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The Cursed Kingdom of Blood and Tears

Date: Jan. 25, 2015

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

1 Kings 15:25-16:34

Key Verse: 1 Kings 15:34

“He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the ways of Jeroboam and committing the same sin Jeroboam had caused Israel to commit.”

When you look at the world around you, it didn’t just spring into being and look like this. Eight years ago, even the smartest of phones were pretty dumb by today’s standard. If you go to the mid to early eighties, a cell phone was either mounted to a car or carried in a bag. Before 1993, there was no readily available public internet. One hundred years ago, flight was fanciful and barely anyone had done it. Two hundred years ago the main way of getting around was either by sailing ship or horse. In many ways, our world is vastly different from the world of the past. There were many steps that got us from then to now. Even now, there are all these people and technologies that will shape our future. These changes can either be for good or for bad. It has been nearly thirty years since the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, but people are still feeling the effects. Closer to home, foreign policy and homeland security have been dictated because of what happened nearly a decade and a half ago on September 11. Our lives are influenced by others, and our lives influence others. Today, we will see the cursed influence of one man on an entire nation for nearly half a century. This cursed influence spanned multiple regimes and led to the shedding of so much blood.

So, last week, Mike talked to us about the dynasty in the kingdom of Judah. Now, this was King David’s dynasty. It was about David’s son, grandson, great-grandson, and great-great-grandson. Not all of them were good. According to God, a couple of them were really bad and the last one we talked about was ok – he was pretty good. However, to the north, in Israel, there wasn’t just one dynasty; there were multiple. In fact, during the reign of Asa, there were arguably four different dynasties with six different kings. Needless to say, Israel wasn’t necessarily the most stable nation.

Now, before we get too far into Israel’s affairs, let’s look back a bit to see how this northern kingdom came about. After Solomon died, his kingdom was split into two with Solomon’s son Rehoboam in control of Judah in the south and Jeroboam being made king of Israel in the north. God promised Jeroboam that if he followed God with all his heart like David did, God would give Jeroboam an everlasting dynasty. Unfortunately, Jeroboam either didn’t listen to God or believe him, because he began to calculate. You see, God’s temple was in Jerusalem, in Judah. Jeroboam was afraid that when the people went to worship God, that they would run back to Rehoboam. Why would the people have their lives politically ruled by Jeroboam only to have the spiritual lives in Rehoboam’s kingdom? Surely they would like to consolidate those two parts of their lives and kick Jeroboam off the throne. With this fear in his mind, Jeroboam had two calves set up and had the people worship them as God. He then, allowed anyone to be priests as long as they wanted to be. This angered God. God gave Jeroboam a promise and Jeroboam seemed to just disregard it entirely and tried to secure his own kingdom. By doing so, Jeroboam set up his own downfall. By forsaking God, Jeroboam’s dynasty was not going to be an everlasting one. His entire family would be slaughtered and the throne handed over to someone else.

Today’s passage begins with Jeroboam’s son Nadab becoming king after his father’s death. “Nadab son of Jeroboam became king of Israel in the second year of Asa king of Judah, and he reigned over Israel two years. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the ways of his father and committing the same sin his father had caused Israel to commit.” (15:25-26) Nadab learned very well from his father. Nadab continued in the spiritual debauchery that his father began. In the south, in Judah, King Asa began spiritual reforms and started casting out the pagan worship, but Nadab continued the tradition in the north. There is a saying that the sins of the father become the sins of the son, and that is really the case with Nadab. He took them over fully and made them his own.

