Unbelievably Unrepentant

“I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities,
and lack of bread in all your places,
yet you did not return to me,”
declares the Lord.

“I also withheld the rain from you
when there were yet three months to the harvest;
I would send rain on one city,
and send no rain on another city;
one field would have rain,
and the field on which it did not rain would wither;
so two or three cities would wander to another city
to drink water, and would not be satisfied;
yet you did not return to me,”
declares the Lord.

“I struck you with blight and mildew;
your many gardens and your vineyards,
your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured;
yet you did not return to me,”
declares the Lord.

10 “I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt;
I killed your young men with the sword,
and carried away your horses,
and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils;
yet you did not return to me,”
declares the Lord.

11 “I overthrew some of you,
as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,
and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning;
yet you did not return to me,”
declares the Lord.

12 “Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel;
because I will do this to you,
prepare to meet your God, O Israel!”

13 For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind,
and declares to man what is his thought,
who makes the morning darkness,
and treads on the heights of the earth—
the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name!Amos 4:6-13 ESV

In this section of Amos’ message, it would appear that he has 1 Kings 8 in mind. In that passage, King Solomon is offering his prayer of dedication for the newly constructed temple in Jerusalem. Solomon fully realized that it was impossible for the God of the universe to actually take up residence in a building made with human hands. The omnipotent, omnipresent God who created the heavens and the earth could not be contained in a man-made structure. But Solomon God to “watch over this Temple night and day” (1 Kings 8:29 NLT). The temple was being dedicated to God’s glory and would bear His name.  So, with that in mind, Solomon asked God to “hear the prayers I make toward this place” (1 Kings 8:29 NLT). Then he added:

May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place. Yes, hear us from heaven where you live, and when you hear, forgive.” – 1 Kings 8:30 NLT

Then Solomon outlined for God a series of likely scenarios in which the people would find themselves needing divine assistance. Solomon knew his people well, and he was fully aware that they would commit sins against God that would result in the judgment of God. So, he asked that the temple might be a place of intercession where the people could come in repentance and offer up their prayers to the Almighty. And Solomon asked God to confirm that, if they prayed, He would hear and forgive.

Now, fast-forward to the reign of Jeroboam II. He is ruling over the kingdom of Israel, consisting of the ten northern tribes that broke away from Judah and Benjamin shortly after Solomon’s death. The northern kingdom is wicked and unrepentant. They are idolatrous, immoral, unjust, and guilty of having turned their backs on God. And in verses 6-11 of chapter four, Amos records God’s words concerning their stubborn, unrepentant hearts.

God reminds them that He has brought judgment after judgment against them, in the form of famine, drought, disease, pestilence, and war, but they have repeatedly refused to repent. And with each description of the judgment He sent upon them, God adds the sad refrain, “yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:6 ESV).

God had sent a famine among the cities of Israel. And because they had no food, they had “cleanness of teeth” (Amos 4:6 ESV). Their sin had resulted in God’s judgment and a devastating lack of life’s necessities. But Solomon had prayed with just such an incident in mind. He asked God, “If there is a famine in the land and if your people Israel pray about their troubles, raising their hands toward this Temple, then hear from heaven where you live, and forgive. Give your people what their actions deserve, for you alone know each human heart” (1 Kings 8:37, 38-39 NLT).

But notice what Solomon said: If there is a famine and if your people pray….

And there was a famine, but the people did not pray. They never turned to God in repentance. And because they were living in the northern kingdom of Israel, far from the city of Jerusalem, the temple of God was out of sight, out of mind. They had their own temples dedicated to their own false gods.

Next, God reminds them that He had withheld the rain, causing them to suffer the consequences of drought. This should have been no surprise to the people of God, because, generations earlier, Moses had warned them what would happen if they chose to disobey God’s laws:

The skies above will be as unyielding as bronze, and the earth beneath will be as hard as iron. The Lord will change the rain that falls on your land into powder, and dust will pour down from the sky until you are destroyed. – Deuteronomy 28:23-24 NLT

And Solomon, knowing the sinful propensity of the people of Israel, had foreseen this day and had used it as another example of the need for God’s forgiveness.

“If the skies are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned against you, and if they pray toward this Temple and acknowledge your name and turn from their sins because you have punished them, then hear from heaven and forgive the sins of your servants, your people Israel. Teach them to follow the right path, and send rain on your land that you have given to your people as their special possession.” – 1 Kings 8:35-36 NLT

But the lack of rain had not produced repentant hearts. Instead, the hearts of the people remained as hard as the sun-baked, rain-deprived soil. They remained unwilling to repent and, therefore, they remained unforgiven by God.

