The God of the Land

19 Judah also did not keep the commandments of the Lord their God, but walked in the customs that Israel had introduced. 20 And the Lord rejected all the descendants of Israel and afflicted them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until he had cast them out of his sight.

21 When he had torn Israel from the house of David, they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king. And Jeroboam drove Israel from following the Lord and made them commit great sin. 22 The people of Israel walked in all the sins that Jeroboam did. They did not depart from them, 23 until the Lord removed Israel out of his sight, as he had spoken by all his servants the prophets. So Israel was exiled from their own land to Assyria until this day.

24 And the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the people of Israel. And they took possession of Samaria and lived in its cities. 25 And at the beginning of their dwelling there, they did not fear the Lord. Therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them. 26 So the king of Assyria was told, “The nations that you have carried away and placed in the cities of Samaria do not know the law of the god of the land. Therefore he has sent lions among them, and behold, they are killing them, because they do not know the law of the god of the land.” 27 Then the king of Assyria commanded, “Send there one of the priests whom you carried away from there, and let him go and dwell there and teach them the law of the god of the land.” 28 So one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and lived in Bethel and taught them how they should fear the Lord. 2 Kings 17:19-28 ESV

The northern kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 BC, and as verse 18 indicates, the defeat of the ten northern tribes left only the southern kingdom of Judah. Yet none of this should have come as a surprise. God had repeatedly sent His prophets to warn of the coming fall of Israel. Even the prophets like Micah, who ministered to the southern kingdom of Judah, were ordered to declare God’s words of judgment against Israel’s capital city of Samaria.

“So I, the Lord, will make the city of Samaria
    a heap of ruins.
Her streets will be plowed up
    for planting vineyards.
I will roll the stones of her walls into the valley below,
    exposing her foundations.
All her carved images will be smashed.
    All her sacred treasures will be burned.
These things were bought with the money
    earned by her prostitution,
and they will now be carried away
    to pay prostitutes elsewhere.” – Micah 1:6-7 NLT

And Isaiah, another prophet to the southern kingdom, had also predicted the fall of Samaria.

What sorrow awaits the proud city of Samaria—
    the glorious crown of the drunks of Israel.
It sits at the head of a fertile valley,
    but its glorious beauty will fade like a flower.
It is the pride of a people
    brought down by wine.
For the Lord will send a mighty army against it.
    Like a mighty hailstorm and a torrential rain,
they will burst upon it like a surging flood
    and smash it to the ground.
The proud city of Samaria—
    the glorious crown of the drunks of Israel—
    will be trampled beneath its enemies’ feet. – Isaiah 28:1-3 NLT

But God had also sent His prophets directly to the people of Israel. Despite their apostasy and unfaithfulness, He continued to raise up men like Amos, to deliver His message of pending judgment for their sins.

Announce this to the leaders of Philistia
    and to the great ones of Egypt:
“Take your seats now on the hills around Samaria,
    and witness the chaos and oppression in Israel.”

“My people have forgotten how to do right,”
    says the Lord.
“Their fortresses are filled with wealth
    taken by theft and violence.
Therefore,” says the Sovereign Lord,
    “an enemy is coming!
He will surround them and shatter their defenses.
    Then he will plunder all their fortresses.” – Amos 3:9-11 NLT

Hosea was another prophet to the northern kingdom who had also clearly communicated God’s displeasure and His intention to punish them for their rebellion.

…they have deserted the Lord
    to worship other gods.

“Wine has robbed my people
    of their understanding.
They ask a piece of wood for advice!
    They think a stick can tell them the future!
Longing after idols
    has made them foolish.
They have played the prostitute,
    serving other gods and deserting their God.” – Hosea 10-12 NLT

Decade after decade, the kings of Israel had led the nation down a path of destruction. They had been warned but had refused to listen. And the author of 2 Kings reminds his readers that the Israelites had no one to blame but themselves.

Jeroboam drew Israel away from following the Lord and made them commit a great sin. And the people of Israel persisted in all the evil ways of Jeroboam. They did not turn from these sins until the Lord finally swept them away from his presence, just as all his prophets had warned. – 2 Kings 17:212-23 NLT

The fall of Israel should have been a wake-up call to the people living in Judah. As they witnessed the fall of their northern neighbor, they should have recognized it as the hand of God Almighty. “But even the people of Judah refused to obey the commands of the Lord their God, for they followed the evil practices that Israel had introduced” (2 Kings 17:19 NLT). It was God’s desire that Judah would take notice of Israel’s fall and refuse to follow their example of idolatry and apostasy. The prophet Hosea shared God’s heart when he wrote, “Though you, Israel, are a prostitute, may Judah not be guilty of such things” (Hosea 4:15 NLT).

But the handwriting was on the wall. The fate of Judah was sealed. God knew exactly what was going to happen. The people of Judah would fail to learn from Israel’s mistake.

“The arrogance of Israel testifies against her;
    Israel and Ephraim will stumble under their load of guilt.
    Judah, too, will fall with them.
When they come with their flocks and herds
    to offer sacrifices to the Lord,
they will not find him,
    because he has withdrawn from them.
They have betrayed the honor of the Lord,
    bearing children that are not his.
Now their false religion will devour them
    along with their wealth.” – Hosea 5:5-7 NLT

It would be just a matter of time before Judah experienced a similar fate. While they had enjoyed a limited degree of spiritual success due to the efforts of a few of their kings, they were still guilty of emulating the sins of Israel. A love affair with false gods would continue to plague the nation, leading them to turn their backs on Yahweh. Though they continued to offer their sacrifices at the temple, the day was coming when God would no longer tolerate their hypocritical displays of faithfulness. That is why Hosea wrote, “When they come with their flocks and herds to offer sacrifices to the Lord, they will not find him” (Hosea 5:6 NLT).

It was the prophet Isaiah who declared God’s displeasure and disgust with Judah because their worship of Him was and meaningless. They were just going through the motions.

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

The people of Judah had ring-side seats to the divine destruction of Israel. After witnessing the fall of their northern neighbor, they must have realized that the king of Assyria would not limit his conquest to the capture of Samaria. He would continue south and they would likely be his next victim.

After having conquered Israel, the Assyrians took many of its citizens as captives. Then they began a repopulation campaign, importing people from other conquered territories like Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim. These non-Jews were forcibly relocated into the towns of Samaria, filling the vacancies left by the exiled Israelites. The Assyrians expected these migrant workers to tend the land in order to maintain its production capacities. But God had other plans.

