False Gods = False Hope

1 When Ephraim spoke, there was trembling;
    he was exalted in Israel,
    but he incurred guilt through Baal and died.
And now they sin more and more,
    and make for themselves metal images,
idols skillfully made of their silver,
    all of them the work of craftsmen.
It is said of them,
    “Those who offer human sacrifice kiss calves!”
Therefore they shall be like the morning mist
    or like the dew that goes early away,
like the chaff that swirls from the threshing floor
    or like smoke from a window.
– Hosea 13:1-3 ESV

Hosea continues to give the tribe of Ephraim a special designation as the premier tribe among the other nine that made up the northern kingdom of Judah. And this was appropriate considering the words of Jacob, spoken when he had blessed his two grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons of Joseph.

“Manasseh will also become a great people, but his younger brother will become even greater. And his descendants will become a multitude of nations.”

So Jacob blessed the boys that day with this blessing: “The people of Israel will use your names when they give a blessing. They will say, ‘May God make you as prosperous as Ephraim and Manasseh.’” In this way, Jacob put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh. – Genesis 48:19-20 NLT

The tribe of Ephraim was the largest of the tribes within the northern kingdom and it played a significant leadership role within the nation. In fact, the very first king who ruled over the northern kingdom of Israel had been Jeroboam, a member of the tribe of Ephraim (1 King 11:26). And it was Jeroboam who, after being given the responsibility by God to rule over the ten northern tribes, had made the fateful decision to create his own gods and religion. He had created two golden calf idols and decreed them to be the gods of Israel, even setting up temples for their worship in Dan and Bethel.

So on the advice of his counselors, the king made two gold calves. He said to the people, “It is too much trouble for you to worship in Jerusalem. Look, Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!”

He placed these calf idols in Bethel and in Dan—at either end of his kingdom. But this became a great sin, for the people worshiped the idols, traveling as far north as Dan to worship the one there. – 1 Kings 12:28-30 NLT

The ten northern tribes had not gotten off to a great start, and their downward spiritual trajectory never fully recovered. Jeroboam had created a fertile environment in which apostasy and idolatry could grow, and his successors continued to lead the people away from worshiping Yahweh as the one true God. Eventually, this led to the worship of Baal, the god of the Canaanites. And Jezebel, the wife of Ahab, one of Israel’s future kings, would aggressively promote Baal as the primary god of the northern kingdom.

Ahab son of Omri did what was evil in the LORD’s sight, even more than any of the kings before him. And as though it were not enough to follow the sinful example of Jeroboam, he married Jezebel, the daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians, and he began to bow down in worship of Baal. First Ahab built a temple and an altar for Baal in Samaria. Then he set up an Asherah pole. He did more to provoke the anger of the LORD, the God of Israel, than any of the other kings of Israel before him. – 1 Kings 16:30-33 NLT

It should not be surprising to learn that Ahab was also a member of the tribe of Ephraim.

The seventh king of Israel, Ahab (reigned c. 874–c. 853 bc), was also an Ephraimite. His generally peaceful reign was marred by the worship of the Canaanite god Baal by his wife, Jezebel. From about 745 bc, the northern kingdom was often referred to as the Kingdom of Ephraim, a reflection of the tribe’s importance. – Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Ephraim”. Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Ephraim-Jewish-tribe. Accessed 19 June 2021.

So, Hosea’s calling out of this particular tribe was well deserved. They had played a major role in Israel’s spiritual decline and would be held responsible.

the people of Ephraim sinned by worshiping Baal
    and thus sealed their destruction. – Hosea 13:1 NLT

They used their access to the throne to promote idolatry and, in doing so, led the people of Israel to forsake God. And according to Hosea, this one tribe encouraged a spirit of unfaithfulness among the other nine tribes.

Now they continue to sin by making silver idols,
    images shaped skillfully with human hands. – Hosea 13:2 NLT

The practice of idolatry became prolific and profitable. The making of idols became a cottage industry, providing a lucrative business opportunity for many in Israel. And it wasn’t long before the Israelites added a host of new gods to their growing pantheon of false gods. One could find shrines, altars, and high places dedicated to these deities all over the kingdom of Israel. And each was served by its own priests and warranted its own set of rules and rituals to regulate proper worship and to ensure its adherents received a favorable response.

But in order to worship these false gods, the Israelites had to turn their backs on the one true God. In bowing down before the idols they had made with their own hands, they were abandoning their hope and trust in Yahweh. They were seeking help from pieces of stone and metal that were incapable of hearing or responding to their requests. And the prophet Isaiah recorded God’s sarcastic assessment of idolatry’s absurdity.

You are my witnesses—is there any other God?
    No! There is no other Rock—not one!”

How foolish are those who manufacture idols.
    These prized objects are really worthless.
The people who worship idols don’t know this,
    so they are all put to shame.
Who but a fool would make his own god—
    an idol that cannot help him one bit?
All who worship idols will be disgraced
    along with all these craftsmen—mere humans—
    who claim they can make a god.
They may all stand together,
    but they will stand in terror and shame. – Isaiah 20:8-11 NLT

Later on, in Isaiah’s book, there is another unflattering statement by God that reflects the sheer stupidity behind the practice of idolatry. Yahweh paints a ridiculous-looking portrait of a craftsman cutting down a tree and going through the process of creating his god.

…he uses part of the wood to make a fire.
    With it he warms himself and bakes his bread.
Then—yes, it’s true—he takes the rest of it
    and makes himself a god to worship!
He makes an idol
    and bows down in front of it!
He burns part of the tree to roast his meat
    and to keep himself warm.
    He says, “Ah, that fire feels good.”
Then he takes what’s left
    and makes his god: a carved idol!
He falls down in front of it,
    worshiping and praying to it.
“Rescue me!” he says.
    “You are my god!” – Isaiah 44:15-17 NLT

And the prophet Jeremiah provides yet another one of God’s stinging indictments against the absurd practice of idolatry.

“Their ways are futile and foolish.
    They cut down a tree, and a craftsman carves an idol.
They decorate it with gold and silver
    and then fasten it securely with hammer and nails
    so it won’t fall over.
Their gods are like
    helpless scarecrows in a cucumber field!
They cannot speak,
    and they need to be carried because they cannot walk.
Do not be afraid of such gods,
    for they can neither harm you nor do you any good.” – Jeremiah 10:3-5 NLT

But while these false gods can do neither harm nor good, Yahweh can. And Hosea points out the unsettling fact that all those who choose to worship other gods will be judged by the one true God.

Therefore, they will disappear like the morning mist,
    like dew in the morning sun,
like chaff blown by the wind,
    like smoke from a chimney. – Hosea 13:3 NLT

They were about to learn a painful but invaluable lesson. When the wrath of Yahweh fell, their false gods would be proven helpless and defenseless. Their sacrifices would accomplish nothing. Their cries for deliverance would go unheard and unanswered. While Yahweh was a “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1 ESV), their false gods would be exposed as worthless and, ultimately, totally unreliable.

