This blog focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

II Chronicles: Joash

The ascent of Joash to the throne is an exciting story. His great uncles, uncles, cousins, father, and brothers had all been murdered, meaning "there was no one of the house of Ahaziah to retain the power of the kingdom" (II Chronicles 22:9). Joash's wicked grandmother Athaliah had seized the throne, and Joash alone was providentially spared.

Joash was rescued by his aunt and then reared by her and her husband Jehoiada the priest. After six awful years under Queen Athaliah, Jehoiada led the insurrection to depose her. He gathered five military captains, each with a hundred men. These captains recruited the Levites and heads of households, who met in Jerusalem to establish Joash as king. These men (probably thousands) made a covenant regarding Joash.

On the planned day, the men divided into three groups at strategic locations. The Levites led the revolt, and the rest of the people stood by to protect the king, ready to kill anyone who interfered. Athaliah must have been shocked. Unaware of a royal heir, she suddenly heard shouts, singing, trumpets, and a threatening declaration, "Long live the king!" (23:11). When she protested, she found no helpers but was immediately put to death. Joash was king.

Joash had amazing potential in spite of his heritage. The three previous rulers were all wicked, but Joash was not influenced by any of them. He was only a year old when his father died and when he was isolated from his grandmother. Replacing that evil influence was his uncle's godly rearing.

Joash had tremendous potential because of the spiritual inclination of the people. After suffering under wicked rulers, the people's hearts were receptive to God. They eagerly overthrew the queen and rejoiced at being delivered from her wicked rule (23:3,6,12-13,20-21). Anyone supporting the queen was to be killed, but apparently only the priest of Baal was (23:7,17). The people made a covenant to be God's people; they readily rooted out idols (23:16-17). They rejoiced as they reestablished worship (23:18) and they joyfully and abundantly contributed to the repair of the temple (24:10-11). When Jehoiada died, they honored him by burying him with the kings (24:16). Such spiritually sensitive people would have been easy to lead in the right way.

Joash had remarkable potential because of his godly mentor. Jehoiada the priest was seven-year-old Joash's chief counselor. Jehoiada's character was unquestioned. He had already shown his bravery and integrity. Joash and Jehoiada worked together on a regular basis (24:3,6,12,14). Jehoiada's influence was so great that "Joash did what was right in the sight of the LORD all the days of Jehoiada" (24:2), whom God allowed to remain with Joash until the incredible age of 130. When Jehoiada died, the people acknowledged that "he had done well in Israel and to God and His house" (24:16).

Joash showed promising potential in his early reign. His greatest action was spiritually significant and of his own initiative. "Joash decided to restore the house of the LORD" (24:4). After years of neglect, Joash gathered the proper people for the task and asked them to work quickly. His orders were not followed quickly, so he called Jehoiada for help and then established a different method for accomplishing the important task. Joash monitored the process until it was completed. The final aspect was the offering of sacrifices, which was done "continually all the days of Jehoiada" (24:14).

That was precisely when Joash's potential came up empty. After Jehoiada died, Joash changed completely. He listened to other counselors, with devastating results. "They abandoned the house of the LORD . . . and served . . . idols" (24:18). God sent many warnings to reach Joash (24:27), but he and the people "would not listen" (24:19). The turning away from God brought consequences. "Wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this their guilt" (24:18).

God's greatest warning came through Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada. He came and questioned the people: "Why do you transgress the commandments of the LORD?" (24:20). Zechariah warned, "Because you have forsaken the LORD, He has also forsaken you" (24:20). Joash ought to have listened to this son of the mentor he had greatly respected and willingly followed. Instead of listening to his cousin with whom he had grown up, Joash was so rebellious against Zechariah that "at the command of the king they stoned him to death" (24:21).

With this rejection of God, the kingdom declined quickly. "The Arameans came with a small number of men," but they easily defeated Judah's "very great army" (24:24). The reason was clear; Joash "had forsaken the LORD" (24:24). All the officials were killed, spoils were carried off, and Joash himself was badly wounded. The servants of Joash, aware of the king's wickedness, took advantage of his weak condition to kill him, believing he deserved such a fate for murdering the prophet. Sadly, Joash's reputation had fallen so far that the people "did not bury him in the tombs of the kings" (24:25).

