Friday Night Genesis, Friday, December 7, 2012 – 1 KingsScripture reading: Matthew 24:23-26Intro to the bookIn 1 Kings we continue where we left off at the end of 2 Samuel. David is at the end ofhis life, and passes the kingdom to his son Solomon. We have the account of themajestic temple and palace that Solomon built, his wisdom and his many excesses.Shortly after the death of Solomon the kingdom is divided between the 10 northern tribeswhich continue to be called Israel and the tribe of Judah, which formed its own kingdom.These will never again be fully reunited into a single kingdom, and would occasionallyeven go to war against one another.(slide) Geographically, it is during the reign of Solomon that Israel reaches its climaxboth in territory and influence. The borders are not entirely certain, but this is the bestguess of people who study these things, with the green areas representing kingdomsknown to be under Solomon’s rule and the red line representing the potential area ofcontrol – kings who were subject and paying tribute to Solomon. After Solomon’s death,the kingdom shrinks and splits – 10 tribes staying together in the north and Judah byitself in the south. Levites, you will remember, had no territory of their own, but werescattered among the tribes.Historically we begin the book with the reign of Solomon, which is thought to be from970-931 BC and we end the book with the death of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah who isbelieved to have reigned from 873-849BC. So the book covers a time span of roughly120 years.Who to believe?I was about 10 years old and we were still living in what was then Yugoslavia, when acollege choir from England came to our church as part of their spring break tour. Sincethis was done on a budget, members of the church were asked to host the students forthe night after the concert. My family was assigned 3 young ladies. However, as peopledispersed after the concert one of the students was still aimlessly hanging around. Noone was sure what happened, but for whatever reason he didn’t have a host. So hecame home with us. With three girls bunking in our guest room, the only other availableplace to put him was in my room. And so I got to meet Clifford Sellors or Cliff, aseveryone called him. In his late 20’s he was older than most of the other students, hewas as British as they came, and he was also an incredibly talented artist. I rememberhim showing me some of the sketches he did in pencil while they were traveling on thebus, and they were really good – almost life-like. Before he graduated, he painted thisincredible painting of the 7 days of creation which later hung in a prominent place at thecollege.Being so much younger I never did keep in touch with him, but a few years after hecrashed in my room for the night I heard that he had died. Many of you may rememberthese images from the spring of 1993. Cliff Sellors ended up with Branch Davidians leadby David Koresh and he died in the inferno at their compound in Waco, TX. He used histalents to design the Mt Carmel flag, the logo for Camp Apocalypse and the now
infamous David Koresh “God Rocks” T-shirt. As people tried to make sense of whathappened, stories emerged of David Koresh holding Bible studies in private homes,close to the college. These would be late at night, there was a lot of music and thenDavid Koresh would teach for hours, and occasionally right through the night. DavidKoresh knew his Bible, he could quote you a text, and then give you chapter and versewithout ever looking it up.And so one has to wonder – who can you trust? How does an intelligent, educated andtalented young man like Cliff Sellors end up being so tragically deceived? How do youknow that you are on the right path and not drinking Kool-aid with Jim Jones or headingfor a fiery inferno with David Koresh? It is a question that we also encounter a number oftimes in 1 Kings.Our children’s story today is actually based on events described in chapter 13 of 1Kings. A young prophet did indeed come from Judah to prophesy against Jeroboam andhis altar, and was then deceived by the older prophet on his way back to Judah.It is an incredible story, one that really makes us ask some tough questions. Here is arespected old prophet who one minute lies, claiming to speak in God’s name, and thenlater prophesies the truth – a catastrophe for which he is in great part responsible! Sohow do you know who to trust? More over, even if the person is deemed to betrustworthy, like an old prophet, how do you know when you can trust them, and when torun the other way?!In similar vain is a story in chapter 22. Jehoshaphat who was king of Judah at that timecame to visit Ahab, king of Israel and together they deliberated whether to attack andretake the town of Ramoth Gilead from the king of Aram. Jehoshaphat, being a Godfearing king, wanted to inquire of the Lord, so they brought out 400 prophets and they allsaid – sure, go for it, the Lord will give you victory. Evidently, this seemed too much of aperformance to Jehoshaphat, so he asked for a second or actually a 401st opinion. Sothey sent for this fella