But God had not stopped with famine and drought. He had also destroyed their crops with blight and mildew. He sent locusts to devour their fig and olive trees. These natural disasters were actually divine judgments, designed to get the attention of the apostate people of Israel. But, once again, they failed to repent and return. And, once again, Solomon had foreseen this situation and had included it in his prayer to God.

“If there is … a plague or crop disease or attacks of locusts or caterpillars…whatever disaster or disease there is—and if your people Israel pray about their troubles, raising their hands toward this Temple, then hear from heaven where you live, and forgive.” – 1 Kings 8:37-39

All the people needed to do was admit their fault and turn to God in repentance. But they would stubbornly refuse to do so.

And their stubbornness proved costly. After sending diseases on the fields, vineyards, and orchards of Israel, God sent pestilence among the people. He brought upon the Israelites the same kind of plagues that had destroyed the people of Egypt. Solomon had seen this coming as well. He had specifically feared the possibility of this very thing happening when he prayed, “If there is … a plague…” (1 Kings 8:37 ESV).

But not only did God send a devastating and deadly plague, He sent enemy troops who killed the soldiers of Israel, leaving a mass of decaying corpses in their wake.

I killed your young men in war
    and led all your horses away.
    The stench of death filled the air!” – 1 Kings 8:10 NLT

And, according to the prayer of Solomon, the people of Israel had failed to pray to God before entering into battle with their enemies and, as a result, they were defeated.

“If your people go out where you send them to fight their enemies, and if they pray to the Lord by turning toward this city you have chosen and toward this Temple I have built to honor your name, then hear their prayers from heaven and uphold their cause.” – 1 Kings 8:44-45 NLT

The people of Israel didn’t turn to God because they didn’t believe they needed Him. And they refused to return to God because they no longer believed in Him. They had long ago rejected Him as their God. And they had paid the price.

God had even decreed the destruction of some of their cities. Enemy forces had besieged and destroyed many Israelite cities and towns, burning them to the ground and leaving them desolated wastelands, much like the sinful cities Sodom and Gomorrah had become.

“I destroyed some of your cities,
    as I destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.
Those of you who survived
    were like charred sticks pulled from a fire. – Amos 4:11 NLT

But even these devastating consequences failed to produce repentance among the people of Israel.

“But still you would not return to me,”
    says the Lord. – Amos 4:11 LT

At no point do the people of Israel turn their faces to the temple in Jerusalem and turn their hearts to the God whose name it bears. Despite all God’s judgments against them, they refuse to confess their sins and call out for His mercy and forgiveness. So, God provides them with one final and fateful warning: “prepare to meet your God, O Israel!” (Amos 4:12 ESV).

While they consistently refused to return to Him in repentance, they were still going to have to deal with Him. Closing their eyes and their hearts did not make God go away. Just because they failed to acknowledge Him as God, did not mean He no longer existed. And Amos adds his two cents worth by reminding them that Yahweh was the Creator-God, the maker of all things. He was the sovereign God of the universe who holds all things in His mighty hands and is fully capable of dealing justly and rightly with His creation. And He would.

For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind,
    and declares to man what is his thought,
who makes the morning darkness,
    and treads on the heights of the earth—
    the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name! – Amos 4:13 ESV

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

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

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

A Divine Word Against Lip-Service

Thus says the Lord:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not An Easy Job

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pride Goes Before Destruction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

So, He Saved Them

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Preserving and Protecting the Line of David

13 When Athaliah heard the noise of the guard and of the people, she went into the house of the Lord to the people. 14 And when she looked, there was the king standing by the pillar, according to the custom, and the captains and the trumpeters beside the king, and all the people of the land rejoicing and blowing trumpets. And Athaliah tore her clothes and cried, “Treason! Treason!” 15 Then Jehoiada the priest commanded the captains who were set over the army, “Bring her out between the ranks, and put to death with the sword anyone who follows her.” For the priest said, “Let her not be put to death in the house of the Lord.” 16 So they laid hands on her; and she went through the horses’ entrance to the king’s house, and there she was put to death.

17 And Jehoiada made a covenant between the Lord and the king and people, that they should be the Lord’s people, and also between the king and the people. 18 Then all the people of the land went to the house of Baal and tore it down; his altars and his images they broke in pieces, and they killed Mattan the priest of Baal before the altars. And the priest posted watchmen over the house of the Lord. 19 And he took the captains, the Carites, the guards, and all the people of the land, and they brought the king down from the house of the Lord, marching through the gate of the guards to the king’s house. And he took his seat on the throne of the kings. 20 So all the people of the land rejoiced, and the city was quiet after Athaliah had been put to death with the sword at the king’s house.

