Reforming Too LateMonday, October 01, 2018
In 2 Kings 22, we think we know the script. A good king, Josiah, succeeds a basically wicked king, Amon. Josiah orders a renovation of the temple, and during the renovation, the priest Hilkiah rediscovers the book of the Law. Josiah compares what he is doing to what he ought to be doing, tears his clothes, and repents.
Immediately, a delegation of Judahite higher-ups goes in search of Huldah the prophetess to figure out what happens next. This is where God says, “Now that you’ve repented, everything’s going to be OK.” Right?
Wrong. Instead, Huldah’s oracle is dire indeed. Despite Josiah’s reforms, Judah is still going to be destroyed. God’s people passed the point of no return during the reign of Manasseh. They have become so wicked that He can no longer tolerate them, and their defeat and exile are now inevitable. Josiah’s godliness has merely postponed the disaster until after his death.
This is important. Too much of the time, God’s people harbor a bad case of tomorrow-itis. Tomorrow is when they’re going to get their spiritual houses in order. Tomorrow is when they’re going to start reading their Bibles regularly. Tomorrow is when they’re going to lead their children to put God first in everything. Tomorrow is when they’re going to become plus members of the congregation. Tomorrow is when they’re going to talk to their neighbors about the Lord.
In response to this, gospel preachers like to point out two things. First, none of us are guaranteed tomorrow. Second, for a lot of brethren, “tomorrow” never becomes today. They spend their earthly lives with a head full of good intentions that they never put into practice.
I’ve said both of those things and agree with them. However, as we see from the story of Josiah, there’s a third problem. Tomorrow may come too late. Josiah was the most righteous king that Judah ever had, but even he couldn’t reverse his nation’s spiritual decline. If he had lived 50 or 100 years earlier, he might have been able to change its course, but as Manasseh’s son, there was nothing he could do to make a long-term difference.
So too for us. Even during our lives, there will come a point where we will no longer be able to repair the ravages of spiritual neglect. That point might not be obvious. Our sixteen-year-old son may still be coming to church (because we make him), but he may already have resolved that once he leaves home, he’s never going to darken that doorway again. Two years ago, we might have changed his mind, but not now. Now, we’re just playing out the string. The same can also be true of being a plus member or leading a lost friend to Christ. Those windows can close too.
I don’t know how open the windows are, in my life or anybody else’s. I do know, though, that now is the earliest we can act. We can’t change our yesterdays, but we can change today. Today, we can start doing what we know we always should have done. The sooner we start, the less likely we are to be too late.
Why Israel FellWednesday, September 26, 2018
2 Kings 17 is one of the most overlooked great chapters of the Bible. In the first part of the chapter, the wicked nation of Israel meets with its final defeat. In the rest of the chapter, the author of Kings explains why this happened. It wasn’t due to military inferiority. It was due to their refusal to honor God. In particular, he identifies these sins:
- They feared other gods. (17:7)
- They walked in the customs of the nations that had preceded them. (17:8)
- They followed their leaders when those leaders did evil. (17:8)
- They practiced secret sin. (17:9)
- They worshiped God in unlawful high places. (17:9)
- They mixed the worship of God with idolatry. (17:11)
- They served idols. (17:12)
- They ignored God’s prophets. (17:14)
- They despised God’s statutes, covenant, and warnings. (17:15)
- They were unfaithful to God. (17:15)
- They imitated the nations around them. (17:15)
- They abandoned the commandments of God. (17:16)
- They made their own gods. (17:16)
- They sacrificed their sons and daughters. (17:17)
- They used witchcraft. (17:17)
In 17:18, we see the result: “Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them out of His sight.” If you’re feeling in need of a shudder, just contemplate what it means to have the Lord not only angry, but very angry at you! More subtle, but no less ominous, is the thought of being removed from His sight forever.
All of this is not some mere historical footnote. We serve God under a different covenant, but it’s all too possible for us to imitate the sin of Israel. In one way or another, nearly everything on the list is something that can ensnare us. We too can destroy ourselves by imitating the people around us, worshiping idols (money, pleasure, the good opinion of others, and so on), despising the commandments of God, and ignoring those who try to warn us. In fact, it’s probably true that every day, Christians fall away from the Lord by doing exactly these things.
Israel was destroyed, but we don’t have to be. However, if we want to avoid Israel’s fate, we have to be faithful where she chose to be faithless. If we fail in this, God will surely remove us from His sight too.
