Monday, July 15, 2013

I Need a Hero

Jean-Honoré Fragonard - Jeroboam Offering Sacrifice for the Idol

Today is the first day in our 28th week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures for this week are: 

  • 1 Kings 12; 2 Chr 10-11; Titus 1
  • 1 Kings 13-14; 2 Chr 12; Titus 2; Ps 47
  • 1 Kings 15; 2 Chr 13-14; Titus 3
  • 2 Chr 15-16; 1 Kings 16; Philemon
  • 1 Kings 17-18; Jude; Psalm 119
In today's readings, we find ourselves desperate for heroes--for people we can look to and say, "Yes--these ones are the good guys."  But finding heroes in today's readings is a hard thing to do.  We want to find a hero in King Rehoboam, because he is the son of Solomon and the grandson of David.  Simply because of his lineage, we want to favor him.  Yet, we remember that while God will not reject the house of David wholesale, He did tell Solomon that He would tear the kingdom from him.  1 Kings 11:9-13* says:
And the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice 10 and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods. But he did not keep what the Lord commanded.11 Therefore the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this has been your practice and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant. 12 Yet for the sake of David your father I will not do it in your days, but I will tear it out of the hand of your son. 13 However, I will not tear away all the kingdom, but I will give one tribe to your son, for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem that I have chosen.”
When Rehoboam begins to reign, he causes the fulfillment of God's word to his father.  Promising to outdo Solomon in oppressing the people, he inspires rebellion among his people.  The reader can hardly blame Israel from rejecting him as king.  Rehoboam certainly is not our hero.

Yet, Jeroboam isn't our hero, either.  In a way, we want for Jeroboam to be the good guy in the story because God promised him the kingdom of Israel.  2 Kings 11:29-40 says:
29 And at that time, when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him on the road. Now Ahijah had dressed himself in a new garment, and the two of them were alone in the open country.30 Then Ahijah laid hold of the new garment that was on him, and tore it into twelve pieces. 31 And he said to Jeroboam, “Take for yourself ten pieces, for thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Behold, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon and will give you ten tribes32 (but he shall have one tribe, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city that I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel), 33 because they have[a] forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the Ammonites, and they have not walked in my ways, doing what is right in my sight and keeping my statutes and my rules, as David his father did. 34 Nevertheless, I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand, but I will make him ruler all the days of his life, for the sake of David my servant whom I chose, who kept my commandments and my statutes. 35 But I will take the kingdom out of his son's hand and will give it to you, ten tribes. 36 Yet to his son I will give one tribe, that David my servant may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city where I have chosen to put my name. 37 And I will take you, and you shall reign over all that your soul desires, and you shall be king over Israel. 38 And if you will listen to all that I command you, and will walk in my ways, and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did, I will be with you and will build you a sure house, as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you.39 And I will afflict the offspring of David because of this, but not forever.’” 40 Solomon sought therefore to kill Jeroboam. But Jeroboam arose and fled into Egypt, to Shishak king of Egypt, and was in Egypt until the death of Solomon.
So, when begin to read about Jeroboam's reign at the beginning of chapter 12, we have high hopes for this man that God selected.  Yet, it's not long before he sets up idols for the people to worship.  All the people of Israel start to worship these idols instead of serving the Lord God.  So Jeroboam disqualifies himself as the hero of this story.

So, we find ourselves desperate for role models in this story.  Like the singer Bonnie Tyler, we cry, "I need a hero!"  And we find heroes in an unlikely place.  It's not everyday that priests become heroes in Bible stories.  Heroism is generally reserved for soldiers and kings--but in this story we read about the Levites who left everything and chose to be faithful to the Lord their God.  2 Chronicles 11:13-17 says:
13 And the priests and the Levites who were in all Israel presented themselves to him from all places where they lived. 14 For the Levites left their common lands and their holdings and came to Judah and Jerusalem, because Jeroboam and his sons cast them out from serving as priests of the Lord, 15 and he appointed his own priests for the high places and for the goat idols and for the calves that he had made. 16 And those who had set their hearts to seek the Lord God of Israel came after them from all the tribes of Israel to Jerusalem to sacrifice to the Lord, the God of their fathers. 17 They strengthened the kingdom of Judah, and for three years they made Rehoboam the son of Solomon secure, for they walked for three years in the way of David and Solomon.
In the division of the Holy Land, each tribe was given land as an ancestral heritage.  Yet the priests were given no such land.  They were permitted to own property, yet their property was scattered throughout the tribes.  Like their neighbors, they were farmers.  Yet, when their time of service in the temple would come, they would leave their farms for a while and serve in Jerusalem.  In addition to this, people from their own areas looked to these priests as spiritual leaders and chaplains.  But when Jeroboam laid them off from their holy work and replaced them with false priests, these heroic Levites left everything they owned and moved to Jerusalem.  They chose the true worship of the Living God over idolatry and lies.  They could have remained and farmed their land, but they wanted nothing to do with this idolatrous king's rule.  So they defected.

This wasn't an easy decision for them to make.  These Levites had much to lose.  In addition to leaving their land, they had to make a choice between living a freer life under idolatry, or living a spiritually pure life under an oppressive regime.  If American Christians had the same choice to make, I'm sure that many would choose political freedom over spiritual purity.  Yet our heroes chose to remain faithful to their God.  These are our heroes of the day.

In the book of Titus, Paul gives instructions as to the qualification of elders in the church.  Spiritual leaders are to be held to a high standard.  Like the Levites in the days of the divided kingdom, today's spiritual leaders should be heroes of the faith.  What should these people of God be like?  In Titus 1:4-9, Paul directs Titus to: 
...appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
Verses 15-16 describe the mindset of purity that godly leaders need to have:
15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.
It seems in our day, we have given up the ideals of purity and holiness and exchanged them for the idol of freedom.  Freedom is a good thing, and we wave our flags in celebration of that freedom.  Yet so often, we use our freedom in ways that God never intended.  1 Peter 2:16 (GWT) says:
Live as free people, but don't hide behind your freedom when you do evil. Instead, use your freedom to serve God.
Hopefully, you'll never have to chose between freedom and godliness.  My prayer is that you'll use your freedom to share godliness with others.  Yet, it is the heroic woman or man who chooses loyalty to God over their love of the state or their idolatrous worship of freedom.  "I need a hero," sang Bonnie Tyler.  Today, I hope that you can be that hero.

*Unless otherwise noted, all scriptures are taken from the ESV.

1 comment:

Beth said...

How can 4 words plant a song so firmly in my brain, so that I now can't sleep because it's going round and round and round? Thanks, Greg. :-P