Three Kings and Evil
31/08/2008 at 9.30am / 11.15am
2 Kings 3
Jesmond Parish Church
A sermon preached by Joe Potter
The History of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire is a massive 18th century tome by Edward Gibbon. It opens with Rome at its most powerful and glorious, and then traces the circumstances that led to the downfall of the empire. In these morning services we are working our way through the start of 2 Kings. 1 and 2 Kings together could be called the decline and fall of Israel. The start of 1 Kings focuses on how good things are under Solomon.
“The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy. And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. These countries brought tribute and were Solomon's subjects all his life.” (1 Kings 4.20-21)God promises Solomon, in 1 Kings 9.4-7, that how things go for Israel will depend on the character of the King.
"As for you, if you walk before me in integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did, and do all I command and observe my decrees and laws, I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father when I said, 'You shall never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.' "but if you or your sons turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them.”If the Kings are righteous, Israel will be established. If the Kings are evil, Israel will fall.When Solomon dies, the decline of Israel starts. First off, the Kingdom splits in two, under two different Kings. Judah is in the south and the rest of Israel in the North.Several Kings later, that’s still the position at 2 Kings 3 verse 1:
“Joram son of Ahab became king of Israel in Samaria in the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and he reigned twelve years.”As we work through this chapter, there are three things to notice. First, God requires wholehearted allegiance; second, God brings certain judgement; and third, God shows amazing grace.
So First, God requires wholehearted allegiance
If we’ve been reading Kings, the question we should be asking is: what is Joram going to be like? Let’s find out, in verses 2-3:
“He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, but not as his father and mother had done. He got rid of the sacred stone of Baal that his father had made. Nevertheless he clung to the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit; he did not turn away from them.”Joram did evil in the eyes of the Lord. But not evil like his Mum and Dad. 1 Kings 21 verse 25 tells us about Joram’s Dad:
“There was never a man like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, urged on by Jezebel his wife.”Jezebel was a scheming, murderous pagan princess, who sponsored idolatry and liquidated any prophets of the Lord she could lay her hands on. So when you line up Joram next to his parents, it would be easy to think Joram is OK. He even dismantles his Dad’s Baal shrine. And Joram definitely believes in the true God, as we see in verse 10.
‘Nevertheless’, Joram clung to the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat. Jeroboam’s sin was essentially to put his desires for security and status and power above allegiance to God and God’s word.And Joram clings to this sin. God does not have his wholehearted allegiance. So Joram still gets the verdict “he did evil in the eyes of the Lord”. And that reminds us that God requires wholehearted allegiance.
It’s really easy, isn’t it, to look at others and think – I’m not as bad as them. It’s easy to think about the bad things I’ve not done, and the good things I’ve done, and think that, well, I’m not as bad as the girl at the office, or the guy over the road. I go to church. I look after my family. I believe in God. I’m not as evil. So I’m OK. Do you ever think like that?Like Joram, you might be great at avoiding some sins. But there are be other sins you cling to. We’ve seen God’s verdict on Joram. What would his verdict on you or me be?
Aisha did evil in the eyes of the Lord. But not like her father and mother had done. She stopped going to the Hindu temple and praying at the family shrine. Nevertheless, she clung to the sin of gossiping and backbiting along with her colleagues at work, because it helped her to be accepted, and she did not depart from it.
John did evil in the eyes of the Lord. But not like some of his mates at work had done. He stopped sleeping with his girlfriend until they got married, and started going to church. Nevertheless, he loved his dream of success in his career more than he loved God, and he did not depart from this.
What about you? You may not be evil like some people you know, but what sin do you cling to? What do you cherish more than humbly obeying God? God requires wholehearted allegiance. He wants our hearts. But If you’re honest, you know that God doesn’t have you r whole heart – and that there are sins you still cling to. That leads us to the second thing to notice, which is that God brings about certain judgement
Let’s read from verse 4:
“Now Mesha king of Moab raised sheep, and he had to supply the king of Israel with a hundred thousand lambs and with the wool of a hundred thousand rams.”Moab is part of the Israelite empire. And King Mesha’s shepherds have to truck a hundred thousand Moab lambs and a great bundle of pure new wool to Israel each year. This seems a pretty hefty levy, so verse 5 comes as no surprise:
“But after Ahab died, the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel.”This one verse – Moab’s rebellion – is a small but ominous sign of what’s coming. It’s a sign of the decline and fall of Israel. If we read ahead to chapter 17 we’d find that Israel is no longer the superpower. The Northern Kingdom has been crushed by Assyria and carried off to exile. And by the end of the book, Judah is conquered and exiled by Babylon.Why? 2 Kings Chapter 17 tells us. Verse 7:
“All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the LORD their God,”And verse 15:
“They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their fathers and the warnings he had given them. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless.”And verse 20:
“Therefore the LORD rejected all the people of Israel; he afflicted them and gave them into the hands of plunderers, until he thrust them from his presence.”Remember what God said to Solomon?
