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.

Jonah

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.

Elijah and the Still Small Voice (Elijah Part 3)

For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about Elijah. Elijah is a prophet of God, who God has sent to deal with the king of Israel who is named Ahab. You’ll remember that Ahab is a very bad king and he has led the people of Israel astray and into the worship of a Canaanite god called “Baal.”

God through Elijah brought drought to the land, hoping to bring the people back to him. This drought wasn’t just because God felt like punishing the people of Israel for being bad—but mainly to show his dominion over the false god Baal. For Baal was a god of weather, and if he was real and listening to his followers cries, surely Baal would be able to do something about the drought! By keeping the land in drought, God was proving to the Israelites that he is more powerful than Baal, because he is the one true God who is worthy of worship!

But the drought didn’t seem to be working—it didn’t seem to be turning people’s hearts back to God. So Elijah instead arranged a showdown between himself and the prophets of Baal. In this showdown, Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to build an altar and put a sacrifice on it and then ask Baal to light the altar on fire. Then Elijah would do the same with his God.

Inevitably, Baal did not respond and the altar of the prophets of Baal did not light on fire. We know this is because Baal isn’t real but the people back then would probably have been legitimately surprised by this outcome. Then when it was Elijah’s turn, Elijah didn’t just build an altar, he also soaked it in water so it would be even harder to light. But that didn’t stop God! When Elijah prayed to God, God basically incinerated the entire altar, burning it up instantly vaporizing everything. Proving before all the people of Israel that God is God and not Baal.

So for a moment the people of Israel turned back to God, for a moment they rejoiced and said that God was their God, and because of that Elijah brought back the rain.

But remember that Ahab was married and his queen’s name was Jezebel, and Baal was her god. So she’s going to be unhappy about what happened and really unhappy when she hears that as punishment for leading Israel astray, Elijah had all the prophets of Baal killed.

So let’s pick up where we left of. Please grab your Bibles and turn to 1 Kings 19:1-3.

19 Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.

When Ahab gets back from the mountain showdown with the altars he immediately goes to tell Jezebel what happened. And Jezebel is not happy. Remember she is not an Israelite. She comes from another land, and Baal would have been the god she would’ve grown up worshiping. So to her this is probably all super ridiculous. Now I’m not saying she’s not bad—because she did have most of the prophets of God killed, as we studied last week. People back then were very intolerant when it came to religion. They didn’t believe in living and letting live. They basically tried to convert each other with death threats—which rarely works well. So Jezebel tried to convert all of Israel to her gods by basically getting rid of all of God’s prophets. And then Elijah turned around and had all her prophets killed.

So she’s furious, and in retribution for having her guys killed she wants to have Elijah killed off.

Since the queen wants his head, Elijah is scared for his life, so he flees, and it says he flees all the way to Beer-sheba which belongs to Judah. Remember at this time all of Israel is split into two kingdoms, the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern kingdom of Judah. So basically Elijah has fled the country, trying to escape Jezebel.

Alright let’s see what happens next. Please read 1 Kings 19:4-8.

But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.

Elijah doesn’t stay in Beer-sheba, instead he goes into the wilderness. He walks through the wilderness for a day until he reaches a single tree—not an oasis, just a tree. He sits down at it and is like, “Yeah, this is probably a good time and place to die. I’ve done enough, and I’m no better than anyone before me, so yep, God, I’m ready to die now.”

But God has different plans for Elijah, it’s not his time to die yet, so he sends an angel who brings him a little cake—which if you’ll remember is going to be more like a pancake then a birthday cake—and the angel brings him some water. Elijah eats and drinks but then he gets a little stubborn. He lays back down again as if to say “Newp, I’m not ready to do anything more God. I just want to sit here and chill and die please.” But that’s still not God’s plan. So an angel provides for him a second time and then is basically like “Dude, you have to go now. God’s got plans for you! Get up!”

So in the end Elijah does get up, and those two meals provided to him by the angel is enough to let him travel for forty days and forty nights to get a mountain called Horeb.

“Forty days and forty nights” should be a familiar Biblical phrase to you guys. It’s used in the Bible a lot. When the world was flooded in the days of Noah it was for “forty days and forty nights.” When Moses went up to Mount Sinai to get the law from God he was up there for 40 days and 40 nights. When Jesus is tempted in the New testament its for 40 days and 40 nights. That’s not the only appearance of the number 40 in scripture, because there are a lot of stories where 40 years pass. What’s significant about 40? Were all these events exactly 100% 40 days and God arranged it that way because he likes the number 40? I don’t know. But I think we can say that 40 days is a long time—over a month. In the Bible it seems the number 40 is often used to show something is long and also used in cases where there is a judgement or a preparation. As if the writer is saying “It took a long time for this person to get out of the wilderness” or “this person prepared for this other event for a long time.”

