Control Over Kings and Countries

20 In the eleventh year, in the first month, on the seventh day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: 21 “Son of man, I have broken the arm of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and behold, it has not been bound up, to heal it by binding it with a bandage, so that it may become strong to wield the sword. 22 Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against Pharaoh king of Egypt and will break his arms, both the strong arm and the one that was broken, and I will make the sword fall from his hand. 23 I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations and disperse them through the countries. 24 And I will strengthen the arms of the king of Babylon and put my sword in his hand, but I will break the arms of Pharaoh, and he will groan before him like a man mortally wounded. 25 I will strengthen the arms of the king of Babylon, but the arms of Pharaoh shall fall. Then they shall know that I am the Lord, when I put my sword into the hand of the king of Babylon and he stretches it out against the land of Egypt. 26 And I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations and disperse them throughout the countries. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” Ezekiel 30:20-26 ESV

Less than four months after receiving the first divine oracle concerning Egypt, Ezekiel was given another installment. The first part came in “the tenth year, in the tenth month, on the twelfth day of the month” (Ezekiel 29:1 ESV). This one arrived “in the eleventh year, in the first month, on the seventh day of the month” (Ezekiel 30:30 ESV). The New Living Translation places the date of this second oracle as “January 7, during the tenth year of King Jehoiachin’s captivity” (Ezekiel 30:20 NLT). Thomas L. Constable calculated the date in question to be April 29. But both agree that it took place in the year 587 B.C.

In this oracle, God informs Ezekiel that the king of Egypt has suffered a debilitating wound that has left him incapable of wielding a sword or putting up a fight. This divinely inflicted wound, while not life-threatening, would prove to be decisive.

“Son of man, I have broken the arm of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. His arm has not been put in a cast so that it may heal. Neither has it been bound up with a splint to make it strong enough to hold a sword. – Ezekiel 30:21 NLT

Pharaoh’s arm, a symbol of his power, had been broken by God but never set, so it had healed properly. Unable to grasp a sword, Pharaoh was reduced to a state of impotence and defenselessness. As the sovereign ruler over the mighty nation of Egypt, he was reduced to a weakened and helpless state. This imagery was meant to be symbolic in nature, using the king as the representative of the kingdom. Many scholars believe this passage is a reference to Egypt’s debilitating defeat at the Battle of Carchemish.

As the Babylonians continued to assert their will in that part of the world, the Egyptians attempted to play the spoiler, clandestinely assisting nations like the Assyrians and Israelites in their efforts to oppose Nebuchadnezzar’s advances. In 612 B.C., the Assyrian capital of Nineveh had fallen to Babylonian forces. Unwilling to admit defeat, the Assyrians moved their capital to Haran. But two years later, that capital suffered the same fate. Still refusing to capitulate, the Assyrians moved their headquarters to Carchemish, some 38 miles east of Haran.

As Pharaoh Neco and his Egyptian forces made their way to Carchemish to fight alongside the Assyrians, King Josiah of Judah decided to stand in his way. This would prove to be an unwise decision on Josiah’s part, resulting in his death from wounds suffered during the battle. The story is recorded in the book of 2 Chronicles.

After Josiah had finished restoring the Temple, King Neco of Egypt led his army up from Egypt to do battle at Carchemish on the Euphrates River, and Josiah and his army marched out to fight him. But King Neco sent messengers to Josiah with this message:

“What do you want with me, king of Judah? I have no quarrel with you today! I am on my way to fight another nation, and God has told me to hurry! Do not interfere with God, who is with me, or he will destroy you.”

But Josiah refused to listen to Neco, to whom God had indeed spoken, and he would not turn back. Instead, he disguised himself and led his army into battle on the plain of Megiddo. But the enemy archers hit King Josiah with their arrows and wounded him. He cried out to his men, “Take me from the battle, for I am badly wounded!”

So they lifted Josiah out of his chariot and placed him in another chariot. Then they brought him back to Jerusalem, where he died. – 2 Chronicles 35:20-24 NLT

This battle at Megiddo delayed Neco’s arrival in Carchemish. And with Josiah’s death, Neco found himself embroiled in the local politics of Judah. Jehoahaz, the son of Josiah, had ascended to the throne, but his reign only lasted three months before Neco had him imprisoned and replaced with one another of Josiah’s sons. Neco ended up pocketing a sizeable fortune in gold and silver in the form of tribute from Judah, but his eventual arrival in Carchemish proved too little, too late. Nebuchadnezzar had already defeated the Assyrians and, when the Egyptians arrived on the scene, they too were soundly routed. The battle of Carchemish brought about the end of the Assyrian Empire and reduced Egypt to a second-rate power in the region.

Now, some 25 years later, God warns that He is going to do a number of Egypt again. This time, He will break both arms, including the recently healed one.

“…this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am the enemy of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt! I will break both of his arms—the good arm along with the broken one—and I will make his sword clatter to the ground. I will scatter the Egyptians to many lands throughout the world.” – Ezekiel 30:23-23 NLT

The Egyptians had failed to learn their lesson. Despite their weakened state, they continued to try to exert their will in the region. But God wants Ezekiel to know that the Egyptian’s hope of regaining their former stature was a pipe dream. He was going to use Nebuchadnezzar to end their centuries-long role as major players on the world stage.

“…when I put my sword in the hand of Babylon’s king and he brings it against the land of Egypt, Egypt will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 30:25 NLT

God describes Egypt’s defeat as a mortal blow, not just a couple of broken arms. Without any way to defend themselves against the Babylonians, the Egyptians would suffer a devastating defeat that would render them “mortally wounded, groaning in pain” (Ezekiel 30:24 NLT).

Like the Israelites and the people of Judah, the Egyptians would find themselves scattered to the four winds. Some would end up as captives in Babylon, while others would seek refuge in foreign lands where they would live as refugees and outcasts.

I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, dispersing them throughout the earth.” – Ezekiel 30:26 NLT

Their defeat will be God’s doing, as will be their dispersion among the nations. This great and powerful nation would fall as a result of God’s sovereign, omnipotent will. Each of these nations; the Egyptians, Assyrians, and Babylonians, were instruments in the hand of God. They served at His pleasure and were nothing more than bit players in the drama of His providential and irrepressible plan.

And, as always, God informs Ezekiel that. with their fall, the Egyptians will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is Lord. They will recognize that their defeat was His doing. And when they find themselves scattered to the four winds, living as helpless and hopeless exiles in foreign lands, their recognition of God’s Lordship will be confirmed.

“I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, dispersing them throughout the earth. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 30:26 NLT

As the prophet Daniel so aptly put it, God “controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings” (Daniel 2:21 NLT). Neco, Nebuchadnezzar, and even Josiah, lived their lives according to the will of God Almighty. They ruled at His discretion. Their countries flourished only as long as He deemed it necessary and critical to the accomplishment of His overarching plan. Their rise and fall was up to His sovereign will. Nothing happens on earth that is outside the providential plan of Yahweh.