21 Jehoash was seven years old when he began to reign. 2 Kings 11:13-21 ESV

For six years, Joash, the young heir to David’s throne, had lived in the temple of Yahweh – and right under Athaliah’s nose. The house of God proved to be the perfect hiding place for the young boy because it would have been the last place Athaliah would have ever looked. Like her parents, Ahab and Jezebel, she was a committed Baal worshiper. So, any chance of her running into Joash at the house of God would have been highly unlikely. In this story, the temple of the one true God plays a significant role. It is a reminder that, in Judah, Yahweh still played a major role in the lives of the people. While some of the kings of Judah had successfully introduced the worship of idols, the people had not abandoned Yahweh. The temple Solomon had built still stood, and the sacrificial system remained in place. Jehoiada and his fellow priests faithfully maintained God’s house and looked after the spiritual well-being of God’s people. And now, Jehoiada had provided sanctuary for God’s chosen king in the house that bore God’s name. And it must not be overlooked that the temple of God had direct ties all the way back to King David.

It had always been David’s dream to build a great temple in honor of Yahweh. But God informed David that He had other plans.

“And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” – 2 Samuel 7:11-13 ESV

God went on to promise David, “your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16 ESV). God was going to build David’s house or dynasty.  But it would be David’s son, Solomon, whom God would give the privilege of constructing a house that would bear His name and in which His glory would dwell. And now, the house built by Solomon had become the means by which God fulfilled His promise to preserve the house of David. Joash, the descendant of David and the rightful heir to the throne of Judah, was alive because he had been given sanctuary and protection in the house of God.

When word got out that Joash was alive and that he had been crowned the king of Judah, the crowds flocked to the temple to see if the news was true. And it wasn’t long before Athaliah was told about the great commotion taking place at the temple of Yahweh. So, she went to see for herself.

Much to her shock and surprise, there stood her seven-year-old grandson, Joash, very much alive and well, and wearing a crown on his head. In a matter of seconds, Athaliah’s house of cards began to crumble. Her insidious plan to eradicate all the heirs to her son’s throne had failed. For six years she had lived under the delusion that she had successfully secured her place as the queen of Judah. But little did she know that God had been protecting and preserving the seed of David until he was ready to take the throne. And it must not be overlooked that when Jehoiada placed the crown on the head of Joash, he had also presented the young king with a copy of the Mosaic Law.

Jehoiada brought out Joash, the king’s son, placed the crown on his head, and presented him with a copy of God’s laws. – 2 Kings 11:12 NLT

This practice was in keeping with the commands of God concerning the kings of Israel.

“When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy for himself this body of instruction on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. He must always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the Lord his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees. This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel.” – Deuteronomy 17:18-20 NLT

Athaliah, an ungodly and unauthorized queen, was standing before the God-appointed king of Judah. And this young man was backed by the law of God, the priests of God, and had the full support of the people of God. But declared the entire scene to be nothing less than an act of treason. She refused to acknowledge Joash as the rightful heir to the throne because she refused to acknowledge Yahweh as the one and only God of Judah.

But her claims of treason were met with an order from Jehoiada the priest, commanding that she be taken from the temple and executed. She was the one who had been guilty of treason and so, she was the one who deserved to die.

With her death, a spirit of revival broke out in the land of Judah. Jehoiada immediately “made a covenant between the Lord and the king and the people that they would be the Lord’s people” (2 Kings 11:17 NLT). In a sense, he called the people to repent and return to the worship of Yahweh. They had a new king but Jehoiada knew that it would mean nothing without a renewed commitment to God. Joash was just a seven-year-old boy with no leadership skills or experience. But if he and the people under his care would recommit themselves to the Word and the will of God, they would find themselves enjoying the blessings of God once again.

In a decisive demonstration of their renewed zeal for Yahweh, the people tore down the temple of Baal. Its very presence indicates that Athaliah and her ungodly relatives in Israel had played a major role in the declining spiritual state within Judah. The city of Jerusalem, home to the temple of God, also had a temple dedicated to Baal, the false god of Ahab and Jezebel. But in the revival-like atmosphere that accompanied Joash’s crowning, the people were moved to eradicate every last vestige of Baal worship from their midst.

They demolished the altars and smashed the idols to pieces, and they killed Mattan the priest of Baal in front of the altars. – 2 Kings 11:18 NLT

With Athaliah and her false god out of the way, it was time for Joash to move from God’s house to David’s palace. So, Jehoiada led a processional from the temple to the royal residence, where “the king took his seat on the royal throne” (2 Kings 11:19 NLT). And at that moment, God reaffirmed the promise He had made to David.

Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever. – 2 Samuel 7:16 NLT

God was committed to keeping His word because He had a far greater plan in store that would involve the line of David. His preservation of David’s house was crucial because there was to be one final descendant of David who would rule and reign, not just over Judah and Israel, but over all the kingdoms of the world. The prophet Isaiah spoke of this coming King and the day when He will bring salvation to the world.

