A legal case

Jeremiah’s message to Judah began with the presentation of a legal case against God’s people. According to the Mosaic Law, the Israelites were forbidden to worship any other God besides YHWH, the name of God translated into English as LORD. God chose this name as the personal name by which he related specifically to his chosen or covenant people (3068). The first three commandments of the Mosaic Law stated:

  1. Thou shalt have not other gods before me.
  2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in the heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
  3. Thou shalt not bow down thyself  to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children  unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me. (Exodus 20:3-5)

The first three of the Ten Commandments given to the children of Israel dealt with idolatry because the covenant between God and his chosen people depended on a relationship existing between the two parties of the agreement. In some ways, the Ten Commandments were like a marriage contract that specified the terms for a divorce to take place. It was implied that both God and his people would be faithful to each other and remain in the relationship for ever. The reason why idolatry was off limits for them was because like adultery, it undermined the intimacy that was necessary for a loving relationship to exist. The only way the Israelites would trust God and depend on his provision for them was knowing God and God alone could take care of all their needs.

God’s issue with his people was not so much that they had broken his commandments , but that they had abandoned him for worthless idols. Speaking through Jeremiah, the LORD declared, “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns; broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13). A cistern was a man-made storage tank designed to capture rain and make it available throughout the year. The cistern was representative of an idol because it was cut or carved out of stone and signified man’s ability to live independent of God’s ongoing provision. God’s reference to broken cisterns that could hold no water was meant to highlight the fact that a cistern was useless without rain, which God still had to provide.

The Israelites’ desire for independence was seen by God as being the same as an unfaithful spouse. Particularly in the book of Hosea, God’s people were likened to “a wife of whoredoms” (Hosea 1:2). Rather than being thankful for what God had provided, the Israelites preferred to fend for themselves (Jeremiah 2;25) and to worship whomever they pleased (Jeremiah 2:31). In spite of their flagrant idolatry, God’s people claimed to be innocent of the charges God brought against them. It was only because they refused to repent that God proceeded with his judgment. Jeremiah declared the truth about the people’s attitude when he said, “Yet thou sayest, Because I am innocent, surely his anger shall turn from me. Behold, I will plead with thee, because thou sayest, I have not sinned” (Jeremiah 2:35).

The day of the LORD

The prophet Zephaniah talked about the day of the LORD as if it could happen at any moment (Zephaniah 1:7). This was probably because he was looking at it from an eternal perspective. The phrase “day of the LORD” can refer to any time the Lord openly intervenes in the affairs of man. Thus it often applies to separate events in different time periods (footnote on Zephaniah 1:7). Zephaniah’s ministry took place during the reign of king Josiah, not long before Judah was taken into captivity in Babylon. Therefore, his prophecies had a certain amount of correlation to Judah’s current circumstances, but his overall message was about the end times.

The nation of Judah was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. At that time, the nation ceased to exist. The people that were taken into captivity eventually returned and reestablished their legal and worship systems, but they did not have a king to rule over them. Zephaniah made it clear in his message that the day of the LORD he was referring to was the final destruction of not only Judah, but also the entire world (Zephaniah 1:2). Zephaniah said, “I will utterly consume all things from off the land, saith the LORD. I will consume man and beast; I will consume the fowls of heaven, and the fishes of the sea, and the stumblingblocks with the wicked; and I will cut off man from off the land, saith the LORD” (Zephaniah 1:2-3).

Judah’s captivity was to a certain extent an illustration of God’s judgment of the world. Living in peace and prosperity for hundreds of years had desensitized the people to the reality of their sinful condition. The kings of Judah had managed to keep the nation stable during the expansion of the Assyrian empire, giving everyone the impression that God’s chosen people were immune to punishment. More than 200 years had transpired since Isaiah had first begun to warn the people of Judah of God’s anger towards them. Because they had been spared from going into captivity in Assyria with the northern kingdom of Judah, the people of Judah were probably thinking they could escape God’s wrath indefinitely.

