Posts Tagged 'divided kingdom'

Obadiah, Micah

The Bible is so common, many people own multiple copies of it. That’s not to say they are reading it, though. Even among Christians it’s not unusual to find several copies of different translations in the house. However, do we know what’s in it beyond the Gospels and the famous Bible stories, like Noah and the ark and the Exodus? The fact is, the Bible is full of “hidden gems” that go undiscovered. Obadiah is one such gem. Probably most of you have never read it. It is the shortest of the minor prophets, so a lot of us overlook it.

“Obadiah” was a very common name during Old Testament days and, like other minor prophets, we know almost nothing about him.

1. Consequences of withholding mercy, verses 10—15

a. Judgment day for Edom, vs. 10, 11

Obadiah’s ministry was a little different from other prophets; they mention the names of kings or priests who were working when that particular prophet was active. But Obadiah mentions no one, which has led Bible scholars to conclude that Obadiah was prophesying after Judah had fallen to the Babylonians.

Jerusalem and Judah lay in ruins and Obadiah’s message was directed at the Edomites.

Because of the violence against your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever. On the day you stood aloof while strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them.

Even though it sounds like the prophet is speaking to the Edomites personally, he probably was not; in fact, Obadiah probably never travelled to Edom. The prophet gave his messages against Edom for the benefit of God’s people; his messages were really addressed to the remaining Judahites.

“Jacob” is called Edom’s brother by Obadiah. The Edomites forgot that they and the Judahites shared common ancestry: Abraham. Because they woefully mistreated Judah, Edom was about to fall victim to God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3—

I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

During the Babylonian invasion, Edom should have come to the aid of Judah, but they did not. After the Babylonian invasion, Edom should have helped those who were left behind, but they did not. Not only did Edom stand idly by and not help, they willingly aided in the deportation of their brothers. This kind of conspiracy against a “brother” did not go unnoticed by God. Edom had behaved cold-heartedly in their betrayal of Judah.

b. Edom, scavenger of Israel, vs. 12—15

The Edomites were definitely guilty of “sins of omission,” for they stood by while the Judahites were carted off by the Babylonians. Despite the many ties and treaties Edom had with Judah, they, along with other nations, failed to help them when the Judahites needed them the most. But they were guilty of other sins, too.

You should not gloat over your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction, nor boast so much in the day of their trouble. (verse 12)

The prophet’s second issue with the Edomites was their attitude toward Judah and their predicament. They actually gloated and rejoiced over the misfortune of their brothers.

You should not march through the gates of my people in the day of their disaster, nor gloat over them in their calamity in the day of their disaster, nor seize their wealth in the day of their disaster. (verse 13)

Sitting on the sidelines was bad enough, but the Edomites actually helped in the downfall of Jerusalem by looting it.

You should not wait at the crossroads to cut down their fugitives, nor hand over their survivors in the day of their trouble. (verse 14)

As if all that wasn’t bad enough, as the citizens of Judah fled the Babylonian hordes, the Edomites captured them and handed them over to the Babylonian army.

This prophet closes this part of his word with a reference to the “day of the Lord”:

The day of the LORD is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head. (verse 15)

Whenever a prophet, minor or major, starts talking about the “day of the Lord,” we know that he is now not only referring to the future of God’s people, Israel, but to the future of other nations as well. Very often, the prophet saw the immediate future of Israel mixed in with the far future of the nations of the world. And the “day of the Lord,” as all God’s people knew, would be a day that bring terrible darkness and judgment upon the world, but it would be day of light and salvation and joy for all God’s people.

Edom’s destruction would be real and complete—there is not a single Edomite alive today. But it would also trigger an escahtological event that would show the nations of the world how an unruly world would, one day, be restored to order.

The “Day of the Lord” was very near for the Edomites. It is near for us. What is the big lesson from the little letter: No human being, but especially believers, are to rationalize selfish conduct, assuming it can be justified before God and man because of circumstances. As far as God is concerned, nothing is ever “politically expedient.”

2. God hates oppression, Micah 2:1—5

Micah was in good company when he was actively proclaiming the Word of the Lord. He was working right alongside the likes of Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and Jonah. Even though Micah’s words aren’t as famous and quotable as some other prophets, at least to us, they must have made an impression. No less than a great prophet like Jeremiah was still quoting what Micah had written a century later (see Jeremiah 26:18, 19).

“Micah” means “Who is like the Lord,” and is a version of the more common “Michael” and “Michelle.” He came from an obscure village in Judah, Moresheth-gath, about 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem, near the Philistine city of Gath. He ministered during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and the great Hezekiah. He did minister for a while to the northern kingdom’s capital, Samaria, before it fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC.

