Study in Israel this Spring!

Study in Israel this Spring!
the Sea of Galilee from Mount Arbel

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Chronological Reading Plan for June 27, 1 Kings 20-21

Today's readings are 1 Kings 20-21. Tomorrow's are 1 Kings 22, 2 Chron 18.

1 Kings 20 finds Aramean King Ben-Hadad and an alliance of 32 kings coming against King Ahab of Israel. Ahab, who was worshiping Baal and had an inferior force is granted victory over Ben-Hadad by God. Two things become clear, God is the true God of Israel, regardless of Ahab...and God is exceedingly gracious. Ahab deserves destruction, yet God grants him victory instead. Simultaneously, God demonstrates His power to the Arameans, who, by all measures, should have easily defeated Ahab.

Believing Israel's God was a god only of the hills, a year later, the Arameans attack another of Ahab's cities, Aphek, which is in a valley. God grants Israel the victory again, showing that He is Lord over hill and valley.
Ahab violates the rules of holy war and spares Ben-Hadad. God sends a prophet, condemning Ahab for neglecting God's word. Ironically, Ahab ends up proclaiming his own judgment in 1 Kings 20:35-43. 

In 1 Kings 21, Ahab tries to buy a vineyard from Naboth. Lev 25 taught that God owned the land in Canaan and His people were not to dispose of it. Naboth rightfully refuses to sell. Ahab's wife, Jezebel, lies about Naboth, instigating his execution. Ahab and Jezebel acquire the land after Naboth is killed.  

Speaking through Elijah, God judges Jezebel and the land, holding Ahab responsible for all that has happened, prophesying that Ahab would die horribly and Jezebel in an even worse fashion, torn and eaten by dogs.

Ahab repents and God has mercy on him. Still His laws have been violated and blood has been shed. There will be earthly consequences for Ahab's actions. Notice, Jezebel does not repent. This will have grave consequences regarding her fate.

God's grace flows freely to those who exhibit heartfelt, contrite repentance. Those who stubbornly resist the word of God and continue in their rebellion, as we see time and again in the Scriptures, suffer serious and eternal consequences. 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Chronological Reading Plan for June 26, 1 Kings 17-19.

Today's readings are 1 Kings 17-19. Tomorrow's are 1 Kings 20-21. 

In 1 Kings 17, we meet Elijah, a prophet, sent by God to Ahab, the back-sliding king of Israel. Notice the grace of God working even in a back sliders life. God sends a man to bring the truth to Ahab. Ahab will either turn from his ways or have no excuse when judgment falls on him.  

There is a drought in which Elijah is supernaturally provided for. This drought is with purpose. Ahab worships Baal, the supposed god of rain and vegetation. The one true God clearly demonstrates this His power is greater than any false gods by overpowering Baal and controlling the weather in Baal's home territory, Phoenicia. We see the same sovereign power when God uses Elijah to raise the widow's dead son. Only God has the power of life and death, not any pagan "god". Yahweh is God of all nations and God of all people, whether they worship Him or not. 

In 1 Kings 18, Elijah and Ahab meet. Ironically, Ahab calls Elijah the "Troubler of Israel" when Ahab is the true problem Israel is struggling with. Elijah defeats the prophets of Baal in spectacular fashion, once again demonstrating the sovereign power of the God of Israel. God also prophesies through Elijah to end the drought. The drought in Baal's backyard is completely controlled by God who puts Himself on display magnificently through His prophet Elijah.

Amazingly Elijah is intimidated by Jezebel, Ahab's wife, who threatens to kill him in 1 Kings 19. Elijah runs ending up on Mt Horeb (Mt Sinai) in the same spot where God spoke to Moses. Elijah naively complains that he's the only one on God's side, but God reveals that there are actually 7,000 others that Elijah was unaware of. All this happens after God brings wind, an earthquake and fire, ultimately speaking in a quiet whisper. By all this, Elijah learns that God, at times, moves in quiet ways that we may not always be aware of. God tells Elijah to anoint three men who will defeat Ahab, effectively removing him from kingship and demonstrating that God is the one who raises up kings and brings them down as well. 

One of the three men is Elisha, Elijah's replacement, the beginning of a long series of prophets God will use to speak to Israel and Judah. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Chronological Reading Plan for June 25, 1 Kings 15, 2 Chron 17

Today's readings are 1 Kings 16, 2 Chron 17. Tomorrow's are 1 Kings 17-19. 

In 1 Kings 16, Baasha comes to a bad end for bringing ungodly and sinful behavior to God's people. Those who become leaders will be accountable for how they lead. God makes it clear, through His prophet Jehu, that He is the one who put Baasha in place and He will be the one to exact a consequence for Baasha's rebellion against God.

Baasha's son takes over and come to a bad end at the hands of Zimri who wipes out the entire house of Baasha just as God prophesied. 

Zimri is no better. He dies almost immediately when Omri attacks the capital. 

Notice the breathtaking slide Israel is taking. First they fight with Judah. Now they are fighting and killing each other, all over who will be the leader/king. 

Israel now divides, half following Omri and the other half following Tibni. Omri's most significant achievement is to establish Samaria as a city. Still, Omri is not a good man, another in a growing line of evil kings of Israel. 

Ahab takes over from Omri and seems to be the worst of the entire lot, so far. Ahab leads Israel in total apostasy, worshiping Baal and setting up altars to false gods and idols. 

 Meanwhile, in 2 Chron 17 we see Jehoshaphat reigning in Judah and fortifying it against Israel. This is what they have been reduced to - wasting time and resources defending themselves against people who are supposed to be their brothers. 

