Kingdoms In Conflict

1 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written,

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”

And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,

“‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you,’

11 and

“‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

12 And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. Luke 4:1-13 ESV

After His baptism by John, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the Judean wilderness. From this point forward, Jesus will willingly operate under the power and influence of the Holy Spirit. He will submit Himself to the Spirit’s guidance and accomplish His ministry by virtue of the Spirit’s power. In doing so, Jesus will provide a tangible display of the Spirit-filled life His followers will experience after His death, burial, and resurrection. Just prior to His return to heaven, He told His disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit, who would indwell, empower, and lead them.

“And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven.” – Luke 12:49 NLT

So, as Jesus begins His public ministry, He is led by the Spirit of God into the wilderness where, as Luke records, “he was tempted by the devil for forty days” (Luke 4:2 NLT). This point is so vital for us to understand because it reveals that what happened to Jesus in the wilderness was fully anticipated by God the Father. The Spirit of God was fully aware of what awaited Jesus in the wilderness and yet, He led Jesus to that very spot. But what do we do with a passage like James 1:13, where we’re told that God does not tempt us?

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. – James 1:13 ESV

The Spirit of God did not lead Jesus into the wilderness in order to tempt Him. But He was fully aware that Jesus would be tempted by Satan. This entire episode was designed to pit Satan, “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31 ESV), against Jesus the King of all creation. For 40 days, the enemy would attempt to thwart the divine plan of God by trying to deceive, distract, and discredit the Son of God. It’s important to note that on two separate occasions, Satan began his temptation of Jesus by stating, “If you are the Son of God…” (Luke 4:3, 9 ESV). These statements by Satan were meant to stand in direct contradiction to the words of God, spoken at the baptism of Jesus.

“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” – Luke 3:22 ESV

Satan was using the same ploy he had used on Adam and Eve in the garden. Disguised as an alluring serpent, Satan came to Eve in the garden and slyly asked her, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1 ESV). He was subtly twisting the words of God in order to create doubt in the mind of Eve. Because he knew that doubt was the first step toward disobedience. That’s why, when Eve corrected his blatant misquoting of God, Satan responded with a bold assertion that painted God as the real deceiver.

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5 ESV

Satan portrayed God as a liar and assured the woman that she was being denied that which was rightfully hers to have: The freedom to decide for herself what was right and wrong. In essence, he was offering her what God had already given her. God had already determined what was to be off-limits in the garden, and it was a single tree. The Creator had established the criteria for behavior in His garden, but now Satan was attempting to throw a wrench into God’s plan by appealing to the natural human desire for autonomy and self-regulation. We inherently desire to be our own gods, to be the masters of our own fate, and the captains of our souls. And Satan’s temptation worked like a charm on Eve.

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. – Genesis 3:6 ESV

So, here in the wilderness, the second Adam was led by the Spirit of God into a direct encounter with the same conniving and deceptive enemy of God. And Satan began his attack with the same time-tested strategy: By casting doubt on the word of God.

“If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” – Luke 4:3 ESV

It seems clear that Satan had been an eyewitness to the baptism of Jesus. If not, it would not have been long before one of his minions had reported what they had seen and heard. So, Satan began his assault on the Son of God by raising doubts about His identity. As the long-standing enemy of God, Satan knew that the best way to discredit one of the Almighty’s messengers was to get them to violate their commitment to Him. Over the centuries, he had successfully tempted the kings of Israel and Judah to disobey their divine call to shepherd the people of God. He had taken godly kings like Solomon and, by appealing to their base human desires, caused them to violate the commands of God. The basic strategy behind his war against God was to cause the people of God to do what was right in their own minds (Judges 17:6).

Satan wasn’t denying the Sonship of Jesus. No, his plan was much more subtle and sinister than that. He knew who Jesus was and he also knew that his best bet at thwarting God’s plan for Jesus was to get him to operate outside the will of God. And he began with the basest of human desires: The need for food.

Luke indicates that Jesus had gone without food for 40 days and, as a result, He was in a severely weakened state. So, Satan took advantage of Jesus’ condition and attempted to get Jesus to use His divinely ordained power to meet His own needs. Jesus’ hunger was not a sin, so what could have been wrong with Him using His power to keep Himself alive? The point seems to be that Jesus was totally dependent upon God the Father, and Satan was trying to get Him to satisfy His own desires in His own way. But Jesus quickly responded, “Man shall not live by bread alone” (Luke 4:4 ESV). For Jesus, satisfying the will of the Father was far more important than satisfying His own physical needs. He would later tell His own disciples:

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” – Matthew 6:31-33 NLT

Having failed in his first attempt, Satan didn’t give up, he simply upped the ante. He now tempted Jesus to glorify Himself. To do so, he somehow managed to give Jesus a glimpse of all the kingdoms of the earth. This vision was intended to appeal to Jesus’ human desire for power and prestige. As the ruler of this world, Satan was offering Jesus a stake in the action. He was willing to give Jesus “the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them” (Luke 4:6 NLT). But there was a catch. In return for all the glory and power, Jesus would have to worship Satan as His lord and master. Satan’s offers always come with a high price. And for Jesus, this one was unacceptable and totally implausible. Nothing was worth abandoning His worship of the one true God.

