Friday, February 26, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 26. A Man Of God

Prophets And Kings
Day 26
A Man Of God

Jeroboam haves endorsed idolatry as the state religion of the ten northern tribes of Israel over which him is king. Him even instituted a festival that mimics the Feast of Tabernacles. Today the Lord sends a man to pronounce a future judgment for what is happenin on the godless altar at Bethel.

1 KINGS 13:1-10
When we finished Chapter 12 yesterday, Jeroboam had gone up to the golden calf at Bethel to perform offerings during his imitation of the Feast of Tabernacles. I can't help but recall that it was Israel's founder Jacob who named this place Bethel, meaning "house of God", and now the new king has desecrated it by performing sacrifice to false gods there. Today a prophet comes to deliver a dire message. "By the word of the Lord a man of God came from Judah to Bethel, as Jeroboam was standing by the altar to make an offering." (1 Kings 13:1) The Bible doesn't name this prophet but he must have been a very brave man to make the trip from Judah into what has actually become enemy territory. It would seem that nobody from the ten tribes of Jeroboam's kingdom was willing or able to receive a word from the Lord so He had to send a man from Rehoboam's kingdom of Judah. 

"By the word of the Lord he cried out against the altar: 'Altar, altar! This is what the Lord says: 'A son named Josiah will be born to the house of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests of the high places who make offerings here, and human bones will be burned on you.' That same day the man of God gave a sign: 'This is the sign the Lord has declared: 'The altar will be split apart and the ashes on it will be poured out.'" (1 Kings 13:2-3) This is dreadful news to Jeroboam. The thing he fears most is losing the kingdom to the tribe of Judah and now this prophet declares that a king of Judah will rise up and tear down everything Jeroboam has established. The prophet doesn't provide a timeline for these events so Jeroboam doesn't know it won't happen in his lifetime, but we find the fulfillment of this prophecy in 2 Kings 23 when King Josiah renewed the covenant with the Lord, burned all the idols, killed the priests who were continuing Jeroboam's state-sanctioned idolatry, tore down the shrines of the temple prostitutes of the sex cults, and demolished all the high places where incense was burned to other gods. Even the wicked priests already dead didn't escape his wrath at Bethel, "Then Josiah looked around, and when he saw the tombs that were there on the hillside, he had the bones removed from them and burned on the altar to defile it, in accordance with the word of the Lord proclaimed by the man of God who foretold these things." (2 Kings 23:16) 

During the feast I imagine Jeroboam felt on top of the world until the prophet showed up. He had become king of a powerful nation. He had managed to prevent the people from going up to Jerusalem to worship at the temple. He controlled most of the nation and he completely controlled the religion. But the words of the prophet strike fear in his heart. "When King Jeroboam heard what the man of God cried out against the altar at Bethel, he stretched out his hand from the altar and said, 'Seize him!' But the hand he stretched out toward the man shriveled up, so that he could not pull it back. Also, the altar was split apart and its ashes poured out according to the sign given by the man of God by the word of the Lord." (1 Kings 13:4-5) Jeroboam wants the prophet silenced. He shuts his ears to God's warning. Although he doesn't know it will be several hundred years til the birth of Josiah, Jeroboam doesn't even consider repenting. For all he knows the prophecy could come true tomorrow but he doesn't want to hear the word of the Lord. The prophet Nehemiah will someday say, "For many years You were patient with them. By Your Spirit You warned them through the prophets. Yet they paid no attention, so You gave them into the hands of the neighboring peoples." (Nehemiah 9:30) 

What mercy this is that the Lord would give the warning so many years in advance. He gave the people plenty of time and opportunities to repent but like Josiah they covered their ears at the word of God. Over and over again the Bible tells us that God is patient and longsuffering toward us. How many opportunities did He give us before we surrendered to Christ and were made into new creatures? How long did He have to deal with our spirits before we cast our idols aside and fell down at the feet of the one true God? I am thankful for the patience and longsuffering of God! He dealt with my spirit for a long time while I dug myself deeper and deeper into a pit of my own making. That whole time He was the still small voice whispering, "I'm here and I love you. Why not come to Me and be healed?" 

