Daniel Part 1

Last week we talked about the significance of the exile, how it caused a crisis of faith in the people of Israel that now their land was captive and they were ruled by foreign powers—particularly King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. However, it isn’t just called the exile because their land was conquered, but because this Babylonian king removed people from the land and sent them into Babylon, to live in a strange place among strangers who didn’t share their culture. Today we’re going to study one of these stories, of some young men suddenly in a strange and foreign land.

Grab your Bibles and turn to the book of Daniel. Someone please read Daniel 1:1-5.

 In the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 The Lord let King Jehoiakim of Judah fall into his power, as well as some of the vessels of the house of God. These he brought to the land of Shinar,[a] and placed the vessels in the treasury of his gods.

3 Then the king commanded his palace master Ashpenaz to bring some of the Israelites of the royal family and of the nobility, 4 young men without physical defect and handsome, versed in every branch of wisdom, endowed with knowledge and insight, and competent to serve in the king’s palace; they were to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans. 5 The king assigned them a daily portion of the royal rations of food and wine. They were to be educated for three years, so that at the end of that time they could be stationed in the king’s court. 6 Among them were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, from the tribe of Judah. 7 The palace master gave them other names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.

Nebuchadnezzar takes over. He plunders the land and temple, taking the precious gold and silver and fine woods used to build the Temple, and destroying it. He takes it all back to Babylon. But it’s not just stuff he takes. He wants young people—particular healthy, handsome, and bright young men from the royal family. He takes them to Babylon, brings them into his own palace and teaches them about Babylon and it’s ways.

Why does he do this? This might seem strange to us. But remember, Nebuchadnezzar was the leader of an empire. Large empires need governors and leaders, because the king himself can’t oversee everything, just like the President can’t oversee the whole of the United States himself. We have governors and Senators and all sorts of people. Nebuchadnezzar was probably in general always looking for smart young people to grow up into leaders, but he particularly chose young people of the ruling class from Judah. Probably with the intent to train them up in the Babylonian way and then send them back to Judah to rule, so he could say, “Here is one of your own to rule you.” And while that person would be born of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar wanted that person to think like a Babylonian, to be his lieutenant as much as any Babylonian would. That’s why he’s training them in the language and books of Babylon.

There would also be another less kind political reason, which is by turning the royal family and nobles of Judah into his servants, Nebuchadnezzar is making a statement that even the highest in Judah is still lower than him, still serves him, and is nothing compared to him.

For three years it says they were to be trained, before entering the king’s service. During this time they were given the sort of food that the king himself ate. This would be luxurious, possibly even better than anything they had at home, because Babylon was so much larger than Judah and would have more resources.

Several young men were taken from Judah but this story is about four particular ones. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. But these are all names of Israel, names that reflect their God in how they’re constructed. The “el” ending and “iah” ending both point to names of God, El being a common name for God—the one Abraham used before the name of Yahweh is used, and the “iah” ending pointing directly to the name “Yahweh.” This wouldn’t be acceptable in the courts of Babylon, not when you’re trying to make these people Babylonians. So they were given new names, names that fit in better. Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Giving people names that fit in better with the local population is actually a really common assimilation practice, one that’s still done by many today. Many times immigrants to new countries choose names that fit in the local language better. That’s not wrong. Sometimes they don’t want to seem different, sometimes they want to be like everyone else. Sometimes they don’t want to hear their original name butchered daily by people who can’t pronounce it. However, this is not the case with these guys. They’re not choosing new names. These names are being forced upon them. And that is wrong. That has happened in American history too. Native Americans being forced to choose “Christian” names rather than keep the names their parents gave them. People who emigrated through Ellis Island being told their names were too hard and being changed randomly by whichever official was writing their name down in the books. These people are not given a choice about whether they want their long Polish last name shortened to two syllables. This is not okay. And it wasn’t okay with Daniel and his friends.

Let’s see what happens to these young men in the Babylonian court. Someone please read Daniel 1:8-14.

8 But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine; so he asked the palace master to allow him not to defile himself. 9 Now God allowed Daniel to receive favor and compassion from the palace master. 10 The palace master said to Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king; he has appointed your food and your drink. If he should see you in poorer condition than the other young men of your own age, you would endanger my head with the king.” 11 Then Daniel asked the guard whom the palace master had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: 12 “Please test your servants for ten days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 You can then compare our appearance with the appearance of the young men who eat the royal rations, and deal with your servants according to what you observe.” 14 So he agreed to this proposal and tested them for ten days.

We already mentioned that the king was basically feeding them from his table, but we didn’t talk about what that meant. Here it says that Daniel did not want to “defile” himself with the food from the royal table. What does that mean? Does it mean the food from the royal table was spoiled or poisoned in some way? No. Was it super unhealthy food, like just cookies and cakes all the time? Maybe, but that wouldn’t have been Daniel’s concern. Our first clue is that word “defile.” Another way to translate it might be “unclean.” And if we translate that maybe that sounds familiar.

Because remember, Daniel is from Judah. He’s an Israealite. This is the first time period where we will start hearing the people of Israel referred to as Jewish or Jews, as basically a shorthand for the people of Judah and Jerusalem. Jewish people have to follow the law in order to be right with God, and part of that involves eating the right foods. In modern words we call this kosher.

There are many types of food that people who follow the kosher laws won’t eat like pig or shrimp. And here Daniel is in a foreign court, that basically wants him to forget he’s Jewish and become a Babylonian, and eat all the things that Babylonians eat.

It would have been really easy for Daniel to go along with this. After all, this is one of the worst kinds of pressure there is—not peer pressure but like boss pressure. Your boss is telling you to do something. And if you don’t do it? Well in Daniel’s case he wouldn’t be worried about being fired from a job, but maybe killed or imprisoned. The whole point of Nebudchanezzar bringing these young men to Babylon is to teach them to be Babylonian and here is Daniel refusing, determining to stay Jewish.

But it’s also more than that. Remember Daniel was just deported from the Promised Land. His entire reality and culture has been shattered. What he thought God meant about the Promised Land and the future of the Israelites seems not to be the case. It would be really easy for him to decide that maybe all those laws were stupid—after all God didn’t uphold his end of the bargain why should Daniel uphold his end? But instead Daniel is re-asserting his identity and relationship with God. Just because he has been Exiled, just because he is in a strange land, doesn’t mean he is not a child of God, and doesn’t mean he’s exempt from the laws God would like him to follow. Daniel will stay true, he will stay faithful, even through this season of uncertainty.

So Daniel goes to the guy in charge of them—the palace master, which is probably the guy who runs the whole palace, sort of like Carson in Downton Abbey if you’ve ever watched that—and asks if he can eat different food.

Now this palace master he has compassion for Daniel and his friends, but he’s afraid of his king. What will the king say? The palace master is particularly worried because the food of the kings table is considered the best food, so if Daniel is eating less than the best and because of that he gets unhealthy? The king will probably blame the palace master. So he basically says no.

So Daniel backs up and goes to his own guard, who is in charge of himself and his friends. HE says, “What if we do a test for ten days? For ten days let us eat our way and we’ll see if we get sick. If we get sick, we go back to your ways, if we don’t, well no harm no foul.” The guard thinks on this, thinks its reasonable, so they agree.

Someone please read Daniel 1:15-20.

15 At the end of ten days it was observed that they appeared better and fatter than all the young men who had been eating the royal rations. 16 So the guard continued to withdraw their royal rations and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. 17 To these four young men God gave knowledge and skill in every aspect of literature and wisdom; Daniel also had insight into all visions and dreams.

18 At the end of the time that the king had set for them to be brought in, the palace master brought them into the presence of Nebuchadnezzar, 19 and the king spoke with them. And among them all, no one was found to compare with Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; therefore they were stationed in the king’s court. 20 In every matter of wisdom and understanding concerning which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.

For ten days Daniel and his friend eat what kosher foods are available to them—which seems to be mostly vegetables. Why is that? It’s not like Jewish people are vegetarian. Well because kosher meat isn’t just about what kind of animal it is, it’s about how that animal is killed. So the Babylonians wouldn’t kill the animals and prepare the meat in a kosher manner, so the only things that Daniel could know is safe is going to be vegetables. So Daniel and his friends basically go vegetarian.

And lo and behold, they don’t end up any unhealthier than the other young men, in fact the Bible says they appear better and fatter. Remember in this case, fatter would be considered healthier. Because skinny back then usually meant you were starving. So it’s not really “fat” and “skinny” like we might think about it verses “starvation” and “you look like you actually get three square meals a day.”

It also says that God gave them knowledge and skill and wisdom, and that Daniel in particular had visions and dreams—Daniel we’re going to see is a prophet of God.

So after their three years of training, finally the palace master brings them before the king himself, Nebuchadnezzar. And the king talks to all of the young men who studied for those three years, but he finds that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah are the best and that no one else can compare. So while I’m sure the other young men got decent jobs, these four young men get the best jobs—working for the king himself, in his own court. And the king finds their wisdom and understanding better than everyone else in the kingdom. So it will be Daniel and his three friends that the king finds himself relying on and going to for advice. We see this played out in the very next chapter.

Someone please read Daniel 2:1-11.

In the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar dreamed such dreams that his spirit was troubled and his sleep left him. 2 So the king commanded that the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans be summoned to tell the king his dreams. When they came in and stood before the king, 3 he said to them, “I have had such a dream that my spirit is troubled by the desire to understand it.” 4 The Chaldeans said to the king (in Aramaic),[a] “O king, live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will reveal the interpretation.” 5 The king answered the Chaldeans, “This is a public decree: if you do not tell me both the dream and its interpretation, you shall be torn limb from limb, and your houses shall be laid in ruins. 6 But if you do tell me the dream and its interpretation, you shall receive from me gifts and rewards and great honor. Therefore tell me the dream and its interpretation.” 7 They answered a second time, “Let the king first tell his servants the dream, then we can give its interpretation.” 8 The king answered, “I know with certainty that you are trying to gain time, because you see I have firmly decreed: 9 if you do not tell me the dream, there is but one verdict for you. You have agreed to speak lying and misleading words to me until things take a turn. Therefore, tell me the dream, and I shall know that you can give me its interpretation.” 10 The Chaldeans answered the king, “There is no one on earth who can reveal what the king demands! In fact no king, however great and powerful, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean. 11 The thing that the king is asking is too difficult, and no one can reveal it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with mortals.”

One night the king has a deeply troubling dream and he has no idea what it means. So he summons everyone who might interpret it—magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, everyone. And he tells them he had this terrible dream.

These men respond, “Oh my! Tell us what the dream is and we’ll interpret it for you.” But this is not a course of action that pleases the king. He doesn’t want to tell them the dream just for them to make up some possibly fake interpretation. If they’re so wise and who they say they are, then they should know what he dreamed without him telling them.

The men are like, “that’s impossible. You have to tell us the dream so we can interpret it.” But the king is incessant. He wants them to tell him what they think he dreamed, so he can know they are the real thing and will give him a real interpretation.

To the surprise of no one—except maybe the king—these men can’t do that. They say no one can do it, that what the king is asking is crazy. Needless to say this doesn’t make the king happy. In fact the king gets so angry, he decides every wise man in the land should be killed—and this includes Daniel and his friends, who it seems weren’t present for the initial discussion about the dream.

Let’s see what Daniel’s response to this will be. Someone please read Daniel 2:12-19.

12 Because of this the king flew into a violent rage and commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be destroyed. 13 The decree was issued, and the wise men were about to be executed; and they looked for Daniel and his companions, to execute them. 14 Then Daniel responded with prudence and discretion to Arioch, the king’s chief executioner, who had gone out to execute the wise men of Babylon; 15 he asked Arioch, the royal official, “Why is the decree of the king so urgent?” Arioch then explained the matter to Daniel. 16 So Daniel went in and requested that the king give him time and he would tell the king the interpretation.

17 Then Daniel went to his home and informed his companions, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 18 and told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions with the rest of the wise men of Babylon might not perish. 19 Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night, and Daniel blessed the God of heaven.

 Daniel asks for time to consider the kings decree, and it seems its granted. So he goes home to his three friends, and the four them they pray. They pray hard. Because if God doesn’t help them out here, they’re dead. All the wise men in Babylon will be dead. So they pray with all their might.

And God answers. He reveals to Daniel what the dream is, and then Daniel spends the next several verses praising God for being so infinite and wise and choosing to share some of that knowledge with Daniel.

Someone please read Daniel 2:24-30.

24 Therefore Daniel went to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to destroy the wise men of Babylon, and said to him, “Do not destroy the wise men of Babylon; bring me in before the king, and I will give the king the interpretation.”

25 Then Arioch quickly brought Daniel before the king and said to him: “I have found among the exiles from Judah a man who can tell the king the interpretation.” 26 The king said to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, “Are you able to tell me the dream that I have seen and its interpretation?” 27 Daniel answered the king, “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or diviners can show to the king the mystery that the king is asking, 28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has disclosed to King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen at the end of days. Your dream and the visions of your head as you lay in bed were these: 29 To you, O king, as you lay in bed, came thoughts of what would be hereafter, and the revealer of mysteries disclosed to you what is to be. 30 But as for me, this mystery has not been revealed to me because of any wisdom that I have more than any other living being, but in order that the interpretation may be known to the king and that you may understand the thoughts of your mind.