There is a stark contrast between Israel and Judah at this point. Jehoshaphat leads Judah in godliness while Israel continues to move away from God. Judah is blessed. Israel's struggles begin to multiply. 

Has Judah learned their lesson? Will Israel learn theirs? The story is just beginning to get interesting.

Know this, Israel's slide did not happen overnight. It started when they were unjustly treated by Rehoboam. This is a key point. Their indignation over being treated "unfairly" caused bitterness to grow, resulting in the division God warned them not to allow to happen. Israel's slide began in self-righteous anger and a demand for their rights. While there is nothing wrong with speaking up for our rights, that should never threaten the unity of God's people. Furthermore, it should never become a cause for anger or bitterness. Look where it has gotten Israel so far. Watch where it takes them.   

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Chronological reading Plan for June 24, 1 Kings 15, 2 Chron 13-16.

Today's readings are 1 Kings 15, 2 Chron 13-16. Tomorrow's are 1 Kings 16, 2 Chron 17. 

In 1 Kings 15, Abijam's (sometimes known as "Abijah") reign typifies the constant tension between Judah's propensity to fall into idolatry and God's faithfulness to His people. Meanwhile, tensions between Israel and Judah escalate. 

Asa reigns after Abijam. He is a godly man who initiates reform in godly worship and does much to set Judah on the right path.  But he fails to tear down the "high places", the sites for pagan idol worship. His heart is for God. His commitment to holiness is enviable but not total.  This is probably evidence of the culture he lives in. Nonetheless, it will prove to be a problem for those that follow. The Scriptures compare Asa favorably to David. 

King Baasha of Israel fights an ongoing war with Judah. He builds Ramah, which lies on the Central Benjamin Plateau north of Jerusalem. Ramah guards the only easy-to-navigate roadway to Jerusalem. If Baasha controls Ramah, he can nearly control Jerusalem. 

To counter, Asa forms an alliance with the kingdom of Aram and Baasha abandons his plans for Ramah. 

2 Chron looks at Abijah a bit more charitably but  still exposes his weaknesses. 2 Chron 16 reveals that Asa's decision to ally himself with Aram's King Baasha was not only later in his career but misguided. 

Asa, like Solomon before him and many that will follow, should depend on God to protect and provide for His children, not worldly alliances. 

Asa's error is further exacerbated when he contracts a disease and relies on physicians instead of the Lord. This is not an indictment against medical care. God provides us with doctors and medicines for His glory. Asa's struggle was in not trusting God first and foremost. Going to a doctor is not an ungodly thing to do. Thinking the doctor can do something that God cannot is a grievous error. 

One of the lessons we can learn from these first kings of Judah is that we should always be on guard about where we place out trust and who or what we depend upon. God is our provider, protector and preservation. When our situations get tense, it's easy to turn away from God and look to those around us...or even get us out of trouble. Placing God in a lower priority in our lives can be the start of a slippery slide.  

Chronological Reading Plan for June 23, 2 Chon 10-13

Today's readings are 2 Chron 10-12. Tomorrow's are 1 Kings 15, 2 Chron 13-16. 

Rehoboam's choice of Shechem to declare his kingship is ironic. Shechem lies in the narrow valley between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. Those are the two mountains Joshua gathered Israel upon when they had occupied Canaan (Josh 8).  With half of Israel on one mountain and the other half on the other, they heard and affirmed the blessings they would receive if they obeyed the Lord and the curses the would endure if they disobeyed Him. 

Now, Rehoboam is clearly being corrupted. Still, he returns to the spot of the blessing and curses and beings acting in decidedly ungodly and self-centered ways. 

The northern tribes, now known as Israel, begin to separate from the southern, known as Judah. 2 Chron 1 gives us some additional detail. Basically, Rehoboam is neither a godly man nor a good leader. He seems to have all of the faults of his father and none of his virtues. 

Jeroboam unites Israel in their rebellion against Rehoboam. Rehoboam begins consolidating his power in Jerusalem as the rift between Israel and Judah widens. 

2 Chron 12 begins with a key verse. Rehoboam has abandoned any semblance of godly behavior. A prophet rises up and tells Rehoboam that because he has abandoned God, God will abandon him and turn him over the Pharoah Shishak.

Rehoboam humbles himself. He and Judah repent. God relents. Their riches are lost but God protects and provides from them. 

We see more ongoing lessons here. Self-centered decisions always lead to something less than God's best.  Frequently, they lead to disaster. When sin is revealed, the only remedy to severe consequences is repentance. Even at that, it must be sincere and heartfelt. In other words, there must be some grieving over sin, not just a desire to find a way out of the consequences. 

The tale of Rehoboam's slide away from God is not yet complete. Judah is doing well because they repented. However, Israel is now being led by Jereboam. The kingdom is divided. God's commandment was for them to be united, a reflection of their corporate relationship with God. The twelve tribes are not only supposed to be one, they are also God's messengers on earth. Instead they have been reduced to squabbling. 

Watch what happens as everyone seems to forget the curses warned about on Mount Gerizim in Dt 27-28.

Self-centeredness is a serious stumbling block. Pair it with a willingness to ignore the word of God and you have a recipe for disaster. God is faithful and true. But it is becoming increasingly clear that His intention is not only to bless His people, but the make them holy as well. 

This would be good for us to remember. Our own path to sanctification does not lead only to blessing, but to holiness and godly living. Our loving Father will do whatever is necessary to get us there.