Are you a troublemaker?
1Kings 18: So it’s you, old troublemaker!
Ahab has looked everywhere he can for Elijah but without success. Elijah had appeared out of nowhere, announced God’s judgment, and then disappeared for three years. Now he’s back and Ahab’s first words to him are, “So it’s you, old troublemaker.” Elijah responds with the truth. He’s no troublemaker. Instead, it’s Ahab and his Baal-worshipping, God-insulting leadership of Israel that’s the source of all the trouble. Of course, that’s how it always is. We always want to blame others for our failures. Sometimes failure is blatant, as was Ahab’s. Other times it’s unintentional, the result of human misunderstanding. Either way, the first thing we do at times like that is to look around for someone to blame. Ahab could have allowed the three years of drought and hardship to soften his heart. He could have realized that the idol Baal he worshiped couldn’t make it rain and therefore wasn’t worthy of his faithfulness. It’s his sin that brought about the famine and it’s his repentance that could end it. Instead, he becomes angry with Elijah for standing up to him. On one hand, I don’t want mirror Ahab’s refusal to see the truth when it’s right in front of me. On the other hand, I need to remember that sometimes I may be called upon by God to serve in Elijah’s position; to be the one who’s used to accomplish his purpose in the world. In that case, being called an “old troublemaker” isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Take Away: It may be that not everyone will cheer when we are used by the Lord.
A miracle working God
1Kings 17: The jar of flour will not run out and the bottle of oil will not become empty….
The drought brought about by the judgment of God is a hardship for everyone. Elijah goes into hiding and for a time God sends ravens to feed him. Now, as the drought brings famine to the land, the man of God is sent to Zarephath for long-term lodging. The widow there is nearly out of food and about to surrender to starvation when Elijah shows up. He makes the startling promise that as long as the drought continues she won’t run out of oil or flour. And that’s how it is. For the duration of the ordeal God supplies the need. It’s good to know that God is the Way Maker in our lives. Only he can make something out of nothing. I need to be careful to not be so blinded by my circumstances that I count God out. Generally speaking, he works through the normal course of life to bless us, but he’s not limited to that. If necessary, he can work his purposes by suspending the laws of Creation and performing miracles. That’s the God I serve!
Take Away: Never count God out.
God’s man storms onto the stage
1Kings 17: Elijah the Tishbite, from among the settlers of Gilead, confronted Ahab.
To say that Elijah “appeared” is a great understatement. This spiritual giant storms onto the stage. The dreary story of one failure after another by the kings of Israel has given us a feeling of gathering darkness. Now, for the first time since Samuel’s day we meet a powerful prophet of God. Elijah, God’s man, will change the dreary status quo. We have no record of his ancestry and his home town is nearly as obscure. King Ahab is feeling pretty secure in his sin when this unknown man appears to confront him with his spiritual failure. God’s going to move directly into what Ahab believes is Baal’s territory. No more rain until Elijah, in the Name of the Lord, permits it. From this first public move and for the rest of his life, all eyes of Israel are going to be on Elijah. Then beyond his life he’ll challenge and inspire generations. This is God at work, moving when it seems all is lost. I pray that God will raise up some “Elijahs” for our day too.
Take Away: There are times when the Lord moves in unmistakable, powerful ways. Let’s pray we will see such a move in our society, today.
Champion of evil
1Kings 16: Ahab son of Omri did even more evil before God than anyone yet — a new champion in evil!
Kings of Israel rise and fall and most die violent deaths. Zimri assassinates Elah, but only reigns seven days before he’s killed by Omri. Omri lives an “empty-headed, empty-hearted life” but does purchase a hill upon which he builds the new capital city, Samaria. It’s his son Ahab who so sells out to evil that he’s given the dubious title, “champion of evil.” The other kings are nothing to be proud of, but their spiritual failure is minor in comparison to his. He marries the wicked Jezebel, builds a temple for the worship of the idol Baal, and becomes an enemy to the remaining people of God. The long slide away from God and to paganism is nearly complete under Ahab’s leadership. However, God isn’t finished yet…here comes Elijah!
Take Away: Always remember this: no matter how dark the situation the Lord keeps his promises.