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps. – Proverbs 16:9 NIV

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.

Less Is More

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Command the people of Israel, and say to them, When you enter the land of Canaan (this is the land that shall fall to you for an inheritance, the land of Canaan as defined by its borders), your south side shall be from the wilderness of Zin alongside Edom, and your southern border shall run from the end of the Salt Sea on the east. And your border shall turn south of the ascent of Akrabbim, and cross to Zin, and its limit shall be south of Kadesh-barnea. Then it shall go on to Hazar-addar, and pass along to Azmon. And the border shall turn from Azmon to the Brook of Egypt, and its limit shall be at the sea.

“For the western border, you shall have the Great Sea and its coast. This shall be your western border.

“This shall be your northern border: from the Great Sea you shall draw a line to Mount Hor. From Mount Hor you shall draw a line to Lebo-hamath, and the limit of the border shall be at Zedad. Then the border shall extend to Ziphron, and its limit shall be at Hazar-enan. This shall be your northern border.

10 “You shall draw a line for your eastern border from Hazar-enan to Shepham. 11 And the border shall go down from Shepham to Riblah on the east side of Ain. And the border shall go down and reach to the shoulder of the Sea of Chinnereth on the east. 12 And the border shall go down to the Jordan, and its limit shall be at the Salt Sea. This shall be your land as defined by its borders all around.”

13 Moses commanded the people of Israel, saying, “This is the land that you shall inherit by lot, which the Lord has commanded to give to the nine tribes and to the half-tribe. 14 For the tribe of the people of Reuben by fathers’ houses and the tribe of the people of Gad by their fathers’ houses have received their inheritance, and also the half-tribe of Manasseh. 15 The two tribes and the half-tribe have received their inheritance beyond the Jordan east of Jericho, toward the sunrise.” Numbers 34:1-15 ESV

As the people prepared to enter the land of promise, Moses provided them with the boundary markers that would establish their future territory. But it is important to note that the description given by Moses is distinctly different than the one God had originally given to Abram at the point of his calling. The borders that Moses outlines in this passage are far more restrictive than the ones God proposed to Abram.  At that point in time, God had designated a far larger area as the future homeland for Abram’s descendants.

“To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates…” – Genesis 15:18 ESV

The two primary boundary markers that God gave Abram were “the river of Egypt,” which most likely refers to the Nile, to “the river Euphrates,” which extends from the southern border of modern-day Turkey all the way to the Persian Gulf.

God had a much larger geographic region in mind when He made His original promise to Abram. But centuries later, by the time the descendants of Abram were ready to cross over the Jordan and occupy the land, the boundaries had shrunk significantly.

Moses provided a detailed description of the eastern, western, southern, and northern boundaries of the Israelite’s future homeland. At this point in their history, there were not ready or equipped to conquer and occupy the much larger region promised by God to Abram. Their army was far too small to attempt a conquest of the original promised land. Even though the nation was comprised of 12 tribes, there were not enough soldiers to take on the armies of “the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites” (Genesis 15:19-21 NLT).

In a sense, God was starting small, but He had every intention of sticking to His original promise if the people of Israel proved obedient and successful at accomplishing His will. The reduced boundaries were not a sign of God reneging on His promise. He was not going back on His word. He was simply asking the people of Israel to prove their willingness to be faithful and obedient.

The borders of the land, while greatly reduced, would prove more than enough territory for the 12 tribes of Israel. In fact, as Moses points out, two and a half of the tribes would end up locating outside those boundaries.

“This territory is the homeland you are to divide among yourselves by sacred lot. The Lord has commanded that the land be divided among the nine and a half remaining tribes. The families of the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh have already received their grants of land  on the east side of the Jordan River, across from Jericho toward the sunrise.” – Numbers 34:13-15 NLT

Technically, according to the original description given by God to Abram, the land occupied by the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh was in the land of promise. But their land allotments would be considered separate from the rest of the tribes. Yet, one day, God would extend Israel’s borders under the leadership of King David. Then, when his son, Solomon came to power, the kingdom would expand even further. God would slowly extend the borders of Israel but because of the nation’s disobedience, He would one day spit the kingdom in half and dramatically reduce their land holdings and influence in the region.

But at the point at which Moses was preparing the send the people into the land for the very first time, they were faced with the formidable and seemingly insurmountable task of conquering a vast expanse of enemy-occupied territory. Yet Moses reminded them that the land was as good as theirs.

“This shall be your land as defined by its borders all around.” – Numbers 34:15 ESV

It was theirs but they would have to do their part. According to God, it belonged to them but it wouldn’t come without a fight. It was Jesus who declared the need for follow-through in the life of God’s people.

“…a servant who knows what the master wants, but isn’t prepared and doesn’t carry out those instructions, will be severely punished. But someone who does not know, and then does something wrong, will be punished only lightly. When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.” – Luke 12:47-48 NLT

The Israelites had their marching orders and a detailed map of their battle zone. Now it was time to exhibit faith and fight for what was rightfully theirs.

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.

Getting to Know God the Hard Way

16 And they went out at noon, while Ben-hadad was drinking himself drunk in the booths, he and the thirty-two kings who helped him. 17 The servants of the governors of the districts went out first. And Ben-hadad sent out scouts, and they reported to him, “Men are coming out from Samaria.” 18 He said, “If they have come out for peace, take them alive. Or if they have come out for war, take them alive.”

19 So these went out of the city, the servants of the governors of the districts and the army that followed them. 20 And each struck down his man. The Syrians fled, and Israel pursued them, but Ben-hadad king of Syria escaped on a horse with horsemen. 21 And the king of Israel went out and struck the horses and chariots, and struck the Syrians with a great blow.

22 Then the prophet came near to the king of Israel and said to him, “Come, strengthen yourself, and consider well what you have to do, for in the spring the king of Syria will come up against you.”

23 And the servants of the king of Syria said to him, “Their gods are gods of the hills, and so they were stronger than we. But let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they. 24 And do this: remove the kings, each from his post, and put commanders in their places, 25 and muster an army like the army that you have lost, horse for horse, and chariot for chariot. Then we will fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they.” And he listened to their voice and did so. 

26 In the spring, Ben-hadad mustered the Syrians and went up to Aphek to fight against Israel. 27 And the people of Israel were mustered and were provisioned and went against them. The people of Israel encamped before them like two little flocks of goats, but the Syrians filled the country.

28 And a man of God came near and said to the king of Israel, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The Lord is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord.’”1 Kings 20:16-28 ESV

King Ahab found himself in a strange predicament. His capital city, Samaria, was under attack by a confederation of 32 kings, led by King Ben-hadad of Syria. But much to Ahab’s surprise, a prophet of Yahweh had appeared with a plan for Israel’s deliverance.

