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Weekly Word

Monday
Feb192018

Folly or Wisdom? Part I

1 Kings 22:1-18.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 18, 2018.

The book of proverbs in the bible is famous for its sayings which warn people to avoid folly and choose wisdom.  Of course the Way of the Lord is always presented as the path of wisdom, and all the ways invented by mankind besides it are presented as the paths of folly.  So, how does wisdom fit in with the New Testament’s emphasis on love?  We will find in this chapter a help in this matter.  Here we find that a person can love God and their fellow man, and yet, make foolish choices.  Foolish choices lead to folly and folly eventually leads to destruction in one form or another.

It can be easy to think that because one has put their faith in Jesus, and have whole-heartedly pursued a love of God and your neighbor, that somehow we would be insulated from making foolish choices.  However, this is not true.  To choose to believe in Jesus and follow Him as your master is the wisest thing you will ever do.  Yet, every choice we face is a test, even if we have strung together a long streak of wise choices.  That said, if love for God and our neighbor is the foundation on which we build, then wisdom is how and what we build on top of that foundation.  May God help us all to be wise followers of Jesus.

A righteous person can act foolishly

As we open this chapter we will find three main characters and three cities that are important in our understanding.  Jehoshaphat is the King of Judah who reigns in Jerusalem.  He has gone north to visit with King Ahab of Northern Israel who reigns in Samaria.  These two kings couldn’t be more different.  Jehoshaphat is described as a righteous king who led his people to worship the God of Israel, and the God of Israel was with him. However, Ahab is described as a wicked king who led his people to worship the Canaanite god Baal, and God was against him.  In fact Ahab has been told by Elijah the prophet that he is under a decree of death from the God of Israel.  Thus, during Jehoshaphat’s visit with Ahab in Samaria, Ahab brings up a city called Ramoth in the Gilead region.  This was on the eastern side of the Jordan River Valley and up on the plains above it.  This city had served as one of Israel’s cities of refuge that belonged to the Levites.  Ben Hadad of Syria had captured it at some point and had not returned it, even though he had been twice defeated by Israel (see 1 Kings 20).  Ahab wants Jehoshaphat to join forces with him and take it back.  Now our last character is the prophet of the Lord, Micaiah.  We know very little of this individual except what is revealed in this chapter.  Though it is not specifically stated, it seems that Ahab may have had him imprisoned within Samaria before this event because of his command in verse 26 to have Micaiah “taken back” to the governor of Samaria in order to be imprisoned.  Regardless, Micaiah is a righteous follower of the God of Israel and will prove to be wise.

Ultimately this chapter is about the folly of people in the face of God’s continued gracious appeal to turn from it.  Ahab’s folly is that of a wicked person who has chosen to be an enemy of God.  All his false prophets can be lumped into that category along with him.  Jehoshaphat, on the other hand, is a righteous person who wants so badly to fix things that he makes foolish choices, instead of trusting in the Lord’s wisdom in regard to actions and timing.  Lastly we see all the soldiers who go along with the folly of their leaders for varying reasons.  Some agree with the king, some are ambivalent, and some no doubt only do so out of fear.  Citizens generally suffer from the folly of their leaders decisions and are blessed by their wisdom.

For our purposes we will focus on Jehoshaphat.  When propositioned by Ahab to join forces, he is quick to agree.  This speedy agreement, no doubt, comes from a good heart.  He hates to see the once united nation of Israel divided and fighting each other.  He thinks his good will and alliance with Ahab will make unity and heal the breach.  In fact, in later chapters we find that Jehoshaphat had strengthened this alliance by having his son Jehoram marry Ahab’s daughter, Athaliah.  This is the same Athaliah who nearly killed the whole royal line of David.  If not for God’s mercy to have the infant Joash hidden from her, she would have succeeded in usurping the Davidic throne and God’s promises to David.  I am sure that Jehoshaphat also hates to see the enemies of God ruling over a city of Israel.  Though he has righteous intentions, Jehoshaphat does not recognize that he is allying with a wicked man whom God is planning to have killed.  To join together with such a person is to put yourself in the crosshairs.  You do not want to be in league with a wicked person when God decides to bring them down.

It may be good to stop and think about how we can be guilty of this today.  Many in the Church of God who want to see unity among the denominations and acceptance within the culture will make love and unity their rally cry.  There is nothing wrong with having these things at the heart of our actions and speech.  However, as we see in this story, it is never good to ally ourselves with people who are at odds with God and His Anointed, Jesus.  There is a proper timing and a proper way to healing the breaches that have happened in our nation and society.  In our zeal to “fix things” we can make foolish choices that lead to further harm.  May God help us to lean only upon His wisdom and wait for His timing, rather than rushing ahead with people who are under the judgment of God.

