Day 185: Did God Approve of Jehu’s Actions? (2 Kings 10)

Jezebel thrown out the window (2 Kings 9:33) Artist: Gustave Dore

Read the Bible Through: 2 Kings 9-11

“And the Lord said to Jehu, “Because you have done well in carrying out what is right in my eyes, and have done to the house of Ahab according to all that was in my heart, your sons of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.””
‭‭2 Kings‬ ‭10:30‬ ‭ESV‬‬

The story of Jehu’s slaughter of the prophets of Baal in 2 Kings 10 reads like something out of Game of Thrones. Jehu pretends to be a Baal worshiper, even going so far as to tell the people, “if you thought Ahab was devoted to Baal, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

“Then Jehu assembled all the people and said to them, “Ahab served Baal a little, but Jehu will serve him much. Now therefore call to me all the prophets of Baal, all his worshipers and all his priests. Let none be missing, for I have a great sacrifice to offer to Baal. Whoever is missing shall not live.” But Jehu did it with cunning in order to destroy the worshipers of Baal.”
‭‭2 Kings‬ ‭10:18-19‬ ‭ESV‬‬

He lays it on thick. He brings out their priestly robes and insists that they dress appropriately for the sacrifice. He checks and double checks to make sure no servant of Yahweh has crashed the party.

Then, on his signal, the eighty men Jehu had stationed outside were to come in and strike down every last priest with the sword.

What was the signal? It would be when Jehu himself, the king of Israel, offered the burnt offering to Baal.

“So as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt offering, Jehu said to the guard and to the officers, “Go in and strike them down; let not a man escape.”
‭‭2 Kings‬ ‭10:25‬ ‭ESV‬‬

I’m bothered by this passage of Scripture, maybe more than anything else I’ve read in the Bible, because of the troubling question it raises:

Does God use unrighteous means to achieve righteous ends?

Did God bless Jehu’s duplicity? Did he approve of the king of Israel actually offering the sacrifice to Baal?

We are to walk in the light. We aren’t supposed to wage war the way the world does. Deceit and hypocrisy are not supposed to be in our arsenal.

But in this story, they seem to be. And I don’t understand why.

I’m asking some of the same questions I asked on Day 067: Does the Bible Sanction Genocide? And some of the answers still apply. God was trying to protect his people from further idolatry. All remnants of Ahab’s apostasy had to be eliminated. I get it, kind of.

And there are other times when a slaughter of false prophets is called for. Only a few days ago we read about Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. When they lost the challenge, Elijah ordered them to be killed.

“And Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there.”
‭‭1 Kings‬ ‭18:40‬ ‭ESV‬‬

But that was done in the light. It was on top of a mountain. This was in full view of all the people, and it was the people of Israel themselves who seized the prophets. Jehu’s story is different. Jehu lured the priests under false pretenses. He bent over backwards to convince them he was one of them. Then he executed them, behind closed doors.

I have a hard time believing God approved.

We have to remember that the Bible doesn’t always PREscribe what it DEscribes. For all his supposed zeal for the Lord (see 10:16), Jehu was not considered a good king. Remember that not one of the kings of the Northern kingdom “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (see Day 177: Who’s Who, Where’s Where, and Who’s Where?)

Also, notice the nuance in 10:30. God said Jehu had done well in carrying out what was right in his (God’s) eyes, having done to the house of Ahab according to all that was in God’s heart. God commended Jehu for carrying out God’s judgment against Ahab. But God did not mention the massacre of the prophets of Baal. Perhaps Jehu was free-lancing there.

As believers, we don’t get to pick and choose which parts of the Bible to cherish and which to reject. God has given us the entire Bible, and “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2Timothy‬ ‭3:16‬ ‭ESV‬‬). So be discerning in how you understand the Bible is training you for righteousness. Because it isn’t always telling you what to do. Sometimes it is showing us what to avoid.

It’s just not always easy to discern which is which.

Day 184: A Day of Gospel (2 Kings 5-8)

Permission to use expressed on artist’s blog. Thanks, Mr. Biblehead!
Then they said to one another, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news. If we are silent and wait until the morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come; let us go and tell the king’s household." 2 Kings 7:9, ESV

By the way, the image above comes from a blog called mrbiblehead. If you teach or work with children, you should check it out.

This is another of those Old Testament stories that practically shouts the Gospel. Actually, let me rephrase: the story of the four lepers in the Assyrian camp LITERALLY shouts the Gospel. Check this out.

Desperation: There is a famine in the city. They are surrounded. Samaria cannot save itself. This is the reality of who we are without Christ. 2 Kings 6 describes in gruesome detail just how desperate the situation was:

24 Afterward Ben-hadad king of Syria mustered his entire army and went up and besieged Samaria. 25 And there was a great famine in Samaria, as they besieged it, until a donkey's head was sold for eighty shekels of silver, and the fourth part of a kab of dove's dung for five shekels of silver. 26 Now as the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried out to him, saying, “Help, my lord, O king!” 27 And he said, “If the Lord will not help you, how shall I help you? From the threshing floor, or from the winepress?” 28 And the king asked her, “What is your trouble?” She answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.’ 29 So we boiled my son and ate him. And on the next day I said to her, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him.’ But she has hidden her son.” 30 When the king heard the words of the woman, he tore his clothes—now he was passing by on the wall—and the people looked, and behold, he had sackcloth beneath on his body— 31 and he said, “May God do so to me and more also, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat remains on his shoulders today.”