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 Tale Told By An Idiot

1 Set the trumpet to your lips!
    One like a vulture is over the house of the Lord,
because they have transgressed my covenant
    and rebelled against my law.
To me they cry,
    “My God, we—Israel—know you.”
Israel has spurned the good;
    the enemy shall pursue him.

They made kings, but not through me.
    They set up princes, but I knew it not.
With their silver and gold they made idols
    for their own destruction.
I have spurned your calf, O Samaria.
    My anger burns against them.
How long will they be incapable of innocence?
For it is from Israel;
a craftsman made it;
    it is not God.
The calf of Samaria
    shall be broken to pieces.

For they sow the wind,
    and they shall reap the whirlwind.
The standing grain has no heads;
    it shall yield no flour;
if it were to yield,
    strangers would devour it. Hosea 8:1-7 ESV

Israel’s repeated decisions to engage in treaties and alliances with foreign powers produced little more than moral compromise and further idolatry. These agreements provided Israel with a false sense of security that resulted in no real protection from its enemies. If anything, these ill-advised partnerships made Israel weaker by encouraging trust and dependence on something other than Yahweh. These countries offered the promise of assistance in times of trouble but, when the time came, they would always prove unreliable and untrustworthy. They were fairweather friends who profited from their relationship with Israel but had no intentions of putting their own well-being at risk. Like Hosea’s adulterous wife, these nations were prone to sell themselves to the highest bidder, constantly jumping from one relationship to another if it promised to be more profitable.

But Israel continued to place their trust in these unreliable suitors, even choosing to adopt their false gods as their own. And, in chapter eight, God turns His attention to Israel’s ever-present proclivity for idolatry. He commands Hosea to blow the trumpet, signaling the imminent arrival of God’s judgment. The enemy was at the gate. The end was near.

“Sound the alarm!
    The enemy descends like an eagle on the people of the Lord,
for they have broken my covenant
    and revolted against my law. – Hosea 8:1 NLT

These words are reminiscent of those spoken by Moses to the people of Israel as they prepared to enter the land of promise generations earlier. In his last speech to the nation,  Moses warned them to keep their covenant agreement with God and to obey His law. Their successful conquest and settlement of the land of Canaan would be dependent upon their faithful adherence to covenant and Mosaic law. And Moses assured them that obedience would result in the blessings of God.

…if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. – Deuteronomy 28:1 ESV

But he also warned them that if they chose to disobey, they would suffer the consequences.

The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand, a hard-faced nation who shall not respect the old or show mercy to the young. It shall eat the offspring of your cattle and the fruit of your ground, until you are destroyed; it also shall not leave you grain, wine, or oil, the increase of your herds or the young of your flock, until they have caused you to perish. – Deuteronomy 28:49-51 ESV

Now, the time had come. The eagle was preparing to swoop down on the unsuspecting and defenseless sheep of God’s flock. Israel was about to learn the very painful lesson that God keeps His word. He always does what He says He will do. Unlike Israel’s fickle and unreliable allies, God always followed through on His covenant commitments. And He had clearly articulated what He would do if Israel obeyed and if they chose to disobey.

If you obey the commands of the Lord your God and walk in his ways, the Lord will establish you as his holy people as he swore he would do. Then all the nations of the world will see that you are a people claimed by the Lord, and they will stand in awe of you.” – Deuteronomy 28:8-10 NLT

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. You will be left hungry, thirsty, naked, and lacking in everything. The Lord will put an iron yoke on your neck, oppressing you harshly until he has destroyed you.” – Deuteronomy 28:47-48 NLT

And God knew that, when the trumpet blew and the eagle flew, the people would have a sudden change of heart and begin to call on Him for aid and assistance. Their collective memory would be jogged and they would remember that salvation belongs to the Lord.

“Help us, for you are our God!” – Hosea 8:2 NLT

But it would be too late. They had made habit of rejecting the good things of God, including His covenant and His law. Now, they were going to have to pay for it. The enemy was going to hunt them down, like an eagle chasing its prey. They would run but they would find no place of shelter. They would enjoy no rescue at the hands of their allies. They would experience no miracle of redemption from their false gods. And while they would call out to Yahweh in one last-ditch effort to escape annihilation, their prayers would go unanswered.

And God makes it clear why He will refuse to rescue His people.

“The people have appointed kings without my consent,
    and princes without my approval.
By making idols for themselves from their silver and gold,
    they have brought about their own destruction.” – Hosea 8:4 NLT

They had lived their entire lives as if God was nonexistent. They conducted their civic and sacred lives without giving Yahweh a second thought. The God of Israel had become persona non grata in Israel. So, now they were going to experience what it would be like when the tables were turned – when God refused to acknowledge their existence. They were going to have to rely on the gods they had made with their own hands. They were going to have to trust in the nations with whom they had made their ill-fated treaties. In essence, God was saying, “You’ve made your bed, now lie on it.”

It’s interesting to note that God states His official rejection of the “calf” that Jeroboam had constructed years earlier. When God had split Solomon’s kingdom in two and created the northern kingdom of Israel, its newly appointed king, Jeroboam, had made the ill-advised decision to create his own religion, complete with false gods.

…the king made two gold calves. He said to the people, “It is too much trouble for you to worship in Jerusalem. Look, Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!”

He placed these calf idols in Bethel and in Dan—at either end of his kingdom. But this became a great sin, for the people worshiped the idols, traveling as far north as Dan to worship the one there. – 1 Kings 12:28-30 NLT

But why is God choosing to declare His rejection of that idol right now? What took Him so long? It seems quite obvious that God had always disapproved of Jeroboam’s idols but now the time had come to demonstrate the depth of His anger and resentment. He had allowed them to continue to worship their man-made gods for years but now He was going to officially demonstrate His displeasure and disapproval by destroying the nation and its false gods. He had given them ample opportunity to return to Him but they had refused. So, it was time to act.

“They have planted the wind
    and will harvest the whirlwind.” – Hosea 8:7 NLT

This somewhat enigmatic phrase has a rather simple meaning. It follows the idea behind the old adage: You reap what you sow. If a farmer sows grains of wheat, he expects to harvest more wheat in return. But God states that the Israelites had made the decision to sow something of no relative value: Wind. They should have known better. If you sow the wind, you should expect to get more wind in return. Their lives had been marked by futility and vanity. They had pursued worthless objectives and now they were going to reap what they sowed. It is all reminiscent of a statement made by Shakespeare’s character, Macbeth. As he considered the recent death of his wife and the downward trajectory of his life, Macbeth reached the sad conclusion that it had all been nothing more than “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

And Israel was about to learn that, while they had been busy sowing the wind, they had failed to plant what was profitable and necessary for their survival. They had not sown faithfulness and obedience. So, they would not reap redemption and restoration. And they would soon discover that the truth behind Macbeth’s words.