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” – Luke 4:6 ESV

Whether he realized it or not, Satan was actually offering to Jesus what was already rightfully His. As the Son of God, He was already the ruler over heaven and earth. He had created it all and it all belonged to Him. Paul makes that point perfectly clear in his letter to the church in Colossae.

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
    He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
for through him God created everything
    in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
    and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
    Everything was created through him and for him.
He existed before anything else,
    and he holds all creation together. – Colossians 1:15-17 NLT

Next, Satan somehow transported Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, where he tempted Jesus to test His Father’s love for Him. He did so by commanding Jesus to throw Himself from the highest point of the temple so that the angels would come to His rescue. And this temptation, like the first one, was based on Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. Surely, God would not allow something tragic to happen to His beloved Son. But what Satan didn’t realize was that God had something far more painful and tragic in store for Jesus: Death by crucifixion.

Jesus was not going to prove His Sonship by throwing Himself off of the temple because that was not God’s plan. In fact, even when He was facing arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told His disciples, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53 ESV). Jesus did not come to be saved from death, but to offer His life so that others might live. And He would do so willingly.

“No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” – John 10:18 NLT

Satan was attempting to get Jesus to test His Father’s love for Him. Surely, a loving Father would not allow His Son to suffer and die. Satan even quoted verses from the Bible to support his premise. But, once again, Satan didn’t understand that the greatest expression of God’s love would come through the sacrifice of His own Son. And Jesus would later explain the remarkable nature of this inexplicable and unfathomable love of God.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 ESV

Satan failed because he couldn’t comprehend the ways of God. He had attempted to treat the Son of God as nothing more than another flawed and sin-prone human being whose fleshly desires would get the best of Him. But He was wrong. Dead wrong. Whether he realized it or not, Satan was up against the King of kings and Lord of lords. He had more than met his match. He had just met the Messiah and his days as ruler of this world were destined to come to an end.

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

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

The Glory of God’s Grace

1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord. Jonah 1:1-3 ESV

When most of us hear the name, Jonah, we immediately think of his encounter with the big fish. But long before Jonah found himself in the “belly of the whale,” he had a divine encounter with God Almighty. The opening line of the book describes Jonah receiving “the word of the Lord.” In this verse, the Hebrew name used of God is Yᵊhōvâ, which is sometimes translated as Jehovah. In the Hebrew Scriptures, it was written as YHWH. This is because, in its written form, ancient Hebrew did not include the vowels. Also known as the tetragrammaton, this abbreviated name of God has been the center of much debate regarding its exact pronunciation. Some argue that it should be pronounced, “Yahweh” (YAH-way), while others prefer “Yehowah,” which, in its more modernized form, became “Jehovah.” But regardless of how the word is pronounced, it’s important that we understand that YHWH is the central character of this story, not Jonah. Within the context of 48 verses, the author will mention God 39 times, using three different names in the process. And these varying names of God are directly associated with the different characters and circumstances found in the story.

For instance, YHWH (Yahweh) is used 22 times and almost exclusively in those instances when God is dealing directly with Jonah, who happens to be a Hebrew. Yet when God interacts with Gentiles in the story, the author uses the more generic name Elohim or El. He does this 13 times. Finally, there are four occasions when God is referred to as YHWH Elohim or Lord God. We see this in verse 9 of the opening chapter when Jonah tells the sailors the name of the God he worships.

For the author, these varying designations for God serve an important purpose. They help to establish the difference between God’s relationship with His chosen people and the rest of the Gentile world. As was stated in yesterday’s post, Jonah is intended to represent the Jewish people. But as the story unfolds, we will be introduced to Gentile sailors and an entire city comprised of evil Gentile Assyrians. As a Hebrew, Jonah would have had an intimate understanding of YHWH, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But the Gentile captain of the boat on which Jonah attempted to flee from God would have had little knowledge of the God of Israel. So, in verse 9, when he begs Jonah to “call out to your god!” he uses the more generic term, “Elohim.”

The entire story found in the book of Jonah is about God’s relationship with mankind. It begins with YHWH commissioning Jonah, a privileged member of the Hebrew nation. But the task Jonah is given reveals that, while YHWH is the God of Israel, He has a vested interest in all of humanity. He is YHWH, the God of Israel, and Elohim, the God of all the nations of the earth. And this small book presents a stark contrast between God’s interactions with His chosen people and the non-Israelites who share planet earth with them.

God had set the descendants of Abraham apart for a reason. He had chosen them so that they might be a light to the nations. Their unique relationship with Him was to have been a living witness to the rest of the world, illustrating how sinful, undeserving humanity might be restored to a right relationship with their creator. And throughout the book, we will see how Jonah, as the representative of Israel, interacts and interfaces with the Gentile world. He will receive a clear call that requires him to deliver a message from God to “to Nineveh, that great city” (Jonah 1:2 ESV). And when the author describes Nineveh as “evil,” his Hebrew audience would have viewed this as a flagrant understatement.

The Assyrians were known for the cruelty. In fact, they actively advertised their brutality, using it as a form of psychological warfare. Detailed descriptions of their atrocities have been found in their own records and carved into the walls of their palaces and administrative buildings. It was not uncommon for the Assyrians to practice torture on their victims that ranged from the gouging out of eyes to the cutting off of limbs. These non-lethal disfigurements were intended to strike fear into their conquered foes, eliminating any threat of insurrection. But the Assyrians were also known for their mass executions, which included the impalement of victims on large stakes. Once again, these gruesome public displays were meant to be a powerful deterrent to rebellion.