For reference, a shekel was about .4 ounces of silver. This means that, at today’s exchange rate, a donkey’s head (NOT a delicacy) was selling for 32 ounces of silver, or $640. And a cup of dove’s dung (also not a delicacy) was going for $40. Things were so desperate in the city that two prostitutes flipped a coin to see which of their children they would eat first.

Salvation: God accomplishes the victory. 2 Kings 7:5-6 makes it clear that it’s the Lord who causes the Assyrians to flee. And the Israelites never even fire a shot:

5 So the diseased men got up at twilight to go to the Arameans’ camp. When they came to the camp’s edge, they discovered that no one was there, 6 for the Lord[e] had caused the Aramean camp to hear the sound of chariots, horses, and a large army. 

Celebration: the four lepers come o the point of surrender. Whatever they have been doing isn’t working. So they decide to give themselves to the Assyrians, saying “What have we got to lose? If they kill us, we shall but die” (2 Kings 7:3). So they go, expecting to lose their lives. And in so doing, they find them. They pass from death to life, and experience a greater abundance than they could ever imagine!

8 And when these lepers came to the edge of the camp, they went into a tent and ate and drank, and they carried off silver and gold and clothing and went and hid them. Then they came back and entered another tent and carried off things from it and went and hid them. (2 Kings 7:8)

Obligation: At some point, they remember there are people in the city that are still starving. They say to each other, “This is a day of good news, and we can’t keep it to ourselves.”

In the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew scripture, the word for good news is euangellion. It’s where we get our word evangelism. It’s the word the New Testament translates as Gospel.

So the lepers return to the city, proclaiming the good news that the war is over, the siege is lifted, that God alone accomplished it, and that salvation and abundance are available for all who believe the message.

It’s all there! And dear Lord, how often I have found the good news and hid it–kept it to myself without sharing it with anyone. Let the light dawn for me and my friends. Bring us to the realization that we are not doing right. And that if we don’t share the good news, disaster will overtake us. Our churches will die. The gospel will become irrelevant because we have kept it to ourselves instead of sharing it with those who are starving for it within the city.

Lord, let me follow the lepers’ example. This good news is too good to keep to myself. Let me proclaim salvation to those who have not yet heard that the war is over.

Day 183: A Double Portion (2 Kings 2)

Through the Bible: 2 Kings 1-4

3 Then the sons of the prophets who were at Bethel came out to Elisha and said, “Do you know that the Lord will take your master away from you today?”

He said, “Yes, I know. Be quiet.” (2 Kings 2:3)

5 Then the sons of the prophets who were in Jericho came up to Elisha and said, “Do you know that the Lord will take your master away from you today?”

He said, “Yes, I know. Be quiet.” (2 Kings 2:5)

7 Fifty men from the sons of the prophets came and stood observing them at a distance while the two of them stood by the Jordan. 8 Elijah took his mantle, rolled it up, and struck the water, which parted to the right and left. Then the two of them crossed over on dry ground. 9 When they had crossed over, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I can do for you before I am taken from you.”

So Elisha answered, “Please, let me inherit two shares of your spirit.”

10 Elijah replied, “You have asked for something difficult. If you see me being taken from you, you will have it. If not, you won’t.”

(2 Kings 2:7-10)

In 2 Kings 2, Elijah and his protege Elisha take a final lap around Israel, visiting three significant places in Israel’s history. They go to Bethel, where Abram built his first altar to God (Gen. 12:8), and where God renewed the promise He made to Abraham to Jacob (Gen. 28:10-19).

After Bethel they went to Jericho, the first city conquered by the Israelites in the Promised Land (Joshua 6).

Finally, the went to the Jordan, where Elijah parts the waters and they walk across the Jordan on dry ground, just as Joshua and the children of Israel did in Joshua 3.

The common thread through all three of these places is that they represent a transition from one generation to the next.

  • The promise God made to Abram was renewed to Jacob (Bethel).
  • The power God demonstrated through Moses was demonstrated through Joshua (Jericho)
  • God would be present with Joshua as He was with Moses (Jordan).

At all three of these places, the company of the prophets were gathered there. At Bethel and Jericho, they seemed to be there to throw shade on Elisha: “You know Elijah’s about to be taken away from you, right?” Their implicit message was, “and who’s gonna take his place? You?”

Each time, Elisha steadfastly refused to listen. Verse 3: Be quiet. Verse 5: Be quiet.

At Jericho, the pattern shifts. There are still the sons of the prophets watching from a distance (and probably ready to say “I told you so” if Elisha fails). But this time, they don’t point out the obvious to Elisha. And this time, Elisha makes a bold request, perhaps out of some anxiety that he won’t be able to fill the shoes of the great prophet:

9 When they had crossed over, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I can do for you before I am taken from you.”