 Joash had incredible potential within Judah's history. In today's world, he would be the kid in the youth group that seems to have it all together - the right family, the right training, the right talents, the right outward actions. Everyone expects to see such a young person grow up to make a difference for God and serve Him faithfully, yet he turns away from it all as an adult. Like those young people, Joash's following of God was merely conformity rather than conviction. Once out from under the guidance of the one person who had influence over him, Joash forsook God, rejected His warnings, and killed His prophet. His great potential was wasted because he was merely copying the faith of others but did not personally desire God. The life of Joash demonstrates that it is never enough to act like a Christian or submissively fall in line. Without a heart for God and a personal relationship with Him, even the most convincing facade will be worthless.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

II Chronicles: Ahaziah and Athaliah

Judah's history went through a dark time when a wicked king was followed by a wicked queen. Mercifully, their combined reigns lasted only seven years. King Ahaziah's rise to the throne was rather unique. As the youngest son, Ahaziah would ordinarily never have had the opportunity to be king. All of his older brothers, however, had been captured and then killed, so Ahaziah became king at the young age of twenty-two.

Neither his birth order nor his youth needed to be a problem. Because of his youth, Ahaziah needed counselors, and the right counselors could have made all the difference. Ahaziah's following of the wrong counselors was sadly his undoing. "He also walked in the ways of the house of Ahab, for his mother was his counselor to do wickedly" (II Chronicles 22:3). It was bad enough that his own mother was such a disastrous counselor, but she was not the only one. "He did evil in the sight of the LORD like the house of Ahab, for they were his counselors after the death of his father" (22:4). "He also walked according to their counsel" (22:5).

Ahab was the epitome of wickedness in a ruler. Based on the identification of his counselors, there was no expectation that Ahaziah would do what was right. His wicked father was his counselor until he died; then the role was taken over by his wicked mother and by other wicked counselors from the house of Ahab. With all of this wicked input, which Ahaziah both heard and followed, the only possible expectation for his reign was disaster.

Ahaziah's wrong counsel led to wrong associations. Because he was heavily influenced by the house of Ahab, he readily aligned himself with them. In fact, everything mentioned about Ahaziah's entire reign was somehow associated with the house of Ahab.

Ahaziah's first error was joining in battle with Jehoram, Ahab's son. As they fought side by side, Jehoram was wounded, effectively ending the war. Instead of returning to his own kingdom, however, Ahaziah stayed with Jehoram. When Jehoram recovered, Ahaziah joined him in another war. As the battle intensified, Ahaziah hid, but the enemy army found and then killed him.

Ahaziah's choices brought about his death. It was not enough that he joined the house of Ahab in battle once; he stayed with his wounded friend after the defeat and then joined him in battle a second time. This strong association with the house of Ahab stemmed from Ahaziah's reliance upon the counsel of these wicked people. Ahaziah's demise is placed on his own head; he followed the house of Ahab and listened to their counsel "to his destruction" (22:4).

While Ahaziah was responsible, it was ultimately God who brought judgment. Ahaziah made choices, but "the destruction of Ahaziah was from God," orchestrated by his staying with his wounded friend (22:7).  Ahaziah's death came because he was in the wrong place and with the wrong people. If that had been unintentional or accidental, God would likely have shown mercy, but Ahaziah was in the wrong place and with the wrong people because his heart was wrong. Ahaziah was on a self-chosen destructive path, and God brought that path to its inevitable end after a reign of only one year.

Ahaziah's death led to a tenuous situation. Ahaziah had died at the young age of twenty-three. He had sons, but they were too young to become king. All of Ahaziah's brothers had been killed (22:1). Ahaziah's brothers had sons, at least some of whom would have been older than Ahaziah's sons, but all of those young men were killed when Ahaziah was killed (22:8). The previous generation, Ahaziah's uncles, had all been killed when his father took the throne (21:4).

