Guilty as Charged

“Do two walk together,
    unless they have agreed to meet?
Does a lion roar in the forest,
    when he has no prey?
Does a young lion cry out from his den,
    if he has taken nothing?
Does a bird fall in a snare on the earth,
    when there is no trap for it?
Does a snare spring up from the ground,
    when it has taken nothing?
Is a trumpet blown in a city,
    and the people are not afraid?
Does disaster come to a city,
    unless the Lord has done it?

“For the Lord God does nothing
    without revealing his secret
    to his servants the prophets.
The lion has roared;
    who will not fear?
The Lord God has spoken;
    who can but prophesy?” Amos 3:3-8 ESV

Israel’s judgment by God was inevitable. That seems to be the point that Amos is attempting to drive home in verses 3-8. To do so, he uses a series of rhetorical questions that each has an obvious and non-debatable answer. God has already established that He and the people of Israel shared a unique relationship.

“You only have I known
    of all the families of the earth…” – Amos 3:2 ESV

And the knowledge of which God speaks was intimate and reciprocal in nature. The Hebrew word is yāḏaʿ, and it conveys the idea of both knowing and being known.  God had revealed Himself to the people of Israel and allowed them to enjoy an understanding of Him that was unavailable to any other people group on earth. Like Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, the Israelites had walked with God, enjoying intimate fellowship with Him and experiencing the benefits of His presence, power, and provision.

So, when Amos asks, “Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?,” he is fully expecting his audience to respond, “No!” And his point is that the Israelites and Yahweh had a mutual understanding about their relationship. It came with expectations and was based on a bilateral covenant that required the Israelites to be faithful and obedient.

God had told them long ago, “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God” (Exodus 6:7 ESV). But He had also warned them that obedience would be a non-negotiable requirement if they wanted to experience His blessings.

Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.” – Jeremiah 7:23 ESV

Like two people who have agreed to go on a long journey together, the people of Israel had ratified the covenant God had made with them. In doing so, they had agreed to live according to His laws and in keeping with His will for them. The book of Exodus records that momentous occasion.

Then Moses went down to the people and repeated all the instructions and regulations the Lord had given him. All the people answered with one voice, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded.” – Exodus 24:3 ESV

But they had failed to keep their end of the agreement. They had not completed the journey or reached the destination God had in store for them. So, God was declaring His intention to judge them for their disobedience and unfaithfulness. That’s why Amos uses the illustration of a lion roaring in the forest. He asks the question, “Does a lion roar in the forest, when he has no prey?” (Amos 3:4 ESV). And, once again, the answer is meant to be a resounding, “No!”

Under normal conditions, a lion remains silent, stealthily stalking its unsuspecting victim in order to catch it by surprise. If a lion is roaring, it is because he has successfully captured his prey. The roar is a declaration of victory. And in the case of Israel, Amos was declaring that the “roar” of Yahweh was due to their coming judgment. They were about to become His “prey.”

Yahweh was not a silent lion, having failed in the hunt. He was a roaring, victorious lion who stood over His prey, declaring His right of possession and demonstrating His  power and authority.

According to Amos, Israel was like a clueless bird being lured to a trap by the tempting presence of bit of tantalizing bait. The prophet Hosea, a contemporary of Amos, compares Israel to “silly, witless doves, first calling to Egypt, then flying to Assyria for help” (Hosea 6:7 NLT). They flit and fly this way and that, easily allured and distracted by those things it think will bring it satisfaction and security. But it’s all a trap, set by the hunter, who just happens to be God Almighty.

Finally, Amos moves from the metaphorical realm of nature to the very real arena of warfare and military conquest. In the day in which Amos lived, this next question would have struck a very sensitive nerve. He asks, “Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid?” (Amos 3:6 ESV). For centuries, the people of Israel had lived in a state of constant instability, facing the very real possibility of defeat at the hands of their enemies. The book of Amos starts out with a list of those nations that surrounded Israel and posed a real threat to their existence, including Syria, Philistia, Phoenicia, Ammon, and Moab.

The Israelites were very familiar with the sound of a trumpet being blown from the walls of the city. It was a warning signal to those living inside that the enemy was at the gates and the possibility of attack was eminent. This news was intended to produce a certain amount of fear and encourage preparation for battle. But Amos adds that the looming tragedy is meant to be seen as the handiwork of God.

Does disaster come to a city,
    unless the Lord has done it? – Amos 3:6 ESV

Once again, this is a rhetorical question that can only be answered one way: With the word, “No!” The sovereign God of the universe was in control of all things, and even the fate of a city was held in His fully capable, all-powerful hands.

Amos sums up his series of questions with a statement.

“For the Lord God does nothing
    without revealing his secret
    to his servants the prophets.
The lion has roared;
    who will not fear?
The Lord God has spoken;
    who can but prophesy?” – Amos 3:7-8 ESV

God had spoken through the prophets. In fact, every judgment Israel was about to undergo had been predicted by God’s appointed messengers, including men like Amos and Hosea. They had warned what would happen if Israel continued to ignore God and violate their covenant commitment to Him. And the rest of this book is going to defend God’s actions toward His rebellious and unrepentant people. God was going to fulfill each and every one of His warnings and, when He was done, they would hear His righteous roar as He stood over them in victory.

But Amos will also reveal that, while God will pour out His righteous anger against the nation of Israel, He will not completely destroy them.

“I, the Sovereign Lord,
    am watching this sinful nation of Israel.
I will destroy it
    from the face of the earth.
But I will never completely destroy the family of Israel,”
    says the Lord.  – Amos 9:8 NLT

Despite Israel’s unfaithfulness, God will remain faithful to His covenant commitment to them. He will fulfill each and every promise He has made to them. But in the meantime, their many transgressions will have to be atoned for – they will have to pay the price for their disobedience. And the price will be high.

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

He Rules Over the Nations

1 Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Moab,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because he burned to lime
    the bones of the king of Edom.
So I will send a fire upon Moab,
    and it shall devour the strongholds of Kerioth,
and Moab shall die amid uproar,
    amid shouting and the sound of the trumpet;
I will cut off the ruler from its midst,
    and will kill all its princes with him,”
says the Lord. Amos 2:1-3 ESV

The nation of Moab shared more than a border with Ammon and Israel. Located along the eastern shore of the Dead Sea, this Semitic nation held close genealogical as well as geographic ties to the people of Israel. As the story in Genesis reveals, the Moabites were the result of an incestuous relationship between Abraham’s nephew Lot and his oldest daughter (Genesis 19:30-38). In Hebrew, the name Moab sounds similar to the word that means “from father.” Moab’s very name seemed to celebrate the fact he was the son of his mother’s father – a child born from immorality.

The Bible provides virtually no information regarding the destiny of Lot’s son, Moab. And the Scriptures provide scant record regarding the fate of his descendants. They originally settled in the plain of Zoar at the southern tip of the Dead Sea. From there they expanded their borders north and south, gradually claiming all the territory east of the Dead Sea. One of the most detailed accounts we have of the Moabites is found in 2 Kings 3. In this chapter, the kings of Israel and Judah join forces with the king of Edom to do battle with the Moabites. This conflict was precipitated by the king of Moab’s decision to stop paying tribute to the king of Israel.

King Mesha of Moab was a sheep breeder. He used to pay the king of Israel an annual tribute of 100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams. But after Ahab’s death, the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel. – 2 Kings 3:4-5 NLT

Jehoram had inherited the crown of Israel after the death of his father, Ahab. King Mesha of Moab seems to have viewed the change in Israel’s leadership as an official termination of the agreement he had made with Ahab. His refusal to send any more tribute payments to Samaria infuriated Jehoram and led him to declare war on Moab.

The ensuing battle did not fare well for King Mesha. Even though Jehoram “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 3:2 ESV), God promised to give him victory over the Moabites. Elisha, the prophet of Yahweh, delivered the good news:

“…he [God] will make you victorious over the army of Moab! You will conquer the best of their towns, even the fortified ones. You will cut down all their good trees, stop up all their springs, and ruin all their good land with stones.” – 2 Kings 3:18-19 NLT

And the prophecy of Elisha proved to be true. God gave the kings of Israel, Judah, and Edom a great victory over the Moabites. And, in a last-ditch effort to sway the battle in his favor, King Mesha resorted to offering his own son as a sacrifice to the god Chemosh.

When the king of Moab saw that he was losing the battle, he led 700 of his swordsmen in a desperate attempt to break through the enemy lines near the king of Edom, but they failed. Then the king of Moab took his oldest son, who would have been the next king, and sacrificed him as a burnt offering on the wall. So there was great anger against Israel, and the Israelites withdrew and returned to their own land. – 2 Kings 3:26-27 NLT

This story is significant because it has been used to explain the indictment delivered by God against the Moabites as found in the Amos 2 passage. Amos’ mention of the Moabites having “burned to lime the bones of the king of Edom” (Amos 2:1 NLT) has been linked to the human sacrifice described in the 2 Kings passage. There are those who believe that when the author of 2 Kings states that “he took his oldest son who was to reign in his place and offered him for a burnt offering on the wall” (2 Kings 3:27 ESV), it is a reference to the son of the king of Edom. In other words, King Mesha captured and sacrificed the son of the king of Edom, who would have been the successor to his throne. But there is little evidence to support this conclusion. It makes much more sense that Mesha, a worshiper of the god, Chemosh, used his own son as a human sacrifice, in a last desperate attempt to garner divine intervention.

The fact is, we don’t know when the Moabites burned the bones of the king of Edom. It could have taken place sometime after the battle, an act of revenge against the Edomites for their role in Moab’s defeat. It seems likely that the Moabites desecrated the grave of a former Edomite king, disinterring and burning the bones. It could be that the king of Edom died in the battle described in 2 Kings 3, and that the Moabites later came and dug up his bones, burning them as a sign of disrespect and as payback for their defeat. 

Amos provides no explanation or elaboration concerning Moab’s transgression. He simply states that God will pay them back. By desecrating the grave and the body of the king of Edom, the Moabites were thumbing their noses in the face of God Almighty. They were refusing to admit that their defeat had been His doing. God had given Israel, Judah, and Edom a decisive victory over the Moabites. And just as King Mesha had refused to pay tribute to King Jehoram, the Moabites refused to pay tribute to Yahweh. These descendants of Lot stood opposed to the God of Abraham, and they would pay dearly for their stubborn resistance to His will.

