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.
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.
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.
I wonder if Nathan checked his life insurance policy first
2 Samuel 12: You’re the man!
It’s through the prophet Nathan that God responds to David’s adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her righteous husband, Uriah. We don’t know much about Nathan, but he carries on in the spirit of his predecessor, Samuel. In Nathan we see the same boldness we saw in Samuel when he stood up to Saul. A few pages back, when David wants to build a Temple, its Nathan who first agrees but then returns with the disappointing news that God doesn’t want David to build a Temple. Now, when David has fallen in sin, it’s Nathan who takes his life in his hands and confronts the king with what he’s done. The prophet is pretty smart in his approach. He comes to David with a made-up scenario about a farmer and a lamb. When David reacts with righteous indignation over what he thinks has happened Nathan responds with the famous words, “You’re the man!” David, who could have any available woman in Israel (it’s acceptable in this society for him to have multiple wives), instead wanted another man’s wife. David, who’s bravely fought God’s enemies all his life, has used God’s enemies to do his dirty work for him. It’s Nathan who stands up to David. It’s nice to be God’s spokesman and tell people about the story of God’s love for us, preaching sermons from John 3:16. However, there’s a place for confrontation too. We’d just better be sure it’s God who’s sending us with that strong message.
Take Away: No one is big enough, so valuable to God’s Kingdom, that they can get away with sin.
Judges 20: How did this outrageous evil happen?
The final story in the book of Judges is about as dark and evil as it can get. It concerns a man and his concubine. The story contains deviant sexual behavior, rape, and murder. The result is a civil war in which the tribe of Benjamin is practically wiped out. One question asked during the story should ring in our ears: “How did this outrageous evil happen?” How did the descendants of Abraham, this miraculously freed nation of slaves, these recipients of the Ten Commandments, these people chosen to be God’s very own come to this? The answer is “self and sin.” Their faith hasn’t been passed on to their children. Their heroes become more and more flawed. God is forgotten and their society begins to unravel. The writer of Judges concludes in the famous epitaph of the book: “At that time there was no king in Israel. People did whatever they felt like doing.” That, my friends, is a recipe for disaster. I’d better not read this with a detached sense of superiority. I live in a society in which “doing whatever one feels like doing” is the norm. We want a convenient God who does our bidding, but leaves us alone the rest of the time. When Israel tries that the result is disaster. Do we really think we can get away with it?
Take Away: Whether we’re talking about an individual or a nation, it’s foolish to attempt to live apart from God.
There, but for the grace of God….
Judges 9: Just then some woman dropped an upper millstone on his head and crushed his skull.
Not all the inhumanity of Israel’s “dark ages” of Judges comes from the belligerent peoples surrounding them. A lot of the bleakness comes from within. Gideon apparently makes himself into a sheik and fathers lots of children. When he dies there’s a power struggle that’s won by Abimelech, the son of Gideon and one of his maidservants. Abimelech seals the deal by murdering his seventy brothers. However, he’s better at murder than he is at leading and within three years there’s mounting opposition to his rule. Abimelech acts to quash the rebellion and arrives at Thebez, a town known for its fortified tower. As this wicked leader prepares burn alive those who have taken refuge there a woman drops part of a millstone on his head, thus bringing an end to the short and evil leadership of Abimelech. This is an ugly, if somewhat interesting story of a bad man who does bad things and then dies in a violent, unexpected way. No doubt, the detail of his inglorious death is told to us that we might see the judgment of God on Abimelech. In the larger view, I’m reminded that when God is removed from their lives just how much these descendants of Abraham look like the other heathen of that land. When I look around my community and see people doing stupid, self-destructive things to themselves and one another; when I see them blindly pursuing worthless things; and when I see them stubbornly traveling down the wrong road I’m wise to remember that without the Lord in my life that could easily be me. One response then, is to be thankful for what the Lord’s doing in my life. It’s not about me – it’s all about him. Another response is that, rather than feeling superior, I’m to be compassionate to them. These are people who are like me. They just don’t yet know the Life Changer I know.
Take Away: There, but for the grace of God, go I.
Achan lied and men died.
Joshua 7: Israel has sinned: they’ve broken the covenant I commanded them.