To his credit, Jehoshaphat asks Ahab to inquire of the God of Israel in verse 5.  At the end of the day this is a wise thing to do and could have been the very thing that saved him from his own naiveté.  But we will deal with that later.  Ahab calls forward 400 prophets who begin prophesying that if they go to battle they will win.  These prophets are clearly not prophets of the God of Israel because Jehoshaphat immediately asks if there isn’t a prophet of the God of Israel.  These are either prophets of Baal or Asherah or both.  It is difficult to tell if Ahab was trying to present them as prophets of the God of Israel, but this is highly probable.  Ahab knows that Jehoshaphat only serves the God of Israel.  Regardless of how Jehoshaphat knows (most likely their demeanor smacked of paganism), he has a big “red flag” moment in his heart.  He knows that these 400 prophets do not represent the message of the God of Israel.  So why not tell Ahab you are not interested in going to battle?  Perhaps he is in too deep and doesn’t want to mess up the good-will that he has obtained with Ahab.  Thus Jehoshaphat disregards a huge red flag and pushes on trying to find a justification to help Ahab.

When Jehoshaphat asks Ahab if there isn’t still a prophet of the God of Israel available, Ahab answers that there is one (notice he doesn’t bring up Elijah).  However, Ahab says that he hates the prophet because he never has anything good to say about Ahab.  Now, a prophet’s job is not to make the king feel good about himself, but rather to tell him the truth.  The prophets of the God of Israel were not enemies of Ahab.  They only told him the truth.  It was his obstinate insistence to reject their words that had led to his death decree.  Jehoshaphat recognizes how dangerous Ahab’s statement is.  To say that you hate a true prophet of God is to hate God.    Though he softly rebukes Ahab, he disregards another huge red flag telling him that he is on the wrong path.

A righteous person can act wisely

As Jehoshaphat and Ahab wait for Micaiah to be summoned, we are told that the false prophets continue to do their prophesying.  One particular false prophet named Zedekiah has fashioned some iron horns for himself as a prophetic prop.  He proclaims that with these two iron horns Israel will gore the Syrians.  In Israel horns were used symbolically of a king and his kingdom.  Thus the two horns are Ahab and Jehoshaphat.

Meanwhile some officer is bringing Micaiah to the Kings and clearly applies some social pressure to him.  He tells Micaiah that 400 prophets are telling the kings that they will be successful and that he should agree with them.   Such social pressure to support the public policy of the king, or the current leaders, is the folly of many a government.  Yes-men never help a leader, but rather fail their duty to fully inform and counsel them.  We see this same dynamic within our own politics and within the culture of our society.  Often believers in Jesus are pressured to speak and act in a socially acceptable way because so many are already going along with it.  Yet, Micaiah is a righteous man who wisely refuses to bow to such pressures.  He states that he will only speak what the Lord tells him to speak.  This sounds familiar with the words of Jesus in John 12:49 (and in many other places), “For I [Jesus] have not spoken on My own authority, but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak.”  He also mentions that He only does what He has been told by His Father.  Is this my resolve?  Imagine how different the response of the churches in our land would be if they all followed the path of Micaiah, and ultimately that of Jesus.  Is my resolve to only speak and do what God wants me to speak and do? 

When Micaiah is finally brought before the kings, it may seem strange that he actually does tell Ahab that he will be successful.  But, it is clear in the context that he is being sarcastic.  Ahab immediately adjures him to tell the truth.  I do not believe that Micaiah’s sarcasm presents any ethical problem.  It is clear that he and Ahab have a history wherein Ahab has continually disregarded the word of the Lord from Micaiah.  Thus when Ahab asks for the truth, he is not really asking for truth so that he can obey the Lord.  Ahab will go to war regardless of what Micaiah has to say.  Instead Ahab sees Micaiah as a source of “spiritual chatter.”  He wants to know what the prophets of Yahweh have to say.  Perhaps he can glean enough information to prevent what they are predicting.  All of this is happening in front of Jehoshaphat and should be even another red flag to him.    I believe that Micaiah’s sarcasm actually highlights the hypocrisy of Ahab.  He has never really wanted the truth because he has always embraced the lie of Baal and his religion.

Of course Micaiah then tells the kings what he saw in a vision.  His words are worth noting.  “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep without a shepherd.”  These are similar of the words Matthew used in Matthew 9:36.  “But when [Jesus] saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.”  This metaphor of sheep without a shepherd is used throughout the Bible.  Moses used this metaphor when God told him it was time for him to die.  In Numbers 21:17 Moses asks God to appoint another leader so that Israel would not be like sheep without a shepherd.  In other words they would be vulnerable to the world around them without strong, godly leadership.  David used it in Psalm 23 to declare, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”  Of course Jesus used description of the good shepherd for himself.  In Ezekiel 34:12 the Lord says, “As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day.”  Lastly, in Zechariah 10:2 God says, “The idols speak delusion; the diviners envision lies, and tell false dreams; they comfort in vain.  Therefore the people wend their way like sheep; they are in trouble because there is no shepherd.”