“So I will send a fire upon Moab,
    and it shall devour the strongholds of Kerioth,
and Moab shall die amid uproar,
    amid shouting and the sound of the trumpet;
I will cut off the ruler from its midst,
    and will kill all its princes with him,”
says the Lord. – Amos 2:2-3 NLT

The prophet Isaiah provides further insight into the coming destruction of Moab.

This message came to me concerning Moab:

In one night the town of Ar will be leveled,
    and the city of Kir will be destroyed.
Your people will go to their temple in Dibon to mourn.
    They will go to their sacred shrines to weep.
They will wail for the fate of Nebo and Medeba,
    shaving their heads in sorrow and cutting off their beards.
They will wear burlap as they wander the streets.
    From every home and public square will come the sound of wailing.
The people of Heshbon and Elealeh will cry out;
    their voices will be heard as far away as Jahaz!
The bravest warriors of Moab will cry out in utter terror.
    They will be helpless with fear. – Isaiah 15:1-4 NLT

At the root of Moab’s rebellion lie the sin of pride. They were an arrogant and self-possessed people who refused to acknowledge the sovereignty and superiority of Yahweh. And Isaiah makes this point painfully clear.

We have heard about proud Moab—
    about its pride and arrogance and rage.
    But all that boasting has disappeared. – Isaiah 16:6 NLT

Despite their defeat, the Moabites would remain deluded by their visions of grandeur, and committed to their false gods to restore their good fortunes. But Isaiah reveals that their aspirations of corporate revitalization are ill-founded.

The people of Moab will worship at their pagan shrines,
    but it will do them no good.
They will cry to the gods in their temples,
    but no one will be able to save them. – Isaiah 16:12 NLT

It was only a matter of time before the God of Israel paid back the Moabites for their many transgressions. Like all the rest of the nations outlined in these opening chapters of Amos, the Moabites stood condemned before God and would face His righteous indignation. Their pride would be broken. Their false gods would be exposed as unreliable. And their days of glory would come to an abrupt and decisive end.

But now the Lord says, “Within three years, counting each day, the glory of Moab will be ended. From its great population, only a feeble few will be left alive.” – 2 Kings 3:14 NLT

In 598 B.C., King Nebuchadnezzar would invade the land of Canaan and bring the nation of Moab to its knees, fulfilling the word of God spoken through the prophet Jeremiah.

Because you have trusted in your wealth and skill,
    you will be taken captive.
Your god Chemosh, with his priests and officials,
    will be hauled off to distant lands! – Jeremiah 48:7 NLT

The Moabites would experience the judgment of God. Their pride, arrogance, independence, and stubborn resistance to the will of God would eventually catch up with them. All the nations of the world will one day answer for their actions because “kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations” (Psalm 22:28 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

Sovereign Over All

Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Gaza,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they carried into exile a whole people
    to deliver them up to Edom.
So I will send a fire upon the wall of Gaza,
    and it shall devour her strongholds.
I will cut off the inhabitants from Ashdod,
    and him who holds the scepter from Ashkelon;
I will turn my hand against Ekron,
    and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish,”
says the Lord God. Amos 1:6-8 ESV

The focus of God’s judgment now moves geographically south, to the nation of Philistia and Gaza, one of its major cities. Philistia was located on Israel’s southwestern border and had long been a source of conflict for the people of God. It is believed that the Philistines were originally a seagoing people who originated from region of Aegean, near the island of Crete. The name “Philistine” is derived from the Hebrew word Philistia. In Greek, the name is rendered as palaistinei, from which we get the modern name of “Palestine.” The Bible indicates that during the days of the prophet, Samuel, and the judge, Samson, the Philistines migrated from the Mediterranean coastline and settled five cities that operated as autonomous and independent kingdoms each having their own king or lord. These five cities comprised a loose confederation that called for joint military operations when facing their mutual enemies. And for nearly 200 years, the Philistines focused much of their attention and aggression on the people of God. Their use of iron weapons made them a formidable adversary, and it would not be until the reign of King David, that the Israelites had any real success in eliminating the Philistines as a threat.

In keeping with the pattern He established with Syria, God mentions four transgressions for which the Philistines are guilty. But, as before, He only elaborates on one of them. The truth is, God could have chosen from a long list of sins that the Philistines had committed against His people. But it’s important to remember that He had often used these very same people to punish the rebellious Israelites. The book of Judges reveals one such occasion.

And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years. – Judges 13:1 ESV

The prophet Samuel would later remind the people of Israel that God had allowed their enemies to defeat their ancestors because they had failed to remain faithful to Him.

“But they forgot the Lord their God. And he sold them into the hand of Sisera, commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab. And they fought against them.” – 1 Samuel 12:9 ESV

Yet, God warns the Philistines that He will hold them accountable for their actions. They were guilty of having raided Israelite settlements and selling off the inhabitants as slaves to the Edomites. The prophet Joel elaborates on the egregious actions of the Philistines and other nations, warning that God would repay them for their mistreatment of the people of God.

“What do you have against me, Tyre and Sidon and you cities of Philistia? Are you trying to take revenge on me? If you are, then watch out! I will strike swiftly and pay you back for everything you have done. You have taken my silver and gold and all my precious treasures, and have carried them off to your pagan temples. You have sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks, so they could take them far from their homeland.” – Joel 3:4-6 NLT

During the reign of King Jehoram, God had sent the Philistines and Arabs against the southern kingdom of Judah, allowing them to plunder the temple, deport the royal household, and take many of the citizens of Jerusalem as captives, later selling them as slaves.

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

God’s problem with the Philistines was not that they harrassed and attacked the people of Israel. It was that they treated them them as little more than property to be sold. They showed God’s people no respect, devaluing them as persons, and using them as a means to line their own pockets. What the Philistines failed to recognize was that the Israelites were God’s chosen people. He had set them apart as His own chosen possession, and they were of great value and worth to Him. By mistreating and devaluing the people of Israel, the Philistines were guilty of dishonoring God. And they would pay dearly for their mistake.

Amos mentions four of the five Philistine cities, describing the judgment they would face for their crimes against God and His people.

“So I will send down fire on the walls of Gaza,
    and all its fortresses will be destroyed.
I will slaughter the people of Ashdod
    and destroy the king of Ashkelon.
Then I will turn to attack Ekron,
    and the few Philistines still left will be killed.” – Amos 1:7-8 NLT

God vows to avenge the treatment of His people. The fire that destroys the walls of Gaza will come from His hands. The slaughter of the people of Ashdod will be His doing. He will personally destroy the king of Ashkelon and attack the city of Ekron. In other words, God has taken the actions of the Philistines personally and, as a result, He will get personally involved in their destruction.

We know from the book of 2 Chronicles, that King Uzziah of Judah would partially fulfill this prophetic word from God.

Uzziah declared war on the Philistines and broke down the walls of Gath, Jabneh, and Ashdod. Then he built new towns in the Ashdod area and in other parts of Philistia. God helped him in his wars against the Philistines, his battles with the Arabs of Gur, and his wars with the Meunites. – 2 Chronicles 26:6-7 NLT

Eventually, the Philistines would be completely wiped out by God. They would suffer humiliating losses to the Egyptians and later, to the Assyrians and Babylonians. Those who were not defeated or deported as slaves would simply be assimilated into the surrounding Canaanite culture. The prophet Jeremiah would later describe the utter annihilation of the Philistines by the sovereign hand of God Almighty.

“The time has come for the Philistines to be destroyed,
    along with their allies from Tyre and Sidon.
Yes, the Lord is destroying the remnant of the Philistines,
    those colonists from the island of Crete.
Gaza will be humiliated, its head shaved bald;
    Ashkelon will lie silent.
You remnant from the Mediterranean coast,
    how long will you cut yourselves in mourning?

“Now, O sword of the Lord,
    when will you be at rest again?
Go back into your sheath;
    rest and be still.

“But how can it be still
    when the Lord has sent it on a mission?
For the city of Ashkelon
    and the people living along the sea
    must be destroyed.” – Jeremiah 47:4-7 NLT

As Amos continues through his list of judgments against Israel’s enemies, it’s important to remember that the focus of his book is on the people of God. He will ultimately turn his attention to Judah, then Israel. But by beginning with the pagan nations that surrounded God’s chosen people, Amos is highlighting the sovereign power of God. All nations stand before Him as guilty and convicted, and none will go unpunished. Yahweh is the one true King who rules over the entire universe that He created.

The psalmist points out the real problem to which Amos is referring.

Why are the nations so angry?
    Why do they waste their time with futile plans?
The kings of the earth prepare for battle;
    the rulers plot together
against the Lord
    and against his anointed one.
“Let us break their chains,” they cry,
    “and free ourselves from slavery to God.” – Psalm 2:1-3 NLT

Ultimately, the Syrians and the Philistines were guilty of plotting against God. Their attacks on the people of God were nothing more than a veiled attempt to thwart the plan of God. And the psalmist goes on to describe how foolish and futile it is to oppose the will of God.

But the one who rules in heaven laughs.
    The Lord scoffs at them.
Then in anger he rebukes them,
    terrifying them with his fierce fury.
For the Lord declares, “I have placed my chosen king on the throne
    in Jerusalem, on my holy mountain.” – Psalm 2:4-6 NLT

Nations will come and go. Kingdoms will rise and fall. But the sovereign will of God remains unchanged. The Syrians, Philistines, Phoenicians, Edomites, Ammonites, and Moabites were no match for God Almighty. Their 15 minute of fame would come and go. But the Lord’s plans stand forever. He remains sovereign over all.

The Lord frustrates the plans of the nations
    and thwarts all their schemes.
But the Lord’s plans stand firm forever;
    his intentions can never be shaken. – Psalm 33:10-11 NLT

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

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

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

God of the Nations

And he said:

“The Lord roars from Zion
    and utters his voice from Jerusalem;
the pastures of the shepherds mourn,
    and the top of Carmel withers.”

Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Damascus,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they have threshed Gilead
    with threshing sledges of iron.
So I will send a fire upon the house of Hazael,
    and it shall devour the strongholds of Ben-hadad.
I will break the gate-bar of Damascus,
    and cut off the inhabitants from the Valley of Aven,
and him who holds the scepter from Beth-eden;
    and the people of Syria shall go into exile to Kir,”
says the Lord. Amos 1:2-5 ESV

Amos received his commission from God at a time when the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were both enjoying remarkable peace and prosperity. In the south, King Uzziah had led the nation of Judah in a series of successful battles against the Philistines, their neighbor to the west. These military victories allowed him to expand Judah’s borders into former Philistine territory. His greatly expanded army even made against the Egyptians and Arabians, earning Judah a growing reputation as a force to be reckoned with in the region. According to 2 Chronicles 26:8, “his fame spread even to the border of Egypt, for he became very strong.” The Ammonites, located for to the east, recognized Judah’s growing influence and formed an alliance with them, paying a yearly tribute to King Uzziah.

To the north, Israel was also enjoying a period of expansion, under the leadership of King Jeroboam II. He proved to be a particularly evil king who continued the track record of idolatrous behavior that his predecessors established. In fact, he was named after Jeroboam, the man whom God had made the first king of Israel after He divided Solomon’s kingdom. Jeroboam had been the one to inaugurate Israel’s period of idolatry and apostasy by establishing his own religion, complete with false gods and its own priesthood. His namesake would follow in his footsteps, further enhancing Israel’s reputation for rebellion and unfaithfulness. Yet, despite all this, God allowed Jeroboam II to greatly expand Israel’s borders.

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 – 2 Kings 14:25 ESV

Unwilling to allow Israel to be destroyed, God sent the prophet Jonah to guide its wicked and rebellious king. With the help of Jonah’s prophetic counsel, Jeroboam II was able to secure victories over Israel’s enemies and restore its borders to where they had been during the glory days of King Solomon. This godless king became an instrument in Yahweh’s hand to accomplish His sovereign will for the nation of Israel.

…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

With all this as a backdrop, we can begin to look at the opening lines of Amos’ divinely inspired oracle. In verse 2 he clearly states that his message is from God.

“The Lord roars from Zion
    and utters his voice from Jerusalem;
the pastures of the shepherds mourn,
    and the top of Carmel withers.” – Amos 1:2 ESV

In the midst of all the success taking place in Israel, God is about to deliver a much-needed message of judgment against His covenant people. And this shepherd from Tekoa wants his audience to understand that what he is about to tell them is the word of God. He is speaking on behalf of Yahweh. And the tone of God’s message will be ferocious and fearful. The prophet Jeremiah also picked up on this imagery of God as a roaring lion, preparing to devour His helpless prey.

“The Lord will roar from on high,
    and from his holy habitation utter his voice;
he will roar mightily against his fold…” – Jeremiah 25:30 ESV

Even Hosea, a contemporary of Amos, provided a similar description of Yahweh as an apex predator, ready to destroy its unsuspecting victim.

“So now I will attack you like a lion,
    like a leopard that lurks along the road.
Like a bear whose cubs have been taken away,
    I will tear out your heart.
I will devour you like a hungry lioness
    and mangle you like a wild animal.” – Hosea 13:7-8 NLT

Amos describes the sound of God’s voice as emanating from Mount Zion in Jerusalem. It was there that Solomon had built his grand temple and dedicated it to Yahweh, the God of Israel. But when Solomon’s kingdom was divided in two, the ten tribes to the north decided to build their own temples in Dan and Bethel, where they erected altars to the golden calves that Jeroboam had constructed. And at that time, he had instructed the people, “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).

Now, from the top of Mount Zion, where the temple was located, came the roar of God’s voice, declaring His judgment upon not only Israel and Judah but also the nations of the earth.

Beginning with Syrian, Amos delivers a series of stinging oracles against those nations that surround His covenant people. He will include Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, and Moab.  His list begins with Syria, a foreign power that had played a significant role in Israel’s history. From there, Amos begins to list out the nations that encircle the covenant people of God. From Gaza in the land of the Philistines to the Phoenician city of Tyre, Amos provides a concentric circle of kingdoms that have interacted with God’s people over the centuries. And for each one of them, Amos has a specific message from Yahweh.

“The prophet began with the distant city of Damascus and, like a hawk circling its prey, moved in ever-tightening circles, from one country to another, till at last he pounced on Israel. One can imagine Amos’s hearers approving the denunciation of these heathen nations. They could even applaud God’s denunciation of Judah because of the deep-seated hostility between the two kingdoms that went as far back as the dissolution of the united kingdom after Solomon. But Amos played no favorites; he swooped down on the unsuspecting Israelites as well in the severest language and condemned them for their crimes.” – McComiskey, Thomas Edward. “Amos.” In Daniel-Minor Prophets. Vol. 7 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. 12 vols. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein and Richard P. Polcyn. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985.

Ultimately, Amos will spend the majority of his book addressing the rebellious people of Israel. But, in order to establish God’s sovereignty over all nations, Amos begins with Syria. And he opens up with what will become his favorite phrase:

For three transgressions of Damascus,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment…” – Amos 1:3 ESV

He will repeat this phrase eight different times, inserting the name of a different nation with each occurrence. And in each case, Amos provides no details concerning the nature of the four transgressions. His point seems to be that each of these nations stands before God as guilty and worthy of His condemnation and judgment. The mention of three transgressions is compounded by the addition of one more.

Amos originally penned his book for a Jewish audience and they would have recognized a pattern established in the book of Proverbs. On four separate occasions in the chapter 30, Solomon utilizes a similar “three-plus-four” pattern.

Three things are never satisfied;
    four never say, “Enough”:
Sheol, the barren womb,
    the land never satisfied with water,
    and the fire that never says, “Enough.”  – Proverbs 30:15-16 ESV

Three things are too wonderful for me;
    four I do not understand:
the way of an eagle in the sky,
    the way of a serpent on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
    and the way of a man with a virgin. – Proverbs 30:18-19 ESV

Under three things the earth trembles;
    under four it cannot bear up:
a slave when he becomes king,
    and a fool when he is filled with food;
an unloved woman when she gets a husband,
    and a maidservant when she displaces her mistress. – Proverbs 30:21-23 ESV

Three things are stately in their tread;
    four are stately in their stride:
the lion, which is mightiest among beasts
    and does not turn back before any;
the strutting rooster, the he-goat,
    and a king whose army is with him. – Proverbs 30:29-31 ESV

Based on this repetitive model, Amos’ Hebrew audience would have probably expected him to list the four transgressions. But he fails to do so. Instead, he provides rather generic descriptions of their crimes, focusing on what they had done to the people of Israel.

…they have threshed Gilead
    with threshing sledges of iron… – Amos 1:3 ESV

Syria, also known as Aram, had constantly invaded the region of Gilead to the east of the Jordan River. This area, also known as the Transjordan, had been settled by the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh. These three tribes, located outside the actual land of promise, were subject to regular raids by Syrian forces. Amos compares these unprovoked attacks to iron farming implements ripping through the land, leaving devastation in their wake. During the time when Jehu was king of Israel, God had used the Syrians to punish his disobedient people.

In those days the Lord began to cut off parts of Israel. Hazael defeated them throughout the territory of Israel: from the Jordan eastward, all the land of Gilead, the Gadites, and the Reubenites, and the Manassites, from Aroer, which is by the Valley of the Arnon, that is, Gilead and Bashan. – 2 Kings 10:32-33 ESV

But even though God had sovereignly ordained Hazael’s successful forays into Israelite territory, He would also hold Hazael responsible.

I will send a fire upon the house of Hazael,
    and it shall devour the strongholds of Ben-hadad. – Amos 1:4 ESV

Throughout these eight oracles, Amos will accentuate God’s sovereign control over the nations. But he will also emphasize their collective guilt. They are not innocent parties or lifeless puppets animated by the hand of God. Each of these nations is responsible for its actions. God was not forcing them to act against their will but was simply directing their natural dispositions to accomplish His sovereign plan. As Solomon records in the book of Proverbs: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21 ESV). Hazael had plans to invade and conquer the Transjordan territories of Israel, but God used this pagan king’s selfish aspirations to accomplish His greater purpose. And Amos wanted the people of Israel to know that God would hold each and every nation accountable for their individual transgressions.

And, as far as Syria was concerned, God had plans in store for them that would fully repay them for their crimes.

“I will break the gate-bar of Damascus,
    and cut off the inhabitants from the Valley of Aven,
and him who holds the scepter from Beth-eden;
    and the people of Syria shall go into exile to Kir…” – Amos 1:5 ESV

Amos was trying to assure his Hebrew audience that Yahweh, whom they had forsaken, was still in full control. He was still on His throne and was ruler over all the nations of the earth. And if God was ready, willing, and able to hold the Syrians accountable for their sins, He was more than prepared to judge the Israelites for their many transgressions.

These oracles of Amos were not just hyperbole. He was not spouting spiritual-sounding rhetoric that was all bark and no bite. What he decreed would actually take place. And, in the case of Syria, his predictions were ultimately fulfilled.

So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, saying, “I am your servant and your son. Come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.” Ahaz also took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the Lord and in the treasures of the king’s house and sent a present to the king of Assyria. And the king of Assyria listened to him. The king of Assyria marched up against Damascus and took it, carrying its people captive to Kir, and he killed Rezin. – 2 Kings 17:7-89 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

Measured and Found Wanting

7 This is what he showed me: behold, the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said,

“Behold, I am setting a plumb line
    in the midst of my people Israel;
    I will never again pass by them;
the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,
    and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,
    and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.” Amos 7:7-9 ESV

The book of Jonah could easily be classified as a cliff-hanger. It ends rather abruptly, leaving the reader with a lot of unanswered questions, not the least of which is what happened to Jonah. We can safely assume that God did not answer Jonah’s pitty-filled plea to kill him. But did he remain in Nineveh or return home to Gath-hepher in Galilee? Regardless of his disposition or destination, he remained a prophet of God. So, did he receive a new assignment? Was he called to minister God’s Word to the new converts in Nineveh?

All of these questions are left unanswered. We are not even told what happened to the citizens of Nineveh. But we know that God did not rain down destruction on them because the text tells us, “God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it” (Jonah 3:10 ESV). God showed them pity and spared their lives. But that is all we know. There is no extant record that corroborates or validates the author’s claim that the people of Nineveh experienced a revival. The Assyrians kept detailed accounts of their many exploits, but no archeological discoveries have ever unearthed a stone or tablet containing evidence of the mass conversion of the city of Nineveh. But that should not come as a shock. The Assyrians were not known for keeping objectively based or unbiased records of their history. The chronicles they penned were intended to glorify their successes while minimizing their failures. So, it would not be surprising that, if the king of Nineveh made a record of what is described in the book of Jonah, it was quickly expunged by his successor. And we know that the repentance of the people of Nineveh was short-lived. Their king’s mournful plea that they “turn from their evil ways and stop all their violence” (Jonah 3:8 ESV), seems to have resulted in a temporary change in behavior. But those same Assyrians would ultimately show up on Israel’s doorstep, besiege their capital city of Samaria, and eventually defeat and deport them.