Was Mount Horeb actually 40 days away from Elijah? I don’t know. But it seems like God felt it necessary for Elijah to take a long time to get there, so when Elijah finally arrived at this mountain he would be prepared for whatever is about to happen. Just like the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years. They needed a long time to wander, for an entire generation to die off and also for the new generation to be prepared for entering the promised land.

Okay someone please read 1 Kings 19:9-12.

At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

11 He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.

Elijah wanders for 40 days trying to get to Mount Horeb and he gets there and he finds a cave, so he’s like “This looks like a nice place to sleep.”

But once again, God is like “Rest? Psh, Elijah. I have plans for you! No time for lollygagging!” So God basically says to him, “Dude, what are you doing right now?”

And Elijah is like “Umm, I don’t know if you’ve noticed God, but I’ve been working very hard, doing everything you ask to bring the people back to you, but it’s all for nothing. Everyone is dead, people aren’t worshiping you, they want to kill me, and you know I’m just tired. Please. Can I take a nap?”

But God is like “Nope. Elijah. Go stands before the mountain because I’m about to pass by.”

Does anyone recall what other prophet had a similar experience? Where God passed by him? [Let them answer.]

Moses! Someone flip back to Exodus for me and read Exodus 33:18-23.

18 Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’;[a] and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” 21 And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; 23 then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”

When we looked at this story in Exodus, we talked about how no one can see God’s face—because it’s too great and too magnificent that seeing it would basically kill you. So Moses could only see God’s back. In Exodus 34:29 it says “Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.”

God is so magnificent, so amazing, so incredible—even just talking to him made Moses face glow as if in reflection of God’s magnificence.

With Elijah we’re getting a call back to that text. Remember we’ve talked about that Moses and Elijah are considered two of the greatest prophets ever—and this section with Elijah is directly calling back to that section of Moses. Basically both of these men have direct and real encounters with God. God passed by in front of Moses and now he’s going to pass by in front of Elijah.

In the Moses text, it doesn’t give us a description of what happened when God passed by—just that God said it would happen and it did. Here we get a description.

The text says a great wind blows by and tears into the mountain and it’s so strong it breaks up rocks—but that wind? It’s not God. Then after the wind there is a great earthquake shifting the earth—but that earthquake? It’s not God. Then comes a fire! But that fire, it’s not God.

If these things aren’t God what are they? Well I think the best analogy is that they are the shockwave that comes before God! Just like how a sonic boom proceeds an airplane that has broken past the speed of sound, this is the shockwave of God coming down to the earth and coming before Elijah!

Wind! Earthquake! Fire! And then…silence. [pause for effect.]

The King James version translates it a little more poetically, “And, behold, the Lord pass by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and break in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.”

The sound of sheer silence. A still small voice. Such different translations and that’s because the Hebrew words here are a little confusing because silence is the absence of sound, yet this was a silence so profound it could be heard.

God wasn’t in the wind, he wasn’t in the earthquake, he wasn’t in the fire, but he is in the sound of silence.

I brought up the King James version because this phrase to describe God is used a lot in Christian circles, “a still small voice.” And we often use it as a call to slow down. We Americans are always so busy. We rush from event to event, never slowing down, never taking time. We fill our lives with things to keep us busy, and do we ever take time to just sit in the silence? To listen in the quiet for that still small voice that is God?

We often don’t. And maybe because of that sometimes we miss what God is trying to tell us. Which isn’t to say we can shout over God! If God wants to be heard, he will be heard—he can speak in burning bushes and in brilliant appearances just as much as he can speak in the still small voice. But it behooves us to slow down and try to meet God in the silence, to take a moment to breathe and see what he might be saying to us there.

Just like Elijah here.

Someone please read 1 Kings 19:13-18.

13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16 Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. 17 Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. 18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

When Elijah hears the silence he wraps his mantle, which is basically a cloak, around his face, because he doesn’t want to look upon the face of God, because he knows doing so will kill him. And then with his face safely wrapped up he goes to the mouth of the cave. And God talks to him. Once again God is like, “What are you doing Elijah?”

And Elijah gives the same answer he gave before. That he’s worked very hard for God—that no one else cares—and that he’s all alone and they’re trying to kill him. Basically Elijah has given up, he’s throwing in the towel.