“Thus says the Lord, Have you seen all this great multitude? Behold, I will give it into your hand this day, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” – 1 Kings 20:13 ESV

The very God whom Ahab and Jezebel had attempted to replace with their false gods had announced that He was going to rescue His disobedient and unfaithful people. And God had told Ahab exactly how the victory would take place.

By the servants of the governors of the districts.” – 1 Kings 20:14 ESV

God was not going to utilize Ahab’s army to fight the Syrians. This is significant because Ahab, like all his predecessors, had assembled a large military force. There is even evidence to that fact, found on an ancient Assyrian stone tablet. It bears an inscription describing the battle of Qarqar between Ahab and his enemy King Shalmaneser III of Assyria. The tablet records the size of the army that assembled to do battle that day: “2,000 chariots and 10,000 men of Ahab king of Israel.”

But on this occasion, God chose to place Ahab’s formidable resources in a secondary position, choosing instead to use “servants” – a group of common people who, when assembled, amounted to only 7,000 in number.

Confident that he would defeat the Israelites, Ben-hadad and his vassal kings were drinking themselves drunk in a pre-victory celebration. So, when scouts arrived with a report that Israelite forces had been seen leaving the city, Beh-hadad had assumed they were bringing news of Israel’s surrender or their decision to continue the battle. While he and his military commanders continued to toast their inevitable victory, the 7,000 servants made their way to the Syrian camp, followed by Ahab and his army.

This surprise attack caught the Syrian forces completely unawares and unable to respond. Led by the 7,000 servants, Ahab’s army quickly routed the Syrians, forcing them to abandon camp and run for their lives. Quickly sobered by this unexpected reversal of fortunes, Beh-hadad managed to escape. But the rest of his forces didn’t fare as well.

And the king of Israel went out and struck the horses and chariots, and struck the Syrians with a great blow. – 1 Kings 20:21 ESV

Notice that the author conveniently eliminates any mention of Ahab’s name. He simply refers to him as “the king of Israel.” He repeats this obvious slight in the very next verse, refusing to give Ahab any credit for the victory. He simply warns him that the battle may be done, but the war is from over.

“Come, strengthen yourself, and consider well what you have to do, for in the spring the king of Syria will come up against you.” – 1 Kings 20:22 ESV

Ben-hadad would be back. He had suffered a devastating defeat, but once he had time to assess what had happened that day, the Syrian king would return, more determined than ever to avenge his loss by destroying the Israelites. And his advisors encouraged his plans by suggesting that his loss had been divinely ordained. In their pagan way of thinking, the only thing that could explain a loss of this magnitude was the intervention of the gods. They rationalized away their defeat by concluding that they had chosen the wrong place to do battle.  They absolved Beh-hadad of any responsibility for the loss by assuring him, “Their gods are gods of the hills, and so they were stronger than we. But let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they” (1 Kings 20:23 ESV).

Little did they know how right they were. Their defeat had been the result of divine intervention, but geographic location had played no role in it. Yahweh was the God of the hills and the valleys. He was sovereign over all the earth. Unlike their false gods, Yahweh was unbound by time and space. The extent of His power was limitless. To the God of Israel, the location and the size of the opposing army made no difference. And so, when Ben-hadad’s advisors counseled him to rebuild his army and restructure his military command, it would prove to be futile advice. They had no idea what they were dealing with and their ignorance led them to make some very dangerous assumptions. First, they assumed that the God of Israel was similar to their own gods – limited in power and vulnerable to defeat. After all, their gods had failed to deliver them. So, if they could find Yahweh’s weak spots, the next battle would go their way.

And Ben-hadad, eager to avenge his loss, took their advice and spent the winter rebuilding his army. He replaced the 32 kings with seasoned military commanders. He ordered the construction of new chariots. And he made plans to take the fight to the valley, where the God of Israel would have no power and play no role in the outcome of the battle.

It is fascinating to consider that all of this was in the sovereign will of God. He had orchestrated all the details concerning the original battle, including Ben-hadad’s escape. God had even told Ahab that the Syrians would return. Ben-hadad’s rebuilding and reconfiguring of his army had been part of God’s plan. The original battle had been intended to restore the Israelites’ belief in God. Prior to their victory, God had told them, “I will give it into your hand this day, and you shall know that I am the Lord” (1 Kings 20:13 ESV).

But God knew that little had changed in Israel. Even after their miraculous defeat of the Syrians, the people still remained unconvinced of Yahweh’s status as the one true God. When spring rolled around, they found themselves facing their former foe again. This time, Beh-hadad showed up with a much larger and better-equipped army than before, and rather than laying siege to the city, they gathered in the Valley of Aphek. Ben-hadad had brought a bigger, better army and had chosen a battleground that was outside the reach of Yahweh’s power. Or so he thought.

The stage was set. The enemy of Israel had returned. And the author paints a rather bleak and foreboding picture of the situation.

Israel then mustered its army, set up supply lines, and marched out for battle. But the Israelite army looked like two little flocks of goats in comparison to the vast Aramean forces that filled the countryside! – 1 Kings 20:27 NLT

Here was Israel, outnumbered and underequipped yet again. They were no match for the Syrians. And this time, they would not have the walls of the city to protect them. They would be fighting on open terrain, facing an army equipped with chariots and horses and motivated by revenge.

But God sent another prophet with a promise of His presence and power.

“Thus says the Lord, ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The Lord is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord.’” – 1 Kings 20:28 ESV

Despite the overwhelming odds, God would provide another victory over their enemy. By the time this day was over, they would know that He was the one true God. But notice that in verse 28, the author leaves out Ahab’s name again. He simply refers to him as “the king of Israel.” God was going to deliver this victory despite Ahab, not because of him. Not only did Ahab deserve to lose this battle, but he also deserved to die for his blatant rebellion against God. But God was acting on behalf of His covenant people. He was doing this to protect the integrity and honor of His name. He had made covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He had given His word to Moses and David. And while Ahab had failed to use his position as the shepherd of Israel to lead them in faithful obedience, God would prove Himself true to His word and committed to His covenant promises.

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

The Lord Their God

For Gaza shall be deserted,
    and Ashkelon shall become a desolation;
Ashdod’s people shall be driven out at noon,
    and Ekron shall be uprooted.

Woe to you inhabitants of the seacoast,
    you nation of the Cherethites!
The word of the Lord is against you,
    O Canaan, land of the Philistines;
    and I will destroy you until no inhabitant is left.
And you, O seacoast, shall be pastures,
    with meadows for shepherds
    and folds for flocks.
The seacoast shall become the possession
    of the remnant of the house of Judah,
    on which they shall graze,
and in the houses of Ashkelon
    they shall lie down at evening.
For the Lord their God will be mindful of them
    and restore their fortunes. Zephaniah 2:4-7 ESV

God now turns His attention to the nations surrounding Judah. He has already warned that one aspect of the great day of the Lord will be His judgment of all humanity. He will “cut off mankind from the face of the earth” (Zephaniah 1:3 ESV).