In that day the heir to David’s throne
    will be a banner of salvation to all the world.
The nations will rally to him,
    and the land where he lives will be a glorious place. – Isaiah 11:10 NLT

Joash had been protected so that David’s line could be preserved. Despite the unfaithfulness of His people, God was faithfully keeping His promise to David so that His plans for the future redemption of the world could be fulfilled in Christ.

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

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

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

 

God Cleans House

14 Thus Jehu the son of Jehoshaphat the son of Nimshi conspired against Joram. (Now Joram with all Israel had been on guard at Ramoth-gilead against Hazael king of Syria, 15 but King Joram had returned to be healed in Jezreel of the wounds that the Syrians had given him, when he fought with Hazael king of Syria.) So Jehu said, “If this is your decision, then let no one slip out of the city to go and tell the news in Jezreel.” 16 Then Jehu mounted his chariot and went to Jezreel, for Joram lay there. And Ahaziah king of Judah had come down to visit Joram.

17 Now the watchman was standing on the tower in Jezreel, and he saw the company of Jehu as he came and said, “I see a company.” And Joram said, “Take a horseman and send to meet them, and let him say, ‘Is it peace?’” 18 So a man on horseback went to meet him and said, “Thus says the king, ‘Is it peace?’” And Jehu said, “What do you have to do with peace? Turn around and ride behind me.” And the watchman reported, saying, “The messenger reached them, but he is not coming back.” 19 Then he sent out a second horseman, who came to them and said, “Thus the king has said, ‘Is it peace?’” And Jehu answered, “What do you have to do with peace? Turn around and ride behind me.” 20 Again the watchman reported, “He reached them, but he is not coming back. And the driving is like the driving of Jehu the son of Nimshi, for he drives furiously.”

21 Joram said, “Make ready.” And they made ready his chariot. Then Joram king of Israel and Ahaziah king of Judah set out, each in his chariot, and went to meet Jehu, and met him at the property of Naboth the Jezreelite. 22 And when Joram saw Jehu, he said, “Is it peace, Jehu?” He answered, “What peace can there be, so long as the whorings and the sorceries of your mother Jezebel are so many?” 23 Then Joram reined about and fled, saying to Ahaziah, “Treachery, O Ahaziah!” 24 And Jehu drew his bow with his full strength, and shot Joram between the shoulders, so that the arrow pierced his heart, and he sank in his chariot. 25 Jehu said to Bidkar his aide, “Take him up and throw him on the plot of ground belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite. For remember, when you and I rode side by side behind Ahab his father, how the Lord made this pronouncement against him: 26 ‘As surely as I saw yesterday the blood of Naboth and the blood of his sons—declares the Lord—I will repay you on this plot of ground.’ Now therefore take him up and throw him on the plot of ground, in accordance with the word of the Lord.”

27 When Ahaziah the king of Judah saw this, he fled in the direction of Beth-haggan. And Jehu pursued him and said, “Shoot him also.” And they shot him in the chariot at the ascent of Gur, which is by Ibleam. And he fled to Megiddo and died there. 28 His servants carried him in a chariot to Jerusalem, and buried him in his tomb with his fathers in the city of David.

29 In the eleventh year of Joram the son of Ahab, Ahaziah began to reign over Judah. 2 Kings 9:14-29 ESV

Once Jehu had received the news that he was to be the next king of Israel, he wasted no time. Immediately after his anointing by the prophet of God, he departed Ramoth-gilead and headed straight to the winter palace in Jezreel, where King Jehoram was recovering from the injuries he had suffered in his battle against the Syrians.

Jehu had the full support of his fellow generals, so he ordered them to secure the city of Ramoth-gilead and prevent anyone from escaping and leaking his plans to King Jehoram. Jehu mounted his chariot and, accompanied by a contingent of loyal troops, he made his way to Jezreel. Guards posted on the watchtower of the city spotted them from a distance and gave notice to King Jehoram. Assuming it was his own troops returning from the battle against the Syrians, he sent out a messenger to meet them, anxious to know the outcome of the conflict. When the messenger road out to greet the returning soldiers, he asked them, “Is it peace?”, but Jehu gave him a rather cryptic, non-answer, and commanded him to ride along with them to the city.

After sending out a second messenger who failed to return, Jehoram became more anxious than ever to know what had happened. So, despite his wounds, he ordered his chariot and rode out to meet the returning troops. He was accompanied by King Ahaziah of Judah, who had come to visit him as he recuperated in Jezreel. When the two kings intercepted Jehu, Jehoram asked him, “Is it peace?” But Jehu’s response was not what he had been expecting.