With these images in mind, consider how the original Jewish audience who heard the words of this book must have felt. Better yet, consider how Jonah, the one who received the commission to go to Nineveh must have felt. He was being sent into the belly of the beast – right into the heart of darkness. FromJonah’s perspective, there was no more wicked place on planet earth than Nineveh. And God was commanding Jonah to travel all the way to this pagan kingdom with a message of doom and gloom.

“…call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” – Jonah 1:2 ESV

Jonah seemed to know exactly what God was saying. According to 2 Kings 14:25, Jonah was a prophet of YHWH. And as a prophet, he would have been familiar with God’s views on Nineveh. Another prophet, Nahum, who happened to be Jonah’s contemporary, had issued some strong words against the Assyrian capital city. He accused them of plotting against God (Nahum 1:9, 11). He described them as vile or despicable (Nahum 1:14). He used highly inflammatory and unflattering terms to describe their insatiable desire for global domination:

What sorrow awaits Nineveh,
    the city of murder and lies!
She is crammed with wealth
    and is never without victims.
Hear the crack of whips,
    the rumble of wheels!
Horses’ hooves pound,
    and chariots clatter wildly.
See the flashing swords and glittering spears
    as the charioteers charge past!
There are countless casualties,
    heaps of bodies—
so many bodies that
    people stumble over them.
All this because Nineveh,
    the beautiful and faithless city,
mistress of deadly charms,
    enticed the nations with her beauty.
She taught them all her magic,
    enchanting people everywhere. – Nahum 3:1-4 NLT

Just imagine the fear that filled Jonah’s heart at the prospect of delivering God’s news of judgment to a city filled with idol-worshiping pagans who made a habit out of torturing their enemies. Everything in Jonah stood opposed to this divine assignment. He had no desire to travel into enemy territory and deliver a message that would most likely result in his death. But there is more to Jonah’s reticence than meets the eye. He is not just afraid of death. He is petrified that his message of coming judgment might produce repentance among the people of Nineveh. How do we know that? Just fast-forward to chapter four of the book. There we find Jonah expressing his displeasure to God for having spared the people of Nineveh because they had repented.

“Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. – Jonah 4:2 NLT

As much as Jonah may have feared the Assyrians, he had a greater fear of God showing them mercy. He knew enough about YHWH to understand that there was always the possibility of the Assyrians escaping judgment and receiving forgiveness instead. And that prospect was unacceptable to him. So, when God said, “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh” (Jonah 1:2 NLT), Jonah “got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord” (Jonah 1:3 NLT).

In essence, Jonah did what the people of Israel had been doing for generations. By running away from God’s presence, Jonah became an apostate. The Greek word apostasia, means “a defiance of an established system or authority; a rebellion; an abandonment or breach of faith.” Jonah’s determination to reject the revealed will of God was a blatant act of apostasy or rebellion. But in this story, his action is meant to reflect the heart of the people of Israel. He was acting out what the people of God had been doing for generations. They had repeatedly turned their backs on God, refusing to obey His commands and abandoning their commitment to the covenant they had ratified with Him. Jonah was a Hebrew, but also a prophet of God. As such, he had a double commission. He was a chosen member of God’s set-apart people and a divinely commissioned messenger of God’s word. But like his fellow Jews, Jonah chose to reject his calling and place his own will over that of God. He got up and went in the opposite direction. And the narrative will repeatedly describe Jonah as “going down.” He will go down to Joppa (1:3). He will go down into the boat (1:3). He will go down into the inner part of the ship (1:5). Eventually, he ends up in the belly of the fish, where he goes down to the depths of the sea. He describes himself as going “down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever” (2:6). The trajectory of Jonah’s life mirrors that of the people of Israel. Once they chose to turn away from God’s presence, their descent into immorality, idolatry, and apostasy was steadily downward.

The book of Jonah is not meant to be a moral lesson on obedience. It is a picture of the unstoppable plan of God for the redemption of the world. Despite the disobedience of Jonah, God would bring salvation to the people of Nineveh. And despite disobedient Israel, God would bring salvation to the nations of the world through His Son, Jesus Christ. This entire story is a summary of God’s grand redemptive plan for bringing the light to the nations. Israel had been commissioned by God to do just that but had failed. Jonah is being commissioned to bring light to the Ninevites, but he will do everything in his power to resist that call. And he too will fail. But God will be victorious.

Back in the book of Exodus, we have recorded the story where Moses begged God to allow him to see His glory. And in response to Moses’ request, God responded:

“I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” – Exodus 33:19 ESV

Notice closely what God said. He was going to allow Moses to see His glory, but it would be accompanied by the declaration of His name: YHWH. And the greatest lesson Moses was to learn from this experience was that YHWH, the God of Israel, was free to extend His grace and mercy to whomever He chose. Moses had not earned the right to see YHWH’s glory. Neither had the people of Israel. And Jonah, the reluctant prophet, would ultimately learn the invaluable lesson that he too was undeserving of God’s grace, mercy, and love.

