Stop Pointing Your Finger and Point Them to God

1 And Elihu continued, and said:

“Bear with me a little, and I will show you,
    for I have yet something to say on God’s behalf.
I will get my knowledge from afar
    and ascribe righteousness to my Maker.
For truly my words are not false;
    one who is perfect in knowledge is with you.

“Behold, God is mighty, and does not despise any;
    he is mighty in strength of understanding.
He does not keep the wicked alive,
    but gives the afflicted their right.
He does not withdraw his eyes from the righteous,
    but with kings on the throne
    he sets them forever, and they are exalted.
And if they are bound in chains
    and caught in the cords of affliction,
then he declares to them their work
    and their transgressions, that they are behaving arrogantly.
10 He opens their ears to instruction
    and commands that they return from iniquity.
11 If they listen and serve him,
    they complete their days in prosperity,
    and their years in pleasantness.
12 But if they do not listen, they perish by the sword
    and die without knowledge.

13 “The godless in heart cherish anger;
    they do not cry for help when he binds them.
14 They die in youth,
    and their life ends among the cult prostitutes.
15 He delivers the afflicted by their affliction
    and opens their ear by adversity.
16 He also allured you out of distress
    into a broad place where there was no cramping,
    and what was set on your table was full of fatness.

17 “But you are full of the judgment on the wicked;
    judgment and justice seize you.
18 Beware lest wrath entice you into scoffing,
    and let not the greatness of the ransom turn you aside.
19 Will your cry for help avail to keep you from distress,
    or all the force of your strength?
20 Do not long for the night,
    when peoples vanish in their place.
21 Take care; do not turn to iniquity,
    for this you have chosen rather than affliction.” – Job 36:1-21 ESV

Okay, I’ve officially had enough of Elihu. He is a highly eloquent, but loquacious young man who just doesn’t know when to shut up. While he has said a lot of wonderful things about God, he has ended up painting a very conflicted and confusing image of the Almighty. He boastfully claims that all he is doing is defending the integrity and name of God.

“Let me go on, and I will show you the truth.
    For I have not finished defending God!
I will present profound arguments
    for the righteousness of my Creator. – Job 36:2-3 NLT

But his lofty words concerning God seem to be a thinly veiled excuse for condemning Job and trying to coerce a confession out of him. This young man has had more to say than Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar combined. He is on a roll and shows no signs of letting up. His attacks on Job have been relentless and severe, but he continues to wrap them in a thin veneer of pious-sounding rhetoric meant to sanctify his words and justify his anger with Job.

Much of what he says about God is true but he is using these powerful truths as weapons in his attacks on Job. They are not intended to provide Job with comfort, but are meant to convict him of sin. Look closely at what he says.

“God is mighty, but he does not despise anyone!
    He is mighty in both power and understanding.
He does not let the wicked live
    but gives justice to the afflicted.
He never takes his eyes off the innocent,
    but he sets them on thrones with kings
    and exalts them forever. – Job 36:5-7 NLT

There is no way for Job to argue with those statements because they are true. But Job knows that Elihu is using these lofty statements about God as a way to condemn him of guilt. It was perfectly clear to Job that he was one of the “wicked” whom God will not allow to live. And just in case Job missed the point and placed himself in the role of the innocent, Elihu makes sure that he understands that they too will suffer at the hands of God.

If they are bound in chains
    and caught up in a web of trouble,
he shows them the reason.
    He shows them their sins of pride.
He gets their attention
    and commands that they turn from evil. – Job 36:8-10 NLT

According to Elihu, even the innocent can enjoy great blessings or terrible tragedies. If they suddenly find themselves cast from the throne room and into chains, it is because of sin – case closed. God is simply trying to get their attention by breaking their pride and turning from their wicked ways. Basically, Elihu is stating that bad things don’t happen to good people; they are reserved for the wicked. So, Job must be a wicked person.

Elihu never mentions Job by name and does not address him directly, but it’s clear that his entire speech is directed at his suffering friend. He has designated Job as a wicked and stubborn sinner who will continue to suffer the wrath of God until he repents. Job doesn’t need an audience with God, he needs to confess his sins.

“If they [the wicked] listen and obey God,
    they will be blessed with prosperity throughout their lives.
    All their years will be pleasant. – Job 36:11 NLT

Elihu is brutal and unwavering in his assessment of Job, and he warns his “friend” that the future will end in death and not deliverance unless Job repents.

“But if they refuse to listen to him,
    they will cross over the river of death,
    dying from lack of understanding.
For the godless are full of resentment.
    Even when he punishes them,
    they refuse to cry out to him for help. – Job 36:12-13 NLT

When Elihu looked at Job, he saw a man who was obviously a sinner who refused to admit his guilt, Job’s relentless defense of his innocence was the proof. Elihu firmly believed that Job remained blind to his sins because he was too busy trying to prove his innocence. What Job failed to understand was that all the pain and suffering he had endured had been a divine wake-up call designed to show him his sins and lead him to repentance.

“God is leading you away from danger, Job,
    to a place free from distress.
    He is setting your table with the best food.
But you are obsessed with whether the godless will be judged. – Job 36:16-17 NLT

Again, there is an element of truth in what Elihu says but is applying it like a sledge hammer. He accuses Job of wickedness and assures him that he is suffering at the hand of God for his sinful actions. He tells Job to repent of his sins and all will go well with him. Elihu’s is a simple and simplistic view of God. He keeps talking about the majesty and incomprehensibility of God, yet he seems to have God boxed in and figured out. He alone knows the ways of God. He even brags that he speaks on behalf of God.

“Be patient with me a little longer and I will instruct you, for I still have words to speak on God’s behalf.” – Job 36:2 NET

He even brags that his wisdom is perfect and complete.

“For in truth, my words are not false; it is one complete in knowledge who is with you.” – Job 36:4 NET

Here is a young man who is wise in his own conceit. Not only does he have Job figured out, he has a handle on God as well. For all his spouting about God’s majesty and power, his God is really a small, petty, vengeful and reactionary God. But his God is not the God of the Bible. He doesn’t know or understand the ways of God. None of us do. Just about the time we think we have Him figured out, He surprises us. We will never fully know or understand His ways. We can never predict His actions. But we can rest assured in His character. He is a loving, holy, and righteous God. He is a God of judgment but He is also a God of mercy.

Where we get into trouble is when we start trying to determine what He is doing in the world or in the lives of those we know. We can jump to wrong conclusions and assume that natural disasters like earthquakes are meant to punish nations for their sins. We can’t make that claim because we don’t know the mind of God. We can’t make those kind of sweeping assumptions because we do NOT know. Rather than trying to figure out the why, we need to ask God what and how. What does He want us to do about it? How does He want us to react to it? We know God has a purpose. We know He has a plan. Our job is not to determine the cause of what has happened, but to reach out in love and compassion to those who are caught in the midst of it.

I have no problem with Job’s friends pointing out that Job might have sinned and that his suffering could be a result of that sin. But once Job denied it, they needed to move on and help Job seek God in the midst of it all. They needed to point Job back to God and keep him focused on the mercy and love of God. We need to do the same. And this ministry of pointing people to God needs to be self-applied. When we find ourselves going through difficult times, we need to look to God. Rather than seeking the cause of our suffering, we need to pursue the hope of our restoration. We need to look for the God who is ultimately in charge of all that goes on in the world. We need to ask Him to examine our hearts and expose anything that needs to be revealed. But more importantly, we need to ask Him to open our eyes so that we might see Him more clearly.