Even with Ahab as their king, Israel has been without a true shepherd for years because Ahab is a false shepherd who only cares about himself.  His actions are only leading to a scattering of the sheep both physically and spiritually.  Yet, God has promised to regather His sheep who have been scattered.  Today, Christians are a part of God’s work of regathering the sheep.  However, it is not just the lost sheep of Israel, but of the whole world.  In the midst of God’s regathering process we must be wise and lean upon the wisdom of the Lord rather than our own.  Yes, God so loves the world that He gave His One and Only Son that whoever believes on Him should not perish but have eternal life.  However, no amount of false unity and pretending that the wicked are not in danger will save them.  Only the truth sets us free.  Let’s be righteous people who choose wisely rather than being led into folly.

Folly or Wisdom audio

Tuesday
Feb132018

A Proper Response to Judgment

1 Kings 21:27-29.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 11, 2018.

In the 1970’s a program was developed to try and help juvenile delinquents, or those in jeopardy of becoming such.  It was called Scared Straight!  It involved giving the teens a tour through a prison facility and then having inmates speak to the kids about avoiding the path that they had taken.  Over the years there has been investigation into how well programs like this really work.  Typically it is found that they typically do not work over the long haul of a person’s life.

When we look at what the Bible has to say about the concept of being scared straight, we find that when people are scared they will draw close to God, but then very quickly go their own way again.  The fear of punishment is not enough to completely change the heart of an individual.

Some people who read the Old Testament declare that they see a God who is vindictive and mean.  They don’t like the judgments that are always talked about in its pages.  Yet, they will often notice a stark difference with “the God of the New Testament,” as if He is someone different.  In the New Testament God seems so nice and non-judgmental.  The problem with this idea is that it is a gross mischaracterization of the Bible and specifically God.  Clearly such people have not read the Bible closely enough, neither have they read it with the proper intellectual honesty.  The truth is that the Old Testament is full of the grace of God (we have been studying how gracious God had been to Ahab though he deserved none).  Also, the New Testament is full of the judgment of God.  The famous John 3:16 verse about the love of God and His grace is followed up by verse 19 which states, “This is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”  The book of Revelation is all about the just judgments of God.  The Second Coming of Jesus is part of God’s judgments upon the kings of the earth and their armies.

Believers have a difficult job.  Many people are not convinced that there is a God, much less that they are in danger of His judgments.  If a person is not convinced that they are in danger, how then can they truly believe in Jesus as their Savior?  What would He be saving them from?

Our passage today explores some of these events as we see King Ahab being scared straight (at least for a little while).

Ahab humbles himself after God’s decree

Last week we looked at verses 19-24 of this chapter and saw that the prophet Elijah was confronting Ahab with the decrees or judgments of God.  Remember, at its core the word judgment isn’t necessarily good or bad.  It simply means that a person or situation comes before God’s attention and He makes a decision about whether it is good or bad.  Thus, judgment can be good if it is in your favor and it can be bad if it is not in your favor.  Of course that is viewing it personally.  From an objective point of view, it is the justice of the judgment that makes it bad or good.  A bad person will not like a good judgment because it will find him or her guilty.

When God had viewed Ahab’s actions, He decreed that His wicked deeds should be punished.  There were three aspects to the judgment:  

  1. Ahab will die and dogs will lick up his blood in the same place that Naboth’s blood was licked up by the dogs (see the first part of this chapter). 
  2. Jezebel, the queen and his wife, would die and be eaten by dogs outside of the city of Jezreel. 
  3. Lastly, Ahab’s dynasty would come to an end with the death of all the male descendants of his biological line.  When Ahab hears these decrees, he is scared by what he hears and responds by humbling himself.

We are told that he tore his clothes, which would have been good clothes as a king, and he put on sackcloth.  Sackcloth is basically what we would call a gunny sack or burlap bag.  Even though he has more clothes, he wears the sackcloth as an outward symbol of his low place or poverty of his heart.  He also fasted (went without food and drink to some degree) and mourned over the judgment from God.  He carries out the traditional actions of one whose close loved one has died.  However, the news he has gotten is far more devastating than that.

Clearly Ahab believes Elijah and he should.  Elijah has a perfect track record.  Even though Ahab doesn’t like it, he is sure though that he is in trouble.  Now the outward signs are not the most important thing.  They only help us to see that the decree bothered Ahab and also that he was outwardly humbling himself.  But what was going on inside?  Repentance always begins with humbling ourselves before the word of God.  But then it must go on to do the actions that are indicative of true inner repentance.  It is not enough to feel sorrow over our judgment.  We must also see the true wickedness of our sin that brought that judgment.  I must sorrow over my decision to reject God’s way and choose my own, but also sorrow over the foolishness of my way.  Thus we must turn away from those sins.  Though Ahab believed the judgment spoken by Elijah, we do not see any later statements of him turning from his sins.  There is no, “Then Ahab got rid of all the prophets of Baal.”  There is no, “Then Ahab called all Israel together and instructed them to worship the God of Israel alone.”  There is no, “Then Ahab sought out the nearest relative of Naboth, gave the stolen vineyard back to him, and publicly exonerated Naboth’s reputation.”  These would have been the actions that were worthy of true repentance.  Regardless of the reality of this, in the moment Ahab is humbling his prideful self before the God of Israel and there is always hope when a person does this.  God met him where he was even though it wouldn’t last.  This is the grace of God.

