A Track Record of Sin

From the days of Gibeah, you have sinned, O Israel;
    there they have continued.
    Shall not the war against the unjust overtake them in Gibeah?
10 When I please, I will discipline them,
    and nations shall be gathered against them
    when they are bound up for their double iniquity.

11 Ephraim was a trained calf
    that loved to thresh,
    and I spared her fair neck;
but I will put Ephraim to the yoke;
    Judah must plow;
    Jacob must harrow for himself.
12 Sow for yourselves righteousness;
    reap steadfast love;
    break up your fallow ground,
for it is the time to seek the Lord,
    that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.

13 You have plowed iniquity;
    you have reaped injustice;
    you have eaten the fruit of lies.
Because you have trusted in your own way
    and in the multitude of your warriors,
14 therefore the tumult of war shall arise among your people,
    and all your fortresses shall be destroyed,
as Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel on the day of battle;
    mothers were dashed in pieces with their children.
15 Thus it shall be done to you, O Bethel,
    because of your great evil.
At dawn the king of Israel
shall be utterly cut off. – Hosea 10:9-15 ESV

For the second time, Hosea reaches back into Israel’s sordid past and brings up the infamous event that took place in the city of Gibeah. During the period of the judges, this Israelite town had been the scene of a Sodom-like incident involving a Levite and his concubine. The two of them had stopped there for the night and had been given shelter by an elderly Ephraimite who was living temporarily in the city. But the men of the city surrounded the home and demanded that the host send out the Levite so that they might “know him” (Judges 19:22). This was a euphemistic way of saying they wanted to sexually abuse him. In an effort to protect his own life, the Levite gave the men his concubine, whom they sexually abused all night and left for dead. The next morning, the Levite opened to find his concubine lying on the threshold of the home, her arms outstretched as if she had been seeking entrance. She was dead.

The rest of the story is just as unsettling.

When he got home, he [the Levite] took a knife and cut his concubine’s body into twelve pieces. Then he sent one piece to each tribe throughout all the territory of Israel. – Judges 19:29 NLT

When these grotesque packages began to arrive among the various tribes, they achieved the Levite’s desired effect.

Everyone who saw it said, “Such a horrible crime has not been committed in all the time since Israel left Egypt. Think about it! What are we going to do? Who’s going to speak up?” – Judges 19:30 NLT

Eleven of the 12 tribes of Israel called a special assembly to discover what had taken place in Gibeah. The tribe that was missing was that of Benjamin because the men of Gibeah were Benjamites. When the Levite had shared the gruesome details of the incident in Gibeah, the tribes made a universal and united decision to pay back the men of Gibeah for their wickedness.

“None of us will return home! No, not even one of us! Instead, this is what we will do to Gibeah; we will draw lots to decide who will attack it. One-tenth of the men from each tribe will be chosen to supply the warriors with food, and the rest of us will take revenge on Gibeah of Benjamin for this shameful thing they have done in Israel.” So all the Israelites were completely united, and they gathered together to attack the town. – Judges 20:8-11 NLT

The 11 tribes assembled to attack the much smaller force from Benjamin, but were soundly defeated in the first battle. They sought the Lord’s will and were instructed to attack again. But when they engaged the Benjamites in battle the following day, they suffered similar losses. Once again, they sought God’s direction and were instructed to attack a third time. So, the following day, they launched another battle against the men of Benjamin and this time, they won.

So the Lord helped Israel defeat Benjamin, and that day the Israelites killed 25,100 of Benjamin’s warriors… – Judges 20:35 NLT

So that day the tribe of Benjamin lost 25,000 strong warriors armed with swords, leaving only 600 men who escaped to the rock of Rimmon, where they lived for four months. And the Israelites returned and slaughtered every living thing in all the towns—the people, the livestock, and everything they found. They also burned down all the towns they came to. – Judges 20:46-48 NLT

This embarrassing incident from Israel’s past would have been well-known among the people. And Hosea used it as a kind of litmus test for Israel’s current spiritual status. He announced that, from God’s perspective, little had changed in Israel since the purging of Gibeah for its immoral behavior.

The Lord says, “O Israel, ever since Gibeah,
    there has been only sin and more sin!
You have made no progress whatsoever.
    Was it not right that the wicked men of Gibeah were attacked?” – Hosea 10:9 NLT

The nation had made no progress. There had been little to no moral improvement among the other 11 tribes. And just as they had gathered together to judge the tribe of Benjamin, so God would gather the nations to judge Israel.

“Now whenever it fits my plan,
    I will attack you, too.
I will call out the armies of the nations
    to punish you for your multiplied sins.” – Hosea 10:10 NLT

God had given Israel ample time to change its ways. But they remained as immoral as the men of Gibeah. Now it was time for the entire nation to be purged of its wickedness. God describes Israel as “a trained heifer treading out the grain—an easy job she loves” (Hosea 10:11 NLT). Like a cow tied to a threshing wheel, Israel had been given a relatively easy assignment from God, and they had been allowed to eat as they threshed. But their easy life was about to come to an end. Rather than threshing the grain that God had graciously provided, they would suffer the yoke of slavery as they plowed the sun-hardened soil. God was warning them that their days of fruitfulness and prosperity were coming to an end. Both Israel and Judah would find themselves yoked to foreign powers who would subjugate and abuse them, like oxen in a plow. 

The day was coming when there would be no more opportunity for the people of Israel to repent. God had repeatedly and graciously called them to return to Him.

“Plant the good seeds of righteousness,
    and you will harvest a crop of love.
Plow up the hard ground of your hearts,
    for now is the time to seek the Lord,
that he may come
    and shower righteousness upon you.” – Hosea 10:12 NLT

But they had consistently refused to heed His calls. Their hardened hearts remained unplowed and incapable of producing the fruit of righteousness. Instead, they had sowed further sin and cultivated a lifestyle of wickedness and unrighteousness.

“But you have cultivated wickedness
    and harvested a thriving crop of sins.” – Hosea 10:13 NLT

Rather than trusting in God, they had decided to put their hope in their military might. They had become self-sufficient and deluded into believing that they didn’t need God. But He would prove them deadly wrong.

“Now the terrors of war
    will rise among your people.
All your fortifications will fall…” – Hosea 10:14 NLT

The period of peace and tranquility they had enjoyed was about to come to an end. God could not and would not tolerate their wickedness any longer. And one of the cities that He singles out is Bethel, where Jeroboam I had set up one of his golden idols. God would target this particular city for destruction because it represented the nation’s corporate apostasy. It was symbolic of the spirit of idolatry that pervaded the land. The city of Bethel would be destroyed, along with the king of Israel. The religious and political symbols of Israel’s independence from God would be removed, leaving the nation spiritually void and leaderless. They had chosen to forsake God, now they would learn what it was like when He removed His providential hand from their lives.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faithlessness Produces Fruitlessness

11 Ephraim’s glory shall fly away like a bird—
    no birth, no pregnancy, no conception!
12 Even if they bring up children,
    I will bereave them till none is left.
Woe to them
    when I depart from them!
13 Ephraim, as I have seen, was like a young palm planted in a meadow;
    but Ephraim must lead his children out to slaughter.
14 Give them, O Lord
    what will you give?
Give them a miscarrying womb
    and dry breasts.– Hosea 9:11-14 ESV

According to God, the glory of Israel was not to be measured by power, possessions, or their place in the global community of nations. They were not to find their identity and worth in their many accomplishments or their ability to accumulate wealth, status, and temporal significance. Their glory was their children, the fruit of their wombs. Even King Solomon, the man who had accumulated for himself great wealth, wisdom, fame, and power, had willingly admitted the intrinsic value of children.

Children are a gift from the Lord;
    they are a reward from him. – Psalm 127:3 NLT

Yet God makes a startling announcement to the stubbornly rebellious people of Israel.

The glory of Israel will fly away like a bird, for your children will not be born or grow in the womb or even be conceived. –Hosea 9:11 NLT

He was informing the Israelites that the greatest gift or reward that He had given them was about to be removed from them. The pending Assyrian invasion of the northern kingdom would result in many Israelites being captured and enslaved. Family members would be separated and transported back to Assyria, never to see one another again. But equally as devastating, those who would be allowed to remain in the land would see the nation’s birth rate drop precipitously. The loss of thousands of able-bodied men due to death in battle or enslavement would have long-term implications. But to fully understand the gravity of God’s pronouncement, one must consider the promise that He had made to Abraham.