In order to make the  people understand that there would be an end to their special treatment, Zephaniah spoke in terms of all things and all people being consumed by the LORD. It was only through the association of God’s people with the heathen of the world that they could see themselves as sinners. Zephaniah used language that conveyed a sense of urgency so that the people of Judah would realize that time was of the essence if they were to avoid getting caught up on the destruction that was about to take place. Unlike other prophetic messages the people may have heard in the past, Zephaniah warned of a sudden ending that would catch even the most valiant warrior off guard. He said, “The great day of the LORD is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of the LORD: the mighty man shall cry there bitterly” (Zephaniah 1:14).

Judgment

The prophet Amos was an ordinary man that God used to deliver a universal message of judgment to all the inhabitants of the land promised to Abraham. Unlike Isaiah who had a formal role in the kingdom of Judah, Amos worked for a living as a sheepmaster. Although Amos was probably uneducated, he spoke eloquently, perhaps a sign that the words he spoke came directly from God.

Amos used the same phrase to introduce each of the eight judgments he pronounced. “For three transgressions…and four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof” (Amos 1:3). The Hebrew word translated transgression, pesha’ means a revolt (7588). “Basically, this noun signifies willful deviation from, and therefore rebellion against, the path of godly living.” Amos’ reference to three transgressions, and four that they would be punished for indicated there was a repeated or habitual tendency that remained unchanged.

Amos’ testimony of God’s judgment on the nations revealed that all were guilty and deserved punishment. No one, including Israel and Judah, had met God’s expectations of a peaceful co-existence. Much like Jacob’s family, the conflict was continual and bitter dissention kept the nations divided. Among the list of offenders were enemies that had plagued Israel since they had arrived in the Promised Land; Damascus, the capital of Syria; the Philistine territory of Gaza; Tyrus and Edom; Ammon and Moab, who were the descendants of Lot.

Prominent in the description of eight judgments was the failure of Israel to conform to God’s standards. Amos’ indictment stated, “Because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes; that pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor, and turn aside the way of the meek: and a man and his father will go into the same maid, to profane my holy name” (Amos 2:6-7). God wanted his people to reflect his character, but instead they resembled the heathen who were cruel and oppressive, and eager to take advantage of those who couldn’t defend themselves.

Israel’s powerful army had enabled them to withstand numerous attacks by the Syrians. Because they had come to rely on their military skill rather than God’s protection and defense, their punishment would be an overwhelming defeat by the king of Assyria:

Therefore the flight shall perish from the swift, and the strong shall not strengthen his force, neither shall the mighty deliver himself: neither shall he stand that handleth the bow; and he that is swift of foot shall not deliver himself, and he that is courageous among the mighty shall flee away naked in that day; saith the LORD. (Amos 2:14-16)

Divorce

Joash king of Judah, who began his reign at the age of seven, was obedient to the LORD, but only during the lifetime of Johoida the priest (2 Chronicles 24:2). After Jehoida’s death, Joash listened to the princes of Judah and abandoned the house of the LORD God of their fathers (2 Chronicles 24:18). This prompted God to once again warn the people of his impending judgment (2 Chronicles 24:19).

Zechariah the son of Jehoida the priest delivered a message that had not been heard before. “Thus saith God, Why transgress ye the commandments of the LORD, that ye cannot prosper? because ye have forsaken the LORD, he hath forsaken you” (2 Chronicles 24:20). Previously, Israel had been told the LORD would not forsake his people (1 Samuel 12:22), but God’s promise to Solomon contained a stipulation that his commandments must be kept (1 Kings 6:12).

Joash’s reaction to Zechariah’s message from the LORD showed that his interest in doing the LORD’s will only went so far as to further his superiority over the people. As Joash matured and surpassed Johoida’s influence, he became self-righteous and thought he could rule the kingdom without any spiritual leadership.

