Saturday, 18 July 2020

Road to Revelation: 1 + 2 Kings and 1 + 2 Chronicles - The Divided Kingdom

Oooooooh! A fancy chart!! Looks like things are getting pretty serious.  Deadly serious. Well not yet anyway.  Solomon is still reigning in peace but there is trouble brewing.  A young man named Jeroboam is faithfully working away for Solomon when he gets a visit from a prophet.  The message? He is to become the next king, wow!  Well... not over all Israel, just over 10 of the tribes.  But still, wow!

Solomon dies (end ch 11) and the kingdom passes to his son Rehoboam who is blissfully unaware of the prophecy to Jeroboam.  Rehoboam is not a wise king and turns the people against him and straight into Jeroboam's lap; all the tribes but the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (ch 12).  But Jeroboam is not a good king and he leads the people into idolatry by setting up two golden calves in the northern kingdom [Israel] for them to worship. The Lord sends two prophets to warn Jeroboam of the consequences of his idolatry but he does not listen and increases his idol worship even at the expense of his first born son (ch 13-4).

Meanwhile Rehoboam in the southern kingdom [Judah] isn't doing much better.  He follows his father's idolatry and as a consequence Egypt, a former ally, attacks and steals all the fine decorations in the temple.  Well, that didn't last long...

For the rest of the book we can refer to the chart above.  In Judah there are times of faithful kings (above the line) and times of idolatrous kings (below the line) and times of compromised kings (on the line; they worshipped the Lord but did not stamp out idolatry amongst the people).  But sadly the kings and people of Israel followed in the sin of Jeroboam and did not worship the Lord but worshipped idols.  Jehu is about the closest king to consider the Lord.

BUT the Lord had not rejected his people or left them.  He sent them many prophets to try to bring them back to himself, with mixed results.  The most famous of these prophets were Elijah and Elisha who were sent to the northern kingdom of Israel.  Their ministries would be considered unsuccessful overall by who study these things (because the kings did not repent) but God does not look at the outward appearances.  In fact the Lord encourages Elijah that he has kept a remnant in Israel who are faithful to him (1 Kings 19:18).  They are un-named and unknown save Obadiah (a servant in Ahab’s palace and Elisha; Elijah’s successor).
The Lord tried again and again to keep his people trusting in him and used many means to get their attention during this time: prophets, miracles, famines and war.  Sometimes they listened but often they rebelled.  Eventually the Lord’s patience ran out with the 10 northern tribes [Israel] and the Assyrians attacked! (2 Kings 17)  The Lord lists their sins against him in chapter 17: 7-23. “They worshipped other gods and followed the practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before them, as well as the practices that the kings of Israel had introduced...the Lord warned Israel and Judah through all his prophets and seers: ‘Turn from your evil ways…’ ...But they would not listen and were as stiff-necked as their fathers, who did not trust in the Lord their God…”  This is known as the first exile of Israel and the land of the 10 northern tribes was populated with a mix of Assyrians and Israelites and became known as Samaria.  Over time the nations intermarried and became known as the “Samaritans”.  The prophets Micah, Hosea, Isaiah and Jeremiah prophesied to the people at this time.
While this was all going on in the north Hezekiah was reigning over Judah and Benjamin in the south. Hezekiah was faithful to the Lord but it was too late, for the patience of the Lord was running out with Judah too...Hezekiah enjoys mostly a time of peace but has some trouble from a new player in town; Babylon.  The Lord uses Babylon to warn Hezekiah and people of Judah that the kingdom is coming to an end due to centuries of idolatry and lawlessness in the land.  A later king Josiah has a similar reign.  Josiah does his best to reform Judah back to worshipping the Lord but it is again too late “Nevertheless, the Lord did not turn away from the heat of his fierce anger, which burned against Judah because of all that Manasseh had done to provoke him to anger” (2 Kings 23:26)