Then the king of Assyria invaded the entire land, and for three years he besieged the city of Samaria. Finally, in the ninth year of King Hoshea’s reign, Samaria fell, and the people of Israel were exiled to Assyria. They were settled in colonies in Halah, along the banks of the Habor River in Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. – 2 Kings 17:5-6 NLT

God had repeatedly warned the people of Israel that they would suffer destruction for their sinfulness and for their stubborn refusal to repent and return to Him. Even Jonah’s contemporary, Amos, had prophesied that they would one day be defeated and deported, and it would be God’s doing.

The Sovereign Lord has sworn this by his holiness:
“The time will come when you will be led away
    with hooks in your noses.
Every last one of you will be dragged away
    like a fish on a hook!
You will be led out through the ruins of the wall;
    you will be thrown from your fortresses,”
    says the Lord. – Amos 4:2-3 NLT

And the author of 2 Kings does not sugarcoat the cause of their destruction.

This disaster came upon the people of Israel because they worshiped other gods. They sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them safely out of Egypt and had rescued them from the power of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. They had followed the practices of the pagan nations the Lord had driven from the land ahead of them, as well as the practices the kings of Israel had introduced. The people of Israel had also secretly done many things that were not pleasing to the Lord their God. – 2 Kings 17:7-9 NLT

The fates of Jonah and Nineveh were not relevant to the author of the book of Jonah because they were not the focus of his story. He was writing to the Hebrew people and the entire purpose behind his book was to remind them of the sovereign will of God. It is likely that this book was penned after the nation of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians. They would have been living in exile “along the banks of the Habor River in Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes” (2 Kings 17:6 NLT). And this story was meant to convict them of their sin and remind them that their God was “a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love” (Jonah 4:2 NLT). He was “eager to turn back from destroying people” (Jonah 4:2 NLT).

And even though they were living as captives of war in Assyria, their God had not forgotten them. If He could redeem the wicked Ninevites, He most certainly could redeem His chosen but rebellious people. But even in their captivity, they remained stubbornly unwilling to obey God. They longed for His deliverance but remained opposed to keeping His commands. In a sense, they were just like Jonah. As they languished in the Assyria (the belly of the fish), they displayed a superficial form of repentance that had no teeth to it.

Come on! Let’s return to the Lord.
He himself has torn us to pieces,
but he will heal us!
He has injured us,
but he will bandage our wounds!
He will restore us in a very short time;
he will heal us in a little while,
so that we may live in his presence.
So let us search for him!
Let us seek to know the Lord!
He will come to our rescue as certainly as the appearance of the dawn,
as certainly as the winter rain comes,
as certainly as the spring rain that waters the land. – Hosea 6:1-3 NET

They were like Jonah, vowing to keep vows and pledging to offer up offerings, only if God would rescue them. But they remained just as stubborn as the prophet of God. And God saw through their sham display of repentance.

“…your faithfulness is as fleeting as the morning mist;
it disappears as quickly as dawn’s dew…” – Hosea 6:4 NET

God was not interested in pretense and false displays of piety. He was looking for true heart change.

“For I delight in faithfulness, not simply in sacrifice;
I delight in acknowledging God, not simply in whole burnt offerings.” – Hosea 6:6 NET

God had taken stock of Israel and found them to be wanting. As the book of Amos reveals, God had measured the integrity of the house of Israel and found it to be of poor quality and construction. Amos was given a vision of God standing next to a wall with a plumb line in His hand. A plumb line was a simple, yet effective building tool that featured a heavy weight on the end of a string. It used the force of gravity to establish an accurate line of perpendicularity so that a wall would not lean in the wrong direction. And God told Amos, “I will test my people with this plumb line. I will no longer ignore all their sins” (Amos 7:8 NLT). He was going to measure or assess their spiritual integrity. And God made it to Amos that the people of Israel were not going to measure up to His righteous standard.

“The pagan shrines of your ancestors will be ruined, and the temples of Israel will be destroyed; I will bring the dynasty of King Jeroboam to a sudden end.” – Amos 7:9 NLT

God was going to deal with Israel according to their sins. Yes, they were His chosen people. He had set them apart as His prized possession. But they had repeatedly rejected Him as their God, chasing after false gods and refusing to acknowledge of confess their spiritual adultery. And God could not and would not tolerate their sin forever.

“I want to heal Israel, but its sins are too great.
    Samaria is filled with liars.
Thieves are on the inside
    and bandits on the outside!
Its people don’t realize
    that I am watching them.
Their sinful deeds are all around them,
    and I see them all.” – Hosea 7:1-2 NLT

The people of Israel had become arrogant and prideful. Under the reign of King Jeroboam II, they had enjoyed renewed success and prosperity. He had expanded their borders and reestablished them as a major player in the region. Yet, rather than see these successes as the handiwork of God, they took credit for them.

Their arrogance testifies against them,
    yet they don’t return to the Lord their God
    or even try to find him. – Hosea 7:10 NLT

And listen closely to how God describes His chosen people.

“The people of Israel have become like silly, witless doves,
    first calling to Egypt, then flying to Assyria for help.
But as they fly about,
    I will throw my net over them
and bring them down like a bird from the sky.
    I will punish them for all the evil they do.” – Hosea 7:11-12 NLT

The Hebrew word for “dove” is yônâ, which just happens to be the name of the prophet whom God sent to Nineveh. As Jonah flitted about like a witless dove, flying to Joppa and then taking flight to Tarshish, he was mimicking the actions of the rebellious people of God. And just as he could not escape the soveriegn hand of God Almighty, neither would they.

All of this reminds me of another incident recorded in the Word of God. It involves King Belshazzar and the prophet, Daniel. The southern kingdom of Judah has fallen to the Babylonians and Daniel is among those who were taken captive and transported to Babylon as slaves. Fortunately, he has ended up on the payroll of the king. At one point, the king threw an extravagant party, and to impress his guests, he ordered that they bring in all the “gold cups taken from the Temple, the house of God in Jerusalem” (Danuel 5:3 NLT). Belshazzar, in a display of pride and arrogance, had his guests drink wine from these sacred vessels, and they toasted “their idols made of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone” (Daniel 5:4 NLT). And as they reveled in the superior nature of their gods, a startling scene unfolded.

Suddenly, they saw the fingers of a human hand writing on the plaster wall of the king’s palace, near the lampstand. The king himself saw the hand as it wrote, and his face turned pale with fright. His knees knocked together in fear and his legs gave way beneath him. – Daniel 5:5-6 NLT

The king sent for Daniel, who was known for his ability to interpret dreams and visions. And Daniel gave the king a brief, but sobering history lesson.

“Your Majesty, the Most High God gave sovereignty, majesty, glory, and honor to your predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar. He made him so great that people of all races and nations and languages trembled before him in fear. He killed those he wanted to kill and spared those he wanted to spare. He honored those he wanted to honor and disgraced those he wanted to disgrace. But when his heart and mind were puffed up with arrogance, he was brought down from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. He was driven from human society. He was given the mind of a wild animal, and he lived among the wild donkeys. He ate grass like a cow, and he was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he learned that the Most High God rules over the kingdoms of the world and appoints anyone he desires to rule over them.” – Daniel 5:18-21 NLT

Daniel reminded the arrogant king that his predecessor had suffered from the same malady and had paid dearly for it. Nebuchadnezzar had failed to recognize that his success had been God-ordained. He had taken credit for something God had done. And now, Belshazzar was repeating that mistake.

You are his successor, O Belshazzar, and you knew all this, yet you have not humbled yourself. For you have proudly defied the Lord of heaven.” – Daniel 5:22-23 NLT

And when Daniel finally got around to interpreting the vision, he simply informed the king, “…you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting” (Daniel 5:27 ESV). In essence, God had given Belshazzar a plumb-line assessment of his reign:

“God has numbered the days of your reign and has brought it to an end.” – Daniel 5:26 NLT

“…you have been weighed on the balances and have not measured up.” – Daniel 5:27 NLT

God is sovereign over all nations. He alone places kings of their thrones. And He had sovereignly chosen to make Israel His set-apart people. They had enjoyed a unique relationship with Him, unprecedented among all the nations of the earth. But they had failed to remain faithful. They had chosen to reject their calling to be a blessing to the nations and a light to the world. As, as a result, God was compelled to punish them.

Listen to this message that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel—against the entire family I rescued from Egypt:

“From among all the families on the earth,
    I have been intimate with you alone.
That is why I must punish you
    for all your sins.” – Amos 3:1-2 NLT

But despite their unfaithfulness, God would remain faithful. He would punish them, but He would also restore them. Yahweh would remain the covenant-keeping God, who fulfills all the promises He has made.

“I will bring my exiled people of Israel
    back from distant lands,
and they will rebuild their ruined cities
    and live in them again.
They will plant vineyards and gardens;
    they will eat their crops and drink their wine.
I will firmly plant them there
    in their own land.
They will never again be uprooted
    from the land I have given them,”
    says the Lord your God. – Amos 9:14-15 NLT

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

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

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

They Believed God

Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. Jonah 3:4-5 ESV

Jonah arose and went to Nineveh. Those six simple words would have hit the author’s Jewish audience like a brick. The thought of the lone prophet of God entering the gates of the infamous city would have created in them a sense of fear and foreboding. The Assyrians had a well-deserved reputation for immorality, idolatry, and wanton cruelty. Their empire-building aspirations had been marked by incessant conquest and marred by violent savagery. During the ninth century to the end of the seventh century BC, they were an unstoppable military juggernaut that used the torture and executions of its conquered enemies as a powerful public relations tool. They eagerly promoted this less-than-flattering aspect of their success to create a sense of fear and subjugation among those nations that remained yet unconquered.

One of their kings, Ashurnashirpal II, referred to himself as the “trampler of all enemies…who defeated all his enemies [and] hung the corpses of his enemies on posts” (Albert Kirk Grayson, Assyrian Royal Inscriptions, Part 2: From Tiglath-pileser I to Ashuer-nasir-apli II, Wiesbadan, Term.: Otto Harrassowitz, 1976, p. 165). He proudly chronicles his treatment of the nobles of one city that had refused to surrender.

