What's the dumbest thing you've ever done?
I've got a problem with putting myself into positions I can't get out of. When I was in infant school we visited friends with a toddler and I sqeezed myself into his toy car. I took up every inch of space in that car, everyone thought it was hilarious, and Mum even stopped to take a picture – but I couldn't get out. Dad had to pull me out and it hurt. But I didn't learn my lesson - at the end of Primary school I tried to impress everyone by climbing a tree no one else could climb. An hour later when I was still stuck up there I realised it hadn't really worked. When I was at uni I managed to get stuck in an opening in the trunk of a tree… my friends literally had to pull me back out by my legs. A couple of weeks ago I almost managed to repeat that showing Laurie how to climb through a climbing frame.
I don't know why I keep repeated the same dumb thing, but there you go, stupid is as stupid does I suppose. What about you? What's the dumbest thing you've ever done?
This morning we're going to hold up the mirror of 2 Kings and see the dumbest thing of all is to rebel against the God who made us.
We're looking at 2 Kings 23 and 24, page 279 if you've not got it open, and we've called this 'The Rush to Ruin', and that's also the title of my first point. So let's get stuck into that now -
The Rush to Ruin
IsraelleftEgyptunder Moses around 1450 BC, and entered the promised land around 1410. 2 Kings 23 and 24 cover the years 610 – 587 BC and bring the story up to the very brink of the end. Things have been precariously placed for a while, and since King Manasseh (2 Kings 21, 695 BC – 640) the threat of judgment has been hanging over them. Last two weeks we've followed the late recovery of faith under Josiah. But in these chapters all Josiah's good work is completely undone by his three sons and grandson.
The action can be hard to follow so let me just summarise it for you with some select verses, follow along in the blue bibles as I read them starting at 23.31…
31Jehoahaz was twenty-three years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem for three months…
32 He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, just as his fathers had done. 33 Pharaoh Neco put him in chains … and …
34 Pharaoh Neco made Eliakim son of Josiah king … and changed Eliakim's name to Jehoiakim.
36 Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem for eleven years…
37 And he did evil in the eyes of the LORD, just as his fathers had done.
During Jehoiakim's reign, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon invaded the land, and Jehoiakim became his vassal for three years. But then he changed his mind and rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar. 2 The LORD sent Babylonian, Aramean, Moabite and Ammonite raiders against him. He sent them to destroy Judah, in accordance with the word of the LORD proclaimed by his servants the prophets...
6 Jehoiakim rested with his fathers. And Jehoiachin his son succeeded him as king…
8 Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem for three months…
9 He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father had done. 10 At that time the officers of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon advanced on Jerusalem and laid siege to it, 11 and Nebuchadnezzar himself came up to the city while his officers were besieging it. 12 Jehoiachin king of Judah…surrendered to him …
Nebuchadnezzar carried into exile all Jerusalem: all the officers and fighting men, and all the craftsmen and artisans--a total of ten thousand. Only the poorest people of the land were left. 15 Nebuchadnezzar took Jehoiachin captive to Babylon. He also took from Jerusalem to Babylon the king's mother, his wives, his officials and the leading men of the land. 16 The king of Babylon also deported to Babylon the entire force of seven thousand fighting men, strong and fit for war, and a thousand craftsmen and artisans. 17 He made Mattaniah, Jehoiachin's uncle, king in his place and changed his name to Zedekiah. 18 Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem for eleven years. …
19 He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, just as Jehoiakim had done.
So, essentially we have three sons of Josiah and one grandson, all rotten, all doing evil in the eyes of the LORD, just as their fathers (ancestors) had done. On their watchJudahwas taken over bit by bit. They are conquered Pharaoh, then by the King of Babylon. By the end of chapter 24 there's still a King in Jerusalem and Judah remains a nation, but it's a pathetic rump, the best and brightest have been deported and the King is a mere puppet.
And the story is rushing to it's end. It's like the river picking up pace just before the waterfall – things have been meandering along, generations have come and gone, there's been some good and many bad Kings. Now suddenly they've passed the point of no return and everything starts accelerating towards the edge…Jerusalemis going over and thing's speed up as they get ever closer, everything the kings do brings that final catastrophe closer.