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 Blind Leading the Blind

Yet let no one contend,
    and let none accuse,
    for with you is my contention, O priest.
You shall stumble by day;
    the prophet also shall stumble with you by night;
    and I will destroy your mother.
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;
    because you have rejected knowledge,
    I reject you from being a priest to me.
And since you have forgotten the law of your God,
    I also will forget your children.

The more they increased,
    the more they sinned against me;
    I will change their glory into shame.
They feed on the sin of my people;
    they are greedy for their iniquity.
And it shall be like people, like priest;
    I will punish them for their ways
    and repay them for their deeds.
10 They shall eat, but not be satisfied;
    they shall play the whore, but not multiply,
because they have forsaken the Lord
    to cherish 11 whoredom, wine, and new wine,
    which take away the understanding. Hosea 4:4-11 ESV

When the northern kingdom of Israel was formed, shortly after God had split Solomon’s kingdom in two, Jeroboam, the newly appointed king of Israel, made the fateful decision to create his own religion. He ordered the creation of two idols made to resemble a calf and set up shrines and temples dedicated to their worship in the towns of Dan and Bethel. And to assist his people in their worship of their new gods, Jeroboam created his own priesthood, sacrificial system, and calendar of annual religious festivals. All of this was intended to keep the people of Israel from returning to Jerusalem and worshiping Yahweh.

Now, God focuses His anger on these false priests, charging them for their complicity in the spiritual decline of the nation. While everyone else would be casting blame and pointing the finger of accusation against one another, God made it clear that He was holding these pseudo-spiritual leaders responsible for the sorry state of affairs in Israel.

Don’t point your finger at someone else
    and try to pass the blame!
My complaint, you priests,
    is with you. – Hosea 4:4 NLT

None of these were qualified to be priests in Israel, because they did not meet the requirements established by God.

Jeroboam … ordained priests from the common people—those who were not from the priestly tribe of Levi. – 1 Kings 12:31 NLT

God had ordained that every man who served as a priest over Israel was to be from the tribe of Levi. God had established the Levitical priesthood with His appointment of Aaron, the older brother of Moses, as the first high priest (Exodus 28:1–3). Aaron’s sons served alongside him as the priests in Israel during the 40 years they were in the wilderness. But their priestly role was carried on by their descendants, long after the Israelites settled in the land of Canaan. After Solomon completed the construction of the temple in Jerusalem, he relocated the Ark of the Covenant from the tabernacle to the new holy of holies. And with it came the entire sacrificial system established by God, overseen by the Levitical priesthood.

But the priests Jeroboam had set up in Israel were not Levites. Not only that, they did not worship and offer sacrifices to Yahweh. In God’s eyes, they were nothing more than fake priests worshiping false gods and leading the people of Israel to commit spiritual adultery. God warns these men that they will regret the role they have played in Israel’s downfall.

“So you will stumble in broad daylight,
    and your false prophets will fall with you in the night.” – Hosea 4:5 NLT

They, along with the equally guilty false prophets, would pay dearly for their sins. They would become like blind men stumbling around in the daylight. Once revered for their spiritual insight, they would find themselves living in a world of spiritual darkness, incapable of seeing or understanding anything. Their companions, the false prophets, who had set themselves up as the spokesmen for their false gods, would be equally inept and incapacitated. Rather than their nights being filled with dreams and visions from their false gods, these men would simply stumble around in spiritual blindness. And Jesus leveled a similarly stinging rebuke to the religious leaders of His day.

“They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch.” – Matthew 15:14 NLT

The priests and prophets of Israel did not represent God because they had not been sent by God. And these men were guilty of placing more emphasis and importance on the nation of Israel than they did on the God of Israel. Hosea refers to Israel as “your mother,” a direct reference to a statement by God in chapter 2.

“But now bring charges against Israel—your mother—
    for she is no longer my wife,
    and I am no longer her husband. – Hosea 2:2 NLT

The religious leaders of Israel had led the people to believe that the nation (their mother) was all that was important. The significance of their identity was to be found in their existence as a nation. But they failed to recognize and remember that they been created by God for His glory. It was God who had made of them a great nation, in fulfillment of His promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3). Yet, these false priests had promoted a form of nationalism that replaced the sovereignty of God with the sanctity of the state. Yet, God told them, “I will destroy Israel, your mother” (Hosea 4:5 NLT). 

The bottom line was that the entire nation had forgotten and, as a result, had forsaken God. They no longer recognized Him as their God. In fact, they had no knowledge of God because the priests and prophets of Israel were too busy promoting the worship of false gods. True priests were supposed to acts as mediators between God and the people. They were to offer sacrifices to God on behalf of the people and administer His atonement and forgiveness in exchange. But these men had been too busy offering sacrifices to non-existent gods that were powerless to provide forgiveness for sin or protection from God’s pending judgment.

God makes it clear that He is holding these false priests and prophets responsible. They will be held accountable for the destruction of the nation.

“My people are being destroyed
    because they don’t know me.
Since you priests refuse to know me,
    I refuse to recognize you as my priests.” – Hosea 4:6 NLT

The reason the people were ignorant of God was that the priests and prophets had no relationship with Him. Of all people, they should have recognized that their idols were nothing more than figments of their own feeble imaginations. They knew their gods were lifeless and powerless. They were fully aware that their prayers and religious rituals produced no tangible results because the gods to whom they prayed and offered sacrifices were statues made by human hands. But they willingly kept up the charade because they enjoyed the power and prestige that came with their roles as priests and prophets.

When King Jeroboam had established his false religion and set up his counterfeit priesthood, it had all been intended to mirror the system originally ordained by God. There were temples, altars, sacrifices, festivals, feasts, and priests. But what was missing was God Almighty. They had all the trappings of a religious system but had neglected to include the one thing that could set them apart from all the other pagan religions in the world: The worship of Yahweh.

God cannot be replicated or replaced. And yet, that was exactly what they had tried to do.

“They have exchanged the glory of God
    for the shame of idols.” – Hosea 4:7 NLT

When you take God out of religion, all you are left with is a man-centered set of rituals that end up benefiting no one but those in charge. And that is exactly the accusation God levels against the priests of Israel.

“When the people bring their sin offerings, the priests get fed.
    So the priests are glad when the people sin! – Hosea 4:8 NLT

Guilty people need forgiveness. Forgiveness requires sacrifice. Sacrifice involves the offering of lambs and bulls. And the priests get to eat was leftover. But because the sacrifices were being offered to false gods, the only ones benefiting from the entire process were the priests. They got fat and happy while they allowed the people to live under the false delusion that their sins had been forgiven.

And these men who should have been setting an example of righteous living were actually encouraging a lifestyle of immorality and spiritual infidelity. They used the sacrificial system like a get-out-of-jail-free card. Any sin could be atoned for by offering sacrifices. And this cavalier attitude toward sin fostered a sense of complacency among the people that led to an increase in transgressions and an intensification of God’s condemnation. And the priests led the way.

“…what the priests do, the people also do.” – Hosea 4:9 NLT

And God lets them know that everyone will end up paying for their sins.