“I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” – Genesis 22:17-18 ESV

God’s promise to bless Abraham entailed the provision of a multitude of offspring. But it’s important to note that the promise came immediately after Abraham had shown his willingness to obey God’s command to offer up his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice. Abraham and Sarah had waited a long time for the birth of Isaac. They were both advanced in years and she was barren. Yet God had blessed them with a son, through whom He would bring about the creation of a mighty nation. And God kept that promise.

Years later, Jacob, the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham would lead his small family into Egypt to seek respite from a famine in the land of Canaan. The book of Exodus states that “All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons” (Exodus 1:5 ESV) when they arrived in Egypt. Yet, by the time they left some four centuries later, they numbered in the millions. In fact, the book of Exodus goes on to state that “they multiplied so greatly that they became extremely powerful and filled the land” (Exodus 1:7 NLT). During their prolonged stay in the land of Egypt, God had blessed the people of Israel by making them fruitful. And when the Pharaoh attempted to institute a plan that would curtail the prolific birthrate of the Israelites, he failed.

…the Israelites continued to multiply, growing more and more powerful. – Exodus 1:20 NLT

By the time God rescued the nation of Israel from their enslavement in Egypt, their numbers had grown exponentially. When Moses eventually led them out of the land, there were far more than 70 descendants of Jacob in line behind him.

That night the people of Israel left Rameses and started for Succoth. There were about 600,000 men, plus all the women and children. A rabble of non-Israelites went with them, along with great flocks and herds of livestock. – Exodus 12:37-38 NLT

Some 40 years later, the people of Israel would find themselves standing on the eastern shore of the Jordan River, preparing to enter Canaan, the land God had promised to give Abraham’s descendants as their inheritance. And as they looked across the river to their future home, Moses told them:

“…if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you…Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock.

And the Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground…” – Deuteronomy 28:1-2, 4, 11 ESV

Now, centuries after that momentous occasion, Hosea was informing the Israelites that their God-ordained fruitfulness was about to come to an end. As God had faithfully multiplied their numbers, they had simply multiplied their sins. They had taught their children to live in disobedience to Yahweh. And this was exactly what Moses feared they would do. That’s why, long before their ancestors had entered the land of Canaan, Moses had warned them:

“For what great nation has a god as near to them as the LORD our God is near to us whenever we call on him? And what great nation has decrees and regulations as righteous and fair as this body of instructions that I am giving you today?

“But watch out! Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren.” – Deuteronomy 4:7-9 NLT

Moses had made it clear that God expected cross-generational sharing of His commands and a perpetual, intergenerational adherence to His will.

“…you and your children and grandchildren must fear the LORD your God as long as you live.…Listen closely, Israel, and be careful to obey. Then all will go well with you, and you will have many children in the land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, promised you.” – Deuteronomy 6:2, 3 NLT

But they had failed to heed Moses’ warning. And, as a result, each successive generation had become increasingly more apostate and idolatrous. And God had seen enough. He had watched Israel “become as beautiful as Tyre” (Hosea 9:13 NLT). They had enjoyed His many blessings and become prosperous and affluent. But all that was about to end.

“…now Israel will bring out her children for slaughter.” – Hosea 9:13 NLT

Even Hosea is appalled by the stubborn disobedience of the people. Rather than intercede with God and plead that He show them mercy, the prophet asks, “what should I request for your people?” (Hosea 9:14 NLT). And then he answers his own question: “I will ask for wombs that don’t give birth and breasts that give no milk” (Hosea 9:14 NLT). From his perspective, the people of Israel did not deserve to enjoy the fruits of the womb because they had been unwilling to raise up those children to honor and obey God.

For centuries, God had blessed the people of Israel. All the way back to their unpleasant sojourn in the land of Egypt, God had blessed them and made them fruitful. he had multiplied their number and then provided them with a land fully capable of holding and sustaining them. Under the reigns of David and Solomon, God had continued to expand their number and their significance in the region. Israel had become a major player in the middle east. But rather than respond to God’s gift of fruitfulness with faithfulness, the people of Israel had chosen to forsake Him. They had gladly appropriated His many blessings but returned the favor by refusing to honor, obey, and trust Him. Now, their stubbornness was about to result in barrenness.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Will Restore

11 “In that day I will raise up
    the booth of David that is fallen
and repair its breaches,
    and raise up its ruins
    and rebuild it as in the days of old,
12 that they may possess the remnant of Edom
    and all the nations who are called by my name,”
    declares the Lord who does this.

13 “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when the plowman shall overtake the reaper
    and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed;
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
    and all the hills shall flow with it.
14 I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
    and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
    and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.
15 I will plant them on their land,
    and they shall never again be uprooted
    out of the land that I have given them,”
says the Lord your God. Amos 9:11-15 ESV

From its opening chapter, the book of Amos has focused all of its attention on God’s pending judgment. Amos began his book with a revelation that the coming wrath of God would be global in nature, impacting such nations as Syria, Philistia, Phoenicia, Edom, Ammon, and Moab. But chapters 2-8 make it painfully clear that God has reserved His severest judgment for His own chosen people. And since Amos was a prophet to the ten northern tribes, the majority of his book has been a divine diatribe against the sins of Israel. Judah has been mentioned and will not escape punishment for its own transgressions, but the purpose of Amos’ mission has been to record God’s indictment against the northern kingdom of Israel.

Time and time again, God had sent His prophets with a message for His rebellious people. They were warned to repent and return to Him or face the consequences of their sin. But they had repeatedly refused His gracious and merciful offers of forgiveness by continuing to seek and serve their false gods. And even when God brought upon them famines, droughts, diseases, and disastrous military defeats, they remained stubbornly committed to their lifestyle of apostasy and idolatry. Each divine judgment ended with God declaring, “…yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:6 ESV).

They had repeatedly and persistently broken their covenant commitment to God, and now they were going to have to pay the price for their disobedience. They had no excuse. God had given them ample warning of what would happen if they chose to disobey His commands. All the way back in the days of Moses, long before the people crossed the Jordan River and began their conquest of the land of Canaan, God had told them what would happen if they broke their covenant commitment.

“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:

Your towns and your fields
    will be cursed.
Your fruit baskets and breadboards
    will be cursed.
Your children and your crops
    will be cursed.
The offspring of your herds and flocks
    will be cursed.
Wherever you go and whatever you do,
    you will be cursed.

“The Lord himself will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in everything you do, until at last you are completely destroyed for doing evil and abandoning me.” – Deuteronomy 28:15-20 NLT

And now, centuries later, the ten northern tribes of Israel were facing the final stage of God’s judgment: Their destruction and deportation.

“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

And, as Amos begins to wrap up his book, he reinforces the unavoidable reality of God’s judgment.

For behold, I will command,
    and shake the house of Israel among all the nations
as one shakes with a sieve,
    but no pebble shall fall to the earth.
All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword,
    who say, ‘Disaster shall not overtake or meet us.’” – Amos 9:9-10 ESV

Even to the bitter end, the prideful and arrogant people of Israel will deny the possibility of their own demise. They will persist in believing that their status as God’s chosen people will somehow provide them with immunity from judgment. Despite their centuries of rebellion and spiritual adultery, they will cling to their belief that they are the apple of God’s eye and, therefore, untouchable. But they will soon discover that their assumption was sorely mistaken.

And yet, after all the doom and gloom of the last nine chapters, Amos wraps up his book on a surprisingly upbeat note. As a prophet, Amos has been addressing the present conditions in Israel by predicting the future ramifications for their actions. He is projecting out into the future and revealing exactly what God is going to do. But his record of what God has in store for Israel does not come with a timeline. There is no calendar providing specific dates on which these events will occur. The people of Israel were left to wonder when and how these predictions would take place. How would their fall come about? When would it happen and what nation would be the source of their demise? God doesn’t say. But He does reveal that “In that day…,” He will do something unexpected and totally undeserved. Somewhere in the distant future, God has a plan to restore and redeem His people.