“How can there be peace as long as the idolatry and witchcraft of your mother, Jezebel, are all around us?” – 2 Kings 9:22 NLT

Jehu called out King Jehoram, accusing him of allowing his mother, Jezebel, to lead the nation of Israel into apostasy with her idolatry and witchcraft. Though Ahab was long gone, Jezebel still continued to wield a powerful and deadly influence over the nation. Not only had she promoted the worship of false gods, but she had introduced occult practices that included the use of sorcery and incantations. And God had declared these things to be off-limits for the people of Israel.

There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. – Deuteronomy 18:10-12 ESV

Jehu’s mention of Jezebel indicates that he understood just how decisive her role had been in leading the nation away from Yahweh. Any attempt he made to eradicate the evil influence of Ahab and his descendants would have to include her. As long as Jezebel remained alive, the nation would never recover from its state of spiritual apathy and apostasy.

Suddenly aware that his life was in danger, King Jehoram ordered his chariot driver to make a hasty retreat to the safety of the city. But they never made it. Jehu killed the escaping king with a well-placed arrow to the back. And then he ordered that Jehoram’s body be dumped on the land that used to belong to Naboth. This brings the story full-circle, linking the sins of Ahab with those of his son, Jehoram. Back in 1 Kings 21, Jezebel had arranged to illegally confiscate a vineyard that belonged to Naboth so that she could give the property to Ahab. She had Naboth falsely accused and convicted of cursing God and the king. The result was that the innocent man was stoned to death on his very own land. And God had warned King Ahab, “In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick your own blood” (1 Kings 21:20 ESV). And he had pronounced a similar fate for Jezebel because of her role in the affair.

“The dogs shall eat Jezebel within the walls of Jezreel.” – 1 Kings 21:23 ESV

But Ahab had eventually repented of his role in Naboth’s death and, as a result, God had chosen to spare him.

“Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the disaster upon his house.” – 1 Kings 21:29 ESV

Now, years later, God was fulfilling His promise to bring disaster upon the house of Ahab. The blood of Jehoram, the son of Ahab and Jezebel, would be poured out on the very same spot where Naboth had been stoned to death. Jehu, who had served as one of King Ahab’s generals, was familiar with the whole sordid affair concerning Naboth. He had even been present when God issued His divine judgment against Ahab through the prophet Elijah.

“Take him up and throw him on the plot of ground belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite. For remember, when you and I rode side by side behind Ahab his father, how the Lord made this pronouncement against him: ‘As surely as I saw yesterday the blood of Naboth and the blood of his sons—declares the Lord—I will repay you on this plot of ground.’ Now therefore take him up and throw him on the plot of ground, in accordance with the word of the Lord.” – 2 Kings 9:25-26 ESV

In all of this, Jehu was acting as God’s hand of judgment against the house of Ahab. He had been anointed by God to deliver divine justice and cleanse the nation of Israel from the pervasive and pernicious influence of Ahab and Jezebel. God had had enough. The time had come to fulfill His pronouncement of judgment against the house of Ahab.

“Behold, I will bring disaster upon you. I will utterly burn you up, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel. And I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah, for the anger to which you have provoked me, and because you have made Israel to sin.” – 1 Kings 21:21-22 ESV

The purge had begun. God was cleaning house. And even King Ahaziah of Judah would not escape the purifying judgment of the Almighty. As he attempted to escape, he was struck by an arrow and only made it as far as Megiddo before he died from his wound. Ahaziah had close familial ties to the house of Ahab. His mother, Athaliah, was the granddaughter of King Omri of Israel. And it appears that he may also have married one of Ahab’s daughters.

He also walked in the way of the house of Ahab and did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, as the house of Ahab had done, for he was son-in-law to the house of Ahab. – 2 Kings 8:27 ESV

He was an unwise and wicked king who had aligned himself with one of the most infamous royal families in Israel’s sordid history. And he paid for his mistake with his life.

Because of the disobedience of Solomon, God had divided Israel into two kingdoms. This had been His punishment for Solomon’s foray into idolatry during the latter years of his life and reign. But the kings of Israel and Judah had decided to take matters into their own hands, attempting to realign the two nations through treaties and marital alliances. But they had neglected to fix the primary problem that had caused God to divide them in the first place: Idolatry. But God was not interested in a reunited nation that remained spiritually rebellious. So, He sent Jehu to bring an abrupt end to the man-made alliance between Israel and Judah by killing their two kings. It was time to start over. But as we will see, Jehu had one last piece of unfinished business.

