Reflections From 2 KINGS 21-24: “WARNING COMES BEFORE…JUDGEMENT IS REALIZED”

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            The last chapters of 2 Kings, concludes with God’s judgment being exacted on idolatrous Israel and Judah.  The word was given at Sinai, God’s dealings in Israel were known, but the people followed their “hearts” to exile.  The patience of God was taken for granted such that the mind of the nation became mad due to their calloused hearts.

We’re no different.  As God used the Assyrians and Babylonians to discipline back-sliden Israel, so He may very well do it again today…even if it’s not as clear from a written text.  When the herald proclaims his masters will, eventually it will come to pass.

Idolatry at the core propels us to ask, “Has God said?…” or question what He has already clearly revealed.  We doubt His integrity and treat Him as the creature.  The creature ends up calling the creator a liar by implication and decides to become His judge.  But those who ontologically and epistemologically are finite can’t be trusted to become the infinite One’s judges, nor should they be trusted.  But as it was then so it is today.

Nothing has changed and nothing will until God transforms the stony heart into one of flesh by His Spirit.  In all my studies, I must give myself over to intercession and guard my soul from idolatrous bents the creature constantly encourages.  So must the church in a day where what is wrong is called right, what is evil is called good, and what is righteous is labeled wicked.

(SDG)

 

Reflections From 2 KINGS 19-20: “WHAT MADE HEZEKIAH ISRAEL’S BEST KING?”

crown-8-persian-persepIt’s painful reading through Hebrew history, beholding Israel’s continued cycle of rebellion, idolatry and waywardness.  To see this lifestyle in her leaders is especially difficult to behold.  This was their legacy, a people chosen by God who for the most part hated Him.  They instead chose to worship and serve the creature not the Creator who is blessed forever.

Today however reading about Hezekiah felt like a breath of fresh air, for unlike most of the previous monarchs and unlike any of the rulers in Israel’ history, Hezekiah’s heart was fully devoted to the LORD God as the text reads in (18:3-6):

“He did right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father David had done. He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan. He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel; so that after him there was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among those who were before him.For he clung to the Lord; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the Lord had commanded Moses.”   

He did not hold syncretistic sympathies with Yahweh, but was instead a faithful ruler in both word and deed.  His loyalty to God, according to the text, surpassed all the kings in Israel’s history because he never stopped following God whole heartedly (This includes king David and Solomon who are authors of sacred texts).

And yet, this truth did not keep him insulated from troubled times.  On the contrary, evidenced through the Assyrian kings’ taunts of Israel and Yahweh (19:8-13):

“Then Rabshakeh returned and found the king of Assyria fighting against Libnah, for he had heard that the king had left Lachish. When he heard them say concerning Tirhakah king of Cush, “Behold, he has come out to fight against you,” he sent messengers again to Hezekiah saying,10 “Thus you shall say to Hezekiah king of Judah, ‘Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you saying, “Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” 11 Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the lands, destroying them completely. So will you be spared? 12 Did the gods of those nations which my fathers destroyed deliver them, even Gozan and Haran and Rezeph and the sons of Eden who were in Telassar? 13 Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, and of Hena and Ivvah?’”

Sennacherib defied God including him with the rest of the gods of the nations conquered by Assyria.  Despite all this, Hezekiah prays for the glory of God’s name to be upheld (19:15-19):

“Hezekiah prayed before the Lord and said, “O Lord, the God of Israel, who are enthroned above the cherubim, You are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 16 Incline Your ear, O Lord, and hear; open Your eyes, O Lord, and see; and listen to the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to reproach the living God. 17 Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have devastated the nations and their lands 18 and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. So they have destroyed them. 19 Now, O Lord our God, I pray, deliver us from his hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, O Lord, are God.”

The zeal of God had consumed Hezekiah and God answered his prayer because it was offered to God (19:20) and the angel of the LORD killed 185,000 men in the Assyrian camp (19:35).

I’m so grieved over the leadership in our country who; daily deny Your name, oppress Your people, and conspire to harm them.  Oh LORD, arise and rectify that which is so twisted in the land.  My heart grieves, my soul aches so for the sake of Your glory and Name, act now and don’t delay.

(SDG)

Reflections From 2 KINGS 14-17: “THE SAGA CONTINUES IN KINGS BECAUSE OF ISRAEL’S REBELLION”

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The history of Israel, my forefathers through adoption, is a deeply disturbing bent toward idolatry and compromise.  This pattern of disobedience in the following four chapters is unrelenting.  One king kills another to assume the throne eventually to be overthrown by another monarch.