Judah must face its future judgment, but God is not going to overlook the sins of the rest of mankind. And in this passage, He will point out five different nations that surround Judah and outline His plans for their future demise. Located north, south, east, and west of Judah, these neighboring countries become surrogates or stand-ins for all the nations of the earth. While they could not claim to be the people of God, they will still experience the judgment of God.

Each of them is marked by the worship of false gods represented by a litany of fabricated idols, the byproduct of man’s fertile imagination and creative capabilities. As the psalmist points out, they are not gods at all, and stand in stark contrast to the God of the universe.

For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
    but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
    strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    bring an offering, and come into his courts!
Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness;
    tremble before him, all the earth!

Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!
    Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved;
    he will judge the peoples with equity.” – Psalm 96:5-10 ESV

The one true God will judge all the people and nations who have chosen to worship their many false gods while ignoring His invisible, yet undeniable attributes.

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. – Romans 1:20-23 ESV

They will all answer for the same sin: Their rejection of God as the one true God.

And Zephaniah begins by listing four cities located in the region of Philistia, located just to the west of Judah: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Ekron.  Except for Ekron, these are all coastal cities, providing access to the Mediterranean Sea. It is believed that the Philistines originated from the island of Crete (Caphtor) and migrated to the western coast of Canaan.

Their name derives from the Hebrew word Philistia. In Greek, that word became palaistinei, and it is why the land of Canaan is sometimes referred to as Palestine. The Philistines are sometimes referred to as the “Sea Peoples” because of their close ties with and dependence upon the sea. Their ships would have plied the waters of the Mediterranean, making the inhabitants of the ports of Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ashdod quite profitable. Each of the cities mentioned in verse four were governed by a “king” or “lord.” They were independent and autonomous realms, but when the need arose, the kings would form alliances in order to defend their lands or attack their common enemies.

Yet, God pronounces judgment on these five cities, addressing them indirectly, but very specifically.

Gaza shall be deserted (`azab – forsaken, abandoned)
Ashkelon shall become a desolation (shĕmamah – devastation, waste)
Ashdod’s people shall be driven out at noon (garash –cast out, expelled)
Ekron shall be uprooted (`aqar – plucked up, rooted out)

The news is not good. Even the prophet Jeremiah wrote of God’s coming judgment against the Philistines.

For the time has come
to destroy all the Philistines.
The time has come to destroy all the help
that remains for Tyre and Sidon.
For I, the Lord, will destroy the Philistines,
that remnant that came from the island of Crete. – Jeremiah 47:4 NET

These “inhabitants of the seacoast” were going to discover the unmistakable and inescapable severity of God’s righteous wrath.

The word of the Lord is against you,
    O Canaan, land of the Philistines;
    and I will destroy you until no inhabitant is left. – Zephaniah 2:5 ESV

These are words that warn of annihilation, not just discipline. God was not going to punish them. He was going to eliminate them altogether.

And it is only natural to question the reasoning behind God’s harsh treatment of these people. What had they done to deserve such drastic judgment at the hand of God? For nearly two centuries, the Philistines had played a major role in the lives of God’s people, using their advanced weaponry and superior military power to harass and hinder the Israelites in their quest to possess the land given to them by God as an inheritance.

Through the prophet, Amos, God provided further proof of the Philistines’ guilt and well-deserved judgment.

“The people of Gaza have sinned again and again,
    and I will not let them go unpunished!
They sent whole villages into exile,
    selling them as slaves to Edom.
So I will send down fire on the walls of Gaza,
    and all its fortresses will be destroyed.
I will slaughter the people of Ashdod
    and destroy the king of Ashkelon.
Then I will turn to attack Ekron,
    and the few Philistines still left will be killed,”
    says the Sovereign Lord. – Amos 1:6-8 NLT

And Ezekiel records more divine justification for the Philistines’ destruction, directly from the lips of God Himself.

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: The people of Philistia have acted against Judah out of bitter revenge and long-standing contempt. Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will raise my fist of judgment against the land of the Philistines. I will wipe out the Kerethites and utterly destroy the people who live by the sea. I will execute terrible vengeance against them to punish them for what they have done. And when I have inflicted my revenge, they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 25:15-17 NLT

The day would come when their coastal communities would become inhabited by Israelite shepherds, grazing their flocks on pasturelands that had formerly been the sites of prominent and powerful Philistine cities. God will remove the Philistines and replace them with the remnant of His chosen people.

The remnant of the tribe of Judah will pasture there. – Zephaniah 2:7 NLT

And this remnant will find shelter in the abandoned homes of the former residents of Ashkelon. The image of shepherds pasturing their flocks carries the idea of peace, tranquility, safety, and security. The day will come when a remnant of God’s people will once again occupy the land of Canaan. But on that day, they will no longer have to deal with the Philistines, Moabites, Ammonites, and all the other pagan residents of the land. These nations had become thorns in their sides and their false gods had become a constant snare to the people of God (Judges 2:3).

God is not done. His redemptive plan is not quite completed. His Son came and died on the cross in order to pay for the sins of mankind. But He must return. He has to come back again and complete the final stage of His Father’s divine will for the restoration of creation and the redemption of a remnant of sinful humanity.

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 Day of Distress, Rebuke, and Disgrace

As soon as King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the Lord. And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, covered with sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz. They said to him, “Thus says Hezekiah, ‘This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. It may be that the Lord your God will hear the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the Lord your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.’”

When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, ‘Thus says the Lord: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the young men of the king of Assyria have reviled me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.’”

The Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria fighting against Libnah, for he had heard that the king had left Lachish. Now the king heard concerning Tirhakah king of Cush, “He has set out to fight against you.” And when he heard it, he sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying, 10 “Thus shall you speak to Hezekiah king of Judah: ‘Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. 11 Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, devoting them to destruction. And shall you be delivered? 12 Have the gods of the nations delivered them, the nations that my fathers destroyed, Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Telassar? 13 Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, the king of Hena, or the king of Ivvah?’” – Isaiah 37:1-13 ESV

The Assyrian army surrounds the city of Jerusalem. An emissary from the Assyrian king, speaking fluent Hebrew, has taunted the people of Judah, warning them not to trust in their king, their allies or their God. And he has tempted them with the tantalizing offer of peace and prosperity if they will only surrender. And though the text tells us that “the people were silent and did not utter a word” (Isaiah 36:21 NLT), the thought of giving up must have crossed the minds of many that day. Why suffer certain defeat and death when the king of Assyria was promising so much more?

