A Spirit of Spiritual Syncretism

29 But every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the shrines of the high places that the Samaritans had made, every nation in the cities in which they lived. 30 The men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, the men of Cuth made Nergal, the men of Hamath made Ashima, 31 and the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak; and the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim. 32 They also feared the Lord and appointed from among themselves all sorts of people as priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the shrines of the high places. 33 So they feared the Lord but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away.

34 To this day they do according to the former manner. They do not fear the Lord, and they do not follow the statutes or the rules or the law or the commandment that the Lord commanded the children of Jacob, whom he named Israel. 35 The Lord made a covenant with them and commanded them, “You shall not fear other gods or bow yourselves to them or serve them or sacrifice to them, 36 but you shall fear the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm. You shall bow yourselves to him, and to him you shall sacrifice. 37 And the statutes and the rules and the law and the commandment that he wrote for you, you shall always be careful to do. You shall not fear other gods, 38 and you shall not forget the covenant that I have made with you. You shall not fear other gods, 39 but you shall fear the Lord your God, and he will deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies.” 40 However, they would not listen, but they did according to their former manner.

41 So these nations feared the Lord and also served their carved images. Their children did likewise, and their children’s children—as their fathers did, so they do to this day. 2 Kings 17:29-41 ESV

So they feared the Lord but also served their own gods.”

That phrase appears twice in the closing verses of chapter 17, and it aptly summarizes the spiritual state of the nation of Israel after its fall to the Assyrians. Many of its citizens had been captured and exiled to various locations in Assyria. Their vacancies were filled by people from other conquered nations who were forced to relocate to Israel and start new lives. This sudden influx of refugees from foreign countries turned Israel into a veritable melting pot and, ultimately, resulted in intermarriage between the Jews and their new neighbors.

These newly transplanted inhabitants found themselves living in a foreign land where they didn’t understand the language or customs. They were strangers living in a strange land, but they found some comfort in the fact that many of their gods already had shrines dedicated to them in Israel. The ten northern tribes had been assimilating the gods of other nations for years. Under Jeroboam’s leadership, they had created their own gods, complete with temples and priesthood. Under Ahab and Jezebel, they had adopted and promoted the worship of Baal and Asherah. And along the way, other kings of Israel had been embracing the false gods of their foreign allies. So, the new arrivals to Israel found an atmosphere of religious tolerance and ecumenism.

If you recall, immediately after these foreign refugees had arrived in Israel and taken up residence in the abandoned cities of Samaria, they began worshiping their false gods. The land on which they lived belonged to Yahwah, and He took offense at their actions. They were living on land that He had set apart as holy and given to the descendants of Abraham as their inheritance. It was to have been a place where they lived in obedience to His will and where they worshiped Him alone. Their failure to do so had resulted in their defeat and deportation. But their departure had not changed the sanctity of the land or voided the covenant commitment God had made with His people. There was still a remnant of Jews living in the land of Israel and He expected them to keep their end of the agreement they had made with Him.

So, when these foreigners began to worship their false gods on land that belonged to the one true God, they found themselves experiencing divine judgment.

But since these foreign settlers did not worship the Lord when they first arrived, the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them. – 2 Kings 17:25 NLT

As a result, the king of Assyria ordered that one of the exiled Israelite priests be sent back so that he might instruct the immigrants in the proper worship of Yahweh.

So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria returned to Bethel and taught the new residents how to worship the Lord. – 2 Kings 17:28 NLT

This highly pragmatic plan implemented by the king of Assyria was evidently successful. But while many of the new arrivals eagerly adopted Yahweh as their God, they simply added Him to their growing list of deities. He became just one more god to whom they offered their sacrifices in order to win favor and good fortune.

These new residents worshiped the Lord, but they also appointed from among themselves all sorts of people as priests to offer sacrifices at their places of worship. And though they worshiped the Lord, they continued to follow their own gods according to the religious customs of the nations from which they came. – 2 Kings 17:32-33 NLT

With the sudden arrival of these various people groups, the religious landscape of Israel became ever more crowded and confused. Almost overnight, the idolatrous state of Israel exploded with new options and opportunities as the number of false gods continued to increase. The already tolerant and easily tempted Israelites found themselves surrounded by a virtual sea of new gods from which to chose.

Those from Babylon worshiped idols of their god Succoth-benoth. Those from Cuthah worshiped their god Nergal. And those from Hamath worshiped Ashima. The Avvites worshiped their gods Nibhaz and Tartak. And the people from Sepharvaim even burned their own children as sacrifices to their gods Adrammelech and Anammelech. – 2 Kings 17:30-31 ESV

The worship of Yahweh became increasingly more diluted and defused as a spirit of syncretism and religious pluralism spread over the land. The fall of Israel did not result in a spirit of repentance and religious reform among God’s people. His judgment of them was met by indifference and continued apostasy.

They continue to follow their former practices instead of truly worshiping the Lord and obeying the decrees, regulations, instructions, and commands he gave the descendants of Jacob, whose name he changed to Israel. – 2 Kings 17:34 NLT

There appears to be no remorse or repentance on the part of God’s people. Their neighbors had been taken captive and exiled to Assyria, but they remain just as committed to living in disobedience to God’s laws. And it seems that those who found themselves living as captives in Assyria were no less stubborn and unwilling to return to Yahweh. And yet, when King Solomon had dedicated the newly constructed temple, he had asked God to show mercy on His disobedient people, should they find themselves in exile and call out for help.

“If your people Israel are defeated by their enemies because they have sinned against you, and if they turn to you and acknowledge your name and pray to you here in this Temple, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and return them to this land you gave their ancestors.” – 1 Kings 8:33-34 NLT

But they hadn’t turned and acknowledged God’s name. They had not prayed and asked for God’s forgiveness. Both those in exile and those living in the land of Israel had continued to disobey God’s commands and violate His covenant agreement. And the author makes it clear that God was serious about His commands and His covenant.

For the Lord had made a covenant with the descendants of Jacob and commanded them: “Do not worship any other gods or bow before them or serve them or offer sacrifices to them. But worship only the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt with great strength and a powerful arm. Bow down to him alone, and offer sacrifices only to him. Be careful at all times to obey the decrees, regulations, instructions, and commands that he wrote for you. You must not worship other gods. Do not forget the covenant I made with you, and do not worship other gods. You must worship only the Lord your God. He is the one who will rescue you from all your enemies.” – 2 Kings 17:35-39 NLT

They had no excuse. The remnant of Israelites still living in the land knew exactly what God expected of them, but they continued to reject His word and refused to repent. And while the new residents were given instruction in the proper worship of Yahweh, they simply added Him to their long and growing list of god options.

So while these new residents worshiped the Lord, they also worshiped their idols. And to this day their descendants do the same. – 2 Kings 17:41 NLT

This last verse is meant to convey a sense of inevitability and determinism. Nothing was going to change. They were fully committed to doing things their way, regardless of the circumstances or consequences. And we know that by the time Jesus appeared on the scene, the long-term implications of this syncretistic and overly tolerant religious mindset had resulted in the division between the Jews and the Samaritans. The foreigners who were transplanted into Israel by the king of Assyria, ended up intermarrying with the remaining Jewish population. These mixed marriages brought about an assimilation of cultures and religions that produced a population that became known as the Samaritans. The Samaritans were considered to be half-breeds by the Jews of Jesus’ day and were treated as second-class citizens. They practiced a religion that combined the worship of Yahweh with aspects of paganism and idolatry. As the Samaritan confessed to Jesus, they even had their own place of worship, outside the confines of Jerusalem (John 4:20).

Chapter 17 of 2 Kings brings the story of the northern kingdom to a dramatic and somber close. Part of the nation is living in exile in Assyria. The rest remain in the land but are marked by a spirit of spiritual syncretism and moral compromise. There will be no more kings to rule over the ten tribes. They will remain under God’s judgment and experience the curses He had warned would come should they choose to disobey. But now, the author turns his attention back to the southern kingdom Judah. As of now, they remain free to follow the commands of God. But will they? The author provides a not-so-subtle hint as to what lies in store of the people of Judah.

Because the Lord was very angry with Israel, he swept them away from his presence. Only the tribe of Judah remained in the land. But even the people of Judah refused to obey the commands of the Lord their God, for they followed the evil practices that Israel had introduced. – 2 Kings 17:18-19 NLT

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 Turn for the Worse

32 In the second year of Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, Jotham the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, began to reign. 33 He was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jerusha the daughter of Zadok. 34 And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Uzziah had done. 35 Nevertheless, the high places were not removed. The people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places. He built the upper gate of the house of the Lord. 36 Now the rest of the acts of Jotham and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 37 In those days the Lord began to send Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah against Judah. 38 Jotham slept with his fathers and was buried with his fathers in the city of David his father, and Ahaz his son reigned in his place.

1 In the seventeenth year of Pekah the son of Remaliah, Ahaz the son of Jotham, king of Judah, began to reign. Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God, as his father David had done, but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even burned his son as an offering, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. And he sacrificed and made offerings on the high places and on the hills and under every green tree.

Then Rezin king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, came up to wage war on Jerusalem, and they besieged Ahaz but could not conquer him.2 Kings 15:32-16:5 ESV

In the northern kingdom of Israel, they were going through kings so quickly that the royal palace needed revolving doors to handle the high traffic volume. In just 14 years, they had gone through six different kings, most of whose reigns ended because of assassination. But back in Judah, it was a different story. Azariah (Uzziah) had served as king for 52 years and for the last 11 years of his reign, his son, Jotham served as his co-regent. Their sharing of the kingly role had been necessitated because Azariah had contracted leprosy and was confined to his home. His disease required that he be quarantined and made governance of the nation almost impossible. So, “Jotham the king’s son was over the household, governing the people of the land” (2 Kings 15:5 ESV). The sad reality is that Azariah’s condition was the direct result of his own pride and his decision to violate the Mosaic law. His disobedience incurred God’s divine wrath and judgment, in the form of leprosy. But despite his condition, Azariah was able to continue ruling over the nation of Judah, with his son’s assistance. This also provided Jotham with on-the-job training that helped prepare him for the day when the monarchy would become his alone.

