Ravens and the Prophet

The Judgements of God - Chapter Twenty

The Lord said to Elijah, ‘Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel – all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal, and all whose mouths have not kissed him.
(1 Kings 19:15-18)

The people of Israel may have renounced Baal worship, but their hearts were still hard. Three years of drought had neither weaned them from their backslidings nor turned them to the Lord. We can discern a wealth of hidden meaning, therefore, behind the Lord’s commission to appoint Hazael and Jehu to be the next monarchs of their nations.

First, Elijah was told to appoint Hazael to be the next king of the powerful Aramean (Syrian) nation. Here was a man who would stoop to anything in order to fulfil his ambitions, and who would one day launch an invasion against Israel. Secondly, Elijah was sent next to proclaim Jehu, a rough and ready army man, to be the next king of Israel, with the express purpose of making him the scourge of the house of Ahab. Elijah’s final commission was to appoint a young farmer as his own successor.

For a man who had so recently believed himself to be indispensable for the task of delivering Israel from its apostasy, this last command must have been particularly welcome. Elijah had repeatedly lamented that he alone was faithful in the land, and here was God, raising up the perfect companion for him. Whereas Saul hounded David at the point of his spear, Elijah would do everything he could to develop Elisha’s ministry. The contrast could hardly be greater between Elijah’s nurturing spirit and King Saul’s insane jealousy.

It is always God’s way that others should take our place, and go further than we ourselves have done.

Any church that is failing to plan ahead to raise up its successors is lacking in its vision, for the Lord is always thinking of the next generation.

The Judgement of God

It is important for us to try to understand why such motley people as Jehu and Hazael were needed to complete God’s dealings with His rebellious people. The fact that God was prepared to appoint them at all is a reminder that His purposes stretch far beyond the walls of Church or Temple.

Earlier, we made a comparison between Elijah and Habakkuk. It is a curious coincidence that in both generations, God’s plan involved the raising up of unscrupulous men to be the scourge of His people. By choosing Hazael to be king over Aram, God was declaring that His time had come for the dynasty of Benhadad. Since Hazael would shortly invade Israel, it is hard to interpret this appointment in any other light than as a judgement on apostate Israel.(1) Jehu may have served to rid the land of the worst excesses of Baal worship, but he can hardly be considered a paradigm of righteousness.

This theme of judgement is never far from the Elijah narrative. What is important to realise is that this is far from being some obscure Old Testament concept. The judgements of God are everywhere in the Bible, but all too little attention is given to the subject in most churches today.(2)

Those who uncompromisingly proclaim the wrath of God, unrelieved by a proper appreciation of His mercy and long-suffering, tend to display all the winsomness of a chunk of granite!

For lack of a proper understanding of this theme, however, many Christians know all too little of the fear of God in their lives.

So it is that some churches have wandered off into mere sentimentality, while others have become doctrine-bound through fear of embracing error. Both extremes are a distortion.

We find the perfect balance in the Person of the Lord Jesus Himself, who came into the world full of grace and truth.(3) Had He come only with grace, history might perhaps remember Him as little more than a laissez-faire do-gooder, effectively preaching a ‘Do-what-you-please-if-it-makes-you-feel-good’ message. Nothing could be further from the Jesus we meet in the gospels. Equally, were He to treat us purely as we deserve according to His absolute holiness, then which of us would not be crushed by the weight of our sinfulness?

We need experience no confusion in reconciling the God of Love with the One who was and is the Judge of all the World. He is and always has been the God of all mercy, but when unconfessed sin encounters the holiness and zeal of the Lord, then shaking and judgement are inevitable.

The Wrath of God

This is where our study of the life of Elijah bears so heavily on our own condition today. We too are part of a society that has turned to embrace whichever pleasures, fancies or gods that most appeal to us. Are we too not ripe for judgement? In Billy Graham’s words, ‘If God spares the nations of the West, He will have to apologise to Sodom and Gomorrah!’

