Walk in My Ways

37 The Lord said to Moses, 38 “Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. 39 And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. 40 So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. 41 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord your God.”  Numbers 15:37-41 ESV

This is a rather strange and seemingly out-of-place passage. Why did God choose to give Moses these odd-sounding instructions at this particular point in time? It’s clear from the book of Deuteronomy that this was not the first time that God had issued this command.

“You shall make yourself tassels on the four corners of the garment with which you cover yourself. – Deuteronomy 22:12 ESV

But what was the purpose behind this non-negotiable piece of fashion advice? As the text points out, they were to serve as a kind of memory enhancer.

“When you see the tassels, you will remember and obey all the commands of the Lord instead of following your own desires and defiling yourselves, as you are prone to do.” – Numbers 15:39 NLT

As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The tassels were to be an ever-present visual reminder to keep the commandments of God. It would be like someone tying a string on their finger in order to remind them of something important.

“These tassels were to act as reminders to be totally loyal to the Lord…” – Gordon J. Wenham, Numbers, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries

It seems that every time an Israelite looked down at his feet, he would see the tassels and be reminded to “walk” according to the will of God. They would recall God’s command to their patriarch, Abraham.

“I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless…” – Genesis 17:1 ESV

The Hebrew word is הָלַךְ (hālaḵ), which can mean “to walk,” but can also refer to conducting one’s life. Abraham had been commanded to live his life blameless, in full view of God Almighty. There was to be no compartmentalization or hidden areas in Abraham’s life. No aspect of his life was off-limits to the all-knowing, all-seeing God. And God was demanding that Abraham live the same kind of life that Noah had lived.

Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. – Genesis 6:9 ESV

And Noah was following the example of his ancestor, Enoch, who had also “walked with God” (Genesis 5:22). And when Jacob was blessing his son, Joseph, he spoke of how his father and grandfather had “walked” with God.

“The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day…” – Genesis 48:15 ESV

Because the tassels were located on the hem of the garment, they would be in clear sight every time an Israelite looked down to determine his or her next step. When the prepared to ascend a set of stairs, they would see the tassels and be reminded to consider their steps. When they looked down to assess the ground beneath their feet, the tassels would prompt them to take special care of their spiritual footing. They were not to stray from God. They were to remain on the straight-and-narrow.

The prophet, Isaiah, would later warn the people of Israel to watch their step.

Thus says the Lord:
“Stand by the roads, and look,
    and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is; and walk in it,
    and find rest for your souls.” – Jeremiah 6:16 ESV

They were to seek directions so that they might not take a wrong turn and end up in the wrong destination. But, sadly, Jeremiah points out that the people of Israel refused his advice.

“But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’” – Jeremiah 6:16 ESV

They ignored the tassels, forgot to obey God’s commands, and ending up losing their way. And rather than seeking help, they stubbornly persisted in following their own misguided directions. The apostle Paul describes the destiny of all those who take their eyes off the tassels and forget to walk in obedience to God.

They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. – Philippians 3:19 NLT

In the book of Numbers, God warns what happens when His children follow their own desires: They end up defiling themselves. They replace God’s will with their own and step off the path that He has chosen for them. God’s choice of words is strong. He compares their disobedience to adultery or prostitution. The Hebrew word is זָנָה (zānâ), and it means “to be a harlot, act as a harlot, commit fornication.” And this description was meant to stand in stark contrast to their calling as God’s people. He had set them apart as His own, declaring them to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” – Exodus 19:5-6 ESV

There is a huge difference between a priest and prostitute, or there should be. And to drive home the concept of the priestly status, God commanded that they were to use blue threat to attach the tassels to their garments. Blue was the color of royalty and divinity and its presence on their garments would to signify their position as servants of the King. This symbolism would not have escaped them because the ark of the covenant, over which God’s glory rested, was to be covered with a blue cloth everytime it was transported (Numbers 4:6). According to God’s instructions, “a veil of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen” was to hung between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle (Exodus 26:31, 36). Even the robe of the high priest was to be made of royal blue (Exodus 28:31).

Each and every Jew was to consider themselves a priest of God and, as such, they were expected to live in obedience to His commands. The tassels were intended to serve as reminders of their status as His chosen people.

“The tassels will help you remember that you must obey all my commands and be holy to your God.” – Numbers 15;40 NLT

Their lives were to match their calling. Set-apart people are expected to live set-apart lives. Unlike the man who willingly violated the Sabbath and was stoned to death, they were to walk according to God’s commands. Each time they prepared to take a step, they would see the tassels on the hem of their garments and be reminded to tread carefully and obediently.

Not long before his death in the wilderness, Moses had delivered a lengthy and passionate speech to the people of Israel. Because of his own disobedience, he would not be entering the land of Canaan with them. So, motivated by his own failure to fully obey the Lord, he called the people to “walk” before the Lord all the days of their lives.

“You shall be careful therefore to do as the Lord your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess.” – Deuteronomy 5:32-33 ESV

Moses longed for the people of Israel to enjoy all the blessings that God had in store for them. But he knew it would require obedience.

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 ESV

“The Lord will establish you as a people holy to himself, as he has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in his ways.” – Deuteronomy 28:9 ESV

But Moses also warned them about the consequences of disobedience. Failure to “walk” with God would prove costly, even catastrophic.

“But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.Deuteronomy 28:15 ESV

“All these curses shall come upon you and pursue you and overtake you till you are destroyed, because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that he commanded you.Deuteronomy 28:45 ESV

It pays to obey. Walking the talk has its benefits. God wanted the Israelites to know that conducting one’s life in keeping with God’s commands wasn’t just good advice, it was a matter of life and death. And the Israelites received a much-needed reminder to consider the source of the commands they were called to keep.

“I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt that I might be your God. I am the Lord your God!”Numbers 15:41 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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 Heart of the Matter

12 So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly. For what can the man do who comes after the king? Only what has already been done. 13 Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness. 14 The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them. 15 Then I said in my heart, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” And I said in my heart that this also is vanity. 16 For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool! 17 So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind.

18 I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, 19 and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. 20 So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21 because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22 What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? 23 For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.

24 There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, 25 for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? 26 For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind. Ecclesiastes 2:12-26 ESV

I’m sure there was a day when Solomon was fun to be around, but at this point in his life, he comes across as a pessimistic, old curmudgeon who has long lost the capacity to smile. His gloomy rhetoric portrays him as a glass-half-empty kind of guy. But it might be more accurate to say that his glass is bone dry and his temperament is dark and depressing. But he still has his wisdom and the ability to see things that many of us tend to miss. And recognizing his responsibility as the “preacher” or speaker in the assembly, Solomon deigned to share his somewhat somber life lessons with others. Which is the whole reason he took the time to write this book.

Solomon seemed to believe that his role as king, equipped with virtually unlimited resources, unbridled autonomy, and unparalleled wisdom, placed him in a unique position to investigate the true meaning of life. So, he did. And he did so with all his heart, expending a great deal of time, money, and energy in his pursuit. In fact, Solomon repeatedly refers to his heart throughout the book of Ecclesiastes. He mentions it no less than eight times in this chapter alone.

I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” – vs 1

I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom – vs 3

I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. – vs 10

Then I said in my heart, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” And I said in my heart that this also is vanity. – vs 15

So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun – vs 20

For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity. – vs 23

While Solomon talks a great deal about the pursuit of pleasure, the accumulation of possessions, and his many accomplishments and acquisitions, the real focus of his attention is the state of his own heart. Everything he did in life was meant to fill the void that existed there. His focus on external remedies was an attempt to address an internal problem. But he discovered that they were all like mist, fleeting and ephemeral. They brought temporary relief and short-lived satisfaction, but could never address his real problem: The spiritual condition of his heart.

Solomon even viewed the wisdom given to him by God as an insufficient and inadequate resource for addressing his heart problem. From his perspective, he could spend a lifetime using his wisdom to accomplish great good and for achieving noble goals, but when he died, he would leave it all behind, never knowing if his successor would be wise or foolish.

I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. – Ecclesiastes 2:18-19 ESV

All his accomplishments, regardless of how significant or praiseworthy, would be left in the hands of another. His wealth, possessions, palace, and even his concubines, would become the possession of someone else. And this thought cast a dark shadow over all of Solomon’s many successes.

So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. – Ecclesiastes 2:20-21 ESV

And his conclusion was simple: “This also is vanity and a great evil.

Solomon is not downplaying the significance of hard work or achievement, and he is not suggesting that we simply avoid work altogether. He is addressing the need to live life with a recognition that our time on this earth is limited and we have little to no control over our own destiny. That is why he spends such much time discussing the inevitable futility of life lived under the sun. Generation after generation comes and goes, and the only thing that remains is the earth itself. The sun rises and sets, in a never-ending cycle, and man disappears from the face of the earth in a similar manner, never to be seen again.