While the final 11 years of Azariah’s reign were marked by leprosy and forced isolation, he had been a good king. For the majority of his 52-year rule, he had done “what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper” (2 Chronicles 26:4-5 ESV). And it seems that Azariah’s love for God was far more infectious than his disease because the author lets us know that Jotham “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Uzziah had done” (2 Kings 15:34 ESV).

But the author of 2 Chronicles adds a few pertinent details that paint a slightly darker image of this young 26-year-old king.

…except he did not enter the temple of the Lord. But the people still followed corrupt practices. – 2 Chronicles 27:2 ESV

The first part of that statement seems to reflect Jotham’s anger at Yahweh for having struck his father with leprosy. One of the results of Azariah’s contraction of this dreaded disease was that it rendered him unclean and, therefore, unable to enter the temple of God. The book of Leviticus provides the specific command detailing the isolating aspect of the disease.

“Those who suffer from a serious skin disease must tear their clothing and leave their hair uncombed. They must cover their mouth and call out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as the serious disease lasts, they will be ceremonially unclean. They must live in isolation in their place outside the camp. – Leviticus 13:45-46 NLT

It would seem that Jotham’s decision to avoid the temple was either out of resentment for God’s harsh treatment of his father or out of fear that he might suffer a similar fate.  It’s interesting to note that Jotham “built the upper gate of the house of the Lord” (2 Kings 15:35 ESV). According to Thomas L. Constable, the upper gate was “an opening between the outer and inner courts on the north side of the temple near the altar of burnt offerings.” This becomes more relevant when you consider that Jotham’s father had been punished by God because he had “entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense” (2 Chronicles 26:16 ESV). In doing so, he assumed the role of the priest, in direct violation of God’s law. Now, his son had built a gate that made entrance into that area of the temple more accessible than ever. Perhaps Jotham intended this construction project to be a not-so-subtle statement about his father’s actions and subsequent punishment.

While Jotham accomplished a variety of noteworthy renovation and expansion projects, he also failed to remove the high places on which the people sacrificed to false gods.  As a result, “the people still followed corrupt practices” (2 Chronicles 27:2 ESV). So, while he was busy making improvements to the temple grounds, the people continued to worship idols. But, for the most part, Jotham proved to be a faithful king who tried to honor God. And this brought about the blessing of God.

Jotham became mighty, because he ordered his ways before the Lord his God. – 2 Chronicles 27:6 ESV

And yet, we also begin to see glimpses of God’s coming judgment against the nation of Judah. While the southern kingdom had managed to remain far more faithful than its northern neighbor, there was still a growing sense of spiritual infidelity among its inhabitants. And we see God responding to this unfaithfulness by allowing the nation of Judah to experience His disfavor in the form of foreign powers who begin to harass and test them.

In those days the Lord began to send Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah against Judah. – 2 Kings 15:37 ESV

Eventually, Jotham dies and his son, Ahaz takes his place on the throne of Judah. But Ahaz does not share his father’s love for God. In fact, the author’s mention of God sending foreign powers against Judah is a kind of foreshadowing. The nation is about to take a dark turn for the worse. Under Ahaz’s reign, the spiritual fortunes of Judah will decline sharply. He will not continue the godly legacy of his father and grandfather. Instead, he will emulate and even eclipse the sins of the kings of Israel.

He did not do what was pleasing in the sight of the Lord his God, as his ancestor David had done. Instead, he followed the example of the kings of Israel, even sacrificing his own son in the fire. In this way, he followed the detestable practices of the pagan nations the Lord had driven from the land ahead of the Israelites. He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the pagan shrines and on the hills and under every green tree. – 2 Kings 2-4 NLT

Ahaz “walked in the ways of the kings of Israel” (2 Chronicles 28:2 ESV). And his decision to fully embrace the false gods of the Canaanites would cost him dearly. This was a man who became so sold out to idolatry that he regularly “burned his sons as an offering” (2 Chronicles 28:2 ESV). He was willing to sacrifice the lives of his own children in order to win the favor of the gods. But while spilling the blood of his sons failed to garner the attention of his false gods, it did manage to bring down the judgment of Yahweh.

Because of all this, the Lord his God allowed the king of Aram [Syria] to defeat Ahaz and to exile large numbers of his people to Damascus. The armies of the king of Israel also defeated Ahaz and inflicted many casualties on his army. In a single day Pekah son of Remaliah, Israel’s king, killed 120,000 of Judah’s troops, all of them experienced warriors, because they had abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors. – 2 Chronicles 28:5-6 NLT

God would use the Syrians and the Israelites as His instruments of judgment against Ahaz and the people of Judah. But despite Ahaz’s blatant displays of unfaithfulness, God would not allow these outside forces to completely destroy Judah. The situation quickly became a cycle of sin and judgment. Ahaz’s worship of his false gods would bring the judgment of Yahweh in the form of the Syrians and Israelites. These attacks would cause Ahaz to intensify his efforts to gain the favor of his many gods. His desperation to find a solution would produce further idolatry and result in additional judgment from God. But in his stubbornness, Ahaz never stops to consider that repentance and a return to Yahweh might be the best answer to his problem.

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 End Is In Sight

13 Shallum the son of Jabesh began to reign in the thirty-ninth year of Uzziah king of Judah, and he reigned one month in Samaria. 14 Then Menahem the son of Gadi came up from Tirzah and came to Samaria, and he struck down Shallum the son of Jabesh in Samaria and put him to death and reigned in his place. 15 Now the rest of the deeds of Shallum, and the conspiracy that he made, behold, they are written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel. 16 At that time Menahem sacked Tiphsah and all who were in it and its territory from Tirzah on, because they did not open it to him. Therefore he sacked it, and he ripped open all the women in it who were pregnant.

17 In the thirty-ninth year of Azariah king of Judah, Menahem the son of Gadi began to reign over Israel, and he reigned ten years in Samaria. 18 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart all his days from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin. 19 Pul the king of Assyria came against the land, and Menahem gave Pul a thousand talents of silver, that he might help him to confirm his hold on the royal power. 20 Menahem exacted the money from Israel, that is, from all the wealthy men, fifty shekels of silver from every man, to give to the king of Assyria. So the king of Assyria turned back and did not stay there in the land. 21 Now the rest of the deeds of Menahem and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? 22 And Menahem slept with his fathers, and Pekahiah his son reigned in his place.

23 In the fiftieth year of Azariah king of Judah, Pekahiah the son of Menahem began to reign over Israel in Samaria, and he reigned two years. 24 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin. 25 And Pekah the son of Remaliah, his captain, conspired against him with fifty men of the people of Gilead, and struck him down in Samaria, in the citadel of the king’s house with Argob and Arieh; he put him to death and reigned in his place. 26 Now the rest of the deeds of Pekahiah and all that he did, behold, they are written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel.

27 In the fifty-second year of Azariah king of Judah, Pekah the son of Remaliah began to reign over Israel in Samaria, and he reigned twenty years. 28 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin.

29 In the days of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria came and captured Ijon, Abel-beth-maacah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and he carried the people captive to Assyria. 30 Then Hoshea the son of Elah made a conspiracy against Pekah the son of Remaliah and struck him down and put him to death and reigned in his place, in the twentieth year of Jotham the son of Uzziah. 31 Now the rest of the acts of Pekah and all that he did, behold, they are written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel. 2 Kings 15:13-31 ESV

During Azariah’s 52-year reign over the southern kingdom of Judah, things proved to be a bit more unstable north of the border. Israel was having a difficult time keeping its kings alive. In just over 14 years, the ten northern tribes would go through six different kings, and all but one of them would be assassinated by his successor. It was a time marked by extreme political instability and worsening spiritual infidelity. Zechariah’s reign would be short-lived, lasting only six months before Shallum assassinated him and took his place on the throne. But Shallum would break Zechariah’s record for the shortest reign by surviving a single month before Menahem took his life and his throne.

According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, Menahem had been the commander-in-chief of Jeroboam II’s army. Evidently, Menahem had taken Shallum’s murder of Zechariah, the son of Jeroboam II, as an act of treason. So, he took matters into his own hands and executed the usurper to the throne in record time. Of course, Menahem chose to fill the vacancy left by Shallum’s untimely death by declaring himself king. But when some of Israel’s citizens refused to recognize his right to rule, he launched a brutal reprisal against them.

Menahem destroyed the town of Tappuah and all the surrounding countryside as far as Tirzah, because its citizens refused to surrender the town. He killed the entire population and ripped open the pregnant women. – 2 Kings 15:16 NLT

It’s not surprising that the author describes Menahem’s ten-year reign as evil. He did nothing to restore the spiritual condition of the nation. Instead, he replicated the idolatrous ways of his predecessor, Jeroboam.

It was during Menahem’s less-than-stellar reign that the kingdom of Assyria first appeared on the scene. This up-and-coming nation would prove to be a constant source of trouble for both Israel and Judah. And when the king of Assyria began to test his growing military might by launching raids into Israelite territory, Menahem determined that it was in his best interest to secure an alliance with this powerful new threat to the region. So, he paid a substantial tribute to the Assyrians and funded it by exacting an exorbitant and highly unpopular tax on the wealthiest citizens of Israel. But his strategy appears to have worked.

…the king of Assyria turned from attacking Israel and did not stay in the land. – 2 Kings 15:20 NLT

But little did Menahem know that he was simply buying time. The Assyrians could be bought off, but they were not going away.

Menahem was succeeded by his son, Pekahiah, whose reign would last only two years. Pekahiah was eventually assassinated and replaced by Pekah, the son of the man who commanded his own army. And it was during Pekah’s 20-year, sin-stained reign that the Assyrians showed up again. Evidently, Pekah chose not to continue making tribute payments to the Assyrians, so King Tiglath-pileser ordered the resumption of raids into Israelite territory.