Because these foreigners knew nothing about Yahweh, they continued to worship their own gods. But they were now living on land that belonged to the God of Israel. Just because the people of Israel were gone did not mean that God had vacated the premises. It had been His land all along, and the Israelites had been nothing more than His stewards. In their absence, God was going to protect the integrity of His name and the sacredness of the land He had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was holy land because He had consecrated it and set it apart. And God was not about to let it revert to its former state. When God had given the land to Joshua and the people of Israel, He had tasked them with the removal of all the pagan nations that currently occupied its borders. And He was not about to let the land revert to its former state of pagan idolatry. So, when the new arrivals began to worship their false gods, Yahweh sent lions to attack them. The news of this divinely ordained act of judgment reached the king of Assyria.

“The people you have sent to live in the towns of Samaria do not know the religious customs of the God of the land. He has sent lions among them to destroy them because they have not worshiped him correctly.” – 2 Kings 17:26 NLT

Amazingly, the pagan Assyrians recognized the hand of God in all of this. They were more attentive to the actions of Yahweh than the people of Israel had ever been. And the king of Assyria took immediate action.

“Send one of the exiled priests back to Samaria. Let him live there and teach the new residents the religious customs of the God of the land.” – 2 Kings 17:27 NLT

It’s interesting to note that this lone priest was sent to Bethel, one of the two cities where King Jeroboam had placed his golden idols (1 Kings 12:25-30). Perhaps the king of Assyria knew that this town had become a key focal point of pagan worship. It would have made sense for these idol-worshipers to seek out those places within Israel where they could offer sacrifices to their false gods. And because Jeroboam had erected shrines in Bethel and Dan, these would have been attractive destinations for these newly arrived occupants who were looking for something that would remind them of home. So, the priest was sent to Bethel which, in Hebrew, means “house of God.”

This priest was tasked with instructing the new residents in the proper worship of God. Don’t miss the irony in all of this. The people of Israel, who had been chosen by God, had refused to worship Him. So, He had removed them from the land. The king of Assyria sent foreigners to replace the exiled Israelites and then ordered that they be instructed in the proper worship of Yahweh. This pagan king did what none of the kings of Israel had ever done, and it was all the work of God.

But as will become clear, these new converts to Judaism would prove to be no different than the Israelites. Unwilling to give up their idols, they would simply add Yahweh as another option in their arsenal of deities. And the pattern of syncretism and unfaithfulness would continue. The land had new occupants, but it was the same old story. Their worship of God would be nothing but man-made rules learned by rote. Like the Israelites before them, they would just be going through the motions.

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

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

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

 

 

The Lord Gave Israel a Savior

1 In the twenty-third year of Joash the son of Ahaziah, king of Judah, Jehoahaz the son of Jehu began to reign over Israel in Samaria, and he reigned seventeen years. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and followed the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin; he did not depart from them. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them continually into the hand of Hazael king of Syria and into the hand of Ben-hadad the son of Hazael. Then Jehoahaz sought the favor of the Lord, and the Lord listened to him, for he saw the oppression of Israel, how the king of Syria oppressed them. (Therefore the Lord gave Israel a savior, so that they escaped from the hand of the Syrians, and the people of Israel lived in their homes as formerly. Nevertheless, they did not depart from the sins of the house of Jeroboam, which he made Israel to sin, but walked in them; and the Asherah also remained in Samaria.) For there was not left to Jehoahaz an army of more than fifty horsemen and ten chariots and ten thousand footmen, for the king of Syria had destroyed them and made them like the dust at threshing. Now the rest of the acts of Jehoahaz and all that he did, and his might, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? So Jehoahaz slept with his fathers, and they buried him in Samaria, and Joash his son reigned in his place. 2 Kings 13:1-9 ESV

God had used the Syrians to inflict judgment upon the southern kingdom of Judah. Because of the rebellion of His people, God had given King Hazael and his Syrian troops a resounding victory over the much larger and more powerful army of King Jehoash. Having been wounded in battle against the Syrians, Jehoash became an easy target for some of his disgruntled officials. They had strongly opposed his murder of Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada the priest, and saw the nation’s recent defeat by a much smaller Syrian force as a sign of God’s judgment. So, these two men took it upon themselves to assassinate the king while he lying in bed recovering from his injuries. He was then replaced by his son, Amaziah.

In the meantime, the northern kingdom of Israel was having its own set of struggles with the Syrians. Jehoahaz had ascended to the throne of his father, Jehu, and had managed to keep Israel’s legacy of apostasy alive and well.

He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and followed the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin; he did not depart from them. – 2 Kings 13:2 ESV

In other words, it was business as usual in Israel. But, God had grown weary of watching each successive royal administration try to outdo the sins of their predecessors. Fed up by their stubbornness and blatant unfaithfulness, He unleashed His righteous indignation against Israel and “gave them continually into the hand of Hazael king of Syria and into the hand of Ben-hadad the son of Hazael” (2 Kings 13:3 ESV).

The Syrians became the proverbial thorn in the side of the disobedient Israelites. This imagery was in keeping with God’s earlier warnings against Israel compromising with the pagan nations that occupied the promised land.

But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell. – Numbers 33:55 ESV

God would later provide the Israelites with another warning, meant to encourage them from intermarrying with the pagan nations that occupied the land of Canaan.

…know for certain that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good ground that the LORD your God has given you. – Joshua 23:13 ESV

And when the Israelites failed to drive out the inhabitants of the land, God announced that they were on their own. They would have to deal with the consequences of their disobedience.

“So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.” – Judges 2:3 ESV

Yet, when God sent the Syrians to plague and provoke the unfaithful people of Israel, King Jehoahaz “sought the favor of the Lord” (2 Kings 13:4 ESV). The constant pain inflicted by this divinely-ordained “thorn” was more than Jehoahaz could bear, so he did something none of his predecessors had ever done: He humbled himself and cried out to God. And his cry was heard and answered. The author states that God, the very nne who had sent the Syrians, “saw the oppression of Israel, how the king of Syria oppressed them” (2 Kings 13:4 ESV). This statement makes it sound like God was surprised by what He saw. But it would be better interpreted as a declaration of God’s recognition of the suffering His chosen people were having to endure. His judgment, while fully just and well-deserved, had produced its intended results, and He felt compassion for the plight of His people. His discipline of His children was not an indication that He had fallen out of love with them. In fact, the book of Proverbs reminds us, “the LORD corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights” (Proverbs3:12 NLT). And the author of Hebrews quotes this very proverb, then adds a further point of clarification.

As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all. – Hebrews 12:7-8 NLT

God had lovingly disciplined them for their disobedience and unfaithfulness. But, as the text reveals, He heard the humbled cry of their king and responded in love and compassion. He did for them what they couldn’t do for themselves. He rescued them from the very plight they had brought upon themselves.

Therefore the Lord gave Israel a savior, so that they escaped from the hand of the Syrians, and the people of Israel lived in their homes as formerly… – 2 Kings 13:5 ESV

This scene brings to mind the book of Judges, which chronicles the period of Israelite history long before they had a king. They had managed to enter Canaan, but had failed to completely eliminate the pagan nations that had occupied the land before them. As a result, they ended up intermarrying with these nations and worshiping their false false gods. Which led God to punish them.