And with brutal and stark simplicity it all comes down to this – God brings the judgment they deserve. God has been patient for all those year – 850 long years – sinceIsraelfirst rebelled on the way out ofEgypt. Finally God's patience runs out.
Verse 20 says 'it was because of the Lord's anger that all this happened toJerusalemandJudah, and in the end he thrust them out of his presence.' They abandoned God, the source of every good thing, and in the end they God abandoned them. They ran from him and they lost the privileges of being his – like Adam and Eve removed from the gardenJudahis being removed from God's presence.
The stark and brutal truth is that God won't let anyone - or any society - rebel forever. When we sin we are storing up judgement against ourselves. There is a time when God's patience runs out and his judgement falls – on individual, and on nations and societies. This is a sobering, confronting truth: God didn't spare judgment on his own people then, and we will not be spared either.
This is a timely truth for us in our day, and a frightening one. There is no one with an automatic claim on God's mercy. TheUKis not the Promised Land, Western society has no immunity from God's judgement. When society runs from God as we're doing right now it invites Judgment from God. We need to pray for God's mercy for ourselves and our neighbours and our world. We need to pray that we would not followJerusalemin a rush to ruin of our own, and we need to call out for justice, for righteousness, for godliness in our time, lest we find ourselves coming under God's judgement.
And it is important that we see that this is indeed God's judgement, that's what we're going to look at next.
God's Judgement, notBabylon's Power:
I'm sure you didn't miss this when the passage was read to us earlier. In these verses there are four Kings and they were all described with the same phrase 'he did evil in the eyes of the Lord, just as his fathers had done'. And in the light of this evil and the evil of their fathers God brought judgment. We see this emphasises throughout ch 24, have a look at verse 2:
24.2 The LORD sent Babylonian, Aramean, Moabite and Ammonite raiders against him. He sent them to destroy Judah, in accordance with the word of the LORD proclaimed by his servants the prophets. 3 Surely these things happened to Judah according to the LORD's command, in order to remove them from his presence because of the sins of Manasseh and all he had done, 4 including the shedding of innocent blood. For he had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the LORD was not willing to forgive.
13 As the LORD had declared, Nebuchadnezzar removed all the treasures from the temple of the LORD and from the royal palace, and took away all the gold articles that Solomon king of Israel had made for the temple of the LORD. 14 He carried into exile all Jerusalem:
20 It was because of the LORD's anger that all this happened to Jerusalem and Judah, and in the end he thrust them from his presence.
Could this be any clearer? Right back in Deuteronomy Moses warned that if God's people strayed from God in God's land they would come under God's judgment. All through 1 and 2 Kings there have warnings that rebellion would lead to Exile. In ch21 Manasseh pushed things beyond the limit by leading the nation into horrendous evil and God said enough's enough, judgement is coming. Remarkably Manasseh repented and God spared him, and his son Josiah led the nation in a great repentance, as we've heard over the last two weeks. But God's judgement was delayed, not denied. Now it comes, just as God promised.
The passage is emphatic because we need to see this clearly. The big challenge in the ancient world was to see that it was Yahweh – the LORD who was doing this; that was the challenge because Pharoah claimed to conquer by the strength of his god, and Nebuchadnezzar claimed to conquer by the strength of his god. And so it went. The nations all had their own gods and believed that their gods gave them victory.
But they were wrong.
There is only one God and he rules, he is in control. And he showed it by dictating events – he promised it would happen long before it did, even calling out the conquerors by name before they were born, so that we could know for sure that he is God and he was working to keep his promises.
That was the big challenge to God's rule then, and the challenges are similar today… how many times have you heard Christianity rejected as out of date – a throw back religion. Just this week Nic Clegg ridiculed opponents of the gay marriage bill as Dinosaurs. And I think that's how we sometimes view ourselves: we can easily believe that we've been superseded by the new gods of this age – science, progress, equality and diversity, tolerance, democracy, celebrity, entertainment and so on and so on. We look at the powers in our world and we imagine that they are unstoppable. We believe in their power, their might. They appear to have won, to have pushed our God out of the picture. And we can't imagine a scenario where they might be toppled and God restored to prominence.
