I Kings 18

Truly one of the great stories of the Bible; one showing God has a tremendous sense of humor. And why not? Human beings can be humorous and we are made in his image. Everything we see in man is a reflection back to the very nature of God. Which is kind of mind blowing if you contemplate that for a bit. Our very consciousness is analogous to his, our thinking as well. Even our emotions. Of course all of it in perfect, infinite form. So back to our story.

After three years God tells Elijah that the time for the drought to end has finally come. God tells him to go and present himself to the wicked king of Israel, Ahab, and tell him rain is coming. Things must be getting desperate too because Ahab summons Obadiah, who is in charge of his palace to go throughout the land to maybe find some grass to keep the animals alive so they won’t have to kill any. As Obadiah, who is a devout man in an evil land, is “walking along” he runs into Elijah.  Obviously his reputation precedes him because he he calls him “my lord.” When Elijah tells him to go tell Ahab he’s ready to talk, Obadiah freaks out. What if he does this and Elijah disappears? After all, Ahab has searched far and wide for him to have him killed. But Elijah assures him, he’s not going anywhere; he’s got some tricks up his sleeve.

When Ahab finally meets Elijah you would think the king would be giving the orders, but it’s Elijah who tells him to have all the prophets of Baal meet him on Mount Carmel. This is going to be a contest, and we’ll see who the people will choose to follow:

21 Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

But the people said nothing.

22 Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. 23 Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. 24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire—he is God.”

Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”

When Elijah tells them to choose, they say nothing. Imagine all the power of the society and state are on the side of Baal, so the people are of course hesitant. But when he says, let’s make a contest out of this, they’re all in.

So the prophets of Baal start calling on their god, from morning till noon, but guess what? No answer. So, and I love this, Elijah starts to taunt them:

“Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.”

One of the commentaries I read said in Hebrew there is a reference here to, uh, going to the bathroom. But alas, the prophets of Baal call in vain, no matter the gyrations, no matter the blood they spill, nothing. All false gods are the same; they can not deliver. Futility is their name.

Now that the show is over and it is clear Baal is powerless (note that the issue never comes up whether Baal actually exists or not. This is not the concern.), Elijah prepares to show the people who they ought to follow. He sets up the another altar, puts the dead animals on it, and he gets the people to drench it in water. Then Elijah prays that God in his mercy will show his power so that the people’s hearts will turn back to him, and oh what a show it is. Fire falls from heaven and consumes everything, even licking up all the water in the trench around the altar.

The people fall down and cry, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!” That’s it. That’s the whole name of the game of human existence. We must acknowledge who is God. As Dylan sang, “You gotta serve somebody.” So Elijah declares the sentence of death on the false prophets in obedience to the Lord’s word in Deut. 18:20:

But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”

The people slaughter them. The chapter ends strangely. I would think Elijah would also call down judgment on evil King Ahab, but he doesn’t. He tells him the rain is coming, and that he’d better hightail it back to town. And the rain doesn’t come. Elijah goes to the top of Mount Carmel and gets down on his knees, and presumably prays, the text doesn’t say. But he tells his servant seven times, of course, to do and look toward the sea, when he finally sees a little cloud coming, and the rain is on its way. The Lord wanted everyone to know from whence their salvation, spiritual or physical, comes, the theme of the entire Bible.

For some reason, even though Ahab had already headed to Jezreel before the rain started, the power of the Lord comes upon Elijah he runs ahead of Ahab and gets to the town first. Not sure why this is happens, but maybe we’ll see.

I Kings 17

All of a sudden we are introduced to one of the most famous biblical figures, the prophet Elijah. He had a central role to play in the coming of the Messiah, even to the point of appearing with Jesus on the mount of transfiguration that we read about in Matthew 17. Here in this chapter he is just a poor prophet who is in danger of starving to death. As a prophet, he truly spoke “truth to power.” It was a prophets job to tell kings they were blowing it by worshiping false idols and that they must repent and turn to the living God. Most didn’t take kindly to the prophets’ message.

I had to read a lot of commentaries to figure this chapter out. First we have Elijah himself. He appears out of nowhere from a region that is in dispute. It seems most think he’s from the other side of the Jordan from whence the Israelites come into the promised land and where the two tribes that stayed there settled. God tells him to deliver this judgment against Israel, that there will be a drought, something horrible in an ancient agrarian society, but God always promised curses if they did not follow him.

