Saturday, 11 March 2017

Revivals in Israel Pt 1

Revivals in Ancient Israel (922 to 732 BC) Pt 1

The “ten tribes” which rebelled against Rehoboam formed the northern kingdom of “Israel” from then on to its demise at the hands of the Assyrians in 732 BC.

Humanly the rebellion was caused by Rehoboam's lack of diplomacy and care for his subjects. Divinely it was foretold and caused by God in response to Solomon abandoning God in his old age.
Jeroboam (king 922-901) had been approached by the prophet Ahijah who said “This is what the Lord says: 'I am going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon's had and give you ten tribes … you will be king over Israel' ”. Sadly, after the successful rebellion Jeroboam did not trust God to maintain him in power but made his own holy places at each end of the kingdom (Dan and Bethel) complete with golden calves and his own brand of priests (not Levites as God had decreed). 
I will skip over the next five kings of Israel, because they all followed the same pattern. Most took over the throne by force and killed all the males related to the former king. All of them did further evil in God's sight by worshipping idols. A prophet would tell them that God was about to strike them for all the evil they had done but they did not repent and then disaster befell them.

This brings us to Ahab, who succeeded his father Omri as king. He married Jezebel who was a devotee of Baal, and between them they made Baal and Ashera worship the state religion and tried to exterminate Yahwism. Onto this stage steps the prophet Elijah.

Elijah throws down the gauntlet by declaring that, although they claim their idols control the weather there will, as a demonstration of Yahweh's power, there will be no rain until he says so.
There follows a delightful account (1 Kings 17 & 18) of the cat and mouse game: Ahab trying to capture Elijah but God hiding and miraculously feeding him. In the midst of this we learn that there has been an “underground church” in Israel. We encounter one Obadiah, a high official who still worships God and who has hidden away 100 prophets of God and supplied them with food and water.
Then comes the big contest. Elijah challenges the Baalists through Ahab to meet him on Mount Carmel before all the Israelites. 

The prophets of Baal dance all morning around the altar they have built to no avail. At the time of evening sacrifice Elijah says a short prayer and fire falls from heaven and consumes the offering on his altar. After such a demonstration the Israelites declare their allegiance to God and dispose of the prophets of Baal. Then the rains come.

In this revival of true religion, God defeats the ruthless power of the state with a miraculous demonstration of his superior power. 
After this, God delivers Israel twice from attacks by vastly superior forces. Even after the judicial murder of Naboth, God's sentence on Ahab is postponed because Ahab humbles himself before God.
Elisha succeeds Elijah as prophet and his ministry too is studded with spectacular miracles. The king, Ahab's son goes in awe of Elisha, and is delivered from attacks by the neighbouring Arameans, but Jezebel is still alive and we see later that while there are companies of God's prophets, there are also many belonging to Baal. I am only guessing, but this could be the reason God works so many spectacular miracles at this time.

A lesson for today I would Take from this is: God can, but infrequently does, miracles. I say this because there has on one hand been a “signs and wonders” movement that expected miracles at every turn, but on the other hand in mainline churches a lack of belief in let alone expectation of miracles. In the Bible they do happen but they are pretty rare: mostly grouped around Elijah and Elisha, then Jesus and the early Apostles. Apart from that they are sprinkled as authentications of prophecies (as for Hezekiah) and as military deliverances – although there are certainly a large number of those! As Jesus said: “In the time of Elisha the prophet no one in Israel was cleansed of leprosy, only Naaman the Syrian” 
My advice is: Pray for miracles, because when the situation warrants it God is more than capable of doing them: but do not expect them just whenever you think they might be useful. 
Next an army commander, Jehu is anointed king by one of the prophets at God's command. I am personally confused about what follows. Jehu deliberately carries out God's sentence on Ahab that all his descendants would be killed. He also disposes of Jezebel. He kills all the prophets and ministers of Baal, and purges the leading men of the country. The Bible commends him for carrying out God's sentence, but historically his purge of all the leaders weakens Israel economically for some generations. Perhaps I am wrong, but I would take two opposing lessons from this:

1) God takes the perverting of true religion really, really seriously – so that a complete purge is worth the consequent problems …. but …
2) To convert and be able to retain the leaders, influential people and intelligentsia is better still.

As God predicted, Jehu's descendants to the fourth generation are kings, thereafter they change by assassinations and coups. They do not institute religious revival. Although some like Jehoash revered the prophet Elisha, indeed he referred to him as “the chariots and horsemen of Israel”. Some, like Jeroboam II had economic prosperity, some were oppressed by Aram, and finally Hoshea by turning traitor against his Assyrian overlord caused all Israel to be deported and scattered over the Assyrian empire. 
So unlike Judah in the South, kings were rarely the motivators of revival in Israel.
We have looked at Elijah and Elisha, next I want to see what effect some of the later prophets sent to the North had.

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