Nadab reigned only for two years before he died. In the second year of his reign, Nadab and all Israel were laying siege to the Philistine town of Gibbethon, but there was treachery afoot. “Baasha son of Ahijah from the tribe of Issachar plotted against him, and he struck him down at Gibbethon, a Philistine town, while Nadab and all Israel were besieging it. Baasha killed Nadab in the third year of Asa king of Judah and succeeded him as king.” (15:27-28) Baasha just sort of appears out of nowhere and plots against the king. During the siege, Baasha killed Nadab and became king. One of the first things that Baasha did as king was to have Jeroboam’s family killed. He didn’t want to have a rival for the throne and anybody who might have had the slightest claim to the throne needed to be wiped out. It was a new regime and there didn’t need to be even a hint of the old, so much so that when Baasha came to power, he didn’t rule from Shechem like Jeroboam and Nadab, but moved the capital to Tirzah.

This is exactly what God told Jeroboam would happen if he walked away from God. God’s protective hand would not be on Jeroboam and his dynasty. There would be no protection for Jeroboam’s family and they would be destroyed. This didn’t happen because of God’s punishment, but it happened because God’s protection was removed. God doesn’t cause bad things to happen, but he knows that they will happen without his protection. It is important to know the difference. God did not tell Baasha to murder Jeroboam’s entire family. It was Jeroboam’s decision to rebel against God that led Baasha to rebel against him. God wanted to protect Jeroboam and his family forever, like he did with David, but Jeroboam rejected that protection and that led to the destruction of his entire house.

Despite the fact that Baasha wiped out Jeroboam’s line, he did not take the opportunity to wipe out the worship that Jeroboam instituted and get rid of all his influence. Instead, Baasha “did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the ways of Jeroboam and committing the same sin Jeroboam had caused Israel to commit.” (15:34) Baasha was no different from Jeroboam in regard to worship and God sent a prophet to Baasha. The prophet Jehu said that it was God who put Baasha into power, but he followed in Jeroboam’s ways. Since he followed in Jeroboam’s ways, he would share Jeroboam’s fate and Baasha’s dynasty would also be destroyed. Every member of his family would be killed.

After Baasha died, his son Elah became king and reigned for two years. After two years of being king, Zimri killed Elah. Zimri was one of Elah’s officials and was in charge of half of the chariots. As Elah was getting drunk at someone’s house, Zimri came in and killed him. There are a couple of things here that you can see. You can start to see this degradation of society. Jeroboam rebelled against God and his son was murdered by one of his own in battle. There was a rebellion in the kingdom, but the king stilled died in a relatively respectable manner. Since Baasha came to power through murder, it opened the door for someone else to do so too. So here comes Zimri, who kills the king in a shameful manner, and takes the power for himself. I mean, it is a cowardly thing to do to wait for someone to get drunk before confronting and attacking him. The guy is pretty defenseless in that state. It is about as bad as killing him when he was on the toilet. David had the opportunity with Saul, but he didn’t take it.

As soon as he is in power, Zimri proceeds to destroy the entire house of Baasha, like Baasha did with Jeroboam’s family. There was to be no doubt that Zimri was king in Tirzah. Unfortunately for Zimri, his reign only lasted seven days. “The army was encamped near Gibbethon, a Philistine town. When the Israelites in the camp heard that Zimri had plotted against the king and murdered him, they proclaimed Omri, the commander of the army, king over Israel that very day there in the camp.” (16:15-16) Strangely, the army was camped near the Philistine town where Nadab was killed twenty-six years earlier. When the army heard about the murder of the king, they proclaimed Omri as the new king and not Zimri. Then Omri and the army went to Tirzah and laid siege to it. When Zimri saw the army around the city, he knew that it was over. So, he went into the palace and set it on fire and killed himself.

With Zimri dead and Tirzah burned, Israel was thrown into conflict. There were two factions who tried to claim the throne. One group supported a guy named Tibni and the other group supported Omri. If you read the chronology in the Bible, it looks like this conflict lasted three or four years. So for three or four years Israel was at odds with itself over who would reign. I’m not sure if this was an all out civil war, but the passage mentions that Omri’s supporters were stronger and that Tibni died and Omri became king. This leads me to believe that there was some amount of fighting among the Israelites. The degradation continues as brother was fighting brother. There was war between Judah and Israel for years and now there was fighting between Israelites. There is so much blood in the kingdom that rejected God completely.