King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria attacked Israel again, and he captured 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 NLT

The scope and intensity of these raids are simply a foreshadowing of darker days to come. And long before the Israelites had settled in the land of Canaan, God had warned them what would happen if they chose to be unfaithful by refusing to obey His commands.

You will watch as your sons and daughters are taken away as slaves. Your heart will break for them, but you won’t be able to help them. A foreign nation you have never heard about will eat the crops you worked so hard to grow. You will suffer under constant oppression and harsh treatment. You will go mad because of all the tragedy you see around you. – Deuteronomy 28:32-34 NLT

This was just the beginning. But Pekah did not recognize these devastating raids by the Assyrians as the judgment of God. Instead, he “did what was evil in the Lord’s sight. He refused to turn from the sins that Jeroboam son of Nebat had led Israel to commit” (2 Kings 15:28 NLT). And eventually, he suffered the same fate as his predecessor. After a 20-year reign, he too was assassinated. Israel’s constant harassment by the Assyrians eventually destabilized Pekah’s reign.

These costly raids and the enslavement of their fellow citizens led the people to grow increasingly more dissatisfied with Pekah’s leadership. Eventually, Hoshea, the son of Elah, took advantage of the unstable situation by instigating a successful coup against the king. He assassinated Pekah and took his place on the throne of Israel. But this latest regime change, like all those that had preceded it, made little difference. The people of Israel remained just as rebellious and unrepentant as ever. And the Assyrians were growing increasingly more powerful with each passing day. The handwriting was on the wall. It would not be long before God fulfilled His promise to bring curses upon the people of Israel for their unfaithfulness and disobedience.

During this time, God had sent His prophets to warn the Israelites about their sinful behavior.

“The people of Israel have sinned again and again,
    and I will not let them go unpunished!
They sell honorable people for silver
    and poor people for a pair of sandals.
They trample helpless people in the dust
    and shove the oppressed out of the way.
Both father and son sleep with the same woman,
    corrupting my holy name.” – Amos 2:6-7 NLT

“From among all the families on the earth,
    I have been intimate with you alone.
That is why I must punish you
    for all your sins.” – Amos 3:2 NLT

“But now bring charges against Israel—your mother—
    for she is no longer my wife,
    and I am no longer her husband.
Tell her to remove the prostitute’s makeup from her face
    and the clothing that exposes her breasts.
Otherwise, I will strip her as naked
    as she was on the day she was born.
I will leave her to die of thirst,
    as in a dry and barren wilderness. – Hosea 2:2-3 NLT

They had been warned but they had repeatedly refused to repent. The kings of Israel had led their people to sin against God. Through intrigue and insurrection, these men had destabilized the nation’s power and then encouraged the people to forsake the one true God. And the time was coming when God would repay them for their unfaithfulness. He would no longer allow His holy name to be desecrated by their constant disobedience of His commands and disregard for His will. They had failed to recognize and appreciate His faithfulness.

She doesn’t realize it was I who gave her everything she has—
    the grain, the new wine, the olive oil;
I even gave her silver and gold.
    But she gave all my gifts to Baal.” – Hosea 2:8 NLT

And they would pay dearly for their mistake.

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

 

 

Pride Goes Before Destruction

1 In the twenty-seventh year of Jeroboam king of Israel, Azariah the son of Amaziah, king of Judah, began to reign. He was sixteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-two years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jecoliah of Jerusalem. And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away. The people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places. And the Lord touched the king, so that he was a leper to the day of his death, and he lived in a separate house. And Jotham the king’s son was over the household, governing the people of the land.’ Now the rest of the acts of Azariah, and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? And Azariah slept with his fathers, and they buried him with his fathers in the city of David, and Jotham his son reigned in his place.

In the thirty-eighth year of Azariah king of Judah, Zechariah the son of Jeroboam reigned over Israel in Samaria six months. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, as his fathers had done. He did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin. 10 Shallum the son of Jabesh conspired against him and struck him down at Ibleam and put him to death and reigned in his place. 11 Now the rest of the deeds of Zechariah, behold, they are written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel. 12 (This was the promise of the Lord that he gave to Jehu, “Your sons shall sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation.” And so it came to pass.) 2 Kings 15:1-12 ESV

Reading this chapter can become a bit confusing because it seems to chronicle the lives of two different kings serving over Judah at the very same time. In verse 1, we are introduced to Azariah, the son of Amaziah. Then in verse 13, we’re told that Shallum became king of Israel during the reign of Uzziah king of Judah. There is a simple solution though. The king of Judah went by two different names. Chapter 26 of the book of 2 Chronicles uses this alternate name exclusively when recording the history of his reign. But they are one and the same man.

As the opening verses indicate, Azariah (Uzziah) ascended to the throne of Judah after the death of his father, Amaziah. He was only 16-years-old at the time of his coronation and would reign for 52 years. Only one other king of Judah would enjoy a longer tenure on the throne of Judah: Manasseh.

Azariah’s lengthy reign brought stability to a nation that had been reeling after the assassination of its prior king, Azariah’s father. It was a time of blessing and prosperity because, unlike so many other kings of Judah, Azariah chose to seek the Lord.

…he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper. – 2 Chronicles 26:4-5 ESV

But there are three qualifying words in the above statement: “as long as.” Azariah’s prosperity and success were directly tied to his faithfulness. It was God who made him prosper. And as long as he remained faithful to Yahweh, he experienced His blessings. And, according to the book of 2 Chronicles, those blessings were many.

God helped him against the Philistines and against the Arabians who lived in Gurbaal and against the Meunites. The Ammonites paid tribute to Uzziah, and his fame spread even to the border of Egypt, for he became very strong. – 2 Chronicles 26:7-8 ESV

Azariah built cities within the territories he confiscated from the Philistines. He also ordered the construction of fortified towers throughout the land of Judah and had cisterns dug to provide water for his growing herds. Azariah had large land-holdings, consisting of farms and vineyards. He was wealthy, successful, and powerful. His army was well-trained and equipped with the latest weapons technology. And the city of Jerusalem was protected by state-of-the-art fortifications. As a result:

His fame spread far and wide, for the Lord gave him marvelous help, and he became very powerful. – 2 Chronicles 26:15 NLT

Azariah was enjoying the blessings of God. He had it all: Wealth, power, and fame. But you can almost sense that he was ripe for a fall. And the author of 2 Kings cuts to the chase, revealing that Azariah’s days of enjoying the blessings of God were going to be short-lived and followed by a time of judgment and despair.

Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away. The people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places. And the Lord touched the king, so that he was a leper to the day of his death, and he lived in a separate house. – 2 Kings 15:4-5 ESV

The book of 2 Chronicles provides us with the details surrounding Azariah’s fall. And it’s an all-too-familiar story of the pitfalls of pride.

But 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. – 2 Chronicles 26:16 NLT

Azariah was a man who became used to getting what he wanted. He had enjoyed unprecedented success. Everything he touched seemed to turn to gold. His victories were many. His landholdings were great. His wealth was extensive. And his power was unsurpassed. But all of this led to a pride problem. He became to believe that he could get away with anything. But when he entered the sanctuary of God and attempted to usurp the role of the priests, he overstepped his bounds. He violated the Mosaic law and incurred the wrath of God. And it is not as if Azariah didn’t know any better. He was confronted by the high priest and 80 other men of God.

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!” – 2 Chronicles 26:18 NLT

But rather than repent of his sin, Azariah became angry. He didn’t like being told what he could or could not do. And so, God struck him with leprosy. In just seconds, Azariah’s entire life was turned upside down. He was immediately removed from the temple and, because of his leprosy, would never set foot in the house of God again – for the rest of his life. He would spend the last 11 years of his reign in quarantine and isolation, as his son ruled the nation as his co-regent. Eventually, Azariah died, and his son took his place as king of Judah. He was buried and the only lasting legacy he left behind was his failure. The people would say of him, “He had leprosy” (2 Chronicles 26:23 NLT).

Azariah had fallen prey to the age-old sin of pride. He had failed to heed the warnings of his predecessor, Solomon. In his book of Proverbs, Solomon included the wise but often ignored saying, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs16:18 ESV). And Azariah learned a painful lesson on the pervasive power of pride. Because he had enjoyed the seemingly endless blessings of God, he had wrongly assumed that he could do no wrong. But God has standards, and He expects His children to live according to His will and in keeping with His commands. The king was not exempt from God’s rules, and Azariah learned that lesson the hard way. 

About three years before Azariah’s fateful decision to play priest and offer sacrifices to God, Zechariah, the son of Jeroboam II, became king in Israel. And the assessment of his reign is a familiar one.

And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, as his fathers had done. – 2 Kings 15:9 ESV

Unlike Azariah, Zechariah’s reign was brief, lasting only six short months. And it would end with his assassination by Shallum, who would take his place on the throne of Israel. But Zechariah’s abbreviated reign fulfilled a promise that God had made to Jehu, king of Israel. Jehu had obeyed God’s command and destroyed the house of Ahab. Not only that, he ordered the execution of any who worshiped Baal and turned the temple of Baal into a public latrine. As a reward for Jehu’s cleansing campaign, God made a vow:

“You have done well in following my instructions to destroy the family of Ahab. Therefore, your descendants will be kings of Israel down to the fourth generation.” – 2 Kings 10:30 NLT

Zechariah was the fulfillment of that promise. But his reign would only last half a year. His murder would usher in an era of intrigue, deception, and instability. Over the next 20 years, the northern kingdom of Israel would have six different kings, and only one of them would die a natural death. The rest would be assassinated. It would be a time marked by pervasive wickedness, rampant idolatry, and increasing resistance on the part of the people to heed God’s call to repentance.

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

 

Like Father, Like Son

1 In the second year of Joash the son of Joahaz, king of Israel, Amaziah the son of Joash, king of Judah, began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jehoaddin of Jerusalem. And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, yet not like David his father. He did in all things as Joash his father had done. But the high places were not removed; the people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places. And as soon as the royal power was firmly in his hand, he struck down his servants who had struck down the king his father. But he did not put to death the children of the murderers, according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, where the Lord commanded, “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. But each one shall die for his own sin.”