So God tells him to hightail it outta town and go up into the mountains. In one of those ironic biblical twists, God tells Elijah that he will “order” ravens to bring him food. Why ravens? I read somewhere, “The raven has long been associated with death and dark omens.” Leave it to God to sustain life with something associated with death, not unlike the horrible vehicle of torture and death, the cross, bringing eternal life. He is the sovereign omnipotent Lord and king of creation. Elijah’s response is key: “So he did what the Lord had told him.” It seems pretty simple, but obedience to the Lord’s word is everything; it denotes trust in the character and power of almighty God. And trust in him is the essence of biblical faith.

So God sustains him for several years with the ravens bringing him bread and meat, and a brook supplies him with water. But the drought eventually dries that up, and God’s word comes to him with again another irony. He is to go to a poor gentile widow who is barely surviving, and she will help sustain him. God loves to show his power through the powerless. This woman only had a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. She was gathering some sticks at the town gate and was going home to finish what she and her son had, and die. Talk about dire straights, and a typical scenario for the work of God. Of course, God does what he promises, and Elijah and the woman and her son were fed until the rains came again.

But again, per God’s usual, another impossible situation arises that rightfully causes the woman to doubt God’s goodness. Her son gets sick, then dies. Her response is classic works oriented human:

18 She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”

Deep down we all know we deserve the wages of sin, death, because we are sinners. Elijah himself questions God, asking if he is bringing tragedy by causing her son to die. But unlike those who sit in judgment upon God’s motives, Elijah acts. He lays his body on the boy three times, symbolic no? And prays for him to let the boy’s life return. And “the Lord heard Elijah’s cry.” I don’t know what the Hebrew word for cry there denotes, but after all he’s been through himself and barely surviving, and then spending some significant time with the women and her son, you can imagine the anguish was great. Elijah had no idea it would work, but it does. And in a scene reminiscent of the one where Jesus heals Jairus’s Daughter in Luke 8 we read this:

22 The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived.23 Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother and said, “Look, your son is alive!”

24 Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.”

I love her conclusion. What is at stake is the truth, not some objective experience or an opinion or perspective, but The Truth. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Truth is the essence of reality, which has its origin and definition in God himself. The law of non-contradiction holds, and is foundational to a biblical worldview.

I Kings 15 & 16

Kings come and kings go, some good, some bad, some follow the Lord, others don’t. In these two chapters there is one King of Judah, Asa, who follows the Lord, while Israel has a bunch of kings and they all follow “worthless Idols.” That is an interesting phrase. The other gods these kings follow literally have no value. We know that human beings are fundamentally religious, and they must worship something. In ancient times every society’s king had their own gods, and that is what the people of that society worshiped. Israel’s kings give up the creator of the universe for God’s that are an illusion.

I was thinking about all this in church Sunday, and how modern secular people look at religious people in a church singing praise to God as a very strange thing. It just seems weird to them that people would pray and sing to this invisible being, as if they don’t do the very same thing, although what they worship generally isn’t invisible. As Calvin said, the human heart is an idol factory, so every human being worships something or many somethings. There is no such thing as a person who isn’t religious.

What do gods give us? Meaning, hope, significance. Think of what modern Americans worship: sports teams, athletes, musicians, cars, career, money, sex, love, family, etc. All these goods become to them ultimate goods where they attempt to fulfill themselves, but it just won’t work because like Israel’s false gods they are worthless. They cannot provide any meaning, hope or significance. Whatever they do provide, it is fleeting.

I Kings 13

Jeroboam is a real piece of crap, and this chapter exposes the depth of his evil, along with other lessons for us and signposts in the history of redemption. At first reading the story is confusing; in fact after several readings it is confusing, so I sought the help of the commentaries, and while there are numerous opinions about the meaning of the events chronicled here, I think God is continuing to communicate his purposes through Israel’s history.

We have three major characters in the story: Jeroboam of course, a man of God from Judah, and an old prophet from Bethel.  The man of God comes to Bethel “By the word of the Lord,” and he “cries out” against the altar as Jeroboam is “standing by the altar to make an offering.”