But that is to fall for the same lie that the Babylonian's believed, that is to believe that God only rules when we can see him rule; that is to believe that visible power is the only power, and that the present powers are permanent powers. None of that is true. God rules, not Nick Clegg or Stonewall, not Richard Dawkins, not The News of the World, not Simon Cowell and not David Cameron. What we looks today like progress will be long forgotten, but God remains on the throne.
See God wants us to see in the rise and fall of his peopleIsraela microcosm of all power relations in the world – he is behind all that happens, nothing happens without him, nothing is outside of his control. He is God: the one who rules, the one in charge, God. These great institutions and powers of our age are passing away just asBabylonpassed away, just asEgyptandGreeceandRomeand even theBritish Empireall had their time and passed into the pages of history. But God endures. Jesus said 'heaven and earth will pass away, but my word will never pass away'. Do you believe that? At his word creation began, and at his word creation will end, at his wordIsraelbecame a nation, and by his wordIsraelwas exiled.
God's word, that's where power truly lies, all other power is a chimera, a mirage, like the morning mist it is destined to be forgotten when God's power is revealed in full glory like the noonday sun.
If you don't believe me consider for a moment that great nation ofBabylon. Growing up in church I always wondered why ancient history at school taught aboutEgyptandRomeandGreecebut never mentionedBabylon. Didn't they know how mighty and powerfulBabylonwas? But you know why they don't teach aboutBabylondon't you: becauseBabylon's power lasted just a single lifetime. Under Nebuchadnezzar they swallowed up nations and built an impregnable city with famous walls so think they would thought they would never be overthrown … but no one needed to overthrow the walls, when Babylon's time came, 70 years after Jehoiakim, Cyrus diverted their water supply and his army walked under those impregnable city walls on the riverbed. Babylon's power disappeared in a single night. They set themselves up to reign for a thousand years, but just like that they were gone. History barely remembers mostly because God kept their memory alive in his book… his word sustains their memory. The world we live in is just as unstable as Babylon, for all it's pride, for all it's power, for all it's scorn towards God – it's like the Get Carter Car park, ready to come down at any moment, and soon to be forgotten when the next thing takes it's place.
And that leads to the third thing we should see in this passage, that leads us to see the stupidity of SIn
Third the Stupidity of sin:
All of these Kings paint a vivid picture for us of the stupidity of sin. All of them grew up in the time of Josiah's reform, they would have grown up hearing about God and seeing their father (or in Jehoiachin's case grandfather's) zeal for the LORD. They also grew up just south ofIsrael, the nation God removed by judgment. And yet they persist in sin. It's extrodinary how they can't see the truth, how they persist in wilful disobedience even as it lands them in more and more trouble.
Zedekiah is perhaps the clearest example of the lot. In a way he summarises the whole sorry story of this history.
Look again at the back end of ch 24, from verse 15:
Nebuchadnezzar took Jehoiachin captive to Babylon. He also took from Jerusalem to Babylon the king's mother, his wives, his officials and the leading men of the land. 16 The king of Babylon also deported to Babylon the entire force of seven thousand fighting men, strong and fit for war, and a thousand craftsmen and artisans. 17 He made Mattaniah, Jehoiachin's uncle, king in his place and changed his name to Zedekiah. 18 Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem for eleven years. His mother's name was Hamutal daughter of Jeremiah; she was from Libnah. 19 He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, just as Jehoiakim had done. 20 It was because of the LORD's anger that all this happened to Jerusalem and Judah, and in the end he thrust them from his presence. Now Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon. (2 Kings 24:15-20 NIB) Notice that closing sentence – Zedekiah rebelled against the king ofBabylon.. What a numpty! What a moron! The words political suicide can surely never have been more appropriate!