All of this led Solomon to conclude: “So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work” (Ecclesiastes 2:24 NLT).

We have to be careful when interpreting the meaning behind Solomon’s words. They can come across as defeatist in tone. He sounds like a man who has thrown up his hands in despair and resigned himself to simply endure life until he dies. But notice what he says: “I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God. For who can eat or enjoy anything apart from him?” (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 NLT).

This is one of the few times Solomon has mentioned God up to this point. He recognizes that the joy and pleasures of life are a gift from God, to be enjoyed and appreciated. Solomon is not a fatalist, proposing that we simply give up and fill up our lives with the mindless pursuit of pleasure. He is a realist, who is attempting to share his painful life lessons with others. He is preaching a message that promotes finding enjoyment in the things God has graciously given to mankind. We are to enjoy them, but not worship them. We are to experience pleasure from them, but not make them the source of our pleasure. This perspective was echoed by James. 

Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. – James 1:17 NLT

In his commentary on the book of Ecclesiastes, Derek Kidner shares a powerful insight into Solomon’s message, revealing that the danger we all face is the temptation to worship the gifts more than the Giver, to seek satisfaction from the things of life, instead of the Creator of life.

“. . . in themselves, and rightly used, the basic things of life are sweet and good. Food, drink and work are samples of them, and Qoheleth will remind us of others [cf. 9:7-10; 11:7-10]. What spoils them is our hunger to get out of them more than they can give; a symptom of the longing which differentiates us from the beasts, but whose misdirection is the underlying theme of this book.” – Derek Kidner, The Message of Ecclesiastes: A Time to Mourn, and a Time to Dance

Solomon ends this chapter with what he believes to be an insight into the ways of God.

God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy to those who please him. But if a sinner becomes wealthy, God takes the wealth away and gives it to those who please him. This, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind. – Ecclesiastes 2:26 NLT

Solomon believed that God rewarded those who pleased Him. He shared the commonly held view of his day that God blessed those who were faithful to Him, even taking what belonged to the wicked and giving it to the godly. According to this way of thinking, all the rewards of a life lived well were to be enjoyed in the here-and-now. We get our rewards in this life. And for Solomon, this was further proof of the futility of it all. Even if you worked hard, it really didn’t matter because God could simply take what was yours and give it to someone He deemed as more worthy.

But Solomon failed to recognize what the author of Hebrews understood.

…without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. – Hebrews 11:6 NLT

Yes, God rewards those who believe in Him and who seek to draw near to Him. But that reward has little to do with this life. It involves the life to come. While God does shower us with many blessings and graciously allows us to enjoy all the pleasures that come with life under the sun, our greatest reward lies in the distant future. Solomon had lost sight of that fact and had immersed himself in a never-ending pursuit of immediate significance and satisfaction. He wanted it all and he wanted it now. But no matter how hard he worked and how much he achieved, he always came to the same disappointing conclusion: “This, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind.

In his head, Solomon was convinced that satisfaction could only be found in the things of this world. But nothing could fill the void in his heart. Even the temporal blessings of God were unfulfilling because they could be lost or would eventually be left behind. But Solomon was learning the painful yet crucial lesson that nothing would ever fill the God-shaped hole in his heart.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

Better Than Gold

12 “I, wisdom, dwell with prudence,
    and I find knowledge and discretion.
13 The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil.
Pride and arrogance and the way of evil
    and perverted speech I hate.
14 I have counsel and sound wisdom;
    I have insight; I have strength.
15 By me kings reign,
    and rulers decree what is just;
16 by me princes rule,
    and nobles, all who govern justly.
17 I love those who love me,
    and those who seek me diligently find me.
18 Riches and honor are with me,
    enduring wealth and righteousness.
19 My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold,
    and my yield than choice silver.
20 I walk in the way of righteousness,
    in the paths of justice,
21 granting an inheritance to those who love me,
    and filling their treasuries. – Proverbs 8:12-21 ESV

Wisdom makes some fairly lofty claims and promises. At times, it can come across as self-promoting and rather narcissistic.

“I, Wisdom, live together with good judgment…” vs 12 (NLT)

“I know where to discover knowledge and discernment…” – vs 12 (NLT)

Common sense and success belong to me…” – vs 14 (NLT)

Insight and strength are mine…” – vs 14 (NLT)

“Because of me, kings reign, and rulers make just decrees…” – vs 15 (NLT)

Rulers lead with my help, and nobles make righteous judgments…” – vs 16 (NLT)

I have riches and honor, as well as enduring wealth and justice…” – vs 18 (NLT)

My gifts are better than gold, even the purest gold…” – vs 19 (NLT)

“…my wages [are] better than sterling silver! – vs 19 (NLT)

I walk in righteousness, in paths of justice“…” – vs 20 (NLT)

“Those who love me inherit wealth. I will fill their treasuries.” – vs 21 (NLT)

Those are some confident assertions that could easily come across as boastful and pretentious. It wouldn’t be too difficult to view Wisdom as egotistical and consumed with her own self-importance. But then we have to stop and realize that Wisdom is not an actual person but a gift from God. It is one of the divine attributes He graciously gives to all those who reverence Him and long to know Him.

Fear of the LORD is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment. – Proverbs 9:10 NLT

Wisdom isn’t bragging; it’s simply stating the indisputable facts concerning its life-enhancing benefits to mankind. The boastful-sounding nature of its assertions is meant to point out the absurdity of anyone ever turning their back on this incredible resource from God. And yet, the sad reality is that countless men and women have spurned the gift of wisdom because they have refused to acknowledge the One from whom it comes.

Agur, the son of Jakeh, was gracious enough to confess what happened when he decided to live his life without a proper reverence for God and the wisdom that He alone can give.

I am weary, O God;
    I am weary and worn out, O God.
I am too stupid to be human,
    and I lack common sense.
I have not mastered human wisdom,
    nor do I know the Holy One.– Proverbs 30:1-3 ESV

When you consider the laundry list of benefits that Wisdom claims to offer, it makes Agur’s decision all that more shocking. He could have had access to good judgment, knowledge, discernment, and common sense. And to top it all off, he could have enjoyed unprecedented success in life. Consider the promise that Wisdom offers.

“I have riches and honor,
    as well as enduring wealth and justice.” – vs 18 (NLT)

Wow, what a verse! This is what I like to call a coffee mug passage. It’s one of those kinds of verses we like to read, and love to claim as a promise from God. Here we have wisdom making a rather mind-blowing offer of wealth and riches, honor and justice. Who wouldn’t want to sign up for that offer? It’s like the American dream all wrapped up in one verse and found smack dab in the middle of Scripture.

If I were a TV evangelist, this would be my signature verse. But is the promise of health, wealth, and prosperity what this verse is all about? Upon closer examination, we discover that the answer is a simple, yet resounding, “NO!”

Yes, this passage does seem to say that those who find the wisdom of God will also find riches and honor, not to mention enduring wealth and justice. But here’s the problem. We tend to interpret this verse based on our working definitions of riches, honor, and enduring wealth. And as far as justice goes, we’ll gladly take it, as long as it flows in our direction. But if we’re being honest, we would much rather have the other three.

If I read this passage through my worldly lens of materialism and monetary blessings, I hear it offering me everything from power and possessions to recognition and financial rewards. But we have to take all this into context. A few verses earlier in the chapter, wisdom warned, “Choose my instruction rather than silver, and knowledge rather than pure gold. For wisdom is far more valuable than rubies. Nothing you desire can compare with it” (Proverbs 8:10-11 NLT).

What Wisdom offers is more valuable than any precious metal or rare jewel. It’s better than a bigger, more expensive home or a burgeoning stock portfolio. Just a few verses later, Wisdom states, “My gifts are better than gold, even the purest gold, my wages better than sterling silver!” (Proverbs 8:19 NLT).

So, the riches, honor, and enduring wealth Wisdom offers must have to do with something other than money or financial rewards. When Wisdom states, “Those who love me inherit wealth. I will fill their treasuries” (Proverbs 8:21 NLT), it must not be talking about cash and coins. No, the enduring wealth that comes with the wisdom of God is something of an eternal nature and it has true lasting value.

When we learn to fear God and avail ourselves of His wisdom, the benefits we receive are more than monetary in nature. A little later in the same chapter, wisdom clarifies and qualifies the benefits it offers.

“for all who follow my ways are joyful…” – Proverbs 8:32b NLT

“Joyful are those who listen to me, watching daily for me at my gates, waiting for me outside my home!” – Proverbs 8:34 NLT

The real value of a life lived in the fear of God and in total dependence upon the wisdom of God is clear.

