1 Kings 20-22

1 Kings 20-22…The gaze of heaven.

One of the sad facts of human existence is that there are always scoundrels hanging around who are willing to do anything for a few coins. One of the greatest examples of this is the betrayal of Judas in turning Jesus over to the chief priests for thirty pieces of silver.

We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that Jezebel’s co-conspirators in the murder of Naboth were able to scare up two liars to help their cause in this section of 1 Kings.

For many reasons, this was a sad, low point in Israel’s history. Here were the rulers of God’s people, plotting the death of an innocent Israelite over a piece of land-for a vegetable garden, no less! This kind of widespread sin is all too reminiscent of the days of the judges, a period when Israel hit rock-bottom both morally and spiritually (see Judg. 19:22).

Even with the wickedness of Ahab and Jezebel, the elders and nobles of Naboth’s city should have had the character to refuse the royals’ murderous plot. Their readiness to act gives us a glimpse into the nation’s low moral character.

These verses show Ahab and Jezebel at their worst. Ahab whimpered like the weak-willed, spoiled person he was, and Jezebel was her usual vindictive self. With the officials of Naboth’s city also deeply involved in this travesty, apparently no one around was strong or brave enough to raise a voice of protest against the killing. It looked like a pretty neatly tied-up package.

But the God of Israel noted what took place. He heard what must have been Naboth’s cries of innocence, and then his cries of pain as he was being stoned. The royal plotters didn’t know it yet, but their conspiracy had not escaped the gaze of heaven. Regardless of what things look like here in this life, the objective reality is that God knows all and sees all, and is not wringing His hands over what is going on. In fact, he is the sovereign Lord over everything, and knows what will happen to you this very day. Will you respond in thanksgiving today, or complain that you didn’t get your way?

1 Kings 17-19

1 Kings 17-19…Half-hearted commitment.

In these chapters we see false prophets who brought paganism to the ancient Israelites and gave false comfort to the royal court. This sparked a confrontation involving Elijah on Mount Carmel. There, before the people of Israel, Elijah called the nation to choose whom it would serve: the Lord or Baal. It was not possible for them to serve both or to be double-minded. Of course, this is a theme that appears throughout the prophets and, indeed, the rest of the Bible. God is not interested in half-hearted commitment. He will either have our hearts in their entirety, or He will have nothing to do with us at all (Josh. 24:15; Ps. 119:113; Matt. 6:24; John 14:6).

From a human perspective, Elijah did not have the upper hand. He was outnumbered by the false prophets of Baal. However, that did not stop him from confronting them. We are familiar with the account of each side building an altar to its deity and calling down fire from heaven to prove which one was the true God. Elijah did everything possible to prove that Yahweh was God; he even soaked the sacrifices and built a moat so that only a powerful fire from heaven could consume the offering. That consuming fire is exactly what came for his sacrifice. Grounded in the Word of the Lord and trusting fully in His power, Elijah stood down a powerful enemy and testified to divine truth.

Ultimately, God only demands one thing—our full commitment to Him. We were made for our Creator, and He will not share us with another. He will not have us as His if we try to divide our ultimate allegiance between Him and anything else. In Elijah’s day, many in Israel tried to serve God and someone else on the side. We are ever tempted to do the same. Let us remember the One for whom we were made that we might realize that we can be satisfied in Him alone.

1 Kings 14-16

1 Kings 14-16…Asa the reformer.

In the lives of Asa, king of Judah, and Ahab, king of Israel, we find perhaps the best example of the great spiritual diversity that marked this period of the divided kingdom.

Asa was one of a handful of kings in Judah who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” His long reign of forty-one years is one indication that God’s hand was upon him, although longevity cannot always be equated with God’s blessing.

There is much more information on Asa’s reign in 2 Chronicles 14-16, including several details not included in today’s reading.

Asa was a reformer, a vigorous defender of the true worship of God. He destroyed the idols his predecessors had made and expelled the male prostitutes whose presence kept a curse on the land. He even deposed his grandmother, Maacah, for idolatry, tearing down the pole she had erected to encourage worship of a pagan goddess.

Asa’s war with Baasha, the king of Israel, is described briefly here, but 2 Chronicles 16:7-10 adds that God was displeased with Asa for relying on the ungodly king of Aram (Syria) rather than on the Lord. Although Asa’s reign was not completely unmarred, he was committed to the pure worship of God.

How are you being intentional in this way? One very helpful way to keep those around you in your church focused on the Lord is to season your conversations with spiritual salt. In other words, take initiative in talking about spiritual things. When you share prayer requests, focus on more spiritual issues, and less superficial (i.e. a family trip, or work or house hunting). Note: there is nothing wrong with praying about non-spiritual things, but failing to ever pray about the spiritual for each other is the concern. See all of Paul’s prayers for a model on praying.

Here’s another good litmus test: When you meet with your bible study group, or home/small group, do you ever open the bible? If not, you may be doing nothing different from a secular group therapy meeting.

1 Kings 11-13

1 Kings 11-13…A divided heart.

The great nineteenth-century British preacher C. H. Spurgeon once said: “A stony heart may be turned to flesh, but turn a divided heart into whatsoever you please, so long as it is divided, all is ill. . . . A united heart is life to a man, but if the heart be cut in twain, in the highest, deepest, and most spiritual sense, he dies.”

No better words summarize Solomon’s downward turn recorded in these chapters. After all the praise, admiration, and grandeur of the first ten chapters, we now run into an ominous “however” in 1 Kings 11. By explicitly disobeying God’s commands about taking wives from the surrounding pagan regions, a slow change occurs. Solomon was turned “after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God.”