Daniel goes to the guy who is supposed to kill him and is like “STOP. Don’t kill anyone! I can give the king his interpretation.”

So they quickly bring Daniel before the king. And the king is like, “You sure you can do this kid?”

Now this would be a chance for Daniel to claim all the credit, to talk about how amazing he is, and how he knows all these mysteries. Instead, Daniel places the credit where it belongs, with God—who knows all and deemed to give Daniel a glimpse of that knowledge.

In the next section Daniel tells the king what his dream was. It’s about a mighty statue made of many materials being broken into pieces and disappearing. And then Daniel tells the king what it means. It’s about the kingdoms that shall rise and fall after Nebuchadnezzar’s own, and how in the end they shall all disappear until God decides to set up an everlasting kingdom.

Let’s see how Nebuchadnezzar reacts to this knowledge that eventually his own kingdom will fall and others replace it. Someone please read Daniel 2:46-49.

46 Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face, worshiped Daniel, and commanded that a grain offering and incense be offered to him. 47 The king said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery!” 48 Then the king promoted Daniel, gave him many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. 49 Daniel made a request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon. But Daniel remained at the king’s court.

Some kings would kill Daniel for such words, but this king falls on his face and worships Daniel. He offers him grains and incense, like Daniel is a god. But his words seem to say it’s for Daniel’s God—because his God revealed truly the King’s dream and revealed it’s mystery. Then in the end, Daniel is promoted,  made the head of all the wise-men and ruler of the province of Babylon—the home province, the most important one.

But Daniel doesn’t forget his friends who helped him pray to God. And he requests they be promoted to. And together these four Jewish boys, become four of the most important men in Babylon, even though they are strangers in a strange land.

We’ll pick up with more of their story next week.

The Importance of the Exile

We’re going to start a little differently today, by doing a Bible reading first off. So please grab your Bibles and turn to 2 Kings 24. Someone please read 2 Kings 24:10-16.

 10 At that time the servants of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came up to Jerusalem, and the city was besieged. 11 King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to the city, while his servants were besieging it; 12 King Jehoiachin of Judah gave himself up to the king of Babylon, himself, his mother, his servants, his officers, and his palace officials. The king of Babylon took him prisoner in the eighth year of his reign.

13 He carried off all the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king’s house; he cut in pieces all the vessels of gold in the temple of the Lord, which King Solomon of Israel had made, all this as the Lord had foretold. 14 He carried away all Jerusalem, all the officials, all the warriors, ten thousand captives, all the artisans and the smiths; no one remained, except the poorest people of the land. 15 He carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon; the king’s mother, the king’s wives, his officials, and the elite of the land, he took into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon. 16 The king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon all the men of valor, seven thousand, the artisans and the smiths, one thousand, all of them strong and fit for war.

This is it. This is what the Bible has been warning people were coming for a while. A foreign king—King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon—has conquered Judah. He has plundered the land, particularly it says he takes everything from the Temple. This is basically the destruction of the Temple of God—the thing that represents God’s home on earth, the heart of Israel, and now it’s destroyed. And then he carries off all the important people—official, soldiers, people with skills, and only leaves the absolute poorest in the land—probably so they can work the land for the Babylonians. He takes all these people away and brings them into Babylon.

Judah is gone.

The people of Israel are in Exile.

This is a big deal.

People are torn from their homes. From their land. From their people. From their families. Their entire country is destroyed.

But that’s not why this is a big deal to them. To remember why it’s a big deal, we have to remember who these people are and the stories they believe about themselves and have told themselves about their place in the universe and their relationship with their God.

And to do that, we have to remember where we started.

Once upon a time, there was a man named Abram. He was a wealthy, older man, from a place called Haran. If we look at that map, we can see where Haran is, and strangely it’s in the middle of the area that would later become Babylon.

Abram wasn’t of any special birth. His people were the people who would later become Babylonians. Other than his wealth and status, nothing really made him special—in fact, if there was one downside to his life, it was that he and his wife had no kids and were now too old to have kids. So they had all this wealth and status, but one of the really things they wanted was kids. And they had none.

And then one day, Abram heard from God. As a Babylonian, Abram probably had a lot of gods he would have grown up knowing about, but this God spoke to Abram.

This God claimed Abram as his own, saying he would make his name great and give him children that would become many nations. All Abram had to do was obey.

And the first test of Abram’s obedience was God asked him to move to a new land that God would show him and give to him.  This land was far away from Haran, because remember this is in the ancient times. To travel a group as large as Abram’s family, servants, and property, there would be a lot of slow walking.

But Abram obeyed and he and his family traveled all the way from Haran to a new land that at the time was called Canaan. It was a beautiful land between a river and the sea and when he got there God said to Abram, “To your descendants I will give this land.”

Even as well off and rich as Abram was, this would probably seem crazy. Abram was wealthy, but he didn’t own even a city. To say all this land would belong to his descendants? That he would be the father of an entire nation? Abram didn’t even have any kids! I’m sure he wondered how that would even be possible, and if maybe this new God of his was a little crazy.

But Abram trusted God, trusted that this land would belong to him and his children and his children’s children. And he and God made a covenant, in which God told Abram that God would be the God of Abram’s entire line, all of his children and descendants forever. That he would make them a great nation, in this new land, and that he would always and forever have their back.

God changed Abram and his wife’s name as a sign of this covenant, to Abraham and Sarah. And while both Abraham and Sarah had laughed at the thought of God giving them a child, in the end he did give them a child, a boy named Isaac.

God’s covenant and promise didn’t stop with Abraham. It extended to Isaac, and to Isaac’s sons, Jacob and Esau.

Jacob and Esau had some intense sibling rivalries. They were twins but Esau was the first born, the one who should have inherited the land and the wealth. But in the end Jacob bargained for and stole Esau’s birthright and blessing, and Esau was so furious that Jacob fled from the land that God had given his family. He fled back to the land of the Chaldeans, the land that would one day be the empire of Babylon.

Jacob made a home there. He married two women and had eleven sons and a daughter while he was there. He could have stayed with his father-in-law Laban his entire life and inherited his father-in-law’s land and wealth, since Jacob had married both of the man’s daughters. But this wasn’t his land, wasn’t the land God had intended him to be on, so even though he was afraid that Esau would kill him the moment he stepped back into Canaan, he took his family and he went back.

On the journey back Jacob had an encounter with a stranger who basically attacked him and Jacob wrestled him all night. Jacob demanded a blessing from this stranger, and it turned out this stranger was God. Because Jacob had wrestled with God and men, God renamed him “Israel.”

With a new name, Israel crossed back into the land of his people, the Promised Land.

Esau did not kill him, but instead greeted him with joy, and they lived there in the Promised Land—given to them by God—for many years.

But Jacob had twelve sons, and they inherited the sibling rivalry of their father’s generation. They hated their youngest brother, Joseph, because Jacob favored him. They hated him so much they wanted to murder him. But instead, they sold Joseph to some passing slave traders.

They told Jacob that his favored son was dead, and Jacob believed it and mourned.

But Joseph was not dead. He was taken to Egypt and sold to a man named Potiphar.

Joseph was a stranger in a strange land, a land that was immense and wealthy, with a ruler who viewed himself as a god. It would have been easy for Joseph to try to assimilate and become like the Egyptians in order to not draw attention to himself, to worship the Egyptian gods, and to recognize the pharaoh as the god-king he claimed to be.

But Joseph refused. He stayed loyal to God and tried to live as God would have him. This landed him in some trouble, when he refused to the seduction of his master’s wife. He ended up in jail where he languished for many years.

Joseph remained loyal to God, even at this incredibly low point in his life where he was literally rotting in jail far away from his home land, with no family or person to even care he was there. He probably thought he might die in that jail. But while in jail he met two servants of the pharaoh and he interpreted their strange dreams accurately.

One died. But one—the cupbearer, the man trusted with ensuring Pharaoh’s own cup was not poisoned—lived. He forgot Joseph for two years, but then when he heard that Pharaoh had a dream, he remembered Joseph who had accurately interpreted his dream.

Joseph was pulled out of jail. Pharaoh described his dream which no one else understood. And Joseph told him that it meant there would be seven years of plenty, and seven years of famine in all the land. He also then proposed how Pharaoh and Egypt could survive this—by storing up all the grain during the years of plenty and ration it out to the people during the famine.

Pharaoh was so impressed that he made Joseph his second in command, to execute this plan. So suddenly Joseph, a slave, was the second most powerful man in the most powerful nation in the world.

Meanwhile famine hit the land of Canaan, and Jacob and his sons were starving. They heard there was food in Egypt, so Jacob’s sons went to Egypt to ask for food.

There were some shenanigans involving Joseph pretending to be someone else and testing his brother’s to see if they had changed their ways, but the end result was that Joseph was reunited with his family, and all of the house of Jacob moved to Egypt to survive this terrible famine.

God used Joseph’s horrible situation of becoming a slave to save Jacob and his sons from this famine.

But in Egypt they were slaves, like Joseph. And their children’s children were slaves. And at first maybe things were okay while they remembered Joseph and his actions that saved Egypt. But over time, things got worse and worse for the descendants of Jacob.

These people, who were supposed to be God’s chosen people, were no longer free, no longer in the land God had given them, and as they became more and more oppressed, they began to think maybe God had forgotten them.

But God raised up a deliverer, a man called Moses. He was saved from Pharaoh’s wrath by his mother who floated him down the Nile river. He was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses grew up and ended up fleeing Egypt alone, and going to live in the land of Midian.

Moses could have stayed there forever. He married a woman named Zipporah. He had kids. He could have stayed there forever. But one day he had an encounter with God in the form of a burning bush.

This God told him he was the God of “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” the God of Moses’s ancestors. And he told him his name, a sacred name of Yahweh, which meant “I am who I am.” God called Moses to go back to Egypt to free his people and return them to the land which God had promised to Abraham.

Moses didn’t want to. He didn’t think he was cut out for that kind of work. But in the end, he obeyed. He went back to Egypt. He spoke against Pharaoh. He represented God as God sent wonders and plagues down on Egypt to show the Egyptians once and for all that the God of the Hebrews was more powerful than the gods of the Egyptians. And in the end, the descendants of Jacob were able to leave Egypt to go back to the land of Jacob, the land of Israel.

It was a hard journey and on their way home they stopped by Mount Sinai and Moses talk to God and received the laws that would govern their people. In the end because of some disobedience, it took them forty years to reach the Promised Land, the land of Jacob who was also called Israel.

Finally they were home. God led them to victory against the Canaanites who lived there already, and the people of Israel were home.

In Israel they flourished. God led them to victory against invaders and preserved them through tumultuous time. They became a nation with a king who led them to victory and enabled them to build a Temple.

And then…suddenly. It’s all gone.

Babylon has taken them over. Defeated them. Exiled them.

Why did we recap this? What does this all mean?

Israel is the Promised Land. That God promised Abraham at the very beginning. God promised Abraham that this would be his land forever, it would belong to his descendants forever. And yes, for a brief period of time, God moved them to Egypt so they would survive the famine and things went bad there, but in the end God restored them to the Promised Land, and they flourished. And God had their back. And promised them that a son of David would rule Israel forever.


Imagine discovering that forever wasn’t as long as you thought. Apparently forever only meant until the Babylonians showed up and killed your king’s line.

This would be an extreme crisis of faith, the likes of which it’s hard for us to understand. People would suddenly doubt everything. Had Israel been promised to Abraham? Did God mean what he said about David? Did God even care?

Who even are they as a people if God would allow such a thing to happen? What does it mean to be the people of Israel if there is no Israel? What does it mean to be God’s chosen people if God allowed them to be conquered? Why would God allow them to be conquered? Why would God allow his Temple, his home on this earth, to be destroyed? What did any of this mean?

These questions plagued them. Suddenly they were asking themselves if there was any point to their culture, to their way of life, to their religion, and their God.

To answer this, they wrote down their stories. Remember for a long time these stories of Abraham, Jacob, and Moses would have been handed down in an oral tradition. So scholars wrote the stories down. They wrote down the history of their people as they understood it. They wrote down their wisdom, their thoughts on God, and their rationale on why God would allow this to happen.

And in these stories, they found hope.

With the stories of Joshua they remembered that their God was powerful enough to conquer human powers if he chose. With the stories of Joseph and Moses, they remembered this wasn’t the first time the people of Israel had been removed from the Promised Land and been restored. With their wisdom, they remembered that sometimes times are hard and sometimes life seems futile and rough for no reason, but in the end God is there. With the words of their prophets, they remembered that God had promised that they would survive this. That there was a light at the end of this tunnel.

In Exile, the people of Israel found their identity in a way they never had before. And instead of losing hope and disintegrating as a people, they became more confident in who they were and that even this terrible experience God would use to grow them as a people.

They found faith even in this horrible time that God had their back and would restore them in the end.

They discovered that their faith was not in a nation or a king. But in God.