“For whoever finds me finds life and receives favor from the Lord.” – Proverbs 8:35 NLT

That’s something you can bank on – for eternity – no matter what happens to the economy. It is lasting and life-changing. It is a rock-solid investment opportunity that will pay dividends in this life and the one to come. When Wisdom states, “Those who love me inherit wealth,” it is more than a promise of a monetary windfall; it is the guarantee of a God-blessed life. And God knows that our needs cannot be met by material wealth alone.

Solomon himself would later record his failed attempts to seek satisfaction and significance from worldly treasures and pleasures.

I tried to experience the only happiness most people find during their brief life in this world.

I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards. I made gardens and parks, filling them with all kinds of fruit trees. I built reservoirs to collect the water to irrigate my many flourishing groves. I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned large herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who had lived in Jerusalem before me. I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire!

So I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere. – Ecclesiastes 2:3-11 NLT

He had it all but in the end, he had nothing. He had health, wealth, and prosperity but he lacked joy and a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Yet, the apostle Paul, who lived in relative poverty when compared to Solomon, was able to tell the believers in Philippi, “my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19 ESV). And he told the Corinthian believers the same thing.

God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. – 2 Corinthians 9:8 ESV

Wisdom doesn’t guarantee us our best life now; at least not in monetary terms. But it does promise us abundant life, just as Jesus did.

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. – John 10:10 ESV

Solomon had been blessed with great wisdom, but he failed to keep his eye on the true prize: His relationship with God. Instead, he sought after the things of this world, in a sad attempt to find satisfaction and meaning for his life in the gifts rather than the Giver. Speaking on behalf of God, Wisdom states, “I love all who love me. Those who search will surely find me” (Proverbs 8:17 NLT). Solomon stopped seeking God and put all his time and energy into pursuing the things of this world; only to discover too late that he had leaned his ladder against the wrong wall.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

The Land of “Evil” and Blessing

Then Joseph brought in Jacob his father and stood him before Pharaoh, and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How many are the days of the years of your life?” And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning.” 10 And Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from the presence of Pharaoh. 11 Then Joseph settled his father and his brothers and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded. 12 And Joseph provided his father, his brothers, and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their dependents. 

13 Now there was no food in all the land, for the famine was very severe, so that the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan languished by reason of the famine. 14 And Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, in exchange for the grain that they bought. And Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh’s house. 15 And when the money was all spent in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, “Give us food. Why should we die before your eyes? For our money is gone.” 16 And Joseph answered, “Give your livestock, and I will give you food in exchange for your livestock, if your money is gone.” 17 So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them food in exchange for the horses, the flocks, the herds, and the donkeys. He supplied them with food in exchange for all their livestock that year. 18 And when that year was ended, they came to him the following year and said to him, “We will not hide from my lord that our money is all spent. The herds of livestock are my lord’s. There is nothing left in the sight of my lord but our bodies and our land. 19 Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for food, and we with our land will be servants to Pharaoh. And give us seed that we may live and not die, and that the land may not be desolate.” – Genesis 47:7-19 ESV

Joseph settled his family in the land of Goshen, which was located in the northern-most region of Egypt. As the text reveals, it was also known as  “the land of Rameses.” It seems likely that Moses used this name because his readers would have been more familiar with that designation. Rameses was the name of a modern city in the region and it means, “Ra [the sun god] has created it.” Moses wanted his readers to understand exactly where their ancestors had settled with they first entered Egypt. The mention of Rameses gave them a much clearer idea of where Jacob and his family began what would become a four-century long stay for the people of Israel.

Moses provides a brief description of what was probably Jacob’s only encounter with Pharaoh. Due to his son’s position of high rank in Pharaoh’s court, Jacob was given an audience before this powerful world leader and Pharaoh treated Jacob with dignity and respect. When he inquired as to Jacob’s age, the patriarch stated, “The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years” (Genesis 47:9 ESV).

It’s fascinating to consider why Moses included this verbal exchange between the all-powerful Pharaoh and the weak and elderly father of Joseph. One man was the epitome of power and influence, while the other was in the latter stages of his life and completely dependent upon his son’s kindness and Pharaoh’s mercies. And when Jacob answered Pharaoh’s question, it’s interesting to note the specific words he used. Jacob stated that, while he had lived to be 130-years old, “few and evil have been the days of the years of my life” (Genesis 47:9 ESV). In comparison to his father and grandfather, Jacob considered himself to be a youngster. Abraham had died at the ripe old age of 175, and Isaac had died at 180. 

But Jacob referred to his relatively short life as having been “evil.” The Hebrew word he used is רַע (raʿ), which, in the Scriptures, is most often translated as “evil,” but can also mean painful and full of sorrow. But it seems ironic that Jacob used this particular Hebrew word to describe his life on earth because it was very similar to the name of the Egyptian god for whom the region known as Rameses was named.

“Ra is the Egyptian word for ‘sun’. As a solar deity, Ra embodied the power of the sun but was also thought to be the sun itself, envisioned as the great god riding in his barge across the heavens throughout the day and descending into the underworld at sunset.

“According to scholar Richard H. Wilkinson, Ra is “arguably Egypt’s most important deity” not only because of his association with the life-giving sun but also through his influence on the development of later gods

“He was known as the Self-Created-One who appears in creation myths as the deity (interchangeably known as Atum) who stands on the primordial mound amidst the swirling waters of chaos and establishes order, gives birth to the other gods, and creates the world.” – Mark, Joshua J.. “Ra (Egyptian God).” World History Encyclopedia

It doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that Jacob described his life on earth as having been raʿ or evil, and the name for the land in which he was about to relocate was named for an Egyptian god named Ra. And each word is pronounced “rah,” in either Hebrew or Egyptian. Was Jacob using this word on purpose, or did Moses choose to use it in order to express an opinion to his readers.

There may be a bit of foreshadowing taking place. Moses knew the rest of the story and, in choosing to use this word, he may have been hinting that the coming days the Israelites would spend in Rameses (Ra [the sun god] has created it) would also be filled with evil. While Goshen would prove to be a hospitable sight in the early days of Jacob’s sojourn, Moses appears to be telegraphing that the good graces of Pharaoh would soon turn evil. The land that Ra had created would eventually become inhospitable and unwelcoming.

But this rather short aside by Moses is followed by his description of Jacob’s settlement in the land.

Joseph settled his father and his brothers and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded – Genesis 47:11 ESV

And having successfully relocated his family to Goshen, Joseph ensured that they had plenty of food to eat because the famine was far from over.

In the following verses, Moses shifts his attention on the leadership skills of Joseph, outlining his ongoing plan to provide for the ongoing needs of the people of Egypt while successfully enhancing the power and wealth of Pharaoh.

It is essential to remember that the famine was widespread. Egypt was no better off than Canaan, but because of Joseph had been blessed by God and equipped with divinely inspired leadership, he had been able to set up a strategy that took advantage of the seven years of fruitfulness that had preceded the seven years of famine. He had overseen the creation of a vast supply network of storehouses filled with grain. So, when the famine came and no one was able to grow crops, the people could come and buy grain from Pharaoh’s well-stocked granaries.

Moses goes out of his way to describe the gravity of the situation.

…there was no food in all the land, for the famine was very severe… – Genesis 47:13 ESV

But because of Joseph’s ingenuity and planning, the people were able to purchase all the grain they needed, with the profits going directly into Pharaoh’s royal treasury. God was blessing the nations just as He had promised to Abraham, and He was doing it through Joseph, the great-grandson of Abraham. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was blessing Pharaoh, who worshiped the false god, Ra.

According to the World History Encyclopedia, “Ra’s presence on earth was recognized by sunlight and the growth of crops as well as the changing seasons.” And yet, the survival of the Egyptians was based on the good graces of the Joseph’s God, the true creator of heaven and earth. Ra had proved incapable of sustaining the food supply of the very people who worshiped and offered sacrifices to him. But the God of Joseph had managed to provide more than enough food to feed the people of Egypt, with plenty left over to meet the needs of Jacob’s family.

As the years passed and the famine continued, the people eventually ran out of money, so they were forced to exchange their livestock for grain. When the famine failed to end, they were left with nothing to trade except their land and their own bodies. Desperate for food, they essentially sold themselves into servitude to Pharaoh.

What’s fascinating to consider is that, all the while the Egyptians were exhausting their savings, selling of all their livestock, and sacrificing their land and their freedom in order to survive, Joseph was caring for the needs of Jacob and his family. Their livestock and land remained their own. They were never required to pay for a single ounce of grain. So, they prospered and their flocks flourished while everyone else around them was forced into penury and servitude.

The people of Egypt, in a desperate attempt to survive the relentless effects of the famine, relinquished all rights to their property,  possessions, and personal rights.

Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for food, and we with our land will be servants to Pharaoh. And give us seed that we may live and not die, and that the land may not be desolate.” – Genesis 47:19 ESV

And one can only imagine how they felt about the Israelites who were prospering in the land of Goshen, which had been created by their god, Ra.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

A Growing Conflict

17 So Isaac departed from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar and settled there. 18 And Isaac dug again the wells of water that had been dug in the days of Abraham his father, which the Philistines had stopped after the death of Abraham. And he gave them the names that his father had given them. 19 But when Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and found there a well of spring water, 20 the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen, saying, “The water is ours.” So he called the name of the well Esek, because they contended with him. 21 Then they dug another well, and they quarreled over that also, so he called its name Sitnah. 22 And he moved from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it. So he called its name Rehoboth, saying, “For now the Lord has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.”

23 From there he went up to Beersheba. 24 And the Lord appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.” 25 So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the Lord and pitched his tent there. And there Isaac’s servants dug a well. 

26 When Abimelech went to him from Gerar with Ahuzzath his adviser and Phicol the commander of his army, 27 Isaac said to them, “Why have you come to me, seeing that you hate me and have sent me away from you?” 28 They said, “We see plainly that the Lord has been with you. So we said, let there be a sworn pact between us, between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you, 29 that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the Lord.” 30 So he made them a feast, and they ate and drank. 31 In the morning they rose early and exchanged oaths. And Isaac sent them on their way, and they departed from him in peace. 32 That same day Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well that they had dug and said to him, “We have found water.” 33 He called it Shibah; therefore the name of the city is Beersheba to this day.

34 When Esau was forty years old, he took Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite to be his wife, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite, 35 and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah. Genesis 26:17-35 ESV

The blessings of God were clearly evident in Isaac’s life. He had become a wealthy man while living among the people of Philistia. But they soon grew jealous and suspicious of this stranger’s expanding presence in their land, so they demanded that he leave. But Isaac didn’t go far. He ended up settling in the Valley of Gerar, where he began the process of digging wells for his growing flocks and herds. Unfortunately for Isaac, the wells his father had dug many years earlier had been decommissioned by the Philistines. In an effort to rid themselves of Abraham and his future descendants, they had filled in all the wells he had dug. This forced Isaac to dig new wells, a laborious and time-consuming task.

But each time Isaac’s servants dug a productive well, they found themselves in a contentious standoff with the local citizens, who claimed it as their own. It seems that everywhere Isaac turned, he was faced with opposition. The Philistines were going out of their way to make his stay in their land as uncomfortable as possible. And because the entire land of Canaan was experiencing a famine, Isaac was having a difficult time caring for all the flocks, herds, and servants with which God had blessed him. He even ended up giving two of the wells the highly descriptive names of “Contention” and “Enmity.” Things were not going well.

They say the third time is the charm, and that proved true for Isaac. A third well dug by his servants proved to be uncontested, prompting Isaac to give it the name, Rehoboth,  which means, “to make room.” It seems that Isaac was expressing his gratitude to God for having made room for them among the Philistines. Despite all the opposition they had faced, God had provided them with a much-needed source of fresh water. And Isaac vocalized his gratefulness for God’s blessing.

For now the Lord has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.” – Genesis 26:22 ESV

The water provided by the well was another sign of God’s blessings upon Isaac. Not only would he be able to sustain the life of his flocks, but he would have water necessary to plant and harvest crops – in the middle of a famine.

But after an undisclosed length of time, Isaac moved his growing clan to Beersheba. This small town was located at the southernmost tip of Canaan, on the very edge of Negev Desert. It was in Beersheba that Abraham had made an covenant with King Abimelech. It was there, decades earlier, that the servants of Abimelech had unlawfully seized a well dug by Abraham. In exchange for seven ewe lambs, Abimelech acknowledged the well as belonging to Abraham and his descendants. The name Beersheba means “well of seven” or “well of the oath.” It was while living in Beersheba that Isaac received a vision and message from the Lord.

“I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.” – Genesis 26:24 ESV

God reiterated His covenant commitment to Isaac, ensuring him that the promises made to Abraham would be fulfilled through him. Abraham was dead but God’s promises were very much alive and well. He would do what He had promised to do. Like his father before him, Isaac built an altar to Yahweh and “called there on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God” (Genesis 21:33 ESV).

Having demonstrated his devotion and gratitude to God, Isaac commissioned the digging of yet another well, probably an indication of his vast wealth and the growing size of his flocks and herds. One well would not suffice. And when Abimelech received word that Isaac had settled in Beersheba just as Abraham had done, he determined to pay the young man a visit. This entire scene is reminiscent of a similar trip made years earlier by Abimelech and Phicol, his army commander.

At that time Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his army said to Abraham, “God is with you in all that you do. Now therefore swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my descendants or with my posterity, but as I have dealt kindly with you, so you will deal with me and with the land where you have sojourned.” And Abraham said, “I will swear.”Genesis 21:22-24 ESV

History has a way of repeating itself and chapter 26 of Genesis is proof. Here we have the king of Gerar and his army commander making another unscheduled visit to Beersheba in order to strike another agreement with the son of Abraham.

“We see plainly that the Lord has been with you. So we said, let there be a sworn pact between us, between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you, that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the Lord.” – Genesis 26:28-29 ESV

Abimelech renewed his covenant with Abraham, but this time, with his son. He saw the handwriting on the wall and seemed to understand that Abraham’s God was going to continue to pour out His blessing upon Abraham’s offspring. The names may have changed, but the outcome seemed as certain as ever. Even this pagan potentate understood that Abraham’s offspring were the heirs of God’s gracious provision and protection. So, he made a peace treaty with Isaac and celebrated their agreement with a feast.

Then Isaac was informed that yet another well had been dug in Beersheba, which he promptly named, Shibah, which means “oath.” There is more to this name than a recognition of an oath sworn between two men. This entire pericope is meant to stress the covenant-keeping nature of God Almighty. He had made an oath to Abraham and He was going to stand by it, even though Abraham was long gone. Isaac would be the next in line to receive the blessings of God. And soon, his son, Jacob would follow in his footsteps.

But Moses ends this section with a brief update on Esau’s marital status. Esau was technically the firstborn son, but he had sold his birthright to Jacob for the price of a bowl of stew. And in these closing verses of chapter 26, Moses reveals that Esau ended up taking two foreign wives from among the Hittites. These were the descendants of Heth, who had been one of the sons of Canaan., who was the grandson of Noah. Ham, the son of Noah had dishonored him so, as a result, Noah had placed a curse upon Ham’s descendants (Genesis 9:25).

Esau, who had treated his birthright with contempt, ended up marrying two different women from among the descendants of Heth. And Moses flatly states, “and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah” (Genesis 26:35 ESV). Noah had declared that the offspring of Canaan would end up being the servants of their own relatives. And it seems that this curse came to fruition in the life of Esau. By marrying women from among the sons of Heth, Esau sealed their fate and assured an ongoing conflict between the sons of Jacob and Esau.

But Esau’s wives made life miserable for Isaac and Rebekah. – Genesis 26:35 NLT

How? They ended up bearing Esau children who would become the enemies of Jacob’s descendants. And the stage is set for a growing conflict between Jacob and Esau. But God is at work, behind the scenes, orchestrating everything according to His sovereign plan.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

We Have No King

1 Israel is a luxuriant vine
    that yields its fruit.
The more his fruit increased,
    the more altars he built;
as his country improved,
    he improved his pillars.
Their heart is false;
    now they must bear their guilt.
The Lord will break down their altars
    and destroy their pillars.

For now they will say:
    “We have no king,
for we do not fear the Lord;
    and a king—what could he do for us?”
They utter mere words;
    with empty oaths they make covenants;
so judgment springs up like poisonous weeds
    in the furrows of the field.
The inhabitants of Samaria tremble
    for the calf of Beth-aven.
Its people mourn for it, and so do its idolatrous priests—
    those who rejoiced over it and over its glory—
    for it has departed from them.
The thing itself shall be carried to Assyria
    as tribute to the great king.
Ephraim shall be put to shame,
    and Israel shall be ashamed of his idol.

Samaria’s king shall perish
    like a twig on the face of the waters.
The high places of Aven, the sin of Israel,
    shall be destroyed.
Thorn and thistle shall grow up
    on their altars,
and they shall say to the mountains, “Cover us,”
    and to the hills, “Fall on us.” – Hosea 10:1-8 ESV

God had been good to Israel and, over the centuries, He had blessed them in countless ways. The psalmist describes Israel as a luxuriant grapevine that God had uprooted from Egypt and transplanted into the fertile soil of Canaan.

You brought us from Egypt like a grapevine;
    you drove away the pagan nations and transplanted us into your land.
You cleared the ground for us,
    and we took root and filled the land.
Our shade covered the mountains;
    our branches covered the mighty cedars.
We spread our branches west to the Mediterranean Sea;
    our shoots spread east to the Euphrates River.
 
