July 12, 2020

I and 2 Kings

Grace in the Exile

In our journey through the Bible,  we have come to the books of 1 and 2 Kings.  These books are one scroll in the Hebrew Bible.  While the scroll is divided as 1 and 2 Kings in our Bible, I’m only going to preach one sermon on these two books.

Americans don’t have much experience with kings.  But thanks to our Mother Country, England, we have some understanding of the monarchy.

While we may look upon the Royal family in England with favor now, we still have a bad taste in our mouths from the beginning of our country’s history.

Those that came to this land in search of freedom saw the monarchy as the rule of law that reached too far and sought too much of their freedom.

The monarchy had left a boot imprint upon their chests.  Once those pilgrims tasted freedom, they were prepared to fight to keep it.

That’s what they did when the Redcoats arrived from England and tried to force King George III’s will upon the settlers.  Eventually, the American Revolution was born, and freedom was won.

When the nation of Israel was born through God’s miraculous acts, Moses won the freedom of the people from an oppressive Pharaoh who had enslaved them for 400 years.

After Joshua led them into the Promised land, the nation of Israel understood and acknowledged that God was their leader.

Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was their God.  He was their King.  Israel was to follow no one else.

However, other nations had kings.  After some of the priests became immoral, Israel’s leaders went to the prophet Samuel and asked him to appoint them a king.

In doing this, Israel rejected God and asked Samuel to give them a king so they could be like the other nations.

Samuel warned them what life under a king would look like, but that did not detour them.  So, Samuel appointed Saul as their first king, and he turned out to be a king like the other nations.

From the beginning, things didn’t go well.  Saul turned out to be a failure.  He was replaced by David, a man after God’s own heart.

While David was a strong leader and feared God, he initiated an adulterous relationship that damaged his moral authority and his leadership in his family.  He had the husband of the woman he took advantage of sent to the front lines so he’d be killed.

While God forgave him for his sins, the damage done to his leadership and family could not be reversed.

Before he died, David passed the burden of kingly leadership on to his son Solomon.

All leadership is a burden, but it is also a privilege, a duty, a responsibility, and an opportunity. The more responsibility we are given, the more that is expected and demanded from us.

Should we attempt to lead only from our strength and wisdom, we are in trouble.   We set ourselves up for a fall.

Every leader has a choice.   Leaders can be arrogant and lead with pride and never consult anyone, or a leader can lead with humility, which one needs to seek God’s wisdom.

The book of Ecclesiastes says that no one had more wisdom than King Solomon.

Once God asked Solomon during the night in a dream, “Ask whatever you want me to give you” ( 1 Kings 2:5b).

Solomon said, “So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.  For who can govern this great people of yours.” (v.9)

The scripture says that the Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for a discerning heart instead of long life or wealth or the death of his enemies.  So God gave him wisdom, and also God gave him riches and honor so that in his lifetime, he would not have an equal among kings.

Unfortunately, we can only assume by the life that Solomon lived, he didn’t use or apply what God gave him.

Having wisdom and applying wisdom are two different things.  Having gifts and using what you’ve been given are two differing things.

It doesn’t seem that Solomon used very much of what he’d been given.

Think about that for a moment.

There is wrongdoing that happens because we don’t know any better.

Then there is wrongdoing that occurs because we knew right from wrong but just didn’t do it.

Solomon may have known right from wrong, but he decided to do wrong anyway.

For example, Solomon knew that Yahweh was the one and only God.  He knew the danger that false gods and idols had on people.

However, in his dealings with kings from other nations, Solomon acquired women to form political alliances, lots of them.  The Bible says that Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines.

In a day when polygamy was legal, and women were considered property, Solomon made deals with kings in other lands.  As he did, these men might have said something like, “King Solomon, let me introduce you to a few of the loveliest women we have in our kingdom and see if I can’t persuade you to close the deal.”

Obviously, Solomon had a weakness in this area. He knew he should not bring these women home with him for many reasons, and one of the reasons was that they brought their religion back with them to Jerusalem.  They introduced Solomon and others to their false gods.

So I find it humorous when the Bible says that no one had more wisdom than Solomon, and yet it says that Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines.

That’s a lot of birthdays and anniversaries to keep up with, not to mention names.   I guess it was important for all of them to walk around with name tags.

From the wisdom writings of Solomon like Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon, and some of the Proverbs that he wrote, we might conclude that by the end of his life, Solomon had begun to reflect how wrong many of the decisions he had made as King of Israel.