“So now I will punish both priests and people
    for their wicked deeds.” – Hosea 4:9 NLT

All their sacrifices and prayers will do them no good because “they have deserted the Lord to worship other gods” (Hosea 4:11 NLT). Priests, prophets, princes, and paupers will all pay the same price. Each will suffer the consequences for their abandonment of God. But God will hold the religious leaders to a higher standard and place on them a greater burden of guilt because they should have known better. 

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

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

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

When the Light Goes Out

Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Israel,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they sell the righteous for silver,
    and the needy for a pair of sandals—
those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth
    and turn aside the way of the afflicted;
a man and his father go in to the same girl,
    so that my holy name is profaned;
they lay themselves down beside every altar
    on garments taken in pledge,
and in the house of their God they drink
    the wine of those who have been fined. Amos 2:6-8 ESV

God saves His longest and most detailed declaration of condemnation and judgment for the northern kingdom of Israel. It had been God who divided the kingdom of Solomon in half, allowing the ten northern tribes to secede under the leadership of Jeroboam. But it had been the newly crowned Jeroboam who had immediately led the people into apostasy and open rebellion against God Himself. Not long after the northern tribes had split away from Judah, Jeroboam had come up with a plan to consolidate and conserve his new leadership role. His control over the ten tribes was tenuous at best and highly vulnerable to failure. And he knew that the presence of the temple in Jerusalem would provide King Rehoboam with a strong advantage. The ten northern tribes would feel a constant obligation to return to the capital city of Judah for the annual feasts and festivals commanded by God. And this prospect concerned him greatly.

“Unless I am careful, the kingdom will return to the dynasty of David. When these people go to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the Temple of the Lord, they will again give their allegiance to King Rehoboam of Judah. They will kill me and make him their king instead.” – 1 Kings 12:26-27 NLT

Driven by fear and motivated by self-preservation, Jeroboam came up with a plan to deal with this potential problem.

So on the advice of his counselors, the king made two gold calves. He said to the people, “It is too much trouble for you to worship in Jerusalem. Look, Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!”

He placed these calf idols in Bethel and in Dan—at either end of his kingdom. But this became a great sin, for the people worshiped the idols, traveling as far north as Dan to worship the one there. – 1 Kings 12:28-30 NLT

Jeroboam created his own religion, complete with false gods, a priestly cast, and places of worship. He even decreed an annual festival to compete with the Feast of Booths, ensuring that his constituents no longer had to make the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Jeroboam laid the foundation on which the future kings of Israel built their apostate dynasties. And God would hold Jeroboam personally responsible for his role in Israel’s spiritual rebellion.

“I promoted you from the ranks of the common people and made you ruler over my people Israel. I ripped the kingdom away from the family of David and gave it to you. But you have not been like my servant David, who obeyed my commands and followed me with all his heart and always did whatever I wanted. 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. The members of Jeroboam’s family who die in the city will be eaten by dogs, and those who die in the field will be eaten by vultures. I, the Lord, have spoken.” – 1 Kings 14:7-11 NLT

And God would fulfill this promise within one generation. Jeroboam’s son, Nadab, inherited the throne but only lasted two years. He was assassinated by Baasha, who then declared himself the new king of Israel. And to secure his hold on the crown, Baasha exterminated Jeroboam’s entire family.

He immediately slaughtered all the descendants of King Jeroboam, so that not one of the royal family was left, just as the Lord had promised concerning Jeroboam by the prophet Ahijah from Shiloh. This was done because Jeroboam had provoked the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, by the sins he had committed and the sins he had led Israel to commit. – 1 Kings 15:29-30 NLT

But Israel’s new king proved to be just as bad as the old one. Baasha “did what was evil in the Lord’s sight and followed the example of Jeroboam, continuing the sins that Jeroboam had led Israel to commit” (1 Kings 15:34 NLT). And that pattern would continue, year after year, dynasty after dynasty. A long line of kings would come and go, but the hearts of the people would remain stubbornly committed in their rejection of God. The prophet, Hosea, would record the words of God declaring His displeasure with His chosen people.

“Wine has robbed my people
    of their understanding.
They ask a piece of wood for advice!
    They think a stick can tell them the future!
Longing after idols
    has made them foolish.
They have played the prostitute,
    serving other gods and deserting their God.” – Hosea 4:11-12 NLT

And their love affair with idolatry had eventually led them to commit gross acts of immorality, prompting God to declare them as an abomination in His eyes. 

“But then they deserted me for Baal-peor,
    giving themselves to that shameful idol.
Soon they became vile,
    as vile as the god they worshiped.” – Hosea 9:10 NLT

The Hebrew word that is translated as “vile” in this verse was usually associated with an actual idol. God considered these man-made gods to be detestable because they were intended to be substitutes for Him. Men that God had given life had turned around and manufactured these mindless and lifeless pieces of stone, wood, and precious metal as His replacements. And, in doing so, the chosen people of God became as detestable and abominable in His eyes as the gods they had made. But unlike their lifeless idols, the Israelites were fully capable of committing egregious acts of immorality. According to Hosea, the people of Israel were guilty of a wide range of sins against God and one another.

“There is no faithfulness, no kindness,
    no knowledge of God in your land.
You make vows and break them;
    you kill and steal and commit adultery.
There is violence everywhere—
    one murder after another.” – Hosea 4:1-2 NLT

And Amos discloses that the ten northern tribes had managed to violate every single one of God’s holy commandments. Because they had no love for God, they had no capacity to show love and respect for one another.

They sold the innocent for silver,
the needy for a pair of sandals.
They trample on the dirt-covered heads of the poor;
they push the destitute away.
A man and his father go to the same girl;
in this way they show disrespect for my moral purity. – Amos 2:6-7 NLT

They were not only immoral, but they were also unjust. Their failure to love and honor God by keeping His holy commands resulted in an inability to care for one another. Centuries earlier, Moses had told the people of Israel, “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4 NLT). But God expected their love for Him to show up in the way that they loved one another. So, when Jesus was asked by the Pharisees to name the greatest commandment in the Law of Moses, He responded, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40 NLT).

Bu the people of Israel were guilty of abandoning God and abusing one another. They had actually made themselves gods, practicing a brand of religion that was motivated by an unhealthy obsession with self and a disdain for others. Ignoring all of God’s commands regarding the just and holy treatment of their neighbor, the Israelites practiced a form of injustice that was unheard of even among the pagan nations surrounding them.

They stretch out on clothing seized as collateral;
they do so right beside every altar!
They drink wine bought with the fines they have levied;
they do so right in the temple of their God! – Amos 2:8 NLT

The Israelites were to have been a light to the nations, illustrating the way in which the just and holy laws of God could produce a community of loving and compassionate people whose lives were dedicated to honoring Him and caring for one another. But they had failed miserably. The spiritual light had gone out in Israel. They were living in the darkness of sin, the blind leading the blind, and their pervasive pride kept them from recognizing their sorrow state and returning to God in repentance.