So Elisha answered, “Please, let me inherit two shares of your spirit.”

10 Elijah replied, “You have asked for something difficult. If you see me being taken from you, you will have it. If not, you won’t.” (2 Kings 2:9-10)

We have some of the same anxiety today. There are naysayers and detractors that have already written the obituary for the church in the 21st century. Church membership is declining. Church buildings are closing. The great revival preachers of the past have gone on to be with the Lord, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone taking their place. Instead, there seems to be story after story of megachurch pastors that have fallen.

Does God’s promise still stand? Is God’s power still manifest? Will God’s presence still be felt? We have the same questions Elisha did, and Joshua before him, and Jacob before him.

Are we bold enough to ask God for a double portion of His spirit? Certainly the times call for it. If there were ever a generation in need of a visible manifestation of God’s power, surely it is ours!

Elijah’s response to Elisha is Jesus’ response to us: Keep your eyes on your master. Don’t be distracted by the naysayers. If your eyes are focused on Me, then My power can be displayed through you. Just don’t lose sight of your Master.

Day 182: My Brother’s Keeper (Obadiah)

10 Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob,
    shame shall cover you,
    and you shall be cut off forever.
11 On the day that you stood aloof,
    on the day that strangers carried off his wealth
and foreigners entered his gates
    and cast lots for Jerusalem,
    you were like one of them. (Obadiah 1:10-11)

Through the Bible: Obadiah 1, Psalm 82-83

First things first: I do think that this reading of Obadiah is in the wrong place in our reading plan. I think the “violence done to your brother Jacob… on the day strangers carried off his wealth, and foreigners entered his gates” (verses 10-11) probably refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC, an event which we won’t get to for another two hundred years or so of Judah’s history.

That being said, I love where it is placed in our reading plan for two reasons, which I’ll get to in a minute.

But before we get to that, let’s review the relationship between Edom and Jacob, the brothers; and Edom and Israel, the nations.

Edom was the nickname of Esau, the firstborn of Isaac’s sons. He was favored by his Isaac, while Jacob was a mama’s boy, the favorite of Rebekah. There was bad blood between them from the start, as Jacob tricked Esau out of his birthright and then his father’s blessing.

Related posts:

As a result of this ancient sibling rivalry, the nation of Edom and the nation of Israel had always had a contentious relationship at best, if not outright hostility. The people of Edom were not slaves in Egypt. We know this because when Moses was leading the people of Israel to the Promised Land, the king of Edom refused their passage (Numbers 20:14-21).

One of the reasons I personally believe Obadiah was written after the destruction of Jerusalem is because of how closely Obadiah’s description of Edom “standing aloof” while foreigners entered the gates of Jerusalem tracks with Psalm 137’s description of Edom cheering at the sacking of Jerusalem:

Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
    the day of Jerusalem,
how they said, “Lay it bare, lay it bare,
    down to its foundations!” (Psalm 137:7)

On the other hand, God commanded that the people of Israel live in peace with the Edomites:

7 “You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother. You shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you were a sojourner in his land. Deuteronomy 23:7

So the judgment against Edom in Obadiah was because they did not come to the aid of their kinsman when Israel was threatened by a foreign enemy. God expected more of them. Regardless of their history; regardless of their differences, they were kinsmen, and they had more in common with each other than they did with enemy nations.

And this is what brings me to the two reasons I love that Obadiah falls here in our reading plan:

  1. It could explain Jehoshaphat.

We talked in yesterday’s reading about how Jehoshaphat was rebuked for giving aid to the evil king Ahab in his battle with the Syrians (see 2 Chronicles 19:1-3); and how, even after that rebuke, he did the same thing near the end of his reign when he made an alliance with another wicked king of Israel, Amaziah (2 Chtonicles 20:35-37). The text doesn’t say why he made the alliances. But we know he was a good king who instituted a lot of reforms. It’s possible that he saw Israel as his brother, and believed that the enemy of his brother was his enemy as well. Remember what he said to Ahab when he asked for help?

3 Ahab king of Israel asked Jehoshaphat king of Judah, “Will you go with me against Ramoth Gilead?”

Jehoshaphat replied, “I am as you are, and my people as your people; we will join you in the war.” (2 Chronicles 18:3-4)

It might have been wrongheaded to come alongside such a wicked king, but maybe Jehoshaphat’s heart was in the right place in seeking to build a bridge between the two halves of what was once a united kingdom. Which leads me to the second reason I’m glad we read Obadiah today.

2. It totally explains our country right now.

Today is the start of the July 4th weekend. And as I write this, I don’t know if our country has ever been more divided. At least, not since last year. Or the year before. Come to think of it, we’ve been bitterly divided for awhile now. We absolutely do not think the best of our fellow Americans. Especially those who vote differently than we do. I don’t know that we have been more bitter and hostile to one another, at least not in my lifetime.

This was the kind of bitter division that grieved the heart of God, as expressed in Obadiah. Edom had more shared DNA with the people of Judah than with the armies of Babylon. Yet when Jerusalem fell, the Edomites joined in the taunts against the captured exiles.

