Answering Elijah (Part 7)

Sorry for the break, Elijah. I’ve been on the road. Not that there’s a lack of interwebs on the road, but…

Anyway. Back at it now.

Walking through scripture once again to answer your question about the biblical basis for my understanding of “mission.”

So far we’ve hit love, Eden, flood and fame, Abraham, the books Exodus through Ruth and Israel’s choice to replace God with a human king. Now, how the kings screwed everything up and got God’s people exiled.

Solomon & His Heirs

On his deathbed, David anointed his twelve year-old King of Israel. And gave the boy a stern warning:

“I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, show yourself a man, and observe what the LORD your God requires: Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go, and that the LORD may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.’” 1 Kings 2:2-4

God gave Solomon unparalleled wisdom – with wealth and honor thrown in – and God made Himself known to the nations through him (1 Kings 3:7-13). “Men of all nations” sent by “all the kings of the world” came to learn from Solomon (1 Kings 4:34).

Solomon reigned over the nation for 40 years, the period of its greatest peace and prosperity. He built a Temple in Jerusalem, a house for “God’s name,” uniting the nation in worship of Yaweh in one location. Peace with God and man! But Solomon’s rule ended badly, with rebellion met by God’s grace and wrath.

Solomon disobeyed Jewish law governing the number of wives a king should marry (Deuteronomy 17:17). In order to broker peace with rival nations, it’s assumed, Solomon took foreign royalty to be his wives: 700 wives, each with their own gods.

As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done. -1 Kings 11:4-6

Then came God’s wrath:

The LORD became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the LORD’s command. So the LORD said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates…

And God’s grace:

…Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son.  Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.” -1 Kings 11:9-13

Exiles

God kept His word and disciplined the nation. Kings after Solomon, with only one notable exception, continued Solomon’s rebellion against God, leading the nation to new lows of depravity. The nation was eventually split in two: Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Each half continued to rebel against God in its own fashion, and was eventually exiled.

The North was taken by Assyria:

The king of Assyria deported Israel to Assyria and settled them in Halah, in Gozan on the Habor River and in towns of the Medes. This happened because they had not obeyed the LORD their God, but had violated his covenant—all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded. They neither listened to the commands nor carried them out. -2 Kings 18:11-12

The South by Babylon:

Nebuchadnezzar removed all the treasures from the temple of the LORD and from the royal palace, and took away all the gold articles that Solomon king of Israel had made for the temple of the LORD. He carried into exile all Jerusalem: all the officers and fighting men, and all the craftsmen and artisans—a total of ten thousand. Only the poorest people of the land were left. -2 Kings 24:13-14

But each kingdom also received grace as God warned them of the coming exiles before they took place, preserved them during exile, and promised them a future deliverance from it.

The Prophets

God graciously sent prophets to the nation with a three-part message before the exiles – “pre-exilic prophets”: Amos, Hosea and Joel spoke to the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and Isaiah, Micah, Nahum, Habbakuk, Zephaniah and Jeremiah spoke to the Southern Kingdom (Judah). This was their message:

  • You have rebelled against God, failing to express faith and love for Him through obedience.
  • Love God or else you will be disciplined.
  • God will not leave you. He will deliver you from exile someday and, through you, the nations.

God graciously sent prophets with His three-part message during the years of exiles as well – “exilic prophets”: Ezekiel and Daniel. This was their message:

  • You have rebelled against God, failing to express faith and love for Him through obedience.
  • God is disciplining you now.
  • God will not leave you. He will deliver you from exile someday and, through you, the nations.

Sound familiar? And after the exiles God graciously sent messengers yet again to the nation with a similar three-part message – “post-exilic prophets”: Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi wrote to those returning to Jerusalem from Babylon. This was their message:

  • You have rebelled against God, failing to express faith and love for Him through obedience.
  • You were disciplined and will be again if you rebel once more.
  • God did not leave you and will never leave you. As He has delivered you from exile, He will also deliver the nations some day.

God’s Mission In Exile

All three sets of prophets articulated (and re-articulated and re-articulated) God’s mission: God wanted a relationship with His people – their love/faith expressed through obedience to Him. He wanted to expand His relationship beyond the nation to all nations. He wanted to bring all people out of their proverbial and not-so-proverbial exiles and back into right relationship with each other and Him. Only in right relationship, the prophets intimated, would people enjoy the peace, provision and protection of His rule as King of all.

From the couple shut out of Eden, to the Hebrews working construction for pharaoh, to the prisoners of war in Assyria and Babylon, God is the gracious deliverer of rebellious exiled people.

I’ll double back in the next post and look at Isaiah in more detail. Jesus quoted His words more than any other Hebrew source. Isaiah will shed needed light on Jesus’ mission as King and Deliverer sent to the nations by the God of the exiles.