Doubling down on a losing hand
2 Chronicles 28: If I worship the gods who helped Damascus, those gods just might help me too.
Good king Jotham is laid to rest and his son Ahaz takes over. His years in power are marked by spiritual and national failure and he leads his people into idol worship and detestable practices. Darkness descends as God withdraws his blessings on Judah. Neighboring Damascus betrays Ahaz and grinds Judah into the ground, humiliating it by taking treasures from the Temple. Ahaz, who’s turned his back on Jehovah God, stupidly concludes that the gods of Damascus are preferable to the idols he’s been worshipping. He copies their idols and brings worship of them to Jerusalem. What’s wrong with this guy? He dumps the Lord God and then wonders why he and his nation are no longer blessed. Then, to add insult to injury, rather than return to the God of his father, he decides to try out the gods of Damascus. This guy is begging for judgment and he gets it. The old wisdom is that the first thing to do when one finds himself in a hole is to stop digging. Ahaz doesn’t get it, so when he finds himself in trouble for rejecting God instead of stopping and reconsidering his course of action he doubles down on it making matters doubly worse. The thing is that this is exactly what I see people do today. They ignore God and go their own direction. Then, when things don’t work out instead of repenting and returning to God, they double down and move even farther away from the Lord than they are already. There are a lot of young adults who were raised in the church and know better who keep adding one bad decision on top of another. Sad to say in them Ahaz has lots of company.
Take Away: Adding one minus to other minuses will never get us a “plus” result.
Visiting the graveyard, looking at tombstones
2 Chronicles 12: God was not important to him.
Here’s a story of the man who, because of pure stubbornness, split Israel into two Kingdoms. Under his grandfather, David (a man after God’s own heart), Israel became a united and successful nation. Under his father, Solomon (a man who asked God for wisdom), great things were accomplished and prosperity came to the land. Under Rehoboam (a man who thinks God is unimportant) there is civil war, invasion from Egypt, and spiritual decline. As his obituary is written this phrase stands out: “God was not important to him.” Such a charge states volumes. In fact, when the final story of any life is told, how a person responded to God is the most important fact about them. It remains true today. How I respond to God matters and honestly, God won’t be ignored. In every life, God has the last word.
Take Away: What will be the Lord’s last word on my life?
Starting at the end
1 Chronicles 10: Saul died in disobedience.
When we first read the story of King Saul in 1 Samuel we get the full treatment, so we know all about how he was anointed and how his rejection of God unraveled his kingship and his life in general. Here, we start at the end of his life. The writer seems to be in a hurry to get to King David and I think I know why. This book is being written to remind the people of Israel where they came from and who they are. The desire is to reignite their connection to one another and to God. Saul could have been the first and greatest king of Israel, but he failed, dying not in glory, but in disobedience. Later on, we’ll work through the failures that led to the exile, but here in the early going the idea is to inspire and ignite enthusiasm. Sad to say, Saul’s story might be good for warning people of pending failure but it won’t do much to unite and give a sense of pride. There’s a time to focus on such things. After all, spiritual failure is a real possibility. For now, though, the writer just wants to set up the story of David and give his readers something to cheer about. Know what? That’s okay with me too!
Take Away: While we know all about spiritual failure it’s good to be reminded of the very real possibility of spiritual success too.
1 Chronicles 7: Ezer and Elead [were] cattle-rustlers, killed on one of their raids.
The accounting of Ephraim’s family tree unearths the gem that some of the family were cattle-rustlers. Things got so bad that the natives of Gath caught them and killed them. Their dad was deeply grieved by their deaths and, when a baby was born to the family he named him “Unlucky” to reflect how he felt about things. The story is just thrown in with the continued listing of who was the father of whom, but it does spark the imagination a bit and it feels like we’re hearing about the old American west rather than about life centuries before Christ. I wonder how the original readers reacted to this bit of information. Did they hang their heads in shame or did they sheepishly grin at one another? I think there’s room for both reactions. It’s that way for us too. We can’t escape our connection to family. Sometimes we’re quite pleased with it and other times, well, not so much. At one level, I’m reminded that I’m not above the ups and downs, successes and failures of life. At another level, I don’t need to take myself too seriously. At least, so far as I know, I don’t have any ancestors named “Unlucky.” I’m not as sure about the cattle-rustling though.
Take Away: Don’t take life too seriously – sometimes it’s best to smile and move on.
Guilty as charged
2Kings 17: In the end, God spoke a final No to Israel and turned his back on them.
Second Kings 17 is a long chapter that burdens the reader with a heavier and heavier weight of despair and condemnation as its read. These are painful words: “God was fed up” – “God had had enough,” – “God spoke a final ‘No’.” There’s the feeling of hearing a guilty verdict read in a courtroom. The evidence for conviction is overwhelming and the conclusion is obvious. God’s only choice is to turn his back and to declare “no” to them and their sin as they’ve declared “no” to him. Reading this chapter not only condemns the people of ancient Israel and justifies God in his abandonment of them, but it also frightens me. How far can a nation push God? How many of his blessings can it forget? How many of his Laws can it break before the Almighty is fed up? My nation is foolishly testing the patience of God right now. Second Kings 17 is not before us as just some dusty old history lesson. It’s a warning that we’d better heed.
