Sunday, February 02, 2020

Problems That Don’t Go Away By Themselves

Upon being anointed king of Israel, Jehu wasted no time getting to work fulfilling the prophecies made about him. Not only did he kill the king of Israel, he threw in his unfortunate ally, the king of neighboring Judah, for good measure. He then orchestrated the deaths of the queen mother, the seventy sons of Ahab, all Ahab’s close friends and priests, and even a group of visitors from Judah who had come to see them. Finally, he called together the worshipers of Baal, had them executed to a man, demolished the house of Baal and turned it into a latrine.

A pretty clean sweep, you might say. Bloody, but definitely comprehensive.

The Editor Weighs In

That’s all Bible history. As is often the case, it’s presented to us with very little editorial commentary. We have to sort out the morality and appropriateness of most of Jehu’s actions for ourselves. Was it fair play for him to shoot Joram in the back? Was it really necessary to murder Ahaziah as well? Did the visitors from Judah really deserve to share the fate of their Israelite relatives? David had been anointed by God just like Jehu, but he did not interpret his anointing as a command to go and murder Saul. Jehu had no such compunctions.

So what’s the very first editorial comment we find about Jehu in 2 Kings? Well, it’s this: “But Jehu did not turn aside from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin — that is, the golden calves that were in Bethel and in Dan.”

Jehu’s enthusiasm for the job God had given him was unquestionable, but it is not any of the many things Jehu did that rates a note from the relevant Bible historian; rather, it is what he neglected to do.

A Little Appreciation, Please

Now, that may seem a little harsh to us; a little bit like when your wife goes away for a week and you spend the last six hours of her absence frantically washing the dishes, vacuuming the house, dusting, doing laundry, making the beds and generally spiffing up the place for her, only to find that her first comment when she walks in the door is that you haven’t replaced the groceries you ate. On first reading, one might think the writer of 2 Kings a little unappreciative of all Jehu’s hard work.

And indeed, if the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat had been on the level of some of Ahab’s more pedestrian violations, it might be reasonable to wonder why the Spirit of God has singled out a failure to root out one specific evil instituted nine kings and ninety years earlier as the source of God’s displeasure with Jehu and the reason for which his sons would sit on the throne of Israel for only four generations.

Getting Used to the Status Quo

The problem is that the sins of Jeroboam were ongoing, and their impact colossal. Israel had grown so used to the golden calves that they probably hardly thought of them as “other gods” and rivals to the worship of Jehovah. They were just a customary part of the Israelite religious landscape. After all, they had been fixtures at Dan and Bethel as long as anyone in Israel had been alive. But to God, those calves were an abomination devoted to destruction, a national violation of the first commandment, and cause for inevitable judgment.

It is all too easy for us to get accustomed to the status quo, even when the status quo is exceptionally wicked. Roe v. Wade was decided all the way back in 1973. Abortion on demand has been the law of the land in many Western countries for nearly fifty years, longer than all but a few of our readers have been alive. Most Christians disagree strongly with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, but few expect the ruling to be going anywhere soon. “If you don’t believe in abortion, don’t have one,” sneer the pro-choice crowd, and many Christians have tacitly accepted “live and let live” (or in this case, “live and let die”) as their default position on the issue. Nobody is making us abort our own children, after all. And few of us are aware exactly how many of our tax dollars have been directed to Planned Parenthood, or stop to calculate precisely how many dead babies we should each have on our consciences.

Abortion, after all, is a very divisive issue, and nobody wants to start a civil war with far-leftist crazies and their enablers. More than a few Christians view vocal opposition to abortion as just not politically expedient, and their activist brothers and sisters who picket abortion clinics as a little extreme, and sometimes an embarrassment to all of us.

Not Politically Expedient

Removing the golden calves at Dan and Bethel was not politically expedient either, which is probably why no Israelite king ever did it. Men accepted the status quo. God did not. The prophet Ahijah warned, “[The Lord] will give Israel up because of the sins of Jeroboam, which he sinned and made Israel to sin.” Where the blessing of God on the land and people of Israel was concerned, the sins of Jeroboam were an absolute stopper. They would literally end the nation and send it into exile.

Thus, after Jehu had passed from the scene, we read of his son Jehoahaz that “He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and followed the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin; he did not depart from them. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel.” The same is said about Jehoash, Jeroboam II, Zechariah, Menahem, Pekahiah, Pekah and Hoshea. All are specifically condemned for their failure to right an ancient wrong. The only Israelite king about whom the comment is not made was a guy named Shallum, who managed to hold onto his throne for an entire month. In all probability he hadn’t time to consider the issue of the golden calves before Menahem murdered him.

When the people finally go into exile in 2 Kings 17, fulfilling the prophecy made through Ahijah over 200 years earlier, the writer of Kings says, “[Israel] did not depart from [all the sins that Jeroboam did], until the Lord removed Israel out of his sight, as he had spoken by all his servants the prophets. So Israel was exiled from their own land to Assyria until this day.”

Israel got blasé about the sins of Jeroboam. God didn’t. His anger never faded. Some problems simply don’t go away by themselves. They need to be consciously and actively addressed no matter how long they have been around and no matter how much public support they appear to have.

Gambling with the Future

What about us? Well, I suppose if abortion were just another in a long list of relatively minor breaches of public morality that God in his inestimable grace is has historically overlooked, then perhaps we Westerners might have nothing much to worry about. So far as we know, no nation ever lost its home because its people drank too much, worked too little, tolerated institutional corruption or watched too much bad TV. Wicked individuals in those nations may have taken their lumps from time to time, but massive, sweeping, corporate judgments from God affecting entire people groups? Not so much.

On the other hand, if it is true that the shed blood of innocents really cries out to God, as scripture repeatedly assures us it does, then perhaps, as in all the countries of the West, the Supreme Court has enshrined for America a national abomination, an idolatrous worship of self on the level of the golden calves in Dan and Bethel. If so, it would not be unreasonable to expect a response from God on the scale of his national judgment of Israel.

Children being children, and blood being blood, I don’t imagine we’ll need to wait 200 years.

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