He struck down ten thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt and took Sela by storm, and called it Joktheel, which is its name to this day.

Then Amaziah sent messengers to Jehoash the son of Jehoahaz, son of Jehu, king of Israel, saying, “Come, let us look one another in the face.” And Jehoash king of Israel sent word to Amaziah king of Judah, “A thistle on Lebanon sent to a cedar on Lebanon, saying, ‘Give your daughter to my son for a wife,’ and a wild beast of Lebanon passed by and trampled down the thistle. 10 You have indeed struck down Edom, and your heart has lifted you up. Be content with your glory, and stay at home, for why should you provoke trouble so that you fall, you and Judah with you?”

11 But Amaziah would not listen. So Jehoash king of Israel went up, and he and Amaziah king of Judah faced one another in battle at Beth-shemesh, which belongs to Judah. 12 And Judah was defeated by Israel, and every man fled to his home. 13 And Jehoash king of Israel captured Amaziah king of Judah, the son of Jehoash, son of Ahaziah, at Beth-shemesh, and came to Jerusalem and broke down the wall of Jerusalem for four hundred cubits, from the Ephraim Gate to the Corner Gate. 14 And he seized all the gold and silver, and all the vessels that were found in the house of the Lord and in the treasuries of the king’s house, also hostages, and he returned to Samaria.

15 Now the rest of the acts of Jehoash that he did, and his might, and how he fought with Amaziah king of Judah, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? 16 And Jehoash slept with his fathers and was buried in Samaria with the kings of Israel, and Jeroboam his son reigned in his place.

17 Amaziah the son of Joash, king of Judah, lived fifteen years after the death of Jehoash son of Jehoahaz, king of Israel. 18 Now the rest of the deeds of Amaziah, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 19 And they made a conspiracy against him in Jerusalem, and he fled to Lachish. But they sent after him to Lachish and put him to death there. 20 And they brought him on horses; and he was buried in Jerusalem with his fathers in the city of David. 21 And all the people of Judah took Azariah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king instead of his father Amaziah. 22 He built Elath and restored it to Judah, after the king slept with his fathers. 2 Kings 14:1-22 ESV

When King Jehoash of Judah was assassinated by two of his own servants, his son Amaziah ascended to the throne. He was only 25-years-old when he assumed leadership over the nation of Judah, and one of his first official acts as king was to avenge his father’s death by executing the guilty parties. But Amaziah showed self-restraint and an appreciation for the Mosaic law, by refusing to seek revenge against the families of those who had perpetrated this crime. He could have used his power to wipe out every last descendant of his father’s assassins, but he would have been in clear violation of the law God had given to Moses and the people of Israel.

Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin. – Deuteronomy 24:16 ESV

His knowledge of the law and his willingness to adhere to it was a good sign and an indication of his desire to follow the will of Yahweh. But it would soon become evident that his dedication to God was impartial and incomplete.

Amaziah did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, but not like his ancestor David. Instead, he followed the example of his father, Joash. – 2 Kings 14:3 NLT

Amaziah was his father’s son. He tended to replicate Jehoash’s half-hearted commitment to Yahweh rather than the whole-hearted dedication of his ancestor David. It was said of his father, “All his life Joash did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight because Jehoiada the priest instructed him. Yet, even so, he did not destroy the pagan shrines, and the people still offered sacrifices and burned incense there” (2 Kings 12:2-3 NLT). As long as Jehoiada the priest remained alive, providing Jehoash with wise and godly counsel, the kind did well. But upon the priest’s death, Jehoash began to listen to the advice of his princes, who encouraged him to introduce idolatry to Judah. With his permission, they “decided to abandon the Temple of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and they worshiped Asherah poles and idols instead! ” (2 Chronicles 24:18 NLT).

And when God ordered Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada the priest, to deliver a message to Jehoash condemning his actions, the king had him stoned to death. And it was this act that led to his death by assassination.

So, Amaziah tended to mimic his father’s leadership style. He displayed a desire to follow Yahweh but failed to make it a top priority of his administration.

Amaziah did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, but not wholeheartedly. – 2 Chronicles 25:2 NLT

At one point during his reign, Amaziah took a census in order to determine the strength of his fighting force. In those days, the nations didn’t always maintain a standing army but relied upon conscription. In the case of war, they would issue a draft that called upon all able-bodied men to come to the defense of their country. Amaziah’s census revealed that his army consisted of “300,000 select troops, twenty years old and older, all trained in the use of spear and shield” (2 Chronicles 25:5 NLT). Deeming this number to be insufficient, Amaziah ordered the hiring of “100,000 experienced fighting men from Israel” (2 Chronicles 25:6 NLT). He used his royal treasury to hire mercenaries. But God sent a prophet who warned him against trusting the Israelites.

“Your Majesty, do not hire troops from Israel, for the Lord is not with Israel. He will not help those people of Ephraim! If you let them go with your troops into battle, you will be defeated by the enemy no matter how well you fight. God will overthrow you, for he has the power to help you or to trip you up.”  – 2 Chronicles 25:7-8 NLT

And, unlike his father, Amaziah listened to the prophet’s advice and dismissed the Israelite troops. These men returned to Israel offended and infuriated by the king’s action. They would later seek their revenge by raiding and plundering towns belonging to Judah that lay along the border between their two countries. These raids resulted in the deaths of 3,000 Judean citizens. 

But meanwhile, Amaziah launched a campaign against the Edomites, who had revolted against Judean control in the region. His troops were successful, killing 10,000 Edomites in the initial battle, and then slaughtering an additional 10,000 captives by throwing them off a cliff.  This decisive victory led Amaziah to set his sights on Israel. He determined that with his army and God’s help, he could defeat the Israelites in battle. So, he sent word to King Jehoash of Israel, issuing him a challenge to meet on the field of battle.

But there was a problem. Amaziah didn’t have God on his side. In fact, his victory over the Edomites had actually angered God because Amaziah had made the fateful mistake of bringing back Edomite idols as part of the spoils of war.

When King Amaziah returned from slaughtering the Edomites, he brought with him idols taken from the people of Seir. He set them up as his own gods, bowed down in front of them, and offered sacrifices to them! This made the Lord very angry – 2 Chronicles 25:14-15 NLT

This prompted God to send another prophet with another word of warning to the king.

“Why do you turn to gods who could not even save their own people from you?” – 2 Chronicles 25:15 NLT

But this time, rather than heed the prophet’s warning, Amaziah threatened him.

“Since when have I made you the king’s counselor? Be quiet now before I have you killed!” – 2 Chronicles 25:16 NLT

The prophet, undeterred by the king’s threat, warned him that God would bring destruction upon Judah if he proceeded with his plans to do battle with Israel. But Amaziah rejected the word of the Lord, sending his challenge to King Jehoash of Israel. Even Jehoash tried to convince Amaziah that he had become a bit overconfident with his victory over the Edomites. By picking a fight with Israel, Amaziah was biting off far more than he could chew, and it would end in disaster for Judah. But Amaziah rejected the words of King Jehoash and sent his troops into battle against the Israelites. And the results were predictable.

Judah was routed by the army of Israel, and its army scattered and fled for home. King Jehoash of Israel captured Judah’s king, Amaziah son of Joash and grandson of Ahaziah, at Beth-shemesh. Then he marched to Jerusalem, where he demolished 600 feet of Jerusalem’s wall, from the Ephraim Gate to the Corner Gate. He carried off all the gold and silver and all the articles from the Temple of the Lord. He also seized the treasures from the royal palace, along with hostages, and then returned to Samaria. – 2 Kings 14:12-14 NLT

This devastating and humiliating defeat was the handiwork of God. Amaziah’s decision to bring back idols from Edom and set them up in Jerusalem, reveals not only his unfaithfulness but his stupidity. After his defeat and capture, Amaziah must have heard the words of the prophet ringing in his ears: “Why do you turn to gods who could not even save their own people from you?”

He had bowed down to the false gods of Edom and, as a result, was punished severely by the one true God. Yet, even after this decisive defeat, Amaziah would go on to reign over Judah for an additional 15 years. But just as Amaziah had emulated his father’s life, he would end up replicating his death.

There was a conspiracy against Amaziah’s life in Jerusalem, and he fled to Lachish. But his enemies sent assassins after him, and they killed him there. They brought his body back to Jerusalem on a horse, and he was buried with his ancestors in the City of David. – 2 Kings 14:19-20 NLT

His 29-year reign would end with his assassination. And 2 Chronicles seems to indicate that his death was a direct result of his unfaithfulness. There were those in Jerusalem who blamed the loss to the Israelites on Amaziah’s decision to forsake Yahweh, and they decided to take matters into their own hands.

After Amaziah turned away from the Lord, there was a conspiracy against his life in Jerusalem. – 2 Chronicles 25:27 NLT

Amaziah was murdered, given a royal funeral, and then replaced by his 16-year-old son, Uzziah. And the saga continues.

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

 

Close, But No Cigar

18 Then Jehu assembled all the people and said to them, “Ahab served Baal a little, but Jehu will serve him much. 19 Now therefore call to me all the prophets of Baal, all his worshipers and all his priests. Let none be missing, for I have a great sacrifice to offer to Baal. Whoever is missing shall not live.” But Jehu did it with cunning in order to destroy the worshipers of Baal. 20 And Jehu ordered, “Sanctify a solemn assembly for Baal.” So they proclaimed it. 21 And Jehu sent throughout all Israel, and all the worshipers of Baal came, so that there was not a man left who did not come. And they entered the house of Baal, and the house of Baal was filled from one end to the other. 22 He said to him who was in charge of the wardrobe, “Bring out the vestments for all the worshipers of Baal.” So he brought out the vestments for them. 23 Then Jehu went into the house of Baal with Jehonadab the son of Rechab, and he said to the worshipers of Baal, “Search, and see that there is no servant of the Lord here among you, but only the worshipers of Baal.” 24 Then they went in to offer sacrifices and burnt offerings.