God is angry when the Church pronounces arbitrarily on issues He has already declared to be absolutes, and when we fail to make a clear distinction between right and wrong. The modern habit of ridiculing certainty, and elevating doubt, is not glorifying. Scripture is full of warnings that, where there is insufficient repentance, the Lord Jesus will ‘come and fight against us with the sword of His mouth.’ (4) There is a real danger that God will hide His face from us, and allow more and more disasters to be visited on us.(5)

One reason why so many fail to heed these warnings is because they have been taught to dismiss all talk of God’s wrath. It is neither ‘politically correct’, nor does it fit in with people’s picture of how they would like God to be. Moreover, we tend to associate wrath with destructive emotions. After all, we usually regret it when we lose our tempers! But human anger is neither a full nor an accurate picture of the wrath of God.

Scripture teaches so plainly about the wrath of God that we simply cannot afford to heed the siren songs of those who claim there is no anger in His heart.(6)

The love of God contains and embraces wrath, for holiness has but one standard: the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. Why should we be surprised if ‘the God of justice’ reveals His justice? Just because He does not send His bills in every week, people do not get away with breaking God’s laws. Ultimately, it is probably less true to say that people break God’s laws than that they break us. Truth is a strong support of the righteous, but it is a hammer that destroys falsehood.(7)

When evil has reached its full flowering, the judgement of God falls – and usually in such a way as to justify God’s intervention in everybody’s eyes.(8)

Those who ‘major’ on a God of love presumably derive their understanding from their reading of the gospels. In which case they need to take into account the full picture the gospels present us with. It is a patchy and selective reading which embraces His love whilst ignoring His holiness. It leads to nothing but a gospel of our own making.(9)

Sharing the Lord’s Heart

At the very time when the principalities and powers of darkness are gathering themselves for the final battle for the heart and mind of mankind, large parts of the Church have been rendered ineffective in the struggle against a strong secular challenge. It is heartbreaking to watch God having to expose the unbelief and the immorality that lie hidden in the heart of the Church. Although we see these things, most of us still do not make the connection, and realise that this too is part of the judgement of God. It is astonishing how blind we can be.

God’s will does not consist of a set of inflexible doctrines. Rather it embraces and considers our response. Thus Brother Andrew writes that while God’s nature and character are eternal and unchanging, His plans are flexible. To a large extent they are dependent on our repentance, and our intercession.

Sadly, much of the Church remains taken up with its own concerns. I believe it gives the Lord great pleasure when we are prepared to give Him the undivided love of our hearts. He grieves when we set aside the call for repentance and righteousness in favour of the outwardly more exciting, never realising that this in turn will become predictable as the years go by.

The heart of God burns with zeal to bless those who seek Him earnestly – but it is red-hot against all such things which affront Him.

Mercy Triumphs over Judgement

Studying this inglorious period of Israel’s history is no mere academic exercise: it contains a sobering warning, as well as spiritual solutions, for our own generation. It is only by facing the challenge of God that we will ever become one with the God of Mercy. We will need to comfort and steady ourselves with this truth at times when so many parts of the world are exploding in violence, famine and warfare, leaving people hurt, bewildered and confused.

God had already pronounced His sentence on backslidden Israel, just as He has against our society today. We are not speaking here merely of some future event; a process of shaking is taking place right now across almost every area of our national life. Did we really expect a holy God to be content merely to watch impassively while Church leaders mislead the people concerning His very nature? True, the Lord prefers to reform than to remove – the outworkings of judgement are grievous to God Himself – but He will not hold back when it is necessary.(10)

The Lord has revealed His judgement against us: our task is therefore to accept His assessment of the situation, and to cry out to Him for mercy. Time and opportunity are always offered for repentance, for it is ever the longing of the Lord to restore and to revive.(11)

Less optimistically, we must also recognize that men find it easier to blame circumstances than to face up to their own shortcomings. The book of Revelation warns that this will be the case right up until the end of human history. Even though God sends disaster after disaster in order to attract our attention, many will prefer to curse God rather than repent.(12)

Whereas Nineveh responded to the message of repentance and so was saved, many other societies have fared less well.(13) Where mercy is not sought, then God will allow us to be overtaken by the things on which we have so foolishly set our hearts.

In and through the shaking, God is training a prophetic people who will cultivate the minutes to pray for God’s presence to return in power to the spiritual wastelands which the western nations have become.