God’s response to Ahab’s humility

It is most likely that this is the first positive word that Elijah ever received regarding Ahab.  God still gives Ahab one last measure of grace, even though He knows that Ahab will not follow through with his humility.  The grace comes in the form of a modification to the original judgment.  Now the death of Ahab is not modified and neither is the death of Jezebel.  However, the calamity that was to come and wipe out all of his male descendants will no longer happen during his life.  It will happen in the next generation.  Now that might not sound like much grace to you, but then you are in the safety of your house and do not have your whole family under the decree of death by God.  Such grace is really a test of our heart.  Will Ahab take God’s grace and run with it?  Will he change his wicked ways and live for the God of Israel alone?  Sadly we will find in the next chapter that this is not how the rest of the story goes.  Yet, God works with people in the moment.  He works with the sinner’s present heart, regardless of what it will be in the future.  Thus we should be careful with the grace that we are receiving today.  It is not an indication that we are now “bullet-proof” and into the future.  It is simply God’s grace.  What we do with it is incredibly important.

This modification of the original prophecy or decree of God begs a question.  Must all true prophecy come to pass?  Our knee jerk response is to quote Deuteronomy 18:22 and declare that a true prophecy must always come to pass and without any variations from the original prophecy.  It is true that passage I just mentioned lays down a principle that if God says something will happen, then it will happen.  Yet, this is not the only verse in the Bible on prophecy and it is not the only principle we should bear in mind when thinking about this question.

Think for a bit about the story of Jonah and Ninevah.  Yes, there was all that whale business (technically the Bible calls it a big fish).  But the crux of the story is God’s judgment on Ninevah.  Jonah finally walks into Ninevah and prophesies “In 40 days Ninevah will be overthrown!”  Wow, pretty specific and clearly a true prophecy representing the actual judgment or decree of God in heaven.  But when the king of Ninevah hears the words of God from Jonah, he is struck with fear and humbles himself in exactly the same way King Ahab does in this story.  He even commands the whole city to humble themselves before God.  Jonah 3:10 says, “Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that he had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.”  In a particular moment in time the Ninevites humbled themselves before the word of the God of Israel.  Thus God relented from or overturned His original decree completely.  Think about it.  On day 40, nothing happened.  I’m sure there may have been a few extra guards posted on the walls that day, but God had relented.  We know the story, but what would stop a person on the ground during those days of accusing him of being a false prophet?  Mustn’t the words of a true prophecy always come true?

This brings us to another principle when dealing with prophecies.  In prophecies of judgment, which decree punishments and even death, it is sometimes stated, but always implicitly understood that the judgments are spoken so that those who are under it will repent and turn from their sin.  In other words, the reason God warns us of punishments is so that we will repent, and be spared from them.  He isn’t going on record so that He will get the glory when people are destroyed.    Rather, it is to melt the hard heart of wicked people and induce repentance.  He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

If you want a chapter and verse on this principle then we need to go to Jeremiah 18:5-12.  We can call this principle the Mercy Clause.  However it is true towards the good and the bad.  Thus we probably should call it the Mercy/Justice Clause.  In this passage God has told Jeremiah that he can refashion Israel like a potter punches down the clay and remakes it when it isn’t shaping correctly.  Thus he tells Jeremiah to tell Judah that God intends to bring disaster upon them.  However, He also wants him to tell them to return from their evil way, and make their ways and actions good.  God then goes on to explain the Mercy/Justice Clause.  In verses 7-8 God posits a hypothetical kingdom that He has decreed judgment and destruction upon.  However, if that nation turns from its wicked ways, then God will relent from sending the disaster that He had already decreed to bring upon it.  Clearly, God’s purpose in declaring disaster is so that we can avoid it.  Notice that Ahab’s decree is only partially averted.  Most likely that is due to the fact that his repentance would not be complete.

In verses 9-10 of Jeremiah 18 we see that the opposite is true as well.  Here God posits a hypothetical nation that He has decreed to bless.  However, if that nation does not obey God’s voice (i.e. His words) then God will relent concerning the good with which He had already decreed upon it.  Of course this would eventually lead to God speaking a word of disaster over that nation in hopes that it would repent.

It is not God who is wavering in this principle.  It is us.  God is always true to His nature, and it is His nature to be gracious, but just.  He gives justice, but leaves room for repentance.  He gives people and nations far more time than they deserve to change their ways. 

Thus we must keep this principle in mind when we are judging whether someone is a true prophet of God or not.  I am not saying that this will make it an easy determination.  Sometimes we have to let things grow until they show their true colors.  Just like God we should give it time, but not for the same reasons.  We should give time out of the humility that we cannot see people’s hearts.  Whereas God gives time for people to repent if they are wrong, or grow if they are right.

