Thursday, August 29, 2013

Reflections on 1 Kings 21

    1 Kings 21 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Naboth owned a vineyard in Jezreel near King Ahab's palace.
  2. One day, Ahab said, "Naboth, your vineyard is near my palace. Give it to me so I can turn it into a vegetable garden. I'll give you a better vineyard or pay whatever you want for yours."
  3. Naboth answered, "This vineyard has always been in my family. I won't let you have it."
  4. So Ahab went home, angry and depressed because of what Naboth had told him. He lay on his bed, just staring at the wall and refusing to eat a thing.
  5. Jezebel his wife came in and asked, "What's wrong? Why won't you eat?"
  6. "I asked Naboth to sell me his vineyard or to let me give him a better one," Ahab replied. "And he told me I couldn't have it."
  7. "Aren't you the king of Israel?" Jezebel asked. "Get out of bed and eat something! Don't worry, I'll get Naboth's vineyard for you."
  8. Jezebel wrote a letter to each of the leaders of the town where Naboth lived. In the letters she said: Call everyone together and tell them to go without eating today. When they come together, give Naboth a seat at the front. Have two liars sit across from him and swear that Naboth has cursed God and the king. Then take Naboth outside and stone him to death! She signed Ahab's name to the letters and sealed them with his seal. Then she sent them to the town leaders.
  9. (SEE 21:8)
  10. (SEE 21:8)
  11. After receiving her letters, they did exactly what she had asked.
  12. They told the people that it was a day to go without eating, and when they all came together, they seated Naboth at the front.
  13. The two liars came in and sat across from Naboth. Then they accused him of cursing God and the king, so the people dragged Naboth outside and stoned him to death.
  14. The leaders of Jezreel sent a message back to Jezebel that said, "Naboth is dead."
  15. As soon as Jezebel got their message, she told Ahab, "Now you can have the vineyard Naboth refused to sell. He's dead."
  16. Ahab got up and went to take over the vineyard.
  17. The LORD said to Elijah the prophet,
  18. "King Ahab of Israel is in Naboth's vineyard right now, taking it over.
  19. Go tell him that I say, 'Ahab, you murdered Naboth and took his property. And so, in the very spot where dogs licked up Naboth's blood, they will lick up your blood.' " When Elijah found him,
  20. Ahab said, "So, my enemy, you found me at last." Elijah answered: Yes, I did! Ahab, you have managed to do everything the LORD hates.
  21. Now you will be punished. You and every man and boy in your family will die, whether slave or free.
  22. Your whole family will be wiped out, just like the families of King Jeroboam and King Baasha. You've made the LORD very angry by sinning and causing the Israelites to sin.
  23. And as for Jezebel, dogs will eat her body there in Jezreel.
  24. Dogs will also eat the bodies of your relatives who die in town, and vultures will eat the bodies of those who die in the country.
  25. When Ahab heard this, he tore his clothes and wore sackcloth day and night. He was depressed and refused to eat. Some time later, the LORD said, "Elijah, do you see how sorry Ahab is for what he did? I won't punish his family while he is still alive. I'll wait until his son is king." No one was more determined than Ahab to disobey the LORD. And Jezebel encouraged him. Worst of all, he had worshiped idols, just as the Amorites had done before the LORD forced them out of the land and gave it to Israel.
  26. (SEE 21:25)
  27. (SEE 21:25)
  28. (SEE 21:25)
  29. (SEE 21:25)

To this point the Lord had extended grace and mercy toward Ahab who is described as the most evil king Israel has had: "there was no one like Ahab, who devoted himself to do what was evil in the LORD's sight, because his wife Jezebel incited him." (21:25) Despite his evil the Lord had come to his aid on multiple occasions to defeat his enemies, demonstrating His power over the idols that Ahab worshipped. This was evidently to win over Ahab. But even if Ahab were inclined to turn to the Lord, which he evidently was not, he would be influenced against doing so by his wife, Jezebel.

The "last straw" for Ahab, however, was the murder of one of his subjects over his petty desire for the man's land. The evil for which Ahab was known was his worship of Baal and complete turning away from the Lord. Nothing prior to this account describes him as an unjust ruler, though he may have been. In this case, a man living in Jezreel by the name of Naboth owned a vineyard which was adjacent to the king's palace. Ahab wanted it for a vegetable garden. He did, however, offer to pay for it or exchange it for another vineyard. But the vineyard was Naboth's inheritance from his father. The Lord's covenant with Israel required that when the land of Canaan was assigned to the tribes and clans of Israel it was to remain in the family. According to this law, Naboth was prohibited from selling the land to Ahab. But Ahab was not concerned about God's laws, only what he wanted.

Like a spoiled child, Ahab pouted, laying on his bed with his face to the wall and not eating. Though he was upset over Naboth's refusal, his first inclination was not to take the land by force. Not so for Jezebel. When she questioned her husband about his behavior he told her of Naboth's refusal. She didn't understand the problem. Ahab was the king and he wanted the land. Kings get what they want. She told Ahab to cheer up. She would take care of getting the land. This she did by plotting with the leaders of the city of Jezreel to have Naboth stoned to death. When she learned that Naboth was dead, Jezebel announced to Ahab that he could take possession of the land because Naboth was no longer alive.

As Ahab was on his way to take possession of Naboth's vineyard, the Lord sent the prophet Elijah to him with a message. Because he had "murdered and also taken possession," the Lord said to him, "In the place where the dogs licked Naboth's blood, the dogs will also lick your blood!" (21:19) Furthermore, the Lord said, "I will eliminate all of Ahab's males, both slave and free, in Israel," (21:21) Ahab's response to this catches us by surprise. "he tore his clothes, put sackcloth over his body, and fasted. He lay down in sackcloth and walked around subdued." He was repentant. At least superficially. But it was sufficient that the Lord said to Elijah, "I will not bring the disaster during his lifetime, because he has humbled himself before Me." (21:29)

In God's dealings with Ahab, we can see the truth of His words in Ezekiel: "I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked person should turn from his way and live." (33:11)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Reflections on 1 Kings 20

    1 Kings 20 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. King Benhadad of Syria called his army together. He was joined by thirty-two other kings with their horses and chariots, and together they marched to Samaria and attacked.
  2. Benhadad sent a messenger to tell King Ahab of Israel,
  3. "Ahab, give me your silver and gold, your wives, and your strongest sons!"
  4. "Your Majesty," Ahab replied, "everything I have is yours, including me."
  5. Later, Benhadad sent another messenger to say to Ahab, "I already told you to give me your silver and gold, your wives, and your children.
  6. But tomorrow at this time, I will send my officials into your city to search your palace and the houses of your officials. They will take everything else that you own."
  7. Ahab called a meeting with the leaders of Israel and said, "Benhadad is causing real trouble. He told me to give him my wives and children, as well as my silver and gold. And I agreed."
  8. "Don't listen to him!" they answered. "You don't have to do what he says."
  9. So Ahab sent someone to tell Benhadad, "Your Majesty, I'll give you my silver and gold, and even my wives and children. But I won't let you have anything else." When Benhadad got his answer,
  10. he replied, "I'll completely destroy Samaria! There won't even be enough of it left for my soldiers to carry back in their hands. If I don't do it, I pray that the gods will punish me terribly."
  11. Ahab then answered, "Benhadad, don't brag before the fighting even begins. Wait and see if you live through it."
  12. Meanwhile, Benhadad and the other kings had been drinking in their tents. But when Ahab's reply came, he ordered his soldiers to prepare to attack Samaria, and they all got ready.
  13. At that very moment, a prophet ran up to Ahab and said, "You can see that Benhadad's army is very strong. But the LORD has promised to help you defeat them today. Then you will know that the LORD is in control."
  14. "Who will fight the battle?" Ahab asked. The prophet answered, "The young bodyguards who serve the district officials." "But who will lead them into battle?" Ahab asked. "You will!" the prophet replied.
  15. So Ahab called together the two hundred thirty-two young soldiers and the seven thousand troops in Israel's army, and he got them ready to fight the Syrians.
  16. At noon, King Ahab and his Israelite army marched out of Samaria, with the young soldiers in front. King Benhadad of Syria and the thirty-two kings with him were drunk when the scouts he had sent out ran up to his tent, shouting, "We just now saw soldiers marching out of Samaria!"
  17. (SEE 20:16)
  18. "Take them alive!" Benhadad ordered. "I don't care if they have come out to fight or to surrender."
  19. The young soldiers led Israel's troops into battle,
  20. and each of them attacked and killed an enemy soldier. The rest of the Syrian army turned and ran, and the Israelites went after them. Benhadad and some others escaped on horses,
  21. but Ahab and his soldiers followed them and captured their horses and chariots. Ahab and Israel's army crushed the Syrians.
  22. Later, the prophet went back and warned Ahab, "Benhadad will attack you again next spring. Build up your troops and make sure you have some good plans."
  23. Meanwhile, Benhadad's officials went to him and explained: Israel's gods are mountain gods. We fought Israel's army in the hills, and that's why they defeated us. But if we fight them on flat land, there's no way we can lose.
  24. Here's what you should do. First, get rid of those thirty-two kings and put army commanders in their places.
  25. Then get more soldiers, horses, and chariots, so your army will be as strong as it was before. We'll fight Israel's army on flat land and wipe them out. Benhadad agreed and did what they suggested.
  26. In the spring, Benhadad got his army together, and they marched to the town of Aphek to attack Israel.
  27. The Israelites also prepared to fight. They marched out to meet the Syrians, and the two armies camped across from each other. The Syrians covered the whole area, but the Israelites looked like two little flocks of goats.
  28. The prophet went to Ahab and said, "The Syrians think the LORD is a god of the hills and not of the valleys. So he has promised to help you defeat their powerful army. Then you will know that the LORD is in control."
  29. For seven days the two armies stayed in their camps, facing each other. Then on the seventh day the fighting broke out, and before sunset the Israelites had killed one hundred thousand Syrian troops.
  30. The rest of the Syrian army ran back to Aphek, but the town wall fell and crushed twenty-seven thousand of them. Benhadad also escaped to Aphek and hid in the back room of a house.
  31. His officials said, "Your Majesty, we've heard that Israel's kings keep their agreements. We will wrap sackcloth around our waists, put ropes around our heads, and ask Ahab to let you live."
  32. They dressed in sackcloth and put ropes on their heads, then they went to Ahab and said, "Your servant Benhadad asks you to let him live." "Is he still alive?" Ahab asked. "Benhadad is like a brother to me."
  33. Benhadad's officials were trying to figure out what Ahab was thinking, and when he said "brother," they quickly replied, "You're right! You and Benhadad are like brothers." "Go get him," Ahab said. When Benhadad came out, Ahab had him climb up into his chariot.
  34. Benhadad said, "I'll give back the towns my father took from your father. And you can have shops in Damascus, just as my father had in Samaria." Ahab replied, "If you do these things, I'll let you go free." Then they signed a peace treaty, and Ahab let Benhadad go.
  35. About this time the LORD commanded a prophet to say to a friend, "Hit me!" But the friend refused,
  36. and the prophet told him, "You disobeyed the LORD, and as soon as you walk away, a lion will kill you." The friend left, and suddenly a lion killed him.
  37. The prophet found someone else and said, "Hit me!" So this man beat him up.
  38. The prophet left and put a bandage over his face to disguise himself. Then he went and stood beside the road, waiting for Ahab to pass by.
  39. When Ahab went by, the prophet shouted, "Your Majesty, right in the heat of battle, someone brought a prisoner to me and told me to guard him. He said if the prisoner got away, I would either be killed or forced to pay seventy-five pounds of silver.
  40. But I got busy doing other things, and the prisoner escaped." Ahab answered, "You will be punished just as you have said."
  41. The man quickly tore the bandage off his face, and Ahab saw that he was one of the prophets.
  42. The prophet said, "The LORD told you to kill Benhadad, but you let him go. Now you will die in his place, and your people will die in place of his people."
  43. Ahab went back to Samaria, angry and depressed.