Now Jehu had stationed eighty men outside and said, “The man who allows any of those whom I give into your hands to escape shall forfeit his life.” 25 So as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt offering, Jehu said to the guard and to the officers, “Go in and strike them down; let not a man escape.” So when they put them to the sword, the guard and the officers cast them out and went into the inner room of the house of Baal, 26 and they brought out the pillar that was in the house of Baal and burned it. 27 And they demolished the pillar of Baal, and demolished the house of Baal, and made it a latrine to this day.

28 Thus Jehu wiped out Baal from Israel. 29 But Jehu did not turn aside from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin—that is, the golden calves that were in Bethel and in Dan. 30 And the Lord said to Jehu, “Because you have done well in carrying out what is right in my eyes, and have done to the house of Ahab according to all that was in my heart, your sons of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.” 31 But Jehu was not careful to walk in the law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He did not turn from the sins of Jeroboam, which he made Israel to sin.

32 In those days the Lord began to cut off parts of Israel. Hazael defeated them throughout the territory of Israel: 33 from the Jordan eastward, all the land of Gilead, the Gadites, and the Reubenites, and the Manassites, from Aroer, which is by the Valley of the Arnon, that is, Gilead and Bashan. 34 Now the rest of the acts of Jehu and all that he did, and all his might, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? 35 So Jehu slept with his fathers, and they buried him in Samaria. And Jehoahaz his son reigned in his place. 36 The time that Jehu reigned over Israel in Samaria was twenty-eight years. 2 Kings 10:8-36 ESV

Jehu’s meteoric rise to power left the people of Israel in a state of shock and confusion. Virtually overnight, he had radically altered the political landscape of the country, completely eradicating any vestige of the former regime. Ahab and Jezebel’s three-decade-long reign of evil had come to an abrupt and ignominious end. But what would happen now? What kind of king would Jehu prove to be? To most of the citizens of Israel, Jehu remained a mystery. He had not campaigned for office or taken time to communicate his particular political platform. This man had suddenly appeared out of nowhere, upsetting the status quo and creating a spirit of anxiety and confusion among the people. And he was far from done.

Jehu proved to be a clever and cunning individual who used his relative anonymity to his advantage. Having literally cleaned house by killing off every one of Ahab’s male descendants, as well as all of his relatives and former administrative officials, Jehu turned his attention to the godless citizens of Israel. And it appears he focused his attention on the capital city of Samaria.

The new king called for a solemn assembly, a mandatory gathering of all the worshipers of Baal. Since Jehu’s political and religious positions were unknown to anyone, he was able to leave the people with the impression that he was an ardent worshiper of Baal. He even pledged to outdo Ahab in his commitment to this false god of fertility.

“Ahab’s worship of Baal was nothing compared to the way I will worship him! Therefore, summon all the prophets and worshipers of Baal, and call together all his priests. See to it that every one of them comes, for I am going to offer a great sacrifice to Baal. Anyone who fails to come will be put to death.” – 2 Kings 10:18-19 NLT

He commanded that every priest and faithful adherent to Baal join him for a special assembly, to be held in the house of Baal in Samaria. He even sent messengers all over Israel, informing the people to gather for this great occasion. And as the news spread, the excitement among the people began to build. So, when the big day arrived, “They all came—not a single one remained behind—and they filled the temple of Baal from one end to the other.” (2 Kings 10:21 NLT).

Next, Jehu instructed that every Baal worshiper be given a special vestment or robe. And, as if to keep this solemn assembly free from contamination, he commanded that no worshipers of Yahweh be allowed in the building. This was going to be an exclusive, members-only service dedicated to the great god, Baal. You can almost sense the excitement and the air of eager anticipation as the people waited to see what would happen next. And when Jehu, their new king, offered up a sacrifice to their god, they had to have been beside themselves with joy and pride. Baal was being given a place of prominence and priority in the new administration. But little did they know that the whole affair had been nothing more than a clearly disguised ruse. They had been lured to their own deaths. When Jehu had pledged to make a great sacrifice to Baal, he had been talking about them. They were to be the sacrifice.

And Jehu ordered the slaughter of every single priest and parishioner. Within seconds, the standing-room-only crowd began to realize what was happening. Screams echoed through the halls as Jehu’s men made their way through the panic-stricken mass of humanity, striking down any and all who stood in their path. It was a virtual blood bath. Those who did not fall victim to the sword were likely trampled to death as they attempted to find the nearest exit. But Jehu had posted guards to ensure that no one escaped alive.

At some point, the killing ended, but Jehu was far from done. He ordered the destruction of any and all idols dedicated to Baal. If they were made of stone, they were demolished. If they were carved from wood, they were burned. In a sense, Jehu attempted to purge the memory of Baal from the nation of Israel. And in one last act of desecration, he ordered that the temple to Baal be converted into a public toilet.

And the author seems to give Jehu high marks for his actions that day.

Thus Jehu wiped out Baal from Israel. – 2 Kings 10:17 ESV

His campaign to eradicate the worship of Baal had been a rousing success. The false god of Ahab and Jezebel had been removed and reduced to a memory. But there was a problem. While Jehu had focused all his time and energy on the removal of Baal, he had failed to deal with the root problem that plagued the nation of Israel: Idolatry.

Baal had been a symptom, not the disease. The reason the people had so readily accepted the false god of Jezebel was that they had a long-standing track record for apostasy and idolatry. From the very moment when God had split the kingdom of Solomon in half, the ten northern tribes had dedicated themselves to the worship of false gods. Their newly appointed king, Jeroboam, had made the fateful decision to erect golden calves in the cities of Dan and Bethel. And while Ahab and Jezebel had promoted Baal as the premier god of the Israelites, the people had not abandoned the gods of Jeroboam. And, sadly, the author reveals that Jehu’s purging of Baal, while effective, was insufficient.

But Jehu did not turn aside from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin—that is, the golden calves that were in Bethel and in Dan. – 2 Kings 10:29 ESV

The people of Israel remained idolatrous and unfaithful. And Jehu’s fervor for Yahweh proved to be far from perfect.

Jehu was not careful to walk in the law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He did not turn from the sins of Jeroboam, which he made Israel to sin. – 2 Kings 10:31 ESV

Jehu had addressed the symptom, but not the disease. In a sense, he had successfully removed the tumor, but the cancer cells remained. And it was only a matter of time before evidence of the deadly disease surfaced once again.

Jehu had done what God had commanded him to do. He had faithfully fulfilled the instructions of the prophet and was rewarded for his obedience.

“Because you have done well in carrying out what is right in my eyes, and have done to the house of Ahab according to all that was in my heart, your sons of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.” – 2 Kings 10:30 ESV

But what Jehu had failed to do was reestablish the worship of Yahweh. He had removed Baal but had left the golden calves. He allowed the people to continue their pursuit of false gods rather than lead them back to the worship of the one true God.

For the next 28 years, Jehu would reign over Israel, but his kingdom would grow progressively weaker and smaller. His partial purging of Israel’s idols would allow the cancer of unfaithfulness to spread. Jehu had been successful in removing the foreign gods of Jezebel, but he had turned a blind eye to the home-grown gods of Jeroboam. And God had been very specific about his prohibition of false gods of any kind.

“You must not have any other god but me. You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods.” – Exodus 20:3-5 NLT

But Jehu refused to obey the command of God. He not only tolerated the gods of Jeroboam, but he also promoted them. As the king of Israel, he encouraged the people to give their affection and attention to something other than Yahweh. And, as a result, God diminished the extent of his kingdom and, eventually, brought his dynasty to an end. Jehu proved to be a good king, but not a great one. He had been faithful to purge the kingdom of Ahab’s evil influence, but he had failed to lead the people back to Yahweh.

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

 

Zeal is No Excuse for Disobedience

1 Now Ahab had seventy sons in Samaria. So Jehu wrote letters and sent them to Samaria, to the rulers of the city, to the elders, and to the guardians of the sons of Ahab, saying, “Now then, as soon as this letter comes to you, seeing your master’s sons are with you, and there are with you chariots and horses, fortified cities also, and weapons, select the best and fittest of your master’s sons and set him on his father’s throne and fight for your master’s house.” But they were exceedingly afraid and said, “Behold, the two kings could not stand before him. How then can we stand?” So he who was over the palace, and he who was over the city, together with the elders and the guardians, sent to Jehu, saying, “We are your servants, and we will do all that you tell us. We will not make anyone king. Do whatever is good in your eyes.” Then he wrote to them a second letter, saying, “If you are on my side, and if you are ready to obey me, take the heads of your master’s sons and come to me at Jezreel tomorrow at this time.” Now the king’s sons, seventy persons, were with the great men of the city, who were bringing them up. And as soon as the letter came to them, they took the king’s sons and slaughtered them, seventy persons, and put their heads in baskets and sent them to him at Jezreel. When the messenger came and told him, “They have brought the heads of the king’s sons,” he said, “Lay them in two heaps at the entrance of the gate until the morning.” Then in the morning, when he went out, he stood and said to all the people, “You are innocent. It was I who conspired against my master and killed him, but who struck down all these? 10 Know then that there shall fall to the earth nothing of the word of the Lord, which the Lord spoke concerning the house of Ahab, for the Lord has done what he said by his servant Elijah.” 11 So Jehu struck down all who remained of the house of Ahab in Jezreel, all his great men and his close friends and his priests, until he left him none remaining.

12 Then he set out and went to Samaria. On the way, when he was at Beth-eked of the Shepherds, 13 Jehu met the relatives of Ahaziah king of Judah, and he said, “Who are you?” And they answered, “We are the relatives of Ahaziah, and we came down to visit the royal princes and the sons of the queen mother.” 14 He said, “Take them alive.” And they took them alive and slaughtered them at the pit of Beth-eked, forty-two persons, and he spared none of them.