Isn’t this the very heart of the Gospel that we are to take to the people around us?  It may not be “40 days” away.  But, all who have not put their faith in Jesus by coming into obedience to the word of God are under a judgment of being guilty.  The decree has already been given.  Its punishments hang over us even now.  Yet, Christians share the good news with people that there is a mercy clause in God’s judgments.  Yes, the soul who sins will die.  But those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved.  These are not contradictory decrees.  One supersedes the other.

Friend, let us not bank on past righteousness and blessing of God.  Even the present blessings of God are not proof positive that we are okay.  Instead, let us walk continually with a heart of humility and the actions of a heart that is turning towards God and not away.  Thus, we need not live in fear, but we must not live in false pride either.  For those who hear this, don’t let the fact that God judges your life as sinful and deserving of judgment cause you to turn from Him.  To do so is to only seal your fate.  But if you will humble yourself, pray, and turn from those wicked ways, He will hear from heaven, relent, and even heal you.

Response to Judgment audio

Tuesday
Feb062018

Speaking the Truth to Power

1 Kings 21:17-26.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on February 4, 2018.

Speaking the truth to power is a catch phrase that has come into use from the 1940’s to the 1950’s.  However, it is a concept that has been around since the dawn of governance itself.  Historically, it has been understood that speaking truth to power is a very, dangerous business.  Yet, it is also historically true that many attempts to “speak truth to power” have had other powers working behind the scenes and pushing the events. 

In the Bible, we find a group of individuals called prophets.  Though there are false prophets, the true prophets are not being manipulated by other powers who want to seize power through them, and neither are they being funded and given ideas by them.  Instead, they receive their marching orders from God. Of course throughout history many have used the pretense of a word from God to manipulate individuals and governments.  The biblical prophet was one who proved themselves to be true, by their life actions, and by the things they revealed (did they prove to be true of come to past at some point).  Sometimes they would do miracles or give amazing signs, but often the only sign they gave was that they spoke the truth.  That’s the thing about truth.  No matter how long it is lied about and manipulated, it is a stubborn thing that no amount of curtains, smoke and mirrors can hide it forever.  The truth will eventually come forth.

God confronts Ahab through the prophet

Several times in this book of Scripture, 1 Kings, we have seen Ahab confronted by Elijah, or other prophets, about his failure to follow the God of Israel.  But this event follows on the heels of a great abuse of power.  On one hand kings and rulers make decisions that can mean life or death for thousands of their subjects, like when they decide to go to war.  Now war can be for a good cause, such as defense of your nation, or an ally that is threatened.  But just as wicked as going to war for greedy purposes, is using your power to have an innocent man who is one of your citizens framed and killed, and then to take his property as the spoils of war.

Now we can recognize government as necessary, only so far as it protects us from tyranny.  In fact this is the true origins of government.  Anarchy theoretically means all are completely free.  You have 100% freedom.  Yet, there are people who use their freedom to forcefully take your stuff, or make you their slave.  So groups will cede a portion of their freedom in order to create a coalition, government, which can ensure that the rest will be protected as they go about their business.  Thus you may not have 100% freedom, but you are safer.  This is all theoretically fine.  However, governments sometimes become the source of tyranny to their own citizens.  In such cases there must be those who are bold enough to stand up and call it to account.  Similarly, in ancient Israel, God spoke through prophets to rebuke kings and call them back to a proper authority.  Of course, those kings generally ignored the true prophets and followed the false ones.

In verses 17-19, we find God’s displeasure with the way Ahab and his wife Jezebel had framed Naboth, and then had him killed, just to take a vineyard that Ahab wanted.  As Ahab travels down to Jezereel in order to take possession, the word of the Lord comes to Elijah.  Yes, God could have spoken directly to Ahab if He wanted.  But recognize that Ahab has proven to particularly resistant to God’s word.  Also, the way God does it here (i.e. through another person) Ahab is forced to face the message in a very outward and accountable way.  On top of this the message will live on regardless of Ahab’s choice.  It is done out in the open so that all of Israel and we who read it today can understand God’s displeasure with the abuse of power and with wickedness in general.

God tells Elijah exactly where he can find Ahab and then tells him to ask Ahab this question.  Have you murdered and taken possession?  The question is rhetorical.  It emphasizes the boldness of Ahab and Jezebel’s actions.  It is a risky thing to draw attention to yourself by taking possession of the property of the very man that you had murdered.  Yet, Ahab is fine with doing both.  It is a sign of the degree to which Ahab and Jezebel’s use of power has become immoral and malicious.  Really the question is this.  How dare you be so brazen in your sin?  Sin has a way of making people bolder and bolder in their sinful actions.  It may not lead to murder, as it did in this case.  The person who lives selfishly and for their own flesh will find themselves becoming worse and worse, and ever harder towards repentance.