“In that day I will restore the fallen house of David.
    I will repair its damaged walls.
From the ruins I will rebuild it
    and restore its former glory. – Amos 9:11 NLT

Yes, God was going to judge His people for their sins. But He would also restore them. The judgment would come first and it would take place when the Assyrians invaded Israel in 722 B.C. The forces of King Sennacherib would besiege the capital city of Samaria, eventually breaching its walls, and destroying everything within it. Those Israelites who were not killed were deported to Assyria as slaves. And the author of 2 Kings reveals the reason behind this devastating end to the ten northern tribes.

This disaster came upon the people of Israel because they worshiped other gods. They sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them safely out of Egypt and had rescued them from the power of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. They had followed the practices of the pagan nations the Lord had driven from the land ahead of them, as well as the practices the kings of Israel had introduced. – 2 Kings 17:7-8 NLT

But in the closing verses of his book, Amos records the words of God as He predicts another day – “that day” when He will restore the fallen house of David. And that day remains, as yet, unfulfilled. God is letting His people know that His timeline extends far beyond the fall of Israel. The year 722 B.C. ushered in the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel. And, in 586 B.C., God used the Babylonians to destroy the city of Jerusalem and bring about the fall of the southern kingdom of Judah. But the destruction of those two cities and the demise of the two kingdoms did not mark the end of God’s interactions with His people. He had made a covenant with them and He was the covenant-keeping God. While they had proven to be unfaithful, He would keep every commitment He had ever made to them.

Back during the days of King David, God made a covenant commitment to him, promising to raise up a descendant who would rule on his throne forever.

“Furthermore, the Lord declares that he will make a house for you—a dynasty of kings! For when you die and are buried with your ancestors, I will raise up one of your descendants, your own offspring, and I will make his kingdom strong. He is the one who will build a house—a temple—for my name. And I will secure his royal throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son.” – 2 Samuel 7:11-14 NLT

That promise was partially fulfilled in David’s son, Solomon. But he proved to be less than faithful to God, ending his long reign by leading the people into idolatry and apostasy. He built a temple for Yahweh but also constructed shrines and altars for the false gods of his many wives. And for his many indiscretions, God divided his kingdom in two, creating the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

But Amos reveals that God intends to restore Israel. Despite the sins of Solomon and the long line of kings who followed him, God was going to keep His covenant commitment to David. The two kingdoms would end up destroyed and deported, but that did not mean God was done with them. The same God who would ordain their fall would be the one to redeem and restore them.

“I will bring my exiled people of Israel
    back from distant lands,
and they will rebuild their ruined cities
    and live in them again.
They will plant vineyards and gardens;
    they will eat their crops and drink their wine.” – Amos 9:14 NLT

God describes a time of great renewal. It will be a time of abundance and blessing. He promises to bring back His chosen people “from distant lands” and to return them to the land He had given to them as their inheritance. This promise was partially fulfilled in 445 B.C. when the people of Judah returned from their exile in Babylon. But while they would rebuild the temple, repair the walls of Jerusalem, and repopulate the city, they would remain under foreign control for centuries. Even during the days of Jesus, the Jews would be little more than a puppet state, operating under the heavy hand of Rome. And in 70 A.D. the second temple would be destroyed by the Romans, leaving the people of Israel with no place to worship or offer sacrifices to their God.

But God is not done. His will regarding Israel is far from complete. And Amos ends his book by recording the promise of Yahweh regarding His people.

“I will firmly plant them there
    in their own land.
They will never again be uprooted
    from the land I have given them,”
    says the Lord your God. – Amos 9:15 NLT

This promise remains yet unfulfilled. And the prophet Jeremiah echoes the words of Amos, confirming God’s plans to keep His covenant promises.

“For the time is coming when I will restore the fortunes of my people of Israel and Judah. I will bring them home to this land that I gave to their ancestors, and they will possess it again. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 30:3 NLT

And Jeremiah goes on to describe the unique nature of this future day.

“I will break the yoke from their necks
    and snap their chains.
Foreigners will no longer be their masters.
   For my people will serve the Lord their God
and their king descended from David—
    the king I will raise up for them.” – Jeremiah 30:8-9 NLT

This day remains unfulfilled, but it will happen just as God has said. The book of Revelation reveals the day when Christ will return to the earth and set up His kingdom in Jerusalem. For 1,000 years, He will reign from the throne of David in the restored capital city. He will conquer the enemies of God and bring righteousness and justice to the earth. And He will restore the fortunes of the people of Israel. God is not done. His plan is not yet finished. And because He is the faithful, covenant-keeping God, He will restore His people just as He has promised.

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

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

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

Pride Goes Before Destruction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But when he had become powerful, he also became proud, which led to his downfall. He sinned against the Lord his God by entering the sanctuary of the Lord’s Temple and personally burning incense on the incense altar. – 2 Chronicles 26:16 NLT

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

They confronted King Uzziah and said, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord. That is the work of the priests alone, the descendants of Aaron who are set apart for this work. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have sinned. The Lord God will not honor you for this!” – 2 Chronicles 26:18 NLT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Pride Goes Before Destruction

41 Now the rest of the acts of Solomon, and all that he did, and his wisdom, are they not written in the Book of the Acts of Solomon? 42 And the time that Solomon reigned in Jerusalem over all Israel was forty years. 43 And Solomon slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David his father. And Rehoboam his son reigned in his place.

1 Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king. And as soon as Jeroboam the son of Nebat heard of it (for he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), then Jeroboam returned from Egypt. And they sent and called him, and Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and said to Rehoboam, “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you.” He said to them, “Go away for three days, then come again to me.” So the people went away.

Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father while he was yet alive, saying, “How do you advise me to answer this people?” And they said to him, “If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever.” But he abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him. And he said to them, “What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, ‘Lighten the yoke that your father put on us’?” 10 And the young men who had grown up with him said to him, “Thus shall you speak to this people who said to you, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but you lighten it for us,’ thus shall you say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s thighs. 11 And now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’”

12 So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king said, “Come to me again the third day.” 13 And the king answered the people harshly, and forsaking the counsel that the old men had given him, 14 he spoke to them according to the counsel of the young men, saying, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” 15 So the king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word, which the Lord spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat. 1 Kings 11:41-12:15 ESV

As God had promised, Solomon was allowed to complete his reign with his kingdom still intact. But upon Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam, who succeeded him to the throne, would find himself facing a God-ordained crisis that would leave his kingdom divided and greatly diminished. It would be easy to sympathize with poor Rehoboam because he is completely unaware of what is about to happen. The day of his coronation should have been one of the most joyous occasions of his life. He was inheriting the vast kingdom his father had established but all the wealth and riches that Solomon had accumulated over the last four decades. He was a lucky young man. But the reader has a distinct advantage over Rehoboam. He knows something of which the new king is most likely unaware. Speaking through the prophet Ahijah, God had promised to divide the kingdom of Israel, awarding ten of the tribes to Jeroboam and leaving Rehoboam with only one.

For the sake of my servant David, the one whom I chose and who obeyed my commands and decrees, I will keep Solomon as leader for the rest of his life. But I will take the kingdom away from his son and give ten of the tribes to you. His son will have one tribe so that the descendants of David my servant will continue to reign, shining like a lamp in Jerusalem, the city I have chosen to be the place for my name.” – 1 Kings 11:34-36 NLT

But any sorrow one might feel for Rehoboam is quickly dispelled when his true nature becomes apparent as he attempts to handle his first official crisis as king. For some undisclosed reason, Rehoboam had decided to hold his coronation ceremony in the city of Shechem, located in the land that belonged to the tribe of Ephraim. His decision to hold this important ceremony outside the city of Jerusalem may indicate that he was aware of the potential problem with Jeroboam. It is likely that Solomon had warned Rehoboam about the potential threat from the Ephraimites. Prior to his death, Solomon had become aware of the prediction concerning Jeroboam, made by Ahijah the prophet, and he had attempted to have Jeroboam murdered. Jeroboam, who was an Ephraimite, had been assigned the task of supervising the conscripted labor force from among his own people. And in performing his duties, he had become aware of the heavy burden Solomon had placed upon the Ephraimites and other northern tribes.

So, Rehoboam may have moved his coronation to Shechem in an attempt to placate and win over the disgruntled Ephraimites. But this ploy would prove unsuccessful.