And in my most cynical and fearful, I wonder if we are coming to the point in our own country where we check the politics of a city or a state before we lift up our prayers for them.

A hurricane strikes the coast. Well, is it a red state or a blue state?

There’s a mass shooting in a city. Do they have a mayor that’s spoken out against gun rights, or for defunding the police? Then maybe they deserve it.

There are wildfires out west. Do we argue about climate change, or do we grab a water bucket?

Oh God, on this weekend when we celebrate who we are as Americans, help us remember who we are as Americans. For just a few hours, can we eat a hot dog and spit watermelon seeds and enjoy fireworks with our neighbors without worrying about who they are going to vote for in the midterms?

Can we remember that we really are our brother’s keeper, and that before we are Republicans or Democrats, we are Americans?

Or even better: before we are Americans, we are Christians.

Day 181: Yahweh is an Oath (2 Chronicles 19-23)

“But Jehosheba, the daughter of King Jehoram, took Joash son of Ahaziah and stole him away from among the royal princes who were about to be murdered and put him and his nurse in a bedroom. Because Jehosheba, the daughter of King Jehoram and wife of the priest Jehoiada, was Ahaziah’s sister, she hid the child from Athaliah so she could not kill him.”
‭‭2 Chronicles‬ ‭22:11‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Time and time again in the Bible, you see the Lord using women to preserve His people. It happens so often you begin to wonder if it’s a feature more than an anomaly.

  • Shiphrah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives, defied Pharaoh and preserved the lives of male Hebrew babies Pharaoh had ordered them to kill (Exodus 1:15-22)
  • Moses’ mother and father hid him for three months after he was born so he wouldn’t be thrown in the Nile (Then, ironically, Moses mother threw him in the Nile, but that was a different thing).
  • Rahab the prostitute hid the Hebrew spies in Jericho (Joshua 2:1-7)
  • The widow of Zarephath kept Elijah the prophet alive during the drought (1 Kings 17:7-16)

Which brings us to today’s reading. Jehosheba (or Jehoshabeath), the daughter of King Jehoram, was Ahaziah’s sister. After Ahaziah’s death, his mother Athaliah, daughter of King Ahab, went on a murderous rampage against the house of David. She set out to destroy the entire royal family and installed herself as queen. But Jehosheba hid her infant nephew Joash for six years, ensuring that God’s promise that there would always be a son of David on the throne of Judah would be kept.

This is the defining difference between the northern kingdom and the southern kingdom. In the two hundred or so years between Solomon’s death and the Assyrian invasion, Israel experienced six coups, a civil war, and a king who died without an heir. Only one dynasty, the house of Jehu, had any consistency, lasting for four generations and about a hundred years.

But thanks to Jehosheba, the house of David endured. For 450 years, over twenty generations, a son of David was on the throne of Judah. Why? Because they were such good kings? No. Go back to the chart on Day 177. The majority of Judah’s kings were just as bad as Israel’s kings.

But God made a promise that there would always be a son of David on the throne.

The hidden gem of today’s reading is Jehosheba’s name. Her name means “Yahweh is an Oath.” And through the woman Jehosheba, the oath God made to always have a son of David leading His people was kept.

Not “Yahweh makes an oath.”

Not “We make oaths in Yahweh’s name.”

Yahweh is an oath. In His very nature, God is a promise keeper. More than that, God Himself IS the promise. He cannot be false to His promise, because He Himself is the promise. The closest we can come to understanding this as human beings is when we describe someone as “a man of his word.”

God IS His Word.

God is THE WORD.

Centuries later, God would use yet another woman–Mary; who would hide the Son of David from a murderous ruler. When Herod, like Pharaoh in before him, sought to kill all the Hebrew boys, Mary and her husband Joseph followed in the footsteps of the brave women before her. She hid Jesus in Egypt until Herod died (see Matthew 2:13-18).

Jesus, the Son of David. The promise of God. God’s Word, made flesh (John 1:14).

Day 180: Tickling Itching Ears (1 Kings 22, 2 Chronicles 18)

8 And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the Lord, Micaiah the son of Imlah, but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil.” (1 Kings 22:8)

...preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.  (2 Timothy 4:2-4)

In a rare story of cooperation between the two kingdoms, Ahab and Jehoshaphat form an alliance in order to reclaim land for Israel that had been lost to Syria. But good king Jehoshaphat requests first that they inquire of the Lord (1 Kings 22:5). So Ahab gathers four hundred prophets together, and to a man they all say, “Go! You’ve got this!”

At which point Jehoshaphat asks an extremely revealing question:

7 But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there not here another prophet of the Lord of whom we may inquire?” (1 Kings 22:7)

Something about these 400 prophets raised a red flag for the King of Judah. Maybe he wasn’t convinced these were actually God’s prophets. Given Ahab’s track record of persecuting God’s prophets and listening to the prophets of Ba’al and Asherah, I would have had my doubts, too (see 1 Kings 18 and Day 178: Showdown on Mount Carmel). Or maybe it was an understanding of human nature–that when a king summons you, you tend to tell him what he wants to hear.

So Jehoshaphat wants to know if there are any credible prophets of God that will give a second opinion. Ahab responds like a whiny little boy:

“There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the Lord, Micaiah the son of Imlah; but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but always evil.” (2 Chronicles 18:7)

You know the rest of the story. Micaiah speaks the truth, gets thrown in jail for it; Ahab and Jehoshaphat go out to battle anyway, and Ahab gets killed by a random archer, and the Israelite army scatters, exactly as Micaiah said they would. The End.

Except, it’s not the end. The story gets repeated in Jeremiah 38, when the prophet gets thrown into a cistern because he speaks the truth to the people.

It’s repeated in the ministry of Jesus, when the religious leaders are so threatened by Jesus’ message that they put Him to death.

It’s repeated in the martyrdom of Stephen and the imprisonment of Paul. And it is repeated every time anyone in history has tried to speak truth to power. Power resists truth. Power suppresses truth. But truth doesn’t change.

Which is why Paul’s final message to his protege Timothy is so poignant. In 2 Timothy, Paul knows he is at the end of his ministry. He tells him in 1 Tim 4:6 that “the time of [his] departure has come.”

And Paul knows firsthand that the church is full of people who won’t endure sound doctrine, and are not interested in truth. Long before there were social media algorithms that would populate your feed only with people who believed all the same things you did; and long before there were entire news networks dedicated to reinforcing whatever worldview their audience already had; Paul knew there would come a day in which people would be as eager as Ahab was to surround themselves with pastors and pundits who would tickle their itching ears.

They would tell them what they wanted to hear. They would confirm all their biases, reinforce all their prejudices, and coddle them in all their opinions, no matter how wrong they were.

So what does he tell Timothy about speaking truth to people that don’t want to hear it?

“Proceed with caution?” Nope.

“Pick your battles?” Uh-uh.

Preach the word. Preach the word, in season and out. Reprove, rebuke. Exhort. Be patient. Be sober minded. Endure suffering. Do the work of an evangelist.

Fulfill your ministry.

Pastors: are you ticking itching ears with your sermons? Or are you proclaiming prophetic truth? We don’t have to look forward to a coming day when people surround themselves with teachers who suit their own passions. That time is now. Fulfill your ministry.

Day 179: God is On the Move (1 Kings 20-21)

28 And a man of God came near and said to the king of Israel, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The Lord is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord.’” (1 Kings  20:28)

In a previous post, I talked about Solomon’s faulty reasoning that he could keep his foreign wives away from the Temple and still be good with God. Solomon mistakenly drew a dividing line between the sacred (Jerusalem) and the secular (everywhere else).

In today’s reading, we see Syria’s Ben-Hadad making the same mistake. He had gone out to battle once against Ahab, king of Israel, and had been routed. In the after-action report, Ben-Hadad and his generals misdiagnosed the reason for their defeat:

23 And the servants of the king of Syria said to him, “Their gods are gods of the hills, and so they were stronger than we. But let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they. (1 Kings 20:23)

Ben-Hadad perhaps believed that the Syrian chariots were his greatest advantage, and that they would be more effective on the plain than on the hills. What he didn’t count on was that Israel’s greatest advantage was that Yahweh is not confined to the mountains, or the plains, or the sea, or the sky. He was defeated worse the second time than he was the first time, proving once again that there is nowhere God isn’t.

What is the lesson for today? It’s this: the Spirit of God knows no limits. No boundaries, no barriers, no limitations. He goes where He wants; He works where He wills, and wherever He works, He wins.

I heard a missiologist point out one time that of all the world’s religions, Christianity is the only one whose geographic center has shifted over time. Think about it: When you think about Judaism, you connect it to Israel. When you think about Hinduism, you think about India. Buddhism, Japan. Islam, the Middle East.

But Christianity is not bound by geography. At first, the center of Christianity was Jerusalem. But it quickly shifted to Europe, and for the first thousand years of its existence, Christianity was identified with Europe.

But where are we now? According to a 2022 LifeWay research report,

In 1900, twice as many Christians lived in Europe than in the rest of the world combined. Today, more Christians live in Africa than any other continent. By 2050, Africa will be home to almost 1.3 billion Christians, while Latin America (686 million) and Asia (560 million) will both have more than Europe (497 million) and North America (276 million).

Watch this amazing video to track the spread of Christianity from the first century to the present:

Ben-Hadad learned the hard way that the One True God is not bound by geography. God continues to demonstrate that every single day. He is the God of the city. He is the God of the country. He is the God of the Northern Hemisphere; He is the God of the Global South. There is truly nowhere God isn’t.

There are no godforsaken places on earth, but there are some church neglected ones.

Which means, if we truly want to join God in what He is doing in the world, it may be time to renew your passport.

Gotta Serve Somebody (Romans 6:15-23)

Good morning! Please turn in your Bibles to Romans chapter 6. It’s been a minute since we have been in the book or Romans. But I wanted us to jump back in this Sunday, and I think God’s timing on this is actually pretty amazing.