…the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth.  So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. – Judges 2:11-14 ESV

But in time, God would raise up a deliverer who rescued His wayward people and restored them to a right relationship with Him.

Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them. – Judges 2:17 ESV

Sadly, this cycle would repeat itself over and over again. The people would sin, so God would send a plunderer, Then, when the suffering became unbearable, the people would cry out, and another deliverer would show up to rescue them.

Now, hundreds of years later, the people of Israel would reveal that little had changed. They cried out and God sent them a savior. We have no way of knowing the identity of this individual. Some have speculated that it was King Adad-Nirari III of Assyria. The Assyrians were the new kids on the block, an up-and-coming nation that was beginning to flex its military muscle in the region. In order to access the Mediterranean Sea and the fertile valleys located in Canaan, they would have to pass through the land belonging to Syria. It could be that God used this rapidly expanding world power to harass and distract the Syrians, buying King Jehoahaz and the Israelites a much-needed respite.

But regardless of the identity of this God-appointed “savior,” the people of Israel proved to be far from grateful for their rescue. In time, they fell back into their old habits.

But they continued to sin, following the evil example of Jeroboam. They also allowed the Asherah pole in Samaria to remain standing. – 2 Kings 13:6 NLT

Nothing had changed. Jehoahaz remained just as stubborn and unrepentant as always. Even the fact that God had allowed the Syrians to drastically reduce the fighting capacity of Israel’s army failed to elicit a change in Jehoahaz. The oppression of the Syrians had gotten his attention and forced him to cry out to God. But, once rescued, he continued to pursue the same ungodly agenda as before. The loving discipline and gracious deliverance of God failed to make a lasting impression on Jehoahaz. He was allowed to complete his reign but, with his decimated army,  he was a king in name only. He would die and his son would inherit his throne and diminished kingdom.

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

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

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

 

Close, But No Cigar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Zeal is No Excuse for Disobedience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zeal is never an excuse for disobedience.

 

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

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

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

 

A Day of Good News

Now there were four men who were lepers at the entrance to the gate. And they said to one another, “Why are we sitting here until we die? If we say, ‘Let us enter the city,’ the famine is in the city, and we shall die there. And if we sit here, we die also. So now come, let us go over to the camp of the Syrians. If they spare our lives we shall live, and if they kill us we shall but die.” So they arose at twilight to go to the camp of the Syrians. But when they came to the edge of the camp of the Syrians, behold, there was no one there. For the Lord had made the army of the Syrians hear the sound of chariots and of horses, the sound of a great army, so that they said to one another, “Behold, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Egypt to come against us.” So they fled away in the twilight and abandoned their tents, their horses, and their donkeys, leaving the camp as it was, and fled for their lives. And when these lepers came to the edge of the camp, they went into a tent and ate and drank, and they carried off silver and gold and clothing and went and hid them. Then they came back and entered another tent and carried off things from it and went and hid them.

Then they said to one another, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news. If we are silent and wait until the morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come; let us go and tell the king’s household.” 10 So they came and called to the gatekeepers of the city and told them, “We came to the camp of the Syrians, and behold, there was no one to be seen or heard there, nothing but the horses tied and the donkeys tied and the tents as they were.” 11 Then the gatekeepers called out, and it was told within the king’s household. 12 And the king rose in the night and said to his servants, “I will tell you what the Syrians have done to us. They know that we are hungry. Therefore they have gone out of the camp to hide themselves in the open country, thinking, ‘When they come out of the city, we shall take them alive and get into the city.’” 13 And one of his servants said, “Let some men take five of the remaining horses, seeing that those who are left here will fare like the whole multitude of Israel who have already perished. Let us send and see.” 14 So they took two horsemen, and the king sent them after the army of the Syrians, saying, “Go and see.” 15 So they went after them as far as the Jordan, and behold, all the way was littered with garments and equipment that the Syrians had thrown away in their haste. And the messengers returned and told the king.

16 Then the people went out and plundered the camp of the Syrians. So a seah of fine flour was sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel, according to the word of the Lord. 17 Now the king had appointed the captain on whose hand he leaned to have charge of the gate. And the people trampled him in the gate, so that he died, as the man of God had said when the king came down to him. 18 For when the man of God had said to the king, “Two seahs of barley shall be sold for a shekel, and a seah of fine flour for a shekel, about this time tomorrow in the gate of Samaria,” 19 the captain had answered the man of God, “If the Lord himself should make windows in heaven, could such a thing be?” And he had said, “You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat of it.” 20 And so it happened to him, for the people trampled him in the gate and he died. 2 Kings 7:3-20 ESV

A protracted siege by the Syrians had left the royal city of Samaria in dire straits. The people inside the walls were starving to death due to the lack of food and some had even resorted to cannibalism, eating their own children to survive. Jehoram, the king of Israel, was powerless to do anything about the situation. He recognized that this was some form of punishment from the hand of Yahweh, but he refused to repent of his apostasy and idolatry. Defenseless against the Syrians and completely powerless to thwart the divine wrath of Yahweh, Jehoram turned his anger and frustration against the prophet Elisha.

Jehoram knew that Elisha was somehow to blame for the devastating conditions in Samaria. And he fully expected the prophet to bring nothing but bad news regarding the ultimate outcome of the siege. But to his surprise, Elisha predicted a dramatic and virtually instantaneous reversal of fortunes.

“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

Elisha informed the king that within 24 hours, the conditions within the walls of Samaria would improve so dramatically that it would be as if the siege never took place. But Elisha provided no explanation as to how this remarkable transformation would take place. And at least one individual responded to his words with doubt and derision.

The officer assisting the king said to the man of God, “That couldn’t happen even if the Lord opened the windows of heaven!” – 2 Kings 7:2 NLT

The author then transitions his story from the doubting officer to four lepers who sat at the gate of the city. Because of their disease, these men were social outcasts whose survival was based on the generosity of others. They were forced to beg for handouts in order to survive. And the siege had made their circumstances worse than ever. Their appearance in the story at this particular point in time is purely intentional. In a sense, they serve as proxies for the entire nation of Israel. Their disease reflects the spiritual state of God’s people. And their abject state of hopelessness and helplessness is meant to mirror the plight of all those who have abandoned Yahweh.