He cried against the altar by the word of the Lord, and said, “O altar, altar, thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name; and on you he shall sacrifice the priests of the high places who burn incense on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.’”

This Josiah would be born several hundred years after this event and have a very important role to play in the history of redemption. Here according to Wikipedia:

Josiah was a king of Judah (641–609 BC), according to the Hebrew Bible, who instituted major reforms. Josiah is credited by most historians with having established or compiled important Hebrew Scriptures during the Deuteronomic reform that occurred during his rule.

Josiah became king of Judah at the age of eight, after the assassination of his father, King Amon, and reigned for thirty-one years, from 641/640 to 610/609 BC.[3]

He is also one of the kings mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.

Josiah led these reforms because the book of the law was found during his reign, and he not only instituted the worship Moses had proscribed, but did exactly as this prophecy said. The people of God cannot worship the one true God, and idols, so as Josiah institutes the right worship of God he destroys all the implements of false religion. In 2 Kings 23 we read:

15 Even the altar at Bethel, the high place made by Jeroboam son of Nebat, who had caused Israel to sin—even that altar and high place he demolished. He burned the high place and ground it to powder, and burned the Asherah pole also. 16 Then Josiah looked around, and when he saw the tombs that were there on the hillside, he had the bones removed from them and burned on the altar to defile it, in accordance with the word of the Lord proclaimed by the man of God who foretold these things.

17 The king asked, “What is that tombstone I see?”

The people of the city said, “It marks the tomb of the man of God who came from Judah and pronounced against the altar of Bethel the very things you have done to it.”

18 “Leave it alone,” he said. “Don’t let anyone disturb his bones.” So they spared his bones and those of the prophet who had come from Samaria.

19 Just as he had done at Bethel, Josiah removed all the shrines at the high places that the kings of Israel had built in the towns of Samaria and that had aroused the Lord’s anger.

This is all several hundred years in the future. For the present, Jeroboam, who once worked for Solomon and obviously learned from him how to worship other gods, doesn’t much like being cried out against, so he orders the man of God killed. But as he’s pointing to the man his hand shrivels. He freaks out and pleads with the man to pray for him and restore his hand, which he does. Jeroboam is chastened for the moment, and invites the man of God to come to his home and eat with him and give him a gift, but the man refuses because the Lord had commanded him to not eat or drink or go back the same way he came, so he leaves.

This is when the story gets weird. The text says the sons of “a certain old prophet” who lives in Bethel told him what the man of God had said. Why the word “certain”? Why not just “old prophet”? Maybe because it’s not just any old prophet; this one had a reason to be curious about what happened. Maybe living in Bethel he sees what Jeroboam is doing and hates it, or doesn’t and wonders what a true man of God would say about it.

Whatever the nature of his curiosity, he gets on his donkey and goes after the man of God, who he finds sitting under an oak tree. He was probably tired and hungry when the old prophet finds him, and the prophet invites the man home with him to eat. The man reiterates what the Lord told him not to do. The prophet then lies to the man saying an angel told him he could now eat and drink, which he does. Bad move. The Lord then speaks to the prophet to tell the man of God that he has defied the word of the Lord, so he will come to an unnatural end.

On the way back riding his donkey, the man is met by a lion and killed, and strangely the lion neither destroys the man’s body or kills the donkey. The lion and the donkey just stand there beside it. What a picture. People pass by and report what happened back in the city. You can imagine Jeroboam hearing about this and thinking God was actually on his side. One of the commentaries I read pointed out the the symbol of the tribe of Judah is the lion, so there is something symbolic going on here with God’s judgment against the man of God. And something you can be sure Jeroboam doesn’t get because is says at the end of the chapter:

33 Even after this, Jeroboam did not change his evil ways, but once more appointed priests for the high places from all sorts of people. Anyone who wanted to become a priest he consecrated for the high places. 34 This was the sin of the house of Jeroboam that led to its downfall and to its destruction from the face of the earth.

So God in his mercy was using this to communicate to Jeroboam, but he would not listen and suffer the consequences, just as the man of God did who defied the word of the Lord. It seems harsh, but we’ve seen it over and over again in the biblical narrative, the wages of sin is death, and at any time God can call his card. And when he does, you can bet there is a very good reason. As Moses says in Deut. 32, the Lord is “A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.”

