As we enter into the era of the divided kingdom, it will be important to pay attention to some key phrases, in order to keep the stories straight in your mind. The biblical writer in 2 Kings is telling the stories of both the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. To some folks Israel and Judah are almost synonymous, but you will need to notice not just a king’s name but what kingdom he rules, because sometimes the kings had similar or exactly the same names. Don’t let that tempt you to give up the quest to read through the whole Bible. Some people make two column lists to keep things straight, one list for the kings of Israel and one list for the kings of Judah.
You’re going to like the stuff you’re going to be reading here. You might even be surprised at how much applies directly to modern issues. And we begin with Jeroboam, king of Israel.
“But I really like it”; Stubbornness and the disciple — You’ll remember from yesterday’s reading Jeroboam had changed the patterns of the worship of the LORD, “which he had devised in his own heart” (12:33). At the beginning of chapter 13 Jeroboam is (apparently) initiating the altar set before the calf-like representation of the LORD in Bethel. But as Jeroboam is about to offer incense a prophet (“man of God”) from Judah cries out a disturbing and dark prophecy against the altar (and by extension, the whole bundle of the “sins of Jeroboam”).
“…O altar, altar, thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name; and on you he shall sacrifice the priests of the high places who burn incense on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.…This is the sign which the LORD has spoken, ‘Behold, the altar shall be split apart and the ashes which are on it shall be poured out.’” 1 Kings 13:2, 3, NAS95.
Jeroboam shouted an order to seize the prophet, gesturing with his hand; but his hand (arm) became paralyzed (withered) immediately. At the same time the altar itself split open and the ashes poured out! What the prophet had said had not been his private interpretation or opinion; it was the truth, verified by the sign. God was not pleased, and was intending to punish and dishonor those who participated in such worship. Jeroboam seems at first to “get it”, asks for healing, and even offers to reward the prophet (a customary financial consideration for prophets you respected). But oddly enough, Jeroboam stubborn heart led him to continue doing what God was calling displeasing. Do people do this today? “Oh, I know what the Bible says, but I think…” And by the way, this could apply just as easily to personal morality, personal relationships, discipleship, involvement in good works, and doctrine as it does to a pattern of worship.
When gullibility could be a sin — Then there’s the “sub-story” about the prophet who uttered the dark prophecy about the altar at Bethel, the “man of God”. The LORD had specifically told him that he should go to Bethel, proclaim the prophecy, and return home immediately, without eating or drinking anything, by a different road. But when an older prophet caught up with him and lied to him about how God had changed His mind, the “man of God” believed him, returned to Bethel, ate and drank — and while returning home was killed by a lion for punishment. Why didn’t he check with God first? Why would he just assume that the old prophet was telling the truth and that God had really changed His mind? Sometimes, rarely, God does change His mind; for example, about destroying Israel in the wilderness (Ex. 32:14) and in the change of covenants (see Hebrews 8:13). But it is rare. So, before we assume that God has made some changes in His commands, shouldn’t we have the strongest possible proof? Sadly, good folks even today are often taken in by the same scam as this “man of God” by never checking with the Lord. “Well, that’s the way things used to be in the Bible and in Christianity, but this is the 21st century and things have changed!” Looks like to me, gullibility might be a good way to get eaten by a lion (see 1 Peter 5:8).
Real leadership — Well, because of Jeroboam’s stubborn heart, God replaces Jeroboam’s dynasty (family of rulers) with Baasha’s family. And meanwhile, Rehoboam, king of Judah, has not been obedient either. Idolatry and male cult prostitutes were allowed, and as punishment God allowed Shishak of Egypt to plunder Judah’s treasure of Solomon’s gold. But David’s dynasty was allowed to continue and Ahijah, Asa, and Jehoshaphat followed Rehoboam on the throne. Each new king was either rewarded or punished by God according to, not his popularity or economic policies or executive skills, but his faithfulness. How do we judge our own leaders — political and religious? Is good leadership about popularity, clever politics, diplomacy, international relations, prosperity, military victory, larger buildings, or technological advancement? Or is it about morality, character, wisdom, and trust in God? Of course, it would be great to have both; but as a modern democracy we often settle for the first set of criteria, seldom seriously considering the second.
Wholly devoted — How much devotion is enough? It’s a pity, but sometimes we try to enter to Heaven or gain God’s blessings on the discount plan. Asa’s specific problem, according to Scripture, was “He walked in all the sins of his father which he had committed before him; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD his God, like the heart of his father David.” 1 Kings 15:3, NAS95. In other words, Asa was trying a little bit of this and little bit of that, hoping to hedge his “bets” in the religious world (a common religious strategy among pagan kings), hoping that he was offering to God enough worship and sacrifice that God would bless him and the kingdom of Judah. The problem is that the LORD won’t settle for partial devotion. Where do your devotions lay?
Tell me what YOU think.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.