God chose to take a different approach than usual in dealing with the sin of Ahab, king of Israel. Ahab was Israel's most evil king to this point and God had determined to deal with him, but rather than remove Ahab, God thought it more beneficial to further demonstrate His own power before Ahab, offering him the opportunity to repent and turn to Him, leading Israel back to God.

Ben-hadad king of Aram enlisted the cooperation of 32 other kings to join their armies and go against Israel. This would seem to be God's judgment about to descend on Ahab. Israel was greatly outnumbered with no apparent solution. Ben-hadad sent messengers to Ahab telling him, "Your silver and your gold are mine! And your best wives and children are mine as well!" (20:3) Ahab readily agreed realizing he had little choice. But then Ben-hadad sent messengers a second time with a greater demand, "at this time tomorrow I will send my servants to you, and they will search your palace and your servants' houses. Whatever is precious to you, they will lay their hands on and take away." (20:6) Now Ben-hadad wanted not only what belonged to the king, but anything he could get his hands on. Ahab thought this demand too great and that Ben-hadad was only looking for trouble and sent back the message to Ben-hadad that, "Everything you demanded of your servant the first time, I will do, but this thing I cannot do." (20:9) Evidently Ahab would rather have died than submit for the odds had not changed.

While Ben-hadad prepared to attack, a prophet of the Lord went to Ahab telling him, "Do you see this entire immense horde? Watch, I am handing it over to you today so that you may know that I am the LORD." (20:13) Rather than destroy Ahab because of his sin, God chose to be merciful, not because Ahab deserved it but to show that He was God. As usual, the Lord's strategy for victory utilized small human forces leaving no doubt from where the victory came. God had Ahab send a force of only 232 young men out against Ben-hadad's forces. They caught the Arameans by surprise at mid-day, the hottest time of the day, when Ben-hadad and his troops were resting and getting drunk. This small Israelite force routed the Arameans and then a larger force of 7,000 Israelites came in and cleaned up.

Following this defeat of Ben-hadad and his coalition of 32 kings, the prophet again went to Ahab and told him his problems with Ben-hadad were not over. He would be back the next spring. Meanwhile, Ben-hadad's advisors told him their defeat at the hands of the smaller Israelite forces was due to their gods being "gods of the hill country." (20:23) The solution was to attack them on the plains where they had no gods to defend them. Then they advised Ben-hadad to amass a force just as strong as before but to do it without the other 32 kings. The following spring Ben-hadad showed up with his huge army, this time attacking Israel at Aphek, a city in the plains. But the prophet of the Lord again went to Ahab and told him that, "Because the Arameans have said: The LORD is a god of the mountains and not a god of the valleys, I will hand over this entire immense horde to you. Then you will know that I am the LORD." (20:28) Again, the Lord chose to demonstrate to Ahab that He was the true God, giving him the opportunity to repent and turn to Him. It was also a demonstration to Ben-hadad who credited Israel's strength to hill gods rather than the true God.

When Israel went out to fight the Arameans, their troops looked like "flocks of goats" compared to the huge Aramean army. But when battle got underway, the Israelites struck down 100,000 Aramean foot soldiers. The remaining Aramean army fled into the city of Aphek where the Lord caused the wall to fall on the remaining 27,000 troops and kill them. Ben-hadad hid in an inner room in the city.

With the Aramean army miraculously annihilated, Ahab's wise choice would have been to praise God and worship Him, turning from his worship of Baal. What he did instead was to again disobey God. Though we are not told in this chapter, God had given Ahab clear instructions to destroy Ben-hadad. But when Ben-hadad came to Ahab in surrender and offered to restore all that had previously been taken from Israel and to make a trade agreement, Ahab evidently thought this more beneficial than obeying God and released Ben-hadad in acceptance of his offer. Following this, Ahab had another visit by a prophet who told him, "Because you released from your hand the man I had devoted to destruction, it will be your life in place of his life and your people in place of his people." (20:42)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Reflections on 1 Kings 19

    1 Kings 19 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Ahab told his wife Jezebel what Elijah had done and that he had killed the prophets.
  2. She sent a message to Elijah: "You killed my prophets. Now I'm going to kill you! I pray that the gods will punish me even more severely if I don't do it by this time tomorrow."
  3. Elijah was afraid when he got her message, and he ran to the town of Beersheba in Judah. He left his servant there,
  4. then walked another whole day into the desert. Finally, he came to a large bush and sat down in its shade. He begged the LORD, "I've had enough. Just let me die! I'm no better off than my ancestors."
  5. Then he lay down in the shade and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel woke him up and said, "Get up and eat."
  6. Elijah looked around, and by his head was a jar of water and some baked bread. He sat up, ate and drank, then lay down and went back to sleep.
  7. Soon the LORD's angel woke him again and said, "Get up and eat, or else you'll get too tired to travel."
  8. So Elijah sat up and ate and drank. The food and water made him strong enough to walk forty more days. At last, he reached Mount Sinai, the mountain of God,
  9. and he spent the night there in a cave. While Elijah was on Mount Sinai, the LORD asked, "Elijah, why are you here?"
  10. He answered, "LORD God All-Powerful, I've always done my best to obey you. But your people have broken their solemn promise to you. They have torn down your altars and killed all your prophets, except me. And now they are even trying to kill me!"
  11. "Go out and stand on the mountain," the LORD replied. "I want you to see me when I pass by." All at once, a strong wind shook the mountain and shattered the rocks. But the LORD was not in the wind. Next, there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
  12. Then there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. Finally, there was a gentle breeze,
  13. and when Elijah heard it, he covered his face with his coat. He went out and stood at the entrance to the cave. The LORD asked, "Elijah, why are you here?"
  14. Elijah answered, "LORD God All-Powerful, I've always done my best to obey you. But your people have broken their solemn promise to you. They have torn down your altars and killed all your prophets, except me. And now they are even trying to kill me!"
  15. The LORD said: Elijah, you can go back to the desert near Damascus. And when you get there, appoint Hazael to be king of Syria.
  16. Then appoint Jehu son of Nimshi to be king of Israel, and Elisha son of Shaphat to take your place as my prophet.
  17. Hazael will start killing the people who worship Baal. Jehu will kill those who escape from Hazael, and Elisha will kill those who escape from Jehu.
  18. But seven thousand Israelites have refused to worship Baal, and they will live.
  19. Elijah left and found Elisha plowing a field with a pair of oxen. There were eleven other men in front of him, and each one was also plowing with a pair of oxen. Elijah went over and put his own coat on Elisha.
  20. Elisha stopped plowing and ran after him. "Let me kiss my parents good-by, then I'll go with you," he said. "You can go," Elijah said. "But remember what I've done for you."
  21. Elisha left and took his oxen with him. He killed them and boiled them over a fire he had made with the wood from his plow. He gave the meat to the people who were with him, and they ate it. Then he left with Elijah and became his assistant.

This account in chapter 19 of Elijah's flight into the wilderness reveals a very human prophet, a reality we might overlook as we read of the astounding things God did through him and other prophets. We may see them as unlike ourselves which is a mistake for they were no different from us. If we view Elijah critically for his flight from  Jezebel's threat to kill him we cannot escape similar criticism for similar actions for we are no different.

Following the awesome demonstration of God's power on Mount Carmel in which He sent down fire and consumed Elijah's altar and sacrifice and then sent the first rainstorm in 3 1/2 years, Ahab told Jezebel of all that happened including the killing of all the prophets of Baal. Jezebel was predictably upset and vowed, "May the gods punish me and do so severely if I don't make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow!" (19:2) Inspite of God's great demonstration of power, working in partnership with Elijah, Elijah feared for his life and ran. A truly weak and human thing to do. How many times have I been on the "mountaintop" when I have felt used by God only to quickly be in despair over some negative incident that caused me to totally lose sight of God's power in the previous event.

When Elijah arrived in the wilderness, to which he ran, he lay down under a bush in despair and said, "I have had enough! LORD, take my life, for I'm no better than my fathers." (19:4) It seems unlikely he seriously wanted to die since he was running for his life from Jezebel. But it certainly gives a sense of his despair. God was patient with Elijah, though, and sent an angel to him to provide nourishment and rest. Then Elijah got up and walked for 40 days to Horeb, "the mountain of God." (19:8) At Horeb Elijah spent the night in a cave and then had a visit from the Lord who asked, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" (19:9)  Elijah replied, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God of Hosts, but the Israelites have abandoned Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are looking for me to take my life." (19:10)

God gave further demonstration of His power for Elijah by having him stand outside the cave on the mountaintop as He sent a mighty wind that shattered cliffs followed by an earthquake and then a fire. God did not reveal Himself in any of these but simply showed His power. Then God quietly spoke to Elijah again asking again what he was doing there at Horeb, to which Elijah gave the same answer as before. He went on to say, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God of Hosts," he replied, "but the Israelites have abandoned Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they're looking for me to take my life." (19:14) A rather pious and self-righteous statement, but again, I can't say I haven't had similar thoughts when life has become difficult and I have wondered why God has allowed such difficulties when I have been so "faithful."