Take Away: If we say “no” often enough, the Lord will take us at our word.
The nation that ignores God
2Kings 17: They lived a “nothing” life and became “nothings.”
The 17th chapter of Second Kings is the epitaph of the Kingdom of Israel. After centuries of ups and mostly downs they exhaust the patience of God. The Lord hands them over to their enemies and the citizens are removed from their beloved land to live in exile the rest of their days. God’s verdict is clearly stated: “the exile came about because of sin…they had accumulated a long list of evil actions and God was fed up…God said, ‘Don’t!’ but they did it anyway.” For decades it has appeared that they can brush God Jehovah off and do things their own way. They’ve behaved as though his Commandments are mere suggestions that don’t really apply. Traveling that road has brought them to its only possible destination and now they’ve arrived: “they lived a ‘nothing’ life and became ‘nothings.'” What happens to a nation that’s been abundantly blessed by God but persistently chooses to ignore him and his ways? This chapter ought to really frighten us.
Take Away: The future is dim for a nation that ignores the Lord and his blessings.
A trophy of grace
2Kings 13: He never gave up on them, never even considered discarding them.
In spite of God’s patience and blessings and in spite of the difficulties the nation faces, Israel continues down a destructive path. When things are terrible they temporarily turn to God but before long they’re back in the old God-ignoring rut. Their future could have been bright, but that’s not how things are going to turn out. I know what happens over at the end of 2Chronicles when the twin kingdoms come to their official end. Then again, I know what happens on the next page after that where I see God’s faithfulness through the priest, Ezra. In fact, looking into their future as I can by simply turning the pages of my Bible I’m taken by the truth of this statement: “He never gave up on them.” Oh, the grace of God who clearly sees our failure yet declares, “I won’t even consider discarding you.” I’m a trophy of such grace. And so are you.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances…and third…and fourth…and….
Obedience is required
1Kings 11: He hasn’t lived the way I have shown him, hasn’t done what I have wanted, and hasn’t followed directions or obeyed orders….
This epitaph of Solomon’s life gives me insight into what it is that God wants. He wants me to live as he’s shown me to live, to do what he wants me to do, and to follow his directions and obey his commands. If I build impressive church structures and amass great wealth yet fail at these key points God will not only be disappointed in me, he’ll take action against me. Sometimes we act as though all this “obey God” business is kind of theoretical; not literal, but something that happens only in an ideal world. We really think that we can pretty much do what we want and tip our hat to God once in a while and he’ll be satisfied with that. In this passage I see that no matter how much I do in the Name of the Lord I never get beyond the requirement of simply living the way he has shown me to live. If I ignore that, then all the “Temples” I might build are meaningless in his eyes.
Take Away: If we think we’re so valuable to the Lord that we don’t have to obey him – well, we’d better think again.
Close only counts in horseshoes
1Kings 11: Solomon faithlessly disobeyed God’s orders.
Solomon has accomplished much in God’s name. He’s built the lavish Temple, made Israel a world force, and stabilized the nation. He’s amassed knowledge and written proverbs filled with good common sense. But, because of his lack of self-control in relation to the opposite sex he becomes a miserable failure before God. My society seems to think God keeps a sort of balance sheet on our lives. Therefore, the goal is to do more good things than bad things. If a person attains that goal, they’ll make it to heaven. Solomon’s story teaches us better. His failure isn’t that he destroys the Temple or begins writing bad proverbs. Instead, it’s that he disobeys God. One act of disobedience destroys a lifetime of obedience. We all stand in need of God’s grace, and if we make it to heaven it will be because of that grace. Still, God requires obedience. A lifetime of accomplishment can’t atone for even one act of disobedience.
Take Away: It’s worth repeating: a lifetime of accomplishment can’t atone for even one act of disobedience.
1Kings 11: King Solomon was obsessed with women.
It’s too bad that Solomon’s story can’t end with chapter 10. That whole chapter is about his achievements and fame. I read it and can’t help but be impressed by all he does. Then, I turn the page and here’s “King Solomon was obsessed with women.” Even as he’s over the top in his achievements he’s also over the top with his obsession. He collects women in the same way he collected wealth and fame. This will lead to his downfall. The Bible is always up front with us when it comes to the failures of its heroes, and that’s the case here. Even as I read of Solomon’s making silver as common as rocks in Israel, I read that he sins against God by marrying women from the surrounding pagan nations and allowing them to influence him away from God. His willingness to be “unequally yoked” brings about his great failure. No doubt infatuation with the opposite sex has been the downfall of many throughout history but the larger issue here is that God requires my first allegiance. Anything that comes between God and me becomes my god. To obsess over anything is to deny his Lordship in my life.
Take Away: We’re never too smart or successful or, yes, even too wise to mess up. The key is to live close to the Lord and follow his directions for living.