 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 Light On the Horizon

22 And over the people who remained in the land of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had left, he appointed Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan, governor. 23 Now when all the captains and their men heard that the king of Babylon had appointed Gedaliah governor, they came with their men to Gedaliah at Mizpah, namely, Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and Johanan the son of Kareah, and Seraiah the son of Tanhumeth the Netophathite, and Jaazaniah the son of the Maacathite. 24 And Gedaliah swore to them and their men, saying, “Do not be afraid because of the Chaldean officials. Live in the land and serve the king of Babylon, and it shall be well with you.” 25 But in the seventh month, Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, son of Elishama, of the royal family, came with ten men and struck down Gedaliah and put him to death along with the Jews and the Chaldeans who were with him at Mizpah. 26 Then all the people, both small and great, and the captains of the forces arose and went to Egypt, for they were afraid of the Chaldeans.

27 And in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, Evil-merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, graciously freed Jehoiachin king of Judah from prison. 28 And he spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat above the seats of the kings who were with him in Babylon. 29 So Jehoiachin put off his prison garments. And every day of his life he dined regularly at the king’s table, 30 and for his allowance, a regular allowance was given him by the king, according to his daily needs, as long as he lived. – 2 Kings 25:22-30 ESV

The scene in Jerusalem was one of utter destruction and devastation. The once-formidable walls of the city had been reduced to rubble. The massive doors that stood at the gates into Jerusalem had been torn from their hinges and burned. The homes of both the rich and the poor had been destroyed, leaving the city virtually uninhabitable. Even the king’s royal palace had been ransacked and turned into a smoldering ruin. And the Babylonians had not spared the house of God either. It had become a place of refuge for many trying to flee from the bloodthirsty Babylonians, but they found no help or hope within the walls of the temple they had long neglected.

The Babylonians killed Judah’s young men, even chasing after them into the Temple. They had no pity on the people, killing both young men and young women, the old and the infirm. – 2 Chronicles 36:17 NLT

The grand house that Solomon had constructed, the long-standing symbol of God’s presence and power among His people, was desecrated and then destroyed.

The king took home to Babylon all the articles, large and small, used in the Temple of God, and the treasures from both the Lord’s Temple and from the palace of the king and his officials. Then his army burned the Temple of God… – 2 Chronicles 36:18 NLT

And none of this should have come as a surprise to the people of Judah. On the very day that Solomon had consecrated the newly opened temple, God had warned him:

“I have answered your prayer and your request for help that you made to me. I have consecrated this temple you built by making it my permanent home; I will be constantly present there. You must serve me with integrity and sincerity, just as your father David did. Do everything I commanded and obey my rules and regulations. Then I will allow your dynasty to rule over Israel permanently, just as I promised your father David, ‘You will not fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’

“But if you or your sons ever turn away from me, fail to obey the regulations and rules I instructed you to keep, and decide to serve and worship other gods, then I will remove Israel from the land I have given them, I will abandon this temple I have consecrated with my presence, and Israel will be mocked and ridiculed among all the nations. This temple will become a heap of ruins; everyone who passes by it will be shocked and will hiss out their scorn, saying, ‘Why did the Lord do this to this land and this temple?’ Others will then answer, ‘Because they abandoned the Lord their God, who led their ancestors out of Egypt. They embraced other gods whom they worshiped and served. That is why the Lord has brought all this disaster down on them.’” – 2 Kings 9:3-9 NLT

More than three-and-a-half centuries had passed since God had issued that warning to King Solomon. And during that time, the majority of the kings of Judah had chosen to abandon Yahweh for the false gods of the nations around them. They had led the nation into idolatry and apostasy and now, as the people of Judah made their way in chains to Babylon, they could look over their shoulders and see the fiery fulfillment of God’s words to Solomon.

As Nebuchadnezzar and his forces departed Judah, they left a destroyed city and decimated populace behind.

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

And he appointed a man named Gedaliah as governor over the greatly diminished and demoralized citizenry of Jerusalem. There would no longer be a king to rule over Judah. Gedaliah was a Jew, but not a descendant of Solomon. He had no royal blood and would wield no kingly authority. He served at the behest of Nebuchadnezzar and was under the watchful eye of the ever-present Babylonian garrison. His was a thankless job that was more managerial than magisterial. And in time, he would come to be seen as nothing more than a puppet of the occupying Babylonian forces.

The commanders of Judah’s army who had fled from the city of Jerusalem when the walls were breached, returned when they heard that Gedaliah had been appointed governor. But they didn’t like the pro-Babylonian rhetoric that Gedaliah was spouting.

Gedaliah vowed to them that the Babylonian officials meant them no harm. “Don’t be afraid of them. Live in the land and serve the king of Babylon, and all will go well for you,” he promised. – 2 Kings 25:24 NLT

This compromising stance would ultimately cost Gedaliah his life. One of the former military commanders, a man named Ishmael, orchestrated the assassination of Gedaliah. It’s not exactly clear what Ishmael had hoped to accomplish by the murder of the Babylonian-appointed governor. But it seems obvious that this was an act of rebellion against the occupying forces. Along with Gedaliah and his Jewish officials, Ishmael murdered members of the Babylonian garrison, and this resulted in a swift reprisal from Nebuchadnezzar. Ishmael’s attempt to drive the Babylonians out of Judah backfired on him. Instead, “all the people of Judah, from the least to the greatest, as well as the army commanders, fled in panic to Egypt, for they were afraid of what the Babylonians would do to them” (2 Kings 25:26 NLT).

This scene is intended to convey a strong sense of irony. The disobedient people of God were returning to the very place from which He had free them centuries earlier. While some of their friends and family members had been deported to Babylon as slaves, this remnant of God’s chosen people would seek refuge in the land where their forefathers had been captives for more than 400 years.