So back in chapter 3, when we read about Moab’s rebellion, we should think “of course – this is what God promised”. Moab’s rebellion reminds us that when we don’t give God our wholehearted allegiance, God’s judgement is certain.God’s judgement is certain not just for Israel, but for the whole world. I think it’s worth saying that because many of our friends and family who aren’t Christians would probably scoff at that idea. Like the reading we had in 2 Peter, they say "Where is this coming judgement? Everything just goes on and on as it always has done."
But as Peter goes on to tell us in 2 Peter chapter three verse 10:
“The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.”There is a day when the Lord, Jesus will return as judge. We don’t know when it will be but it’s coming, because God’s judgement is certain. And if God doesn’t have our wholehearted allegiance, then that judgement will fall hard on us.
But back to 2 Kings 3. Moab has rebelled. It looks like the beginning of God’s judgement. How does Joram react? He ignores God and tries to save himself: Skim your eyes over verses 6-8. First there’s the call-up, then there’s the regional alliance, then there’s a strategy meeting. And in verse 9
“The king of Israel set out with the king of Judah and the king of Edom.”But there’s no consulting God. And there’s soon a problem:
“After a roundabout march of seven days, the army had no more water for themselves or for the animals with them.”The animals are parched and can’t carry on; the dehydrated troops are in no way fit for combat, and are in danger of death. If the Moabite defence forces discovered them now, they’d be done for. It’s life or death situation.
How does Joram respond? In verse 10 he exclaims:
"What! ... Has the LORD called us three kings together only to hand us over to Moab?"In one sense he’s right isn’t he? God is in control. In that sense he’s called them there. And God would be completely justified in handing them over to Moab. But Joram’s also wrong. God didn’t tell Joram to invade. But Joram doesn’t care about doing what God wants. He ignores God most of the time, and is angry at God when things go wrong.What about Jehoshaphat? Verse 11:
“But Jehoshaphat asked, "Is there no prophet of the LORD here, that we may inquire of the LORD through him?">Jehoshaphat does what they should have done all along – seek to get God’s view of the situation:
And, amazingly, there’s a prophet with the army:
“An officer of the king of Israel answered, "Elisha son of Shaphat is here. He used to pour water on the hands of Elijah.” Jehoshaphat said, "The word of the LORD is with him." So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him.”But what will God say? Verse 13:
“Elisha said to the king of Israel, "What do we have to do with each other? Go to the prophets of your father and the prophets of your mother."Joram faces flat rejection. Because Joram’s eagerness to hear God’s word is just a self-serving strategy for survival. God doesn’t have his heart, and so the only word he hears is a word of Judgment. You should know that Elisha is Mr. Judgement. Back in 1 Kings 19, Elisha’s predecessor Elijah brought the case for the prosecution against Israel for rejecting God. And God told Elijah to appoint Elisha as one of three sword-bearers who would bring about judgement. Elisha is Mr. Judgement, so here he turns his back on Joram.
But in verse 13 Joram says:
"No… because it was the LORD who called us three kings together to hand us over to Moab."Now Joram knows he needs God. But Elisha isn’t moved by his words, and is still turned the other way. That’s exactly what we deserve, too. God is right to give us up to our sin. Like Joram, we don’t give God our wholehearted allegiance, and so God is right in saying to you and to me “What do I have to do with you?” and turning away.
But, the third thing to notice in this passage is that God shows amazing grace Listen to what Mr. Judgement says in verses 14-19
“Elisha said, "As surely as the LORD Almighty lives, whom I serve, if I did not have respect for the presence of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, I would not look at you or even notice you. But now bring me a harpist." While the harpist was playing, the hand of the LORD came upon Elisha and he said, "This is what the LORD says: Make this valley full of ditches. For this is what the LORD says: You will see neither wind nor rain, yet this valley will be filled with water, and you, your cattle and your other animals will drink. This is an easy thing in the eyes of the LORD; he will also hand Moab over to you. You will overthrow every fortified city and every major town. You will cut down every good tree, stop up all the springs, and ruin every good field with stones."Mr. Judgement announces amazing grace. All Joram and Israel deserve is to die in the desert. But Elisha tells them the good news that God will rescue them.And God fulfils what he promises: in verses 20-24, water comes flowing in from Edom, the Moabites are lured in by water that looks like blood, and Israel inflict heavy losses on the Moabites and destroy the cities until they reach the capital.