Satan tries his best to blind us to the joy and freedom we will find in Christ. He wants us to think of the Christian life as one of self-denial and deprivation. If Satan cannot entice us to worship him, the next best thing is to get us to worship ourselves. The biggest idol in the lives of the ten northern tribes in today's passage wasn't the golden calf. The true object of their worship was their own selves, their own desires. The sex cults didn't demand purity of them. This helped Satan to break down family units. The cult of Molek didn't place value on human love or human life, for they practiced child sacrifice. This helped Satan break down the natural affection parents should have for their children, causing mothers and fathers to choose themselves and their own prosperity over the lives of the fruit of their bodies. They could live any way they pleased as long as they burned incense at the proper times and brought the sacrifices they thought these pagan gods required of them. There was no holy God to deal with. They didn't have to listen to God saying, "You are not okay and what you're doing is not okay." There were so many gods of the nations around them that they could pick and choose which ones to serve. They could trade one for another if something didn't suit them. It was one size fits all. A person could customize their religious practices to suit their own particular weaknesses and sins. In our day in the United States we don't find much outright visible idolatry such as we find in the Bible, but all Satan has done is persuade us to trade in our old idols for new ones. Now we can worship at the altar of sex twenty four hours a day, even from our phones or our computers, even while standing in the checkout line at the grocery store gazing at the magazines on display. Now we can worship at the altar of material greed where it's acceptable to do anything we have to in order to get ahead. Now we can sacrifice our children to abortion on demand. Satan hasn't had to alter his tactics very much over the centuries; he simply became a little more subtle. We might not literally bow down to a golden calf in a pagan temple, but we can more discreetly bow down to anything that suits our fancy. Satan has told us time and again we should be "all about me", "if it feels good do it", "there is no God which means mankind never fell and doesn't need a Savior", "when you die you cease to exist; there's nobody to answer to." 

It's interesting that Jeroboam now asks for the prophet's help, but it's not help for the state of his spiritual condition. "Then the king said to the man of God, 'Intercede with the Lord your God and pray for me that my hand may be restored.' So the man of God interceded with the Lord, and the king's hand was restored and became as it was before." (1 Kings 13:6) The only thing Jeroboam desired was healing on the outside. We can look pretty good on the outside, but as the Lord Jesus said of the self-righteous Pharisees in Israel, "Inside you are full of greed and wickedness." (Luke 11:39b) I think Jeroboam was concerned with how weak he would look as a king with a withered hand. This prophet has already performed enough signs to prove that the Lord sent him and that the power of the Lord is with him, but these signs have no effect on the king or the people. We see the complete denunciation of the God of Israel in Jeroboam's heart when he calls Him "the Lord your God".

"The king said to the man of God, 'Come home with me for a meal, and I will give you a gift.'" (1 Kings 13:7) I don't know whether Jeroboam simply wants to reward the prophet for removing the stroke of God or whether he hopes to buy favor from him. 

"But the man of God answered the king, 'Even if you were to give me half your possessions, I would not go with you, nor would I eat bread or drink water here. For I was commanded by the word of the Lord: 'You must not eat bread or drink water or return by the way you came.' So he took another road and did not return by the way he had come to Bethel." (1 Kings 13:8-10) To go home with the king and eat at his table would detract from the message of God. It was important to end this meeting on a dramatic note rather than then going home and breaking bread with a wicked king. Plus it might appear that the prophet was somehow giving approval or consent to how Jeroboam was ruling the nation. The Lord was so displeased with the poisonous idolatry in the land that He told the prophet not even to take a drink of water there. 

We will see more of this prophet and also another prophet tomorrow. Today I'd like to focus on the mercy of God in sending the warning to Jeroboam's kingdom so far ahead of the judgment. I'd like to focus on how our idols will always disappoint us and leave us empty. At one time, living in sin and opposition to God, I made myself a god in my own eyes. I clung to things that were worthless and harmful, thinking I had freedom when instead I was enslaved. On a radio episode of Focus On The Family I believe it was the stepson of the late C S Lewis who said that before he came to Christ, he was his own god, which meant he had a fool for a god. I can relate to that, having had fools for gods in the past. The wisest choice we will ever make is coming to Christ and allowing Him to set us free and make us whole. I've never heard heard anyone say they regretted that.

Below is a song about casting out our idols.

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