All of these potential kings had been slaughtered in one way or another. The only hope lay with the young sons of Ahaziah, and their lives were in jeopardy. "Now when Athaliah [Ahaziah's wicked mother] saw that her son was dead, she rose and destroyed all the royal offspring of the house of Judah" (22:10). Or so she thought! Unknown to her, baby Joash was rescued by his aunt and hidden in a safe place.

God preserved David's line by the narrowest thread. For three generations in a row, there was a single heir. Jehoram was the only surviving son of Jehoshaphat, Ahaziah was the only surviving son of Jehoram, and Joash was the only surviving son of Ahaziah. Against all odds, God preserved this infant, and in so doing, continued to keep His word. Man "made it hard" for God by murdering off the kingly line for three generations in a row, but God's power was as great as His faithfulness, and He preserved the requisite person in each generation to keep the thread going.

As for Athaliah, after the shocking depravity of killing her young grandsons, she seized the throne for herself. There are no recorded accomplishments of this queen, even though she ruled for six years. Quite simply, she was wicked. She had already shown this by being a primary source of wicked counsel for her son (22:3). If there was any doubt, her brutal murder of her grandsons erased it. After only six years of her reign, her hidden grandson was not yet old enough to be king, but desperate times called for desperate measures.

Joash was supported and crowned by a conspiracy of godly people. When Athaliah learned of the political and military coup, she cried out, "Treason! Treason!" (23:13). The citizens, however, had suffered under her long enough. It is no wonder that the people were ready to welcome a new king, even though he was only a child. They rejoiced when Joash was presented as king (23:12). "So all of the people of the land rejoiced and the city was quiet. For they had put Athaliah to death with the sword" (23:21).

Wicked people can make wicked choices, and they will suffer as a result of their choices. Ultimately, though, God has power over all wickedness; His plan cannot and will not be stopped.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

II Chronicles: Jehoram

Jehoram's father was Jehoshaphat, a king who sometimes failed but basically sought God and encouraged his people to follow God. Jehoram's grandfather was Asa, who fell later in life, but whom God identified as also following Him. Jehoram's great-grandfather was Abijah, a righteous king who placed his trust in God. By my evaluation, this is the longest streak of godly kings at any time in Judah's history. Jehoram's heritage gave him great potential for continuing to lead Judah in the ways of God.

Instead of following God, Jehoram did the exact opposite. He was easily the most ungodly king to this point. "He did evil in the sight of the LORD," following the ungodly example of Israel's wicked King Ahab, whose daughter Jehoram had married (II Chronicles 21:6). Jehoram's first significant act as king was to kill all of his brothers, along with other leaders (21:4). The sad thing is that his brothers "were better" than him (21:13); Jehoram became king only due to the technicality of being the oldest (21:3).

Jehoram's heart was evil, and he refused God's ways. Jehoram didn't merely discontinue the good things his fathers had done. He didn't merely turn a blind eye to evil the people wanted to do. Jehoram actually initiated the evil and led the people in it. He actively led the people into idolatry and actively led them away from God. "He made high places in the mountains of Judah, and caused the inhabitants of Jerusalem to play the harlot [spiritual infidelity] and led Judah astray" (21:11).

The rebellious heart of Jehoram protested the good things his fathers had done, and he seemed determined to reverse as much of their influence as possible. It is no surprise that God brought judgment. Elijah the prophet sent a letter in which God specifically noted Jehoram's heritage and the judgment that resulted from ignoring that heritage: "Thus says the LORD God of your father David, 'Because you have not walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat your father and the ways of Asa king of Judah, . . . behold, the LORD is going to strike . . . with a great calamity'" (21:12,14).