The kings after Josiah dive right back into idolatry and despise his prophets (thus justifying the Lord’s anger) and Babylon invades.  The Babylonians take all but the poorest Israelites (whom he leaves to tend the land for him), destroy the wall of Jerusalem and remove every scrap of precious metal and stones from the temple.  The people are exiled from the land for 70 years until Persia overthrows the Babylonians and the land has had the full number of Sabbath rests [which the people failed to give it while under the reign of the kings] (2 Chron 36:15-21)  The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Nabum, Obadiah, Habakkuk and Zephaniah prophesied at this time.
But there is hope in this time of darkness and exile; the people will return to the land and Jerusalem will be rebuilt (2 Chron 36:22-23)!  They just have to wait 70 long years…
Takeaway: The people thought that by having a king to rule over them they would prosper and become powerful and peaceful. Alas their trust was mis-placed. We learn from the history of the kings of God’s people that it is as Jesus will say “Can a blind man lead a blind man?  Will they not both fall into a pit?” (Luke 6:39) The leaders of God’s people were often as blind as the people when it came to spiritual matters.  Overall the kings did not put their trust in the Lord and follow his laws and desires, but followed their own foolish desires and led the people down with them.  Even the wisest of them [Solomon] let his heart wander from the truth to idols. The problem was not with having a ruler but who the ruler needed to be.  They needed to look to their ultimate ruler!  The true king of God’s people!  God himself!
But there is hope… their true king was coming… and Jeremiah told the people of Judah that when he came he would be able to do something that none of their previous kings had been able to do.  He would be able to change their hearts so they would desire to seek and serve their true and ultimate king alone “The time is coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers… because they broke my covenant… I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people… I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
Further Reading: The law has no power to save us for we will not keep it.  Only the forgiveness of our sins and the righteousness of another can save us!  And this has come to pass in Jesus the king of the Jews [and gentiles *plot spoilers*].  Read Hebrews 9-10:18 which explains how the Old Covenant could only cover the sin of the people for a time but could not change them, yet Christ’s blood cleanses us fully and transforms us!


Sunday, 5 July 2020

Road To Revelation: The Songs of God's People - The Psalms

Theology is all good and all but sometimes you just feel all the feelings about your life and about God and you need a way to express those feelings.  Well my friend, you have come to the right place!  God has not just shown us his love for us in sending us His son but he shows his love for us in that he desires to hear from us; his beloved children (Luke 11:11-12). So he gave us the Psalms which are a collection of the many times God’s people have cried out to him in times of trouble and in times of peace (but mostly trouble lets be honest).

 The Psalms are 150 poems gathered by God’s people over their history and arranged in [probably] the time of their exile in Babylon.  It’s not the entire collection of Hebrew poetry but a select few  edited and arranged in a poetic way to also tell a story—they are many poems within a giant poem!!! See also Bible Project You-Tube video.

 The overarching poem takes the reader on an emotional roller-coaster ride from the introductory two psalms which echo the themes of Solomon’s collections of proverbs (true wisdom is found in seeking after the Lord, through mostly  feelings of despair/lament) to more feelings of praise, hope and thankfulness to the Lord, to the conclusion that the Lord is over all creation and worthy to be praised for his goodness to his people and his ultimate justice toward sin.  Much like our own spiritual journeys really… lamenting this broken world and taking it to the Lord, then praising Him for his faithfulness to us in his love and forgiveness and the fact that one day he will make everything right once again. His Love Endures Forever!

 This journey of faith reminds me of Hebrews 11, that God’s people often don’t see God working in this world and many times it seems like God is not powerful and evil is winning but when we fix our eyes on the cross and God’s promise of his eternal kingdom we are able to see beyond our current sorrows to the hope we have in Him. Our faith is hope in works of God we cannot see now, but hope to see in the future; even if that future comes about after our deaths. 

I love that there are several Psalms which tell the history of God's people (36, 78, 105, 106, 119) simply because important things are always easier to remember when set to poetry and better yet, songs.  See Colin Buchanan's catalog of scriptures to song if you want to nail some bible verses in your head for life!

 The Psalmists use many images and symbols to talk about the Lord, many of which are repeated in the New Testament.  Jesus and John are two stand out users of the imagery from the Psalms so keep an eye out for them in the Gospel writings and the book of Revelation. Some examples: Psalm 2:12 and Luke 12:57-59, the final two Psalms and Revelation 21. Romans 8:18-27 speaks of creation groaning as we do…

 Some examples of the imagery of God which jump out to me:

God on his throne: Psalm 11, 102, 111 and the book of Revelation

The Mount of the Lord: Psalms 24, 99, 125

God as a Rock: Psalm 62

God’s people as plants (vines, trees, a harvest): Psalms 1, 80, 92, 128 and Romans 11

People as chaff and fire as judgement: Psalm 83 and Luke 3

God as living water, a spring: Psalm 23, 84 and Revelation 22, John 4

God as a house/gates/refuge/sanctuary: Psalms 24, 100, 118, 127

The poor loved by God: Psalms 82, 112, 113 and the beatitudes Luke 6

God as shepherd: Psalms 23, 28 and 1 Peter 5, Matthew 2:6

 Takeaway: It is a true gift of God that no matter how sad, angry or frustrated we are God wants us to pour it all out to him. He shows us in these poems that is has always been a valid practice of God’s people to cry out to him and also to remind him of his promises to his people in prayer. Our doubts, snotty noses and despair do not shock him but rather are treasured prayers in his sight “Cast all your cares upon the Lord for he cares for you” 1 Peter 5:7


Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Road To Revelation: The writings of Solomon: Proverbs, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes

Solomon didn’t write all the Proverbs but he sure knew wisdom when he saw it and compiled for us a book of all the best wisdom you can find.  The book is addressed from a father to a son; like a lifetime of great parenting compressed into 31 chapters. The book of proverbs starts with a long section on the importance of trying to be wise, of figuring out what true wisdom is and pursuing it.  The father concludes this section with revealing to the son that true wisdom can only be found by following the Lord.  True wisdom comes from the Lord (ch 3).  Then the father moves into telling his son to listen to good advice and hits him with plenty of it!  Naturally this advice for life for a young man begins with how to avoid the wrong kind of woman (ch 4-5)!  It's not just that an immoral woman will bankrupt your morals and heart, but that she will literally bankrupt you my son. 
Chapter 6 gives general wisdom for everyday life before the father remembers more things to watch out for from those femme fatales (ch 7).  And then he reminds his son again for two more chapters to Listen!  Listen! Listen! to good advice and wisdom.  I'm sure parents of teenage boys are nodding their heads here and whispering "amen".  “The fear of the lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”  (Prov 9:10)

 Chapters 10-31 are a collection of wise sayings which Solomon compiled from the history of God's people.  He finishes chapter 31 with advice to a young man on how to find a good wife.  Now that’s something Solomon had plenty of personal experience with! Haha  The young man reading this now has all he needs to live a moral, godly, prosperous and wise life with a godly, loving and sensible wife.

Speaking of wives, Solomon's other notable wise writing in the Bible is the Song of Solomon, or Song of Songs.  It is a collection of epic love poems between a man and a woman.  Interestingly the main voice is the woman's and she has a message for her audience too.  Where proverbs is directed at a son (but is applicable to women for sure); the Song of Songs is directed at the daughters of Jerusalem.  The man and woman relish their attraction for one another but the woman warns several times "Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you... do not stir up or awaken love until the appropriate time" (ch 2:7).  In other words don't jump into this marriage thing because your hormones are telling you you can't wait.  Pick a man who will look at you forever like "you are absolutely beautiful, my darling, with no imperfection in you" (ch 4:7).  And when you find that person, absolutely enjoy one another!!

The woman in the poem rejects Solomon's offer of marriage because she knows that she will become only one of many "beloveds" (ch 8:11-12) and will not be treasured as the only girl in the world, like her shepherd boy will do for her.  The ancient wisdom poetry given to a woman is that she is a person to be treasured and [if she so desires] to find a man who will treat her right, and will love her madly and deeply forever.  Many things have changed over the centuries and some may pooh pooh this wisdom as old fashioned but there are few pains in life as devastating to the heart as the betrayal of your loved one's desire for you fading then leaving you for someone else.  

The Song of Songs is also a reminder to us of the visceral power of desire and it is good to read it then read the Old Testament again.  It makes the times the Lord uses the imagery in love poetry that much more painful as he describes how betrayed He feels when his people leave him to chase after other gods.  This theme is carried on in the New Testament [although in MUCH drier language] when the Apostles remind their congregations to stay faithful to their saviour Jesus.

The Bible Project does a really good summary of the Song of Songs:
Bible Project: overview of the Song of Songs

Ecclesiastes is another book of wisdom but with a darker tone.  What conclusion does a man who has gained the whole world come to about life?  Ironically that “’Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the teacher. ‘Everything is meaningless!’” (Ecc 12:8).  However after more further consideration he concludes “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgement, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecc 12:13-14).  A scary thought to end on to be sure!  But this truly is the beginning of wisdom for all of us... That God knows all our thoughts should strike fear into our hearts!  But for us who have been given the mysteries of God [Jesus; hidden from Solomon] we know that God does not desire to destroy us, but to save us (1 Tim 3:16, Rom 16:25-26, 1 Cor 2:6-10).  Whew!

Friday, 17 April 2020

Road to Revelation: 1 and 2 Kings + 1 and 2 Chronicles: Introduction and Solomon

And so begins the roller coaster of history that is the books of Kings and Chronicles.  While we are not certain of the author of Kings we know from Jewish tradition that Ezra compiled Chronicles from the written and oral histories of God’s people (Ezra is the guy who returns with the people back to their land after exile).  While Kings carries straight on with the story of Israel’s monarchy after Samuel, Chronicles starts with a long genealogy showing the origin of the kings etc. before retelling David’s life and reign.  This makes sense because Ezra couldn’t be sure the people had access to the book of Kings and he wanted the people to know the life and times of their greatest king and thereafter.  For the purpose of my notes I’m gonna stick with Kings and only reference Chronicles as necessary as they share much of the same material.