While his wisdom is rich for us, it seems that much of it came as a result of living life the wrong way.  I suppose we all learn from our mistakes.

Solomon did some good things, like build the temple of God, which took him seven years (1 Kings 6:38).

But I Kings 7:1 tells us that it took him 13 years to build his palace.   But when you have 700 wives and 300 concubines, I suppose you have to make room and put them somewhere, especially if just a few of them have some ideas about furniture, countertops, and closets.   Just think if only a few of those women loved shoes.  You’ve got to build a few rooms just for shoes.

In mentioning how long it took to build his palace compared to how long it took to build the temple, the author is sending a subtle message about Solomon’s self-centered life and narcissism.   Which do you think was more important to him, his palace, or the temple?

Solomon’s kingdom fell apart because he focused on himself and not his God.  As the king, his job was to lead the people to keep God’s Covenant.

Instead, Solomon broke God’s laws.  How can you lead others to keep the Law if you are the chief lawbreaker?

His government was a government of greed and self-indulgence.  The burden for his government was placed on the backs of the people who were forced to pay for the extravagant lifestyle of the king.

So when Solomon died, the people went to Rehoboam, his son, and said to him. “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you” (1 Kings 12:4 NIV).

Instead of using wisdom, Rehoboam used his power and told the people if they thought his dad was harsh; he would be worse.

He said, “My father laid on you a heavy yoke.  I will make it even heavier.  My father scourged you with whips, but I will scourge you with scorpions.” (v. 11).

The people rebelled against him, and the kingdom of Israel split with most of the tribes succeeding.  The tribes in the North, known as Israel, made Jeroboam their king, and the tribes in the South, known as Judah, continued to serve King Rehoboam.

Right from the very beginning, the Northern Kingdom, under Jeroboam’s leadership did not embrace Yahweh as their God.

Jeroboam built two altars, one at Bethel and one at Dan, and each had a golden calf inside the temples he made there.

The rest of 1 and 2 Kings tell the story of all the kings that lead the Northern and Southern kingdoms.

Of those kings that led the Northern Kingdom, none of them ever acknowledge the God that led the children of Israel out of Egypt, the God that gave them the Ten Commandments, the God that led them into the Promised Land.

The job of being a prophet wasn’t easy.  Both the prophets, Elijah and Elisha, were confronted by kings who were offended by their messages.

But the kings should have been offended.  These kings were promoting some of the worst forms of idol worship among the people.

Look at 2 Kings 17:16-20

16 They forsook all the commands of the Lord their God and made for themselves two idols cast in the shape of calves, and an Asherah pole. They bowed down to all the starry hosts, and they worshiped Baal. 17 They sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire. They practiced divination and sought omens and sold themselves to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger.

18 So the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them from his presence.  Only the tribe of Judah was left, 19 and even Judah did not keep the commands of the Lord their God. They followed the practices Israel had introduced. 20 Therefore the Lord rejected all the people of Israel; he afflicted them and gave them into the hands of plunderers until he thrust them from his presence.

Eventually, the Northern Kingdom of Israel fell into the hands of the Assyrians.

The northern capital of Samaria was conquered.  The Israelites were exiled and scattered throughout the ancient world.

The author blames this on Israel’s

  1. Idolatry
  2. Covenant Unfaithfulness

There are plenty of times when bad things happen to us, and we can find any reasonable explanation for the evil that has come.  Bad things happen to good people.

However, we cannot escape the reality that there are times when we bring judgment on ourselves.

God stands ready to forgive sins.  However, the consequences of our sinfulness may remain.  God still stands ready to help us even if the consequences remain.

God allowed the Assyrians to swoop down from the North and have their way with Israel.

God may allow us to face the consequences of our decisions as well.  God does not always remove the consequences of our poor choices.

God will forgive us for being poor stewards of our money or time, but we might have to face the consequences of excessive debt or that we failed to honor God with what we have been given.

He may allow us to face consequences of how losing an intimate relationship with our family because worked excessively.

God will forgive the harsh words that we say, the tone we use, the anger we say them with, but relationships are damaged by what we say,  especially if we make no effort to make amends or seek reconciliation.

God will forgive how we have abused our bodies with a lack of exercise, and God will forgive us for the unhealthy things we have put into our bodies, but God may allow us to face the consequences of our abuse.