As they sat at the gate of the city, these four men assessed their situation and determined to do something about it. They could stay where they were and starve to death, or they could risk entering the Syrian camp and placing themselves at the mercy of the enemy. So, sometime before sunrise, they made their fateful decision and walked the short distance from the walls of Samaria to the Syrian encampment. Fully expecting to encounter a Syrian sentry somewhere along the way, they were surprised to find that they were able to walk into the camp uninhibited and unaccosted. The place was a virtual ghost town with not a single Syrian sight. It was as if the entire Syrian army had just evaporated into thin air, leaving behind all their tents, equipment,  and provisions, including mass quantities of food and wine. These four starving lepers found themselves living in a dream come true. Suddenly and unexpectedly, these men who had spent their entire lives begging for food, found themselves surrounded by a seemingly endless supply of delicious delicacies and fine wines.

…they went into one tent after another, eating and drinking wine; and they carried off silver and gold and clothing and hid it. – 2 Kings 7:8 NLT

Like kids let loose in a candy store, they greedily stuffed their faces and their pockets. They had no idea what had happened to the Syrians, and they didn’t seem to care. Their minds were focused on the perpetual feast in front of them and all the silver and gold that had been left for them. Little did they know that their good fortune had been an act of God.

For the Lord had caused the Aramean army to hear the clatter of speeding chariots and the galloping of horses and the sounds of a great army approaching. – 2 Kings 7:6 NLT

Sometime before the lepers had made their decision to enter the Syrian camp, God had performed a miracle. He had caused the Syrians to hear what sounded like a large army headed their way. They immediately concluded that the Israelites had somehow gotten word to their allies and help was on the way.

“The king of Israel has hired the Hittites and Egyptians to attack us!” they cried to one another. So they panicked and ran into the night, abandoning their tents, horses, donkeys, and everything else, as they fled for their lives. – 2 Kings 7:6-7 NLT

There were no Hittites or Egyptians. There were no chariots or horses. It had all been a divine ruse. And when the four lepers finally stopped pillaging long enough to consider the incredible nature of what they were witnessing, they had second thoughts.

“This is not right. This is a day of good news, and we aren’t sharing it with anyone! If we wait until morning, some calamity will certainly fall upon us. Come on, let’s go back and tell the people at the palace.” – 2 Kings 7:9 NLT

But when their good news reached the ears of King Jehoram, he reacted with derision. He saw it as nothing more than a clever ploy by the Syrians to lure the Israelite troops out of the safety of the city. It was all too good to be true. Jehoram could not bring himself to believe that victory could come that easily. There was no way that the long-standing siege could end without a fight and the fall of the city. So, he sent scouts to verify the report of the lepers, and they discovered “a trail of clothing and equipment that the Arameans had thrown away in their mad rush to escape” (2 Kings 7:15 NLT).

It was true. The Syrians were gone and the siege was over. But not only that, the Syrian camp was filled with more than enough food to feed the citizens of the city. And when the Israelites had finished plundering the camp, the conditions within the walls of Samaria were instantaneously reversed.

Then the people of Samaria rushed out and plundered the Aramean camp. So it was true that six quarts of choice flour were sold that day for one piece of silver, and twelve quarts of barley grain were sold for one piece of silver, just as the Lord had promised. – 2 Kings 7:16 NLT

And the author makes sure that we understand the nature of this amazing turn of events.

…everything happened exactly as the man of God had predicted. – 2 Kings 7:17 NLT

God had intervened on behalf of His disobedient children. He had graciously and mercifully delivered them from their enemy and rescued them from imminent death. Overnight, the four lepers had experienced a dramatic shift in their fortunes. They not only had full stomachs but they had hidden enough treasure to transform themselves from paupers to princes. And the people of Samaria were blessed with food they didn’t deserve and riches they had not earned. Their good and gracious God had lovingly spared them – one more time.

But the one man who had expressed doubt concerning God’s ability to deliver His people would find himself suffering a different fate. Elisha had warned him, “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). And when the starving masses flowed out of the city to plunder the Syrian camp, this man was crushed to death. He never lived long enough to see what God had done. And not one morsel of the fine Syrian cuisine or one drop of their wine ever touched his lips. He had doubted the power of God and suffered the consequences. The day of good news turned out to be very bad news for him.

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

Ignoring God Doesn’t Make Him Go Away

1 After the death of Ahab, Moab rebelled against Israel.

Now Ahaziah fell through the lattice in his upper chamber in Samaria, and lay sick; so he sent messengers, telling them, “Go, inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover from this sickness.” But the angel of the Lord said to Elijah the Tishbite, “Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria, and say to them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron? Now therefore thus says the Lord, You shall not come down from the bed to which you have gone up, but you shall surely die.’” So Elijah went.

The messengers returned to the king, and he said to them, “Why have you returned?” And they said to him, “There came a man to meet us, and said to us, ‘Go back to the king who sent you, and say to him, Thus says the Lord, Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are sending to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron? Therefore you shall not come down from the bed to which you have gone up, but you shall surely die.’” He said to them, “What kind of man was he who came to meet you and told you these things?” They answered him, “He wore a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist.” And he said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.”

Then the king sent to him a captain of fifty men with his fifty. He went up to Elijah, who was sitting on the top of a hill, and said to him, “O man of God, the king says, ‘Come down.’” 10 But Elijah answered the captain of fifty, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.” Then fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty.

11 Again the king sent to him another captain of fifty men with his fifty. And he answered and said to him, “O man of God, this is the king’s order, ‘Come down quickly!’” 12 But Elijah answered them, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.” Then the fire of God came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty.

13 Again the king sent the captain of a third fifty with his fifty. And the third captain of fifty went up and came and fell on his knees before Elijah and entreated him, “O man of God, please let my life, and the life of these fifty servants of yours, be precious in your sight. 14 Behold, fire came down from heaven and consumed the two former captains of fifty men with their fifties, but now let my life be precious in your sight.” 15 Then the angel of the Lord said to Elijah, “Go down with him; do not be afraid of him.” So he arose and went down with him to the king 16 and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because you have sent messengers to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron—is it because there is no God in Israel to inquire of his word?—therefore you shall not come down from the bed to which you have gone up, but you shall surely die.’”

17 So he died according to the word of the Lord that Elijah had spoken. Jehoram became king in his place in the second year of Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, because Ahaziah had no son. 18 Now the rest of the acts of Ahaziah that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? 2 Kings 1:1-18 ESV

The book of 2 Kings continues the chronicle of the kings of Judah and Israel. With Ahab’s death, his son Ahaziah ascended to the throne, and he proved to be cut from the same cloth. “He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and walked in the way of his father and in the way of his mother…” (1 Kings 22:52 ESV). In other words, he was just as immoral and spiritually bankrupt as every other king who had ruled over the northern kingdom. He not only inherited his father’s kingdom but also his predilection for false gods.  “He served Baal and worshiped him and provoked the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger in every way that his father had done” (1 Kings22:53 ESV). And, as the opening chapter of 2 Kings reveals, his penchant for idolatry would prove to be his undoing.