Weight of leadership
1Kings 15: He was openly evil before God, walking in the footsteps of Jeroboam, who both sinned and made Israel sin.
The writer of the books of the Kings gives us only snapshots of the parade of kings of both Judah and Israel. Sometimes there’s just one highlight (or “lowlight”) mentioned. Over in Israel, Jeroboam dies and his son Nadab comes to power. Nadab lasts for just two years before he’s assassinated and replaced by Baasha. Baasha knows that God rejected Jeroboam and his family because of Jeroboam’s sin but that doesn’t stop him from following the same road to ruin. He rules Israel for 24 years but his legacy is his spiritual failure and his leading of Israel farther away from God. We aren’t surprised when we see God rejecting him and sending word that he’s going to reduce Baasha and his regime to cinders. While I’m a firm believer in free will, I see that God holds Baasha responsible for the sin of all Israel. Leadership has privileges but it also comes with a hefty helping of responsibility. God expects leaders to not only be righteous themselves, but to influence those who follow them to greater righteousness as well. That’s true of pastors and churches, but, as I see here, it’s true for national leaders and their subjects too.
Take Away: Leaders who forget the responsibility side of their position are walking the road to failure.
The heart of the matter
1Kings 15: His heart was in the right place, in tune with God.
Both Israel and Judah are traveling down the same miserable road of spiritual failure. Jeroboam, the first king of Israel, messes up “royally” and God tells him he’s going to toss him out like the garbage. Rehoboam, son of wise Solomon and grandson of faithful David, also fails. He follows Jeroboam in selling out to the worship of the idol Asherah. Meanwhile the precious Temple is raided by Egyptian forces and much of its wealth carried off even as Judah and Israel make war with one another. After Rehoboam’s son, Abijah, rules for just three years, his grandson, Asa, comes to the throne. Finally there’s some good news. Asa picks up where his ancestor David left off some 60 years earlier. He isn’t quite the man David was, but he’s like David where it matters most: “his heart is in the right place.” As we learned way back when we saw David being anointed as king, God looks on the heart. Today, my relationship with the Lord isn’t performance based. I certainly want to be pleasing to the Lord in all I do, but that isn’t the bottom line. More than proper performance, God wants, in me, a heart that’s right. My prayer is for a heart that’s in tune with God.
Take Away: I want to always do the right thing, but even more, I want to always be the right person in the eyes of the Lord.
Trading bronze for gold
1Kings 14: King Rehoboam replaced them with bronze shields.
Solomon’s son Rehoboam sits on the throne of Judah, sovereign of what’s left of his father’s great kingdom. While it’s true that rival Israel is worse off than Judah, both of these kingdoms are unraveling. Up in Jerusalem, idol worship is taking root and a mixture of Jehovah and idol worship is common. When Egyptian forces raid Jerusalem and carry off the gold shields that Solomon made, Rehoboam simply replaces them with bronze shields. They’re not as beautiful as the gold ones, but they’ll have to do. Rehoboam orders that these substitute shields are to only be used for special occasions and kept in storage the rest of the time. I think this substitution of bronze shields for gold ones reflects what’s happening in the life of the people of Judah. Under David and Solomon they had the “gold” as they worshiped the God who had brought them to this land in the first place. Now, though, they settle for a cheap substitute. Those shields aren’t the real deal but they look a lot like the gold ones. How often do we substitute bronze for gold in our own lives? We could have the real deal, but we settle for a mere replica instead. Many years in the future Jesus will tell us that God is looking for people who want to worship “in truth.” I’ve already decided that I have no time or patience for just going through the motions. I want to know God, to live in him, and to experience him. I won’t settle for “bronze” when “gold” is available.
Take Away: The Lord’s best is simply “the best” – nothing else even comes close.
Not all free meals are free
1Kings 13: An angel came to me with a message from God…but the man was lying.