Once again, all of this had been predicted by God. Centuries earlier, as the people of Israel stood on the shore of the River Jordan, preparing to enter the land of promise, God had given them a word of warning through Moses. He had told them that if they would faithfully obey Him, they would experience His blessings. But if they chose to disobey God, Moses warned them that they would experience “long-lasting afflictions and severe, enduring illnesses. He will infect you with all the diseases of Egypt that you dreaded, and they will persistently afflict you. Moreover, the Lord will bring upon you every kind of sickness and plague not mentioned in this scroll of commandments, until you have perished” (Deuteronomy 28:59-61 NLT).

And Moses had been very specific when outlining the devastating nature of the curses they would encounter should they failed to “fear this glorious and awesome name, the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 28:58 NLT).

The Lord will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship other gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, gods of wood and stone. Among those nations you will have no rest, nor will there be a place of peaceful rest for the soles of your feet, for there the Lord will give you an anxious heart, failing eyesight, and a spirit of despair. Your life will hang in doubt before you; you will be terrified by night and day and will have no certainty of surviving from one day to the next. In the morning you will say, ‘If only it were evening!’ And in the evening you will say, ‘I wish it were morning!’ because of the things you will fear and the things you will see. Then the Lord will make you return to Egypt by ship, over a route I said to you that you would never see again. There you will sell yourselves to your enemies as male and female slaves, but no one will buy you.” – Deuteronomy 28:64-68 NLT

Some 850 years after God had redeemed the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt, a remnant of their still rebellious descendants would return. But it’s interesting to note that these poor disheveled exiles will find no hope in Egypt. They won’t even be able to sell themselves as slaves. They will become paupers and aliens living outside the land of promise and under the curse of the God they had chosen to reject.

But despite all the dire imagery portrayed in this closing chapter of the book of 2 Kings, there is a silver lining on the dark cloud of Judah’s history. The author ends his book with a new king ascending to the throne of Babylon. These closing verses seem to be a mirror image of the scene found in the book of Genesis that preceded Israel’s 400-year enslavement in Egypt. Exodus 1:8 records, “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” This new Pharaoh came to power and, having no first-hand knowledge of Joseph and the people of Israel, decided that they were a threat to his administration. So, he launched a campaign to afflict and enslave them. This would lead to four centuries worth of unprecedented misery and maltreatment.

But when Evil-merodach replaced Nebuchadnezzar as the ruler over the Babylonian empire, he made a decision to release King Jehoiachin of Judah from his enslavement. He released him from prison and “spoke kindly to Jehoiachin and gave him a higher place than all the other exiled kings in Babylon” (2 Kings 25:28 NLT). For the remainder of his life in Babylonian, Jehoiachin lived like a king. He was given royal robes to wear and allowed to dine at Evil-merodach’s table.

But why is this important? Because it foreshadows something highly significant. Back in the book that bears his name, the prophet Jeremiah pronounced a curse on Jehoiachin, who was also known as Coniah.

“Why is this man Jehoiachin like a discarded, broken jar?
    Why are he and his children to be exiled to a foreign land?
O earth, earth, earth!
    Listen to this message from the Lord!
This is what the Lord says:
‘Let the record show that this man Jehoiachin was childless.
    He is a failure,
for none of his children will succeed him on the throne of David
    to rule over Judah.’”– Jeremiah 22:28-30 NLT

And yet, if we fast-forward to the gospel of Matthew, we find the following words in his genealogy of Jesus.

Josiah was the father of Jehoiachin and his brothers (born at the time of the exile to Babylon).
After the Babylonian exile:
Jehoiachin was the father of Shealtiel.
Shealtiel was the father of Zerubbabel.
Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud.
Abiud was the father of Eliakim.
Eliakim was the father of Azor.
Azor was the father of Zadok.
Zadok was the father of Akim.
Akim was the father of Eliud.
Eliud was the father of Eleazar.
Eleazar was the father of Matthan.
Matthan was the father of Jacob.
Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah. – Matthew 1:11-16 NLT

Here, in the genealogy of Jesus, we find the name of the Jehoiachin. The very man who was told that none of his children would succeed him as king is listed as a progenitor of the King of kings. Of Jehoiachin’s seven sons, not one of them would ascend to the throne of David. But Jesus would. God would graciously reverse the curse, producing a royal heir who would reign in righteousness and deliver His people from their enslavement to sin and death.

Notice one more name in the lineage of Jesus: Zerubbabel. This descendant of Jehoiachin would later become the governor of Judea when the exiles returned from their captivity in Babylon. And the prophet Haggai would pronounce a blessing on Zerubbabel that foreshadowed a great reversal of fortunes for the people of God.

“Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms. I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother. On that day, declares the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the Lord, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the Lord of hosts.” – Haggai 2:21-23 NLT

The book of 2 Kings ends on a positive note because God’s will concerning the people of Israel was far from done. The story of the redemption of His chosen people and the restoration of the world He created was not yet over. The Messiah, the Savior of the world, would one day come. And His arrival would usher in a new day and a new hope for the people of God and the nations of the world.

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

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

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

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

Under God’s Judgment, But Unrepentant

1 In the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, Jehoram the son of Ahab became king over Israel in Samaria, and he reigned twelve years. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, though not like his father and mother, for he put away the pillar of Baal that his father had made. Nevertheless, he clung to the sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin; he did not depart from it.

