God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility

1 And the word of the Lord came to Jehu the son of Hanani against Baasha, saying, “Since I exalted you out of the dust and made you leader over my people Israel, and you have walked in the way of Jeroboam and have made my people Israel to sin, provoking me to anger with their sins, behold, I will utterly sweep away Baasha and his house, and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat. Anyone belonging to Baasha who dies in the city the dogs shall eat, and anyone of his who dies in the field the birds of the heavens shall eat.”

Now the rest of the acts of Baasha and what he did, and his might, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? And Baasha slept with his fathers and was buried at Tirzah, and Elah his son reigned in his place. Moreover, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Jehu the son of Hanani against Baasha and his house, both because of all the evil that he did in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger with the work of his hands, in being like the house of Jeroboam, and also because he destroyed it. 1 Kings 16:1-7 ESV

The back-and-forth nature of the author’s writing style can it difficult to keep up with all that is going on. One minute he’s writing about the king of Judah, then he quickly shifts the narrative to focus on the king of Israel. But his side-by-side comparison of the two kingdoms allows him to track the spiritual trajectory of the two nations simultaneously, providing a comparative analysis of their faithfulness and ultimate fate. And, though the nations are divided, they tend to follow eerily similar paths.

With the opening of chapter 16, the narrative has shifted back to the northern kingdom of Israel, where Baasha reigned as king. It’s important to note that this man was not of the royal lineage of Jeroboam. He was a usurper to the throne who had conspired to assassinate Nadab, the son of Jeroboam, who had become the king after his father’s death. Nadab’s reign had only lasted two years, but he had managed to establish a reputation for wickedness that rivaled that of his father.

He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and walked in the way of his father, and in his sin which he made Israel to sin. – 1 Kings 15:26 ESV

But his death at the hands of Baasha was not a result of his own sin, but because of the actions taken by his father, Jeroboam. When God divided the kingdom of Solomon, He awarded the ten tribes in the north to Jeroboam, making him king over what would now become known as the nation of Israel. But in response to this undeserved promotion, Jeroboam had made the unwise decision to solidify his kingship by creating his own religion, complete with his own false gods and priests. And this had resulted in the people of Israel turning their backs on God. And Jeroboam’s foolish decision brought down the wrath of God, who delivered a prophetic message of judgment upon his entire household.

“…you have done evil above all who were before you and have gone and made for yourself other gods and metal images, provoking me to anger, and have cast me behind your back, therefore behold, I will bring harm upon the house of Jeroboam and will cut off from Jeroboam every male, both bond and free in Israel, and will burn up the house of Jeroboam, as a man burns up dung until it is all gone.” – 1 Kings 14:9-10 ESV

Upon Jeroboam’s death, his son Nadab ascended to the throne. But, as stated earlier, his reign was short-lived. Two years into his reign, God raised up Baasha, “the son of Ahijah, of the house of Issachar” (1 Kings 15:27 ESV). Seemingly out of nowhere, this man appeared on the scene and led a successful coup that resulted in the death of Jeroboam’s heir and son, Nadab. But Baasha, in an attempt to secure his newfound reign, ordered the annihilation of Jeroboam’s entire family.

…as soon as he was king, he killed all the house of Jeroboam. He left to the house of Jeroboam not one that breathed, until he had destroyed it, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by his servant Ahijah the Shilonite. It was for the sins of Jeroboam that he sinned and that he made Israel to sin, and because of the anger to which he provoked the Lord, the God of Israel. – 1 Kings 15:29-30 ESV

All that Baasha did was in fulfillment of the word of God spoken through Ahijah the prophet. He was used by God to deliver divine judgment on Jeroboam and his entire household. He was an instrument in the hands of a holy and righteous God, meting out divine justice upon the guilty and purging Israel of its wickedness. But Baasha seems to have been oblivious to God’s role in his meteoric rags-to-riches ascent to the throne of Israel. He saw himself as a self-made man who had asserted his own will and paved the way to his own success.

It’s not difficult to recognize the pattern of autonomy and self-assured independence that shows up in all these stories. The kings of Israel and Judah all seemed to share the same inflated sense of self-worth and over-confidence. As soon as they ascended to the throne, it was as if all the newfound power and prestige went to their heads. They got cocky. They became self-reliant. And they left God out of the picture.