Elihu had reached his conclusion and he was not willing to consider any other option. Job was guilty and there was no need for discussion or debate. That is what led him to matter-of-factually state:

“Be on guard! Turn back from evil,
    for God sent this suffering
    to keep you from a life of evil.” – Job 36:21 NLT

But what if he was wrong?

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

Repent and Turn

19 “Yet you say, ‘Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’ When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. 20 The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

21 “But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 22 None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. 23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? 24 But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die.

25 “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? 26 When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it; for the injustice that he has done he shall die. 27 Again, when a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life. 28 Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions that he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 29 Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just?

30 “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. 31 Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” Ezekiel 18:19-32 ESV

God has made it clear that the previous generations of Israelites had failed to live their lives in faithful obedience to Him. But He was not going to allow the present generation to blame their current condition on others. They were just as guilty and deserving of punishment as their parents and grandparents had been.

In this message to Ezekiel, God clears up a common misunderstanding and lets them know that each and every individual is responsible for their own behavior. But God has anticipated the reaction Ezekiel will get from his audience.

“What?’ you ask. ‘Doesn’t the child pay for the parent’s sins?’ No! For if the child does what is just and right and keeps my decrees, that child will surely live. The person who sins is the one who will die. The child will not be punished for the parent’s sins, and the parent will not be punished for the child’s sins. Righteous people will be rewarded for their own righteous behavior, and wicked people will be punished for their own wickedness.” – Ezekiel 18:19-20 NLT

God informs His people that His justice is not indiscriminate or applied in a one-size-fits-all manner.

“…if wicked people turn away from all their sins and begin to obey my decrees and do what is just and right, they will surely live and not die. – Ezekiel 18:21 NLT

God was reminding His chosen but rebellious people that there was a way to restore their relationship with Him. All they had to do was reject wickedness for righteousness. If they make the decision to live in obedience to His commands, “all their past sins will be forgotten, and they will live because of the righteous things they have done” (Ezekiel 18:21 NLT). And God informs them that He takes no delight in the deaths of the wicked. His desire is that they repent and replace their wickedness with righteousness.

I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live.” – Ezekiel 18:23 NLT

This divine mindset was meant to be a source of encouragement to the rebellious people of Judah. They still had time to change their ways. They could reverse the downward spiral of their spiritual trajectory by returning to God in humble contrition. It was not too late. But God was not interested in those who were simply seeking “fire insurance.” In other words, He was not offering His forgiveness to those who thought they could go through the motions by offering up a temporary display of repentance to buy themselves time. God wanted to see true repentance that resulted in a long-term lifestyle of righteousness. To return to a life of righteousness only to reverse course and embrace wickedness again would not cut it with God.

“…if righteous people turn from their righteous behavior and start doing sinful things and act like other sinners, should they be allowed to live?” – Ezekiel 18:24 NLT

God answers His own question with an emphatic, “No!” An individual’s temporary display of righteous behavior would not preserve them from judgment if they decided to jettison a  life of godliness for one of wickedness.

“All their righteous acts will be forgotten, and they will die for their sins.” – Ezekiel 18:24 NLT

But God knew that His people found His methods appalling. They even accused Him of practicing injustice.

“The Lord isn’t doing what’s right!” – Ezekiel 18:25 NLT

Because the Jews living in exile believed themselves to be undeserving of their punishment, they found God’s treatment of them to be unfair. He had wrongly punished them for the sins of their forefathers. In their minds, they had done nothing wrong or deserving of such harsh treatment by God. After all, they were His chosen people, the apple of His eye. How could He have allowed their deportation to the land of Babylon?

Yet God pulls no punches when He states, “O people of Israel, it is you who are not doing what’s right, not I.” (Ezekiel 18:29 NLT). They couldn’t blame Him for their predicament. They had brought it on themselves through their repeated acts of unfaithfulness and unrighteousness.

The judgment of God was inescapable without repentance. So God offers them another gracious opportunity to do the right thing and revive their status as His chosen people.

“Therefore, I will judge each of you, O people of Israel, according to your actions, says the Sovereign Lord. Repent, and turn from your sins. Don’t let them destroy you! Put all your rebellion behind you, and find yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O people of Israel?” – Ezekiel 18:30-31 NLT

As the righteous judge of the universe, God is obligated to deal justly with sin. He cannot overlook or ignore it. He cannot turn a blind eye to HIs peoples’ blatant displays of rebellion and their refusal to live in obedience to His commands. But He wants them to know that His preference for them is that they choose life over death.

I don’t want you to die, says the Sovereign Lord. Turn back and live!” – Ezekiel 18:32 NLT

God’s standard of righteousness was demanding. He expected obedience, faithfulness, adherence to His Law, and unflinching worship of Him and Him alone. And no man was able to meet that standard. That is the whole reason God gave the Israelites the sacrificial system. It was intended to provide His people with a way of receiving atonement and forgiveness for the sins they committed. But they had turned the sacrificial system into a mechanical and ritualistic performance. Their hearts weren’t in it.

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

The prophet Jeremiah declared God’s dissatisfaction with His peoples’ meaningless sacrifices.

“I will not accept your burnt offerings.
    Your sacrifices have no pleasing aroma for me.” – Jeremiah 6:20 NLT

Hundreds of years earlier, God had given His prophet, Amos similarly stinging words to convey to the rebellious citizens of the northern kingdom of Israel. They too had ignored God’s calls to repentance, wrongly assuming that they were immune from God’s judgment. They viewed themselves as deeply religious and, therefore, as righteous in God’s eyes. But God had a different perspective.

“I hate all your show and pretense—
    the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.
I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings.
    I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings.
Away with your noisy hymns of praise!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice,
    an endless river of righteous living. – Amos 5:21-24 NLT

When King Solomon finished constructing the temple in Jerusalem, he held a magnificent dedication ceremony to commemorate its grand opening. At that event, God made the following promise.

“…if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:14 NLT

That time had come. The people were wicked and the wrath of God had begun to descend upon the citizens of Jerusalem. But more was on its way. God was far from done because the people were far from repentant. But there was always an opportunity for God’s people to humble themselves, pray, seek His face, and turn from their wicked ways, and Ezekiel was letting them know that there was no time like the present.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

Learning to Trust God

1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, and get from them staffs, one for each fathers’ house, from all their chiefs according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. Write each man’s name on his staff, and write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi. For there shall be one staff for the head of each fathers’ house. Then you shall deposit them in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you.” Moses spoke to the people of Israel. And all their chiefs gave him staffs, one for each chief, according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. And the staff of Aaron was among their staffs. And Moses deposited the staffs before the Lord in the tent of the testimony.

On the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony, and behold, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds. Then Moses brought out all the staffs from before the Lord to all the people of Israel. And they looked, and each man took his staff. 10 And the Lord said to Moses, “Put back the staff of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept as a sign for the rebels, that you may make an end of their grumblings against me, lest they die.” 11 Thus did Moses; as the Lord commanded him, so he did.

12 And the people of Israel said to Moses, “Behold, we perish, we are undone, we are all undone. 13 Everyone who comes near, who comes near to the tabernacle of the Lord, shall die. Are we all to perish?” Numbers 17:1-13 ESV

The Israelites had become first-class, professional whiners. They could grumble with the best of them. Over and over again, since the day they left Egypt, they had found reasons to complain – about everything from the food to the leadership of Moses. Most recently, it had been God’s decision to have only the Levites serve as priests in the tabernacle. God had given them the responsibility that was supposed to belong to the first-born males of every tribe. The Levites had been divinely chosen to serve as substitutes.

