Ten years a go today, the world changed. I'm sure that it won't have escaped anyone's noticed that today is the tenth anniversary of 9/11. I'm sure you'll have seen some of the hours of coverage and analysis, perhaps remembered where you were when you heard what was happening. Maybe you asked the question that many did; 'Is God still in control, can his promises still be true?'. Since then there have been many other days of violence, of chaos. Times when it looks like things are falling apart, is there any real hope that things can change?
In this morning's text things are falling apart too. This is the beginning of the end for the Northern Kingdom of Israel; just one more king will reign after this chapter before Assyria will effectively obliterate the ten Northern tribes. You'll have picked up as we read the chapter earlier that this is a chaotic period in the history of God's people. You probably didn't catch all the details and that's ok because the writer seems to be deliberately racing through this period so that we get the sense of jus how bad, just how catastrophically chaotic things are, at least in the North.
The chapter is structured like this:
JUDAH Azariah v1-7
ISRAEL Zecharaiah v8-12
ISRAEL Shallum v13-16
ISRAEL Menahem v17-22
ISRAEL Pekahiah v23-26
ISRAEL Pekah v27-31
JUDAH Jotham v32-38
The relatively stable reigns of Azariah and Jotham in Judah bookend five northern kings with reigns that are short, bloody and amoral often ending with the next king assassinating them. By the end of the reign of the fifth northern king; Pekah; parts of the nation are being dragged off into exile in Assyria. Matt reminded us last week that this is a history of God first, so what can we learn about him from this chaotic chapter and what does it mean for us now?
I think amongst the chaos and destruction of 2 Kings 15 there are two certainties which we can pull out which help us to know God's goodness even in the midst of chaos. God's word endures forever Sin is always terminal
1. God's word endures forever
God is still here in this chapter and more than that he is at work through his word. Read with me the account of Zechariah's reign in v8-15;
8 In the thirty-eighth year of Azariah king of Judah, Zechariah son of Jeroboam became king of Israel in Samaria, and he reigned for six months.
9 He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, as his fathers had done. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit.
10 Shallum son of Jabesh conspired against Zechariah. He attacked him in front of the people, assassinated him and succeeded him as king.
11 The other events of Zechariah's reign are written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel.
12 So the word of the LORD spoken to Jehu was fulfilled: Your descendants will sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation.
Much of this account is written in formula for example the assessment of Zechariah's reign in v9 appears almost word for word in all the other assessments of the northern king's reigns. However, v12 contains a striking and important extra detail;
12 So the word of the LORD spoken to Jehu was fulfilled: Your descendants will sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation.
Jehu was God's chosen instrument back in chapter 9 to demolish the house of King Ahab and his wife Jezebel. Because of his obedience to the task 1 Kings 10.30 records:
30The LORD said to Jehu, Because you have done well in accomplishing what is right in my eyes and have done to the house of Ahab all I had in mind to do, your descendants will sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation.
Here we have this promise coming to fulfilment, Jehu's descendants have sat on the throne for four generations just as God said. In one sense there is nothing particularly remarkable about this; there are hundreds of promises and predictions made in the Scriptures which time and time again come to pass; exactly as God had said they would. But it's exactly that consistency that 'ordinariness' in biblical terms which is picked up on here in v12 and which is when you dwell on it extraordinary. God says something and it happens; always – perfect consistency. The end of verse 12 literally reads like this;
12So the word of the LORD spoken to Jehu was fulfilled: Your descendants will sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation (and that's the way it was).
It almost sounds matter of fact; God promises and despite the complexities of several kingships in between his promises come to pass. However, there are two other things that mean that this phrase; 'the word of the LORD to Jehu was fulfilled…and that's the way it was' is much more than matter of fact.
a) The first is this; these words sit in the middle of one of the most destructive and chaotic chapters in the Bible. It sticks out like a sore thumb; everything is falling apart aside from one thing; God's word, which is as consistent and reliable as ever. Just like the stability of the kings in the South at this time only serves to highlight the instability of the North so the inconsistency and fragility of events here contrasts severely with the stability and faithfulness of God.
b) Secondly, this term is exactly the one used when God spoke the earth into being in the first two chapters of Genesis e.g:
3And God said, Let there be light, and there was light.
That's the same phrase being used here as God spoke creation into being, so he speaks history into conclusion. He is here; he is in complete control with not one degree of separation between his will and his ability. He is sovereign. There is no doubt in the writer's mind that God is in control here, right in the heart of the pandemonium in the surrounding verses we have this nugget of God's perfect control.
There is incredible comfort in that knowledge; to know that despite what looks like disaster and chaos for Israel God is still speaking, still fulfilling his promises. There is comfort for us to as we look at the chaos that may surround us whether that be world events or when our own lives are turned upside down. There is certainty for us beneath those stormy seas lies the firm anchor of God's word. Chapters like this can help us see God's hand at work behind the scenes as it were in what must have seemed some of the darkest days in the history of God's people.
However, we have something even more incredible to hold fast to as we look back on these chapters, we see what they were leading to. These Northern kings were never going to last we know that because God had promised to establish his eternal Kingdom through the line of David. None of the northern kings were in that line. But 700 years or so after these events a new king in David's line did appear; Jesus.
Jesus was the fulfilment of God's promise to David to establish a kingdom forever through his line – God makes good on his promise again. But Jesus wasn't just the answer to the promise God made to David he is the fulfilment of the whole of Old Testament; the Scriptures testify about him John tells us all of God's promises are yes in Jesus.
Jesus is also more than a sign that God's word is true; he is the Word made flesh. He is the totality of God's revelation and he embodies that creative power which spoke the universe into being.
