Monday, February 29, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 29. Meanwhile, In Jerusalem...

Prophets And Kings
Day 29
Meanwhile, In Jerusalem...

We haves been studyin what a poor king Jeroboam is of Israel and now the author backs up to tell us whats been goin on at Jerusalem wif King Rehoboam of Judah.

1 KINGS 14:21-31
Jeroboam set up a state religion of idolatry in the ten northern tribes of Israel but we find out today that Rehoboam and the kingdom of Judah are not doing well either. "Rehoboam son of Solomon was king in Judah. He was forty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned seventeen years in Jerusalem, the city the Lord had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel in which to put His name. His mother's name was Naamah; she was an Ammonite." (1 Kings 14:21) Unlike Solomon, Rehoboam was a middle-aged man when he became king, and maybe that's why he never asked the Lord for wisdom as his father did. Solomon came to the throne probably in his late teens to around the age of twenty, knowing he was inexperienced, knowing he needed the help of the Lord. That humility caused Solomon to ask for a thing the Lord was happy to give: wisdom. Rehoboam had to know this story because everybody knew it; even a queen from a far-off land came to see if the story of such wisdom granted by God was true. But it somehow never occurred to Rehoboam to ask wisdom for himself. I suppose he thought he didn't need it or that because of his age he already knew plenty. Maybe it's because he never had a humble spirit at any time during his reign. Maybe it's because his mother was an Ammonite, a pagan woman. Whatever the reason, Rehoboam is an unwise king, and he is leading Judah down a bad path.

"Judah did evil in the eyes of the Lord. By the sins they committed they stirred up His jealous anger more than those who were before him had done. They also set up for themselves high places, sacred stones and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every spreading tree. There were even male shrine prostitutes in the land; the people engaged in all the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites." (1 Kings 14:22-24) If we consult the book of 2nd Chronicles we will find that in the first few years Rehoboam stuck with the religion of Solomon and David. We are told he fortified Jerusalem and the cities of Judah and Benjamin and had the political support of all the Levite priests, including those who were no longer welcome in Jeroboam's kingdom because he only appointed priests who would serve at idolatrous altars. The temple was at Jerusalem and, "Those from every tribe of Israel who set their hearts on seeking the Lord, the God of Israel, followed the Levites to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices to the Lord, the God of Israel. They strengthened the kingdom of Judah and supported Rehoboam son of Solomon three years, following the ways of David and Solomon during this time." (2 Chronicles 11:16-17) It appears that for the first three years of Rehoboam's kingdom things went on as usual. So what went wrong?

It's hard to say because it looks as if he didn't commit the sins of Solomon in marrying foreign pagan women, because 2 Chronicles 12 gives us a list of some of his wives and they are all women of Israel, women who are related to his family. But one clue we are given is that his biggest sins began "after Rehoboam's position as king was established and he had become strong". (2 Chronicles 12:1a) Another clue we are given is that Rehoboam didn't have a heart that longed to know God, "He did evil because he had not set his heart on seeking the Lord." (2 Chronicles 12:14) Could it be he felt he didn't need to seek the Lord any more? Did he think he could keep hold on the kingdom by himself? Judah was a very large tribe, the tribe that held title to the throne, and having their support and the support of the priesthood may have led Rehoboam to trust in man more than in God. He certainly didn't tear down any of the altars or idols Solomon had set up for his foreign wives; instead he allowed more to be built as we saw in the passage above. The people were following the sex cults and even added a new aspect to them, because traditionally the temple prostitutes were women but now the prostitutes also included men.

Because of the sins of the nation, the Lord brings an enemy against them to discipline them. Again we need to look to the book of 2nd Chronicles for additional information, "Because they had been unfaithful to the Lord, Shishak king of Egypt attacked Jerusalem in the fifth year of King Rehoboam." (2 Chronicles 12:2) The author of 1 Kings simply says, "In the fifth year of King Rehoboam, Shishak king of Egypt attacked Jerusalem." (1 Kings 14:25) As we studied a week or so ago, this king is known by his Egyptian name as Shoshenq I, a powerful warrior king who led many exploits, whose surviving historical records prove he did indeed make war with Judah and Israel. The author of 2nd Chronicles tells us that, prior to sending Shishak to attack Jerusalem, the Lord sends a prophet named Shemaiah with these words, "This is what the Lord says, 'You have abandoned Me; therefore, I now abandon you to Shishak." (2 Chronicles 12:5b) At these words the leaders humbled themselves and admitted their sins and admitted that the Lord was justified in bringing this calamity on them. Because they did so, He said He would not allow Shishak to destroy them but that He would allow them to become subject to Shishak for a time.

