This 15 part study on the Kings of Judah from 2 Chronicles was preached at Flagstaff Christian Fellowship in 1994. Audio and manuscripts are available for each lesson.
Henry Ford is reputed to have scoffed, “History is bunk!” Unfortunately, many Christians tacitly agree, as shown by the fact that they seldom read and even less frequently meditate on and apply the many lessons from the historical books of the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. But these things were written for our instruction (1 Cor. 10:11), and we suffer if we neglect studying them.
The books 1 & 2 Chronicles (in the Hebrew Bible they were one book) were written shortly before 400 B.C., either by Ezra or a scribe living around Ezra’s time, to the remnant of Jews who had returned to the land after the Babylonian captivity. They wrap up the recorded history of the Old Testament period (they are placed at the end of the Hebrew Bible). While the history in 2 Chronicles often parallels events in 1 & 2 Kings, the authors have different purposes. The books of Kings show how the fall of Israel (the northern kingdom) and Judah (the southern kingdom) occurred because of God’s judgment because the two kingdoms forsook God and followed the idolatrous practices of the nations around them. The books of Chronicles were written to encourage the returned remnant and bring them back to the true worship of God by showing that His covenant with David still stands, and if the nation will obey Him, they will experience His blessing. (The above information gleaned primarily from Eugene Merrill, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Old Testament [Victor Books], pp. 432, 590-591.)
In our study over the next few weeks, I’m going to focus on the kings of Judah beginning with Rehoboam down to the Babylonian captivity, as recorded in 2 Chronicles 10-36 (the chronicler ignores the kings of the northern kingdom, except as they interact with the kings of Judah). We will skip a few of the minor kings. Keep in mind that this is not just a recounting of historical facts, but history with a punch line. It is selective history, written to make a spiritual point. This is not to say that it is fabricated or untrue history, but rather that the author has chosen and arranged his material to move God’s people to greater obedience. I pray that it will do the same for us.
The central lesson we learn from King Rehoboam, son of Solomon, grandson of David, is the peril of partial obedience. Rehoboam sort of obeyed the Lord, and he sort of experienced God’s blessing. But as any parent knows, there is a vast difference between your children sort of obeying you and their complete obedience. There’s a big difference between their sort of being home by ten o’clock and their being home by ten o’clock! And when it comes to obeying the Word of God, we all, due to our perverse fallen natures, are prone to sort of obey God, but also sort of do what we wanted to do anyway.
Partial obedience is a peril that plagues us all and results in partial blessing.
Before we point our finger at Rehoboam, we need to realize that he inherited a number of problems beyond his control. Although his grandfather David was a godly man in many ways, he never dealt with his weakness for women. In disobedience to the Law of Moses, David multiplied wives for himself. As if all of his beautiful wives were not enough, he committed adultery with Bathsheba and, after murdering her husband, took her as another of his wives.
Although God forgave David when he repented, God did not remove the disastrous consequences. David’s sin wreaked havoc in the lives of his adult children. Rehoboam’s father, Solomon, multiplied wives more than David had ever dreamed of (300 wives and 700 concubines)! Rehoboam’s mother was a foreigner, an Ammonitess (2 Chron. 12:13). Solomon’s foreign wives led him into idolatry. As a result, God told Solomon that He would tear the kingdom from him and give it to Solomon’s servant. But on account of David, God promised not to do it in Solomon’s lifetime, but rather to tear the kingdom from his son (1 Kings 11:11-13). That’s Rehoboam! When Rehoboam makes a stupid decision that results in the rebellion of the northern kingdom, the author points out that “it was a turn of events from the Lord,” to establish His word (10:15).
You’re probably thinking: If God sovereignly ordained this turn of events, then Rehoboam was playing against a stacked deck! He was a “victim” of his father’s disobedience and of God’s sovereignly ordained prophecy! Surely, God wouldn’t hold him accountable for doing something that had been predestined to happen! And yet--don’t stumble over this point--God held Rehoboam accountable for his disobedience!
Here’s the mystery--that nothing, not even the rebellion of Satan or of sinful people can thwart God’s sovereign plan (see Acts 2:23; 4:27-28). He works all things after the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11). And yet, God holds each person accountable for his disobedience. You may be coming from a terrible background. Maybe your parents, like Rehoboam’s, were hypocrites who claimed to be believers, but their lives didn’t match up. Maybe your life was scarred because of your father’s terrible sin. You may have every excuse in the book as to why you don’t obey the Lord. But God still expects you to obey and you and those around you will suffer if you don’t! The first lesson we learn from Rehoboam is that ...
We’ll see this clearly if we examine Rehoboam’s partial obedience and spell out what it means.
Rehoboam was wise in that when Jeroboam’s delegation presented their request to lighten the load, Rehoboam didn’t shoot off his mouth on the spot. He asked for three days to think about it. He was also wise to seek out counselors. But where he blew it was to listen to counselors who told him what he wanted to hear, not what he needed to hear. The older counselors who had served Solomon urged a gentle approach. It’s doubtful whether their advice would have totally prevented a revolution, since Jeroboam and company seemed determined to grab power one way or another. But at least it could have forestalled the revolt and it would have deprived them of a pretext for revolution. But his macho reply in line with the younger counselors was like tossing a match on a powder keg.
Rehoboam knew better. His father wrote the book of Proverbs to him. It’s filled with exhortations to heed the counsel of elders and not to be hot-headed and impetuous. But he probably felt uneasy in his new leadership role and mistakenly thought that asserting his authority was the way to establish his power. So he took the counsel he wanted to hear, not what he needed to hear.
Have you ever had that problem? You read the Bible looking for a verse to support what you want to do, even if you have to ignore ten verses that confront you! Or, you shop around for someone to tell you what you want to hear and ignore the many who tell you what you need to hear. You’re falling into the peril of partial obedience.
Rehoboam sent Hadoram (NIV = Adoniram), who was over the forced labor, but the people stoned him (10:18). Rehoboam hopped into his chariot and took off for Jerusalem. When he got back, he started putting together an army to quell this rebellion. He had a good case: He was the king descended from David! These rebels had killed his man. Let’s go get them!
There was only one problem. He hadn’t bothered to ask the Lord about it. The Lord sent a prophet who said, “Don’t do it!” Whether from obedience or practicality, Rehoboam had enough sense at that point to obey. But it was only partial obedience because he hadn’t sought the Lord first.
Do you ever do that--plan first and pray second? A lot of churches operate that way. Their plans are in line with what God would seem to want (why would God want a divided kingdom?). But there’s a big difference between formulating all of our great plans for God and bringing them to Him for His rubber stamp of approval versus seeking Him first and then doing as He directs.
Note 11:21: He took 18 wives and 60 concubines. Where did he get that idea? From his father and grandfather, who got it from the other kings in that day. It was the thing for kings to do. It showed how powerful and wealthy you were. Talk about feeding a man’s pride, to have dozens of beautiful women at your disposal! There was only one slight problem. Deuteronomy 17:17 specifically commanded that the king should not multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away from God.
Why didn’t David and Solomon and Rehoboam obey that commandment? It wasn’t in line with the custom. Nobody did that! A king who didn’t have a large harem would have been the laughingstock of the Middle East!
There are a lot of things the Christian world does today because they’re the custom. Oh, sure, there are Bible verses to the contrary. But everybody’s doing it these days. So the church slips into partial obedience.
Let me single out just one--the matter of divorce. Thirty years ago in our nation, divorce was taboo. A divorced man had a stigma against him if he tried to run for political office. Today nobody gives that a second thought. It really doesn’t matter. Thirty years ago, very few Christians got divorced. In our day, many Christian leaders get divorced and keep right on going without missing a beat. The custom of our day is, if you’re not happy, then do whatever you need to get happiness.
And so when you find yourself in a difficult spot in your marriage, what will you do? Will you stay and pay the price of commitment, hard work, and change to please the Lord, or will you bail out and move on to the next partner? Custom says, “Nobody stays in a lousy marriage. Your happiness is the thing.” Full obedience to God says, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matt. 19:6).
Thus partial obedience means hearing what you want to hear, not what God says; acting before you seek the Lord’s mind, not after; and, living in accordance with custom, not God’s Word.
Note 12:1: “It took place when the kingdom of Rehoboam was established and strong that he and all Israel with him forsook the law of the Lord.” By forsaking the law of the Lord, the author does not mean that they cast it off completely. Just a few verses later (v. 11) we read that the king used to enter the house of the Lord. In verse 12 we read that “there was some good in Judah” (NIV), which Keil and Delitzsch interpret as “there were some proofs of piety and some fear of God.” So it wasn’t total apostasy.
What did Rehoboam do? First Kings 14:22-24 says that they added to Israel’s worship all the abominations of the Canaanite nations which the Lord had dispossessed. Keil and Delitzsch (Commentary on the Old Testament [Eerdmans] 1 Kings, pp. 213-14) argue that at first these were not pagan idols, but rather were human inventions of worship copied from the pagan idols. At first they were associated with the worship of the Lord, but they quickly polluted the purity of worship prescribed in the Scriptures.
Now you may be thinking, “Well at least we don’t have any problem in this area. We don’t worship idols in America. We don’t have pagan religious customs mingled in with our Christianity.” The late Francis Schaeffer argued that the American idols are personal peace and affluence. In other words, as long as God makes us feel good (peace) and gives us what we want (affluence), we’ll “follow” Him. But we’re really not following God; we’re using God for personal gain. Our real god is self. If the true God calls us to go through hardship or sacrifice or if He confronts our sin, forget it! We shop around for something that makes us feel good.
Listen, we live in a leisure-oriented, laid-back, low commitment, licentious, luxurious culture. You can’t tell me that our culture hasn’t affected our Christianity. We’ll attend church as long as it’s convenient. We’ll even give to the church, as long as it doesn’t pinch our lifestyle too much. But to be committed to serve every week? To give sacrificially off the top every paycheck, so that we have to give up some new toy or some leisure activity? But if you only serve Christ when it’s convenient and give when it doesn’t pinch you too much, you’re into partial obedience.
Note 12:1: When Jeroboam was threatening Rehoboam from the north and Egypt from the south, he sought the Lord. But as soon as the pressure eased off and he was strong, he forgot about God. It’s called foxhole faith: you cry out to God when you’re in a jam, but forget Him when things are going well.
The church at Laodicea was there. Their evaluation of themselves was, “We’re rich and wealthy and have need of nothing” (Rev. 3:17). As a result, they were lukewarm and God threatened to spit them out of His mouth. God’s evaluation of them was slightly different: “You are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” In other words, our true condition before God is that we are always needy. If we lose sight of that, we’ll grow lukewarm and lapse into partial obedience.
The fact that God blesses us at all when we only partially obey Him reveals the magnitude of His grace. But He did give Rehoboam and the nation a measure of blessing (12:7, 12). But they also missed out on so much more that God would have done for them if they had obeyed Him completely. Note three results of partial obedience:
Nationally, the nation was divided and never recovered the influence it had under David and Solomon. With the weakened nation went a weakened testimony for the Lord God of Israel. Our nation suffers because of the partial obedience of the church.
Religiously, the glory of Solomon’s temple was gone forever (12:9). Shishak stripped the gold and Rehoboam replaced it with bronze, a cheap substitute (the symbol of God’s judgment). In our day, partial obedience means an anemic church where the glory of God’s presence is seldom experienced.
Family-wise, partial obedience means weakened family life. If you don’t think that Rehoboam’s family life was weak, think about this: How would you like to grow up as one of 28 sons or 60 daughters born to one of the 18 wives and 60 concubines? No doubt they had all the material comforts they needed (11:23), but time with dad (who had a favorite wife and son) was rare. Partial obedience to God’s Word, especially mingling worldly psychology with what the Bible says about the family and how to deal with relational and emotional problems, is greatly limiting God’s blessing on American Christian homes.
Note 12:8: They thought it was tough serving God, so He said, “All right, let’s let them serve the world for a while!” We sometimes think that it’s tough serving Christ. Have you ever tried serving the world? The world is a far more exacting master than the Lord. As Proverbs 13:15 (KJV) puts it, “The way of the transgressor is hard.”
God loves you; the world couldn’t care less about you. God seeks to build you as a person; the world tears you down. God gives your life purpose by fitting into His eternal plan; the world has no purpose except trying to make yourself happy for a few years before you die. Would you rather serve the Lord or the world?
Note 12:15: “And there were wars between Rehoboam and Jeroboam continually.” “Continual wars” means little border skirmishes and continual hostility. There wasn’t an all-out battle until the reign of Rehoboam’s son Abijah (13:2ff). But Rehoboam never had rest or peace.
Do you have continual hassles in your life? Sometimes such things are not due to any specific sin, but rather God’s means of making us more like Jesus. But quite often we experience continual hassles because of partial obedience on our part. At least such hassles should make us stop and examine ourselves to see if there is some area where we’re only “sort of” obeying the Lord. We ought to experience His rest and peace.
What’s the solution for partial obedience? First, we need to see the foolishness of trying to dodge God. He is the absolute sovereign of the universe. He even used the Egyptian king to do His will, and that only as far as God allowed (12:2, 5, 8). If we try to dodge God and get our own way, we only hurt ourselves and miss out on His full blessing.
Second, humble yourself and acknowledge God’s righteousness in disciplining you through trials (12:6). So often when trials come we think, “I’m following God and He then allows this to happen. It’s not fair! I don’t deserve this!” And so we resist God’s righteous dealings with us. Never forget: If God dealt fairly with you, He would send you straight to hell! Even the righteous Job had no claim against God. He is righteous in all His ways, including His discipline of us through trials. We need to repent and submit.
Third, set your heart to seek God. The priests who defected from Jeroboam to Rehoboam had done this (11:16), but Rehoboam had not (12:14). “Setting your heart” implies a deliberate, sustained focus. You don’t accidentally or casually fall into seeking the Lord. You have to make a fixed resolution to seek God through His Word and prayer and to obey His commands.
One of the most difficult patients for any doctor to treat is the one who doesn’t follow orders. The patient takes half the prescription and seems to feel better, so he stops even though the doctor emphasized the need to take the whole dose. The patient sort of follows the diet the doctor prescribed, except for here and there where his little violations cancel any benefits of the prescribed course. The patient more or less stays off the sore foot as the doctor prescribed, except for when he absolutely couldn’t avoid it, which was precisely when the doctor told him to keep off it. Partial obedience!
Even though we experience poor health, we don’t obey the doctor completely because to do so would mean changing our habits or schedules, and that’s too inconvenient! And even though we miss out on God’s full blessing, we only sort of obey Him because change is just too difficult. Don’t fall into the peril of partial obedience. Obey God no matter how tough and you’ll experience His abundant blessing.
Copyright 1994, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation
We’re all prone to seek easy answers for life’s difficult problems. We’d all like some spiritual panacea that would deliver us once and for all from sin and temptation.
A pastor’s wife reported that she was on a search for such easy answers one morning as she sat with thousands of others to listen to a retired missionary, a spiritual veteran near 80. But what she heard was not an easy answer. Rather, it was a profound principle stated as a metaphor which influenced her inner life with God from that moment on. She heard the old man quietly say, “Untended fires soon die and become just a pile of ashes” (Gail MacDonald, High Call, High Privilege, pp. 17-18, quoted in Partnership, Jan./Feb., 1984, p. 51.) Maintaining the fire within--reality with the living God--requires constant attention. Though it was blazing yesterday, neglect it today and it will die.
We need to discard the myth that there is some spiritual experience we can have that will carry us for the rest of our lives. The minute we stop feeding our inner fire with God it begins to die out and we face the danger of forsaking God.
The story of King Asa makes this point clearly. He was a man who started well. His spiritual reforms brought revival to the southern kingdom. God’s blessing was manifest. But later he forsook the Lord and incurred His discipline. The fire died out. The central lesson of Asa’s life is summed up by the otherwise unknown prophet Azariah (2 Chron. 15:2): “If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you” (the same theme is repeated in 14:7; 15:7, 15; 16:9). We can paraphrase and apply it by saying,
If we seek the Lord He will strongly support us, but if we forsake Him we come under His discipline.
Chapters 14 & 15 demonstrate the first half of that statement; chapter 16 develops the second half.
“Seeking the Lord” is a major theme in these chapters (and in all of 1 & 2 Chron.; see 14:4, 7; 15:2, 4, 12, 13, 15; 16:12). The Hebrew word literally means to trample under foot; the picture is that of frequenting a place so often that you “beat a path” there. The verb has the nuance of seeking with care and of inquiring after knowledge, insight, or advice on a problem. So the idea is carefully to pursue the Lord as the source of all wisdom and holiness. From chapters 14 and 15 we can see five strands of what it means to seek the Lord:
(1) Obedience to God’s word. “[Asa] commanded Judah to seek the Lord God of their fathers and to observe the law and commandment” (2 Chron. 14:4; see 15:3, 4). There is no such thing as revival among God’s people without a return to His Word as the basis for life and conduct. In fact it’s safe to say that your spiritual health today is in direct proportion to how well you understand and obey the Word of God. Please note that I did not say just “how well you understand the Word,” but rather, “how well you understand and obey,” because knowledge without obedience leads to delusion (James 1:22).
I’ve known people who emphasize Bible knowledge, but they don’t allow the Word to confront their sin. Invariably, they’re arrogant and not growing in godliness. On the other hand, I’ve known Christians whose lives had all sorts of problems because they didn’t even know what the Bible says about how we are to live as God’s people. They were disobedient out of ignorance.
If you want God’s blessing, you must begin a habit of regularly “beating a path” to God in His Word with the aim of applying it to your daily life. If you need a place to begin, read a chapter of Proverbs each day of the month, and look for one verse to memorize and apply each day. Don’t get hung up on the verses you don’t understand. Rather, seek to obey the ones you do understand.
Seeking the Lord means . . .
(2) Separation from known evil (14:5; 15:8, 16-17). I understand 14:5, which says that Asa removed the high places when compared with 15:17, which says the high places were not removed, to mean that Asa tried to remove all the high places, but that he wasn’t totally successful. But his heart was right.
The high places were hills where the Canaanites set up altars and shrines to worship Baal. The Hebrews did not at first set up these shrines as blatant idolatry. Rather, they looked at the way the pagans worshiped and said, “Hey, that’s a good idea--let’s bring that into our worship of Yahweh.” And so true worship was subtly polluted with worldly religion. You can readily see how this is a danger in our day.
But Asa sought the Lord by trying to get rid of these elements of pagan worship. He even had to depose his grandmother Maacah (who had been the favorite wife of Rehoboam) from her powerful position as queen mother (15:16). Apparently she had made a sensuous idol and presided over some sort of immoral religious rites. Asa didn’t do this quietly! He cut down her idol and publicly crushed and burned it to let everyone know where he stood! This took a lot of courage. Asa had to be more committed to the Word of God than he was to the risk of offending his own family.
You can talk about living a separated life all you want and people won’t get upset. But when you start cutting down their idols and confronting people in positions of influence who are leading God’s people into pagan thinking, people get very upset! In my ministry in California, I enjoyed 14 years of relative calm. But then I had an associate who got into 12 Step groups and wanted to bring them into the church. At first I was open to this, since it seemed to be helping people and I didn’t know what was being taught.
But as I learned what they were teaching, with the focus on self and feelings rather than biblical faith and love, I grew increasingly alarmed. Finally, I said, “We’re not going that direction as a church.” People who had been my friends for years were enraged. They wrote angry letters to the elders calling for my resignation. Many of them left the church, all because I said, “This teaching is from the world, not from the Lord, and we’re not going to follow it.”
But seeking the Lord means separation, not just from blatant evil, but also from the subtle evil of the “high places” of modern Christianity, where we’ve brought the world into the church. We need to be gracious and gentle, but no matter how graciously and gently you chop down someone’s sacred shrine, you aren’t going to be popular with everyone!
Seeking the Lord means . . .
(3) Fortifying our lives against spiritual danger (14:6-8). We read in 14:1 & 5 that the land was undisturbed during the early part of Asa’s reign. But as Asa didn’t kick back and say, “Ah, the good life!” Rather, he used the time of peace to fortify the land and build his army, because he knew that war inevitably would come.
Proverbs 24:10 states, “If you are slack in the day of distress, your strength is limited.” In other words, a time of distress is the true measure of your strength, so you’d better get your act together during a time of relative calm so that you’ll be ready when the trial hits. A lot of Christians kick back when the pressure is off and figure that they’ll knuckle down when they really have to. But then the trial hits and they fall apart. The time to strengthen your walk with the Lord is now (Prov. 1:24-33)!
Seeking the Lord means . . .
(4) Trusting in the Lord, not methods. Asa fortified the land and built a strong army, (14:6-8) but when the enemy struck, he did not rely on his army, but on God (14:11). Asa knew, as everyone who grows strong in the Lord knows, that a powerful army is useless if the Lord is not his strength. The stronger you grow in the Lord, the more you become painfully aware of your own weakness, which drives you to trust in God alone. Methods and good management principles are fine, but we must be careful never to trust in them.
In my opinion, the American church has gone crazy with methods, but we’re anemic when it comes to trusting in the living God. I have to be careful preparing a sermon every week. It’s easy to use a method rather than to seek the Lord and call upon Him to anoint His Word. It’s possible to have a good method for a quiet time or for witnessing or church growth, and subtly to fall prey to trusting the method rather than in God Himself. Learn from Asa: Build your army, but don’t trust it; acknowledge your own weakness and trust in the Lord.
Finally, seeking the Lord means . . .
(5) Committing ourselves to worship the Lord (15:8b-15, 18). They restored the altar and began to offer the appointed sacrifices. They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord (15:12). Asa brought the dedicated things of silver and gold into the house of God (15:18). All of this was both time-consuming and expensive. It took time to slaughter all those animals and offer them in accordance with the Mosaic Law. It was costly to take perfectly good animals and sacrifice them. Gold and silver utensils were much more costly than copper or bronze.
True worship always costs our time and our money. If you’re a convenience Christian--you worship when you don’t have something else to do and you give when you have a little extra so it doesn’t pinch you--then you’re not seeking the Lord. As David said, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing” (2 Sam. 24:24).
Thus seeking the Lord means obeying His Word; separating ourselves from known evil; fortifying our lives against spiritual danger; trusting in the Lord, not methods; and, committing ourselves to worship God. If we seek the Lord,
Note 14:1, 5, 6, 7, 12-15; 15:4, 7, 15; 16:9. Four themes reoccur: Rest; routing of the enemy; the reward of finding the Lord; and, rejoicing.
(1) God’s strong support means rest. When we seek the Lord, we enjoy His peace. This does not mean a trouble-free life. The prophet who confronted Asa enjoyed God’s strong support, but he got thrown in prison (16:10)! But in Christ we have inner peace in the midst of the storms. When I have been most severely attacked in my ministry, I’ve enjoyed God’s peace, because I knew I was pleasing Him. It’s a tremendous thing to know God’s rest.
(2) God’s strong support means routing of the enemy. Asa faced and defeated a tremendously large army because he sought the Lord. As believers, we will experience consistent victory over temptation and sin as we learn to seek the Lord.
(3) God’s strong support means the reward of finding the Lord (15:2, 7, 15). If the concept of “finding” God sounds strange to you, it’s because American Christianity has brought God down to the human plane and taught that anyone can know God at any time they choose. But the Bible reveals that God is exalted, that He dwells in unapproachable light. He does not cheapen Himself by revealing Himself to just anyone who flippantly decides it might be nice to know Him. He reveals Himself to those who obey Him (John 14:21). Like a rare treasure, we must diligently seek Him and we will find Him.
(4) God’s strong support means rejoicing (15:15). This doesn’t mean going around with a phony smile all the time. The Bible recognizes that at times we will be sorrowful. But beneath our sorrow and pain, there will be the strong undercurrent of joy that comes from knowing that nothing can separate God’s elect from His love (Rom. 8:39).
But--and this is the scary part of Asa’s story--it’s possible for those who have sought the Lord and enjoyed His support to let the fire die out and to forsake the Lord. That’s the warning of chapter 16.
There is a harmonistic problem with the chronology of 15:19 and 16:1 which says that the war with Baasha was during the 36th year of Asa’s reign, but in 1 Kings 16:8 we read that Baasha died and his son became king in the 26th year of Asa. Some commentators say that 2 Chronicles 16:1 means 36 years after the division of the kingdom, which was Asa’s 16th year. But that seems to be bending the text. The only other solution is to assume that a copyist should have written the 16th year but wrote 36th by mistake.
At any rate, Asa got attacked by Baasha who fortified Ramah, a town north of Jerusalem. Asa panicked, stripped the Temple and his own house of all the gold and silver, and bribed Benhadad of Syria to attack Baasha’s northern cities. The plan worked and Asa was able to dismantle Baasha’s fortification at Ramah. But in all this Asa had forsaken the Lord, and he incurred God’s discipline.
(1) Trusting in our schemes rather than in the Lord. Asa devised this scheme of bribing Benhadad. Apparently his father had set the precedent (16:3). Asa made the same mistake later when he trusted the physicians, not the Lord (16:12). There’s nothing wrong with going to doctors, but our trust needs to be in the Lord, not in the doctors.
You have to wonder why Asa trusted the Lord against the huge army of Zerah (14:9-11), but failed when it came to this lesser army of Baasha. The text doesn’t say, but often it is the smaller crises that trip us up more than the major ones. Jeremiah 17:5 is clear: “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the Lord.”
Forsaking the Lord also means ...
(2) Using what works without regard to whether it is biblical. Asa’s unholy alliance with Benhadad worked like a charm. The only problem was, it was not a biblical plan. We Americans are a pragmatic people. I’ve often been asked, “If psychology helps a person with his problems, what’s wrong with that?” My answer is, “If following Satan helped you with your problems, would you do it?” I hope not! The question we need to ask is not, “Does it work?” but rather, “Is it biblical?”
Forsaking the Lord means . . .
(3) Rejecting God’s means of correction (16:7-10). Asa got angry at God’s man who spoke the truth, and also at some of the people (probably those who supported the prophet). A person who is forsaking the Lord will get angry at someone who speaks God’s truth and calls upon him to repent.
God’s discipline flows from His love and holiness, not out of meanness. He will take whatever measures are necessary to correct us and, if that doesn’t work, to show by His chastisement that He is totally apart from our sin.
(1) God’s discipline involves verbal correction (16:7-9). You will recall that God also brought verbal warning after Asa’s victory (15:1-7). Not all of God’s discipline is for sin. Sometimes He graciously gives us a warning when we haven’t done wrong, but we’re in danger. If we heed His verbal correction, He doesn’t have to get any tougher.
(2) God’s discipline sometimes involves problems to cause us to turn to Him (16:9b, “wars”). Sometimes God has to whack us with a 2 x 4 to get our attention. Again, this doesn’t mean that every problem we face can be traced back to direct disobedience. Often God sends problems to make us more like Jesus. But He also uses problems to turn us from sin.
(3) God’s discipline sometimes involves illness (16:12). Asa probably had a bad case of gout. Again, not all sickness is due to sin. Charles Spurgeon was a godly preacher greatly used of God, but he suffered and eventually died from gout at age 57. In a sermon on Asa he attests to the painfulness of the ailment. But sometimes God uses illness to humble us and bring us to repentance. Whenever I get sick, I examine my heart to make sure that I have not sinned or forsaken the Lord in some way.
(4) God’s discipline sometimes involves death (16:13). We don’t know whether or not Asa’s life would have been extended if he had repented, but it may have been. When a believer (and Asa, without question, was a believer) continues in sin and refuses God’s means of correction, God will often take him in death. He is saved and goes to heaven, but his life on earth is cut short. Sometimes God is severe in order to vindicate His holiness and to impress on us how serious sin is.
The godly George Muller used to pray as he grew older, “Lord, don’t let me become a wicked old man.” When I first heard his prayer, I thought, “Come on, George. There’s not a chance of that happening!” Muller walked with God for many years in a humble, prayerful manner as few others ever have. But Muller knew that even after all those years, his fire with God would soon die out and become just a pile of ashes if left untended.
The question I want to leave with you today is, Are you tending your inner fire? “Untended fires soon die out and become just a pile of ashes.” Even if you’ve been a Christian for many years, are you still actively, persistently seeking the Lord? The lesson of Asa is, If we seek the Lord He will strongly support us, but if we forsake Him, we will come under His discipline.
Copyright 1994, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation
A man’s greatest strengths are often also the source of his greatest weaknesses. A man who has strong convictions, who speaks out boldly for God’s truth, if he’s not careful can become harsh or unkind. On the other hand, a man oozing with love and compassion can err by tolerating everything and everyone, thus compromising God’s truth. The latter error seems to me to be the more common danger in the church. Often, in the name of love and out of the desire to promote unity, Christians have compromised with the world.
For example, the world’s most famous evangelist, Billy Graham, whose personal integrity is impeccable and whose preaching proclaims the gospel, at the same time, out of a sincere desire to reach the widest possible audience, has often invited men of liberal theology and famous people who are at best immature Christians to participate in his crusades. This leaves the impression that there is no substantial difference, theologically or morally, between what Graham proclaims and what these people represent. Some would defend Graham by saying, “Look at all the people who get saved!” But our standard always needs to be, “Is it biblical?” not, “Does it work?” And by way of long-term results, Scripture is clear: Any compromise with the world, whether in doctrine, morals, or relationships, has disastrous consequences.
The story of Jehoshaphat is about a godly, good king with a major weakness for compromise with the world. We learn that
Compromise with the world brings disastrous consequences to God’s people.
The outward damage may not be apparent for a while. But just as driving your car on salted roads in the winter brings inevitable, although not immediate, damage to your car, so compromise with the world brings inevitable corruption into your life and into the church. Four observations from the story of Jehoshaphat:
Clearly Jehoshaphat was a godly man (note 2 Chron. 17:3-4, 6). He sought the Lord and walked in His commandments. He took great pride in the ways of the Lord and removed idols from the land. He sent out teachers to instruct the people in God’s law (17:7-9). When a prophet rebuked him for his wrongful alliance with Ahab, unlike his father (16:10), Jehoshaphat accepted it and went on to institute further religious reforms (19:2-11). In chapter 20 we see his heart as the nation is threatened by a vast army, and he calls the people to prayer and fasting. Jehoshaphat’s prayer before the assembly (20:6-12) reveals his humble trust in the Lord.
The point is, Jehoshaphat was not your average, run-of-the-mill believer. He was a man of strong faith and open godliness who courageously brought reform to the nation. And if he suffered from the danger of compromising with the world, then none of us is exempt.
Please note: In pointing out Jehoshaphat’s problem with wrongful contact with the world, the Bible doesn’t condemn everything the man did, but rather it portrays his strengths and his weaknesses (19:2-3). I say this because some will hear what I said about Billy Graham and wrongly conclude that I’m completely throwing out the man and his ministry. People have concluded the same thing when I’ve pointed out some of the errors in the teaching of James Dobson. But I’m not doing that and the Bible doesn’t do that either. I’m simply pointing out that these men who obviously have a heart for God also have some areas where they are wrong and that if God’s people follow them in those wrong areas, there will be serious consequences down line.
Why did Jehoshaphat and why do we fall into the problem of compromise with the world?
The first thing we read of Jehoshaphat (17:1-2) is how he strengthened his position over Israel (Ahab’s northern kingdom). Later we read of his valiant army and fortified cities (17:12-19). He was ready for any onslaught. If Ahab had declared war, Jehoshaphat would have creamed him! But instead Ahab finagled to get his daughter married to Jehoshaphat’s son. The next thing we hear is Jehoshaphat promising the godless Ahab, “I am as you are, and my people as your people, and we will be with you in the battle” (18:3)! Incredible! It’s as if a boxer has trained for the big fight and his opponent invites him out for dinner and slips poison into his coffee.
That’s how Satan works. He’s not usually frontal; he’s tricky. He fools you with ostensibly good causes and lures you into his den.
Why did Jehoshaphat get entangled with Ahab? Jehoshaphat was one of the most godly kings ever to reign in Judah, and Ahab was one of the most despicable snakes ever to coil on the throne of Israel. Why did they get together?
The text doesn’t give much of a clue (18:1), but we can surmise that due to Jehoshaphat’s power it was to Ahab’s advantage to become allies. So Ahab probably sought the alliance. Remember, Jehoshaphat was a nice guy. And he probably thought how good it would be to reunite the southern and northern kingdoms. So he gave his son in marriage to Ahab’s daughter. It was for a good cause! Maybe the boy would have a positive influence on Athaliah and her mother, Jezebel! Sure!
A few years later, Jehoshaphat went down to Ahab’s capital, Samaria. Ahab rolled out the red carpet. After they had gorged themselves on Ahab’s food, the crafty varmint proposed a “spiritual” project to Jehoshaphat: “Will you go up with me against Ramoth-Gilead?” (18:3). Ramoth-Gilead was one of the cities of refuge ordained by God. It had fallen into the hands of the king of Syria. What could be more right than to go against this pagan king to recapture this city for the Lord and His people? So Jehoshaphat pledged his allegiance to Ahab. It almost got him killed!
That’s how Satan ensnares believers. He’s not up-front about the disastrous consequences of compromise with the world. He makes it look good. He makes it seem wholesome and even right. Satan doesn’t approach you, young ladies, and ask, “Would you like to marry this drunken pagan bum who will abuse you and your children and make your life a living hell?” You’re ready for that: “Put your dukes up, Satan!” Instead he presents you with a nice young man. He treats you right. He’s just what you’ve always wanted--well, with one little exception: He’s not a committed Christian. But he attends church with you, and he’s promised to let you raise the kids in the faith.
Satan doesn’t walk up, pitchfork in hand, and ask with a diabolical grin, “How would you like to become a drunk or a dope addict? You’ll become a thief and a liar to support your habit, you’ll ruin your health, you won’t be able to hold down a job, you’ll shred your relationships with your family. Wanna sign up?”
Instead he says, “Hey, you need to relax and feel good. You’re under a lot of pressure. Your friends are all doing it. Don’t spoil the fun. Smoke a joint, pop a pill, take that drink!” And he ensnares you.
He doesn’t come up and say, “How would you like to get venereal disease or have a baby out of wedlock, or maybe kill one through abortion?” Or, “How would you like to destroy two families by committing adultery?” Rather, he says, “Sex is exciting! You’re in love! How can it be wrong if it feels so right?”
That’s how even godly people get lured into compromise with the world--through subtlety. How does it work?
Notice how Jehoshaphat got sucked in deeper and deeper. First he gave his son in marriage, probably for a good cause (to reunite the two kingdoms). Next he accepted Ahab’s hospitality and foolishly gave his word about going into battle. But at that point his conscience was nagging him, and so he asked for a prophet so that they could inquire of the Lord. But even after the godly Micaiah prophesied against Ahab’s expedition, Jehoshaphat felt locked in--he had given his word. And so he stood by while the godly prophet was hauled off to jail. His conscience must have been shouting at this point, but he had given his word!
Next (this was a real no-brainer!) he naively agreed to Ahab’s scheme where Jehoshaphat would wear his kingly robes into battle, while Ahab went incognito. Christians are generally trusting people. When they start running with the world, they get outsmarted real quick! And so Jehoshaphat went into battle with the godless Ahab against the word of God’s prophet. Except for God’s grace he would have been killed!
We get lured by the subtlety of the world and then we get locked in by forming wrong relationships that get us entangled even deeper. Jehoshaphat’s experience reveals several areas where we as believers must be on guard against forming wrong relationships:
(1) Wrong marriage relationships--The Bible is clear that it is sin for a believer to enter a marriage with an unbeliever. “Do not be bound together with unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14; see 1 Cor. 7:39). Most often it seems to be a Christian girl who falls in love with a nice non-Christian guy (they’re all nice!). I’ve had girls tell me that they’ve prayed about it and feel a peace that God will bring the man to Christ. Besides, if she drops him, she won’t be able to witness to him! It’s incredible how Christians will rationalize their disobedience even though it’s going to plunge them into terrible heartache! It’s never God’s will for a Christian to marry a non- Christian. (If you’re already married to an unbeliever, God’s will is that you remain married and live a godly life--1 Cor. 7:12-16.)
(2) Wrong social relationships--In this area you must be very careful. If Jehoshaphat had not been there enjoying Ahab’s hospitality, he wouldn’t have been so ready to join Ahab on his military expedition. It is not wrong and is, in fact, right to form social relationships with unbelievers for the purpose of leading them to faith in Christ. Jesus was a friend of sinners in that sense. But you must be clear on your purpose, and you must not compromise your standards as a follower of Jesus Christ. “Do not be deceived,” Paul warns. “Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33).
Note 2 Chronicles 19:2: “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord?” Many Christians would answer, “Of course we should!” You’d better read your Bible more carefully! It says that God hates the wicked (Ps. 5:5) and that we should too (Ps. 139:20-22)! You say, “Wait a minute, doesn’t God love everyone and aren’t we supposed to love the sinner but hate the sin?” Suffice it to say here that the Bible is a bit more cautious and discerning than most Christians. Jude 23 says that on some, we are to “have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.” You should not form primary friendships with unbelievers. Your closest friends must be those who share your values and goals in Christ. “What fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14). Answer: None!
(3) Wrong spiritual relationships--Jehoshaphat finds himself lined up with 400 false prophets against the lone prophet of God. How do you think Jehoshaphat felt as he watched this godly prophet boldly speak for God and then get hit in the face and get thrown in prison while Jehoshaphat marched off to battle on Ahab’s side?
I often hear Christians say that Jesus said the world would know we are His disciples by our love and unity, so we need to bury our doctrinal differences and proclaim our unity and common ground. The current push is even to break down barriers between Catholics and Protestants, as if there were no significant differences. Certainly, Protestants have often divided over petty issues, and that is sin. But, core theological issues mean the difference between heaven and hell! Some denominations are so spiritually corrupt that we cannot join with them in any cooperative sense without tarnishing the name of our Savior. “Love” that compromises cardinal truth is not biblical love.
(4) Wrong political relationships--Although our political system is not parallel to the situation in the text, there is a warning here for us as Christian citizens. As soon as Jehoshaphat entered into this military pact with Ahab, he lost his position of strength. Now he was committed to go into battle with a godless man who operated on different principles than he did. He had to work under Ahab’s scheme in the battle. It almost cost him his life.
As believers, we may find it helpful at times to link up politically with unbelievers to achieve some common goal (such as pro-life or pro-family legislation). But we need to think it through very carefully and keep our goals and methods clearly in view. Some Christians in America are getting carried away with the political process, as if that is the answer to preserving our freedoms. While I am not disparaging our political responsibility as Christian citizens, I do maintain that the only hope for America is the gospel. We dare not forget it! Wrong political relationships can suck us into compromise with the world.
(5) Wrong business relationships--Jehoshaphat didn’t learn his lesson with Ahab and so he entered into a shipbuilding venture with Ahab’s son Ahaziah. The author pointedly states that this was a wicked deed on Jehoshaphat’s part. The Lord judged him by destroying all the ships (20:35-37).
Many Christians never think of applying 2 Corinthians 6:14, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers,” to business ventures. But the text does not stipulate marriage or any single area. It certainly applies to business relationships. If you get into a business partnership with an unbeliever, his goal is to make money, preferably as easily as possible. Your goal is to honor Christ (or it should be!). You want to be honest and upright; he wants to cut corners if need be. It won’t work. You’ll end up compromising with the world.
If you were already in a business relationship with unbelievers when you came to Christ, then you need to give clear testimony to your partner of your new faith in Christ. Also you need to let him know that you plan now to obey God in your business, even if it means less profit. You may need to begin prayerfully planning a way out of the partnership. You especially need to be careful not to wrong any person in the way you get out of a wrong business alliance. It took time to get into the partnership, and it probably will take time to get out.
We have seen that compromise with the world is a great danger even for the most godly of believers. It is subtle; and it ensnares us through wrong relationships.
It may take time, but sin always has its consequences. Sometimes the consequences affect future generations more than our own. But if you sow compromise with the world, you won’t reap God’s blessings. Jehoshaphat himself, apart from God’s grace, would have lost his life in battle. He later did lose financially in his ungodly business alliance with Ahab’s son.
Furthermore, Jehoshaphat’s sin affected God’s people. He did not say merely “I am as you are,” but also, “and my people as your people” (18:3). When Jehoshaphat went into war alongside Ahab, the army of Judah went with him, and no doubt some lost their lives. Probably others in Judah would look at the godly Jehoshaphat’s friendship with the evil Ahab and say, “There must not be much difference between Ahab’s religion and ours. Surely, if there was any big difference, such a good man as Jehoshaphat wouldn’t be so friendly with him.” We never sin alone. Our sin always affects others in the body of Christ, especially the sins of a leader.
In addition, Jehoshaphat’s sin helped the enemies of God in their wickedness (19:2). What if Ahab had won? Would he have fallen on his face before God? Hardly! He would have thanked his godless prophets and continued in his evil ways, thanks to Jehoshaphat. We never help sinners by compromising our standards to help them accomplish their purposes.
The clincher of this story is the devastating effect that Jehoshaphat’s compromise with the world had on his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and on the whole southern kingdom. In chapters 21 and 22 we read that after Jehoshaphat’s death, his son Jehoram (married to Athaliah) slaughtered all his brothers and then turned the nation to idolatry (see 21:6). God struck him with a terrible disease of the bowels and he died after eight years in office. His son Ahaziah became king and lasted one year before he was murdered (see 22:3-4). Ahaziah’s wicked mother Athaliah then slew all his sons (her own grandsons!), except for Joash (a one-year-old) who was rescued and hidden from her. The Davidic kingly line from which Christ was descended came that close to being snuffed out! And then the wicked Athaliah ruled the land for six years. All this was the result of Jehoshaphat’s compromise with the wicked Ahab!
One of the most significant books I read last year was David Wells’ No Place for Truth (Or “Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology?”) [Eerdmans]. He argues convincingly that the evangelical church in America has lost its theological foundation, its God-centeredness. Instead of being “truth brokers” who help their flocks come to know and live in submission to the holy God, pastors have become business managers who market the church and psychologists who help people find personal fulfillment and good feelings. He points out how if the Apostle Paul were looking for a pastorate today, he might be hard pressed because few would warm to his personality and, “... most pastors stand or fall today by their personalities rather than their character” (p. 290). He argues that the church has blended in with “modernity,” promoting God and the gospel as just another self-help method.
I wish you all would read No Place for Truth and its sequel, God in the Wasteland (which I just began reading this week). But since I know that won’t happen, I’ve told you this much so you will understand more about how and why I operate as I do. I’m not here to employ the latest proven church growth techniques to build this church or to share the latest psychological insights to help you feel better about yourself. You may not even like my personality (although I hope you do!). My aim is to walk with God, to follow His Word of truth, and to help you do the same.
So often we, as God’s people, are like fish swimming in the ocean of this world, not even realizing that we’re wet! My function as a biblical pastor is to help my flock come into submission to the God who has revealed Himself in His Word--in your thinking, from which all else flows (that’s why right theology is so crucial!); in your personal and family lives (godly living has to begin there); and in your public lives (how we relate to this godless culture without being conformed to it). I conclude with Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Romans 12:1-2 from The Message [NavPress]:
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life--your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life--and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
Copyright 1994, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation
A bricklayer in the French West Indies sent this letter to his boss, explaining why he needed to take some sick leave:
I arrived at the job after the storm, checked the building out and saw that the top needed repairs. I rigged a hoist and a boom, attached the rope to a barrel and pulled bricks to the top. When I pulled the barrel to the top, I secured the rope at the bottom. After repairing the building, I went back to fill the barrel with the leftover bricks. I went down and released the rope to lower the bricks, and the barrel was heavier than I and jerked me off the ground. I decided to hang on.
Halfway up, I met the barrel coming down and received a blow to the shoulder. I hung on and went to the top, where I hit my head on the boom and caught my fingers in the pulley. In the meantime, the barrel hit the ground and burst open, throwing bricks all over. This made the barrel lighter than I, and I started down at high speed. Halfway down, I met the barrel coming up and received a blow to my shins. I continued down and fell upon the bricks, receiving cuts and bruises. At this time I must have lost my presence of mind, because I let go of the rope and the barrel came down and hit me on the head. I respectfully request sick leave.
Have you ever had a day like that? Some of you are thinking, “A day like that? That describes a typical week for me, if not physically, at least emotionally! It’s just one thing after another, until I’m left feeling battered.” Whether our trials are of the crisis sort or whether they are the more steady, relentless pressures that just wear away our resistance, we’ve all got them. And, while most of us know that we should pray more and trust God more, for some reason, we don’t do it. I struggle with the question, “Why don’t I pray as I ought to?”
The answer, I think, is fairly simple: I don’t pray as I ought to because I’m self-sufficient, which the Bible calls pride. My pride makes me think, erroneously, that I can handle things by myself, with a little help now and then from God. So, I rely mostly on myself and a little bit on God. I don’t really believe the words of Jesus, “Without Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). So God graciously brings me trials to show me my great need so that I will look to my great God in prayer and trust Him to work on my behalf.
The story of Jehoshaphat (2 Chron. 20:1-30) shows us how to have confidence in a crisis--not confidence in ourselves (the American way), but confidence in God. As we saw, Jehoshaphat had a character flaw of making wrongful alliances with the godless King Ahab, but he was a man who followed the Lord and brought spiritual reform to the nation (19:4-11). But, then Jehoshaphat was shaken one morning when his intelligence sources came running in with the horrifying news, “A great multitude is coming against you from beyond the sea, out of Aram [or, better, Edom] and behold, they are in Hazazon-tamar (that is Engedi)” (20:1, 2). This meant that this enemy coalition was about 15 miles south of Jerusalem, on the western shore of the Dead Sea. Jehoshaphat’s life and his entire kingdom were on the brink of extinction! Talk about a reason to panic!
So what did he do? What would you do if you heard some threatening news that affected your future and maybe your life? This godly king did the right thing: He called a national prayer meeting and encouraged the people to trust God in the face of this overwhelming crisis. They did it, and literally won the war by prayer alone, without swinging a single sword! Their story teaches us that ...
We can be confident in a time of crisis if we let our great need drive us to prayer and faith in our great God.
In 20:1-4 we see their great need; in 20:5-13, Jehoshaphat’s prayer reveals their great God; and in 20:14-30 we see their faith in their great God and the victory He brought about.
That’s obvious to any believer, of course. But just because it’s obvious doesn’t make it automatic.
It’s easy to read this story and miss what a great thing it was for Jehoshaphat to call the nation to prayer over this crisis. Put yourself in his place. It would have been very human to panic. When he heard the news of this army within his borders, we could understand if he yelled, “Call all my top generals! Get the army mobilized immediately! We don’t have a second to waste!” As soon as the troops were mustered, if there was time, he could have stopped for a quick word of prayer. But turning his attention to seek the Lord and calling the nation to prayer and fasting was not automatic.
Not only could Jehoshaphat reacted with panic, he also could have had a twinge of anger at God. He had just instituted a number of reforms to bring the nation back to the Lord. The text states, “Now it came about after this” (20:1). After what? After his reforms (19:4-11)! It would have been easy for Jehoshaphat to have said, “What kind of deal is this, God? I tried to bring the nation back to You! I taught them to put away their idols and follow You because You’re worthy to be trusted. And now we’re facing annihilation at the hands of this pagan coalition! See if I follow You again!”
A lot of people feel that way when they’ve tried to follow God and then get hit with difficult trials. They get angry and complain, “This isn’t fair, God! I was trying to follow You and do Your will. I get hit with trouble while my pagan neighbor enjoys the good life!” So they pout and feel sorry for themselves. Instead of humbly submitting to God in prayer, they lash out at Him in anger. But Jehoshaphat didn’t do that. He did what was not automatic in a crisis: He prayed.
Another natural reaction would have been for Jehoshaphat to trust in his army. Chapter 17:12-19 tells about the organization and might of his forces. He was equipped for war. It would have been easy to think, “This is the sort of thing we’re prepared for. Call out the army! Let’s go get them!” But Jehoshaphat, rather than trusting in his army, publicly admits his lack of strength and calls on God as his only help in this crisis.
He put prayer first. He realized that he could do some things after he had prayed, but he could not do anything worthwhile before he prayed. Prayer was his strongest weapon. So, he resisted the temptation to panic, get angry at God, or trust his army. He recognized his great need, so he prayed.
You say, “That’s what I want to do the next time a problem hits.” Do you? Be careful before you glibly say that! To understand this story, we have to see that Jehoshaphat’s call to prayer was a humiliating thing for him to do.
Jehoshaphat was the king of Judah. In the ancient Near East, kings were a proud lot. They had an image to maintain. Leaders have to be tough and inspire confidence in their leadership. What kind of leader admits in front of his people, “I’m scared, folks, because we’re helpless against our enemy!” That’s not good politics!
But that’s what Jehoshaphat did. He admitted his fear, called a national prayer meeting, and then prayed in front of everyone about how helpless he was (20:12). Surely, it would have been better politically to pray in private, but then to get up in front of the people and say, “We’ve got a little problem, folks! But our side is strong. Our troops are going to wipe them out! Pray for us while we go out and defend our nation against these intruders.”
But Jehoshaphat wasn’t worried about politics or his public image. He just knew that he was in deep trouble if God didn’t answer, and so he openly admitted his weakness and called upon the Lord.
A major detriment to godly prayer is the wave of worldly teaching flooding the church that says that you need to build your self-esteem. I myself got sucked into that teaching for a while. One of the things the Lord used to correct me was reading John Calvin’s classic, The Institutes of the Christian Religion. In a great section on prayer, Calvin gives several rules for prayer. He writes,
To this let us join a third rule: that anyone who stands before God to pray, in his humility giving glory completely to God, abandon all thought of his own glory, cast off all notion of his own worth, in fine, put away all self-assurance--lest if we claim for ourselves anything, even the least bit, we should become vainly puffed up, and perish at his presence. We have repeated examples of this submission, which levels all haughtiness, in God’s servants; each one of whom, the holier he is, the more he is cast down when he presents himself before the Lord (J. T. McNeill, ed. [Eerdmans], III:XX-:8).
He goes on to cite examples from Scripture, such as Daniel, David, and Isaiah. The point is, we’re too proud to admit that we’re needy. Our pride, self-sufficiency, and self-esteem robs God of His glory. When we recognize our great need, we should humble ourselves and pray, not just by ourselves, but with other Christians who can bear our burdens with us.
But, once our need drives us to God in prayer, we need to understand how to pray. Jehoshaphat’s prayer gives us some important instruction in how to seek God in prayer.
There are two things to see here:
Note verse 3: “Jehoshaphat ... turned his attention [lit., “set his face,” i.e., “determined”] to seek the Lord.” Verse 4 states that the people not only sought help from the Lord, but also that they sought the Lord. This was nothing new for Jehoshaphat. Earlier (17:4), he is described as a king who “sought the God of his father.” As we’ve seen, the Hebrew word “seek” means, literally, “to trample under foot,” to beat a path to God because you frequent that way so often.
It’s significant that in Jehoshaphat’s prayer, the first four verses (6-9) focus on God Himself; finally, in the last three verses (10-12) he mentions the problem. But even in mentioning the problem, God is prominent. I wonder, if we were facing imminent annihilation, would we be so God-centered?
In a crisis, if we pray at all, what do we usually pray? “God, get me out of here!” We want relief and we want it now! But in so praying we miss something crucial: In a crisis, we aren’t supposed to run and get God off the shelf, like Aladdin’s genie, rub Him the right way, get what we want, and put Him back until the next crisis. Trials should cause us to seek God Himself, because He Himself is what we need. God is our sufficiency, our very life. If we have God and cling to Him, then even if we aren’t delivered from our crisis, we can go through it--even through the loss of children and possessions, as Job went through--because, as is said here of Abraham (20:7), the living God is our friend.
This is at the heart of the current controversy over the role of psychology in the church. Is God Himself, His indwelling Spirit, and His Word (and the many provisions given in it, including Christ’s body, the church) sufficient for a believer in the crises of life, or must we turn to the therapies and counsel of the world to enable us to cope? Incredibly, Christian psychologists are saying that God and His Word are not sufficient; we need psychotherapy!
As Calvin pointed out (in the quote above), God alone deserves all glory. If we turn to the world for help, the world gets some of the glory. If we turn to God as our only refuge and strength, He gets the glory. Our trials should force us to lay hold of God in new ways that we would not have done if we had not been driven to pray. We should come away, not just having presented our requests to God, but also knowing God better, who Himself is our refuge and strength in times of trouble (Ps. 46:1).
Jehoshaphat’s prayer is steeped in Scripture. He starts by (20:6) reciting God’s attributes: “You are the God of our fathers” (implying, “You took care of them.”) “You are God in the heavens, the ruler over all the kingdoms of the nations” (including those threatening to wipe us out!). “You are so powerful and mighty that no one can stand against You.” Why is he telling God all this? Certainly not for God’s information! It was to rehearse in his own mind and in the people’s minds the greatness of God, so they could trust in Him.
Next he recites God’s actions (20:7): “You drove out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel, and You gave it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever.” (Abraham is called God’s friend here, in Isa. 41:8, and James 2:23.) He reminds God of His agreement to hear the prayers of His people when they cry to Him in their distress (almost a direct quote from the dedication of Solomon’s temple, 2 Chron. 6:28-30).
Then Jehoshaphat mentions the problem which, he reminds God, stems from the fact that Israel obeyed Him by not wiping out these very people who are now invading the land (20:10-11)! They are about to drive Israel out, not of their possession, but of God’s possession. Finally, he calls attention to God’s ability to deal with the problem, in contrast to Israel’s inability (20:12).
That’s a great prayer because it’s saturated with Scripture. It focuses on God as He has revealed Himself in His Word! If we fill our prayers with the greatness of our problems, we’ll shrink our faith. But if we fill our prayers with the greatness of our God and how He has worked down through history, we’ll stimulate our faith. God delights to answer believing prayers where we put our finger on the promises and truth in His Word and ask Him to make it so in our case.
Thus, a recognition of our great need should drive us to prayer; a recognition of our great God should direct our prayers. Finally,
As the nation was gathered at the Temple in prayer, the Spirit of God came upon a prophet in the assembly (20:14) who encouraged them not to fear and assured them that God would undertake for them in this battle without their fighting at all (20:15-17; not God’s usual means!). When they heard this word through the prophet, everyone fell down and worshiped and then they stood up and sang loud praises (20:18-19).
By the way, we further see Jehoshaphat’s humility here. If he had been proud, he would have said, “Wait a minute! I’m the king! I called this prayer meeting! Who does this prophet think he is to get a message from God? God has to give the message through me!” But he was humbly willing to submit to God’s word through this other man.
Then, based on the prophet’s word from God, the people got up the next morning and marched out to the battlefield, led by a choir singing praises, of all things (20:21)! God caused the enemy armies to turn against each other, so that all Israel had to do was collect the spoil and celebrate the victory! Two thoughts:
The promise given through the prophet (20:15-17) was one thing; believing and acting on it was another. These singers were staking their very lives on the truthfulness of that word from God. They were doing a crazy thing--marching unarmed in front of the army, singing praises to God, against a powerful enemy that was armed to the teeth! As they went out on this seemingly crazy mission, Jehoshaphat encouraged the people by saying (20:20), “Put your trust in the Lord your God, and you will be established. Put your trust in His prophets [i.e., His Word] and succeed.” Their trust was put into shoe leather in that they kept marching!
This deliverance is a picture of our salvation. In salvation, we cannot do anything; God does it all: “Stand and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf” (20:17). Even faith is the gift of God, so that we cannot boast (Eph. 2:8-9). Yet at the same time, our faith in God’s promise which lays hold of His salvation is not just intellectual assent, where we say, “I believe” but don’t act on it. Saving faith is always obedient faith. Just as these singers’ faith was demonstrated by their marching out to battle, armed only with songs of praise, so genuine faith in Christ as Savior will be demonstrated in a life of joyful obedience to His Word. “Faith” that says, “I believe, but I’m not going to act on it” is not saving faith.
He never fails those who trust Him and obey His Word. That is not to say that He delivers everyone who trusts Him from suffering or even death. There are many who have trusted God and lost their heads (Heb. 11:36-40)! But this earthly life isn’t the final chapter. All who suffer loss for Jesus will be richly rewarded in heaven or else God is a liar! Just as Israel was enriched literally by the spoil of victory, so we will always be enriched spiritually through our trials if we recognize our great need, pray to our great God, and rely on Him alone, not on any human schemes or support.
A popular T-shirt reads, “Bottom of the ninth, down by three runs, bases loaded, two outs, full count--No Fear!” That shirt is promoting an American folk virtue--self-confidence in a crisis. Christians should join Jehoshaphat in rejecting all self-confidence and acknowledging, “O God, we’re powerless and we don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on You!” God is our confidence in the crisis!
Corrie Ten Boom, author of The Hiding Place and survivor of the German concentration camps, used to have people come up to her and say, “Corrie, my, what a great faith you have!” She would smile and reply, “No, it’s what a great God I have!” We can be confident in a time of crisis if we let our great need drive us to prayer and faith in our great God.
Copyright 1994, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
“For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’”
So wrote poet John Greenleaf Whittier (in Familiar Quotations [Little, Brown and Company], John Bartlett, p. 527.) There’s always something sad about seeing a person with great potential who starts well but falls apart. We’ve seen it in the sports world, when a young athlete blows a promising career because of drug abuse or a loose lifestyle.
But it’s the most sad when you see it happen spiritually. A young man or woman makes a profession of faith in Christ and begins serving Him with zeal. But something happens, he or she gets tripped up and falls by the wayside. If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you’ve seen it happen many times over. It’s always sad and often somewhat puzzling. I often wonder, “Why did it happen? How could it have been prevented? Could it happen to me?”
When I was five years old my family began attending a church pastored by a promising young graduate of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (now Biola). He and his attractive, musically-gifted wife saw this little church in the L.A. suburbs outgrow its first building and build a beautiful new one that seated about 500 people. Eventually, as I recall, they even went to two services in the new building. He was the pastor who baptized me at age 12.
When I was 18, my dad, who served on the board of the church, confronted the pastor concerning what seemed to be impropriety with some funds. The pastor was using the church offices for his private counseling practice (for which he charged) and channeling the fees through a fund wrongly labeled “youth camp fund” to avoid the IRS. When confronted, the pastor blew up and called for a vote of confidence. The church backed the pastor, and our family left the church.
Shortly thereafter, the pastor left the ministry, left his wife and five children, and moved in with a young divorcee he had been counseling. He went into a private counseling practice and married the gal he had run off with. Later I heard that she had left him because he had lost their expensive home in a gambling debt. He was drinking heavily and not leading any sort of Christian life. How sad!
How does that sort of thing happen? How can you and I avoid the same thing? The story of King Joash gives some answers. He was a boy with a great potential. His life was obviously under God’s providential care. At age one he had been rescued from death when his wicked grandmother, Athaliah, slew all his brothers. He was raised secretly in the temple precincts by his godly uncle Jehoiada and aunt Jehoshabeath. Like John Wesley, who as a child narrowly escaped from a burning house, Joash was “a brand plucked from the fire.” At seven he was anointed as king, the wicked Athaliah was executed, and Joash had a lifetime of opportunity ahead for serving the Lord and leading His people.
And he started well. He began by restoring the temple which had been desecrated and had fallen into ruin under Athaliah. He had to reprove the priests and even the godly Jehoiada himself, who were not progressing on the rebuilding project as quickly as they should have been. Joash got the funds together and saw to it that the work was completed. Things went well as long as Jehoiada was alive.
But after Jehoiada died, the leaders of Judah tempted Joash, he listened, and they abandoned the house of the Lord and fell into idolatry (24:18). Joash resisted the attempts of the prophets to call him back to the Lord. Finally he murdered the son (or perhaps, grandson) of Jehoiada, his own cousin, who confronted him. They even did the dirty deed right in the temple precincts!
A small Syrian army came up against Jerusalem. Joash (2 Kings 12:18) stripped the temple of all of its treasures (which he had previously labored to restore) and sent them as tribute to the King of Syria. That held him off for a year or so, but then he returned, killed the officials of Judah, took more spoil, and left Joash himself wounded. Two of Joash’s own servants conspired against him and murdered him on his own bed. Dead at 47, he was not given the honor of being buried among the kings in Jerusalem. He was a good boy gone bad. Joash’s tragic story teaches us that ...
Spiritual privilege requires spiritual reality or else there will be spiritual consequences.
To whom much has been given, much is required. If people who have been given spiritual privilege do not walk in reality with the Lord, they and even those close to them (since sin always affects others) will reap severe consequences. Let’s trace Joash’s history and relate it to our own spiritual history in order to glean its lessons.
As Joash grew to manhood, he had to be impressed with the fact that the hand of God was on his life in a unique way. Why were his brothers slaughtered and he alone was spared? He was only a year old at the time, so he certainly had nothing to do with it. And why was he saved by his godly aunt and uncle, who raised him in the ways of the Lord? His aunt was the daughter of the wicked King Jehoram, who had slaughtered his own brothers. She was the sister of the wicked Ahaziah who was slain. She easily could have been as self-serving as her wicked mother, Athaliah.
Or Joash’s uncle could have easily decided that he enjoyed his position of power as the regent until the boy-king came of age. He could have refused to yield power, or he even could have poisoned the young Joash. But none of this happened. Truly God’s providential hand was on Joash in a remarkable way. He was blessed with great spiritual privilege.
So are we. This is especially true of those of us who were raised in Christian homes. One of my earliest memories is that of kneeling with my parents when I was three years old and asking Jesus to be my Savior. My parents loved me and never abused me physically or verbally. They sacrificed so that I could attend a Christian elementary school for several years. They made sure that our family was in church every Sunday. I still have a badge I earned for seven years of perfect Sunday School attendance. My parents never pushed me into the ministry, but gave me the freedom to be whatever God wanted for me. They have been supportive, loving Christian parents. My great-grandmother was a Cherokee Indian, and I’ve often thought that if I had been born 100 years before, I would not have been born into a family that knew the Lord and taught me His ways. I need to realize that I enjoy great spiritual privilege!
But some of you may be thinking, “Yes, but I didn’t have it like that. I grew up in a pagan home. My parents abused me and each other before they divorced. I never felt loved or accepted. I never received any spiritual training or encouragement as a child.”
But you, too, are spiritually privileged. That is shown by the very fact that you are sitting here in church today, hearing God’s Word. You don’t live in a country like Tibet that is 100 percent Buddhist, where there are no Christian churches. You live in a land where we are still free to worship God, where there are many churches which preach the gospel. You can read and you probably own at least one Bible (if not several); if you don’t you can go into any bookstore (or even supermarket) and buy one. You can turn on your radio and hear programs where the gospel is preached and God’s Word is taught. We all are people of great spiritual privilege!
We live in a culture that’s encouraging us to blame our parents for being imperfect. Granted, some parents are more imperfect than others! Joash certainly had an imperfect family, including his “dear” grandmother who killed all his brothers and would have killed him if she could have gotten her hands on him! But if you focus on blaming your parents or your past, you’re really blaming the sovereign God and not submitting to His providence. That root of bitterness and ingratitude will only defile you and many others and rob you of how God wants to bless and use you. Focus instead on your spiritual privilege.
Joash directed the priests to restore the temple. We don’t know how long things dragged on, but in his twenty-third year (2 Kings 12:6; Joash was 30) things weren’t moving quickly, so he even confronted Jehoiada (who was about 120 years old, which probably explains why he wasn’t keeping the project moving!). They got the job done so that worship was restored (2 Chron. 24:14).
Just as Joash was zealous about the things of God as a young man, so should we be. Youth is the time when you’ve got the ideals and energy to pour yourself into serving the Lord. What a great thing it is to see young people with a burning zeal to see their junior high or high school or college campus reached for Christ!
But with the zeal of youth goes an inherent danger: it’s possible to get swept away with enthusiasm to do great things for God, but in the process you fail to build a foundation for a lifetime of ministry. It’s easier to build the temple than it is to walk in personal reality with God. People can see the temple and exclaim, “That Joash is quite a king! He must really love God!” But it’s all outward. What people don’t see, but God does, is whether you spend time each day with Him, whether you deal with sinful thoughts, whether you seek and submit to God in the trials of life. If you aren’t growing in personal holiness and devotion for God, then all your zeal for serving God in your youth is just a hollow shell that will crumble under temptation some day.
The Christian life is not a chicken coop; it’s a skyscraper. If you’re throwing up a chicken coop, you don’t have to worry too much about the foundation. But if you’re going to build a skyscraper, you had better dig deep and make sure that the foundation is solid. Like the seed sown upon the rocky, shallow soil in Jesus’ parable, it’s possible to spring up quickly, but if you lack sufficient roots, in a time of temptation you will fall away (Luke 8:13). And you will face temptation!
We read (24:2) that “Joash did what was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest.” But Jehoiada finally died and then Joash was faced with a spiritual test (24:17). This was a hinge-point in his life, and Joash failed the test.
Our enemy, the devil, is neither stupid nor impetuous. He is waiting in the wings, biding his time for the right moment to attack. The officials of Judah did not approach Joash while Jehoiada was alive--the time was not right. But as soon as he was dead, and Joash was vulnerable, they hit and he fell.
Joash’s temptation was a common one. In Deuteronomy 31:29 Moses warned Israel that after his death, they would act corruptly and turn from the way which he had commanded them. In Joshua 24:31 we read that Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua and all the days of the leaders who survived Joshua, who had known all the deeds which the Lord had done for Israel. But then comes the book of Judges, when everyone in Israel forsook the Lord and did what was right in his own eyes.
The time comes for us all when we can no longer lean on those who have nurtured us in the faith. We must be weaned and learn to stand on our own spiritual legs. We must develop and maintain our own walk with God, or else we will fall when Satan comes, as surely he will, to tempt us. The story of Joash shows four dangers Satan often uses to test those who are spiritually privileged:
Those who grow up in a spiritual atmosphere are prone to ride on their parents’ faith instead of developing a strong personal walk with God. Joash did fine as long as Jehoiada was around. But the fact that he fell apart immediately after Jehoiada died suggests that he was riding piggyback.
We’ve always hiked as a family, even when our kids were toddlers. At that age, of course, I used to carry them most of the way. As they grew older, though, they had to do more and more of it themselves. Now, they’re too big to carry at all.
Spiritually, it should be the same. If you’re growing up in a Christian home, it’s great that your parents walk with God. But what about you? Do you have your own faith in Christ as Savior? Do you have your own quiet time with Him? Do you have your own desire to fellowship with God’s people and to serve Him? The older you get, the more you need to be walking on your own.
Joash grew up in the temple. When he turned from the Lord, we find him giving the command for the godly Zechariah to be stoned to death in the temple precincts (24:21). Joash should have at least regarded that place as sacred. His uncle Jehoiada wouldn’t allow Athaliah to be executed in the Lord’s house (23:14), but for Joash, it didn’t matter. When you grow up surrounded by the things of God, you’re always in danger of treating that which is holy as commonplace. You become irreverent or even joke about God, His Word and His church. You don’t have a sense of awe about the Lord. It ought to be a warning light on your spiritual dashboard!
We aren’t told exactly what the officials of Judah said to Joash (24:17-18), but an intelligent guess is that they appealed to him to be more “free” than he had been under Jehoiada. Perhaps they said, “Listen, King! All your life you’ve been restricted by Jehoiada. You’ve been cooped up in the temple. You’ve obeyed the old man’s rules. But you’re missing out on the excitement of life. Be your own man! Be more open to other forms of worship.” And he fell for it! The appeal of idolatry is that you can make a god in your own image, according to what you like and how you want to live, and you don’t have to submit to the living God.
If you’ve been raised in a godly home, you face the same temptation of experimenting with sins that have been off limits. As you get into your teen years and beyond, your friends are going to say, “Listen, you’ve been missing out on the fun! You’ve never been drunk? You’ve never smoked pot? You’ve never had sex? You don’t know what you’re missing! Don’t be so up tight! You’re only young once! Enjoy yourself!” But, beware! It’s Satan’s lie!
Joash didn’t remember the kindness which Jehoiada had shown him, but murdered his son (24:22). How tragic! Those who are born with spiritual privilege tend to take things for granted. They don’t appreciate what a great blessing it is to know Christ. The parents know that God has rescued them from a horrible pit, but the kids have never known the hard side of sin. They’re like rich kids who never know the value of a dollar because they’ve never had to do without.
If you come from a Christian home, you need to stop often and think about where you would be without the Lord. What if you had been born to pagan parents who abused you? What if you had been born under the domination of Islam or Buddhism or Hinduism? You would be without hope and without God in the world (Eph. 2:12). That’s why our Lord calls us frequently to His table--to remember the kindness and grace which we’ve been shown at the cross.
Joash was blessed with spiritual privilege; so are we. He demonstrated early spiritual zeal; so should we. He faced spiritual testing; so will we. But when he failed, God didn’t leave him to go his way without repeated warnings:
See 24:19-20. In His grace, God doesn’t leave us in our sin and rebellion. He brings repeated opportunities for us to turn back to Him. God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live (Ezek. 33:11).
But how strange is the human heart! Joash, who was so weak as to give in quickly to the evil officials proved to be strong and obstinate in his resistance to the Lord! Isn’t it strange how a young person raised in a Christian home who weakly gives in to peer pressure can be so strong in resisting the loving correction of the Lord? And yet it’s not so strange, if you know your own propensity toward sin. Let it stand as a warning to us all! God allows U-turns, but only for a while. If you repeatedly resist His offer of repentance, the time will come when you reap the consequences:
See 24:23-27. Note the correspondence between Joash’s disobedience and the consequences: Joash forsook God; God forsook him to this invading army (24:20). Joash cast off God’s rule; Joash’s servants cast off his rule. Joash conspired against Zechariah; Joash’s servants conspired against him (24:21, 25). Joash murdered a defenseless man; his servants murdered him as he lay sick and defenseless in bed. Joash did not heed the dignity of Zechariah’s office as a prophet, but had him stoned; Joash’s servants did not heed his dignity as a king, but had him buried outside the tombs of the kings.
“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap (Gal. 6:7; see also, 2 Pet. 2:20-22). How miserable are those who enjoy great spiritual privilege and then turn from God and refuse to repent! They suffer grave spiritual consequences.
As I have talked with my dad over the years about our former pastor who fell away from the Lord, it has become apparent to me that he was a man with great spiritual privilege who failed to walk in reality with God. My dad served on the board for years, and he told me of numerous board meetings where the pastor lost his temper. He never let God deal with his anger. His best friends in the church were those who pursued worldly pleasure and entertainment rather than God. On numerous occasions the pastor made comments about women that reflected a sensuality unchecked by the Holy Spirit. And so instead of seeing the deeds of the flesh replaced by the fruit of the Spirit, he had an outward veneer of religion, but no inner reality. He was like a tree in the forest that looks strong, but it falls during a storm. When you look more carefully you discover that bugs had eaten the life out of the tree and so its strength was gone.
Spiritual privilege requires spiritual reality or there will be spiritual consequences. How is it with you? God has graciously given you the spiritual privilege of hearing His Word. Are you walking in reality with the living Lord? Are you allowing His Word and His Spirit to confront sin in your heart? He is graciously seeking to bring you back to Himself so that you don’t end up as a good “Christian” who goes bad.
Copyright 1994, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Last week Mike Hendricks, who led our worship time, said that after the first service someone told him that he should have people stand during the choruses, since it’s hard to worship while sitting down. So, in the second service he had us stand, only to have someone tell him that it’s too hard to stand that long; he should have us sit down!
I share that story because no doubt there will be some who will hear my message today and think, “Not again! He’s beating that subject to death!” But there will be others who will think, “Why hasn’t this been communicated more often? We should have heard more about this!”
As I preached on the rest of chapter 24 last week, I debated whether I should preach on verses 4-14, which are easy to relate to our current need to pay off and fix up the building next door, or skip them and move on. I brought it up at our elders and deacons meeting last Sunday afternoon, and the consensus was that since I preached the message in which I encouraged us to get on with this project last summer, when many were gone, and since we have many who have started coming to FCF since that time, that it probably needed to be addressed again. I pointed out that I even wrote about it in our last newsletter, but the raised eyebrows around the room said, “You don’t expect people actually to read that, do you?”
I read a book earlier this year by Hans Finzel, executive director of CBInternational called The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make (Victor Books), one of which is the failure to communicate adequately. He says, “Never assume that anyone knows anything.... We can never communicate enough in our organizations” (p. 115, emphasis his). He tells of one new employee who complained about the lack of information by saying, “I feel like a part of a mushroom farm--I’m left completely in the dark and fed more manure from time to time” (p. 117). So today I want to bring everyone out of the dark, and I hope no one thinks I’m feeding manure!
In my July message, I set forth a purpose or vision statement for our church which I hope we all will keep at the forefront:
Flagstaff Christian Fellowship exists to show how great God is by helping each person grow in all-out love for God, for one another, and for the lost, both locally and globally, through the careful teaching and practice of God’s Word of Truth. In particular, in light of our location, we seek to be a lighthouse to the nearby university community, especially to the international students.
I also pointed out that a bottleneck in our ministry is the current lack of facilities. We actually own enough space, but we can’t use the two houses we own due to the need to rent them to pay the mortgage on the house next door. So I encouraged us to move as quickly as possible to pay off the remaining $37,000 on the mortgage, plus give enough extra to do necessary modifications and repairs to use the properties for ministry. I suggested that if 150 families or individuals would give $300, we would meet that goal. And, I set a target date of October 2nd (next Sunday).
Some may wonder, “Why that date?” It’s somewhat arbitrary, but there were several factors behind that date. It was ten weeks away from when I gave the original challenge, which left enough time to pray about what God would have each one give and to see the money get raised if people didn’t have it. Also, our renter was moving out in early August, and we needed to know whether we should find new renters (and thus go for a number of months more without the use of that building) or get it paid off. So I picked a date that didn’t leave us up in the air for too long. As you may know, we’re already using the building for the new young married’s class. And I believe the Boy’s Brigade is using it as well. Our junior high Sunday School class last week had 22 students, too many to squeeze into the library. Clearly, we need the space for ministry!
As of last Sunday, about one-third of the needed amount had come in. I’m hoping and praying that most of you, like myself, have not yet given what you’re planning to give toward this project, but are waiting until next Sunday. That means that about $30,000 above and beyond our normal budget needs to be given next Sunday. I believe that God can do it, although I don’t know if He will do it. If that amount does not come in, then we’ll need to evaluate where we’re at and how to proceed. My main concern is that each of you would go before the Lord and wait obediently on Him for what He would have you to do. That way, you’ll be blessed and God will be honored.
With that as a backdrop, I’d like us to study these verses which tell us how King Joash restored the Temple after it had fallen into disrepair under the godless Athaliah. We’re going to conclude our service with a time of corporate prayer. These verses show us how God gets His work done, namely,
God’s work gets done by strong leaders, cheerful givers, and faithful workers.
Joash (24:4) and Jehoiada (24:6) were the leaders who got the work started, moved along, and completed; the people rejoiced at the opportunity to give toward this project (24:10); and, the workers were faithful to make the needed repairs (24:12-13); the result was that burnt offerings were offered continually all the days of Jehoiada (24:14).
In my younger, more idealistic days, which included my first years in pastoral ministry, I downplayed the need for strong leadership in the church. Perhaps I was swayed in part by a reaction against some of the leadership abuses I saw both in the church and in our society (this was the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate era!). Also, I was influenced by a number of Plymouth Brethren writers who were reacting against churches in which the pastor did everything, while the so-called “laity” was passive. These writers rightly emphasized the functioning of the entire body. But due to their fault or my own, I’m not sure which, I missed in their writings a proper biblical emphasis on how God uses strong leaders to accomplish His purposes. As a result, I was very laid back and non-directive in my leadership style.
I remember eating dinner at a conference in 1982 with Gene Getz, who has done a lot of thinking and has extensive experience with the subject of biblical church government through the Fellowship Bible Churches he has planted. He was arguing that even though there should be a plurality of elders in a local church, the pastor needs to be the one in charge in the sense that the buck stops there. I countered that such responsibility could be shared mutually and that only Christ needed to be in charge. But over the years, I’ve come around to his point-of-view. In both the Old and New Testaments, as well as in church history, you can see how God uses strong, godly leaders to accomplish His purpose.
I could cite numerous examples from all over the Bible, but for the sake of time, I’ll limit myself to a few observations on Joash and Jehoiada from this chapter. Jehoiada was the godly old priest, uncle of Joash, who had rescued him as an infant from Athaliah’s sword. He had raised him in the temple precincts and he courageously deposed Athaliah and installed Joash as king when the boy was only seven. To depose a wicked tyrant like Athaliah (who also happened to be his mother-in-law!) took some strong leadership on Jehoiada’s part (see chap. 23). No doubt Jehoiada served as the regent over Joash until he grew old enough to reign. But by virtue of his age and position, Jehoiada must have served as chief counselor to the king until his death.
As we saw last week, Joash followed the Lord all the days of Jehoiada, but was seduced to turn to idolatry after the godly old man died (24:2, 17). But in the verses we are considering, Joash was following the Lord. His actions reveal three marks of the kind of leadership God uses to get His work done:
Strong leaders have a clear picture of what God wants to accomplish with His people and they communicate it. Joash realized that the temple needed to be restored (24:4), so he gathered the priests and Levites and directed them to scatter through the cities of Judah and collect the money to do the necessary repairs (24:5). Joash found out what many leaders have discovered, namely that telling your vision to people is one thing; having them accept and act on it with proper zeal is another! So Joash had to reprove Jehoiada (who was about 120 by this time, which may explain why things weren’t moving quickly) and change his plan. But Joash diligently kept at it until the project got done.
Although I’m not naive enough to think that there are more than a dozen people (if that!) who could articulate our vision here at FCF, I keep plugging away at trying to keep it in front of us. I stated it when I candidated here. I put it in writing in our philosophy of ministry, which I use in the New Member’s Class. I preach on it every so often, when it fits in with a text. I write about it occasionally in the newsletter. I’ve recently had Patti put it on the bulletin board in several places around the building. I tried to make sure everyone had a copy of it in print from the sermon on it last July.
Once more: Flagstaff Christian Fellowship exists to show how great God is by helping each person grow in fervent love for God, for one another, and for the lost, both locally and globally, through the careful teaching and practice of God’s Word of Truth. In particular, in light of our location, we seek to be a lighthouse to the nearby university community, especially to the international students.
Buildings or facilities are not our goal. Glorifying God through ministry to people based on His Word is our goal. But, at least in our culture at this point in history, adequate facilities are useful in helping to accomplish our goal. As you know if you’ve peeked inside the house next door, we’re not talking about some extravagant cathedral! We just need room for some classes to meet in!
Strong, godly leaders always get their vision from God’s Word. Joash knew the importance of the temple and of worship from the Law of Moses. He appeals to that law as the basis for the collection (24:6, 9). In other words, the people needed to know that what they were doing was in obedience to God and His Word, not just something to make the king happy.
On our particular project of paying off the house next door, we have sought to take an approach where each person does what God wants him to do, not what I or the elders want. My desire is for each person prayerfully to consider what the Lord would have you do and to do it to please Him. There are many Scriptures which show that God wants us as His people to be generous givers out of love for Him and gratitude for His great gift to us. I’ll mention some in a moment, as I did in the earlier sermon. I want this offering to be a heartfelt, obedient response based on the authority of God’s Word.
The third factor of strong leadership seen here is diligence. Joash’s first attempt at getting the priests and Levites to collect the money failed. But he didn’t quit; he tried another approach (the collection chest; 24:8) and kept at it until the project got done. There may have been some critics who thought he was ramrodding the project through. But the fact is, you can’t lead if you aren’t focused enough and persistent enough to keep trying to move God’s people toward what He wants.
I realize that there is a fine line between being diligent and being stubborn. Even godly leaders may sometimes err on the side of stubbornness. But if you err on the side of giving up or backing off when something doesn’t happen right away, you won’t be a strong leader. Strong leadership is one thing God uses to get His work done.
I don’t know for sure why the people didn’t give when the priests and Levites went into their cities. A comparison with the account in 2 Kings 12 seems to indicate that the money wasn’t actually going toward the intended project, but was being spent on the priests themselves. But when Joash came up with a method (the chest at the door of the temple) for the money to go to the workers, everyone rejoiced and gave generously until the project was completed (24:10). There was even enough left over to make the utensils for the burnt offerings (24:14).
Some people complain that the church is always after their money. But such complaints tip your hand! God makes no bones about it--He is after your money, because He knows that your money and your heart are inextricably bound together, and if your heart isn’t given fully to Him, you’ll keep a tight grip on your money, as if it were yours anyway! (See Matt. 6:19-21). But when you give your heart fully to God, you realize that your money is not yours, but His. You’re just a steward of what He has entrusted to you to invest in His kingdom. If you squander it on selfish pleasure, you aren’t a faithful steward. So, yes, God is after your money because He’s after your heart!
That’s why motive is crucial in giving. God wants you to give cheerfully as you have purposed in your heart, overflowing with thanksgiving to Him for His indescribable gift to you in Christ (see 2 Cor. 9:7, 12, 15). Alexander Maclaren wrote (Expositions of Holy Scripture [Baker reprint] on 2 Chron. 24:4-14, pp. 195-196):
Love is a longing to give to the beloved, and whoever truly loves God will know no keener delight than surrender for His dear sake. Pecuniary contributions for religious purposes afford a rough but real test of the depth of a man’s religion; but it is one available only for himself, since the motive, and not the amount, is the determining factor.
Whenever I think of giving cheerfully I remember the story I heard of a stingy Scot who accidentally threw a crown into the collection plate thinking it was a penny. When he saw his mistake he asked to have it back, but the deacon refused. The Scot grumbled, “A well, a well, I’ll get credit for it in heaven.” The deacon shot back, “Na, na, ye’ll get credit for the penny.” It’s the heart motive that counts!
Andrew Fuller, a friend of the missionary great, William Carey, announced a collection for foreign missions. A good friend said to him, “Very well, Andrew, seeing it is you, I’ll give $500.” Andrew replied, “No, I can’t take the money since you give it seeing me.” The friend saw his point and said, “You’re right, Andrew. Here is $1,000, seeing it’s for the Lord Jesus.” God has always used cheerful givers who give generously to His work because they love Him who gave everything for them.
But not only does God’s work get done by strong leaders and cheerful givers. Also,
When Joash’s chest at the temple got full, at least two men (not one!) would empty it, the money was given to contractors who hired workers to get the job done. The parallel account (2 Kings 12:15) states that they didn’t even require an accounting from those who paid the workers, since they dealt faithfully.
I realize that there is a difference between these paid workers and those who serve the Lord faithfully without monetary wages. But the point still stands and is well-supported throughout the New Testament, that God’s work is not accomplished just by the leaders and not just by the leaders along with those who give, but also by every part serving as the Head of the body directs (Eph. 4:16). We all have a vital function in serving the Lord. If you are not serving Him in some capacity, with your time and giftedness along with your giving, it’s safe to say that you are too self-focused. Every Christian is in the ministry (= service), accountable to God for how you fulfill that ministry.
What was the result of strong leadership, cheerful givers, and faithful workers in Joash’s day? “They offered burnt offerings in the house of the Lord continually all the days of Jehoiada” (24:14). The offerings were an act of worship, a sweet-smelling savor to God, just as our lives are to be offered continually to God as an act of worship because of His mercy toward us in Christ (Rom. 12:1-2).
The offerings also pointed to the need for atonement, for reconciliation to God through the shedding of blood. In our sin, we cannot approach God through our own good deeds, be it leading, giving, or serving Him. We can only approach God through a blood sacrifice. Jesus Christ gave Himself as that sacrifice to God on our behalf (Eph. 5:2), so that now we can draw near to God through Him. Any service we now render to God is a thank offering because Christ, our sacrifice has opened the way for us into God’s holy presence.
The restored temple also provided a place for God’s people to gather in worship and service to Him. The “house of the Lord” occurs nine times in these eleven verses (24:4, 5, 7, 8, 12 [2x], 13, 14 [2x]), plus the phrase, “the tent of the testimony” (24:6). The Lord’s house is where He dwells, where His holy presence is manifested, where His glory shone forth. While church buildings are not the house of the Lord today (God’s people are His house; 1 Tim. 3:15; Heb. 3:6; 10:21), and we may be forced to gather in secret in homes if persecution sets in, at least for now church buildings do provide a place for God’s house to meet for worship and instruction.
As we look to our goal of paying off the mortgage, Grant Kolkow, myself, and the non-staff elders are seeking to provide godly, strong leadership by providing a biblically-based vision and by being diligent in helping the body move toward it. We, along with every member of the body here, want to be cheerful givers to the Lord’s work. We want to set the example so that we all will faithfully serve the Lord as He has gifted and enabled us. We invite you to join with us. In that way, God’s work will get done.
Copyright 1994, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Charlie Brown and Lucy are walking along. Lucy says, “I can’t think of that word ... There’s one certain word that describes your personality, Charlie Brown, but I just can’t think of what it is.”
Charlie asks, “Blah?”
“THAT’S IT!” Lucy shouts, bowling Charlie over.
Charlie goes on to tell Lucy, “Look, you don’t have to tell me I’m blah. I know I’m blah.”
Lucy responds, “Well, then, there’s still hope for you Charlie Brown. If you recognize this in yourself then that’s the first step up from blahdom.”
In the last frame Charlie asks quizzically, “Blahdom?”
But Charlie despairs, “How can anyone ever like someone as blah as I am?”
Lucy says, “Please don’t despair Charlie Brown. Maybe there’s a girl somewhere in the world just as blah as you ... Maybe you’ll marry her ... And maybe you’ll raise a whole flock of blah kids, and then maybe they’ll go out and marry some other blah kids, and ...
In the last frame Charlie runs away screaming, “AAUGH!”
Nobody wants to be blah. And there’s nothing worse than blah believers--people who are Christian in name, but they’re half-hearted about it. They don’t have any convictions. There’s nothing distinctive about their lives. They just sort of exist in Christian “blahdom.”
You don’t want to live there, do you? The life of King Amaziah tells you that you don’t. He was a blah believer, straddling the fence, trying to get the best of both worlds. He wound up with a wasted life that accomplished little. His epitaph easily could have read, “Here lies King Amaziah, the Half-hearted. Ho-hum!” The chronicler puts it, “And he did right in the sight of the Lord, yet not with a whole heart” (25:2). His life teaches us that
Half-hearted commitment results in inevitable ruin.
The parallel account (2 Kings 14:3) gives us a clue to his character: “And he did right in the sight of the Lord, yet not like David his father; he did according to all that Joash his father had done.” You remember his father Joash, the good boy who went bad. The central aspect of Joash’s faith was that it wasn’t his own. He rode on the coat tails of Jehoiada, but as soon as Jehoiada died, Joash went astray. He himself never walked in reality with God.
His son Amaziah learned to follow in his dad’s steps. He did some good things and he did some bad things. But his life was not fully committed to the Lord. He never confronted the sin in his life. He never got serious about God.
Let’s get a thumbnail sketch of Amaziah, a half-hearted, blah believer. I see here seven strands of half-heartedness we need to avoid:
He executed his father’s murderers, but at least he obeyed the Mosaic law, rather than the common custom of kings in that day, by not killing their sons (25:3, 4). In 25:10, we find him obeying the prophet, but only after questioning him. But later, when he decides to dabble in idolatry, he tells the prophet to shut up (25:16). He may have been angry because even though he obeyed the first prophet, he still suffered loss (25:13). After his victory over Edom, he was not following the Lord, but worldly convention, when he cruelly shoved his prisoners of war off a cliff (25:12). So Amaziah’s life was marked by a little bit of obedience, but not complete obedience. Like Rehoboam, he suffered from the peril of partial obedience.
“Well,” you say, “a little bit of obedience is better than none, isn’t it?” That’s debatable. If a man claims to be a Christian, a little bit of obedience can be a dangerous thing. Like the Pharisees, it’s just enough to congratulate yourself that you’re okay, but it’s not the radical repentance that leads to eternal life (Matt. 5:29-30). It’s just enough to let others identify you as a Christian, but not enough to commend the faith to them. And so outsiders say, “If that guy is a Christian and lives like that, I don’t want anything to do with Christianity!”
Amaziah got right to work consolidating his kingdom and assembling an army. They marched off to battle against their enemies. But in all of this there is no mention of seeking the Lord and His glory. It was all for Amaziah.
A popular TV preacher encourages people to pursue their dream. That’s fine if one condition (which I’ve never heard him mention) is met: If you got your dream from God. If your dream is in line with God’s purpose and glory, then go for it! But if you’re just out to pursue your dream, then you’re just into American success. You’re living for self, not for God, even if He gets a tip of the hat. God’s glory and His purpose must be the aim of all our ambition.
Human wisdom often makes good sense and it works, but it leaves God out. A young king asks, “How do I build my kingdom?” Human wisdom answers, “Take a census, gather an army, hire mercenaries, take counsel for war, inflict punishment on your enemies, etc.” The methods worked in his battle with Edom. But there was one major problem: Amaziah never sought the Lord’s mind on any of these matters.
A lot of pastors in our day try to build the church like that. You learn the latest techniques, study your target audience, set goals, advertise, recruit workers, and manage everything properly. A lot of these church growth methods work well. But if faith in God and obedience to His Word isn’t at the heart of what we’re doing, then we’re operating on human wisdom, and it’s all wood, hay and stubble at best. If the Lord isn’t in it, then even if it works we’re just building a monument to ourselves.
(Note 25:6-9.) Amaziah’s first concern was not, “Is it right or wrong?” “Is this what God wants?” Rather, his concern was, “What about the money I’ll lose if I obey?” A hundred talents of silver was a pile--about 9,400 pounds! It is not wrong to consider the consequences, but it is wrong to consider the consequences first. The first matter to consider is the principle. In this case, Amaziah was unequally yoked with the idolatrous northern kingdom. The Lord was not with them, so how could he be with them? That was the principle. Only when Amaziah had considered that was he ready to ask, “What’s it going to cost?”
That’s how we ought to follow Jesus Christ. First, consider who He is, who He claimed to be. Is He in fact the promised Messiah and Savior? Does His life fulfill the Old Testament prophecies? Do His miracles authenticate His claims? Does His teaching come from God? Is He in fact raised from the dead? If so, then I must follow Him because He is the Truth.
Now, what’s it going to cost me? Everything I’ve got! So be it. The question then is, Do I believe that the Lord can give me much more than I give up, if not in material goods, then in peace, joy, and righteousness? Of course, the “much more” is not always material. Quite often it costs you dearly to follow Christ above expedience. But if you put the Lord first, He always makes the gain outweigh the losses.
On one occasion Peter wondered about this. He said, “We have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?” Jesus replied, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, shall receive many times as much, and shall inherit eternal life” (Matt. 19:27, 29). In Mark’s Gospel, the Lord is recorded as adding that not only will we receive in this age houses and family and farms, but also persecutions! And, in the age to come, eternal life (Mark 10:30). But it’s a good trade to give up everything you have for that pearl of great price!
Amaziah, who knows about the living God, defeats these pagan idolaters in battle. But then he brings back their idols and bows down to them (25:14)! Incredible! Well, not really, when you keep in mind that Amaziah had a divided heart. Satan knows that half-hearted believers are only half against sin, and so he smiles and bides his time.
Every so often you hear of some preacher who campaigns against pornography who gets caught in an adult bookstore or with a prostitute. It’s always sad, because the world mocks God on account of it. A man who isn’t dealing with his own sin on the thought level had better not get into the ministry, because it’s warfare against a subtle and powerful enemy. If Satan can’t defeat you in open battle, he will lure you into his camp in other ways. He feels around the rim of your life for the cracks, and if he knows that you don’t follow the Lord with a whole heart, he smiles as you campaign against immorality. It makes your fall look so much more spectacular!
This is stronger than the following of human wisdom rather than God’s wisdom that we saw (under point 3). That was more just going along with the way the world does things; this is deliberately saying no to God’s Word and choosing to go your own way. Notice the play on words (25:16, 17): -“counselor,” “counsel” (v. 16), “counsel” (v. 17). Amaziah didn’t want to hear the counsel of God, because it meant dealing with his sin. A half-hearted, blah-believer doesn’t want to do that--it’s too threatening. So instead he found counselors who told him what he wanted to hear, namely, to go to war against Joash, king of Israel. But this was his eventual undoing.
Proverbs 21:30 states, “There is no wisdom and no understanding and no counsel against the Lord.” When a man rejects the counsel of God in favor of the counsel of men, God uses that wrong human counsel to accomplish His sovereign judgments.
There’s a principle here you should never forget: You can’t win if you go against the Lord. That ought to be perfectly obvious, but people won’t accept it. Maybe some like a challenge, I don’t know. But you can’t win against the Lord. I often see this in counseling with people. God’s Word clearly confronts their sin, but they don’t want to face that, because it means they would have to repent and change. So they make excuses for their behavior and go find other counselors who tell them what they wanted to hear in the first place, thinking that this counsel will get them where they want to go. But it never brings them lasting happiness, because you can’t win if you go against the Lord!
Amaziah starts thinking that he’s pretty hot stuff. “Did you see how I dealt with the Edomites?” So he challenges Joash, king of Israel, to a showdown. Joash answers with an allegory that means, “You’re just a little thorn bush compared with me as a mighty cedar tree. You’re going to get trampled.” That eggs Amaziah on. So he goes to battle and gets creamed. Apparently he was so badly crippled that the king of Israel figured that it wouldn’t hurt him to let him stay on the throne. So he tore down 600 feet of the wall facing to the north and left Amaziah there. He never recovered his power.
Pride goes before a fall. A person who is not wholeheartedly for the Lord is not judging his sin. The only way to avoid pride is to deal with the sin which so easily besets us. Half-hearted commitment results in inevitable ruin. We’ve seen the half-heartedness.
Some of Amaziah’s ruin was immediate, but some took a while. God’s judgments don’t always follow swiftly by our reckoning. But they do follow inevitably. It may take a while for the seeds sown to the flesh to spring up and produce corruption, but the crop never fails.
(See 25:23-24.) A city with a 600 foot hole in its wall was defenseless. Jerusalem and the southern kingdom could not be strong under these conditions. Some of the people were taken as hostages. The few items of gold and silver left in the Temple and king’s house (which Joash had not lost to the Syrians, or which Amaziah may have restored) were taken. The worship life of God’s people was at a low ebb, thanks to Amaziah. Half-hearted commitment always weakens the entire church, especially when the half-heartedness is in the leadership.
(See 25:25, 27, 28.) His power was gone. His riches were gone. His army was defeated. The last 15 years--more than half of his 29 as king--were futile and wasted. When Amaziah turned from following the Lord, it gave rise to discontent which eventually led to a conspiracy. The very thing he tried to prevent by executing his father’s murderers came upon him. He fled to the stronghold city of Lachish on the Philistine border. But it could not protect him if the Lord was not protecting him. He was murdered, carried home, and buried. Ho-hum. The epitaph of a blah believer, whose heart was not wholly for the Lord.
But there’s a positive side to this story: While half-hearted commitment results in inevitable ruin, full commitment results in eternal rewards. In just about every one of these stories of the kings there is a group of men who come on the stage, say their piece, and disappear again. Sometimes, such as Hanani, Micaiah, Jehu (the son of Hanani), and Zechariah (the son of Jehoiada), they are named. In other cases (as in chapter 25) they remain anonymous. But they were known to God. They are the prophets (25:7, 15).
When I read of them, I always wonder what they did when they weren’t on an assignment. It’s as if God kept them in a garage somewhere, always ready to roll at a moment’s notice (like Clark Kent, Superman). After they do their job, if they don’t get killed, they go back and wait for the next assignment. It was a hazardous occupation. Zechariah had been stoned to death by Amaziah’s father Joash. Amaziah reminds this nameless prophet of that incident (25:16). The life insurance folks wouldn’t have touched these prophets with a ten foot pole!
But they were God’s men--totally committed to Him, available, and even expendable. Nameless to us, but known to God, they stand in stark contrast to the blah life of Amaziah. Amaziah was more famous. For a while he had more power and more riches. But these courageous prophets knew life as it is meant to be lived. When they passed from this earth--as kings, prophets, and commoners all must do--these committed men heard the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:23).
To call Amaziah “half-hearted” isn’t technically correct. Satan doesn’t need half your life to gain entry and bring you to ruin. He only needs a single area where you refuse to let Jesus be Lord. If you give everything to Jesus except that one area, it’s enough for Satan. A Haitian pastor told this story that illustrates what I’m saying:
A certain man wanted to sell his house for $2,000. Another man wanted very badly to buy it, but because he was poor, he couldn’t afford the full price. After much bargaining, the owner agreed to sell the house for half the original price with just one stipulation: he would retain ownership of one small nail protruding from just over the door.
After several years, the original owner wanted the house back, but the new owner was unwilling to sell. So the first owner went out, found the carcass of a dead dog, and hung it from the single nail he still owned. Soon the house became unlivable, and the family was forced to sell the house to the owner of the nail on his terms.
The Haitian pastor’s conclusion: “If we leave the devil with even one small peg in our life, he will return to hang his rotting garbage on it, making it unfit for Christ’s habitation.”
Pollster George Gallup contends that fewer than 10 percent of evangelical Christians could be called deeply committed. But full commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave His life for you, is the only way to go. Blah Christianity is not an option. I’m sure that Amaziah thought he would gain happiness and success going the way he went. Half-hearted Christians are afraid of full commitment, because they think it will result in a dreary or difficult life. But we need to keep in mind the words of Jesus: “Whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s shall save it” (Mark 8:35).
Copyright 1994, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Which would you choose if you could: Success, mediocrity, or failure? That’s a dumb question, isn’t it? Who wants to be mediocre or to fail? We all want to succeed in our family and personal lives.
But the irony is that the success we all seek can easily destroy us. We’ve all heard of successful people--athletes, musicians, movie stars, or businessmen--whose success opened them up to temptations that ruined or even killed them. The poet Emily Dickinson wrote, “Success is counted sweetest by those who ne’er succeed.” The Scottish essayist Carlyle wrote, “Affliction is bad; but for every person that can handle prosperity, there are a hundred that can handle adversity.”
The life of King Uzziah illustrates Carlyle’s point. Uzziah succeeded admirably, but his success seduced him into pride; his pride led to a sin that in a few moments nullified years of achievements. Though he reigned for 52 years and had many outstanding accomplishments, he was remembered by the sad epitaph, “He is a leper” (26:23). Uzziah’s life teaches us that ...
The seductive danger of success is pride.
Uzziah’s success is described in 26:1-15; his downfall in 26:16-23. We’ll follow that outline to glean some lessons from each section.
Uzziah was a hard-working, visionary king. But verse 5 makes it clear that the source of his success was not his effort or genius, but the Lord: “And he continued to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding through the vision of God; and as long as he sought the Lord, God prospered him.” Uzziah’s success was due to seeking God and His Word. The Hebrew word “seek” is the same word we have met in earlier studies which meant, literally, “to trample under foot.” The idea was that when you frequent a place, you beat a path underfoot. To seek the Lord means going to Him for His wisdom and help so often that you wear a path to God.
Uzziah did that. He followed Solomon’s counsel, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Prov. 3:5-6). Isaiah, whose calling to ministry began in the year King Uzziah died (Isa. 6:1), chided the people for consulting mediums and spiritists and said, rather, “should not a people consult their God?” (Isa. 8:19). Uzziah consulted God.
The source of God’s wisdom is His Word. In Uzziah’s day, of course, the Bible was not completed. He no doubt at least had the Law of Moses, and perhaps Job, the Psalms, and a few other portions of the Old Testament. But he also had a godly counselor, Zechariah (known only here) who had understanding in the visions (some mss. read “fear”) of God. Uzziah listened to the counsel of this prophet who understood God’s Word. So through God’s Word and prayer, Uzziah sought God and God prospered him.
That’s the only kind of success or prosperity that matters--when you live by seeking God and His wisdom through His Word and prayer. As Psalm 1:1-3 puts it:
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.
I might add that some are successful in the eyes of the world--even the Christian world--but God does not share the same opinion. Others may be considered failures or nobodies by the world--even by the Christian world--but God considers them eminently successful. So we must be careful to seek after true success that comes from seeking God through His Word and through prayer. Then, if God grants a measure of success, realize that ...
Uzziah was a leader of far-reaching vision, whose accomplishments included both domestic and foreign projects. Verse 2 notes that he built Eloth and restored it to Judah. Eloth (modern Eilat) was the port city at the southern tip of Israel on what is today called the Gulf of Aqaba. Furthermore he subdued a number of Philistine cities to the west of Jerusalem and built Israeli cities in their region (26:6). He conquered the Arabians and Meunites to the south, and the Ammonites to the east paid him tribute (26:7-8). Uzziah also fortified Jerusalem, thus restoring the defense against the Northern Kingdom which his father had lost (26:9). Furthermore he built towers for the defense of his vast agricultural and livestock holdings in the outlying countryside (26:10). Uzziah “loved the soil” (26:10--an early ecologist!), and the land prospered under him.
Also, Uzziah developed a strong army which “could wage war with great power” (26:13). In addition to the traditional weapons (26:14), Uzziah installed the latest military hardware in Jerusalem--great catapults and arrow-shooting devices (26:15). As a result, we read twice (26:8, 15) of his widespread fame.
Whenever God grants that kind of success and fame to a person, it should be used for the Lord and His purpose. Fame is simply an opportunity to tell more people of the greatness of God, so that His name is exalted. It also provides the opening to do more for the Lord’s work and for His people, to see them established in His ways. George Washington Carver said that the only advantage of fame is that it gives you a platform for service. And, although viewed on a secular level, Erma Bombeck cuts to the heart of it when she says, “Don’t confuse fame with success. Madonna is one; Helen Keller is the other.” So we ought to view any measure of success God gives us as a trust to be managed for His glory and kingdom.
The hinge of the story is at the end of verse 15: “... for he was marvelously helped until he was strong.” Uzziah’s problem was precisely that--he became strong. Uzziah’s success and strength led to his downfall.
Someone has said that the human being is the only animal that you can pat on the back and his head swells up. Uzziah started believing his own press clippings and his pride led to a fall. In one hour he ruined a prosperous lifetime as a successful king. When Uzziah became strong, his heart was lifted up, and that led him to enter the holy place in the temple to offer incense to the Lord. But the Law of Moses restricted that duty to the priests, and Uzziah was not a priest (Num. 18:1-7). Only the Messiah Jesus would combine the offices of Priest and King.
Perhaps Uzziah rationalized, “Yes, I know the Law of Moses, but let’s not be legalistic! I’ve done well leading my people politically, but they also need strong religious leadership. Not being able to offer incense weakens my ability to lead and damages my public image. Besides, it’s for a spiritual cause, to enhance our worship. And, all the foreign kings do it that way.” It wasn’t gross immorality or idolatry. The only problem was, God had forbidden it. Like another man in the Bible with a similar name, Uzzah (2 Sam. 6:6-7), who was struck dead for touching the ark of the covenant, Uzziah presumed on the holiness of God. Taking upon himself a task that required holiness, Uzziah was rendered ceremonially unclean for the rest of his life by being struck with leprosy. We should learn ...
In Isaiah 14:13-14, the prophet is speaking of the king of Babylon, but most Bible scholars agree that he goes beyond the human king and speaks of Satan’s fall:
But you said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly, in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.”
Satan’s original sin was pride that led him to exalt himself against God. He dangled the same temptation in front of Eve: “If you eat this fruit, you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (see Gen. 3:5). That was the beginning of the self-esteem movement, which invariably pulls God down and lifts man up. Satan was implying that God was keeping Eve from realizing her full potential. But if she would only eat this fruit, she would be fulfilled. Ever since the human race fell into sin, all sin at its core consists of the arrogance of saying, “I know better than God and His ways. I don’t need to submit to God’s authority. I am an authority unto myself. I can be like God.”
But Scripture is clear: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling” (Prov. 16:18). “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5). If we want to avoid being opposed by God and if we want His grace in our lives, we must judge every proud thought and grow in humility. John Calvin wrote (Institutes of the Christian Religion [Westminster Press], ed. by John T. McNeill, II:II:11):
A saying of Chrysostom’s has always pleased me very much, that the foundation of our philosophy is humility. But that of Augustine pleases me even more: “When a certain rhetorician was asked what was the chief rule in eloquence, he replied, ‘Delivery’; what was the second rule, ‘Delivery’; what was the third rule, ‘Delivery’; so if you ask me concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, first, second, third, and always I would answer, ‘Humility.’”
He quotes further from Augustine:
“Why do we presume so much on ability of human nature? It is wounded, battered, troubled, lost. What we need is true confession, not false defense.” Again: “When anyone realizes that in himself he is nothing and from himself he has no help, the weapons within him are broken, the wars are over. But all the weapons of impiety must be shattered, broken, and burned; you must remain unarmed, you must have no help in yourself. The weaker you are in yourself, the more readily the Lord will receive you.”
Calvin concludes this section:
But I require only that, laying aside the disease of self-love and ambition, by which he is blinded and thinks more highly of himself than he ought [cf. Gal. 6:3], he rightly recognize himself in the faithful mirror of Scripture [cf. James 1:22-25].
The closer you draw to God through His Word, the more it confronts your proud, self-reliant nature and drives you to find your all in all in Christ. Even the Apostle Paul had to be given a thorn in the flesh to keep him from exalting himself (2 Cor. 12:7). He wrote, “And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7). “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). “For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (Gal. 6:3).
How is it that the American church has widely embraced a teaching for which there is absolutely no support in the Bible, that our emotional problems stem from low self-esteem? Pride is the root sin, at the heart of all sin.
When Uzziah arrogantly went in to offer incense, Azariah and 80 other priests courageously confronted this powerful king (26:17-18). We learn a second lesson about pride:
There are other marks of pride, of course. But invariably, if you’re filled with pride, you react with indignation when a godly person tries to warn or correct you. When you become as powerful and successful as Uzziah, you can start thinking that you’re accountable to no one. Your hard work and intelligence got you this far. You stop listening to those who challenge you and gather “yes men” around you. Earlier in his career, Uzziah accepted the counsel of the godly Zechariah. But now he angrily rejects the counsel of 81 godly priests: “I’m the king! These priests can’t tell me what to do!” Ironically, Uzziah sought honor for himself, but these priests tell him plainly, “You have been unfaithful, and you will have no honor from the Lord God” (26:18). So Uzziah was enraged.
That’s a good test of humility--how do you respond to correction? Do you examine your heart before God and admit it if you’re wrong? Or, are you angry and defensive?
If Uzziah would have repented on the spot, God probably would have been gracious in restoring him. But Uzziah didn’t repent until he realized that he had been struck with leprosy. Then he realized that God had struck him, so he hastened to get out of the temple, probably so he wouldn’t get struck dead (26:20). The Lord never healed Uzziah--he remained a leper until he died. His spent his final years living in separate quarters. He never again worshipped in the house of the Lord (26:21). His son had to carry on the daily affairs of the household and kingdom. When Uzziah died, they didn’t put him in the same tomb with the other kings, but buried him in the field near there so that they wouldn’t defile the tomb. The final comment on his life was not, “What a great king!” but rather, “He is a leper.”
You may think that God was a bit harsh with Uzziah. There’s no question that His discipline was severe. But the Law prescribed death for anyone who was not a priest who entered the holy place. Uzziah could have been struck dead on the spot. We must treat God as holy.
We’ve lost sight of the awesome holiness of God in our day. We would dare to judge God for striking this proud man with leprosy! The promoters of self-esteem encourage us to get all our rage out toward God for the trials He has allowed into our lives! We’re even being told that we need to forgive God, as if He somehow had no just cause to bring suffering into our lives! We flippantly bounce into God’s presence and forget that we can only draw near through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
God will not share His glory with proud man. If a man honors the Lord, the Lord will honor that man (1 Sam. 2:30). But if a man thinks that he is free to disregard God’s Word and begins exalting himself, he will come under God’s discipline (if he is a believer) or God’s judgment (if he dies not trusting in Christ for salvation). The more successful we become, the more it ought to drive us to our knees with the awareness of our own weakness and sin, so that we cling to God alone as our strength and salvation.
One evening the great conductor Arturo Toscanini brilliantly conducted Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The audience went mad; people clapped, whistled, and stomped their feet. Toscanini bowed and bowed. He signaled to the orchestra, and its members stood to acknowledge the wild applause. Eventually the applause began to subside. Toscanini turned, looked intently at his musicians, and almost uncontrollably exclaimed, “Gentlemen! Gentlemen!” The men in the orchestra leaned forward to listen. Why was the maestro so disturbed? Was he angry? Had somebody missed a cue? Had the orchestra flawed the performance?
No. Toscanini was not angry. Toscanini was stirred to the very depths of his being by the sheer magnificence of Beethoven’s music. Scarcely able to talk, he whispered fiercely, “Gentlemen, I am nothing.” That was an extraordinary admission, since Toscanini was not known for his humility. “Gentlemen,” he added, “you are nothing.” That was hardly news. The members of the orchestra had often heard the same message in rehearsal. “But Beethoven,” said Toscanini in a tone of adoration, “is everything, everything, everything!” (Told by Vernon Grounds, Christianity Today, 12/9/77, p. 13.)
That’s the attitude we need toward ourselves and toward Jesus Christ. We are nothing; He is everything! If you ever receive the applause and praises of people for what you do, remember the story of King Uzziah--that the seductive danger of success is pride. And at least to yourself whisper, “Apart from Christ, I can do nothing!”
Copyright 1994, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
A fourteenth century duke named Raynald III, in what is now Belgium, had a violent quarrel with his younger brother, Edward, who then led a successful revolt against him. Edward captured Raynald, but didn’t kill him. Instead, he built a room in the castle around his brother and promised him that he could regain his title and property as soon as he was able to leave the room.
This wouldn’t have been difficult for the average person, since the room had several windows and a door of near-normal size, and none was locked or barred. The problem was Raynald’s size: he was grossly overweight. To regain his freedom, he had to lose weight. But Edward knew his older brother, and each day he sent a variety of delicious foods. Instead of dieting his way out of prison by resisting those tempting foods, Raynald grew fatter. When Duke Edward was accused of cruelty, his reply was, “My brother is not a prisoner. He may leave when he so wills.”
But, of course, his brother was a prisoner--of his own appetite. He stayed in that room for ten years and wasn’t released until Edward died in battle. By then his health was so ruined that he died within a year (adapted from Leadership [Spring, 1984], p. 44).
There is in every human heart a perverse and powerful attraction for that which you know cognitively will destroy you. It is the appeal of sin. Like bugs drawn toward a light that will kill them, fallen sinners are drawn toward the evil that will enslave and ultimately ruin them. I wish I could report that the longer you follow the Lord, the less appeal sin has, but I cannot. It is a battle that requires constant vigilance. It’s a winnable war, but we never (in this life) become immune to sin.
Thus life consists of a series of choices. To put it plainly:
Either we forsake God to go after sin or we forsake sin to go after God.
King Ahaz forsook the Lord for sin. He did so in spite of many advantages. His grandfather was King Uzziah who, although he later became proud and was struck with leprosy, was yet a mighty king who sought the Lord. Ahaz’s father was King Jotham, a godly man who further strengthened the kingdom (see 2 Chronicles 27:6). Furthermore Ahaz was a descendant of King David, and thus he came under the blessings of the covenant God had enacted between David and his progeny. And if that were not enough, Ahaz lived during the ministry of the prophet Isaiah, who encouraged Ahaz to trust in the Lord. But he forsook the Lord. Let’s look at his life to learn what it means to forsake God to go after sin. The chapter also reveals (from an unexpected source) what it means to forsake sin to go after God.
Ahaz didn’t begin his reign by closing the doors of the Temple and replacing the worship of God with the worship of idols. Eventually it came to that (28:24). But he didn’t start there. He started by adding idol worship to the worship of the Lord. The parallel account in 2 Kings 16 tells of how Ahaz went up to Damascus to meet Tiglath-Pileser who had defeated the Syrians and the northern kingdom of Israel on Ahaz’s behalf. There he saw a magnificent altar which he liked so much that he sent back the plans for it to his priest so that it was waiting for him when he returned from Damascus. Ahaz offered on this pagan altar the sacrifices prescribed in the Law of Moses. As for the bronze altar prescribed by Moses, he moved it aside and kept it to inquire by (2 Kings 16:15), but he offered all his sacrifices on the pagan altar of his preference. In other words, he was blending pagan ideas with what is prescribed in the Bible.
Forsaking the Lord often begins by replacing a few things in the Bible that you don’t like with a few worldly ideas that you prefer. Let’s face it: There are some hard truths in the Bible that confront our culture and our sinful, selfish preferences. The Bible says that wives are to be subject to their husbands and workers at home (Titus 2:5), but we don’t like that; we prefer the egalitarian model. The Bible says that our marriage commitment is to be for life and that we are to work through our problems by learning to deny self and love as Jesus loved. But that’s too hard, so we bail out! But we begin forsaking the Lord when we replace the clear directives of His Word with the best of worldly wisdom or custom.
Ahaz burned some of his sons in the fire as an offering to the god Molech. In some cases this involved slaughtering the child and offering him up as a burnt sacrifice; at other times it meant passing the child through the fire without killing him. At the heart of that sort of abomination was self, because the parent was seeking to placate the gods so that it would go well with him. Never mind that it wasn’t going too well with the child! The main thing is my well being, even if it means my child’s pain or death. But it was detestable in God’s sight (Jer. 32:35).
Did you know that 95-97 percent of the abortions in our land are performed strictly for convenience? It would inconvenience the lifestyle of the mother or couple to take on the responsibility of caring for a child, so instead they slaughter that little life that is no different than you or I, except that it’s younger than we are.
I realize that there are difficult situations and that because of the irresponsibility of many young men, the burden often falls on the woman. I am not insensitive to the hardship nor excusing the man. But I’m saying, if you do what you think is best for you to the disregard, or even death, of others, you’re simply doing what these pagans did in offering their children to idols in the hopes of having a happier, easier life. You’re forsaking God for self.
Did you know that one of our candidates for U.S. senator in next month’s election is a former president of Planned Parenthood of Northern Arizona? I don’t care if you’re a member of his political party or if you prefer his views on the economy. To vote for such a man when his opponent is a strong advocate of protecting human life in the womb is to sin against God. Do your homework and vote for pro-life candidates!
Thus forsaking God to go after sin begins by adding worldly ideas to the Word of God. It means doing what you think will be good for you, even if it’s harmful to others.
When people turn away from God, He graciously sends trials so that, hopefully, the sinner will turn to God for help. Every trial is designed by God to teach us the futility of trusting in ourselves or in the world’s wisdom, so that we are driven to trust in God alone. Yet today, millions of Christians are turning to the pagan ideas of psychology for help with their trials. Several who have left this church because of my teaching on this subject have said to me, “If it’s helping me with my problems and I feel better because of it, then what’s wrong with it?”
What if I told you that I was feeling angry and depressed, and I went to a witch doctor. He listened sympathetically to my problems and then he mixed up a magic potion and asked me to drink it. After that, he slaughtered a chicken, dipped his finger in the blood, dabbed it on my forehead, and uttered an incomprehensible curse on everyone who had hurt me and invoked the blessings of the gods on my behalf. As he did all this, I felt my anger disappear and my depression lift. I’ve felt better ever since. What would you say?
The issue is never, does it help, but rather, is it biblical? Ahaz sacrificed to the gods of Aram because they helped them and he hoped that they would help him, too (28:23). We are specifically warned in Scripture against accepting the counsel of the ungodly and the wisdom of the world (Ps. 1:1; Col. 2:8). We are repeatedly told to take all our problems to God and to trust in Him alone, not in our own strength or understanding (Ps. 33:6-22; Prov. 3:5-6). When you’ve got problems, you’ve only got two options--seek help from the Lord and His Word (including biblical counselors) or seek help from the world. Ahaz sought help for his problems from the world. But before you turn to the world for help, you need to realize three things:
Sure, Tiglath-Pileser would take care of Ahaz’s enemies--for a price! Ahaz had to strip the temple, strip his palace, and extract money from his princes. It was expensive and it wasn’t covered by his insurance! His wives and his princes probably complained about the stainless steel bathroom fixtures that replaced the gold, but a man has to do what he has to do when he needs help in this world!
Whenever you turn to the world for help, the world makes sure it gets its payment, and it’s always expensive. Whether you go to a counselor who charges you $100 an hour; or turn to drinking or drugs to blot out your troubles; or try to earn a lot of money so you can live the “good life” apart from God; the world gets its fee.
The irony is, it doesn’t cost you anything to get down on your knees and open God’s Word of truth and seek Him. It might cost you a cup of coffee to get together with a mature brother or sister in Christ and ask their counsel. Ahaz could have called Isaiah and asked for God’s wisdom through him and he wouldn’t have had to strip the temple and his palace or rob his princes.
Tiglath-Pileser promised his help, but after he polished off Ahaz’s enemies he moved on to afflict Ahaz. In the end the help Ahaz sought proved to be his downfall. In spite of all the money he spent, he didn’t get the help he needed.
The world’s help is like that. At first it seems to offer what you want, but in the end it never delivers what it promises, because it doesn’t direct you to the Lord. I’ve seen girls enter into a relationship with a nice, but unbelieving, young man. It seems as if he will bring her the happiness she seeks. But she pays a terrible price in the long run, because she disobeyed God’s Word about being unequally yoked.
At first Tiglath-Pileser was Ahaz’s friend. He knocked off Syria and subdued Israel. But then he exacted tribute from Ahaz and in the end Ahaz was a weak vassal on a leash held tightly by the Assyrian monarch.
That’s how the world works. You invite it to come in as a friend, but it’s a domineering house guest! Soon it shoves your things to the corner and takes over. A man dabbles in pornography; after all, he’s got needs that aren’t being met! Soon he is enslaved to lust. A housewife starts having an afternoon drink to calm her nerves; soon it becomes a morning, afternoon, and before bed drink. She is enslaved to alcohol. A young person smokes a little dope or crack cocaine because it makes him feel so good. Soon he is enslaved to an expensive and destructive habit. The world always exacts a high price. It never delivers what it promises. It comes in as a friend but takes over as master.
Forsaking God for sin begins by adding worldly ideas to God’s Word; it means doing what I think will be good for me, even if it’s harmful to others; it means turning to the world for help, which is no help at all.
If a person has an outward profession of faith, but is not truly converted (as with Ahaz), then God sends trials to bring him to repentance and faith in Christ. If the person truly knows Christ, then God disciplines him as a son, that he may share God’s holiness (Heb. 12:4-11).
But in either case, we need to understand that trials do not come to us by bad luck or chance. A sovereign, loving God uses everything from minor irritations to major catastrophes to pry us loose from self-reliance, self-love, and sin and to drive us to trust in Him and to love Him and others for His glory.
In a recent Focus on the Family magazine Dr. Dobson said that AIDS is not God’s judgment, because it affects innocent children and others, such as recipients of blood transfusions. But he’s failing to understand that when God’s judgment falls on a nation, it hits the so-called “innocent” (no one is without sin) as well as flagrant sinners. In Ahaz’s day, the whole nation suffered because of Ahaz’s sin. In our day, AIDS is God’s means of judgment, but also of His mercy. The AIDS plague should make us all see the great sin of our land, not only in homosexuality, but also in many other ways. It also should make us realize that the wages of sin is death, but that if sinners will repent and turn to God, they will receive the gift of God which is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 6:23).
Even if we have not deliberately sinned, we need to recognize every trial as God’s gracious means of shaping us into the image of His Son (Rom. 8:28-29; Heb. 12:4-11). Health problems, family problems, financial troubles, car troubles, and every other kind of trial is an opportunity to grow in Christ by submitting to His loving hand and seeking Him more fervently in thankful prayer. Even Jesus, who was without sin, learned obedience through the things He suffered (Heb. 5:8). If you have forsaken God for sin, then view your trials as His gracious means of bringing you into the place of wholeness He wants to give.
Thankfully, there is an alternative to forsaking God to go after sin. Ahaz never did it, but some others in this chapter did:
The warriors from the Northern Kingdom who defeated Judah in battle brought back 200,000 women and children as slaves (28:8). The Northern Kingdom had not had even one godly king since the division of the land almost 200 years before. Yet God did not leave Himself without a witness in the north. In this case the prophet Oded confronted these men. Ironically, the ungodly Northern Kingdom (whose capital was Samaria) forsook their sin and obeyed God, while the southern kingdom did not. This story was no doubt behind Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan.
Oded’s job was a bit like an M.P. single-handedly facing a barroom full of drunken sailors. These guys were high on the smell of victory. But he goes out and tells them to send their captives home. His words and their response reveal three aspects of true repentance:
The only way we know right from wrong is the Bible. God’s Word reveals His righteous moral standards. These men heard God’s Word through Oded. Ahaz had heard God’s Word through Isaiah. We have it in written form. The Bible, and only the Bible, is our standard for right and wrong. Repentance involves listening to God’s Word.
“Do you not have transgressions of your own against the Lord your God?” These warriors from the north had just been used to execute God’s judgment on their sinful brothers in the south. They could have been pretty cocky about themselves compared with their brothers. But the prophet calls them to face their own sin. Repentance always means acknowledging your own sin, not comparing yourself with others who may be more sinful.
Lip service isn’t enough. God requires us to perform “deeds appropriate to repentance” (Acts 26:20). A lot of people supposedly receive Christ, but there is no repentance. They don’t turn from their sin and begin to obey the Lord. Repentance means that we begin to obey God, and when we do sin, we come back to Him again for cleansing and restoration. Christians are not sinless, but we should sin less as we grow in our walk with God.
A Native American tells a legend he heard as a boy. Many years ago, Indian braves would go away in solitude to prepare for manhood. One saw a rugged peak and thought, “I will test myself against that mountain.” He put on his buffalo-hide shirt, threw his blanket over his shoulders and set off to conquer the challenging summit.
When he reached the top, he felt like he was standing on the rim of the world. His heart swelled with pride at his success. Then he heard a rustle at his feet. Looking down, he saw a snake. Before he could move, the snake spoke. “I am about to die,” said the snake. “It’s too cold for me up here, and there is no food. Put me under your shirt and take me down to the valley.”
“No,” said the youth. “I know your kind. You’re a rattlesnake. If I pick you up, you’ll bite and kill me.” “Not so,” said the snake. “I’ll treat you differently. If you do this for me, I’ll not harm you.”
The youth resisted for a while, but this was a persuasive snake. At last the youth tucked it under his shirt and carried it down to the valley. There he laid it down. But suddenly the snake coiled, rattled, and struck, biting him on the leg.
The startled youth cried out, “But, you promised--!” “You knew what I was when you picked me up,” said the snake as it slithered away. (Adapted from Reader’s Digest [6/89], p. 131.)
The next time you’re tempted to embrace sin into your life, and it looks attractive and harmless, remember the words of that snake: “You knew what I was when you picked me up.” If you forsake God to go after sin, as Ahaz did, you will only get stung. If you forsake sin to go after God, though it’s often difficult, you will be ultimately blessed. Are you forsaking God to go after sin, or are you forsaking sin to go after God?
Copyright 1994, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
America desperately needs spiritual renewal or revival! Most of us would say, “Amen!” to that statement. The city of Flagstaff needs revival! “Preach it, brother!” The NAU campus needs revival! “You’ve got that right!”
The churches of Flagstaff need revival! “Yes, all the churches need to catch on fire!” Flagstaff Christian Fellowship needs revival! “Well, there may be some here who need it.” You and I need individual revival! “Now, just a minute! You’ve gone too far!”
We’re all for revival “out there,” but when it gets too close to home, we begin to get a bit nervous. Revival implies that the thing needing reviving isn’t real healthy--paramedics don’t revive someone walking down the street in good health! Revival also implies change. That threatens us because, even if we’re not doing real well spiritually, we tend to get comfortable with the predictable.
But I suggest that we all are in constant need of continuing spiritual renewal. Every day the world, the flesh, and the devil seek to pull us back into a spiritual lethargy that chokes the new life we received through the “washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Like silver exposed to the elements, we grow tarnished and dull spiritually. Thus we constantly need renewal or revival.
But we need it not only individually, but corporately, as God’s people. Corporate revival happens when God’s Spirit moves on a group of His people, often on many groups in the same region at the same time, bringing a new awareness of God’s holiness, of our own sinfulness, and of His abundant grace. It always results in God’s people confessing and forsaking sin, of an increase of the conversion of sinners, and of great joy in the Lord.
No one can plan or program true revival; it is a sovereign act of God. You can hang a sign out in front of the church proclaiming, “Revival This Week,” but that doesn’t mean it will happen. It is from first to last a work of God. But at the same time, there are conditions we can meet as His people so that if He should choose to move in a mighty way, His power would not be hindered. They are essential factors if we want to walk in daily freshness with our Lord. We can see three important factors of spiritual renewal in the revival that happened under the good king Hezekiah (2 Chron. 29):
Spiritual renewal comes through commitment and cleansing, and expresses itself in celebration.
We see Hezekiah’s commitment to the Lord in 29:1-11; the cleansing of the priests and the temple in 29:12-24; and the celebration of God’s people in worship in 29:25-36.
To understand this story, you have to remember the previous chapter and the dismal spiritual situation in Judah under the wicked King Ahaz, Hezekiah’s father. He began by introducing idol worship alongside the worship of God and ended by closing the doors of the Temple, sacrificing to the gods of Damascus, and establishing centers of idol worship in every Judean town.
Because of Ahaz’s apostasy, the Lord stirred up enemies against him from every side. The Philistines were invading from the west; the Edomites were taking territory to the east. But the most ominous threat was from the north, where Ahaz had tried to buy the friendship of Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria. That held him at a distance long enough for him to polish off the northern kingdom of Israel and their neighbor to the north, Syria. But feeding the monster only made him stronger, and now he was threatening Judah. The Assyrian army was known for its brutality and awesome power. If they overran Judah, thousands would be slaughtered, families would be torn apart, people would be hauled into captivity as slaves, and the worship of God among His people would be a thing of the past.
If you were Hezekiah, taking the leadership of a nation under those conditions, what would be your first priority? In light of this desperate historical setting, the words of verse 3 take on heightened significance: “In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the Lord and repaired them.” Then he calls the priests and Levites and charges them to consecrate themselves (first) and the Lord’s house (second) (29:5) to reverse the awful conditions introduced by his father. He shares with them what is in his heart, namely, to make a covenant with the Lord God (29:10), and repeats his charge to them, “Do not be negligent now, for the Lord has chosen you to stand before Him to minister to Him” (29:11). Hezekiah’s first priority in the face of a national crisis was to call the nation and its leaders back to the proper commitment to God. We can learn several things from his example:
When you face a crisis, the natural human response is to focus on the crisis. If you’re a king facing a military threat, the thing to do is to strengthen your army. If you face a health crisis, the first thing to do is get medical attention. If you’ve lost your job, your first priority is to focus on finding another job. If your marriage is in trouble, focus on your marriage. If your teenager is rebellious, focus on dealing with your teenager.
Don’t misunderstand: I’m not saying that we should ignore pressing problems. They demand our attention and we would be negligent not to attend to them. But I am arguing that Hezekiah’s example shows us that the most pressing need in a time of need is to renew our commitment to the Lord. Only after we have done that are we free to seek His mind on how to deal with the pressing problem. Often the very reason God sends the problem is to get us to stop and get our priorities back in line. Once we’ve done that, He often deals with the problem in ways we never could have, even if we had put all our efforts into solving it.
Hezekiah could have looked around and thought, “Things are grim. My father shut down the temple. Idolatry is rampant. He lost a lot of our territory to other nations. And we’re under the thumb of Tiglath-Pileser. Why try?” He could have grown very depressed and have been paralyzed into doing nothing. But instead he committed himself to follow the Lord. He rallied the priests to re-open the temple for worship. He called the nation back to God. And as soon as God breaks into any situation, the darkness is dispelled by the light of His presence.
Down through history, God has broken into the worst of situations to bring hope and light when, humanly speaking, things are hopeless. At the time of the Reformation, spiritual conditions were abysmal. The Roman Catholic church was corrupt beyond description. Then God converted a German monk named Martin Luther and a French lawyer named John Calvin. Through these men and many others, the good news that Christ died for sinners and that His forgiveness and eternal life are a free gift to all who will trust in Him began to be proclaimed. Hope broke into a darkened, hopeless situation! The same thing happened during the English revival in the 18th century with the Wesleys and George Whitefield. Some historians argue that England would have faced a bloody revolution similar to that in France if that revival had not taken place.
It applies to our nation at this time. We see sin abounding. People are flaunting their degradation. Religious liberties are being taken from us. The Judeo-Christian base which used to underlie our legal and political systems has been eroded. Even the Christian church seems anemic and polluted with sin, from the leadership level on down. But if we, as God’s people, will commit ourselves fully to Him, there is hope! If God will break into the church and nation with His light, there is no limit to what can happen.
It also applies to you personally. Perhaps you’re in a hopeless, discouraging situation. You’ve given every ounce of your effort to trying to deal with it, all to no avail. But can you conceive of any problem that is too big for God? If God breaks through into your situation, there is hope. The main thing is that we renew our commitment to Him.
Adoniram Judson, the great pioneer missionary to Burma, was suffering from fever in a stinking, rat-infested prison. He had seen little fruit for his years of hard work and sacrifice. He had gone through many setbacks and hardships. A letter from a friend arrived which asked, “Judson, how’s the outlook?” He replied, “The outlook is as bright as the promises of God.” Commitment to God brings hope into the darkest of situations.
By a radical commitment to God’s Word, I mean a commitment that goes against tradition and current custom, if need be; that goes against the way we were raised, if need be; and goes back to complete obedience to what God’s Word teaches about how we are to live. Undergirding Hezekiah’s reforms is an understanding of what the Law of Moses prescribed and a commitment to follow that completely. He knew what was clean and unclean (29:5). He knew what the proper incense offerings and burnt offerings were that had been neglected (29:7). He had gained this understanding from God’s Word (29:15). Spiritual renewal is always centered on a renewal of the authority of God’s Word.
Again, we can only understand how radical this was for Hezekiah if we remember his background and the spiritual climate he grew up in. His father was an abusive, self-centered man who had burned some of Hezekiah’s brothers to death by offering them to the pagan god, Molech! Ahaz had set up idol worship throughout the whole country. Hezekiah easily could have been a rebellious, angry young man, mad at God, mad at his abusive father, just going with the evil current of his day. What I’m getting at is, he didn’t drift into the direction he took. He had to make a commitment to go against the evil ways of his father (29:6) and to follow God’s Word even when it ran counter to the evil customs being practiced.
A radical commitment to God’s Word means that even though you had angry, abusive, self-centered parents, you confront your own anger, abusiveness, and self-centeredness so that it doesn’t continue in your family. Even though your parents worshipped gods of their own making, whether money or pleasure, you worship the living God in accordance with His Word of truth. Commitment puts God’s Word into life by obeying it when it confronts the way we live. Spiritual renewal always comes through renewed commitment to God and His Word.
Renewed commitment to God and His Word always reveals areas of our lives that have been displeasing to God. Thus the second element in spiritual renewal is cleansing.
Note that reform or renewal always starts with the person and moves outward to the church (29:5, “consecrate yourselves and consecrate the house of the Lord”). Many of these priests had fallen into unfaithfulness and idolatry, so they had to deal with their own sin before they could begin the process of cleansing the temple. God can’t use you to impact others for Christ until you cleanse yourself from defilement. These priests had a lot of crud to deal with--it took them 16 days to haul out all the idols and other junk from the temple (29:17)! But, thank God, if we’re willing to clean up our lives, even if it takes a while to shovel it all out, He will restore us and use us again for His purpose!
In Hezekiah’s revival, as soon as the temple was cleansed, they gathered in worship and offered three kinds of sacrifices: Sin offerings (29:21); burnt offerings (23:27); and thank offerings (29:31). These three offerings typify the kind of cleansing and consecration we need as worshipers of God.
The sin offering pictured substitution. God’s holiness and justice demand that the penalty for our sin is death. Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness (Heb. 9:22). The slaughter of these animals and the sprinkling of their blood on the altar pictured the perfect sacrifice for our sins that would be accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. For the person to be cleansed, he had to lay his hands on the head of the animal as the priest slit its throat, thus identifying himself with that shedding of blood on his behalf. His sins were “transferred” to the animal which died in his place. Even so, there is no cleansing from sin unless you have by faith identified yourself with Jesus Christ in His death on your behalf.
The burnt offering pictured consecration. It was offered up totally to the Lord (the worshiper did not eat any of it) and represents the surrender and holiness demanded of those who have received God’s forgiveness. Our response to His mercy in becoming our sin offering should be to give ourselves completely to Him: “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom. 12:1).
The thank offering pictured devotion. These were voluntary offerings expressing love and gratitude for God’s many blessings. The author to the Hebrews refers to this when he writes, “Through (Christ) then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing; for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Heb. 13:15-16). Christians are to be “overflowing with gratitude” (Col. 2:7).
The burnt offerings and thank offerings move into the third area of renewal, celebration, or corporate worship. But the point is, we can’t experience spiritual renewal, whether individually or corporately, unless we appropriate God’s cleansing through the blood of Christ, confessing our sins and cleaning the offensive, idolatrous crud out of our lives, even as they cleansed themselves and God’s temple. Spiritual renewal starts with commitment; continues with cleansing; and culminates in celebration:
Celebration results from knowing that your sins are forgiven. “When the burnt offering began, the song to the Lord also began with the trumpets” (29:27). They had quite a celebration, with cymbals, harps, lyres, trumpets and singing (29:25-28).
I chose the word “celebration” because it starts with the same letter as commitment and cleansing. Seriously, though, the word expresses the fact that these people weren’t just mumbling through a religious service, looking at their watches and wondering if they’d get home in time to tune in the football game. Their hearts were in it! Note 29:30, “they sang praises with joy.” Do you sing that way? If not, maybe you need revival! When you realize that God has moved in your heart to reveal Christ as the perfect sacrifice for all your sins, how can you mumble through a song with no joy? An outsider coming into our midst should be able to tell by our worship that we are overflowing with joy because of what God has done in cleansing us from sin.
They were joyous, but they were also reverent. We read (29:30) that “they bowed down and worshiped.” They had a sense of awe in the presence of God. By bowing down they showed their submission to Him.
One of the current adjectives in vogue among teenagers is “awesome.” A group of girls sees the captain of the football team and coo, “He’s awesome!” Perhaps it’s a harmless expression, but I’ve got news for you. A handsome young man isn’t awesome. GOD IS AWESOME! We need to remember that when we worship Him together.
Hezekiah invited the consecrated people (29:31), “Come near and bring sacrifices and thank offerings to the house of the Lord.” This expression is used in the book of Hebrews when we are invited to draw near through the blood of Christ as we assemble together (10:19-25). We don’t gather here on Sundays to run through an entertaining program. We gather to meet with the Lord Himself, to come near to Him. So our worship celebration should be both joyful and reverent, in His presence.
Sometimes people come to church and leave mumbling, “I didn’t get anything out of it.” That’s not the point. The point is, “Did the Lord get anything out of you?” Did you come to draw near and offer to the Lord a joyous, reverent thank offering because of His grace shown to you through the blood of Christ?
I love verse 36: “Then Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced over what God had prepared for the people, because the thing came about suddenly.” God prepared it (He is the sovereign cause of revival), but it happened suddenly! There was a joyous spontaneity to the whole thing. The birth of our Savior had been prepared from ages past, and yet “suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God ....” In Acts we read that suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind” and yet “this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel” hundreds of years before! Prepared by God, but it happened suddenly. And God’s people rejoiced and God--not Hezekiah--got the glory.
I’ll end where I began: Spiritual renewal or revival in our nation begins with revival in our hearts. John Wesley said, “Give me 100 men who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I will shake the world.” If you and I want revival, we must commit ourselves completely to the Lord; we must cleanse ourselves of all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor. 7:1); and we must join together in corporate celebration of God’s abundant grace that extends to all who will draw near to Him through blood of Christ. And if God’s Spirit moves in a mighty way in our midst, we will rejoice over what He has prepared, because the thing came about suddenly.
Copyright 1994, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Pretend that you’re on the old TV game show “Password.” You’ll recall that the object of that show was to try to get your partner to say the “password” by a process of word association. For example, if the password was “read,” maybe you would say “book.” Your partner responds, “magazine.” You say, “newspaper.” He gets the connection and says “read.”
Your word that you want your partner to guess is “obedience.” What words would you use to get him to say “obedience”? “Duty.” “Rules.” “Regulations.” “Laws.” “Restrictions.”
I venture to say that one word you would not use is “joy.” Joy and obedience don’t seem to fit together. Joy seems liberating; obedience sounds restrictive. Joy conveys lightheartedness; obedience sounds burdensome and heavy. Most of us would never think that the way to true joy in life lies on the path of obedience to God.
And yet it is so. King Hezekiah’s story reveals that …
Obedience from the heart to our gracious God results in great joy.
As we saw last week, Hezekiah was a godly king who in the first year of his reign resolved to restore personal and national worship as the top priority. He cleansed and restored the temple and reinstituted the sacrifices. In chapter 30 we learn how Hezekiah invited the whole nation to observe the Passover in Jerusalem. The result was the greatest worship celebration since the division of the kingdom (30:26).
The theme of heartfelt, joyful obedience occurs repeatedly throughout the chapter, as not only Judah, but also many in Israel join together to celebrate the Passover. Verse 12 sums it up: “The hand of God was also on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the princes commanded by the word of the Lord.” The mood of the convocation was “great joy” (30:21, 23, 25, 26). They had such a great time that they decided to extend it an extra week (30:23). They didn’t want it to end. Though some mocked and refused to come (30:10), those who obeyed knew the deep and lasting joy only God can give.
If we want that kind of joy, we need to imitate that kind of obedience. I want to share five observations about obedience from the heart:
King Hezekiah didn’t get a brilliant idea out of the blue to celebrate the Passover. He was simply obeying what God commanded through Moses as a statute for Israel (Exod. 12:14; see 2 Chron. 30:5 [“prescribed”]; 12 [“the word of the Lord”]; 16 [“according to the law of Moses the man of God”]; 18 [“prescribed”]). And, when Hezekiah decided to celebrate the feast on the second month instead of the first (30:2-4), he wasn’t making that up; it was permitted in the Law of Moses (Num. 9:9-10). As we saw in the previous chapter, Hezekiah’s reforms were founded on a return to God’s Word as the standard for how to live. All revivals are centered on a return to God’s Word.
The Passover feast was instituted historically at the culmination of the plagues which God brought on Pharaoh and Egypt when he refused to free Israel. On the night designated by God, the people were to kill an unblemished male lamb and smear its blood on the two doorposts and on the lintel of their homes. Then they roasted the lamb and ate it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. On that night God passed through the land of Egypt and killed all the firstborn men and beasts in homes not covered by the blood, but “passed over” those with the blood.
The Passover is a beautiful picture of the redemption that God would provide through the Messiah. Christ is our Passover lamb (1 Cor. 5:7); every person under the shed blood of Christ will be spared from God’s judgment. The deliverance from slavery in Egypt that the Passover commemorated is a type of the deliverance Christ provides from bondage to sin. The Passover was followed by the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread that typified the life of holiness required by God’s people.
It wasn’t easy for the Jews to obey God’s command regarding the Passover. In fact, it was a major hassle! The man had to take off from his job or leave his fields. The wife had to pack up clothes and food for the whole family. (Those of you who go camping with small children know what that’s like!) They didn’t have cars or paved highways, so they had to walk and ride on donkeys to Jerusalem where the feast was celebrated. All of that hassle just to observe a ceremony that God said was to be a memorial of their deliverance from Egypt.
Obedience to God’s Word is not always convenient or easy. It’s much easier to sack in on Sunday mornings than it is to get up and get the family ready for church. It’s easier not to spend time daily with the Lord than it is to set aside that time to meet with Him. It’s often easier to fudge on the truth than to be honest. It’s easier to spend your money as you please than to be faithful as a manager of God’s resources. It’s easier to yield to sexual temptation than to be pure. It’s easier to go along with the crowd than to stand alone because of your convictions. You often pay a price to obey God.
Obedience to God’s Word is not always popular (30:10). Some of the people in the northern kingdom said, “You’ve got to be kidding! You want us to go to all that hassle to go to Jerusalem just to observe some outdated ritual prescribed in the law of Moses?” So they laughed them to scorn and mocked them. It’s ironic that the northern kingdom was on the brink of extinction, yet these men would not turn in repentance to the Lord! It reminds me of Lot’s sons-in-law who thought he was joking when he appealed to them to flee the destruction of Sodom (Gen. 19:14). But it’s the same today: even though people apart from Christ are on the brink of perishing, they will laugh you to scorn when you take a stand for Christ and experience any kind of hardship because of your obedience. You can expect it! But, remember, the reason you go through the hassle or hardship of obedience is because God’s Word is your authority for all of life.
Notice how God is referred to in this chapter: In 30:1 & 5, He is called “the God of Israel”; in 30:6, He is “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel”; in 30:7, 19, & 22 He is “the Lord God of their fathers.” Each of these terms underscores the fact that God is a covenant-keeping God, faithful to His promises even when His people have been rebellious. The letter of invitation (30:6-9) blends both the holiness of God who judges sin (“a horror” [30:7]; “His burning anger” [30:8]) with His compassion and willingness to be reconciled if His people would return to Him. The response of the people in destroying all the idolatrous altars (30:14) shows the only proper response to a holy God, namely, wholehearted obedience.
My point is that the character of God, while awesome in holiness, is also beautiful in grace and compassion. When you see that God righteously could send you to hell because of your many sins, but that He graciously extends a full pardon through the cross of Christ if you will turn from your sins to trust in Him, the beauty of His holiness and grace draws your heart to Him.
God made us so that we respond to beauty. Why do over four million people a year come from every corner of the globe to the Grand Canyon? Because they are attracted by its beauty. And when we see how beautiful God is in His grace and compassion to receive us to Himself in spite of our sin, it attracts our hearts to obey Him. As the Apostle Paul puts it, “the kindness of God leads you to repentance” (Rom. 2:4).
Thus, obedience from the heart is founded on God’s Word; it responds to God’s character.
By this I mean that obedience is not merely conformity to a set of rules, although God’s commands need to be obeyed. But our obedience ought to be a heart response to a personal God. Note the repetition of “to the Lord” (30:2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9). The emphasis isn’t so much on “come, observe the Passover” in minute detail as it is rather “return to the Lord” (30:6), “yield to the Lord” (30:8), and “serve the Lord” (30:8). It’s a personal appeal.
Some who came to observe the Passover were not able to purify themselves ceremonially as the Law required (30:17-18). Hezekiah prayed for them and God “healed” them, that is, forgave their ceremonial uncleanness. The point is not that God is sloppy about sin, but rather that He looks on the heart (30:19, “prepares his heart to seek God”). Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because they outwardly obeyed, but their hearts were far from Him (Matt. 12:1-7; 15:8; 23:23). The proper balance is to remember that God’s grace never means license to be sloppy about sin; but His grace does mean that He blesses those who do not deserve it. The chief motivation for obedience is that the personal God has called me to Himself. Obedience from the heart responds to God in a personal way because of His grace.
Obedience from the heart is founded on God’s Word; it responds to God’s character; it yields to God’s person.
The northern and southern kingdoms had been divided for over 200 years. During the reign of Hezekiah’s father, Ahaz, the northern army had killed 120,000 soldiers from the south. At the present time the Northern Kingdom was either on the verge of defeat by Assyria or had just been defeated, depending on when the events of this chapter are dated. It would have been understandable if Hezekiah had said, “Let them stew in their own juice. I’m not going to invite those guys to the Passover!”
But when you love God, you can’t turn your back on God’s people. It’s significant that Hezekiah named his heir to the throne Manasseh, after one of the northern tribes! Hezekiah was burdened that his brothers to the north come back to God. It’s significant that he did not say, “Come, and worship God however you conceive Him to be! Bring your idols to our Passover celebration!” He appealed to them to repent (30:6-9); but he also appealed to them to come. Some may have accused him of simply trying to extend his power base to the north. But I believe Hezekiah’s true motive was to call all of God’s covenant people back to Him.
I often hear of Christians who get wounded by other Christians and drop out of the church. They say that they worship God at home; they don’t need the church. But invariably they not only drop out of church; they end up drifting away from God. Christ is the Head of His church, and He’s not a severed Head! He’s organically joined to His body. It would be silly if I said to you, “I like your head, but I can’t stand your body!” You and your body are one! I’ve got to accept or reject the whole package! It’s the same with Christ and His church.
I’ll promise that you will be hurt by someone in the church, maybe by a whole group of Christians! Someone described the church as being like Noah’s ark: If it weren’t for the storm on the outside, you couldn’t stand the stench on the inside! But if you love God and want to obey Him from the heart, you’ve got to work at being reconciled with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Quite often (as in our text) that reconciliation can’t take place unless there is repentance (often on both sides). But like Hezekiah, you shouldn’t hold a grudge against those who have wronged you, but should seek to bring any fallen brothers back to the Lord and to promote unity in Christ’s body, the church.
Obedience from the heart is founded on God’s Word; it responds to God’s character; it yields to God’s person; it promotes unity among God’s people.
These people enjoyed the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread so much that they extended it for an extra week (30:23; see also 21, 25, 26)! You know there’s revival when people say, “We don’t want such a short service; let’s extend the worship and the preaching!” Verse 26 sums it up: “There was great joy in Jerusalem, ...” Note also verse 27: “Then the Levitical priests arose and blessed the people; and their voice was heard and their prayer came to His holy dwelling place, to heaven.” This means that God fulfilled the priests’ blessing on the people. They had great joy that the world doesn’t know--joy that comes from obedience to our gracious God.
Maybe you’ve always associated obedience with oppression. You’ve thought that obedience means a loss of freedom and fun. That’s the devil’s lie. Obedience from the heart to our gracious God results in great joy. As the Apostle John put it, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).
Sheldon Vanauken wrote this parable or allegory called, “The Day of the Rabbit” (source unknown); it may help you see why obedience to God brings joy:
Gypsy, a furry, wheat-colored collie, found herself in possession of several hundred acres of hills and woods, full of good things like rabbit trails and streams and intriguing burrows, and she delighted in it all. She was given a comfortable bed and good meals. Perhaps she rather took it all for granted. Of obligations there were few, and they not heavy. She was, to be sure, supposed to worship her Master and be right joyous with him. She knew she must not chase the chickens. While she must obey certain commands--to follow, to come, to lie down--there were no unreasonable ones, and no tricks. After all, to obey and to worship were natural to her dog nature.
Then came a day when, as Gypsy was prowling on the far hill past the springhouse and pasture, two things happened at once; the Master called her and a rabbit fled across the hill. Gypsy wheeled and raced towards the Master, as she had always done. Then she stopped. It entered her mind that she didn’t have to obey. Perhaps the Master didn’t understand about that rabbit. Anyhow, these were her hills. The rabbit was hers, too. Very likely it was all lies--that story of everything, including herself, belonging to the Master. How did she know that the food in her dish came from him?--probably there was some natural explanation. She was a free dog and that was the end of it. These thoughts went through her mind swiftly while she stood irresolute. Again came the Master’s command; the rabbit crossed the hilltop. Gypsy whirled and raced after the rabbit. She had made a choice. She was free to choose.
Hours later she came home. She saw the Master waiting for her, but she did not rush gladly to him, leaping and frisking, as she had always done. Something new came into her demeanor: guilt. She crept up to him like a snake on her belly. Undoubtedly she was penitent at the moment. But she had a new knowledge--the knowledge of the possibility of sin--and it was a thrill in her heart and a salt taste in her mouth. Nevertheless, she was very obedient the next day and the day after. Eventually, though, there was a another rabbit--and she did not even hesitate. Soon it was the mere possibility of a rabbit. And then she dropped the rabbit thing altogether and went her way.
The Master loved her still but trusted her no longer. In time she lived in a pen and went for walks with a rope round her neck. All her real freedom was gone. But the Master gave her, from time to time, new chances to obey of her own free will. Had she chosen to obey she would once again have had perfect freedom to wander her hundreds of acres. But she did not return to obedience. She always chose, if she were out of reach, to run away. The Master, knowing hunger would bring her back to her pen, let her run. He could have stopped her: the rifle that would have ended her rebellion with the crack of doom stood in a corner. But while she lived she might still return to the obedience, might still choose the obedience that was freedom.
One day during a journey by car, Gypsy was taken into the edge of a wood. Always Gypsy had limited her disobedience to her own hills. But now coming back to the car, she suddenly felt the old thrill. She turned and fled. The master called with a note of sharp urgency. Gypsy, her ears dulled to the meanings of the Master, continued her rush into the dark forest. After hours of searching and calling, the Master sadly abandoned the lost one and went home.
Lost Gypsy, if she still lived, wandered the woods and roads an outcast. She became dirty and matted with burrs. No doubt stones were thrown at her and she was often hungry, but she had lost the way home. If she had puppies, they, too, and their children had lost the way home, for Gypsy’s perilous and bent will to disobey must infect them; and the comforting hand of the Master would be unknown to them, except as a tale. This is the way Gypsy chose on the Day of the Rabbit and continued to choose until, suddenly, there was no more choosing.
Adam and Eve were the only human beings who knew truly “free” will. The rest of us, as their disobedient children, are bent toward rebellion, prone to go against the will of the Master. But through Jesus Christ and His death on our behalf, we can return and learn the joy of obedience to our gracious God. As Paul put it in Romans 6:17-18, “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”
Are you a slave of sin or of righteousness? Perhaps God in His grace is calling you from your disobedience to the obedience of faith in Jesus Christ. You begin by receiving the forgiveness that Christ provides through the cross.
Copyright 1994, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
For centuries philosophers and theologians have wrestled with the problem of pain. Simply put, it is, “If God is both good and all-powerful, then why is there pain and suffering?” It seems that the existence of suffering either negates the love or the omnipotence of God. A decade ago, Rabbi Harold Kushner, who lost his own son in death, tried to answer the question in his best-selling book, When Bad Things Happen To Good People. His pathetic answer was that God is good, but He isn’t quite strong enough to eradicate suffering. Others have denied God’s goodness, concluding that He is a sadistic tyrant. Such a view hardly inspires trust and intimacy with God!
The problem, of course, is not merely philosophical, but deeply personal, since we all face repeated trials throughout life. It is essential, if we want to walk with God and grow in the Christian faith, that we understand and submit to God’s perspective on “why bad things happen to good people.”