The worship in the land becomes polluted when Israel, regardless of the king, remains unfaithful to Yahweh by not removing the high places.  Instead, they preferred to be a syncretistic people who eventually were exiled in the lands of the gods they chose to worship (i.e., Assyria their first stop).

The sad fact is that Israel had the Law of Moses but ignored it and as a result, the covenant people of God became enslaved to the creature because they did not love their Creator.  Israel fell because of idolatry and the list of her abominations is grievous (17:7-23).  When a people with such a rich heritage, tramples it underfoot, it demonstrates her hatred and great disdain for her Savior.

Oh God would that Your Spirit move in the church in America, whose golden calves of information glut, leisure, opulence, and sexual idolatry, such that we would take notice and see that all these misplaced affections when not God-ward are the entrance into the eternal abyss of fire and damnation.

Move in this land Lord God and show the supremacy of your Son Christ Jesus above all powers, dominions and pleasures and do so in a cataclysmic way.   Reveal the surpassing worth of the Creator over the creature to Your rebellious wayward people and embolden them to arise in truth, humility and boldness toward the lost, hostile and indifferent.  Have mercy Oh God, have mercy!

(SDG)

Reflections From 2 KINGS 10-13: “OF KINGS AND YAHWEH—IDOLATRY PERSISTS”

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The history of the kings of Israel is primarily a mixture of a few good ones and the rest abysmal, some righteous but most of them were evil.  The meaning of evil comes to bear through illustration of the people of God abandoning the covenant.  Evil is faithlessness to the God of creation especially from His rescued people Israel.

Often the refrain, “and he did evil in the sight of the LORD” speaking of a kings’ rule because they, “…departed not from the ways of Jeroboam’s sin the son of Nebat…”  The accusation was making Israel worship Baal which is no god at all, and the first commandment was continuously being violated, “You shall have no other gods before me.”

Doing evil in the sight of the LORD is not being careful to walk humbly before Him which is in accordance to the law of the LORD God of Israel (done with all the heart—10: 28-31).  Image bearers are created to worship their Maker, but when He is ignored idolatry is inevitable.  Consider the text;

28 Thus Jehu eradicated Baal out of Israel. 29 However, as for the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel sin, from these Jehu did not depart, even the golden calves that were at Bethel and that were at Dan. 30 The Lord said to Jehu, “Because you have done well in executing what is right in My eyes, and have done to the house of Ahab according to all that was in My heart, your sons of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.” 31 But Jehu was not careful to walk in the law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart; he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam, which he made Israel sin.

Acute is the sad reality that for most of Hebrew history, the LORD God of Israel is not loved by Israel as a whole.  Instead He is despised seen in the berating, hating, persecution and death of Israel’s prophets which God sent to the people.  This evil resulted because God’s word was rejected.

This theme is increasingly clear to me as I read the Scriptures and I must confess it never ceases to perplex me.  I’m perplexed at the relentless idolatry they fall into and God’s relentless tender mercies in spite of their treason.  This mercy of course is because of the covenant God made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to bless the nations through his seed (13:22-23).  What am I missing here in the text?

22 Now Hazael king of Aram had oppressed Israel all the days of Jehoahaz. 23 But the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion on them and turned to them because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them or cast them from His presence until now.

Perhaps it’s the sad reality of our rebellion in the Garden where we are created to rule and reign as God’s vice regents but we’ve treated that glorious mandate like sewage excrement.  What glory has been given to mankind and the tragedy is deeply lamentable.

In Christ the effects of The Fall are being reversed and yet in this present evil age we the covenant people go to our own “high places” of porn sites, work places or play places.  The idolatry is ever lingering and yet Yahweh for His names sake demonstrates mercy toward us.

(SDG)

Summary of Chapter #4: SECULAR LIBERALISM AND THE NEUTRAL STATE (Pgs.119-143)

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In this chapter Beckwith begins pointing out that Christians who support a liberal democracy (see chapter 2) nevertheless are dismayed at the fruits of incivility, relativism, and the use of tax dollars to support abortion, SSM (same sex marriage), and public education that’s less educative and more indoctrinative in nature.

In all spheres of life people have embraced “secular liberalism” as the position to maintain and safeguard democracy while simultaneously marginalizing “religious positions” for making public policy.  There’s much confusion concerning the term “religious” but it’s assumed by far too many people such that the  cultural haze is continues to be perpetuated.

After considering the aforesaid, Beckwith delves into the meaning of secular liberalism which at its core makes the individual king when moral disputes arise in order to resolve them.  That is, the individual is ultimate never the state nor any “religious” tradition, all of which is a relativized view of the “good life”.