But before the author reveals the fate of Ahaziah, he opens the second half of his history of the kings of Israel and Judah with a somewhat parenthetical statement: “After the death of Ahab, Moab rebelled against Israel” (2 Kings 1:1 ESV). It seems that Ahab had been extracting a sizeable annual tribute from the Moabites, literally fleecing his smaller neighbor to the east. But upon Ahab’s death, King Mesha put an end to these debilitating payments. 

Now Mesha king of Moab was a sheep breeder, and he had to deliver to the king of Israel 100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams. But when Ahab died, the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel. – 2 Kings 3:4-5 ESV

Before the very outset of his reign, Ahaziah would find himself having to deal with the sins of his father. Ahab had been a harsh and uncaring king who made a lot of enemies along the way. And Ahaziah was going to have his hands full trying to manage the royal mess his father had left him.

But before Ahaziah had a chance to deal with the rebellious Moabites, he suffered a life-threatening fall that left him confined to bed in Samaria’s royal palace. His injuries were severe enough that he was concerned whether he would fully recover. So, he sent messengers to the temple of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, seeking a divine prediction concerning his fate. It had been Ahaziah’s parents who had introduced Baal worship to Israel, and he proved to be a faithful adherent to their false religion. In his time of suffering, he sought the counsel of Baal rather than Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel.

But Ahaziah’s messengers never made it to Ekron. They were met along the way by Elijah, the prophet of Yahweh. Ahab’s old nemesis appears on the scene once again, but this time, he has bad news for Ahab’s son. Elijah had received instructions from God, commanding him to intercept the king’s messengers and inform them of the king’s fate. Ahaziah was hoping to hear a positive word from Baal, but instead, he would receive  bad news from the God of Israel.

“Is there no God in Israel? Why are you going to Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, to ask whether the king will recover? Now, therefore, this is what the Lord says: You will never leave the bed you are lying on; you will surely die.” – 2 Kings 1:3-4 NLT

There is a hint of sarcasm in this message. Yahweh is chiding Ahaziah for sending his messengers all the way to Ekron to seek a word from his false god. Baal worship was rampant within the nation of Israel. There were shrines and high places dedicated to Baal and Asherah all over the northern kingdom. In fact, Ahaziah had access to a Baal temple that his father had built in the capital city of Samaria.

He [Ahab] erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria. – 1 Kings 15:32 ESV

And there were literally hundreds of priests and prophets who served on behalf of Baal. Yet, Ahaziah had sent his messengers on a field trip all the way to Ekron in hopes of hearing something from his god. Perhaps he had started his search for an answer at the local temple but had come up empty-handed. This could have led him to his “long-distance-call” to Ekron.

When Ahaziah heard the less-than-positive pronouncement his messengers delivered, he grew suspicious. This was not the news he had been expecting. So, he asked for a description of the man who had predicted his pending death. And as soon as he heard what the man looked like, his suspicions were confirmed. It was Elijah the Tishbite. As the son of Ahab and Jezebel, Ahaziah would have grown up hearing the stories of Elijah and his defeat of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. He would have been very familiar with his mother’s intense hatred for this prophet of Yahweh. And the ongoing battle of words and will between his father and Elijah would have taken place right in front of him. So, when he discovered that Elijah had interjected himself into Israel’s affairs yet again, he sent guards to arrest him. But, just like the messengers he had sent to Ekron, the guards never made it to their destination.

As visible proof of his role as a spokesman for Yahweh, Elijah called down fire from heaven that wiped out all 50 men. But this display of power made no impression on the stubborn and unrepentant Ahaziah. He simply sent another 50 guards who suffered the very same fate. The third commander recognized the divine nature of Elijah’s role and wisely chose to beg for mercy.

“O man of God, please spare my life and the lives of these, your fifty servants. See how the fire from heaven came down and destroyed the first two groups. But now please spare my life!” – 2 Kings 1:13-14 NLT

The angel of God intervened, instructing Elijah to spare these men’s lives and accompany them back to Samaria. When he arrived in the capital city, Elijah reiterated his earlier message, but this time, directly to Ahaziah. He confirmed that the king would not recover from his injuries. Ahaziah’s stubborn refusal to seek God even in his time of greatest need would be the death of him. His unjustified yet unwavering allegiance to Baal would end up killing him. And, as always, the words of Elijah proved to be true.

So Ahaziah died, just as the Lord had promised through Elijah. – 2 Kings 1:17 NLT

Yet another king of Israel met an untimely but well-deserved end. The legacy of unfaithfulness, begun by Jeroboam, had been passed down from generation to generation, infecting each successive king and bringing the just and righteous judgment of God. And because Ahaziah had no male heir to whom he could leave the throne, his brother Jehoram became king of Israel.

Ahaziah, like his predecessors, had failed to recognize Yahweh as the one true God. He acted as if Yahweh no longer existed in Israel. But he had been proven wrong. Yahweh was still alive and well. His power was undiminished. And, while Ahaziah had refused to seek Yahweh’s face, he could not escape Yahweh’s sovereign will. The God of Israel could be ignored, but He would not go away.

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

An Unscheduled and Ill-Advised Rest Stop

1 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.  – John 4:1-6 ESV

Chapter 3 featured Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, who was a well-respected member of the Pharisees, an extremely orthodox sect of Judaism. This learned man, who also happened to be a member of the Jewish ruling council called the Sanhedrin, was well-versed in the Hebrew Scriptures, with special knowledge of the Mosaic Law. Yet, with all his knowledge and wisdom, he had been unable to comprehend the words of Jesus. In fact, Jesus exposed Nicodemus’ surprising lack of understanding when He somewhat sarcastically asked, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” (John 3:10 ESV).

Nicodemus prided himself in his knowledge of both the written and oral traditions of Israel. But he had been unable to understand what Jesus meant when He said, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5 ESV). Nicodemus’ wisdom had proved insufficient because his mind was stuck on a horizontal plane, and incapable of comprehending the spiritual nature of Jesus’ words.

Now, John shifts the scene of the story as he describes Jesus’ departure from Judea to the northern region of Galilee. Jesus is vacating the confines of Jerusalem because the Pharisees have gotten wind of His growing popularity.

…when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. – John 4:1-3 ESV

Jesus had come to Jerusalem in order to celebrate the Passover, but He had found the temple of His Father being desecrated and profaned by those who were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of the nation. Rather than encouraging the people to “worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23 ESV), they had turned the house of God into “a house of trade” (John 2:16 ESV). They were using the God-ordained sacrificial system as a means for making money, rather than making atonement for the sins of the people.

So, John describes Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, as turning His back on the city of Jerusalem and heading for Galilee. But to get there, Jesus was going to have to journey through the region of Samaria. And this seemingly insignificant geographic detail is far more important that one might realize.