All that God does is for cleansing and purification.

When men and nations reach the end of their own resources, they are far more likely to turn to the living God, who can transform any situation.(14)

The Lord is always looking for two things: to save the lost, and to find a people who will worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. He is restoring gifts and ministries to His Church, and causing her to shine with increasing vigour and in far greater beauty. This is a not the time for doing things which have no eternal value, and which bring Him no glory. He is refining us so that we can go and do as Jesus did, and help hurting people to experience the transforming power of God.

Reflections

Ponder the thought that ‘mercy triumphs over judgement.’(15)

In what ways have you seen God’s judgement at work?(16)

What criteria would you suggest to help distinguish between God’s judgement (on a person, church or nation) and His ‘normal’ discipline?(17)

Selah

‘Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before You!

As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to Your enemies,
and cause the nations to quake before You!

For when You did awesome things that we did not expect,
You came down, and the mountains trembled before You.

Since ancient times no-one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides You,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.’

(Isaiah 64:1-4)

Sovereign Lord, You used Elijah so powerfully to show forth Your judgements in the world. Help us to understand Your ways better, so that we can both pray and act in tune with Your heart. We cry to You to forgive us our foolish ways, our backsliding as a nation. We cry to You for mercy. We have tried to bring revival to our land, and we have done no more than scratch the surface of the nation. Only You can bring this power. We plead with You to come, and to do whatever is necessary in our own lives to help bring this about. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Previous Chapter – The Dark Speech of God
Next Chapter – When My People are One

References

1 2 Kings 10:31. In a sense, one could also say that sending Elijah to the widow in Zarephath, rather than to someone in Israel, was in itself a penalty on the nation for its refusal to welcome the prophet God had sent them. See Luke 4:24-27.
2 Eg Deuteronomy 32:20f, Romans 1:24-32, cf Ezekiel 10:18-11:13
3 John 1:14
4 Revelation 2:16, see also 2:5
5 See and study Deuteronomy 32:15-43
6 Cf Hebrews 12:5-12, Revelation 2:19
7 Jeremiah 23:29
8 Paradoxically, it could be argued that the judgements of God sometimes seem to fall on the righteous rather than on the unrighteous. Thus Jesus was put to death while His tormentors lived on. There is much to ponder in Isaiah 57:1: ‘The righteous perish, and no-one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no-one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil.’
9 2 Timothy 4:3-4; cf Revelation 2:6,21-23
10 Cf Isaiah 28:21, 27:8-9, 31:2; Romans 11:20-23
11 Jeremiah 3:12-13,19-22; 4:1-2; Isaiah 30:18; cf Lamentations 3:28-29, 48-50, 2:18-19
12 Revelation 16:9
13 Jonah 3:8-10; cf Jeremiah 25:30-32, Genesis 15:16; Revelation chs. 6, 8-9, 15-16, 18-19
14 Deuteronomy 32:36
15 James 2:13
16 Unlike any previous generation, many believers today find it hard to grasp the concept of the wrath of God. The following provide a number of ‘starter’ texts to help introduce us to the concept. Numbers 16:45-48; Deuteronomy 1:32-38 9:13-19; 2 Chronicles 28:8-15; Isaiah 47:5-11, 54:8-9, 57:16-21, 64:9-12; Lamentations 4:12-13, 5:21-22; Matthew 3:7; 1 Thessalonians 1:10, 5:9; Romans 2:1-8, 12:17-21; Revelation 6:16; Matthew 23, cf Zechariah 11:17; Ezekiel 34:1-6; Micah 2:6-3:12; James 5:1-6; Amos 5:5, 6:1,4).
17 If you are struggling to know where to begin with this very searching issue, try thinking of men in the Bible who fell under God’s judgement. What were the key reasons why mercy was not shown to them? Study the word ‘judgement’ every time it appears in the New Testament. Compare and contrast that with the Old Testament, for example, as in the book of Psalms or Jeremiah. On a rather different level, try meditating on the word ‘judgment’ as it is used in the book of Proverbs in its wider meaning of ‘good sense.’

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