– Psalm 80:8-11 NLT

This imagery of Israel as the vine is found throughout the Old Testament. The prophet Ezekiel uses similar terminology to point out the manifold blessings that God had bestowed on His chosen people.

“Your mother was like a vine
    planted by the water’s edge.
It had lush, green foliage
    because of the abundant water.
Its branches became strong—
    strong enough to be a ruler’s scepter.
It grew very tall,
    towering above all others.
It stood out because of its height
    and its many lush branches. – Ezekiel 19:10-11 NLT

But both the psalmist and the prophet follow up their descriptions of Israel as a healthy and fruitful vine with pronouncements of the nation’s ultimate demise. Asaph, the author of Psalm 80, tells the chilling aftermath of God’s judgment on Israel for their ongoing disobedience.

But now, why have you broken down our walls
    so that all who pass by may steal our fruit?
The wild boar from the forest devours it,
    and the wild animals feed on it. – Psalm 80:12-13 NLT

And Ezekiel declares a similarly dire outcome.

But the vine was uprooted in fury
    and thrown down to the ground.
The desert wind dried up its fruit
    and tore off its strong branches,
so that it withered
    and was destroyed by fire.
Now the vine is transplanted to the wilderness,
    where the ground is hard and dry.
A fire has burst out from its branches
    and devoured its fruit.
Its remaining limbs are not
    strong enough to be a ruler’s scepter. – Ezekiel 19:12-14 NLT

And Hosea echoes the words of these men, describing Israel as “a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit” (Hosea 10:1 ESV). He readily admits that Israel had been abundantly blessed by God, but they had returned the favor by giving their attention and affections to false gods.

But the richer the people get,
    the more pagan altars they build.
The more bountiful their harvests,
    the more beautiful their sacred pillars. – Hosea 10:1 NLT

All the way back in the wilderness, long before the people entered the land of Canaan, Moses had seen this day coming. He had warned the people to remain faithful to Yahweh, especially when they began to enjoy the good things of life.

“…the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land of flowing streams and pools of water, with fountains and springs that gush out in the valleys and hills. It is a land of wheat and barley; of grapevines, fig trees, and pomegranates; of olive oil and honey. It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking. It is a land where iron is as common as stone, and copper is abundant in the hills. When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.” – Deuteronomy 8:7-10 NLT

Moses knew human nature, and he had spent enough time with the people of Israel to know how they were likely to respond when the blessings of God began to flow. So, he warned them in advance.

“…that is the time to be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the LORD your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today. For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! Do not become proud at that time and forget the LORD your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 8:11-14 NLT

But by the time we get to the days of Hosea and the reign of King Jeroboam II, the people of Israel have made a steady habit of pride and forgetfulness. In the midst of all their abundance, they had chosen to abandon God. And the evidence of their unfaithfulness was everywhere. They had erected altars and shrines to every imaginable idol, each one a slap in the face to their faithful, loving, and gracious God. And Hosea declares that their hearts are false. They would still declare their belief in and allegiance to Yahweh, but their actions proved otherwise. The prophet Isaiah would record God’s less-than-flattering assessment of His unfaithful people.

“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

The people of Israel took pride in their special designation as the chosen people of God. The problem was that they failed to live up to that illustrious and undeserved status. They were more than willing to accept God’s blessings and flaunt their preferred position as His children, but they lived as if He didn’t even exist. Their actions revealed their lack of love for God.

And Hosea warns them that God was about to “break down their altars and smash their sacred pillars” (Hosea 10:2 NLT). The false gods in whom they had placed their hope and trust were going to be proven useless and powerless in the face of God’s wrath. The Assyrian army would march through Israel, leaving a path of death and destruction in its wake. They would destroy all the sacred sites and plunder anything of value, including the two golden calf statues that Jeroboam I had made when the northern kingdom of Israel had first been formed.

Hosea describes the people as mourning over their former god, the “calf idol at Beth-aven(Hosea 10:5 NLT), as it is hauled away by the Assyrians.

This idol will be carted away to Assyria,
    a gift to the great king there.
Ephraim will be ridiculed and Israel will be shamed,
    because its people have trusted in this idol. – Hosea 10:6 NLT

This god’s only value will be in the gold from which it was made. Unlike Yahweh, this false god will be exposed as impotent and incapable of providing for and protecting those whose hands had made it.  The people and priests of Israel will have to stand by and watch as their deity is carted off on a cart, never to be seen again.

But along with all their idols, Israel will face the loss of its king.

Samaria’s king shall perish
    like a twig on the face of the waters. – Hosea 10:7 NLT

Every element of authority would be destroyed or carted away. The capital city of Samaria, the center of power, would be destroyed. Their false gods would be taken as plunder. Their king would be removed from his royal throne and placed in prison where he would die. And the people would end up as slaves in the land of Assyria.

Then the king of Assyria invaded the entire land, and for three years he besieged the city of Samaria. Finally, in the ninth year of King Hoshea’s reign, Samaria fell, and the people of Israel were exiled to Assyria. They were settled in colonies in Halah, along the banks of the Habor River in Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

This disaster came upon the people of Israel because they worshiped other gods. They sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them safely out of Egypt and had rescued them from the power of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. – 2 Kings 17:5-7 NLT

And the remnant left living in the land of Israel will find themselves in a state of despair and despondency. Their losses will leave them hopeless and pessimistic. They will learn a valuable lesson from their losses, but it will be too little, too late.

“We have no king
    because we didn’t fear the Lord.
But even if we had a king,
    what could he do for us anyway?” – Hosea 10:3 NLT

With their capital city destroyed, their friends and neighbors living in captivity, and their sacred shrines empty of idols, the people will long for death.

They will beg the mountains, “Bury us!”
    and plead with the hills, “Fall on us!” – Hosea 10:8 NLT

The rebellious nation of Israel will find itself experiencing futility rather than fruitfulness. They will discover the pain and hopelessness associated with a life lived without God. When they cry out, “we have no king,” it will be because they have rejected God as their one true King.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Divine Word Against Lip-Service

Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Judah,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they have rejected the law of the Lord,
    and have not kept his statutes,
but their lies have led them astray,
    those after which their fathers walked.
So I will send a fire upon Judah,
    and it shall devour the strongholds of Jerusalem.” Amos 2:4-5 ESV

Now God turns His attention to the two southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin. At one time, the 12 tribes of Israel were unified and enjoyed a period of great peace and prosperity under the wise leadership of King Solomon. But even with all his wisdom, Solomon still succumbed to the temptation of sin, marrying 700 wives and 300 concubines. God had expressly commanded that Israel’s king “must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the LORD” (Deuteronomy 17:17 NLT). But it seems that Solomon had inherited his father’s love for women, which led him to violate God’s command and live out in real life what God had warned would happen. Solomon married women from such countries as Egypt, Moab, Ammon, Edom, and Sidon. And, “In Solomon’s old age, they turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the Lord his God, as his father, David, had been” (1 Kings 11:4 NLT).

So, God delivered the fateful news to Solomon that the great kingdom he had inherited from his father, David, would be split in two.

“Since you have not kept my covenant and have disobeyed my decrees, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your servants. – 1 Kings 11:11 NLT

Solomon had willingly disobeyed the covenant established between Yahweh and the nation of Israel. And his love affair with his foreign wives and their false gods had led the people of Israel down a path marked by idolatry and apostasy.

God graciously informed Solomon that he would be allowed to complete his reign over a unified Israel. But God also broke the devastating news that, upon Solomon’s death, his son, Rehoboam would be left with a kingdom that was a shadow of its former glory.

But for the sake of your father, David, I will not do this while you are still alive. I will take the kingdom away from your son. And even so, I will not take away the entire kingdom; I will let him be king of one tribe, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, my chosen city.” – 1 Kings 11:12-13 NLT

Actually, Rehoboam would end up ruling over Judah and the much smaller tribe of Benjamin, while the other ten tribes revolted, declaring themselves to be an independent nation with Jeroboam as their king.

Rehoboam was severely short-changed when it came to the kingdom he inherited from his father. But it seems that he inherited every bit of his father’s love affair with idolatry. Rehoboam’s mother was an Ammonite and it would appear that she also had a strong influence over his spiritual life. Like his father before him, Rehoboam led the people to disobey and forsake God. During his reign, “the people of Judah did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, provoking his anger with their sin, for it was even worse than that of their ancestors” (1 Kings 14:22 NLT). And this pattern of rebellious behavior would continue on and off for centuries, periodically broken during the reign of one of a handful of godly kings who ruled over Judah.

One such king was Uzziah, who was on the throne of Judah during the time that Amos prophesied against the northern kingdom of Israel. According to 2 Chronicles, Uzziah was a good king who remained faithful to Yahweh.