From his place of exile in Egypt, Jeroboam heard the news that Solomon had died, and he returned to Israel, where he was promptly appointed the official spokesperson for the tribes of Israel. When Rehoboam arrived in Shechem for his coronation, he was met by a large contingent of the people who made an appeal through their appointed leader, Jeroboam.

“Your father was a hard master,” they said. “Lighten the harsh labor demands and heavy taxes that your father imposed on us. Then we will be your loyal subjects.” – 1 Kings 12:4 NLT

Notice that Jeroboam did not restate the words of the prophet. He did boast about the promise God had made, declaring that he was going to be the next king over ten of the tribes of Israel. There were no threats of insurrection or insurgency. He simply expressed the grievances of the people and their desire to have the heavy burdens of labor and taxation reduced.

This was a defining moment for Rehoboam. He could have seen this as an opportunity to unify the nation by demonstrating his intentions to be a fair and just king. Even though he was the son of Solomon, Rehoboam was going to have win the favor and trust of the people. And he was being given the opportunity to rectify some of his father’s less-than-stellar policies.

Having heard their complaints, Rehoboam sent the people away, assuring them that he would take everything into consideration and return with a decision. As the son of Solomon, the man who compiled and edited an entire book of proverbial sayings, Rehoboam would have grown up hearing all the sage advice his father had gathered.

Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. – Proverbs 11:14 ESV

Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed. – Proverbs 15:22 ESV

Plans are established by counsel; by wise guidance wage war. – Proverbs 20:18 ESV

Only with sound guidance should you wage war, and victory lies in a multitude of counselors. – Proverbs 24:6 BSB

So, it should come as no surprise that Rehoboam sought counsel. He first “discussed the matter with the older men who had counseled his father” (1 Kings 12:6 NLT). These men advised Rehoboam that he could win over the hearts of the people if he would respond favorably to their request. He could forestall any potential unrest by demonstrating that he was, first and foremost, the servant of all the people. While Rehoboam was from the tribe of Judah, he was expected to serve as God’s shepherd over all the tribes of Israel. By making this concession, Rehoboam could avoid a rebellion and establish himself as a compassionate and caring king.

But Rehoboam didn’t like what he heard. The author flatly states, “Rehoboam rejected the advice of the older men and instead asked the opinion of the young men who had grown up with him and were now his advisers” (1 Kings 12:8 NLT). And in doing so, Rehoboam lived out the truth revealed in the proverbs his father had so painstakingly collected.

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. – Proverbs 12:15 ESV

Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. – Proverbs 19:20 ESV

Listen to instruction and be wise; do not ignore it. – Proverbs 8:33 BSB

Unlike his father, Rehoboam had not been given the gift of wisdom from God. He was young and inexperienced and in desperate need of wise counsel. But when he received it, he rejected it, choosing instead to seek out those who would tell him what he wanted to hear. Disliking the counsel of the older and wiser men, Rehoboam turned to his peers for advice. And they were more than eager to give it.

The young men replied, “This is what you should tell those complainers who want a lighter burden: ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist! Yes, my father laid heavy burdens on you, but I’m going to make them even heavier! My father beat you with whips, but I will beat you with scorpions!’” – 1 Kings 12:10-11 NLT

These brash young men appealed to Rehoboam’s ego. They advised him to law down the law and establish his reputation as a no-holds-barred disciplinarian who ruled with an iron fist. These young men knew Rehoboam well and their advice was meant to appeal to his over-inflated ego and his desperate desire to escape the shadow of his father’s reputation. And in a demonstration of his inherent foolishness and pride, Rehoboam heeded the counsel of his peers and handed down his decision to the people. And in doing so, he fulfilled the words of the proverb.

Those who trust their own insight are foolish, but anyone who walks in wisdom is safe. – Proverbs 28:26 NLT

Rather than humbly heed the pleas of his people, Rehoboam listened to his own heart. But the author reveals that this was all part of the sovereign will of God.

…it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word. – 1 Kings 12:15 ESV

God didn’t force Rehoboam to do what he did. This stubborn and prideful young man simply acted according to his own sinful nature. But in doing so, he was fulfilling the will of God. Rehoboam’s decision would fuel the fire that would end up burning down his kingdom. In his foolish attempt to establish himself as a great king, Rehoboam was unwittingly destroying his own kingdom. And, once again, he was living out the wisdom of the proverbs.

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18 ESV

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

Even Our Disobedience Can’t Disrupt God’s Plans

26 Jeroboam the son of Nebat, an Ephraimite of Zeredah, a servant of Solomon, whose mother’s name was Zeruah, a widow, also lifted up his hand against the king. 27 And this was the reason why he lifted up his hand against the king. Solomon built the Millo, and closed up the breach of the city of David his father. 28 The man Jeroboam was very able, and when Solomon saw that the young man was industrious he gave him charge over all the forced labor of the house of Joseph. 29 And at that time, when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him on the road. Now Ahijah had dressed himself in a new garment, and the two of them were alone in the open country. 30 Then Ahijah laid hold of the new garment that was on him, and tore it into twelve pieces. 31 And he said to Jeroboam, “Take for yourself ten pieces, for thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Behold, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon and will give you ten tribes 32 (but he shall have one tribe, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city that I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel), 33 because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the Ammonites, and they have not walked in my ways, doing what is right in my sight and keeping my statutes and my rules, as David his father did. 34 Nevertheless, I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand, but I will make him ruler all the days of his life, for the sake of David my servant whom I chose, who kept my commandments and my statutes. 35 But I will take the kingdom out of his son’s hand and will give it to you, ten tribes. 36 Yet to his son I will give one tribe, that David my servant may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city where I have chosen to put my name. 37 And I will take you, and you shall reign over all that your soul desires, and you shall be king over Israel. 38 And if you will listen to all that I command you, and will walk in my ways, and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did, I will be with you and will build you a sure house, as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you. 39 And I will afflict the offspring of David because of this, but not forever.’” 40 Solomon sought therefore to kill Jeroboam. But Jeroboam arose and fled into Egypt, to Shishak king of Egypt, and was in Egypt until the death of Solomon. 1 Kings 11:26-40 ESV

Despite all his wisdom, Solomon had made some serious errors in judgment. Not the least of which was his decision to violate a number of God’s commands. He had chosen to disobey God by amassing for himself stables full of thousands of horses and a harem filled with a thousand wives and concubines. On top of that, he had filled his treasury with vast quantities of amounts of gold and silver – all in direct violation of God’s commands (Deuteronomy 17:16-17).

And Solomon had also managed to fulfill all the dire predictions the prophet Samuel had conveyed to the people of Israel when they had demanded “a king to judge us like all the other nations have” (1 Samuel 8:5 NLT). Long before David or Solomon reigned over Israel, God had been their sovereign King. But the day had come when the people grew tired of being governed by the judges and prophets whom God had placed over them. They preferred to have a leader that looked and acted like the kings of their enemies. And in demanding the human king, they were actually rejecting the righteous rule of God over their lives. So, God gave them their wish but warned them of the consequences.

These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakersHe will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. – 1 Samuel 8:11-13, 16 ESV

Solomon was guilty of all of the above. He had conscripted large numbers of his own people to serve as laborers on his many building projects. Solomon had used his power as king to force the people of Israel to do his bidding. And there’s little doubt that the common people grew resentful of the involuntary nature of their role in building Solomon’s kingdom and fame. So, in verse 26, we are introduced to a man named Jeroboam, from the tribe of Ephraim, one the largest of the northern tribes. It just so happened that Jeroboam was the son of one of Solomon’s former officials. At some point, Solomon took note of this young man, whose father had recently died. Recognizing a certain degree of leadership ability in Jeroboam, Solomon decided to put him on his payroll.

Jeroboam was a very capable young man, and when Solomon saw how industrious he was, he put him in charge of the labor force from the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, the descendants of Joseph. – 1 Kings 11:28 NLT

But notice that Solomon expected Jeroboam to supervise the laborers who had been conscripted from his own tribe. This unique responsibility gave Jeroboam a first-hand exposure to the less-than-ideal conditions under which his fellow tribesmen were forced to serve King Solomon. It would not be surprising if Jeroboam began to build up resentment for what he observed day after day. And this scenario is strangely similar to one involving the famous Hebrew patriarch, Moses. The great deliverer of Israel had been born in Egypt during a time when the people of Israel were suffering great persecution under the hand of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt.