Lastly, a death sentence is given to Ahab from God.  Just as Naboth was taken outside the city, killed, and dogs licked his blood from the ground, so too Ahab will have a similar fate.  Even more than that, it will happen in the same place Naboth was killed.  We call this poetic justice.  It is not always given in life, but there are times win the punishment fits the crime perfectly.  What Ahab gave to others, he will receive back.  Ahab has crossed a line.  Though God could have struck Ahab dead at that moment, He doesn’t do that.  Ahab is given a warning so that he can repent and adjust his life.  Yes, God knows that Ahab will not repent.  Yet, God is still gracious to give him warning and time to change.  Ahab has no excuse in eternity.

In verse 20 the scene jumps.  Apparently Elijah has left his place and found Ahab at Naboth’s vineyard or close to there.  Ahab refers to Elijah as his enemy.  A person should always take care whom we label as enemy.  We can make the mistake of treating someone as an enemy when they don’t deserve it.  Elijah was not Ahab’s enemy, as if he was trying to usurp the throne or get him killed.  The only thing Elijah is guilty of is obeying God.  Can you imagine how many times Elijah must have thought to himself, “Why doesn’t God just remove Ahab somehow?  Why does God keep giving him grace?  He doesn’t deserve it.”  Yet, each time God told Elijah to go speak to Ahab, Elijah did so faithfully.  Some people you call your enemy could be better friends then you know.  In fact the opposite is true as well.  Some people you call your friends are actually your enemy.  Ahab’s problem is not his inability to discern those who mean him harm versus good.  Ahab’s problem is that he has “sold himself to do evil.”  We will come back to this phrase since it is used again in verse 25.

At this point Elijah continues to share more judgments from God that are coming.  It seems the writer is using a literary device where God’s word to Elijah and Elijah’s word to Ahab are to be understood as the whole conversation of God to Elijah, as well as Elijah to Ahab.  So Ahab knows that God has decreed his death, but there is more.

Elijah tells Ahab that calamity (a generic terms for something bad) will cause the death of every male descendant of Ahab.  This would be the end of his dynasty, which had started with his father, Omri.  In some pretty choice words, Elijah describes that when this calamity strikes every male descendant will be executed whether free or slave, and whether in the city or in the field.  The reference to the house of Jeroboam and Baasha is a term that was understood as dynasty in this context.  These were the two previous dynasties that had been destroyed for similar reasons.  So Ahab is put on notice, your dynasty is next.  In all of these cases God had warned the kings that their kingdoms were in jeopardy and would end in the death of all of their descendants who could lay claim to the throne.

Lastly, Elijah reveals that Jezebel is also going to die.  Here fate is similar, but with one twist.  Jezebel is going to be eaten by the dogs.  Such a humiliating death basically means that either no one cares to bury her or they are commanded not to.  Jezebel will die in the territory of Jezreel and be eaten by dogs.  These prophecies will prove true down the road.

A summary of Ahab’s life

In verses 25 through 26, the writer gives a summary of Ahab’s life.  He hasn’t died yet (that will take place in the next chapter). However, we are given the phrase again that no one sold themselves to do evil like Ahab (at least up to that point).  It is a curious phrase because Ahab is king and therefore the freest person in Israel.  To whom or to what did he sell himself?  We could say that he sold himself to Baal.  Ahab clearly served Baal with much of his life even though he should have served the God of Israel.  This would be true.  However, in light of the New Testament, I think there is a more precise answer.  Ahab had sold himself to sin.  In Romans 6:16 Paul says, “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?”  Sin tempts us with pleasure or some other form of payment by which we sell our souls into slavery.  We are left in bondage to sin, living a life of trying to please the desires of our flesh.  This is similar to the story of God confronting Cain before he killed his brother Abel.  There God told Cain that sin crouched at the door and sought to master him.  God’s advice was for Cain to master sin, in the sense of bringing it under control.  When we serve our own fleshly desires, we become slaves to sin, and as our master, it drives us to destruction.  However when we know the truth about sin and its awful destruction, we can turn to God and repent.  Believers recognize that they have been purchased with the blood of Jesus off of the auction block of sin.  Even though God has purchased us, He is a good master who leads us to freedom, sonship, and eternal life.

The summary of Ahab’s life is also marked by the fact that he was stirred up or instigated by his wife, Jezebel.  This is not meant to justify Ahab in any way.  He is guilty.  Neither should we see this as a female or male thing.  Men are just as capable at instigating women towards evil as Jezebel was.  However, her boldness enabled him to do far worse than he would have done on his own.  This can be true of a spouse or any one that we become close friends with.  Our choices of companionship are extremely critical to our life.  Friends you can walk away from.  But, if you marry someone who stirs you towards evil, what can you do?  You can keep your eyes on Christ and serve him over the top of those instigations and the passions of your own flesh.

