Married to the Empire

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Some Old Testament thoughts

Ruf and I teach the middle school Sunday school class at our church. For over a year now, we've been working our way through the Old Testament. Our kids have been hit hard with the New Testament up until now, but their knowledge of the OT has been spotty (and admittedly, so has mine). I think we focus so much on the Gospel in church, that we sometimes forget to examine the origins of our faith.

We're currently in I Kings. Lately we've been studying Solomon and the consequences of his disobedience to God. God made it very clear to the Jews that they were not to marry outside of their faith, but Solomon ignored that and married many foreign women. Just as God warned would happen, his wives brought their own gods and faiths into the marriage, and Solomon compromised. When his wives asked him to build shrines to their gods, he did. God told him that his descendants would reap the consequences of that action.

God had a prophet tell a guy named Jeroboam that he would be the next king of Israel, but he'd only have ten tribes. Solomon's descendants would keep one tribe (Judah) out of respect for Solomon's father, David, who is often described as a man after God's own heart. God said that if Jeroboam followed God's decrees, then God would be with him.

When Solomon died, his son Rehoboam took over as king. Israel came to him and told him that if he would lighten their yokes, they would serve him. Rehoboam's advisers (older, wiser, more experienced men) told him to do what they asked. But Rehoboam went to his buddies for advice instead. They told him to tell Israel that he'd make their yokes even heavier than anything they'd experienced with his father. Solomon scourged them with whips; he would scourge them with scorpions. Not exactly the way to win loyalty from your subjects, so they left him. As the prophet foretold, ten tribes followed Jeroboam, and Rehoboam kept only one.

This all really goes back to that if-then statement that Jerobaom received (and others before him had been told essentially the same thing): Do what God wants you to do, and God will be on your side. Foolishly go off and do your own thing (typically borne out of selfish human desires), and God isn't going to continue blessing you.

By this time, our class has more than noticed that the Jews were constantly in this cycle of turning away from God, having things go badly for them (wars, captivity), crying out to God to save them, God raises up a judge or king who saves them, the people worship God, then a few years later, they're back in the same old cycle.

When we reached the part today where Jeroboam was told that not only would he be king and rule over all that his heart desires (I Kings 12:37), but God would be with him and build him a dynasty as enduring as the one he built for David IF "you do whatever I command you and walk in my ways and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and commands, as David my servant did..." (I Kings 12:38 NIV), well it sounded simple enough. The kids are questioning why the Jews kept messing that up. I mean, God is promising he'll be with them and bless them IF they just do what he tells them.

Of course, Jeroboam failed to do what God said. Because Rehoboam's kingdom was in Jerusalem with the temple, Jeroboam feared that once Israel went there to make sacrifices and worship God, they'd decided to just start following Rehoboam. Never mind that God promised he'd be with Jeroboam if he did what was right. Jeroboam liked being king too much to remember that part, and he let his human "wisdom" get in the way. He rationalized his way into committing a grave sin by building golden calves and shrines for the people to worship. He even appointed priests who were not Levites (Levites being the tribe of priests).

So really, at this point, none of Israel was doing the right thing. It was split in two, and both sides were sinning against God.

Looking back at this from a historical perspective, it all seems so cut-and-dried. To us, it's obvious that they brought all these difficulties on themselves by disobeying God. It doesn't sound so hard to do what God was telling them to do, and yet, they were constantly messing that up.

But is that any different from how we are today? I'm not meaning to pick on the Jews; they just happen to be the people the bible deals with. I've always heard that those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it. And yet, even when we do know history, we still make the same mistakes. The ancient Jews knew their history. We Christians know their history, and yet we still try to trust in our own supposed-human wisdom rather than listening to God. We seek the advice of our peers rather than that of the elders who have been around a while and know better. We pridefully believe that we really know what's best and God will come around once he sees how smartly we handle things. (Yeah, right.) We like feeling powerful, and we fear we'll lose that if we do what God wants. We cease to feel like we need God, so we toss him aside to do our own thing.

We have an entire book full of the consequences of that, yet we still do it.

One of the greatest lessons, in my opinion, goes back to David. David sinned badly when he took Uriah's wife, got her pregnant, then moved Uriah to the front lines of war so that he would be killed in an effort to hide his (David's) sin. It's a pretty nasty situation, and in many ways, seems much worse than Solomon's marrying outside of the faith. So what's the difference? Why is David so well remembered as a man after God's own heart? He repented. That's really what it all boils down to. He was confronted with his sin by the prophet Nathan, and he repented. He was grieved when he realized what he had done. And he didn't repeat that mistake. God didn't desert him. Actually, it's not that God deserts anyone, but he won't bless us when we're steeped in sin and not sorry for it. Solomon pridefully married his wives and never repented of that sin. Rehoboam and Jeroboam chose to do things their own way, and they did not repent of their sins. But David repented, and God blessed him.

If only we could remember that part of history best. That's the point we've been trying to stress with our middle schoolers. We're all going to sin. We're human, so that's just a given. The difference is in our hearts when confronted with that sin. How we react makes all the difference to our relationship with God.


Anonymous said...

Ewok, the Old Testament has been very much an eye opener for me. It has made me look at life with a whole new perspective. Having always studied it in Sunday School, youth groups and Bible studies, I never saw it as a whole. Now I am on my 3rd reading of it and find something new all the time.


Ewokgirl said...

Hi, Connie!

Admittedly, I'm surprised anyone read this particular post. It's too long, and I probably ramble a bit. ;-)

The OT has been a real eye-opener for me, too. This is my first time to really go through it. Churches usually don't teach much of the OT to kids, other than the typical stories of Adam and Eve, Noah, Jacob, Joseph... Our kids are learning so much from this, and it's nice to be able to teach something that's new to them. The OT really makes the NT more interesting, IMO.

Thanks for stopping by!