Once upon a time, there was a man that God created a paradise for. He lived there for many years, but in the end he was exiled from Paradise. This is the story of Adam. This is the story of Israel. This is the story of us. And we have to have faith that even through the times of Exile, the times of horror, the times when it seems like God is nowhere to be found, he is there, he has our back, and one day he will restore us all to Paradise.

This is our faith, a faith that truly discovered who it was in Exile, a faith that can survive Exile. People already have survived it, and we can survive it to if required.

Next week we’ll study one of these stories, of how even in Exile they found their strength and learned that God had their backs. But for today this is where we’ll stop.

Jeremiah Part 2

Last week we started talking about the prophet Jeremiah. He was a major prophet during the years before the Exile, and he went around telling all of Judah about the coming disaster and destruction if they did not turn back to God. But as we talked about last week, the people and especially the leadership of Judah were not receptive to his words. They wanted to kill Jeremiah for what he said, instead of listen and repent.

If they had repented, God would have stopped the coming disaster. Instead, they stayed stubborn in their ways of worshipping other gods and being unjust to each other.

If I was Jeremiah, after they threatened to kill me for my words, I probably would have given up, and been like “I can’t do this any more God. They don’t listen anyway, so what’s the point?” But Jeremiah didn’t stop. He didn’t give up. He continued to work hard and warn people.

Someone please read Jeremiah 36:1-10.

36 In the fourth year of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Take a scroll and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel and Judah and all the nations, from the day I spoke to you, from the days of Josiah until today. It may be that when the house of Judah hears of all the disasters that I intend to do to them, all of them may turn from their evil ways, so that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.

Then Jeremiah called Baruch son of Neriah, and Baruch wrote on a scroll at Jeremiah’s dictation all the words of the Lord that he had spoken to him. And Jeremiah ordered Baruch, saying, “I am prevented from entering the house of the Lord; so you go yourself, and on a fast day in the hearing of the people in the Lord’s house you shall read the words of the Lord from the scroll that you have written at my dictation. You shall read them also in the hearing of all the people of Judah who come up from their towns. It may be that their plea will come before the Lord, and that all of them will turn from their evil ways, for great is the anger and wrath that the Lord has pronounced against this people.” And Baruch son of Neriah did all that the prophet Jeremiah ordered him about reading from the scroll the words of the Lord in the Lord’s house.

In the fifth year of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, in the ninth month, all the people in Jerusalem and all the people who came from the towns of Judah to Jerusalem proclaimed a fast before the Lord. 10 Then, in the hearing of all the people, Baruch read the words of Jeremiah from the scroll, in the house of the Lord, in the chamber of Gemariah son of Shaphan the secretary, which was in the upper court, at the entry of the New Gate of the Lord’s house.

So it’s the fourth year that Jehoaikim is king, four years then since his father Josiah—the last good king of Judah ruled. And Jeremiah has already gotten in trouble with the current king and administration and is basically forbidden from every stepping foot in the Temple again—because that’s where he last addressed the people when we discussed him last week and everyone wanted to kill him. He’s not allowed there anymore to address the people, or for any other reason.

But God still has work for Jeremiah, so he tells him to write down everything he has told him, so the people can still hear it, even if Jeremiah himself can’t go to them. Some people think that this scroll would contain the first few chapters of Jeremiah, probably 1-15, so basically a lot of prophecy of what is to come, that they need to repent, and God will restore them.

So Jeremiah calls a guy named Baruch, who is Jeremiah’s faithful scribe. He dictates the words to Baruch, and Baruch writes it all down. It’s likely that Jeremiah may not know how to write or may not be very good at it, which is why he has a scribe, who is trained in reading and writing do this work for him. But Jeremiah doesn’t just ask Baruch to write down the words, he asks him to go out and read them. Which is asking a lot, since Baruch would be reading the words of a guy who is basically at this time an enemy of the crown. People might want to kill Baruch just like they wanted to kill Jeremiah.  But Baruch does in fact obey Jeremiah.

Baruch goes to the Temple during a time period where a special fast has been called by the king, so everyone is in Jerusalem, even the people who don’t normally live there. And during a fast, a lot of these people, especially the men, are going to be in the Temple, which is where Baruch is reading this scroll.

Alright flip back to Jeremiah 25:1-14, but keep a finger in chapter 36 because we’re coming back to it. This section is the sort of thing that Baruch would be saying and that Jeremiah had been saying for years at this point. Someone read it please.

 25 The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah, in the fourth year of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah (that was the first year of King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon), which the prophet Jeremiah spoke to all the people of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem: For twenty-three years, from the thirteenth year of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah, to this day, the word of the Lord has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened. And though the Lord persistently sent you all his servants the prophets, you have neither listened nor inclined your ears to hear when they said, “Turn now, every one of you, from your evil way and wicked doings, and you will remain upon the land that the Lord has given to you and your ancestors from of old and forever; do not go after other gods to serve and worship them, and do not provoke me to anger with the work of your hands. Then I will do you no harm.” Yet you did not listen to me, says the Lord, and so you have provoked me to anger with the work of your hands to your own harm.

Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words, I am going to send for all the tribes of the north, says the Lord, even for King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these nations around; I will utterly destroy them, and make them an object of horror and of hissing, and an everlasting disgrace.[a10 And I will banish from them the sound of mirth and the sound of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones and the light of the lamp. 11 This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. 12 Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, says the Lord, making the land an everlasting waste. 13 I will bring upon that land all the words that I have uttered against it, everything written in this book, which Jeremiah prophesied against all the nations. 14 For many nations and great kings shall make slaves of them also; and I will repay them according to their deeds and the work of their hands.

A lot of these are point we already studied last week. God—through Jeremiah and the prophets before him—has been pretty consistently telling people the same thing. To turn back to God, and not worship other gods. But the people haven’t listened.

So he tells them he will use the new emperor of Babylon, a guy named Nebudchadrezzar to conquer and punish Judah for seventy years. But he also says the Babylonians won’t get off scot-free either, that eventually they will be punished for their wrong-doings too. But for seventy years, the people of Judah, the remaining Israelites, will live under Babylonian rule. And it will be a very bad time for them.

Alright let’s flip back to Jeremiah 36. Someone please read Jeremiah 36:11-19. We are now back to Baruch reading Jeremiah’s words from the scroll in the temple.

11 When Micaiah son of Gemariah son of Shaphan heard all the words of the Lord from the scroll, 12 he went down to the king’s house, into the secretary’s chamber; and all the officials were sitting there: Elishama the secretary, Delaiah son of Shemaiah, Elnathan son of Achbor, Gemariah son of Shaphan, Zedekiah son of Hananiah, and all the officials. 13 And Micaiah told them all the words that he had heard, when Baruch read the scroll in the hearing of the people. 14 Then all the officials sent Jehudi son of Nethaniah son of Shelemiah son of Cushi to say to Baruch, “Bring the scroll that you read in the hearing of the people, and come.” So Baruch son of Neriah took the scroll in his hand and came to them. 15 And they said to him, “Sit down and read it to us.” So Baruch read it to them. 16 When they heard all the words, they turned to one another in alarm, and said to Baruch, “We certainly must report all these words to the king.” 17 Then they questioned Baruch, “Tell us now, how did you write all these words? Was it at his dictation?” 18 Baruch answered them, “He dictated all these words to me, and I wrote them with ink on the scroll.” 19 Then the officials said to Baruch, “Go and hide, you and Jeremiah, and let no one know where you are.”

A guy named Micaiah hears Baruch read from the scroll and he basically runs over to the king’s house and finds a bnch of officials. He tells them what Baruch is reading to everyone, and they’re like, “oh boy, we better hear this for ourselves.” So they send for Baruch and have him to come to them and read it—which Baruch does without complaint.

And the officials hear the words and are like “oh dear, we better tell the king.” But first they question to make sure where the words came from. Baruch confirms that it was Jeremiah who dictated and he just wrote them down.

And basically the officials are like, “dude, you better get out of here before we tell the king. Go hide with Jeremiah where no one knows where you are so when the king hears he doesn’t kill you.” Basically they know the king isn’t going to be happy about this.

Someone please read Jeremiah 36:20-26.

20 Leaving the scroll in the chamber of Elishama the secretary, they went to the court of the king; and they reported all the words to the king. 21 Then the king sent Jehudi to get the scroll, and he took it from the chamber of Elishama the secretary; and Jehudi read it to the king and all the officials who stood beside the king. 22 Now the king was sitting in his winter apartment (it was the ninth month), and there was a fire burning in the brazier before him. 23 As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king[a] would cut them off with a penknife and throw them into the fire in the brazier, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the brazier. 24 Yet neither the king, nor any of his servants who heard all these words, was alarmed, nor did they tear their garments. 25 Even when Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them. 26 And the king commanded Jerahmeel the king’s son and Seraiah son of Azriel and Shelemiah son of Abdeel to arrest the secretary Baruch and the prophet Jeremiah. But the Lord hid them.

Baruch leaves the scroll with the officials. The officials then tell the king what the scroll said and at the king’s demand, bring the actual scroll before him.

The text says it was winter. The ninth month, is approximately December, so it’s cold. So there is a fire burning before the king. As the scribe reads, the king cuts the words out of the scroll and throws them into the fire until the entire thing is burned.

Some of his servants tell him not to burn it, but no one is really surprised when he does it. And then instead of listening, the king commands Baruch and Jeremiah both be arrested.

Once again this goes back to the idea of “killing the messenger.” That by somehow getting rid of the people saying the words you’ll stop what is going to happen. But on the other hand, maybe the king didn’t really believe the words at all, and thought that Jeremiah and Baruch were just sewing fear and discord amongst the people. Or maybe the king himself was afraid, and thought that if he pretended nothing bad could be happening, nothing bad would.

Denial is rarely the best method of dealing with anything.

Alright now we’re going to turn back to 2 Kings, because remember the Bible is not chronological. The events of Jeremiah take place during the events of Kings. Remember Kings is written more like a history, and Jeremiah is a book by a prophet about what he’s been told to communicate by God and maybe a little with his own life in it. So Kings can help ground us on where we are chronologically in the Bible.

Someone please read 2 Kings 24:1-4.

24 In his days King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came up; Jehoiakim became his servant for three years; then he turned and rebelled against him. The Lord sent against him bands of the Chaldeans, bands of the Arameans, bands of the Moabites, and bands of the Ammonites; he sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by his servants the prophets. Surely this came upon Judah at the command of the Lord, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, for all that he had committed, and also for the innocent blood that he had shed; for he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the Lord was not willing to pardon.

Earlier in Jeremiah it referred to the Babylonian king as Nebuchadrezzar and here as Nebuchadnezzar. Those are the same person just different spellings. It can be weird when you translate names between languages, and we’ll see this again with the king in the book of Esther. If you look at the way the Bible spells the name verses the way modern scholars spell it—it all has to do with who is translating and what.

So this guy, Nebudchanezzar, becomes emperor of Babylon. And for three years it says Jehoaikim is his servant, probably meaning Judah is a vassal state, allowed to stay in tact as long as it pays taxes and stays under the rule of Babylon. But then Jehoiakim rebels.

And for that, the Babylonians destroy Judah. It says Chaldeans, but in the Bible “Chaldeans” and “Babylonians” are generally used interchangeably. And those other tribes mentioned were all probably conquered by Babylon at this time, so basically it’s just saying Babylon comes in and conquers Judah completely.

It says in this text that it’s God that sends them to destroy Judah. But I think it’s more that God allows it to happen. The Babylonians had formed a massive empire that would eventually threaten all the smaller lands around them, but God could have kept Judah safe. But because of Judah’s actions, God chose not to, and allowed Babylon to conquer them.

Someone please read 2 Kings 24:5-9.

Now the rest of the deeds of Jehoiakim, and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah? So Jehoiakim slept with his ancestors; then his son Jehoiachin succeeded him. The king of Egypt did not come again out of his land, for the king of Babylon had taken over all that belonged to the king of Egypt from the Wadi of Egypt to the River Euphrates.

Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he began to reign; he reigned three months in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Nehushta daughter of Elnathan of Jerusalem. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, just as his father had done.

Now this section is important and I included it for two reasons. (1) It points out that not even Egypt was able to stand against Babylon. We’ve talked about how before Egypt was the super power of the world and no one could even compare to it. This is the time period where that is no longer beginning to be the case. Babylon has not conquered all of Egypt, but it has conquered some of what used to be Egypt’s lands, and Egypt was unable to defend and maintain those lands. That’s a big deal.

The second thing is that a new king is instated after Jehoiakim. We’re going to see that for a little while the Babylonians allow Judah to still have a king of the line of David, though this king would be less of a king and more of a governor supposed to rule for the Babylonians, a vassal. But this new king? It says he only rules for three months. That’s not very long at all.

And this is where we’re going to stop for this week. Next week we’ll pick up with the actual Exile itself, which we’ve been leading up to, and some of the more famous stories in the Bible in the book of Daniel.

Jeremiah Part 1

The last lesson we did was on Josiah. If you’ll remember he was a king of Judah—the Southern Kingdom, which at this point in the Bible is the only kingdom that remains. Israel, the Northern Kingdom, was conquered by the Assyrians and many of the people were removed to other lands. So Judah is all that is left of what was once the combined nation of Israel that once upon a time was ruled by David.