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

 

No Match For Yahweh

16 In the fifth year of Joram the son of Ahab, king of Israel, when Jehoshaphat was king of Judah, Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, began to reign. 17 He was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned eight years in Jerusalem. 18 And he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, as the house of Ahab had done, for the daughter of Ahab was his wife. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. 19 Yet the Lord was not willing to destroy Judah, for the sake of David his servant, since he promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever.

20 In his days Edom revolted from the rule of Judah and set up a king of their own. 21 Then Joram passed over to Zair with all his chariots and rose by night, and he and his chariot commanders struck the Edomites who had surrounded him, but his army fled home. 22 So Edom revolted from the rule of Judah to this day. Then Libnah revolted at the same time. 23 Now the rest of the acts of Joram, and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 24 So Joram slept with his fathers and was buried with his fathers in the city of David, and Ahaziah his son reigned in his place.

25 In the twelfth year of Joram the son of Ahab, king of Israel, Ahaziah the son of Jehoram, king of Judah, began to reign. 26 Ahaziah was twenty-two years old when he began to reign, and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Athaliah; she was a granddaughter of Omri king of Israel. 27 He also walked in the way of the house of Ahab and did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, as the house of Ahab had done, for he was son-in-law to the house of Ahab.

28 He went with Joram the son of Ahab to make war against Hazael king of Syria at Ramoth-gilead, and the Syrians wounded Joram. 29 And King Joram returned to be healed in Jezreel of the wounds that the Syrians had given him at Ramah, when he fought against Hazael king of Syria. And Ahaziah the son of Jehoram king of Judah went down to see Joram the son of Ahab in Jezreel, because he was sick. 2 Kings 8:16-29 ESV

At this point in the narrative, the author provides a brief summary of the dynastic legacies of the two divided kingdoms. While much of his time has been spent dealing with the interactions between the two prophets of God and the kings of Israel, he now gives an overview of the most recent lines of succession in both kingdoms.

Due to the extended emphasis he has given to the northern kingdom of Israel, the author seems compelled to step back and revisit the somewhat complex and overlapping nature of the two kingly lines. It was back in 1 Kings 15 that we were first introduced to Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah. He had succeeded his father Asa to the throne. But from 1 Kings 16 to 2 Kings 8, the vast majority of the content focuses on Israel, detailing King Ahab’s rise to power, his wicked reign, and the long line of kings who followed in his footsteps. But the author wants his readers to know that things had not fared any better in the southern kingdom. While Jehoram was ruling in Israel, a young man with the very same name was reigning in Judah. He was the son of Jehoshaphat and he served for five years as his father’s coregent. He would reign an additional eight years once the crown was his alone. But his reign would be marked by apostasy just like the kings of Israel.

Jehoram followed the example of the kings of Israel and was as wicked as King Ahab, for he had married one of Ahab’s daughters. So Jehoram did what was evil in the Lord’s sight. – 2 Kings 8:18 NLT

Jehoram had married into the ungodly and wicked family of King Ahab, taking as his wife, Athaliah, a young woman who would prove to be just as evil as her mother, Jezebel. In fact, 2 Kings 11 will chronicle how she rose to power, crowning herself the queen of Judah after having slaughtered all her sons who were legitimate heirs to the throne.

This woman had an obvious influence over Jehoram. His less-than-stellar choice of a marriage partner proved to be a contributing factor in the downward spiral of his reign. Yet, the author reminds his readers that there was a greater power at work behind the scenes. Despite Jehoram’s wickedness and stubborn refusal to honor the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Yahweh was keeping the promise He had made to King David.

Yet the Lord was not willing to destroy Judah, for the sake of David his servant, since he promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever. – 2 Kings 8:19 ESV

God was faithfully preserving the line of David, but not because they deserved it. It was because He had a much longer-term plan in place that He was going to fulfill. That is what He had told David long before Solomon ascended to the throne after him.

“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” – 2 Samuel 7:12-16 ESV

This promise was partially fulfilled in Solomon. He would go on to build the temple of God in Jerusalem. But while was blessed by God with great wisdom and wealth, he would prove to be unfaithful in his later years, succumbing to the influence of his many pagan wives and their false gods. It would be because of his apostasy that God eventually split his kingdom in two, creating the northern kingdom of Israel and leaving Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, the southern kingdom of Judah.

With each successive king of Judah, the problem seemed to worsen. Now Jehoram was king over and his apostasy deserved God’s divine judgment. But rather than destroy Jehoram, God graciously disciplined him by causing the neighboring nations of Edom and Libnah to revolt. His entire reign was marked by warfare.

And the Lord stirred up against Jehoram the anger of the Philistines and of the Arabians who are near the Ethiopians. And they came up against Judah and invaded it and carried away all the possessions they found that belonged to the king’s house, and also his sons and his wives, so that no son was left to him except Jehoahaz, his youngest son. – 2 Chronicles 21:16-17 ESV

And his final days in office would be excruciatingly painful due to a divinely-ordained  disease that eventually took his life.

