A Time for Grace, a Time for Judgment
A sermon on 1 Kings 13 and 14 by Coty Pinckney, Community Bible Church, Williamstown, MA 11/12/00
How will people remember you after you die? Do you ever think of that? I’m not being morbid – unless Jesus comes back in the next 100 years or so, all of us here this morning will die. And what will our children and friends and colleagues and acquaintances think of us? What impact will we have had on their lives?
Or will they say, “He had a huge impact on my life – a destructive one. He led me into this particular sin.”
Last week we began a brief study of the life of Jeroboam, the first king of the northern kingdom of Israel. Jeroboam was a man of many natural talents, and God chose him for a tremendously important purpose. God promised to be with him, and to give him a dynasty as enduring as that of David if Jeroboam would walk in God’s ways and obey His commandments. And we saw that God did not require perfection from Jeroboam, but a heart like David’s, a heart that would repent and seek God’s mercy when confronted with its own sinfulness.
We saw last week that God Himself exalted Jeroboam and made him king. God had His servant Ahijah the prophet predict that this would happen years ahead of time, and then God brought it about by His miraculous power – Jeroboam did not become king through his cleverness or his abilities.
But then Jeroboam turns his back on God. Afraid that the people will lose their loyalty to him if they travel to the southern kingdom of Judah to offer sacrifices and attend festivals at the temple in Jerusalem, he sets up worship centers in his own kingdom – expressly violating God’s commandments. Jeroboam does not so much reject God outright as he twists the worship of God, letting pragmatic considerations govern his religious observances. And we saw last week that we face some similar pragmatic considerations today, and must be careful not to follow Jeroboam’s lead.
What was Jeroboam’s legacy? Every king of Israel after Jeroboam is said to have “walked in all the ways of Jeroboam son of Nebat and in his sin, which he had caused Israel to commit.” We remember Jeroboam not for the legacy of his talents or accomplishments, but for the legacy of his sin.
How tragic! How terrible to be remembered as the one who led others into sin!
In today’s text, we see that God does not zap Jeroboam after he creates the golden calves. Instead, God reaches out to Jeroboam, in a way that has many parallels with His reaching out to David by Nathan the prophet. God shows Jeroboam his sin, shows him the consequences of continuing in the path he is walking – and shows that He is a God who answers prayer, a God who heals, a God who will forgive. But Jeroboam rejects God’s grace – and then, later in his life, in a moment of personal tragedy when he seeks prophecy from God, he hears not grace but judgment. And Jeroboam’s legacy of sin is all that is left.
My friends, this is a sobering story, a story that God brought you here this morning to hear. There are no accidents in God’s plan. You are here this morning by His will, to hear this His word proclaimed to you. As we consider this man’s tragic life, ask yourself two sets of questions:
We’ll consider today’s text under only two headings: The Offer of Grace and the Certainty of Judgment.
Recall that Jeroboam has set up one of his golden calves at Bethel, in the southern part of his kingdom, only a dozen or so miles from the border with the kingdom of Judah. Recall also that Jeroboam had wrongly set himself up as priest:
1 ¶ Now behold, there came a man of God from Judah to Bethel by the word of the LORD, while Jeroboam was standing by the altar to burn incense. 2 And he cried against the altar by the word of the LORD, and said, "O altar, altar, thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name; and on you he shall sacrifice the priests of the high places who burn incense on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.’" 3 Then he gave a sign the same day, saying, "This is the sign which the LORD has spoken, ‘Behold, the altar shall be split apart and the ashes which are on it shall be poured out.’" (1 Kings 13:1-3 NASB)
Note that the prophet proclaims judgment against the altar; he does not at this time proclaim judgment against Jeroboam. Now, Jeroboam commanded that the altar be made – but God is not yet condemning Jeroboam.
This prophecy against the altar is fulfilled completely about 300 years later, when Josiah, king of Judah, completely destroys and desecrates the altar. (You can read about this in 2 Kings 23). Think about that: God through Ahijah names the king who will desecrate the altar 300 years before it happens. I can’t even give you the name of the president of the US in 2002, much less in 2302. But God not only prophesies the name of the king, He tells us of one of his actions.