The conquering of Israel was allowed to happen because they had turned their backs on god, the kings and the people were all worshipping other gods like Ba’al and Asherah instead of the God of Israel. A similar thing was happening on Judah, but when Josiah became king he decided to renovate the Temple. And when he did so they found a book of torah, probably Deuteronomy, and when it was read to all the people they reformed their ways.

For a time. But they quickly slipped back into their old way, after Josiah died, of worshiping other gods.

Why was this so easy for them? Well remember we’ve talked about before in this class the idea of “monolatry.” What does that mean? Well in modern day, most of us believe that God is the only God and all other gods are false, or not real. But that’s not how the ancient world worked. In the ancient world they thought all the gods were real, but the idea was that only the God of Israel was worthy of worship. So even a good, God-following Israelite would believe Ba’al and Asherah and other Canaanite and Babylonian gods were real, they just knew that their God was better and the only one worthy of their attention.

We can actually see this idea pop up in a lot of placed in the Old Testament—the classic example being the opening of Job, where God is described as being the highest God at a council of many gods. That’s just how people in the ancient world thought. All the gods were real, but since the God of Israel told them not to worship other gods, they were just supposed to focus on him, only worship him, and just leave the other gods be.

In a society with monolatry like this, it’s easy to slip in to just worshiping every god, to cover all your bases. So people would worship Ba’al, Asherah, and the God of Israel. But is the God of Israel okay with that? Okay with being worshipped as just one of many gods? No! The first two commandments are literally about this. In Exodus 20:2-5, when God gives the ten commandments he says:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before[a] me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God

Do not have any other gods, he says. Do not have idols—that is objects that represent gods or things worthy of worship. Don’t worship any other god or idol, God says, because he is a jealous God. He wants to be the only God in their eyes. But that was something people in the ancient world really struggled with. Because isn’t it easier, they might think, if it hasn’t rained in a while, to cover all your bases and sacrifice to both the God of Israel and Ba’al? That way you’ve got two weather gods working for you! But the God of Israel doesn’t roll like that.

But the people keep slipping back into this thought process, and demoting God basically, as just another god in the ancient pantheon. And God is not happy about it.

And because of this judgement is still coming for Judah.

Today we’re flipping forward to the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah is not a history, like Samuel or Kings, though it does contain some history. It’s a book of prophecy, written in part by the prophet Jeremiah and in part by some ancient scribes and historians. Alright someone please read Jeremiah 1:1-3.

The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the Lord came in the days of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, and until the end of the eleventh year of King Zedekiah son of Josiah of Judah, until the captivity of Jerusalem in the fifth month.

These verses tell us who we’re talking about and when things are taking place. So Jeremiah is a priest from the lands of Benjamin, so in Judah. And God started talking to him in the 13th year of Josiah’s reign. Jeremiah is a prophet to Judah for a long time, starting when Josiah is king and going through the exile.

Just a bit of forewarning: the book of Jeremiah is not a happy book. It’s about a really dark time in the history of Judah. And Jeremiah is going to spend most of his career warning people it’s coming and then dealing with the repercussions when it actually happens. This is not a happy time.

Someone please read Jeremiah 1:4-10.

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord.”

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lordsaid to me,

“Now I have put my words in your mouth.
10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.” 

This is actually a pretty famous section of text that I’ve heard quote a lot. So let’s break it down. This is basically Jeremiah’s first recorded encounter with God. God shows up and is like, “Hey Jeremiah, before you were even a twinkle in your parents’ eyes, and at that time—before you even existed—I planned for you and for you to be a prophet to the world!”

It seems that at the time of this interaction Jeremiah is very young, because his response is, “Umm, God? I’m like a kid. Soooo you probably don’t want me speaking to all the nations.”

But God is having none of that. God is like, “Psh, you may just be a kid, but I am God. And I’m never going to leave you hanging. So don’t be afraid and do what I say.”

God goes on to say, “I am giving you the words, and I appoint you over all nations, as my prophet, as a representative of me.”

It doesn’t matter if your only a kid, God can and does use you. Sometimes you may feel like you should do something or say something, but then you’re like, “I’m just a kid, maybe I shouldn’t say anything.” But here, even though Jeremiah is just a kid, God is giving him prophetic authority over all nations. It doesn’t matter if you’re a kid, or very old, or like Moses have trouble talking, God will and can use you to accomplish amazing things!

In Jeremiah’s case, God is going to use him to warn Judah that some pretty terrible things are coming. Someone read Jeremiah 1:14-16.

14 Then the Lord said to me: Out of the north disaster shall break out on all the inhabitants of the land. 15 For now I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, says the Lord; and they shall come and all of them shall set their thrones at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its surrounding walls and against all the cities of Judah. 16 And I will utter my judgments against them, for all their wickedness in forsaking me; they have made offerings to other gods, and worshiped the works of their own hands.

God tells Jeremiah what’s up, almost right away. He tells him that out of the North—i.e. the lands of Assyrian and Babylon—disaster is coming for Judah. And those kingdoms are going to take over even Jerusalem, because Judah has turned it’s back on God.

On the one hand, at least Jeremiah has no expectations that things are going to be nice and dandy while he’s prophet. On the other hand, this is a doom and gloom message. If I was Jeremiah I wouldn’t be excited that I was going to go around telling people about destruction coming. And I might be scared—what will people do to me when I tell them this is going to happen? But God anticipates that and follows up. Someone read Jeremiah 1:17-19.

17 But you, gird up your loins; stand up and tell them everything that I command you. Do not break down before them, or I will break you before them. 18 And I for my part have made you today a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall, against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests, and the people of the land. 19 They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you.

God tells Jeremiah to put on his big boy pants, stand up, and tell the people of Judah everything God is telling him. He’s not to break down before them, even though the news he is going to tell them is terrible. But God doesn’t expect Jeremiah to rely on his own strength, God has fortified Jeremiah—he’s made him a fortress to stand against everyone in the land. Because when you’re the bearer of bad news, people have a tendency to shoot the messenger, but God will not let that happen. Because God has Jeremiah’s back, and he will keep him safe through everything.

I feel like this would be really tough news to take as a kid. God’s like, “Hey kid, people are going to hate you your entire life, but I have your back!” I mean it’s good that God has his back, there is no better person, but I don’t know about you, I’d feel pretty awful to know that for my entire life I would be the bearer of bad news that would turn people against me.

On the other hand, this is bad news that *doesn’t have to happen.* The whole point of having prophets warn of what is coming is that it gives people the opportunity to repent. God is warning Judah over and over, so that they will stop their wicked ways and turn back to him, and then God would avert the coming disaster. And warn them God does.

Most of the first half of the book of Jeremiah is that warning, over and over again. Someone read Jeremiah 7:1-7.

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah, you that enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you[a] in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is[b] the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.”

For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever.

God’s message isn’t just doom and gloom, that the destruction is inevitable. His message is “amend your ways,” “turn back to God,” and “repent” and none of this has to happen! He even gives them concrete tasks they can do.

Act justly to one another. Do not oppress the alien—meaning foreigner in the land. Don’t oppress orphans and widows, who were the most vulnerable in the land. Don’t shed innocent blood. And don’t worship other gods.

This is good advice to even us today. We still struggle to act justly to one another, to love each other, to not oppress each other. But this is so important. And it’s basically God telling them what Jesus tells the people in the Gospels. The most important thing is to love God and love each other. If we can do that, then everything else will work itself out.

But we fail over and over to do that. The Israelites fail over and over to do that. It’s hard. We live in an unjust world. But even that phrase, “we live in an unjust world” doesn’t give credit where it’s due. It’s not the earth that is somehow unjust. It’s us—people. We are unjust. We are unmerciful. We are unkind. We are not gentle with each other. We are not forgiving. The world is unjust because people aren’t just.

If you’ve tuned into the news at all this week, you can see it. People do harm to each other. We don’t want justice. We want to do things our own way and look out for ourselves.

And Judah has fallen into this exact same trap.

But they have a chance. God is warning them. They can turn back. So he sends Jeremiah out to warn them.

He’s not well received.

Someone turn to Jeremiah 26:7-11.

The priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the Lord. And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die! Why have you prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?” And all the people gathered around Jeremiah in the house of the Lord.

10 When the officials of Judah heard these things, they came up from the king’s house to the house of the Lord and took their seat in the entry of the New Gate of the house of the Lord. 11 Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and to all the people, “This man deserves the sentence of death because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.”

Jeremiah tells everyone God’s message but when they hear him they don’t repent, they aren’t convicted of their own wrong doing. Instead they want to kill him, as if he would be the one bringing this disaster on them and if they murder him that will avert disaster.

The priests and prophets of Jerusalem all say they want Jeremiah to die, because he has spoken ill of Jerusalem. They are in denial. They want to think Jeremiah is crazy and bringing down curses on Jerusalem and killing him will fix it. But it won’t.

Someone read Jeremiah 26:12-15.

12 Then Jeremiah spoke to all the officials and all the people, saying, “It is the Lord who sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard. 13 Now therefore amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will change his mind about the disaster that he has pronounced against you. 14 But as for me, here I am in your hands. Do with me as seems good and right to you. 15 Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will be bringing innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the Lord sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears.”

Jeremiah knows God has his back, God has already told him that. And he has faith. So he’s not backing down from his words. He doubles down on his message, calling for them to repent. God has sent him to convict them of their wrong doing, so that they can repent, change their ways, and obey God. If they do so the disaster will be averted. If not, disaster is coming.

As for Jeremiah himself, he tells them to do what they will with him, but if they’re going to kill him for this bad news he has then they will have innocent blood on their hands.

Someone read Jeremiah 26:16-19.

16 Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, “This man does not deserve the sentence of death, for he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.” 17 And some of the elders of the land arose and said to all the assembled people, 18 “Micah of Moresheth, who prophesied during the days of King Hezekiah of Judah, said to all the people of Judah: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts,

Zion shall be plowed as a field;
    Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
    and the mountain of the house a wooded height.’

19 Did King Hezekiah of Judah and all Judah actually put him to death? Did he not fear the Lord and entreat the favor of the Lord, and did not the Lord change his mind about the disaster that he had pronounced against them? But we are about to bring great disaster on ourselves!”

The people decide that Jeremiah does not deserve a death sentence for merely relaying God’s words. After all, they point out, his words are similar to that of a previous prophet, Micah, who was prophet during a previous king who said that Jerusalem would becoming a heap of ruins. And that king—Hezekiah—didn’t put Micah to death. Instead they listened and the disaster was averted!

This seems to be a good sign, the people seem to be listening to Jeremiah and understanding what is coming. They are acknowledging through harkening back to the story of Hezekiah and Micah what is happening now, and what could be done. They could just repent, and turn back to God, and everything would be fine.

Let’s see if that’s how this goes. Someone read Jeremiah 26:20-24.

20 There was another man prophesying in the name of the Lord, Uriah son of Shemaiah from Kiriath-jearim. He prophesied against this city and against this land in words exactly like those of Jeremiah. 21 And when King Jehoiakim, with all his warriors and all the officials, heard his words, the king sought to put him to death; but when Uriah heard of it, he was afraid and fled and escaped to Egypt. 22 Then King Jehoiakim sent[a] Elnathan son of Achbor and men with him to Egypt, 23 and they took Uriah from Egypt and brought him to King Jehoiakim, who struck him down with the sword and threw his dead body into the burial place of the common people.

24 But the hand of Ahikam son of Shaphan was with Jeremiah so that he was not given over into the hands of the people to be put to death.

The story shifts a little bit and tells us about another man, Uriah, who is also prophesying like Jeremiah, warning of what is to come. But when the king hears his words the king isn’t moved like the people were for Jeremiah, and he wants to put Uriah to death.

Uriah—unlike Jeremiah—doesn’t stand his ground. He feels to Egypt. But the king sends men after him into Egypt to capture him and bring him back. And then he is put to death.

So while Jeremiah seems to be having some success other prophets send to give the same message are not. Some people seem like they’re changing their mind but the entire kingdom has not, and certainly not the king. This isn’t a good sign. This isn’t the nationwide, communal repentance that God is looking for.

Things aren’t looking good for Judah.

And that’s where we’re going to stop for today. We’ll continue the story of Jeremiah next week.


Josiah, the Last Good King of Judah

Icebreaker: If you today—at the age you were now—you became President of the United States, what was something about the country you would change?

[Go around the room and answer the question]

So today’s icebreaker question applies to our lesson because we’re going to talk about a kid who does become king of Judah and enacts huge changes.

This is in the time period after the northern kingdom, Israel, has been overtaken by Assyria and all that’s left is Judah. Can someone please read 2 Kings 22:1-2.

Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign; he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jedidah daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath. He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the way of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right or to the left.

Josiah becomes king at eight years old. That means by the time he’s your age, he’s already been reigning three to five years! Now at his age, it’s likely that someone would have been regent—that is, he would have adult supervision until he became of age. But there is no record here of a regency, though it does mention his mother, Jedidah and possibly she could have been his regent. Or possibly he could have had no regent at all. It’s also likely that at 13 he might be considered no longer in need of a regent, if he had one, because that’s when in Jewish culture, young people come of age and are considered adults.

