The Fall of Jerusalem / God’s Wrath against Mankind: July 13th 2021

2 Kings 24:8-25:30

King Jehoiachin succeeded his father, Jehoiakim. The people of Judah seemed to have run out of inspiration for first names at this stage but they all have meanings. Jehoiachin Is Hebrew for ‘The Lord Establishes’ which is ironic considering what is going to happen to him.    

This new king only reigned for 3 months and all of that was bad. The king of Babylon’s army advanced on Jerusalem and besieged it. The formidable Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, actually came to watch the siege. The leaders of Judah had no choice but to surrender the city to him.

Nebuchadnezzar removed all the remaining treasures from the temple and the royal palace. He carried into exile virtually everyone from Jerusalem, including the local army, leaving just the poorest people behind who would now be ruled by Jehoiachin’s uncle, Mattaniah. Nebuchadnezzar renamed him Zedekiah, king of Judah.

Zedekiah did not turn to God and unwisely rebelled against Babylon. He must have recruited a new army from the land of Judah as the Babylonians had to lay siege to the city again. Eventually, the famine within the city walls was so bad that the army within Jerusalem broke out through their own walls and fled. Zedekiah was captured and terribly punished.

Jerusalem would now be destroyed. The commander of the Babylonian imperial guard set fire to every building, including the temple and the royal palace, the walls of the city were broken down and everyone was taken into exile apart from the very poorest people who were to work the vineyards and fields.

The Babylonians destroyed the magnificent bronze articles that Solomon had commissioned for the temple. All the top Jerusalem officials, including the chief priest, were executed.

Judah went into captivity, away from her land – following the example of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) who has been exiled by the Assyrians a couple of centuries before.

Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedaliah to supervise the remnant of people left in Judah. He tried to get the people to settle down and serve the king but he was assassinated, which caused all the people people to flee to Egypt.

The former king of Judah, Jehoiachin, was released from prison after thirty-seven years by a new Babylonian king, Evil-Merodach, and treated kindly for the rest of his life.  

These stories highlight the problems that arise from disobedience. If the Judean kings had always followed God, their nation may have been left in its own territory. If Zedekiah had been loyal to Nebuchadnezzar, the first temple may still be intact today and what a magnificent sight it would be. However, God had to serve justice on those who had abandoned and ignored him. He used foreign nations to bring about his retribution against both Israel and Judah. However, there is always hope of rebirth and restoration.

The clock was now ticking until His people would be returned to their homeland.

Romans 1:18-32

We can clearly see the presence of God in the beauty of our created world. Yet so many people think that the world and the creatures that populate it made themselves. Paul said these people are without excuse (Rom.1:20). Everyone knows God in their hearts but people choose to suppress their innate knowledge of God and decide not to glorify or give thanks to Him. Their foolish hearts become darkened (Rom.1:21) and they choose to remain in sin.

Just as Solomon did, the wise become fools and start to worship man-made images. Many people today serve created things rather than the Creator. We work in a secular job just to pay for the car that is only required to get us to work. We go to work to pay for a larger house or a holiday, when we wouldn’t need an expensive holiday if we didn’t work (1 Rom.1:25). A day in a beautiful house of worship would regenerate us more than two weeks boozing in the sun.

God can show his wrath by abandoning us. If we reject him, he will reject us and allow us to follow our sinful desires. However, we reap what we sow and there will be consequences both now (such as divorce, murder, sexually transmitted diseases) and in eternity, for our immoral actions. Even women of the world have succumbed to sin. MacArthur (2021, 1545) notes that in most cultures women are the last to be affected by moral collapse.

If we do not spend time studying the word of God, our minds will become warped and full of wickedness (1 Rom.1:29-31).

Many people are promoted in secular workplaces for being greedy, deceitful, envious, malicious, gossips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, boastful, faithless, heartless and ruthless. Many modern companies celebrate these behaviours particularly if they maximise profit (Rom.1:32). These people have ‘debased’ minds that are impure and worthless.

In summary, every single person in the world knows that God exists in their heart. There is no excuse for ignoring him and not giving him thanks. People choose to ignore God so that they can carry out depraved sin and God has abandoned them to let them do this. People rationalise to try to prove to themselves and others that there is no God but by doing this they prove their own utter foolishness. They approve of others who, like them, behave in Godless ways. Birds of a feather flock together.

