The good heart… Keep it simple… Listen to your elders?.. Paganized!.. The split that destroyed a nation
DAY ONE – Ecclesiastes 7-12
‘Heart healthy’ is a term used in our day when discussing food and exercise. But the Preacher says “the heart is made better by a sad countenance.” What does he mean? “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning…” And perhaps we remember reading this proverb recently: “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction drives it far from him.” As so much of our effort is given to ENJOYING life and AVOIDING suffering, the Preacher’s message won’t be so popular. Yet his quest to discover and understand life left him facing the unavoidable: Suffering and evil come to all, as well as health and happiness. And after studying the whole panoply, he tried to make sense of it. “All this I have seen, and applied my heart to every work that is done under the sun…” Again he said, “For I considered all this in my heart, so that I could declare it all…” While everyone wants to be happy all the time; and while some consider that it is our divine right to be happy, that God wants us happy, the Preacher rejected that argument as a result of all his considerations of life. Most of us don’t engage our heart during the good times; we go merrily along enjoying our fortune. On the other hand, suffering interrupts all of our plans long enough for us to engage our heart and so ponder our existence. We involuntarily take account of things when evil is at our doorstep. The Preacher understood enough to know that good and evil remain a mystery to most of us, that we are mostly not in control of those forces, and that wisdom may certainly enlighten us when we have to deal with the good and the bad. How to live then? How to behave? How to understand the seasons of our life? How to get along with others? How to respond to government? There must be some sense to it all. And there is…
“I surely know that it will be well with those who fear God, who fear before Him.” “Go eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has already accepted your works.” “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come…” “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all.” The Preacher reached these conclusions and shared his wisdom with us ONLY AFTER applying his heart over many years to the study of all that was happening around him. So “guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it flow the issues of life.” Give God your whole heart and trust Him with your whole life!
DAY TWO -1 Kings 10-11, 2 Chronicles 9, Proverbs 30-31
In our story we are approaching the end of an era–Solomon has risen to the apex of his kingship in a blaze of glory as witnessed in the Queen of Sheba’s visit. She attests to his fame but insists the half of it was not fully told. And with the years of Solomon’s reign, now there is more gold, more horses, more wives, until he is surfeited beyond imagination. And then the downfall begins, because the king has loved many women, among them foreign wives who finally persuade him to accommodate their false gods with shrines, sacrifices and other compromises. His heart has been turned away from Yahweh God as he fills the land with demonic practices. Meanwhile antagonists have arisen in neighboring nations, and even in Solomon’s own household. His highly-positioned servant Jeroboam is raising a conspiracy, fueled by the word of a man of God who met him and promised that he would rule over ten tribes of Israel in a divided kingdom. Yes, a great schism is just ahead, and Solomon doesn’t see it coming. Soon Israel will stagger like a drunken sailor, and the world they know will not be the same again.
May we, dear readers, be forewarned as was Solomon. Twice Yahweh spoke to the king to assure God’s Presence, wisdom, abundance and good fortune. And twice God counseled him as to his walk and life before God. And now it is all in jeopardy. Add in the final two chapters of Proverbs, and note the SIMPLICITY of life described in them. Though we don’t know much about the two men who wrote them, their observations and counsel make much sense. And that brings us full circle. Since God created us, He wrote into our being the logic and rightness of living in relationship with Him. Unfortunately sin and error are in our world, and we are fairly easily tempted to fall in love with things we see that take our heart away from the God we cannot see. Life is a continual quest to find God, become properly related to Him and follow Him to the Eternal Kingdom. Heaven must help us, because the power of our acquisitions and experiences here on earth are always pulling us away from heaven. As we are now ready to leave behind the ‘Books of Wisdom’ in our Bible reading, may we move forward with their words calling to us, instructing us, correcting us? “Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.”
DAY THREE – 1 Kings 12, 2 Chronicles 10
What we are about to see is a major shift. Solomon’s son Rehoboam, age 41, arose to the throne after the death of his father. All Israel made an appeal to him to lighten the burden Solomon had put on them through arduous labor. Receiving three days to respond, Rehoboam asked his father’s counselors how to answer the people. Then he asked the same of his new counselors, men who grew up with him. When the people’s representatives appeared again three days later, Rehoboam spoke roughly to them and declared himself more severe than his father. Israel turned in abandonment from Judah and was separated forever. They proceeded to call Jeroboam, Solomon’s former servant, to be their king. So there was Judah, with Benjamin; and then there was Israel, the ten northern tribes, with a new government and king. The division remained in place for centuries, bringing conflict and tension for both entities. And both Judah and Israel departed from Yahweh to serve foreign demonic deities, storing up for themselves the coming wrath of God. (A question to ponder: why does idolatry stir up God’s anger and wrath?)