God reminded Elijah that he was not the only faithful one in Israel but there were 7,000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Then he gave Elijah a three-part assignment: anoint Hazael king over Aram, anoint Jehu king over Israel, and anoint Elisha to replace himself as prophet. Elijah did only one of these himself, which was to anoint Elisha to replace himself. It was Elisha who anointed the other two as kings. As a result of Elijah's despair, did God consider his usefulness to be past and thus the need to replace him?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Reflections on 1 Kings 18

    1 Kings 18 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. For three years no rain fell in Samaria, and there was almost nothing to eat anywhere. The LORD said to Elijah, "Go and meet with King Ahab. I will soon make it rain." So Elijah went to see Ahab.
  2. (SEE 18:1)
  3. At that time Obadiah was in charge of Ahab's palace, but he faithfully worshiped the LORD. In fact, when Jezebel was trying to kill the LORD's prophets, Obadiah hid one hundred of them in two caves and gave them food and water. Ahab sent for Obadiah
  4. (SEE 18:3)
  5. and said, "We have to find something for our horses and mules to eat. If we don't, we will have to kill them. Let's look around every creek and spring in the country for some grass.
  6. You go one way, and I'll go the other." Then they left in separate directions.
  7. As Obadiah was walking along, he met Elijah. Obadiah recognized him, bowed down, and asked, "Elijah, is it really you?"
  8. "Yes. Go tell Ahab I'm here."
  9. Obadiah replied: King Ahab would kill me if I told him that. And I haven't even done anything wrong.
  10. I swear to you in the name of the living LORD your God that the king has looked everywhere for you. He sent people to look in every country, and when they couldn't find you, he made the leader of each country swear that you were not in that country.
  11. Do you really want me to tell him you're here?
  12. What if the LORD's Spirit takes you away as soon as I leave? When Ahab comes to get you, he won't find you. Then he will surely kill me. I have worshiped the LORD since I was a boy.
  13. I even hid one hundred of the LORD's prophets in caves when Jezebel was trying to kill them. I also gave them food and water.
  14. Do you really want me to tell Ahab you're here? He will kill me!
  15. Elijah said, "I'm a servant of the living LORD All-Powerful, and I swear in his name that I will meet with Ahab today."
  16. Obadiah left and told Ahab where to find Elijah. Ahab went to meet Elijah,
  17. and when he saw him, Ahab shouted, "There you are, the biggest troublemaker in Israel!"
  18. Elijah answered: You're the troublemaker--not me! You and your family have disobeyed the LORD's commands by worshiping Baal.
  19. Call together everyone from Israel and have them meet me on Mount Carmel. Be sure to bring along the four hundred fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah who eat at Jezebel's table.
  20. Ahab got everyone together, then they went to meet Elijah on Mount Carmel.
  21. Elijah stood in front of them and said, "How much longer will you try to have things both ways? If the LORD is God, worship him! But if Baal is God, worship him!" The people did not say a word.
  22. Then Elijah continued: I am the LORD's only prophet, but Baal has four hundred fifty prophets.
  23. Bring us two bulls. Baal's prophets can take one of them, kill it, and cut it into pieces. Then they can put the meat on the wood without lighting the fire. I will do the same thing with the other bull, and I won't light a fire under it either.
  24. The prophets of Baal will pray to their god, and I will pray to the LORD. The one who answers by starting the fire is God. "That's a good idea," everyone agreed.
  25. Elijah said to Baal's prophets, "There are more of you, so you go first. Pick out a bull and get it ready, but don't light the fire. Then pray to your god."
  26. They chose their bull, then they got it ready and prayed to Baal all morning, asking him to start the fire. They danced around the altar and shouted, "Answer us, Baal!" But there was no answer.
  27. At noon, Elijah began making fun of them. "Pray louder!" he said. "Baal must be a god. Maybe he's day-dreaming or using the toilet or traveling somewhere. Or maybe he's asleep, and you have to wake him up."
  28. The prophets kept shouting louder and louder, and they cut themselves with swords and knives until they were bleeding. This was the way they worshiped,
  29. and they kept it up all afternoon. But there was no answer of any kind.
  30. Elijah told everyone to gather around him while he repaired the LORD's altar.
  31. Then he used twelve stones to build an altar in honor of the LORD. Each stone stood for one of the tribes of Israel, which was the name the LORD had given to their ancestor Jacob. Elijah dug a ditch around the altar, large enough to hold about thirteen quarts.
  32. (SEE 18:31)
  33. He placed the wood on the altar, then they cut the bull into pieces and laid the meat on the wood. He told the people, "Fill four large jars with water and pour it over the meat and the wood." After they did this,
  34. he told them to do it two more times. They did exactly as he said
  35. until finally, the water ran down the altar and filled the ditch.
  36. When it was time for the evening sacrifice, Elijah prayed: Our LORD, you are the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. Now, prove that you are the God of this nation, and that I, your servant, have done this at your command.
  37. Please answer me, so these people will know that you are the LORD God, and that you will turn their hearts back to you.
  38. The LORD immediately sent fire, and it burned up the sacrifice, the wood, and the stones. It scorched the ground everywhere around the altar and dried up every drop of water in the ditch.
  39. When the crowd saw what had happened, they all bowed down and shouted, "The LORD is God! The LORD is God!"
  40. Just then, Elijah said, "Grab the prophets of Baal! Don't let any of them get away." So the people captured the prophets and took them to Kishon River, where Elijah killed every one of them.
  41. Elijah told Ahab, "Get something to eat and drink. I hear a heavy rain coming."
  42. Ahab left, but Elijah climbed back to the top of Mount Carmel. Then he stooped down with his face almost to the ground
  43. and said to his servant, "Look toward the sea." The servant left. And when he came back, he said, "I looked, but I didn't see anything." Elijah told him to look seven more times.
  44. After the seventh time the servant replied, "I see a small cloud coming this way. But it's no bigger than a fist." Elijah told him, "Tell Ahab to get his chariot ready and start home now. Otherwise, the rain will stop him."
  45. A few minutes later, it got very cloudy and windy, and rain started pouring down. So Elijah wrapped his coat around himself, and the LORD gave him strength to run all the way to Jezreel. Ahab followed him.
  46. (SEE 18:45)

After 3 1/2 years of drought and that long that Elijah had been in hiding from Ahab, God told Elijah it was time to present himself to the king. It was also time for God to send rain once again. The drought was a great challenge to Baal worship since Baal was thought to be the god of rain. We are not told if there was any faltering of the people in their fervor for Baal worship during this time. There must have been some rather drastic measures take place, however, as they called upon Baal to send rain.  It was the practice of Baal worshipers to make human sacrifices, usually the first-born child, in order to appease Baal's anger in time of a plague or drought or other trouble.

As Elijah went to present himself to Ahab, he first met up with Obadiah, Ahab's steward. He and Ahab had gone out searching for grass for their donkeys. Obadiah was a follower of the Lord and had hid 100 prophets of the Lord when Jezebel tried to kill all of them. It must have been a great challenge to remain loyal to the Lord and yet hide it from Jezebel. Elijah told Obadiah to go announce to Ahab that "Elijah is here!" But Obadiah was reluctant to do so for fear the Spirit of the Lord would carry him off again and he would not show himself. Then Ahab would likely kill Obadiah for tricking him. Elijah assured him that he would indeed show himself to Ahab that very day.

When Elijah presented himself to Ahab he told the king to "summon all Israel to meet me at Mount Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah who eat at Jezebel's table." (18:19) Elijah planned a showdown between Baal and the Lord and he would do so in view of all Israel.  The plan was for two bulls to be selected - one for the prophets of Baal and another for Elijah. The bulls would be prepared for sacrifice and placed on separate altars without lighting a fire. Then the prophets of Baal would call upon Baal to send down fire to burn their sacrifice and Elijah would call upon God to do the same. As the god of rain, Baal was also considered the god of lightning. So both the drought and the showdown were aimed at fully discrediting Baal.

The prophets of Baal called upon him throughout the morning and nothing happened. At noon Elijah mocked them saying, "Shout loudly, for he's a god! Maybe he's thinking it over; maybe he has wandered away; or maybe he's on the road. Perhaps he's sleeping and will wake up!" (18:27) But the prophets of Baal stepped up their fervor beginning to cut themselves, as was their custom, to get Baal's attention. By evening still nothing had happened. Then Elijah called to the people to gather around him closely. He repaired the altar of the Lord which was in disrepair and ordered that wood be arranged on the altar and the bull cut up and placed on the altar. Then he ordered that four water pots be filled with water and poured over the sacrifice and altar and then had this repeated two more times, thoroughly soaking the sacrifice and wood of the altar. Then he simply spoke to the Lord as to a person asking that the Lord, "Answer me so that this people will know that You, Yahweh, are God and that You have turned their hearts back." (18:37) With no further ceremony, the Lord sent down fire that "consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench." (18:38)

After this showdown with fire it was time to demonstrate God's power not only to stop the rain but to send it once again. Elijah instructed Ahab to go eat and prepare for rain. Then Elijah took his servant with him and went to pray for rain. After praying and sending his servant seven times to look for evidence of approaching clouds, finally a tiny cloud appeared which quickly grew until the sky "grew dark with clouds and wind, and there was a downpour." (18:45) The drought had ended by the hand of the Lord.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Reflections on 1 Kings 17