The people of Micah’s day were an incredibly religious bunch; religious, but not at all godly. While they would never miss a service at the Temple, it never occurred to them that they were obliged to practice their religion outside the Temple! Add to that the fact that the unprecedented peace, prosperity, and military conquests were coming to an end. The deaths of Jeroboam in the North and the Uzziah in the South and the rise of Tiglath-pileser III of Arryria spelled the end of both kingdoms, even though they didn’t know it yet.

But Micah, in spite of the declines of Israel and Judah and the prevailing ungodliness of the people, never despaired. Micah knew that the last word would not be spoken by the cruel oppressors of the people or by the cold, heartless kings and governing authorities that didn’t care for the citizens. He knew that God would have the last word.

a. Woe to the oppressors, vs. 1, 2

Chapter two begins with the word “woe,” and as we know, nothing good follows that word! This chapter continues God’s judgment against His rebellious people. Injustice was rampant in Judah. People took advantage other people, and they seemingly never stopped planning new and inventive ways to do that.

Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds! At morning’s light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it. (verse 1)

b. God will oppress the oppressors, vs. 3—5

I am planning disaster against this people, from which you cannot save yourselves.” (verse 3a)

As far as Judah was concerned, the time for self-satisfaction was over and the time of disaster was about to begin. The law of reciprocity—reaping and sowing—is universal, and none can avoid it. Just as Obadiah had said, so the Lord said through Micah. Those who mistreated their brothers and sisters would not go unpunished. God hates all oppression. Human beings—all human beings—are created in God’s image and all human beings have rights given them by their Creator. Every human being, even those yet unsaved, are precious to Him and no one should ever take advantage of them in any way.

Therefore you will have no one in the assembly of the LORD to divide the land by lot. (verse 5)

To the powerful, to the rich and to the bully, this word was given. Our Lord taught in His famous Sermon on the Mount, that only the meek would inherit the earth. In that great future “assembly of the Lord,” the general land reforms of the Sabbatical and Jubilee years would finally find its consummation. When that happens, the “poor in spirit” will get their due:

LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. (Psalm 15:5, 6)

3. God delights in mercy, 7:14—20

After giving God’s message to His people, the prophet looked in vain for some sign of repentance in Judah.

What misery is mine! I am like one who gathers summer fruit at the gleaning of the vineyard; there is no cluster of grapes to eat, none of the early figs that I crave. (verse 1)

What terrible misery and grief was Micah’s as he not only found his message falling on deaf ears, but as he saw what was ahead for the people who refused to listen.

But all was not lost.

a. God will restore Israel, 7:14, 15

But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me. Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light. (verses 7, 8)

Micah remained faithful; he remained optimistic. The immediate future looked bleak indeed, so the prophet looked to the past for his hope for the future:

Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock of your inheritance, which lives by itself in a forest, in fertile pasturelands. Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead as in days long ago. “As in the days when you came out of Egypt, I will show them my wonders.” (verses 14, 15)

The prophet knew Israel would be restored some time in the future and he anticipated God’s manifested power at that time, just like in days gone by. Verse 15, in which God is speaking, confirms the fact that though it may appear otherwise, God was most definitely not finished with His people.

b. The oppressors would be eliminated, 7:16, 17

More reaping and sowing; only this time it would the nations that oppressed God’s people.

c. Never stop trusting in God, 7:18—20

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago.

“Who is like God?” This is an oft-asked question in Scripture. It’s almost always asked in light of divine power and glory, with a sense of awe. But Micah asks the question for another reason. He’s not standing in awe of God’s power, but in awe of His great mercy.

Micah’s word is timeless; for every generation to hear it. It speaks of the essence of salvation, past, present and future. And it promises a hope for all mankind:

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (5:2)

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

HEZEKIAH: Revival and Renewal

2 Chronicles 28—30

Just what is a “revival?” Where I live, in the southern United States, churches often have “revivals.” That’s what they call special evangelistic meetings. In the strange Christian-American sub- culture, a “revival” is something you have at a set time (like, 7 PM Monday evening). But, is a “revival” something you “have” or is it something that “happens to you?” Biblically speaking, a “revival” is really a spiritual awakening, sent by God in response to the prayers and passion of a local church. The New Testament clearly indicates that it is through the local church God works to reveal Himself to a sinful world:

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ephesians 3:10, 11).

This is why the local church is so important in the life of a Christian. How is the “manifold wisdom of God” made known? It is made known first through the mission of Christ:

Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word. (Ephesians 5:25, 26)

It is through the exposition of the Word of God that the church (its members) are cleansed and made holy. Paul noted elsewhere that the preaching of the Word is the primary reason for the church’s existence:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11—13).