Despite being so incredibly young for his whole reign—starting at the age of 8 and ending at the age of 39—it says that Josiah did what was right in the eyes of God and walked in the way of David. It says “like his father David.” That doesn’t mean Josiah is directly a son of David, just that Josiah is descended from David as all the kings of Judah were. But unlike other kings of Judah, Josiah actually behaved like a son of David, following after God.

At a young age, Josiah could have been led astray by bad people, but Josiah stood strong and follow God.

Someone read 2 Kings 22:3-7.

In the eighteenth year of King Josiah, the king sent Shaphan son of Azaliah, son of Meshullam, the secretary, to the house of the Lord, saying, “Go up to the high priest Hilkiah, and have him count the entire sum of the money that has been brought into the house of the Lord, which the keepers of the threshold have collected from the people; let it be given into the hand of the workers who have the oversight of the house of the Lord; let them give it to the workers who are at the house of the Lord, repairing the house, that is, to the carpenters, to the builders, to the masons; and let them use it to buy timber and quarried stone to repair the house. But no accounting shall be asked from them for the money that is delivered into their hand, for they deal honestly.”

In the 18th year of his reign—which means he’s 26—Josiah decides to refurbish the Temple. So money is collected from people and taken in to the Temple and now it times to count all the money up and pay the workers so they can begin repairing everything.

Basically it’s a huge contracting project to bring the Temple back to its former glory, because at this point the Temple has been around for four hundred years and probably neglected a little bit by all those bad kings in the past.

Someone please read 2 Kings 22:8-10.

The high priest Hilkiah said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord.” When Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, he read it. Then Shaphan the secretary came to the king, and reported to the king, “Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of the workers who have oversight of the house of the Lord.” 10 Shaphan the secretary informed the king, “The priest Hilkiah has given me a book.” Shaphan then read it aloud to the king.

11 When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes. 12 Then the king commanded the priest Hilkiah, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Achbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary, and the king’s servant Asaiah, saying, 13 “Go, inquire of the Lord for me, for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our ancestors did not obey the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”

So they’re doing this huge remodel, and cleaning out the Temple, and the high priest finds something, a book. But it’s not just any book, it’s a book of the law. He gives it to the secretary who reads it and immediately takes it to the king. He’s like “We took all the money and paid the workers just like you said but then we found this scroll!” And he reads it to the king.

The king is shocked by what he hears, not just shocked but he tears his clothes, which is a sign of great distress and mourning. Why? What’s going on here?

Let’s back up a bit. There is something we all take for granted in our day and age that they didn’t have back then and that thing is this: books. Everywhere you look we have books. They’re easily printed, pretty cheap to buy, and you can even borrow them for free from either your school library or the public library. Literacy and access to books is one of the things that our country is founded on. That’s why we have a free public education and free libraries. Because we believe that democracy is not possible without an educated citizenry.

But have books always been so easily accessible?

No. Not at all. The printing press that made creating books cheap wasn’t even invented until the 1400s AD. That’s nearly 2000 years after Josiah’s time. So what did people do before then? Well it depends what time period we’re talking about and which area of the world.

Some areas of the world—like the Egyptians—had paper made from papyrus that they could copy things down onto. Others had vellum, which is basically animal skin. Some peoples put things in stone, but stone is expensive and hard to write in.

The fun fact one of the oldest stone documents is called the “complaint tablet to Ea-nasir” and is a clay tablet with cuneiform writing that is a guy complaining to another guy who sold him bad copper ingots. It was written in 1750 BC.  This guy was so angry he took the time to write a letter in stone to send to the copper seller and we still have it. That’s kind of amazing! And that’s the amazing thing about stone tablets, they last forever. But paper and vellum tend to degrade with time, and so that’s why we don’t have a lot of ancient paper scrolls and the ones we do have are missing parts or crumbling. It’s like how old books have yellow pages. Over time these things just degrade.

Because writing was so uncommon, most people, for most of human history couldn’t read. This is why certain religious practices have developed the way they have: this is why we memorize and have creeds like the Apostles Creed. For a long time in Christian history most people couldn’t read. They didn’t own a Bible, and even if they did they couldn’t read it. So Christians memorized creeds that summarized what being a Christian was all about, and they went to Church where a priest—who could read the Bible—would read it to them.

But that’s Christian history. With Josiah we’re talking about BC era history.

Josiah’s time period was actually a time of high literacy in Judah, but before Josiah’s time, before King David and the nation of Israel coming around, there wouldn’t have been a lot of reading. Most traditions and scripture would have been handed down orally. Tales of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, these would be stories that parents would tell their children.

Most of torah, that is the law would be handed down like that. Probably everything Josiah knew about the law he would know from it being told to him.

And then someone finds a scroll. In this time of high literacy in Judah, someone finds a scroll that has the law on it. Most people believe that the scroll found is the book of Deuteronomy. Josiah and the high priest find this scroll and they read it, and discover they have been doing everything wrong.

This is the problem with oral traditions. Over time things can get lost. But they find this ancient scroll, and it has the laws as described in Deuteronomy in it and they discover they’ve let things in Judah go off the rails. Josiah is like “No wonder God is so angry at us, we haven’t been obeying any of the laws that or words that he gave to us.” And Josiah doesn’t know what to do about this. So he sends his priest and his secretary and the others to figure out what they’re supposed to be doing about all of this new information.

Someone please read 2 Kings 22:14-20.

14 So the priest Hilkiah, Ahikam, Achbor, Shaphan, and Asaiah went to the prophetess Huldah the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe; she resided in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter, where they consulted her. 15 She declared to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Tell the man who sent you to me, 16 Thus says the Lord, I will indeed bring disaster on this place and on its inhabitants—all the words of the book that the king of Judah has read. 17 Because they have abandoned me and have made offerings to other gods, so that they have provoked me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore my wrath will be kindled against this place, and it will not be quenched. 18 But as to the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, thus shall you say to him, Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Regarding the words that you have heard, 19 because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the Lord, when you heard how I spoke against this place, and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and because you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, says the Lord. 20 Therefore, I will gather you to your ancestors, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace; your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring on this place.” They took the message back to the king.

So all of Josiah’s men go in search of a prophet and they find Huldah, who fun fact is one of the four names prophets of the lord who is a woman. (Those four women are Miriam—who was Moses’s sister, Deborah—the Judge of Israel, Huldah—who we meet here, and Noadiah—who we haven’t encountered yet in scripture). They ask her what they should do about this scroll and everything they have learned.

Huldah tells them that God is indeed mad about how all the people and Judah has gone off the rales, not following the laws. Primarily he’s upset that they have worshipped other gods, and because of that punishment is coming. But! Because Josiah heard the words and realized they had gone wrong and was repentant and humbled himself before God, that the punishment would not come now. Judah would be spared for another generation.

God always forgives those who repent.

Josiah’s men take this word back to him.

Someone please read 2 Kings 23:1-3.

 23 Then the king directed that all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem should be gathered to him. The king went up to the house of the Lord, and with him went all the people of Judah, all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests, the prophets, and all the people, both small and great; he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord. The king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord, keeping his commandments, his decrees, and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. All the people joined in the covenant.

Josiah has all the elders of Judah and all the people of Jerusalem gather, and they all go to the temple—it says every person small and great, so probably children and women and the sickly, everyone goes to the Temple. And there Josiah reads to them the words of the scroll. Then after the reading, Josiah makes a covenant with God to follow him and keep his commandments with all of his heart and soul, which seems to be a reference to Deuteronomy 6:5: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

All the people there also joined in this covenant, promising to follow God. This is communal repentance of all of Judah to turn back to the ways of God.

But it’s not just enough to say you’ll follow God. Without actions, words are meaningless, so now it’s time for Josiah to do something about it.

Someone please read 2 Kings 23:4-6.

The king commanded the high priest Hilkiah, the priests of the second order, and the guardians of the threshold, to bring out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven; he burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron, and carried their ashes to Bethel. He deposed the idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to make offerings in the high places at the cities of Judah and around Jerusalem; those also who made offerings to Baal, to the sun, the moon, the constellations, and all the host of the heavens. He brought out the image of[a] Asherah from the house of the Lord, outside Jerusalem, to the Wadi Kidron, burned it at the Wadi Kidron, beat it to dust and threw the dust of it upon the graves of the common people. 

Josiah takes action. He orders his priests and guardians to take everything idolatrous out of the temple of God. They burn the idols in the fields and even remove the ashes. He deposes the priests of those other gods. He destroys the shrines to these other gods. And it goes on and on. Josiah cleans up all of Judah in these like twenty verses and it just goes to show how fall Judah has fallen and how they’re not following the torah at all. They were idols in the Temple, in what is literally God’s house on this earth! That’s clearly not what God wanted, but it seems they didn’t even know that.

How were they supposed to know if they didn’t have a written description of the laws? Well there had been prophets up to this point, prophets who told multiple kings that what they were doing was wrong. God isn’t constrained to written words. He uses people, and he used multiple people to tell the kings they were astray, but before Josiah none of them listened.

And now Josiah has.

Following the law isn’t all just cleaning house! Someone read 2 Kings 23:21-23.

21 The king commanded all the people, “Keep the passover to the Lord your God as prescribed in this book of the covenant.” 22 No such passover had been kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel, even during all the days of the kings of Israel and of the kings of Judah; 23 but in the eighteenth year of King Josiah this passover was kept to the Lord in Jerusalem.

Josiah commands the people to celebrate Passover. Who remembers what Passover is? [Let them answer.]

Passover is the celebration of God’s plagues passing over the Hebrews in Egypt, and the Hebrews being freed from their slavery in Egypt. Apparently they had even forgotten to celebrate Passover! And this is a Passover to end all Passovers. Unlike that has been seen in a long time. So after all that clean up they end with a big Passover party! Sounds like a nice way to end a lot of hard work.

Someone please read 2 Kings 23:26-27.

26 Still the Lord did not turn from the fierceness of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him. 27 The Lord said, “I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel; and I will reject this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there.”

These verses underscore that something is still coming for Judah, that the punishment is still coming. It’s added as a tag here at the end of Josiah’s story, that despite everything he’s doing the wrath is still coming.

I want to comment briefly on this and the nature of God. It’s likely that 1st and 2nd Kings was compiled during or after the Exile—that is the after Judah gets conquered and the exile of the people of Judah begins. That means the author knows what’s coming, the author knows that despite everything Josiah has done, it’s not going to postpone the Exile, because the author—or compiler of these stories—lives after the start of the Exile.

From the perspective of the author there is only one reason why Judah would be allowed to undergo such a traumatic event, because God is punishing them. This is the author rationalizing why such a traumatic event as the Exile is allowed to happen.

And I don’t think that’s untrue per say. Nothing can happen without God allowing it.  I just think this can give us the impression that God is an angry God who only wants to punish and if he gets mad no amount of repentance is going to fix things. But I don’t think that’s true, and I don’t think that’s the impression of God we get from the Bible as a whole. I think if Judah had stayed true and stayed repentant, God would have preserved them.

But they didn’t. After Josiah some kings make bad decisions, especially in regards to how they handle these other empires around them. I also think that after generations of Judah not following God, the country as a whole has become weak, its borders picked away at, and no amount of repentance was going to fix its weakened state. Sometimes God allows us to suffer the consequence of our action. And it’s not a punishment per say. It’s just God allowing us to learn from the natural outcomes of our own actions.

Sometimes suffering our own consequences helps us grow as people. And I think that’s what God was letting happen here.

And Josiah’s reign doesn’t end pretty. There are politics and big movements at work in the land, the sort of movements that are going to lead to the inevitable Exile. Assyria—the country that that took over Northern Israel—has been conquered by Babylon. And Egypt is on the move. Someone please read 2 Kings 23:28-30.

28 Now the rest of the acts of Josiah, and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah? 29 In his days Pharaoh Neco king of Egypt went up to the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates. King Josiah went to meet him; but when Pharaoh Neco met him at Megiddo, he killed him. 30 His servants carried him dead in a chariot from Megiddo, brought him to Jerusalem, and buried him in his own tomb. The people of the land took Jehoahaz son of Josiah, anointed him, and made him king in place of his father.

Josiah tries to stop Egypt’s movements and it results in his death. And that’s the end of Josiah’s reign and probably the last good time for Judah.

Because Babylon is coming. And God is going to allow Babylon to win.


The Assyrian Invasion

For the last two weeks we’ve taken a break from our usual people of the Bible study, but today we’re going to dive back into. Before we do, a brief recap.

You guys will remember that originally Israel wasn’t a nation at all, just a group of loose tribes associated with each other by a common religion. Does anyone remember how many tribes of Israel there were? [Let them answer.]

Twelve. The tribes of Israel were: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Napthtali, Gad, Asher, Ephraim, Manassah, and Benjamin. That’s actually 13 tribes, if anyone is counting, which is for two reasons. The first is that you may recall  that the names of the tribes come from the names of Jacob’s son. Jacob was the grandson of Abraham, who stole his brother’s blessing, ran away, and then had all the wife and kids drama. One of Jacob’s son was Joseph, who the other brother’s sold into slavery. You’ll notice there is no tribe of Joseph. And that’s because Joseph’s legacy ended up being so great, that instead of having one tribe, he has two! Ephraim and Manassah were Joseph’s sons. So those two together are really sort of a tribe of Joseph.