This summary ends with the recognition that he worshiped idols in the way that the Amorites did, whom God had cast out before Israel.  The Amorites practiced idolatry, human sacrifices and sexual perversion.  Ahab did not understand or take seriously the inheritance that he had received.  Others were removed so that I could have this place.  That should make me wonder if I could be removed.  Ahab didn’t think about what God thought.  He only thought about what he wanted, as if all of Israel belonged to him by his own power. 

We will all be held accountable for our actions and choices in this life.  What will the summary of my life, or your life, be?  We are not talking about accomplishments, but rather a spiritual summary.  What am I serving, and by what or by whom and I stirred up?  To what am I being stirred?  May God help us to be stirred up by the Holy Spirit to serve the God of heaven and earth.  May we also do our part to stir each other up towards the things of God rather than the things of the flesh.  In this we find that the most critical power that I must speak truth to is my own flesh.  May God help us to be bold.

Truth to Power audio

Tuesday
Jan302018

The Abuse of Power

1 Kings 21:1-16.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 28, 2018.

Abuse of power is often in the news these days, whether we think of politics with the FBI probes into Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, or we think about Hollywood and the cascading revelations of sexual harassment within the business.  Such abuse of power can be found in any environment that is ran by people: businesses, churches, sports, schools, and the police.  However, it can also be found in a mob of people who claim to be standing against the abuse of power.  If we as Americans do not repent of wickedness and turn towards the way of Jesus, we will find this country continuing its rapid decline.  It is not enough to join the cries of those pointing out wickedness and abuse of power.  We must also repent of our own wickedness and abuse of power.  Only then can true healing and change happen in this country. 

Regardless of how the country goes, you are responsible for your own decisions.  If you are not abusing power then be a voice of truth in the midst of people lying to cover themselves.  If you are guilty of abusing your power then deliver yourself from the judgment of God because it will come as sure as the day you were born.

Today’s passage highlights the abuse of power in Northern Israel of the 9th century B.C.  But it could be written about many different cities all across these United States of America.  Let’s hear God’s Word.

Ahab covets his neighbor’s vineyard

In verses 1-4 we see Ahab’s desire for a plot of land that is next to his palace.  Yet, he clearly becomes overly attached to having it, and herein lies the problem.  Let’s look at how he gets there.

Notice that Ahab makes a very reasonable offer to Naboth in order to obtain his vineyard.  He will buy the property for money or swap a better vineyard elsewhere for his.  At this point everything is on the up and up.  Yet, we are told that Naboth declines the offer.  Now, Naboth’s words might seem insolent to us, but we should recognize that property was viewed differently in ancient Israel.  They land was not really sold but actually leased, until the year of Jubilee (which came ever 50 years).  In that year all debts, including land leased to others, would have the debt on it cancelled and return to the original owner.  This was to protect the inheritance that God had given to each tribe and the clans within them.  Typically people did not lease their inheritance unless they were desperate or so rich that they are paying others to tend it.  Naboth will not even entertain the idea.

Now Ahab’s response to the rejection shows us that something is wrong in his heart.  Though his offer is reasonable, his response to rejection is unreasonable.  Just because I make a reasonable offer, it does not follow that the person “owes it to me” to accept.  Naboth does not want another property, or to lose what he has.  He is well within his rights to refuse and, if Ahab’s heart were in the right place, he would understand.  Ahab becomes sullen and depressed.  He goes home and proceeds to lay in bed with his back to the door, refusing to eat.  His desire for a the property has gotten out of bounds and has become coveting.

This leads us to the 10th commandment found in Exodus 20:17.  When we look at this commandment, several things stick out.  It always has an object that doesn’t belong to you: your neighbor’s house, wife, servants, ox, donkey, or anything that belongs to him.  Coveting begins with a desire for something that does not belong to you.  I could be innocent and proper, but there is a boundary past which our desire becomes inordinate or improper.  I should have restrained the desire to stay in the proper boundaries, but instead I have let it go beyond into the area of coveting it.  It is one thing to admire your neighbor’s house, or to recognize that their spouse is very good looking.  But if the desire is unrestrained it can cross the line into improper desire and eventually improper actions. 

There is a virtue that helps lead us away from coveting, like a kind of antidote, and that virtue is thankfulness.  When we are thankful to God for the things we already have, then our desires to have something we do not are far more restrained.  Too many people fall into the habit of looking down upon what they have because it doesn’t seem to be as much or nice as what another has.  This is a trap that sets us up for losing restraint upon our desires.  May God help us to be more thankful for the things that we do have.  If we can obtain other things, then praise God.  But, if not, then praise Him still because what we do have is a blessing.

Jezebel has a wicked plan to get the vineyard

In verses 5-10 Jezebel enters the scene.  She is clearly a take charge kind of person.  When she sees the depression of Ahab, she is determined to fix the problem.  However, in her mind the problem isn’t Ahab’s covetous, unrestrained heart, but rather, Naboth’s refusal to sell.  Our inability to recognize the true problems in our life will lead to poor decisions.  It is easy to think that all my problems are the fault of others around me, but this kind of thinking will hamper our ability to change.