But the people had decided they didn’t like this plan. Under the leadership of Korah and a few other leaders, the people had risen up against Moses and Aaron, demanding their version of equality and inclusion. But their demands were met with the discipline of God. He destroyed all those who instigated the rebellion against Moses and Aaron and then brought a plague against those who blamed Moses and Aaron for the deaths of their friends. Only the quick action of Aaron, who offered an atoning sacrifice for the people, spared even more from death that day.

In light of all the complaining, God came up with a plan to bring it to a close once and for all. He knew the people were far from done. It was just a matter of time before they found something else to stir them up and cause them to lash out at God and His chosen leaders. So God instructed Moses to have each tribe select a branch from an almond tree and inscribe on it the name of the prince or head of their tribe. These 12 rods were then to be placed in the tabernacle before the Lord.

The next day Moses went in and discovered that the rod bearing Aaron’s name had budded, blossomed, and bore fruit. Miraculously, it had gone through an entire growing season in one evening. Devoid of water and the benefits of the tree from which it had been taken, Aaron’s rod evidenced a supernatural capacity for fruitfulness. This amazing visual display was intended to show the people that God had selected Aaron and his sons to serve Him as priests. Case closed! There was no more reason for the people to question or complain. God had settled the dispute once and for all.

Or maybe not. Because immediately after this, the people crank up their complaining once again. This time it was about their physical well-being. They said, “We are as good as dead. Everyone who even comes close to the Tabernacle of the LORD dies. We are all doomed!” (Numbers 17:12-13 NLT). Instead of praising God for what He had done with the almond rod, they focused their attention on their own well-being. They were so busy pitying themselves, they had no time to think about God’s miraculous demonstration of power and His clear endorsement of Aaron and his sons.

God’s divine display had been intended to settle the dispute about leadership. He had unquestionably reaffirmed His selection of the Aaronic priesthood. He even commanded that the rod be placed alongside the Ark of the Covenant. It was to serve as a perpetual reminder that God had spoken and the matter was settled. His will was not up for debate and He expected His commands to be obeyed at all times.

But the people saw His actions as a statement of judgment and feared further retribution from God. They had just witnessed the earth open up and swallow the families of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Then they stood back and watched as the fire of the Lord consumed the 250 leaders who had joined in the rebellion. Finally, they had seen 14,700 of their fellow Israelites die from the plague that God had sent upon them.

So, they viewed the budding of Aaron’s rod as a further indictment of their guilt and reacted with fear.

“Look, we are doomed! We are dead! We are ruined! Everyone who even comes close to the Tabernacle of the Lord dies. Are we all doomed to die?” – Numbers 17:12-13 NLT

Rather than glorying in the greatness of God, they cowered in fear. Instead of repenting for their rebellion against Him, they accused Him of being a vengeful, bloodthirsty deity. They display no remorse. They exhibit no signs of sorrow for their sins. They simply express their fear of God’s judgment and wrath. After all the time they had spent in His presence and enjoyed His power and provision, they still had no idea who He was and how they were to respond to Him.

But isn’t that what we do? We can get so consumed with our dissatisfaction with our lot in life that we fail to see the miracles of God taking place all around us. We whine and moan, and spend all our time grumbling to God that we never see all that He is doing around us. Yet God patiently endures our rejection of Him. He continues to shower us with His grace and unmerited favor.

We turn our backs on Him, but He never abandons us. He disciplines us, but He never stops loving us. He is faithful, even when we are unfaithful. He provides us with leadership, direction, sustenance, and everything we need to survive in this hostile environment. Yet we continually turn our backs on Him. Or worse yet, we end up fearing Him rather than basking in the love He pours out on us. Like the Israelites, we live as if God is out to get us, not to bless us. We view Him as a cosmic killjoy, not a loving Father who wants to meet our every need in Christ.

Sin is ultimately self-centered. It always has been. It ends up being all about me. And when I focus on myself, I lose sight of Him.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

God Relented

The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”

10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. Jonah 3:6-10 ESV

There seems to be little doubt that Jonah delivered his message of God’s pending overthrow of the Ninevites with “evangelistic” zeal. As a dedicated Hebrew, Jonah would have relished the opportunity to be God’s messenger of destruction to such a wicked and godless people. He fully recognized the danger associated with his task but enthusiastically and repeatedly warned them, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4 ESV). So, when the Ninevites responded to his message with repentance and not revenge, Jonah was completely dumbfounded and extremely disappointed. This was not the outcome he had hoped for. But it was the one he had feared. In the very next chapter, Jonah will express to God the depth of his displeasure and anger over the repentance of the Ninevites.

“O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish…” – Jonah 4:2 ESV

His worst fears had come to fruition. Rather than destroy the Ninevites, God had responded to them with grace, mercy, patience, and love. But rather than rejoicing over the miraculous conversion of these former enemies of Israel, Jonah complained bitterly to God. This brings us back to the opening line of this book.

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah… – Jonah 1:1 ESV

In the original Hebrew, the very first word of this entire narrative was intended to set the stage for all that was to follow. It can be translated as “and it happened.” This word usually serves to connect the narrative to something that has preceded it. The author is letting his readers know that what they are about to read is a story, but it is not an isolated or independent one. The book of Jonah was not intended to be taken as a free-standing narrative but as an integral part of a much larger story. The author is linking his chronicle of Jonah’s Ninevite mission to the writings of Amos and Hosea. These two men had been prophets to the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of King Jeroboam II, making them contemporaries of Jonah. And like Jonah, both of them have books that bear their names. In those books, they paint a bleak image of the spiritual state of Israel.

There is no faithfulness or steadfast love,
    and no knowledge of God in the land;
there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery;
    they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. – Hosea 4:1-2 ESV

They have deeply corrupted themselves – Hosea 9:9 ESV

…they multiply falsehood and violence – Hosea 12:1 ESV

…you turn justice into poison
    and the sweet fruit of righteousness into bitterness – Amos 6:12 NLT

Amos and Hosea describe God’s people as rebellious, idolatrous, immoral, unjust, and stubbornly unrepentant. In fact, God says of them, “The more they were called, the more they went away” (Hosea 11:2 ESV). Amos reminds them how God had punished them with drought, famine, disease, and destruction, yet they would not return to Him (Amos 4:6).

God had repeatedly called His people to repentance.

“Seek me and live…” – Amos 5:4 ESV

Seek good, and not evil, that you may live – Amos 5:14 ESV

Hate evil, and love good,
    and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
    will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. – Amos 5:15 ESV

But God’s gracious calls to repent and return to Him had fallen on deaf ears. So, He had warned them that he would raise up a nation against them (Amos 6:14). And that brings us back to verse 1 of Jonah chapter one.

“Now (and it happened) the word of the Lord came to Jonah…” (Jonah 1:1 ESV). And God told Jonah, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me” (Jonah 1:2 ESV). But was their evil any worse than that of Israel? That seems to be the point. God was sending Jonah to a people who were renowned for their wickedness but Amos and Hosea had clearly exposed the wanton sinfulness of the covenant people of God.

By sending His reluctant prophet to Nineveh and bringing about the repentance of its godless inhabitants, God was indicting His own chosen people. He was revealing just how faithless and spiritually adulterous Israel really was. Years of prophetic warnings had failed to produce repentance among the covenant people of God. But Jonah’s message produced a citywide revival in Nineveh. It reminds me of the words of Jesus, spoken to the prideful, unrepentant religious leaders of Israel in His day.