    1 Kings 17 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Elijah was a prophet from Tishbe in Gilead. One day he went to King Ahab and said, "I'm a servant of the living LORD, the God of Israel. And I swear in his name that it won't rain until I say so. There won't even be any dew on the ground."
  2. Later, the LORD said to Elijah,
  3. "Leave and go across the Jordan River so you can hide near Cherith Creek.
  4. You can drink water from the creek, and eat the food I've told the ravens to bring you."
  5. Elijah obeyed the LORD and went to live near Cherith Creek.
  6. Ravens brought him bread and meat twice a day, and he drank water from the creek.
  7. But after a while, it dried up because there was no rain.
  8. The LORD told Elijah,
  9. "Go to the town of Zarephath in Sidon and live there. I've told a widow in that town to give you food."
  10. When Elijah came near the town gate of Zarephath, he saw a widow gathering sticks for a fire. "Would you please bring me a cup of water?" he asked.
  11. As she left to get it, he asked, "Would you also please bring me a piece of bread?"
  12. The widow answered, "In the name of the living LORD your God, I swear that I don't have any bread. All I have is a handful of flour and a little olive oil. I'm on my way home now with these few sticks to cook what I have for my son and me. After that, we will starve to death."
  13. Elijah said, "Everything will be fine. Do what you said. Go home and fix something for you and your son. But first, please make a small piece of bread and bring it to me.
  14. The LORD God of Israel has promised that your jar of flour won't run out and your bottle of oil won't dry up before he sends rain for the crops."
  15. The widow went home and did exactly what Elijah had told her. She and Elijah and her family had enough food for a long time.
  16. The LORD kept the promise that his prophet Elijah had made, and she did not run out of flour or oil.
  17. Several days later, the son of the woman who owned the house got sick, and he kept getting worse, until finally he died.
  18. The woman shouted at Elijah, "What have I done to you? I thought you were God's prophet. Did you come here to cause the death of my son as a reminder that I've sinned against God?"
  19. "Bring me your son," Elijah said. Then he took the boy from her arms and carried him upstairs to the room where he was staying. Elijah laid the boy on his bed
  20. and prayed, "LORD God, why did you do such a terrible thing to this woman? She's letting me stay here, and now you've let her son die."
  21. Elijah stretched himself out over the boy three times, while praying, "LORD God, bring this boy back to life!"
  22. The LORD answered Elijah's prayer, and the boy started breathing again.
  23. Elijah picked him up and carried him downstairs. He gave the boy to his mother and said, "Look, your son is alive."
  24. "You are God's prophet!" the woman replied. "Now I know that you really do speak for the LORD."

At this time Ahab, son of Omri, was on the throne in Israel while Asa was still king in Judah. Each succeeding king in Israel was said to be more evil than any who proceeded him, and Ahab topped them all. With his marriage to Jezebel, daughter of a Sidonian king, they raised idolatry in Israel to a new level. So Israel was now serving and worshipping Baal.

God decided it was time to act and brought a new prophet by the scene by the name of Elijah. He sent Elijah to Ahab with the message that "there will be no dew or rain during these years except by my command!" (17:1) In dealing with the sin of Ahab and of Israel, God was not only going to punish Israel with hardship but was also going to challenge the god they had chosen to worship showing how impotent it was. Since Baal was thought to be the god of rain, God chose to withdraw rain from Israel and challenge their new god to overpower Him to restore their rain.

Meanwhile, the prophet God used to make the announcement of the coming drought disappeared until Ahab became desperate. God sent Elijah away to a seasonal brook east of the Jordan River. There the Lord provided for him using ravens to bring him food. When the brook dried up, God sent Elijah to Zarephath, a town along the Mediterranean coast in Phoenicia, Jezebel's home country. There the Lord had prepared a widow who was not a Baal worshiper. She, a widow, would be the least likely to have food for Elijah. But it was she who the Lord now used to provide for him. This was no doubt a further challenge of Baal. Rather than sending Elijah away from Baal worshipers as if he were running from them, God sent him to the heart of Baal worship. There He used a native Phoenician to feed him.

When Elijah arrived in Zarephath he saw a widow gathering wood at the city gate. He may have sensed this to be the woman God prepared for him, but he posed a test to her, simply asking for a drink of water. When she responded favorably, turning to get the water, Elijah made a further request of her.  "Please bring me a piece of bread," he asked of her. (17:11) Though a seemingly simple request, it was a supreme test, for this woman had only enough flour remaining to make one more meal for her and her son before they starved to death. But Elijah encouraged her to go make this last meal for herself and her son, but to first make a small loaf of bread for him. He assured her that if she did this the Lord promised to keep her flour jar and oil jug filled. What did she have to lose? She and her son faced starvation anyway. What was one more meal in light of the possibility of sufficient food until the end of the drought? She did as Elijah asked and sure enough, her flour and oil did not run out.

After a while, the Lord performed another miracle for this woman. Her son became ill and died. She evidently thought this to be punishment for some sin of hers, and said to Elijah, "Have you come to remind me of my guilt and to kill my son?" (17:18) This is a common idea when calamity comes - that God is punishing us for our sin. The boy's death was a normal circumstance of life, but God wanted to use it to do something wonderful for this woman. We tend to be short-sighted, seeing only the problem facing us rather than the miracle waiting for us beyond the problem. Elijah took the dead boy to his room on the roof and prayed over him and stretched himself out over the boy three times. The Lord heard and the boy's life was restored. When Elijah brought the boy back to his mother alive, the widow said, "Now I know you are a man of God and the LORD's word in your mouth is the truth." (17:24)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Reflections on 1 Kings 16

    1 Kings 16 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD sent Jehu son of Hanani to say to Baasha:
  2. Nobody knew who you were until I, the LORD, chose you to be the leader of my people Israel. And now you're acting exactly like Jeroboam by causing the Israelites to sin. What you've done has made me so angry
  3. that I will destroy you and your family, just as I did the family of Jeroboam.
  4. Dogs will eat the bodies of your relatives who die in town, and vultures will eat the bodies of those who die in the country.
  5. Baasha made the LORD very angry, and that's why the LORD gave Jehu this message for Baasha and his family. Baasha constantly disobeyed the LORD by following Jeroboam's sinful example--but even worse, he killed everyone in Jeroboam's family! Everything else Baasha did while he was king, including his brave deeds, is written in The History of the Kings of Israel. Baasha died and was buried in Tirzah, and his son Elah became king.
  6. (SEE 16:5)
  7. (SEE 16:5)
  8. Elah son of Baasha became king of Israel after Asa had been king of Judah for twenty-five years, and he ruled from Tirzah for two years.
  9. Zimri commanded half of Elah's chariots, and he made plans to kill Elah. One day, Elah was in Tirzah, getting drunk at the home of Arza, his prime minister,
  10. when Zimri went there and killed Elah. So Zimri became king in the twenty-seventh year of Asa's rule in Judah.
  11. As soon as Zimri became king, he killed everyone in Baasha's family. Not one man or boy in his family was left alive--even his close friends were killed.
  12. Baasha's family was completely wiped out, just as the LORD's prophet Jehu had warned.
  13. Baasha and Elah sinned and caused the Israelites to sin, and they made the LORD angry by worshiping idols.
  14. Everything else Elah did while he was king is written in The History of the Kings of Israel.
  15. Zimri became king of Israel in Asa's twenty-seventh year as king of Judah, but he ruled only seven days from Tirzah. Israel's army was camped near Gibbethon in Philistia under the command of Omri. The soldiers heard that Zimri had killed Elah, and they made Omri their king that same day.
  16. (SEE 16:15)
  17. At once, Omri and his army marched to Tirzah and attacked.
  18. When Zimri saw that the town was captured, he ran into the strongest part of the palace and killed himself by setting it on fire.
  19. Zimri had disobeyed the LORD by following the evil example of Jeroboam, who had caused the Israelites to sin.
  20. Everything else Zimri did while he was king, including his rebellion against Elah, is written in The History of the Kings of Israel.
  21. After Zimri died, some of the Israelites wanted Tibni son of Ginath to be king, but others wanted Omri.
  22. Omri's followers were stronger than Tibni's, so Tibni was killed, and Omri became king of Israel
  23. in the thirty-first year of Asa's rule in Judah. Omri ruled Israel for twelve years. The first six years he ruled from Tirzah,
  24. then he bought the hill of Samaria from Shemer for about one hundred fifty pounds of silver. He built a town there and named it Samaria, after Shemer who had owned the hill.
  25. Omri did more evil things than any king before him.
  26. He acted just like Jeroboam and made the LORD God of Israel angry by causing the Israelites to sin and to worship idols.
  27. Everything else Omri did while he was king, including his brave deeds, is written in The History of the Kings of Israel.
  28. Omri died and was buried in Samaria, and his son Ahab became king.
  29. Ahab son of Omri became king of Israel in the thirty-eighth year of Asa's rule in Judah, and he ruled twenty-two years from Samaria.
  30. Ahab did more things to disobey the LORD than any king before him.
  31. He acted just like Jeroboam. Even worse, he married Jezebel the daughter of King Ethbaal of Sidon and started worshiping Baal.
  32. Ahab built an altar and temple for Baal in Samaria
  33. and set up a sacred pole for worshiping the goddess Asherah. Ahab did more to make the LORD God of Israel angry than any king of Israel before him.
  34. While Ahab was king, a man from Bethel named Hiel rebuilt the town of Jericho. But while Hiel was laying the foundation for the town wall, his oldest son Abiram died. And while he was finishing the gates, his youngest son Segub died. This happened just as the LORD had told Joshua to say many years ago.

