The End

7 And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.”

10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. 12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. 13 This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17 You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.  Luke 21:7-19 ESV

This was not what the disciples wanted to hear. After delivering the shocking news that the beautiful temple would one day be destroyed, Jesus led His disciples out of the city of Jerusalem and up the Mount of Olives. This location just across the Kidron Valley from the eastern walls of the city, provided an elevated vantage point from which to view the capital and its glorious temple. From this secluded spot, Jesus continued to teach His disciples and prepare them for the fateful days that lie ahead. His address to these men has come to be known as the Olivet Discourse.

As expected, the disciples were struggling with Jesus’ stunning pronouncement that the sacred house of God was going to be destroyed. This concept would have been unfathomable to the disciples, and would have caused them to consider the last time the temple of God had been destroyed. It had taken place more than six centuries earlier, when the Babylonians had conquered Jerusalem, leaving a path of death and destruction in their wake. In the process, they destroyed the majestic temple that Solomon had constructed. And for 70 years, the city and its once-magnificent temple sat abandoned until God orchestrated the return of a remnant of the people from their exile in Babylon. Under the leadership of Nehemiah, this ragtag group of former slaves had been able to rebuild and restore the temple and the city. But it would be more than five centuries later before Herod the Great orchestrated a massive remodeling project that would greatly enhance and expand the temple.

As the disciples looked back across the Kidron Valley, they could see the facade of this beautiful structure gleaming in the afternoon sun. This sight, coupled with Jesus’ words, led four of the disciples to approach Him for more information (Mark 13:3). James, John, Peter, and Andrew wanted to know more, so these two sets of brothers asked Jesus for an explanation.

“Teacher,” they asked, “when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to take place?” – Luke 21:7 NLT

Their questions reveal that they were focused on the destruction of the temple. They wanted to know when this horrific act of judgment would take place and if there would be any warning signs. Basically, they were wanting to know if it was going to happen soon and if they would have ample warning so they could be out of the city when it took place. But their full attention appears to have been on the city and the temple. Despite all of Jesus’ earlier warnings about His pending death in Jerusalem, these men were more concerned about the possible destruction of the temple than anything else.

In his gospel account, John records another Passover, three years earlier, when Jesus had cleared the temple of the moneychangers and vendors. The Jewish religious leaders had demanded that Jesus show them a sign that would prove His authority to do such a thing. And Jesus had responded:

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” – John 2:19 ESV

But these learned men failed to catch the symbolic nature of His answer. Instead, they took Him literally, viewing His answer as utterly ridiculous and impossible.

“It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?”  – John 2:20 ESV

John goes on to explain, Jesus “was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:21 ESV). But the disciples would not connect the dots until after Jesus had died and been raised back to life. So, as they sat on the Mount of Olives watching the rays of the setting sun reflect off the gold inlay of the temple, they were fixated on its destruction, but not on the fast-approaching death of their Lord and Master.

But Jesus, sensing their confusion and concern, provided them with a foretaste of things to come.

“Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and saying, ‘The time has come!’ But don’t believe them. And when you hear of wars and insurrections, don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place first, but the end won’t follow immediately.” – Luke 21:8-9 NLT

Jesus accelerated the narrative to a day in the far-distant future, when the end of the age was to take place. He compressed and combined a great many events into a single answer, providing His disciples with an overview of things to come. He knew they were fixated on the day in which they lived. They were wanting to know when the temple would be destroyed and what the conditions would be like when it happened. But Jesus was speaking of future events that would take place long after the disciples were dead and gone.

Roughly four decades later, the Romans would destroy the city of Jerusalem and its magnificent temple. Some of the disciples would live long enough to witness that fateful day. And yet, Jesus was speaking of events that still remain unfulfilled, even in our day. He described those who would show up in that future day, claiming to be Him and declaring themselves to be the messiah or savior offering deliverance. He warned of a future marked by wars, civil unrest, and natural disasters. But these “signs” would be nothing but the “birth pains” (Mark 15:8) that precede the fast-approaching climax of the redemptive history. They will merely preface the end of the age.

Jesus was providing James, John, Peter, and Andrew with a comprehensive overview of the eschaton or end times. But He didn’t do so in easy-to-understand terms that fall into a simple chronological sequence. The disciples had no idea what was about to happen. In just a matter of days, their world would be rocked by the death of Jesus. But then, three days later, He would rise again. Then, He would return to His Father in heaven and send the Spirit to indwell and empower the disciples for the work He had commissioned them to do. As a result, they would plan a major role in the dissemination of the gospel and the subsequent growth of the church.

But centuries would pass and, even as the church continued to grow, the spiritual state of the world would continue to decay. And it will continue do so until Jesus returns to the earth. The downward spiral of humanity’s spiritual condition will  accelerate and intensify, reaching its lowest point until the rapture of the church takes place. This mass exodus of all believers from the face of the earth will usher in a time of tribulation, “such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be” (Matthew 24:21 ESV).

Jesus was giving these four men a crash course in eschatology or the study of end times. While their minds were fixated on the temple and its possible destruction, Jesus was trying to get them to see the bigger picture. There was far more going on than they realized. The temple was not as important and integral as they believed it to be. Jesus’ emphasis on nations and kingdoms subtly reveals that the people of Israel will no longer be the focal point of God’s redemptive story. It is not that He will abandon them, but that He will use their rejection of His Son and their subsequent role in His death, as an impetus to include people of every tribe, nation, and tongue into His family.

And the apostle Paul reminds us that God has great plans in store for His chosen people. Their initial rejection of the Messiah did not permanently invalidate His covenant commitments to them. He will remain faithful and fulfill every promise He has made to them.

Did God’s people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not! They were disobedient, so God made salvation available to the Gentiles. But he wanted his own people to become jealous and claim it for themselves. Now if the Gentiles were enriched because the people of Israel turned down God’s offer of salvation, think how much greater a blessing the world will share when they finally accept it. – Romans 11:11-12 NLT

But Jesus wanted these four men to understand that while much of what He just described was to take place in the distant future, they were to be on their guard. The days ahead were going to be filled with uncertainty and the very real threat of persecution.

You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” – Luke 13:13 ESV

With His death, resurrection, and ascension, their lives would get much more complicated. In the process of taking the gospel to the nations, they would face trials and difficulties of all kinds. But they would have the indwelling Spirit of God to guide, protect, and empower them. They needed to stop worrying about the temple of God and begin thinking about the will of God. What was He doing in their midst? What did He have planned for them to do in the days ahead? And Jesus told them that. while things would get far worse before they got better, they could rest assured that their lives were held securely in God’s hands.

“But not a hair of your head will perish! By standing firm, you will win your souls.” – Luke 21:18-19 NLT

According to Jesus, the future would be filled with all kinds of uncomfortable and settling signs.

Sign 1: False Messiahs

Sign 2: Wars, threats of wars, and insurrections

Sign 3: Global conflict

Sign 4: Natural disasters

Sign 5: Personal Persecution 

Sign 6: Denial of Christ and Spiritual Apathy 

Sign 7: The Perseverance of the Saints and the Spread of the Gospel 

But in spite of the fact that many would end up deserting and denying Jesus, there would be those who endured and persevered to the end. They would remain faithful, resulting in the spread of the good news about the Kingdom throughout the world. This includes the period of time from Jesus’ ascension all the way to the end. And it will be at that time that Jesus returns.

