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Borders, Prophets, Pride – Seeing God’s Glory.

MORNING MESSAGE: John Cline

2 Kings 14:23-29; 15:1-7; Isaiah 6:1-8; 2 Chronicles 26

England’s Queen Elizabeth II was the head of state of 32 sovereign states, including Canada, for a record 70 years. Elizabeth’s successor, Charles or Charlie or Chuck, won’t last near that long. Queen Elizabeth was the only ruler I knew through the first 66 years of my life. When I was boy in school, students always sang “O Canada” and “God Save the Queen”, that’s how important she was to Canadians. Our sermon series on the rulers in the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah has shown that many of them, with a guy named Zimri having the shortest reign of any of them – seven days over Israel. Well, today, we land at the reigns of two long-ruling kings who ruled at the same time: Jeroboam II who reigned in Israel for 41 years, and Uzziah who reigned in Judah for 52 years. Let’s start with Jeroboam II. We read:

Jehoash rested with his ancestors and was buried in Samaria with the kings of Israel. And Jeroboam his son succeeded him as king. (2 Kings 14:16)

Jeroboam II was unfortunately named after Israel’s first king, Jeroboam, that conniving king who threw out the worship of YHWH when he installed two golden calves, one each in the two religious centers of Israel, Dan in the north, and Bethel in the south. Jeroboam told his people to stop worshipping YHWH God, and to instead worship those golden calves for as he falsely told them, “These are the gods that lead our people out of slavery in Egypt”. The continual narrative in the OT is that the original Jeroboam’s sin of idolatry was the one specific sin that would cause the destruction of the nation of Israel as it was never repented of or stopped. All 18 of his successors as king never turned away from that sin of idolatry, including Jeroboam II.  

In the fifteenth year of Amaziah son of Joash king of Judah, Jeroboam son of Jehoash king of Israel became king in Samaria, and he reigned forty-one years. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord and did not turn away from any of the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit. (2nd Kings 14:23,24)

That Jeroboam II was named in honour after the first King Jeroboam shows how out of touch later kings were with spiritual truths – and that they simply did not care about YHWH God. Yet, despite his spiritual faults, Jeroboam II did do something good for his nation in that he expanded and reestablished Israel’s boundaries in the north and south. Today’s sermon will be split into 5 segments so here is segment 1:

1.   BORDERS

People put up fences around their properties, both in the city and on farmland. Nations establish boundaries between each other. As we all know, border security is a big issue today in countries such as Canada, the USA, and in Europe. Heck, Pakistan recently forcibly sent back one million refugees from Afghanistan. In a similar, border security was a big issue in Judah and Israel as well as other Ancient Near Eastern countries. Reflecting that concern, King Jeroboam II of Israel reinforced its northern, putting up guard houses and sending troops to secure that border, which cut across the Syrian Desert at a place called Lebo Hamath and which brought back into Israel’s fold the Syrian city of Damascus. As for Israel’s southern border, Jeroboam II established a boundary line between Israel and Judah, which stretched from the Dead Sea westward towards the Mediterranean. He secured those borders after a prophecy by the famous prophet Jonah, as we hear in the following passage which says about Jeroboam II:

He was the one who restored the boundaries of Israel from Lebo Hamath to the Dead Sea, in accordance with the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, spoken through his servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher. The Lord had seen how bitterly everyone in Israel, whether slave or free, was suffering; there was no one to help them. And since the Lord had not said he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam son of Jehoash. (2nd Kings 14:25-27)

Jeroboam II was spiritually bad but militarily good for his nation. And, as just read, God wished for the people of Israel to be safe thus God approved of Jeroboam’s actions regarding the borders. Thus, He approved of Jeroboam II’s efforts to protect His people. Now, you may remember from last week that Jeroboam’s father King Jehoash had defeated Amaziah the king of Judah, so this was a time period in which Judah was controlled by Israel. When Jeroboam II established the northern border, regaining that historical part of the kingdom, it was a regaining of land that Judah, in the time of King Solomon, held.

As for the other events of Jeroboam’s reign, all he did, and his military achievements, including how he recovered for Israel both Damascus and Hamath, which had belonged to Judah, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel? Jeroboam rested with his ancestors, the kings of Israel. And Zechariah his son succeeded him as king. (2nd Kings 14:28,29)

That’s it for Borders, segment #1 of this sermon. On to segment #2:

2.   PROPHETS

Please pick up your pew Bibles and we will do a quick review of the OT. You may know that the OT is divided into three sections: 1. history, 2. wisdom/poetry, and 3. the prophets. The Bible was not put together in a haphazard fashion but chronologically and/or thematically. That OT third section, the prophets, begins with the “Major Prophets” – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. They are called “major” because their writings are majorly long. Following the 4 “Major Prophets” come the 12 “Minor Prophets”, “minor” only because their books are short. The arrangement of the “Minor Prophets” is loosely chronological, beginning with 6 prophets who prophesied in the two centuries prior to Israel and Judah’s exiles in Assyria and Babylon respectively, then going on to 3 prophets who ministered just prior to Judah’s exile in Babylon, and concluding with 3 prophets who wrote after the Jewish people were returned to their homeland of Judah.  

