Sunday, July 22, 2007

Not a major sermon this time, just a thought that came out of a Scripture I read today.

The text: 1 Chronicles 17 + 18

Asa was a worldly king of Judah. The Bible says that he refused to rely on the Lord, either in battle or in his illness. Instead he relied on dodgy alliances in battle, and physicians in his illness. He died and his son, Jehoshaphat, became king. It seems Jehoshaphat took a different path, because he decided to follow God and not “the practices of Israel” – referring to the rebellious and idolatrous tribes that defected from the kingdom and started their own nation. Jehoshaphat followed God, and God prospered him. We read that he sent officials throughout the land to each town and village and the Levites and the Priests taught the people the Law of God – i.e. God’s word. He actively chose to turn his people back to God so that they could be HIS (God’s) people. Remember that under the 41 year reign of his father, the people had turned to idolatry and false religion, and now, they needed an emergency intervention in order to get them back on track.

In South Africa, where crime is getting out of hand, they speak of the “moral regeneration” that needs to take place. They want people to become good, responsible citizens who seek to be law abiding. This is a laudable objective, but frankly, unless people’s hearts are transformed by the washing of the Word of God” it is a futile task. Even the leaders of the ‘moral regeneration” are being exposed in their immorality. If there is to be true moral regeneration, it will take a sovereign move of God and there needs to be a REVIVAL. When you look at historic revivals that have taken place, the enhancement of moral values has followed as a natural consequence.

Thus far, we can only say to Jehoshaphat – “You did good!” but then we come to Chapter 18 and he blew it. He allied himself to the king of Israel, Ahab at that time, through marriage. He went to visit his new in-laws, and to become better acquainted. Ahab threw a party in Jehoshaphat’s honour.

“Hey, Jehoshaphat, we’ve had such a good time, why not join me and we’ll go and wipe out against those “pesky” guys from Ramoth Gilead. With our combined armies, those lads don’t have a chance.” (Forgive the “poetic licence” of putting words into their mouths.)

Jehoshaphat was in a catch-22. He knew that this was not a good plan, and yet having made an alliance with Ahab, he could not now turn round and say – “No way José”, so instead he said, in effect, “Hang on my friend, you can’t just go into battle at the drop of a hat, you have to follow the right protocol. Have you consulted with the prophets to hear what God has to say? “

So Ahab calls his prophets. A whole stack of them arrived and they all said what Ahab wanted to hear them say – “Go ahead. God’s on your side.” problem was, they were all lying, and Jehoshaphat knew it.

But Jehoshaphat asked, "Is there no longer a prophet of the LORD here whom we can inquire of?" (2 Chron. 18:6)

This is really classic. 400 guys have all just about said the same thing. “Go into battle and you will win.” but Jehoshaphat speaks as if they could not find a prophet. Fact was, they couldn’t or would not. Not one who spoke the truth, anyway.

Eventually Ahab admits there is one prophet who they have not yet consulted, Micaiah. Ahab didn’t want to see this guy. He hated him because Micaiah was no YES-MAN. He told it as it was, and it did not sound good in Ahab’s ears. But reluctantly, he had him brought to the palace. The messenger tried to give Micaiah a heads-up on the situation, and said, “Listen 400 hundred prophets have already told the king that he should go up to fight against Ramoth Gilead. You say the same thing or you going to look mighty stupid, and besides you don’t really want to upset old man.”

Micaiah, goes in and says, “Attack and be victorious for they will be given into your hand.”
Ahab is stunned, and asks, “Are you being serious, did God really say that?
Micaiah was glad to be challenged and said, “No, in fact, the truth is, all 400 of these prophets have been lying to you. The truth is that if you go into battle, you will not come out alive.”

Ahab really got mad and said that he would not take any notice of Micaiah and would go into battle anyway. After all, how could 400 prophets of God be wrong? He ordered that Micaiah be put in prison until they come back from battle. (He had not been listening.) He obviously thought he would come back and then deal with this nuisance. Micaiah reminded him that he was not going to be coming back but Ahab said in his heart, “I have a cunning plan!”

When Micaiah had been dragged away, Ahab persuaded Jehoshaphat to go up in battle with him against Ramoth Gilead, and in effect said, “Take no notice of that man. You’ve heard from 400 prophets that God is going to give us victory. Obviously Micaiah was just being otherwise. But it doesn’t hurt to take some precaution, you go as king, and take charge, I will be there, but disguised as one of the soldiers.”

It turned out that the people from Ramoth Gilead were gunning for Ahab. The king had told his forces to not worry about any of the others nut to be sure that they got Ahab. Seeing the Royal robes on Jehoshaphat the soldiers thought he was their man, but by God’s grace, he managed to prove that he was not the one they were after, and the soldiers, frustrated, decided to return, but one of the soldiers, out of frustration and disappointment, I suppose, let one of his arrows fly, not aiming it at anyone in particular. The arrow lodged itself into, you guessed it, Ahab. By now the fight was on and they fought all day. Ahab, now wounded, watched the battle, and watched as the Gileadites made mincemeat of the Israel forces. As the sun set and what remained of the armies returned to their barracks, Ahab succumbed to his wounds and died.

I suppose that Ahab thought his main problem was with humans, who could be deceived and confused by a mere disguise, but he was up against the living God, who knew exactly where Ahab was, and guided that arrow to exactly the right spot.

Are you tempted to think that you can outsmart God? Go to church, say the right things, be nice, etc, etc? If it is all on the surface, if all it is, is mouthing the right things, it will not help you in the least. Jesus warned the disciples that in the end, many will come to Him saying, “Lord, Lord,” but He will turn round and tell them to go away because he does not know them. Obedience is better than sacrifice. Obedience, regardless of how inconvenient or uncomfortable it is, is better than some over-the-top religious act that has no real substance to it.

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