He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, just as his father, Amaziah, had done. Uzziah sought God during the days of Zechariah, who taught him to fear God. And as long as the king sought guidance from the Lord, God gave him success. – 2 Chronicles 26:4-5 NLT

We’re even told that “God helped him in his wars against the Philistines, his battles with the Arabs of Gur, and his wars with the Meunites” (2 Chronicles 26:7 NLT). Yet, even good King Uzziah had his flaws. It seems that all his military successes went to his head and his ego got the best of him.

…when he had become powerful, he also became proud, which led to his downfall. He sinned against the Lord his God by entering the sanctuary of the Lord’s Temple and personally burning incense on the incense altar. Azariah the high priest went in after him with eighty other priests of the Lord, all brave men. They confronted King Uzziah and said, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord. That is the work of the priests alone, the descendants of Aaron who are set apart for this work. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have sinned. The Lord God will not honor you for this!”

Uzziah, who was holding an incense burner, became furious. – 2 Chronicles 26:16-19 NLT

Like Solomon, Uzziah violated the covenant commandments of God. According to the Mosaic law, he was forbidden from performing the duties of a priest. God had expressly forbidden anyone but an ordained and consecrated priest from entering the sanctuary of God.

“Appoint Aaron and his sons to carry out the duties of the priesthood. But any unauthorized person who goes too near the sanctuary must be put to death.” – Numbers 3:10 NLT

For his act of insurrection against the commands of God, Uzziah was spared death but was stricken with leprosy. His disease would force him to live in a form of exile, quarantined in a separate house, and banned from ever entering the temple of God again.

So, when God announced through Amos that He was bringing judgment upon the nation of Judah, He gave only cause for His action:

“They have rejected the instruction of the Lord,
    refusing to obey his decrees.” – Amos 2:4 NLT

When God had originally given the people of Israel the law, He told them that obedience to it would result in blessings, but disobedience would result in curses. He fully expected them to keep His commands, but He had given them the sacrificial system because He knew they would repeatedly fail to do so. Through the practice of blood sacrifice, the people could have their sins atoned for and forgiven. But even the sacrificial system had become nothing more than a ritualistic form of religious observance that was devoid of meaning and emptied of all its intended benefits. Even the great king, David, knew that God wanted far more than lip service and heartless religious observances.

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
    You do not want a burnt offering.
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
    You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God. – Psalm 51:16-17 NLT

David had learned this invaluable lesson from his old mentor, the prophet Samuel.

“What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.” – 1 Samuel 15:22 NLT

And God would later explain His dissatisfaction with the feigned devotion of His people.

“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

The nation of Judah stood before God as guilty. Yes, they had enjoyed the godly leadership of a few faithful kings but, for the most part, they had been just as disobedient as their northern neighbors. They had regularly displayed their disdain and disregard for God by chasing after the false gods of the surrounding nations. And even when a godly king came along and attempted to reform the ways of the people, his efforts would be short-lived and the pattern of apostasy would begin again.

So, God warns the people of Judah that their day of destruction is coming. And God’s prophetic statement regarding their demise would come about in 586 B.C. when Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army invaded Judah and destroyed the city of Jerusalem. This devastating event would take place hundreds of years after the fall of Israel to the Assyrians. Even after watching the fall and exile of their northern neighbor, the people of Judah would continue to reject the law of God and refuse to obey His decrees. And their stubborn refusal to repent would cost them dearly.

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

Things That Were Not Right

1 In the twelfth year of Ahaz king of Judah, Hoshea the son of Elah began to reign in Samaria over Israel, and he reigned nine years. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, yet not as the kings of Israel who were before him. Against him came up Shalmaneser king of Assyria. And Hoshea became his vassal and paid him tribute. But the king of Assyria found treachery in Hoshea, for he had sent messengers to So, king of Egypt, and offered no tribute to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year. Therefore the king of Assyria shut him up and bound him in prison. Then the king of Assyria invaded all the land and came to Samaria, and for three years he besieged it.

In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had practiced. And the people of Israel did secretly against the Lord their God things that were not right. They built for themselves high places in all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city. 10 They set up for themselves pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree, 11 and there they made offerings on all the high places, as the nations did whom the Lord carried away before them. And they did wicked things, provoking the Lord to anger, 12 and they served idols, of which the Lord had said to them, “You shall not do this.” 13 Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the Law that I commanded your fathers, and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets.”

14 But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the Lord their God. 15 They despised his statutes and his covenant that he made with their fathers and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false idols and became false, and they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the Lord had commanded them that they should not do like them. 16 And they abandoned all the commandments of the Lord their God, and made for themselves metal images of two calves; and they made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal. 17 And they burned their sons and their daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger. 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. 2 Kings 17:1-18 ESV

Chapter 17 marks the beginning of the end of the northern kingdom of Israel. It had been two centuries since God had divided Solomon’s domain in half and placed the ten northern tribes under the leadership of Jeroboam. Now, some 200 years later, God was about to bring judgment upon His disobedient children. And it all takes place during the reign of Hoshea, who will have the not-so-pleasant privilege of serving as the last king of Israel. Like many of his predecessors, Hoshea had come to the throne by means of intrigue and insurrection. Under King Pekah’s leadership, Israel had suffered great losses in terms of both land and lives. King Tiglath-Pileser had conducted a relentless campaign of terror, eventually capturing “the towns of Ijon, Abel-beth-maacah, Janoah, Kedesh, and Hazor. He also conquered the regions of Gilead, Galilee, and all of Naphtali, and he took the people to Assyria as captives” (2 Kings 15:29 ESV). 

These actions left the nation in a state of disarray and weakened Pekah’s hold on the throne of Israel. Hoshea took full advantage of the volatile conditions and launched a coup that results in Pekah’s assassination and his own ascension to the throne of Israel. But he had chosen a poor time to become king. The Assyrians had completely dominated and demoralized the Israelite army, leaving Hoshea with no choice but to become a vassal to King Tiglath-Pileser. He was nothing more than a puppet king, answering to the more powerful king of Assyria. But when Tiglath-Pileser was forced to return to Mesopotamia to deal with problems in his own land, Hoshea rebelled and declared Israel to be free from Assyrian rule. He stopped all tribute payments to Assyria and, in an effort to prevent further invasions, he made an alliance with the Egyptians. Things appeared to be going in his favor.

Tiglath-Pileser eventually died and was replaced by his son, Shalmaneser. For two years, the new king of Assyria remained preoccupied with problems on the home front. But in 725 BC, he once again set his sights on the land of Philistia. One of the first things Shalmaneser did was order the arrest and imprisonment of the recalcitrant king of Israel. Hoshea was removed from the throne and placed in a prison cell, where he would wait out the fall of his kingdom. For three years, the Assyrians laid siege to the capital city of Samaria, and in 722 BC it fell.

…in the ninth year of King Hoshea’s reign, Samaria fell, and the people of Israel were exiled to Assyria. They were settled in colonies in Halah, along the banks of the Habor River in Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. – 2 Kings 17:6 NLT

But even worse than the fall of the capital was the capture and deportation of the people. They were forcibly removed from the land and taken as prisoners to Assyria. They were herded like animals and marched out of Israel, never to step foot in the land of promise again. And the author makes it painfully clear why they were suffering this horrific fate.

This disaster came upon the people of Israel because they worshiped other gods. They sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them safely out of Egypt and had rescued them from the power of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. – 2 Kings 17:7 NLT

And none of this should have come as a surprise. God had warned them repeatedly that they would face serious consequences if they chose to rebel against Him. Long before they had entered the land of Canaan, God had given them a detailed description of what would happen if they refused to remain faithful to their covenant commitment to Him. Moses pulled no punches when he outlined for them the devastating consequences for their rebellion.

“The Lord will exile you and your king to a nation unknown to you and your ancestors. There in exile you will worship gods of wood and stone! You will become an object of horror, ridicule, and mockery among all the nations to which the Lord sends you.” – Deuteronomy 28:36-37 NLT

“You will have sons and daughters, but you will lose them, for they will be led away into captivity.” – Deuteronomy 28:41 NLT

“Just as the Lord has found great pleasure in causing you to prosper and multiply, the Lord will find pleasure in destroying you. You will be torn from the land you are about to enter and occupy. – Deuteronomy 28:63 NLT

And now, centuries later, the words of Moses had been proven true. God had done what He had said He would do. And the author of 2 Kings puts all the blame on the people of Israel.

They had followed the practices of the pagan nations – vs 8

The people of Israel had also secretly done many things that were not pleasing to the Lord their God. – vs 9

They built pagan shrines for themselves – vs 9

They set up sacred pillars and Asherah poles – vs 10

They offered sacrifices on all the hilltops, just like the nations the Lord had driven from the land ahead of them – vs 11

Yes, they worshiped idols, despite the Lord’s specific and repeated warnings. – vs 12

And they had done all of this despite the repeated warnings of God’s prophets.