4 Now it came about when the king heard the saying of the man of God, which he cried against the altar in Bethel, that Jeroboam stretched out his hand from the altar, saying, "Seize him." But his hand which he stretched out against him dried up, so that he could not draw it back to himself. 5 The altar also was split apart and the ashes were poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the word of the LORD. 6 And the king answered and said to the man of God, "Please entreat the LORD your God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored to me." So the man of God entreated the LORD, and the king’s hand was restored to him, and it became as it was before.
Imagine the scene: The king is standing at the altar, performing this supposedly sacred duty. The occasion is solemn, serious. And right at the most important moment, this prophet barges in, denouncing the entire proceeding. I’ve tried to think of what the equivalent action would be in this country. While the parallel is not perfect, think of the President of the US standing up to address a joint session of Congress to deliver his State of the Union message. Right when the President stands to speak, when there should be applause from both sides of the aisle, some person breaks through security and rushes to the front. He shouts in a loud voice, “God is calling judgment down on this nation and this building for all the evil done here. God will utterly destroy this Capitol building!”
What would the President do? Probably something like Jeroboam: “Seize him!”
So understand that this was an audacious act – and a dangerous act. Surely this prophet knew he was risking his life by carrying out God’s command.
Jeroboam sees this as a threat to his kingdom, so he calls for the arrest of the prophet. As soon as he does so, his arm shrivels up. And the altar splits in two.
So God in His mercy and grace provides Jeroboam with two miracles – clear evidence that the prophet speaks by God’s command. And as we mentioned, God has not condemned Jeroboam personally; the king now has an opportunity to acknowledge that God’s judgment is right, that he has sinned; he has an opportunity to repent, to walk in God’s ways, and to become the kind of king God intended him to be.
But Jeroboam doesn’t do that. Instead, how does he respond?
“Please, pray for me!” (that’s ok so far . . .) “that my hand may be restored to me.”
And Jeroboam asks for no more from God! He only wants His hand healed! Here he is, in gross violation of God’s commands, leading God’s people away from Him. God mercifully reaches out, sending His prophet to proclaim judgment against the altar, and to perform miracles – yet Jeroboam only asks to have his hand healed.
How often do we do the same! Jeroboam needed to ask for forgiveness, he needed to turn in repentance for what he had done. He needed to say, “Lord, you exalted me above all men in making me king, and look how I have turned against you. Forgive me in your mercy, and enable me to walk according to your commands!”
Does God want us to go to him with all types of requests? By all means. But remember the greatest requests – don’t be like Jeroboam and ask only about the minor matters, forgetting those things that are of most importance. For in the end – at the final judgment -- physical health, presidential elections, jobs, marriages, safety in travel, and all the other things we spend so much time praying for matter not one whit. What matters is the glory of God, and our spreading a passion for that glory.
7 Then the king said to the man of God, "Come home with me and refresh yourself, and I will give you a reward." 8 But the man of God said to the king, "If you were to give me half your house I would not go with you, nor would I eat bread or drink water in this place. 9 "For so it was commanded me by the word of the LORD, saying, ‘You shall eat no bread, nor drink water, nor return by the way which you came.’" 10 So he went another way, and did not return by the way which he came to Bethel.
Now what does the king do? Jeroboam (a) tries to spin this to his political advantage and (b) tries to buy off the prophet’s and God’s good favor. Astounding! Instead of throwing himself on God’s mercy, He tries to buy God off! He tries to change his status from condemned lawbreaker to major donor, from God’s enemy to God’s patron. He tries to become number one on the list of donors to the temple.
God just went to great lengths to remind him that his security lay in God alone, that God had put him in office and God remains his only hope. But Jeroboam thinks he has something to offer God.
Once again, aren’t we tempted to do the same? Friends, God doesn’t want our money if He doesn’t have our hearts. God is the source of all that we need, and we honor Him by receiving from Him, by acknowledging that everything we have, all that we own and our very lives, are gifts from him. When will we see that whatever we give and whatever good we do is His work, accomplished by His power in us?