The Problem with Jeroboam IITuesday, September 18, 2018
In any secular history book, Jeroboam II would look like a successful king. He reigned for 41 years in an age when length of reign correlated with political power. Militarily, he was one of the greatest commanders among the monarchs of Israel. During his reign, he brought the seesaw wars between Israel and Syria to a victorious conclusion. By the time he was done, Jeroboam II had conquered not only the Syrian capital of Damascus but even the city of Hamath, 100 miles further north. Not since the reign of Solomon had Israelite power reached so far.
However, there was a problem. Even though God had used Jeroboam II to deliver Israel from Syrian oppression, he himself was not a righteous man. 1 Kings 14:24 reports that he was every bit as idolatrous as his namesake, Jeroboam the son of Nebat.
As a result, even though Jeroboam II’s success was impressive, it wasn’t lasting. His son and successor Zechariah only reigned for six months before being assassinated in a palace coup. None of the subsequent kings of Israel came close to Jeroboam II’s success, and during the reign of Hoshea, the Assyrians carried the Israelites off into captivity. Under Jeroboam II, Israel prospered for a time, but because they didn’t build on a foundation of godliness, they did not endure.
We do well to remember that this same principle applies today. Everywhere around us, we see people and institutions that are apparently prospering despite their rejection of God’s will. Men who love money more than anything else build thriving businesses. Churches that have abandoned the New Testament have thousands of people in attendance on Sunday morning. Those within our nation who advocate turning our backs on God appear to be growing more powerful every year.
However, as was the case with Jeroboam II, success without God only sows the seeds of later disaster. Men who sacrifice their families on the altar of business ambition generally come to regret it on their deathbeds if not before. Churches that thrive because of a charismatic pastor and a fast-and-loose approach to the Scriptures hardly ever continue to prosper after the pastor exits the pulpit. Similarly, those in our nation who take their stand against the Lord will do no better than similar challengers have for millennia.
Sometimes, it’s hard for us to bear with the success of the wicked, especially when in our own judgment, we ourselves aren’t succeeding nearly as well. However, a longer-term perspective will reveal the truth. As Psalm 1 puts it, the wicked are like chaff that the wind drives away. Only the righteous will endure like a tree planted beside a stream. At best, the wicked can hope to be like Jeroboam II, but even being like Jeroboam II isn’t very good.
Failing to Taste God's BlessingsTuesday, September 11, 2018
The first half of 2 Kings is an odd document in many ways, but it has some profound spiritual lessons to offer us. One of them comes from the story of the siege of Samaria in 2 Kings 6-7. In this story, the city is besieged by the Syrian army, and things have gotten so desperate that the citizens are eating their own children.
In this midst of this terrible, apparently hopeless, time, Elisha promises the Israelite king, Jehoram, that the very next day, food would be sold in Samaria for pre-siege prices. One of Jehoram’s captains sneers at this. He questions God’s ability to provide such a bounty, even if He were to open windows in heaven. In reply, Elisha tells him “You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat of it.”
That night, God frightens the Syrians so that they flee, leaving all of their provisions behind. The people receive word of this, dash out to the Syrian camp, and loot it, so that Elisha’s incredible prediction is fulfilled. The only loser is the skeptical captain. The king had put him in charge of the gate, so that when the Israelites rush out, they trample him, and he dies. He did indeed see God’s salvation, but his unbelief kept him from benefiting from it.
Sadly, all too many people are in the midst of re-enacting this story. As the word of God’s salvation came to the unbelieving captain, so it comes to them. They too learn that God promises them life. However, also like the captain, they choose to sneer rather than believe. Resurrection from the dead? Impossible!
God may not reveal His final salvation tomorrow, but just as surely as the word of Elisha was fulfilled, so too will the word of Christ be. On the day when He returns, every eye will see Him. Every knee will bow before Him. Every tongue will confess Him.
However, even though everyone will see the fulfillment of the promise, not everyone will taste it. God’s blessings are reserved for His own. They will spend eternity sustaining themselves with the Bread of Heaven and drinking His living water. The unbelieving will not. Instead, the same appearance that meant life for the faithful will mean death for them.
The devil likes to try to get us to dwell on the problems that may come with belief. We won’t get to do fun things anymore, our friends will laugh at us, the smart set will sneer at us, and so on. In practice, these problems prove either to be insignificant or nonexistent.
Against them, though, we must set the very real problems that accompany unbelief. The skeptical captain probably spent his last few hours congratulating himself on his wit. We may spend our last several decades congratulating ourselves on our superior understanding. In time, though, the folly of faithlessness always becomes evident. We will see the salvation of God whether we expect to or not. Whether we taste it is up to us.