This incredible passage provides us with a glimpse into the future of not only Israel but the world. Jesus was preparing His disciples to think globally and eternally. He was attempting to move their point of reference from the here-and-now to the yet-to-be. These men had been obsessed with their own immediate context. They had hoped that Jesus was going to establish His Messianic Kingdom in their lifetimes. They had a difficult time accepting His repeated predictions of His death in Jerusalem. And the very thought of the temple being destroyed was unfathomable to them. That was inconceivable and unacceptable. But Jesus had a long-term perspective that was focused on God’s eternal plan of redemption. He was not done yet. He had to die. He had to rise again. He had to return to His Father’s side. And then, one day, when the time is right, He will return to earth and complete His Father’s will.

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

True Greatness

1 Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Luke 21:1–6 ESV

Jesus and His disciples remain in the temple courtyard, where He underwent a series of confrontations with the religious leaders who had been attempting to entrap Him. In a bold affront to their arrogant sense of superiority, Jesus had labeled their displays of self-righteousness as nothing more than hypocrisy.

Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets.” – Luke 20:46 NLT

These men were addicted to fine clothes and flattery. They craved recognition and demanded the respect of all those whom they considered their inferiors. And almost as if to provide a glaring contrast to their style of behavior, Jesus directs the attention of His disciples to a poor widow. He has positioned Himself opposite the temple treasury where He is silently observing the various people bringing their offerings and placing them in one of the 13 trumpet-shaped receptacles arranged around the perimeter of the Courtyard of the Women.

As Jesus looks on, a variety of people drop their freewill offerings into the boxes, many of whom are wealthy and can be seen donating large sums of money. Luke’s inference seems to be that their actions were intended to attract attention. The size of their contributions was intended to be noticed. Since all currency was in the form of coins, their gift would have made a great deal of noise as it clanged on the metal trumpet that topped the offering box. All heads would have turned to see who was giving such a generous amount.

But Jesus takes note of “a poor widow put in two small copper coins” (Luke 21:2 ESV). This woman’s small gift would have garnered little attention from the people who crowded the temple courtyard, but she caught the eye of Jesus. She was exactly the kind of person He had mentioned in His diatribe against the scribes.

“…they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. – Luke 20:47 NLT

This widow was someone the scribes and other religious leaders would have taken advantage of in order to line their own pockets. Yet, to Jesus, she represented the truly righteous. Her two small coins would have made little noise as they descended into the offering box, but to Jesus, her actions spoke volumes. So, He pointed her out to His disciples and said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them” (Luke 21:3 ESV).

It was not the size of her gift that mattered, but it was the state of her heart. She had not given to be noticed. Her gift had not been meant to impress. But Jesus knew that her gift had been a great sacrifice because she had “given everything” she had to live on (Luke 12:4 NLT). This entire scene is a visual demonstration of Jesus’ lesson from His sermon on the mount.

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get.” – Matthew 6:1-2 NLT

This woman, though poor, had sacrificed everything in order to give her freewill offering to God. But the others had given “out of their abundance” (Luke 21:4 ESV). It had cost them nothing. Their gifts, while impressive in size, had required no sacrifice on their part. They had actually profited from their efforts, having garnered the praise and admiration of others for their obviously generous contributions.

By pointing out this widow to His disciples, Jesus had been trying to continue His lesson on greatness in the Kingdom of God. But it seems that His disciples remained stubbornly oblivious to all that He was trying to teach them. In fact, as they made their way out of the temple courtyard, none of the disciples mention the widow and her sacrificial gift. But one of them takes note of the grandeur and opulence of the temple.

“Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” – Mark 13:1 ESV

The temple was a magnificent complex that made an impressive sight from its prominent location atop Mount Zion. The Jews took great pride in this grand structure and the disciples were rightfully proud of and impressed by its sheer size and beauty. After all, it was the dwelling place of God.

The image of the poor widow had faded from their collective memories. Now, as they made their way out of the temple and back to the Mount of Olives, their attention was fixated on the structure that Herod the Great had helped expand and improve. The original temple, built by King Solomon, had been destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. Seventy years later, God had allowed a remnant of the people who had been exiled to Babylon to return and rebuild the temple. But, when completed, the new temple was just a shadow of its former glory. Herod the Great, in an attempt to win over the people, had decreed a massive rebuilding program that resulted in the grand structure that now dominated the landscape and captivated the attention of the disciples.

But Jesus, always ready to turn every moment into a teaching opportunity, told His disciples, “The time is coming when all these things will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!” (Luke 21:6 ESV). This news will shock the disciples. They couldn’t believe what they were hearing. How could God allow His beautiful house to be destroyed? But as hard as it was to fathom, everything Jesus said eventually came true. In A.D. 70, the Roman army, under the leadership of Titus, besieged Jerusalem in an effort to put an end to a long-standing Jewish revolt against Roman rule. After a three-month standoff, the Romans invaded the city, destroying and eventually burning the temple to the ground. They left no stone upon another.

The disciples had been unimpressed with the generous widow, but they couldn’t help but notice the grandeur of the temple. But Jesus ended up commending the woman and condemning the temple. She was elevated as an icon of righteousness and virtue, while the temple was declared to be the symbol of all that was wrong with Israel. As Jesus had declared earlier, the temple of God had become a “den of robbers” (Mark 11:17 ESV). The dwelling place of God had been desecrated by the very ones who were responsible for its care and protection.

Jesus was reminding His disciples of the words of God, spoken centuries earlier through Isaiah the prophet and directed at the rebellious people of Israel.

“‘Don’t be fooled into thinking that you will never suffer because the Temple is here. It’s a lie! Do you really think you can steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and burn incense to Baal and all those other new gods of yours, and then come here and stand before me in my Temple and chant, “We are safe!”—only to go right back to all those evils again? Don’t you yourselves admit that this Temple, which bears my name, has become a den of thieves? Surely I see all the evil going on there. I, the LORD, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 7;8-11 NLT

Nothing had changed. Just as the original temple had been destroyed by God, so would this remarkable structure come under His judgment. Because the people of God failed to live in obedience to the will of God.

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 Ninety-and-Nine

1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” – Luke 15:3-7 ESV

One doesn’t have to be a theologian to notice the vast difference between Jesus and the religious leaders of Israel. All along the way in his gospel, Luke has provided a clear and compelling contrast between the itinerant Rabbi from the Nazareth and the highly educated, socially sophisticated Pharisees and scribes who ruled the roost in Jerusalem. These men viewed Jesus as an uneducated bumpkin from Galilee who had suddenly appeared on the scene performing miracles and preaching messages that declared the coming of the kingdom of God. In a very short period of time, Jesus had managed to amass a huge fan base that followed Him everywhere. And His growing popularity made the religious leaders of Israel both nervous and jealous. He was robbing them of glory by tarnishing their stellar reputation among the people. On more than one occasion, Jesus had pointed out the hypocrisy of their ways. He had labeled them as liars and called them children of the devil.