As we contemplate the succession of kings that emerge after David and Solomon, only one man’s name will go down in perpetuity–David. God will refer to him forever after as “my servant” David. He really served God, all the days of his life, but not without sin. We all remember the heinous crime he committed, but God’s mercy covered his act and supported his posterity until a Messiah could be born. And all the kings after David will be compared with him by Yahweh God Himself. It will be said of them that they did or did not walk in the ways of their father David. Even the Messiah will be called the ‘son of David.’ Having now seen the glorious kingdom of Solomon and the dubious beginning of Rehoboam, what describes our thoughts and feelings about Israel’s future? If you said tentative, or apprehensive, you may be on target.
DAY FOUR – 1 Kings 13-14, 2 Chronicles 11-12
Jeroboam so paganized the religious life of Israel, the question must be asked, Why? God gave him his assignment and ten of the twelve tribes. God averted a war with Judah and gave Jeroboam a clean start. Why would he jeopardize all of that? A simple answer… fear. Jeroboam knew Israel’s religious habits; knew that they went up to Jerusalem annually to offer their sacrifices; knew how deeply embedded their traditions were. And he was afraid that those memories would eventually endear them to the old ways so that they turned on him and rejoined Judah. He couldn’t let that happen. So he made two gold calves, declared them to be Israel’s gods who brought them out of Egypt, and set them up at opposite ends of the territory to be worshipped. Then he ran the Levites and priests out of their homes and properties and appointed anyone who wanted to be a priest to offer sacrifices. He set up shrines at high places for all kinds of weird religious rites, so that Israel would develop a new identity. Jeroboam galvanized Israel into that new identity so that they were no longer loyal to Yahweh, even though their memories and God’s pleas would haunt them in years to come. Like an adopted child, they would go forward always wondering why they were separate from Judah, why they were no longer part of their original family. Fear is a terrible master. How many decisions are made, how many paths taken, out of fear? And what are we afraid of? Mostly the unknown. Whenever our confidence in the Lord God is shaken, whenever our devotion to Him lags, the unknown looms before us and drives us to protect ourselves. We scramble for more security or demand that the government take care of us. Fear overcomes rationality. Fear lurks in the background, guiding us away from God in whom we trust, toward tangible and material things we can touch. We may, like the adopted child who knows there was another set of parents, know that there was something before fear, but we lose touch with it. Jeroboam was afraid, and because of it he sealed Israel’s future under judgment, and set precedents that could not be revoked.
For a completely different set of reasons, Rehoboam led Judah into idolatry and opened the door for real oppression. Shishak of Egypt invaded and dominated Judah. Here is God’s response: 2 Chronicles 12:7-8 “Since the people have humbled themselves, I will not completely destroy them and will soon give them some relief. I will not use Shishak to pour out My anger on Jerusalem. 8 But they will become his subjects, so they will know the difference between serving Me and serving earthly rulers.” We serve God out of love and devotion; we serve earthly rulers out of fear!
DAY FIVE – 1 Kings 15:1-24, 2 Chronicles 14-16
Our reading becomes a bit tricky at this point because we are following two kingdoms now–Judah and Israel–instead of one. Two kings whose reigns overlap with others are always in view as we study their ways and exploits. With Rehoboam out of the picture, his son Abijah takes the throne but for only three years. Jeroboam is still smarting in Israel for fear that Israel will revert and join Judah again as a single kingdom. So he fights any and everybody in sight to hang on to his kingdom. Abijah’s one great deed occurred when he had to face down Israel’s army, twice the size of his. Reciting the history of the divided kingdom, proclaiming Yahweh’s favor on Judah–its capital city of Jerusalem housing the Lord’s temple with all her priests and Levites. Jeroboam was not to be dissuaded however, so God struck Jeroboam and all the army of Israel so severely that they never recovered strength in the days of Abijah. Soon after, Jeroboam died, as did Abijah. Asa was somewhat of a reformer, for he brought a revival of worship to Judah by crushing idolatry throughout the land. God blessed him with victories and rest, but as he grew older he failed to trust the Lord at a crucial time and lost God’s favor. We are going to be reading these kinds of accounts all the way through the Kings and Chronicles, so let us try to grasp the patterns and take note of Yahweh’s interactions with the kings over His troubled lands.