With Omri’s rise to power, the political landscape in the region changes a little bit. Although little is mentioned about him in the Bible, Omri is a very important king in Israel’s history. As we can see in this passage, Omri purchased the hill of Samaria, built a city on it, and made it the capital of Israel. Up to this point, the capital moved around a bit, but once Samaria is established, it stays the capital until the kingdom falls in 722 B.C. The hill was a perfect place to make a capital. It was easily defendable and accessible to merchants and traders. Historical evidence shows that Omri was the first king to stop the fighting with Judah and other nations considered Omri a great king. Assyrian documents refer to Israel as the Land of Omri as late as 732 B.C. or about 150 years after Omri’s reign. Even though his dynasty was long gone, other nations still referred to Israel as his country. That is an impressive feat. It is like Illinois that way, the Land of Lincoln.

For all that Omri did, though, the Bible only gives him eight verses. It establishes his kingship, says that he established Samaria and then it is done. What gives? One of the most important kings of Israel is reduced to eight verses. One of those verses gives a clue, “But Omri did evil in the eyes of the Lord and sinned more than all those before him. He followed completely the ways of Jeroboam son of Nebat, committing the same sin Jeroboam had caused Israel to commit, so that they aroused the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, by their worthless idols.” (16:26-26) Omri committed the same sin as Jeroboam. Spiritually, Omri was no different than the first king of the northern kingdom. In God’s eyes, Omri just sinned more than all those before him. His legacy wasn’t the strengthening and stabilizing of the kingdom, but of one who delved the kingdom deeper into sin.

When Omri died, his son Ahab took over. Ahab is an interesting character and his rule is the subject of the remainder of the book of 1 Kings. He plays a big part, not because he was particularly righteous, but because of the exact opposite. “Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him. He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to arouse the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than did all the kings of Israel before him.” (16:30-33) Ahab was even more sinful than his father Omri or any of the other previous kings of Israel. Not only did Ahab follow in Jeroboam’s sin, he thought that that sin was trivial, so he added to it in a big way by building a temple to Baal in Samaria and instituting Baal worship. Baal was the most prominent Canaanite god. He was the god that was supposed to give rain for the crops and help them grow. Since Baal was a fertility god, his powers are viewed with the seasons. He was sometimes depicted descending in to the netherworld in the off season, and in order to bring Baal up from the netherworld and initiate the fertile rainy season, orgies were held that included human sacrifice and sexual rites. Ahab’s depravity deepened Israel’s sin.

During the reign of Ahab, Hiel of Bethel rebuilt Jericho. Now, Jericho was destroyed when Israel, led by Joshua, entered into the land of Canaan. It was a great stronghold, but God caused the walls of Jericho to fall down, by having the army of Israel just marching around the city blowing trumpets. After the city was conquered, Joshua proclaimed a curse, “Cursed before the Lord is the one who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho: ‘At the cost of his firstborn son he will lay its foundations; at the cost of his youngest he will set up its gates.’” (Joshua 6:26) So when Hiel rebuilt the city, the cost of laying the foundations was his firstborn son Abiram and when he set up the gates the cost was his youngest son Segub. It is not clear that Abiram and Segub were working on the construction and died on the job, or they may have actually been sacrificed to have the stages of construction blessed by certain pagan gods. If that was the case, Hiel’s sons may have been made a part of the foundations in order to appease those gods. At any rate, it was more important to rebuild Jericho for Hiel than his own sons, because he either sacrificed them or didn’t heed Joshua’s warning.