Now Mesha king of Moab was a sheep breeder, and he had to deliver to the king of Israel 100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams. But when Ahab died, the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel. So King Jehoram marched out of Samaria at that time and mustered all Israel. And he went and sent word to Jehoshaphat king of Judah: “The king of Moab has rebelled against me. Will you go with me to battle against Moab?” And he said, “I will go. I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.” Then he said, “By which way shall we march?” Jehoram answered, “By the way of the wilderness of Edom.”

So the king of Israel went with the king of Judah and the king of Edom. And when they had made a circuitous march of seven days, there was no water for the army or for the animals that followed them. 10 Then the king of Israel said, “Alas! The Lord has called these three kings to give them into the hand of Moab.” 11 And Jehoshaphat said, “Is there no prophet of the Lord here, through whom we may inquire of the Lord?” Then one of the king of Israel’s servants answered, “Elisha the son of Shaphat is here, who poured water on the hands of Elijah.” 12 And Jehoshaphat said, “The word of the Lord is with him.” So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him.

13 And Elisha said to the king of Israel, “What have I to do with you? Go to the prophets of your father and to the prophets of your mother.” But the king of Israel said to him, “No; it is the Lord who has called these three kings to give them into the hand of Moab.” 14 And Elisha said, “As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, were it not that I have regard for Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would neither look at you nor see you.” 2 Kings 3:1-14 ESV

When Ahab’s son, Ahaziah, died just two years into his reign, his brother Jehoram became the next king of Israel. And he proved to be just as evil as his father and brother. Yet, he did use his royal power to eliminate the worship of Baal in Israel. But “he clung to the sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin; he did not depart from it” (2 Kings 3:3 ESV). He refused to remove the false gods that Jeroboam had erected in Dan and Bethel, and his failure to do so kept the spirit of idolatry and unfaithfulness alive in the land of Israel. Rather than call the people to repentance and encourage a return to Yahweh, Jehoram simply maintained the status quo, allowing the people to continue to place their hope in the golden calves Jeroboam had created.

But Jehoram soon found himself in need of divine assistance. His father, who had been a wicked and oppressive king, had managed to make a lot of enemies. One of them was the king of Moab. During his reign, Ahab had forced the Moabites to pay an annual tribute that consisted of “100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams” (2 Kings 3:4 ESV). But the Moabites found this annual levy to be onerous, and, as soon as the king of Moab heard of Ahab’s death, he refused to make any further payments.

Jehoram viewed this as a blatant act of rebellion against his authority as the king of Israel. His primary concern was not with the loss of the annual tribute but with the potential loss of respect he would face if he did not deal decisively with this blatant affront to his royal reputation. So, he determined to teach King Mesha of Moab a lesson. Jehoram mustered all the fighting men of Israel and then called on Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, to come to their assistance. Jehoram wanted Jehoshaphat to provide troops and access through Judah’s land because he planned to attack Moab from the south.

King Jehoshaphat agreed to assist Jehoram, stating, “I will go. I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses” ( 2 Kings 3:7 ESV). This was the second time that King Jehoshaphat threw in his lot with the king of Israel. Back when Ahab had been king, he had requested Jehoshaphat’s help in attacking the Syrian-held city of Ramoth-gilead. And Jehoshaphat had responded to Ahab with the very same words of commitment: “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses” (1 Kings 22:4 ESV).

Surely, Jehoshaphat had learned a lesson from that first ill-fated alliance with the king of Israel. It had almost cost him his life and had ended with Ahab dying in a pool of his own blood on the floor of his chariot. But the king of Judah proved to be a slow learner. He agreed to Jehoram’s request, providing Israel with military assistance and unhindered access to Moab through the land of Judah. But because the southern approach to Moab would require Jehoram’s forces to pass through the land of Edom, he had successfully coerced the king of Edom to join their expedition.

For seven days, the combined forces of Israel, Judah, and Edom marched around the Dead Sea’s southern tip, an inhospitable region where rain was rare and fresh water was in short supply. And long before they were able to reach their final objective, they ran out of water. They were in the middle of a virtual wasteland, with no means of slaking the thirst of their troops, horses, or pack animals. This mighty military force had come to a screeching halt. And in a state of panic, Jehoram cried out, “The Lord has brought the three of us here to let the king of Moab defeat us” (2 Kings 3:10 ESV).

It’s interesting to note that in his greatest moment of need, Judah’s apostate king utters the name of yᵊhōvâ – Jehovah, the one true God of Israel. He doesn’t call on the golden calves of Jeroboam. He doesn’t mention Baal, the god his father and mother worshiped. Instead, he interpreted their dire circumstances as a divine judgment from the hand of Jehovah. He concluded that God was out to destroy them.

But King Jehoshaphat provided a voice of reason. Rather than assume the worse, he suggested that they seek the aid of a prophet of God to determine what God would have them do. Perhaps God was simply trying to get their attention. It appears Jehoshaphat suddenly realized that they had started this entire endeavor without seeking a word from the Lord. So, he strongly suggested that they do so now.

It just so happened that Elisha, the newly appointed prophet of God, had chosen to accompany the expedition. We’re not told why Elisha was there, but it seems reasonable to assume that his presence had been divinely decreed and ordained. He was there because God, in His providence, had planned it. The very man who had purified the brackish spring water outside the city of Jericho was there in their midst (2 Kings 2:19-22). In their greatest moment of need, when all seemed lost, God had placed His spokesman among them.