But the greatest difference between Jesus and these men can be seen in their attitude toward the poor and needy. It would be safe to say that the Pharisees and scribes had a less-than-flattering view of the less fortunate. Their concept of righteousness or what it means to be right with God was based on merit and measured by a set of external criteria. To their way of thinking, the common people were spiritually stunted and morally depraved, preventing the nation of Israel from experiencing the full blessings of Yahweh.

Yet, Jesus had shown up on the scene preaching a message of blessing that was aimed at the very people the Pharisees despised. In His sermon on the mount, Jesus had shocked His audience by pronouncing a series of blessings on the “least of these.”

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

“Blessed are those who are persecuted…” – Matthew 5:3-10 ESV

And it was Jesus’ emphasis on the down and out that rubbed the Pharisees the wrong way. They couldn’t understand His attraction to and affinity for those whom they considered the dregs of society. The Pharisees viewed these people as lead weights that were keeping the nation from experiencing the glory of God. That’s why they continually confronted Jesus about His association with “tax collectors and sinners.” And Luke brings up yet another instance when the Pharisees took exception with Jesus hanging out with the loveable losers of Israel.

Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them! – Luke 15:1-2 ESV

The religious leaders had deemed this class of people as unwelcome within polite society. Not only that, the Pharisees and scribes considered these unfortunate people to be spiritually unclean, their sinful lifestyles providing evidence of their moral impurity. So, they were treated as outcasts by the more pious-minded and religiously superior segment of society.

When Jesus because aware of the Pharisees’ complaint against Him, He responded with a story in the form of a parable, and it began with a rhetorical question:

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it.” – Luke 15:4 NLT

Everyone in the crowd would have known the right answer to this question because there was only be one. Notice that Jesus did not refute the Pharisees’ derogatory description of the people as “sinners.” In fact, He essentially affirms that these people were “lost” and in need of rescue. To borrow from a phrase He had used earlier in His ministry, Jesus saw them as “sheep without a shepherd.”

Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. – Matthew 9:35-36 NLT

In Jesus’ story, the one wandering sheep was well worth seeking. Rather than wait for the Pharisees and scribes to answer His question, Jesus reveals that the shepherd in the story did the right thing: He searched for the lost sheep until he found it. He showed compassion. He recognized that the sheep who had wandered was in danger and in need of rescue. It would be incapable of saving itself.

Because Jesus was the Living Word, He was intimately familiar with the written Word of God. He quoted from it often. And, in this case, He clearly had in mind the words that Isaiah the prophet had penned centuries earlier.

All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. – Isaiah 53:6 NLT

In this passage, Isaiah describes the infinite mercy of God as revealed in the amazing gift of His Son as the atonement for the sins of mankind.

…he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

And though humanity had knowingly and willingly wandered away, God sent His Son to seek out and save sinners.

Yet the LORD laid on him the sins of us all. – Isaiah 53:6 NLT

The apostle Paul describes this incredible search-and-rescue operation in staggering terms:

God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:8 NLT

And in Jesus’ story, the shepherd returns with his rescued sheep, declaring his extreme joy at having saved even one that had wandered. And he invites his friends and neighbors to join in the celebration.

“Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.” – Luke 15:6 NLT

Whether the Pharisees and scribes realized it or not, they are portrayed in Jesus’ story, but not in flattering terms. They are represented by the 99 other sheep whom the shepherd left behind when he went in search of the one who was lost. In the story, the shepherd leaves the 99 in the “open country” or wilderness. The word Jesus used is very specific and reveals that He is attempting to make a serious and sobering point about His enemies, the Pharisees. The Greek word is erēmos, and it can best be translated as desert or wilderness. It describes a lonely and uninhabited place.

Jesus was indicting the very men who had questioned His poor choice of friends. And He compares them to the 99 who got left behind. But why did Jesus use this analogy to expose the true nature of the religious leaders? He provides some helpful insight in verse 7.

“…there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” – Luke 15:7 ESV

Jesus uses irony to make His point. The 99 serves as a symbol for all those who consider themselves to be righteous and in no need of repentance. They are the self-righteous and piously prideful spiritual leaders of Israel. The New Living Translation records verse 7 this way:

“…there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away! – Luke 15:7 NLT

This brings to mind another familiar parable that Jesus told and it is located just a few verses after this one in Luke 15. It is typically referred to as The Parable of the Prodigal Son. But one of the main characters in the parable who typically gets overlooked is the older brother who “stayed behind” while the younger brother sowed his oats and squandered his inheritance. When the younger brother came back, financially broke and emotionally broken, the father threw a lavish party to celebrate his return. But the older brother became angry and complained to his father.

“Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.” – Luke 15:29 ESV

Because of the context, we know that Jesus is using the older brother to further expose the hypocrisy and pride of the Pharisees. They are the 99 who stayed behind and never strayed. They are the rule-keeping older brother who stayed behind and never disobeyed a single command his father gave him. In both cases, the 99 and the older brother are those who refuse to acknowledge their own sin and their need for a Savior. They believe themselves to be righteous and in no need of a Savior. But as Jesus so aptly put it, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do” (Luke 5:31 NLT).

Jesus knew the Pharisees would never acknowledge their “lostness.” They had no need to be found because they had never wandered away. They were the faithful, obedient older brother who had stuck by God’s side through thick and thin. They were the compliant sheep who remained in the “pasture” of their own piety, oblivious to the fact that they were actually in the “desert” of their own sin.

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

We Have No King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Ezekiel declares a similarly dire outcome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guilty as Charged

1 Hear the word of the Lord, O children of Israel,
    for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land.
There is no faithfulness or steadfast love,
    and no knowledge of God in the land;
there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery;
    they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
Therefore the land mourns,
    and all who dwell in it languish,
and also the beasts of the field
    and the birds of the heavens,
    and even the fish of the sea are taken away.
Hosea 4:1-3 ESV

With the opening verses of chapter four, Hosea’s book begins to focus in on the specific sins of which the people of Israel were guilty. Up to this point, God has addressed the general nature of their spiritual adultery, using Hosea’s wife Gomer as a visual illustration. But now He three damning charges against His covenant people.

  1. They display no faithfulness
  2. They lack steadfast love
  3. And they have no knowledge of Him

In essence, God is taking Israel to court. He uses courtroom language, accusing the people of Israel of having violated their covenant agreement with Him. Hosea declares that God has “has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land” (Hosea 4:1 ESV). The word translated as “controversy” is rîḇ (reeve) in Hebrew, and it refers to “a dispute” or “a legal contest.” The NET Bible translates that verse this way:

…the Lord has a covenant lawsuit against the people of Israel. – Hosea 4:1 NET

He was charging them with a breach of covenant. They had failed to do what they said they would do. All the way back in the book of Exodus, we have a record of God’s giving of the Mosaic Covenant to the people of Israel. Moses was called by God to the top of Mount Sinai, where he was given a copy of God’s covenant agreement. It contained all the rules and regulations that would govern the conduct of His chosen people. And Moses was given instructions to return to the base of the mountain and deliver the terms of the agreement to the Israelites.

Then Moses went down to the people and repeated all the instructions and regulations the Lord had given him. All the people answered with one voice, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded.” – Exodus 24:3 NLT

They ratified the covenant agreement – not once, but twice. Moses erected an altar to Yahweh on which they offered sacrifices. Then he read the entire content of the covenant agreement to the people. When he was done the people responded again:

“We will do everything the Lord has commanded. We will obey.” – Exodus 24:7 NLT

Some forty years later, the people of Israel would stand on the border of the land of promise, waiting to enter and possess the land promised to them by God. But as Moses prepared to turn over the reins of leadership to Joshua, he took one more opportunity to charge the people to keep their covenant commitment to Yahweh.