I often wonder why the Mother Church seems to carry out little evangelisation and this passage seems to explain why. People already know all about God in their own hearts, they just suppress it and choose a depraved lifestyle instead. The church waits for people to become convicted of their own sin, acknowledge the terrible consequences they have reaped, repent of their mistakes and come looking for God. However, I think it is still useful to preach the gospel, to prompt people to listen to the little voice inside of them that is calling them home,

Psalm 84:8-12

I would rather be an unpaid assistant in a thriving church than a chief executive in an immoral company (Ps.84:10).

Our God is our sun and our shield. He bestows favour and honour and defends us from evil.

We are blessed when we trust in the Lord.

He will withhold no good thing from those whose walk is blameless (Ps.84:11). So, if we lack anything, it is either not good for us or, before we will receive it, we need to review our lives and remove anything that is not blameless, by repenting and renouncing our wrong behaviour.

Image: National Library of Wales, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Josiah Cleanses Judah and Renews the Covenant / Paul writes to the Romans: July 12th 2021

2 Kings 23:1-24:7

Josiah, the King of Judah, read the newly rediscovered Book of the Law to all the people of Judah. He renewed the covenant with the Lord and all the people pledged themselves to it (2 Kings 23:3).

Josiah ordered the priests to remove all the pagan articles from the temple. They were burned outside Jerusalem. He ‘did away’ with the pagan priests. He desecrated the high places and broke down the shrines and thoroughly purged the country of other heathen worship sites. Chapter 23 is a comprehensive list of all the altars and shrines that the kings of Israel had built to vile and detestable deities. King Solomon had started the rot by building high places on the ‘Hill of Corruption’ even though he was supposedly the wisest man ever (2 Kings 23:13).

Josiah also cleaned up Samaria and Bethel in the north of the country while the people of this region had been deported to Assyria (2 Kings 23:19). The king then gave the order to all the people to celebrate the Passover, as it was written in the rediscovered Book of the Covenant. The Israelites had not celebrated Passover since the time of the Judges.

Josiah turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength – as we should do (2 Kings 23:25).

However, it was too late to turn the Lord away from his fierce anger. God was planning to remove Judah from his presence, just as he had done to Israel. He would reject His city and His temple (2 Kings 23:27).  However, at least Josiah died with a clean conscience. He had tried to make his people right with God, but we know from the Book of Romans that righteousness can never be earned by human actions.

Josiah was killed in a skirmish with the Egyptian army.

Josiah’s son, Jehoahaz, was anointed king and managed to do evil in the eyes of the Lord even though he only reigned for three months. Pharoah Neco, who had killed Josiah, his father, put Jehoahaz in chains and deported him to Egypt. He appointed another one of Josiah’s sons, Eliakim / Jehoiakim, as king and demanded a hefty levy of gold and silver which Jehoiakim exacted as tax from the people of the land.

Jehoiakim reigned for eleven years and carried out evil deeds. Josiah’s sons had obviously learnt nothing from their relatively righteous father. It was now time for the end of Judah. The country was invaded by the Babylonians. Jehoiakim became the vassal of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, for three years and then unwisely rebelled. The Lord sent raiders to destroy Judah. The earlier reign of the evil King Manasseh had sealed Judah’s fate and even the reforms of Josiah had been insufficient to assuage God’s wrath. Manasseh had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood and, at this time, the Lord was not willing to forgive his evil deeds (2 Kings 24:4).

The king of Babylon took over the whole of the country (2 Kings 24:7).

Romans 1:1-17

Today, we start Paul’s letter to the Romans. He wrote this letter from Corinth around AD 56 towards the end of his third missionary journey as he was preparing to visit Jerusalem. The letter was eventually delivered by Phoebe to the Roman believers, some of whom may have been converted on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem before eventually settling in Rome.

Romans isn’t an easy read and so we will take it slowly. MacArthur describes it as the ‘preeminent doctrinal work in the New Testament’. One of its main themes is that we can’t buy our way into heaven with our good behaviour – eternal life is an unearned gift of love (grace) from God. God justifies us guilty, condemned sinners through our faith in Christ. We were made righteous in God’s eyes through the shedding of Jesus’ perfect blood when he died for us on the cross.

Paul described himself as a (willing) servant of Jesus set apart for the gospel (the good news) of God. Paul was a servant out of love and respect for his master. God had long promised us this good news throughout the holy Old Testament scriptures. Paul regarded himself as an ‘apostle’ – one who is sent. Jesus had personally commissioned him and started him on his personal mission than all the other apostles.