“I flayed as many nobles as had rebelled against me [and] draped their skins over the pile [of corpses]; some I spread out within the pile, some I erected on stakes upon the pile…I flayed many right through my land [and] draped their skins over the walls” (Grayson, p.124).

It was not uncommon for the Assyrians to behead and dismember their conquered foes. One particularly gruesome form of torture was their impaling of prisoners on wooden stakes. These gory displays were intended to be a macabre form of outdoor advertising, informing the remaining citizens of a conquered city to cooperate or face a similar fate.

But the Assyrians were more than cruel. They were idolatrous and immoral. And as the capital city of this godless nation, Nineveh would have been the epicenter of Assyrian power and perversion. The author describes Nineveh as “an exceedingly great city” (Jonah 3:3 ESV). In Hebrew, the phrase actually says, “a great city even in God’s sight.” The word translated as “exceedingly” in the ESV is actually ‘ĕlōhîm, which was most commonly used to refer to a god or divine being. Throughout the book of Jonah, the author substitutes the name ‘ĕlōhîm for Yahweh when speaking of God in association with the Gentiles. So, when he describes Nineveh as “great,” he is essentially saying that “Nineveh was a great metropolis belonging to God.” Another interpretation of this enigmatic phrase is “an important city for God’s purposes.”

It seems that the author wants us to know that Nineveh’s greatness has been sovereignly ordained. It is an allusion to God’s divine role in Assyria’s rapid rise to power and fame. They are divinely appointed instruments in His hands, created to accomplish His coming judgment against the rebellious people of Israel. And if this book was written after the fall of Israel to the Assyrians in 722 BC, then its readers would have clearly understood the author’s reference to Nineveh as belonging to God.

The greatness of Nineveh had been God’s doing. And this brings to mind another powerful and pride-filled king whom God would raise up as His instrument of judgment against the rebellious southern kingdom of Judah. King Nebuchadnezzar would eventually rise to power and use his Babylonian army to conquer the city of Jerusalem in 587 BC. But this very same king would end up taking credit for his success. At one point, he would stand on the balcony of his palace, pridefully surveying the work of his hands.

“Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” – Daniel 4:30 ESV

But Nebuchadnezzar would learn an important, if not humbling, lesson. God told the arrogant king that he was about to lose his mind and his kingdom. He would suffer a sudden bout of insanity and be forced to live like a wild animal in the wilderness. And the prophet Daniel told the king that his condition would last “until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” (Daniel 4:32 ESV).

Nineveh and Babylon were “great” cities ruled over by “great” kings. But their domains and dominion were the sovereign work of God. And, whether he realized it or not, as Jonah walked through the gates of the “great” city of Nineveh, he wasn’t entering into enemy territory. He was walking into the realm of Yahweh. Nineveh did not belong to Sennacherib any more than Babylon belonged to Nebuchadnezzar. And while Ishtar was the primary god worshiped by the Ninevites, Yahweh was the one true God of the universe.

Just imagine this lone prophet of God walking through the streets of this massive metropolis declaring, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4 ESV). That took courage. He was delivering a divine ultimatum to the citizens of the most powerful nation on earth. Jonah’s little encounter with the fish had made a powerful impression. He was motivated and took to his task with a renewed sense of vigor. But despite his zeal and enthusiasm, it seems that Jonah was fixated on one thing: The destruction of Nineveh. The author only records one message coming from the lips of the prophet: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And Jonah was probably counting the days. He was hoping and praying that God would rain down judgment upon the wicked people of Nineveh.

Jonah had been given a message from God, but it seems that he might have misunderstood what God had in mind. The key to understanding his confusion is found in the Hebrew word translated as “overthrown.” While that is an acceptable meaning of the word hāp̄aḵ, it is more often translated as “turn” in the Hebrew scriptures. It conveys the idea of turning about or turning back. Or to put it another way, it can refer to conversion. What God was telling Jonah was that within 40 days, the people of Nineveh would turn to Him. But Jonah heard what he wanted to hear. To him, the meaning of God’s message was clear: The Ninevites were about to face the wrath of Yahweh. So, he eagerly and enthusiastically walked the streets of Nineveh, delivering God’s divine ultimatum.

But he was in for a shock. His message did get a reaction, but not the one he had been expecting. It is likely that Jonah had fully expected to be arrested and executed for his efforts. After all, he had spent days walking through the capital city declaring its pending destruction. It was only a matter of time before his message was conveyed to the authorities and his prophetic career came to an abrupt and less-than-pleasant end.

Yet, the author states, “the people of Nineveh believed God” (Jonah 3:5 ESV). What’s fascinating to consider is that nowhere in Jonah’s message does he seem to share the nature of their crime or the form of their pending punishment. There’s no indication that he provided them with a way to avert their “overthrow.” And the most glaring omission is his failure to mention the name of Yahweh. And yet, the people “believed God (ĕlōhîm).” Whether or not Jonah told them about God didn’t seem to matter. The Ninevites inherently understood that Yahweh, the God of the Israelites was sending them a message. And they heard that message and believed.

They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. – Jonah 3:5 ESV

We can only imagine how this sudden and surprising reaction impacted Jonah. He must have been beside himself with frustration and anger. This was exactly what he feared would happen, and it’s what had motivated him to run away in the first place. He longed for judgment against his enemies but instead, God had shown grace, mercy, and love. Jonah had been hoping for their overthrow but, instead, God orchestrated their conversion. They believed and repented. And they exhibited their change of heart by entering a state of mourning. They knew they were guilty and deserving of God’s judgment, but He had graciously provided them with an opportunity to turn to Him.

Once again, this story would have conveyed a powerful and convicting message to its original readers. The Jews living in exile in Assyria would have understood that they were being exposed for their own stubbornness and refusal to turn to Him. God had given them ample opportunities to hear His calls of repentance and respond in humility and belief. But they had refused – time and time again. And yet, here were the pagan Ninevites, hearing the message of God’s prophet for the very first time and responding in belief and humble repentance. Centuries later, Jesus recognized the underlying message found in the book of Jonah and conveyed it to His Jewish audience.

“The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” – Luke 11:32 ESV

Even in 1st-Century Israel, the people of God remained just as obstinate and unwilling to hear God’s message of repentance. Jesus, the greater Jonah, had appeared, declaring, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2 ESV). But as the apostle John points out, Jesus “came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV). They refused to believe His message and rejected His offer of salvation. But John goes on to write, “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13 ESV).

Jesus’ message of the Kingdom would be heard by Gentiles and they would believe. But the majority of His Jewish brothers and sisters would continue to reject His offer and remain stubbornly unwilling to repent and believe.

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

Stubborn to the End

Now the rest of the deeds of Jehoiakim and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? So Jehoiakim slept with his fathers, and Jehoiachin his son reigned in his place. And the king of Egypt did not come again out of his land, for the king of Babylon had taken all that belonged to the king of Egypt from the Brook of Egypt to the river Euphrates.

Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Nehushta the daughter of Elnathan of Jerusalem. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father had done.

10 At that time the servants of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up to Jerusalem, and the city was besieged. 11 And Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to the city while his servants were besieging it, 12 and Jehoiachin the king of Judah gave himself up to the king of Babylon, himself and his mother and his servants and his officials and his palace officials. The king of Babylon took him prisoner in the eighth year of his reign 13 and carried off all the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold in the temple of the Lord, which Solomon king of Israel had made, as the Lord had foretold. 14 He carried away all Jerusalem and all the officials and all the mighty men of valor, 10,000 captives, and all the craftsmen and the smiths. None remained, except the poorest people of the land. 15 And he carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon. The king’s mother, the king’s wives, his officials, and the chief men of the land he took into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon. 16 And the king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon all the men of valor, 7,000, and the craftsmen and the metal workers, 1,000, all of them strong and fit for war. 17 And the king of Babylon made Mattaniah, Jehoiachin’s uncle, king in his place, and changed his name to Zedekiah.

18 Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. 19 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that Jehoiakim had done. 20 For because of the anger of the Lord it came to the point in Jerusalem and Judah that he cast them out from his presence.

And Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon. – 2 Kings 24:5-20 ESV

Eliakim was the second son of Joash to sit on the throne of Judah. The reign of his younger brother, Jehoahaz, had only lasted three months before he was deposed and taken captive by Neco, the king of Egypt. He became the puppet-king of the Egyptians, forced to pay an exorbitant annual tribute to secure his throne. He even faced the indignity of having his name changed to Jehoiakim. But the time came when his Egyptian overlords were displaced by the new kid on the block – the Babylonians. The army of King Nebuchadnezzar defeated the combined forces of the Assyrians and Egyptians at the Battle of Carchemish in 605 BC. This decisive victory dramatically altered the political landscape of the Middle East and set the stage for Judah’s eventual fall.

The fall of the Egyptians provided Jehoiakim with a brief reprieve, but it was not long before he found himself facing yet another Gentile superpower with aspirations of global dominance. Nebuchadnezzar eventually set his sights on Judah and for three years he forced Jehoiakim back into his familiar, yet unpleasant, role as a vassal. For eight years of his 11-year reign, Jehoiakim had served as the virtual slave of the Pharaoh. Now, after three more years of Babylonian oppression and control, he decided enough was enough and rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar. But Jehoiakim failed to realize that this entire scenario was the handwork of God Almighty. Yahweh had sovereignly appointed the Babylonians to be His agents of judgment against the rebellious nation of Judah. So, when Jehoiakim rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, he was really attempting to resist the will of God.

Then the Lord sent bands of Babylonian, Aramean, Moabite, and Ammonite raiders against Judah to destroy it, just as the Lord had promised through his prophets. These disasters happened to Judah because of the Lord’s command. He had decided to banish Judah from his presence because of the many sins of Manasseh… – 2 Kings 24:2-3 NLT

The fall of Judah was inevitable because God had ordained it, and there was nothing Jehoiakim could do to avoid or escape it. And eventually, God repaid Jehoiakim for his stubborn resistance to His will by allowing the Babylonians to capture the capital city of Jerusalem.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and captured it, and he bound Jehoiakim in bronze chains and led him away to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar also took some of the treasures from the Temple of the Lord, and he placed them in his palace in Babylon. – 2 Chronicles 36:6-7 NLT

Jehoiakim, dethroned and disgraced, was replaced by his 18-year-old son, Jehoiachin. And just like his father and his uncle before him, “Jehoiachin did what was evil in the Lord’s sight” (2 Kings 24:9 NLT). Not only did Jehoiachin offend God by encouraging idolatry and apostasy, but he also attempted to resist the will of God by rebelling against the Babylonians whom God had sent. This forced Nebuchadnezzar to lay siege to the city of Jerusalem, which he eventually captured. With Jerusalem’s fall, Jehoiachin found himself without a capital city or a throne. He and the royal family were taken captive and deported to Babylon.