Notice how Jezebel views position and power.  When Ahab tells her why he is depressed, she retorts,  “Do you not reign over Israel?”  In her view Ahab’s problem is that he has forgotten he is king.  To her, position and power are for the benefit of the person who has them.  But God’s Word reveals a different view.  Position and power are not to be used for the benefit of the person who has them, but rather for those over whom you have authority.

Think about parents and their authority over their children.  Parents can fall into the mistake of thinking that the children should benefit them somehow.  If parents want to please God, they must learn to exercise their authority for the benefit of the children.  That doesn’t mean the kids get to tell parents what to do.  Rather, we look to God to help us understand what is best for our kids.  The same should be true for politics.  It is an abuse of power to exercise your authority for your own benefit, and at the expense of those beneath you.

We see Jezebel promise Ahab that she will get him the vineyard.  How does she plan to do so?  She plans to use the power of the king to have Naboth killed.  She sends letters bearing Ahab’s royal seal to the leaders of Jezreel, the city in which this occurs.  They are to proclaim a fast, which would only be done in extreme circumstances in which something was wrong in the city.  They were to seat Naboth in a prominent place.  Then two men were to publicly accuse him of cursing God and the king.  Lastly, the leaders were to take Naboth out and stone him to death.  This is a classic example of the abuse of power.  We can’t put all the blame on Jezebel because she couldn’t have used Ahab’s seal without his approval, whether presently or in the past.  Jezebel couldn’t care less about this vineyard.  But she is willing to kill an innocent man in order to get her husband out of a bad attitude.  It is sad to see a person’s life chewed up in the grinder because someone of power is having a bad hair day.  But they don’t care.  They have the power and you don’t.  God deliver us from such thinking and such people.

When we look closer at the abuse of power, we will see that the order is unlawful.  The laws of most countries stand against such abuse of power.  However, even if a nation made it lawful to do what Jezebel does, there is still the problem that it would be against God’s law.  An unlawful order should never be obeyed, even if it is made lawful by the crooked courts/king of the land.  All laws of mankind are under the authority of the King of kings and Lord of lords, and they carry only as much weight as they are in accordance with the laws of God.

The second thing is that Jezebel goes out of her way to use the “color of law.”  She does not care about what the law says, but she goes through the trouble of making it look like Naboth is a horrible man in front of the citizens of Jezreel.  Of course the leaders know the truth, but they will not say anything if they know what is good for them.  Ahab is enabled to have a fake cloak of righteousness when he takes Naboth’s vineyard.  People will say that wicked Naboth got what he deserved and that God was rewarding Ahab with the vineyard of the one who cursed him.  That is truly justice, right?  But the opposite is the truth.  Many a wicked leader has used trickery to convince the populace that they are following the law, when they are doing everything but that.  We must be careful of knee-jerk responses to spoon-fed information. 

The leaders of Jezreel carry out the plan

In verses 11-16 we see that the leaders carry out the plan.  They do exactly what Jezebel said to do, and have Naboth publicly executed.  When Jezebel is told that the deed is done, she goes in and announces to Ahab that he can take possession of Naboth’s vineyard because he is now dead.  This kind of wicked, civil asset forfeiture is a house of wickedness that uses the law to take that which belongs to people simply because they don’t have the power to stop it.

Ahab suddenly feels good enough to get out of bed.  Who knows, he might have even stuffed his face before he left the palace.  Perhaps he skipped like a little girl to the candy store.  Regardless, Ahab feels better, but he ought to be sickened to his stomach.  His actions testify against him.  He is a wicked man.

This brings up something that can be seen in this passage.  Ahab and Jezebel are both wicked, but Ahab is a weak wicked person and Jezebel is a strong wicked person.  Even in his wickedness Ahab seems to have some boundaries.  But Jezebel is a person who has a very perverted sense of right and wrong that centers on her and what she wants.  However, such people would get little done if it weren’t for the third class of wicked people in this passage.

The leaders of the city become the enablers of Jezebel’s wicked plan.  They are willing and compliant to her wicked plan.  By doing so, the leaders of Jezreel sell out one of their own that they were supposed to protect for the good graces of Ahab and Jezebel.  Their position and power are for the purpose of benefiting the people of Jezreel, but here they are throwing Naboth like a lamb to the wolf. 

Naboth is the true victim in this story, but the public is convinced that Ahab is the victim.  In this life the true victims are rarely noticed.  And, if they are, it is often to be used as public leverage to obtain wicked and selfish ends.  We must not be willing and compliant with those who would do wickedly through us.  We must learn to stand up and hold our ground.  The whole reason for a city mayor is to have people of power to protect the citizens, whether from each other or from outside attack.

Ultimately the Christian’s hope is not in justice from the government of man, but rather justice from the government of God.  God help us to be an ever brighter light of what is true and just.  May He help us not to aid the wicked but rather stand up and bring their evil deeds to light.

Abuse of Power audio