Chpater 16 follows a succession of kings in Israel, referring to Asa, king of Judah, only as a point of reference. During this period, Asa ruled in Judah for 41 years. Meanwhile, Israel went through six kings, several of whom reigned for rather short lengths of time. Particularly short was the reign of Zimri, mentioned in this chapter, who reigned for only seven days.  Here is a list of the kings mentioned in this chapter:

   Judah            Israel                         
    Asa               Baasha (24 years)
                        Elah (2 years)
                        Zimri (7 days)
                        Omri (12 years)
                        Ahab (22 years)

Of each king in succession in Israel, scripture says, "he did more evil than all who were before him." Obviously, Israel was spiraling further and further downward, both spiritually and in terms of its strength and stability. The Lord pronounced judgment on Jeroboam saying all his male descendants would be killed. This sentence was carried out by Zimri who conspired to take rule by killing Elah, son of Baasha, and then proceeded to kill all of Elah's sons. It is said of Zimri, "Zimri struck down the entire house of Baasha. He did not leave him a single male, whether of his kinsmen or his friends." (16:11)

Zimri carried out this coup against Elah while Israel's army was besieging the Philistine city of Gibbethon. When word reached the army of Elah's assasination, Omri, the commander, led his army back to Tirzah, the capitol, and besieged it. Zimri saw he had no way out, so he "burned down the royal palace over himself." (16:18) Though Omri then assumed the throne, the people of Israel did not all recognize him as king. Half the kingdom followed Tibni seeking to make him king. Over the next six years Israel was ravaged with civil war until Omri finally prevailed. He was an astute political leader but it is also said of Omri that, "he did more evil than all who were before him." (16:25)

When Omri died after ruling for 12 years, his son Ahab came to the throne and took Israel even further down spiritually. He was so evil he thought the sins of Jeroboam "were a trivial matter." (16:31) Adding to his evil ways, Ahab married Jezebel, daughter of a Sidonian king, who brought Baal worship to Israel.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Reflections on 1 Kings 15

    1 Kings 15 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Abijam became king of Judah in Jeroboam's eighteenth year as king of Israel,
  2. and he ruled from Jerusalem for three years. His mother was Maacah the daughter of Abishalom.
  3. Abijam did not truly obey the LORD his God as his ancestor David had done. Instead, he was sinful just like his father Rehoboam.
  4. David had always obeyed the LORD's commands by doing right, except in the case of Uriah. And since Abijam was David's great-grandson, the LORD kept Jerusalem safe and let Abijam have a son who would be the next king.
  5. (SEE 15:4)
  6. The war that had broken out between Rehoboam and Jeroboam continued during the time that Abijam was king. Everything else Abijam did while he was king is written in The History of the Kings of Judah.
  7. (SEE 15:6)
  8. Abijam died and was buried in Jerusalem, and his son Asa became king.
  9. Asa became king of Judah in the twentieth year of Jeroboam's rule in Israel,
  10. and he ruled forty-one years from Jerusalem. His grandmother was Maacah the daughter of Abishalom.
  11. Asa obeyed the LORD, as David had done.
  12. He forced the prostitutes at the shrines to leave the country, and he got rid of the idols his ancestors had made.
  13. His own grandmother Maacah had made an idol of Asherah, and Asa took it and burned it in Kidron Valley. Then he removed Maacah from her position as queen mother.
  14. As long as Asa lived, he was completely faithful to the LORD, even though he did not destroy the local shrines.
  15. He placed in the temple all the silver and gold objects that he and his father had dedicated to the LORD.
  16. Asa was always at war with King Baasha of Israel.
  17. One time, Baasha invaded Judah and captured the town of Ramah. He started making the town stronger, so he could put troops there to stop people from going in and out of Judah.
  18. When Asa heard about this, he took the silver and gold from his palace and from the LORD's temple. He gave it to some of his officials and sent them to Damascus with this message for King Benhadad of Syria:
  19. "Our fathers signed a peace treaty. Why don't we do the same thing? This silver and gold is a present for you. So, would you please break your treaty with Baasha and force him to leave my country?"
  20. Benhadad did what Asa asked and sent the Syrian army into Israel. They captured the towns of Ijon, Dan, and Abel-Bethmaacah, and the territories of Chinneroth and Naphtali.
  21. When Baasha heard about it, he left Ramah and went back to Tirzah.
  22. Asa ordered everyone in Judah to carry away the stones and wood Baasha had used to strengthen the town of Ramah. Then he used these same stones and wood to fortify the town of Geba in the territory of Benjamin and the town of Mizpah.
  23. Everything else Asa did while he was king, including his victories and the towns he rebuilt, is written in The History of the Kings of Judah. When he got older, he had a foot disease.
  24. Asa died and was buried in the tomb of his ancestors in Jerusalem. His son Jehoshaphat then became king.
  25. Nadab son of Jeroboam became king of Israel in Asa's second year as king of Judah, and he ruled two years.
  26. Nadab disobeyed the LORD by following the evil example of his father, who had caused the Israelites to sin.
  27. Baasha son of Ahijah was from the tribe of Issachar, and he made plans to kill Nadab. When Nadab and his army went to attack the town of Gibbethon in Philistia, Baasha killed Nadab there. So in the third year of Asa's rule, Baasha became king of Israel.
  28. (SEE 15:27)
  29. The LORD's prophet Ahijah had earlier said, "Not one man or boy in Jeroboam's family will be left alive." And, as soon as Baasha became king, he killed everyone in Jeroboam's family,
  30. because Jeroboam had made the LORD God of Israel angry by sinning and causing the Israelites to sin.
  31. Everything else Nadab did while he was king is written in The History of the Kings of Israel.
  32. King Asa of Judah and King Baasha of Israel were always at war.
  33. Baasha son of Ahijah became king of Israel in Asa's third year as king of Judah, and he ruled twenty-four years from Tirzah.
  34. Baasha also disobeyed the LORD by acting like Jeroboam, who had caused the Israelites to sin.

The accounts of 1 Kings proceed now to go through a succession of kings both in Judah and in Israel. To follow the narrative chronologically one must keep in mind that the writer follows each kingdom chronologically in a back and forth fashion. He follows the king or kings of one kingdom for a while and then switches over to the other kingdom. In switching to the other kingdom he will pick up where he left off when last giving account of that kingdom. So in chapter 15 the list of kings mentioned between the two kingdoms looks like this:

   Judah            Israel            
  Abijam            (Jeroboam)
  Asa                 Nadab

Verse 1 of chapter 15 picks up with Abijam taking the throne in Judah. He became king in the 18th year of Jeroboam's rule in Israel, though Jeroboam is not a part of the narrative in this chapter. He is mention because of his sinful influence on his son Nadab who is first mentioned in verse 26 of the chapter. Abijam had a short reign of only three years which was no doubt due to the fact that he "walked in all the sins his father had done before him, and he was not completely devoted to the LORD his God as his ancestor David had been." (15:3) When Abijam died, the Lord allowed his son Asa to succeed him, but only because of the Lord's commitment to David, Abijam's ancester, who "did what was right in the LORD's eyes." (15:5) not because of anything Abijam's had done.

Abijam's son Asa was one of the eight good kings in Judah's history. He became king in Judah near the end of Jeroboam's rule in Israel. Asa ruled 41 years and "did what was right in the LORD's eyes, as his ancestor David had done." (15:11) He brought spiritual reform in Judah by banishing "male shrine prostitutes from the land and removed all of the idols that his fathers had made." (15:12) He went so far as to remove his grandmother as queen mother because of her Asherah idol. One thing Asa failed to do, however, was to remove the high places of worship which were a violation of the Lord's covenant with Israel. They were to worship the Lord only in His temple. Nevertheless, Asa's heart is said to be "completely with the LORD his entire life." (15:14)

When Jeroboam, king of Israel died, his son Nadab succeeded him. This was in the second year of Asa's reign in Judah.  Nadab reigned for only two years and was as evil as his father Jeroboam. Nadab's death came as a result of a conspiracy by Baasha who killed him during a battle between Israel and the Philistines. Baasha then took Nadab's place as king and immediately cleaned house by killing "the entire house of Jeroboam." (15:29) This was a fulfillment of a prophecy made to Jeroboam by the prophet Ahijah: "I am about to bring disaster on the house of Jeroboam: I will eliminate all of Jeroboam's males, both slave and free, in Israel; I will sweep away the house of Jeroboam as one sweeps away dung until it is all gone! (14:10) Though Baasha was used to fulfill this prophecy against Jeroboam, he was just as wicked.

Throughout this whole period, from the reigns of Rehoboam in Judah and Jeroboam in Israel and down through the reigns to this point, there was war between the two kingdoms. Israel never again saw the glory of her days under the rule of David and Solomon. Even though there were a few good kings thereafter, such as Asa, Israel's glory could not be recovered. The main benefit brought by the good kings was stability.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Reflections on 1 Kings 14

    1 Kings 14 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. About the same time, Abijah son of Jeroboam got sick.
  2. Jeroboam told his wife: Disguise yourself so no one will know you're my wife, then go to Shiloh, where the prophet Ahijah lives. Take him ten loaves of bread, some small cakes, and honey, and ask him what will happen to our son. He can tell you, because he's the one who told me I would become king.
  3. (SEE 14:2)
  4. She got ready and left for Ahijah's house in Shiloh. Ahijah was now old and blind,
  5. but the LORD told him, "Jeroboam's wife is coming to ask about her son. I will tell you what to say to her." Jeroboam's wife came to Ahijah's house, pretending to be someone else.
  6. But when Ahijah heard her walking up to the door, he said: Come in! I know you're Jeroboam's wife--why are you pretending to be someone else? I have some bad news for you.
  7. Give your husband this message from the LORD God of Israel: "Jeroboam, you know that I, the LORD, chose you over anyone else to be the leader of my people Israel.
  8. I even took David's kingdom away from his family and gave it to you. But you are not like my servant David. He always obeyed me and did what was right.
  9. "You have made me very angry by rejecting me and making idols out of gold. Jeroboam, you have done more evil things than any king before you.
  10. "Because of this, I will destroy your family by killing every man and boy in it, whether slave or free. I will wipe out your family, just as fire burns up trash.
  11. Dogs will eat the bodies of your relatives who die in town, and vultures will eat the bodies of those who die in the country. I, the LORD, have spoken and will not change my mind!"
  12. That's the LORD's message to your husband. As for you, go back home, and right after you get there, your son will die.
  13. Everyone in Israel will mourn at his funeral. But he will be the last one from Jeroboam's family to receive a proper burial, because he's the only one the LORD God of Israel is pleased with.
  14. The LORD will soon choose a new king of Israel, who will destroy Jeroboam's family. And I mean very soon.
  15. The people of Israel have made the LORD angry by setting up sacred poles for worshiping the goddess Asherah. So the LORD will punish them until they shake like grass in a stream. He will take them out of the land he gave to their ancestors, then scatter them as far away as the Euphrates River.
  16. Jeroboam sinned and caused the Israelites to sin. Now the LORD will desert Israel.
  17. Jeroboam's wife left and went back home to the town of Tirzah. As soon as she set foot in her house, her son died.
  18. Everyone in Israel came and mourned at his funeral, just as the LORD's servant Ahijah had said.
  19. Everything else Jeroboam did while he was king, including the battles he won, is written in The History of the Kings of Israel.
  20. He was king of Israel for twenty-two years, then he died, and his son Nadab became king.
  21. Rehoboam son of Solomon was forty-one years old when he became king of Judah, and he ruled seventeen years from Jerusalem, the city where the LORD had chosen to be worshiped. His mother Naamah was from Ammon.
  22. The people of Judah disobeyed the LORD and made him even angrier than their ancestors had.
  23. They also built their own local shrines and stone images of foreign gods, and they set up sacred poles for worshiping the goddess Asherah on every hill and in the shade of large trees.
  24. Even worse, they allowed prostitutes at the shrines, and followed the disgusting customs of the foreign nations that the LORD had forced out of Canaan.
  25. After Rehoboam had been king for four years, King Shishak of Egypt attacked Jerusalem.
  26. He took everything of value from the temple and the palace, including Solomon's gold shields.
  27. Rehoboam had bronze shields made to replace the gold ones, and he ordered the guards at the city gates to keep them safe.
  28. Whenever Rehoboam went to the LORD's temple, the guards carried the shields. But they always took them back to the guardroom as soon as he was finished.
  29. Everything else Rehoboam did while he was king is written in The History of the Kings of Judah.
  30. He and Jeroboam were constantly at war.
  31. Rehoboam's mother Naamah was from Ammon, but when Rehoboam died, he was buried beside his ancestors in Jerusalem. His son Abijam then became king.

