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Like any nation with a new identity change, Israel suffers through some substantial growing pains after David took the crown of the joint country. King David did not address many of the shortcomings and sinful activity in his own family, and not raising his children to live godly lives repeats itself just a few years later, although in a different form. By the time King Solomon dies, his actions led to a serious decline in moral standards and Israel is falling right back into the rut of sinful choices. God continues to send prophets to try to call Israel to repentance, but to no effect. God finally starts preparing Israel for the proverbial spanking that is coming, all the while trying to convince His chosen nation that it really will hurt Him more than it hurts them.
While Solomon was blessed with a wise and discerning heart, he certainly made his fair share of mistakes. He married 700 women and had an added 300 concubines. Sadly, his lustful desires led him to care more about his wives and their gods than pleasing his own God. If Solomon really was the “Teacher’, there is a chance that he eventually realized the error of his ways while penning the closing verses of Ecclesiastes 12:1, 12:13b. Regardless, the damage was already done because since he built the Temple, then proceeded to build worship areas for foreign gods (1 Kings 11:7-8). The people of Israel would have seen this and might have made assumptions about Solomon changing his mind about Yahweh existing, or at least about which gods were the most powerful.
It did not stop there. Jeroboam went as far as to have golden calves made and placed in worship centers in the northern territory. To make matters worse, he declared that they were symbols of Yahweh, while being the common symbol for Baal. While some of the later rulers in the Davidic line were god-fearing men, they were more afraid of the people and never tried to tear down the false alters or destroy the idols. They knew that worshipping false gods and idols was wrong, but they were afraid that the people would revolt at the destruction of their favorite temples. As a result, worshipping the old gods became commonplace, the practice of shrine prostitution became acceptable and child sacrifice was even performed by one of the kings. Worse still was the separation between the rich and the poor. Quickly the rich found ways to exploit the rest of society instead of taking care of the poor as they were commanded under Mosaic Law.
God certainly couldn’t tolerate this kind of behavior, so he sent his prophets in again. Elijah did some tremendous things that turn people back from Baal-worship to God-worship. Elijah trained and mentored his replacement – a rich farmer named Elisha. Upon receiving Elijah’s cloak (a sign of calling), Elisha turned his back on his earlier profession and answered his calling with unwavering faith. Elisha asked for a double dose of Elijah’s spirit, and received it. God provided Elisha with a ministry that did not stop at turning people away from Baal and Asherah. Elisha also took on the corruption and abuse of the poor and oppressed. Early in his ministry, he performed at least 18 recorded miracles to help the sick and the oppressed. He purified water, helped a widow pay debts, raised the dead, neutralized poisoned food, multiplied food to feed a hungry crowd, healed leprosy, and recovered a borrowed axe that fell into the Jordan by making it float. His actions show that God really does care about us and will take extraordinary measures to heal us. With miracles like recovering the borrowed axe, God was trying to show us that He wants to be involved with the smallest and insignificant events in our life as well as the major events. While Elisha’s ministry did relieve some of the difficulties, it did not reach out to the hearts of the leaders.
The sinning and idol-worshipping intensifies. It becomes time for God to take serious action to reconcile humanity and Holiness yet again. God had already given us ample opportunity to figure it out ourselves, but we have seen that we cannot rely on our own strength and righteousness to get the job done. God sends us the prophet Isaiah. During a career that spanned five Kings of Judah, he spoke volumes in judgment against Israel, Judah, and their neighbors. But he was also given words of hope and encouragement to share with Israel. In fact, the latter half of Isaiah’s work is loaded with references to Jesus – the ultimate reconciler. Most specifically, we see a remarkable number of references to Jesus packed into two chapters. In just 15 verses, we see at least 15 separate prophesies and direct references that Jesus fulfills, with another five parallel references and three indirect references by quoting and referencing other Old Testament sources such as Psalms. Isaiah says that this King will be wise, raised up and exalted with a name above all names, that He will be blameless, and yet He will take all sins upon himself, and be so disfigured that He will be barely recognizable but won’t say a word. Not only will the people not believe Him, will be rejected by His peers and leaders, but because of His actions, many will be forgiven their sins.
Sadly, Israel stays stubborn and wicked, and Isaiah stays around long enough to see the Assyrians take over. Isaiah continues his work in Judah for nearly another 40 years. Another 54 years after Isaiah finishes his work, Jeremiah is sent to start his work in Judah.
Jeremiah was called by God to prophecy against the remaining two tribes. With Israel already controlled by Assyria, and Judah not turning from wickedness, Jeremiah’s words might have come as a shock. He repeats portions of Isaiah’s prophecies and judgments. God wanted the two nations to know that He is a disciplinarian seeking reconciliation, He is faithful and comforting, but that He still wanted to be their God, wants to have a relationship with them, and that He cares about them. Add in what we know about God’s unchanging character, we come to recognize that God loves Israel too much to leave it sick and dying. To get the people and the leaders to turn from their wickedness, He must start teaching some painful lessons. And those lessons were taught at the hands of the Babylonians. But Jeremiah lets Israel know that the punishment does not last forever – they “only” need to survive 70 years of captivity before they will get to return home and start rebuilding.
From Solomon’s coronation to Judah’s capture at the hands of the Babylonians, a lengthy 384 years pass. This seems to be a more than fair amount of time for the kings of Israel (under the unified monarchy) as well as the kings of Israel and Judah (during the time of the divided kingdoms) to get their faith back in the right place. God is more than patient and slow to anger, but with a spiritually dead environment, He is left with no choice but to exact punishment. Jonah warned Nineveh and their repentance brought another century before God’s judgment. However, despite multiple prophets, Israel continued in their sinful ways to the point of punishment. We end this week with Israel rebuked and a stinging backside. But God is already laying the groundwork for reconciliation through Jesus Christ, His Son.
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