Then King Jehoiachin, along with the queen mother, his advisers, his commanders, and his officials, surrendered to the Babylonians. – 2 Kings 24:12 NLT

And none of this should have come as a shock to King Jehoiachin because God had warned that it would happen. He had repeatedly sent His prophets to deliver His message of pending destruction. But they would not listen. The prophet Jeremiah had given Jehoiachin’s father, Jehoiakim, a stark description of what God had planned for the nation of Judah.

“You made me furious by worshiping idols you made with your own hands, bringing on yourselves all the disasters you now suffer. And now the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Because you have not listened to me, I will gather together all the armies of the north under King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, whom I have appointed as my deputy. I will bring them all against this land and its people and against the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy you and make you an object of horror and contempt and a ruin forever. I will take away your happy singing and laughter. The joyful voices of bridegrooms and brides will no longer be heard. Your millstones will fall silent, and the lights in your homes will go out. This entire land will become a desolate wasteland. Israel and her neighboring lands will serve the king of Babylon for seventy years. – Jeremiah 25:7-11 NLT

And in the eighth year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, the prophecy of Jeremiah was fulfilled.

King Nebuchadnezzar took all of Jerusalem captive, including all the commanders and the best of the soldiers, craftsmen, and artisans—10,000 in all. Only the poorest people were left in the land. – 2 Kings 24:14 NLT

But this would prove to be just the beginning of the end. Over time, there would be far more people deported from the land of Judah to Babylon. Despite the fall of Jerusalem, the stubbornness of the people of Judah was not yet abated. Those who remained in the land still refused to bow their knees to Yahweh. And when Nebuchadnezzar placed Jehoiachin’s uncle, Mattaniah, on the throne, they seemed to assume that life would go on as usual. But when Nebuchadnezzar changed Mattaniah’s name to Zedekiah, the people should have realized that they were far from an independent nation. They were little more than slaves of a foreign power and, in time, many of them would find themselves joining their exiled brothers and sisters in Babylon.

The people had a new king and that king had a new name, but little else changed in the nation of Judah. They continued in their old rebellious ways, and Zedekiah proved to be just as evil as all those kings who had occupied the throne before him. And the author of 2 Kings makes it painfully clear that their persistent and pervasive rebellion had finally brought upon them the righteous wrath of God.

These things happened because of the Lord’s anger against the people of Jerusalem and Judah, until he finally banished them from his presence and sent them into exile. – 2 Kings 24:20 NLT

But even the judgment of God failed to get the attention of the king and his people. They remained stubbornly unrepentant and persistently unfaithful, right to the bitter end.

Zedekiah was a hard and stubborn man, refusing to turn to the Lord, the God of Israel. Likewise, all the leaders of the priests and the people became more and more unfaithful. They followed all the pagan practices of the surrounding nations, desecrating the Temple of the Lord that had been consecrated in Jerusalem. – 2 Chronicles 36:13-14 NLT

Zedekiah had been given ample warning but he had refused to listen. The prophet Jeremiah had specifically told him, “you must submit to Babylon’s king and serve him; put your neck under Babylon’s yoke! I will punish any nation that refuses to be his slave, says the Lord. I will send war, famine, and disease upon that nation until Babylon has conquered it” (Jeremiah 27:9 NLT). And then he had advised the king to submit to King Nebuchadnezzar as an agent of God Almighty.

“If you want to live, submit to the yoke of the king of Babylon and his people. Why do you insist on dying—you and your people? Why should you choose war, famine, and disease, which the Lord will bring against every nation that refuses to submit to Babylon’s king? Do not listen to the false prophets who keep telling you, ‘The king of Babylon will not conquer you.’ They are liars. This is what the Lord says: ‘I have not sent these prophets! They are telling you lies in my name, so I will drive you from this land. You will all die—you and all these prophets, too.’” – Jeremiah 27:12-15 NLT

But Zedekiah refused to heed the words of the prophet. And in the ninth year of his reign, the stubborn king of Judah would learn the painful lesson that resistance to the will of God never ends well.

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 Inescapable, Unavoidable Will of God

28 Now the rest of the acts of Josiah and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 29 In his days Pharaoh Neco king of Egypt went up to the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates. King Josiah went to meet him, and Pharaoh Neco killed him at Megiddo, as soon as he saw him. 30 And his servants carried him dead in a chariot from Megiddo and brought him to Jerusalem and buried him in his own tomb. And the people of the land took Jehoahaz the son of Josiah, and anointed him, and made him king in his father’s place.

31 Jehoahaz was twenty-three years old when he began to reign, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. 32 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done. 33 And Pharaoh Neco put him in bonds at Riblah in the land of Hamath, that he might not reign in Jerusalem, and laid on the land a tribute of a hundred talents of silver and a talent of gold. 34 And Pharaoh Neco made Eliakim the son of Josiah king in the place of Josiah his father, and changed his name to Jehoiakim. But he took Jehoahaz away, and he came to Egypt and died there. 35 And Jehoiakim gave the silver and the gold to Pharaoh, but he taxed the land to give the money according to the command of Pharaoh. He exacted the silver and the gold of the people of the land, from everyone according to his assessment, to give it to Pharaoh Neco.

36 Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Zebidah the daughter of Pedaiah of Rumah. 37 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done. 

1 In his days, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant for three years. Then he turned and rebelled against him. And the Lord sent against him bands of the Chaldeans and bands of the Syrians and bands of the Moabites and bands of the Ammonites, and sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by his servants the prophets. Surely this came upon Judah at the command of the Lord, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, and also for the innocent blood that he had shed. For he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the Lord would not pardon. – 2 Kings 23:28-24:4 ESV

In his ongoing attempt to redeem the spiritual soul of the nation, King Josiah had bitten off more than he could chew. His many reforms and his ongoing battle against idolatry and apostasy were more than enough to keep him busy. But as the king of a powerful nation, he also had the responsibility to keep abreast of all the military and political machinations taking place in the region. At his point in history, the Assyrians were still the dominant force in the region, but the Babylonians were beginning to exert their formidable influence. They were an up-and-coming superpower that posed a real threat to Assyria’s global empire.

Josiah received word that the Egyptian army was on its way to Carchemish on the Euphrates River, where they were to join Assyrian forces in a battle against the upstart Babylonians. For some reason, Josiah made the fateful decision to oppose this military alliance between Egypt and Assyria.

After Josiah had finished restoring the Temple, King Neco of Egypt led his army up from Egypt to do battle at Carchemish on the Euphrates River, and Josiah and his army marched out to fight him. But King Neco sent messengers to Josiah with this message:

“What do you want with me, king of Judah? I have no quarrel with you today! I am on my way to fight another nation, and God has told me to hurry! Do not interfere with God, who is with me, or he will destroy you.” – 2 Chronicles 23:20-21 NLT

Perhaps Josiah was hoping that the Babylonians would bring an end to Assyria’s longstanding stranglehold on the region. Long after the Assyrians had called off their siege of Jerusalem, they remained a constant threat to Judah. So, Josiah rallied his troops and intercepted the Egyptian army as it made its way to Carchemish. But King Neco, the Pharaoh of Egypt, warned Josiah not to interfere, claiming to have a divine mandate from God.

But Josiah refused to listen to Neco, to whom God had indeed spoken, and he would not turn back. Instead, he disguised himself and led his army into battle on the plain of Megiddo. – 2 Chronicles 23:22 NLT

Josiah refused to believe that Yahweh was behind this unholy alliance between the Egyptians and the Assyrians. He couldn’t see any reason why God would direct the pagan king of the Egyptians to join forces with the already powerful and deadly kingdom of Assyrian. It made no sense. But Josiah failed to understand that God was orchestrating His sovereign will and raising up the nation of Babylon as His agent of judgment against Assyria for its role in the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel. And Josiah was also unaware that God was preparing to use Babylon to destroy the nation of Judah.

Ignorant of God’s plans, King Josiah decided to take matters into his own hands and led his troops into battle against the Egyptians. They intercepted the Egyptian army at a place called Megiddo and in the ensuing battle, King Josiah was killed. The author of 2 Kings states that “Pharaoh Neco killed him at Megiddo, as soon as he saw him” (2 Kings 23:29 ESV). But in 2 Chronicles 35, we’re told that Josiah had disguised himself. It seems that Josiah’s little ploy to hide his kingly identity failed. King Neco recognized Josiah instantly and ordered his death.

But the enemy archers hit King Josiah with their arrows and wounded him. He cried out to his men, “Take me from the battle, for I am badly wounded!” – 2 Chronicles 35:23 NLT

The wounded king was placed in another chariot and returned to the city of Jerusalem, where he died. After giving their fallen king a state funeral, the people chose Jehoahaz as his replacement. This choice seems a bit odd because Jehoahaz was Josiah’s middle son and, therefore, not the next in line to the throne. But it seems that the people were looking for a king who would bring back the old way of life to which they had grown accustomed. They missed the days of Manasseh and were regretting all the reforms that Josiah had instituted in Judah. So, they chose the son of Josiah who represented their best chance at bringing back the good old days. And it appears that picked just the right man for the job.

He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, just as his ancestors had done. – 2 Kings 23:32 NLT

But Jehoahaz’s reign would be short-lived. The people failed to take into account that King Neco might have something to say about who took Josiah’s place on the throne of Judah. Just three months into his reign, Jehoahaz was deposed by the Pharaoh and taken captive to Egypt, where he died. Neco filled the vacancy with Eliakim, the older brother of Jehoahaz, and changed his name to Jehoiakim. This young man became little more than a vassal to the Pharaoh and was forced to make an annual tribute payment to the Egyptians. To do this, he imposed a debilitating tax on the people of Judah. The prophet provides a brief but sobering summary of the sad state of affairs in the southern kingdom of Judah after the death of Josiah.

