Good old Agur Ben Yakeh
Proverbs 30: There is no God…I can do anything I want!
Some of the final pages of Proverbs are attributed to Agur Ben Yakeh. Aside from the name and that he is from a town or country called Massa we’re pretty much in the dark about him. The name, I’m told, doesn’t appear to be Israelite, but is more Arab sounding. Of course, Solomon rules a vast empire and has friendly relations with many countries. It may be that Agur Ben Yakeh is considered to be a very wise man in his home country and that Solomon agrees, collecting his sayings and including him in his book of Proverbs. However, there’s a bit of a problem with this idea because the nation of Israel alone worships Jehovah God at this time. Clearly, the words of Agur Ben Yakeh are those of a worshiper of God. I know these little things are often of more interest to me than to others, but it is kind of fun to think about this ancient mystery. If the identity of Ben Yakeh is mysterious, his opening proverb is pretty straight forward. He isn’t impressed by people who doubt the existence of God. They may think they can ignore God and his commandments but when they do it isn’t the commandments that get broken! The wise man says “every promise of God proves true.” He warns those who doubt that to reconsider, warning, “he might take you to task and show up your lies.” The day’s coming when everyone will believe in God. After all, we’ll stand before him in Judgment. Those who doubt will be convinced, but for them, it will be too late. The One they have doubted and ignored, will “take them to task.”
Take Away: Sooner or later everyone will believe in God – it’s better to be part of the “sooner” crowd.
Getting away with it
Job 21: They’re given fancy funerals with all the trimmings.
Zophar admits that, for a while, evil people get away with it. However, he says, their good times are always short-lived and then everything falls apart for them. Job is having none of it. He replies that he’s watched things too, and it isn’t very often that such people get their just deserts. In fact, he’s attended their funerals and heard the lies said about them even as their bodies were lowered into the ground. The big theme of Job’s story is “will a man serve God for nothing.” Then, as things play out, we’re confronted with the issue of human suffering. Is it possible that people suffer and it isn’t because God is angry with them? Now, we meet yet another theme. It’s the reverse concern. If it’s true, as Job contends, that sometimes people suffer through no fault of their own, is it also true that sometimes evil people get away with it? Is it possible that some enjoy all the pleasures of sin all the way to old age and never hit the brick wall of God’s judgment? I think that before this ordeal Job was fairly comfortable with Zophar’s philosophy. At least he hadn’t given it much thought. Now, he finds himself dealing with the issue of how unjust life can be. All the time God remains silent, allowing Job and his friends to grapple with it all. For most of us, reading through these discussions is more philosophical than anything else. Once in a while though, these issues become quite serious and they did for Job so long ago.
Take Away: Some people live their entire lives believing things to be true that aren’t. Once in a while though, we’re given the opportunity (or maybe “forced” is a better word) to get a fresh grip on “truth.”
Pride goes before a fall
2 Chronicles 26: Arrogant and proud, he fell.
Uzziah is just a teen when he becomes king of Judah. By and large, he does a good job as king and his long reign is a good one for his nation. From the beginning he seeks God. The Lord is pleased with him and blesses his life with successful building projects and a strong army. Then, when it seems Uzziah will be one of the rare kings who have nothing but positive things on their record something ugly happens. His successes go to Uzziah’s head. We don’t know the full story but Uzziah decides, like Saul did many generations earlier, to take over the worship activities. He takes the one role in the nation that’s denied him – going into the Temple and acting as priest of God. The legitimate priests, descendants of Aaron, try to stop Uzziah, but he ignores them. With the holy censor in hand, he refuses to hear the objections of the priests. Then, God objects, and when he objects, he can’t be ignored. The dreaded disease of leprosy breaks out on Uzziah’s hand as he holds the censor. This is God’s judgment. It’s too bad isn’t it. Uzziah comes so far and does so many things right. His downfall comes, not as a result of some big temptation or some great threat. Instead, it’s brought about by his success. When things are going right and it’s clear that God is blessing us we need to remember Uzziah. Here we see a lesson in how success can lead to failure.
Take Away: The distance from impressive success to dismal failure is shorter than we might think.
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?
2Kings 25: Judah went into exile, orphaned from her land.
Following its defeat by Babylon Zedekiah is made king of the now subjected Judah. However, in spite of all that’s happened, Zedekiah ignores God and then foolishly rebels against Babylon. This is the final step on the road to destruction. King Nebuchadnezzar personally oversees the final defeat of Jerusalem and then orders its total destruction. Anything of value is carried off and the rest is leveled. Even the Temple is destroyed as the city is left desolate, uninhabitable. For this generation it’s all over. Those who survive will live their lives as exiles, with all the wonderful promises of the now-broken Covenant discarded in the pile of rubble that was Jerusalem. History tells us the human reasons for all this: the rise of Babylon, the defeat of Egypt and Assyria, and the physical location of Judah. However, the Bible tells us the spiritual reason: sin. They rejected God and then, after centuries of patience and renewed chances, God rejected them. It isn’t easy, but it is possible to exhaust the patience of a merciful God. This ought to serve as a warning to both individuals and nations.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for his mercy and patience…yes, thank him, but take advantage of them too.