Baasha was no different. This obscure individual from the small tribe of Issachar had, overnight, become the most powerful man in all of Israel. But rather than recognize his rapid ascent to the throne as the handiwork of God, he pridefully assumed it had all been his doing. In the book of 1 Chronicles, there is an interesting statement regarding the tribe of Issachar. It says that it was made up of “men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do” (1 Chronicles 12:32 ESV). This could indicate that they shared a unique capacity for discernment that allowed them to take advantage of any opportunity in order to further the well-being of their tribe. It seems that Baasha fit this description. He was a pragmatist who had seen an opportunity to improve his lot in life and had seized it. But he made the grave mistake of failing to honor God, and he would pay dearly.

God sent yet another prophet with a message of judgment. And He informed the overly self-confident Baasha that, because he had followed the example of Jeroboam, he would suffer the same fate as Jeroboam.

Since I exalted you out of the dust and made you leader over my people Israel, and you have walked in the way of Jeroboam and have made my people Israel to sin, provoking me to anger with their sins, behold, I will utterly sweep away Baasha and his house, and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat.” – 1 Kings 16:2-3 ESV

Baasha had been used by God to wipe out the wicked dynasty of Jeroboam, but rather than call the nation of Israel back to God, he had led them into further idolatry and unfaithfulness. Both Jeroboam and Baasha had been given God-ordained opportunities to do the right thing. Jeroboam had been gifted with the responsibility of ruling over the ten northern tribes. His moment in the sun had been the direct result of Solomon’s unfaithfulness to God. But rather than learn from Solomon’s mistakes, Jeroboam unwisely repeated them.

And the same was true of Baasha. God used him to enact His judgment upon Jeroboam and his equally wicked son. But rather than recognize the hand of God and worship him accordingly, Baasha took credit for his success. He refused to acknowledge God and, instead, chose to continue the wicked practices of the very man God had sent him to replace. So, he would face a similar fate. But, according to chapter 15, Baasha would remain on the throne for 24 years. From a human perspective, it would appear as if his decisions had produced more-than-favorable results. But chapter 15 also indicates that “He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and walked in the way of Jeroboam and in his sin which he made Israel to sin” (1 Kings 15:34 ESV). Those 24 years were filled with further acts of wickedness and rebellion against God. So, while the ten tribes of Israel had a new king, they were stuck in the same old rut, continuing to live their lives in open rebellion against God.

But the story of Baasha ends on a sad note. He had been given a chance to redeem and restore the nation of Israel but he refused to do so. As a result, he ended up suffering the judgment of God. And the author makes it clear that Baasha’s punishment at the hands of God was due to two factors. One, because he “had done what was evil in the Lord’s sight (just as the family of Jeroboam had done)” and “also because Baasha had destroyed the family of Jeroboam” (1 Kings 16:7 NLT). Not only would Baasha have to atone for his sin of leading the people into further idolatry and apostasy, but he would be held accountable for his role in Nadab’s death and the destruction of the house of Jeroboam.

From a human point of view, this last point may appear unjust and unfair. After all, God had chosen to use Baasha as His instrument of judgment upon Jeroboam. So, why was he going to be held responsible for what was clearly a God-ordained and divinely sanctioned action? But the Scriptures are full of other incidents when God chose to use an individual or a nation to enact His judgment, but then held them culpable for their actions.

In the book of Jeremiah, the prophet records the words of God spoken against the nation of Babylon. They would be responsible for the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. But the prophet clearly states, “Babylon has been a gold cup in the Lord’s hands, a cup that made the whole earth drunk. The nations drank Babylon’s wine, and it drove them all mad” (Jeremiah 51:7 NLT). In other words, they were being used by God to accomplish His divine will. But, at the same time, God would hold them accountable for their role.

“Flee from Babylon! Save yourselves!
    Don’t get trapped in her punishment!
It is the Lord’s time for vengeance;
    he will repay her in full.” Jeremiah 51:6 NLT

The Babylonians did what they did willingly and eagerly. They were used by God to accomplish He will, but everything they did was according to their own wishes. That is why God warns of coming judgment against them because their actions were still considered a sin against Him.

“Yes, prepare to attack Babylon,
    all you surrounding nations.
Let your archers shoot at her; spare no arrows.
    For she has sinned against the Lord.” – Jeremiah 50:14 NLT

While God’s sovereignty and man’s free will are difficult to reconcile, in the end, we must rest in the knowledge that God is not only in control of all things, but he is righteous and just in all that He does. Baasha had been used by God to bring judgment upon the house of Jeroboam, but Baasha would be held accountable by God for his actions. Why? Because Baasha did what he did of his own free will. He had not been an unwilling or helpless actor in the divine drama. And while his actions accomplished the divine will of God, he would not get a free pass from suffering the consequences.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson