The great rivalry: Ahab and Elijah

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From our daily Bible reading: 1 Kings 15-17
April 18, 2019

 

The first part of today’s reading gives us the early outline of the succession of kings in both Israel and Judah, and the pattern begins to be pretty apparent.

In Judah, we see a nation that is kept alive because of the promise of God to David – and the text makes this point on a number of occasions, that because David was faithful to God in almost all things, God continued to honor his legacy in Judah, even while the kings after him continued to transgress. We do read about Asa, who succeeds Abijah in a story that we’ll look at more closely in the book of Chronicles, and Asa brings back godly leadership to Judah during his time of kingship. And we’ll see this pattern continue throughout Judah’s history – with good kings and bad kings alternating as Judah vacillates between God and idolatry.

Jeroboam’s legacy of false worship

Israel, however, never recovers from the initial sins of Jeroboam, as the people continue in those initial sins. Once we introduce false worship and false understandings into our service to God, it’s almost impossible to root them out and return to Biblical commands, and we see that here, as Israel continues to worship in places other than where God had specified, and in ways other than what God had commanded.

But when we come to Ahab at the end of chapter 16, we see a king that takes Israel to new levels of evil, along with his wife Jezebel. They introduce – or rather mainstream – the worship of Baal, and continually revolt against God’s will. In verse 33, we read that Ahab did more to anger the Lord than all the kings who had come before me.

Elijah prays for drought

In chapter 17, we’re introduced to the great prophet, Elijah. Like so many other prophets, his background is mostly unknown. His story begins when the word of the Lord begins working through him. But Elijah doesn’t start with a warning, but rather he goes right to punishment,

“As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” 1 Kings 17:1

And immediately, God directs him to remove himself to the wilderness until the drought in Israel becomes unbearable, at which point he is told to leave Israel, and move to Sidon. Every step of the way, God tells him that He will care for him. So Elijah spends time living with a widow there, and thanks to his presence, the woman and her son are sustained on a single jar of flour and a jug of oil.

Israel’s drought from God’s presence

It’s worth noting here that while Israel is suffering this drought, they’re also suffering through a spiritual drought, as God removes from them his source of revelation. When we refuse to listen to God, our opportunities to hear God may disappear from our lives! And it’s not until three years later that Elijah finally comes back to Israel, at which point the rains eventually can be brought back.

We’ll look tomorrow at how that happens, as Elijah returns to confront Ahab, in what is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular stories in all the Bible. Until then, take care and God bless!

Next reading: 1 Kings 18-20

The Divided Kingdom quickly alienates the Lord

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From our daily Bible reading: 1 Kings 12-14
April 17, 2019

 

I wish that I could make this particular reading into two or three segments, because this is one of the most striking – and I think relevant – passages in the entire book of 1 Kings.

We see here the story of how the kingdom of Israel is split into two nations, with the 10 northern tribes rebelling against king Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, and forming their own kingdom under Jeroboam.

As you may remember, all of this happened because of the idolatry and spiritual failings of Solomon. In the space of a single generation, Israel has gone from peace and prosperity to utter turmoil, entering into a period which will eventually end Israel’s sovereignty as a kingdom. Israel payed the price exactly as the law of Moses predicted that it would should the people depart from the law and serve other gods.

By the end of Rehoboam’s reign, the Egyptians had invaded and taken away all the riches, all the gold, all the opulent treasures that Solomon had amassed.

Solomon’s unfollowed advice

It reminds of Solomon’s own words in Ecclesiastes 2:

So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. Ecclesiastes 2:9-11

I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. Ecclesiastes 2:18-19

But what stands out about this story to me is that it all came about because God’s people steadfastly refused to do what God commanded – even in the face of overwhelming evidence and a complete clarity of what God wanted them to do, and repeated evidence that they knew who God was, what he desired, and how powerful He was to do all his will.

When God’s instructions are ignored

We have Jeroboam, who is given the throne by the power of God, revealed to him by the prophet Ahijah, and promised that if he will honor God and follow his will, God will bless and preserve his house. And immediately on taking the throne, Jeroboam proceeds to violate God’s entire law of worship, mainly because he doesn’t trust that the God who gave him the kingdom can also preserve that kingdom for him.

We see a prophet who witnesses first-hand the power of God and the surety of God’s word, only to be killed on the way back home because he makes the mistake of listening to another man claiming to be a prophet, who convinces him that God had sent HIM a different message, and that the prophet should ignore God’s command and do what the prophet has told him.

We’re never told why this man lied to the prophet – it appears he simply wanted to share in the glory of the man to whom God has actually spoken. He openly acknowledged that his own lies are what caused this prophet to be killed. Maybe he just didn’t believe at the time that God really meant what he had told the other prophet, and figured that a lie told for the benefit of the prophet and for himself wouldn’t hurt anyone.

And then we have Rehoboam, who not only does not learn from his mistakes in allowing the kingdom to be split, or from the sins of Jeroboam, but he embraces idolatry just as much as Israel does, ultimately leading to the invasion by Egypt, and an end to the glorious period that had been ushered in by David, God’s anointed.

The results of rejecting divine authority

We see here man’s amazing ability to justify himself in any behavior, all the while convinced that he is accepted by God. Very little has changed – how many times do we find ourselves talking to someone who is firmly convinced that they have a relationship with God, taking a position on doctrine or morality that is completely in opposition to the scriptures – in some cases even presenting their case dishonestly, as the old prophet did in 1 Kings 13.

The message of these passages rings clear: as God’s people, we need to trust God when He tells us something through His word, not justifying ourselves to follow our own ideas because we aren’t convinced that God will truly work through us as He has promised, and not allowing ourselves to be diverted from the word by people who claim to be on the same side, all the while teaching doctrines that will ultimately lead us into sin.

Next reading: 1 Kings 15-17

Solomon’s kingdom ends, and with it Israel’s Golden Age

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From our daily Bible reading: 1 Kings 6-11
April 16, 2019

 

We’ve been talking about Solomon and the glory of his kingdom, how he was God’s chosen heir to David, and how he was the man chosen to build God’s temple.

We read the story of his request for wisdom, and how God answered him not through a prophet, but directly. In fact, two times God spoke directly and appeared to Solomon – something he had not done with David. God had spoken only through prophets since the days of Jacob, but here, God sets Solomon up as his chosen son, in some way a reflection of his chosen people, as he has now given them all that he promised. They are surrounded with peace, riches, and their enemies – the Canaanites who had inhabited the land – have all been relegated to the role of slaves in the kingdom of Israel. This is all the good that had been promised Israel if the nation would remain faithful to God.

However, we then see the results of success which happen so often. With riches and ease comes a desire to push beyond the boundaries and find more ways to be happy. We often are discontent with being contented.

Solomon wrote about this at length in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, but we see that later in his life, he didn’t listen to his own advice. In v. 6 it says that Solomon did not wholly follow the Lord, which leads us to believe that while he continued to worship God, he also worshiped a multitude of other gods that had been brought to Israel by a host of wives and concubines that Solomon had taken to himself.

Solomon became the personification of Israel’s unwillingness to drive out the Canaanite influence and intermarry with them against the direct commands of God.

So in the latter part of Solomon’s reign, Israel’s enemies start to rear up again in Edom and Syria, as well as an internal threat from Jeroboam. God’s promise to Solomon is to tear his kingdom in two after he has died, and rather than showing regret or repentance, we see Solomon attempting to kill Jeroboam and eliminate the threat, much as Saul had tried to do with David.

So tomorrow we’ll see the fallout of Solomon’s unfaithfulness as the united kingdom becomes the divided kingdom. Thanks for joining in and God bless.

Next reading: 1 Kings 12-14

Solomon squanders the favor of God

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From our daily Bible reading: 1 Kings 3-5
April 13, 2019

 

Solomon is an interesting figure, and in many ways he is even more of a precursor to Christ than David.

Solomon is the favored son, the one that God promises will sit on David’s throne in a prophecy ultimately fulfilled by Jesus. Even from the beginning of his life, we read that Solomon was beloved by God. He is the son on whom God dotes, blesses with everything that he could possibly need, and we see that Solomon in turn, loved the Lord.

It is Solomon, not David, who speaks to the Lord in a dream. In chapter 4, after Solomon has offered sacrifices at the tabernacle in Gilboah, the Lord appears and asks Solomon what he can give him. Solomon’s response is for wisdom to rule God’s people, and in response, not only does God bless him abundantly with wisdom, but he also blesses him with peace, prosperity, wealth, wives, basically everything he could possibly want.

All of this favor because God had promised David that he would do so. We see an extension of the promises God made to Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, fulfilling the idea of Israel as a great nation, along with his promise to David of setting his son on the throne. However, it’s important to note that while God blesses Solomon greatly, he ultimately falls away due to worldly influences from his many wives.

As we’ll see, Solomon is a cautionary tale for us, who have been so richly blessed by God. How will we react to those blessings? Will they draw us closer to God – as they did to Solomon in his early years? Or will they prove to be a distraction in and of themselves, becoming so central to our lives that they pull our attention away from serving the God who blessed us.

Next reading: 1 Kings 6-9

Solomon takes the throne as God’s chosen son

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From our daily Bible reading: 1 Kings 1-2
April 12, 2019

 

Today we’re starting into 1 Kings, reading the first two chapters, which detail David’s transfer of his kingship to his son Solomon. This is the first time that Israel has had a kingly succession, so as you would expect, it did not go smoothly. But we see some early indications of the wisdom of Solomon, who for a time at least, would lead Israel in its greatest period of prosperity.

Solomon was probably in his late teens when the story takes place, but he has an older brother by a different mother, named Adonijah, who is described in the first two verses as a beautiful but spoiled man, much like his half brother Absalom. Adonijah was the oldest of David’s surviving sons, and likely expected that he should be the ruler.

Solomon crowned as God’s choice for king

However, God had already picked a ruler. Back in Deuteronomy 17:15, when the law predicted the time when the nation would choose a king, the law clearly states that God would choose that king, not man. And when God promised David that he would raise up a son to sit on his throne, we learn in 1 Chronicles 22:9 that He had specified Solomon for that role.

We’re not told, but since David had sworn this to Solomon’s mother Bathsheba, it’s unlikely that this decision was any big secret, and so Adonijah goes on a PR campaign with key members of David’s inner circle in an attempt to sway them and gain their support – which he does.

Notable among them is Joab, the leader of David’s army, who has shown a past history of countermanding the king’s orders when it suited him or when he believed it to be in the kingdom’s best interest. It’s likely he saw an older, charismatic Adonijah as a better fit for kingship.

However, thanks to a warning from the prophet Nathan, David quickly installs Solomon on the throne, and in parting makes some recommendations on what Solomon should do after David dies. The scene is almost reminiscent of a scene from The Godfather, with the aging head of the family advising on cleaning up “family business.”

In this case, that included killing Joab for his multiple murders — which David had so far failed to punish — and also killing Shimei, the relative of Saul who had cursed David during Absalom’s rebellion.

Solomon takes care of family business

This seems almost petty of David, but in the context of establishing Solomon’s kingdom, David seems to be taking the prudent actions. In fact when he addresses Solomon about Shimei, he says “Do not hold him guiltless, for you are a wise man. You know what you ought to do to him.” Shimei had rebelled before, and with David gone, he might again cause trouble for the new king. Here Solomon combines wisdom with mercy, allowing Shimei to live provided he stays within the city of Jerusalem.

You could argue that David took an easy way out in leaving Joab’s punishment to Solomon, but here we see David the politician at work. While Joab had at times disobeyed, he had been mostly loyal and had at least been manageable. But without David in place, Joab had already shown his willingness to make his own decisions apart from God’s will on how the kingdom should be run, and David obviously knew that Solomon could not expect to control him. He had essentially outlived his usefulness, and David decided that it was time for him to pay for the murders of – as Solomon puts it – two men more righteous and better than himself.

Solomon also extends mercy to his brother Adonijah, but as in the case of Shimei, Adonijah proved to be too much of a risk. Solomon’s older brother asks for David’s concubine as a wife, which would have given him an even stronger claim to kingship. Solomon rightly saw this as an attempt to start yet another rebellion, and he had his brother put to death.

It’s a bloody beginning to a kingdom, but it begins a stretch of peace and prosperity unmatched in Israel’s history – culminating with the construction of the Temple of the Lord, and advancing us farther along the path to the anointing of God’s true chosen king, Jesus the Christ.

Next reading: 1 Kings 3-5

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