You know, last week, on June 19th, we celebrated Father’s Day. But we didn’t say much about another national holiday—Juneteenth.

Many of us, if not most of us, didn’t know much about Juneteenth until recently, and some of us may still not know. Because while Juneteenth is the oldest celebration of the end of slavery in the united states, it didn’t become a federal holiday until last year.

Juneteenth commemorates the day, June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger came riding into Galveston Texas and read General Order #3 to the people of Texas,

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves…

Even though Lincoln issued the Emancipation proclamation on January 1, 1863, and Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865, slaves in Texas hadn’t gotten the word yet. For more than two and a half years, they had still been living as slaves, never knowing that they were actually free people

And I would imagine that there were a lot of slaves that didn’t hear anything beyond “all slaves are free.” What an amazing word that must have been. Free! You could understand if all those men and women, who had never known anything other than fulfilling the whims of their often cruel masters, stopped listening at that point.

But if all they heard was “you’re free,” they would have missed the rest of General Order Number Three, which read,

The connection heretofore existing between [masters and slaves] becomes that between employer and hired labor. The Freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes, and work for wages. They will not be allowed to [gather] at military posts; and they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

Now, I’m bringing up this history lesson because I think it will help us understand today’s Scripture. What if those slaves who were freed on Juneteenth said to themselves, “Well, now that I’m free, I don’t have to do anything! I’ll never have to work again! I don’t have a Master anymore!”

And I’m afraid that a lot of people look at Christianity in the same way. They take verses like John 8:36

36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

And they think that because we are free in Christ, we are free to do whatever we want. We don’t have obligations to make any sort of change in our lives whatsoever. We can even go so far as to think that the only thing Christianity impacts is where we will spend eternity.

The people in the church in Rome had this misunderstanding as well. Last time we were in Romans, I introduced you to this big $5.00 word, antinomianism (it’s on the back of the listening guide). Antinomianism literally means “against the law,” and it’s the belief that because we are saved by grace, there aren’t any moral laws we are obligated to obey. We asked Jesus into our heart when we were five years old, so even though there is no evidence whatsoever that we belong to Jesus now, we know that we are going to heaven when we die.

So Paul deals with this In Romans 6. We talked about the first half of the chapter the last time we were in Romans. People had been saying, “well, if grace abounds because of our sin, then the more we sin, the more grace we get.” And Paul said, no, no—you’ve died to sin.

Now, in the second half of Romans 6, Paul shifts the metaphor. Instead of talking about being dead to sin and alive to Christ, he pivoted to talking about the difference between being a slave to sin and being a slave to righteousness. Let’s look at what he said together. I’m in Romans 6, verses 15-23. Please stand with me to honor the reading of God’s Word:

15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves,[c] you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. Please pray with me. 

[pray]

Now, the question in verse 15 looks very similar to the question in verse 1. In verse 1, Paul’s dealing with people who are wondering if they should sin in order to get more grace—that grace should abound. And his answer is, “By no means.”

But in verse 15, Paul deals with the question of whether or not it’s ok to sin, since we aren’t under the law anymore but under grace.

And I really think that’s where a lot of people are today. “I don’t have to obey the law, because I am saved by grace.”

And that is partially true. It is not the law that saves you. You are saved because of the finished work of Christ on the cross. But freedom in Christ doesn’t mean that you have no master, but that you have a new master. Look carefully at verse 16:

16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?

Paul uses the word slave here. The Greek word is doulos, and there’s a definition for it on the back of your listening guide. A doulos was one who was in subjugation to another person’s will. One who was totally obligated to serving another, to the disregard of their own interests.  

And this was a term that would have been very easy for the people in the church in Rome to understand. Historians estimate that the population of first century Rome was about one-third slaves. There was also a significant population of free men who had at one time been enslaved. So there’s a very good chance that over half of the members of the church in Rome either were slaves or had been slaves.[1]  

So Paul used a metaphor this audience would understand. In fact, Paul refers to slavery eight times in these eight verses. And never once does he say that the people aren’t slaves anymore. Look at it with me:

  • Verse 16—you are either slaves of sin or slaves of obedience
  • Verse 18: You were slaves to sin, but now, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
  • Verse 19: We are to present the members of our bodies as slaves to righteousness, leading to sanctification.
  • Verse 20: When you were a slave to sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What does that mean? It means that nothing you did as a slave to sin was working toward your righteousness before God, because sin was still your master. And I think this is really, really important for anyone who argues that “good people” go to heaven. As long as you are a slave to sin, the quote-unquote good things you do can’t count for anything, because sin is still your master.
  • Verse 22: you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God.

Be honest—are you surprised that the message of the gospel isn’t actually freedom? This may be the hardest thing to wrap our heads around about the gospel, and it is probably what puts us at odds with modern culture the most.

The message of culture is that you should be free to do whatever you want to do, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, and in some cases, even if it does. So I should be free to marry whomever I want. If I am a woman I should be free to decide whether or not I want to carry a baby to term or abort it. I should be free to end a marriage if my wife and I have just grown apart from each other.