When this fearsome Egyptian king came with his troops, "He carried off all the treasures of the temple of the Lord and the treasures of the royal palace. He took everything, including the gold shields Solomon had made. So King Rehoboam made bronze shields to replace them and assigned these to the commanders of the guard on duty at the entrance to the royal palace. Whenever the king went to the Lord's temple, the guards bore the shields, and afterward they returned them to the guardroom." (1 Kings 14:26-28) In Chapter 10 we saw that Solomon made 500 gold shields to display on the walls. These were never meant to be used in battle because gold is too heavy and too soft. They were simply symbols of the power and wealth of Solomon's kingdom. At their loss, Rehoboam casts more practical shields of bronze and his troop of bodyguards use these shields when escorting the king to the temple and back. Bronze is lighter and much harder than gold, excellent for use in deflecting enemy arrows. Gold is no longer plentiful in his kingdom because some important trade routes in the ten northern tribes are cut off to him. Rehoboam can no longer import massive quantities of gold as his father did, so we see the wealth and prosperity of the kingdom falling into decline.

"As for the other events of Rehoboam's reign, and all he did, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah? There was continual warfare between Rehoboam and Jeroboam. And Rehoboam rested with his ancestors and was buried with them in the city of David. His mother's name was Naamah; she was an Ammonite. And Abijah his son succeeded him as king." (1 Kings 14:29-31) Twice in todays passage the author tells us the identity of Rehoboam's mother. He feels it's quite important to settle it in our minds that she was a pagan woman. If only Solomon had married an Israelite woman maybe Rehoboam would have turned out better. His mother had far more influence on him than his father, for Solomon would have been busy running the nation. Naamah was the one who would have cared for him daily, telling him stories of her people and their gods. She likely took him with her whenever going up to the altars of her gods to make offerings. To Rehoboam, one god may have seemed about the same as another. His father hadn't set a good example in staying true to the God of Israel. His mother was not a convert to the God of Israel, as far as we know, because Solomon did not require his foreign wives to convert. To Rehoboam, idolatry was common and nothing to worry about. It was just part of the landscape and it had been a part of his life since he was born. 

A number of things came together to cause Rehoboam to be the man he was, although at any time he could have chosen to do the right thing. He was middle-aged when he ascended to the throne, not a youth who could be easily influenced by the wrong kind of people. He knew which God had made Israel great. He knew all the stories about the God who called his ancestor Abraham out of Ur to make of him a great nation. He knew the testimonies of his ancestors Isaac and Jacob. He knew the testimonies of his grandfather David. He even knew that at the end of his life, Solomon wrote the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes which indicate he repented of his youthful mistakes. Yet none of this kept him on course for the one true God because "he had not set his heart on seeking the Lord". If we first set our hearts on seeking the Lord, all things will work together for our good. (Romans 8:28) If we first set our hearts on seeking the Lord, all the other things we need will be added to us. (Luke 12:31) This is why, in his later years, Solomon said to his son, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." (Proverbs 9:10) We must begin there. If Rehoboam had begun there, his kingdom would have prospered because the Lord promised blessings on the kings who would be faithful to Him. We aren't promised easy lives or wealth or fame, but we are promised the blessings of the Lord and we are promised He will meet our needs. We are promised that, whatever comes, God is able to somehow work all our circumstances together in a way that prospers our souls. 

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It's our starting point. Everything else hinges on this. And when we fear the Lord and are open to receiving His wisdom, we will set our hearts on seeking Him. There is no greater thing that can be said of us than that we sought the Lord with our whole hearts. There is no greater legacy we can leave behind than for our descendants to be able to say we feared the Lord and walked in His ways.

I want to conclude with a little story about something that overwhelmed me in church yesterday morning. I often think of my late mother in church, especially when somebody sings one of the old hymns from my childhood, because then I picture her sitting beside me in that little country church all those years ago. She was the first person who told me about Jesus. She both talked the talk and walked the walk. Who knows where I would be today without the prayers and the guidance of my sweet mother? Her legacy lives on in her children and grandchildren, even in the great-grandchildren she never lived to see. In church yesterday I saw a man go up and kneel at the altar during the song portion of the service, and one of my great-nephews was the first to jump up from his seat and go to pray with him. I glanced to the other side of the sanctuary and saw another of my great-nephews going to the altar with some of his young friends. And I got the biggest lump in my throat thinking about how proud my godly mother would be of her family and their devotion to the Lord. The current generation of her descendants fear the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom. They have set their hearts to seek the Lord. My mother's godly legacy lives on, though she's been in heaven twenty years. The faith she instilled in her children is still paying off in this current generation. When she rocked her children to sleep singing "Jesus Loves Me", she set something in motion that's still going strong. I can think of no greater compliment to give her. I can think of no greater compliment to give anyone.

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