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” – Matthew 3:7-9 ESV

Jonah had claimed to be a Hebrew who feared the Lord, “the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9 ESV). Yet, he had refused to obey the One he claimed to fear. In a similar way, the people of Israel had claimed to know God.

To me they cry, “My God, we—Israel—know you.” – Hosea 8:2 ESV

But God exposed their hypocrisy.

“They do not cry to me from the heart…” – Hosea 7:14 ESV

Yet, the people of Nineveh, who had no knowledge of or past experience with Yahweh, repented and mourned at the word of His prophet. Even the king of Nineveh “arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes” (Jonah 3:6 ESV). This royal ruler of the dreaded Assyrian empire humbled himself before God Almighty. Yet the kings of Israel had repeatedly refused to bow the knee to Yahweh, choosing instead to lead the people into apostasy and idolatry. These arrogant, pride-filled kings had made a habit of turning their backs on God. And the day was coming when the people of Israel would find themselves without a king. The very same Assyrians who repented at Jonah’s message would eventually come to Israel as God’s agents of judgment. And, as a result, “Samaria’s king shall perish” (Hosea 10:11 ESV). But rather than respond in humility and repentance, the people of Israel will continue to reject Yahweh as their true King.

“We have no king,
for we do not fear the Lord;
    and a king—what could he do for us?” – Hosea 10:3 ESV

But, in stark contrast, Sennacherib, the king over Nineveh, “issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands’” (Jonah 3:7-8 ESV).

This was a corporate call for the entire city to fast and mourn before God. And the king included men and animals in that call. Every living creature within the walls of Nineveh was to experience the pain associated with self-denial. The Ninevites were even expected to deny their domesticated animals food and water, as a sign of the entire city’s humble submission to Yahweh. They recognized the pervasive nature of their sin and wanted to do whatever was necessary to assuage the righteous anger of Israel’s God.

The king was well aware of their corporate guilt and wanted to ensure that their repentance was equally shared among every stratum of society – from the rich to the poor. And he set the example, declaring his hope that Yahweh may yet show them mercy.

“Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” – Jonah 3:9 ESV

And when God saw that their repentance was sincere and heartfelt, “how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it” (Jonah 3:10 ESV). The God of the nations had graciously declared His message of pending judgment and His loving offer of redemption, and the Ninevites had responded in repentance.

But the prophet of Israel found all of this to be disconcerting and disappointing. He failed to see the lesson contained in the miraculous conversion of the Ninevites. The God he claimed to believe in was capable of saving even the worst of sinners. Yet the people whom God had graciously set apart as His own, had repeatedly refused to accept His call to repent and experience restoration and redemption. Jonah had just witnessed the truth of God’s statement to Moses lived out.

“I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” – Exodus 33:19 ESV

But Jonah would find no joy in the display of God’s grace, mercy, and love. And rather than being convicted by the repentance of the Ninevites, Jonah would respond in anger and resentment.

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

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

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

Close, But No Cigar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Famine to Feasting

24 Afterward Ben-hadad king of Syria mustered his entire army and went up and besieged Samaria. 25 And there was a great famine in Samaria, as they besieged it, until a donkey’s head was sold for eighty shekels of silver, and the fourth part of a kab of dove’s dung for five shekels of silver.’ 26 Now as the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried out to him, saying, “Help, my lord, O king!” 27 And he said, “If the Lord will not help you, how shall I help you? From the threshing floor, or from the winepress?” 28 And the king asked her, “What is your trouble?” She answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.’ 29 So we boiled my son and ate him. And on the next day I said to her, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him.’ But she has hidden her son.” 30 When the king heard the words of the woman, he tore his clothes—now he was passing by on the wall—and the people looked, and behold, he had sackcloth beneath on his body— 31 and he said, “May God do so to me and more also, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat remains on his shoulders today.”

32 Elisha was sitting in his house, and the elders were sitting with him. Now the king had dispatched a man from his presence, but before the messenger arrived Elisha said to the elders, “Do you see how this murderer has sent to take off my head? Look, when the messenger comes, shut the door and hold the door fast against him. Is not the sound of his master’s feet behind him?” 33 And while he was still speaking with them, the messenger came down to him and said, “This trouble is from the Lord! Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?” 

1 But Elisha said, “Hear the word of the Lord: thus says the Lord, Tomorrow about this time a seah of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel, at the gate of Samaria.” Then the captain on whose hand the king leaned said to the man of God, “If the Lord himself should make windows in heaven, could this thing be?” But he said, “You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat of it.”2 Kings 6:24-7:2 ESV

One thing that becomes painfully evident when reading God’s Word is that it tends to paint humanity in far-from-flattering terms. The characters found in the Bible are presented with all their flaws fully exposed. We get to see the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of their character. There are examples of mankind’s more positive traits, but they seem few and far between. From the opening pages of the book of Genesis to the closing chapters of Revelation, the fallen nature of humanity is presented with painstaking accuracy. Throughout the book, we see a litany of vices on display, including all of the seven deadly sins: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth. There are countless stories that chronicle mankind’s stubbornness, arrogance, and selfishness. And they are intended to stand in stark contrast to the righteousness of God. All throughout the Bible, we see fallen humanity displayed against the stark backdrop of God’s incomparable holiness. Yet the stories of their unfaithfulness, arrogance, pride, and sin are seamlessly woven together with the countless examples of God’s power and sovereignty. We have one such example in today’s passage.

For some time, Ben-hadad II, the king of Syria, had been trying to develop secret plans to invade Israel. But each time he attempted to put them into action, the Israelites were one step ahead of him. He discovered that Elisha the prophet had been receiving secret intel on all their planning sessions, and it had come directly from Yahweh, the God of Israel. Since Ben-hadad couldn’t do anything to stop Yahweh, he decided to capture Elisha. But, once again, his strategy failed miserably. When his troops laid siege to the city of Dothan, where Elisha was living, God blinded them. Then Elisha led them to Samaria, where the king of Israel spared their lives and threw them a feast. These men returned home, grateful to be alive.

But then we read, “Afterward Ben-hadad king of Syria mustered his entire army and went up and besieged Samaria” (2 Kings 6:24 ESV). We’re not told how much time transpired between Ben-hadad’s last failed attempt to attack Israel and this latest campaign. But it’s quite clear that he had not given up his intentions to conquer the nation of Israel. This man’s stubborn persistence is on display. Despite what had happened to his troops the last time they went into Israelite territory, he was determined to carry out his latest plans.

As a result of the siege, the conditions inside Samaria quickly deteriorated. Food became scarce and the people within the walls of the city became desperate. Price gouging was prevalent because there was nothing to eat. People were willing to pay exorbitant prices for anything that even remotely resembled food.

The siege lasted so long that a donkey’s head sold for eighty pieces of silver, and a cup of dove’s dung sold for five pieces of silver. –  2 Kings 6:25 NLT 

These were desperate times. And to make sure we understand just how bad things had become, the author reveals that the people had resorted to cannibalism. And to make matters worse, it involved a mother sacrificing her infant son so that she and her friends could survive. This sickening story is told to King Jehoram as he walked along the walls of the city, surveying the worsening conditions of his people. What makes this incident all the more repulsive is that it involved deceit and dishonesty. Facing starvation, two mothers had agreed to kill their own children and eat their flesh in order to survive. One had followed through on her commitment, but when it came time for the second mother to kill her child, she couldn’t bring herself to do it.