Again and again the Lord had sent his prophets and seers to warn both Israel and Judah: “Turn from all your evil ways. Obey my commands and decrees—the entire law that I commanded your ancestors to obey, and that I gave you through my servants the prophets.” – 2 Kings 17:13 NLT

But they had refused to listen. They rejected the words of the prophets and refused to believe that God would follow through on His warnings. In fact, the author states that “they despised all his warnings” (2 Kings 17:15 NLT). And it had all begun as soon as God had placed the ten northern tribes in the hands of Jeroboam. In response to this tremendous responsibility given to him by God, Jeroboam had ordered the creation of two idols of gold made in the form of a calf. These false gods became the first of many that the people of Israel would worship in place of Yahweh.

They set up an Asherah pole and worshiped Baal and all the forces of heaven. They even sacrificed their own sons and daughters in the fire. They consulted fortune-tellers and practiced sorcery and sold themselves to evil, arousing the Lord’s anger. – 2 Kings 17:16-17 NLT

King after king, generation after generation, the people of Israel would repeat the sins of their fathers. And the prophets of God would repeat the warnings of Moses, calling the people to repent and return to their covenant commitment.

But the Israelites would not listen. They were as stubborn as their ancestors who had refused to believe in the Lord their God. – 2 Kings 17:14 NLT

So, God “swept them away from his presence” (2 Kings 17:18 NLT). In a sense, the ten northern tribes ceased to exist. Yes, even after the exile, there would be many who remained in the land, but they would never have another king to rule over them. They would live under the constant threat of enemy attack. The land of promise would become a place of hopelessness and heartache. The residual impact of the Assyrian invasion would be long-term and devastatingly difficult, just as God had warned.

Its armies will devour your livestock and crops, and you will be destroyed. They will leave you no grain, new wine, olive oil, calves, or lambs, and you will starve to death. – Deuteronomy 28:51 NLT

The people of God had turned their backs on Him. Despite His many blessings and the constant reminders of His covenant faithfulness, they had made a conscious decision to replace Him. He had warned them, but they had refused to listen. And now they were facing 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

 

 

When Faith Turns to Fear

41 And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink, for there is a sound of the rushing of rain.” 42 So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees. 43 And he said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go again,” seven times. 44 And at the seventh time he said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.’” 45 And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel. 46 And the hand of the Lord was on Elijah, and he gathered up his garment and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel. 

1 Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. 1 Kings 18:41-19:3 ESV

Chapter 18 opened up with the words God spoke to Elijah: “Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth” (1 Kings 18:1 ESV). This statement contains a command as well as a promise from God. After his three-and-a-half-year absence, Elijah was to return to Israel from Sidon and confront King Ahab one more time. But while this command would likely involve great risk to the prophet, his obedience would result in a tremendous blessing on the people. God would end the long drought and restore rain to the land.

It is impossible to know if Elijah was aware of all that would have to happen before the rain returned. There is no indication as to when God divulged the rest of His plan and Elijah’s role in it. But before the physical drought could end, the spiritual drought afflicting the people would have to come to a decisive conclusion that involved a dramatic confrontation between Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal. But the real battle would be between Yahweh, the God of Israel, and Baal, the god of Ahab and Jezebel.

And God had won the day. He displayed His power by sending fire from heaven that “consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench” (1 Kings 18:38 ESV). This demonstrative exhibition of God’s omnipotence brought the people to their knees in fear and worship of God. What they had just witnessed left them thoroughly convinced that Yahweh was the one true God, and that newly revived awareness left them crying out, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God” (1 Kings 18:39 ESV). And as if to put an exclamation point on the whole scene, Elijah had ordered the capture and execution of all 450 of Baal’s so-called prophets. When they had cried out to their god, he had remained silent. Now the prophet of Yahweh silenced them – for good. They would no longer deceive and mislead the people of Israel with fallacious promises concerning their false god.

But there was still one thing missing: The rain that God had promised. Baal had been discredited, his prophets had been eliminated, and the peoples’ reverence for Yahweh had been rejuvenated. But the land remained under the God-ordained drought that had turned Israel into a dust bowl where water and food were scarce and daily survival had become critical. The land that God had once described as “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 33:3 ESV) had become fruitless and lifeless, reflecting the spiritual state of the people who occupied it.

Hundreds of years earlier, long before the people of Israel took possession of the land of Canaan, Moses had warned them what would happen if they proved unfaithful.

“And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. And he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you shall eat and be full. Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them; then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the land will yield no fruit, and you will perish quickly off the good land that the Lord is giving you.” – Deuteronomy 11:13-17 ESV

And years later, when God’s people continued to display their propensity for unfaithfulness, His prophet, Joel, would offer this promise of divine restoration even in the face of their disobedience.

Surely the Lord has done great things!
    Don’t be afraid, O land.
Be glad now and rejoice,
    for the Lord has done great things.
Don’t be afraid, you animals of the field,
    for the wilderness pastures will soon be green.
The trees will again be filled with fruit;
    fig trees and grapevines will be loaded down once more.
Rejoice, you people of Jerusalem!
    Rejoice in the Lord your God!
For the rain he sends demonstrates his faithfulness.
    Once more the autumn rains will come,
    as well as the rains of spring.
The threshing floors will again be piled high with grain,
    and the presses will overflow with new wine and olive oil.

The Lord says, “I will give you back what you lost…” – Joel 2:20-25 ESV

That day on Mount Carmel, the people had seen the fire of God fall from heaven, completely consuming the altar, sacrifice, and water. But they had not yet seen or felt His blessing. As Joel stated, “the rain he sends demonstrates his faithfulness.” Their land was in desperate need of restoration and rejuvenation, and so were they. After three-and-a-half-years of spiritual drought, their hearts were parched and hardened. They had lost the capacity for fruitfulness and faithfulness and they needed an outpouring of God’s grace and mercy.

Elijah knew what God had in store. So, he informed the shell-shocked king to “Go get something to eat and drink, for I hear a mighty rainstorm coming!” (1 Kings 18:41 NLT). There was a blessing on the horizon. In spite of Ahab and Jezebel’s wickedness, God was about to pour out His goodness on the land.

The fact that Ahab had food to eat is symbolic of his self-centered approach to leadership. His sins had brought God’s curse upon the nation. But while they suffered severely from the lack of rain, Ahab and Jezebel lived in royal comfort and ease. God would later issue an indictment against the leaders of Israel, warning them of their blatant disregard for the care of His people.

“What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep?” – Ezekiel 34:2 NLT

And as Ahab was busy satisfying his own needs, Elijah interceded on behalf of the people of Israel. He “climbed to the top of Mount Carmel and bowed low to the ground and prayed with his face between his knees” (1 Kings 18:42 NLT). At one point during his prayer, he stops and sends his servant to look toward the Mediterranean Sea in the east. But the servant sees nothing. This pattern repeats itself five more times with the same disappointing result. But the seventh time, the servant returns with a different report.

“I saw a little cloud about the size of a man’s hand rising from the sea.” – 1 Kings 18:44 NLT

Out on the distant horizon, the servant had seen what appeared to be a small glimmer of hope. It was a small and seemingly insignificant cloud. But Elijah knew what it meant. The blessing of God was about to fall and, when it did, it would come in torrents. So, he instructed his servant to warn Ahab to leave immediately or he may not make it back to his winter palace in Jezreel. When Elijah’s servant had looked to the east, he only saw a faint possibility. But through his eyes of faith,  Elijah saw something altogether different. He perceived the imminent arrival of the outpouring of God’s blessing. And before long that small cloud had developed into a massive storm that brought strong winds and torrential rains. And as Ahab tried to outrun the storm in his chariot, “the Lord gave special strength to Elijah. He tucked his cloak into his belt and ran ahead of Ahab’s chariot all the way to the entrance of Jezreel” (1 Kings 18:46 NLT).

Because Jezreel was anywhere from 10-20 miles east of Mount Carmel, some commentators attempt to explain this last verse by saying that Ahab’s chariot got caught in the mud and delayed his arrival. Others speculate that Elijah simply took a shortcut over the ridge of Mount Carmel. But everything about this story has been focused on the matchless power of God. And it should not seem out of the question that God might endow his prophet with a supernatural capacity to outrun the chariot of his arch-nemesis. God had defeated Baal. Now, the prophet of God had defeated the benefactor of Baal.

But while Elijah had won the victory at Mount Carmel and the race to Jezreel, he would have little time to celebrate. Upon hearing the unexpected news of all that had transpired on Mount Carmel, Jezebel was outraged and directed all her anger at Elijah.

