Church that held off the impending doom?

What if this is the way God always works–judgment is right around the corner, but the faithfulness of some can hold it at bay? What would that mean for our communities? What would that mean for us?

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2 Kings 18:3-6 and A Light Shining in the Darkness

Hezekiah is a light shining in the darkness of the fallen kings of Israel and Judah. As 2 Kings progresses the situations go from bad to worse. The Israelites take on the practices of the nations that they drove out before them almost 800 years ago, nations that so upset the Lord that he used Israel as his tool of judgment against them. The Northern Kingdom emulated those nations so fully and completely that it shared their fate, being exiled from the land by Assyria. The Southern Kingdom seems poised to suffer the same fate, and then Hezekiah becomes king.

Hezekiah did what was right in the Lord’s eyes, just as his ancestor David had done.  He removed the shrines. He smashed the sacred pillars and cut down the sacred pole. He crushed the bronze snake that Moses made, because up to that point the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (The snake was named Nehushtan.) Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, Israel’s God. There was no one like him among all of Judah’s kings—not before him and not after him. He clung to the Lord and never deviated from him. He kept the commandments that the Lord had commanded Moses.

Hezekiah would not allow his kingdom to worship false gods. He would not even allow them to venerate a sacred image from their own past, because they were focusing more on the snake than the God who used the snake. Hezekiah’s faith transformed his kingdom and inspired a lot of people to worship the one true God. It is wonderful to see someone who is faithful after so many who were not faithful. This light that shines in the darkness draws others to it, and through Hezekiah’s commitment to the Lord and his actions based upon his faith, he enables the Lord to deliver Judah from the hands of Assyria.

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Hezekiah’s Kingdom of Judah is the small yellow oval completely engulfed by the Assyrian Empire.

What is most amazing about this is that Judah is the only kingdom that was able to remain free of the Assyrians. This is the Lord’s doing, and it shows that God will work even when all the worldly odds are against it happening. Faithfulness is a light shining in the darkness, and as we know from the Gospel of John, the darkness cannot overcome it.

2 Kings 14:23-27 and God’s Gracious Second Chances

Seal bearing the name of Jeroboam II.

Seal bearing the name of Jeroboam II.

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob–the Lord, the Triune God of the Christians–is very gracious and gives many second chances. Sometimes people do not think of God’s actions in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible, as gracious, but look at this passage from 2 Kings:

Jeroboam, the son of Israel’s King Joash, became king in Samaria in the fifteenth year of Judah’s King Amaziah, Jehoash’s son. He ruled for forty-one years.  He did what was evil in the Lord’s eyes. He didn’t deviate from all the sins that Jeroboam, Nebat’s son, had caused Israel to commit.  He reestablished Israel’s border from Lebo-hamath to the Dead Sea. This was in agreement with the word that the Lord, the God of Israel, spoke through his servant the prophet Jonah, Amittai’s son, who was from Gath-hepher.  The Lord saw how brutally Israel suffered, whether slave or free, with no one to help Israel.  But the Lord hadn’t said he would erase Israel’s name from under heaven, so he saved them through Jeroboam, Joash’s son.

Just as a reminder, the sins of Jeroboam, son of Nebat were the two golden calves that were set up in Bethel and Dan. These were not just idols to other gods, but they were called idols of the Lord. By the time Jeroboam II takes the throne, they have been in place and worshiped as the Lord for about 150 years in the Northern Kingdom. Despite the fact that Jeroboam II worshiped these idols as the Lord, God still gave him victory over Israel’s enemies and preserved the kingdom. This is grace indeed.

But this grace goes deeper. This is the third time in 2 Kings that a similar statement has been made. All of Jeroboam II, his father, and his grandfather all had something similar said about their time on the throne. Jehu (written about yesterday) was the Lord’s instrument of judgment on the house of Ahab. For the next three generations his dynasty is given second chances by the Lord. Each time the phrasing is very reminiscent of the Book of Judges. The people sin; they cry out to the Lord; the Lord sends a deliverer; they are rescued from distress.

This would imply that the destruction of the Northern Kingdom, which was about to happen, was not a foregone conclusion. The people could have repented and the Lord would have established them because “the Lord hadn’t said he would erase Israel’s name from under heaven.” The Lord continued to provide gracious second chances for quite a bit of time in the hopes that the kingdom would whole-heartedly turn back to him.

This is a wonderful reminder to us that the Lord is graciously willing to provide second chances to us, no matter what we have done. With God, our judgment is never a foregone conclusion. We always have an opportunity to repent in this life. If you need a gracious second chance with God, turn to him and ask. He will listen, and he will forgive.