And interestingly, we can see that the old prophet had no animus toward the man of God because he went and got him from the road, mourned his death, and buried him in his own tomb. Then requested when he dies he be buried with him. And most importantly:

32 For the message he declared by the word of the Lord against the altar in Bethel and against all the shrines on the high places in the towns of Samaria will certainly come true.”

God’s word and victory over false God’s and idols will always and ultimately come to pass.

 

 

 

 

I Kings 12

Now that Solomon is gone, Israel starts to fall apart. No earthly king, no king that isn’t God himself, can pull it off, and thus chaos comes upon God’s people. Here it starts with Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, taking over after him; he’s obviously an idiot, so it doesn’t go well. Instead of ruling with wisdom and justice as his father did, he puts an even heavier yoke upon the people at the behest of his young buddies, completely ignoring the older, wiser heads. When he asks those buddies how he should respond to the people they use a vulgarity in Hebrew that most translators whitewash. Here’s how the NIV translates it:

10 The young men who had grown up with him replied, “These people have said to you, ‘Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but make our yoke lighter.’ Now tell them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. 11 My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.’”

The word “waist” is not the word waist, and what would a thick waist have to do with anything anyway? Here’s how the NASB more accurately translates it:

10 The young men who grew up with him spoke to him, saying, “Thus you shall say to this people who spoke to you, saying, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, now you make it lighter for us!’ But you shall speak to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins! 11 

Here’s a definition of loin:

the region of the sexual organs, especially when regarded as the source of erotic or procreative power.

So basically his buddies tell him to say in 21st Century lingo, my little finger is bigger than my father’s dick. Why put it that way, other than arrogant young pricks being what they are? Because power is associated with fecundity, and being a stud in the ancient world was so much more important than in the modern world. Rehoboam and his stupid friends didn’t realize the fundamental fact of kingship in Israel: power and legitimacy for a ruler comes from the Lord. David understood this, and ultimately God’s people will get a king who is the Lord himself because no other human can fill those shoes.

All Rehoboam had to do was treat the people justly, and he secures his reign, but he and his buddies became power hungry, and the people rebel. But we see in verse 15 that this turn in Israel’s history is of the Lord, and Rehoboam had to flee to Jerusalem to escape the anger of the people. Now he only rules over Judah, and the rest of Israel rebels against the house of David. Rehoboam mustered up fighting forces to go to war against the rest of Israel, but God through a prophet tells them not to, and they obey. Why would this break up of Israel be of God’s doing? I got the answer in a commentary:

The Boam boys, Rehoboam (Solomon’s son) and Jeroboam (Solomon’s chief superintendent of forced labor), are front and center after Solomon’s death. The prophet Ahijah, back in I Kings 11:29-39 , had already spoken on behalf of God that Jeroboam would be King over 10 tribes. That being the case, these complications at Shechem are just a formality. The representatives of the northern tribes speak up after Solomon’s death and say to King Rehoboam, “We’re overtaxed and oppressed.”Rehoboam’s senior advisers who had previously served Solomon give their counsel to Rehoboam by saying, “They’re overtaxed and oppressed.” Rehoboam’s childhood buddies (now advisors), however, prevail with their advice causing Rehoboam to reply to the 10 tribes, “You think you’re oppressed now, you ain’t seen nothing yet!”

Rehoboam makes a very bad decision, but in reality, it had already been prophesied by the prophet Ahijah that Israel would split ; this is the action by Rehoboam that gets credit for the division of the Kingdom of Israel into a Northern Kingdom and a Southern Kingdom. Keep in mind though, this isn’t the real reason for the split. The real reason is found in I Kings 11:11, “Wherefore the LORD said unto Solomon, Forasmuch as this is done of thee, and thou hast not kept my covenant and my statutes, which I have commanded thee, I will surely rend the kingdom from thee, and will give it to thy servant.” That’s right, God even speaks to Solomon and tells him that after his reign, his kingdom will be split – and all because of Solomon’s tolerance for paganism.

So it’s God’s judgment against one of Israel’s kings that the kingdom would be torn in two, an unnatural state of affairs. Again and again we are reminded that no human king can ultimately successfully govern God’s people.