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, as Amos will point out, they had forgotten all that God had done for them. Enjoying the recent signs of success made possible by the leadership of Jeroboam II, the people of Israel had grown content, cocky, and spiritually complacent. Like the church of Laodicea in the book of Revelation, the people of Israel were blissfully ignorant of their true condition. They were boastfully declaring, “I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing” and yet, they were actually “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17 NLT). And their over-confidence would bring down the judgment 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

A Divine Word Against Lip-Service

Thus says the Lord:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not An Easy Job

1 The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.Amos 1:1 ESV

Amos describes himself as a shepherd from Tekoa, a city located 10 miles south of Jerusalem in the southern kingdom of Judah. And later on in his book, he elaborates on his background by adding a few additional facts: “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. But the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’” (Amos 7:14-15 ESV). Amos’ somewhat adamant-sounding statement, “I was no prophet” may seem strange, considering the fact that he admits that he was called by God to prophesy to the northern kingdom of Israel.

But Amos was only trying to make the point that he had not always been a prophet. For most of his adult life, Amos had been a herdsman (bôqēr), a Hebrew term that was often translated as “shepherd.” Over the centuries, biblical scholars have speculated that Amos was actually far more than a lowly shepherd. In the opening verse of his book, he refers to himself as a being “among the shepherds of Tekoa.” The term he uses there is nōqēḏ, which can be translated as sheep-raiser or sheep-dealer. It is the same term used in 2 Kings to describe the king of Moab.

Now Mesha king of Moab was a sheep breeder (nōqēḏ), and he had to deliver to the king of Israel 100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams. – 2 Kings 3:4 ESV

Either Amos worked as a shepherd-for-hire, contracting himself out to the sheep breeders of Tekoa, or he was one of them. When he refers to himself as a “dresser of sycamore figs,” he seems to be describing the process of “gathering” (bālas) the fruit of the tree. This involved the scoring or cutting of the skin of the fruit so that it would ripen. So, it could be that Amos was nothing more than a seasonal day-laborer, who made his living by hiring himself out as a shepherd or field hand.

But regardless of whether Amos was a wealthy sheep breeder or a lowly sheepherder, he found himself going through a mid-life career change that was divinely ordained. Amos was called by God to leave behind the figs and flocks and begin his new life as a prophet. And whether Amos was rich or poor, highly successful or barely making ends meet, this would have been a significant change in his career trajectory.

A prophet (nāḇî’) was considered to be an “inspired man” – a divinely commissioned spokesman who operated under the influence of the Spirit. The Hebrew word actually means “to bubble forth, as from a fountain.” A prophet of God was divinely inspired to speak on behalf of God. And that is exactly what God had commissioned Amos to do.

“Go, prophesy to my people Israel…” – Amos 7:15 ESV

What is interesting is that Amos, a citizen of the southern kingdom of Judah, was being called to go as a prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel. Ever since the end of King Solomon’s reign, the nation of Israel had been divided into two kingdoms. The northern kingdom was comprised of ten of the original 12 tribes of Israel. Samaria was its capital and Jeroboam II was its king at the time Amos was called. The southern kingdom was made up of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and their king was Uzziah, who ruled from the throne of David in Jerusalem.

It is important to note that this division of the kingdom of Israel had come about because of Solomon’s disobedience and unfaithfulness. As the son of David, Solomon had inherited a powerful kingdom that was marked by peace and prosperity. And while Solomon had been gifted by God with great wisdom, he ended up amassing a harem of 700 wives and 300 concubines. And the author of the book of 1 Kings makes it clear that Solomon’s actions were far from acceptable to God.

King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” – 1 Kings 11:1-2 ESV

Solomon allowed his love of women to diminish his love for God. In order to appease his many foreign wives, he allowed them to worship their foreign gods. But eventually, he became influenced by their idolatry and began to promote the worship of false gods within the land of Israel.

…when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. – 1 Kings 11:4-6 ESV

As a result, God determined to punish Solomon for his unfaithfulness by splitting his kingdom in half. Solomon would be allowed to finish out his reign, but his son would inherit a kingdom much diminished in power, size, and influence.

“Since this has been your practice and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant.” – 1 Kings 11:11 ESV

By the time Amos comes along, the two kingdoms have co-existed for hundreds of years, but their relationship was strained and marked by constant conflict. From its inception, the northern kingdom of Israel had been plagued by idolatry and apostasy. Its very first king, Jeroboam I, had commissioned the creation of two golden calf idols, placing one in Dan and the other in Bethel. Then he instructed the people of Israel:

“You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” – 1 Kings 12:28 ESV

From that point forward, the people of the northern kingdom of Israel were effectively “paganized.” They no longer kept the Law of God or made the annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem to celebrate the prescribed feasts and festivals. Instead, they made their way to their own sacred sites to worship their own man-made gods. And Amos will declare God’s dissatisfaction with them.

“Come to Bethel, and transgress;
    to Gilgal, and multiply transgression;
bring your sacrifices every morning,
    your tithes every three days;
offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened,
    and proclaim freewill offerings, publish them;
    for so you love to do, O people of Israel!”
declares the Lord God. – Amos 4:4-5 ESV

And God will use Amos to call the rebellious people of Israel to repent.

For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel:

“Seek me and live;
   but do not seek Bethel,
and do not enter into Gilgal
    or cross over to Beersheba;
for Gilgal shall surely go into exile,
    and Bethel shall come to nothing.” – Amos 5:4-5 ESV

And Amos, the newly appointed prophet, will begin his career by calling his northern neighbors to give up their idolatrous ways and return to the worship of Yahweh.

Seek good, and not evil,
    that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
    as you have said.
Hate evil, and love good,
    and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
   will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. – Amos 5:14-15 ESV

But Amos will find his new job to be much more difficult than tending sheep or dressing figs. He will quickly discover the obstinance of the people of Israel and, eventually, he will be required to deliver a sobering message to their king, Jeroboam II.

“‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword,
    and Israel must go into exile
    away from his land.’” – Amos 7:11 ESV

Just imagine the change that took place in Amos’ life as a result of God’s call. His world was turned upside down. He went from herding sheep to haranguing kings. Rather than scoring figs so that they might ripen, he was now excoriating the faithless so they might repent. Amos would quickly learn that being a prophet was a far-from-glamorous job that required great commitment and total reliance upon God. Despite the divine origin of his message, he would find his audience unreceptive and his presence unwelcome. He spoke on behalf of God but was treated as a pariah by the people of God. They didn’t want what he was selling, and they will repeatedly reject the God he was representing.