…the Egyptians made the Israelites their slaves. They appointed brutal slave drivers over them, hoping to wear them down with crushing labor. They forced them to build the cities of Pithom and Rameses as supply centers for the king.the Egyptians worked the people of Israel without mercy. They made their lives bitter, forcing them to mix mortar and make bricks and do all the work in the fields. They were ruthless in all their demands. – Exodus 1:11, 13-14 NLT

But even under these harsh conditions, the people of Israel continued to increase in number, causing Pharaoh to develop a plan for greatly reducing their number.

Then Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, gave this order to the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah: “When you help the Hebrew women as they give birth, watch as they deliver. If the baby is a boy, kill him; if it is a girl, let her live.” – Exodus 1:15-16 NLT

He instituted a policy of ethnic cleansing that was meant to diminish any future possibility of the Israelites staging a revolt. But in the midst of this horrible circumstance, God raised up Israel’s future deliverer. Moses, who was an infant at the time and a target of Pharoah’s edict, was miraculously spared and ended up being raised in the household of the Pharaoh himself. He would be raised as an Egyptian, living in the royal palace and enjoying all the benefits of his position as the adopted grandson of Pharaoh. But one day, as an adult, Moses would be given an up-close and personal exposure to the plight of his own people.

Many years later, when Moses had grown up, he went out to visit his own people, the Hebrews, and he saw how hard they were forced to work. During his visit, he saw an Egyptian beating one of his fellow Hebrews. After looking in all directions to make sure no one was watching, Moses killed the Egyptian and hid the body in the sand. – Exodus 2: 11-12 NLT

Despite his high standing in Pharoah’s household, Moses’ rash action brought down the full wrath of his grandfather. He became a wanted man and was forced to run for his life, eventually ending up living as an exile in the land of Midian. It would be while living in the wilderness of Midian that Moses would have a personal encounter with God and receive his commission as Israel’s future deliverer.

Moses had seen the mistreatment of his people and taken matters into his own hands. But God was going to use Moses’ misapplied empathy and compassion in a far more effective way – all so that His divine will might be fulfilled.

In the case of Jeroboam, he was given a similar commission from God. But rather than a visit from God in the form of a burning bush, Jeroboam was confronted by a prophet of God.

One day as Jeroboam was leaving Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah from Shiloh met him along the way. Ahijah was wearing a new cloak. The two of them were alone in a field, and Ahijah took hold of the new cloak he was wearing and tore it into twelve pieces. Then he said to Jeroboam, “Take ten of these pieces, for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon, and I will give ten of the tribes to you!’” – 1 Kings 11:29-31 NLT

Like Moses, Jeroboam was given a commission directly from God. In a sense, he too would become a deliverer of his people. God was going to use Jeroboam to deliver the tribe of Ephraim, along with nine other northern tribes, from their subjugation under Solomon’s rule. And as Moses was used by God to punish the wicked Egyptians, Jeroboam would become God’s chosen instrument for delivering judgment upon Solomon for his many acts of unfaithfulness and disobedience.

Much to his shock and surprise, Jeroboam is informed that God is going to divide Solomon’s vast kingdom in half and install him as the new king over ten of the tribes. And God is painfully clear when delineating His reasons for this dramatic shift in the nation’s fortunes.

“For Solomon has abandoned me and worshiped Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians; Chemosh, the god of Moab; and Molech, the god of the Ammonites. He has not followed my ways and done what is pleasing in my sight. He has not obeyed my decrees and regulations as David his father did.” – 1 Kings 11:33 NLT

Yet, God also reveals His intentions to allow Solomon to complete his reign over an undivided kingdom. But at Solomon’s death, his son would inherit a kingdom that consisted of a single tribe, that of Judah.

“His son will have one tribe so that the descendants of David my servant will continue to reign, shining like a lamp in Jerusalem, the city I have chosen to be the place for my name.” – 1 Kings 11:36 NLT

Despite Solomon’s unfaithfulness, God would remain faithful, vowing to keep the covenant He had made with David. He would preserve a remnant of Solomon’s kingdom so that one day He might fulfill the promise concerning the future king who would reign on David’s throne for perpetuity.

“And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” – 2 Samuel 7:16 ESV

God had future plans in store for the rebellious nation of Israel. But for now, He was determined to punish Solomon for his repeated acts of unfaithfulness. And He provided Jeroboam with the same arrangements He had made with Solomon. If Jeroboam would remain committed to the word and the will of God, he would enjoy the blessings of God.

“I will place you on the throne of Israel, and you will rule over all that your heart desires. If you listen to what I tell you and follow my ways and do whatever I consider to be right, and if you obey my decrees and commands, as my servant David did, then I will always be with you. I will establish an enduring dynasty for you as I did for David, and I will give Israel to you. – 1 Kings 11:37-38 NLT

And because 1 Kings is a book of history, it will just be a matter of time before we know whether Jeroboam lived up to God’s expectations. Yet, regardless of what Solomon had done or whatever Jeroboam will end up doing, God’s will would be done. All His promises would be kept and His plan would be fulfilled in its entirety.

But when Solomon heard about the message spoken by the prophet, he set out to eliminate any threat by having Jeroboam murdered. But Jeroboam escaped to Egypt, where he remained in exile until the death of Solomon. It’s interesting to note that Moses had fled from Egypt to escape the wrath of Pharaoh. Now, Jeroboam was fleeing to Egypt in an attempt to escape the wrath of Solomon.

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 Holy House-Cleaning

26 And to Abiathar the priest the king said, “Go to Anathoth, to your estate, for you deserve death. But I will not at this time put you to death, because you carried the ark of the Lord God before David my father, and because you shared in all my father’s affliction.” 27 So Solomon expelled Abiathar from being priest to the Lord, thus fulfilling the word of the Lord that he had spoken concerning the house of Eli in Shiloh.

28 When the news came to Joab—for Joab had supported Adonijah although he had not supported Absalom—Joab fled to the tent of the Lord and caught hold of the horns of the altar. 29 And when it was told King Solomon, “Joab has fled to the tent of the Lord, and behold, he is beside the altar,” Solomon sent Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, saying, “Go, strike him down.” 30 So Benaiah came to the tent of the Lord and said to him, “The king commands, ‘Come out.’” But he said, “No, I will die here.” Then Benaiah brought the king word again, saying, “Thus said Joab, and thus he answered me.” 31 The king replied to him, “Do as he has said, strike him down and bury him, and thus take away from me and from my father’s house the guilt for the blood that Joab shed without cause. 32 The Lord will bring back his bloody deeds on his own head, because, without the knowledge of my father David, he attacked and killed with the sword two men more righteous and better than himself, Abner the son of Ner, commander of the army of Israel, and Amasa the son of Jether, commander of the army of Judah. 33 So shall their blood come back on the head of Joab and on the head of his descendants forever. But for David and for his descendants and for his house and for his throne there shall be peace from the Lord forevermore.” 34 Then Benaiah the son of Jehoiada went up and struck him down and put him to death. And he was buried in his own house in the wilderness. 35 The king put Benaiah the son of Jehoiada over the army in place of Joab, and the king put Zadok the priest in the place of Abiathar. – 1 Kings 2:26-35 ESV

After having dealt decisively with his half-brother’s continued deceit by having him put to death, Solomon turned his attention to the accomplices in his failed coup attempt. First, he took care of Abiathar, the priest. But rather than ordering Abiathar’s execution, Solomon decreed that this traitor be removed from his priestly role. The new king was willing to spare Abiathar’s life because he was well aware of his long and faithful service to David. But he was not willing to let the guilty go unpunished, so he humiliated Abiathar by having him defrocked. And Solomon’s decision had far greater ramifications than even he could have known. The author of 1 Kings reveals that Abiathar’s removal from the priesthood fulfilled a prophecy made by God concerning the descendants of Eli, the priest who had served at Shiloh. Eli had two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who served alongside their father as priests, but they were “worthless men” who “did not know the Lord” (1 Samuel 2:12 ESV).