Mistaking God’s patience for a lack of seriousness
2Kings 25: This should have been no surprise — God had said it would happen.
Judah finds itself in the middle, right between two warring world powers. On one side is Egypt and on the other is Babylon. Like some small island out in the Pacific during the Second World War, this small nation is thrust onto the world stage, not because of its military might, but simply because of its location. Upon Josiah’s untimely death the nation struggles for its identity. Sadly, it is Josiah’s reforms that lose favor. Soon, the nation is once again on the road to spiritual and national disaster. Raiding bands begin to assault Judah as the two big players on the world scene fight it out. It’s Babylon that wins. Following the “conquer and relocate” policy of Assyria before them the people of Jerusalem are relocated to a distant land with only the poor left to be ruled by a puppet king. The writer of 2nd Kings tells us that no one should have been surprised. For over 300 years they’ve been warned that God isn’t some kind of lucky charm for them. They mistakenly thought that being the “people of God” meant that, ultimately, they would be safe. They thought that because of Josiah’s reforms they were inoculated against failure. Because of the patience and mercy of God over the years, they downplayed the warnings they were given again and again. Finally though, things happened just as God had said they would. I’m reminded today that God isn’t kidding when he says he’ll judge sin. It’s a dangerous thing to mistake the patience of God with his not being serious in what he says.
Take Away: Don’t mistake the patience of the Lord for a lack of seriousness on his part.
Out of the frying pan, into the fire
2Kings 24: The threat from Egypt was now over.
Aside from the remaining wealth amassed by Solomon Judah is a minor player on the world stage. The real action has been between mighty Egypt and mighty Babylonia. Egypt is the old power and Babylonia is the new. The small kingdoms that are unfortunate enough to be between the two are mere pawns in their chess match for domination of the region. Babylon wins. Having driven Egyptian forces out of the region, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon now turns his attention to subduing the small kingdoms of the region. Judah has been defeated once, but as Nebuchadnezzar’s attention has been on other matters, Jehoiakim, king of Judah revolted, leading to a series of attacks by other smaller armies against Jerusalem. Judah has been driven to her knees as Nebuchadnezzar, himself, arrives to direct the assault on the small beleaguered country. Jerusalem surrenders and Babylonian forces plunder the city. There will be a few more stories to tell, but the grave is already dug and the end of Judah is at hand. There have been some less than perfect opportunities for Judah to remain a nation. For instance, Jehoiakim didn’t have to rebel and could have continued to pay tribute to Nebuchadnezzar. Still, as we’re reminded several times here, “God said it would happen.” For them, this is Judgment Day. Anyone who thinks God is “too good” or “too kind” to pronounce condemnation on those who reject him should read the final chapters of 2 Kings.
Take Away: Never doubt that the holiness of the Lord means he will judge sin.
God on the world stage
2Kings 19: Did it never occur to you that I’m behind all this?
If Sennacherib’s threatening letter to Hezekiah is intended to frighten him, it’s a great success. However, in his fear Hezekiah runs, not away, but straight to God. Soon thereafter he receives an answer. As Hezekiah has spoken to God, now God has spoken to his man, Isaiah. Part of the message from God is directed to Hezekiah but part is addressed to Sennacherib, king of Assyria. God isn’t pleased with him and he’s about to take action against him. One of the statements in particular draws our attention today. God tells this powerful heathen king, this enemy of his people, that he’s been using Sennacherib for his own purposes. This must have been seen by him as an unbelievably naïve word out of Judah. Tiny and powerless Judah says that their God has been behind his military successes of this world superpower. It would have been absolutely laughable except for the fact that on that very night a hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrian soldiers die without Judah lifting a finger against them. Here are some things to consider. First, I see that God used a heathen king for his own purposes. Just because a nation has success in some area it doesn’t mean that God is smiling on them and is pleased with them. Second, God moves quite comfortably in the international arena. As one of his people I need to be careful I don’t play, to use a baseball term, “small ball” all the time. I serve a God who’s interested in, and working through, events that are global in scale. Finally, no nation is bigger than God. Even if the whole world falls under the command of some conqueror, ultimately God remains Sovereign. Leaders of powerful nations had better remember that.
Take Away: Whether we recognize it or not the Lord is Sovereign; not only over our lives, but around the world and throughout the universe.
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.
2Kings 10: God doing what, through Elijah, he said he’d do.
I don’t like reading the stories of uprisings, murders, and judgment found in the stories of Judah and Israel. Beheadings and assassinations somehow don’t make for good devotional reading! Still, there are some powerful themes in the story of Jehu’s uprising. God had judged Ahab’s sin years earlier, and even though he has, at times, blessed Israel with his help against her enemies, the Lord never overlooks what Ahab has continued doing. At the right time the Lord raises up Jehu to act in judgment on Ahab’s family. It’s bloody but it’s intended to give Israel a chance to return to the path that they left so long ago. Before Jehu’s finished Ahab’s family is destroyed and the altars of Baal are gone. In spite of all that, Jehu’s a disappointment. I see here that the Lord uses less than perfect vessels to accomplish his purposes. Also I’m reminded that no one has to fail. Jehu let a golden opportunity slip through his fingers.
Take Away: The Lord works in and through imperfect people to carry out his plans.