The prophet refuses Jeroboam’s offer, having received explicit instructions from God: “Go to the northern kingdom, to Bethel, proclaim my judgment, and go back.” But in verses 11 to 32 we find that the prophet allows himself to be distracted from his task by an elderly man who in times past had served as a prophet of God. This elderly man lies to the younger prophet, telling him that God instructed him to bring the young prophet home. God then has a lion kill the young prophet because of his disobedience.
This is a further warning to Jeroboam: if God did not spare this man whom he used mightily for His purposes, when he only disobeyed instructions about stopping along the way, why does Jeroboam think God will spare Him if he continues to violate God’s law?
In summary, this entire chapter displays God’s grace, His offer of mercy to Jeroboam. Like Nathan going to David after the sin with Bathsheba, God sends this man to Jeroboam. And God performs four miracles to drive the message home: the destruction of the altar, the shriveling of Jeroboam’s hand, the healing of his hand, and the killing of the prophet. God confronts Jeroboam with the evil of his ways and the necessity of repentance to avoid condemnation. How does Jeroboam respond? Let’s read verses 33 and 34:
33 Even after this, Jeroboam did not change his evil ways, but once more appointed priests for the high places from all sorts of people. Anyone who wanted to become a priest he consecrated for the high places. 34 This was the sin of the house of Jeroboam that led to its downfall and to its destruction from the face of the earth. (NIV)
God proclaims the coming judgment, but Jeroboam ignores God and continues in his evil ways.
Sometimes we are told not to preach about sin and judgment, in order not to offend people. “Just help people to feel better about themselves, assist them in having a positive self-image.” But given the reality of judgment, such preaching would not be merciful at all. The most merciful thing you can do for someone who is headed for destruction is to give him warning.
If your neighbor is driving his car 60 miles an hour, and you know that a bridge has collapsed only ¼ mile away, shouldn’t you warn him? Shouldn’t you tell him he’s headed for certain destruction unless he changes course, soon? Isn’t that the most caring, the most loving, the most merciful thing you can do?
Just so, we must proclaim God’s judgment “from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men.” (Romans 1:18) And it is merciful and loving to do so.
But Jeroboam doesn’t respond to God’s mercy. Consequently, God’s next words to Jeroboam are no longer judgments against the altar, but against him. Let’s read this entire sad story, verses 1-18 of chapter 14:
1 ¶ At that time Abijah the son of Jeroboam became sick. 2 And Jeroboam said to his wife, "Arise now, and disguise yourself so that they may not know that you are the wife of Jeroboam, and go to Shiloh; behold, Ahijah the prophet is there, who spoke concerning me that I would be king over this people. 3 "And take ten loaves with you, some cakes and a jar of honey, and go to him. He will tell you what will happen to the boy." 4 And Jeroboam’s wife did so, and arose and went to Shiloh, and came to the house of Ahijah. Now Ahijah could not see, for his eyes were dim because of his age. 5 Now the LORD had said to Ahijah, "Behold, the wife of Jeroboam is coming to inquire of you concerning her son, for he is sick. You shall say thus and thus to her, for it will be when she arrives that she will pretend to be another woman." 6 And it came about when Ahijah heard the sound of her feet coming in the doorway, that he said, "Come in, wife of Jeroboam, why do you pretend to be another woman? For I am sent to you with a harsh message.
7 ¶ "Go, say to Jeroboam, ‘Thus says the LORD God of Israel, "Because I exalted you from among the people and made you leader over My people Israel, 8 and tore the kingdom away from the house of David and gave it to you—yet you have not been like My servant David, who kept My commandments and who followed Me with all his heart, to do only that which was right in My sight; 9 you also have done more evil than all who were before you, and have gone and made for yourself other gods and molten images to provoke Me to anger, and have cast Me behind your back— 10 therefore behold, I am bringing calamity on the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam every male person, both bond and free in Israel, and I will make a clean sweep of the house of Jeroboam, as one sweeps away dung until it is all gone. 11 "Anyone belonging to Jeroboam who dies in the city the dogs will eat. And he who dies in the field the birds of the heavens will eat; for the LORD has spoken it."‘ 12 "Now you arise, go to your house. When your feet enter the city the child will die. 13 "And all Israel shall mourn for him and bury him, for he alone of Jeroboam’s family shall come to the grave, because in him something good was found toward the LORD God of Israel in the house of Jeroboam. 14 "Moreover, the LORD will raise up for Himself a king over Israel who shall cut off the house of Jeroboam this day and from now on. 15 "For the LORD will strike Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water; and He will uproot Israel from this good land which He gave to their fathers, and will scatter them beyond the Euphrates River, because they have made their Asherim, provoking the LORD to anger. 16 "And He will give up Israel on account of the sins of Jeroboam, which he committed and with which he made Israel to sin." 17 Then Jeroboam’s wife arose and departed and came to Tirzah. As she was entering the threshold of the house, the child died. 18 And all Israel buried him and mourned for him, according to the word of the LORD which He spoke through His servant Ahijah the prophet.