“Therefore, obey the terms of this covenant so that you will prosper in everything you do. All of you—tribal leaders, elders, officers, all the men of Israel—are standing today in the presence of the Lord your God. Your little ones and your wives are with you, as well as the foreigners living among you who chop your wood and carry your water. You are standing here today to enter into the covenant of the Lord your God. The Lord is making this covenant, including the curses. By entering into the covenant today, he will establish you as his people and confirm that he is your God, just as he promised you and as he swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” – Deuteronomy 29:9-13 NLT

Moses reminded them that the covenant came with blessings and curses. If they obeyed, they would be blessed. But if they chose to disobey, they would experience the curses that God had outlined (Deuteronomy 28:15-68). Moses had been very specific concerning the ramifications for their disobedience.

These horrors will serve as a sign and warning among you and your descendants forever.  If you do not serve the Lord your God with joy and enthusiasm for the abundant benefits you have received, you will serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you. – Deuteronomy 28:46-48 NLT

Now, centuries later, Hosea was recording God’s declaration of breach of covenant against the people of Israel. They were completely devoid of faithfulness (trustworthiness), no steadfast love (loyalty), and no knowledge of Him. That final charge does not mean that they had no knowledge of God at all, but that they failed to acknowledge Him as the one true God. They were guilty of violating the very first of the covenant commandments:

“I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. You must not have any other god but me.” – Exodus 20:2-3 NLT

Their failure to acknowledge Yahweh’s authority and sovereignty had led them to distrust Him and to treat Him with disloyalty. But their disregard for God and His covenant had produced a litany of sins that manifested themselves in their treatment of one another.

You make vows and break them;
    you kill and steal and commit adultery.
There is violence everywhere—
    one murder after another. – Hosea 4:2 NLT

Every one of these charges is a violation of the covenant they had so eagerly and aggressively agreed to keep.

“You must not murder.

“You must not commit adultery.

“You must not steal.

“You must not testify falsely against your neighbor.

“You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.” – Exodus 20:13-17 NLT

Their refusal to acknowledge Yahweh as their one and only God had led them to commit a long list of sins against one another. If they could not love and obey God, they would never be able to love one another. The entire community was experiencing a breakdown in their social order because they had lost trust in God, which led them to become disloyal to Him. And with no fear of or reverence for God, there was nothing to motivate their behavior. They had returned to the days of the judges when “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6 ESV). It had become a moral free-for-all, with no rules to manage their conduct. Their commitment to the covenant had long ago faded, and they found themselves governed by selfishness, distrust, greed, lust, and a host of other sins of the heart.

And Hosea explains that their abandonment of God had left a dark stain on the land.

That is why your land is in mourning,
    and everyone is wasting away. – Hosea 4:3 NLT

God had warned them that breaking their covenant agreement with Him would have devastating consequences.

“The Lord himself will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in everything you do, until at last you are completely destroyed for doing evil and abandoning me. The Lord will afflict you with diseases until none of you are left in the land you are about to enter and occupy. The Lord will strike you with wasting diseases, fever, and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, and with blight and mildew. These disasters will pursue you until you die.” – Deuteronomy 28:20-22 NLT

Now, they were experiencing the veracity of these warnings in real life. All they had to do was look around and they could see the far-reaching consequences for their sins.

Even the wild animals, the birds of the sky,
    and the fish of the sea are disappearing. – Hosea 4:3 NLT

Like a prosecuting attorney presenting his case in a court of law, God brought a series of charges against the people of Israel, backed by strong evidence that more than proved their guilt. There was little they could say or do to refute God’s stinging indictment against them. Creation itself testified against them. And God was not going to allow anyone to pass the buck or absolve themselves of complicity in the charges. He will take each and every one of them to task for their involvement in the violation of their covenant agreement.

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

Measured and Found Wanting

7 This is what he showed me: behold, the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said,

“Behold, I am setting a plumb line
    in the midst of my people Israel;
    I will never again pass by them;
the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,
    and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,
    and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.” Amos 7:7-9 ESV

The book of Jonah could easily be classified as a cliff-hanger. It ends rather abruptly, leaving the reader with a lot of unanswered questions, not the least of which is what happened to Jonah. We can safely assume that God did not answer Jonah’s pitty-filled plea to kill him. But did he remain in Nineveh or return home to Gath-hepher in Galilee? Regardless of his disposition or destination, he remained a prophet of God. So, did he receive a new assignment? Was he called to minister God’s Word to the new converts in Nineveh?

All of these questions are left unanswered. We are not even told what happened to the citizens of Nineveh. But we know that God did not rain down destruction on them because the text tells us, “God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it” (Jonah 3:10 ESV). God showed them pity and spared their lives. But that is all we know. There is no extant record that corroborates or validates the author’s claim that the people of Nineveh experienced a revival. The Assyrians kept detailed accounts of their many exploits, but no archeological discoveries have ever unearthed a stone or tablet containing evidence of the mass conversion of the city of Nineveh. But that should not come as a shock. The Assyrians were not known for keeping objectively based or unbiased records of their history. The chronicles they penned were intended to glorify their successes while minimizing their failures. So, it would not be surprising that, if the king of Nineveh made a record of what is described in the book of Jonah, it was quickly expunged by his successor. And we know that the repentance of the people of Nineveh was short-lived. Their king’s mournful plea that they “turn from their evil ways and stop all their violence” (Jonah 3:8 ESV), seems to have resulted in a temporary change in behavior. But those same Assyrians would ultimately show up on Israel’s doorstep, besiege their capital city of Samaria, and eventually defeat and deport them.

Then the king of Assyria invaded the entire land, and for three years he besieged the city of Samaria. Finally, in the ninth year of King Hoshea’s reign, Samaria fell, and the people of Israel were exiled to Assyria. They were settled in colonies in Halah, along the banks of the Habor River in Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. – 2 Kings 17:5-6 NLT

God had repeatedly warned the people of Israel that they would suffer destruction for their sinfulness and for their stubborn refusal to repent and return to Him. Even Jonah’s contemporary, Amos, had prophesied that they would one day be defeated and deported, and it would be God’s doing.

The Sovereign Lord has sworn this by his holiness:
“The time will come when you will be led away
    with hooks in your noses.
Every last one of you will be dragged away
    like a fish on a hook!
You will be led out through the ruins of the wall;
    you will be thrown from your fortresses,”
    says the Lord. – Amos 4:2-3 NLT

And the author of 2 Kings does not sugarcoat the cause of their destruction.

This disaster came upon the people of Israel because they worshiped other gods. They sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them safely out of Egypt and had rescued them from the power of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. They had followed the practices of the pagan nations the Lord had driven from the land ahead of them, as well as the practices the kings of Israel had introduced. The people of Israel had also secretly done many things that were not pleasing to the Lord their God. – 2 Kings 17:7-9 NLT

The fates of Jonah and Nineveh were not relevant to the author of the book of Jonah because they were not the focus of his story. He was writing to the Hebrew people and the entire purpose behind his book was to remind them of the sovereign will of God. It is likely that this book was penned after the nation of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians. They would have been living in exile “along the banks of the Habor River in Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes” (2 Kings 17:6 NLT). And this story was meant to convict them of their sin and remind them that their God was “a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love” (Jonah 4:2 NLT). He was “eager to turn back from destroying people” (Jonah 4:2 NLT).