Kings begins with the end of David.  He is old, tired and cold.  He is given a lovely young lady to keep him warm and care for him and you think he will be left alone to die in peace of old age.  But trouble  is brewing… again… His son, Adonijah decides he will be the next king and gathers support from one of the priests and Joab [David’s right hand man].  When Nathan the prophet finds out about their plan he tells Bathsheba who reminds David that her son Solomon was the one chosen by God to be the next king (1 Chron 28:4-7) and David announces to the nation that his successor would be Solomon.  The nation rejoices and Solomon ascends the throne.  David dies in chapter 2 but not before instructing Solomon to kill all his and David’s enemies.

Chapter 3 is the famous texts of Solomon asking for wisdom and displaying said God given wisdom before the people [two prostitutes, one baby].  Solomon appoints governors throughout the kingdom and everyone lives in peace (1 Kings 4:20).  It is heaven on earth!!  But will it last… The text hints at the kingdom's inevitable demise by listing all that Solomon has gathered for himself; his many horses and a large household (remember the instructions to the kings in Deuteronomy!) There is only ONE king can give us everlasting peace without sin messing everything up…
And *plot spoilers* it’s not Solomon.

For the next few chapters (5-8) Solomon builds the temple and fills it with all kinds of riches from his father’s victories.  Then he secures Israel’s borders and trading partners, including dazzling the Queen of Sheba with his wisdom and riches.  He also dazzles many lovely ladies and builds up a harem of *gulp* 700 wives and *700 concubines (DEUTERONOMY!!) and this is his downfall.  His heart grows cold toward the Lord and he follows after his wives’ gods.  The Lord is [understandably] mad about it and his consequence for his idolatry is that after his death his kingdom will be torn in two and half of it given to a servant of his. Noooo!


But before the bad news, lets just stop here and enjoy the moment.  Solomon may have proved to be just as sinful of a human as the rest of us but he did bring some great stuff to the table also.  In a time of peace the arts thrive and from Solomon we get the books of Proverbs, Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes.  

Takeaway: If ever we are tempted to trust in pastors, governments, husbands, wives, friends, anyone to save us from ourselves we need only to look at Solomon's life and his reign over Israel.  It was as close to perfection as any of us are going to see this side of eternity and yet... even peace on earth while we are under the curse of sin can never last.  We are rotten in our core and things are on a downward trajectory toward death and destruction.  BUT let us never forget our eternal king, whose everlasting kingdom is NOT of this world!  It is above and beyond the laws of entropy and the Fall and let us put our hope in that kingdom to finally give us the peace we so crave (Rev 11:15).

Friday, 10 April 2020

Road to Revelation: 2 Samuel - The Greatest King of All Time!

Or is he hinting at someone greater to come????

2 Samuel starts with a chapter of David mourning the loss of Saul and Jonathan.  Now if anyone knows how to have a good cry it’s our man David.  The reader will have to wade through his tears in this book but there is something to be gained from his loss…

David is then anointed for a second time, this time by his tribe [Judah] who use this act to show their support for the new king.  It’s not an easy road to the throne for David though.  Saul’s son Ishbosheth is next in line for the throne of Israel and he’s not going to give it up easily.  His main man Abner and David’s right hand man Joab battle it out for a couple of chapters until Abner is defeated and Ishbosheth is murdered (ch4).  Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth is spared however.

David is then crowned king over all Israel in chapter 5.  The Lord tells David in verse 2 that his job used to be shepherding sheep but now he will shepherd God’s people.  Flash forwards to the disciples anyone??  David kicks the Jebusites out of Jerusalem and sets up his temple there and fills It with a few more wives and concubines (remember the warnings in Deuteronomy?), defeats the Philistines and brings the ark to Jerusalem.  Unfortunately Uzzah touches the ark and dies and David’s wife Michal despises exuberant praise before the Lord that the ark has returned to Israel and is cast out of David’s harem (6:23).

