E100 The Fall of Israel

Sermon Date: 
18 Nov 2012
Bible Base: 
1 Kings 9: 1-9 Luke 20: 9-18

David Jeans

The reigns of David and Solomon represent the high point of Israel’s history. David reigned from 1011-971 BC (counting backwards). Solomon from 971-931 BC. In that time Israel was at its wealthiest and its territory was at its greatest. David had defeated the enemies of Israel and brought it peace. Solomon had great wisdom and great wealth. He built the Temple. The capital was Jerusalem, the city of Zion, the city that many of the Psalms speak of:-
Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised in the city of our God! His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of the whole earth (ps 48)
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved. (Ps 46)
On the holy mount stands the city he founded; the Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob. Glorious things of you are spoken, O city of God (Ps 87)
As we heard last week, God promised David a dynasty that would last for ever. So what happened?
The reading from 1 Kings 9 that we read this morning sets the scene for the rest of the books of the Kings – a period that covers around 350 years. (From the Commonwealth under Cromwell to the present day). That period ends in the exile of the people of Judah (the Jews) to Babylon in 587 BC. While in Babylon they tried to understand what had happened to them. They were God’s people – how could they end up defeated, Jerusalem and the temple destroyed?
Look at 1 Kings 9. They are words spoken to Solomon directly by God after Solomon has completed the building of the temple.
First the good news – verses 3-5
BUT – the bad news. Verses 6-9
I don’t doubt that God said those words to Solomon in around 950 BC. But they are recorded here by those who brought all this material together perhaps 400 years later. Why because they explain what had happened in those 400 years.
And what happened is that it went from good to bad to worse.
First of all with Solomon himself. For all his God-given wisdom and creativity Solomon moves away from being the sort of king that God wanted. In chapter 9 he uses force labour to build the temple and made the foreigners in the land into slaves.  In chapter 10 we read how he married 700 wives and had 300 concubines and he followed their gods instead of following the God of Israel. He became a king like a Pharoah. And when he dies his son Rehoboam is asked by the elders to lighten the burden Solomon had put on the people. Instead he listens to his friends and makes the burden heavier. So there is rebellion and the kingdom splits. Eleven tribes to the north split off as what the rest of Kings calls Israel, while Judah is the kingdom centred around Jerusalem.
So what were the Kings of Israel like? The books of Kings describes the Kings of both kingdoms as good kings following the ways of David, or bad kings doing evil in the eyes of the Lord by worshipping other gods and shedding blood.
Lets pick two or three of the kings of Israel. Omri – bad king; Ahab – bad king; Jehu – bad king. There’s no good king, bad king in Israel Over the next 210 years there are 19 Kings of Israel. 17 of them are bad kings. The other 2 are both murdered so early in their reigns that nothing is said about them. Not a single good king. And after 210 years in 722 BC the northern kingdom of Israel (centred around the city of Samaria) is destroyed by Assyria, and its people taken into exile. The land is repopulated by others who worship Yahweh in their own way and become the Samaritans that we read of in the New Testament. The eleven tribes never return (the lost tribes of Israel).
So what about the kings of Judah? A bit better – some good kings like Hezekiah and Josiah. Some like Azariah and Jothan who got some things right but still allowed some idolatry. In all there are 19 kings of Judah in the next 350 years. 4 are good, 4 are mostly OK, and the other 11 are bad. And of the last 9 kings only 2 are good while the rest are bad. And in 587 BC the prophecy of judgment spoken to Solomon in 1 Kings 9 comes true for Judah as well as for Israel as they are taken to exile in Babylon, and the city of Jerusalem and its temple is destroyed.
Through all this time God had sent prophets to warn of coming judgment because of their idolatry but also because of their violence and lack of pursuit of justice. Occasionally they listened, as Hezekiah listened to Isaiah. Mostly they didn’t. More of that in a couple of weeks.
But there are signs of hope in all this gloom. During the exile they began to realise the truth of 1 Kings 9. The exile was not a result of God letting them down, but it was a judgment for their own turning away from God .
And through the prophets God begins to speak to them of a better future. First of all the prophets speak of an end to exile and a return to Jerusalem. But secondly the prophets begin to speak of a new covenant. Because the problem was that they had been given the commandments to follow, but were unable to keep them. And the prophets speak of God dealing with this.
Listen to Jeremiah 31:31-34.
The promise is of the law being written on their hearts; the promise of each one knowing God personally; the promise of forgiveness of sins.
A promise also found in the great prophet of the exile Ezekiel. Listen to Ezekiel 36:26-28.
A new heart of flesh to replace the heart of stone; and the promise of the Holy Spirit within them to cause them to walk in God’s ways.
The fall of Israel shows us that the old covenant of external laws is not enough. We have to be changed from within to follow God and become more like him. We need God living within us by his Spirit , we need to be changed by God himself.
The other great prophet is Isaiah. And Isaiah speaks in addition of God’s salvation being for all peoples.
All of these prophecies are fulfilled in Jesus. All are established in the new covenant of which our service of Holy Communion is the chief symbol. Forgiveness of sins, power by the indwelling God to live it out, knowing God personally, and taking this good news to the whole world. That is the new covenant in which we live.
And there is also hope for Israel itself. Romans 11 speaks of the final redemption of Israel. Revelation ends with the vision of the new Jerusalem to last for all eternity.
As inheritors of this new covenant, as God’s people today, let us not give in to the same temptations of taking God for granted and following other gods and idols of money, possessions, sex and power. Let us live for him and live for others. And especially at the moment – let us pray for the peace of Jerusalem and for the return of the Jewish people to follow God in the way that leads to life for them and to life for their enemies.