And they look at Christianity and they say, no thanks. I don’t want any part of a religion that puts such limitations on my personal freedom. I want a religion that keeps me in the driver’s seat. It sounds like if I follow your religion I’m just exchanging one form of slavery for another.  

And the scandal of the gospel is that in Romans 6, Paul is basically saying, “Yup. That’s exactly what you are doing.

Write this down, because it’s going to bake your brain a little:

The call to follow Christ is the call to obedient slavery.

Look at verse 19:

For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

The language isn’t politically correct, and the message isn’t popular, but this is what the gospel boils down to.

Every human being is born into bondage to slavery. Jesus said in John 8:34 that everyone who sins is a slave to sin. And we know from Romans 3:23 that everyone has sinned.

And so Paul goes all in on this metaphor. Before someone turns their life over to Jesus, they are slaves to impurity. They present the members of their body—their hands, their feet, their eyes, their ears, their mouths—all the members of their body are given in the service of sin.

And I get it. You tell someone they are a slave to impurity and lawlessness, and you get a lot of pushback. They’ll say, “C’mon, man. I’m not a bad person. I’ve never killed anybody. I’m not a pedophile or a human trafficker or a drug dealer. I’ve never cheated on my wife.  I know the difference between right and wrong, and I don’t need god or church or your bible to judge me and tell me I’m going to hell because I don’t give my life to Jesus. I just want to be free to live my life the way I think is best, ok?

And that’s the human condition. Sin entered the world when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They decided they wanted to determine right and wrong for themselves, rather than trusting God to determine what is right and wrong. In the book of Judges, the author described that time in Israel’s history as everyone doing what was right in their own eyes.  

But here is where Satan has pulled the wool over our eyes. He’s convinced people all through history that this is where you find true freedom—following your bliss, pursuing whatever makes you happy.

Look again at verse 16:

16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?

Here’s the most simple way to put it, the most basic definition of slavery: You are a slave to whatever you can’t say no to. In the modern world, we call that addiction. It could be a substance, like drugs or alcohol. It could be a habit, like gambling or porn. It could be a a compulsion, like shopping or hoarding or over eating or over working. But you are a slave to whatever you can’t say no to.

Anyone who has battled addiction, and we have several who are here this morning that have been there—they know addiction by its true name: slavery. And if you are a slave to sin, it leads to death.

So the gospel is simple: Go back to verse 19: once you presented your members as slaves to impurity. Now, present your members as slaves to righteousness. Once, every part of your body – arms, legs, hands, feet, eyes, ears, heart, mind, and mouth, was given to sin. And you were therefore slaves to sin.

Now, take all of those members—arms, legs, hands, feet, eyes, ears, heart, mind, and present them as slaves to righteousness.

Jesus desires to be the one thing you can’t say no to. In Matthew 11, Jesus offered this invitation to everyone who was tired and exhausted from trying to serve sin. He said,

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

A yoke was what a farmer put over the neck of an ox in order to direct and guide the ox. A yoke was a symbol of slavery. And Jesus doesn’t say, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and take off your yoke of slavery. He says take my yoke. Learn from me.

My yoke is easy, because instead of saying yes to a thousand different masters and addictions and commitments and obligations, all you have to say yes to now is Me. I’ll direct your pursuits. I’ll set your schedule. I’ll help you break every other chain, and the only chain that remains is the one that connects you to me.

Jesus doesn’t want us to be confused about what it takes to follow him. Look what Paul says in verse 17:

17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed,

We don’t have to be in the dark about what Jesus expects of us. He’s given us His word—the standard of teaching to which we are committed.

And God’s Word tells us all that we need to know to live a life of godliness. 2 Peter 1:3 was the memory verse for VBS a few years ago. Since we just did VBS, probably a lot of you can still sing it with me, can’t you:

His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.

Now, I want to bring this to a close by addressing what may be on a lot of your minds. And that is, why should I trade one slavery for another? You’re telling me this morning that freedom in Christ isn’t really freedom. It’s still slavery.

So let me leave you with this very offensive sounding, non politically correct statement:

There is a blessing to obedient slavery.

I know, I know. It sounds awful. But Bob Dylan was right. You’ve gotta serve somebody. It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody. So what is the blessing of being a slave to righteousness?

Well, first, there is better fruit. Verse 19 says that being a slave to impurity leads to more impurity. But being a slave to righteousness leads to sanctification. Sanctification is the process of a believer, over time, becoming more and more like Jesus.

Paul says in verse 20 that being a slave to sin means that you are “free” in regard to righteousness. You can continue on in your sinful patterns and have no obligation to follow God’s law. But then he asks,

But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.

The fruit of being a slave to sin is death. But look at the better fruit of being a slave to righteousness. And not just better fruit, a better ending. A better destination: Look at verse 22: Paul has just said that when we were slaves to sin we were “free” in regard to righteousness. And then he flips it:

22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

There are really only two options:

Slave to sin, Free from righteousness, fruit is death

Slave to God, free from sin, fruit is eternal life.


[1] Hughes, R. Kent. Romans: Righteousness From Heaevn. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Press, 1991, p. 124.