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

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

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

Things That Were Not Right

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

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

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

14 But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the Lord their God. 15 They despised his statutes and his covenant that he made with their fathers and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false idols and became false, and they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the Lord had commanded them that they should not do like them. 16 And they abandoned all the commandments of the Lord their God, and made for themselves metal images of two calves; and they made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal. 17 And they burned their sons and their daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger. 18 Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight. None was left but the tribe of Judah only. 2 Kings 17:1-18 ESV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They built pagan shrines for themselves – vs 9

They set up sacred pillars and Asherah poles – vs 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

So, He Saved Them

23 In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash, king of Judah, Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, began to reign in Samaria, and he reigned forty-one years. 24 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin. 25 He restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher. 26 For the Lord saw that the affliction of Israel was very bitter, for there was none left, bond or free, and there was none to help Israel. 27 But the Lord had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, so he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash.

28 Now the rest of the acts of Jeroboam and all that he did, and his might, how he fought, and how he restored Damascus and Hamath to Judah in Israel, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? 29 And Jeroboam slept with his fathers, the kings of Israel, and Zechariah his son reigned in his place. 2 Kings 14:23-29 ESV

Sometime during the reign of King Jehoash of Judah, the other King Jehoash of Israel made his son, Jeroboam II, his co-regent. He was named after the very first king who ruled over the northern kingdom after God had divided the nation of Israel in half. This division of Solomon’s kingdom was done as a punishment for his idolatry and apostasy. In the latter years of his reign, Solomon had begun to worship the false gods of his many foreign wives.

So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods. 1 Kings 11:6-8 ESV

As punishment for Solomon’s unfaithfulness, God raised up Jeroboam and placed him over the ten northern tribes of Israel. But Jeroboam proved to be just as unfaithful as Solomon. One of his first official acts as king was to establish his own religion, complete with golden calf idols erected in the cities of Dan and Bethel. He even created his own priesthood and sacrificial system so that the ten northern tribes would have no reason to go to Jerusalem to worship at the temple of Yahweh.

And it reveals a lot about the character of King Jehoash of Israel that he chose to name his son after this man. But the author seems to assure his readers that this decision was fitting because Jeroboam II lived up to the reputation of his infamous predecessor.

And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin. – 2 Kings 14:24 ESV

At his father’s death, Jeroboam II transitioned from his position as co-regent to that of king over all the northern tribes, a title he would hold for 41 years. He would become the longest-reigning king in the history of Israel, outlasting the monarchy of King Jehoash of Judah and that of his son, Amaziah. But other than the note describing the sinful disposition of Jeroboam’s reign, the author provides few other details about his accomplishments. There is a brief mention of his expansion of the territorial boundaries of Israel but it would appear that this was the work of God and not Jeroboam.

Verse 25 mentions the name of Jonah. He was one of three prophets, including Hosea and Amos, who ministered to the ten northern tribes of Israel. This is the same Jonah who would later receive a divine commission from God to call the pagan people of Ninevah to repentance (Jonah 1:1-2). But long before Jonah was sent to the Assyrians, his responsibility was to act as God’s spokesman to the kings and the people of Israel. It would appear from the text that Jonah gave King Jeroboam a word from Yahweh, commanding him to expand the borders of Israel, and the king obeyed.

He restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher. – 2 Kings 14:25 ESV

By faithfully fulfilling this divine mandate, Jeroboam II was able to restore the borders of Israel close to where they had been during the reign of King Solomon. While Jeroboam was anything but a godly king, he did prove to be an accomplished leader who helped reestablish Israel’s power and prominence. In fact, both the northern and southern kingdoms would experience unprecedented prosperity during this period of time. This fact seems difficult to reconcile when you consider that both kingdoms were being ruled over by godless kings who promoted idolatry and apostasy. Yet, the author reveals that God was at work, behind the scenes, protecting and preserving His people.

the Lord had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, so he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash. – 2 Kings 14:27 ESV

God had made a covenant commitment to preserve His people. Despite their repeated demonstrations of disobedience and unfaithfulness, He had never allowed them to suffer the full and well-deserved consequences of their sin. He had stepped in and rescued them time and time again. Long before they ever entered the land of Canaan or established themselves as a nation, God had clearly communicated His expectations to them.

If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully keep all his commands that I am giving you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the world. You will experience all these blessings if you obey the Lord your God… – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 NLT

Then God outlined all the blessings they could expect if they lived in obedience to His will. But He had also warned them that disobedience would bring curses.

But if you refuse to listen to the Lord your God and do not obey all the commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come and overwhelm you… – Deuteronomy 28:15 NLT

The list of potential curses that followed was intense and terrifying and ended with the warning: “The Lord will exile you and your king to a nation unknown to you and your ancestors. There in exile you will worship gods of wood and stone! You will become an object of horror, ridicule, and mockery among all the nations to which the Lord sends you[ (Deuteronomy 28:36-37 NLT).

There would be dire and devastating consequences should they choose to disobey. But as the author of 2 Kings reveals, “the Lord had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven” (2 Kings 14:27 ESV). While God had warned of destruction and even eventual deportation, He had never spoken of Israel’s obliteration. He was committed to keeping the promise He had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And it was Jacob whom God had renamed Israel.

“Your name is Jacob, but you will not be called Jacob any longer. From now on your name will be Israel.” So God renamed him Israel.

Then God said, “I am El-Shaddai—‘God Almighty.’ Be fruitful and multiply. You will become a great nation, even many nations. Kings will be among your descendants! And I will give you the land I once gave to Abraham and Isaac. Yes, I will give it to you and your descendants after you.” – Genesis 35:10-12 NLT

This scene took place in Bethel, and it just so happens that Bethel became one of the towns in which the original Jeroboam set up a golden calf idol. The very place where God had promised to make of Jacob (Israel) a great nation, Jeroboam I had erected an idol that would lead the people away from Yahweh. He had promoted disobedience and, in doing so, had brought upon the people of Israel the curses of God.  And yet, the author of 2 Kings reveals that God chose to show His rebellious people compassion.

…the Lord saw the bitter suffering of everyone in Israel, and that there was no one in Israel, slave or free, to help them. – 2 Kings 14:26 NLT

Yes, they were rebellious. The people of Israel had forsaken Him time and time again. But God looked on His chosen people and saw them as helpless and hopeless. They had no one to save them. Their kings had proven themselves unwilling and incapable of providing godly leadership. Jeroboam II was no different than his namesake. And yet, God chose to use this godless king to protect His chosen people.

…because the Lord had not said he would blot out the name of Israel completely, he used Jeroboam II, the son of Jehoash, to save them. – 2 Kings 14:27 NLT

God was preserving His people. Not because they deserved it, but because He had a plan that required their continued existence. Hundreds of years earlier, God had made a promise to the patriarch, Abraham:

“I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies. And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed—all because you have obeyed me.” – Genesis 22:17-18 NLT

God had made a commitment to bless the nations of the earth through Abraham’s descendants. Yet, as we have seen, the seed of Abraham had proven to be anything but a blessing. They had brought shame to the name of God through their repeated demonstrations of unfaithfulness. But God was choosing to preserve them because He had a plan in place that would bring about the blessing of the nations. And He would do it through the “seed” of Abraham. And the apostle Paul tells us exactly how God fulfilled that promise.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:16 NLT

God preserved the Israelites so that Jesus, who was born a descendant of Abraham, might become the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to bless the nations. And Paul goes on to describe how God’s commitment to protect and preserve the nation of Israel has impacted all the nations of the earth.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. – Galatians 3:28-29 NLT

All along the way, God had been watching out for His chosen people because He had set them apart for a reason. They were to be the conduit through which He brought the blessing of salvation to a lost and dying world. And that is why, even after He eventually sent them into exile in Babylon, God restored them to the land of promise.