When it comes to the meaning of “secular” Beckwith notes that restraints on citizens can only be enforced through “non-religious” arguments or worldviews.  The problem of definition of course obtains but no one bothers with this.  They just assume everyone “knows” the meaning being employed.  In other words, “religion” brings bondage to citizens, but the “secular” non-religious bring liberty.   The state here may even pay for the poor to have an abortion, but it must never stop said procedures from obtaining lest personal liberty be hindered.

The reality here is that a relativistic presupposition is being employed in absolute terms.  It’s Secular Liberalism that’s largely responsible for advocating SSM, Abortion, etc., which is fine because the reasons used to support such acts are secular, not religious.  That’s bogus because it’s also coming from a worldview that is absolutely not neutral but “closed minded”.

Beckwith continues and points out three arguments used to advocate (SL) that doesn’t measure up to rationality and are thus self-refuting in nature.  First, is the Golden Rule argument advanced by philosopher Robert Audi which holds that we ought not to impose our religious viewpoint on those who disagree with us because we would not want that done to us.  Two problems obtain here; one is that the term “religious” is vague and second there’s always a worldview governing human affairs telling us what is and is not good.  Why is SL better than a “religious” point of view?  Beckwith then uses examples which either expose SL’s relativism or radical subjectivism [pgs123-132].

Second, there’s the Secular Argument which essentially hi-jacks reason to mean “non-religious in nature” but Beckwith rightly points out that reason has the properties of either true or false  right or wrong, not black or white, religious or non-religious.  This muddies the waters of reason and clarity  and is used to justify the issue of abortion [pgs.133-138].

Third, there’s the Err on the Side of Liberty argument which ends up being not just obtusely incoherent but also shoots itself in the foot when applied to itself [pgs.139-142].  Beckwith concludes the chapter by pointing out that secular liberalism is no more dogmatic in its stance than any “religious” view ever has been.  The irrationality here is legion and yet largely goes undetected by throngs of people.  It’s bizarre.

Reflections From 2 KINGS 6-7: “ELISHA’S MIGHTY DEEDS CONTINUE”

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            This man of God continues to work God’s wonders in the most colorful and extravagant ways.  First, he makes a sunken axe float to the water’s surface.  He does this by using a stick of wood (6:1-7).  We know that wood does not attract metal magnetically, a magnet does.  Somehow, the “laws of nature” are superseded by God’s doing.  Some may frown on this as mere fable, but if God created everything that exists out of nothing through his word (Gen.1), most certainly then “bending” or “suspending” his creation’s usual function for his purposes is not only plausible but no big deal to him.

Second, Elisha hears the king’s war plans.  The Arameans were plotting against Israel but the God who is everywhere revealed it to the prophet and the nation of Israel was spared from calamity (6:8-12).  Again, there were no “bugs” or high tech devices to hear the enemy’s strategy, but the God who is in control of history and the affairs of man hears everything.            

            Third, Elisha petitions the LORD to open his servant’s eyes.  Israel’s enemy’s surrounded it and the ominous sight terrified the prophet’s servant so Elisha asks God to open his eyes to see the chariots of fire surrounding Israel’s enemies (6:14-17).  This reminds me that while I may be unaware of God’s help, it is always present.

Fourth, Elisha petitions the LORD to blind Israel’s enemies.  In every step of the way this man of God’s prayers steer how the enemy is crippled such that the blindness is only removed after it is to Israel’s advantage (6:18-23).  This reminds me of how critical it is for me to do battle in the unseen realm relying on God’s power and word manifested through believing prayer.  The times were so bad that famine drove many in Samaria to boil their children to death in order for others to live (6:24-29).  That is desperate times.

Fifth, Elisha promises the end of the famine.  But he also promises the death of the king’s messenger who doubted Gods word (6:32-7:1-2, 15, 20).  Whether it’s a word foretelling future events or a demonstration of that words’ power to make objects respond in ways contrary to their nature, God nevertheless moved powerfully through Elisha.  This was the LORDs doing.

In similar ways God moves through His people even though it’s often not spectacular, but common.  We may not raise the dead, call fire from heaven, multiply food, or even float axe heads, but we are still called to follow this eternal magnificent God who alone is worthy to be worshipped and adored.

(SDG)                

 

Chapter Summary #3: THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH & STATE (Pgs.91-117)

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In this chapter Beckwith tackles what the Bill of Rights says as to how state and religion are to relate, what their boundaries are and specifically the interpretation of the “establishment clause” and the “free-exercise clause”.  It’s here where the battle rages for all advocates.

