One Big Evil Family

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[You can find the slide pack here: 2010-08-22 HTG 2 Kings 8.16-29 - slides]

When I was thirteen years old I had a life-changing decision to make.  A tender age to be presented with such an important dilemma, you might think.  Two options presented themselves and only one could be chosen: history or geography?  The GSCE timetable pitted them against one another so that only one could be continued.  The other would be dropped forever.  Would it be World War II or ox-bow lakes?  Perhaps regrettably I chose geography, but despite that I'm not completely ignorant of history and its importance.  Last week saw the 70th anniversary of one of Winston Churchill's famous wartime speeches.  But Churchill also once said that 'those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it'.  And it's with that attitude that we turn to 2 Kings 8 on p265 of the blue bibles. 

But what does this small passage about some obscure kings who lived and died more than two and a half thousand years ago have to tell us about God and about ourselves and the world around us?  Well, if we're going to find out, it will help to first get our bearings in the grand scheme of God's salvation plan.  In fact let's start at the beginning.

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When Adam and Eve sinned against God, they were banished from Eden, cut off from the place of God's blessing and rule.  But as God pronounced his judgement in Genesis 3 he also promised that a descendant of the woman would crush the head of the serpent.  In other words, someone would overcome the sin and death that first entered the world at the Fall.  And so we start the search for this descendant.  Who will it be, and what will his victory mean for mankind? 

In Genesis 4 Cain kills Abel, so neither one of them is the one.  Genesis 5 sees whole generations come and go but no-one is capable of defeating sin and death.  By the time we get to Genesis 6 the world is in such a mess that God brings judgement via the flood, saving only a remnant with which to start over – the family of Noah. 

Later, God chose Abram and promised him offspring so great that they couldn't be counted and through whom all nations would be blessed.  So we're following Abraham's family, still looking for the one to defeat sin and death but also watching for the fulfilment of God's promises to build a great nation, with God dwelling with them and blessing them.

Abraham has a son called Isaac, Isaac has Jacob and Jacob has the twelve sons who form the twelve tribes of Israel.  Famine drives them to Egypt, where the Israelite nation grows in number, but in slavery.  God acts in grace to rescue them through Moses, gives them the law to tell them how to live and brings them into Canaan – God's people in their own land under God's rule and blessing.  But the people fail to obey God's command to rid Canaan of its pagan inhabitants and their gods.  They compromise and start to intermarry.

In the book of Judges God's people rebel against his rule and serve the false gods of other nations, so God allows them to be defeated by their enemies.  They cry out to God, God raises up a judge or ruler to save his people but the cycle repeats.  We remember the refrain in Judges: in those days Israel had no king and everyone did as he saw fit.  What is needed is God's anointed king to rule under God.  Eventually Saul is appointed, but is not obedient to God. 

Then God chooses David, a man 'after [God's] own heart'.  King David is not perfect but is faithful to God for most of his life and God blesses him and the people through him.  Jerusalem is made the capital and the Ark of the Covenant, symbolizing God's presence, is brought into the city.  There is peace and prosperity under God's king, but David isn't the chosen king. 

Samuel prophesies that a greater son of David will come.  We know that this is heading towards Jesus, the one who did live a perfect, obedient life under God and who defeated death and the curse of Genesis and who now reigns and will one day usher in a permanent kingdom of God made up of people from all nations.  Meanwhile, the nation of Israel disintegrates because the people and in particular their kings are unfaithful to God.  That's where 1 and 2 Kings come in. 

In 1 Kings, David's son Solomon succeeds him as king and rules wisely.  The temple is built as the permanent symbol of God's dwelling within the nation and there is great security and prosperity.  This is the high-point of the Old Testament.  At the dedication of the Temple, Solomon says this: 

"Praise be to the LORD, who has given rest to his people Israel just as he promised.  Not one word has failed of all the good promises he gave through his servant Moses." [1 Kings 8.56]

But Solomon marries foreign wives and worships their gods, so he's not the promised king either.  When he dies, his son Rehoboam becomes King but the northern tribes of the original twelve tribes rebel against him and the nation splits into two: Israel in the north under King Jeroboam [slide 2] and Judah in the south under King Rehoboam [slide 3].  Jerusalem is in the kingdom of Judah so Jeroboam sets up a new capital city in the north, with shrines containing golden calves to replace the Jerusalem Temple.  About 200 years after the division of the kingdoms, the Assyrians permanently destroy the northern kingdom.  The reason is given in 2 Kings 17.