So, Jehoram and Jehoshaphat schedule a meeting with Elisha. But the prophet of God took full advantage of Jehoram’s predicament, chiding the idolatrous king of Israel for his apparent lack of faith in his own false gods.

“Why are you coming to me?” Elisha asked the king of Israel. “Go to the pagan prophets of your father and mother!” – 2 Kings 3:13 NLT

It was obvious that Jehoram put no stock in the golden calves of Jeroboam, and he had no faith that Baal or Asherah would come to their aid. And Elisha couldn’t resist the opportunity to rub the king’s nose in the mess he had made of Israel’s spiritual state. Jehoram, like all his predecessors, had stubbornly and arrogantly chosen to reject Yahweh. He had claimed to believe in a new god. But as soon as he found himself in a predicament that called for divine assistance, his faith became as false as his god.

In his desperation, Jehoram ignored the prophet’s stinging rebuke and declared his strong belief that this was all the work of Yahweh.

“No! For it was the Lord who called us three kings here—only to be defeated by the king of Moab!” – 2 Kings 3:13 NLT

Jehoram was convinced that their expedition was doomed to failure. The God of Elisha had it in for them, and there was nothing they could do about it. But there is no sense of repentance or remorse on Jehoram’s part. He does not confess his apostasy and refuses to acknowledge any guilt regarding his idolatry. In his mind, Yahweh was just another God who happened to oppose their plans. And if Jehoram could get Elisha to appeal to his God, perhaps they could be spared. Was there a sacrifice they could make to appease Elisha’s God? Could they do something to make Jehovah happy? Was there a way to get Yahweh to change His mind? That is all Jehoram was interested in and the only reason he was willing to consult with Elisha. And the prophet was not moved by Jehoram’s desperate cries for help. He knew that Jehoram’s interest in Yahweh was motivated by fear and not faith. The threat of divine judgment, while real, had done nothing to draw Jehoram back to God. And Elisha knew that the king of Israel remained unrepentant and unwilling to acknowledge Yahweh as the one true God. He had no respect for Jehoram, but he agreed to intervene because Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, had been the one to suggest that they call on the name of Yahweh.

“As surely as the Lord Almighty lives, whom I serve, I wouldn’t even bother with you except for my respect for King Jehoshaphat of Judah. – 2 Kings 3:14 NLT

Here, in the desolate Dead Sea wilderness, the God of Israel was about to show up in might and power. As He had done so many times before, He would intervene in the lives of His rebellious people. In the midst of their unfaithfulness, the always faithful Yahweh would show up and rescue His unrepentant and undeserving people yet again.

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 High Cost of Getting Your Own Way

1 Now Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. And after this Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house, and I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money.” But Naboth said to Ahab, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.” And Ahab went into his house vexed and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him, for he had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.” And he lay down on his bed and turned away his face and would eat no food.

But Jezebel his wife came to him and said to him, “Why is your spirit so vexed that you eat no food?” And he said to her, “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, ‘Give me your vineyard for money, or else, if it please you, I will give you another vineyard for it.’ And he answered, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.’” And Jezebel his wife said to him, “Do you now govern Israel? Arise and eat bread and let your heart be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”

So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal, and she sent the letters to the elders and the leaders who lived with Naboth in his city. And she wrote in the letters, “Proclaim a fast, and set Naboth at the head of the people. 10 And set two worthless men opposite him, and let them bring a charge against him, saying, ‘You have cursed God and the king.’ Then take him out and stone him to death.” 11 And the men of his city, the elders and the leaders who lived in his city, did as Jezebel had sent word to them. As it was written in the letters that she had sent to them, 12 they proclaimed a fast and set Naboth at the head of the people. 13 And the two worthless men came in and sat opposite him. And the worthless men brought a charge against Naboth in the presence of the people, saying, “Naboth cursed God and the king.” So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death with stones. 14 Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, “Naboth has been stoned; he is dead.”

15 As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, Jezebel said to Ahab, “Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money, for Naboth is not alive, but dead.” 16 And as soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab arose to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it. 1 Kings 21:1-16 ESV

Chapter 20 ended with the statement: And the king of Israel went to his house vexed and sullen and came to Samaria” (1 Kings 20:43 ESV). The author used two Hebrew words, sar and zāʿēp̄, to describe Ahab’s state of mind. And like most words in the Hebrew language, these two words carry a range of meanings. When we read that Ahab was “vexed and sullen,” it conjures up images of an unhappy child who is pouting because he didn’t get his way. But Ahab wasn’t just throwing himself a pity party; he was angry and resentful. And it’s easy to understand the intensity of his emotions when we consider the severity of God’s judgment. Ahab had chosen to spare the life of Ben-hadad so that he could sign a potentially lucrative treaty with him. But this decision was had not been God’s will, and Ahab would suffer greatly for it.

“Because you have let go out of your hand the man whom I had devoted to destruction, therefore your life shall be for his life, and your people for his people.” – 1 Kings 20:42 ESV

With that bit of bad news still ringing in his ears, Ahab had left the Valley of Aphek and returned to his palace in Samaria. When he arrived, he was in a dark mental state. The New English Translation describes him as “bitter and angry.” He deeply resented the punishment meted out to him by God. The Hebrew word sar conveys the idea of a stubborn, almost rebellious resistance to this God-ordained fate. And the word zāʿēp̄ lets the reader know that Ahab was wearing his emotions on his sleeve. His anger was visible. Since he couldn’t take out his anger on God, it spilled over onto all those around him. Even his neighbor, Naboth.