God will forgive that we have not spent time with Him, cultivating a relationship with Him through the study of his word, but God may allow us to face the consequences of failing to gain the wisdom needed to live our lives before Him faithfully.

A clear example of this is found in 2 Kings 22.  When Josiah was the king, Hilkiah, the high priest found the Book of the Law in the temple.

The Book of the Law was taken to the King and read to him. He’d never heard God’s word read.

It’s hard to follow the Law if you’ve never heard it, right?  How can you know of God’s blessings if you’ve never read about them?

When the king heard the words of the Law, he tore his robe, a sign of grief.  He knew after understanding the Law that he had not obeyed what God had commanded.

Hilkiah, the priest, then brought a prophecy to King Josiah that a disaster was coming to the kingdom.  He told him that he would die in peace because of his humble response to God’s word, but the kingdom’s future was bleak.

Josiah did everything he could to restore Israel to the worship of God.  He removed all the articles of idol worship in the temple.  He did away with all the pagan priests.  He did away with anything and everything related to pagan worship.

The people started observing the Passover again for the first time in over a hundred years.

But just because the king ordered people to do things did not mean their hearts were in it.

In the third century, the Roman Emperor Constantine mandated that Christianity become the religion of the empire.  But that did not change the hearts of the people.

Josiah’s action following the discovery of the Book of the Law to rid Israel of all of the pagan gods and return Israel to following the commandments of the Covenant was a good effort. Still, people’s hearts were not changed.

As soon as Josiah was gone, the next leader of Israel was back to leading in destructive ways.

This was part of the destructive pattern that God was used to and part of the failure of Israel as a whole.

So the prophecy of Hilkiah, the priest, came true.

In the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon marched against Jerusalem with his whole army on the tenth day of the month.

For a year and a half, his army surrounded the city.  They starved the people inside before they broke through the walls of the city.

They killed many of them and tortured others.  They captured their king and carried him away along with thousands of their people.

They destroyed the temple of God.

Once the exiles were in Babylon, they were told not to be afraid of the Babylonian officials.  If they settled down and did what they were told, their lives would go well.

The book of Second Kings ends with this story of grace.

Let me set the scene for you.

King Jehoiachin, the king that took over for King Josiah and reintroduced pagan worship in Israel, has now lost his city.  He has lost his power.  He has lost his throne.  He is a prisoner of the Babylonians in a strange land.

Fortunately, he’s not been killed or tortured as far as we know. But after 37 years of being in prison, the Babylonians decided to release Jehoiachin after they get a new king.

27 In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the year Awel-Marduk became king of Babylon, he released Jehoiachin king of Judah from prison. He did this on the twenty-seventh day of the twelfth month. 28 He spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat of honor higher than those of the other kings who were with him in Babylon. 29 So Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes and regularly ate at the king’s table for the rest of his life. 30 Day by day, the king gave Jehoiachin a regular allowance as long as he lived.

We have in chapter 25:27-30, a rare example of a king extending grace to one of his enemies.

So it seems that the book of 2 Kings ends with something of a hopeful tone.  That despite all the rejection, beginning with Israel saying, “we want a king like the nations,” to kings like Jehoiachin doing evil in the eyes of the Lord, there was still grace being extended to people like him.

It seems that God allowed groups like the Assyrians and the Babylonians to play a role in Israel’s corrective process.  It also appears that God used these foreign powers to extend grace to them and remind them that He was still present.

This story about King Jehoiachin being invited to the king’s table teaches us that we never go so far away from God that God cannot reach us and offer grace to us.

God can use any circumstance, any event, or situation to reach out to us and say, “Won’t you come and place your feet at my table? There’s plenty of room.  I know what you’ve done.”

18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” Isaiah 1:18.

That’s the reason if you know someone that’s exiled from God, should not give up on them.  God can still reach them.  If God can use the enemy to show His grace, God can soften anyone’s heart and convince them that they are loved.

Perhaps the one that is exiled from God this morning is you.  Being in church or with Christians or listening to a sermon might be the last place you thought you’d be.   We are all sinners on the road to recovery.  Sometimes our lives are stumbling blocks to others, so the one you need to look to is Jesus.

Jesus is the only that’s perfect.  Jesus is the one that offers grace.

Jesus invites you to come and join Him at His table this morning.  There’s a feast prepared, and you are invited.  There’s mercy, love, and forgiveness at this table.

Come, let’s fellowship with him.