In fact, the language of Scripture is carefully chosen. We read that Solomon “loved many foreign women,” and goes on to record that “Solomon held fast [literally “clung”] to them in love” (1 Kings 11:2). These are the same Hebrew words used in Deuteronomy to prescribe the loyalty a human should have toward God. Deuteronomy 11:22, for example, calls for us “to love the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, and to hold fast to him” (Deut. 6:5; 10:20).

Solomon did not simply wake up and decide out of the blue to do “evil in the eyes of the Lord” and build high places for foreign gods. Rather, his singular love for God was slowly replaced with other loves. A heart once devoted to the Lord had become a divided heart.

God’s response underscores this change in Solomon. His anger was precisely because Solomon’s heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel. Although there was an element of mercy in the judgment against Solomon, his failure to heed God’s explicit commands resulted in a divided heart and, eventually, a divided kingdom.

The idol of companionship is a dangerous one because it feels right to us. However, when we let our emotions drive our decision-making, ignoring God’s word and placing other people above Him, we deceive ourselves.

1 Kings 8-10

1 Kings 8-10…God’s presence and character.

The dedication of God’s temple in these chapters is something like a ribbon-cutting event, with one notable distinction: the occupant of the building shows up and steals the show. Scripture tells us that Solomon gathered the leaders of Israel at Jerusalem to bring the ark of the covenant into the temple. In fact, the ark’s centrality is underscored by its eight references. This dedication party was ostensibly about the temple, but Scripture makes it clear that it was really about God’s presence. Lest the reader wonder about this emphasis, the centerpiece of the passage describes the climax: the priests withdrew, the cloud descended, and the glory of the Lord filled his temple. So overwhelming was God’s presence that the priests could not perform their service. As promised, God had come in glory to dwell with His people.

Of equal importance in this section is the focus on God’s character. Solomon’s speech to the assembly emphasized God’s fulfillment of His promises to David. Just as God had said that it would not be David, but David’s son, who would build the temple for my Name, so it had happened. Solomon summarized it simply, but accurately: “The Lord has kept the promise he made” (1 Kings 8:20). God does what He says He will do; that is the thrust of Solomon’s speech to Israel.

What promises of God do you struggle to believe? That He cares for you more than the sparrows (Matt. 6:26) and will turn all things to your spiritual good (Rom. 8:28)? That He will not abandon you (Heb. 13:5)? That He will one day come again in glory to claim His own (1 Thess. 4:13-18)? Take a hard, honest look at your own heart today to see where you might not be trusting in God’s word of promise. Ask Him for forgiveness and for the grace to start living with trust in His faithfulness.

1 Kings 5-7

1 Kings 5-7…Buildings

Architecture has played an important role in church history. After all, there are magnificent cathedrals and church buildings all around the world that have been built to the glory of God. No art form is neutral, for even the design of our church buildings says something about our regard for the Lord and His worship. In 1 Kings 5-7, we see the preparations for building the temple, and God has specific instructions for Solomon.

Throughout the Bible, God’s people dedicate certain places as fit for His special presence. From Bethel (Gen. 28:10–22) to the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:9–27), Scripture is clear that our Creator sometimes chooses to make His presence felt more strongly in some locales than in others. This is not to deny the omnipresence of God, for there is indeed nowhere we can hide from Him (Ps. 139:7). What we are talking about when we consider sacred space is the Lord’s special presence, the location where His people experience particular blessings and enjoy the sweetest communion with Him. The same God who exists everywhere also meets with His children in special ways in specific locales, especially in the person of Jesus Christ.

When we gather to worship the Lord, it is essential to remember that we are coming into the presence of the most holy Creator who has nonetheless chosen to show great mercy to a particular people in the person of Christ Jesus. The architecture of our sanctuaries can help us remember this, but we are tasked to recall this fact no matter where we gather for worship. We do not worship the Lord lightly, but we adore the holy, majestic Creator.

1 Kings 1-4

1 Kings 1-4…The request for wisdom

These chapters record that well-known occasion on which Solomon asked the Lord for special wisdom to rule his kingdom. On the whole, 1 Kings 3 casts Solomon in a very positive light, although verses 1–3 contain some ominous signs for the future of Solomon’s kingdom. We read of how he made an alliance with the king of Egypt by marrying his daughter, which goes against the warning in Deuteronomy 17:16 that the Israelites not return to Egypt. Eventually, Solomon married hundreds of other foreign wives, and their pagan ways led him astray from the one, true God. This teaches us that any wisdom we receive from the Lord does us no good if we do not continue in it.

Solomon’s heart was divided in its loyalty toward God early in his reign as evidenced in his marriage to the Egyptian princess, but he still knew that he would not have a successful reign over Israel without special wisdom from on high. When the Lord gave him the opportunity to ask for whatever he wanted (1 Kings 3:4–5), Solomon could have asked selfishly for his own riches or fame but instead he humbled himself and selflessly asked for wisdom by which he could discern good from evil (vv. 6–8). As some commentators have noted, Solomon recognized that having the Law would not be enough to create the righteous kingdom God desired; rather, he needed the Lord to do a special work in his heart for this kingdom to come about. Pleased with Solomon, God gave him not only that for which he asked but also riches and many other blessings besides (vv. 9–15).

The whole incident is reminiscent of Matthew 6:33 wherein we are told to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” and thus all of what we need will be added unto us. If we ask the Father for wisdom, that is, Christ Himself (1 Cor. 1:24), we seek the kingdom and can be assured of His loving care.