The second reason why there are 13 often listed is because the tribe of Levi was unique. Levi was the tribe of Moses and Aaron, and therefore the tribe of the priests. As such the tribe of Levi didn’t have any region of land that is was responsible for or ruled. Levites could be found in every tribe, serving every tribe. So if we’re naming *landed* tribes we would name all of the tribes except Levi. If we’re naming the tribes as the sons of Israel, we’d consider Levi but combine Manassah and Ephraim. It’s a little confusing, and when the Bible considers which to be tribes really depends on what the author of the particular book is talking about.

The key here is to remember that there are distinct tribes within the people of Israel. That they are not just one cohesive unit, and that during this ancient period, which tribe you belonged to mattered. That doesn’t matter as much anymore. Most modern Jewish people don’t really care what tribe other people are of. They’re more likely to care about whether you follow Orthodox, Conservative, or Reformed Judaism.

But that is a little off topic. We have twelve ish tribes that once upon a time were not united into a kingdom. Then you’ll remember the people asked for a king so they could be like every other nation, and God granted them a king—Saul who was of the tribe of Benjamin. And Saul was a good king…for a while. And then he started going a little crazy—the power went to his head and he went against God. This caused God to pick a new king—David, who was of the tribe of Judah.

King David is like the King Arthur of the Bible. His reign is remembered as this glorious time period marred by a few super critical character flaws—mainly his abuse of power in the Bathsheba/Urriah situation and this his inability to handle his own children which led to more murder, rape, and civil unrest.

But under David, Israel was united as one kingdom, and its borders were secured against the people who wanted to invade it and take their land, namely the Philistines.

Then after David, the son of David and Bathsheba became king, Solomon. Solomon’s reign is the true golden age of Israel. David already fought all the battles to secure Israel as a nation and secure its borders, so Solomon doesn’t really have to worry about any invader type threats during his time. Therefore he’s able to turn his attention to inside of Israel. He builds himself a glorious palace but more importantly he builds the Temple—which is the primary place of worship for all of Israel and represents God’s home on earth. This is a huge deal, because up to this point the people have been using the Tabernacle, which was basically a tent version of the Temple.

Solomon spares no expense on Temple. It’s full of gold and silver, the fanciest woods, all put together by the best of the best artisans.

Solomon himself also becomes quite renowned for being wise, and becomes so famous for his wisdom that people come from far off nations to hear it.

But this golden age doesn’t last. In his old age, Solomon turns to foreign gods, breaking the first commandment. As punishment, God decides he will break up Israel into two nations: the Northern Nation of Israel and the Southern Nation of Judah. Though out of respect for David, he waits until Solomon’s dead for this to happen.

Ten tribes go to the North Nation of Israel, ruled by non-Davidic kings. While Solomon’s son is left with two tribes: Judah—David’s own tribe—and Benjamin, which coincidentally is Saul’s tribe. This is the division of the landed tribes. Levi would be split among the two nations, but most of them would probably reside in the Southern nation of Judah, since Judah has Jerusalem, and Jerusalem is where the Temple is. Only Levitical priests can serve in the Temple, and only descendents of Aaron can be high priest.

There will never be a united Israel with all ten tribes ever again.

The split happens around approximately 930 BC. After that Israel and Judah stay split with their own kings who constantly squabble and battle with each other. Some kings follow God and some don’t. Some kings battle each other and some battle outsiders. But there is basically no peace. Just constant fighting either with each other or foreign invaders. And this is the status quo for nearly two hundred years. Then in the 720s BC everything changes.

Assyria changes everthing.

You guys remember we studied the story of Jonah, and how Jonah was sent to Ninevah to tell them to repent or else. Remember how Jonah didn’t want to go? That’s because Ninevah was the capital of Assyria, the biggest threat—at the time—to both Israel and Judah. Assyria was this massive empire that was based out of Mesopotamia, but it wasn’t happy with the land it had. Assyria wanted everything. And that included Israel.

This is where we’re going to pick up. Please open your Bibles to 2 Kings 15:27-31.

27 In the fifty-second year of King Azariah of Judah, Pekah son of Remaliah began to reign over Israel in Samaria; he reigned twenty years. 28 He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he caused Israel to sin.

29 In the days of King Pekah of Israel, King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria came and captured Ijon, Abel-beth-maacah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali; and he carried the people captive to Assyria. 30 Then Hoshea son of Elah made a conspiracy against Pekah son of Remaliah, attacked him, and killed him; he reigned in place of him, in the twentieth year of Jotham son of Uzziah. 31 Now the rest of the acts of Pekah, and all that he did, are written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel.

This is around 750 BC. Azariah is king of Judah and Pekah becomes king of Israel—which you’ll see Israel and Samaria used interchangeably here. Samaria is basically the name of that area of land, and we’ll see it continually called Samaria all the way up to New Testament times.

Pekah, the author says, did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and led all of Israel to sin with him.

You guys have noticed there are a lot of bad kings in Israel and Judah in the book of Kings. The author of Kings is trying to explain why all of these bad things are happening, and to the author here believes the reason is clear. The king sinned and therefore God allowed a punishment to be meted out. In this case, the punishment is the King of Assyria basically taking over the outskirts of Israel. The heart of Israel remains intact, but it’s borders have been compromised, and the people who lived there—which it says is the tribe of Naphtali, have been carried off.

This was a common tactic in the ancient world. You wouldn’t let the people who lived in the area you conquered stay there. Instead you would deport them all to another part of your empire and bring in other people to this new part of the empire. This is a way to stop rebellion before it even happens. It’s harder to fight in a new land, a foreign land, that is not your own. You don’t know where you are, you don’t know anyone around you, it’s hard for you to organize and group together. So conquerors would break you up and send you away.

This will be the first of many examples of Israelites being forcibly removed from the Promised Land.

This is like a warning shot across the bow—God warning Israel with more than just words what is coming if they don’t straighten up. And at this point God has used a lot of words. The prophets are full of warnings and predictions that if they don’t straighten up God will allow Assyria to conquer them. Someone flip to Hosea 9:3.

They shall not remain in the land of the Lord;
    but Ephraim shall return to Egypt,
    and in Assyria they shall eat unclean food.

In the book of Hosea, the prophet Hosea is warning Israel about how its turned from God, and how if Israel keeps on its path, there will be repercussions. This verse particularly points to how Ephraim—which if you’ll remember is one of Joseph’s sons, so one of the ten tribes that dwells in Israel—will not be allowed to remain in the “land of the Lord” which is Israel. It says “Ephraim shall return to Egypt.” This is not literal. Israel is never conquered by Egypt. But what does Egypt represent in the Bible? Slavery. Oppression. Living in a foreign land. They will go back to as they *were* in Egypt. And then it says “in Assyria they shall eat unclean food.” That is, when they go to Assyria, they won’t be able to maintain their Jewish ways, like the kosher laws.

The book of Hosea is unmerciful about relaying the terrible ways in which Israel has gone wrong, not to rub salt in the wound of Israel but so they will turn from their terrible ways. But Israel does not turn. Assyria conquers the borders of Israel, and still Israel does not turn back to God.

And it wasn’t just Hosea that God used to warn them. In 2 Kings it says God used every prophet and seer. Someone please read 2 Kings 17: 13-17.

13 Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the law that I commanded your ancestors and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets.” 14 They would not listen but were stubborn, as their ancestors had been, who did not believe in the Lord their God. 15 They despised his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their ancestors, and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false idols and became false; they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the Lord had commanded them that they should not do as they did. 16 They rejected all the commandments of the Lord their God and made for themselves cast images of two calves; they made a sacred pole,[a]worshiped all the host of heaven, and served Baal. 17 They made their sons and their daughters pass through fire; they used divination and augury; and they sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger. 

God uses everyone to warn them to keep the commandments—the most important of which is to not have any other Gods before God. But do they do it? No. They turn their back on God’s covenant. They make idols and worship foreign gods. Generations this problem has been on-going in Israel, that the kings and people are turning their back on God, and despite the warnings they never repent.

And there are consequences for these actions. Because Assyria is growing and wants their land, and God could have protected Israel from Assyria but instead he chooses not to.

Someone please read 2 Kings 17:1-6

17 In the twelfth year of King Ahaz of Judah, Hoshea son of Elah began to reign in Samaria over Israel; he reigned nine years. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, yet not like the kings of Israel who were before him. King Shalmaneser of Assyria came up against him; Hoshea became his vassal, and paid him tribute. But the king of Assyria found treachery in Hoshea; for he had sent messengers to King So of Egypt, and offered no tribute to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year; therefore the king of Assyria confined him and imprisoned him.Then the king of Assyria invaded all the land and came to Samaria; for three years he besieged it. In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria captured Samaria; he carried the Israelites away to Assyria. He placed them in Halah, on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

Now a guy named Hoshea becomes king of Israel—a new king, a new chance to turn back to God. But he does not. The King of Assyria conquers him in a nice way at first—by just making him a vassal of Assyria. That is the Israelites would be allowed to stay where they are as long as they pay tribute to Assyria.

But then the author says that Hoshea tries to form an alliance with Egypt against Assyria and fails to pay its taxes to Assyria. And the King of Assyria? He is not happy about this. He imprisons the king of Israel. But he’s not going ot stop there. Because in ancient times it wasn’t considered enough to just get rid of the king of a land. The people could still rebel against you. So Assyria invades Israel—here called Samaria—and though it takes three years he does indeed conquer it.

And then he takes all the people living in Israel and sends them away.

Now it says all, but remember texts back then tended to be really hyperbolic—they were very over the top about what happened. Records are that *most* people were taken. We even have records from the Assyrians themselves about the tens of thousands of people they removed. But some people would have fled south to Judah—most of the Tribe of Simeon did this--and a few people may have been allowed to remain—perhaps if they swore loyalty to Assyria or some such. But regardless, the result is the same. Israel as a kingdom, as a nation, and as a people group is disbanded.

Ten tribes of Israel gone, just like that. You may hear of the “ten lost tribes of Israel” and that is from this. These people who are forcibly moved out of Israel, they never come back. They remain in the lands of Assyria—and then later we’ll see Assyria is conquered by Babylon. And somewhere in that shuffle of nations, they simply get lost.

Did they die? Probably not. Probably instead, they decided to keep their heads down and assimilate, which is to say to adopt the culture and religion of the people around them.

It sure is easier to blend in then it is to be different sometimes, isn’t it? And I’m sure that was the case for these people. They were disconnected from their home lands, sent to live in new places, probably separated from their families, and it would just be easier to keep their heads down and pretend they’re like everyone else. Especially for their children, who may not ever remember even living in Israel.

This would be a really traumatic event, for Israel and for Judah. Ten of the tribes of Israel, of the chosen people of God, suddenly removed and gone, and now Judah has a large threatening empire at its northern border, looking at Judah with hungry eyes. Because Assyria didn’t just empty the land of Israelites and leave it empty. It sent its own people to live there. Someone please read 2 Kings 17:24.

24 The king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria in place of the people of Israel; they took possession of Samaria, and settled in its cities.

And this traumatic event?—this isn’t even considered to be “the Exile” with a big E that results in the destruction of the Temple. But it is an exile. And unlike the big E exile, these people never come back.

Modernly there are a lot of groups that claim to be a part of the ten tribes—some in Africa, some in Asia, all over. And some are! There is a Jewish group in Ethiopia that people believe to be descended from the tribe of Dan. But most of the lost tribes are still just that, lost.

Will these tribes ever come back? There are definitely some verses in the Bible that seem to indicate yes. Someone turn to Jeremiah 23:3

Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.

Okay now someone turn to Isaiah 11:11-12.

11 On that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that is left of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Ethiopia,[a] from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea.

12 He will raise a signal for the nations,
    and will assemble the outcasts of Israel,
and gather the dispersed of Judah
    from the four corners of the earth.

Both of these verses seem to indicate a time when God will bring back everyone who has been exile and reassemble his people. And perhaps this is literal—perhaps God will bring back all of his chosen people. Or perhaps this is just symbolic of God bringing *all* people back to him. Because certainly if God redeems the entire world in the end, that includes everyone who might be of Jewish descent and not even know it!

There are verses in Revelation that also seem to indicate people from the lost tribes will be found, but I’m not going to pretend I understand what all of Revelation means. That’s a very hard book of the bible to read that is full of metaphorical imagery.

But the key here is that these people—they may be “lost” in the sense that they don’t know their of Jewish descent or they never came back to Israel—but they are not lost to God. God knows every person on this earth. He knows every soul he has created and who they are and where they come from. And through Christianity there is now hope for everyone, whether of Jewish or non-Jewish descent. So it doesn’t matter if secretly maybe you are descended from some lost tribe. Because through Jesus there is now a way for all of us—regardless of race, ethnicity, or origin—to come to God.

Next week we’ll pick up with Judah, and see if they learn anything from what happened to Israel.