And even though they were living as captives of war in Assyria, their God had not forgotten them. If He could redeem the wicked Ninevites, He most certainly could redeem His chosen but rebellious people. But even in their captivity, they remained stubbornly unwilling to obey God. They longed for His deliverance but remained opposed to keeping His commands. In a sense, they were just like Jonah. As they languished in the Assyria (the belly of the fish), they displayed a superficial form of repentance that had no teeth to it.

Come on! Let’s return to the Lord.
He himself has torn us to pieces,
but he will heal us!
He has injured us,
but he will bandage our wounds!
He will restore us in a very short time;
he will heal us in a little while,
so that we may live in his presence.
So let us search for him!
Let us seek to know the Lord!
He will come to our rescue as certainly as the appearance of the dawn,
as certainly as the winter rain comes,
as certainly as the spring rain that waters the land. – Hosea 6:1-3 NET

They were like Jonah, vowing to keep vows and pledging to offer up offerings, only if God would rescue them. But they remained just as stubborn as the prophet of God. And God saw through their sham display of repentance.

“…your faithfulness is as fleeting as the morning mist;
it disappears as quickly as dawn’s dew…” – Hosea 6:4 NET

God was not interested in pretense and false displays of piety. He was looking for true heart change.

“For I delight in faithfulness, not simply in sacrifice;
I delight in acknowledging God, not simply in whole burnt offerings.” – Hosea 6:6 NET

God had taken stock of Israel and found them to be wanting. As the book of Amos reveals, God had measured the integrity of the house of Israel and found it to be of poor quality and construction. Amos was given a vision of God standing next to a wall with a plumb line in His hand. A plumb line was a simple, yet effective building tool that featured a heavy weight on the end of a string. It used the force of gravity to establish an accurate line of perpendicularity so that a wall would not lean in the wrong direction. And God told Amos, “I will test my people with this plumb line. I will no longer ignore all their sins” (Amos 7:8 NLT). He was going to measure or assess their spiritual integrity. And God made it to Amos that the people of Israel were not going to measure up to His righteous standard.

“The pagan shrines of your ancestors will be ruined, and the temples of Israel will be destroyed; I will bring the dynasty of King Jeroboam to a sudden end.” – Amos 7:9 NLT

God was going to deal with Israel according to their sins. Yes, they were His chosen people. He had set them apart as His prized possession. But they had repeatedly rejected Him as their God, chasing after false gods and refusing to acknowledge of confess their spiritual adultery. And God could not and would not tolerate their sin forever.

“I want to heal Israel, but its sins are too great.
    Samaria is filled with liars.
Thieves are on the inside
    and bandits on the outside!
Its people don’t realize
    that I am watching them.
Their sinful deeds are all around them,
    and I see them all.” – Hosea 7:1-2 NLT

The people of Israel had become arrogant and prideful. Under the reign of King Jeroboam II, they had enjoyed renewed success and prosperity. He had expanded their borders and reestablished them as a major player in the region. Yet, rather than see these successes as the handiwork of God, they took credit for them.

Their arrogance testifies against them,
    yet they don’t return to the Lord their God
    or even try to find him. – Hosea 7:10 NLT

And listen closely to how God describes His chosen people.

“The people of Israel have become like silly, witless doves,
    first calling to Egypt, then flying to Assyria for help.
But as they fly about,
    I will throw my net over them
and bring them down like a bird from the sky.
    I will punish them for all the evil they do.” – Hosea 7:11-12 NLT

The Hebrew word for “dove” is yônâ, which just happens to be the name of the prophet whom God sent to Nineveh. As Jonah flitted about like a witless dove, flying to Joppa and then taking flight to Tarshish, he was mimicking the actions of the rebellious people of God. And just as he could not escape the soveriegn hand of God Almighty, neither would they.

All of this reminds me of another incident recorded in the Word of God. It involves King Belshazzar and the prophet, Daniel. The southern kingdom of Judah has fallen to the Babylonians and Daniel is among those who were taken captive and transported to Babylon as slaves. Fortunately, he has ended up on the payroll of the king. At one point, the king threw an extravagant party, and to impress his guests, he ordered that they bring in all the “gold cups taken from the Temple, the house of God in Jerusalem” (Danuel 5:3 NLT). Belshazzar, in a display of pride and arrogance, had his guests drink wine from these sacred vessels, and they toasted “their idols made of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone” (Daniel 5:4 NLT). And as they reveled in the superior nature of their gods, a startling scene unfolded.

Suddenly, they saw the fingers of a human hand writing on the plaster wall of the king’s palace, near the lampstand. The king himself saw the hand as it wrote, and his face turned pale with fright. His knees knocked together in fear and his legs gave way beneath him. – Daniel 5:5-6 NLT

The king sent for Daniel, who was known for his ability to interpret dreams and visions. And Daniel gave the king a brief, but sobering history lesson.

“Your Majesty, the Most High God gave sovereignty, majesty, glory, and honor to your predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar. He made him so great that people of all races and nations and languages trembled before him in fear. He killed those he wanted to kill and spared those he wanted to spare. He honored those he wanted to honor and disgraced those he wanted to disgrace. But when his heart and mind were puffed up with arrogance, he was brought down from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. He was driven from human society. He was given the mind of a wild animal, and he lived among the wild donkeys. He ate grass like a cow, and he was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he learned that the Most High God rules over the kingdoms of the world and appoints anyone he desires to rule over them.” – Daniel 5:18-21 NLT

Daniel reminded the arrogant king that his predecessor had suffered from the same malady and had paid dearly for it. Nebuchadnezzar had failed to recognize that his success had been God-ordained. He had taken credit for something God had done. And now, Belshazzar was repeating that mistake.

You are his successor, O Belshazzar, and you knew all this, yet you have not humbled yourself. For you have proudly defied the Lord of heaven.” – Daniel 5:22-23 NLT

And when Daniel finally got around to interpreting the vision, he simply informed the king, “…you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting” (Daniel 5:27 ESV). In essence, God had given Belshazzar a plumb-line assessment of his reign:

“God has numbered the days of your reign and has brought it to an end.” – Daniel 5:26 NLT

“…you have been weighed on the balances and have not measured up.” – Daniel 5:27 NLT

God is sovereign over all nations. He alone places kings of their thrones. And He had sovereignly chosen to make Israel His set-apart people. They had enjoyed a unique relationship with Him, unprecedented among all the nations of the earth. But they had failed to remain faithful. They had chosen to reject their calling to be a blessing to the nations and a light to the world. As, as a result, God was compelled to punish them.

Listen to this message that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel—against the entire family I rescued from Egypt:

“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 3:1-2 NLT

But despite their unfaithfulness, God would remain faithful. He would punish them, but He would also restore them. Yahweh would remain the covenant-keeping God, who fulfills all the promises He has made.