The establishment clause from the First Amendment states that: “Congress may not employ legislative power to establish an official national religion”.  Thus, for example, Congress (not any other branch of government) can’t legally put into law that citizens become a Muslim and financially support its local place of worship.  The free-exercise clause asserts that the Constitution protects the religious liberty of citizens from any legislative act of Congress.  Thus, laws should be set-up to protect a citizen’s right to worship as they deem fit, without the interference of the State (or so it seems to me).

As a form of legal shorthand, Beckwith notes that the phrase “separation of church and state” is now employed to describe the religious clauses of the First Amendment.  However, ambiguity is an infamous problem with the phrases, “free-exercise”, “establishment”, and “religion”.  It’s this lack of clarity that causes so many interpretations, nevertheless, as the author notes:

The notion of “separation of church and state” exists as a largely unquestioned dogma in American political and legal discourse, even though the phrase does not appear in the text of the Constitution and a plain reading of the religion clauses is just as consistent with some forms of moderate separationism as it is with strong separationism. [pg.93]

 Beckwith goes on to explain the similarities and differences between moderate and strong separationists.  Both affirm that government religious liberty should be maximized for the public good and that neither government nor ecclesiastical powers should attempt to control the other’s sphere of duties.  Yet there are disagreements.

On the one hand, moderates don’t attempt to exclude religion from public life, thus supporting public funding programs of similarly situated religious and secular entities.  On the other hand, strong separationists forbid any aid to religion even when similarly situated secular entities are given aid.  These also exclude any political input from a religiously based worldview from its citizens (i.e., if the view is informed from a sacred book, it is de-facto unacceptable).

Beckwith asks if there’s any place where government and religious institutions can cooperate together (e.g., school vouchers for private religious schools).  Important to point out is that there’s no definition of religious or religion that can be pointed towards which both exposes the ambiguity that obtains in people’s minds and also hides the myth the state comes from a neutral, non-religious position.

Beckwith further reflects on the interaction between the Danbury Baptists and Jefferson in order to clue in on the “slogan’s” original intent [pgs.95-98] and explains that the letter, far from being in the US Constitution, was routine presidential correspondence that strong separationists hi-jacked (my view) and gave it the status of “holy writ”.  Unfortunately, the strong separationist movement of the time won the day on a false epistemological  view that religious principles are not based on reason or logic and thus have no place in the making of public policy [pgs.98-107].

Beckwith then contemplates the limits of religious freedom and the exercise thereof which at the end of the day anyone can relativize according to what I’ve seen.  According to Beckwith, the application of the establishment clause has not only been misapplied, it has also muddied the understanding of what the Separation between the Church and State mean.

Reflections From 2 KINGS 1-5: “ELIJAH & ELISHA—MIGHTY PROPHETS”

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In the ministry of these two prophets the word of the LORD performs signs and wonders.  Chapter one for example shows Elijah calling down fire from heaven in the classic account of Yahweh against the prophets of Baal.  As a result of king Ahaziah’s idolatry, Elijah twice prophesied his death (1:1-18).  In this instance, nothing the king attempted even imploring the LORD would stay the swiftness of God’s word through the prophet for he, “died according to the word of the LORD which Elijah had spoken”(1:17).

Chapter two recounts Elisha asking for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit to come onto him (2:9) and in response after Elijah is taken up by a whirlwind (2:11) the prophet’s spirit comes upon Elisha where he parts the Jordan’s water (2:14), purifies bad water (2:21), he curses mocking youths and two female nears tear-up forty-two of them (2:24)

Chapter three Elisha is called upon by Jehoshaphat to inquire of the LORD for direction before going into battle against Moab.  The prophet oddly calls for a minstrel and when he played the hand of the LORD came upon Elisha so that he spoke and delivered the battle strategy for Israel and assuring success (3:14-27).

In chapter four there’s the account of the widows oil which Elisha multiplied so she could care for her household and thus pay off her debts (4:1-7); then there’s the barren prominent Shunammite woman who gives birth to a son (4:8-17).  This son eventually dies but Elisha raises him from the dead (4:28-37).  Again, the text reveals Elisha healing the poisonous stew so that the hungry may eat and live during a famine (4:38-44).

In chapter five Elisha heals Naaman’s leprosy and Gehazi’s leprosy is brought upon by his greed.  Especially moving to me is Elisha’s word to his servant Gehazi before the leprosy manifested:

“Did not my heart go with you, when the man turned from his chariot to meet you? Is it a time to receive money and to receive clothes and olive groves and vineyards and sheep and oxen and male and female servants?” (5:26)             

These rhetorical questions demonstrate something very moving and grave—be careful not to use God’s gifts as a means to dishonest gain, for freely we have receive and freely we are to give. How different is Elisha’s attitude toward money compared to many American televangelists?  I wonder how many today would receive leprosy for their shameless pedaling of God’s word for gain.  Is not the LORD our portion in this life and did he not always promise to care for us?