All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the LORD their God who had brought them out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.  They worshipped other gods and followed the practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before them, as well as the practices that the kings of Israel had introduced.  [2 Kings 17.7-8]

In the southern kingdom of Judah the people also turn to other gods and eventually they are carried off to exile in Babylon.  Just like the Fall all over again, God's people are banished for their disobedience. 

In this series in 2 Kings called The Two Kingdoms, we're in the middle of this decline of Israel and Judah, getting further and further away from the time of blessing under the rule of David and Solomon, but still searching for the one who will rule perfectly under God and defeat sin and death. 

Kings was written to analyse how the history of God's people was related to their faithfulness to God.  It's written to help God's people to learn the lessons of their history.  But the writer also provides hope for the exiles in Babylon by reminding them of God's promise to David that a greater king is to come.

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In today's passage in 2 Kings 8 we meet two new kings in the southern kingdom of Judah: Jehoram and Ahaziah.  We see a formula in the way these two kings are recorded:

1st, the king is introduced, [slide 4] 2nd, his reign is evaluated [slide 5] with respect to his faithfulness to God,   3rd, the key event of his reign is described. [slide 6]

There are lots of names in here so let's sort out who's who.  First we see that the northern kingdom, Israel, is being ruled by Joram, son of Ahab.  Ahab is one of the most important kings of the northern kingdom.  1 Kings 16 sums him up like this:

30 Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him.  31 He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him.  32 He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria.  33 Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him.              [1 Kings 16.30-33]

We may not recognise all the details but we get the picture.  Ahab's son, Joram, became king back in 2 Kings 3.  He wasn't as bad as his parents, but nonetheless he did evil in the eyes of the LORD.

While Joram is king of the northern kingdom of Israel, Jehoshaphat [slide 7], king of the southern kingdom of Judah, dies and his son Jehoram [slide 8] succeeds him.  What sort of king will Jehoram be?  Look at v18.

[Jehoram] walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, as the house of Ahab had done, for he married a daughter of Ahab.  He did evil in the eyes of the LORD.

So Jehoram takes as his wife a daughter of Ahab and sister of the reigning king of Israel [slide 9].  On the one hand this could be seen as a smart move.  The hostile nations around were growing in strength.  What was needed was a strong alliance between Israel and Judah so that they could stand firm.  Perhaps it would even go some way to reversing the division of the kingdoms after Solomon.  But Ahab's daughter Athaliah comes into the monarchy of Judah like a poison, first affecting her husband Jehoram, and then her son, Ahaziah as we'll see in just a moment. 

So thinking of our formula, then, what is the most significant event in the reign of Jehoram?  Let's read from verse 20. 

20 In the time of Jehoram, Edom rebelled against Judah and set up its own king.  21 So Jehoram went to Zair with all his chariots. The Edomites surrounded him and his chariot commanders, but he rose up and broke through by night; his army, however, fled back home.  22 To this day Edom has been in rebellion against Judah. Libnah revolted at the same time.

The region of Edom to the south of Judah and the town of Libnah right in the heart of Judah, rebelled against the Judean king.  We are meant to understand these skirmishes as the beginning of God's judgement on Judah for the sins of its kings. 

2 Chronicles 21 elaborates, saying

Libnah revolted at the same time, because Jehoram had forsaken the LORD, the God of his fathers.  11 He had also built high places on the hills of Judah and had caused the people of Jerusalem to prostitute themselves and had led Judah astray.

2 Chronicles goes on to describe how God raises up neighbouring countries to invade Judah, and all Jehoram's wives and sons are killed except for his wife Athaliah and his youngest son, Ahaziah.  God afflicts Jehoram with a fatal disease and 2 Chronicles says

His people made no fire in his honour, as they had for his fathers… [Jehoram] passed away, to no-one's regret, and was buried in the City of David, but not in the tombs of the kings.

So Jehoram's reign was disastrous for the people of the southern kingdom of Judah, and for his own family, and for himself.  He is succeeded by his only remaining son, Ahaziah [slide 10].  Surely, having seen everything that happened to his father, everything that God ordained to happen because of his father, surely he would fear God and rule under God's authority.  Let's read from v25:

25 In the twelfth year of Joram son of Ahab king of Israel, Ahaziah son of Jehoram king of Judah began to reign.  26 Ahaziah was twenty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem for one year. His mother's name was Athaliah, a granddaughter of Omri king of Israel.  27 He walked in the ways of the house of Ahab and did evil in the eyes of the LORD, as the house of Ahab had done, for he was related by marriage to Ahab's family.