“I will bring my exiled people of Israel
    back from distant lands,
and they will rebuild their ruined cities
    and live in them again.
They will plant vineyards and gardens;
    they will eat their crops and drink their wine.
I will firmly plant them there
    in their own land.
They will never again be uprooted
    from the land I have given them,”
    says the Lord your God. – Amos 9:14-15 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

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

 

When Dreams Turn Into Nightmares

One day Elisha went on to Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to eat some food. So whenever he passed that way, he would turn in there to eat food. And she said to her husband, “Behold now, I know that this is a holy man of God who is continually passing our way. 10 Let us make a small room on the roof with walls and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that whenever he comes to us, he can go in there.”

11 One day he came there, and he turned into the chamber and rested there. 12 And he said to Gehazi his servant, “Call this Shunammite.” When he had called her, she stood before him. 13 And he said to him, “Say now to her, ‘See, you have taken all this trouble for us; what is to be done for you? Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?’” She answered, “I dwell among my own people.” 14 And he said, “What then is to be done for her?” Gehazi answered, “Well, she has no son, and her husband is old.” 15 He said, “Call her.” And when he had called her, she stood in the doorway. 16 And he said, “At this season, about this time next year, you shall embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord, O man of God; do not lie to your servant.” 17 But the woman conceived, and she bore a son about that time the following spring, as Elisha had said to her.

18 When the child had grown, he went out one day to his father among the reapers. 19 And he said to his father, “Oh, my head, my head!” The father said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother.” 20 And when he had lifted him and brought him to his mother, the child sat on her lap till noon, and then he died. 21 And she went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God and shut the door behind him and went out. 22 Then she called to her husband and said, “Send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, that I may quickly go to the man of God and come back again.” 23 And he said, “Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor Sabbath.” She said, “All is well.” 24 Then she saddled the donkey, and she said to her servant, “Urge the animal on; do not slacken the pace for me unless I tell you.” 25 So she set out and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel. 2 Kings 4:8-25 ESV

When Elijah had been the prophet of God to Israel, his ministry seemed to focus on the royal household. Virtually all of the interactions he had were with King Ahab or his wife, Jezebel. And while Elisha had begun his own prophetic ministry with a confrontation between himself and King Jehoram, he seems to have been a prophet to the people. In the last story, Elisha came to the aid of a recently widowed woman who was facing the prospect of having her two sons sold into slavery because of an unpaid debt. In a sense, this woman represented the nation of Israel. She had been left destitute by her husband, a former prophet of God. While alive, this man of God had incurred a sizeable debt, and had he made no plans for its repayment in the case of his death. In a real sense, the people of Israel found themselves spiritually destitute and owing a large debt to God Almighty. Their kings had taken advantage of God’s love and mercy, using His resources to fund their own profligate lifestyles. They had lived for the moment, never considering what would happen when God called their debt due. Jeroboam, Ahab, Ahaziah, and now, Jehoram, all led the people into idolatry and left them with a debt they could not pay.

But Elisha had intervened on the widow’s behalf, providing her with a miracle that eliminated her debt, spared her sons, and met her needs for a long time to come. Through the actions of His faithful prophet, the God of Israel revealed His love and concern for His covenant people. Now, the story shifts to yet another encounter between Elisha and a woman in need. But this time, the woman isn’t even aware that she has a need.

For some unspecified reason, Elisha and his servant, Gehazi, made regular trips to the northern region of Israel that took them to the city of Shunem. In this city, Elisha made the acquaintance of a local woman who offered the prophet and his servant access to her home so they could rest. Realizing that Elisha was a prophet of Yahweh she showed him hospitality and even had her husband construct a room on the roof of their home where the two men could stay when they were in town.

Unlike the widow in the previous story, this woman was apparently wealthy and well-cared for. She had a husband and enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle. But she was also generous and willing to share what she had with others. The gracious hospitality she extended to the prophet of God reveals that, despite the apostasy all around her, she had maintained her dedication to Yahweh.

Desiring to thank the woman for her courtesy and care, Elisha sent his servant to ask what they could do for her. He wanted to repay her for her kindness. But it’s interesting to note that he offered to speak a good word on her behalf to the king or the commander of the army. Why would the prophet of Yahweh offer to act as an intermediary between this woman and these two apostate leaders of Israel? Perhaps it was a test, designed to see if the woman was a true follower of Yahweh. Would his offer of access to the king pique her interest and reveal a self-aggrandizing side to her personality? Or, instead, would she ask the prophet of God to appeal to Yahweh on her behalf?

But the woman simply responded, “I dwell among my own people” (2 Kings 4:13 ESV). This rather cryptic-sounding statement was her way of saying, “I’m just fine. I’m well-taken care of and in need of nothing.”

Yet, Elisha somehow senses that her answer was not quite honest. She was hiding something. And it was Gehazi who made the keen observation that she and her husband were childless. She had a husband and enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle, but she had no sons to carry on the family name. And Gehazi had recognized that her husband was advanced in years.

While the woman in the previous story had been without a husband, she had been blessed with two sons. But the Shunnamite woman had a husband but no children. For the moment, the woman had no perceived need, but the day was coming when her husband would die with no male heirs to whom he could leave his land and estate. In that culture, the inheritance could not be passed on to the wife. So, without a son, she would be left with nothing. She didn’t realize it, but her predicament was far more precarious than she imagined.

So, Elisha called the woman in and informed her, “Next year at this time you will be holding a son in your arms!” (2 Kings 4:16 NLT). Her reaction to this news reveals that she had long ago given up hope of ever having a son.

“No, my lord!” she cried. “O man of God, don’t deceive me and get my hopes up like that.” – 2 Kings 4:16 NLT

When Elisha had asked the woman what he could do for her, she had hidden the desire of her heart. She gave the impression that she had no need and was perfectly fine. But she had lied. Her heart longed for a son but she had become convinced that her dream would never become a reality. So, she lived with a constant fear of the future. What would happen to her when her husband died? How would she survive?

But, once again, Elisha, operating on behalf of Yahweh, spoke a word of blessing over the woman, predicting that she would give birth to a son. And his words proved true. God did a miracle and gave the woman the desire of her heart. She conceived and gave birth to a son. But the story doesn’t stop there.

In the space of just a few verses, the author reveals that the storybook ending was about to take a dark turn. This precious gift from God was going to be suddenly and unexpectedly taken away. One day, while visiting his father in the fields, the young boy complained of a headache. He was rushed home and, later that same day, he passed away in the arms of his mother. Every detail of this story makes the reader want to ask, “Why?” None of this makes sense. Why would God give this woman a son and then allow him to be taken away? What good did it do for her to give birth to a son if he would never live long enough to become the heir? The woman was no better off than before. If anything, her sorrow was only intensified by the loss of her long-awaited son.

But the actions of the woman reveal something about her faith. Upon her son’s death, she took the body and laid it on the prophet’s bed. Then she ordered her husband to saddle a donkey so she could fetch the prophet. At this point, it seems that the boy’s father was unaware that his son had died. For whatever reason, the woman chose to keep him in the dark, assuring him, “All is well” (2 Kings 4:23 ESV). Her son was dead but she still had hope. She knew that the very same man who had predicted the birth of her son would know what to do. This time, rather than hide her need, she sought the one who could do something about it. And she found Elisha at Mount Carmel, the site of Elijah’s victory over the prophets of Baal.