King Jehoram was sickened by what he heard and tore his clothes as a sign of mourning. Yet, rather than see the situation as a sign of God’s judgment against apostate Israel, the king decided to blame Elisha.

“May God strike me and even kill me if I don’t separate Elisha’s head from his shoulders this very day.” – 2 Kings 6:31 NLT

Jehoram was about to make the age-old mistake of killing the messenger. He knew that Elisha spoke for God, so he assumed that if he could eliminate the prophet, the conditions in Samaria would improve. But Elisha was not the cause of his problem or the source behind the judgment he was experiencing. It was the sovereign, all-powerful hand of God.

Jehoram’s decision to kill God’s prophet was doomed to failure. But fueled by anger, arrogance, and pride, the king sent a messenger to retrieve Elisha and bring him back to the palace. But Elisha was one step ahead of Jehoram, having been informed by God of the king’s intentions.

“A murderer has sent a man to cut off my head. When he arrives, shut the door and keep him out. We will soon hear his master’s steps following him.” – 2 Kings 6:32 NLT

When the messenger arrived, he found the door to Elisha’s home blocked. So, he delivered his message from the king.

“All this misery is from the Lord! Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?” – 2 Kings 6:33 NLT

Jehoram acknowledged that God was behind the siege, but he also revealed his doubt that God would ever rescue them. Since he couldn’t take out his frustration on God, he had decided to kill God’s prophet. He was following the same strategy his mother Jezebel had used. When Elijah had defeated and killed the 450 prophets of Baal, she had ordered his death (1 Kings 19:2). Now, years later, here was her son attempting to thwart the plan of God by killing the prophet of God. Jehoram’s pride, arrogance, and anger are on full display. But at no point does he take ownership of his godless leadership of the nation. He displays no remorse or repentance.

But the prophet delivered an unexpected and inexplicable message to the king.

“Listen to this message from the Lord! This is what the Lord says: By this time tomorrow in the markets of Samaria, six quarts of choice flour will cost only one piece of silver, and twelve quarts of barley grain will cost only one piece of silver.” – 2 Kings 7:1 NLT

Things were about to take a dramatic turn for the better. In just 24 hours, God was going to miraculously reverse the conditions in Samaria. The long-lasting famine would come to an abrupt end and the people living inside the walls of Samaria would suddenly find food readily available and at affordable prices. But the king’s messenger found Elisha’s prediction to be far-fetched and refused to believe a word he said.

“That couldn’t happen even if the Lord opened the windows of heaven!” – 2 Kings 7:2 NLT

This arrogant man questioned the words of the prophet but, more importantly, he doubted the power of God. And Elisha warned him that he would pay dearly for his mistake.

“You will see it happen with your own eyes, but you won’t be able to eat any of it!” – 2 Kings 7:2 NLT

God was about to do something incredible but this emissary of the king refused to believe that any of it was possible. Like his boss, he had long ago given up any belief in the sovereignty and power of Yahweh. From his godless and apostate perspective, this problem was too big, even for God.

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

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

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

The Just and Righteous Judgment of God

17 Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, 18 “Arise, go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who is in Samaria; behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession. 19 And you shall say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Have you killed and also taken possession?”’ And you shall say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: “In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick your own blood.”’”

20 Ahab said to Elijah, “Have you found me, O my enemy?” He answered, “I have found you, because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the Lord. 21 Behold, I will bring disaster upon you. I will utterly burn you up, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel. 22 And I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah, for the anger to which you have provoked me, and because you have made Israel to sin. 23 And of Jezebel the Lord also said, ‘The dogs shall eat Jezebel within the walls of Jezreel.’ 24 Anyone belonging to Ahab who dies in the city the dogs shall eat, and anyone of his who dies in the open country the birds of the heavens shall eat.”

25 (There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited. 26 He acted very abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the Lord cast out before the people of Israel.)

27 And when Ahab heard those words, he tore his clothes and put sackcloth on his flesh and fasted and lay in sackcloth and went about dejectedly. 28 And the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, 29 “Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the disaster upon his house.” 1 Kings 21:17-29 ESV

Ahab was busy surveying his newly acquired vineyard when he received a surprise visit from his old arch-nemesis, Elijah the prophet. The king had been making plans to transform Naboth’s vineyard into his own personal garden, but Elijah was about to replace Ahab’s dream with a nightmare.

Elijah, speaking on behalf of God, leveled the charge against Ahab in the form of a condemning question: “Haven’t you committed murder and taken possession of the property of the deceased?” (1 Kings 21:19 NET). Elijah wasn’t looking for a confession from Ahab because his guilt was well-established. Jezebel’s little ploy to falsely accuse Naboth of cursing God and the king had fooled no one, most especially God. And before Ahab could respond, Elijah delivered the next part of his message.

“This is what the Lord has said: ‘In the spot where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood they will also lick up your blood—yes, yours!’” – 1 Kings 21:19 NET

It’s important to recall that Ahab was already under a curse from God for his refusal to execute Ben-hadad, the king of Syria. After Ahab had decided to spare Ben-hadad so that he might sign a trade agreement with him, God had sent a prophet with a dire pronouncement:

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

Ahab had spared the life of a man whom God had condemned to death, and then he had murdered a man who undeserving of death. And, as a result, Ahab found himself under a double-curse from God. The first prophet had told Ahab that he would die for his first act of rebellion against God. Now, Elijah informed Ahab that his murder of Naboth had determined the nature of his death. It would be a violent and humiliating death, with the king’s blood poured out on the very same spot where Naboth had been unjustly stoned to death. And the only ones present at his death would be the wild dogs that would feast on his blood.

But Elijah’s words appear to have made no impact on Ahab. He simply responded, So, my enemy, you have found me! (1 Kings 21:20 NLT). He expresses no fear. He acknowledges no guilt. So, Elijah provided the stubborn and unrepentant king with further details concerning his fate. The prophet had traveled all the way to Jezreel for this confrontation because Ahad was totally committed to doing evil in the sight of the Lord. He had no morals or scruples and displayed no fear of or respect for Yahweh. He did whatever he wanted to do without ever considering whether his actions were in keeping with the will of God. And now he would learn the price he would have to pay for his rebellion. Ahab would face the same fate as two of his predecessors: Jeroboam and Baasha.

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

Ahab’s dreams of building a kingdom and a legacy that would last for generations had been forfeited. There would be no dynasty because God was going to eliminate all his male heirs. Ahab would have no sons to sit on his throne after him. And it should be noted that Elijah delivered this message on the very plot of land on which Ahab had hoped to build a garden. His dreams of fruitfulness were being dashed by God. He and his wicked wife, Jezebel, would be the last of their line because God was going to wipe out their heirs and destroy all hope of them propagating their legacy of sin and rebellion. Elijah let the king know that Jezebel would also pay dearly for her role in leading Israel into idolatry and apostasy. In fact, Ahab’s entire household would end up suffering degrading deaths as judgment for his sin.

“Dogs will eat Jezebel’s body at the plot of land in Jezreel. The members of Ahab’s family who die in the city will be eaten by dogs, and those who die in the field will be eaten by vultures.” – 1 Kings 21:23-24 NLT

At this point, the author provides a parenthetical commentary, intended to explain the harshness of God’s judgment. When it came to committing acts of wickedness and evil among the rulers of Israel, Ahab and Jezebel were the poster-couple. Despite the abysmal track records of Jeroboam and Baasha, Ahab and Jezebel had managed to establish an all-new low when it came to doing evil in the sight of the Lord.