We expect victory and a triumphant return home and God’s blessing. But there’s a twist in the tale, in verses 26-27:
“When the king of Moab saw that the battle had gone against him, he took with him seven hundred swordsmen to break through to the king of Edom, but they failed.”So Mesha resorts to a desperate last act:
“Then he took his firstborn son, who was to succeed him as king, and offered him as a sacrifice on the city wall. The fury against Israel was great; they withdrew and returned to their own land.”King Mesha thought that his god, Chemosh would be appeased by the killing of his son and heir. But, of course Chemosh is no god at all. The death was needless and tragic. So why did Israel withdraw? The Lord. The fury against Israel is the Lord’s fury. He fulfilled his word through Elisha that he would give Moab into Israel’s hand. But then he turned against his people so that they went home without re-taking Moab. Israel is in decline, under God’s judgement. And this teaches us that although God shows us amazing grace, his judgement will still come.In fact the only way judgement is turned away is by Jesus, and we see three pictures of Jesus here in 2 Kings 3.
The first picture of Jesus is Elisha. Remember, Elisha is Mr. Judgement. But Jesus is the ultimate Mr. Judgement. In Acts 17.31 Paul says about Jesus that
“[God] has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”One day Jesus will come to the world a second time and judge everyone, including you and me.
But the first time Jesus came, he announced God’s mercy for the very same people who deserve judgement – for you and me. Like Joram and the Israelites, we deserve nothing but for God to turn his back on us, forever. But Jesus said that he came to seek and save lost people.That raises a question: if God’s judgement is certain, how can there be salvation?
How can those facing God’s certain judgement receive god’s grace?
How did Joram, who faced certain judgement, get to receive God’s grace? Look again at what Elisha said in verse 14:
"As surely as the LORD Almighty lives, whom I serve, if I did not have respect for the presence of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, I would not look at you or even notice you.”Joram was stood next to Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat is one of those Kings who did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. And he’s a King descended from David. Elisha has respect for Jehoshaphat because he is God’s chosen King. And Elisha looks with favour on Joram because Jehoshaphat is there, and Joram stands next to him.Jehoshaphat is our second picture of Jesus.
Jesus is a righteous King descended from David, and God has made him King of the whole world. We need rescuing from God’s judgement, and God will not look at us or even notice us, unless we stand in the presence of King Jesus.
That poses another question: If God’s judgement is certain, how can being associated with Jesus save us? That brings us to the third picture of Jesus, which is really two pictures on the theme of sacrifice. In verse 27 we saw a meaningless sacrifice, as King Mesha kills his son to appease a non-existent God.
Did you notice the other sacrifice? It’s when God saves his people in verse 20:
“The next morning, about the time for offering the sacrifice, there it was—water flowing from the direction of Edom!”It’s not a coincidence that salvation comes at the time for the morning sacrifice at the temple. I think God is saying “This miraculous rescue that I’m working here in Moab is connected to the sacrifices that are going on there in Jerusalem.” The sacrifices were meant as a reminder of sin, and as a picture of the one who would come to bear God’s judgement on our sin instead of us.
Thousands of years later, Jesus filled up the meaning of those temple sacrifices as he died on a cross outside Jerusalem as a willing sacrifice to the true God. Jesus died for all the people who would trust him, and suffered God’s certain judgement on our sins in our place. If we trust in Jesus’ death for us, then when Jesus comes again to judge, God will see us as standing next to Jesus and we’ll be safe. How should we respond to this God, who requires wholehearted worship and brings about certain judgement, yet shows amazing grace?
What should King Joram have done? He should have humbled himself, and got down on his face and prayed towards the temple in Jerusalem. Back in 1 Kings 8 when King Solomon dedicated the temple, he prayed to God:
"When they sin against you and you become angry with them and give them over to the enemy… and if they have a change of heart … and repent and plead with you … and say, 'We have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly'; and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul … and pray to you toward … the temple I have built for your Name; then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their plea, … And forgive your people, who have sinned against you; forgive all the offenses they have committed against you.”They were to pray towards the temple, where the sacrifices were made, because the temple stood for God’s presence to forgive those who trust him.
What about us? Facing God’s judgement, our response should be the same. Only for us the temple is Jesus, who is God’s presence to forgive those who trust him. If we haven’t done so, we need to come to Jesus for mercy and rescue, trusting that he died in our place. And if we’re already repenting and trusting in Jesus, then don’t lose the wonder that although we haven’t given God our wholehearted allegiance, in Jesus God brings about certain judgement, and in Jesus God shows amazing grace.
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