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 God-Ordained Victory

15 “But now bring me a musician.” And when the musician played, the hand of the Lord came upon him. 16 And he said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘I will make this dry streambed full of pools.’ 17 For thus says the Lord, ‘You shall not see wind or rain, but that streambed shall be filled with water, so that you shall drink, you, your livestock, and your animals.’ 18 This is a light thing in the sight of the Lord. He will also give the Moabites into your hand, 19 and you shall attack every fortified city and every choice city, and shall fell every good tree and stop up all springs of water and ruin every good piece of land with stones.” 20 The next morning, about the time of offering the sacrifice, behold, water came from the direction of Edom, till the country was filled with water.

21 When all the Moabites heard that the kings had come up to fight against them, all who were able to put on armor, from the youngest to the oldest, were called out and were drawn up at the border. 22 And when they rose early in the morning and the sun shone on the water, the Moabites saw the water opposite them as red as blood. 23 And they said, “This is blood; the kings have surely fought together and struck one another down. Now then, Moab, to the spoil!” 24 But when they came to the camp of Israel, the Israelites rose and struck the Moabites, till they fled before them. And they went forward, striking the Moabites as they went.  25 And they overthrew the cities, and on every good piece of land every man threw a stone until it was covered. They stopped every spring of water and felled all the good trees, till only its stones were left in Kir-hareseth, and the slingers surrounded and attacked it. 26 When the king of Moab saw that the battle was going against him, he took with him 700 swordsmen to break through, opposite the king of Edom, but they could not. 27 Then he took his oldest son who was to reign in his place and offered him for a burnt offering on the wall. And there came great wrath against Israel. And they withdrew from him and returned to their own land.  2 Kings 3:15-27 ESV

Verse 15 opens with the combined armies of Israel and Judah bogged down in the wilderness of Edom. Jehoram and Jehoshaphat had joined forces to attack the kingdom of Moab, but somewhere along the way, their campaign had come to an abrupt halt due to lack of water. There, in the desert-like conditions just south of the Dead Sea, they were forced to seek the aid of Elisha, the prophet of God. And while Elisha was reticent to assist the apostate king of Israel, he agreed to help because of his respect for Jehoshaphat. When Jehoram had taken stock of their precarious circumstance, he had panicked, declaring that Yahweh was out to destroy them. But Jehoshaphat, rather than assuming the worst, recommended that they seek a word from the prophet of God.

And, after having agreed to come to their aid, the first thing Elisha did was call for a musician. No explanation is given for this request, but it seems evident that the music was intended to create a soothing atmosphere, conducive to hearing from God. Much to Jehoram’s surprise, the message Elisha received from Yahweh was positive and not negative.

“This is what the Lord says: This dry valley will be filled with pools of water! You will see neither wind nor rain, says the Lord, but this valley will be filled with water. You will have plenty for yourselves and your cattle and other animals.” – 2 Kings 3:16-17 NLT

God was going to do a miracle. Elisha announced that God would fill the dry valley with water, but they would never see a cloud or watch a single raindrop fall from the sky. Where once there had been nothing but sand as far as the eye could see, there would be refreshing pools of water – enough to satisfy the thirst of every soldier, horse, and pack animal. But, according to Elisha, that would be nothing compared to the real miracle God was going to perform.

“But this is only a simple thing for the Lord, for he will make you victorious over the army of Moab! You will conquer the best of their towns, even the fortified ones. You will cut down all their good trees, stop up all their springs, and ruin all their good land with stones.” – 2 Kings 3:18-19 NLT

Turning a desert into a refreshing oasis filled with fresh drinking water was nothing for God. The real miracle would come in the form of His gracious intervention in the battle against the Moabites. He was going to turn their apparent failure into victory.

God had no love affair with the Moabites. They had been a constant problem for the people of Israel for centuries. And it had all begun when the Israelites were preparing to enter the land of Canaan. The king of Moab had watched as the Israelites had easily defeated the Ammonites, and he was afraid that they would face the same fate. So, he hired the services of Balaam, a local seer, providing him with instructions to curse the Israelites.

“Look, a vast horde of people has arrived from Egypt. They cover the face of the earth and are threatening me. Please come and curse these people for me because they are too powerful for me. Then perhaps I will be able to conquer them and drive them from the land. I know that blessings fall on any people you bless, and curses fall on people you curse.” – Numbers 22:5-6 NLT

But God repeatedly thwarted Balaam’s efforts to curse the people of Israel. So, Balaam ended up coming up with an alternative solution. He advised Balak, the king of Moab, to encourage his women to seduce the men of Israel. His ploy was to use intermarriage between the two nations to encourage an alliance. And, his strategy almost worked.

While the Israelites were camped at Acacia Grove, some of the men defiled themselves by having sexual relations with local Moabite women. These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites feasted with them and worshiped the gods of Moab. In this way, Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the Lord’s anger to blaze against his people. – Numbers 25:1-3 NLT

God ended up judging those Israelites who violated His prohibition against intermarrying with the pagan nations in Canaan. And He placed a permanent curse of the nation of Moab.

“No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants for ten generations may be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.As long as you live, you must never promote the welfare and prosperity of the Ammonites or Moabites.” – Deuteronomy 23:3, 6 NLT

Despite Jehoram’s apostasy and Jehoshaphat’s unwise alliance with this idolatrous king, God would provide them with a miraculous and decisive victory over the Moabites. He would snatch victory out of the hands of defeat and, in doing so, allow these two prideful and self-possessed kings to reap the reward they didn’t deserve.

The next morning, water began to flow into the camp. Somewhere, out of sight, rain was falling that turned into rivers of water that flowed all the way to the wilderness of Edom. The armies of Israel and Judah woke up to the sight of pools of freshwater as far as the eye could see. But the Moabites, who were encamped along their southern border, woke up to see what they believed to be pools of blood. They immediately assumed that the armies of Israel, Judah, and Edom had turned on one another and a blood bath had ensued. But when they went to investigate what had happened, rather than dead bodies, they encountered a well-rested and fully rejuvenated army. The battle quickly turned into a rout, with the armies of Israel, Judah, and Edom chasing “them into the land of Moab, destroying everything as they went. They destroyed the towns, covered their good land with stones, stopped up all the springs, and cut down all the good trees” (2 Kings 3:24-25 NLT).

In a last desperate attempt to turn the tide of the battle, the king of Moab took his son, the heir to his throne, and offered him up as a living sacrifice to his false god. And his costly offering seemed to have had its intended effect, providing the demoralized Moabite troops with the inspiration they needed to hold off the Israelites and their allies. The author simply states “there came great wrath against Israel” (2 Kings 3:27 ESV). Evidently, the Moabites rallied behind their king and were able to drive off the invaders.

God had put the Moabites in their place. What King Mesha had failed to realize was that, when he had dared to stand opposed to Jehoram, he had actually been picking a fight with God Almighty. And while God did not approve of Jehoram’s lifestyle or leadership as the king of Israel, God was going to defend His covenant people. This victory had clearly demonstrated God’s faithfulness and His unwavering commitment to defend His people, whether they deserved it or not.