Do not weep for the dead king or mourn his loss.
    Instead, weep for the captive king being led away!
    For he will never return to see his native land again.

For this is what the Lord says about Jehoahaz, who succeeded his father, King Josiah, and was taken away as a captive: “He will never return. He will die in a distant land and will never again see his own country.” – Jeremiah 22:10-12 NLT

With Josiah’s death, the period of reformation in Judah came to an abrupt end. He had been the heart and soul behind all the changes that had taken place. And without him, the people would revert to their old ways. Virtually overnight, the conditions in Judah took a dramatic turn for the worse. Judah was now a vassal state, ruled by a puppet king who answered to the Pharaoh of Egypt. Josiah’s attempt to stop the Egyptians from joining forces with the Assyrians had failed. In 605 BC, just four years after Josiah’s death, these two armies would be defeated by the Babylonians at the Battle of Carchemish. This unexpected victory by the Babylonians over the Egyptians and Assyrians would prove to be a game-changing event in the history of the middle east. It was catapult Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, into the role of the most powerful ruler on earth. With his defeat of the Assyrians, Nebuchadnezzar took over all the lands they had conquered, dramatically increasing the size and influence of his empire.

Eventually, the Babylonians would rest control of Judah from the hands of King Neco of Egypt. And Jehoiakim would find himself answering to yet another, more powerful, king. But as we will see, Jehoiakim will try to resist his new overlord, refusing to submit to his authority. Like his father, Josiah, Jehoiakim fails to see the sovereign hand of God behind all that is taking place. He is short-sighted in his outlook, and intent on making the most of his less-than-ideal circumstances. And the prophet Jeremiah records God’s stinging condemnation of Jehoiakim’s arrogant and self-centered approach to leadership.

And the Lord says, “What sorrow awaits Jehoiakim,
    who builds his palace with forced labor.
He builds injustice into its walls,
    for he makes his neighbors work for nothing.
    He does not pay them for their labor.
He says, ‘I will build a magnificent palace
    with huge rooms and many windows.
I will panel it throughout with fragrant cedar
    and paint it a lovely red.’
But a beautiful cedar palace does not make a great king!
    Your father, Josiah, also had plenty to eat and drink.
But he was just and right in all his dealings.
    That is why God blessed him.
He gave justice and help to the poor and needy,
    and everything went well for him.
Isn’t that what it means to know me?”
    says the Lord.
“But you! You have eyes only for greed and dishonesty!
    You murder the innocent,
    oppress the poor, and reign ruthlessly.” – Jeremiah 22:13-17 NLT

Unlike his reform-minded father, Jehoiakim had no heart for God. He was a self-obsessed man who used his power and position to improve his own lot in life while allowing the nation of Judah to continue its slide into apostasy. When Neco was forced to abandon his hold on Judah, Jehoiakim saw it as an opportunity to assert his independence. But he failed to understand the gravity of his situation. He had no clue that Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians had been chosen by God to bring judgment against the nation of Judah. In attempting to resist the Babylonians, Jehoiakim was actually opposing the will of God. And he would pay dearly for his obstinance. For three years, God would send the Babylonians, Arameans, Moabites, and Ammonites against the rebellious nation of Judah. And the author leaves no doubt as to the purpose behind these raids.

These disasters happened to Judah because of the Lord’s command. He had decided to banish Judah from his presence because of the many sins of Manasseh. – 2 Kings 24:3 NLT

Little did Jehoiakim know that he was facing the beginning of the end. The coming judgment of Judah was imminent and unavoidable.

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

Our Sovereign God

1 Now Elisha had said to the woman whose son he had restored to life, “Arise, and depart with your household, and sojourn wherever you can, for the Lord has called for a famine, and it will come upon the land for seven years.” So the woman arose and did according to the word of the man of God. She went with her household and sojourned in the land of the Philistines seven years. And at the end of the seven years, when the woman returned from the land of the Philistines, she went to appeal to the king for her house and her land. Now the king was talking with Gehazi the servant of the man of God, saying, “Tell me all the great things that Elisha has done.” And while he was telling the king how Elisha had restored the dead to life, behold, the woman whose son he had restored to life appealed to the king for her house and her land. And Gehazi said, “My lord, O king, here is the woman, and here is her son whom Elisha restored to life.” And when the king asked the woman, she told him. So the king appointed an official for her, saying, “Restore all that was hers, together with all the produce of the fields from the day that she left the land until now.”

Now Elisha came to Damascus. Ben-hadad the king of Syria was sick. And when it was told him, “The man of God has come here,” the king said to Hazael, “Take a present with you and go to meet the man of God, and inquire of the Lord through him, saying, ‘Shall I recover from this sickness?’” So Hazael went to meet him, and took a present with him, all kinds of goods of Damascus, forty camels’ loads. When he came and stood before him, he said, “Your son Ben-hadad king of Syria has sent me to you, saying, ‘Shall I recover from this sickness?’” 10 And Elisha said to him, “Go, say to him, ‘You shall certainly recover,’ but the Lord has shown me that he shall certainly die.” 11 And he fixed his gaze and stared at him, until he was embarrassed. And the man of God wept. 12 And Hazael said, “Why does my lord weep?” He answered, “Because I know the evil that you will do to the people of Israel. You will set on fire their fortresses, and you will kill their young men with the sword and dash in pieces their little ones and rip open their pregnant women.” 13 And Hazael said, “What is your servant, who is but a dog, that he should do this great thing?” Elisha answered, “The Lord has shown me that you are to be king over Syria.” 14 Then he departed from Elisha and came to his master, who said to him, “What did Elisha say to you?” And he answered, “He told me that you would certainly recover.” 15 But the next day he took the bed cloth and dipped it in water and spread it over his face, till he died. And Hazael became king in his place. 2 Kings 8:1-15 ESV

Hazael meets prophet Elisha and asks for healing for his master, King Ben Hadad of Syria (2 Kings 8). Wood engraving, published in 1886.

It’s difficult to determine exactly when the two stories that open up chapter eight took place. But the author’s decision to include them at this point in his narrative doesn’t appear to have been based on a desire for chronological accuracy. He was trying to make a point about the spiritual conditions in and around Israel, and so he used the stories of two very different characters as illustrations. One we have met before. The Shunammite woman was first introduced to us in chapter four. She was a faithful follower of Yahweh who had shown gracious hospitality to Elisha and his servant, providing them with shelter and food every time they passed through her town. And God had rewarded her generosity to His servant by allowing her to conceive and bear a son, something she had never been able to do. But sometime in his early childhood, her son became ill and died. Her joy turned to sorrow. But the prophet of God intervened and restored the child to life. And now, in chapter eight, the author decides to pick up the story where he left off.

Now Elisha had said to the woman whose son he had restored to life, “Arise, and depart with your household, and sojourn wherever you can, for the Lord has called for a famine, and it will come upon the land for seven years.” – 2 Kings 8:1 ESV

The prophet informed the Shunammite woman about a famine that God was about to bring upon the land because of Israel’s ongoing apostasy. He gave this faithful servant of Yahweh the opportunity to escape and find shelter until the seven years of famine had passed. And she took the prophet’s advice and fled with her family to the land of the Philistines. But seven years later, when the famine was over and she returned to Shunem, she was homeless and landless. It could be that she sold her husband’s inheritance before she left seven years earlier. But it could be that the crown had confiscated her land in her absence. But in either case, the Mosaic law required that she be given the right to reclaim her land at any time (Leviticus 25:23-28). It would have been part of her husband’s inheritance and protected by law.

So, upon her return, she headed straight to the palace to make an appeal to the king. It seems likely that her husband had died. We know from chapter four that he was more advanced in years (2 Kings 4:14). Yet it could be that he was alive but physically incapable of presenting his case before the king, so his wife acted on his behalf.

This is where the story gets interesting. In a display of divinely inspired timing, the woman arrived at the palace at the exact moment when Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, was having a conversation with King Jehoram. The fact that Gehazi was standing before the king would indicate that this story took place before he had been stricken with leprosy (2 Kings 5:20-27). The author doesn’t reveal the purpose behind Gehazi’s appointment with the king, but he does let us know what they discussed.

Now the king was talking with Gehazi the servant of the man of God, saying, “Tell me all the great things that Elisha has done.” – 2 Kings 8:4 ESV

Jehoram’s relationship with Elisha had been anything but cordial. Like all the kings of Israel, he had a love-hate relationship with God’s prophet. Jehoram was the son of Jezebel and, like his wicked mother, he had continued to lead the people of Israel in the practice of idolatry. So, it seems a bit out of character for him to ask Gehazi to regale him with all the exploits of the prophet of God. But, once again, this reveals the divine timing and providential planning behind all that is taking place in the story. God was orchestrating everything, down to the last detail.

It just so happened that as Gehazi was telling Jehoram how Elisha had restored the woman’s son to life, she walked in the door. Gehazi, shocked at seeing the woman show up at just that moment, exclaimed, “My lord, O king, here is the woman, and here is her son whom Elisha restored to life” (2 Kings 8:5 ESV). This wasn’t a case of kismet, karma, fate, or good luck. It was the sovereign will of God Almighty on display. He had pre-ordained and orchestrated it all. And the result was that the king ordered the immediate restoration of the woman’s land, “including the value of any crops that had been harvested during her absence” (2 Kings 8:6 NLT). He richly rewarded her for her faithfulness.

And this sets up the second story. In this one, the location shifts from Samaria, the capital city of Israel, to Damascus, the capital city of Syria. In verses 1-6, the author presented the story of a faithful servant and a curious king. But in verses 7-15, he tells a strikingly different story about an unfaithful servant and a critically ill king. These stories are arranged as they are for a reason. They are meant to stand in stark contrast to one another. But they are also intended to demonstrate the sovereign hand of God over all that takes place. From the palace of the king of Israel to the royal court of the pagan king of Syria, God is in full control of all things. There is nothing that escapes His notice or falls outside His divine jurisdiction.

In another display of divine timing, Elisha has arrived in Damascus at the very same time that Ben-hadad, the king of Syria, has become ill. Upon hearing of Elisha’s presence in his capital, Ben-hadad determines to take advantage of this fortunate opportunity. He sends Hazael, the governor of Damascus, to ask Elisha whether he will recover from his illness. And, in a not-so-subtle attempt to garner a favorable response from the prophet, Ben-hadad includes a lucrative welcome gift. And when Hazael delivers the king’s gift and message to Elisha, the prophet responds with a rather cryptic answer.