These two brothers used their priestly role to fulfill their own selfish desires, and “the sin of these young men was very serious in the Lord’s sight, for they treated the Lord’s offerings with contempt” (1 Samuel 2:17 NLT). They were even guilty of committing sexual sins with “the young women who assisted at the entrance of the Tabernacle” (1 Samuel 2:22 NLT). Their father, fully aware of their indiscretions, tried to reprimand them but his words fell on deaf ears. They refused to listen to his warnings or change their wicked ways, so God stepped in and delivered a sobering statement of judgment against the house of Eli.

“I promised that your branch of the tribe of Levi would always be my priests. But I will honor those who honor me, and I will despise those who think lightly of me. The time is coming when I will put an end to your family, so it will no longer serve as my priests. All the members of your family will die before their time. None will reach old age.” – 1 Samuel 2:30-31 NLT

In the short-term, God would take the lives of Hophni and Phinehas. But with Solomon’s removal of Abiathar, another descendant of Eli suffered the humiliating loss of his priestly role. He was allowed to live but would have to bear the constant shame that accompanied his fall from grace.

Having dealt with the prodigal priest, Solomon turned his attention to Joab, the former general over the armies of Israel. This man had been a close friend and ally of David, having served alongside him for many years. But Joab had fallen out of favor with the king because of insubordination. Against the wishes of King David, Joab had taken the lives of two men, Amasa and Abner, both of whom he perceived as threats to his power and prestige. Now, years later, Joab had chosen to align himself with the king’s son, Adonijah, choosing to lend his reputation and military expertise to an attempted takeover of David’s throne. And when Joab heard that Adonijah was dead and Abiathar had been stripped of his priesthood, he knew it was just a matter of time before Solomon came looking for him. So, he sought refuge in the tabernacle, just as Adonijah had done.

But Solomon was not about to show this murderer and traitor any mercy. Instead, he commanded that Joab be executed on the spot. In ordering Joab’s death, Solomon was clearing his father’s dynasty of any responsibility for the unwarranted deaths of Amasa and Abner. As long as Joab remained alive and unpunished for his crimes, his guilt would be shared by the house of David. By removing Joab, Solomon hoped to avoid the condemnation of God and restore the hope of His future blessings on Israel.

“May their blood be on Joab and his descendants forever, and may the Lord grant peace forever to David, his descendants, his dynasty, and his throne.” – 1 Kings 2:23 NLT

Unlike his father, Solomon wasted no time in dealing with the issues that surrounded him. He had just ascended to the throne but had taken decisive action to clean up the mess his father had left behind. Solomon was quick to deal with the guilty, delivering the appropriate punishment and, in doing so, ensuring the spiritual health of his kingdom. He was also faithfully fulfilling his father’s dying wishes, meting out justice, and repaying the guilty for their crimes.

But Solomon didn’t just purge the sin from their midst. He quickly filled the vacancies created by the removals of Joab and Abiathar by promoting “Benaiah the son of Jehoiada over the army” and anointing “Zadok the priest in the place of Abiathar” (1 Kings 2:35 ESV). He surrounded himself with faithful men he could trust and began the important task of establishing the identity that would mark his reign as king.

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

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

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

Risky Business

23 And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.

28 “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” 30 for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” Mark 3:13-30 ESV

“He’s an amazing miracle worker.”

“He’s crazy!”

“He’s demon-possessed.”

The opinions about Jesus were all over the proverbial map. Some people loved Him, while others, like the Pharisees, harbored an intense and intensifying hatred for Him. But regardless of the diversity of opinions about Him, everyone would have agreed that this man from Nazareth was impossible to ignore. They couldn’t explain Him but neither could they dismiss Him.

And Mark indicates that a group of scribes had traveled all the way from Jerusalem to Galilee just to investigate this rural Rabbi was causing such a stir. It is likely that these men had been sent by the high priest and the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, and given the responsibility to find legal evidence to use against Jesus. As experts in the Mosaic law, as well as the oral and traditional regulations of the Jews, these men would have been well-qualified for their task.

Yet, despite their knowledge of the law, their initial assessment of Jesus was that He was possessed by a demon and under the control of Satan.

“He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” – Mark 3:22 ESV

They couldn’t deny the fact that Jesus did supernatural wonders and signs. It was obvious that He had powers and abilities that were not of this world. But rather than admit that Jesus was the Son of God, they accused Him of being in league with Satan.

By declaring that Jesus was “possessed by Beelzebul,” they were hoping to link Jesus to the demonic realm. The Greek name “Beelzebul” means “lord of the house or dwelling,” and it was used to refer to Satan, who was lord over the dwelling place of evil spirits. This accusation would have been well-understood by all those who heard it, and it would have shocked and surprised them.

Matthew and Luke provide additional context for this scene. The pronouncement by the scribes didn’t come out of the blue but was based on their assessment of a miracle Jesus had just performed.

Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” – Matthew 12:22-23 ESV

The people were so impressed by what Jesus had done that they questioned whether Jesus might be the Messiah, the long-awaited descendant of David, and the heir to his throne. But Matthew records the quick and calculated rebuttal of the religious leaders.

“It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” – Matthew 12:24 ESV

They were hoping to dispel any thoughts that this man, Jesus, had been sent by God. By linking His activities to Satan, they were attempting to tarnish His reputation and turn the people against Him.

Rather than wasting their time gathering forensic evidence providing that Jesus had violated their written and oral laws, they simply accused Him of being under the influence of Satan. In doing so, they put their argument against Jesus in terms the common people could understand. The scribes and Pharisees had little respect for the average Jew because they viewed them as being ignorant of the law. John records a very blunt assessment made by these very same religious leaders of their own people.

“…this rabble who do not know the law are accursed!” – John 7:49 NLT

But if there was one thing these uneducated and superstitious people could understand, it was the difference between good and evil. By associating Jesus with Satan, the scribes explained His power and, at the same time, maligned His character.

Yet rather than responding in anger, Jesus simply answered their accusation with a parable. He provided a well-reasoned response to their assertion that quickly exposed its absurdity and their own lack of judgment.

“How can Satan cast out Satan?” he asked. “A kingdom divided by civil war will collapse. Similarly, a family splintered by feuding will fall apart. And if Satan is divided and fights against himself, how can he stand? He would never survive.”  – Mark 3:23-26 NLT

Through the use of simple reasoning, Jesus dismantled the very foundation of their argument. And He did so in terms the people could understand. You can almost see them looking at one another as Jesus spoke, nodding their heads in approval. The things He was saying made sense to them.

But Jesus was not done. He continued to point out the flawed logic behind their accusation.

“Who is powerful enough to enter the house of a strong man and plunder his goods? Only someone even stronger—someone who could tie him up and then plunder his house.” – Mark 3:27 NLT

Why would Satan cast out one of his own demons? That would be counter-productive. And how could anyone cast out a demon unless he possessed a power greater than that of the demon?

Whether the religious leaders realized it or not, Jesus was taking them to school. He was providing them with a lesson on divine power and authority. Jesus had subtly moved the point of emphasis from casting out demons to the plundering of the home of “a strong man.”  It would seem that Jesus has shifted His focus to the religious leaders and the powerful hold they had over the nation of Israel. It explains what happened when Jesus entered the temple in Jerusalem and saw how the priests of God had transformed His Father’s house into a carnival-like atmosphere.

He found in the temple courts those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers sitting at tables. So he made a whip of cords and drove them all out of the temple courts, with the sheep and the oxen. He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold the doves he said, “Take these things away from here! Do not make my Father’s house a marketplace!” – John 2:14-16 NLT

Jesus had come to do the will of His Father, and He was operating under the power of the Holy Spirit. He had God-given authority and Spirit-enabled power to do what He did. But when these pride-filled men accused Jesus of operating under the influence and power of Satan, they had crossed the line. And Jesus clearly warned them that they were walking on thin ice.

“I tell you the truth, all sin and blasphemy can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. This is a sin with eternal consequences.” – Mark 3:28-29 NLT

Their flippant and poorly-reasoned accusation against Jesus had been a dangerous mistake. Whether they realized it or not, He was the Son of God, and they had just accused Him of fraternizing with the enemy. They had also attributed the work of the Spirit of God to the prince of this world. And in doing so, they had refused to accept the will of God. In essence, they had offended all three members of the Holy Trinity. And Jesus calls it exactly what it is: blasphemy.