“I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign Lord. I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak. But I will destroy those who are fat and powerful. I will feed them, yes—feed them justice!” – Ezekiel 34:15-16 NLT

God was faithful to keep His promise and preserve His people so that, one day, He might send His Son as the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world.

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 Word of the Lord

1 Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” And the word of the Lord came to him: “Depart from here and turn eastward and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” So he went and did according to the word of the Lord. He went and lived by the brook Cherith that is east of the Jordan. And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. And after a while the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” 10 So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.” 11 And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” 12 And she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” 13 And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. 14 For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’” 15 And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. 16 The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah. 1 Kings 17:1-16 ESV

Almost as if out of nowhere, a new character appears on the scene. His sudden and unexpected arrival seems intended to accentuate the divine nature of his mission. We’re given no background story and little in the way of biographical information, other than his name and the identity of his hometown.

His introduction into the narrative is timed to coincide with the rise to power of King Ahab and his Sidonian queen, Jezebel. With this new power couple ruling over the northern kingdom of Israel, the spiritual state of the ten northern tribes has reached an all-time low. The author ended chapter 16 with an unflattering description of their influence over the nation.

…he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him. He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria. And Ahab made an Asherah. Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him. – 1 Kings 16:31-33 ESV

To say that Ahab had managed to anger God more than any of his predecessors is saying a lot. He was following in the footsteps of some world-class. all-star-quality apostates. But when it came to wickedness and unfaithfulness, Ahab set the new gold standard. He became the proverbial poster boy for all that is wicked and ungodly, while his wife managed to earn herself a permanent spot in the hall of infamy.

In the middle of their sin-fueled and self-absorbed reign, God decides to deliver a message to them, utilizing an obscure and unknown man named Elijah. This will not be the first time God has sent a prophet to deliver a message to a wayward and rebellious king. When Jeroboam had made the fateful decision to replace Yahweh with his own false gods, an unnamed prophet had appeared on the scene with a dire message for the king, and he demonstrated God’s anger by destroying one of the altars Jeroboam had dedicated to his false god. Later on, Jeroboam sent his wife to consult with another prophet of God, in hopes of getting a prognosis regarding his young son’s illness. But what he got was bad news. He was told that his son would die and that every one of his male heirs would die before they could inherit the throne. In other words, any hopes of establishing a dynasty would be destroyed.

As the seventh king to reign over the northern kingdom of Israel, Ahab would not be the first to receive a message from God. But, in his case, the prophet would play a more pronounced and prolonged role in his life. The sins of Ahab and his wife were so egregious that God made his prophet a permanent fixture in their kingdom.

Elijah’s very first encounter with the king and queen was far from favorable. He stood before this powerful couple and boldly proclaimed, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word” (1 Kings 17:1 ESV). That took guts and a fair amount of faith. He was claiming to have the God-given authority to withhold rain from the kingdom of Israel. Any way you look at it, this had to come across as a less-than-veiled threat to Ahab and Jezebel. But before they had time to cut this arrogant upstart down to size, God gave him instructions to get out of town.

“Depart from here and turn eastward and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. – 1 Kings 17:3 ES

Elijah had done his job, but now it was time for God to prepare him for the next phase of his assignment. Before sending his prophet back into the mouth of the lion’s den, God planned to equip him for what was to come. He was determined to make Elijah a faithful and obedient messenger, strong enough to handle all the vitriol and violence that was about to come his way. Standing up to Ahab and Jezebel was not going to be easy, so God graciously eased Elijah into his new role with a hands-on experience that would teach him to trust and obey.

While in God’s preparatory school for prophets, Elijah was miraculously fed and cared for. He received a twice-daily ration of bread and meat, delivered to his cave by ravens. And outside the cave was a ready source of clean, pure water. But in time, “the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land” (1 Kings 17:7 ESV). In other words, Elijah’s prediction of drought had come true and he was suffering just like everyone else. And without rain, that meant there was no more bread or meat for the ravens to deliver. Elijah’s little oasis in the wilderness had become a death trap. So, God gave him new instructions.

“Go and live in the village of Zarephath, near the city of Sidon. I have instructed a widow there to feed you.” – 1 Kings 17:8 NLT

This would have been a long and arduous journey under normal conditions, but the presence of drought made it even more so. Interestingly, God sent Elijah to a city in the region of Sidon, the very kingdom over which Jezebel’s father was king. Elijah was being sent to the very place Ahab had acquired a queen and her false god, Baal. Zarephath lay in between Tyre and Sidon, two of the most prominent Phoenician cities. But as the story makes clear, the drought had made its way all the way to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

God had provided Elijah with few details regarding what to do when he arrived in Zarephath. The prophet had no food and had received no word from God regarding when and how it would come – if it did at all. So, when Elijah encounters a widow gathering sticks, he decides to throw himself on her mercy. He asks for a drink of water and a morsel of bread. But then he finds out that this woman’s state was worse than his own.

“I swear by the Lord your God that I don’t have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.” – 1 Kings 17:12 NLT

The drought had left this woman with no food with which to feed herself or her young son. The drought had taken its toll. And it shouldn’t be overlooked that Baal, the god of the Phonecians, was considered a fertility god. He was the provider of bountiful blessings, whether in the form of crops or children. And yet, this woman was living in a drought and watching her young son starve to death. There was nothing bountiful taking place in Zarephath. Baal was nowhere to be found.

Then, God gave Elijah a message to deliver to the woman.

“Don’t be afraid! Go ahead and do just what you’ve said, but make a little bread for me first. Then use what’s left to prepare a meal for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There will always be flour and olive oil left in your containers until the time when the Lord sends rain and the crops grow again!” – 1 Kings 17:13-14 NLT

While the god of the Phoenicians had failed to provide, the God of Israel would meet her needs and preserve the lives of both her and her son. Even in a time of drought, God would miraculously provide flour and oil in abundance – until He decided to open up the skies and end the drought.