While not giving a comprehensive answer, 2 Chronicles 32 addresses this problem. Consider the words of 31:20-21, summarizing the good king Hezekiah’s life: He “... did what was good, right, and true before the Lord his God. And every work which he began in the service of the house of God in law and in commandment, seeking his God, he did with all his heart and prospered.” You would expect the next verse to read, “After these acts of faithfulness, Hezekiah lived a long, happy, trouble-free life.”
But instead we read, “After these acts of faithfulness Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah and besieged the fortified cities, and thought to break into them for himself” (32:1). What a strange reward for Hezekiah’s obedience! Why didn’t God intervene to prevent this good king and his people from going though this difficult trial? Where was God in all this?
The answer to that question is implicit in verse 21, which records how an angel of the Lord destroyed the Assyrian army so that they did not conquer Jerusalem. The accounts in 2 Kings 18 and Isaiah 37 report that 185,000 soldiers--more than three times the population of Flagstaff--were wiped out in one night! And to do the job, the Lord didn’t bother to get off his throne. He didn’t muster an army of 100,000 angels. He called one angel and said, “Go take care of Sennacherib’s army.” God just flicked the mighty Sennacherib out of the way like an ant. So the answer to the question, “Where was God when Sennacherib invaded Judah?” is obvious: God was sovereignly sitting upon His throne, observing every move of this proud king.
But that raises another question: Why didn’t God send His angel to polish off Sennacherib’s army before it caused all the problems for Hezekiah? If God could do it later, He just as easily could have done it sooner. Why did He allow the good king Hezekiah to experience the trauma of Sennacherib’s invasion? More personally, why does God allow us to go through trials? Our text suggests four reasons:
When Hezekiah saw what was coming, he got his people busy getting prepared for the trial (32:1-6). They cut off and re-routed the water supply from the spring of Gihon outside the city wall. The water tunnel which Hezekiah’s men built was discovered by archaeologists in 1880 and is an amazing engineering feat. They dug through solid limestone with hand tools, starting at opposite ends, 1700 feet apart. A plaque which was discovered describes how the workers finally were five feet from one another and could hear each others’ voices. They chipped their way toward one another until the tunnel was completed and the water from the spring flowed into the city. The workers also repaired the broken walls and got the city fortified for the attack. There are two lessons here for us:
Proverbs 24: 10 states, “If you are slack in the day of distress, your strength is limited.” In other words, the day of distress reveals your strength, not a day of calm. So you’d better use the present to prepare for the day of distress (see also, Prov. 1:24-29). You can count on it: At some point some Sennacherib will invade your life. If you aren’t sinking down roots with God now, you won’t be able to stand against the storm.
(See Isa. 22:9-11.) Apparently some in Judah (in light of 2 Chron. 32:7-8, I don’t think Hezekiah was included) were trusting in their water tunnel and fortifications, not in the Lord. That’s always a danger. Preparation and planning are good, but we dare not trust in such things.
We all should develop a daily habit of spending time in God’s Word and in prayer, fortifying our lives against the enemy. But we need to be on guard against trusting in our Bible knowledge or in our quiet times or in some method rather than in the Lord Himself. The enemy is subtle and will try to get us to trust in anything other than the living God. So the main goal of a daily time with God should be to walk in dependence on Him. Knowing that trials will come should motivate us to strengthen our defenses, putting on the full armor of God so that we’re ready to stand in the day of trouble.
Trials will either strengthen your faith in God or destroy it. You won’t stay in the same place. It’s clear that there is a battle of faith going on here: Hezekiah called the people to trust God in this crisis (32:7-8); Sennacherib sought to undermine trust in God and in Hezekiah as God’s leader (32:10-16). Scripture is clear that our main need in a time of trial is to rely on God alone and to resist the lies of the enemy.
Sennacherib and Satan have something in common: They’re both tyrants. When you rebel against a tyrant, he visits you very quickly. Some new Christians get thrown by this. They put their trust in Christ and begin to cast off Satan’s tyranny, and suddenly they have more problems than before they came to Christ. And they wail, “What happened?” It’s easy: When you rebel against a tyrant, he visits you quickly. When you face a trial, Satan whispers, “If your God is so good and powerful, then why is this happening to you? I wouldn’t call this good, would you? And your pastor tells you to trust in God? Come on! That’s a trite phrase if I ever heard one!” But resisting Satan by trusting God is precisely what the Bible tells us to do when we face trials (see 1 Pet. 5:6-11). What does trust mean?
You’ve only got two choices: Either God is sovereign over the likes of Sennacherib (or whatever your trial is named), or He was on vacation and this trial is going to alter His sovereign will. And if you conclude that God is sovereign over your trial, you’ve got two choices: Either you submit to His sovereign hand (1 Pet. 5:6-7), or you shake your fist at Him and sulk, “It’s not fair! Is this the way You treat me after all I’ve done for You?” But there is no word of that with Hezekiah. Instead of complaining, he rallied the people to trust in God (32:7-8).
(See 32:7-8.) Trusting God isn’t passive and vague; it’s active and specific. Let’s say you have some overwhelming problem. Believe me, Sennacherib and company were an overwhelming problem! Some bas-relief art recovered from the ruins of Nineveh depicts Sennacherib’s siege of Lachish (32:9, about 30 miles southwest of Jerusalem). The soldiers are battering down the walls with huge war machines. A number of prisoners are impaled on poles. Others are being flayed alive, while some are bowing in obeisance before Sennacherib. If you were on this guy’s hit list, you had a problem! Let’s be honest--it’s one thing to say we trust in the Lord, but it’s altogether different thing to do it when guys like this are knocking on your door!
How do you do it? You line up your problem against the living God and every time you fear, you keep coming back to affirm your trust in God. We can’t be sure, but Psalm 46 may have been written in this situation. It’s a great affirmation of God as the source of strength:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy dwelling place of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations made an uproar, the kingdoms tottered; He raised His voice, the earth melted. the Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold (Ps. 46:1-7).
Thus, trust in God means submitting to His sovereignty over your trials; it means acknowledging Him as the source of your strength.
(See 32:20.) The other accounts (2 Kings and Isaiah) record how Hezekiah took Sennacherib’s threatening letter into the house of the Lord, spread it out before the Lord and prayed about it. The gist of his prayer wasn’t, “God help us out of this trial so that we can be happy.” Rather, it was, “Lord, deliver us so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God” (2 Kings 19: 14-19). As our text states, Sennacherib and his envoys “spoke of the God of Jerusalem as of the gods of the peoples of the earth, the work of men’s hands” (32:19). God’s honor was first in Hezekiah’s mind, not just relief from his problems.
When you pray in a time of trial--whether for yourself or for others--make sure that God’s glory is the object of your prayer. The point of prayer is not to use God to secure my happiness. I need to seek God’s glory above all else. He may be glorified by delivering me from my trial, or through my enduring the trial by His grace, or by taking me to be with Him. I need to trust Him by casting all my anxiety on Him, submitting to whatever brings Him glory (1 Pet. 5:7).
God allows trials to motivate us to strengthen our defenses against evil and to increase our trust in Him.
(See 32:22.) Israel went to bed (if they slept at all), on the brink of annihilation, surrounded by 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. They got up the next morning surrounded by 185,000 Assyrian corpses. Can you imagine the relief and joy that must have spread through the city that morning! “Have you heard the good news? God rescued us!” Those people were thankful to God!
One reason many, especially those reared in Christian homes, have a lukewarm faith and are not grateful to God is that they have never seen what a horrible fate God rescued them from when He saved them from His certain judgment. I like the way Harry Blamires puts it in his book, Recovering the Christian Mind [IVP], pp. 16):
What is the experience of conversion like? Is it like opening a book one day and saying, “Ah, now I understand: in future I shall guide my life by these precepts”? It is not. If the men and women of true faith are to be trusted, the relief felt after conversion is the relief of someone who has been saved from drowning, spotted struggling in the sea, winched up on to a helicopter and laid panting there. The convert does not speak as though he has achieved something, mastered some difficult truth at last, solved some problem, attained some new insight. He speaks as one torn from the bowels of destruction by the watchfulness, the care, the unspeakable love of a Saviour. His emotions are of relief, gratitude, and complete self-commitment to the One to whom he owes everything.
Our problem is, our proud fallen nature makes us think that we’re capable of handling things by ourselves, whether it’s getting into heaven by our own goodness or dealing with trials by our own ingenuity. So God has to humble us, to make us despair even of life, as the apostle Paul put it, so that “we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1:9). Then when He delivers us, we rejoice in His salvation!
God allows trials to motivate us to strengthen our defenses against evil; to increase our trust in Him; to enrich our experience of His salvation.
The major sin of the human race is pride. It reared its head in a good man like Hezekiah when he gave “no return” when the Lord healed him from a terminal illness (32:25). Later, when some Babylonian envoys came to inquire of the miraculous sign God had performed of making the shadow go backwards on the stairs, rather than bearing witness of the great God who did such a thing, Hezekiah boastfully showed them all of his riches (32:31). If a good man like Hezekiah (31:20) fell into pride, none of us are exempt from the problem. God has to send trials to remind us that even good people are not essentially good.
When trials hit a “good” person, we’re inclined to ask, “If God is all loving and all powerful, then why does a good man like this suffer?” We begin to think that good people have some sort of claim on God due to their goodness. But we need to remember that when we talk about a good person, we’re talking only from a human perspective. Only God is truly good. God’s perspective on the human race is: “There is none righteous, not even one. There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good; there is not even one” (Rom. 3:10-12).
When I start thinking that God owes me a trouble-free life because of my uprightness, I had better start thinking differently. God owes me nothing but hell for my sin. The question, “God, how can You allow this to happen?” is the wrong question. The right question is, “God why have You not blotted me off the face of the earth for my sins? Even though in the sight of men I may be a good person, in Your holy presence I am full of all uncleanness and deserve only Your judgment.”
That’s a healthy and helpful reminder. It humbles our pride. God allows trials to remind us that even good people are not essentially good. We all need His grace or we would rightfully perish. None can demand His blessing as a wage due.
So our text is telling us that ...
God allows trials to bless sinners who cast themselves on Him.
Trials motivate us to strengthen our defenses against evil. They increase our trust in God. They enrich our experience of His salvation. They humble us before Him, thus making us appreciate His abundant grace.
The following incident happened at a class in New York City called “Family Folklore: Preserving the stories of the past” (Reader’s Digest [Jan., 1984], pp. 127-128):
A small, middle-aged woman stood and began speaking somewhat nervously. “I was born in Estonia,” she said. “And I have never told anyone this story until now.” She looked about hesitantly. Then she began to describe how, when she was a child, her parents had given her a beautiful doll from France. Cherie, she had called the doll. It became her most precious possession. Her cousin Doris came to stay with her when she was 12, after Doris’s father died. Doris played with Cherie constantly, and when it was time to leave, she clutched Cherie to her. “Doris has lost her father, and she needs the doll more than you do,” the 12-year-old’s mother had said. “Let Doris have it. God will return it to you.”
“I cried and cried,” the woman said. “As time went by, and Cherie was not returned, I lost my faith in God.” It was a harrowing time. “This was when we had to flee Estonia because of the Nazis,” she said. She learned that Doris’s house had been bombed by the Luftwaffe and had burned to the ground. Doris and her family escaped from the house with only the clothes on their backs. Soon all the relatives fled Estonia. Those who did not die in the Holocaust were widely scattered and started their lives again in new lands.
Eventually, the woman said, she found her way to the United States. Years went by, but she never forgot Cherie. Then, to her surprise, she learned that Doris was alive--and also living in America. Their paths crossed once or twice. But neither cousin ever mentioned the doll.
“When my first child was born,” she said, “Doris came to visit. She brought with her a present.” The woman struggled with tears. “It was Cherie. Doris told me that when she ran from the burning house, she put Cherie in her kerchief. She carried Cherie all through the war.
“If you think I wept before,” the woman continued, “it was nothing to the tears I wept when I saw Cherie. And then my faith in God was restored. For what my mother had said was true.”
Perhaps God has given you what you consider a strange reward for your obedience to Him. Some Sennacherib has invaded your life. Will you trust Him that in His time, if not in this life then in eternity, He will work it all together for good? If you cast yourself on Him, submitting to His sovereign hand, He will use such trials to shape you into the image of His Son, who learned obedience through the things He suffered (Heb. 5:8).
Copyright 1994, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
What would you think if you heard that the notoriously immoral rock singer Madonna had been converted to Christ? Or what if you heard that Shirley MacLaine had abandoned all her New Age spiritualism and had embraced Christianity? Throw in Saddam Hussein, combine them all into one grossly immoral, spirit-worshiping, violent person. Would you say that such a person is beyond the hope of God’s grace?
I’ll admit that the conversion of such people is not commonplace. But the story of King Manasseh shows that what is impossible with man is possible with God. Manasseh combines into one person the most flagrantly offensive sins we can imagine. He set up immoral Baal worship in the temple in Jerusalem. He was into witchcraft, sorcery, and spiritualism. He practiced human sacrifice, offering his own sons in the fire to pagan idols. He slaughtered many innocent people, including many prophets, according to Jewish historians (2 Kings 21:16). They also say that he killed the prophet Isaiah by putting him between two boards like a sandwich and sawing him from head to toe (see Heb. 11:37). He caused Judah to do more evil than the nations whom God had destroyed before Israel. He was the most wicked king in the history of Judah. Yet he was converted.
That’s good news for those of us who have loved ones who have pursued sin with a vengeance. They are not beyond the hope of God’s grace! It’s good news as we pray for the conversion of wicked leaders in our country. God can do it! It’s good news for anyone hearing this message who has committed such gross sins that you wonder if God could ever forgive you. Even if you were raised in a godly home and turned away, so was Manasseh. And yet he found God’s mercy when he repented, and so can you. Our text shows us that ...
Because God is merciful, there is hope for the worst of sinners who repent.
If anyone could be beyond hope, it would have been the wicked King Manasseh.
He came to the throne at age 12. Bible scholars believe that he shared a ten-year co-regency with his godly father, King Hezekiah, so he would have been 22 when his father died. But in spite of his father’s godly example, Manasseh quickly turned the kingdom from a spiritual high to a low described as more evil than the nations which Israel had dispossessed from the land (33:9). Manasseh’s sin was unusually bad because ...
It was not as if he had never heard about God or had no models of godliness. His father was the most godly king after David. Although Hezekiah had fallen into pride during his later years, he humbled himself and walked with God. It is inconceivable that the godly Hezekiah had not spent time telling his son and heir to the throne about God and the great things God had accomplished during his reign. Besides Hezekiah there were Isaiah the prophet and other godly men in the kingdom. The priests and Levites were teaching people the law of God. Manasseh was born into a spiritual oasis, but he walked away from it.
Often the most flagrant sinners are those who reject a godly upbringing. When they turn from the things of God they seem to be driven to rid themselves completely of the faith they have rejected. Hugh Hefner, the founder of the evil Playboy empire, is the son of a Methodist minister. Sad to say, Hefner’s father later was employed by Playboy. But Manasseh’s father was no phony. Hezekiah was a true man of God. You wonder, why did his son turn out so bad?
I can’t answer that question with certainty, because the text gives no clue. But we need to remember that while parents have a great responsibility to train their children in the ways of God, ultimately each person must answer to God for himself or herself. You may be growing up in a Christian home, as I did. Your parents may teach and model the things of God. But there comes a point where you must yield to Jesus Christ as your own Savior and Lord. Your parents’ faith will not get you into heaven.
We also need to realize that there is no such thing as an innocent child. I love kids; they’re so cute and sweet. But my theology says that every child, even one born to Christian parents, has a sinful nature capable of all the awful things that Manasseh did. Every child raised in a Christian home is as much in need of a definite conversion from God as Manasseh needed. As Christian parents, we need to pray, work, and look for signs of conversion in our children. It’s fine when children pray to ask Jesus to come into their hearts, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they have been genuinely converted. Is there evidence of repentance from sin? Is there a hunger for the things of God? Is there submission to God’s Word? Even those who are not outwardly rebellious need to experience God’s grace through the cross of Christ. But Manasseh sinned against the light of his godly upbringing.
While all unbelievers are the servants of sin, not all are bold sinners. Outwardly many are decent, law-abiding people. They have a sense of propriety and shame. They make sure that their sin remains within socially acceptable limits or behind closed doors. A New Yorker cartoon showed two clean-shaven, decent-looking, middle-aged men sitting in a jail cell. One says to the other, “All along I thought our level of corruption fell well within community standards!”
Manasseh’s corruption exceeded community standards! He had no sense of shame. If there had been Geraldo or Oprah, Manasseh would have been on there, telling all the sordid details of his wicked life. His motto was, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it!” It’s as if he was trying to be outrageous, to see if he could shock people with the extent of his wickedness. He sinned against great light; he sinned boldly.
You would have thought that with all the godly people in the land after Hezekiah’s revival, they would have opposed Manasseh and forced him from the throne. But people tend to be followers. While they will go along with a king who is bold for the Lord, they also will quickly turn aside and follow the next king who is bold to do evil.
As God’s people, we need to be careful not to be influenced to tolerate evil by ungodly leaders, whether politically or in the church. It’s easy to be swayed by a man of power or wealth. It makes you feel important to know some famous person, whether a politician or a well-known Christian. I find that Christians are just as enamored by famous people as the world is. But even though an entertainer, sports figure, politician, or author professes to be a Christian doesn’t mean that he is in line with God’s Word. We need to evaluate everything a leader says by God’s Word of truth and have the courage to stand against evil, no matter who is promoting it. A final point shows why Manasseh was an especially flagrant sinner:
God’s Word is clear: If we love Him, we will keep His commandments (1 John 5:3; John 14:15). But Manasseh did not want to “observe to do all” that God had commanded His people through Moses (33:8). Why didn’t he obey? Because he loved himself and hated God.
All sinners love themselves and hate God, but it’s especially true of those who practice idolatry, witchcraft, sorcery, and sacrificing their own children to false gods! People do those things to manipulate spiritual power for their own benefit. Why offer your own children to the gods? So the gods will be nice to you! Too bad about the child’s happiness; you’re only concerned with yourself! With idols, you can make your own god according to your own liking. If you don’t like a holy God who confronts your sinful behavior, you create a god who tolerates sin. At the root of all idolatry is the love of self and the hatred of the one true God who alone deserves and demands our obedient love.
I read in the Arizona Daily Sun (11/5/94, p. 3) an article about the woman who recently admitted to drowning her two sons. It explained how “authorities” (that means psychologists) say that “an unbearable pileup of stresses may trigger latent emotional or mental illness” that leads to this sort of tragedy. Instead of sinful behavior for which the woman is responsible, the cause is some mysterious, latent “illness.” Maybe they’ll find the defective DNA strand that leads to such illness some day! Also, according to a psychologist quoted in the article, women who kill their children sometimes “have very low self-esteem.” But the Bible says the problem is too much self-love, not a lack thereof. The woman loved herself more than her children.
If anyone was a candidate for hell, you would have thought Manasseh would be. He seems like a hopeless case if there ever was one. But the good news is that because God is merciful, there is hope for the worst of sinners who repents. As with Saul of Tarsus, the Lord delights to take the chief of sinners and turn him into the best of saints as a trophy of His grace. What the sinner must do is to repent.
That’s all that God was waiting for! Manasseh didn’t have to vow to join a monastery and wear hair shirts. Nor did he need to work on building his self-esteem. We read (33:12) that “he entreated the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers” and God showed him mercy. If repentance is God’s requirement for sinners to be reconciled to Him, then it’s important to understand what it means.
I’m using here the Apostle Paul’s words as he summarized his message to Agrippa (Acts 26:20). He kept declaring both to Jews and Gentiles “that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.” Maybe you’re thinking, “I thought that salvation is by faith in Christ. Doesn’t repentance add works to simple faith?”
The biblical answer is that saving faith and repentance are flip sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other. Note Acts 26:18, where Paul related Christ’s direct words to him, that He was sending Paul to the Gentiles, “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.” Turning from darkness (sin) to light (holiness) and from Satan’s domain to God is repentance; it is the means of receiving forgiveness of sins.
That last phrase (“faith in Me”) shows that repentance is synonymous with faith in Christ. You can’t truly believe in Christ without turning from your sin any more than you can turn north at the same time you’re heading south. Because God and sin are at opposite ends of the spectrum, you cannot turn to God without turning from sin. Repentance begins as an entreaty, “God be merciful to me, the sinner!” But it continues in deeds appropriate to repentance. Manasseh removed the foreign gods, idols, and altars, set up the altar of the Lord and began serving Him (33:15-16). In other words, repentance is not just talk. It is faith in God that results in a godly change of direction.
Manasseh “humbled himself greatly” before God (33:12). Humility is at the heart of repentance. The root of all sins is pride, thinking that we are sufficient in ourselves apart from God. It frequently manifests itself in people who think that they can commend themselves to God by their good works. They don’t want to admit that they are sinners, totally dependent on God. They don’t want to humble themselves by submitting to God’s ways.
The Hebrew word translated “humbled” is used often in a military context of bringing a proud, rebellious people into subjection. When used spiritually, the emphasis is on a proud, independent person abasing himself. Manasseh, whose life to this point could be summed up by the song, “I Did it My Way,” turned from his self-sufficiency and self-will and cast himself totally on God’s undeserved favor. Then he came to know personally what before he had only known intellectually, “that the Lord was God” (33:13).
What happens when a person repents? Does God put them on probation? Does He say, “We’ll consider your application”? No, thank God!
When Manasseh repented, God could have said, “I hear you talking. But you’ve messed up royally [pun intended!]. After what you’ve done, don’t expect Me to give back your kingdom!” But look at verse 13: God “brought him again to Jerusalem to his kingdom.” Amazing grace! Did Manasseh deserve that? No way! God would have been perfectly just to say, “I forgive you, but you’ll die as a captive in Babylon.”
I’m not saying that there aren’t consequences to our sin, even when we repent. “The people still sacrificed in the high places” (33:17). They were damaged by Manasseh’s sin. His son Amon followed his father’s sin, not his repentance, and was assassinated after two years on the throne. Manasseh’s repentance did not restore to life Isaiah and the others Manasseh had murdered, including his sons. He had to live with those memories for the rest of his life. Sin always leaves scars. But even so, Manasseh enjoyed God’s undeserved favor after he repented. His kingdom was restored. Even better, he came to know God and to be reconciled to Him. When he died, instead of incurring God’s wrath which he deserved, he was welcomed into God’s presence.
That’s how God waits to bless every sinner who repents. He won’t undo all the consequences of your sin (that’s part of His grace, to teach us the seriousness of sin); but He will give you undeserved blessings beyond measure. He brings you into His family, the church, where you find love like you’ve never known. He arranges the circumstances of your life for good as a loving Father. He cares about your every need. He forgives all your sin. He will welcome you into heaven when you die, to be with Him through all eternity. Amazing, abundant grace!
I think that we’re tipped off to God’s great mercy in the first verse of our text: “he reigned 55 years in Jerusalem.” Fifty-five years! That’s the longest reign of any king in Judah, longer than David or Solomon or Hezekiah! Why would God allow this wicked king to occupy the throne for 55 years? For the same reason He has put up with all the wickedness in the world to this point in history: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
A poor woman from the slums of London was invited to go with a group of people for a holiday at the ocean. She had never seen the ocean before, and when she saw it, she burst into tears. Those around her thought it was strange that she should cry when such a lovely holiday had been given her. “Why in the world are you crying?” they asked. Pointing to the ocean she answered, “This is the only thing I have ever seen that there was enough of.” God has oceans of mercy. There is enough of it for the worst of sinners. There is enough of it for you and me!
Years ago newspapers carried the story of a teenager named William, who was a fugitive from the police. He had run away with his girlfriend because the parents had been trying to break them up. But what William didn’t know was that an ailment for which he had been seeing the doctor was diagnosed just after he ran away as cancer.
So here was William, doing his best to elude the police, lest he lose his love, while they were doing their best to find him, lest he lose his life. He thought they were after him to punish him; they were really after him to save him. (Told by Howard Hendricks, Say it With Love [Victor Books], p. 14.)
Maybe you’ve thought that God was after you to punish you. The truth is, He is after you to bless you. Even if you have been the worst of sinners, if you will turn to God from your sin He will forgive and bless you. No one is beyond hope, because God’s grace is greater than all our sin!
Copyright 1994, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Former Secretary of Education William Bennett writes about how teachers in the 1940’s were asked to identify the major problems they faced in the schools. They listed talking out of turn; chewing gum; making noise; running in halls; cutting in line; dress code infractions; and littering. When asked the same question in 1990, teachers listed drug and alcohol abuse; pregnancy; suicide; rape; robbery; and assault (cited in Liberty [Nov./Dec., 1994, p. 5).
Do you remember the story of the little Dutch boy who saved his city from destruction by sticking his finger in the hole in the dike? Do you ever feel like that little boy, except that you’re trying to plug holes with all your fingers and thumbs, but more leaks are breaking out every minute? I sometimes feel overwhelmed as I see our godless culture hurtling toward destruction.