Even for the callous and hard-hearted Ahab, this news was far more than he could bear. When the full scope of God’s judgment had finally registered in Ahab’s brain, he was devastated.

…he tore his clothes and put sackcloth on his flesh and fasted and lay in sackcloth and went about dejectedly. – 1 Kings 21:27 ESV

And, evidently, his display of sorrow and repentance was real because God acknowledged it as such.

“Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has done this, I will not do what I promised during his lifetime. It will happen to his sons; I will destroy his dynasty.” – 1 Kings 21:29 NLT

Because Ahab had finally managed to display a semblance of humility and remorse for his actions, God would show mercy to Ahab. He would allow Ahab to live out his life, but Ahab’s son, Joram, would have to suffer in his place. Joram would have his blood spilled on the ground where Naboth was stoned to death (2 Kings 9:25-26). And there is no indication that Jezebel ever repented, so she would still have to endure the judgment God had prescribed for her many sins. Her humiliating and gruesome death is recorded in the book of 2 Kings.

When Jezebel, the queen mother, heard that Jehu had come to Jezreel, she painted her eyelids and fixed her hair and sat at a window. When Jehu entered the gate of the palace, she shouted at him, “Have you come in peace, you murderer? You’re just like Zimri, who murdered his master!”

Jehu looked up and saw her at the window and shouted, “Who is on my side?” And two or three eunuchs looked out at him. “Throw her down!” Jehu yelled. So they threw her out the window, and her blood spattered against the wall and on the horses. And Jehu trampled her body under his horses’ hooves.

Then Jehu went into the palace and ate and drank. Afterward he said, “Someone go and bury this cursed woman, for she is the daughter of a king.” But when they went out to bury her, they found only her skull, her feet, and her hands.

When they returned and told Jehu, he stated, “This fulfills the message from the Lord, which he spoke through his servant Elijah from Tishbe: ‘At the plot of land in Jezreel, dogs will eat Jezebel’s body. Her remains will be scattered like dung on the plot of land in Jezreel, so that no one will be able to recognize her.’” – 2 Kings 9:32-37 NLT

Ahab and Jezebel had lived their lives according to their own standards. They had attempted to replace Yahweh with their own gods. They had repeatedly violated His commands and had ruled the people of Israel according to their own selfish agenda. But they would pay dearly for their rebellion. Their wickedness would result in the righteous and just judgment of God.

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

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

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

Godly Sorrow

12 “Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13  and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
    and he relents over disaster.
14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
    and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain offering and a drink offering
    for the Lord your God?

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion;
    consecrate a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
16 gather the people.
Consecrate the congregation;
    assemble the elders;
gather the children,
    even nursing infants.
Let the bridegroom leave his room,
    and the bride her chamber.

17 Between the vestibule and the altar
    let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep
and say, “Spare your people, O Lord,
    and make not your heritage a reproach,
    a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples,
    ‘Where is their God?’” Joel 2:12-17 ESV

The locusts have come and gone. But the threat of invasion and annihilation at the hands of a massive foreign army still looms on the horizon. News of this pending disaster had left the people of Judah demoralized and in fear of their lives. So, God takes the opportunity to call them to repentance. He has already called for a sacred assembly, a gathering of the people for the purpose of fasting and mourning.

Put on sackcloth and lament, O priests;
    wail, O ministers of the altar.
Go in, pass the night in sackcloth,
    O ministers of my God!
Because grain offering and drink offering
    are withheld from the house of your God.

Consecrate a fast;
    call a solemn assembly.
Gather the elders
    and all the inhabitants of the land
to the house of the Lord your God,
    and cry out to the Lord. – Joel 1:13-14 ESV

Even the priests were to have exchanged their robes for sackcloth. And since the locusts had left no grain or wine to offer as sacrifices, the people were to offer up their tears and prayers of contrition instead.  God, in His omniscience, had seen this day coming. Hundreds of years earlier, when Solomon had completed construction of the temple, he had gathered the people of Israel for a special dedication ceremony. And, in response to Solomon’s prayer of dedication, God had responded with a promise. Notice the details found in God’s response:.

“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” – Deuteronomy 7:14-15 ESV

The locusts had devoured just as God had commanded them to do. Now, it was the peoples’ turn to respond. Judgment had come, but were they ready to turn to God in humility and contrition? Better yet, were they prepared to reject their sinful lifestyles and return to God’s original call to holiness? Long before the people of Israel ever set foot in the land of Canaan,  God had called them to live according to His commands, a clearly articulated legal code of conduct that would set them apart from every other nation on earth. But their faithful adherence to His commands would not only distinguish them from the rest of mankind, but it would also bring God’s blessings. God had given them His word, communicating it through Moses, their deliverer and leader.

“If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully keep all his commands that I am giving you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the world. You will experience all these blessings if you obey the Lord your God:

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

“The Lord will conquer your enemies when they attack you. They will attack you from one direction, but they will scatter from you in seven!

“The Lord will guarantee a blessing on everything you do and will fill your storehouses with grain. The Lord your God will bless you in the land he is giving you.

“If you obey the commands of the Lord your God and walk in his ways, the Lord will establish you as his holy people as he swore he would do. Then all the nations of the world will see that you are a people claimed by the Lord, and they will stand in awe of you. – Deuteronomy 28:9-10 NLT

But God’s promise of blessing had been accompanied by a set of curses. If the people failed to obey God’s commands, there would be ramifications. Disobedience would bring divine discipline.

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

And God had provided them with graphic details concerning the nature of the curses they would have to endure. He had also left no doubt about the cause of the curses when they came.

“If you refuse to listen to the Lord your God and to obey the commands and decrees he has given you, all these curses will pursue and overtake you until you are destroyed. These horrors will serve as a sign and warning among you and your descendants forever. If you do not serve the Lord your God with joy and enthusiasm for the abundant benefits you have received, you will serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you. You will be left hungry, thirsty, naked, and lacking in everything. The Lord will put an iron yoke on your neck, oppressing you harshly until he has destroyed you.” – Deuteronomy 28:45-48 NLT

Now, generations later, the people of Judah experiencing first-hand the unpleasant consequences of their refusal to obey God. And this was not a knee-jerk reaction on God’s part. He had endured centuries of unfaithfulness on the part of His chosen people. But His patience had run out. He would no longer allow His people to drag His name through the mud and destroy His reputation by their rebellious behavior.

But God does give them an opportunity to repent and return. It was not too late. Yet, don’t miss the conditions He establishes for them.

return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments…” – Joel 2:12-13 ESV

God’s focus was on the inner condition of their hearts, not any outward signs of remorse or regret they might display. He knew that the judgment they were having to endure might cause them to beg for His forgiveness, hoping for relief from the pain and suffering. He was well aware that any sorrow they expressed over their sin might be nothing more than regret, not true repentance. The apostle Paul points out the difference between what he calls godly sorrow and worldly sorrow.

For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death. – 2 Corinthians 7:10 NLT

Expressing their sorrow for their sin was not going to be enough. Fasting, mourning, and weeping were not to be seen as some kind of magic, get-out-of-jail-free card. Their heart had to be in it and behind it. Regret over sin is not the same as regret over the loss of a relationship with God. Which is why God says, “Return to the Lord your God.” This was all about their broken relationship with Him. They had abandoned Him. They had turned their back on Him. And God wanted them to return because they longed for Him. Running from pain and suffering is not the same thing as running to God.