If ever there was a man who should have known better it was Zedekiah. Nebuchadnezzar made him king after taking the city captive by siege. Zedekiah was there, he'd seen the Babylonian war machine crushJudah; I mean, that was how he became King, he could hardly forget it. At that time Nebuchadnezzar removed all the ruling class, the officials and the leading men of the land – including Daniel and his friends. He removed the elite divisions of the army - 7000 men, and he removed the craftsmen and artisans who supplied them with weapons. Zedekiah ruled over a pathetic rump of the nation. He had to know that there was no way he was ever going to over throwBabylon. Rebellion was absolute madness… but he goes ahead and rebels anyway
What does he think is going to happen? It can only end in destruction. And it does, but that's next week's sermon. But do you see that this is in miniature just exactly what God's people have been doing through their history. Just as Zedekiah owed everything to Nebuchadnezzer, so they owed everything to God, only more so. And just as crazy as it was to rebel against Nebuchadnezzer so it was crazy to rebel against God, even more so than to rebel against Nebuchadnezzer. Zedekiah in himself sums up the whole history of God's people.
And this is the blinding stupidity of sin. He must have known that rebellion was madness. He must have known that there could be no gain, no joy, no hope for the future… but he goes ahead and does it anyway. What is he thinking??
And that is the story of God's old testament people from one end to the other. God reveals himself to them as God, Lord over them and over the whole earth. He rescues them from slavery and sets them up in their own place under his authority. He reveals his immense power in the exodus and in giving them the land. And at Mt Sinai he makes clear just how precious he is about defending the honour of his name.
Surely they know that to rebel against him is madness.
Surely they know that can be no hope for them if they rebel against one so powerful, so mighty, so jealous for his own name.
And yet they just keep going astray.
They can't help themselves, they can't stop themselves. For every good king there are half a dozen bad kings, from everyhigh pointa diving off into new lows. The story of the nation has ups and downs, but plotted over time it is consistent downward slide into rebellion and judgment.
And so Zedekiah and God's people put up a mirror to our hearts.
They were foolish in the extreme to reveal to us that we are foolish in the extreme. In the OT we see our own hearts reflected back to us – not just the stupidity of Jews, nor stupidity of bronze age primitives, our stupidity, yours and mine. We believe the same lies they believed, we run after all kinds of false gods, we know they won't satisfy us, we know they can't provide for us, but we chase them anyway… and so we rebel against the true and living God and we defraud him of his rightful praise and honour and run headlong into his justice.
Sin makes us stupid too… when did an affair ever help a lonely husband? When did pornography ever satisfy anyone? When did shopping or a big house or a satisfying career etc ever make someone complete. New iphone just out – do you long for one, or have you got yours already? House prices on the up, are you imagining your financial future is secure again?
And the thing is even as Christians we're still stupid. Sin is at work in us… and that means that we can never save ourselves. The dumbest thing we can ever do is to rebel against God and run off into sin, but we do it time and time and time again.
This is why the gospel is such good news. We store up judgment against ourselves, and as far as it depends on us we always fall short, we always fail… look atIsraelandJudah, 1000 years of demonstration that we just can't do it. We can not do perfectly please God. We can't. As far as it depends on us, we're lost. But it doesn't depend on us, it depends on Jesus. We need to keep very clear eyed on this because our temptation is always to turn following Jesus into religion and think that we do the work, to turn our eyes away from him and to begin to subtly trust in what we do. So when we sin we imagine our repentance earns our way back; when we going well we imagine we're impressing God and stand secure in our own strength… remember sin makes us stupid, all we can do is to trust in Jesus.
What we are left with as we come to the end of this book is the stark truth that we need a King who is better than every best King inIsrael's history. No amount of religious effort will ever make us better, no man can save us, we need someone perfect and so good as to make up for all our imperfections. And we are confronted with our foolish deceitful hearts that invent ways of doing evil, that constantly run astray, that are storing up wrath against ourselves. What hope do we have? None at all, not if it depends on us. Just like Israel, just like Judah we are terminally stupid, we are addicted to sin, and unable to stop ourselves. So thank God that all that we deserve has been stored up and poured out on Jesus. And don't take your eyes off him, don't imagine you can get there in the end, don't think you'll manage on your own. Come back to him and cling on because he is all we have, all we ever have to please God – and he is all we need.