“Make peace with me—open the gates and come out. Then each of you can continue eating from your own grapevine and fig tree and drinking from your own well. Then I will arrange to take you to another land like this one—a land of grain and new wine, bread and vineyards.” – Isaiah 36:16-17 NLT

Even King Hezekiah was devastated by the news of what had taken place outside the walls of Jerusalem. He immediately went into mourning and entered the temple to pray and seek the aid of God Almighty. He even sent two of his administrative aids to Isaiah the prophet with a request that he intercede with God on their behalf.

“This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. It may be that the Lord your God will hear the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the Lord your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.” – Isaiah 37:3-4 ESV

These were dark days, and the outlook was grim. But rather than give up, Hezekiah looked up. He turned to God for help. And he sought the aid of the prophet of God, hoping that Isaiah had a direct line to the Almighty and could enlist His support.

Hezekiah, while a good and godly king, had a somewhat limited view of God’s sovereignty and power. He questions whether God has heard what the Assyrian emissary has said. It’s as if He thinks God might be unaware of their predicament and must be informed of all that is going on. What he failed to understand was that all of this was God’s doing. The Almighty was not clueless, He was in control of all that was going on. The Assyrians were His instruments of judgment upon the people of Judah, but they could do no more than He permitted. And while their army was impressive and their taunts were impactful, they were not to be feared.

“This is what the Lord says: Do not be disturbed by this blasphemous speech against me from the Assyrian king’s messengers. Listen! I myself will move against him, and the king will receive a message that he is needed at home. So he will return to his land, where I will have him killed with a sword.” – Isaiah 37:6-7 NLT

It’s interesting to note how Isaiah prefaced his message from God. He said, “This is what the Lord says.” When the Assyrian emissary approached the walls of Jerusalem with a message for King Hezekiah, he had stated, “This is what the great king of Assyria says” (Isaiah 36:4 NLT). Isaiah seems to be purposefully juxtaposing the word of God against the word of King Sennacherib. Both sovereigns had spoken, but only one would be right. The word of God would trump the arrogant boasts of the Assyrian king. His threats of destruction and deportation would never happen. Before Sennacherib could even launch an attack on Jerusalem, he would receive news that would force him to return to Assyrian, where he would be assassinated. His grandiose plans for conquest would end in his own death at the hands of his own sons.

What is interesting to note is that God does not tell Isaiah or Hezekiah another important detail regarding His defeat of the Assyrians. The book of 2 Chronicles records that God did far more than plant a message in King Sennacherib’s ear. He destroyed the Assyrian army.

And the Lord sent an angel who destroyed the Assyrian army with all its commanders and officers. So Sennacherib was forced to return home in disgrace to his own land. And when he entered the temple of his god, some of his own sons killed him there with a sword. – 2 Chronicles 32:21 NLT

Most likely, Sennacherib would have left the majority of his army in place and returned home without them. But God had other plans. Not only was the king forced to leave Judah, his army would be destroyed. He would return home in disgrace and defeat, where things would get only worse.

Sennacherib’s sin was that he had mocked the living God. He and his men “talked about the God of Jerusalem as though he were one of the pagan gods, made by human hands” (2 Chronicles 32:19 NLT). His officers “mocked the Lord God and his servant Hezekiah, heaping insult upon insult” (2 Chronicles 32:16 NLT).

And they were not done. Isaiah records that the Assyrian emissary continued to mock Hezekiah and his God.

“Don’t let your God, in whom you trust, deceive you with promises that Jerusalem will not be captured by the king of Assyria.” – Isaiah 37:10 NLT

And he gave as proof all the other nations and gods the Assyrians had conquered along their way to Jerusalem. But Sennacherib’s mistake was in thinking Yahweh was nothing more than just another impotent god who would prove incapable of standing up to his power and might. In a sense, he saw himself as greater than God. And he had a track record of success against all the other pagan gods to prove it. But this time, he was wrong. He was up against the one true God. And as God told Moses centuries earlier:

“Look now; I myself am he! There is no other god but me! I am the one who kills and gives life; I am the one who wounds and heals; no one can be rescued from my powerful hand!” – Deuteronomy 32:39 NLT

Sennacherib could brag and mock, but God would have the last word. The Assyrian king could boast about all his previous victories, but this battle would not go his way. It would end in defeat and his own death. God was about to turn the day of distress, rebuke, and disgrace on its head. It would be the Assyrians who saw their army and their hopes of victory crushed.

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

 

Time and Chance.

Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.

Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.

Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

11 Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. 12 For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them.

13 I have also seen this example of wisdom under the sun, and it seemed great to me. 14 There was a little city with few men in it, and a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siegeworks against it. 15 But there was found in it a poor, wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man. 16 But I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard.

17 The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. 18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good. Ecclesiastes 9:7-18 ESV

According to Solomon’s way of seeing things, there are two things that can make the life of man miserable and meaningless: Time and chance. He makes that clear in verse 11.

Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. – Ecclesiastes 9:11 ESV

From his experience, these two things played irrefutable roles in the lives of men, determining the outcome of their lives far more often than ability, intelligence or preparedness. The fastest runner doesn’t always win. The most powerful army isn’t always the victor. Wisdom won’t necessarily put food on the table. A surplus of intelligence doesn’t guarantee wealth or success. And those with know-how aren’t always appreciated or given a chance to show what they know. Sometimes it’s all in the timing. Or it’s all a matter of chance. Things just happen. The faster runner trips and falls, leaving a slower runner to win. The wise go hungry. The weaker win. The one lacking discernment gets the promotion. It’s like a grand cosmic crap shoot, where no one knows how it is going to work out. It just happens. So, once again, Solomon offers up the sage advice to “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do” (Ecclesiastes 9:7 ESV). As we noted before, this is not a recommendation to embrace unbridled hedonism, or to spend your days in a drunken stupor. It is counsel designed to encourage the enjoyment of what you already have – your job, spouse, children, and life. Solomon knew what it was like to spend his life in pursuit of what he didn’t have. He had wisdom, but he wanted more. He had houses, but he built more. He had hundreds of wives and concubines, but always needed more. He spent so much time adding to his already overstocked life, that he never took time to enjoy what he had. So, writing the book of Ecclesiastes at the end of his life, he passed on what he had learned: To enjoy what you have while you have it. No one knows what tomorrow holds. In a sense, he is telling us to stop and smell the roses. And his advice is supported by a story Jesus told His disciples.

16 Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. 17 He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ 18 Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. 19 And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’

21 “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” – Luke 12:16-21 NLT

There is a danger in always living with our hopes set on tomorrow. This doesn’t preclude planing for the future, but if we do plan, we should not short-change the present day. None of us know what tomorrow holds. In that sense, Solomon is right. But notice the emphasis behind the story Jesus told. His point is that the man in story was neglecting his relationship with God. He found his significance and satisfaction in things. And it was only when he thought he had enough, that he believed he could truly enjoy life. There is a certain dissatisfaction and discontentment portrayed in the man’s decision-making. And that same problem seemed to have plagued the life of Solomon.