God on the other hand, has not given up, but he does it seems recognize that maybe Elijah needs some help. So he tells him to anoint a guy named Hazael to king of the land of Aram and then anoint Jehu to be king over Israel—which if you’ll remember is the land Ahab is currently king of. So God is basically revoking Ahab’s kingship and telling Elijah that this new guy Jehu is going to be king. But most importantly from Elijah’s perspective, God has chosen a replacement for Elijah and his name happens to be Elisha—which is really confusing. Elijah and Elisha. But Elisha is be prophet after Elijah. And between the prophets and new kings, God says they will bring Israel back to God.

Someone read 1 Kings 19:19-21

19 So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. 20 He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” Then Elijah[a] said to him, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?” 21 He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.

Elijah is reinvigorated by this prospect of not being alone, so he immediately goes out to find this Elisha guy. And find him he does. Turns out Elisha is a wealthy farmer. How do we know that? Well when we find him he’s plowing his fields and it says he has 12 oxen, which is a large amount and very expensive. Why is this important? Well to follow Elijah and become a prophet, Elisha will have to choose to leave his life of ease and wealth behind.

So Elijah sees him and basically walks past him, but throws his cloak after him as he walks past. This is a very strange way to recruit someone and not done anywhere else in the Bible but it seems Elisha knows what it means because he immediately runs after Elijah. 

Basically he tells Elijah, “Hey give me a minute to tell my parents goodbye and then I’ll come with you.”

And Elijah basically responds with, “Umm, who are you? Why do you think I want you to follow me?” This is basically Elijah testing Elisha, giving the man a chance to back out or deny that he is being called to be a prophet of the Lord. But Elisha doesn’t take the bait.

Instead Elisha goes home, and slaughters his oxen and basically makes them into oxen steaks and gives out the food to all of his people—basically giving up his wealth and giving it out to everyone. And then he follows after Elijah.

And that where we’re going to stop for now but we’re not done, because Ahab and Jezebel are still out there, and they still want Elijah dead!

Elijah and the Challenge on Mount Carmel (Elijah Part 2)

Last week we started talking about Elijah. We talked about how he was a prophet in Israel—the Northern Kingdom after Israel and Judah split into two. The king at that time was named Ahab and he was a really bad king, who worshipped other gods—which is like the biggest no-no in the book. Because of this, God sent Elijah to deal with Ahab.

God, through Elijah, said there would be a drought until the king straightened up. Because of this, Elijah became like the kingdom’s most wanted and he went into hiding. During this time he lived with a widow who was so poor that she thought she and her son were going to starve to death. But because she trusted God, God provided her, giving her the food she wanted. God even brought her son back to life when her son died.

We also talked about last week how Elijah was one of the greatest prophets recorded in the Bible but how Jesus was even greater than him. Because Elijah was just a prophet of God, but Jesus is God.

This week we’re going to continue the story of Elijah and see what happens to him!

Someone please read 1 Kings 18:1-2.

After many days the word of the Lord came to Elijah, in the third year of the drought, saying, “Go, present yourself to Ahab; I will send rain on the earth.” So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab. The famine was severe in Samaria.

Three years there is drought in the land, and Elijah is hiding from Ahab—because Ahab wants to kill him. And finally God is like “Hey Elijah, go before Ahab—the dude who wants to kill you—so we can figure it out how we’re going to end this drought in Israel.” Elijah might have been scared, you might think he would argue with God about going before the dude who wants to kill him, but instead Elijah just obeys, no record of him fighting it. He travels to go see Ahab.

Someone please read 1 Kings 18:3-6.

Ahab summoned Obadiah, who was in charge of the palace. (Now Obadiah revered the Lord greatly; when Jezebel was killing off the prophets of the Lord, Obadiah took a hundred prophets, hid them fifty to a cave, and provided them with bread and water.) Then Ahab said to Obadiah, “Go through the land to all the springs of water and to all the wadis; perhaps we may find grass to keep the horses and mules alive, and not lose some of the animals.” So they divided the land between them to pass through it; Ahab went in one direction by himself, and Obadiah went in another direction by himself.

So now we meet this guy named Obadiah, who is so trusted by Ahab that he is in charge of the palace. You would think that a guy trusted by Ahab—who is a terrible person—would also be a terrible person, but that’s not the case. We learn here that he is a follower of God.