Jehoash took a bold step and ordered Zechariah to be killed. “And they conspired against him, and stoned him with stones at the commandment of the king in the court of the house of the LORD” (2 Chronicles 24:21). The stoning of Zechariah was a significant turning point in Israel’s history noted by Jesus when he condemned the scribes and Pharisees shortly before his death (Matthew 23:35). The king of Judah had crossed a line similar to that of divorce.

Left to themselves, the people of Judah were no match for the Syrian army. Not only did God not help them, he gave victory to the other side. It says in 2 Chronicles 24:24, “For the army of the Syrians came with a small company of men, and the LORD delivered a very great host into their hand because they had forsaken the LORD God of their fathers.”

Joash was forced to payoff Hazael king of Syria in order to avoid complete destruction (2 Kings 12:18). The hallowed things and all the gold that was found in the treasures represented a recognition of defeat. Afterwards, Joash was assassinated by his own servants (2 Chronicles 24:25). Joash’s 40 year reign in Judah ended with the country in shambles.

The future

During Elisha’s ministry, the focus of God’s plan for the Israelites shifted from their past and present to their future. God used Elisha to manage the transition. Elisha’s reputation became a vehicle for him to minister to leaders inside and outside of Israel. Because people began to believe in God again, Elisha was able to direct everyone’s attention toward the change that was about to take place.

Israel’s relationship with Syria had become more and more of a problem as they fell into idolatry. King Ahab’s covenant with Ben-hadad had done little to ward off attacks. Ben-hadad II was not as ruthless as his father, but was still determined to keep the Israelites from breaking free from his control. In order to starve them to death, “Ben-hadad king of Syria gathered all his host, and went up, and besieged Samaria” (2 Kings 6:24).

The word translated besieged, tswur (tsoor) means to cramp or confine (6696). Basically, what Ben-hadad did was surround Samaria with his army so the people couldn’t go out and get food. Eventually, the situation got so bad, “an ass’s head sold for fourscore pieces of silver, and the fourth part of a kab of dove’s dung for five pieces of silver” (2 Kings 6:25).

“Then Elisha said, Hear ye the word of the LORD; Thus saith the LORD, To morrow about this time shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria” (2 Kings 7:1). Elisha’s prediction indicated that the situation would be turned around overnight. For the most part, people were used to seeing Elisha perform miracles, but the dramatic change he described was beyond people’s comprehension.

“Then a lord on whose hand the king leaned answered the man of God, and said, Behold, if the LORD would make windows in heaven, might this thing be? (2 Kings 7:2). What he was referring to was God’s blessing flowing freely to his people. The people  of Israel were so steeped in sin that it was unimaginable that God would suddenly make everything right.

What the people of Israel still didn’t seem to understand was that God’s blessing wasn’t dependent on them being good. God didn’t bless the Israelites because they were good people. God blessed the Israelites because they were his people. “And it came to pass as the man of God had spoken” (2 Kings 7:18).

The Israelites unbelief was the real reason God kept punishing them. In spite of continual demonstrations of his miraculous power, the people of Israel would not give up their idolatry and worship God. Finally, God brought judgment on the people of Israel through Ben-hadad’s successor, Hazael. After seeing a vision of what Hazael would do to Israel, Elisha wept.

And Hazael said, Why weepeth my lord? And he answered, Because I know the evil that thou wilt do unto the children of Israel: their strong holds wilt thou set on fire, and their young men wilt thou slay with the sword, and wilt dash their children, and rip  up their women with child. (2 Kings 8:12)

Not chosen

The prophecy about Edom recorded in the book of Obadiah was a result of the nation’s rebellion against Judah (2 Kings 8:20). Edom, also known as Esau, was the older twin brother of Jacob who sold his birthright for a bowl of soup (Genesis 25:32-33). Esau was predestined to serve his younger brother, and yet, he refused to accept his position. The struggle between the two brothers was manifested in hostility between their two nations, and after Israel went into captivity, Edom sought to take advantage of Judah’s misfortune.