15 And when he departed from there, he met Jehonadab the son of Rechab coming to meet him. And he greeted him and said to him, “Is your heart true to my heart as mine is to yours?” And Jehonadab answered, “It is.” Jehu said, “If it is, give me your hand.” So he gave him his hand. And Jehu took him up with him into the chariot. 16 And he said, “Come with me, and see my zeal for the Lord.” So he had him ride in his chariot. 17 And when he came to Samaria, he struck down all who remained to Ahab in Samaria, till he had wiped them out, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke to Elijah. 2 Kings 10:1-17 ESV

Jehu was methodical and ruthless in carrying out God’s judgment against the house of Ahab. After killing King Jehoram and ordering the execution of the queen-mother, Jezebel, he turned his attention to Ahab’s 70 male descendants. Jehu knew that as long as any of them remained alive, his hopes of consolidating the kingdom under his rule would be in jeopardy. These boys and young men were under the care and protection of royal guardians who served in Ahab’s administration. More than likely, they had answered to Jezebel. But now that she was out of the picture, Jehu issued a challenge to these protectors of Ahab’s dynasty.

“…select the best qualified of your master’s sons to be your king, and prepare to fight for Ahab’s dynasty.” – 2 Kings 10:3 NLT

Jehu proposed that they do battle for control of the kingdom. He and his allies would go up against the chosen heir of Ahab and the forces of Israel, and whoever was left standing would become the next king of the northern kingdom. But his offer was quickly rejected. The elders and officials of Samaria recognized that Jehu had the upper hand and any attempt to defeat him in battle would be ill-advised and ill-fated.

So, these men informed Jehu that they had no intentions of protecting or promoting the heirs of Ahab. But he demanded that they prove their loyalty by beheading all 70 of Ahab’s sons. The next day, the elders and officials of Samaria showed up in Jezreel and presented to Jehu their rather macabre coronation gift. He ordered that the 70 heads be placed in two piles beside the city gate, as a gruesome reminder of God’s divine judgment against the house of Ahab. No one who entered or exited the city of Jezreel could miss the message this hideous sight was meant to convey.

But the next morning, Jehu called the nervous citizens of Jezreel together. These people were caught in the middle of a violent and deadly change in administrations. For more than 30 years they had lived under the rule of Ahab and Jezebel. But almost overnight, their way of life had come to an abrupt end. They had witnessed the assassination of their king, the violent death of his mother, and the annihilation of every living male heir to the throne. They had no way of knowing what kind of king Jehu would be. So, in an effort to assuage their fear and apprehension, Jehu took full responsibility for the death of King Jehoram but then vowed that he would avenge the deaths of Ahab’s sons. This rather disingenuous display of righteous indignation was intended to win over the hearts of the people. But he failed to admit that he had been the one who ordered their executions. In his zeal to carry out the command of God, Jehu overstepped his authority. Rather than simply punishing the house of Ahab as God had ordered, Jehu used his newfound power to enact a bloody purging that spread far beyond his original assignment.

Jehu killed all who were left of Ahab’s relatives living in Jezreel and all his important officials, his personal friends, and his priests. So Ahab was left without a single survivor. – 2 Kings 10:11 NLT

We are not told the motivation behind Jehu’s actions, but we are given God’s response to it. Over in the book of Hosea, God provides a glimpse into His displeasure with Jehu’s overzealous and bloody purge. In the opening verses of the book, the prophet Hosea has just discovered that he is a new father. His wife, Gomer, a former prostitute, has given birth to a son. And God informs Hosea that he is to call the boy Jezreel.

And the Lord said to him, “Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.” – Hosea 1:4-5 ESV

The entire book of Hosea is meant to display the unfaithfulness of Israel through the relationship between the prophet and his unfaithful wife. The name given to their son was meant to be a permanent reminder of Jehu’s ungodly actions that day in Jezreel. He had decided to do God’s will his way. By taking the lives of the elders and officials of Samaria, Jehu had overstepped his God-given authority. He had exceeded his role as an instrument of God’s judgment against the house of Ahab. Innocent people had died unnecessarily and he would pay for his costly mistake.

In a sense, Jehu was obedient to the command of God. He had been anointed by the prophet of God and given the task of eliminating the house of Ahab. And he did as he had been told. He killed King Jehoram. He ordered the death of Jezebel. He orchestrated the executions of all of Ahab’s heirs. He had even taken it upon himself to kill King Ahaziah of Judah because he was the grandson of Jezebel. The tentacles of Jezebel’s influence had reached all the way into the southern kingdom, infecting Judah and its people.

At one point, Jehu had an unexpected encounter with some of these royal relatives of Jezebel from Judah. Unaware of all that had transpired in Israel, they were on their way to visit the queen-mother. But when Jehu discovered their identity, he ordered their immediate executions.

“We are relatives of King Ahaziah. We are going to visit the sons of King Ahab and the sons of the queen mother.”

“Take them alive!” Jehu shouted to his men. And they captured all forty-two of them and killed them at the well of Beth-eked. None of them escaped. – 2 Kings 10:14 NLT

His determination to eliminate every last vestige of Ahab’s influence was comprehensive and commendable. He left no stone unturned. This dedicated servant of God did what he had been anointed to do.

…he struck down all who remained to Ahab in Samaria, till he had wiped them out, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke to Elijah. – 2 Kings 10:17 ESV

But in doing so, he had gone above and beyond his official commission, ordering the deaths of the innocent. While Jehu could justify his actions by claiming that the elders and officials had murdered the sons of Ahab, they had only done so because he had given them no other choice. Jehu had delegated to these men a responsibility that had been given to him alone. It was he who should have taken the lives of the 70 sons of Ahab. It was he who should have executed Jezebel. But he had ordered her death by commanding her servants to throw her down from the window of the palace. Jehu had used his newfound power and authority in ways that God had not ordered or ordained. He had chosen to accomplish God’s will according to his ways. And no amount of zeal, enthusiasm, or good intentions can justify disobedience.

Hundreds of years later, the apostle Paul would commend the nation of Israel for its enthusiasm toward the things of God. But he would also point out that their zeal was misplaced and misdirected. In their energetic effort to please God, they were actually living in disobedience to His will and in violation of His ways.

I know what enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal. For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law. – Romans 10:2-3 NLT

Zeal is never an excuse for disobedience.

 

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’s Anointed

1 Then Elisha the prophet called one of the sons of the prophets and said to him, “Tie up your garments, and take this flask of oil in your hand, and go to Ramoth-gilead. And when you arrive, look there for Jehu the son of Jehoshaphat, son of Nimshi. And go in and have him rise from among his fellows, and lead him to an inner chamber. Then take the flask of oil and pour it on his head and say, ‘Thus says the Lord, I anoint you king over Israel.’ Then open the door and flee; do not linger.”

So the young man, the servant of the prophet, went to Ramoth-gilead. And when he came, behold, the commanders of the army were in council. And he said, “I have a word for you, O commander.” And Jehu said, “To which of us all?” And he said, “To you, O commander.” So he arose and went into the house. And the young man poured the oil on his head, saying to him, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, I anoint you king over the people of the Lord, over Israel. And you shall strike down the house of Ahab your master, so that I may avenge on Jezebel the blood of my servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the Lord. For the whole house of Ahab shall perish, and I will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel. And I will make the house of Ahab like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah. 10 And the dogs shall eat Jezebel in the territory of Jezreel, and none shall bury her.” Then he opened the door and fled.

11 When Jehu came out to the servants of his master, they said to him, “Is all well? Why did this mad fellow come to you?” And he said to them, “You know the fellow and his talk.” 12 And they said, “That is not true; tell us now.” And he said, “Thus and so he spoke to me, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord, I anoint you king over Israel.’” 13 Then in haste every man of them took his garment and put it under him on the bare steps, and they blew the trumpet and proclaimed, “Jehu is king.” 2 Kings 9:1-13 ESV

In 1 Kings 19:15-16, we have the record of God’s final commission to Elijah. He had given the prophet three tasks to accomplish. One of them was to anoint Hazael to be the next king of Syria. A second was to anoint Jehu to be the king of Israel. And the third was to anoint Elisha as his own successor.

It’s clear that Elijah followed God’s instructions regarding Elisha. At this point in the story, the new prophet has fully established himself as Elijah’s God-ordained replacement. It would also appear that Elijah kept God’s command concerning the anointing of Hazael. In 2 Kings 8, the author revealed the morbid details concerning Hazael’s ascension to the throne of Syria. While King Ben-hadad was weak and recovering from a recent illness, Hazael murdered him by suffocating him to death with a wet sheet. And the prophet Elisha had wept when he realized the deadly consequences for Israel that would accompany this man’s rise to power.

“Because I know the evil that you will do to the people of Israel. You will set on fire their fortresses, and you will kill their young men with the sword and dash in pieces their little ones and rip open their pregnant women.” – 2 Kings 8:12 ESV

But as 2 Kings 9 opens up, it becomes apparent that there was one aspect of Elijah’s assignment he had neglected to complete. Either that, or he had chosen to pass on the responsibility to his successor. Jehu had not yet been anointed King of Israel. Jehoram, the son of Ahab and Jezebel, still occupied the throne and was continuing his parents’ legacy of apostasy and unfaithfulness. But the time had come for God’s prophecy concerning Ahab and his descendants to be fulfilled. He had warned Ahab that his stubborn determination to lead the people of Israel into idolatry would not go unpunished.

“So now the Lord says, ‘I will bring disaster on you and consume you. I will destroy every one of your male descendants, slave and free alike, anywhere in Israel! I am going to destroy your family as I did the family of Jeroboam son of Nebat and the family of Baasha son of Ahijah, for you have made me very angry and have led Israel into sin.’” – 1 Kings 21:21-22 NLT

God had used the prophet, Elijah, to deliver this message of pending destruction. He was not going to allow Ahab and Jezebel to go unpunished for their blatant disregard for His law or their arrogant dismissal of His sovereignty over Israel. God would do to them what He had done to Jeroboam and Baasha. He would completely wipe out their hopes for establishing a dynasty by destroying all their male descendants.  When considering this curse that God leveled against Ahab, it is important to compare it with the promise God had made to King David.