Did you note the name of Jeroboam’s son? “Abijah” is a name honoring Yahweh, Jehovah, the God of Israel. The name means “Yahweh is my father.” This is more evidence that Jeroboam still maintained that he was following the God of Israel, just in his own way. Indeed, he might very well have argued that he did not turn to foreign gods, as did Solomon, but just brought the worship of God up to date, acknowledging the present political situation.
But now this son, his heir, whom he loves, is sick, and looks like he might die. Now, where does Jeroboam seek help? From the priests he himself ordained? From the places of worship he has set up? No. He seeks out the very man who proclaimed that he would become king.
Yet while he seeks supernatural knowledge from this man, he thinks he can deceive him by dressing up his wife! And note that the prophet is blind! He can’t even see the disguise! Further, Jeroboam never learned the lesson of chapter 13: he still tries to buy off God, this time with a few loaves of bread.
Don’t we do the same as Jeroboam and his wife? Don’t some of us pretend to be Christians, going through all the motions, trying to deceive others, trying to deceive God. All the time our hearts are set on this world, desiring its pleasures and comforts. We turn to Him in times of crisis, like Jeroboam. “Oh, here God, take this gift and help me, help me, help me! Heal this disease, give me a job, cure this hangnail.” But we don’t desire to be made holy. We don’t desire to glorify God at all times and in all ways. We want a genie from a bottle to grant us three wishes, not the holy and righteous and almighty God of the universe.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones says this:
What fools we are! And how clever we think we are! We persuade ourselves that we can play fast and loose with God’s laws, and live our lives as we think fit. And then in a time of crisis we put on an anxious face, and shed our hypocritical tears, we don our mask of sanctimoniousness and holiness and take a little present to God and ask his help. And we really believe it will work. We persuade ourselves that we can go on in our own way right through our lives and then just turn to God at the end when we need him very badly. How we imagine that we can fool God! . . . We confess him to be the Almighty, the Absolute, and yet we think we can deceive him!
So Jeroboam’s wife arrives, thinking how clever she and her husband are. What are Ahijah’s first words to her: “Come in, wife of Jeroboam, why do you pretend to be another woman? For I am sent to you with a harsh message.”
Who is sent to whom? Jeroboam’s wife thinks she is sent by her husband, but God is in control. She came by God’s appointment, and Ahijah is the messenger, not Jeroboam’s wife.
Verses 7 to 16 recording Jeroboam’s sin, its impact on his country, and God’s judgment on that sin are among the saddest verses in Scripture. God’s chosen leader, promised great blessings if he would acknowledge God and walk in His ways, has instead ignored God. Think how Jeroboam dishonored God! God cries out through his prophet:
Oh my friends, how terrible it is for us to cast God behind our backs! The book of Hebrews tells us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus; yet how often we, like Jeroboam, put God behind us, and live our lives as if He did not exist. Oh, we keep Him close by to pull him out in times of crisis; but for so many of us, for most of our lives, God is safely tucked behind us. God belongs out front, so that we may acknowledge Him and depend upon him every step we take.
One of Jeroboam’s sins is consecrating his own priests. Do you remember the ritual God set up for the ordination of priests in Leviticus 8? At one point, the blood of the sacrifice is put on the ear, the thumb, and the big toe of the priest, signifying that they are to hear the word of God as people who are redeemed; they are to work, knowing that all the good they do is accomplished only by God’s power; they are to walk, to live their lives by God’s mercy and for God’s glory (see sermon). So understand: Jeroboam violated both the symbol and the reality of the consecrated priesthood. He named priests and performed the task of a priest, but he pushed God out of the way, behind his back, for his own convenience.