Day 178: Showdown on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:25-39)

Read through the Bible Plan: 1 Kings 17-19                                                          

36 And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. 37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” 38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.” (1 Kings 18:36-39)

One of the most dramatic stories in the whole Bible is Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18. Ahab is king, and although Israel didn’t have a  single good king, Ahab was the worst. He and his wife Jezebel were just horrible people. 1 Kings 16:29-33 gives us an overview of how evil they were.

As punishment, God sent a devastating drought to Israel, which lasted three years. At the end of this period of drought, God sent the prophet Elijah to Ahab, where he proposed an epic challenge: Ahab was to assemble the prophets of Baal to meet him on the top of Mount Carmel. They would build an altar and prepare a sacrifice for their false god. Elijah would build an altar to Yahweh. Whoever answered by fire would prove himself to be the true God.

On the appointed day, the prophets of Baal build their altar and pray their prayers and dance their dances, and nothing happens. Elijah mocks them, suggesting that their god is thinking it over, on the road, asleep, or even “wandered away” (a phrase many scholars take as a euphemism for relieving oneself). By the end of the day, the prophets of Baal have even resorted to cutting themselves, to no avail. “No one answered, no one paid attention” (verse 29).

It would be funny if it weren’t so familiar. But the fact is, people today go to similar extremes chasing after false gods that can never satisfy. We need look no further than the effects of drug addiction and sexual promiscuity to see the self-destruction false gods can bring.

Preparation (1 Kings 18:30-35)

Notice verse 30 says that Elijah “repaired” the Lord’s altar. He didn’t build one from scratch. Revival often starts with rebuilding a foundation that has already been laid. What Elijah does next is especially remarkable given how precious water would have been after a three year drought. After stacking the wood and laying the sacrifice on the altar, Elijah commands his servants to drench the altar with water. Not once, not twice, but three times, until water filled up the trench around the water. Talk about putting yourself out there! Had God not responded, Elijah would have been seen as wasting the most valuable resource of the day—water. But for the sacrifice to be consumed by fire, God would need to show up in a big way. 

Response (1 Kings 18:36-39)

Compared to the prophets of Baal, Elijjah’s prayer was simple and understated. No shouting. No dancing. No cutting himself with knives. Elijah didn’t even actually pray for fire to come down. He simply said, “Lord, let it be known that you are God.”

And how the fire fell! Verse 38 says it didn’t just consume the sacrifice and the wood. It evaporated the water in the trench, and even consumed the stones of the altar! Science tells us wood burns at 1,112 degrees Fahrenheit. To melt rock, temperatures have to be in excess of 2,400 degrees!

God is able to do “exceeding abundantly, beyond all we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20-21). He certainly proved this on Mount Carmel. As a result, all the people fell facedown and proclaimed that He is God.

Day 177: Who’s Who, Where’s Where, and Who’s Where? (1 Kings 16; 2 Chronicles 17)

23 In the thirty-first year of Asa king of Judah, Omri began to reign over Israel, and he reigned for twelve years; six years he reigned in Tirzah. . . .

25 Omri did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did more evil than all who were before him. 26 For he walked in all the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and in the sins that he made Israel to sin, provoking the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger by their idols. 
1 Kings 16:23, 25-26

As you probably figured out yesterday, we are getting into a section of Scripture (1 Kings / 2 Chronicles) that can get you really lost as you try to flip back and forth between the two books and keep track of who’s over which kingdom. I’ve learned a few things over the years of both reading and teaching through these passages that might help you keep track. I hope this helps:

  • In 1 Kings, the king of one kingdom is introduced by when he began to reign relative to the king’s reign in the other kingdom. So if its a king of Judah, it will be “In the ______ year of so-and-so king of Israel,” and vice versa. So if a king in one kingdom had an especially long reign, you might get two or three kings in a row for the other kingdom.
  • There’s typically a summary statement that grades the king. I use the acronym WORK, because these areas are usually covered:

WALK: Whose ways did he walk in? If he walked in the ways of his father David, he was good. If he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, he was bad.

OBEY: Did he obey God?

RESTORE/RENEW/REMOVE: Did he restore the temple, renew the covenant, remove the high places? If so, good. If not, bad.

KEEP: Did the king keep the covenant? Did he lead the people to?

  • Watch for coups. There are several times in the northern kingdom (Israel) when a king gets assassinated, a dynasty ends, and a new family takes over. We saw this today when Baasha killed Nadab, ending the line of Jeroboam. But you only see this in the Northern Kingdom. In Judah, there is a straight line of succession from father to son for FOUR HUNDRED YEARS. Not because the kings of Judah were that much better. Out of 20 kings, there were only 8 good ones. But it’s because of God’s promise. God promised there would always be a son of David on the throne of Judah.
  • Generally, but not always, kings who were faithful to God had longer reigns. There are exceptions. But consider that the Northern kingdom (Israel) had 19 kings in a little over 200 years. They were all bad. The Southern kingdom (Judah) had 20 kings in almost 350 years. Eight of them were good.

Again, I hope this helps. There’s lots of lessons in this part of the journey. Hang in there!

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