In this passage, you can see a chain of sin that starts with Jeroboam. Each of the kings of Israel in this passage followed in the sins of Jeroboam, and those sins led to so much blood. It was like the northern kingdom was under a curse that they were not able to get out from underneath. There were four different dynasties. Baasha and Zimri wiped out the previous king’s family altogether. There was not a trace of the previous dynasty, except in the sins of Jeroboam. Not only did the worship of calves continue, in a way the resembled worship of God, but also Ahab implemented all out pagan worship in the form of Baal and Ashtoreth. The curse worsened down the generations until depravity knew no bounds. The sins of Jeroboam were trivial. Ahab had to invent new ways of sinning against God, because prostituting himself to the calves wasn’t enough. And poor Abiram and Segub. They were treated like nails or mortar in the construction of Jericho. Their lives were meaningless to their father. It doesn’t look like there is any light in the dark times in the north.

That might sound a little familiar. Each of us is probably feeling like their own lives are cursed and it is only getting darker as time moves forward. It might be a generational curse like we see here, where we inherit the sins of the older generation. This happens in a number of ways. There are some families that have a history of alcoholism, where nearly every man in the family becomes a drunkard. It’s a curse and it looks like there is no way out. Even if someone despises drinking, it can still grow to be a crutch to dull the pain of life and dependency ensues. The same can be said for drug abuse. Children can see their parents abusing drugs and fall into the trap themselves. Pretty much every family has some curse that afflicts it. For some it is womanizing and infidelity, for others it is lust for money or anger management issues or medical issues or chronic fear or loneliness or lack of self worth or depression or any number of issues that seem beyond our control. Whether the curses have been passed down from generation to generation or the curse begins with us, we can be afraid of passing them down to the next generation and we can try everything in our power to break the chain that ties us down, but no matter what we try we end up being just like our parents. As I have gotten older, I can see that in many ways, I am just like my parents, whether I like it or not. How many times have you thought that you sound like your mother or father? These curses can weigh on our hearts and it can really feel like nothing can ever change. The harder we try to be different, the more we end up the same. If that is the case, then what hope is there in ever changing? What hope is there in breaking the curse? There is nothing that we can do to change the curse. It will only get worse and worse. People will be hurt. Blood will be spilled and tears will be shed. We are confined, caged, by our sins: imprisoned in our minds and bodies because of the past. Where is our freedom? I don’t want to be held captive by my anger and lack of self worth. I don’t want them to infect my wife and children. What can we do? Who will save us from this fate?

The answer is that Jesus came to save us. Jesus came to save us from our sins and break the chain of the curse. Curses lead to blood and tears, but Jesus became that blood and tears on the cross. No more blood has to be spilled because of our curses because Jesus’ blood was spilled on the cross. The nails that shattered the bones in Jesus’ body also shattered the chains that tie our sins to the past. When Jesus rose from the dead three days later, we have a promise of a new life. After the chain of sin is broken, we don’t have to reform the link that was broken. Jesus’ resurrection a new life: a way to start over free of the curse of the past. We are liberated and there is no more to do because as Jesus hung on the cross he proclaimed that it is finished and that there is no more to do. “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:4-11)

Because Jesus lives, we are dead to the sin that once bound us and have a life free from slavery. The body ruled by sin has been done away with and whatever curse we are dealing with is lifted. We are no longer subject to the curse because we are subject to God and God is in control of everything. Remember, the curse in Israel existed because the kings continued to reject God, but accepting Jesus into our hearts and lives, we bring God in and the curse is lifted. The pain and hopelessness of whatever curses us can end. It doesn’t have to be that way any more. As the hymn we sang before I began to speak says, “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow, Because He lives, all fear is gone; Because I know He holds the future, And life is worth the living, Just because He lives!” Jesus is the only counter-curse. Jesus is the only way to break the chain of sin that perpetuates from one generation to the next. No matter what we do, it will not be broken, but because of what he did, it already is.

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I Will Spare Them No Longer

Amos 7:1-9

Key Verse: 7:8b

And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said,

  “Behold, I am setting a plumb line
    in the midst of my people Israel;
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