So then, a “revival” is a spiritual awakening that occurs within the local church as it fulfils its mandate; as the members are “built up” and as their faith grows into maturity. All this happens through the ministry of the Word of God. It is not a song or hymn that changes a life, it is the Word of God. Pot luck dinners and benevolent exercises may be worthy endeavours, evangelistic services may attract a crowd, but renewal or revival can only happen in the context of the ministry of the Word.

In the Old Testament, we have two excellent examples of national spiritual renewals; one under the reign of Josiah and the other under Hezekiah’s reign. Josiah’s revival is extraordinary. Judah had fallen far by the time he assumed the throne. The people had almost completely left the worship of God to chase after idols. Judah had literally become a nation of idolaters. When Josiah stumbled upon a copy of the Pentateuch in the Temple ruins, he called the people to the Covenant, read it to them, and a revival was sparked that changed the face of the nation.

Seventy years before this, however, King Hezekiah had a similar experience; one that Josiah must have been aware of. It is Hezekiah’s revival that we will study now, and we will study Josiah next time.

1. A call for sanctification, 2 Chronicles 28:1—4, 22—27; 29:1—11

One of the most important lessons to learn from studying the kings is that heredity and environment are not the only bases for success or failure. The all-important issue of personal choice cannot be ignored. Good and godly kings sometimes produced evil sons and vice versa.

The relatively good king Uzziah was succeeded by his son, Jotham, who is considered to have been another good king. Of Jotham, the chronicler wrote an interesting thing:

He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father Uzziah had done, but unlike him he did not enter the temple of the LORD. The people, however, continued their corrupt practices. (2 Chronicles 27:1, 2)

Even though he “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord,” that wasn’t enough to change the people’s collective heart; they remained fascinated with idols and idol worship. Perhaps one reason why the people remained spiritually stubborn was they bad example they had in Jotham: he did not enter the Temple. He was a good man, but he stayed away from the house of God. Like a great many Christians.

What kept Jotham away from the Temple? Remember his father’s bad experience in that same Temple; he barged in one day tried to play the role of a priest. In doing so, the Lord punished him with leprosy, which he suffered with until the day he died. No wonder little Jotham stayed away! He had a bad example in his father, and Judah had a bad example in Jotham. Jotham had a great opportunity to lead his people back to God, yet because of his bad example, and maybe because of either fear or bitterness, he refused to worship in the Temple.

Still, he was a good king and he died at the relatively young age of 41. His apostate son, Ahaz, took over the throne and he is known as one the weakest and most corrupt of all the 21 kings of Judah. Despite coming from good stock, Ahaz was as wicked as a king could get. He ruled for 16 years and died young, at only 36. He made idols to Baal and was a vile as the worst kings of Israel.

He burned sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and sacrificed his children in the fire, engaging in the detestable practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. (28:3)

Because of Ahaz’s sin, God literally removed His protection from Judah. When He did this, it was like the floodgates of hell being opened. For the first time, Judah faced invasions from Syria, Edom, and Philistia. Not only that, Israel waged war against Jerusalem; wars are always the results of sin, as James noted in his letter:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. (James 4:1, 2)

As if adding insult to injury, instead of turning to God for help and deliverance, Ahaz turned to the Assyrians. He gave the king of Assyria treasures from the Lord’s Temple and the king’s palace as a kind of payment, but the king of Assyria offered no help at all. Ahaz, as the king of Judah, was national disgrace and a joke among the nations. Mercifully, when he died, his son Hezekiah, ascended to the throne. He was nothing like his father.

Hezekiah was the greatest of Judah’s “revivalist-reformer kings,” greater than Jehoshaphat and perhaps second only to Josiah. Judah, the southern kingdom, last almost 150 years longer than it’s northern counterpart largely because of what Hezekiah did. At the age of 25, Hezekiah began his 29 year reign, which included 15 years of “borrowed time,” given to him by God. Hezekiah not only “did what was right,” he also had an unfailing trust in the Lord:

Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. (2 Kings 18:5)

The very first thing he did was significant, for it brought about a time of national sanctification:

In the first month of the first year of his reign, he opened the doors of the temple of the LORD and repaired them. (2 Chronicles 1:3)

Those Temple doors, shut and locked since the days of his father, were opened up, repaired, and over-layed with gold. Then the king set about putting the Temple in order, concentrating on four things:

  1. Hezekiah had all the Levitical priests reconsecrate themselves to God. For many years, the priesthood had been allowed to degenerate and the priests engaged in acts of idolatry which led the people astray.
  2. The Temple and Temple grounds were purified, cleansed and cleaned up; restored, refurbished; and renewed.
  3. He rededicated the altar and the sanctuary, making the ready for the re-institution of the Mosaic sacrifices.
  4. He encouraged a national revival by re-instituting the sacrificial system long abandoned.