King Josiah must have felt that way. He lived in an evil day; his culture was on the brink of God’s judgment. His grandfather, Manasseh, had been the most wicked king in Judah’s history, plunging the nation into worse sins than the Canaanites Israel had conquered centuries before. Even though Manasseh repented, he could not undo the damage he had done. It’s much easier to lead people into sin than it is to lead them out again. It’s like emptying a box of BB’s on a hardwood floor. It’s easy to scatter them, but it’s not so easy to get them all back in the box. Josiah’s father, the wicked Amon, reigned only two years before he was assassinated. He reestablished the pagan practices of his father’s earlier years. Into this wicked culture, plunging headlong toward destruction, little eight-year-old Josiah was thrust as king.
What could this boy-king do? He stuck all his fingers in the holes in the dike! He didn’t finally avert God’s judgment, but he did manage to hold it off for over 30 years. At age 16, Josiah began to seek the Lord (34:3). As a young man of 20, he started a series of reforms in an attempt to turn the nation back from destruction. But even though Josiah himself “did right in the sight of the Lord” (34:2), if we read the contemporary prophets, Jeremiah and Zephaniah, we learn that his reforms weren’t able to go deeply enough. But he did manage to keep one generation from judgment. As such, Josiah should be an example to us as we seek to make a difference in our evil culture. Like Josiah,
Though we live in an evil day, we can see God work through us if we will seek Him and obey His Word.
When you read 2 Chronicles 34:3-7 and the parallel passage (2 Kings 23:4-15, 19-20) you begin to see what Josiah was up against. Although the people in his kingdom would claim to be followers of the one true God, they had incorporated all sorts of worldly practices into their worship: idolatry, sexual immorality, and even child sacrifice, all under the guise of religion! It’s amazing how people can delve into anything and everything other than God’s Word in the name of religion! These people claimed to be God’s covenant people, but they were totally corrupt in their lifestyle.
In Josiah’s day, as in ours, there was a widespread lack of understanding of God’s Word. When we read of a copy of the Law being discovered in the Temple and read to the King, we get the distinct impression that even the godly Josiah had never heard it read before (34:15-19)! We don’t know whether Manasseh and Amon had destroyed the copies used by the priests and Levites during Hezekiah’s reign. But apparently God’s Word was scarce. Whenever people do not read and understand the Bible, they have no basis for evaluating or confronting their behavior. And so they drift into the worst of sins without even knowing that they are thoroughly pagan.
I wish you all would read David Wells’ two excellent books, No Place for Truth and God in the Wasteland [both, Eerdmans], which show how worldly the American church has become because we have abandoned God’s truth and God-centered living and have replaced it with a human-centered, therapeutic approach in which human needs become sovereign. Wells argues that the church is in the business of truth, not of marketing its “feel-good” product to religious consumers. He states,
A business is in the market simply to sell its products; it doesn’t ask consumers to surrender themselves to the product. The church, on the other hand, does call for such a surrender. It is not merely marketing a product; it is declaring Christ’s sovereignty over all of life and declaring the necessity of obedient submission to him and to the truth of his Word (God in the Wasteland [Eerdmans], p. 76).
The evening before Thanksgiving I had an interesting conversation with Jim Owen, author of the excellent book, Christian Psychology’s War on God’s Word [EastGate]. He thinks that a major part of the problem in American Christianity is that we do not want to submit to authority, including the authority of Scripture that confronts our self-centered, fulfill-my-needs mentality. Thus we are abandoning the historical-grammatical-contextual approach to biblical interpretation and are accepting books in which popular authors subjectively read into the Bible the latest psychological “insights” and then claim that they are biblical. I think his analysis is correct.
The point was clearly illustrated earlier this year when Christianity Today ([5/16/94], pp. 38-40) ran a news article summarizing some of the far-out views set forth by the popular Christian writer, Karen Burton Mains, in her book, Lonely No More [Word)]. She holds to a number of Jungian psychological concepts about “the male-within-the-female and the female-within-the-male,” which she says “have always seemed exceptionally scriptural to me.” She describes a seven-year-old, emaciated “idiot child” in her mind’s eye, who turns out to be “the Christ child that is within me.” She explained to CT that this was metaphorical language representing “the repressed, malformed” part of herself with which Christ identifies.
In spite of these and many other weird things she says, which are at best a mixture of worldliness with Christianity, the article was slanted in favor of Mains and against the “self-appointed heresy hunters” who dare to criticize her! And, the subsequent letters to the editor were largely defensive of her! David Wells is correct: American Christianity has abandoned the idea that we must submit to God’s revealed, absolute truth and has moved into a subjective, therapeutic hodgepodge of worldly ideas.
But even though, like Josiah, we live in an evil day when even those claiming to be God’s people are marked by worldliness, there is a way out of the darkness. It involves seeking the Lord and obeying His Word.
There are two lessons to note here:
1) Seek the Lord early in life if you can. Josiah was 16 when he began seeking the Lord. He was not from a godly home. He lived in an evil day. And yet he began seeking the Lord during his teen years and never turned away.
Many Christians have the erroneous notion that teenagers must go through a phase of rebellion. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, where Christian parents expect their teens to rebel! Some kids feel like they’ll never be well-adjusted if they don’t sow some wild oats. That’s baloney!
I want every young person to hear this: Even if you come from a bad home and even though we live in an evil world, you can seek the Lord. You’ll never regret avoiding drugs or drinking or sexual immorality, because sin always leaves scars. I thank God that He graciously preserved me from rebelling against Him or against my parents. I think I’m fairly well-adjusted in spite of it!
2) Keep on seeking the Lord. “He began to seek God.” Seeking the Lord is a lifelong process. You don’t just try it halfheartedly for a few months and then say that it didn’t work. Walking with the infinite God and learning His ways is a lifetime process.
You’ll go through dry times and difficult times. You’ll be tempted to turn to the world for the latest wisdom on how to deal with your problems. You’ll be tempted to give up on the Bible because “it doesn’t seem to work.” But always remember, what you need is the Lord! Let your problems drive you to depend on Him alone. Seek Him through His Word! Trust in Him and don’t lean on any other source. The renewing of our minds through Scripture isn’t a quick fix. We’ve got to run with endurance the race set before us. With Josiah we must keep seeking the Lord.
Verse 2 summarizes Josiah’s life: “And he did right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the ways of his father David and did not turn aside to the right or to the left.” There’s a difference between doing right in the sight of people and doing right in the sight of the Lord, isn’t there? We can only do right in the sight of the Lord when we obey His Word. Josiah had, as you will have, many opportunities to turn aside to the right or to the left, but he didn’t do that (except at the end of his life). He obeyed God’s Word.
The story of the discovery of this copy of the Law of Moses (at least Deuteronomy, but probably the first five books of the Old Testament) is a marvelous example of how God has preserved His Word down through the centuries. Tyrants have tried to eradicate it. Even clergymen have tried to keep it from the common people. During the middle ages church authorities opposed the translation of the Bible into the vernacular because they feared that if lay people read the Bible, heresy would result. William Tyndale, one of the early translators of the Bible into English, was condemned for heresy, strangled, and burned at the stake in 1536 on account of his efforts. A letter he wrote from his prison cell requests a Hebrew Bible, grammar and dictionary so that he could continue translating. We take it for granted that we have several translations of the Bible lying around the house. But it has not always been so.
But whenever God’s Word is read and obeyed, great changes begin to take place in individuals and in society. But owning several copies of the Bible or keeping one on your coffee table won’t do you any good.
1) We must read the Word. We can’t obey it if we don’t know what it says. And we must not just read our favorite sections which reinforce our prejudices. We must read it all. Read the sections that step on your toes. We don’t know for sure which portions for the Law Hilkiah read (maybe all of it). But I would guess that he read Deuteronomy 28 which spells out the grave consequences of disobedience for the nation.
2) We must respond to the Word. Josiah’s response was to tear his clothes in horror. You don’t need to tear your clothes, but sometimes the Word ought to rend your heart. When Josiah heard what God’s Word said, he said, “We’re in a heap of trouble” (paraphrase of 34:21). He had deep convictions about the truthfulness of God’s book. He knew that when God says something, He means it. He knew that sin has consequences. So Josiah responded with a tender heart and humbled himself before God (34:27).
Even though Josiah’s reforms to purge the land of idolatry (34:3-7) preceded the discovery of the Law, what he did illustrates what ought to take place when a person gets into God’s Word. It exposes things in our lives that are displeasing to God. You’ve got to take strong action against such things: chop them down, break them in pieces, grind them to powder, burn it and scatter the ashes, etc. (see 34:4-5). Jesus said that if your eye causes you to lust, tear it out; or your right hand tempts you to adultery, cut it off (Matt. 5:29-30). He meant that we need to respond to God’s Word by dealing radically with our sin.
3) We must learn the Word from mature believers. The king wanted to find out exactly what these words meant as applied to him and his kingdom. So he sent a delegation to Huldah the prophetess (34:22-28). Apparently Jeremiah and Zephaniah weren’t nearby. While God prefers to use men in positions of spiritual leadership, when obedient men are not available, He will use women (Judges 5). Clearly, a woman like Huldah is an exception in Scripture, not the rule. Those who use such exceptional cases to build a feminist theology are grasping at straws. But even so, God does use godly, faithful women.
Huldah shoots straight by telling the messengers what the Lord says (34:23). The job of a person teaching or preaching God’s Word of truth is to make plain what God says, even if it steps on some toes. The Word doesn’t always make you feel warm and fuzzy. It confronts sin and speaks of God’s judgment, as well as His love and mercy. But the Word always brings healing if we submit to and obey it.
As a hearer of the Word, Scripture warns you against shopping for teachers who tickle your ears and tell you what you want to hear rather than what you need to hear (2 Tim. 3:3). I’ve read church growth books that tell pastors if we want to build the church, we shouldn’t preach with authority or confront sin, because baby boomers don’t like that sort of thing. You can find many pastors who fall for that marketing approach. But they will turn away your ears from the truth (2 Tim. 4:4).
So, we must read the Word; respond to the Word; learn it from others.
4) We must seek to influence others with the Word. Once we have read the Word and responded to it with personal obedience and have been taught it by others, we have an obligation to influence others with the Word. Josiah didn’t keep it to himself. He got everybody together and read the Word to them and sought to help them obey it too (34:29-33). If God’s work in your life is real, you will want to bring others under its influence.
Some may say, “I wouldn’t want to offend somebody by telling them what the Bible says.” If you see someone with an illness and you’ve been cured of the same thing by taking a certain remedy, won’t you tell him what you’ve found? God’s Word gives us all that we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3-4). People with problems don’t need human wisdom; they need God’s Word. Every Christian should grow in being equipped with the Word so that you can help others discover its riches.
Thus even though Josiah lived in an evil day, he sought the Lord and obeyed His Word. So can we. The result?
Josiah purged the land of idolatry and immorality. He restored the Temple and reestablished worship in its proper place. He led the people in the greatest Passover in hundreds of years. Josiah’s Passover was greater than the one led by Hezekiah because all Israel participated and because it was observed in more accordance with the Mosaic law. He saved a generation from God’s judgment.
In our evil day God can do great things through us if we will seek Him and obey His Word. Although it seems impossible to see our nation restored to the place where school teachers complain about the kids chewing gum instead of carrying guns, God can do the impossible! We need spiritual revival!
Josiah’s story ends on a sad note. Pharaoh Neco passed through Judah on his way north to Carchemish where he intended to join with Assyria against Babylon (35:20). He did not intend to fight Josiah, but Josiah insisted on fighting him. It probably seemed like the sensible thing to do. But no where do we read of Josiah seeking the Lord about this battle. In fact, he disguises himself before going into battle (35:22), which reminds us of the ploy used by the wicked Ahab. Why disguise yourself if you’re in the will of God? But Josiah goes against Egypt, gets shot in battle and dies at 39. The revival stops. And in a few short years, Judah falls to Babylon.
What that says to me is, “Don’t get sidetracked from what God has called you to do.” The good is often the worst enemy of the best. We’ve got to be careful or the devil will entice us into the wrong arenas and it can nullify the eternal impact of what God has called us to do. Josiah got sidetracked from the spiritual work into political solutions. Didn’t the land need to be defended? Wasn’t that a king’s job? Yes, but he should have sought the Lord. In this case, God really was speaking through this pagan pharaoh (35:22)! Josiah should have stuck to his spiritual reforms.
Just before the 1984 election, I heard a well-known pastor speak on “The Second Most Important Day of Your Life.” He said that the most important day of your life is when you trust Christ as Savior. But the second most important day would be when you went to vote for Ronald Reagan! In my opinion, he was putting far more faith in the political system than is warranted! While I’m pleased with the recent election, I’m not optimistic that the Republican Party can solve America’s problems. Only God can solve our problems and He will do it as His people turn from sin, seek Him and obey His Word. The world’s problems are essentially spiritual, not political. The church’s primary task is to proclaim the gospel and bring people under Christ’s lordship. Let’s not get sidetracked from our main mission!
At age 12 Robert Louis Stevenson was looking out into the dark from his upstairs window, watching a man light the street lanterns. His governess came into the room and asked what he was doing. He replied, “I am watching a man cut holes in the darkness.” Though we live in a dark day, we can be used of God to cut holes in the darkness, if we will seek Him and obey His Word.
Copyright 1994, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
C. S. Lewis once heard a young British pastor, fresh out of seminary, who ended his sermon by telling people of the need to receive Jesus Christ. He said, “If you receive Jesus Christ you will have eternal life, but if you do not it will drastically alter your eschatalogical destiny.” Lewis pulled the preacher aside afterwards and said, “Young man, do you mean that they will go to hell?” “Well, yes,” he said hesitantly. “Then tell them that that is what will happen. Say it!”
The hesitancy of that young preacher to speak plainly about hell is probably shared by many American evangelical Christians. With the exception of a few “hellfire and damnation” preachers from the Bible belt, the subject of God’s judgment is strangely missing from Bible-believing churches in our day. I say strangely because God’s judgment is a prominent theme from Genesis to Revelation. Jesus Himself spoke often about hell and judgment, so much so that we cannot rightly call ourselves Christians if we deny the topic. Yet if the truth were known, the theme of God’s judgment embarrasses many of us. It’s too out of step with our tolerant culture. But the Bible is clear:
Although God is patient and compassionate, when people continue to reject His Word, judgment is certain.
Our text makes this point as it narrates the end of the line for the kingdom of Judah. The godly king Josiah was killed in battle by Pharaoh Neco. His son Joahaz took the throne and lasted three months before Pharaoh deposed him and took him captive to Egypt. Pharaoh then installed Joahaz’s older brother Jehoiakim on the throne. He lasted for eleven years, first subject to Pharaoh and then to Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. He did evil (36:5) and committed “abominations” (36:8). After his death, his 18 year-old son Jehoiachin took over for three months and ten days before Nebuchadnezzar took him to Babylon, where he spent the next 37 years in prison. Even so he managed, in three months, to do evil in the sight of the Lord (36:9).
Nebuchadnezzar replaced Jehoiachin with his uncle Zedekiah (son of Josiah), who also did evil (36:12). Finally he rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, who in turn besieged Jerusalem, which fell and was sacked in the summer of 586 B.C. (36:19). Those who escaped the sword were taken captive to Babylon. The 70 years (36:21) probably refers to the time from the first deportation (605 B.C.; 36:6-7) to the return of the exiles (536 B.C.). All this happened, not by chance, but “to fulfill the word of the Lord” (36:21). It’s a dreadful thing when God’s axe falls upon a nation! But before we look at God’s judgment, note that:
There had been a number of high and low points during the almost 400 years since Solomon had begun his idolatry. Some of the lows were so bad that you would think that God’s judgment would have fallen, but He stayed His hand. Over those years, He patiently waited and entreated. Note 36:15: “And the Lord, the God of their fathers, sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place.” Instead of “again and again,” the Kings James Version reads, “He rose up early,” a graphic picture of God’s earnestness in seeking to bring the rebellious nation to repentance.
God is more patient and compassionate toward sinners than we are (see the story of Jonah). Because of modern news media, we see and hear more horrible things going on all over the world than any previous generation--murders, wars, child abuse, sexual perversity, and other atrocities. It disgusts us and we cry out, “Lord, how long before You judge the world?” But remember, God sees every evil deed, even those committed in secret; and not only that but He knows all the evil thoughts that never are carried out in deed (Gen. 6:5). But we forget that if He were as swift in judging sinners as we desire, we ourselves might never have come to repentance!
After delivering one his defiant speeches the nineteenth century atheist, Robert Ingersoll, pulled his watch from his pocket and said, “According to the Bible, God has struck men dead for blasphemy. I will blaspheme Him and give Him five minutes to strike me dead and damn my soul.”
The crowd was silent while one minute ticked by; two minutes passed, and you could feel the nervousness in the audience; three minutes, and a woman fainted; four minutes and Ingersoll curled his lip. At five minutes, he snapped shut his watch, put it in his pocket, and said: “You see, there is no God, or He would have taken me at my word.”
The story was told later to British preacher Joseph Parker, who said, “And did the American gentleman think he could exhaust the patience of God in five minutes?” God is patient toward sinners. But in spite of His great patience, ...
In spite of God’s repeated appeals, the people of Israel continued to reject His word through the prophets (36:15-16). Why would people reject God’s gracious offer of forgiveness? Our text reveals four reasons:
Zedekiah “did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet who spoke for the Lord.” God’s word requires sinners to respond with humility, because it confronts our wicked ways and brings us to the cross, where no one can boast. Because of our pride, three of the most difficult words to say are, “I was wrong.” But no one can come to God who will not humble himself and admit his sin.
George Orwell wryly observed, “On the whole, human beings want to be good, but not too good, and not quite all the time.” The problem is human depravity. In our day of positive Christianity we minimize the doctrine of depravity. We don’t like to think about it or to use the term, unless it is to describe the worst of criminals: “Terrorists and murderers are depraved; but me? I’m not such a bad guy!”
But the Bible teaches that every human heart is depraved. This does not mean that every person is as bad as he possibly could be. If that were so, the human race would have self-destructed centuries ago! Through common grace and the restraining ministry of the Holy Spirit there are a number of decent, law-abiding, “good” people in the world who do not know Christ. But depravity means that because of the fall, every person has an inborn bent toward sin, a rebellious nature that says, “I do not want to submit to God.” God’s Word is clear: “There is none righteous, not even one” (Rom. 3:10).
Even the British infidel playwright George Bernard Shaw reluctantly concluded (in response to the German concentration camps), “There is only one empirically verifiable doctrine of theology--original sin.” Pride, hard hearts ...
“Following all the abominations of the nations...” Because all have sinned and we ourselves have a bent toward sin, we are prone to the influence of other sinners. We see people engaging in sin who seem to be enjoying life. So we’re drawn to try it for ourselves. This generation is bombarded with more solicitations to sin than any other in history. Even when I was growing up, as the first generation with TV, about the most racy thing on the tube was “77 Sunset Strip”! Today you can bring the worst filth into your living room. Even many commercials are lewd. Pornography is readily available at the local video store or over on-line computer networks. Worldly influence combined with our self-gratifying sinful nature is a powerful force!
Thus, people reject God’s Word because of pride, hard hearts, and worldly influence.
“They mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, ...” People have always mocked the idea of God’s judgment because they mistake God’s delay to mean that it won’t ever happen. Or, they compare themselves with those who are more flagrantly sinful and surmise that if and when judgment ever does come (which they doubt, but if it does), they will fare well. But they flatter themselves!
We neglect God’s warnings to our own destruction! There used to be a sign on the river above Niagara Falls that read, “POINT OF NO RETURN.” If a boat drifted beyond that point, there was no escape from the strong current that would suck the boat and its passengers to certain doom. God’s warnings are like that. Although He is patient, ...
“Until there was no remedy” (36:16)--frightening words! Both nations and individuals can reach the point of being so hardened in sin that there is no remedy! Just because God is patient and hesitant to judge is no reason to doubt that He will judge. We need to understand two things about God’s certain judgment: How is it expressed? and, How do we know it is certain?
How is God’s judgment expressed?
(1) Temporal judgment. This is what we see in 2 Chronicles 36: God’s judgment upon a particular person or group at a particular point in history. It can be lifted, as we see at the end of the chapter when Cyrus issued an edict for the Jews to return to their land.
When God’s temporal judgment falls on a nation, it’s a frightening thing, as we have recently witnessed in Rwanda! The society is ripped apart. In Judah, families were uprooted from their homes and deported to Babylon. Many were killed by the sword. The survivors became slaves in Babylon. There was political oppression and the loss of religious freedom. The Temple was destroyed. In Babylon (as we read in Daniel), the king tried to force them to bow down to his image. Israel was no longer a testimony for the Lord to the nations.
We need to understand that when God’s temporal judgment falls on a nation, the godly suffer along with the ungodly. Children suffer for their parents’ sins. While God had compassion before judgment (36:15), the Babylonians (the instrument of His judgment) had no compassion (36:17). Girls were raped; the elderly and sick were slaughtered; pregnant mothers were ripped open with the sword; babies were dashed against the rocks. It was an awful thing not only for those who had thumbed their noses at God, but also for those who had sought to obey Him. The good and wicked alike are afflicted when God’s axe falls.
This means that we cannot be complacent against the sins of our nation. We’re sadly mistaken if we think that because we know Christ and obey God we’re immune from God’s judgment on our land. God could remove the lampstand of American Christianity as He has done in other cultures. It’s sobering to think of Turkey, which was the cradle for Gentile Christianity. Many of Paul’s letters were written to churches there. Today there are more believers in our small city than in all of Turkey!
You ask, “What can I do about national sin?” In the first place we must make sure that we walk uprightly. We would be hypocrites to call others to repentance if we live with secret sin. We must pray, even as Abraham pled with the Lord about judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah. We must do all we can to call others to repentance. We dare not be complacent about the violence or moral degradation in our land. The life you save may be your own! Temporal judgment is a real danger; if America comes under judgment, we will not escape just because we know the Lord.
(2) Eternal judgment. Whereas temporal judgment may be lifted, eternal judgment is fixed, final and ultimate. Hebrews 9:27 declares, “... it is appointed for men to die once, and after this comes judgment.”
All sin will be judged. God will not shrug it off. You may not like the idea of God judging sin. You may think that the notion of God punishing “good” people in the flames of hell for all eternity is sadistic and cruel. You may think, “I don’t believe in a God like that. I believe in a God of love, who forgives everyone.” But your believing it doesn’t make it true! The question you have to come to grips with is, “Was Jesus Christ a liar and charlatan, or is He the living Word who revealed the Father to us as He claimed?” If you shrug Him off, you’ll still have to face Him someday, when He comes “from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thess. 1:7-9).
If you believe the witness that Christ is Savior and Lord, then you must believe and submit to His witness about the terrors of hell. Jesus used the most frightening word pictures to describe it: a place where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched (Mark 9:48); a place of outer darkness, of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 25:30); a place of eternal fire (Matt. 25:41). It’s not a user-friendly sort of place!
Perhaps you’re thinking, But I thought that God is a God of love. Won’t He forgive everyone’s sin?
How do we know that God’s judgment is certain?
If you think about it for a moment, for God to be God, He must be holy. An unrighteous supreme being would not be God, but a devil. To be righteous and to resolve the problem of evil, He must judge all sin. If any sin goes unpunished, God is not just. God’s love and grace never negate His holiness and justice. While His patience is great, it never negates His righteousness.
And God always keeps His Word. God had told Moses that every seventh year was to be a year of rest for the land of Israel (Lev. 25:1-7). That year the people were to let the ground lie fallow; God promised to make it up to them with a bountiful crop. But that took some faith to obey! What if God didn’t come through? God also said (Lev. 26:33-35) that if the people did not obey, He would scatter them from the land until the land enjoyed its sabbaths.
Would God expect His people to abide by some obscure passage in Leviticus? Note verse 21. God’s Word is true! “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (Gal. 6:7). God’s Word is like the law of gravity: if you break it, it turns around and breaks you! As a God of justice, holiness, and truth, He will judge sin. He will judge it temporally when people continue to reject His Word. And He will judge it eternally if a person rejects Christ in this lifetime. Just because His judgment isn’t quick does not mean that it isn’t certain.
Neither you nor I can guarantee that God’s judgment will not fall on our nation. We can live, pray, and work toward the end that He will spare us. But we can’t be certain.
But every person here can be certain about escaping God’s eternal judgment on a personal level. Scripture says that “Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). God made Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21). That righteousness comes to us not by our good deeds, but only through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:22, 26). If you will trust in Him, your sins will be charged to His account and you will escape God’s coming wrath. Jesus Himself promised, “He who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).
You have up to the point of death, but no later, to put your trust in Christ and escape God’s eternal judgment. Maybe you’re thinking, “I’m young; I want to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a while. I’ll wait.” That’s foolish! You may be hardened beyond remedy! You could die today! Christ could return at any moment and you’d be lost. You’re gambling against eternity!
In 1982, “ABC Evening News” reported on an unusual work of modern art--a chair affixed to a shotgun. It was to be viewed by sitting in the chair and looking directly into the gun barrel. The gun was loaded and set on a timer to fire at an undetermined moment within the next one hundred years.
The amazing thing was that people waited in line to sit and stare into that gun barrel! They all knew it could go off at point-blank range at any moment, but they were gambling that the fatal blast wouldn’t happen during their minute in the chair.
I wonder, could you be sitting in that chair today, betting that the gun will not go off in your face? Unless you have put your trust in Christ, you’re playing with your eternal destiny. God is patient, but if you continue to reject His Word, judgment is certain! Flee to Christ now!
Copyright 1994, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.