“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’” – 2 Samuel 7:12-16 ESV

While Ahab, Jeroboam, and Baasha would all see their dreams of establishing long-lasting dynasties come to an end, God had promised David that his house and throne would be established forever. And God was going to fulfill this promise through the southern kingdom of Judah. Despite the fact that most of the kings who eventually ruled over Judah proved to be just as godless and wicked as the northern kings, God would keep His promise to secure the Davidic dynasty. And He would do so through Jesus Christ, the descendant of David and the Messiah of Israel.

But God had something far less glorious in store for King Jehoram of Israel. As he sat in his summer palace in Jezreel, he had no idea that God was about to remove him from power and bring his father’s wicked legacy to an abrupt and permanent end.

Once again, it would appear that Elijah had never completed his assignment to anoint Jehu as the next king of Israel. So, Elisha was left with the responsibility of completing God’s three-part anointing plan. But even Elisha seems to have delegated this final job to an underling. He selected one of the prophets and gave him very specific instructions: “take this flask of olive oil with you. Go to Ramoth-gilead, and find Jehu son of Jehoshaphat, son of Nimshi. Call him into a private room away from his friends, and pour the oil over his head. Say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: I anoint you to be the king over Israel.’ Then open the door and run for your life!” (2 Kings 9:1-3 NLT). That last sentence could not have left the young prophet feeling confident and encouraged as he made his way to Ramoth-gilead.

But despite the fact that Elijah had passed the buck to Elisha and Elisha had reassigned the responsibility to someone else, God’s will was going to be done. This young prophet, flask in hand, was going to be used to anoint Jehu as the divine instrument of God’s wrath against Ahab and his descendants.

When the prophet arrived in Ramoth-gilead, he found Jehu in a meeting with his fellow generals. He summoned Jehu into a private room, where he poured the oil on his head and informed the surprised general of his new position and commission.

“This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I anoint you king over the Lord’s people, Israel. You are to destroy the family of Ahab, your master. In this way, I will avenge the murder of my prophets and all the Lord’s servants who were killed by Jezebel. The entire family of Ahab must be wiped out. I will destroy every one of his male descendants, slave and free alike, anywhere in Israel.” – 2 Kings 9:6-8 NLT

All of this was unexpected news to Jehu. There is no indication that he had been plotting Jehoram’s death and his own ascension to the throne. But the shocking news of his kingship had to have been overshadowed by the clear conditions associated with it. He was to completely wipe out every last male descendant of Ahab. Not only that, he was to see to it that Jezebel met her end as well.

Dogs will eat Ahab’s wife Jezebel at the plot of land in Jezreel, and no one will bury her.” – 2 Kings 9:10 NLT

God was commanding Jehu to launch an insurrection against the king and his family. And as Jehu sat with oil running down his head and the prophet’s words racing through his brain, the king’s generals waited with curiosity on the other side of the door. Having completed his assignment, the prophet fled for his life, leaving Jehu to rejoin his fellow generals and face their questions about what had just happened. He attempted to downplay his encounter with the prophet, but they sensed he was hiding something and pressed him for details.

Jehu wisely chose not to divulge all the specifics of his conversation with the prophet. He simply stated, “He said to me, ‘This is what the Lord says: I have anointed you to be king over Israel’” (2 Kings 9:12 NLT). And, must to his relief and surprise, the reaction he received from his peers was positive and encouraging. 

Then they quickly spread out their cloaks on the bare steps and blew the ram’s horn, shouting, “Jehu is king!” – 2 Kings 9:13 NLT

His fellow generals declared their overwhelming support of his anointing as the next king of Israel. Of course, they weren’t aware of the second half of the prophet’s message concerning the complete annihilation of Ahab’s family. But at this point, they were fully on board with Jehoram’s removal and Jehu’s rise to power. Some of their enthusiasm could have been the result of the king’s recent defeat against the Syrians at Ramoth-gilead. Jehoram had been wounded in the battle and was recuperating at Jezreel. These generals could have lost confidence in Jehoram’s leadership ability and welcomed the idea of having a king with a military background. The Syrians remained a threat to the nation and Jehoram had proven himself to be a less-than-reliable commander-in-chief.

But, as always, this was the sovereign hand of God orchestrating every single detail of the storyline so that His divine will might be accomplished. He had pledged to destroy Ahab’s dynasty and now He was about to implement His plan to make it happen. And that plan was going to include Jehu, who found himself in the unexpected but highly important role of the Lord’s anointed.

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 Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

41 Jehoshaphat the son of Asa began to reign over Judah in the fourth year of Ahab king of Israel. 42 Jehoshaphat was thirty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Azubah the daughter of Shilhi. 43 He walked in all the way of Asa his father. He did not turn aside from it, doing what was right in the sight of the Lord. Yet the high places were not taken away, and the people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places. 44 Jehoshaphat also made peace with the king of Israel.

45 Now the rest of the acts of Jehoshaphat, and his might that he showed, and how he warred, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 46 And from the land he exterminated the remnant of the male cult prostitutes who remained in the days of his father Asa.

47 There was no king in Edom; a deputy was king. 48 Jehoshaphat made ships of Tarshish to go to Ophir for gold, but they did not go, for the ships were wrecked at Ezion-geber. 49 Then Ahaziah the son of Ahab said to Jehoshaphat, “Let my servants go with your servants in the ships,” but Jehoshaphat was not willing. 50 And Jehoshaphat slept with his fathers and was buried with his fathers in the city of David his father, and Jehoram his son reigned in his place.

51 Ahaziah the son of Ahab began to reign over Israel in Samaria in the seventeenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and he reigned two years over Israel. 52 He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and walked in the way of his father and in the way of his mother and in the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. 53 He served Baal and worshiped him and provoked the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger in every way that his father had done. 1 Kings 22:41-53 ESV

Once again, the author shifts the focus of his narrative from Israel to Judah. With Ahab’s God-ordained demise, the northern kingdom of Israel found itself with a new ruler, Ahaziah, the son of Ahab. But in Judah, Jehoshaphat, who had survived the failed battle against Ramoth-gilead, continued his long reign over the southern kingdom. While Ahab’s exploits clearly portray him as the most wicked of all the kings of Israel, Jehoshaphat provides a refreshingly stark contrast. The author provides a brief, yet positive summary of his reign:  “Jehoshaphat was a good king, following the example of his father, Asa. He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight” (1 Kings 22:43 NLT).

But two significant stains marred Jehoshaphat’s 25-year reign. First, while he remained committed to the worship of Yahweh, he failed to remove all the pagan shrines dedicated to the false gods of the Canaanites. As a result, the people continued to offer practice idolatry in direct violation of God’s command. Secondly, Jehoshaphat had made a treaty with Ahab, the king of Israel. Like his father before him, Jehoshaphat put his faith in an outside power rather than trust in Yahweh. In Asa’s case, he had chosen to align himself with Ben-hadad, the king of the Syrians, hoping he could protect Judah from the ongoing threat of Israelite aggression. But he had been reprimanded for placing his trust in someone other than God.

“Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you. Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the Lord, he gave them into your hand. For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.” – 2 Chronicles 16:7-9 ESV

Now, his son, Jehoshaphat, was guilty of the same sin. Rather than making a treaty with the Syrians, he had chosen to work hand-in-hand with Ahab, the king of Israel. According to 2 Chronicles 19:1, Jehoshaphat made a marriage alliance with Israel, agreeing for his son, Jehoram, to marry Ahab’s daughter, Athaliah. And this decision would end up putting Jehoshaphat in an awkward position, forcing him to side with Ahab in his ill-fated battle against Ramoth-gilead. While Ahab lost his life in the battle, Jehoshaphat was able to return to the safety of Jerusalem, where he was immediately confronted by the prophet of God over his role in the whole affair.

“Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord? Because of this, wrath has gone out against you from the Lord. Nevertheless, some good is found in you, for you destroyed the Asheroth out of the land, and have set your heart to seek God.” – 2 Chronicles 19:2-3 ESV

Yet, despite these two rather egregious mistakes, Jehoshaphat was a good king who tried to encourage the people of Judah to worship God. Early on in his reign, he had sent a contingent of officials, including Levites and priests, to all the cities of Judah, with instructions to teach the Book of the Law to the people (2 Chronicles 17:7-9).

He also appointed judges in the land, instructing them to do their jobs with integrity and honesty, providing the people with just and wise decisions.

“Always think carefully before pronouncing judgment. Remember that you do not judge to please people but to please the Lord. He will be with you when you render the verdict in each case. Fear the Lord and judge with integrity, for the Lord our God does not tolerate perverted justice, partiality, or the taking of bribes.” – 2 Chronicles 19:6-7 NLT

But sadly, the righteous reign of Jehoshaphat did not end well. Once again, he made an unholy and unwise alliance with the king of Israel – this time with Ahaziah, the son of Ahab. We get a more detailed explanation of this failed agreement in the book of 2 Chronicles.

Some time later King Jehoshaphat of Judah made an alliance with King Ahaziah of Israel, who was very wicked. Together they built a fleet of trading ships at the port of Ezion-geber. Then Eliezer son of Dodavahu from Mareshah prophesied against Jehoshaphat. He said, “Because you have allied yourself with King Ahaziah, the Lord will destroy your work.” So the ships met with disaster and never put out to sea. – 2 Chronicles 20:35-37 NLT

What makes this decision by Jehoshaphat so difficult to understand is that it came after God had provided Judah with a stunning victory over the Ammonites and Moabites. The people of Judah had found themselves outnumbered by their enemies, but God had given His assurance that He would fight for them. They had no reason to fear.

“Listen, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Listen, King Jehoshaphat! This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid! Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow, march out against them. You will find them coming up through the ascent of Ziz at the end of the valley that opens into the wilderness of Jeruel. But you will not even need to fight. Take your positions; then stand still and watch the Lord’s victory. He is with you, O people of Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid or discouraged. Go out against them tomorrow, for the Lord is with you!” – 2 Chronicles 20:15-17 NLT

And God had kept His word. Not only did He destroy their enemies, but he blessed the people of Judah with an abundance of unexpected wealth.