We also learn a vital piece of information about Jezebel—Ahab’s wife. Apparently she ordered that anyone claiming to be a prophet of God be killed, which would include Elijah. Obadiah, however, hid a hundred prophets, keeping them safe right under the king and queen’s nose! That is incredibly brave, because undeniably if Obadiah gets discovered not only would the prophets be killed but so would he.

But Ahab doesn’t know about Obadiah’s goodness, he trusts Obadiah. And the drought is so bad, that Ahab basically wants him and Obadiah to go through the land looking for any water or grass, because at this point they’re probably going to lose all the animals. So Obadiah and Ahab split up, going different ways and searching the land for water and grass.

Alright someone please read 1 Kings 18:7-16.

As Obadiah was on the way, Elijah met him; Obadiah recognized him, fell on his face, and said, “Is it you, my lord Elijah?” He answered him, “It is I. Go, tell your lord that Elijah is here.” And he said, “How have I sinned, that you would hand your servant over to Ahab, to kill me? 10 As the Lord your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom to which my lord has not sent to seek you; and when they would say, ‘He is not here,’ he would require an oath of the kingdom or nation, that they had not found you. 11 But now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord that Elijah is here.’ 12 As soon as I have gone from you, the spirit of the Lord will carry you I know not where; so, when I come and tell Ahab and he cannot find you, he will kill me, although I your servant have revered the Lord from my youth. 13 Has it not been told my lord what I did when Jezebel killed the prophets of the Lord, how I hid a hundred of the Lord’s prophets fifty to a cave, and provided them with bread and water? 14 Yet now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord that Elijah is here’; he will surely kill me.” 15 Elijah said, “As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself to him today.” 16 So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him; and Ahab went to meet Elijah.

So Obadiah is out minding his own business, looking for grass and water, when he runs into Elijah. Obadiah recognizes him on sight and basically fangirls at him. And then Elijah is like, “Hey Obadiah, go tell Ahab that I’m here.”

Obadiah then freaks out. He’s like “No, no, no, I can’t tell Ahab! He’ll kill me. Because if I go to him and say you’re here, you’re just going to disappear before Ahab gets here and then he’s going to be so mad he’s just going to kill me. Have I not done enough for you and God by hiding prophets? Now you want me to die too!”

Elijah responds to Obadiah’s meltdown by just saying, “I promise I’m not going to disappear on you. If you tell Ahab I’m here I will appear before him. Don’t worry.”

And Obadiah listens to Elijah and does as he says. When he meets back up with Ahab, he tells him Elijah is waiting for him, and then Ahab goes to meet with Elijah.

Someone please read 1 Kings 18:17-19.

17 When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” 18 He answered, “I have not troubled Israel; but you have, and your father’s house, because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals. 19 Now therefore have all Israel assemble for me at Mount Carmel, with the four hundred fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”

When Ahab sees Elijah, he basically accuses Elijah of being the reason why all of Israel is in distress. But Elijah is like, “Dude, this isn’t my fault. You’re the one who has left God and decided to follow another god—Baal.” And then Elijah is like, “I want to have a showdown. Assemble everyone at Mount Carmel, all the prophets of Baal and Asherah,” which if you’ll remember Baal and Asherah are the two gods that Jezebel worships. And she has like over eight hundred prophets for these two gods and Elijah wants to meet them all.

Alright now someone please read 1 Kings 18:20-24.

20 So Ahab sent to all the Israelites, and assembled the prophets at Mount Carmel. 21 Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” The people did not answer him a word. 22 Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets number four hundred fifty. 23 Let two bulls be given to us; let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it; I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. 24 Then you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord; the god who answers by fire is indeed God.” All the people answered, “Well spoken!”

Ahab gathers everyone, all the Israelites and all the prophets of Baal and Asherah, and then Elijah speaks to all of them. He’s like, “Israel is split over two different opinions: whether we should worship God or Baal.” And then he’s like “You guys need to make a choice. Either follow God or follow Baal.” But the people had no answer for him.

Elijah is the only prophet left—the only prophet of God out in the open and not in hiding, while Baal has 450 prophets. And basically, Elijah lays down a challenge. He’s like let us each choose a bull to sacrifice. We’ll prepare it to burn it but we won’t. We’ll each ask for our god to burn it and the god who answers their prophet by burning the sacrifice with fire from heaven, then we’ll know that god is real and powerful and the that god will be the God of Israel.”

And the people were like, “That seems like a good plan.”

Alright let’s see what happens. Someone please read 1 Kings 18:25-29.

25 Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many; then call on the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” 26 So they took the bull that was given them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, crying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no answer. They limped about the altar that they had made. 27 At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” 28 Then they cried aloud and, as was their custom, they cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them. 29 As midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice, no answer, and no response.