The people of Judah had made a habit out of running from one false god to another. They were fickle and unfaithful. And God wanted them to return to Him because they longed for Him. To come to God just to get something from God is not an expression of love. It reveals a mindset that views God as some kind of Genie in a bottle, who exists to do our bidding and to fulfill our wishes.

But God is “is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (Joel 2:13 ESV) to those who return to Him wholeheartedly. The interesting thing to note is that God desires their return to Him, whether He relents from judgment or not. Yes,  He does offer them the hope of relief, but He does not guarantee it.

Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
    and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain offering and a drink offering
    for the Lord your God? – Joel 2:14 ESV

Again, the goal of their repentance was to escape the pain and suffering they were having to endure. They deserved all that was happening to them. It was the righteous judgment of God for their rebellion against Him. But the point is that, along with God’s judgment, they had lost their ability to commune with Him. Their sin had separated them from God and His blessings. The blessings of God are not the point. It is the presence of God that should be the heartfelt desire of every believer. Loss of communion with Him should be our greatest fear, not the thought of judgment from Him.

It is essential that we see that restoration to a right relationship with God is to be our highest priority. God tells them that if they return to Him in true repentance, one of the blessings they may receive is “a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God.” The locusts had made these offerings impossible. But God was willing to restore them if the people would only restore their commitment to Him. The blessings of God are to be secondary to a restored relationship with God.

This entire chapter is about the people being made right with God. Joel has called the entire community to gather together and to express their desire to return to God. And the focus behind their fasting, mourning, and weeping is not to be the relief of their suffering, but the glory of God’s name.

“Spare your people, Lord!
    Don’t let your special possession become an object of mockery.
Don’t let them become a joke for unbelieving foreigners who say,
    ‘Has the God of Israel left them?’” – Joel 2:17 NLT

A truly repentant heart will express a longing for the glory of God. It will communicate a deep desire to be restored to a right relationship with God, not just escape from the judgment of God.

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

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

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


A Broken Man.

1 When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. And they bound him and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate the governor.

Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, 10 and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.” – Matthew 27:1-10 ESV

509px-judasThe rooster crowed and the sun came up, just as it always does. Yet, this would be anything but just another morning. Jesus, the Son of God, had been betrayed, denied, libeled, mocked, and falsely condemned. Now, He was being dragged before Pilate, the Roman governor, because the Jews were going to demand His death. They were forbidden by Roman law from practicing capital punishment on their own. In John’s gospel, he records the Sanhedrin’s response when Pilate demanded that they judge Jesus according to their own law. He saw this as nothing more than a petty religious squabble. But they made their true intentions known when they demanded, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death” (John 18:31 ESV). They weren’t interested in a trial. They were intent on seeing Jesus put to death. These men had already pronounced their judgment against Jesus, when they stated, “He deserves death” (Matthew 26:66 ESV). And with the opening of this chapter, Matthew makes it clear that their plans were aimed at having Jesus crucified, the primary means of capital punishment practiced by the Romans.

…the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. – Matthew 27:1 ESV

But then, Matthew provides a brief detour from the journey of Jesus to the cross. He changes scenes and brings his readers up to speed on the whereabouts of Judas. His last appearance had been in Gethsemane, where he had betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Evidently, Judas had not gone far, having followed the guards who had arrested Jesus and taken Him to Caiaphas, the high priest. There are some who speculate that Judas was the second disciple John refers to in his gospel.

Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. – John 18:15-16 ESV

Judas would have been known by the high priest. And it might explain why this particular disciple had not received the same treatment as Peter.

But somehow, Judas received the news that Jesus had been condemned, and Matthew states that he had a change of mind. The Greek word is metamelomai, and it is similar to metanoeō, the Greek word for “repent.” Judas had a change of mind. He regretted his decision to betray Jesus. It would appear that the news of Jesus’ death sentence was far more than he had anticipated. It is likely that Judas never expected the Sanhedrin to take things that far. We will never know what was in the heart of Judas when he made his fateful decision to betray Jesus, but Matthew makes it clear that he lived to regret it. But he wouldn’t live long.

Judas, in a state of despair, returned to the high priest and the Sanhedrin, bringing his 30 pieces of silver with him. Attempting to return the blood money, Judas confessed his guilt before these religious leaders: “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood” (Matthew 27:4 ESV). But they showed no compassion and exhibited no remorse of their own. They simply replied, “What is that to us? See to it yourself” (Matthew 27:4 ESV). These so-called religious leaders could have cared less about the emotional or spiritual well-being of Judas. They had one thing on their minds: The death of Jesus. The only semblance of conscience they revealed was their refusal to return the money Judas had returned to the temple treasure.

“It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” – Matthew 27:6 ESV

So, when Judas cast the tainted money onto the temple floor, the Sanhedrin took the 30 pieces of silver and purchased “the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers” (Matthew 27:7 ESV). This would have been a field outside the city gates where the potters discarded their broken or marred products. It was a landfill for broken pottery. Matthew reveals that this decision by the religious leaders was in keeping with Old Testament prophecy. He references Jeremiah but then quotes from a passage found in the book of Zechariah.

And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver. Then the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the lordly price at which I was priced by them. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord, to the potter. – Zechariah 11:12-13 ESV

But why did Matthew mention Jeremiah? It is probably because he was combining the two prophecies of Zechariah and Jeremiah into one composite prophecy, fulfilled in the actions of the Sanhedrin. In his book, Jeremiah records a message he received from God.

Thus says the Lord, “Go, buy a potter’s earthenware flask, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the elders of the priests, and go out to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom at the entry of the Potsherd Gate, and proclaim there the words that I tell you.”  – Jeremiah 19:1-2 ESV

Jeremiah was to purchase a clay pot and then take it to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom. In Hebrew, this place was called ge-hinnom. The Greek transliteration was  gehenna. This valley south of Jerusalem had a sordid history, having been the location where the ancient Israelites “passed children through the fire” (sacrificed their children) to the Canaanite god Molech (2 Chronicles 28:3). Because of its reputation, it became a site dedicated to the disposal of waste. The smoke of the fires used to burn the city’s refuse could be seen rising into the sky, marking this area as unclean. Jesus would later speak of Gehenna when referring to the reality of hell.

This is where God told Jeremiah to take the pot he had purchased. And it was in Gehenna that he was to break the pot “in the sight of the men who go with you” (Jeremiah 19:10 ESV). This was to be a visual illustration of what God was going to do to the people of Judah and Jerusalem for their rejection of Him. And God made the details of their guilt quite plain.

“…the people have forsaken me and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents…” – Jeremiah 19:4 ESV

Matthew saw the parallel. And he describes the actions of the Jewish religious leaders of his day as having fulfilled these two ancient prophecies. The high priest and the members of the Jewish high council were as guilty as their ancestors had been. They had forsaken God, and they had done so by rejecting the Son of God. And they had profaned the temple of God by actually worshiping a god of their own choosing. While they claimed to be faithful to Yahweh, the God of the Jews, Jesus accused them of having no relationship with God at all.

“Since you don’t know who I am, you don’t know who my Father is. If you knew me, you would also know my Father.” – John 8:19 NLT

“…you don’t even know him. I know him. If I said otherwise, I would be as great a liar as you! But I do know him and obey him.” – John 8:55 NLT

These men could not truly know God if they were incapable of recognizing the Son of God. The Messiah, the one they had longed to see, had shown up in their midst, but they had refused to accept Him. All because Jesus did not come as they expected or desired. They were blind to the reality of who He was, and Jesus pointed out their problem.

