One of the interesting things I have thought alot about is the story of Jeroboam, the first king of Israel. I've read this account several times before, but some how I have always missed the fact that God chose to give him 10 tribes. He even made him the same offer that He made David and Solomon,
"And it shall be, if thou wilt hearken unto all that I command thee, and wilt walk in my ways, and do that is right in my sight, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did; that I will be with thee, and build thee a sure house, as I built for David, and will give Israel unto thee. And I will for this afflict the seed of David, but not for ever." (I Kings 11:38-39)Even after such a sure promise from God through a prophet, and after seeing it fulfilled when he becomes king, then he is so worried about the people returning to Solomon's son as king, that he builds two golden calves to worship. He claims that they are God, and continues with the same pattern of worship just with that addition. I don't understand how he could have forgotten last time Israel made a golden calf and called it god. The Lord must have seen something of promise in him, even Solomon did, "And the man Jeroboam was a mighty man of valour: and Solomon seeing the young man that he was industrious, he made him ruler over all the charge of the house of Joseph." (I Kings 11:28) There don't seem to be even any promising moments in the lives of the rest of the kings of Israel, but it seems so sad to me, that there was a man here, that as soon as he was shown favor by God, threw it all away.
The first 6 kings come from three different families, each rule for a fairly short period of time. They all do "evil in the the sight of the Lord, and walked in the way of Jeroboam, and in his sin wherewith he made Israel to sin." A few are even said to be even worse than the kings before them. Then comes Ahab, probably the most famous of the evil Old Testament kings, and his wife Jezebel. Apparently it was such a "light thing" that he sinned as Jeroboam, that he then went and got a wife and went after Baal. Ahab was evil it's true, but to me his wife is even worse than he is in many ways. Everything seems to be her idea, and he just carries it out. She cut off the prophets, she had the false prophets eating at her table, she seeks to kill Elijah after all Ahab tells her, she plans the murder of Naboth to steal his vineyard, she then writes and sends the letters of instruction for the murder, and finally they answer back to her not Ahab (I Kings 18:4, 13, 19 and 19:1-2, 7, 11, 14, 15). In stark contrast to this stands Elijah the Tishbite the prophet of God. Who prays with such faith that the Lord with holds the rain. Who stands alone (save of course the presence of God) against 450 prophets and prayed unto the Lord, and watched fire fall from heaven, consume a completely saturated offering, wood, alter, and even the dust around and about it. The man who then himself slew each of those false prophets. The man who prayed for rain and when the Lord sent a little cloud, he outran Ahab's chariot to beat the rain he knew was coming. On one hand we see a faithful servant and on the other, "there was none like unto Ahab, which did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up." (I Kings 21:25).
Eventually Ahab dies, his son rules and dies, and another of his sons begins to rule. Elijah is caught up into the whirlwind, and Elisha succeeds him with God's blessing as prophet to Israel. He tells a young man to anoint Jehu to be the next King and to give him the message that he will kill all of the house of Ahab. The young man follows the instructions including the one to flee Ramoth-Gilead as quickly as possible because Jehu would kill many (II Kings 9-10) He kills so many, going beyond what was required, that the Lord tells Hosea that he will punish him (Hosea 1:4-5). Even sadder, is that he kills so many who worship Baal, and then even though the Lord has spoken to him through the prophets he continues to worship Jeroboam's calves. How hypocritical, an idol is an idol is an idol, is not God.
Under later kings Jehoahaz, Joash (not the one of Judah but same name, different king of Israel), and another Jeroboam the Lord would give over land to Syria and they will fight battles and force tribute on Israel. Elisha gives word that the Lord would grant them a reprieve under the next few kings, but still they wouldn't turn to Him. The entire time Jonah, Amos, and Hosea are prophesying to the people, the leaders, the kings, and still no one will return to God. Then the Lord suffers the Assyrians to come into the land to demand tribute, and later to take their land, and eventually to carry the nation away captive.
"For so it was, that the children of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, which had brought them up out of the land of Egypt... and had feared other gods, And walked in the statutes of the heathen, whom the LORD cast out from before the children of Israel, ... And the children of Israel did secretly those things that were not right against the LORD their God, ... as did the heathen whom the LORD carried away before them; and wrought wicked things to provoke the LORD to anger: For they served idols, whereof the LORD had said unto them, Ye shall not do this thing. Yet the LORD testified against Israel, and against Judah, by all the prophets, and by all the seers, saying, Turn ye from your evil ways, and keep my commandments and my statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by my servants the prophets. Notwithstanding they would not hear, but hardened their necks, like to the neck of their fathers, that did not believe in the LORD their God. ... And they left all the commandments of the LORD their God, and made them molten images, even two calves, and made a grove, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal. ... and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger. Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight: there was none left but the tribe of Judah only. Also Judah kept not the commandments of the LORD their God, but walked in the statutes of Israel which they made. And the LORD rejected all the seed of Israel, and afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of spoilers, ... Until the LORD removed Israel out of his sight, as he had said by all his servants the prophets. So was Israel carried away out of their own land to Assyria unto this day." II Kings 17:7-23
The lesson that I gleaned from Jeroboam is that we should put the Lord first always. He was so worried and worked up from a military/political point of view, so worried about the people returning to the house of David just because they were traveling to Jerusalem to worship. So worried that he took matters into his own hands, and made gods. First, he failed to believe the Lord. He told him that He would establish Jeroboam's house in the same way that he did David's, but he couldn't trust the Lord to take care of him and his kingdom. Next, he created an idol and even though he tried to claim it was the same God, he changed the form of worship. God is very specific in what was required, and we should never deviate from his plan. For example, there is nothing wrong in and of itself with getting a bunch of kids together to talk about the Lord, but Sunday schools are not a part of worship as is laid out in the New Testament Church, so we should not add them. Ultimately his fears come true because the Lord destroys his house in punishment for forsaking His worship.