The importance of the Temple cannot be overstated. One might observe that there were many Jews at this time who were still faithful to Jehovah, and that was probably the case. But the Temple and the concept of corporate worship was absolutely essential in the Jewish faith, just as the local church and corporate worship is today in the Christian faith. It was then, as it is now, God’s intention for His people to gather together and worship Him corprately. That’s why the the repair and refurbishing of the Temple was top priority for Hezekiah.

Hezekiah did something else that no other king in Judah was able to do:

He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.) (2 Kings 18:4)

With the Temple up and running, the king took away the alternative: he rid his nation of all signs of idolatry. He not only got rid of all the shrines, high places, and Asherah poles, he also did a very controversial thing: he destroyed a precious object inside the Temple itself; the bronze snake Moses, originally made at God’s behest. Why did he do that? Obviously, many of the people had fallen so far from God, that instead of worshiping God, they began to worship the “things” of God.

Many, many Christians today get caught up in that kind of worship. Walk into many churches and you will find, not idols, but icons all over the place. Whatever gives the worshiper a sense of peace or a feeling of spiritual well-being is Nehushtan! Nehushtan takes many forms in the 21st century. Nehushtan can be the cross that hangs on the wall of your church. There is no merit in that cross; there is merit in what Christ did on His Cross! Nehushtan can be hymn or a worship chorus if it makes you feel good or moves you. Nehushtan can also be your church, if it gives you something that should only come from God Himself. Whatever does for you what God Himself ought to do for you is Nehushtan—it’s an idol.

2. Passover restored, chapter 30

With the house of worship in order, the priests performing their duties according to the Word of God, and the people made ready for worship, it was time to celebrate Passover, the greatest of all Jewish feasts. Chapter 30 details Hezekiah’s awesome Passover, this was truly an event; it had not been celebrated properly since the days of the united kingdom. With that in mind, Hezekiah did a most unusual thing:

They decided to send a proclamation throughout Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, calling the people to come to Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover to the LORD, the God of Israel. It had not been celebrated in large numbers according to what was written. (2 Chronicles 30:5)

What was so unusual about inviting the 10 tribes to the north to come to the Temple in the south to worship like the old days? It was unusual because by this time there were no ten tribes to the north any more! Almost all of the population of Israel—the northern kingdom—had been taken into captivity by the Assyrians. This grand invitation was sent out some four years after the fall of Israel. Of course, the Assyrians didn’t get all the Israelites. You can imagine many of them hiding in caves and forests when the Assyrian hordes came calling.

The couriers went from town to town in Ephraim and Manasseh, as far as Zebulun, but people scorned and ridiculed them. (verse 10)

Some who survived the Assyrian invasion had no interest in returning to God. But there were some who jumped at the chance to worship with their brothers and sisters:

Nevertheless, some from Asher, Manasseh and Zebulun humbled themselves and went to Jerusalem. (verse 11)

Verse 12 tells us that Hezekiah was doing exactly what God wanted:

Also in Judah the hand of God was on the people to give them unity of mind to carry out what the king and his officials had ordered, following the word of the LORD. (verse 12)

Not since the days of Solomon had there been such a crowd of worshipers in Jerusalem! Amazingly, not only had the Temple grounds been fixed up, but Jerusalem the city was cleansed! This must have been one incredible party, and God was extremely pleased.

One final example of the kind of King Hezekiah was. We read this:

Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “May the LORD, who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God—the LORD, the God of their ancestors—even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people. (30:18—20)

What a beautiful picture! Almost all of the people specifically invited to Passover from Israel were ceremonially unclean, which means the shouldn’t have participated in it. But Hezekiah, whose heart was right, understood the difference between the letter of the Law and the spirit of the Law. He interceded on behalf of those who were deemed “unclean,” and God took care of them! He healed the unclean because of the prayer of the king.

Hezekiah also understood that the condition of the heart was more important than any form or ritual could ever be. We may sneer at people that visit our churches who don’t know the hymns or the Lord’s Prayer, or the Apostle’s Creed by heart, but does God? Of course not! God is not impressed with our rituals. The Creeds that we work so hard to memorize mean nothing to God. God wants worshipers who will drop all their pretences and come humbly to Him in spirit and truth.

This is what revival and renewal is all about. It is about God—His Person—and our response to Him. Our responses, not to a hymn or sermon, but to the living Word of God are the ones that are genuine.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

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