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

God is the Ultimate Kingmaker

In the twenty-sixth year of Asa king of Judah, Elah the son of Baasha began to reign over Israel in Tirzah, and he reigned two years. But his servant Zimri, commander of half his chariots, conspired against him. When he was at Tirzah, drinking himself drunk in the house of Arza, who was over the household in Tirzah, 10 Zimri came in and struck him down and killed him, in the twenty-seventh year of Asa king of Judah, and reigned in his place.

11 When he began to reign, as soon as he had seated himself on his throne, he struck down all the house of Baasha. He did not leave him a single male of his relatives or his friends. 12 Thus Zimri destroyed all the house of Baasha, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke against Baasha by Jehu the prophet, 13 for all the sins of Baasha and the sins of Elah his son, which they sinned and which they made Israel to sin, provoking the Lord God of Israel to anger with their idols. 14 Now the rest of the acts of Elah and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? 1 Kings 16:8-14 ESV

Being the heir to a king in Israel could be a dangerous occupation, particularly if your father was under judgment from God. There was Nadab, the son of Jeroboam, who was assassinated in the second year of his reign. Baasha, his murderer, took his place on the throne of Israel. And Baasha secured his kingdom by having the entire extended family of Jeroboam executed. That way there would be no heirs to try and reclaim the throne.

Twenty-four years later, Baasha’s son, Elah ascended to the throne after his father’s death. But he too would enjoy a reign of only two years before being assassinated by Zimri, one of his own military officers. And Zimri also took drastic measures to protect his newfound power and position.

Zimri immediately killed the entire royal family of Baasha, leaving him not even a single male child. – 1 Kings 16:11 NLT

Both Jeroboam and Baasha were under the judgment of God. In Jeroboam’s case, God had placed his entire lineage under a curse because he had led the northern tribes of Israel to worship false gods.

“You have done more evil than all who lived before you. You have made other gods for yourself and have made me furious with your gold calves. And since you have turned your back on me, I will bring disaster on your dynasty and will destroy every one of your male descendants, slave and free alike, anywhere in Israel. I will burn up your royal dynasty as one burns up trash until it is all gone.” – 1 Kings 14:9-10 NLT

And though Baasha was not a descendant of Jeroboam, he would find himself under a similar curse because he had chosen to follow Jeroboam’s example.

“I lifted you out of the dust to make you ruler of my people Israel, but you have followed the evil example of Jeroboam. You have provoked my anger by causing my people Israel to sin. So now I will destroy you and your family, just as I destroyed the descendants of Jeroboam son of Nebat. The members of Baasha’s family who die in the city will be eaten by dogs, and those who die in the field will be eaten by vultures.” – 1 Kings 16:2-4 NLT

These two men had been elevated by God from obscurity to places of power and great influence. But rather than respond to God in gratitude and reverence, they let their success go to their heads. They lost sight of the fact that they had been placed on the throne by God and it was He who deserved their honor, worship, and faithfulness. It was the prophet, Daniel, who told King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, “Praise the name of God forever and ever, for he has all wisdom and power. He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings” (Daniel 2:20-21 NLT). And the psalmist, Asaph,  added, “it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another” (Psalm 75:7 ESV).

Power is intoxicating. It has a highly attractive quality to it that, once tasted, can become addictive and habit forming. As has been made abundantly clear, the position of king was highly coveted in Israel. Since Jeroboam, a relative nobody had been able to enjoy his 15-minutes of fame and fortune, everyone believed the position was open to anyone with enough drive and ambition to take it. Baasha had deemed himself a far better candidate than Nadab, so he took matters into his hands, eliminated the competition, and crowned himself king. But in doing so, he failed to realize that he was nothing more than an instrument in the hand of God. The Almighty had used him to bring judgment against the house of Jeroboam. And God would have used Baasha if he had recognized the hand of God in his life and given Him the glory and honor He so richly deserved. But Baasha became blinded by his own glory.

The history of the kings of Judah and Israel has come a long way since the day when Solomon asked God for “an understanding mind” (1 Kings 3:9 ESV). As the newly crowned king of the still united nation of Israel, Solomon was aware of his shortcomings. He knew he was young and ill-prepared to rule over the vast kingdom his father had built. And, faced with the formidable task of following in his father’s footsteps, Solomon had sought the assistance of God.

“I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around. And here I am in the midst of your own chosen people, a nation so great and numerous they cannot be counted! Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?” – 1 Kings 3:7-9 NLT

Notice that Solomon understood that the people of Israel were God’s chosen people, not his. He was simply a figurehead, serving on behalf of God and by the sovereign will of God. At this early stage of his reign, Solomon seems quite aware of his place on the depth chart. He has no delusions of grandeur or shows no signs of an overinflated sense of self-worth. He is humble, submissive, and fully aware of his need for God’s help. But over his four-decades-long reign, Solomon would grow increasingly more self-reliant and obsessed with the trappings of power and success. He began to seek fulfillment and satisfaction in all the wrong places and, ultimately, he was forced to confess that his quest had left him unfulfilled and dissatisfied.

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

In essence, Solomon had become an idol-factory. He manufactured all kinds of substitutes for God, hoping to discover meaning and purpose for his life. In the early days of his reign, he had turned to God. But as the years progressed, he began to seek help and hope in all the wrong places.

I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards. I made gardens and parks, filling them with all kinds of fruit trees. I built reservoirs to collect the water to irrigate my many flourishing groves. I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned large herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who had lived in Jerusalem before me. I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire! – Ecclesiastes 2:4-8 NLT

He had it all, but he had nothing. Surrounded by all the trappings of success, Solomon found himself empty and trapped in an existential maze with no hope of finding the exit. He was lost. Yet the answer to his problem was all around him. It was God who had given him wisdom and wealth. His fame and fortune were the handiwork of God. But Solomon had begun to read his own press clippings and assumed that his greatness was his own doing. He lost sight of God, and that ultimately led him to seek help from his menagerie of false gods. That decision would have long-lasting ramifications, resulting in the division of his kingdom and the rise of men like Rehoboam, Jeroboam, Nadab, Abijah, Baasha, and Zimri.

The pattern established by Solomon continued for generations to come. Each successive king seemed to lose sight of his calling and, in time, lost touch with his God. They each became guilty of making substitutes for God, a fact that the author 1 Kings makes painfully clear.

So Zimri destroyed the dynasty of Baasha as the Lord had promised through the prophet Jehu. This happened because of all the sins Baasha and his son Elah had committed, and because of the sins they led Israel to commit. They provoked the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, with their worthless idols. – 1 Kings 16:12-13 NLT

Late in his life, long after his meaningless quest for significance had left him empty-handed, Solomon came to a painful, yet important epiphany.

Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God. For who can eat or enjoy anything apart from him? God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy to those who please him. But if a sinner becomes wealthy, God takes the wealth away and gives it to those who please him. This, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind. – Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 NLT

He had allowed God to become obscured by the pleasures and trappings of success. He had spent his entire life pursuing wealth, treasures, fame, and influence. But in doing so, he had turned His back on the very one who had made it all possible. It was God who had placed Solomon on the throne. It was God who had blessed Solomon with wisdom and wealth. And it was God who would take it all away and give it to someone else. Now, years later, the pattern continues to repeat itself, providing further proof of the validity of Asaph’s words: “it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.”

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