Israel enjoyed a relatively short period of prosperity through the reigns of her first three kings, Saul, David, and Solomon. A period of about 120 years. But this prosperity plunged significantly under the reign of the first king to follow Solomon. The erosion began with Solomon's sin in turning away from the Lord. Because of his sin the Lord told him the rule would be taken from his descendants. Though his son, Rehoboam succeeded him, he made an immediate blunder at his coronation that split the kingdom in two. This action alone caused Israel's prosperity to plunge. But it plunged further as the king's of both kingdoms, Jeroboam in Israel and Rehoboam in Judah, turned to other gods and the Lord withdrew His protection from them.

In this chapter we are given an account near the end of Jeroboam's reign in Israel when his young son was ill. Jeroboam had his wife disguise herself to go to the prophet Ahijah, who had predicted he would become king, and enquire about the outcome of the boy's illness. This event illustrates the irrational limitations we sometimes place on God. If God is capable of knowing that Jeroboam would become king over Israel as well as the outcome of the boy's illness, why would He not also know the identity of Jeroboam's wife even though she was disguised? Similarly we fake worship to God while harboring sin in our hearts and lives and think our false worship fools God. But, of course, the only one fooled is ourselves.

The Lord informed Ahijah the prophet, before Jeroboam's wife even arrived, that she was coming and would be disguised.  When she arrived, and before she identified herself, Ahijah acknowledged who she was. Then he spoke bad news to her. Though the Lord raised Jeroboam up from among the people and appointed him ruler over Israel, Jeroboam "behaved more wickedly than all who were before" him (14:9) by making other gods and flinging the Lord behind his back. Because of this, the Lord was going to "bring disaster on the house of Jeroboam." (14:10) All of his male descendants would be killed and provided no burial. Their bodies would be eaten by dogs in the streets and birds in the fields. As a sign of what was to come, the young boy who was ill would die the instant his mother returned home and stepped over the threshold of the house.  We are then told of Jeroboam's death that came not long after the death of this son. He reigned 22 years.

The scene then shifts to Judah and king Rehoboam. He, too, had been unfaithful to the Lord, allowing himself to be influenced by his Ammonite wife who seduced him to worship Canaanite gods. He reigned only 17 years in Judah, and during that time was at continual war with Israel. Also during his reign he was attack by Shishak, king of Egypt, and was forced to pay him with the gold shields his father Solomon had made to have the Egyptian king retreat. As a result this threat from Egypt, Rehoboam did return in his latter years to worshipping God at the Lord's temple.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Reflections on 1 Kings 13

    1 Kings 13 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. One day, Jeroboam was standing at the altar in Bethel, ready to make an offering. Suddenly one of God's prophets arrived from Judah and shouted: The LORD sent me with a message about this altar. A child named Josiah will be born into David's family. He will sacrifice on this altar the priests who make offerings here, and human bones will be burned on it.
  2. (SEE 13:1)
  3. You will know that the LORD has said these things when the altar splits in half, and the ashes on it fall to the ground.
  4. Jeroboam pointed at the prophet and shouted, "Grab him!" But right away, Jeroboam's hand became stiff, and he could not move it.
  5. The altar split in half, and the ashes fell to the ground, just as the prophet had warned.
  6. "Please pray to the LORD your God and ask him to heal my hand," Jeroboam begged. The prophet prayed, and Jeroboam's hand was healed.
  7. "Come home with me and eat something," Jeroboam said. "I want to give you a gift for what you have done."
  8. "No, I wouldn't go with you, even if you offered me half of your kingdom. I won't eat or drink here either.
  9. The LORD said I can't eat or drink anything and that I can't go home the same way I came."
  10. Then he started home down a different road.
  11. At that time an old prophet lived in Bethel, and one of his sons told him what the prophet from Judah had said and done.
  12. "Show me which way he went," the old prophet said, and his sons pointed out the road.
  13. "Put a saddle on my donkey," he told them. After they did, he got on the donkey
  14. and rode off to look for the prophet from Judah. The old prophet found him sitting under an oak tree and asked, "Are you the prophet from Judah?" "Yes, I am."
  15. "Come home with me," the old prophet said, "and have something to eat."
  16. "I can't go back with you," the prophet replied, "and I can't eat or drink anything with you.
  17. The LORD warned me not to eat or drink or to go home the same way I came."
  18. The old prophet said, "I'm a prophet too. One of the LORD's angels told me to take you to my house and give you something to eat and drink." The prophet from Judah did not know that the old prophet was lying,
  19. so he went home with him and ate and drank.
  20. During the meal the LORD gave the old prophet
  21. a message for the prophet from Judah: Listen to the LORD's message. You have disobeyed the LORD your God.
  22. He told you not to eat or drink anything here, but you came home and ate with me. And so, when you die, your body won't be buried in your family tomb.
  23. After the meal the old prophet got a donkey ready,
  24. and the prophet from Judah left. Along the way, a lion attacked and killed him, and the donkey and the lion stood there beside his dead body.
  25. Some people walked by and saw the body with the lion standing there. They ran into Bethel, telling everyone what they had seen.
  26. When the old prophet heard the news, he said, "That must be the prophet from Judah. The LORD warned him, but he disobeyed. So the LORD sent a lion to kill him."
  27. The old prophet told his sons to saddle his donkey, and when it was ready,
  28. he left. He found the body lying on the road, with the donkey and lion standing there. The lion had not eaten the body or attacked the donkey.
  29. The old prophet picked up the body, put it on his own donkey, and took it back to Bethel, so he could bury it and mourn for the prophet from Judah.
  30. He buried the body in his own family tomb and cried for the prophet.
  31. He said to his sons, "When I die, bury my body next to this prophet.
  32. I'm sure that everything he said about the altar in Bethel and the shrines in Samaria will happen."
  33. But Jeroboam kept on doing evil things. He appointed men to be priests at the local shrines, even if they were not Levites. In fact, anyone who wanted to be a priest could be one.
  34. This sinful thing led to the downfall of his kingdom.

    This chapter is a commentary on disobedience. Even seemingly "innocent" disobedience. 

    Jeroboam, now king of Israel's ten northern tribes had established an apostate religion in an effort to protect his influence over his people. He was fearful that by going to Jerusalem to worship at the official temple they would be influenced to return to rule under Judah's king. Though his religion imitated Judaism in many respects, it also imitated the pagan religions of the surrounding nations. It is often said that a lie can be "sold" to others if it also incorporates truth in it. So it was with Jeroboam's apostate religion. It had incorporated enough of true Judaism to convince the people there was nothing wrong with it. This age-old question, "what's wrong with it?" or "what harm can it cause?" has led many to sin. The question to ask is, "what is right with it?" In the case of Jeroboam's false religion, nothing was right about it when compared to God's covenant with Israel. And, after all, if it is God one wishes to worship, it is His instructions for worship that should be followed. At the heart of worship is obedience and surrender - not ritual.

    God sent a prophet from Judah to confront Jeroboam about his false religion. When the prophet arrived at Bethel, Jeroboam was at the altar burning incense. The prophet addressed his message to the altar saying, "'A son will be born to the house of David, named Josiah, and he will sacrifice on you the priests of the high places who are burning incense on you. Human bones will be burned on you.'" (13:2) Though this prophet is unknown and unnamed, his prophecy was completely accurate though it didn't take place for nearly 300 years. Because the fulfillment of the prophecy was so distant into the future, a sign was given to validate it: "This is the sign that the LORD has spoken: 'The altar will now be ripped apart, and the ashes that are on it will be spilled out.'" (13:3) 

    Jeroboam attempted to have the prophet arrested but discovered the Lord to be more powerful than he. When he extended his hand to give the command to arrest the prophet, it suddenly withered and he could not pull it back. Meanwhile, the altar ripped apart according to the sign that was given. Then Jeroboam pleaded with the prophet to ask, "for the favor of the LORD your God and pray for me so that my hand may be restored to me." Many consider faith to be unreasonable, but then, so is lack of faith. Jeroboam knew the God who had sent this prophet could heal his hand but he had turned away from this God to a religion of his own making. There is nothing reasonable about this.

    The remainder of this account is about the prophet. He had been instructed by God not to "eat bread or drink water or go back the way you came." (13:9) Jeroboam invited him to his palace to refresh himself and receive a reward for healing the king. But the prophet refused giving his instructions from the Lord not to do so. But then as he returned home by a different route, he was approached by an older prophet who lived near Bethel in the apostate kingdom. This prophet also invited him to his house for a meal and the younger prophet again stated his instructions from the Lord not to do so. But the older prophet deceived him by telling him he had a word from the Lord instructing him to take the prophet home with him. The younger man was convinced and went home with the man. 

    While the two men were eating, a word from the Lord came to the older prophet saying to the younger prophet, "Because you rebelled against the command of the LORD and did not keep the commandment that the LORD your God commanded you, but you went back and ate bread and drank water in the place that He said to you: Do not eat bread and do not drink water, your corpse will never reach the grave of your fathers.'" (13:21-22) This word from the Lord was fulfilled soon after the younger man left to continue his return home. He was attack by a lion and killed.