When Jehoshaphat and his people came to take their spoil, they found among them, in great numbers, goods, clothing, and precious things, which they took for themselves until they could carry no more. They were three days in taking the spoil, it was so much. – 2 Chronicles 20:25 ESV

Their God had not only protected them, but He had provided for them. They lacked nothing as long as they placed their hope and trust in Yahweh. Yet, for some reason, Jehoshaphat chose to join Ahaziah in the construction of ships to bring back gold from Ophir. But those ships never made it to sea. They were destroyed before they could ever leave the port. Like his father before him, Jehoshaphat placed his trust in someone other than God and paid a high price for his mistake. And his unwise decision left a permanent stain on his legacy.

But as 2 Chronicles 17-19 reveals, there were many positive aspects to Jehoshaphat’s reign. All in all, he was a good king who loved Yahweh and tried to shepherd the people of Judah as his ancestor David had done. Yet, the same thing cannot be said of Ahaziah, the son of Ahab and the king of Israel. The author paints a rather bleak portrait of his short and sin-stained reign.

He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and walked in the way of his father and in the way of his mother and in the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. He served Baal and worshiped him and provoked the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger in every way that his father had done. – 2 Kings 22:52-53 ESV

And with that assessment, the book of 1 Kings comes to an abrupt and less-than-flattering end. The two kingdoms continue the downward spiral that began with the reign of Solomon. There have been brief glimpses of faithfulness, but for the most part, the nations of Israel and Judah remain plagued by infidelity and idolatry. Their kings are revealed as flawed men who tend to use their God-given power to promote themselves and their own agendas rather than lovingly shepherd the flock of God according to the will of God. And that pattern will continue as the author begins the second half of his history of the divided kingdom.

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

Snatching Defeat From the Jaws of Victory

29 And they encamped opposite one another seven days. Then on the seventh day the battle was joined. And the people of Israel struck down of the Syrians 100,000 foot soldiers in one day. 30 And the rest fled into the city of Aphek, and the wall fell upon 27,000 men who were left.

Ben-hadad also fled and entered an inner chamber in the city. 31 And his servants said to him, “Behold now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings. Let us put sackcloth around our waists and ropes on our heads and go out to the king of Israel. Perhaps he will spare your life.” 32 So they tied sackcloth around their waists and put ropes on their heads and went to the king of Israel and said, “Your servant Ben-hadad says, ‘Please, let me live.’” And he said, “Does he still live? He is my brother.” 33 Now the men were watching for a sign, and they quickly took it up from him and said, “Yes, your brother Ben-hadad.” Then he said, “Go and bring him.” Then Ben-hadad came out to him, and he caused him to come up into the chariot. 34 And Ben-hadad said to him, “The cities that my father took from your father I will restore, and you may establish bazaars for yourself in Damascus, as my father did in Samaria.” And Ahab said, “I will let you go on these terms.” So he made a covenant with him and let him go.

35 And a certain man of the sons of the prophets said to his fellow at the command of the Lord, “Strike me, please.” But the man refused to strike him. 36 Then he said to him, “Because you have not obeyed the voice of the Lord, behold, as soon as you have gone from me, a lion shall strike you down.” And as soon as he had departed from him, a lion met him and struck him down. 37 Then he found another man and said, “Strike me, please.” And the man struck him—struck him and wounded him. 38 So the prophet departed and waited for the king by the way, disguising himself with a bandage over his eyes. 39 And as the king passed, he cried to the king and said, “Your servant went out into the midst of the battle, and behold, a soldier turned and brought a man to me and said, ‘Guard this man; if by any means he is missing, your life shall be for his life, or else you shall pay a talent of silver.’ 40 And as your servant was busy here and there, he was gone.” The king of Israel said to him, “So shall your judgment be; you yourself have decided it.” 41 Then he hurried to take the bandage away from his eyes, and the king of Israel recognized him as one of the prophets. 42 And he said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because you have let go out of your hand the man whom I had devoted to destruction, therefore your life shall be for his life, and your people for his people.’” 43 And the king of Israel went to his house vexed and sullen and came to Samaria. – 1 Kings 20:29-43 ESV

The arrival of spring in Israel was accompanied by the revitalized and greatly enlarged Syrian army. King Ben-hadad had led his forces to the Valley of Aphek, carefully avoiding any confrontation with the Israelites in the hill country, where he believed their gods wielded special power. A battle on the level plains of Aphek would give his chariots a distinct advantage and help ensure a victory over the hated Israelites.

For six days, the two armies remained in their respective camps, waiting for the opportune moment to launch the attack. The much smaller Israelite force was led by King Ahab, who had been received word from a prophet that God would give them the victory that day.

“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

Ben-hadad was operating on misinformation. His advisors had convinced him that the Israelites’ gods were limited in their power. They were “gods of the hills” (1 Kings 20:23 ESV) and would be incapable of dictating the outcome of the battle as long as the Syrians fought the Israelites on neutral ground. But Ben-hadad would find that his strategy for success was greatly flawed. He had amassed a huge army and had chosen the ideal location that would eliminate any interference from the gods of his enemy – or so he thought.

On the seventh day, the battle began. And much to Ben-hadad’s shock and dismay, his forces were quickly overwhelmed by Israel’s inferior army. The author summarized the battle by stating, “the people of Israel struck down of the Syrians 100,000 foot soldiers in one day. And the rest fled into the city of Aphek, and the wall fell upon 27,000 men who were left” (1 Kings 20:29-30 ESV).

We’re not told the size of Ben-hadad’s army, but these numbers reflect staggering losses that would have proved devastating to the Syrians. In one day, in a single battle, they lost 127,000 men. And the mention of the 27,000 who were crushed by the walls of the city is intended to reveal the hand of God in this victory. It is a subtle yet unmistakable reference to Israel’s victory over the city of Jericho when they first entered the land of promise. For six days, the Israelites had marched around the circumference of the city. But on the seventh day, following God’s instructions, they circled the walls seven times and then blew their trumpets.

So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city. – Joshua 6:20 ESV

And what the Israelites did next is important. Following God’s commands, they devoted everything in the city to destruction.

…they burned the city with fire, and everything in it. Only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord. – Joshua 6:24 ESV

With this as a backdrop, Ahab’s actions and the reaction of God will make much more sense. Having escaped the battlefield and successfully avoiding the falling wall, Ben-hadad sought refuge inside the city. He was trapped and at the mercy of King Ahab. So, his advisors counseled him to surrender and appeal for clemency. After all, they advised him, “the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings” (1 Kings 20:30 ESV).

The always shrewd and self-aggrandizing Ahab probably saw this as an opportunity to ingratiate the defeated Syrian king and secure a beneficial treaty between their two nations. By allowing Ben-hadad to live, Ahab hoped to open up new trading opportunities that would further enhance his power and wealth. But at no point does the passage show Ahab seeking the will of God in this matter. God had given him the victory, but Ahab was taking the credit by determining the fate of the defeated Syrian king.

God had promised to give the Syrians into Ahab’s hand, and He had delivered on that promise. And the unexpected victory was intended to reveal to the Israelites that Yahweh was Lord. With his decision to spare Ben-hadad, Ahab was essentially declaring himself to be lord. He was in control. It was his kingdom, and, as sovereign, he believed he had the right to decide what was best for Israel.

Ahab struck a deal with Ben-hadad, agreeing to return land that had once belonged to the Syrians on the condition that they set up trading posts. Ahab was in it for what he could get out of it. This arrangement with the Syrians made strategic and fiscal sense in his mind. By securing a treaty with the Syrians, he could create a buffer on his northern border, providing protection from the Assyrians’ growing menace. But he also knew he could benefit financially by gaining access to the Syrian’s lucrative trading business. In Ahab’s mind, this was a win-win scenario.

But God had other plans. He commissioned yet another prophet, sending him with a word of warning to Ahab. But to carry out his assignment, the unnamed prophet was required to sustain an injury that would allow him to gain access to the king. When this prophet asked one of his colleagues to assist him, his request was denied. His fellow prophet refused to take part in this bizarre plan, and it ended up costing him his life.

“Because you have not obeyed the voice of the Lord, a lion will kill you as soon as you leave me.” And when he had gone, a lion did attack and kill him. – 1 Kings 20:36 ESV

This man’s refusal to do what the prophet of God said was essentially a rejection of God’s will, and he was condemned for his disobedience. As strange and difficult to understand as it may be, this incident is meant to illustrate the importance of following the will of God. Like Ahab, this unnamed prophet had decided to operate according to his own will. And just as God had held his reluctant and disobedience prophet culpable for his actions, so too would he hold Ahab accountable for his decision to spare the life of Ben-hadad.

The prophet finally found someone to strike him in the face, creating a convincing injury that would allow him to disguise himself as a wounded soldier. His face covered in a bandage, the prophet sat beside the road, waiting for King Ahab to pass by. When the king arrived, the man explained that he had been in the battle that day. At some point, he had been given the responsibility to watch over a prisoner. He was warned that he would be killed or forced to pay a substantial fine if he allowed the prisoner to escape. But while the man had been distracted, the prisoner had gotten away.

And Ahab, who had just extended undeserved mercy to the king of Syria, refused to show a fellow Israelite any mercy or empathy. He simply stated, “So shall your judgment be; you yourself have decided it” (1 Kings 20:40 ESV). And with those callous words, Ahab unwittingly condemned himself. As soon as the prophet removed the bandage that covered his face, Ahab recognized him as one of the prophets of Yahweh. And what Ahab heard next left him “vexed and sullen” (1 Kings 20:43 ESV).

“This is what the Lord says: Because you have spared the man I said must be destroyed, now you must die in his place, and your people will die instead of his people.” – 1 Kings 20:42 NLT

Ahab had stubbornly refused to acknowledge Yahweh as Lord. He continued to view himself as the true sovereign over Israel. But because he chose to reject God as King, Ahab and his people would suffer the fate intended for Ben-hadad and the people of Syria. Ahab’s self-centered and self-promoting actions would bring the judgment of God and turn a divinely ordained victory into death and defeat. One way or the other, Ahab and the people of Israel were going to know that God is Lord.

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.

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