Monday, March 31, 2014

RBV: II Kings 10:26

And they brought the sacred pillars out of the temple of Baal and burned them.
—II Kings 10:26

The burning of the sacred pillars of Baal occurred during the coup and subsequent reforms of Jehu, who overthrew the House of Ahab and destroyed Baal worship in Israel. It was a violent, bloody era in both the northern and southern kingdoms' histories. After Jehu personally slew Joram, Ahab's son and heir (II Kings 9:24), he sent pursuers to kill the King of Judah, Ahaziah, who had married a daughter of Ahab and Jezebel (verse 27), and later, ordered Jezebel to be thrown from an upper-story window and trampled her body under his chariot (verses 30-33). He incited the inhabitants of Samaria to kill the seventy sons of Ahab living in the city (II Kings 10:1-7). "So Jehu killed all who remained of the house of Ahab in Jezreel, and all his great men and his close acquaintances and his priests, until he left him none remaining" (verse 11). For good measure, he killed all the sons of King Ahaziah (verses 12-14), "and when he came to Samaria, he killed all who remained to Ahab in Samaria, till he had destroyed them, according to the word of the LORD which He spoke to Elijah" (verse 17).

Once he was firmly established as king, Jehu went after the worshippers of Baal, using deception to lure them into the temple of Baal, where he had them all killed (verses 18-25). Evidently, the entire temple had been packed with Baalists ("the temple of Baal was full from one end to the other"; verse 21), and eighty of his most loyal guards and captains slaughtered them without mercy. Thus, Jehu brutally purged Baal-worship in Israel.

It was at this point that his men brought out the sacred pillars from the temple and burned them. The previous verse indicates that these pillars were in the inner sanctum, the "most holy place" of the temple. The Hebrew word for "pillars" is mashshebot, which can describe both wooden and stone pillars that can be either functional (like doorposts) or monumental and religious. These pillars stood for the presence of Baal in his temple, much as the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat stood for the true God's presence in the Tabernacle/Temple. If the pillars were of wood, they were burned to ash, and if they were of stone, they were fragmented by heating them in a bonfire and then pouring water on them. Sometimes, depending on the level of abhorrence, they were pulverized.

Not to leave anything undone, Jehu "tore down the temple of Baal and made it a refuse dump" (verse 27). Modern commentators believe that he actually redeveloped the area and made the site a public latrine. So he showed his contempt for Baal and his adherents.

Sadly, Jehu did not take the next step and renounce all paganism. Instead, he upheld the national religion represented by the golden calves that Jeroboam I had installed at Bethel and Dan during the tenth century (verse 29). For this, God limited his reward to rule over Israel for four generations (verse 30). While he did what God had asked of him in ridding the nation of Ahab and Jezebel's influence, he did not completely embrace God's way (verse 31). 

There lies the lesson. If God tells us to overthrow what is evil in our lives, those things that cause us to sinand He does command us to do sothen we had better do what we can to rid ourselves of those things completely. We cannot afford to leave any vestiges of evil lying around because they will return to haunt us.

Thankfully, we can do this through the sacrifice of Christ and the power of God's Spirit. God wants us to "go on to perfection" (Hebrews 6:1), or as James writes in terms of overcoming trials, ". . . that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing" (James 1:4). Our Father does not want a bunch of half-finished, partially loyal Jehus as children; He wants completely perfected sons and daughters who are wholly committed to His way of life.

Friday, March 28, 2014

RBV: I Chronicles 14:11

So they went up to Baal Perazim, and David defeated them there. Then David said, "God has broken through my enemies by my hand like a breakthrough of water." Therefore they called the name of that place Baal Perazim.
—I Chronicles 14:11

This chapter records the brief accounts of two encounters in the Valley of Rephaim, probably near Bethlehem, that King David had with the Philistines. Our verse is part of the concluding comments on the first battle (verses 8-12), while the second encounter is narrated in verses 13-16. Both clashes occurred just after David became king over all Israel, having united Judah and the northern tribes, and the Philistines were probing into Israelite territory to test his strength and perhaps divide and thus weaken the nation.

David's forces win both battles decisively, a severe setback for the Philistines, who had been consistently victorious over Saul's armies in the recent past. The stark contrast with Saul is deliberate, showing that the new king had God's support, unlike the old king. One of the clear differences is that, when David inquires of God whether he should meet the Philistines in battle, the Lord answers him: “Go up, for I will deliver them into your hand” (verse 10). Recall that in the last years of his reign, "when Saul inquired of the LORD, the LORD did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by the prophets" (I Samuel 28:6). And in desperation, facing the armies of Philistia in the Valley of Jezreel, Saul seeks a medium instead—leading to disastrous results. The chronicler is illustrating the good things that happen when the leader of the nation truly fears God.

The chief emphasis, however, is that God Himself is the main cause of the Israelites' victories; He fights their battles for them (Exodus 14:14). David is humble before God, not presuming to take the armies of Israel to war unless the true Ruler of Israel permits it (I Chronicles 14:10). Nor does he presume that just because he has God's permission that it will result in victory: David asks Him if He will allow him to conquer his adversaries. Both questions receive affirmative answers, giving the king and his soldiers great confidence—certainty—that they will emerge triumphant. All the credit goes to God.

In the picturesque way of the Hebrews, David depicts his first victory in Rephaim as a divine breakthrough of water, something like onrush of a flash-flood. He may have been thinking of the results of heavy rainfall in hilly country, when the water pours down the hillsides and the gullies cannot contain it but spill over, eroding under the torrent. In a similar way, armies can rush down upon their foes, who are unable to defend against the onslaught and break.

Thus, David calls the place Baal Perazim or "Lord of Outbursts." We do not normally think of God in this way, but we are instructed by this passage in Scripture to consider it. Our God has a multifaceted personality. He is not always calm and patient, treading softly and ruffling no feathers. Sometimes, He suddenly breaks out with an ear-splitting shout and an onrush of overwhelming power that nothing and no one can stand against! Fortunately, He does this against His and His people's enemies, sweeping them away with a stroke of His arm.

Do we wish for Him to act this way in our behalf? Perhaps He will not come to our aid as dramatically as He did for Israel in I Chronicles 14, but if we follow David's example of humble inquiry and faithful service, He will fight our battles for us. Our task will be to follow His lead and glorify Him for His wondrous intervention.