This chapter is very striking and this nugget of God's word still operating, still being fulfilled is wonderful but it is dwarfed by Jesus. For all the great tragedy that this chapter relays to us, for all the chaos and destruction it wasn't a surprise. 1 Kings 15 is the natural consequence of a course of action taken many years before, it is the trajectory on which Israel's sin was always heading. The chaos and destruction is brutal but it isn't impossible to understand – it's part of God's judgement on Israel's sin. But Jesus suffered on the cross a violence far greater than anything even this chapter describes and he did so willingly despite being innocent.
If ever we struggle to see how God can still be working we look at the cross and see how the greatest injustice the world has ever seen, the seeming end of everything Jesus had accomplished was in fact the greatest day. It was the point when God's word was most gloriously being fulfilled so that now the writer to the Hebrews can say;
3The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
The death and resurrection of Jesus say ultimately what verse 12 fore-shadows. God is here. God is at work through his word. Even in what looks like the darkest shadow, God's powerful word is achieving exactly what God desires. So we have confidence even when we do not understand events around us that God is trustworthy, that he is in control and that in the end his will, his purposes will by his word come to pass. He has proved it once and for all by raising Jesus from the dead.
2. Sin is always terminal
We've seen then in v12 that even within the destructive violence of 2 Kings 15 God is at work by his word keeping his promises but what about the rest of the chapter? What can we learn from it and in particular what can we learn from these kings whose reigns are so short and filled with violence and sin? Well again there is a particular phrase, which jumps out at us. Read with me again verses 8 and 9:
8In the thirty-eighth year of Azariah king of Judah, Zechariah son of Jeroboam became king of Israel in Samaria, and he reigned for six months.
9He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, as his fathers had done. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit.
We mentioned this almost formulaic description before which is used for each of the northern kings bar the one month wonder; Shallum:
He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, as his fathers had done. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit.
We can't help but notice it, each king does evil and it is great evil. Previous kings are murdered in plain view (v10), pregnant women are ripped open (v16). The incredible sadness though is that each King it appears is worst than the last, these shocking atrocities are a pattern, which continues. This phrase explains the pattern telling us that each of these kings failed to alter Israel's course from the one set by Jeroboam son of Nebat (Jeroboam I) rather they perpetuate these sins.
It will help us to know a little about Jeroboam son of Nebat. After the death of King David's son; Solomon Israel splits in two. Judah in the South is ruled by Rehoboam; Solomon's son. Jeroboam son of Nebat however takes control of the North. But worried that the Israelites will still want to travel South to worship at the temple in Jerusalem, Jeroboam decides to build worship centres in the North of the country to keep control of the people. However these 'high places' are not for worshipping Gd but rather for worshipping idols, specifically two golden calves. You can read about this in 1 Kings 12ff.
So Jeroboam is the one who leads the North away from God and into idol worship. Leading God to pronounce in 1 Kings 14.9:
9You have done more evil than all who lived before you. You have made for yourself other gods, idols made of metal; you have provoked me to anger and thrust me behind your back.
This man, who did more evil than any man before is the prototype for these kings of Israel. Like him they fail to worship the true God and instead they choose great evil. So what can we learn from this?
a) First, 1 Kings 15 is what sin looks like. This chapter is appalling; it is filled with violence and destruction. In it assassination, even in broad daylight in the case of Shallum on Zechariah becomes the norm. But before we write the chapter off as simply a barbaric piece of history concerning five bad kings in an uncivilised world let's remember how the writer explains these great evils. The writer explains each King's evil doing in terms of failing to turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat. In other words the reason behind this sickening violence and amorality was a failure to deal with the idolatry which Jeroboam I instigated.
Idolatry left to fester leads to this. This is what life lived without reference to God looks like given free reign and each of us are or have been idolaters. This is what our hearts look like. We may not have been given the opportunity or power by God's grace to commit such atrocities but make no mistake the potential is there.
b) Secondly, this chapter shows us God's judgement in action. God has been very patient with Israel. He has sent them prophets such as Amos, Hosea and Jonah. God has even saved Israel using a wicked King like Jeroboam II. But God's patience can never be though of as slowness or apathy, our New Testament reading from 2 Peter 3 reminded us of that. God will judge, he cannot allow sin to reign. So here we see God giving Israel over to the sin that they have chosen over and over again.
Israel is strangling itself here with it's own sin. 2 Kings 17 will tell us in black and white that the exile to Assyria which begins in v29 of this chapter took place because of Israel's sin against God. God is a just and good God, he is a God who is infinitely worthy of praise and so Israel's sin must be punished.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about 2 Kings 15 is that it exists at all. God's mercy and patience are the only things, which hold back his settled and just wrath at Israel's sin. God's patience is incredible but as we've learnt from v12, God's word is always fulfilled. God will judge the world in justice – it is certain. Sin is always terminal, it will not last and we must live in that reality.
So we must deal with our sin. We must recognise that it is serious; we should be sobered by sin of 2 Kings 15 especially by the knowledge that this is what idolatry leads to. Then we need to decide given that God will judge, give that sin cannot last in his presence, that it is terminal – who will die for your sin?
Will you take it on as your own or will you let Jesus die for your sin? God is patient not wishing that anyone would perish but he will judge sin, he will do justice.
2 Kings 15; a dark and chaotic chapter but underneath it there are certain realities:
1. God's word endures forever, even in chaos in darkness God's word is still at work. So we can live in chaos, in difficulty. Not always understanding but always clinging to the cross where the word incarnate brings justice from injustice, darkness from light, life from death. Certain that God's word is always working out God's purposes.
2. Sin is terminal, 2 Kings 15 is the beginning of the end for Israel. It is God's judgement on Israel's sin moving into action. God's patience has given way to wrath and one day what was true for Israel then will be true for all of us. God will judge us the question is who will die for your sin, you or Jesus?