Jesus – in his human nature was a descendant of David. There are two genealogies in the gospels. The one in Luke 3:23 was actually the genealogy of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The version in Matthew is his father Joseph’s genealogy. MacArthur (2021) points out that ‘the royal line is passed through Jesus’ legal father, and his physical descent from David is established by Mary’s lineage’. So Jesus was not descended from Solomon – who went rogue. Jesus was descended from David’s third child with Bathsheba, Nathan an older brother of Solomon. Jesus was both fully human (from Mary) and fully God (from the Holy Spirit) – so he could both die in our place and be a high priest who can relate to humankind.

https://www.cgg.org/index.cfm/library/bqa/id/184/why-does-jesus-have-two-different-genealogies-matthew-11-16-luke-323-38.htm

It was Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that proved that Jesus was the Son of God (Romans 1:4). When we are baptized, the same Holy Spirit, who raised Jesus from the dead, comes to live in us so that He can also raise us to eternal life.

We, like all the Gentiles, are called to the obedience that comes through faith. Paul wanted to come to Rome so that he and the Roman Christians could be ‘mutually encouraged by each other’s faith’ (Romans 1:12). We all learn and benefit from different Christian communities coming together to worship, work, teaching and relaxation.

Paul was never ashamed of the gospel: ‘It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes’ (Rom.1:16). The gospel revealed that we can be made righteous with God through our faith in his son, Jesus Christ and his life, death and resurrection. This is an undeserved gift that we cannot earn. It is beyond price.

Psalm 84:1-7

As Christians, we know that we are not yet in our ‘forever home’. We are alien visitors to this worldly planet, a completely new species and never quite feel at home. We long to see the living God in his dwelling-place (Ps.84:1). We have an unquenched spiritual hunger for God.

Blessed are the saints who have already made it to heaven and are waiting to intercede on our behalf. They are for ever praising God (Ps.84:4).

When we ask Jesus into our hearts as our personal saviour, we are starting on our pilgrimage back home to God. We will go from strength to strength because our strength is in Jesus, the Creator of the world. God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, is forever within the baptized. He refreshes us and enkindles his fire within us so we can be renewed and burst forth with power.

Image: https://pixabay.com/illustrations/st-paul-saint-iconography-painting-2176669/

An Angel Slays the Assyrians / Hezekiah’s illness / Paul on Malta (Melita): July 10th 2021

2 Kings 19:15-20:21

King Hezekiah of Judah received a threatening letter from the king of Assyria. He spread it out before the Lord at the temple. He prayed to the Lord ‘enthroned between the cherubim’ (2 Kings 19:15). He pointed out that the Assyrians had insulted the living God. They had destroyed false idols and evil kings but they were including the Lord in a list of false deities who had not saved his people. Hezekiah prayed that Israel would be delivered from their hands.

Isaiah sent the reply from God to the Assyrian aggressors. He used the phrase: ‘The Virgin Daughter of Zion’ to introduce it (2 Kings 19:21), which just means ‘Jerusalem’. God is an ever-loving father to the people of Jerusalem despite their continual sinning. Of course, we can look forward to Mary, Mother of God, when a virgin daughter is mentioned and Isaiah also pointed out that the Assyrians were insulting the ‘Holy One of Israel’ – referring to Jesus. Isaiah had a very strong sense of who Jesus was and that, even prior to his incarnation, he was present with his people suffering insults and shame alongside them.  

The Lord said that a remnant of the house of Judah would come out of Jerusalem. There would always be survivors. God would defend Jerusalem against the Assyrians. They would not enter the city. God had promised to preserve the city of David and his own reputation was at stake (2 Kings 19:34).

That night, the angel of the Lord killed a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp (2 Kings 19:35). Angels are capable of mass destruction when God wants them to unless his wrath. Maybe it was the same destroying angel that killed all the first-born in Egypt, but God has millions of powerful angels to choose from. Fallen angels, demons, would like to slaughter all of us but they are constantly restrained by God from doing this.

The king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew to Ninevah. He was later assassinated by his sons, while worshipping his favoured demonic deity. God had shown his power by slaughtering the Assyrian army but the Assyrian king hadn’t been converted. He still refused to turn to him. I don’t envy whoever had to bury all the dead Assyrians. The dead bodies would have been a major public health risk.

King Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. This appears to be blood poisoning as Isaiah eventually prescribed a poultice of figs for his boil (2 Kings 20:7). However, at first Isaiah had prophesied that Hezekiah would die. He would not recover. At this bad news, Hezekiah ‘turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord’ (2 Kings 20:2). He reminded God of how he had been faithful and devoted he had been. He wept bitterly. Hezekiah did not specifically ask to be healed but God immediately decided to grant him mercy. Before Isaiah had even left the palace, God told him to turn around and pronounce that Hezekiah would be allowed to live for another fifteen years and that Jerusalem would be saved from the Assyrians. Prophecies can be swiftly reversed!

Two important concepts are illustrated here: 1) God can change his mind and so it is always worth praying, particularly when we have tried to do what is good in his eyes. 2) God acts through people. God had granted Hezekiah fifteen more years but it still took Isaiah to prescribe a homemade remedy and for servants to make it and apply it. I love a homemade remedy. I have been suffering from a plague of verrucae on one of my feet for years, which are incurable according to medical science. However, God has inspired me to try soaking my feet in apple cider vinegar every day and I have faith that this is working (don’t blame me if you try this and suffer chemical burns / your foot falls off).

Hezekiah had asked for a sign that the Lord would heal him and asked for the shadow to go back up ten steps of the stairway of Ahaz. God has complete control of the stars and the planets and usually allows them to move precisely to defined schedules. However, just as he dispatched a star to illuminate the place of Jesus’ birth, He was happy to mess up the solar system to give Hezekiah the reassurance he sought.

Hezekiah received envoys from Babylon and showed them all the treasures in his kingdom. Isaiah implied that this might not have been the wisest move. Everything the people of Judah had stored up would eventually be carried off to Babylon, along with some of Hezekiah’s descendants. Hezekiah was not particularly alarmed by this as it sounded like he would be spared in his lifetime. We can’t worry too much about the future and how our descendants will interact with God. We have enough to worry about each day to ensure we are ready to meet our maker at what might be very short notice.

Acts 28:1-6

Paul was now safely ashore on the island of Malta but promptly got bitten by a poisonous snake. He lived, much to the islanders’ amazement. Again, I think this shows how much the devil was trying to kill him. Paul had escaped drowning and so now a serpent on land was sent to attack him. There are no vipers today on Malta and so there is a strong biological argument that this island was actually Melita, where a notorious horned viper still resides. Melita is an island in the Adriatic sea, known today as Meleda or Mljet.

If it was indeed Malta, a small colony of poisonous snakes present in Paul’s time may now have become extinct. There are also legends that Paul may have blessed all the snakes on the island causing them to lose their poison or driven them out as Saint Patrick was reputed to have done in Ireland. Jesus had promised that Christians would not be harmed by poisonous snakes (Mark 16:18).

Paul healed the father of the chief official of the island. The man had been suffering from dysentery. Dysentery is caused by God’s creatures being in the wrong place and acting selfishly to survive. The bacteria or amoebae that cause this disease would have had their own beneficial role to perform in the ecosystem of Eden. They may have helped the fertility of the soil or lived symbiotically in our bodies for both species’ mutual benefit but, after the fall of mankind, creation started to malfunction; organisms started to starve and had to spread to new environments or act selfishly to seize food. Some previously benign bugs became killers as they strived to selfishly dominate and seize control of their human hosts. However, they all still respond to the name of their original creator, Jesus Christ.   

Paul was also able to cure all the rest of the sick people on the island who, in return, furnished them with supplies.

Paul eventually arrived in Rome after an arduous journey. He was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him. Such an open prison did not hinder Paul in spreading the gospel, as he wrote his letters and received visitors. We can safely assume that he would have converted his guards and the gospel message spread throughout the entire imperial guard (Phil.1:13).

Psalm 83:1-18

Our God is the most high over all the earth (Ps.83:18).

We know this through studying God’s word. We can read of his amazing miracles as he rescued his chosen people from Egypt and ensured their survival through the millennia.

Israel will never be destroyed and we are eternally grateful for this because our salvation, in the person of Jesus, has come from the Jews.

Eventually, non-believers will be ashamed and disgraced. They do not acknowledge how gracious God has been to them even while they continued to be sinners.

God continues to call all people to himself. He will run to gather us into his loving arms when we repent, renounce our selfish ways and return to our loving Father.

Image: https://www.europeana.eu/en/item/9200122/BibliographicResource_1000056125479

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