…after all this the Lord struck him in his bowels with an incurable disease. In the course of time, at the end of two years, his bowels came out because of the disease, and he died in great agony. – 2 Chronicles 21:18-19 ESV

Upon his death, his son, Ahaziah, ascended to the throne. This 21-year-old king proved to be just as wicked as his father. “He also walked in the way of the house of Ahab and did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, as the house of Ahab had done” (2 Kings 8:27 ESV). But this should come as no surprise because he was the grandson of Ahab. Wickedness was in his DNA. The fact that his mother was the daughter of Ahab ensured that Ahaziah maintained a close and, ultimately, deadly relationship with the northern kingdom. He would join King Jehoram of Israel in an ill-fated attack on the Syrian stronghold of Ramoth-gilead. King Jehoram was eventually wounded in that battle and forced to return to Jezreel in order to recuperate. And King Ahaziah would make a fateful decision to visit his uncle. But little did he know that this was all part of God’s providential plan for bringing an end to his wicked reign.

But it was ordained by God that the downfall of Ahaziah should come about through his going to visit Joram. – 2 Chronicles 22:7 ESV

God was in control. The kings of Israel and Judah could sit on their royal thrones, issue decrees, flaunt their power and revel in their sovereign authority, but they were no match for Yahweh. Ultimately, their wickedness would come head-to-head with His holiness. Their rebellion would result in His judgment. The sovereign will of God would be done.

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

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

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

 

The Downward Spiritual Spiral

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another New King But the Same Old Story

15 In the twenty-seventh year of Asa king of Judah, Zimri reigned seven days in Tirzah. Now the troops were encamped against Gibbethon, which belonged to the Philistines, 16 and the troops who were encamped heard it said, “Zimri has conspired, and he has killed the king.” Therefore all Israel made Omri, the commander of the army, king over Israel that day in the camp. 17 So Omri went up from Gibbethon, and all Israel with him, and they besieged Tirzah. 18 And when Zimri saw that the city was taken, he went into the citadel of the king’s house and burned the king’s house over him with fire and died, 19 because of his sins that he committed, doing evil in the sight of the Lord, walking in the way of Jeroboam, and for his sin which he committed, making Israel to sin. 20 Now the rest of the acts of Zimri, and the conspiracy that he made, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel?

21 Then the people of Israel were divided into two parts. Half of the people followed Tibni the son of Ginath, to make him king, and half followed Omri. 22 But the people who followed Omri overcame the people who followed Tibni the son of Ginath. So Tibni died, and Omri became king. 23 In the thirty-first year of Asa king of Judah, Omri began to reign over Israel, and he reigned for twelve years; six years he reigned in Tirzah. 24 He bought the hill of Samaria from Shemer for two talents of silver, and he fortified the hill and called the name of the city that he built Samaria, after the name of Shemer, the owner of the hill.

25 Omri did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did more evil than all who were before him. 26 For he walked in all the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and in the sins that he made Israel to sin, provoking the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger by their idols. 27 Now the rest of the acts of Omri that he did, and the might that he showed, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? 28 And Omri slept with his fathers and was buried in Samaria, and Ahab his son reigned in his place. 1 Kings 16:15-28 ESV

Zimri’s time in the spotlight was short-lived. This former chariot commander in Israel’s army had murdered King Elah and declared himself the new sovereign over the ten tribes of the northern kingdom. But his reign would last only seven days. Word of his seemingly successful coup attempt reached his fellow soldiers, who were encamped against the Philistines at a place called Gibbethon. Upon hearing of King Elah’s death, the troops threw their support behind Omri, who was the commander of all Israel’s armies. They rejected Zimri’s claim to be king and, instead, nominated his superior officer as the obvious choice to replace Elah. Zimri may have caused the vacancy on the throne, but Omri would be the one to fill it.

Within days of seizing the throne from Elah, and having secured his victory by liquidating every member of the king’s household, Zimri was safely ensconced in Tirzah, the former king’s capital. But one day he woke up to find that the city was being besieged, not by Philistines or some other foreign power, but by Omri and the rest of the Israelite army. Just seven days into his reign, Zimri had managed to instigate a civil war for which he was completely outmanned and unprepared for the situation. Stealing the throne had been easy, but retaining it was going to be far harder than he could have imagined.

Recognizing the futility of the situation, Zimri chose to take his own life rather than surrender. He knew that Omri would order his execution for the murder of Elah, and it’s likely that he knew Omri had his own kingly aspirations. So, Zimri locked himself in the citadel of the king’s palace and burned the entire structure to the ground. In doing so, he controlled his own fate and managed to rob Omri of a palace from which to rule. If he couldn’t sit on the throne in Tirzah, neither would Omri.

