It was ultimately laziness that fed into Israel’s syncretism. God had ordained a place for them to worship (Exodus 25-40), but after the kingdom split they felt that worshiping God in the ordained way was too much trouble. So they sacrificed in places other than where God wanted (14.4; 15.35). They also worshiped any old way they chose, rather than the specific ways ordained by God (Leviticus 1-27). They decided to build their own altars, rather than employ the one designed by God Himself (16.10-17). Over time, by preferring their own place and method of worship rather than God’s, they slid right into the same sins as the Canaanites—including even child sacrifice (16.3; 17.16-18)! They probably thought they were still in good standing with God due to their desire to “keep Him around” for a bit on their own terms (17.33), but this was syncretism—the mixture of YHWH-worship with other forms of worship. This was a violation of the first commandment of God’s Law. By contrast, the faithful among His people still trusted God, and refused to compromise with syncretism (18.5-7).
We are surrounded on every side by the temptation to compromise. The comfort in which we live is conducive to laziness and inertia. Why rouse ourselves from our sleepy Saturday morning, for example, to go evangelize the neighborhood in our community? Why go to church if we don’t feel up to it? Why, we could worship God right there in our own homes, rather than prioritize the physical, enfleshed gathering of His people the way He intended. Our comfort has led to our laziness, and our laziness has led to syncretism in the American church. We keep God around in case of emergencies, but our devotion is really for us, not Him. We serve Him when it becomes absolutely necessary; in times of comfort, we serve ourselves. Is it any wonder that the American church now wrestles with the same abominable sins that the Ephesian-type American culture has? We are largely syncretists now.
What about you? The challenge of this reading today is to be more like Hezekiah, who “trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel” (18.5). Are you prepared to hold fast to Him in times of both comfort and suffering? Are you prepared to not depart from His ways of worship, rather than indulge your own? Are you prepared to maintain the spiritual discipline of the mature and faithful, rather than the syncretistic pseudo-worship of the lazy? The contrast between the two is obvious in these readings.
The influence of Ahab and Jezebel was far-reaching. The worship of YHWH had been marginalized, and the worship of Baal was prominent in the land. Violence and lack of respect for human life reigned supreme because of them. And by Elijah the prophet, God had promised that He would have justice on them for the innocent blood they had shed and the apostasy they had modeled. The chapters in today’s readings show an awful lot of palace intrigue, assassinations, plottings, wars, uprisings, and human machinations—but it is God’s word that ultimately comes true. Justice comes to the house of Ahab and Jezebel, and it comes at God’s command. The humans in this story, like Jehu, almost seem like chess pieces, being moved around to fulfill the will of God. Though the people in this story plot and move, yet it is God Who is sovereign and keeps His word. Everything that He had said would be true turns out to be true.
He is still the God Who keeps His word. What He says, He will do. Regardless of the chaos around us, He is still moving the chess pieces of our destiny. No matter how desperate or mystifying the scene around us is—or how much plotting and activity seems beyond our control—He is yet on the throne. He is the Sovereign God, and what He says comes true every single time.
Do you trust Him? Do you trust that He will do as He has promised?
As we are introduced to the ministry of Elisha, we see a predominant theme of the Bible emphasized powerfully in the actions of the prophet. God demonstrates His power to people, and not as some sideshow: He acts with a purpose of drawing men to Himself. He provides for the widow who is on the brink of starvation (4.1-7), then provides the social validation of a child for the Shunammite woman (4.8-17). When death tragically strikes the child, God provides life to the child and gives him back to his mother (4.18-37). God also heals spectacularly: He heals the deadly water (2.19-22) and the poisoned stew (4.38-44). He heals the foreigner Naaman of his leprosy (5.1-17), and refuses to profit from it—but Gehazi the assistant discovers the “prosperity gospel” by trying to gain financially from this powerful conversion that he has witnessed. And ultimately, when the enemy seeks to destroy the man of God specifically so that Israel might be victimized, God delivers him and his servant with spectacular power (6.8-23). We notice with Naaman’s healing that there was a powerful outcome: he converted from paganism to YHWH-worship (5.15). After everyone realizes that the armies of heaven are guarding the man of God, the foreign kings who wanted to do damage to him change their minds about attacking Israel. Truly, His power brings men to him.
In our western culture, we have a hard time believing in God the way these folks did. But He is the same God, and hasn’t changed one bit. He still delivers His people. He still heals His people. He still provides for His people. And people see His mighty intervention and change their minds about their own pride and self-reliance. Truly, there are more with us than there are with the enemy. We are guarded on every side by the hosts of heaven. We are provided for, healed of our sicknesses, and delivered from our enemies.
If you know this, then there is only one reaction to your momentary troubles, and it is the command given by the prophet to his servant in 6.16: “Do not be afraid.” Know Who your God is, and believe that He is able. He is the turning the hearts of His people back to Him, and you are one of those people. Trust Him and His mighty power today.
As the people of God descend into deeper depths of self-serving sin, God speaks to them through His prophets. A prophet, simply put, is one who speaks for God in some sense. And prophets learn how to discern His voice; Elijah learned how to hear God during his time of adversity by the brook Cherith (17.1-7). He had learned to prioritize it over all other things (17.13; 19). But even he vacillated between strong faith and fear, and had to be encouraged and reminded of Who was in charge (19.3). The man who had called out the prophets of Baal in a great cosmic showdown on top of Mount Carmel was hiding in a mountain, fearing for his life. He had to be encouraged that his big fear (that he was the only YHWH-worshiper left in Israel) wasn’t true (19.18).