2 Kings 10:23-24 and How Worship is Not Enough

Temple Ruins

Temple Ruins

I have a love-hate relationship with the story of Jehu. He is obviously used by God and he obviously is very zealous for the Lord, but he uses such horrible means to achieve his God-given goals. As I was reading through his story again, and thinking about this, a new thought came to me: despite how bad things had gotten under Ahab and Jezebel in the Northern Kingdom, God was still able to find someone who worshiped the Lord in Jehu.

As I was thinking about this fact, I came upon these verses in Jehu’s plan to eliminate Baal worship from Israel:

Then Jehu and Jehonadab, Rechab’s son, entered Baal’s temple. They said to Baal’s worshippers, “Make sure there are no worshippers of the Lord here with you. There should be only Baal worshippers.”  Then they went in to offer sacrifices and entirely burned offerings.

The plan was to get all the followers of Baal in the main temple in Samaria and then kill them all. Here is what struck me–there were evidently still worshipers of the Lord in Israel since Jehu needs to ensure none of them are in the temple when he kills the Baal-worshipers. While I probably should have known that fact, I apparently did not realize it before now. My usual thinking of the history of the Northern Kingdom was that it continued to decline into idolatry and worship of false gods to the point where there was no one left who knew the Lord and they were destroyed by Assyria.

While the ultimate destruction of the Northern Kingdom is true, the rest of the image I had is not true. During Elijah’s time there were 7000 people who were as loyal to the Lord as Elijah was. Jehu was a worshiper of the Lord. And there were enough followers of the Lord that they needed to be distinguished from the followers of Baal during this judgment on false worship.

My previous understanding was easier to hold, though. When it seems like the people are falling into apostasy across the entire kingdom, it is easier to see why they were exiled and their kingdom destroyed. The fact that there were people who worshiped the Lord in the Norther Kingdom is more problematic, and disturbing.

This is disturbing to me because this means that even though there were people who worshiped the Lord and did not follow after the false gods of the peoples who were in the land before the Israelites arrived (or do the detestable things required in the worship of those gods), they could not keep their kingdom or their land. The culture around them still grew darker and darker, until God pronounced ultimate judgment on them and destroyed their country. Their worship of the Lord did not stop what was happening around them.

I think of this, and then I think of a large church-planting conference I attended last month. At that conference I heard about how so many different congregations and networks are being planted across the United States and how, if you were to add up all the new believers in these congregations it would amount to hundreds of thousands of new Christians. And then I see how our culture is still growing increasingly dark.

Worshiping God is not enough. Worshiping the correct God is not enough. Our lives need to be changed by God so much that it affects the way we live. If our faith is strong enough only to take us to church once or twice a week, it is not much of a faith and it will never stop the downward slide in our culture. Our faith must be strong enough to transform our actions and reactions into the image and likeness of Christ. When Christians live out their faith day to day in the public square, then we will begin to see a change in our society.

This is the difference between the idea of freedom of worship and freedom of religion. The freedom to worship says that no one can interfere with how I praise my God in church. This is very acceptable to the vast majority of our country, as it is contained within the four walls of a building once per week. The freedom of religion says I am free to practice my faith every day of my life. This is what changes nations and societies.

There were Israelites who freely worshiped the Lord, and their country was still destroyed in judgement by God. Worship, by itself, is not enough.

1 Kings 17:1 and The Power of God Made Manifest

The Lord works in mysterious ways, and his power is made manifest in many different ways. One thing that is certain from this verse and its context, though, is that the greater the evil, the more powerful God is made manifest in the world. Look here:

Elijah from Tishbe, who was one of the settlers in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As surely as the Lord lives, Israel’s God, the one I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain these years unless I say so.”

This is how Elijah the Prophet is introduced to us. He is not the first prophet in the the Books of Samuel or Kings. There was Nathan, Gad, Ahijah and Jehu, but Elijah is the only one who has miracles accompany his prophetic works. In fact, Elijah will become known as the greatest of the prophets because of the mighty deeds done through him by God.

But why now? Why does God make his power manifest in this manner now through Elijah? Look at how spiritually dark things have gotten in Israel. Jeroboam, the Lord’s chosen instrument of judgment on Solomon’s legacy of idol worship, has proven to be worse than Solomon ever was. So Jeroboam’s household is wiped out and replaced. Baasha, who destroyed Jeroboam’s dynasty, is even worse and his household is wiped out. Zimri, who destroyed Baasha’s dynasty, is even worse and is killed. Omri, who killed Zimri, is worse yet. Finally Ahab, Omri’s son, is the worst of all, even going so far as to build a great temple for Baal and worshiping that god to the exclusion of the Lord. In each one of these reigns, which lasted 62 years before Ahab took the throne, Israel moved further and further away from the Lord and looked more and more like the nations Israel was sent to destroy because of their detestable actions (such as human sacrifice). Things have gotten so dark that the Lord sent a powerful prophet to be used by him to show Israel that, just as the prophet’s name means, their God is the Lord.