And while blasphemy was normally a forgivable sin, in this case, Jesus was describing a condition in which men willingly and repeatedly reject the will of God, the claims of His Son, and the power of His Spirit. These men had been given ample evidence of who Jesus was. In a sense, the entire Godhead had provided testimony that Jesus was who He claimed to be: The Son of God. But these men had refused to believe. And it would be their stubborn disbelief that would prove to be the unpardonable sin.

Blasphemy is nothing more than speaking of God in terms that are disrespectful and derogatory. It is to dismiss the word of God and to reject the will of God. In denying Jesus as the Son of God, the religious leaders were snubbing their noses at God Almighty. They were rejecting the truth as found in His Word. And by attributing the power of the Spirit of God to Satan, they were robbing God of glory.

Blasphemy is a sin, and all sin is forgivable by God. But the one who repeatedly rejects the testimony of God regarding His Son runs the risk of committing the unpardonable and unforgivable sin. The apostle John put it in rather stark but understandable terms:

There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.
 – John 3:18 NLT

The religious leaders stood condemned because they refused to believe the testimony of God concerning His Son. Not only that, they had dismissed the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s power displayed through the life of the Son, falsely attributing it to the enemy.

They had accused Jesus of being possessed of a demon. But there are those who accuse Jesus of being nothing more than a man. Others claim He was a moral teacher who had the ability to perform miracles. But they deny that He was the Son of God. Some deny that He ever existed at all. And over the centuries, there have been those who have denied His virgin birth, His sinless life, His death and resurrection, and His atoning work on behalf of man. And in doing so, they have committed blasphemy. And all those who persist in rejecting the Son of God as the Savior sent by God, will be “guilty of an eternal sin.”

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

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

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

Not What You Expected

“Look among the nations, and see;
    wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
    that you would not believe if told.
For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans,
    that bitter and hasty nation,
who march through the breadth of the earth,
    to seize dwellings not their own.
They are dreaded and fearsome;
    their justice and dignity go forth from themselves.
Their horses are swifter than leopards,
    more fierce than the evening wolves;
    their horsemen press proudly on.
Their horsemen come from afar;
    they fly like an eagle swift to devour.
They all come for violence,
    all their faces forward.
    They gather captives like sand.
10 At kings they scoff,
    and at rulers they laugh.
They laugh at every fortress,
    for they pile up earth and take it.
11 Then they sweep by like the wind and go on,
    guilty men, whose own might is their god!” Habakkuk 1:5-11 ESV

Habakkuk had two questions for God: How long and why? But from Habakkuk’s earth-bound perspective, it appeared that God was unresponsive uncaring. The prophet found himself surrounded by destruction, violence, injustice, and iniquity. The law of God was treated with total disregard and the wicked among the people of Judah seemed to outnumber the righteous. In essence, Habakkuk was demanding to know what God was going to do about it all.

And in verses 5-11, he records the long-awaited response from God. Yet, the answer he received from the Almighty must have left him a bit surprised and disappointed. It’s safe to say that what Habakkuk heard God say was not what he had been expecting. When Habakkuk had uttered his opening prayer to God, it had been in the form of a lament, a desperate cry of help to God asking that He intervene and provide salvation.

But instead, God delivers a promise of coming judgment. While Habakkuk had been under the impression that God had not heard his cries or heeded his pleas for help, the truth was that God already had a plan in place. But God warned Habakkuk that the nature of His plan would be inconceivable and implausible to Habakkuk.

“Look among the nations, and see;
    wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
    that you would not believe if told.” – Habakkuk 1:5 ESV

While Habakkuk’s opening prayer had focused on the state of affairs in Judah, God revealed that He had a much bigger agenda in mind that would include foreign powers and pagan nations as His instruments of judgment.

“For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans,
    that bitter and hasty nation,
who march through the breadth of the earth,
    to seize dwellings not their own.” – Habakkuk 1:6 ESV

The term, “Chaldean” was a reference to the Babylonian Empire. God was telling Habakkuk that the solution to Judah’s problem was going to come in the form of a pagan nation that would rise to power and dominate the Middle East. And don’t miss God’s declaration that He would be the one who raised up this new superpower. Their ascension to world dominance would be the work of God, not men. And yet, God describes them as bitter, hasty, dreaded, and fearsome. They are violent and fierce, devouring everything in their path and “are notorious for their cruelty and do whatever they like” (Habakkuk 1:7 NLT).

This alarming news must have left Habakkuk in a state of shock. How could this be the answer to Judah’s problem? What possible good could come from God raising up a godless and bloodthirsty nation to set their greedy sights on the land of promise? None of this would have made sense to Habakkuk. And yet, God warned that He was “doing a work” in their day that would be unprecedented and unparalleled. The entire region was going to feel the wrath of God as He brought judgment upon them for their pride, arrogance, and failure to recognize Him as the one true God. He had warned the King of Tyre that judgment was coming.

“Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says:
Because you think you are as wise as a god,
   I will now bring against you a foreign army,
    the terror of the nations.
They will draw their swords against your marvelous wisdom
    and defile your splendor!” – Ezekiel 28:6-7 NLT

Even the great nation of Egypt would suffer the judgment of God in the form of Babylonian aggression.

“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says:
By the power of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon,
    I will destroy the hordes of Egypt.
He and his armies—the most ruthless of all—
    will be sent to demolish the land.
They will make war against Egypt
    until slaughtered Egyptians cover the ground.” – Ezekiel 30:10-11 NLT

God was letting Habakkuk know that He was sovereign over all the nations. All kings and countries answered to Him. They were at His beck and call, serving at His whim and completely subservient to His sovereign will. Years later, the prophet Daniel, living in captivity in Babylon and serving in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar himself, would pray a prayer of thanksgiving to God. Faced with a possible death sentence if he failed to interpret the king’s dream, Daniel had received its meaning directly from God in a dream. And he expressed his gratitude to God for His sovereign power and protection.

“Praise the name of God forever and ever,
    for he has all wisdom and power.
He controls the course of world events;
    he removes kings and sets up other kings.
He gives wisdom to the wise
    and knowledge to the scholars.
He reveals deep and mysterious things
    and knows what lies hidden in darkness,
    though he is surrounded by light.
– Daniel 2:20-22 NLT

The thought that God would use a Gentile nation to punish His own people was inconceivable to Habakkuk and the people of Judah. To the prophets’ warning that God was bringing judgment against them, the people of Judah had responded with scorn and ridicule.

“He won’t bother us!
No disasters will come upon us.
    There will be no war or famine.
God’s prophets are all windbags
    who don’t really speak for him.
    Let their predictions of disaster fall on themselves!” – Jeremiah 5:12-13 NLT

The leaders of Judah vehemently denied the prophetic warnings, declaring them to be lies. False prophets countered the message of God’s spokesmen, promising peace rather than judgment.

“From prophets to priests,
    they are all frauds.
They offer superficial treatments
    for my people’s mortal wound.
They give assurances of peace
    when there is no peace.” – Jeremiah 6:13-14 NLT

The people of Judah were convinced that their status as God’s chosen people and the presence of the temple of God were protections against any pending judgment. As long as they kept offering sacrifices as God had commanded, they would be safe. Or so they thought.

“Do you really think you can steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and burn incense to Baal and all those other new gods of yours, and then come here and stand before me in my Temple and chant, ‘We are safe!’—only to go right back to all those evils again?” – Jeremiah 7:9-10 NLT

God had warned the people of Israel that there would be consequences for their failure to keep their covenant agreement with Him. Long before they ever set foot in the land of promise, Moses had delivered to them God’s ultimatum regarding blessings and curses. If they chose to be unfaithful, they would suffer the consequences.

“You will watch as your sons and daughters are taken away as slaves…A foreign nation you have never heard about will eat the crops you worked so hard to grow…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 28:32, 33, 36- 37 NLT

Now, after centuries marked by disobedience and disregard for the laws of God, the nation of Judah was facing the same fate as their brothers and sisters to the north. The ten tribes that formed the northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians years earlier. They had been taken captive and their cities and towns had been left destroyed and their land, devastated. But the southern kingdom of Judah had learned nothing from watching the demise of their northern neighbors. They still thought they were immune and under divine protection.