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.” – John 5:39-40 NLT

Yet, these men had no regrets. They showed no remorse. And they displayed no repentance. Like their ancestors, they remained stubbornly defiant. And they would end up like broken pots, discarded, and of no use to God. And yet, consider these comforting words written by the apostle Paul. He would pick up the theme of the clay pot and give it a whole new perspective. Having in mind all those who place their faith and hope in Jesus as their Savior, Paul wrote:

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. – 2 Corinthians 4:7 NLT

Faith in Christ can transform broken clay pots into vessels of honor. When the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ takes up residence in a sinner’s life, the power of God is revealed through the cracks and flaws. Rather than being discarded as useless and of no value, the sinner is redeemed and made acceptable to God by the presence of the righteousness of Christ.

But what about Judas? After three years with Jesus, he would end up a broken man. And, in his desperation, he would take his own life. His time with Jesus had not resulted in the great power of God shining through his life, but with his life snuffed out and his legacy of betrayal sealed for generations to come. Like the religious leaders, Judas had been blind to the reality of who Jesus was. He had spent three years of his life with Jesus but had failed to recognize Him and accept Him as His Messiah and Savior. He would die a broken and shattered man.

But all those who place their faith in Jesus as their Savior will live eternally. Their brokenness is the key to their healing. Their recognition of their own unworthiness is the basis of their hope in Christ. It is through our brokenness and inherent uselessness that God chooses to reveal His great power. By placing our faith in Jesus, we become “a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21 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

Que Sera Sera.

1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
    vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil
    at which he toils under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
    but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
    and hastens to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
    and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
    and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea,
    but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
    there they flow again.
All things are full of weariness;
    a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
    nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
    and what has been done is what will be done,
    and there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there a thing of which it is said,
    “See, this is new”?
It has been already
    in the ages before us.
11 There is no remembrance of former things,
    nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be
    among those who come after. Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 ESV

In the original Hebrew text, the title for this book was all of verse one. But in the third century, the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament Scriptures, gave it the shorter title of Ekklesiastes, which is related to the Greek word, ekklesia, meaning “assembly.” Ekklesiastes is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word, qoheleth, which is found in verse one. There has been debate over the centuries as to what this word actually means. But the most commonly held view is that it means something like “speaker in the assembly.” The ESV and NASB translate this word as “preacher”, while the NIV and NLT use the designation, “teacher.” In all cases, it is a reference to the book’s author, Solomon, the son of David and the King of Israel. The term qoheleth has been interpreted as both a proper name and a title, but it seems most likely, from its use elsewhere in the book, that it is a title referring to Solomon’s role as a speaker before an assembly or gathering of people. As king, Solomon would have often held official assemblies where the people of Jerusalem were gathered together to hear him speak. We find one such occasion in 1 Kings 8, where his address to the people at the dedication of the temple is recorded in detail. As king, Solomon was responsible for the well-being of the people under his care. Like his father, David, he was to be the shepherd of the people of Israel. And Solomon, having been blessed with great wisdom by God, was to lead the flock of God wisely, imparting his God-given gift through leadership and instruction.

Early on in his reign, Solomon was provided with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by God to ask of Him for whatever he wished. God essentially gave Solomon a blank check, telling him, “Ask what I shall give you” (1 Kings 3:5 ESV). Solomon could have asked for virtually anything, but instead, he asked for wisdom.

Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”

10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11 And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12 behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you.” – 1 Kings 3:9-12 ESV

And God did as Solomon requested. But He didn’t stop there. He blessed Solomon with not only wisdom, but great wealth and honor.

13 I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. 14 And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.” – 1 Kings 3:11-14 ESV

Solomon would be renowned for his riches and wisdom, attracting dignitaries from around the world who came to marvel at his great kingdom. This included the Queen of Sheba who, upon witnessing the wealth and wisdom of Solomon first-hand, remarked, “The report was true that I heard in my own land of your words and of your wisdom, but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report that I heard. Happy are your men! Happy are your servants, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom!” (1 Kings 10:6-8 ESV). 

The Book of Ecclesiastes was most likely written near the end of Solomon’s reign, when he was an old man. He had enjoyed a long and prosperous reign, free from war and marked by great prosperity and periods of expansion. In essence, this book is Solomon’s retrospective, a looking back on his years as the king of Israel. He is reflecting on all that he has seen and experienced in his long tenure as the God-appointed leader of the people of Israel. He had lived a somewhat charmed life. He had been incredibly blessed by God. His had been a life marked by opulence, providing him with unhindered access to every kind of pleasure imaginable. And, according to what Solomon records in this book, he denied himself virtually nothing when it came to material good and physical pleasures.

The book of First Kings provides us with a not-so-flattering look at the latter days of Solomon’s reign.

1 Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. – 1 Kings 11:1-4 ESV

Solomon was wise, but that didn’t prevent him from making bad decisions, when he allowed his physical passions and desires to dictate his choices. His life provides a sobering look at how a man can start well and end poorly. Solomon’s life provides living proof of the truth found in the warning given by the apostle John:

15 Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. 16 For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. 17 And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

The book of Ecclesiastes is Solomon’s attempt to use himself as an example of how not to live your life. He is like an aging mentor, providing his young disciple with sage advice learned the hard way: from poor decision-making and misplaced priorities. The opening lines of his book are filled with regret, bordering on depression. He refers to everything in life as being meaningless and full of vanity. Life is full of meaningless, repetitive cycles of happiness and joy, success and failure. Everything seems to move in a never-ending march toward an unforeseeable outcome, over which we have no control. Look closely at his words:

All is vanity.” – vs 2

“All things are full of weariness…” – vs 8

Not exactly words of encouragement or the thoughts of a man who has a positive outlook on life. It seems hard to debate the fact that Solomon most likely wrote this book after his falling away from God. He knew he was wrong. He had turned his back on God. He had proven unfaithful to God, something his father had never done. Solomon was full of remorse and regret, and this book was his attempt to warn others, essentially telling them, “Don’t do as I did!” He is warning those in the assembly not to repeat his mistakes. But the sad truth is, Solomon’s apostasy would cause God to split the kingdom of Israel in half, and the two subsequent nations it formed would follow the lead of Solomon, proving unfaithful to God just as he had been.

But there is much for us to learn from the powerful, incredibly transparent words of Solomon. While his opening lines are filled with pessimistic words that reflect the thoughts of a man living with tremendous guilt, he will go on to provide us with a much-needed reminder that life, lived without God, is meaningless and not worth living. It is God who brings purpose to life. It is God who is meant to be the focus of life. It is God who provides meaning to the seeming repetitive nature of life. And it is because it is God alone who gives life. Like the old Doris Day song, Que Sera Sera, Solomon resigns himself to saying, “What has been is what will be.” But that is not the theme of this book. And it is not the way those who call themselves children of God should view their lives. A world without God is meaningless. A life lived without God is purposeless. But Solomon’s remorse could have been eliminated if he had only repented. What we are going to see as we unpack this book is that Solomon lived out the message of 2 Corinthians 7:10.

For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.

Godly sorrow leads to repentance. But it seems that Solomon never repented of his sins against God. Yet his Spirit-inspired words, penned in the midst of his remorse over a life lived in vanity, allow us to vicariously learn a valuable lesson, without having to go through the same pain and loss. We can learn from Solomon’s mistakes. We can gain wisdom from a wise man who made some very dumb mistakes. And he will conclude with a powerful warning that is as timely today as when Solomon put pen to paper.

13 Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. 14 God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad. – Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

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