But in his latter years, Solomon had learned the lesson of being satisfied with what he had. He recommends seeing your wife or husband as a gift from God and a reward for all your hard work in this life. He strongly advises that we take time to enjoy good food, the feel of clean clothes, and the fragrance of fine perfume. But there remains a certain sense of nagging pessimism in his words. He says, “Whatever you do, do well. For when you go to the grave, there will be no work or planning or knowledge or wisdom” (Ecclesiastes 9:10 NLT). In other words, this is it. Enjoy it while you can. Because once you’re dead, you won’t get the opportunity again. Solomon never qualifies or clarifies his views on the hereafter, but he gives the distinct impression that he prefers the here-and-now. All his emphasis is on what he can see, touch, and feel. He was a man driven by his senses. Pleasure was important to him. Enjoyment was a high priority for him. And he seemed to operate on the premise that death would bring all of that to an abrupt stop. So, he learned to live in the present, taking in all that he could while he could. And what drove that mentality was the recognition that “man does not know his time” (Ecclesiastes 9:12 ESV). He compares man to a fish caught in a net or a bird trapped in a snare. When we least expect it, our end comes. Which led Solomon to resort to his quest for immediate gratification. He seems to have lived his life based on the old Schlitz Brewing Company slogan from the mid-1960s: “You only go around once in life, so you’ve got to grab for all the gusto you can.” But as Jesus warned, what a waste of time if you don’t seek a right relationship with God.

Solomon next provides us with a real-life example of wisdom on display, but unappreciated. He tells the story of a city that was besieged by a powerful army. The citizens of the city were few in number and their fate was sealed. But help and hope came from an unexpected source: A poor wise man. Notice Solomon’s emphasis. The man was wise, but poor. Remember Solomon’s earlier point: “The wise sometimes go hungry.” And yet, this man’s wisdom saved the day. We aren’t t old how, but this man used his wisdom to rescue the city from destruction. “But afterward no one thought to thank him” (Ecclesiastes 9:15 NLT). His efforts went unrecognized and unrewarded. And Solomon concludes, “even though wisdom is better than strength, those who are wise will be despised if they are poor. What they say will not be appreciated for long” (Ecclesiastes 9:16 NLT).

And what insight does Solomon provide us from this story? It’s better to listen to one man speaking quiet words of wisdom, than to the shouts of a powerful king who rules over fools. And while wisdom is more beneficial than weapons, all it takes is one sinner to destroy all the good that wisdom brings. Once again, you can sense Solomon’s cynicism. The advise of the wise isn’t always heeded. Their efforts aren’t always appreciated. And it only takes one foolish, unrighteous sinner to undermine all the efforts of the wise.

You can see why Solomon repeatedly went back to the recommendation: Eat, drink and be merry. To him, the world was controlled by time and chance. Man is the unwilling occupant of a canoe hurtling through rapids without a paddle. The best he can do is hang on and enjoy the scenes along the way. He knows there’s probably a less-than-pleasant ending around every bend, but he has no way of knowing when it will come. So, as far as Solomon could tell, the best thing was to sit back and enjoy the ride. But what a defeatist attitude. There is some value in living life in the moment. There is truth in Solomon’s assessment that the strong don’t always win and the swift don’t always come in first. But the apostle Paul would strongly disagree with Solomon’s assessment, instead arguing: “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!” (1 Corinthians 9:24 NLT). And he supports that argument even further in his letter to the church in Philippi.

14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

15 Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. – Philippians 3:14-15 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 Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

An Epic Fail.

The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. So they cut off his head and stripped off his armor and sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines, to carry the good news to the house of their idols and to the people. They put his armor in the temple of Ashtaroth, and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan. But when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men arose and went all night and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan, and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. And they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh and fasted seven days. – 1 Samuel 31:8-13 ESV

What Saul feared in life, actually took place in death. Right before he took his own life, he had begged his armor bearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and mistreat me” (1 Samuel 31:4 ESV). He feared being mocked and ridiculed by the Philistines. The Hebrew word he used is `alal and it can mean “to act severely, deal with severely, make a fool of someone” (“H5953 – `alal – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 12 Feb, 2017). It carries the idea of mocking, as well as defilement. And that is exactly what happened. Saul’s death did not stop the inevitable. They stripped his body of its armor, then cut off his head; and the book of Chronicles says, “they put his armor in the temple of their gods and fastened his head in the temple of Dagon” (1 Chronicles 10:10 ESV). The book of Chronicles goes on to provide important insight into the cause behind Saul’s death:

So Saul died for his breach of faith. He broke faith with the Lord in that he did not keep the command of the Lord, and also consulted a medium, seeking guidance. He did not seek guidance from the Lord. Therefore the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse. – 1 Chronicles 10:13-14 ESV

This had not been the only time Saul had failed to keep faith with God. He had personally offered sacrifices to God in direct violation of the law of God (1 Samuel 13). He had also failed to wipe out the Amalekites and to destroy all the spoil from battle, disobeying a direct order from God (1 Samuel 15). And Saul had continually ignored God’s clear announcement that he was going to be replaced as king by a better man. In fact, he had actually tried to stop it from happening by seeking to take the life of the very man God had chosen as his replacement: David.

So there were many reasons for Saul’s abandonment by God. In many ways, he is the one who had left God. He had chosen to live his life and rule his kingdom according to his own standards and based on his own wisdom. He had been rash, impulsive, prone to placing blame and reticent to repent, even when proven guilty. He was prideful, arrogant, self-absorbed and unwilling to humble himself before God. His eventual humiliation at the hands of the Philistines was his own doing. He had brought this on himself. And as his world came to a crashing end on the field of battle, he found himself severely wounded, his sons dead, his army fleeing and the Philistine troops closing in for the kill.

Saul’s decapitated body was hung on the walls of the city of Beth-shan. His head was hung in the temple of Dagon. His armor was put in the temple of Ashtaroth. All as a public display of his defeat and in an effort to humiliate not only Saul, but the God of the people of Israel. It was all very similar to when the Philistines placed the captured Ark of the Covenant in the temple of Dagon (1 Samuel 5). The Ark, a representation of the God of the Israelites, was to the Philistines like an idol, so they placed it at the feet of their god in order to honor his superiority over Yahweh. So, in the same way, by placing Saul’s head in the temple of Dagon was a way to show that their god was greater than the God of Israel. In their minds, Dagon had prevailed over Yahweh. They had won. Saul and the Israelites had lost.