“Go and tell him, ‘You will surely recover.’ But actually the Lord has shown me that he will surely die!” – 2 Kings 8:10 NLT

What followed this exchange was a long and awkward staredown between Elisha and Hazael. The prophet knew exactly what was going on in Hazael’s heart. God had revealed to Elisha exactly what the governor was planning to do. So, he locked eyes with Hazael, perhaps hoping that the awkward silence would lead the governor to have second thoughts about his evil plan. But there was no confession from Hazael. Instead, Elisha began to weep. He knew exactly what was going to happen and the long-term ramifications for the people of Israel.

“I know the terrible things you will do to the people of Israel. You will burn their fortified cities, kill their young men with the sword, dash their little children to the ground, and rip open their pregnant women!” – 2 Kings 8:12 NLT

God had given Elisha a glimpse into all that was going to take place. Ben-hadad would recover from his illness but would die at the hands of Hazael. And when Hazael ascended to the throne of Syria, he would wreak havoc and destruction upon the nation of Israel. He would become God’s chosen instrument of judgment upon His unfaithful people. And this had always been part of God’s sovereign plan.

All the way back in chapter 19 of 1 Kings, we have the story of Elijah running from the threat of Jezebel’s revenge. He escaped to the wilderness where he sought shelter in a cave. But while there, he received a visit and a message from God.

And the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place.” – 1 Kings 19:15-16 ESV

Don’t miss the significance of what is going on here. Years earlier, God had commanded Elijah to anoint Hazael to be the next king of Syria. And Elijah had obeyed that command. This means that long before Elisha showed up in Damascus and had his face-to-face encounter with Hazael, this man already had God’s divine seal of approval to be the next king of Syria. He had already been anointed by Elijah but had not yet assumed the throne. But it was just a matter of time. It was inevitable and unavoidable because it had been ordained by God.

And God had made it clear to Elijah that He would one day use Hazael as His instrument of judgment upon the rebellious people of Israel.

And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” – 1 Kings 19:17-18 ESV

Now, that prophecy was about to be fulfilled. God had shown Elisha what was about to happen and the thought of it brought him to tears.

“The Lord has shown me that you are to be king over Syria.” – 2 Kings 8:13 ESV

The judgment of God was about to come upon the people of Israel. And while He had rewarded the Shunammite woman for her faithfulness, He was about to bring death and destruction upon unfaithful Israel. And the author closes his story with the fateful words: “the next day he [Hazael] took the bed cloth and dipped it in water and spread it over his face, till he died. And Hazael became king in his place” (2 Kings 8:15 ESV).

The man whom God had ordered Elijah to anoint years earlier, was now the king. The sovereign will of God had been fulfilled. And the next phase of His plan for the rebellious people of Israel was about to begin.

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

There is No Other God

1 Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord, “Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel.” And the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.”

So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.”

But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” 11 But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. 13 But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14 So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

15 Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. And he said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel; so accept now a present from your servant.” 2 Kings 5:1-15 ESV

Elisha appears to have been a prophet to the people. At this point in the narrative, his interactions with the kings of Israel have been few and far between. Yet, we have seen him provide the widow of Zarephath with a miraculous supply of oil that allowed her and her two young sons to escape poverty and avoid possible enslavement. Next, he rewarded the Shunammite woman’s hospitality by replacing the sorrow of her barrenness with the joy of motherhood. But years later, when that young son unexpectedly died, the prophet intervened again, raising him back to life and restoring the joy of his mother. And then there’s the story of the poisoned stew. A young prophet had inadvertently and innocently added wild gourds to a stew that Elisha’s servant had prepared, not knowing that they were poisonous. This deadly concoction could have resulted in the deaths of all the prophets who ate it, but Elisha had intervened, purifying the contents and protecting the lives of God’s messengers.

All of these stories are meant to reveal God’s interest in and interactions with His people. The average Israelite had to live in a land permeated by idolatry and under the judgment of God. On two separate occasions, God had brought famine on the land because of the apostasy of its godless kings. Yet, the stories of Elijah and Elisha reveal how God stepped into the lives of his people, graciously providing them with sustenance in the midst of His divine judgment. These stories are meant to showcase the mercy and love of God. Despite the ongoing unfaithfulness of Israel’s kings, the God of Israel remained committed to the covenant promises He had made to His people.

And in chapter five, we’re given another story that illustrates God’s sovereign hand over not only Israel but all the nations. While the kings of Israel continued to abuse their power by leading the people into idolatry and apostasy, God operated behind the scenes, demonstrating His unparalleled sovereignty over faithless kings, false gods, and even those outside the flock of Israel.

Suddenly, in chapter five, the author expands the scope of his narrative by including the plight of a Syrian general who suffered from the debilitating and potentially deadly disease known as leprosy. This story’s inclusion was meant to shock and surprise the Jewish audience to whom the author originally wrote. Their attention would have been piqued as soon as they read, “Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria” (2 Kings 5:1 ESV). Why in the world would the God of Israel have given this pagan idol-worshiper a victory of any kind? This would have made no sense. And to make matters worse, this non-Hebrew is described as “a mighty man of valor” (2 Kings 5:1 ESV) who had led raids into Israel and captured and enslaved a young Jewish girl. To the Jewish reader, the only positive aspect of this story would have been that Naaman had leprosy.

Over the centuries, the Syrians had enjoyed a love-hate relationship with the nation of Israel. And ever since God had divided the nation in two, creating the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah, the Syrians had made a habit of playing one against the other. Treaties had been signed and then broken. Alliances had been made, only to have been reneged upon. Syria had repeatedly taken advantage of the discord between Israel and Judah, choosing to align itself with one or the other based on what could be gained from the arrangement.

The Syrians were not to be trusted. They were self-promoting opportunists who regularly switch sides and deftly manipulated the strained relationship between Israel and Judah to their advantage. And yet, here we have the unexpected and shocking story about a Syrian general who receives healing from the prophet of God.

Everything about this story is intended to reveal God’s sovereign hand. He is described as the source behind Syria’s victory, and that victory was over the nation of Israel. Not only that, the victory included the capture of a young Jewish girl. But providentially, that same young girl ended up as a servant to Naaman’s wife. Like Moses being adopted into Pharaoh’s family or Joseph ending up serving in Pharaoh’s court, this young, unidentified Jewish girl found herself serving in the home of one of the most powerful men in Syria. Her plight, while difficult, had been God-ordained.

Because of her providential presence in Naaman’s household, she had become aware of his leprosy and was able to tell her mistress about a possible solution to his problem.

“I wish my master would go to see the prophet in Samaria. He would heal him of his leprosy.” – 2 Kings 5:3 NLT

Despite her predicament, she was still a faithful follower of Yahweh, and she believed that her God had the power to provide healing, even to the pagan commander who had enslaved her. Not only does this young girl display an amazing amount of faith, but she reveals a kind and compassionate heart. Rather than rejoicing over her captor’s plight, she expresses her desire that he be healed, even declaring her wish that he could meet the prophet of God.

Once again, God’s sovereignty is revealed through the rather strange chain of events that ensue. Naaman goes to Ben-Hadad II, the king of Syria, and received permission to visit Samaria. The king even provides Naaman with a letter of introduction to Jehoram, the king of Israel. And in an attempt to guarantee Jehoram’s assistance, Ben-Hadad II sends 750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold, and 10 changes of royal apparel. Don’t miss the irony in all of this. At the suggestion of a young Israelite slave girl, a pagan Syrian general has made an appeal to his pagan Syrian king. And that idol-worshiping Syrian king has sent a sizeable tribute to an apostate Israelite king begging that he help his leprosy-stricken general get healing from the God of Israel. You can’t make this stuff up.

When Naaman presented his letter of introduction and the generous gifts from King King Ben-hadad, he was met with both surprise and suspicion. Jehoram thinks the whole thing is a set-up.

“Am I God, that I can give life and take it away? Why is this man asking me to heal someone with leprosy? I can see that he’s just trying to pick a fight with me.” – 2 Kings 5:7 NLT

It never seems to cross Jehoram’s mind to seek the aid of Yahweh or His prophet. He simply panics, assuming the whole thing is a clever ploy by Ben-Hadad to justify military action in the guise of revenge. But while Jehoram decided to leave God out of the equation, Elisha got wind of what was happening and contacted the king.

“Why are you so upset? Send Naaman to me, and he will learn that there is a true prophet here in Israel.” – 2 Kings 5:8 NLT

Once again, God’s prophet came to the rescue. But what happens next is almost humorous. The famous general from Syria had to get in his chariot and, along with his retinue, make his way to Elisha’s humble home. But before Naaman could get there, the prophet sent a messenger to meet him with a rather strange set of instructions.

“Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of your leprosy.” – 2 Kings 5:10 NLT

But the proud military commander, who was used to having all his subordinates report to him, was offended that Elisha didn’t bother to meet him. And it’s clear that he had expected something a bit showier when it came to how he would be healed.

“I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the Lord his God and heal me! – 2 Kings 5:11 NLT

But to Naaman’s disappointment, Elisha’s only instructions had been to bathe seven times in the Jordan River. This sounded ridiculous to the general, and he let his frustration be known in no uncertain terms.

Aren’t the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than any of the rivers of Israel? Why shouldn’t I wash in them and be healed?” – 2 Kings 5:12 NLT

But as Naaman was preparing to walk away in a huff, one of his own servants convinced him to do what the prophet had said. After all, what did he have to lose? Yes, the whole bathing-in-the-Jordan thing would be a blow to his pride, but it might very well be worth it. So, Naaman took the advice of his servant and obeyed the command of the prophet. And when he came up out of the water the seventh time, he was completely cleansed of his leprosy. In fact, the author describes the condition of his skin as that of a young child – no scars, scabs, or lesions of any kind. Naaman the Syrian had experienced a miracle, and he clearly recognized that it had been the work of Yahweh, the God of Israel.

“Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. – 2 Kings 5:15 NLT

That’s an amazing admission to come from the lips of a pagan Syrian general. He had spent his entire life worshiping Baal, and it’s likely that he had often petitioned his god for healing from his condition. But his requests had remained unheeded because they had gone unheard. His leprosy had been real, but his god was not. Yet, here was Naaman standing before Yahweh’s prophet, healed and whole, and declaring his belief in the one true God of Israel.

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