The seismic nature of the shift in location is easily overlooked by modern readers. But John’s original audience would have recognized the fascinating juxtaposition between chapters 3 and 4 that John was creating. To understand what is going on, you have to know the historic significance of Samaria and its inhabitants. The land of Samaria had originally belonged to the tribe of Ephraim and the half-tribe of Manasseh. It had been part of the land of Canaan that God had promised as an inheritance to the nation of Israel. After God had divided the nation in two, due to the sins of Solomon, Samaria had become part of the northern kingdom of Israel. But when the people of Israel had continued to rebel against God and had refused His repeated calls to repent, He had brought the Assyrians against them as punishment for their sin. The book of 2 Kings describes what happened as a result.

The king of Assyria transported groups of people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim and resettled them in the towns of Samaria, replacing the people of Israel. They took possession of Samaria and lived in its towns. But since these foreign settlers did not worship the Lord when they first arrived, the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them.

So a message was sent to the king of Assyria: “The people you have sent to live in the towns of Samaria do not know the religious customs of the God of the land. He has sent lions among them to destroy them because they have not worshiped him correctly.”

The king of Assyria then commanded, “Send one of the exiled priests back to Samaria. Let him live there and teach the new residents the religious customs of the God of the land.” So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria returned to Bethel and taught the new residents how to worship the Lord.

But these various groups of foreigners also continued to worship their own gods. In town after town where they lived, they placed their idols at the pagan shrines that the people of Samaria had built. – 2 Kings 17:24-29 NLT

These foreigners ended up intermarrying with the Jews who had been left in the land. And 2 Kings describes how these “Samaritans” practiced a syncretistic brand of religion that combined the worship of Yahweh with the worship of false gods.

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

To the Pharisees and other orthodox religious groups in Israel, the Samaritans were considered “half-breeds” who had refused to maintain the purity of the nation’s bloodline. Not only that, but they were also guilty of idolatry and, therefore, in violation of the Mosaic Law. And to make matters worse, they had established their own place of worship on Mount Gerazim, refusing to recognize the temple in Jerusalem as the dwelling place of God. And much to the chagrin of the Pharisees, the Samaritans rejected all the writings of the prophets and the Jewish oral traditions, which the Pharisees held near and dear.

So, when John describes Jesus as having “to pass through Samaria,” there is an intentional tension in his words. It was impossible for Jesus to travel from Judea to Galilee without having to make his way through this land occupied by “half-breeds” and heretics. And any self-respecting, God-honoring Jew would pass through this region as quickly as possible, making certain to avoid any interaction with the inhabitants. To the Jews, the Samaritans were considered unclean and of no more value than a dog. They were to be avoided at all costs.

All of these details are essential if one is to understand the significance of all that John is about to describe. Jesus’ transition from Jerusalem to Galilee takes on a special significance because He must pass through the region of Samaria. And the intense animosity between the Jews and Samaritans would have been well-documents and fully understood in John’s day. A contemporary reader of John’s gospel would have expected Jesus and His entourage to expedite their passage through Samaria, spending as little time in the region as was physically possible.

But John describes Jesus as arriving at the town of Sychar, located in the heart of Samaria, at about Noon. The inference is that Jesus has only a few hours left before darkness falls, so He should have been in a hurry to complete His journey to Galilee. But instead, He decides to take an unscheduled and highly unrecommended rest stop at the base of Mount Gerazim, where the Samaritans practiced their syncretistic brand of religion.

Again, the details are critical to understanding what follows. Sychar, also known as Shechem, was located in the valley between Mount Gerazim and Mount Ebal, and this spot held a special significance for the Jewish people. It was there, during the initial conquest of the land of Canann, that Joshua had instructed the people to build an altar to the Lord, to recommit themselves to the covenant, and to give thanks for their recent victories over Jericho and Ai.

Then Joshua built an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, on Mount Ebal. He followed the commands that Moses the Lord’s servant had written in the Book of Instruction: “Make me an altar from stones that are uncut and have not been shaped with iron tools.” Then on the altar they presented burnt offerings and peace offerings to the Lord. And as the Israelites watched, Joshua copied onto the stones of the altar the instructions Moses had given them.

Then all the Israelites—foreigners and native-born alike—along with the elders, officers, and judges, were divided into two groups. One group stood in front of Mount Gerizim, the other in front of Mount Ebal. Each group faced the other, and between them stood the Levitical priests carrying the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant. This was all done according to the commands that Moses, the servant of the Lord, had previously given for blessing the people of Israel.

Joshua then read to them all the blessings and curses Moses had written in the Book of Instruction. – Joshua 8:30-34 NLT

Notice the reference to “all the Israelites – foreigners and native-born alike.” Here, centuries later, the Messiah of Israel was making His way to this very same spot, accompanied by native-born Jews, and He would encounter a woman who was considered a foreigner and a violator of the covenant of Israel. But the message Jesus had to share with her would be similar to that which He had shared with Nicodemus, a native-born Jew, a Pharisee, and a so-called keeper of the law.

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

Judge, Jury, and Executioner

Hear, you peoples, all of you;
    pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it,
and let the Lord God be a witness against you,
    the Lord from his holy temple.
For behold, the Lord is coming out of his place,
    and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth.
And the mountains will melt under him,
    and the valleys will split open,
like wax before the fire,
    like waters poured down a steep place.
All this is for the transgression of Jacob
    and for the sins of the house of Israel.
What is the transgression of Jacob?
    Is it not Samaria?
And what is the high place of Judah?
    Is it not Jerusalem?
Therefore I will make Samaria a heap in the open country,
    a place for planting vineyards,
and I will pour down her stones into the valley
    and uncover her foundations.
All her carved images shall be beaten to pieces,
    all her wages shall be burned with fire,
    and all her idols I will lay waste,
for from the fee of a prostitute she gathered them,
    and to the fee of a prostitute they shall return. Micah 1:2-7 ESV

Like a prosecutor in a court case, Micah is going to present damning evidence against the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. These two nations came into existence after God divided Israel as punishment for the idolatry of King Solomon.

Then he said to Jeroboam, “Take ten of these pieces, for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon, and I will give ten of the tribes to you! But I will leave him one tribe for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel. For Solomon has abandoned me and worshiped Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians; Chemosh, the god of Moab; and Molech, the god of the Ammonites. He has not followed my ways and done what is pleasing in my sight. He has not obeyed my decrees and regulations as David his father did.”’ – 1 Kings 11:31-33 NLT

Jeroboam was one of Solomon’s officials and he would be used by God to lead a rebellion against the king, convincing 10 of the 12 tribes to align with him and form the northern kingdom of Israel. Solomon would maintain control over his own tribe, Judah, as well as the tribe of Benjamin. Both Solomon and Jeroboam would be followed by a succession of different kings who would rule over the two kingdoms. And the majority of these men would continue to lead the chosen people of God to serve the false gods of the Canaanite nations. This idolatry and apostasy is the basis of Micah’s message.