    This judgment on the younger prophet, who was deceived by the older man, seems grossly unfair. But we have to remember that the purpose of his mission was to address disobedience and in his conduct of the mission he disobeyed. Accepting the word of another is no excuse for disobeying the Lord. If the Lord's instructions were given to him directly, then any change in those instructions should also be given to him directly, not a stranger.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Reflections on 1 Kings 12

    1 Kings 12 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Rehoboam went to Shechem where everyone was waiting to crown him king.
  2. Jeroboam son of Nebat heard what was happening, and he stayed in Egypt, where he had gone to hide from Solomon.
  3. But the people from the northern tribes of Israel sent for him. Then together they went to Rehoboam and said,
  4. "Your father Solomon forced us to work very hard. But if you make our work easier, we will serve you and do whatever you ask."
  5. "Give me three days to think about it," Rehoboam replied, "then come back for my answer." So the people left.
  6. Rehoboam went to some leaders who had been his father's senior officials, and he asked them, "What should I tell these people?"
  7. They answered, "If you want them to serve and obey you, then you should do what they ask today. Tell them you will make their work easier."
  8. But Rehoboam refused their advice and went to the younger men who had grown up with him and were now his officials.
  9. He asked, "What do you think I should say to these people who asked me to make their work easier?"
  10. His younger advisors said: Here's what we think you should say to them: "Compared to me, my father was weak.
  11. He made you work hard, but I'll make you work even harder. He punished you with whips, but I'll use whips with pieces of sharp metal!"
  12. Three days later, Jeroboam and the others came back.
  13. Rehoboam ignored the advice of the older advisors.
  14. He spoke bluntly and told them exactly what his own advisors had suggested: "My father made you work hard, but I'll make you work even harder. He punished you with whips, but I'll use whips with pieces of sharp metal!"
  15. When the people realized that Rehoboam would not listen to them, they shouted: "We don't have to be loyal to David's family. We can do what we want. Come on, people of Israel, let's go home! Rehoboam can rule his own people." Adoniram was in charge of the forced labor, and Rehoboam sent him to talk to the people. But they stoned him to death. Then Rehoboam ran to his chariot and hurried back to Jerusalem. So the people from the northern tribes of Israel went home, leaving Rehoboam to rule only the people from the towns in Judah. Ever since that day, the people of Israel have opposed David's family in Judah. All of this happened just as the LORD's prophet Ahijah had told Jeroboam.
  16. (SEE 12:15)
  17. (SEE 12:15)
  18. (SEE 12:15)
  19. (SEE 12:15)
  20. When the Israelites heard that Jeroboam was back, they called everyone together. Then they sent for Jeroboam and made him king of Israel. Only the people from the tribe of Judah remained loyal to David's family.
  21. After Rehoboam returned to Jerusalem, he decided to attack Israel and take control of the whole country. So he called together one hundred eighty thousand soldiers from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.
  22. Meanwhile, God told Shemaiah the prophet
  23. to give Rehoboam and everyone from Judah and Benjamin this warning:
  24. "Don't go to war against the people from Israel--they are your relatives. Go home! I am the LORD, and I made these things happen." Rehoboam and his army obeyed the LORD and went home.
  25. Jeroboam rebuilt Shechem in Ephraim and made it a stronger town, then he moved there. He also fortified the town of Penuel.
  26. One day, Jeroboam started thinking, "Everyone in Israel still goes to the temple in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices to the LORD. What if they become loyal to David's family again? They will kill me and accept Rehoboam as their king."
  27. (SEE 12:26)
  28. Jeroboam asked for advice and then made two gold statues of calves. He showed them to the people and said, "Listen everyone! You won't have to go to Jerusalem to worship anymore. Here are your gods who rescued you from Egypt."
  29. Then he put one of the gold calves in the town of Bethel. He put the other one in the town of Dan, and the crowd walked out in front as the calf was taken there. What Jeroboam did was a terrible sin.
  30. (SEE 12:29)
  31. Jeroboam built small places of worship at the shrines and appointed men who were not from the tribe of Levi to serve as priests.
  32. He also decided to start a new festival for the Israelites on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, just like the one in Judah. On that day, Jeroboam went to Bethel and offered sacrifices on the altar to the gold calf he had put there. Then he assigned the priests their duties.
  33. (SEE 12:32)

Solomon had turned away from God and God had told him, "Since you have done this and did not keep My covenant and My statutes, which I commanded you, I will tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant." (11:11) Now, following Solomon's death, God's word to Solomon very quickly began to come to pass, starting with the coronation ceremonies to crown his son, Rehoboam.

As plans for the coronation, which was to be held at Shechem, were being made, leaders of the northern tribes prepared for a confrontation. Bringing Jeroboam back from exile in Egypt to be a part of this confrontation suggests some manuevering behind the scenes to secede and make him king over the 10 tribes. This raises the question of whether their words to Rehoboam were true or simply a "smoke screen," when they said, "lighten your father's harsh service and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you." (12:4) Was Jeroboam their spokesperson? And, were they really that concerned about Solomon's heavy yoke or was this an excuse to revolt?

Prior to this confrontation from the northern tribes had Rehoboam even considered his position on continuing, lightening, or increasing the yoke of his father? Whether or not he had, now that his leadership was challenged his response to the question would set the tone of his leadership policy and also establish the strength of his leadership. Though Rehoboam was predisposed on how to respond to the question, he went first to his elders to ask their counsel. They counseled him to be a servant to the people and to speak kind words. Rehoboam rejected this counsel and went to his contemporaries for their counsel. Obviously, he simply sought someone to agree with him. Not only was he determining with this decision who he would rule, he was determining who would be among his staff, for he had now alienated the elders in his father's administration.

Taking the advice of his contemporaries, Rehoboam met again with the leaders of the northern tribes and told them, "My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with barbed whips." (12:14) If Rehoboam and his contemporaries thought this reply would intimidate these tribes causing them to submit to his rule, they were badly mistaken. On the other hand, the intent of their message may have been to say, "Submit to our rule or not, but if you do it will be on our terms." Rehoboam's next move suggests the first intent, expecting to intimidate the people into submission.

When they revolted, seceding from the kingdom, Rehoboam set out to force their submission. He returned to Jerusalem and mobilized 180,00 warriors to fight the northern tribes. But God stepped in, sending a prophet, Shemaiah, to tell him, "You are not to march up and fight against your brothers, the Israelites. Each of you must return home, for I have done this." (12:24) Fortunately, Rehoboam listened and backed down, and war was averted. All of this was by God's design and he needed to accept it. But there were now two kingdoms, Israel, consisting of the ten northern tribes, and Judah, consisting of Judah and Benjamin.

Jeroboam established Shechem as his royal headquarters and also as a fortified city and also built a fortified city east of the Jordan. He was concerned that his people would be drawn back to the southern kingdom since they would have to go to Jerusalem to worship at the new temple. So he established his own version of Judaism with two places of worship and two golden calves to represent the "God who brought you out of the land of Egypt." (12:27) Going the way of many rulers and political leaders, Jeroboam was more concerned about establishing himself than of serving the people and doing what was best for them. In contrast, David ruled with a concern for the people. When his son rebelled against him and tried to forcibly become king, rather than fighting him, David withdrew, leaving it in God's hands who restored him as king. Though God had told Jeroboam he would rule the ten tribes, he was unwilling to trust himself to God.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Reflections on 1 Kings 11

    1 Kings 11 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD did not want the Israelites to worship foreign gods, so he had warned them not to marry anyone who was not from Israel. Solomon loved his wife, the daughter of the king of Egypt. But he also loved some women from Moab, Ammon, and Edom, and others from Sidon and the land of the Hittites.
  2. (SEE 11:1)
  3. Seven hundred of his wives were daughters of kings, but he also married three hundred other women. As Solomon got older, some of his wives led him to worship their gods. He wasn't like his father David, who had worshiped only the LORD God.
  4. (SEE 11:3)
  5. Solomon also worshiped Astarte the goddess of Sidon, and Milcom the disgusting god of Ammon.
  6. Solomon's father had obeyed the LORD with all his heart, but Solomon disobeyed and did what the LORD hated.
  7. Solomon built shrines on a hill east of Jerusalem to worship Chemosh the disgusting god of Moab, and Molech the disgusting god of Ammon.
  8. In fact, he built a shrine for each of his foreign wives, so all of them could burn incense and offer sacrifices to their own gods.
  9. The LORD God of Israel had appeared to Solomon two times and warned him not to worship foreign gods. But Solomon disobeyed and did it anyway. This made the LORD very angry,
  10. (SEE 11:9)
  11. and he said to Solomon: You did what you wanted and not what I told you to do. Now I'm going to take your kingdom from you and give it to one of your officials.
  12. But because David was your father, you will remain king as long as you live. I will wait until your son becomes king, then I will take the kingdom from him.
  13. When I do, I will still let him rule one tribe, because I have not forgotten that David was my servant and Jerusalem is my city.
  14. Hadad was from the royal family of Edom, and here is how the LORD made him Solomon's enemy:
  15. Some time earlier, when David conquered the nation of Edom, Joab his army commander went there to bury those who had died in battle. Joab and his soldiers stayed in Edom six months, and during that time they killed every man and boy who lived there.
  16. (SEE 11:15)
  17. Hadad was a boy at the time, but he escaped to Midian with some of his father's officials. At Paran some other men joined them, and they went to the king of Egypt. The king liked Hadad and gave him food, some land, and a house, and even let him marry the sister of Queen Tahpenes.
  18. (SEE 11:17)
  19. (SEE 11:17)
  20. Hadad and his wife had a son named Genubath, and the queen let the boy grow up in the palace with her own children.
  21. When Hadad heard that David and Joab were dead, he said to the king, "Your Majesty, please let me go back to my own country."
  22. "Why?" asked the king. "Do you want something I haven't given you?" "No, I just want to go home."
  23. Here is how God made Rezon son of Eliada an enemy of Solomon: Rezon had run away from his master, King Hadadezer of Zobah.
  24. He formed his own small army and became its leader after David had defeated Hadadezer's troops. Then Rezon and his army went to Damascus, where he became the ruler of Syria and an enemy of Israel. Both Hadad and Rezon were enemies of Israel while Solomon was king, and they caused him a lot of trouble.
  25. (SEE 11:24)
  26. Jeroboam was from the town of Zeredah in Ephraim. His father Nebat had died, but his mother Zeruah was still alive. Jeroboam was one of Solomon's officials, but even he rebelled against Solomon.
  27. Here is how it happened: While Solomon's workers were filling in the land on the east side of Jerusalem and repairing the city walls,
  28. Solomon noticed that Jeroboam was a hard worker. So he put Jeroboam in charge of the work force from Manasseh and Ephraim.
  29. One day when Jeroboam was leaving Jerusalem, he met Ahijah, a prophet from Shiloh. No one else was anywhere around. Suddenly, Ahijah took off his new coat and ripped it into twelve pieces.
  30. (SEE 11:29)
  31. Then he said: Jeroboam, take ten pieces of this coat and listen to what the LORD God of Israel says to you. "Jeroboam, I am the LORD God, and I am about to take Solomon's kingdom from him and give you ten tribes to rule.
  32. But Solomon will still rule one tribe, since he is the son of David my servant, and Jerusalem is my chosen city.
  33. "Solomon and the Israelites are not like their ancestor David. They will not listen to me, obey me, or do what is right. They have turned from me to worship Astarte the goddess of Sidon, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of Ammon.
  34. "Solomon is David's son, and David was my chosen leader, who did what I commanded. So I will let Solomon be king until he dies.
  35. Then I will give you ten tribes to rule,
  36. but Solomon's son will still rule one tribe. This way, my servant David will always have a descendant ruling in Jerusalem, the city where I have chosen to be worshiped.
  37. "You will be king of Israel and will rule every nation you want.
  38. I'll help you if you obey me. And if you do what I say, as my servant David did, I will always let someone from your family rule in Israel, just as someone from David's family will always rule in Judah. The nation of Israel will be yours.
  39. "I will punish the descendants of David, but not forever."
  40. When Solomon learned what the LORD had told Jeroboam, Solomon tried to kill Jeroboam. But he escaped to King Shishak of Egypt and stayed there until Solomon died.
  41. Everything else Solomon did while he was king is written in the book about him and his wisdom.
  42. After he had ruled forty years from Jerusalem,
  43. he died and was buried there in the city of his father David. His son Rehoboam then became king.