But God warns that the Babylonians would destroy everything in their path. There would be no walls high enough and no armies strong enough to halt their advance or prevent their God-ordained destruction of the land of Judah.

“They scoff at kings and princes
    and scorn all their fortresses.
They simply pile ramps of earth
    against their walls and capture them!” – Habakkuk 1:10 NLT

Yet, in spite of their apparent success, God would hold the Babylonians accountable for their actions. Yes, He would use them to accomplish His divine will, but that would not absolve them from their guilt. They would be operating under the impression that they were in full control of their actions, answerable to no one but themselves.

“They sweep past like the wind
    and are gone.
But they are deeply guilty,
    for their own strength is their god.” – Habakkuk 1:11 NLT

Oblivious to the sovereign hand of God, Nebuchadnezzar and his forces would view their victories as having been man-made, not God-ordained. But after having successfully fulfilled the will of God concerning the people of Judah, God would judge Babylon for its role in their demise.

When Habakkuk had asked God, “How long?” and “Why?” this was not the answer he expected or wanted. But God’s ways are not our ways. His plans rarely line up with our preconceived ideas. But He is always faithful, right, and just in all that He does. His ways are righteous. His plans are perfect. As King David expressed in his psalm: “The LORD is righteous in everything he does” (Psalm 145:17 NLT). We may not understand or even like His ways. We may have a difficult time believing His will for us is best for us. But in time, we will see that God’s ways, while hard to understand, are motivated by His love, mercy, and grace.

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 Ways of God

1 The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw. Habakkuk 1:1 ESV

This rather obscure little Old Testament book has an equally obscure author. We know very little about Habakkuk, other than his role as a prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah during the days before the nation was judged by God, defeated by the Babylonians, and sent into exile. Thus, he is what is known as a pre-exilic prophet. His primary job was to warn God’s people of His pending judgment and to call them to repentance.

The book is comprised of a unique combination of poetry and prose, revealing Habakkuk as a poet as well as a prophet. And, like all the other prophets of God, Habakkuk was not intended to be the focus of the book that bears his name. He was a spokesman for God Almighty, tasked with delivering His divine warning of imminent judgment against God’s chosen people for their sins against Him.

It seems likely that Habakkuk prophesied during the reign of King Jehoiakim (609-598 B.C.). His prophetic ministry covered a period of time when Judah was in a steep spiritual decline following the death of Josiah, the great reformer king. Josiah was one of the few kings of either Israel or Judah who proved faithful to God. When he had ascended to the throne of Judah, he inherited a spiritually bankrupt legacy passed down by his father Manasseh.

Manasseh…did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. – 2 Kings 21:1-2 ESV

He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger. – 2 Kings 21:6 ESV

Manasseh turned the people of Judah against God, erecting shrines and high places to false gods all throughout the nation. He even placed “the carved image of Asherah that he had made he set in the house of which the Lord” (2 Kings 21:7 ESV). On top of that, Manasseh followed the practices of the pagan nations, instituting child sacrifice as a part of their worship. He was so wicked that the author of 2 Kings states, “Manasseh led them astray to do more evil than the nations had done whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel” (2 Kings 21:9 ESV).

And God pronounced His judgment against Manasseh, warning that his behavior was going to have dire consequences.

Because Manasseh king of Judah has committed these abominations and has done things more evil than all that the Amorites did, who were before him, and has made Judah also to sin with his idols, therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing upon Jerusalem and Judah such disaster that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. And I will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria, and the plumb line of the house of Ahab, and I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. And I will forsake the remnant of my heritage and give them into the hand of their enemies, and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies, because they have done what is evil in my sight and have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came out of Egypt, even to this day.” – 2 Kings 21:11-15 ESV

Eventually, Manasseh died and his son, Amon took his place on the throne. He followed in his father’s footsteps, continuing his legacy of idolatry and apostasy. But his reign was shortlived, lasting only two years before he was assassinated by his own servants. He was succeeded by his son Josiah who, at the age of eight, was given the responsibility of leading a nation who had turned its back on God. But for the next 31 years, Josiah would prove to be a royal anomaly, leading the nation of Judah in a period of unprecedented spiritual renewal and revival.

…he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left. – 2 Kings 22:2 ESV

Josiah instituted a series of reforms designed to restore the nation’s allegiance to Yahweh. He ordered repairs to the much-neglected temple. He recommitted the nation to keep the law of God. He razed all the high places and pagan shrines dedicated to the false gods of the Canaanites. And finally, he reinstituted the annual celebration of Passover. These initiatives set Josiah apart from all his predecessors, establishing him as an example of faithfulness and righteousness.

Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him. – 2 Kings 23:25 ESV

But despite all of his efforts, Josiah’s reforms made little impact on the hearts of the people of Judah. God knew that nothing had really changed and His plans for dealing with the sins of Manasseh remained unaltered because the people remained unfaithful.

Still the Lord did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him. – 2 Kings 23:26 ESV

Josiah was eventually killed in combat by Egyptian forces and replaced as king by his son Jehoahaz. But his reign would last only three months before Neco, the Pharaoh of Egypt, removed him from power and replaced him with his brother, Jehoiakim. For the next 11 years, Jehoiakim would rule over Judah, emulating his father’s evil ways and continuing the nation’s downward spiritual spiral. All the reforms of Josiah would be neglected and the idolatrous practices of Manasseh would be restored.

he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done. – 2 Kings 23:37 ESV

And it was during this dark period of Judah’s history that Habakkuk received his prophetic call from God. It was accompanied by the rise of the nation of Babylon, a powerful pagan people who were slowly replacing the Assyrians as the force to be reckoned with in the region. While the Assyrians had already conquered the northern kingdom of Israel and taken a large contingent of their people into captivity, they would soon find their 15-minutes of fame coming to an abrupt end. In 605 B.C., the Babylonians defeated a combined army of Egyptians and Assyrians at the battle of Carchemish, establishing themselves as the major power in the ancient Near East. The book of 2 Kings reveals that the Babylonians soon relegated Judah’s status in the region as that of a vassal state.

In his days, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant for three years. Then he turned and rebelled against him. And the Lord sent against him bands of the Chaldeans and bands of the Syrians and bands of the Moabites and bands of the Ammonites, and sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by his servants the prophets. Surely this came upon Judah at the command of the Lord, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done… – 2 Kings 24:1-3 ESV

Jehoiakim’s reign would last 11 years, with the final three years marked by subservience to the Babylonians. But long before the Babylonians came to prominence and power, God would use Habakkuk to warn of their coming.

For I am doing something in your own day,
    something you wouldn’t believe
    even if someone told you about it.
I am raising up the Babylonians,
    a cruel and violent people.
They will march across the world
    and conquer other lands. – Habakkuk 1:5-6 NLT

While Jehoiakim and the people of Judah were busy turning their backs on God, He was planning their judgment. And what God was going to do would come as a complete surprise to the people of Judah. They had no way of knowing about Babylon’s rise to power. In their minds, it was the Assyrians who were the major threat to their well-being. But God had something else in store. While they continued to place their hope and trust in false gods, Yahweh was planning His righteous retribution for their blatant violation of their covenant commitment to Him.

One of the things that the book of Habakkuk will reveal is the prophet’s struggle with God’s ways. He was commissioned to speak on God’s behalf, but he didn’t fully comprehend what it was that God was doing. Even as a prophet, he was confused as to why God would choose to use a pagan nation to punish the chosen people of God. To Habakkuk, the plans God had for Judah’s demise seemed unfair and uncharacteristic of His covenant commitment to them. While Habakkuk was fully aware of Judah’s wickedness, his national pride made it difficult for him to understand what God was doing. So, part of the book contains his questions to God. In fact, verse two opens up with the words, “O Lord, how long?”

But God wanted Habakkuk to know what Isaiah the prophet had come to understand.

Seek the Lord while you can find him.
    Call on him now while he is near.
Let the wicked change their ways
    and banish the very thought of doing wrong.
Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.
    Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so my ways are higher than your ways
    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:6-9 NLT

Habakkuk may not have understood what God was doing, but he would eventually to learn to trust His ways.

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