Monday, July 21, 2014

"A chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation … a people belonging to God … ought to act like it!"

Day #206:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - July 22nd

Scripture Reading:  II Kings 16 - 20 …

God had told Israel that He chose them to be His people, to be a special nation to Him, that they might declare His Name and His praises.  So what did Israel do?  After God brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand, delivering them even through the midst of the Red Sea … after they had seen God's power with their own eyes, after they experienced God's power and judgment at Mt. Sinai and in the wilderness … after they saw God help them to defeat the nations in the promised land … after God appeared at the temple and blessed all of Israel with prosperity under King David and then King Solomon … what did they do??  They lived like the other nations around them!!

And King Ahaz in Judah did likewise.  When Aram and Israel attacked Judah, Ahaz went to the king of Assyria for help and gave HIM gifts!! (16:8).  Then Ahaz removed parts of the temple that apparently offended the king of Assyria (16:17-18).  Anything to stay in power.  How like today that is.  Integrity doesn't matter … just stay in power at all costs.  Devotion to God certainly doesn't matter … just stay in power.  God was watching then and He is watching now!

Hoshea had become king in Israel and the new king of Assyria discovered that Hoshea had sought help from the king of Egypt, so Assyria invaded Israel and after several years put King Hoshea in prison and captured Samaria, the capital of Israel, and deported the Israelites throughout the Assyrian Empire.  God does not leave us in doubt as to why this happened:  "All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the LORD their God … They worshiped other gods and followed the practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before them" (17:7-8).

As you read through Chapter 17, verses 7-17, you may wonder what took God so long to bring judgment on Israel.  Verses 18-19 summarize the consequences of Israel's consistent rebellion against their God:  "So the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them from His presence.  Only the tribe of Judah was left, and even Judah did not keep the commands of the LORD their God."  So what can we expect to happen to Judah?

Meanwhile, the king of Assyria brought people from other parts of his empire to live in Israel.  These people were called, "Samaritans," and they were hated by the Jews … as you read in the Gospels.  They worshiped the LORD, thinking they could add Him to their other gods, but He was not THEIR God.  He didn't "go with the land," as they seemed to think.  He was ISRAEL's God!!  And though He had rejected them, we will see that He still had a remnant who believed in Him.

After Israel was exiled, King Hezekiah reigned in Judah and he reigned for twenty-nine years.  He was a king like David, who trusted in the LORD.  In fact, we are told, "There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him"  (18:5).  David and Solomon had reigned over all of Israel, but God says Hezekiah was the greatest king in Judah because he obeyed the LORD and trusted in Him and even destroyed the high places where the people had worshiped false gods.  God was with him in whatever he did and he defeated the Assyrians and the Philistines (in GAZA … that's how long the fight has been going on in that small area).

Now a new king came to power in Assyria, named Sennacherib.  He attacked Judah and King Hezekiah tried to appease him by sending him silver and gold.  But that didn't stop him.  He sent a message to Hezekiah and the people of Judah, asking, "On whom are you depending?" (18:20).  He told the people, "Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the LORD when he says, 'The LORD will surely deliver us' …" (18:30).  He boasted that the gods of the other nations he had defeated were not able to stand up against him, and Judah's God wouldn't be able to either!  But Sennacherib didn't know that Judah's God was different than the gods of the nations.

Hezekiah did what all those who know the living and true God should do:  he prayed!  And he told others to pray, including the prophet Isaiah, who was alive during this time.  God gave Isaiah a message for Hezekiah:  "Do not be afraid of what you have heard …  " (19:6).  God said that HE would take care of Sennacherib and the Assyrian army.  It reminds you of how God told Moses and the people of Israel to stand still and He would fight for them as Pharaoh came against them at the Red Sea.  The outcome would be the same here.

The prayer Hezekiah offered revealed his heart for God:  "You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth.  You have made heaven and earth. … Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God!" (19:15, 19).  That will be the desire of every true servant of the LORD, our God.  Isaiah, himself, would write it this way:  "Yes, LORD, walking in the way of Your laws, we wait for You; Your name and renown are the desire of our hearts" (Isaiah 26:8).

God answered Hezekiah's prayer in a remarkable way.  He promised that He would deliver Judah and said, "The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. …  He (the king of Assyria) will not enter this city …  I will defend this city and save it for my sake and for the sake of David my servant" (19:31,34).  So what did God do?  "That night the angel of the LORD went out and put to death one hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp" (19:35).  Our God is able to do more than we can possibly imagine.  God desires that His name be known, whether in salvation for those who trust in Him or in judgment on those who reject Him and who worship other gods.

As God had "a people" in the days of the kings and the prophets, so God has called a people today to Himself through His Son Jesus Christ.  God has promised salvation, eternal life, to all who trust in Him and who live to make Him known.  Many in the visible church today try to do what the people of Israel did and what the Samaritans did … worship God as if He were one of many, or pretend that they love Him and serve Him when the reality is that they don't even really know Him.

To those who are His true people God says, "You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light" (I Peter 2:9).  You can't pretend with God.  He sees you and He knows you (Read Psalm 51 and Psalm 139).  He calls us to be a people for HIM!  Many proclaim today that GOD exists for US … such arrogance will bring the same judgment that fell upon Israel.  We who by God's grace are His people exist for God, and through His grace He IS faithful as we call upon Him, providing for all we NEED that we may fulfill our mission to make HIM known.

Ask God to make that your heart's desire:  that He would be known and that all the world would know that HE is God.  Live to make that happen.  Hezekiah was a brief breath of fresh air in Judah.  At the end of his life he still did some foolish things.  When he became ill he prayed and God granted him fifteen more years of life, but then he "showed off" all his possession to visitors from Babylon .. not knowing that soon, Babylon would conquer Judah in judgment upon their sin against God, and all that he had shown them would be given to the king of Babylon.  Oh, how short-sighted sinful people are.

God calls you and me to set our eyes on Jesus and to be focused on our mission to make the one true God known to the world in which we live today.  A chosen people ought to act like it!!  May we be about our Father's business, proclaiming the Gospel and offering forgiveness and life to all whom the Lord, our God will move to hear and believe.  Judgment is coming … but our God saves those who turn to Him and who call on the name of the LORD … for He alone is God!!!

"O LORD, our God, in the highest heavens You are praised by the host of angels around Your throne. Open my eyes to see Your glory and open my heart to respond in love and praise for Your deliverance through the blood of Jesus Christ, Your Son and my Savior and Lord.  I depend on YOU for all I need and for life itself.  May my lips declare Your glory to all I meet and may Your Name be exalted today on my account.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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