David, for all his kingliness getting a little out of control (gathering for himself wives and soldiers , building a palace etc) is a man who loves the Lord.  He is sad that the ark of the covenant is in a humble tent while he enjoys the prestige of royalty and he desires to give God more glory by building a temple.  God is not worried about having a temple, He has always been among His people in the tent and that’s the point so God sends Nathan to disappoint David—his hands are stained with the blood of his enemies so he is not clean enough to build a holy temple.  But his son will be a king of peace and will build the temple (ch 7).  God tells David that his kingdom will last forever, prophesying of the coming King who will set up an eternal kingdom.  A kingdom not of this world!  David praises the Lord

David is just as great a military commander as Saul, and greater because he dedicates the spoil to the Lord (which will then furnish and decorate the temple).  Ch 8 vs 3 indicates that David finished conquering the land; the land promised to Abraham and the job given to Joshua and the people.  The promise made to Abraham is finally fulfilled!!  In this chapter we also learn the priesthood has been given to Zadok and his family (not from Eli’s line but from the line of Eleazar, another son of Aaron).

Back to Mephibosheth.  David learns he has survived so he brings him into his palace to live and treats him as family.  David keeps his promise to his friend.  Then he defeats the Ammonites.  What can’t this guy do?  He’s the best!!  The greatest king of all time!!

Except (ch 11-12)… one day when he was supposed to be at the battlefront he sees a beautiful woman…  long story short; he *cough* “exercises his rights as king” with her then has her husband murdered to cover up the fact he got her pregnant.  Oh David… Well, you can’t hide your dirty deeds from the Lord and he sends Nathan to remind David of that.  David realises his guilt before the Lord and repents.  The Lord covers his sin (GRACE!!!) but David is left to suffer the consequences of his sin; his son will die and his other sons will cause him grief.  Bathsheba becomes David’s wife (it’s the least he can do) and has another son; Solomon.  David writes a couple of great Psalms about this tragic time in his life; Psalm 51 and Psalm 32.  “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” Psalm 51: 17

Chapters 13-18 are the sorry tales of those consequences falling onto David and his family.  His older son Amnon rapes his step-sister Tamar and Tamar’s full brother Absalom takes his revenge on Amnon (kills him) then flees, fearing for his own life.  While Absalom is away from Jerusalem he gathers support for a rebellion against his father.  He succeeds in taking over the palace and Jerusalem and it is David’s turn to flee once again.

By chapter 18 David has pulled himself together and goes out to fight against Absalom’s army and get his kingdom back under control.  He instructs his army to not kill Absalom but Joab is so mad about the whole deal that when he finds Absalom caught in a tree he has him killed.  David grieves long and hard for his son (18:33-19:4) and Joab tells him off so David pulls himself together and returns to Jerusalem and his throne.  But the seeds of rebellion had been sown and David/Joab has to quickly quell another rebellion almost immediately (ch 20).

In chapter 21 the land is in famine so David seeks the Lord to try to find the reason (remember blessings and curses in Deuteronomy) and finds out it is because Saul killed the Gibeonites (which Joshua had sworn to protect).  They demand the deaths of Saul’s sons so David delivers the sons to the Gibeonites who kill all seven of them thus fulfilling God’s promise [curse] to Saul that his line would be cut off and avenging the Gibeonites.

David continues to be successful in battle and his army is legendary (ch 22-23).  A song/Psalm of David (18) is included here to remind us of his trust in the Lord.  But then he goes and counts his army!  And even Joab can see this is a dumb idea; just trust the Lord man!  Oh David…  The people suffer as a consequence and David is moved to repentance and sacrifice.  The Lord is gracious and stops his judgement and the place where he offers a sacrifice to the Lord becomes the site of the temple (1 Chron 22:1).

Takeaway: David’s life and reign are not as clean and tidy as you would like for a man who is held up by the writers of the OT as the Greatest King of All Time!  But remember that we judge rulers differently than how the Lord does.  He looks at the heart.  And in this way David is judged rightly as the greatest king because his heart is one that looks to the Lord in faith.  He trusts that God will have mercy on him even in times of great sin.

But dear reader, David is NOT the greatest king of all time.  For we know a king greater than the writer of Samuel ever could.  Where David failed, he succeeded.  David grieved over the sin and loss of others but could do nothing about it; Jesus grieved, then raised them from the dead [Lazarus, us].  David took another man’s wife and lied about it; Jesus told the woman at the well she was forgiven and to go and sin no more.  David cared for his best friends crippled son and treated him as family; Jesus welcomes us into his family-we who were outside because of our lameness and sin have been brought in. David raised up an army of fighting men; Jesus raises up an army of disciples to bring good news of peace.  David’s throne was easily taken by others; Jesus’ throne will be his forever for it is at the right hand side of God (Rev. 5).  May the life of David cause us to ponder how well our king Jesus rules over us.