The first “Minor Prophet” was Hosea. He identified the nation of Israel as the “adulterous wife” of YHWH God. He illustrated the nation’s spiritual unfaithfulness in their sin of idolatry by taking for himself an adulterous wife, a prostitute named Gomer. But Hosea also spoke of God’s love for that adulterous people. “Come, let us return to the LORD”, he encouraged the people, and Hosea promised blessing for the people if they would do so – but exile to Assyria if they didn’t. Hosea furthermore prophesied that God would restore their fortunes and bring them back to their homeland if, once they were in Assyrian exile, they repented.

Last week, we heard how the second “Minor Prophet”, Joel, also prophesied exile, but it was for the people of Judah to Babylon. God would return them to their land if they repented, a thing that happened.

The third “Minor Prophet” in the OT, Amos, spoke a similar message as Hosea’s to Israel: “Seek the Lord and live”. Amos also prophesied exile to Assyria if they did not seek God, as well as blessing and restoration to the people if, during their exile, the Israelites would repent of sinning.

The different endings of Joel’s prophecy versus Hosea’s and Amos’ is seen in that God returned the Jews back to their land from Babylon, whereas God did not bring the Israelites back from exile in Assyria. The reason for those different endings? Godly sorrow and pride. The Jews had Godly sorrow and were blessed. The Israelites were hardhearted and proud and were left in Assyria, becoming the so-called “Ten Lost Tribes of Israel”, lost forever. We need to understand that much OT prophecy was conditional, an “if and then” situation. So, God would say to the people, “If you do such and such, then I will do that. But, if you don’t, I won’t.” Thus, the outcome of a prophecy was not guaranteed but depended upon the people’s choices.

The fourth OT “Minor Prophet”, Obadiah, did not prophecy to either Judah or Israel but to Edom so we won’t be studying his book here.

The fifth OT “Minor Prophet”, Jonah, prophesied to Israel in the time of King Jeroboam II, as we earlier read. Now, obviously, Jonah is much better known for his self-titled book, which records his reluctance to go to Nineveh in Assyria. Jonah had little interest in the Ninevites repenting or being in a good relationship with God. He didn’t want them to have God’s blessings. But eventually he did go and all the Ninevites responded positively in what Billy Graham called “the greatest revival” in human history. That change of religion in Nineveh seems to have been corroborated by historians who discovered that the normally polytheistic Ninevites had a 40-year period in the 8th century BC in which they were monotheists, worshippers of only one God, a time that corresponds to when the Bible says Jonah went to Nineveh. Further corroboration of the historicity of the biblical story came when archaeologists first uncovered in Nineveh the temple of their chief god, Dagon, who was depicted in drawings as being a half-man, half-fish creature. Then, over the entryway to the temple, archaeologists noticed that Dagon’s name had been changed to Oannes, which sounds an awful lot like Jonah. We can have confidence that the Book of Jonah was factual. But remember Jonah also prophesied, as did other “Minor Prophets”, to King Jeroboam II of Israel, while many prophets, including one of the “Major Prophets”, Isaiah, prophesied to King Uzziah of Judah.

In the twenty-seventh year of Jeroboam king of Israel, Azariahson of Amaziah king of Judah began to reign. He was sixteen years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-two years. His mother’s name was Jekoliah; she was from Jerusalem. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Amaziah had done. The high places, however, were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there. (2nd Kings 15:1-4)

Like many of us who go by two names, e.g. me, as I go by either David or John, Azariah or Uzziah went by two names. The important thing with him wasn’t which name he went by but that he was a “good” king in many ways but he was also an unfaithful king in that he did not stop idolatry from happening in Judah. Revealingly, we read about Uzziah…

He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Amaziah had done. He sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God. As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success. (2nd Chronicles 26:4,5)

Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, older friends, the importance of a Godly influence upon a younger person is here mentioned, again. Just as we saw last week with his grandfather Joash – who did well when he had the Godly influence of the priest, his Uncle Jehoiada – young Uzziah did well when he listened to Zechariah, an older priest. When Zechariah’s Godly wisdom was heeded, Isaiah succeeded.