So despite everything that has happened, the poisonous influence of Ahab's daughter Athaliah, who is Ahaziah's mother, is still deeply affecting Judah's king and Judah's standing before God.  A dip into 2 Chronicles 22 provides a little more information:

3 [Ahaziah] too walked in the ways of the house of Ahab, for his mother encouraged him in doing wrong.  4 He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, as the house of Ahab had done, for after his father's death they became his advisers, to his undoing. 

What is the significant event of his short reign?  Well, this alliance between Judah and Israel leads Ahaziah to support Israel's King Joram in war against Hazael, King of Aram.  If you were here last Sunday you'll remember that Elisha wept in front of Hazael because he knew that Hazael was God's chosen instrument of judgement against the people of the northern kingdom Israel.  Joram is wounded in battle and Ahaziah comes to see him at Jezreel, which is the middle of the northern kingdom.  Now the scene is set for God to act against them both.  Come back in two weeks' time to pick up the story.

So what are we to learn from this snippet of history so that we don't repeat its mistakes?  I think there are two main lessons.

 (1) God demands loyalty

[slide 11]  This is more obvious in the account in 2 Chronicles.  It says there that Edom and Libnah revolted against Jehoram because Jehoram had forsaken the LORD.  It says that it was The LORD who caused the neighbouring countries to attack Judah.  It says The LORD afflicted Jehoram with his incurable disease.  And it says that through Ahaziah's visit to Joram, God brought about Ahaziah's downfall.  More of that in two weeks.

God deserves loyalty, both for who he is and for what he has done.  Remember Solomon's dedication of the Temple:

"Praise be to the LORD, who has given rest to his people Israel just as he promised.  Not one word has failed of all the good promises he gave through his servant Moses." [1 Kings 8.56]

God is a god of infinite goodness and faithfulness.  He is a god of awesome power who created and sustains everything, and who acts in his world with sovereign authority.  He is a god who acts in grace to save.  He brought the slaves out of Egypt, he sent judge after judge to save his people, he provided a king to rule under him in peace and prosperity.  And we know that all the horror of his judgement of sin that we read about in the Old Testament was poured out on his own son, Jesus, at the cross, in our place.  We can see that that was always God's plan, from before the creation.  So God is worthy of praise, fear, adoration and loyalty.

But naturally, the behaviour of God's people reflects back on God.  That's why the Baal-worship and idolatry of Israel was so serious.  God's name and God's glory were at stake.  And the King had a special role to rule under God.  These two kings of Judah, Jehoram and Ahaziah, were infected with the disease of idolatry through Ahab's daughter.  They completely failed to uphold their side of the covenant between God and his people.

God demands loyalty and that means we should serve God and serve him alone [slide 12].  For some of us that will mean acknowledging for the very first time that he is worthy of all praise, fear, adoration and loyalty.  It will mean asking him for forgiveness for serving yourself in his place.  It will mean asking him to be your king and asking for him to help you live to please him, just as we did in the confession prayer.  As we read earlier in 2 Peter:

9 The Lord … is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. [2 Peter 3.9]

So why not turn to him today, while there is still time?

Many of us here will already have done that.  But we need to examine our hearts.  Are we compromising with sin?  Are we too much in love with things of the world – possessions, reputation, influence?  Are we watching carefully for those things or those people who would lead us away from serving God alone? 

The second lesson we need to learn from this passage is this:

(2) God cannot be thwarted

[slide 13]  We skipped over verse 19 of today's passage.  Follow it with me:

19 Nevertheless, for the sake of his servant David, the LORD was not willing to destroy Judah. He had promised to maintain a lamp for David and his descendants for ever.

God's promise to David is in 2 Samuel 7.  God says to David,

'The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you:  12 When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom.  13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. [2 Samuel 7.11b-13]

Looking back at the Old Testament through the lens of the cross, we can see that the ultimate fulfilment of this promise is Jesus.  Even though the kings we've read about today were unfaithful to God and far from being the serpent-crushing King, we can see that God's plan to defeat death, to deal justly with sin and to establish a people for himself is fulfilled through Jesus.  God promised Adam and Eve a descendant who would defeat sin and death.  He promised Abraham a nation of descendents, a people too many to be counted.  He promised David that a greater son would permanently establish the kingdom of God's people.  He promised blessing to all nations through the chosen king.  God cannot be thwarted.

So trust God alone [slide 14].  The God who can order world history, the King of kings, can be trusted to keep his promises and accomplish everything he sets out to do. 

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