Edom made the mistake of aligning itself with the world powers hostile to God and his kingdom. Therefore, the nation was doomed to destruction. Instead of defending their brother nation, Edom joined a confederacy that stood against Israel and made a pact to support their enemies. It says in Obadiah verse 10, “For thy violence against thy brother Jacob shame shall cover thee, and thou shalt be cut off forever.”

Like a gambler that makes a wager against his own team, Edom showed no loyalty to God’s chosen people, but rather reveled in the thought that they would be beaten by their enemies. Since a time had already been set for his people to be justified, God made it clear to the nation of Edom that they had chosen the wrong side. “For the day of the LORD is near upon all the heathen: as thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee; thy reward shall return upon thine own head” (Obadiah 15).

While the foreign nations may have been able to claim ignorance about God’s plan for the nation of Israel, Edom could not. As descendants of Abraham, the people of Edom were aware of the promise God made to bless his chosen people. Jealousy and envy caused Edom to resent the choice God made. The nation, like their forefather Esau, could not get over the fact that God was in control and he would decide their fate. “And there shall not be any remaining of the house of Esau; for the LORD hath spoken it” (Obadiah 18).

Edom could have been saved if they would have continued to serve Judah. It was because they broke away and became hostile to Israel that they were condemned. The problem was that Edom wasn’t interested in God’s mercy. God’s plan for Israel included salvation for the gentiles. The only requirement was that they had to submit to God and do things his way, but Edom would not. “And saviours shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the LORD’s” (Obadiah 21).

Moral decline

The marriage alliance between Jehoshaphat, king of Judah and Ahab, king of Israel was formed primarily to ensure that neither kingdom would be wiped out by Syria. Although the kingdom of Israel was considered to be the dominant partner in the agreement, Jehoshaphat’s devotion to God was a great asset because Ahab knew the LORD’s judgment upon him would eventually come to pass.

After Ahab made a covenant with Ben-hadad, king of Syria, he was told by a prophet of God, “Because thou hast let go out of thy hand a man whom I appointed to utter destruction, therefore thy life shall go for his life, and thy people for his people” (1 Kings 20:42). Then, Ahab stole Naboth’s vineyard and received a visit from Elijah, the prophet with a reputation for pronouncing judgment and executing those who defied God.

Elijah’s message to Ahab was clear, his entire household would be wiped out. Because Ahab humbled himself before the LORD, his punishment was postponed, but not retracted. According to the word of the LORD, “because he humbleth himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days, but in his son’s days will I bring the evil upon his house” (1 Kings 21:29).

Not knowing what would happen after his death, Ahab may have planned for his son-in-law, Jehoram to take over as king of Israel when all Ahab’s sons were killed. Since Jehoram was from the tribe of Judah and his father, Jehoshaphat was right with God, it was likely his marriage to Ahab’s daughter, Athaliah would secure the kingdom’s future. Unfortunately, Ahab’s wicked influence on his son-in-law caused Jehoram to turn away from the LORD. It says in 2 Chronicles 21:10 that Jehoram “had forsaken the LORD God of his fathers.”

The word translated forsaken in 2 Chronicles 21:10 is azab. “This word carries a technical sense of ‘completely and permanently abandoned’ or ‘divorced'” (5800). Jehoram’s abandonment of his relationship with the LORD after marrying Ahab’s daughter, Athaliah, brought judgment on the kingdom of Judah. As a result, both dynasties were wiped out.

The only survivor of the royal family in Judah was a baby by the name of Joash, the grandson of Jehoram. “But Jehoshabeath, the daughter of the king, took Joash the son of Ahaziah, and stole him from among the king’s sons that were slain, and put him and his nurse in a bedchamber…And he was with them hid in the house of God six years: and Athaliah reigned over the land” (2 Chronicles 22:12).