And the woman faithfully obeyed the word of the prophet and There was always enough flour and olive oil left in the containers, just as the Lord had promised through Elijah” (1 Kings 17:16 NLT). God graciously provided for this Sidonian widow and her son, and He continued to meet the needs of His prophet. But more than anything, God was teaching Elijah that He could be trusted. He was greater than the god of the Phoenicians. He was more powerful than the god of Ahab and Jezebel. The brook may have dried up, but the resources of God remained unending and plentiful. The ravens may have stopped showing up, but the miracle-working power of God remained undiminished. There was no circumstance too great for 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 Downward Spiritual Spiral

29 In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab the son of Omri began to reign over Israel, and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years. 30 And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him. 31 And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him. 32 He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria. 33 And Ahab made an Asherah. Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him. 34 In his days Hiel of Bethel built Jericho. He laid its foundation at the cost of Abiram his firstborn, and set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke by Joshua the son of Nun. 1 Kings 16:29-34 ESV

Things have not been going well in the northern kingdom of Judah. The downward spiritual spiral that began with the reign of Jeroboam has continued unabated. His decision to re-image the God of Israel as a golden calf had been in direct violation of the command given to Moses by God hundreds of years earlier.

“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. You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me.” – Exodus 20:1-5 NLT

And yet, in spite of God’s clear instructions, Jeroboam made his own gods and then attempted to claim that they, not Yahweh, had delivered the nation from their captivity in Egypt.

So on the advice of his counselors, the king made two gold calves. He said to the people, “It is too much trouble for you to worship in Jerusalem. Look, Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!”

He placed these calf idols in Bethel and in Dan—at either end of his kingdom. But this became a great sin, for the people worshiped the idols, traveling as far north as Dan to worship the one there. – 1 Kings 12:28-30 NLT

Jeroboam’s decision brought a curse from God upon his dynasty. As a result, his son, Abijah, died in infancy. Another son, Nadab, inherited the throne upon Jeroboam’s death, but in the second year of his reign, he was assassinated by a man named Baasha, who declared himself king. Baasha fulfilled the curse God had placed over the house of Jeroboam by having every one of his descendants put to death. But because Baasha proved to be a wicked king who led the people into further idolatry, God placed a curse on his house as well. Baasha was assassinated by Zimri, the commander of his chariots, who then proceeded to wipe out the entire royal household. But Zimri’s reign would last only seven days. When faced with a coup led by Omri, his former superior officer, Zimri chose to commit suicide. Omri then declared himself to be the legitimate king of Israel. But his reign would prove to be no better than that of his predecessor. In fact, the author flatly states, “Omri did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did more evil than all who were before him. For he walked in all the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and in the sins that he made Israel to sin, provoking the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger by their idols” (1 Kings 16:25-26 ESV).

There has been no break in Israel’s downward trajectory. Like water in a sink when the plug is pulled, the spiritual state of the nation continues to spiral down the drain. And just when it appears that Israel has reached an all-time low, another character is introduced who manages to establish himself as the official record holder for apostasy and wickedness.

Omri was superseded by his son, Ahab, but in more ways than one. Not only did this young man ascend to his father’s throne, but he managed to eclipse his father’s record of sin and rebellion. The author introduces Ahab’s reign with the stinging indictment: “Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him” (1 Kings 16:30 ESV). And then he follows up that far-from-flattering assessment with tangible proof.

He compares the wickedness of Ahab with that of Jeroboam, the first king of the northern tribes of Israel. Jeroboam had been guilty of making his own false gods and giving them credit for something Yahweh had done. In a sense, Jeroboam had tried to create his own version of the one true God. But Ahab had decided to abandon Yahweh altogether, replacing Him with Baal, the god of the Canaanites. But his choice of this particular god was influenced by his wife, Jezebel. His marriage to Jezebel had been orchestrated by his father as part of a treaty he had made with Ethbaal, the king of Tyre and Sidon. In order to form an alliance with this pagan nation, Omri had arranged a marriage between his son and Ethbaal’s daughter. This unholy alliance was in direct violation of God’s command.

When the LORD your God hands these nations over to you and you conquer them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy. You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods. – Deuteronomy 7:2-3 NLT

While the marriage had been Omri’s idea, the author refuses to absolve Ahab of any guilt for his role in the affair. He had been fully compliant and complicit.

…he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him. – 1 Kings 16:31 ESV

And just as God had warned, Ahab’s pagan wife ended up having a powerful and negative influence over him. This marriage that had been arranged for purely political purposes was going to have dramatic spiritual implications. What Omri had done to secure the state of his kingdom would end up sealing its fate. Jezebel would end up doing more to degrade the spiritual health of the nation than any king, including her own husband.

This pagan princess introduced her new husband to the gods of her people. The Phoenicians and Canaanites considered Baal to be the most powerful of all the gods. According to their mythology, he was the offspring of El, the chief god, and Asherah, the moon goddess. Baal was sometimes referred to as the sun god or the god of thunder. He was considered a fertility god, who rewarded those who worshiped him with fruitfulness, in the form of children and abundant crops.

Ahab seems to have willingly and eagerly adopted the false gods of Jezebel, ordering the construction of a temple dedicated to Baal and the erection of an Asherah pole for the worship of Baals’s mother, the moon goddess. These actions stand in stark contrast to those of Solomon, who had built a temple for Yahweh in the capital city of Jerusalem. Now, here was Ahab, the king of the northern tribes of Judah, building a temple in the capital city of Samaria in which to worship the false god of the Canaanites. The people of Israel had sunk to an all-time low. And it was going to get even worse.

The author provides a foreshadowing of things to come when he states that Ahab “did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than any of the other kings of Israel before him” (1 Kings 16:33 NLT). And then he gives a tangible expression of Ahab’s ill-fated actions. It seems that Ahab had given orders to rebuild the destroyed city of Jericho. This task was assigned to a man named Hiel. But the endeavor would prove costly. While overseeing the construction of the city, Hiel would end up losing two of his own sons. 

This somewhat strange and seemingly out-of-place narrative is meant to illustrate Ahab’s blatant disregard will of God. His determination to rebuild the city of Jericho was in direct violation of God’s command. When the Israelites had first entered the land of Canaan, hundreds of years earlier, Jericho had been the first city they had defeated and destroyed. God had given them a supernatural victory over the city and its inhabitants. And then He commanded its destruction, placing a curse on anyone who tried to rebuild the ruins.

“Cursed before the Lord be the man who rises up and rebuilds this city, Jericho.

“At the cost of his firstborn shall he
    lay its foundation,
and at the cost of his youngest son
    shall he set up its gates.” – Joshua 6:26 ESV

Hiel, under direct orders from the king, ended up violating the command of God, and, as a result, he inadvertently found himself suffering the curse of God. The author sadly states that this poor man “laid its foundation at the cost of Abiram his firstborn, and set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the Lord” (1 Kings 16:34 ESV).

The marriage of Ahab and Jezebel would prove to be one of the worst things that ever happened to the people of God. This unholy alliance would end up bringing great sorrow upon the nation, leading the people into further rebellion against God. And, eventually, Jezebel would become the poster girl for wickedness and evil. Her very name would become a byword for all that stands opposed to God. In fact, her name appears in the very last book of the Bible, as a less-than-flattering description of a woman who would end up leading the church at Thyatira into immorality and the worship of false gods (Revelation 2:20).

But the devastating exploits of this power couple were just beginning. And, as we will see, their evil actions would not go unnoticed or unpunished by 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