Everyone needs encouragement. We all, when faced with the troubles of life, tend to forget that nothing is too difficult for our God. We speak the words, but doubt their truth in our hearts. We vacillate from strong faith one day to paralyzing fear the next. It happens. But God sends encouragement our way: He reminds us that His word is true, not our fears. Fear is never from God; it is from the other guy. His word is true, even when circumstances seem to shout louder….the still small voice of the living God is still spurring us onward.
There are two kinds of people: those who need encouragement today, and those who will need it tomorrow. If you are encouraged today, encourage someone else! Whom do you know who needs encouragement today? Speak words of faith to them. Perhaps it is you. Remember that the Lord’s word is to be prioritized, not the fear that argues with it.
Today’s readings are a sadder collection; they invite a comparison. Young Solomon the faithful adherent to the word of the Lord contrasts mightily with older Solomon the distracted, lecherous old man. The nation of Israel, united and strong and faithful, is contrasted with the split kingdom, its countryside littered with idols. Among the many lessons in this history is the oldest lesson of mankind: a turn to the Self is a turn away from God. Read the words of the faithful servant of God Solomon in 8.61, urging the people to be faithful and wholly true to the Lord their God; now read of how his desire to satiate his lust for women led him down a terrible path of idolatry. Read how Jeroboam’s greed to hang on to the ten tribes of Israel caused him to lead the whole country down the path of idolatry (12.25-30). When these men turn away from wholly following God, they embark on a road to their own disaster—and they drag the nation down with them.
As Solomon himself said, there is no man anywhere who does not sin (8.46). But is our attitude toward sin confession, repentance and trust in the Lord? Or is our attitude toward sin more along the lines of indulgence and sloth? David confessed his sin, turned from it, and trusted in God. Solomon wallowed in his. To “wholly be true to God” is to embrace the truth of our own fallenness and the His redemption. To take lightly His redemption in our lives is to build high places in the mountains of our minds and sacrifice to them. We are called to continually turn away from the Self and toward God; anything less is sin.
For Whom do you live your life today? After Whom are you fully following? To Whom are you being true? Is it you and your appetites, or the Lord and His word?
Though the opponent tries other plans, God establishes Solomon in the throne over His people. Even when it looks like some usurper has come to take what God has promised, God delivers. And in these seven chapters, we see God’s people, including the ruler of His choice, well-established. David himself had credited God with having seen him through all adversity (1.29), and Solomon also sees it that way (2.24). In all things, God had established the work of their hands. Throughout David’s reign, God had crushed all the enemies to His people. Now, with no enemies left, survival is no longer the rule of the day for Solomon and Israel. Instead, God establishes him in time and place and blesses the nation with greatness, safety and provision. They have fruitful alliances and are protected on all sides. In short, He has established Solomon (1.38-40) and established Israel (4.20-34). When that is finished, He establishes His house (6-7), for God is concerned with the time and place of worship.
God is still the Establisher. We work hard, we are diligent and we often think that good things are owed to us in one way or another. But truly it is only God Who establishes us. As with David, God fights for us and crushes our enemies. The battle is His, not ours. And He also establishes us in prosperity—“prosperity” being defined as “having what we need when we need it.” He is the Establisher of our successes, our safety, and our provision. He is the Establisher of our health. He is the Establisher of our careers and our wealth and our ability to do the ministries that He has called us to do, just like Solomon.
He is YOUR Establisher. Trust Him as He provides a path for you.
As 2 Samuel comes to a close, the central theme of the work is underscored by the work of YHWH in David’s life into his old age. When Absalom leads a rebellion against David, many of the people side with him, and the king’s life is in danger. But God ordained historical events in such a way as to help David even in this time of distress (17.14). When once again the kingdom is restored to him, he endures yet another rebellion –this time from Sheba—and once again God delivers him from this potential catastrophe as well (20). Well into his old age, David is consistently delivered from harm by the God Who steadfastly preserved him. This is the inspiration behind the famous poem that David writes, and which the author of 2 Samuel quotes: “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, y stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praise, and I am saved from my enemies” (22.2-3). Through everything, God preserves David, guards his steps, guides him into his destiny, and restores to him what is lost in rebellion. What made David a hero of righteousness wasn’t his natural goodness; he was an adulterer, a man of violence, and one given to yielding to temptation. Rather, it was the consistent tendency to trust in God over anyone or anything else (24.14). Thus he exemplified the very definition of biblical righteousness.
David makes it look easy, but it’s not. Life can come at you pretty hard, and when it does the difficulty of trusting a God you cannot see is a challenge. We still have to live through these challenges, but we are helped by the God Who created us and delivers us. He has marked our steps. He has directed our feet so that we don’t fall. He has brought us out into a spacious place. He has defeated our enemies. Perhaps it doesn’t feel so “past tense” right now if you are going through such a challenge, but it is no less true. The God of David is your God, too.
Which Goliath/Saul/Absalom/Sheba/Philistine comes at you with weapons drawn? Remember that you come against these enemies in the name of the living God, and He is the one Who gives victory.