So, he calls all the nations of the earth to act as jurors in the trial of God’s people.

Let all the people of the world listen!
    Let the earth and everything in it hear. – Micah 1:2 NLT

And the star witness in this divine courtroom drama will be God Himself.

The Sovereign Lord is making accusations against you;
    the Lord speaks from his holy Temple. – Micah 1:2 NLT

Interestingly enough, God had predicted this moment in time. Even before the people of Israel had ever set foot in the land of promise, God had warned that they would be unfaithful to Him and worship other gods. So, He dictated the words of a song to Moses and instructed him to teach it to the people of Israel in order that they might never forget what would happen if they disobeyed and deserted Him.

“So write down the words of this song, and teach it to the people of Israel. Help them learn it, so it may serve as a witness for me against them. For I will bring them into the land I swore to give their ancestors—a land flowing with milk and honey. There they will become prosperous, eat all the food they want, and become fat. But they will begin to worship other gods; they will despise me and break my covenant. And when great disasters come down on them, this song will stand as evidence against them, for it will never be forgotten by their descendants. I know the intentions of these people, even now before they have entered the land I swore to give them.” – Deuteronomy 31:19-21 NLT

Since Moses had been warned by God that his time on earth was drawing to a close, He took this lengthy “song” and gave it to Joshua, with instructions to keep it in a safe place.

“Take this Book of Instruction and place it beside the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord your God, so it may remain there as a witness against the people of Israel. – Deuteronomy 31:26 NLT

And the “Book of Instruction” had remained beside the Ark of the Covenant within the Holy of Holies of God’s temple all during the reigns of David and Solomon. Even as Micah penned the words of this book, the “song” God had given to Moses was safely ensconced in the inner sanctum of the temple, its words acting as a witness against both Israel and Judah.

Micah describes God leaving His heavenly throne room and making His way to earth, where He will provide personal testimony against His ungrateful and unfaithful people. Isaiah used similar imagery to describe God’s divine judgment of His people.

The Lord takes his place in court
    and presents his case against his people.
The Lord comes forward to pronounce judgment
    on the elders and rulers of his people… – Isaiah 3:13-14 NLT

And Micah warns that God’s arrival will be anything but ordinary.

…the mountains will melt under him,
    and the valleys will split open,
like wax before the fire,
    like waters poured down a steep place. – Micah 1:4 ESV

This imagery is intended to get the attention of the residents of Judah and Israel. Their all-powerful God, the one they had abandoned for false gods, was about to make Himself known in ways that would prove His power and guarantee their destruction. For generations, they had acted as if God did not exist or as if He was unconcerned with their behavior. They had flagrantly flaunted their idolatry in His face and gotten away with it. They had repeatedly committed spiritual adultery with no ill effects. But Micah wanted them to know that their God had run out of patience. He was leaving His throne room in heaven and descending to earth to pronounce judgment against them.

And just in case the people might wonder why God would bother to leave heaven and come all the way to earth, Micah provides them with the answer.

All this is for the transgression of Jacob
    and for the sins of the house of Israel.
What is the transgression of Jacob?
    Is it not Samaria?
And what is the high place of Judah?
    Is it not Jerusalem?
– Micah 1:5 ESV

Micah’s reference to Israel as “Jacob” was intended as a not-so-subtle reminder of the rebellious background of the patriarch for whom they were named. The book of Genesis records the early years of Jacob, portraying him as a manipulative, scheming individual who spent years trying to do things his way, rather than trust in God’s will for his life. And it was only when Jacob came to an end of himself and decided to submit his life to God, that he received a new name and a divine promise of fruitfulness.

“Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body.” – Genesis 35:10-11 ESV

By referring to the northern kingdom of Israel as “Jacob,” Micah is linking them to the rebellious years of their patriarch’s life. They had more in common with the earlier version of Jacob than they did with his post-name-change behavior.

And Samaria, the capital city of Israel, had become the epicenter of idolatry and unfaithfulness for the entire nation. The same thing was true for Jerusalem, the capital of the southern kingdom of Judah. In spite of the presence of the temple of God, the city of Jerusalem had become home to shrines and high places for a pantheon of false gods. Both of these cities had become icons for the wickedness of their respective nations.

For the people of Judah and Israel, these capital cities were representative of their wealth, power, and prestige. They were filled with gold, precious gems, beautiful buildings, and the trappings of their own success. But God was about to turn these man-made symbols of self-importance into piles of rubble and ashes.

“So I, the Lord, will make the city of Samaria
a heap of ruins.
Her streets will be plowed up
for planting vineyards.
I will roll the stones of her walls into the valley below,
exposing her foundations.
All her carved images will be smashed.
All her sacred treasures will be burned.
These things were bought with the money
earned by her prostitution,
and they will now be carried away
to pay prostitutes elsewhere.” –
Micah 1:6-7 NLT

God wasn’t just coming down from heaven to offer testimony against Judah and Israel, He was showing up as their judge, jury, and executioner. Their fate was already sealed. God had already told them what would happen if they failed to worship Him alone. He had dictated the words of the song to Moses and they cried out from the Holy of Holies, condemning the people of God for their unfaithfulness. The Israelites may have forgotten the lyrics, but God had not.

All the symbols of Samaria’s success were about to be destroyed. The walls of the city would be toppled. Its streets would be plowed up and turned into fields. All the statues and idols erected to her many false gods would be smashed and burned. And the wealth amassed through their use of temple prostitutes cleverly disguised as “priestesses,” would become loot for the invading forces of the Assyrians.

Judgment was coming. And the Judge of the universe was leaving His judgment seat in heaven to ensure that their crimes receive the condemnation they deserve.

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

Seek God Now, Not Later.

An oracle concerning Damascus.

Behold, Damascus will cease to be a city
    and will become a heap of ruins.
The cities of Aroer are deserted;
    they will be for flocks,
    which will lie down, and none will make them afraid.
The fortress will disappear from Ephraim,
    and the kingdom from Damascus;
and the remnant of Syria will be
    like the glory of the children of Israel,
declares the Lord of hosts.

And in that day the glory of Jacob will be brought low,
    and the fat of his flesh will grow lean.
And it shall be as when the reaper gathers standing grain
    and his arm harvests the ears,
and as when one gleans the ears of grain
    in the Valley of Rephaim.
Gleanings will be left in it,
    as when an olive tree is beaten—
two or three berries
    in the top of the highest bough,
four or five
    on the branches of a fruit tree,
declares the Lord God of Israel.