Jericho’s defeated and destroyed. Now their attention’s on a much smaller, less fortified place, Ai. An armed force of 3000 is sent to do battle at Ai, more than enough to win an easy victory. However, it doesn’t work that way. The people of Ai rise up and rout the larger Israelite force. How could that happen? They not only have superior numbers, but God is on their side. Right? Wrong! They go to Ai without God and are defeated there. Dismayed by what’s happened on his watch Joshua goes to the Lord. He’s told that there’s sin in the camp. As long as there’s sin there’ll be no help from God. You see, sin is always serious in the eyes of the Lord. Beyond that, my sin impacts others in unexpected ways. Achan thinks that God won’t notice and that his intentional disobedience of the Lord’s command will have no consequences. Instead, because of his sin, God withdraws his blessing and over 30 men die. In our western culture, we like to think it’s every man for himself. Had an American written this story, Achan, and maybe family, would have died for his sin in tragic poetic justice. Everyone else would have gone on with “business as usual.” Here we see a different picture. “Achan lied and men died.” Is it possible that some churches struggle because there’s hidden sin in the camp? And why stop at the church? What does this story say to me as an American? A country where babies by the millions are aborted, where immorality is the accepted mode of behavior? Am I really free to stand back from that and be dismayed, expecting the judgment of God to only fall on “them?”
Take Away: Our lives are interconnected, what I do impacts others, maybe many others.
There’s sin and then there’s Sin with a capital “S”
Numbers 15: The person…who sins defiantly, deliberately blaspheming God, must be cut off from his people.
This chapter of the book of Numbers returns to the subject of the resolution of sin. Sometimes, we’re told, people blunder into sin and don’t even know they’ve done wrong. In fact, the whole nation can mess up like that. Once the failure’s realized, they’re to confess it and then take steps to repair the crack in their relationship with God. As we’ve seen before that involves the death of a scarified animal and the application of its innocent blood. However, the Law clearly distinguishes between sins of error and intentional sin. Animal sacrifices offer no hope to someone who “deliberately despised God’s word” and “violated God’s command.” Such a person is no longer numbered among God’s people. This passage goes on to give an example of such intentional failure. In this case, the penalty is death. It’s easy to see that the Old Testament Law distinguishes between mistakes and intentional failure. Both are called “sin” but one is a hundred times more serious than the other. Sin with a lower case “s” receives an automatic portion of grace as one realizes the failure and moves to make things right. Sin with a capital “S” brings death. Now, having said all that, I’m glad the story doesn’t end here. Due to the fact that human beings are sinners by nature we’re all guilty of death dealing sin. We should all be taken out of the camp and executed for our intentional spiritual failure. Thankfully, in Jesus Christ there’s hope even here. Because of Jesus, Paul writes, we’re “not under law but under grace.” He also says, “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” What a wonderful difference the Son of God makes, dealing not only with sin but also with Sin with a capitol “S.”
Take Away: We’re recipients of grace and its grace that we need.
Time doesn’t heal all wounds.
Genesis 42: Now we’re paying for what we did to our brother.
As a famine crushes the region only Egypt, under Joseph’s rule, prospers. Soon, those from the surrounding nations are coming to Egypt, ready to pay any price for grain. In time, aged Jacob sends his sons to Egypt and for the first time in the over 20 years since they sold him into slavery the brothers come face to face with the one they terribly mistreated. When they don’t recognize him, Joseph uses his authority to find out what kind of men his brothers have become. If one of them is put in jeopardy, will they abandon him as they abandoned Joseph long ago? With Simeon held back, the others are free to go. As I hear the conversation they have I’m taken with the enduring and debilitating power of guilt. They say to one another: “Now we’re paying for what we did to Joseph.” The truth of the matter is that all these years they’ve been paying for their terrible deed and dark secret. These are men haunted by their past and I have the idea that through the years they’ve thought or said these words every time some unexpected difficulty rose. People think they’re getting away with something just because no one knows but that’s never true. Not only is it untrue on the big stage, at the Judgment Day level; it’s also true in day-to-day living. In this case it’s a wound that time will not heal and the only resolution is to confess and take appropriate action to make things right.
Take away: Some things never heal until they’re exposed to the light.