Chapter 10 says that "King Solomon surpassed all the kings of the world in riches and in wisdom." (10:23) Chapter 11, verse 3, says Solomon "had 700 wives who were princesses and 300 concubines." He must have also surpassed all other kings in number of wives as well. God gave Solomon some exceptional gifts in terms of wisdom and knowledge, and God was also the source of his riches and worldwide fame. But it turns out that Solomon valued the gifts and the pleasure they gave more than the giver.

One truth his wisdom did not reveal to him, or his chose to ignore, is that the pleasures of the world are best enjoyed in relationship with the source of those pleasures. But his weakness for women, especially foreign women who worshipped other gods, allowed his head to be turned also to these other gods.  Verse 4 tells us that as he grew older, "his wives seduced him to follow other gods." Jesus pointed out that all of the commandments of the law are summed up in two commandments, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind," and "Love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:36) The first one, to love the Lord with all your heart, mind, and soul, Jesus said, "is the greatest and most important commandment." Whatever sin we might commit erodes our relationship with either God or our fellow man, but when our hearts are turned away from God we have not only broken the greatest commandment but have broken our link to the true source of the good things of life becoming vulnerable to the source of the evil things of life.

This is what happened to Solomon. His father, David, sinned greatly in taking another man's wife and killing the man, but his heart always remained true to God. Therefore, though God allowed suffering to come on David, He never turned away from him. Solomon's situation was more serious. He turned away from the Lord to other gods as if they were the source of all he had, prompting the Lord to speak to him a third time. This time the message was not good as before.  The Lord said to him, "Since you have done this and did not keep My covenant and My statutes, which I commanded you, I will tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant." (11:11) The seeds of this tearing away of the kingdom were already sown even as far back as his father's reign, but had Solomon remained true to God, these seeds would not have flourished. God now removed His protection from Solomon.

Three of Solomon's adversaries, who would play a role in tearing away the kingdom, are named in this chapter. They were Hadad, an Edomite, Rezon, a ruler of Aram, and one of Solomon's own leaders, Jeroboam. The first two became arch enemies during David's reign. Jeroboam, though, was not an enemy but a loyal servant of Solomon until the prophet Ahijah revealed to him that the Lord planned to make him ruler over the northern tribes of Israel. We are told in verse 40 that Solomon tried to kill Jeroboam and he had to flee to Egypt, but we are not given the reason Solomon wanted to kill him. The two most obvious possibilities are that either Jeroboam attempted to assert himself over Solomon or Solomon got word of Ahijah's prophecy about Jeroboam ruling the northern tribes.

After ruling over Israel 40 years, Solomon died. His son Rehoboam became king in his place.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Reflections on 1 Kings 10

    1 Kings 10 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The Queen of Sheba heard how famous Solomon was, so she went to Jerusalem to test him with difficult questions.
  2. She took along several of her officials, and she loaded her camels with gifts of spices, jewels, and gold. When she arrived, she and Solomon talked about everything she could think of.
  3. He answered every question, no matter how difficult it was.
  4. The Queen was amazed at Solomon's wisdom. She was breathless when she saw his palace, the food on his table, his officials, his servants in their uniforms, the people who served his food, and the sacrifices he offered at the LORD's temple.
  5. (SEE 10:4)
  6. She said: Solomon, in my own country I had heard about your wisdom and all you've done.
  7. But I didn't believe it until I saw it with my own eyes! And there's so much I didn't hear about. You are wiser and richer than I was told.
  8. Your wives and officials are lucky to be here where they can listen to the wise things you say.
  9. I praise the LORD your God. He is pleased with you and has made you king of Israel. The LORD loves Israel, so he has given them a king who will rule fairly and honestly.
  10. The Queen of Sheba gave Solomon almost five tons of gold, many jewels, and more spices than anyone had ever brought into Israel.
  11. In return, Solomon gave her the gifts he would have given any other ruler, but he also gave her everything else she wanted. Then she and her officials went back to their own country. King Hiram's ships brought gold, juniper wood, and jewels from the country of Ophir. Solomon used the wood to make steps for the temple and palace, and harps and other stringed instruments for the musicians. It was the best juniper wood anyone in Israel had ever seen.
  12. (SEE 10:11)
  13. (SEE 10:11)
  14. Solomon received about twenty-five tons of gold a year.
  15. The merchants and traders, as well as the kings of Arabia and rulers from Israel, also gave him gold.
  16. Solomon made two hundred gold shields and used about seven and a half pounds of gold for each one.
  17. He also made three hundred smaller gold shields, using almost four pounds for each one, and he put the shields in his palace in Forest Hall.
  18. His throne was made of ivory and covered with pure gold.
  19. The back of the throne was rounded at the top, and it had armrests on each side. There was a statue of a lion on both sides of the throne, and there was a statue of a lion at both ends of each of the six steps leading up to the throne. No other throne in the world was like Solomon's.
  20. (SEE 10:19)
  21. Since silver was almost worthless in those days, everything was made of gold, even the cups and dishes used in Forest Hall.
  22. Solomon had a lot of seagoing ships. Every three years he sent them out with Hiram's ships to bring back gold, silver, and ivory, as well as monkeys and peacocks.
  23. He was the richest and wisest king in the world.
  24. People from every nation wanted to hear the wisdom God had given him.
  25. Year after year people came and brought gifts of silver and gold, as well as clothes, weapons, spices, horses, or mules.
  26. Solomon had one thousand four hundred chariots and twelve thousand horses that he kept in Jerusalem and other towns.
  27. While he was king, there was silver everywhere in Jerusalem, and cedar was as common as ordinary sycamore trees in the foothills.
  28. Solomon's merchants bought his horses and chariots in the regions of Musri and Kue. They paid about fifteen pounds of silver for a chariot and almost four pounds of silver for a horse. They also sold horses and chariots to the Hittite and Syrian kings.
  29. (SEE 10:28)

Early in Solomon's reign, God promised him wisdom and understanding along with riches and honor. He promised that "no man in any kingdom will be your equal during your entire life." (3:13) So chapter 10 is as much a commentary on God's faithfulness and power as it is on Solomon's wealth and wisdom. God fulfilled each of these promises. Not only was He faithful, but He was capable.

Along with God's promises to Solomon there were stipulations, though, that Solomon "walk in My (God's) ways and keep My statutes and commandments just as your father David did," (3:14) This Solomon did for the most part, but we see hints of his yielding to temptation in violation of the Lord's commands found in Deuteronomy 17: "he (the king) must not acquire many horses for himself or send the people back to Egypt to acquire many horses, for the LORD has told you, 'You are never to go back that way again.' He must not acquire many wives for himself so that his heart won't go astray. He must not acquire very large amounts of silver and gold for himself." (Deut 17:16-17) Solomon was yielding to all of these temptations: many horses from Egypt, many wives, and large amounts of silver and gold. It seemed innocent enough, for there is nothing innately wrong with these things except, as is pointed out in Deuteronomy, they are prone to cause one's heart to go astray.

The queen of Sheba paid a visit to Solomon to test whether he lived up to his reputation for wisdom and knowledge. "Nothing was too difficult for the king to explain to her." (10:3) Her observance of his food and servants and burnt offerings to the Lord "took her breath away." (10:5) Her conclusion was that "Your wisdom and prosperity far exceed the report I heard." (10:7)  She praised the God of Israel and spoke of "the Lord's eternal love for Israel" for making Solomon king "to carry out justice and righteousness." (10:9) Then she gave him further wealth as gifts: "four and a half tons of gold, a great quantity of spices, and precious stones." This was no doubt offset by the gifts he gave her, for he gave "the queen of Sheba her every desire--whatever she asked--besides what he had given her out of his royal bounty." (10:13)

Verses 14-29 further describe Solomon's wealth: his gold and silver, the exotic wood, his elaborate ivory throne, and his chariots and horses.  Verse 27 says that "The king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones, and he made cedar as abundant as sycamore in the Judean foothills."  And verse 24 tells us "The whole world wanted an audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom that God had put in his heart." Can any person gain such wealth and honor and remain humble?