In that day man will look to his Maker, and his eyes will look on the Holy One of Israel. He will not look to the altars, the work of his hands, and he will not look on what his own fingers have made, either the Asherim or the altars of incense. – Isaiah 17:1-8 ESV

DamascusWith the opening of chapter 17, Isaiah delivers God’s oracle against Damascus, the capital city of Syria. As verse three reveals, Israel is included in this oracle, referred to by the name of Ephraim, the largest of the ten tribes that made up the northern kingdom. Israel had formed an alliance with Syria in order to attack the southern kingdom of Judah (see chapter seven).

As has been the case with each of the other oracles, God is speaking a word of warning aimed directly at His own people, the divided nations of Israel and Judah. Their repeated attempts to seek help from foreign nations rather than trust in Him were going to bring His judgment. He has already told what will happen to Babylon, Philistia, Moab and Assyria. Now, He turns His attention to Syria, located to the northeast of Israel. And He cuts to the chase, describing the Syrian capital as “a heap of ruins.” He predicts the utter devastation of the fortified cities of Syria and Ephraim, which would include the Israelite capital of Samaria.

The fortress will disappear from Ephraim,
    and the kingdom from Damascus;
and the remnant of Syria will be
    like the glory of the children of Israel,
declares the Lord of hosts. – Isaiah 17:3 ESV

Syria would share Israel’s fate. Both nations, because of their arrogance, would suffer greatly under the hand of God Almighty. But God’s primary judgment seems to be directed at the children of Israel. He states that their former glory will be greatly diminished, and He describes it is stark terms:

…in that day the glory of Jacob will be brought low,
    and the fat of his flesh will grow lean. – Isaiah 17:4 ESV

Once again, we see God promising to humble the proud and destroy bring low the self-sufficient. Israel had reached the point in their downward spiritual spiral where they no longer believed they needed God. Under the leadership of their king, Jeroboam, they had long ago created their own gods and set up their own places of worship.

Jeroboam then built up the city of Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and it became his capital. Later he went and built up the town of Peniel.

Jeroboam thought to himself, “Unless I am careful, the kingdom will return to the dynasty of David. When these people go to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the Temple of the Lord, they will again give their allegiance to King Rehoboam of Judah. They will kill me and make him their king instead.”

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

He placed these calf idols in Bethel and in Dan—at either end of his kingdom. But this became a great sin, for the people worshiped the idols, traveling as far north as Dan to worship the one there. – 1 Kings 12:25-30 NLT

And a long line of kings who succeeded Jeroboam continued the idolatrous trend, leading the people of Israel further and further away from God. But God does not leave sin unpunished. He cannot and will not overlook the rebellion of His people. So in 732 BC, the Assyrians fulfilled God’s word by destroying Damascus. And then years later, they would destroy Samaria, the capital city of Israel.

And the aftermath of the Assyrian conquest will leave the land looking “like a grainfield after the harvesters have gathered the grain. It will be desolate, like the fields in the valley of Rephaim after the harvest” (Isaiah 17:5 NLT). It is a picture of desolation and devastation. All the glory is gone. Everything the people had placed their hope in and based their pride upon would be gone. Only a remnant of the people of Israel would remain in the land.

“Only a few of its people will be left,
    like stray olives left on a tree after the harvest.
Only two or three remain in the highest branches,
    four or five scattered here and there on the limbs,”
    declares the Lord, the God of Israel. – Isaiah 17:6 NLT

This image stands in stark contrast to the promise God had made to Abraham.

“Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” – Genesis 15:5 ESV

God had kept His promise to Abraham and had made of him a great nation. While the Israelites had lived in Egypt for 400 years, their numbers had grown to such a degree that the Pharaoh had become fearful of their presence in the land. So he began to treat them as slaves, keeping them under intense subjection so that they might not rise up against the Egyptians. But God had delivered them from their slavery and had brought them to the land of Canaan, where He had given them victory over their enemies and provided them with land, villages and houses in which to live.

But the people of Israel had proved unfaithful to God. Over the centuries, they had repeatedly disobeyed God by worshiping the false gods of the Canaanites. They had intermarried with the nations, failing to maintain their ethnic purity but, more importantly, their spiritual identity as the chosen people of God. They had been set apart by God and commanded to live according to His laws. They were to be a living example of how sinful man can live in covenant community with a holy God. But they had failed.

And the core issue here is not the litany of sins the people of Israel committed, but their lack of belief in God. The goal of Satan is not so much to get mankind to commit sins as it is to get them to doubt God. That’s the tactic he took in the garden with Adam and Eve. He came to the woman in the guise of a beautiful serpent and said, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” (Genesis 3:1 NLT). Notice that he raised doubts about God’s command. And Eve correctly responded, “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die’” (Genesis 3:3 NLT). Then Satan did what he always does, he contradicted the very word of God. “You won’t die!” (Genesis 3:4 NLT). And he followed that up with a compelling lie: “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil” (Genesis 3:5 NLT).

Eve and her husband listened to the lies of the enemy. But it was not the eating of the fruit that was the cause of their fall. It was their rejection of the word of God. They failed to believe what God had said. The enemy replaced the truth of God with a lie, and they accepted it. They took the bait. Satan’s promise sounded more plausible and appealing than God’s offer of life in the garden with Him. And mankind has been taking the bait of Satan ever since.

The fellowship with God that Adam and Eve had once enjoyed came to an abrupt end. Sin broke the bond. It severed the relationship they had enjoyed. They were cast out of the garden and away from the presence of God. And, as time passed, they and their descendants would find themselves moving further and further away from God – physically, as they journeyed away from the garden, and spiritually, as they allowed sin to separate them from Him.

But God describes a day when the fall of Israel would leave His people calling out to Him once again. In their devastated and demoralized state, they would find themselves without hope and devoid of any other source of help.

Then at last the people will look to their Creator
    and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel.
They will no longer look to their idols for help
    or worship what their own hands have made.
They will never again bow down to their Asherah poles
    or worship at the pagan shrines they have built. – Isaiah 17:7-8 NLT

It is amazing how easy it is for the people of God to turn their backs on Him until they find themselves in a state of hopelessness and helplessness. In those moments of trial and trouble, when they no longer have any other options or tricks up their sleeves, they tend to turn back to God for help. When their man-made gods no longer come through for them, they decide to give God one more try.

And the same is true of us as God’s people. While our false gods to be more sophisticated, they are still man-made and poor substitutes for the one true God. Yet, we find it so easy to place our trust in anything and everything but God, until those things fail to come through for us. When all the money in the world can’t heal us from cancer, we turn to God. When our intelligence proves insufficient for the crisis we face, we turn to God. When all our possessions fail to bring us the happiness they promised to deliver, we turn to God. And while it is true that “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble” (Psalm 46:1 NLT), He longs for us to seek Him at all times. He desires that we make Him our first and only option. Which is why Jesus said, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:33 NLT).

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

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

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