Jeroboam, in an effort to secure his hold on Israel, has diverted the people away from God by creating shrines and alternative holy days. This is a serious sin with real consequences. God sends a prophet to declare his judgment. The man is faithful to the task, accomplishes his mission, and is on his way home when a fellow catches up to him, inviting him to stay and eat. The reply is that he can’t do that. God gave him specific orders about this: “don’t eat a crumb and don’t drink a drop.” The reply is that the prospective host has received a word from the Lord too. He’s been told that it’s okay for the prophet to come to his house for some hospitality. The Bible says that “the man was lying.” Hard to imagine isn’t it? How could anyone say, “The Lord told me” when they just want to get their own way? Well, come to think of it, it isn’t hard to imagine at all! People do it all the time. Sometimes they’re religious fanatics who are perverting God’s Word. Sometimes they’re well-meaning people who simply have a hard time telling the difference between what they want and what God says. In this case a good man, a prophet of God listens. As a result, he loses his life. On one side of this issue, I want to be careful I don’t attach “God says” to what “I want.” It’s okay for me to have opinions and desires, but I need to be honest with others and myself and not use God’s name “in vain” by saying “God told me” when I’m just saying what I want. On the other side of the issue, I need to get used to hearing God’s Voice in my life. Once I learn to listen to what he’s saying others who say, “God told me to tell you…” won’t easily sidetrack me.
Take Away: Saying “God said…” when it’s really “I want” is, in a sense, taking the name of the Lord in vain.
How far is too far?
1Kings 12: It’s too much trouble for you to go to Jerusalem to worship.
Jeroboam is now king of Israel with Rehoboam left with only the loyal tribe of Judah. Jeroboam immediately realizes that Rehoboam holds one powerful trump card. He has the Temple. Even though the people have made him king, his subjects will still go to Jerusalem to worship. Once they’re in Jerusalem they’ll be reminded of David and Solomon. When that happens, they’ll remember that Rehoboam sits on the throne of these two great men. He solves this problem by turning his back on God and the Temple. How does he convince these worshipers of Jehovah to abandon worship at the Temple built in his Name? He does so by telling them that it’s too much trouble to travel to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple. By keeping them away from the Temple he keeps them out of Judah, and by doing that, he keeps them away from Rehoboam’s influence. Of course it’s a blatant sin. The people, though, go along with his suggestion. I understand the temptation because, like them, I like convenience. I like having a remote control for my TV, a microwave oven, a garage door opener. I even like having my church less than a mile from my house. Still, there are some things that are worth inconvenience. I’ll drive extra distance to see the doctor in whom I have confidence and I will go out of my way to spend some time with my grandchildren. Am I willing to be inconvenienced to worship God? Do I want a worship experience that isn’t too much trouble, or do I want to really connect with God Almighty? What value do I place on having a genuine worship experience? Thanks, but no thanks, Jeroboam. I think I’ll just go on making that trip to Jerusalem!
Take Away: If we have to choose between convenience and God, well, the choice is obvious.
It’s not my fault, God made me do it
1Kings 12: God was behind all this…
I’m a firm believer in the God-given gift of free will. As someone said, “In his Sovereignty, God granted human beings the freedom to choose.” There are plenty of scriptures that speak to this concept but this isn’t one of them! Just to set the story: Solomon sins against God and because of that the Lord says he’ll rip the larger portion of Israel from his descendants’ rule. Then, when his son Rehoboam assumes the throne he foolishly follows the wrong advice and that brings about a split in the nation. At that point we come to the statement that “God was behind all this.” This leaves me playing defense on the topic of free will. Does God cause Rehoboam to do something stupid to bring about the split between Judah and Israel? And, if that’s the case, is Rehoboam responsible for what God causes him to do? Does God suspend free will in this specific circumstance? I don’t have a sweeping answer to these questions, but I don’t think God over-ruled himself on the topic of free will. Maybe this can work if I think in terms of “influence” rather than direct cause. For instance, God knows Rehoboam’s heart — that he’s a stubborn, selfish man. The Lord knows that Rehoboam’s friends are like him. It doesn’t take God’s pulling strings like a puppeteer to get Rehoboam to go along with the bad advice he receives. A slight suggestion is all it takes to accomplish that. Once I start thinking in terms of “influence” I more easily see how this works in both negative and positive ways. If my desire is to please the Lord in all I do, it won’t take much of a nudge from God to get me moving in the right direction. I’m not claiming that I’ve resolved all the “free-will verses God’s sovereignty” issues here, but I think it is a step in the right direction.
Take Away: I’ve been granted free will. Will I or won’t I use that gift to allow the Lord to positively influence me in the decisions of my life?