Even before the "great calamity" struck, Jehoram experienced the negative results of his abandonment of God. The previous godly rulers had strengthened their armies and defenses. Judah had remained primarily at peace and was victorious when battles did come. After those long years of blessing during which the country grew stronger, Jehoram's reign was a disaster. In his few years as king, the kingdom had continual struggles just to avoid losing territory. Jehoram faced simultaneous revolts by Edom and Libnah, revolts that happened "because he had forsaken the LORD God of his fathers" (21:10). Edom even set up its own king.

These losses and revolts were only the beginning, perhaps intended as warnings. When Jehoram persisted in causing Judah to walk away from God (21:13), God sent His message of impending calamity, and He quickly brought that calamity about. "The LORD stirred up against Jehoram" the Philistines and the Arabs (21:16). These armies came against Judah, invading the country. In Judah's humiliating defeat, the attackers reached the capital and even the palace itself. They "carried away all the possessions found in the king's house" (21:17). They also captured Jehoram's wives and sons and carried them away.

The national disaster was followed by a personal disaster. As predicted by God, Jehoram suffered a "severe sickness" (21:15). This illness was actually "incurable," (21:18), and after two years of suffering, Jehoram "died in great pain" (21:19). Even Jehoram's death was pitiful. He had led the people into wickedness, but they were not so blinded that they did not see the destruction that had fallen because of his evil reign. No one mourned Jehoram when he was gone (21:19). "He departed with no one's regret" and did not even merit being buried with the other kings (21:20).

As sad as Jehoram's story is, there is a positive element. The positive part of the story focuses on God Himself. God is faithful, even when wicked men like Jehoram "get in the way" of His plans. Jehoram's wickedness was so great that God would have cut off the kingly line - except for His promise. "Yet the LORD was not willing to destroy the house of David because of the covenant which He had made with David, and since He had promised to give a lamp to him and his sons forever" (21:7). When God brought judgment on Jehoram and when his wives and sons were carried away, God prevented one son from being captured. God's faithfulness meant that David's line would continue as promised.

Even in judgment, God acted precisely. The nation did suffer as a result of Jehoram's wickedness, but in the battle with the Philistines and Arabs, the king himself was targeted. The king's house was looted; his wives and sons were carried away. The armies dealt with the king and then apparently left the rest of the country alone.

Jehoram certainly had opportunity, but he chose evil. He turned his back on the advantage he had been given. In his death he bore the disgrace of his godless reign. When he died at the early age of forty, his death was not only a protection for Judah by preventing further disgrace and disaster, but it was also a confirmation of God's determination to cut off those who would not follow Him. God remained faithful both to His character and to His promises.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

II Chronicles: Jehoshaphat

God commended Jehoshaphat, noting that "he walked in the way of his father Asa, . . . doing right in the sight of the LORD" (II Chronicles 20:32). Jehoshaphat took proper advantage of the godly heritage of his father and grandfather. His father had failed later in life, but apparently Jehoshaphat's heart was already established to follow God.

Jehoshaphat followed God personally. "He followed the example of his father David's earlier days and did not seek the Baals, but sought the God of his father, followed His commandments, and did not act as Israel did" (17:3-4). He set his "heart to seek God" (19:3). He made it a practice to seek God before battles (18:4-6; 20:3-12). This consistent service to God was not grudging; rather "he took great pride in the ways of the LORD" (17:6).

Jehoshaphat also influenced his people to follow God. He removed the high places and idols, but he did not stop with simply removing the evil influences. Rather, he actively worked to direct the people's hearts toward God. Early in his reign he commissioned a team of godly leaders to travel the land, teaching the people God's ways (17:7-9). When Jehoshaphat realized the people's hearts were still not right, he took renewed steps to bring them back to God (19:4). He established a system of judges throughout the land, earnestly charging them as representatives of God to give righteous judgment (19:5-11). Jehoshaphat further influenced his people by calling them together for prayer and fasting during a time of crisis (20:3-5). He urged them to trust God and displayed trust in God by his own example (20:20-21).