Paul said it well that godliness with contentment is great gain!  Gehazi’s can be mine also, that’s why I need the LORD to keep me from such scandalous transgression.

Back to the prophet’s exploits.  Of the many things that stand out to me is the certainty of God’s word that can be trusted.  While this very word was vilified and spurned in the Garden of Eden by our first parents, and continues to be denigrated unto this day, it nevertheless remains God’s faithful word of power which in its due time, always comes to pass.  How weighty God’s eternal word is that brings both life and death to creatures.

(SDG)

Reflections From 1 KINGS 22: “LOVE IT OR HATE IT, GOD’S WORD IS ETERNAL TRUTH”

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As this book of Kings concludes I’m fascinated by how Israel’s King Ahab despises the LORD’S word by hating Micaiah’s word.  This man was a true prophet who unlike those who tickled the kings ear and spoke of peace in the kingdom, Micaiah foretold the truth that defeat and death awaited King Ahab.

King Ahab is encouraged by Jehoshaphat King of Judah to inquire of the LORD before going into battle.  Ahab gathered his four hundred plus prophets but after hearing them Jehoshaphat knew they were not the real deal (Vv.5-7) and asks: “is there not yet a prophet of the LORD here…?” Ahab’s response reveals the hearts tendency to reject God’s word:

The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the Lord, but I hate him, because he does not prophesy good concerning me, but evil. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.” But Jehoshaphat said, “Let not the king say so.”

Note here that Ahab hates God’s prophet not because what is said is false, but because it is a message of doom for the hard hearted king.  When Christians share the gospel message faithfully and believers reject it, they in essence are acting as Ahab did.  We’ve all fallen suit at one time or another in our lives.

Eventually Micaiah’s word came to pass and Ahab died in battle.  Before going to war the king imprisoned the prophet and nothing else is stated.  Micaiah comes in and out of the story in a heartbeat (Vv.13-28).  He assures the king that if what he says does not come to pass, then the LORD did not speak through him.  The man of God was willing to be wrong but not at God’s expense.  The fact that what he said came to pass was proof that he was a true prophet.

Jesus spoke in Mathew 5 about receiving a prophet’s reward because of being persecuted for His sake: “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”.  A real prophet like a real Christian will speak the truth, even if it brings persecution because God’s kingdom is of far greater worth than the temporary comforts this fleeting life brings.

This microcosm of events in space time history is much the same like everyone else’s: the word of the LORD comes and how we respond to it determines our destiny.  There’s a price to pay for being God’s mouth piece.  May Christ embolden us to be truth tellers not just truth bearers.

(SDG)

Reflections From 1 KINGS 20-21: “THE LORD’S WORD COMES, BUT THAT DOESN’T NEGATE THE VALUE OF OUR ACTIONS”

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            When it comes to the issue of divine sovereignty and human responsibility, historically Christians of all stripes have differed and often very passionately.  The issue of how these two biblical truths interact can be very puzzling.  Generally one aspect of the issue is emphasized over the other (i.e., divine sovereignty vs. human free choice) and when this occurs, biblical passages usually end up contradicting the position(s) held.

This issue is particularly vexing for the thinking person who wants to faithfully make sense out of scriptural texts and get to know God more intimately.  Consider the life of Israel’s King Ahab which says:

“Surely there was none like Ahab who sold himself to do evil in the sight of the LORD…acted abominably in following idols according to all the Amonites had done…” (vv.25-26)

Nevertheless, he experienced a measure of Gods’ grace because he decided to humble himself before the LORD (vv.27-29).  God promised to eradicate Ahab’s name from the earth because he made Israel sin (21:19-22) and provoked the LORD through his idolatry.  The point is that Ahab put on sackcloth and ashes (a mark of repentance and humility) before the LORD.  God’s response to this:

“Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before Me?  Because he has…I will not bring the evil in his days, but I will bring the evil upon his house in his son’s days.” (21:29)  

Even this wicked king received mercy from the LORD because of his choice to humble himself.  His decision was significant indeed and God responded to this image bearer with kindness.

While our choices matter, God is nonetheless absolutely sovereign and in the wise council of the Trinity there’s always much more happening than we can immediately recognize.  Much like a play where the focus is on the main character, it’s usually the less obvious character(s) which gives the lead role a nuanced landscape of color, depth, breadth, length and height in order to make the story come alive.  So it is with the story of Ahab and even in our own.  The choices we make effect and affect not just the main character but a string of individuals in the grand scheme of things.  Of this I am often not aware.

(SDG)