So God states in verse 10 “I will make a clean sweep of the house of Jeroboam, as one sweeps away dung until it is all gone.” Only two years after Jeroboam’s death, his son is assassinated, and the new king wipes out all of Jeroboam’s descendants. God had promised him a dynasty as enduring as that of David, if he would follow Him; instead, his lasts 24 years.
But the judgment goes even deeper. Jeroboam has a legacy, an impact on others. His nation, all the northern tribes of Israel, 10 of the 12 tribes, suffers judgment too. There are three levels of judgment contained in verses 15 and 16. God says He will:
The uprooting is still 200 years off; but the impact of Jeroboam’s sin makes it certain. And can there be more painful words than “He will give Israel up”?
In the event, all this comes to pass. In 2 Kings 17, after recording the destruction of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians and the scattering of the ten tribes, the chronicler places the blame squarely on Jeroboam, who “drove Israel away from following the Lord.” That is Jeroboam’s legacy.
Some of you have come this morning like Jeroboam’s wife, pretending to be something you’re not. Some of you, like Jeroboam, are trifling with Christianity, saying you believe in God, saying Jesus is your Lord, but putting Him behind your back. Only in tragedies do you turn to Him, crying out “Yes, I’m your child, help me! Help me!”
I am here this morning to warn you: Do not trifle with God. Do not play these games. Do you really think your attempt to play-act Christianity will be any more successful than the disguise of Jeroboam’s wife? You may fool your neighbors, you may fool the person sitting next to you this morning, you may fool me – but God knows your heart. Do not test the Lord your God – do not plan to turn to Him sometime in the future. For God may take your life at any moment. Even today, driving home from church. Don’t count on a delay, my friend.
Paul tells us:
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 The one who sows to please his own flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; (Galatians 6:7,8)
God offers you the free gift of salvation. He promised Jeroboam that He would be with him – Jesus promises us that He himself will be in us, that He will replace our heart of stone with a heart of flesh, that we will not live ourselves, but Christ will live in us.
Furthermore, John tells us that
God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie (1 John 1:5,6)
Are you trifling with God? Are you claiming to have fellowship with Him, yet the pattern of your life is one of sin? Are you rejecting his Lordship over you – in the way you spend your time, in the way you spend your money, in your career choice, in your desires and thoughts?
My friends, I plead with you: Do not be deceived! You cannot mock God! Cry out for mercy, admit to God that you are worthy of an eternity in hell, and ask Him for a new heart, a heart of flesh; ask Him to make you a new creation, beg Him to give you Himself. For a broken and contrite heart, God will never despise.
And then the remainder of Galatians 6:8 will be true of you:
The one who sows to please his own flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
Eternal life – Life in God’s presence, seeing Him face to face, seeing His delight in you. For God promises His people that they will become His delight.
Some of us here this morning really do have that heart of flesh within us – God has performed His miracle of the new birth within us – but right now your legacy is more like Jeroboam’s than David’s. Whether you realize it our not, you will have a legacy. What kind of legacy are you creating? How will people remember you after you die? Those who look up to you – and all of us have people who look up to us – What are they learning from you? What do your actions (more than your words) teach them?
Or, on the other hand, are they learning that money and the pleasures of this life are more important than anything else? Are they learning that sports and careers and entertainment are worth much more time and energy than feeding on God’s word, fellowshipping with His people, and showing His love to those who so desperately need it?
My dear ones, I hold out before you life and death; a legacy of radical discipleship or a legacy of leading others into sin. Jeroboam chose to walk in sin – to the destruction of his nation, his family, and himself. What will you choose?
This sermon was preached at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA on 11/12/00. The quote from Martyn Lloyd-Jones is from his excellent sermon on Jeroboam, found in Old Testament Evangelistic Sermons (Banner of Truth, 1995). I also profited from reading Dave Roper’s sermon.
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