But the story doesn’t end there. When the residents of Jabesh-gilead heard what had been done to Saul and his sons, they had to do something about it. So, at great risk to their own lives, they planned a nighttime raid and took the bodies of Saul and his sons from the walls of Beth-shan and gave them a proper burial. We’re not given a reason for why their bodies were burned. Perhaps it was because they had been so mutilated by the Philistines that they were beyond recognition. Or it could have simply been an attempt to prevent the spread of disease. But whatever the case, their bones were buried and a fast was held for seven days. There would be no great monument erected to Saul. It is interesting to note the difference between the death of Saul and that of a king like Asa.

And Asa slept with his fathers, dying in the forty-first year of his reign. They buried him in the tomb that he had cut for himself in the city of David. They laid him on a bier that had been filled with various kinds of spices prepared by the perfumer’s art, and they made a very great fire in his honor. – 2 Chronicles 16:13-14 ESV

It would become customary for the deceased kings of Israel to have elaborate burials and expensive tombs built in their honor. Such was not the case for Saul. He and his sons were buried under a tree in a non-disclosed spot. No pomp. No elaborate ceremony. No monument to mark their memory. Just like that, Saul was gone, his memory wiped from the minds of his people, but his legacy of faithlessness and disobedience left behind in the captured cities of Israel, the lost lives of hundreds of soldiers, and the demoralized remnants of the Jews who no longer had a king. But God was not done. This was not an end, but a new beginning. While all looked lost and the future looked dim, God had things right where He wanted them. The Israelites would not be without a king for long, and this time, they would find themselves with a king who was a man after God’s own heart.

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

There Is No Other Savior.

When Ephraim spoke, there was trembling; he was exalted in Israel, but he incurred guilt through Baal and died. And now they sin more and more, and make for themselves metal images, idols skillfully made of their silver, all of them the work of craftsmen. It is said of “Those who offer human sacrifice kiss calves!” Therefore they shall be like the morning mist or like the dew that goes early away, like the chaff that swirls from the threshing floor or like smoke from a window.

But I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior. It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought; but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me. So I am to them like a lion; like a leopard I will lurk beside the way. I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs; I will tear open their breast, and there I will devour them like a lion, as a wild beast would rip them open. – Hosea 13:1-8 ESV

It would seem that the northern kingdom of Israel was unfamiliar with the old adage, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” Because that is exactly what they had done. They were guilty of turning on the very one who had chosen them and blessed them by making them a nation. When God had divided the nation of Israel after Solomon’s epic fall from grace, He had chosen Jeroboam from the tribe of Ephraim to be the first king of the northern kingdom. That is why God held the tribe of Ephraim responsible for the direction the nation had taken. It was Jeroboam who came up with the bright idea to make two golden calves and establish their own places of worship, so that the people would not be tempted to return to Jerusalem to worship Yahweh. Eighteen years into his reign, Jeroboam rebelled against the southern kingdom of Judah and declared war against them. King Abijah of Judah had some very condemning words to say to the people of Israel just prior to their battle.

And now you think to withstand the kingdom of the Lord in the hand of the sons of David, because you are a great multitude and have with you the golden calves that Jeroboam made you for gods. Have you not driven out the priests of the Lord, the sons of Aaron, and the Levites, and made priests for yourselves like the peoples of other lands? Whoever comes for ordination with a young bull or seven rams becomes a priest of what are no gods. – 2 Chronicles 13:8-9 ESV

Abijah warned them, “O sons of Israel, do not fight against the Lord, the God of your fathers, for you cannot succeed” (2 Chronicles 13:12 ESV). And he was proved right. The southern kingdom of Judah ended up routing the Israelites in battle, destroying 500,000 of their men in the process. “Thus the men of Israel were subdued at that time, and the men of Judah prevailed, because they relied on the Lord, the God of their fathers” (2 Chronicles 13:18 ESV). King Jeroboam escaped, but would never regain his power. In fact, the chronicler tells us, “Jeroboam did not recover his power in the days of Abijah. And the Lord struck him down, and he died” (2 Chronicles 13:20 ESV). As Hosea puts it, “He incurred guilt through Baal and died” (Hosea 13:1 ESV).

But Jeroboam left a legacy. His golden calves, false priests and pagan worship centers remained. And as Hosea makes clear, even with Jeroboam gone, the people of Israel “sin more and more, and make for themselves metal images, idols skillfully made of their silver, all of them the work of craftsmen” (Hosea 13:2 ESV). Despite their humiliating defeat by Judah and the loss of their king, the people of Israel remained committed to their false gods. They stubbornly clung to their man-made idols, crafting them out of precious metals and then kissing them, desperately hoping that these false gods could become viable substitutes for the one true God.

But Hosea warns that their efforts will prove futile. Their days are numbered. He describes their future as bleak, saying, “they will disappear like the morning mist, like dew in the morning sun, like chaff blown by the wind, like smoke from a chimney” (Hosea 13:3 NLT). And God reminds them, “I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior” (Hosea 13:4 ESV). He was to be their one and only God. Those idols to whom they offered sacrifices were not gods at all. They were statues made by men and were incapable of hearing them, let alone helping them. There was only one source of salvation and that was God. He alone could be their savior. He alone had the power to hear their prayers and provide them with help and hope. It was He who had delivered them from captivity in Egypt and led them to the land of Canaan. It was He who had provided them with victory over the inhabitants of the land and given them farms, vineyards and houses they had not built. As God reminded Joshua, “I gave you land you had not worked on, and I gave you towns you did not build – the towns where you are now living. I gave you vineyards and olive groves for food, though you did not plant them” (Joshua 24:13 NLT). And Joshua would go on to warn the people:

So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord. – Joshua 24:14-15 NLT

The people had chosen. They had decided to serve false gods rather than the God who had delivered them from captivity and blessed them beyond measure. They gladly accepted the blessings of God, but then became fat and happy, slowly forgetting the one who had chosen them and set them apart. They ended up biting the very hand that fed them. God pulls no punches in describing their unfaithfulness: “they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me” (Hosea 13:6 ESV). Once they had become satisfied with the blessings of God, they ended up forgetting the God behind the blessings. The provisions became more important than the Provider. The gifts meant more to them than the Giver. And in their minds, they rationalized that if one God is good, more gods is better. In fact, their philosophy seemed to be: the more, the merrier. More gods, more blessings. More shrines, more potential saviors. But they were going to learn that there was no other savior. Like a wild beast, God was going to attack them, and their false gods would prove poor substitutes for Him and lousy saviors from destruction.

Raw, Real and Relatable.

Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father, “A son is born to you,” making him very glad. Let that man be like the cities that the Lord overthrew without pity; let him hear a cry in the morning and an alarm at noon, because he did not kill me in the womb; so my mother would have been my grave, and her womb forever great. Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame? – Jeremiah 20:15-18 ESV

Jeremiah 20:7-18

Jeremiah wraps up his prayer with a lament, and he is shockingly blunt and openly vulnerable in what he has to say. He doesn’t try to sugar coat his feelings or put his words in proper King James English in an attempt to sanitize them for God. He simply says what he is feeling. Sometimes these kinds of open, honest lay-it-all-on-the-line comments in Scripture make us a bit uncomfortable. We feel as if it is somehow wrong or at least disrespectful for anyone to talk like that to God. But it’s interesting to note that it was God who determined to include these kinds of diatribes in the Scriptures. We see them repeatedly in the Psalms and in the book of Job. These expressions of grief, anger and sorrow are there to remind us that the life of God’s children here on this earth can sometimes be difficult. We are, after all, only human. We are weak and prone to feel the effects of the conflict when we attempt to live life on this planet as God’s people. Jeremiah was a chosen instrument of God. He was a faithful servant who was doing exactly what God had called him to do. And his task was difficult. He suffered from feelings of despair, defeat and discouragement. He got lonely. He grew tired of having to be the bearer of bad news all the time. His calls to repentance fell on deaf ears and he never saw anyone respond in a positive way. And it wore on him.

Jeremiah knew he couldn’t curse God. That was a capital offense under the Mosaic law. So was cursing your parents. So Jeremiah cursed the messenger who brought the news of his own birth to his father. How low had Jeremiah gotten? Low enough to regret the day he was born. Here was a man who was serving God each and every day of his life and he had reached the point of wishing he had never seen the light of day. Yes, Jeremiah knew God had made him. He knew God had called him. He also knew he had a job to do and he would continue to do it. But that does not mean that he didn’t have moments when he felt completely exhausted and defeated in what he had to do. Living in obedience to God’s will is not always easy. Like Jeremiah, we live in the midst of a culture that stands opposed to everything for which we stand. We have been called to be salt and light. We sometimes think of salt as a preservative, which it is. But it can also be an irritant. Salt in an open wound can burn and cause great pain. Light exposes darkness. It reveals what is going on in the hidden areas of life. When we live as messengers of God, our words and actions will not always be met with open arms. Our very presence in the culture should cause a certain amount of uncomfortableness and conviction. When we share the good news of salvation available through Jesus Christ, we cannot do so without sharing the bad news regarding sin and the penalty of eternal separation from God. Not everyone wants to hear that message. Not everyone wants to be convicted of their sins.

The apostle Paul told the believers in Galatia, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9 ESV). Why would he have to tell them not to grow weary? Because he knew that they would. It is only natural and normal. Doing good, what God has called us to do, won’t always be welcomed by the world. We will be misunderstood, rejected, ridiculed, and even hated. Jesus told His disciples, “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22 ESV). Throughout the New Testament we read that we are to endure, persevere, fight the good fight, not grow weary, encourage one another, and stand firm in the faith. Why? Because we will be tempted to do just the opposite. We will have days like Jeremiah did. We will experience moments of despair, doubt and defeat. And when they come, we are free to share them with our God because He loves us. He already knows what we are feeling long before we share it. He can handle our complaints. He can understand our weakness. And He can renew our strength. Jeremiah would go on to complete the task assigned to him by God. He would rebound and recover the motivation to keep on keeping on. His faith would waiver and wain at times, but with the help of God, he would persevere. And so will we. Our moments of weariness and weakness should remind us of our need for God. We cannot live this life on our own. It is impossible for any of us to walk in obedience to God without the help of God. Over time, we will learn to say along with Paul, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV).

Psalm 60 – Day 1

With God’s Help.

“With God’s help we will do mighty things, for he will trample down our foes.” – Psalm 60:12 NLT

I can’t imagine what it was like to have been king of the nation of Israel. While I’m sure the job had its perks, it also came with a significant number of headaches. Ruling any nation is difficult, but trying to lead a people group who happened to be the hand-picked possession of God Himself was no easy task. First, you had God for your employer. Forget about Congress, your cabinet, or even your constituents. At the end of the day, every action you took was being carefully critiqued by none other than God. Now that’s pressure. On top of that you had the unenviable task of trying to lead a people who greatly disliked being led. Leading the nation of Israel was like, as the phrase goes, trying to herd cats – nearly impossible. By God’s own opinion, these people were inherently stiff-necked, stubborn, rebellious, and had foreheads of iron. In other words, they were obstinate. And as the king of Israel you were free to make up your own rules as you went along. You were obligated to enforce the laws of God. Of course, some of Israel’s kings ignored that part and suffered the consequences. But for David, obeying God was a high priority and maintaining His laws, decrees and commands was job one.

Then there was the problem of Israel’s enemies, and there were a lot of them. This little land was literally surrounded on all sides by nations intent on their destruction. Philistines, Moabites, Ammonites, Aramaens, Edomites, Jebusites, and just about every other nation that existed at that time – both large and small. They all had it in for Israel and they were a constant threat to Israel’s existence. As king, David had to constantly be prepared to defend the kingdom, but also the reputation of God. And even though David was “a man after God’s own heart,” things didn’t always go his way. He didn’t always win every battle. His exploits didn’t always meet with success. And this Psalm was written with one of those times in mind. David opens up the Psalm describing what was an apparent defeat at the hands of his enemies. They had broken through his defenses. They had driven Israel back in defeat. And because David was so strongly dependent on God, he couldn’t help but wonder if all this was some kind of punishment from His hand. He viewed this latest military setback as coming from God. So he appealed to God for mercy. He begged God to rescue the nation from the hands of their enemies. “Now rescue your beloved people. Answer and save us by your power” (Psalm 60:5 NLT). David was a powerful warrior and a highly successful king, but he knew where his strength came from – God. One of David’s greatest fears was that God might ever reject him and remove His favor from him. He even asks God, “Have you rejected us, O God? Will you no longer march with our armies?” (Psalm 60:11 NLT). David knew the ramifications if that were ever to happen. He knew that their existence was solely based on the favor and power of God, not him. Without God, David was nothing, and he knew it. Without God, the nation of Israel was nothing, and David understood that sobering fact as well. So he calls out to God, “Oh, please help us against our enemies, for all human help is useless” (Psalm 60:11 NLT). David knew what we need to know. Without God’s help, we are helpless and hopeless. We are His people. He is our King. It is He who protects us, provides for us, gives us victory, keeps us safe, and meets all our needs. It is to Him we should turn in both the good times and the bad times. All human help is useless. Placing our hope in anyone or anything other than God will always prove dangerous and highly disappointing. We may win the battle, but we will end up losing the war. But David knew that “with God’s help we will do mighty things, for he will trample down our foes” (Psalm 60:12 NLT). Even this powerful king knew that he was nothing without the help of his all-powerful God.

Father, how ludicrous it is to think that I can somehow save myself. How silly for me to imagine that I can somehow come up with a plan to save myself from all the enemies I face every day. Without You I am nothing. I have no strength without You. I have no wisdom apart from You. I have no future unless You provide it. I have no hope other than You. But with Your help I will do mighty things! Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org