Last week we finished up the story of Elijah. He worked tirelessly his entire life to bring Israel back to God. He had successes and failures but in the end all the kings he during his time refused to turn back to God and instead worshiped the Canaanite god of Baal.

However, Elijah served God to his fullest capacity, and in the end God rewarded him by taking him up into heaven, leaving behind Elisha to keep working in his place.

We’re actually going to skip the story of Elisha, though he did many great works for God. Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah continued to have struggles and problems. Sometimes a king would follow God and sometimes the kings would follow false gods. But more often in not in the case of the kings described in the book of 2 Kings, the kings did not follow God and they were pretty much continuously at war.

Now I would like to take a moment here because the fact that the book of Kings is so harsh when it comes to the kings of Israel is actually quite a remarkable thing. That’s hard for us to think about these days because we’re Americans. We love to have opinions about our leaders and often they are harsh opinions. We love to write history books deconstructing even our most beloved leaders, like George Washington and finding their dark seedy underbelly. That’s like the favorite past time of most modern American historians. But the ancient world did not work like this at all.

If you read ancient histories and writings, it is rare that the historians or records of a country record the deficiencies of a king—unless it’s because the next king hated the last king. Most records of kings and nations were always about how great that king was, how great that nation was. And that’s because back then, it was the kings who controlled the histories. A king wasn’t going to let his royal scribes and historians record something bad about him.

This is one of the things that makes the Bible unique. The prophets were not afraid to call out a king for being bad, to call out the nation for turning away from God, and to record it and those records to survive to this day. It’s amazing. It’s unique. And it’s one of the great things about the Bible.

Because as we talked about with Elijah, the prophets didn’t answer to the king. They answered to God. And God’s authority far surpasses that of any earthly ruler.

So yes, there were a lot of bad kings. A couple of good kings. And that brings us to the next section we’re going to look at. Please open your Bibles to 2 Kings 14:23-28.

23 In the fifteenth year of King Amaziah son of Joash of Judah, King Jeroboam son of Joash of Israel began to reign in Samaria; he reigned forty-one years. 24 He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; he did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he caused Israel to sin. 25 He restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher. 26 For the Lord saw that the distress of Israel was very bitter; there was no one left, bond or free, and no one to help Israel. 27 But the Lord had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, so he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam son of Joash.

28 Now the rest of the acts of Jeroboam, and all that he did, and his might, how he fought, and how he recovered for Israel Damascus and Hamath, which had belonged to Judah, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel?

This section is our setup for the person we’re going to discuss today. Much of the book of kings is really just short sections about this king or that. Like in this one we learn that a guy named Jeroboam II is now king of Israel. He reigns for 41 years, and the Bible says he does what is evil in the sight of the God. However, it also says he does something right by God, which is restore a border, and he does it at the behest of a prophet named Jonah.

But mostly it all seems like bad times.

Now in this section are any of the names mentioned familiar? Have you guys heard of any of these characters or names before?

[Let them answer.]

Jonah. Jonah is a familiar name yes? I’m sure many of you know many story of Jonah and the Big Fish. And this is that exact same Jonah.

But the story of Jonah is not here. If you look in the next section of Kings it’s not talking about Jonah. And that’s because Kings has a very specific purpose. The purpose of the books of Kings is to tell the story of Israel’s kings. And the story of Jonah, we’re going to see has little to do with Israel or any of its kings. So the story of Jonah is recorded in another book of the Bible, aptly named Jonah.

Now before we flip to Jonah I want to talk about this division of stories for a minute. We’ve discuss before that the Bible is not in chronological order. The Bible is arranged by the genre—or type of book. Kings is a book of history, while Jonah is considered a minor prophet.

Because the Bible is not in chronological order there is actually a lot of overlap in the books of the Bible. Like Jonah and Kings. The entire story of Jonah could basically be a footnote in Kings! So for the next several people we study, we’ll probably be starting in kings—to ground us in the history of when our story is happening—and then we’ll flip to the other book of the Bible that expands it.

So now I would like you all to flip to the book of Jonah. Someone please read Jonah 1:1-3.

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.

Jonah is a prophet. His job is to communicate God’s words to the people. And we saw in the section in Kings that he did that. When it came to King Jeroboam II who was recorded as a bad king, Jonah didn’t seem to be afraid to approach him and bring God’s words to him.

But here, God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and tell them that God is displeased with their ways. And Jonah…he flees. He’s like “nope, I’m not going to do that.” And the question is why? Why would a man who would be willing to face down a bad king not be willing to go to a city?

Well, it’s because Nineveh is not an Israelite city. It’s not in Israel. It’s not in Judah. It’s not anywhere near Israel. Nineveh was one of the largest cities in the world at that time and the center of the Assyrian Empire. The Assyrians were an enemy of Israel—so much so that we’ll see later that Assyria will completely conquer Israel and take it off the map.

Jonah being asked to go to Israel would be like you being asked to go to the stronghold of the worst most awful enemy you can possibly think of. If this was the 60s and 70s, it would be like you’re being asked to go to the heart of Russia, Moscow, and preach to them about God’s repentance. Nowadays, maybe for a worst enemy of your people you might think of someone like terrorists. Imagine if God asked you to go to the heart of a terrorist organization and preach to them to repent.

You might hesitate. You might be scared and think they will kill you. You might think that they don’t deserve repentance because of all of the terrible things they’ve done. You might think a lot of things that result in you just not doing what God has asked you to do.

Just like Jonah.

Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh. He didn’t want to save those people. He didn’t think they were worthy of saving.  So he runs in the complete opposite direction of Nineveh. He goes to Joppa which is on the coast of the Mediterranean sea and gets on a boat.

This is directly against what God has asked of Jonah.

Someone please read Jonah 1:4-10.

But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god. They threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten it for them. Jonah, meanwhile, had gone down into the hold of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep. The captain came and said to him, “What are you doing sound asleep? Get up, call on your god! Perhaps the god will spare us a thought so that we do not perish.”

The sailors said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, so that we may know on whose account this calamity has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us why this calamity has come upon us. What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” “I am a Hebrew,” he replied. “I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 Then the men were even more afraid, and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them so.

God sends a storm at the ship. The sailors on the ship are terrified, and it says they each cry out to their own god. They’re not Israelites so they probably worship gods like Baal. And they’re terrified so they’re each praying to their own god. They’re also worried they’re going to capsize or sink, so they start throwing cargo out of the ship. They must have been really desperate to do that. Because that cargo is what they would be selling at their destination. Every bit of cargo they throw overboard is money they’re not going to get paid. And money wasn’t so easy to get back then that people could just throw it away.

So there is all this panic on the deck, meanwhile Jonah is sleeping below deck. The captain wakes him up like, “What are you doing, man? How can you be sleeping when we’re all going to die?”

The sailors are then like, “This storm must be someone’s fault. We should all draw straws and it’s probably the fault of the person who gets the short straw.” So they do that and it’s Jonah that gets the short straw. And all the sailors are like, “Dude! What have you done. Why are we all going to die because of you?”

And Jonah tells them he’s disobeyed God.

Someone read Jonah 1:11-17.

11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea was growing more and more tempestuous. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.” 13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more stormy against them. 14 Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, O Lord, we pray, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life. Do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” 15 So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the Lord even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.

17  But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

The sailors are scared and they don’t know what to do. The storm just keeps getting worse and worse. So Jonah is like, “you should throw me overboard.”

The sailors are shocked by this. They don’t want to do it. They’re not prepared to throw a man overboard, because throwing Jonah overboard in that weather would be tantamount to killing him. It doesn’t matter how good of a swimmer you are. Surviving something like a hurricane in the water, without a boat, is almost impossible. They don’t want to kill him. So they start rowing hard, trying to get back to shore.

They can’t make it. The storm just gets worse and worse. So they have no choice. They pray out to God not to blame them for killing Jonah, and then they throw Jonah overboard.

Immediately the storm stops. And all the men on the ship are amazed. Remember earlier they were praying to their gods and it did nothing. But now they appease Jonah’s God and they see instantaneous affect. So they make sacrifices and vows to God.

And Jonah doesn’t die. Instead he gets swallowed by a big fish, which the Bible says he was in the belly of for three days and three nights.

While he’s in the fish, Jonah prays in Chapter 2. He’s in there because of God. For three days and three nights Jonah contemplates his life, his God, and what he’s doing. In his prayer, Jonah dwells on his situation. He compares being in the belly of the fish to being in Sheol, in death, but he knows even from there God can hear him.

Jonah knows he’s in the belly of the fish because he’s disobeyed God. But in the end Jonah says he will sacrifice to God what he has vowed he has paid. And in this case, that’s his time and his ministry to Nineveh.

So God has the fish spew Jonah out onto the dry land.

Someone please read Jonah chapter 3, which is also only ten verses.

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.”

10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

Once Jonah is on dry land, God tell shim again, “Go to Nineveh and minister to them.” And this time Jonah does it.

The Bible describes Nineveh as an exceedingly large city where it takes three days to walk across the city. That is a large city, especially for back then.

When Jonah gets through the whole city, he walks through it and he tells them that in forty days Nineveh will be overthrown.

The people of Nineveh hear Jonah and they believe him so they immediately start praying to God. They proclaim a city wide fast—so no one in the city eats—and they put on sackcloth, which is basically wearing bags instead of normal clothes.

Then the king of Nineveh hears about this, he too puts on sackcloth and he makes a proclamation. That they will fast and be in sackcloth and pray and turn from their violence, hoping that maybe just maybe God might change his mind and they won’t perish.

Nineveh repents, they turn from their evil ways, and because they do, God says they will not be destroyed.

Someone please read Jonah 4:1-4.

But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

Jonah sees that Nineveh has repented and God has spared the city, and is he happy? No. He’s angry. He’s furious. This is his worst enemy. So yes he went there doing what God told him to do, but it seems that Jonah only went to Nineveh because he thought that God would destroy Nineveh, and he wanted God to destroy his worst enemy for him.

That’s why Jonah didn’t want to go in the first place, he said. He knew God would spare them and Jonah wanted them all to die. Which isn’t a very nice thought, but it often how we think of our enemies. We want them to suffer and perish. We often don’t want to see them become right with God.

And God he calls Jonah to task for this. He’s like “Is it right for you to be angry?” And we know the answer is no. But Jonah can’t see it.

Someone please read Jonah 4:5-10.

Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.

The Lord God appointed a bush,[a] and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” 10 Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

Jonah is mad God saved Nineveh, so he decides to leave the city and pout. He sits in the shade and watches the city. Maybe he’s hoping God will still destroy it still?

Then God grows a bush so it comes up and covers Jonah, keeping the sun off of his head, and Jonah is really pleased about this. He’s nice and comfortable and outside watching Nineveh. And it seems Jonah stays out there all night.

In the morning, a worm attacks the bush and it withers. And when the sun rises, now it beats down on Jonah’s head and he gets hot and he thinks he might die, and he gets really melodramatic.

God asks Jonah if he’s angry about the bush. And he’s like “yeah I’m angry.” And God points out that Jonah is concerned about a bush that he did not grow, he did not affect, and had only been a live a little bit. If Jonah could be so concerned about something that is ultimately so young and unimportant, how much more would God who created everything be concerned about this huge city full of people and animals that he created.

We never get Jonah’s response. The book ends open ended. But God’s words are all we need to end the book.

Jonah is a unique book when contrasted with a lot of the other stories we’ve studied. The Old Testament at times can present God as only concerned about one nation, Israel, and the Hebrew people who live there. God is the God of Israel. They are his chosen people. And the stories center on that.

But does that mean God doesn’t care about everyone else? Sometimes it can seem that way. That’s because the Old Testament is written from the perspective of Hebrew and Israelite people. Of course they view themselves as the center of God’s story, because we all view ourselves as the center of our own stories! But in stories like Jonah and Ruth—which center on outsiders—we see God was never just concerned about one people. He’s concerned about the whole world.

Jonah didn’t want to be concerned about everyone and the whole world. He didn’t want to go to Nineveh. But we know God is the God of everyone—Israel and Assyria, Jerusalem and Nineveh, America and Russia.

We’re supposed to love our enemies. Matthew 5:44, Jesus says “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” That’s what we’re supposed to do. Preach to Nineveh, yes, but more importantly, don’t be upset when they repent and God welcomes them with open arms. Don’t run away like Jonah. Don’t wish people would be destroyed. Pray for people and be happy when they come back to God.

Elijah's Finale (Elijah Part 4)

So for the past couple of weeks we've been talking about Elijah. Elijah is a significant prophet during the time of the Divided Kingdom of Israel--when what was originally the nation of Israel was split into the Northern Kingdom called Israel and the Southern Kingdom called Judah. When we first met Elijah, it was while he was prophet under the king of Israel named Ahab.

Ahab was a really bad guy. He worshiped a god called Ba'al, who was a Mesapotamian weather god and also led a large portion of the country to worship this god. Then to top it all off, he was complicit in the murder of the prophets of God--thereby eliminating the people who would help the people of Israel get right with God.