But the author makes it clear that while Zimri had taken his own life, it had still been a case of divine judgment for his sins against God.

…he, too, had done what was evil in the Lord’s sight. He followed the example of Jeroboam in all the sins he had committed and led Israel to commit. – 1 Kings 16:19 NLT

When Zimri had entered Tirzah just days earlier, any thought of suicide would have been the last thing to enter his mind. He was focused on the future and dreaming of his newfound power and prestige. After all, he was the self-made king, the supreme ruler over all of Israel. And as he sat on his throne in Tirzah, his mind would have been filled with thoughts of success and not suicide. But had he read the proverbs collected by Israel’s former king, Solomon, he would have understood that his plans were irrelevant if they stood in opposition to the will of God.

You can make many plans, but the LORD’s purpose will prevail. – Proverbs 19:21 NLT

We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps. – Proverbs 16:9 NLT

Zimri had plans for greatness, but he died in the smoldering rubble of the palace he had stolen through deceit and treachery. God had used this ambitious and self-consumed man to punish Elah for his wickedness, but He would not allow Zimri to benefit from his actions. His reign lasted exactly one week, then ended as quickly as it had begun.

But the sad state of affairs in Israel was far from over. While Omri had managed to seize the capital and secure the crown for himself, the nation was about to enter a time of division and disunity. Just as God had split Solomon’s kingdom in half, Omri would find himself ruling over a divided nation.

But now the people of Israel were split into two factions. Half the people tried to make Tibni son of Ginath their king, while the other half supported Omri. – 1 Kings 16:21 NLT

When Omri had received the news that Zimri had killed King Elah, he had been leading his troops against the Philistines, the dreaded enemies of Israel. But now, as the King of Israel, he found himself going to war against his own people. A civil war had broken out and Omni was forced to lead his troops in battle against the supporters of his rival, Tibni. The nation had become divided. And rather than throwing their collective allegiance behind God Almighty, they were choosing sides and putting their hopes in two extremely flawed and fallible men.

Omri eventually defeated Tibni and his forces, securing his place as the king of Israel. Half of the dozen years he ruled over Israel were spent in Tirzah, the former capital of King Elah. But Omri dreamed of establishing his own royal city from which to rule over the ten tribes of Israel. So, he found a favorable spot just west of Tirzah and purchased the land from a man named Shemer. In time, he built a fortified palace on the elevated portion of the land and named his new capital, Samaria.

While the author doesn’t seem to treat this change in the location of the capital city with much importance, his mention of it is meant to be a foreshadowing of things to come. Omri would end up establishing a dynasty that would rule over Israel for an extended period of time. And his newly established capital would become the focal point for Israel’s continuing spiritual decline and the epicenter of the nation’s eventual destruction.

The author chooses to summarize Omri’s 12-year reign in less-than-flattering terms.

Omri did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did more evil than all who were before him. – 1 Kings 16:25 ESV

Israel had a new king and a brand new capital, but they continued to suffer from the same old problem. Omri, like Jeroboam and Nadab before him, failed to use his divinely ordained power as king to lead the people back to God. Instead, he fostered the spirit of spiritual adultery and apostasy. Under his leadership, “The people provoked the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, with their worthless idols” (1 Kings 16:21 NLT). 

On paper, Omri proved to be a highly accomplished and effective king. His 12 years on the throne of Israel were marked by military victories and peace negotiations with the enemies of Israel. He defeated the Moabites and brokered a treaty with Ethbaal, king of Tyre and Sidon. And this last act would prove to have long-lasting implications. As part of the treaty negotiations, Omri approved a marriage alliance between his son, Ahab, and Ethbaal’s daughter, Jezebel. And those two names will come up again.

While Omri appeared to be having success, he was actually operating outside the revealed will of God. His decisions were made without divine input and in direct violation of God’s commands. Hundreds of years earlier, Moses had warned the people of Israel about their interactions with the nations living in the land of Canaan.

When the LORD your God hands these nations over to you and you conquer them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy. You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the LORD will burn against you, and he will quickly destroy you. – Deuteronomy 7:2-4 NLT

Like his predecessors, Omri was doing things according to his own plan. But as the proverbs warned, “You can make many plans, but the LORD’s purpose will prevail” (Proverbs 19:21 NLT). Omri’s ambitions to expand his kingdom at any cost would actually lead to the eventual fall of the nation. In his hopes of building Israel into a formidable force in the region, he was actually contributing to its downfall. His refusal to shepherd the people of God back to the fold of God would eventually result in their destruction at the hands of God.

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

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

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