Micaiah. The messenger who went to summon Micaiah filled himin as to what the party line was and suggested it would be good if Micaiah stuck to it.And Micaiah at first did stick to the party line, but when king Ahab called him out on it, hetold him the truth. At this point things got really intense. We pick up the action in 1 Kings22 verse 23 with Micaiah finishing his speech: “So now the LORD has put adeceiving spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The LORD has decreeddisaster for you.” Then Zedekiah son of Kenaanah went up and slapped Micaiah in theface. “Which way did the spirit from the LORD go when he went from me to speak toyou?” he asked. Micaiah replied, “You will find out on the day you go to hide in an innerroom.” The king of Israel then ordered, “Take Micaiah and send him back to Amon theruler of the city and to Joash the king’s son and say, ‘This is what the king says: Put thisfellow in prison and give him nothing but bread and water until I return safely.’” Micaiahdeclared, “If you ever return safely, the LORD has not spoken through me.” Then headded, “Mark my words, all you people!” (1 Kings 22:23-28)Following this Jerry Springer moment with the other prophets, Ahab decided to ignoreMicaiah and went off to war and his own death. We never are told what happened toMicaiah in the end, since Ahab never returned. Part of me expected to see the endingthat seems quite customary for 1 Kings – And Micaiah is in prison to this day, survivingon only bread and water.
The more salient point, however, is that we have 400 prophets and they are all tellingyou the wrong thing! If the kings of this world are getting such skewed advice, how is MrJoe Average supposed to know what is wrong and what is right?! We are oftenadmonished to ‘just believe’, to ‘have faith’. And faith is a good and desirable Christianvirtue, so the more faith the better. Except it seems too many people have bought intoMark Twain’s definition of faith: “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” At best, formany people faith seems to be a leap in the dark – nothing to support it but the word of apreacher. And as we have seen, how do you know which preacher you can really trust?It is when we come to stories like these in 1 Kings and difficult questions that they raise,that reading through the entire Bible becomes a powerful tool, because we can bringtogether other instances in the Bible that throw some light on the issue. Are there otherplaces in the Bible that raise and maybe answer a similar question? Is there a patternthat we can latch onto? I hope you will not mind if I take us on a bit of a tour of the Bibleand bring some things together as we seek to answer this crucial question: “How do weknow whom and what to trust?”First of all, let’s have a look at how the Bible defines faith. Hebrews 11 has been dubbed“The Faith Chapter” and it conveniently begins with a definition of faith. “Now faith is thesubstance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1). Soaccording to the Bible, faith is not a leap in the dark. It has substance, it has evidence. In1. Peter 3:15 the Bible tells us to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyonewho asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1. Peter 3:15). In otherwords, question it, examine it, study it until it makes sense to you and you have made ityour own. When someone asks you to explain it, you will be able to do so.Actions speak louder than words, and so the best way to see how God understands thequestion of faith is to look at how God deals with the issue of faith and trust. Theexamples are numerous, and we have already looked at a few over the course of thisyear. In Exodus we saw how through the plagues God led Pharaoh to know the truthbeyond any reasonable doubt before he chose to reject it. We saw how God dealtconclusively with the question of leadership in the book of Numbers, by making Aaron’sstaff bud, blossom and produce almonds. Once again – it was beyond reasonable doubt.In the book of Judges we read about a young man named Gideon. When God called himto lead Israel in a campaign to free them from the Midianites, Gideon wasn’t sure he wasthe right man for the job, so he asked for a wet fleece on the dry ground as proof. Whenhe got his proof he then asked for a dry fleece on the wet ground to double check theproof. God wasn’t angry with him – he provided all the proof that he needed. And guesswhat? Gideon is numbered among the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11!Right here in 1 Kings we have an excellent example. In chapter 18, when Elijah gatheredall of Israel on Mount Carmel, he did not merely say: the Lord is the real God and notBaal. “Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between twoopinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” (1 Kings 18:21)And then they were all invited to observe the evidence, which also turned out to bebeyond all reasonable doubt.If you had the opportunity tp be taught by Apostle Paul, I’m sure you would feel quiteawestruck. It would be very tempting to simply take his teachings as gospel. But in Acts17 we read this account: “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character thanthose in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and
examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, manyof them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greekmen.” (Acts 17:11-12) The people of Berea were double-checking Paul, and the Biblerecords it as a positive trait!And finally, how did Jesus approach the issue of faith and authority. Luke 24 records atrip two disciples took from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus following the crucifixionof Jesus. Jesus joined them along the way and pretended to be a stranger unaware ofthe events of that weekend. When they explained about who Jesus was and whathappened, this is what Jesus said: “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all thatthe prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and thenenter his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to themwhat was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25-27) Boy, I wish Icould have been there for that Bible study! But the point is, they did not recognize that itwas Jesus until He was done showing them all the evidence from the scripture that Hewas the Messiah and this was all supposed to happen. It would have been so easy tohave come alongside them as Jesus, and a resurrected Jesus at that, and the twodisciples would have been completely awestruck. They would have been turned intonodding heads, accepting everything He said without processing it, simply because ofwho said it. Instead, Jesus approached them in such a way that He was able to walkthem through the evidence and have them understand it, before they had the shock andawe moment of realizing that they were looking at the resurrected Jesus.And then there was Thomas. We love to rag on Thomas for his lack of faith, we evennicknamed him “doubting Thomas”! But Thomas just wanted evidence! What the rest ofthe disciples were telling him was so wonderful, and at the same time so improbable thatThomas wanted, in fact needed, evidence before he could buy the whole story. That’sall. Jesus did not rebuke him for that. Instead He made sure that Thomas got theevidence that he needed, and his witness for Jesus from then on was as strong as thatof any of the apostles.So you see, when it comes to the question of faith, whom and what to trust, the Bibleprovides overwhelming evidence that God wants us to gather evidence in support of ourfaith. He will not be upset with us if we genuinely question or even doubt Him orsomeone alleging to speak in His name. Instead, He will patiently provide the evidencethat we need. So for the young prophet in 1 Kings 13 this may mean taking a time out toenquire of God before heading off with the older prophet. I’m sure God would not havebeen upset at that course of action, but would have provided the necessary direction.And that is also what Christmas is all about. We don’t usually look at it in that way, butChristmas is about evidence. What is God really like? Jesus came to this earth asImmanuel – God with us. He came to reveal to us the God whom we serve. He came toshow us that belief in Him is not and should not be a blind leap in the dark. He came toshow us that we should not trust God just because He said so. He came to give us thereasons why we and the rest of the on-looking Universe should believe Him and trust inHis leadership.Here is how one Christian author explained it: “Christ came to save fallen man, andSatan with fiercest wrath met him on the field of conflict; for the enemy knew that whendivine strength was added to human weakness, man was armed with power and
intelligence, and could break away from the captivity in which he had bound him. Satansought to intercept every ray of light from the throne of God. He sought to cast hisshadow across the earth, that men might lose the true views of God’s character, and thatthe knowledge of God might become extinct in the earth. He had caused truth of vitalimportance to be so mingled with error that it had lost its significance. The law ofJehovah was burdened with needless exactions and traditions, and God wasrepresented as severe, exacting, revengeful, and arbitrary. He was pictured as one whocould take pleasure in the sufferings of his creatures. The very attributes that belongedto the character of Satan, the evil one represented as belonging to the character of God.Jesus came to teach men of the Father, to correctly represent him before the fallenchildren of earth. Angels could not fully portray the character of God, but Christ, who wasa living impersonation of God, could not fail to accomplish the work. The only way inwhich he could set and keep men right was to make himself visible and familiar to theireyes. That men might have salvation he came directly to man, and became a partaker ofhis nature.” (Signs of the Times, Jan 20, 1890)Jesus was indeed Immanuel – God with us, so that we would have the substance ofthings hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen, because he who has seen Jesushas seen the Father. (Matthew 1:23, Hebrews 11:1 and John 14:9)