Elijah worked the majority of his life to help the people get right with God. When we last left off, he was tired. He had worked his entire life tirelessly for God and what had it gotten him? He was basically Ahab's most wanted and at every turn Ahab had tried to kill him. Elijah had brought drought and rain to Israel. He had showed before all of Israel that God was more powerful than Baal by having a challenge on a mountainside where he called down fire from heaven. But still people didn't believe. And he was tired of it.

But God wasn't done with Elijah yet and had more work for him to do. And as we talked about last time, God came to Elijah--not in thunder, not in fire, not in earthquake--but in silence, in the form of a still small voice.

And God promised Elijah he would no longer be alone, that he would have back up--a guy named Elisha who Elijah would train up to take his place.

And that's exactly what happened. Elijah after his encounter with God went out and found Elisha and the other man chose to follow Elijah and learn from him so that when it was finally Elijah's time to die there would be a replacement for him, to continue on his good work.

In this class we're mostly focusing on Elijah's story here and not Ahab's, but I'm going to summarize real quick what happened to Ahab. Ahab continued to be a bad king. He didn't listen to Elijah or any other prophet and he got in a series of wars that didn't go well for him. Then one time he decided to kill one of his subjects just so he could steal his vineyard, which is really awful and an abuse of power.

Ahab just kept doing awful after awful thing and eventually he was killed in battle by one of the foreign kings he was battling against. And so his son, Ahaziah was crowned king. And that's where we're picking up. Ahaziah is king, and Elijah is still out there kicking as a prophet of God.

So go get your Bibles and please turn to 1 Kings 22:51-54.

51 Ahaziah son of Ahab began to reign over Israel in Samaria in the seventeenth year of King Jehoshaphat of Judah; he reigned two years over Israel. 52 He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the way of his father and mother, and in the way of Jeroboam son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin. 53 He served Baal and worshiped him; he provoked the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger, just as his father had done.

Ahaziah could have learned from his father’s mistakes and decided to follow God. Instead he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and worship the weather god Baal. This does not make God happy. As king, Ahaziah has a lot of power to set the path of the people under him, to set a good example for all of Israel. He could have gotten right with God and encouraged his people to be right with God. Instead he decides to make the same mistakes as his dad.

Alright now someone read 2 Kings 1:1-4.

After the death of Ahab, Moab rebelled against Israel.

Ahaziah had fallen through the lattice in his upper chamber in Samaria, and lay injured; so he sent messengers, telling them, “Go, inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover from this injury.” But the angel of the Lord said to Elijah the Tishbite, “Get up, go to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria, and say to them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron?’ Now therefore thus says the Lord, ‘You shall not leave the bed to which you have gone, but you shall surely die.’” So Elijah went.

Ahaziah becomes king of Israel and the nearby kingdom of Moab rebels. You would think that if Ahaziah is going to get injured it would be in battle, right? But no. Instead Ahaziah is walking through his house and it says he “falls through a lattice.” You can imagine this like a trellis or some other sort of woven like structure—maybe the roof—that he’s walking on and it just can’t hold his weight so he falls and get seriously injured.

Ahaziah wants to know whether he will recover from this fall, so he decides to have his people ask a god. But he doesn’t ask the God of Israel. No instead—like his father before him—he turns to Baal. So he sends messengers out. I’m not sure where they’re supposed to go—maybe a nearby prophet or priest of Baal? But they seem to know where to go, because off the messengers go!

Meanwhile an angel appears before Elijah and tells him where the messengers are going to be and to go out and meet them and demand what in the heck they are doing. Because why would the king of Israel need to inquire of a foreign god when Israel has a God—a god proven to be real and powerful. Ahaziah is breaking the first commandment, he is putting another god before the God of Israel and because of that, it says God will say “surely you will die.”

Is this a punishment? Is God like killing him? I don’t think so. I think the implication is that God is just going to let Ahaziah die from his injuries, as he would naturally do. But if Ahaziah had thought to turn to the God of Israel and pray to him, maybe God would have been able to heal him. But since Ahaziah turns to the unreal false god of Baal—well Baal isn’t going to heal Ahaziah. So Ahaziah will succumb to his injuries and die.

So Elijah goes out to meet these messengers. Someone please read 2 Kings 1:5-8.

The messengers returned to the king, who said to them, “Why have you returned?” They answered him, “There came a man to meet us, who said to us, ‘Go back to the king who sent you, and say to him: Thus says the Lord: Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are sending to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron? Therefore you shall not leave the bed to which you have gone, but shall surely die.’” He said to them, “What sort of man was he who came to meet you and told you these things?” They answered him, “A hairy man, with a leather belt around his waist.” He said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.”

We’re not actually shown the meeting between Elijah and the messengers. Just that Elijah goes out to meet them and the result is that the messengers return to the king. They must return a lot sooner than expected—so the place they were supposed to go must have been far away—because the king is surprised to see them back so soon. The messengers tell the king that they ran into a dude who told them to go back to the king and deliver the message that he will die.

And the king was like, “What man? Describe him to me?”

And they do describe him and Ahaziah immediately knows it’s Elijah. This shows that Ahaziah has no excuse—it’s not like he’s never heard of Elijah or God and is therefore following Baal. Ahaziah is acting with full knowledge that Elijah is a prophet of God and that the God of Israel exists but he is deciding to put Baal before God anyway.

Alright someone please read 2 Kings 1:9-15.

Then the king sent to him a captain of fifty with his fifty men. He went up to Elijah, who was sitting on the top of a hill, and said to him, “O man of God, the king says, ‘Come down.’” 10 But Elijah answered the captain of fifty, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.” Then fire came down from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty.

11 Again the king sent to him another captain of fifty with his fifty. He went up[a]and said to him, “O man of God, this is the king’s order: Come down quickly!” 12 But Elijah answered them, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.” Then the fire of God came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty.

13 Again the king sent the captain of a third fifty with his fifty. So the third captain of fifty went up, and came and fell on his knees before Elijah, and entreated him, “O man of God, please let my life, and the life of these fifty servants of yours, be precious in your sight. 14 Look, fire came down from heaven and consumed the two former captains of fifty men with their fifties; but now let my life be precious in your sight.” 15 Then the angel of the Lord said to Elijah, “Go down with him; do not be afraid of him.” So he set out and went down with him to the king,

The king sends out fifty men to get Elijah, presumably because he wants to talk to Elijah himself. And they call him a man of God. Elijah is like, “Pfft, if I’m a man of God, then fire will come down from heaven and kill you.” And that’s exactly what happens. Twice. In a kingdom that denies the power of God and turns to Baal, Elijah shows God’s might and power but also that Elijah doesn’t answer to the king’s authority. As a man of God, he answers to the higher authority—God. So Elijah only talks to the third captain because God tells him to—not because the man begs.

But finally, Elijah does go to the king. Let’s read what happens when Elijah does talk to the king. Please read 2 Kings 1:16-18.

16 and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: Because you have sent messengers to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron,—is it because there is no God in Israel to inquire of his word?—therefore you shall not leave the bed to which you have gone, but you shall surely die.”

17 So he died according to the word of the Lord that Elijah had spoken. His brother, Jehoram succeeded him as king in the second year of King Jehoram son of Jehoshaphat of Judah, because Ahaziah had no son. 18 Now the rest of the acts of Ahaziah that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel?

So Elijah tells the king what God told him. That because Ahaziah turned to a false god and asked help of a god who was not the God of Israel, Ahaziah will not recover. He will get the kind of help a false god can give him, which is nothing.

And so Ahaziah dies. He has no son so his brother succeeds him. And this is the last big story of Elijah interacting with a king, of Elijah actively working to bring people back to God. But it’s not the last story of Elijah, not yet, because Elijah isn’t dead yet.

So let’s see what happens to Elijah next. Someone please rad 2 Kings 2:1-6.

Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. The company of prophets[a] who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.”

Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. The company of prophets[b] who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.”

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on.

The first verse of this section says that God is about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind—we’ll talk a little more in a bit what that actually means, but for simplicity, it simply means at this moment that the end of Elijah’s time on earth is near and soon Elisha will be taking over for him.

So God tells Elijah to go to Bethel and Elijah tells Elisha to stay but Elisha basically responds, “As long as God and you are live, I will not leave you.” And Elijah allows it. They go down to Bethel together.

When they get there Elisha is confronted by a group of other prophets and they’re basically like, “Hey do you know today is the day that Elijah is going to die?” And Elisha does now and he doesn’t want to talk about it. Elijah is his mentor and friend; he probably doesn’t want Elijah to leave him. So of course he doesn’t want to talk about it. Dealing with someone important like that leaving us is hard.

Then God sends Elijah to Jericho and once again Elijah tells Elisha to stay behind and Elisha refuses to. And when they get to Jericho another group of prophets confront Elisha and he still doesn’t want to talk about it.

Then Elijah goes to the Jordan and Elisha goes with him.

Someone please read 2 Kings 2:7-10.

Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” 10 He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.”

The other group of prophets also follows and though they stay back. Elijah and Elisha meanwhile get to the Jordan river and when they get there, Elijah takes off his cloak, rolls it up, and strikes the water with it, and Jordan parts so that Elijah and Elisha can cross on dry ground.

This is supposed to remind us of all the times that Moses parted rivers and seas, but also of when the Israelites crossed the Jordan River and the God parted the river for them so they could enter the promised land. It’s another reminder that Elijah is just as trusted and powerful as Moses.

When they get across, Elijah is like, “Hey I know my time on earth is nearing an end, what can I do for?” And Elisha says, “Please let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.” This is a reference to the inheritance laws. In Deuteronomy 21:17, it says that the firstborn child gets a double portion of the father’s inheritance—meaning he gets more than all the other kids. If you had two sons, basically the first born would get 2/3 of the father’s wealth and the second son would only get 1/3. So if your dad had $30 dollars, the oldest would get $20 and the younger $10. Not necessarily fair, but it was the law of the land.

Elisha is hearkening to this law by asking for a double portion. It shows he thinks of himself as Elijah’s spiritual son—who should inherit from him. But Elisha is not asking for a double portion of wealth, which the law applies to, but of spirit. Basically asking for Elijah’s spiritual strength and connection to God.

Elijah is like, “That’s a hard thing for me to give you, but if I’m taken from you, you will have it.”

Now someone read 2 Kings 2:11-12.

11 As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. 12 Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

They’re walking and talking and suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appear. Now fire has been really important in the Elijah narrative and in this story—as well in the Moses burning bush story—represents God. So these are a heavenly chariot led by heavenly houses, sent by God. And basically Elijah ascends to heaven in this fiery chariot.

What does this mean? Elijah doesn’t die. Most people die and that’s how we get to heaven. Elijah on the other hand gets a heavenly chariot ride, and is basically taken up into heaven. He gets to go to heaven without dying.

Does anyone know what other Biblical person was taken up into heaven without dying? I’ll give you a hint. The answer is not Jesus. Remember, Jesus died. That’s part of what makes Jesus’s story so miraculous. He experienced death like the rest of us and then came back. I’m looking for the name of another Biblical person who didn’t die at all, but rather got taken up into heaven. Anyone know?

[Let them answer.]

Someone flip back to Genesis 5:21-24.

21 When Enoch had lived sixty-five years, he became the father of Methuselah. 22 Enoch walked with God after the birth of Methuselah three hundred years, and had other sons and daughters. 23 Thus all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty-five years. 24 Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him.

Enoch is a guy from before the time of Noah and the great flood. He was apparently so awesome that God just snatched him up into heaven rather than let him die. And he’s the only other person than Elijah to be described about this. If you’ll remember, Moses died and was buried. Even he didn’t get taken up into heaven. But Elijah and Enoch both did. Something about people with E names I guess. 😉

When Elijah is taken up, Elisha is naturally distraught. We already saw that he views Elijah as a sort of father. So he’s very upset that Elijah is taken from him.

Let’s see what he does next. Someone please read 2 Kings 2:13-18.

13 He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.

15 When the company of prophets who were at Jericho saw him at a distance, they declared, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” They came to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. 16 They said to him, “See now, we have fifty strong men among your servants; please let them go and seek your master; it may be that the spirit of the Lord has caught him up and thrown him down on some mountain or into some valley.” He responded, “No, do not send them.” 17 But when they urged him until he was ashamed, he said, “Send them.” So they sent fifty men who searched for three days but did not find him. 18 When they came back to him (he had remained at Jericho), he said to them, “Did I not say to you, Do not go?”

Elisha picks up Elijah’s mantle—which is literally a cloak and metaphorically Elisha taking up Elijah’s job as prophet of God in Israel. He goes back to cross the Jordan river and he too is able to part the Jordan river, showing Elisha actually has taken on Elijah’s job and can part the river now just like Elijah did.

On the other side of the river, he meets those prophets who were following them and they all react with the appropriate respect for the new prophet of God. And basically they’re like, “Hey let us go see if we can catch Elijah.”

Maybe they didn’t see what happened to Elijah and actually think he just got lost or hurt somehow. But Elisha saw what happened and he’s like “there is no point.” But these men are like “no please let us go.” And Elisha relents.

So these men go and search and search and search, but do they find Elijah? No. Because Elijah was taken up by heaven. And they come back to Elisha and report and he’s basically like, “I told you so.”

And that’s the end of the story of Elijah and how Elisha came to take up his burden as prophet of Israel.