“May the gods strike me and even kill me if by this time tomorrow I have not killed you just as you killed them.” – 1 Kings 19:2 NLT

Despite all that Ahab told her about the day’s events, she remained unconvinced of Yahweh’s power. She even called on Baal and his queen mother, Asherah, to come to her aid so that she might avenge the deaths of the prophets by killing Elijah. She was still putting her hope and trust in her false gods. Even the sudden arrival of long-awaited rain did nothing to diminish her misplaced trust in her lifeless and powerless gods.

But even more surprising than Jezebel’s stubborn resistance to God was Elijah’s sudden display of fear and doubt. This man who had called down fire from heaven and had singlehandedly executed 450 prophets of Baal found himself intimidated by the idle threats of this self-absorbed, idol-worshiping queen. Her vow to avenge her false god should have made Elijah laugh with scorn. Her god had proven himself to be speechless, powerless, and utterly helpless in the face of Yahweh. Yet, the formerly faithful Elijah was suddenly fearful, and this time, rather than running to the problem in the strength of God, he ran away from it. He fled for his life, covering the 25 miles from Jezreel to Beersheba motivated by fear and in the strength of his own flesh. Faced with the threats of Jezebel, Elijah took his eyes off of God and took his fate into his own hands.

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

When the Blessings Become a Curse

14 Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was 666 talents of gold, 15 besides that which came from the explorers and from the business of the merchants, and from all the kings of the west and from the governors of the land. 16 King Solomon made 200 large shields of beaten gold; 600 shekels of gold went into each shield. 17 And he made 300 shields of beaten gold; three minas of gold went into each shield. And the king put them in the House of the Forest of Lebanon. 18 The king also made a great ivory throne and overlaid it with the finest gold. 19 The throne had six steps, and the throne had a round top, and on each side of the seat were armrests and two lions standing beside the armrests, 20 while twelve lions stood there, one on each end of a step on the six steps. The like of it was never made in any kingdom. 21 All King Solomon’s drinking vessels were of gold, and all the vessels of the House of the Forest of Lebanon were of pure gold. None were of silver; silver was not considered as anything in the days of Solomon. 22 For the king had a fleet of ships of Tarshish at sea with the fleet of Hiram. Once every three years the fleet of ships of Tarshish used to come bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks.

23 Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. 24 And the whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind. 25 Every one of them brought his present, articles of silver and gold, garments, myrrh, spices, horses, and mules, so much year by year.

26 And Solomon gathered together chariots and horsemen. He had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen, whom he stationed in the chariot cities and with the king in Jerusalem. 27 And the king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stone, and he made cedar as plentiful as the sycamore of the Shephelah. 28 And Solomon’s import of horses was from Egypt and Kue, and the king’s traders received them from Kue at a price. 29 A chariot could be imported from Egypt for 600 shekels of silver and a horse for 150, and so through the king’s traders they were exported to all the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Syria. 1 Kings 10:14-29 ESV

Up to this point in his narrative of Solomon’s reign, the author of 1 Kings seems to have spent far more time describing Solomon’s vast wealth than providing evidence of his great wisdom. He has only provided one concrete example where Solomon utilized his God-given gift of wisdom to settle a dispute between two prostitutes who were fighting over legal custody of a newborn baby (1 Kings 3:16-28). There have been several allusions to Solomon’s wisdom, such as the statement made by the Queen of Sheba.

“Everything I heard in my country about your achievements and wisdom is true! I didn’t believe what was said until I arrived here and saw it with my own eyes. In fact, I had not heard the half of it! Your wisdom and prosperity are far beyond what I was told. – 1 Kings 10:6-7 NLT

But it would appear that the author has purposefully placed more emphasis on Solomon’s rapidly expanding financial portfolio. God had promised to bless Solomon with riches and honor (1 Kings 3:13), and it is quite evident that God had kept that promise. In just a single year, nearly 25 tons of gold was added to Solomon’s treasury. That’s a staggering figure. But it represents only a fraction of the revenue that flowed into the kingdom each year. Income for his many business ventures, tributes paid by vassal states, and gifts from various kings and dignitaries further enhanced his annual revenue. His proverbial cup was running over.

People from every nation came to consult him and to hear the wisdom God had given him. Year after year everyone who visited brought him gifts of silver and gold, clothing, weapons, spices, horses, and mules. – 1 Kings 10:24-25 NLT

As a result, “King Solomon became richer and wiser than any other king on earth” (1 Kings 10:23 NLT). It seems that his wisdom and wealth shared a symbiotic relationship. Both were gifts that had been made possible by God. And yet, like all gifts given by God to men, the real test lies in how they are put to use. Both wisdom and wealth can be misused and abused. Any God-given gift can be exploited for ungodly purposes. And it would appear that Solomon had allowed his wisdom and wealth to become a distraction. Somewhere along the way, Solomon had lost sight of the divine purpose for his gifts – that he might govern the people of Israel with justice (1 Kings 3:11). He began to repurpose his wisdom and riches in a vain search for meaning in life. He would later write of his

I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere. – Ecclesiastes 2:9-11 NLT

Notice how many times Solomon uses the personal pronoun, “I.” He had become totally self-consumed, focusing all his attention on what he could gain from what he had been given. Even his God-given wisdom became little more than a tool for trying to decipher the mysteries of life. And while he understood wisdom’s inherent value, it wasn’t long before he came to despise this valuable gift from God.

Yet I saw that the wise and the foolish share the same fate. Both will die. So I said to myself, “Since I will end up the same as the fool, what’s the value of all my wisdom? This is all so meaningless!” For the wise and the foolish both die. The wise will not be remembered any longer than the fool. In the days to come, both will be forgotten.

So I came to hate life because everything done here under the sun is so troubling. Everything is meaningless—like chasing the wind. – Ecclesiastes 3:14-17 NLT

Twenty years after ascending to the throne of his father David, Solomon was experiencing unparalleled success. He had the Midas touch. It seems that everything he touched turned to literal gold. In fact, gold was so prevalent in his kingdom that “silver was considered worthless in Solomon’s day” (1 Kings 10:21 NLT).

Solomon had built his own fleet of ships that returned every three years with their holds full of additional treasures of “gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks” (1 Kings 10:22 NLT). He had amassed “a huge force of chariots and horses. He had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horses” ( 1 Kings 10:26 NLT). And many of those horses had been imported from as far away as Egypt.

All of these descriptions of Solomon’s incredible wealth must be placed within the context of the commands God had given concerning all those who would serve as kings over His people.

“The king must not build up a large stable of horses for himself or send his people to Egypt to buy horses, for the Lord has told you, ‘You must never return to Egypt.’ The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the Lord. And he must not accumulate large amounts of wealth in silver and gold for himself.” – Deuteronomy 17:16-17 NLT

God had blessed Solomon with unparalleled resources, but Solomon was using them in ways that were contradictory to God’s will. His use of God’s gracious gift was in clear violation of God’s command. Solomon’s wealth had never been intended to feed his ego or fulfill his wildest dreams. It was meant to enable him to provide the people of Israel with proper care and protection. And while accumulating chariots and horses may have sounded like a good strategy for ensuring Israel’s national security, it was against the will of God. Solomon’s own father had written about the futility of placing one’s hope in such things.

Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed;
he will answer him from his holy heaven
with the saving might of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They collapse and fall,
but we rise and stand upright. – Psalm 20:6-8 NLT

Solomon seems to have been obsessed with all the outward trappings of royalty. He had built for himself an opulent palace, where exquisite meals were served on golden plates and the finest wine was served in golden goblets. And when it came to the throne upon which he sat, Solomon spared no expense.

Then the king made a huge throne, decorated with ivory and overlaid with fine gold. The throne had six steps and a rounded back. There were armrests on both sides of the seat, and the figure of a lion stood on each side of the throne. There were also twelve other lions, one standing on each end of the six steps. No other throne in all the world could be compared with it! – 1 Kings 10:18-20 NLT

Solomon looked like a king and lived like one. He had all the trappings of success and, from the outsider’s perspective, was living the dream. Yet, the day would come when Solomon finally recognized that he had confused the gift with the Giver.

Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness! The more you have, the more people come to help you spend it. So what good is wealth—except perhaps to watch it slip through your fingers! – Ecclesiastes 10-11 NLT

The wisdom and wealth given to him by God had never been intended to fulfill his every self-centered desire or provide him with some form of personal satisfaction. Solomon had been anointed and blessed by God so that he might lead the nation of Israel into a period of peace, prosperity, and faithful service to God. Solomon had started out well, even asking God for the capacity to lead the people of Israel with wisdom and discernment.

“Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?” – 1 Kings 3:9 NLT

But somewhere along the way, Solomon had let the blessings of God go to his head. He had allowed the gifts to take precedence over the Giver and, in doing so, turned the blessings into a curse.

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