He went to war against the Philistines and broke down the walls of Gath, Jabneh and Ashdod. He then rebuilt towns near Ashdod and elsewhere among the Philistines. God helped him against the Philistines and against the Arabs who lived in Gur Baal and against the Meunites. The Ammonites brought tribute to Uzziah, and his fame spread as far as the border of Egypt, because he had become very powerful. (2nd Chronicles 26:6-8)

However, with Uzziah becoming “very powerful”, a bad thing inevitably happened. Moving on to segment #3 of this sermon:

3.   PRIDE

But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense. Azariah the priest with eighty other courageous priests of the Lord followed him in. They confronted King Uzziah and said, “It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD. That is for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense. Leave the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful; and you will not be honored by the Lord God.” Uzziah, who had a censer in his hand ready to burn incense, became angry. While he was raging at the priests in their presence before the incense altar in the Lord’s temple, leprosy broke out on his forehead.    (2ND Chronicles 26:16-19)

The priests knew that God had established rules during the time of Moses and his high priest brother, Aaron, regarding who was to enter into the Temple to burn incense and offer sacrifices to God. It was not kings, but only priests, because they would have diligently undertaken a systematic spiritual cleansing, a getting right with God before they would dare to enter into God’s presence. Kings such as Uzziah thought that they had an automatic or divine right to do whatever they pleased, however. That Azariah and 80 other “courageous” priests challenged Uzziah in his presumptuous pride was impressive. The resulting leprosy, though, surprised them. On to sermon segment #4:

4.   LEPROSY

Lepers in that society were forced to isolate from the rest of their community due to its very infectious nature. People feel sorry for Uzziah and annoyed with God that he would inflict him with leprosy for this event, but it wasn’t just this one event, it was decades of Uzziah spurning God’s wishes and dishonouring Him. After King Uzziah raged at the priests who had dared to challenge him, leprosy came upon him.

When Azariah the chief priest and all the other priests looked at him, they saw that he had leprosy on his forehead, so they hurried him out. Indeed, he himself was eager to leave because the Lord had afflicted him. King Uzziah had leprosy until the day he died. He lived in a separate house – leprous and banned from the temple of the Lord. Jotham his son had charge of the palace and governed the people of the land. (2nd Chronicles 26:20,21)

Upon Uzziah’s death, his son Jotham became the next king of Judah. However, during the last year of Uzziah’s life, one of the most revered & beloved events in Israel’s history took place. To sermon segment #5:

5.   SEEING GOD’S GLORY

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook, and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me! I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Then I heard the voice of the LORD saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I! Send me!” (Isaiah 6:1-8)

When the angels cried out, “Holy, Holy, Holy”, they were using a Hebrew grammatical idiom for, in the Hebrew language, a thing said once is a fact, that thing repeated or said a second time is a comparison, and that same thing said again, three times in a row, is a superlative. Thus, the angels were declaring that God is “holy”, “holier” than anyone or anything else, and thus the “holiest” of all.

In any case, after a 52-year reign, King Uzziah of Judah died. He had become powerful but, because of pride, sin occurred and then leprosy came. He died without great honour. Similarly, after a 41-year reign, King Jeroboam II of Israel died without great honour. He had also become powerful, with military excursions that succeeded in expanding and re-establishing the borders of his nation. But when he died, there was nary anything good said about him. Their deaths were a time of humbling for them. All powerful people die! Not all die with honour! Those two long-reigning monarchs should have been humble and thankful. If they had been, God would have used them to speak His message, but they weren’t, so He didn’t. As a result, it was in front of a humble priest named Isaiah that God was heard asking, perhaps to His Trinitarian self or perhaps to the heavenly court of the surrounding angels, “Who will go for us?” Isaiah was willing but he knew that he couldn’t or shouldn’t because of his being a sinful man. But God knew his heart and so He sent an angel to Isaiah to clean his lips and heart. Once cleansed and forgiven, Isaiah responded to God’s query, “Who will go for us?” with a resounding, “Here am I. Send me!” He thus started a long prophetic ministry, one that would span over the reigns of four kings of Judah: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. We will hear more from Isaiah in coming sermons as we work our way through the lives of those kings.

Isaiah’s willingness to go for God and speak on His behalf is a model for us. Friends, through Jesus’ cleansing and forgiving work on the cross, we are worthy to take God’s message to people. YHWH God, our Father in heaven, trusts us to go with the Gospel message of salvation and transformation through Jesus. He asks, “Who will go for us?” The answer is dependent on us. Will we go? Will you go? I pray so. The world is waiting and willing to hear God’s message for them. Amen.

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