Jeroboam is afraid the people will go back to Judah, to the house of David, so he basically sets up his own religion, with shrines in high places, and sacrifices, and holy days. Ironically he does all this in Bethel, translated the house of God, and the place where Abraham built the first altar to God in Canaan, and where Jacob in a dream saw the ladder reaching to heaven. Maybe the point is that Israel outside of the house of David will make their own house of god, their own religion, their own way to curry favor with the divine. Yet it’s all just the machinations of a fearful leader who will use any means to stay in power. How utterly human.

I Kings 9-11

Solomon only gets three more chapters, and as great as he was, he doesn’t finish well. He obviously had a prodigious sexual appetite, which finally let him away from the Lord. But prior to that God visits him a second time in chapter 9, and gives him the warning he’s given to all of Israel and its leaders from the beginning: follow me and be blessed, rebel and be cursed. Like each of us, Israel could not pull it off, at least not for very long.

A few comments about these chapters. In chapter 10 we find the story of the Queen of Sheba visiting Solomon and being impressed with his wisdom and wealth. This may be the only time in Israel’s history when it’s international renown lived up to it’s covenant promised from God.

23 King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth. 24 The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart. 25 Year after year, everyone who came brought a gift—articles of silver and gold, robes, weapons and spices, and horses and mules.

But this wouldn’t last long. In chapter 11 we see the beginning of his downfall:

 King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love.

And boy did he intermarry! Upwards of a thousand wives and concubines. And of course they led him astray to worship other gods. How could Solomon, supposedly the wisest man who ever lives, and one whom God appeared to twice, be so stupid? Simple; sin isn’t a disease of the mind but of the heart. And Jeremiah tells is some several hundred years later that, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”

So God says he will tear the kingdom from Solomon, but not until after he’s dead for the sake of his father David, and not completely. We know the tribe of Judah from which will come the Savior of the world will be kept for God’s purposes. Upon Solomon’s death, Rehoboam succeeds him as king.

I Kings 3-8

These chapters describe the beginning of Solomon’s reign. It seems even though David was not the best of fathers, that he taught Solomon well. His power and wealth would lead him astray later in life, but initially he simply wanted to be a wise king. Famously when asked by God what he wants, anything he wants, instead of wealth or long life, he asks for wisdom, and God not only blesses him with wisdom, but with wealth and power.

For these few short years of Solomon’s reign, the promises of God’s covenant seem like they are finally fulfilled. You can imagine that those in Israel who know God’s promises and Israel’s history think this is it, this is the ultimate fulfillment of everything. There is peace, God’s temple is built and the ark moved into the holy of holies, so God’s presence is with them. In chapter 4 it states:

20 The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy. 21 And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. These countries brought tribute and were Solomon’s subjects all his life.

God’s promises have been fulfilled, right? They have a good, wise and powerful king on the throne. But those among them who were more perspicacious must have wondered if this is it. Why, you can imagine them asking, do we have to continue to kill zillions of animals to have a relationship with God. Maybe not, but in hindsight that’s easy to see.

It took 480 years for them to just start building the temple. God is certainly in no hurry. And when they finally dedicate it, the slaughter is magnificent:

62 Then the king and all Israel with him offered sacrifices before the Lord.63 Solomon offered a sacrifice of fellowship offerings to the Lord: twenty-two thousand cattle and a hundred and twenty thousand sheep and goats. So the king and all the Israelites dedicated the temple of the Lord.

A veritable river of blood! And it could only do the job temporarily, unlike Christ, once for all, forever.

When Solomon dedicates the temple he mentions over and over God’s promises and covenant being fulfilled. Yet he also predicts the Israel will fall away, and prays for God to bring them back, so he knows that in any ultimate sense this is not it. One section of his prayer stands out that not many seem to focus on, and that is that God’s promises are available to those outside the house of Israel.

41 “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name— 42 for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, 43 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.

The faith bequeathed to Israel is a universal faith, as God promised to Abram, that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” It’s amazing how God did this. Even if Christ came as he did, the faith could easily have become just another Jewish sect, and it would have always been limited by that, but God called Paul and set his message at a point in history when it could literally spread throughout the world.

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