At some point after the victory over the Syrians, Ahab visited his summer palace in Jezreel. One day, while surveying the grounds of his palace, he noticed Naboth’s vineyard, which was located nearby. Seeing that this was fertile land, Ahab determined that it would make a fine spot to plant a garden for his palace. So, he approached Naboth with an offer.

“Since your vineyard is so convenient to my palace, I would like to buy it to use as a vegetable garden. I will give you a better vineyard in exchange, or if you prefer, I will pay you for it.” – 1 Kings 21:2 NLT

But Naboth politely turned down the king’s generous offer, explaining that the land on which the vineyard was located was part of his inheritance. According to Mosaic Law, the Israelites were forbidden to sell the land that God had given to them as their inheritance. The book of Leviticus outlined this divine prohibition against property transactions involving land dedicated to the various tribes of Israel.

“The land must never be sold on a permanent basis, for the land belongs to me. You are only foreigners and tenant farmers working for me.” – Leviticus 25:23 NLT

The book of Numbers provides further clarification concerning God’s ban on the transfer or sale of any of the land He had allotted to the 12 tribes.

The inheritance of the people of Israel shall not be transferred from one tribe to another, for every one of the people of Israel shall hold on to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. – Numbers 36:7 NLT

Naboth was simply obeying the law as given by God to Moses. He was legally prohibited from accepting Ahab’s offer. But none of this mattered to Ahab. And Naboth’s firm but polite response produced in Ahab the same effect as God’s earlier warning of judgment.

And Ahab went into his house vexed and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him – 1 Kings 21:4 ESV

Ahab responded with bitterness and anger. But notice that his anger was not directed at Naboth but at what Naboth had said. When Naboth informed the king that he could not sell him the land, his justification had been based on the law of God. Once again, God had interfered with Ahab’s plans, and it left him a strong sense of resentment and frustration. His anger was with God and His constant intervention into his affairs. Ahab couldn’t even buy a vineyard without running into this ever-present God who seemed to stick His nose into everything. Denied his desire for a garden, Ahab allowed his anger to turn to depression and deep despondency, even refusing to eat.

Concerned about the deteriorating condition of her husband’s mental health, Jezebel asked Ahab for an explanation. But notice the brevity of his reply. Rather than give Jezebel the full context of his conversation with Naboth, he simply states that he made a fair offer that was summarily rebuffed. His recollection of what Naboth said is anything but accurate. He mentions nothing about God’s ban on the sale of tribal land. He simply states that Naboth refused his offer.

Frustrated by her husband’s sullen state and obvious lack of initiative, she accuses him of forgetting who he is and the kind of power he possesses. “Are you the king of Israel or not?” she asks him. From Jezebel’s perspective, Ahab had abdicated his divine rights as the king. He was the sovereign over all of Israel, and he had the power to do whatever he wanted to do. No one, including Naboth, had the right to stand in his way. And to prove it, she implemented a plan to put Naboth in his place and the vineyard in her husband’s possession.

This pagan queen, who had introduced the worship of Baal to the nation of Israel, hired false witnesses to accuse Naboth of cursing the God of Israel. These men were to show up at a fast, held in honor of Yahweh, and declare that Naboth had cursed both God and the king. And Jezebel had pre-arranged with the elders of Jezreel that they would immediately stone Naboth to death for this fictitious crime.

And everything went just as Jezebel had planned. Naboth was falsely accused and executed. When the elders of Jezreel informed Jezebel that Naboth was dead, she immediately shared the good news with Ahab.

“Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money, for Naboth is not alive, but dead.” – 1 Kings 21:15 ESV

Notice that Ahab asks for no explanations. He doesn’t ask his wife a single question concerning Naboth’s well-timed death. He simply got out of bed, put on his royal robes, and took possession of the land that would soon be his new garden. He got what he wanted and didn’t seem to care how it had happened. But Jezebel’s actions had only made things worse. She had falsely accused an innocent man and had orchestrated his unlawful execution. And she had still violated God’s law concerning the land inheritance. According to Mosaic Law, Naboth’s land would have passed on to his descendants. God had made it clear that the land He had given to the tribes as their inheritance was to remain within their possession.

“…give the following instructions to the people of Israel: If a man dies and has no son, then give his inheritance to his daughters. And if he has no daughter either, transfer his inheritance to his brothers. If he has no brothers, give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. But if his father has no brothers, give his inheritance to the nearest relative in his clan. This is a legal requirement for the people of Israel, just as the Lord commanded Moses.”  – Numbers 27:8-11 NLT

Jezebel’s murder of Naboth was wrong on every level. She had violated a range of divine decrees to get her husband what he wanted. Her blind ambition resulted in unconscionable behavior that would only exacerbate God’s judgment against her husband. Ahab had his vineyard. Jezebel had her husband back. But their joy would soon turn to sorrow. They had both gotten what they wanted, but their personal achievements would come with a high price. Ahab’s new garden, while free, would cost him dearly. And Jezebel’s plot to murder Naboth, while successful, would come with a hefty price tag for which she would pay dearly.

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

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

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