I find this very comforting. It reminds me that no matter how beaten down the Church may get, the Lord will raise up someone to make his power manifest once again. What is equally comforting is the fact that Elijah could only do any of this in the power of the Holy Spirit, the very same Spirit that lives in every Christian believer.

So, who will the Lord raise up to make his power manifest in this present darkness? Might it be you?elijah

1 Kings 11:37-39 and Covenant Promises and Prophecy

Ahijah giving Jeroboam 10 pieces of his cloak, symbolizing the 10 Tribes under his authority.

Ahijah giving Jeroboam 10 pieces of his cloak, symbolizing the 10 Tribes under his authority.

God makes covenant promises and God makes prophecies. Every once in a while both show up together. What is interesting about this is the fact that the covenant promises are always conditional and the prophecies usually are not. This passage is no exception. Solomon has fallen from grace by worshiping the false gods of his wives. Ahijah the prophet from Shiloh (hearkening back to Israel’s past before Solomon and David as the center of true worship of the Lord) comes to tell Jeroboam that he will be king. Here is part of what Ahijah reports the Lord saying:

But I will accept you, and you will rule over all that you could desire. You will be king of Israel.  If you listen to all that I command and walk in my ways, if you do what is right in my eyes, keeping my laws and my commands just as my servant David did, then I will be with you and I will build you a lasting dynasty just as I did for David. I will give you Israel.  I will humble David’s descendants by means of all this, though not forever.

The Lord makes a covenant with Jeroboam, and it is a lofty covenant. To have a lasting dynasty and to be the chosen instrument and family to lead God’s chosen people is a high honor, but just like all of the Lord’s other covenants, this one is conditional. God will do all of this for Jeroboam and his descendants provided they obey the Lord. If you are familiar with the story from here, you know they will not be faithful and instead of having a lasting dynasty, the family of Jeroboam is wiped from the earth.

Yet the Lord will still seek to make covenants with others who will rule the northern kingdom of Israel rather than have it come under the leadership of the house of David because of Solomon and his sons’ unfaithfulness. The covenant with David was conditional as well. But there is a twist here. The last line of this passage has a statement that is not conditional at all. The Lord will act in the future through David’s descendant to do something great. This is a prophecy of the coming of Christ, who from his human lineage was from the house of David.

God’s prophecies and God’s purposes will not be thwarted, but his covenants with us are fully dependent upon us obeying him. This is a tension in the Bible, but it is a tension with which I am comfortable.

1 Kings 8:10-11 and Worship When God Shows Up

solomon-dedicates-the-first-templeThe hope of most people is that when we gather for worship God would show up. Not that God is not already there (since God is everywhere), but that the presence of the Lord will be manifest to the people in real and tangible ways. This passage of Scripture captures that image perfectly:

When the priests left the holy place, the cloud filled the Lord’s temple,  and the priests were unable to carry out their duties due to the cloud because the Lord’s glory filled the Lord’s temple.

Solomon’s Temple has just been completed and all the items from the Tabernacle built under the direction of Moses almost 500 years earlier have been transferred to the Temple. As sacrifices were happening, psalms being sung, and people praying, the presence of the Lord filled the Temple so completely that everything came to a stop. Even religious duties had to stop because the one being worshiped showed up.

Many churches today do not have this kind of experience ever. Whether their style could be called contemporary or traditional, the people who lead and the people who come simply go through the motions and do what they think they ought to do without ever truly worshiping God with their all their being. They check off what they are to do during a service and then go home and wonder if it all is true.

Many other churches today have dynamic experiences, but they are not of the palpable presence of the Lord. Their style has been crafted to appeal to a segment of the population, which is evangelism, not worship. Evangelism is people-focused and worship is God-focused. Churches that confuse evangelism for worship do neither well. They have wonderful outreach and growth but then go home and wonder why the Lord doesn’t show up in a mighty way.

For the kind of worship that experiences what happened at the dedication of the Temple, it has to be God-focused and the leaders and people need to be there solely to honor and praise the Lord. Anything else is not worship. God makes his presence known when we stop worrying about our own preferences in a service and when we stop evaluating church based upon whether we got something out of it. Worship is our act of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for who he is. Anything else is not worship.

When we truly worship, God shows up.