The lesson that I gleaned from Ahab is that when we pair up with evil, we become worse. He started out worshiping the golden calves as God, and deteriorated into worshiping just some other god. Not that the first wasn't bad enough, but he obviously got much worse. It's bad enough to partner up with it, think about the trouble that Jehoshaphat got into for partnering up with Ahab, but it is even worse when we partner up with a spouse that isn't following the Lord. I've been really blessed in Gary as a husband. He has encouraged me to study more, he is a sounding board to discuss things I've studied, he helps me refine my ideas and arguments. Some of the guys I dated, most of the guys I dated, would have drawn me away from following the Lord. I can look back and see that now, whereas I couldn't, or perhaps wouldn't have then. They at the very least would have lead me to spend less time in the word, because they wouldn't have had the interest in it. They would have wanted to do other things than a long weekend meeting. I wouldn't go so far as to say that a Primitive Baptist should only marry a Primitive Baptist, but we should obviously be looking for a Child of God, and not someone who can't stand the Lord and doesn't want to live a good moral life.
From Elijah we can see the Lord's providential care, no matter how bad things get. He feeds him by ravens, literally providing his daily bread. Through a miracle He sustains a widow, her son, and Elijah. He shows His presence in a mighty way on the mount, and then shows Elijah that he has preserved some to himself. And no matter how hard evil Queen Jezebel works to kill him, the Lord takes care of him, even sending an angel to minister to him in his doubts and weakness.
The lesson of Jehu is one that I am learning. That we can be zealous for the Lord in all the wrong ways. There is a time to take a hard stand, but yet again, there are times were we go too far. Knowing when to stand and when to step aside. Knowing exactly were the line is that we should walk between justice and mercy is very hard to determine. I don't think that anyone gets it 100% right. I think because we aren't perfect that we all fall short. There are times that we say nothing, when we should speak up. There are times that we jump the gun, that we say too much, that we respond too harshly. We all are hypocrites whether we want to admit it or not. I have heard some say, I don't want to join the Church they are all a bunch of hypocrites. The truth though, is that of course we are, because we will never be perfect, never be able to live above sin. The question is what do we do with that knowledge? Do we keep living as hypocrites because we can't do any better, or do we strive to do better, confessing our faults to one another helping to hold one another accountable, and THEREBY helping one another?
This reading through I saw a wise lesson that I had never seen before. When Elisha is on his deathbed and gives Joash the word that the nation will smite the Assyrians 3 times, and the nation will have a reprieve. Joash comes weeping and cries "O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof." (II Kings 13:14). Do you realize what he is saying here, I have always missed this. He thinks that the power of the nation comes from Elisha. He doesn't recognize that Elisha is just the spokesman for God. He doesn't recognize God is where their strength lies, that only God can bless the nation. He fears that everything will fall apart because Elisha dies. How many times do we put someone else in God's place. Sometimes we look to a parent or someone in our life as a pillar of virtue, and are shocked to find their faults. Perhaps we look to the preacher and forget that he too is a man. How often do we panic about how something can continue without so and so. Even worse, how often do we think that nothing can be done without us. I am the worst at this, this house can't run without me. In fact, it runs just fine. The Church has been on this earth since Christ established it, and it will be here somewhere till the end of time. Not to say that we shouldn't care for it with all diligence as the Lord commanded us, but it doesn't need us, we need it. The Church was just fine before we joined, and it will continue just fine after we are gone. We are not the be all, end all.
And the end is incredibly sad. Though the Lord is long suffering far more than we are, though He loves His people far more than we can comprehend, He punishes them. In the end all those things promised in Deuteronomy 28 come to pass. Oh they were still His people even in the land of captivity, but Israel is never restored. A remnant of Judah will return from Babylon, but none of Israel ever returns from Assyria. The lesson is quite clear, "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." (Hebrews 12:6) It isn't that the Lord threw them away like trash, but here in this world we reap the consequences of our actions. Just like I have to punish the children, the Lord will punish us. The Lord has secured heaven for us, we don't have to worry about that. We are His children no matter what we do, or don't do, and that is a great comfort to me. My children will always be my children no matter what they do. However, there may come a time in their lives, when I have to let go, and tell them that they cannot enjoy the blessings of our family if they insist on following certain paths in life. Oh it would break my heart, and I imagine it broke God's. Jeremiah (talking about Judah but the principle still applies) expresses his sorrow, and God's sorrow over for the punishment that His people will have to endure. It is described as tears and weeping (Jeremiah 9, and Lamentations 1:16). I know I have felt it when the Lord told me that I had grieved him, I remember the sick feeling of knowing exactly what I had done, and how far below the mark I fell. I try to not do it again, though I do know that I will never reach perfection. How much better is it to listen to the Lord's prodding, than to have to endure harsh punishment?