Because Elijah is a nice guy he let’s the prophets of Baal go first. So the prophets of Baal pick an animal and prepare it and put it on an altar as a sacrifice and then they cry out to Baal for an entire morning, begging him to answer them.

But does Baal answer them?

Nope.

After the hours of them begging, Elijah is like, “You guys better shout louder, because if Baal is a god then he must be lost or sleeping or something.” Basically Elijah is just being super sarcastic here. 

The prophets are desperate so they cry out harder and they even cut themselves so they bleed, hoping to invoke Baal. But nothing works. It goes past midday and they’re still begging Baal, but Baal still does not response. No answer.

Now it’s Elijah’s turn. Let’s see what he and God do. Someone read 1 Kings 18:30-35.

30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come closer to me”; and all the people came closer to him. First he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down; 31 Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be your name”; 32 with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. Then he made a trench around the altar, large enough to contain two measures of seed. 33 Next he put the wood in order, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood. He said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” 34 Then he said, “Do it a second time”; and they did it a second time. Again he said, “Do it a third time”; and they did it a third time, 35 so that the water ran all around the altar, and filled the trench also with water.

Elijah asks the people to come closer to him so they can see what he is doing. First he fixes the alter, because it had been torn down before since Ahab and Jezebel didn’t worship God. So he sets up twelve stones to represent the twelve tribes of Israel.

Then Elijah does something crazy. He digs a trench around his altar and then asks people to fill four jars of water. These wouldn’t be like peanut butter jars but rather the huge jars people would use to get water for the day from the well. So they get the four jars, they fill it with water, and then Elijah has them poor it all over the altar. Then he asks them to do it two more times. The wood is soaked, so much water that it fills the trench he dug around the water.

Does wet wood burn very well? No. It does not. And this is a challenge about God being able to light the wood on fire. So what is Elijah doing?

Well Baal completely failed, didn’t even light a spark, and Elijah is drenching his alter in water so that when God lights it on fire, there will be no doubt that God did it and it’s miraculous and he is more powerful than any other God.

Alright someone read 1 Kings 18:36-40.

36 At the time of the offering of the oblation, the prophet Elijah came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. 37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” 38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.” 40 Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; do not let one of them escape.” Then they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the Wadi Kishon, and killed them there.

So Elijah prays. He prays to God and asks him to light the altar on fire, not as some magic trick, but so that the people will know God is the true God, the God of Israel, and they will turn back to him and away from Baal and other false gods. God answers Elijah’s prayer. He sends fire from heaven and it doesn’t just light wet wood on fire, it consumes everything—it even just instantly evaporates all the water in the trench. This isn’t just fire, it’s like a fireball that is so hot everything is just instantly incinerated.

All the people are just instantly amazed and in awe and they fall on their faces before God and are like, “God is God.” It’s clear that God completely and utterly won this challenge while Baal did nothing.

And then Elijah takes this opportunity to grab the prophets of Baal and they take them and kill them—so that they can no longer influence the people away from God.

Someone read 1 Kings 18:41-46.

41 Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of rushing rain.” 42 So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; there he bowed himself down upon the earth and put his face between his knees. 43 He said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” He went up and looked, and said, “There is nothing.” Then he said, “Go again seven times.” 44 At the seventh time he said, “Look, a little cloud no bigger than a person’s hand is rising out of the sea.” Then he said, “Go say to Ahab, ‘Harness your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’” 45 In a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind; there was a heavy rain. Ahab rode off and went to Jezreel. 46 But the hand of the Lord was on Elijah; he girded up his loins and ran in front of Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.

The people have turned back to God, which means it’s time for the drought to end. Elijah tells Ahab to go eat and drink and basically that by the time he is done there will be rain. So Ahab goes to eat and drink.

Elijah goes up to the top of Mount Carmel and seems to take a servant with him. He goes up and prays. And he asks his servant to look to the sea and see if he can see anything. And his servant is like, “Newp. No clouds. Nothing.” Elijah tells him to do it seven times, and then on the seventh time the servant is like, “Hey there is totally a tiny little cloud out there.”

Elijah then sends the servant to go tell Ahab to get in his chariot and drive so basically he can beat the rain home—because chariots are open and driving one in the rain would suck. So Ahab gets in his chariot and rides to the town of Jezreel, and Elijah runs with him. Runs! Which is crazy, but God strengthens him so he can run faster than the chariot.

 And that’s where we’re going stop for today.