Jehoshaphat realized the important truth that his heart alone was not enough for the whole nation. Even if he destroyed the idols, the people could set them up again as they had previously (20:33). He tried to cultivate their own trust in God by actively teaching, by showing his example, by leading them in distress, and by setting up godly leaders. Threatening the people that they had to worship God had been tried before (15:13); Jehoshaphat wanted them to follow God because they really knew Him. While he was not successful in directing the hearts of all the people toward God, he seemingly made more progress than his predecessors.

Jehoshaphat knew "the LORD [would] be with the upright" (19:11), and it is not surprising to see God's hand of blessing on him. "The LORD was with Jehoshaphat because he followed" God (17:3). "The LORD established the kingdom" (19:5) to the extent that Jehoshaphat received gifts and tribute not only from his own people but also from foreign nations (17:5,11). Jehoshaphat strengthened the land militarily, and "the dread of the LORD was on all the kingdoms of the lands which were around Judah, so that they did not make war" (17:10). "Jehoshaphat grew greater and greater" (17:12) and "had great riches and honor" (18:1).

Three significant incidents are recorded from Jehoshaphat's life. The first was a battle in alliance with Ahab of Israel. Because of a marriage alliance, Jehoshaphat committed to join in battle with this wicked king. Jehoshaphat did have the sense to inquire of God before going to battle and even mildly rebuked Ahab's carelessness toward God (18:7). Even after the prophet's warning of "disaster" (18:22), however, Jehoshaphat still went to battle, further complicating the situation by agreeing to Ahaz's crazy scheme of disguise.

Jehoshaphat should never have agreed to go to battle at Ahaz's side, especially after the godly prophet's prediction. Additionally, he foolishly went in his kingly robes while Ahab was disguised. Jehoshaphat did not know the enemy was intent on killing only Ahab, making Jehoshaphat (dressed as a king) the only target on the battle field. With all of this against him, God caused Ahab to be randomly killed, while Jehoshaphat mercifully "returned in safety to . . . Jerusalem" (19:1).

Beyond the physical danger, this battle also put Jehoshaphat in danger of the wrath of God. A prophet came to rebuke Jehoshaphat with this pointed question: "Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the LORD and so bring wrath on yourself from the LORD?" (19:2). Even in the rebuke, God acknowledged Jehoshaphat's heart for God. Jehoshaphat took the warning to heart, responding with renewed efforts for God.

The second incident was the threat of war by a large combined army. Jehoshaphat was afraid of the enemy, but he did the right thing by taking his fear to God. Interestingly, Jehoshaphat had an enormous army, with nearly 1,200,000 men in Jerusalem alone, not counting soldiers stationed elsewhere. Of any king, he could have trusted in himself, but he knew he needed God.

Jehoshaphat fasted with the people. He prayed with the people, recalling God's power, His past deliverances, and His promises (20:6-9). He recalled Israel's obedience that had led to the present threat (20:10-11). Then he humbly and dependently prayed for God's help, concluding, "Nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You" (20:12). After God's assurance of victory, Jehoshaphat confidently told his people, "Put your trust in the LORD your God and you will be established" (20:20). God then caused the enemy to destroy itself, with nothing for Judah to do but collect the massive amounts of spoil (20:22-25). The surrounding countries further developed a dread of God, and continued peace resulted (20:29-30).

The third incident was a commercial alliance with Ahaziah of Israel. In spite of God's previous confrontation about allying with His enemies, Jehoshaphat "acted wickedly" in forming this new alliance (20:35). Jehoshaphat knew better. God had graciously spared Jehoshaphat's life the first time, with apparently no actual loss and the opportunity to move forward. This time God increased the consequences. Jehoshaphat again received a verbal rebuke; additionally, he lost his investment. The prophet declared, "Because you have allied yourself with Ahaziah, the LORD has destroyed your works" (20:37). The ships were lost at sea.

While this final story is sad, the fact remains that Jehoshaphat was a man of God. He understood that following God was not a ritual, but a matter of the heart, and he sought to cultivate a genuine heart in others both by his example and by providing godly instruction and guidance. Jehoshaphat was not perfect, but God's blessing and curtailed judgment were indications that God was pleased with this man who truly sought Him.