March 16, 2013
"The LORD is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love." Psalm 103:8
What image pops into your head when you hear the question, "What have you done?" Some might imagine arriving home to a surprise party. "Oh! What have you done!?!" Others might picture a haircut gone awry. "Oh . . . what have you done?" I see my dog having chewed yet another toy to shreds in our backyard. "Mattie! What have you done!?!" Sadly as I study the history of the Israelite kings this is the sole question which arises in my heart, "Oh Israel, what have you done?"
After sin entered the
world in Genesis 3 God called His people to be set apart. God expected
those who chose to follow Him to live differently than those who chose
to live a life of rebellion against Him. Beginning in the book of Exodus God used the likes of Moses and
Joshua to lead His people. Following these two godly warriors God used judges to remind His people of how to live according to His ways. But eventually the eyes of God's people began to wander. The people of Israel observed how other nations were ruled by earthly kings. Rather than continuing to recognize God as their King, Israel cried out for a change. In 1 Samuel 8:20 God's people decided, "We want to be like the nations around us. Our king will judge us and lead us into battle." Against His better judgement God granted His people their request.
One could summarize the books of 1 and 2 Kings with this phrase: "they did evil in the eyes of the Lord." The first king of Israel, King Saul, began well but his heart soon turned against the Lord (1 Sam 15:10). David succeeded Saul as king, and though David made a few poor choices (including adultery and murder, see 2 Sam 11), he became the only king known as a man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22). We remember David's son Solomon as the wisest king who ever lived. But Scripture tells us that Solomon did not have a heart for God like his father David (1 Kings 11:4). Following Solomon's reign God's earthly kingdom began to fall apart. Repeatedly, the kings of Israel led God's people into sin. God's people drifted further and further away from the path God intended for them. But here's the Good News. No matter how bad the behavior of the king or the people, God stood ready, willing and able to forgive.
King Ahab ruled over the Northern Kingdom Israel for twenty-two years. As with most of Israel's kings, Scripture tells us he did evil in the eyes of the Lord. 1 Kings 16:31 reads, "And
as though it were not enough to follow the example of Jeroboam, he
married Jezebel . . . and he
began to bow down in worship of Baal." Jezebel . . . just the name sends chills up my spine. 1 Kings 16-20 record King Ahab's unfortunate misgivings. But then something unexpected happens. Having been warned by Elijah of God's impending judgment upon him, King Ahab repents. 1 Kings 21:27 reads, "But when Ahab heard this
message, he tore his clothing, dressed in burlap, and fasted. He even
slept in burlap and went about in deep mourning." In the very next verse God responds, “Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has done this, I will not do what I promised during his lifetime."
The same storyline holds true for a young king who ruled over the Southern Kingdom of Judah. King Josiah's grandfather did such evil in the eyes of the Lord that God pronounced a great judgment upon His people. But upon hearing of this judgment King Josiah repents before God on behalf of God's people. 2 Kings 22:19-20 reads of Josiah, "You were sorry and humbled yourself before the Lord
when you heard what I said against this city and its people . . .. You tore your clothing in
despair and wept before me in repentance. And I have indeed heard you,
says the Lord. So
I will not send the promised disaster until after you have died and
been buried in peace."
In both instances God still enforced the consequences of sin. God destroyed King Ahab's dynasty and eventually led the Southern Kingdom of Judah into exile. But the men who humbled themselves before God received grace and forgiveness.
Though the consequences of sin pass from generation to generation, Scripture clearly states that "Each man will be punished for their own sin" (Deuteronomy 24:16). On the flip-side, each man (or woman) can receive forgiveness of sin too. Throughout the Bible God's people--including His major rulers--made major mistakes. But all it took for God to forgive their sin was a humble and repentant heart.
In a few weeks God's people will celebrate the life, death and resurrection of a Man named Jesus Christ. Though the punishment for our sin was death God sent His Son Jesus to die in our place. Jesus died one time for all people, for all sin.
What have you done?
The only thing that keeps us from God is a stubborn and prideful heart.
Will you continue to live in the bondage of unforgiveness and shame? Or will you be like the kings who though they were once oh-so-bad, humbled themselves before a loving God and received grace and mercy in their time of need?