“Trivial” Sin

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 16.30-31
30 Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him. 31 He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him.

Reflection: “Trivial” Sin
By Erin Newton

“I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” This was a funny line from Andy Bernard in the sitcom, The Office. But the essence is true; hindsight is 20/20. Good days are taken for granted and evil days are brushed off apathetically. We go through life without pausing to consider what is happening.

The previous chapters of Kings show the increasing wickedness of each successive king in Judah and Israel. Later comparison reveals a greater number of wicked kings in the northern kingdom (Israel) versus the southern kingdom (Judah). However, sin is not a comparative business. Both kingdoms were plagued with bad leaders. The story reaches a crescendo with Ahab, king over the northern kingdom.

Ahab is notorious for promoting the worship of Baal and Asherah. These two deities were the common gods of Canaan. Seasons were thought to be determined by Baal’s battles with competing gods. Asherah was known as the fertility goddess. Self-mutilation, temple prostitution, examining animal entrails were examples of rituals done in the name of worshipping these gods. For Ahab, these were “trivial” and the people accepted it without a second thought. 

The reign of Ahab brought a resurgence of other voices in the history of Israel: Prophets. These courageous people stood up against the evil of their day to speak truth and call for repentance. Speaking against injustice and corruption is isolating and difficult. Those who spoke against leaders were constantly threatened. The price of speaking truth was often their own life.

One-third of the Old Testament books are prophetic. You might assume these voices were popular and common. On the contrary, prophets were rejected and few. Each story is a testimony of the cost of truth in a chaotic world.

Jesus also warned, “They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me” (John 15.21).  Following Christ echoes the lives of prophets. Abusive leaders infect our world while brave voices are intimidated or attacked. Do we join the population or the prophets? To join the population, we abandon God and do whatever seems right in our own eyes. To join the prophets, we abandon comfort for the sake of truth. “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8.36).

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Be still, then, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth. — Psalm 46.11 

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 16 (Listen – 5:31)
Colossians 3 (Listen – 3:09)

Read more about Kingdoms Breaking Bad
Ahijah says, “I have … bad news,” but we also bear the Good News. The gospel we prophesy is that tragedy can be reversed.

Read more about Gods of Ruin and Ridicule
We must decide every day whom we will serve. The gods of this world bring ruin and ridicule.

Incomparable King and Kingdom

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 15.11-15
11 Asa did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as his father David had done. 12 He expelled the male shrine prostitutes from the land and got rid of all the idols his ancestors had made. 13 He even deposed his grandmother Maakah from her position as queen mother, because she had made a repulsive image for the worship of Asherah. Asa cut it down and burned it in the Kidron Valley. 14 Although he did not remove the high places, Asa’s heart was fully committed to the Lord all his life. 15 He brought into the temple of the Lord the silver and gold and the articles that he and his father had dedicated.

Reflection: Incomparable King and Kingdom
By John Tillman

1 and 2 Kings include summaries at the beginning of a king’s reign. Was he better or worse than the last king?

Kings did “what was right in the eyes of the Lord,” or they did not. Wicked kings are compared to wicked kings of the past. Nadab, Jeroboam’s son, is described as, “committing the same sin his father had caused Israel to commit.” Many wicked kings will be compared to Jeroboam until Ahab takes his place as the most wicked king of the northern kingdom.

We all love to compare kings. “Mine is better than yours.” “Yours is the worst ever.” How childish. Unless one is employed as a historian, these types of statements are not only immature but are typically shaped by partisan narratives rather than facts. 

The narrator of scripture is uninterested in the types of comparisons we make. These stories are not the whole story. After each, we find a statement similar to “and as for all the other events of his reign… are they not written in the books of the annals of the kings” etc. In other words, the narrator is telling us that scripture is concerned with higher and greater things than economic policy or political intrigue. Those details are only mentioned if they further the purpose of the writer.

Scripture’s accounts of kings are focused on the only statistic that matters—righteousness.

When we come to these works, we should evaluate ourselves (and our kings) with sober judgment, (Romans 12.3) asking the same questions biblical authors asked:
Did they establish justice? 
Were they faithful to God? 
Did they care for the poor? 
Did they worship with a pure heart?

We fall short. Every leader does. There is only one incomparable king who accomplishes all these things—Jesus. When he is introduced, the angels report, “Peace on earth, goodwill to men.” (Luke 2.14) When he begins to establish God’s kingdom, God says, “This is my son in whom I am pleased.” (Matthew 3.17; Mark 1.11) At his transfiguration before his closest disciples, God said of him, “This is my son…listen to him.” (Matthew 17.5; Mark 9.7; Luke 9.35)

May we be fully devoted to him, like Asa. And like Peter, James, and John, may we listen to him, please God by following him, and announce to humanity that peace and goodwill are available in his incomparable kingdom.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “There is no need to be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom.” — Luke 12.32

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 15 (Listen – 5:30)
Colossians 2 (Listen – 3:27)

Read more about Our Forgetfulness, God’s Faithfulness
Just one generation before, God’s people had been faithful and obedient to him. Yet within a short time, Israel abandoned God.

Read more about Our Sins Ever Before Us
Confessions rarely come without confrontations. We must see our sins before us, before we can put them behind us in repentance.

Kingdoms Breaking Bad

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 14.14-16
14 “The LORD will raise up for himself a king over Israel who will cut off the family of Jeroboam. Even now this is beginning to happen. 15 And the LORD will strike Israel, so that it will be like a reed swaying in the water. He will uproot Israel from this good land that he gave to their ancestors and scatter them beyond the Euphrates River, because they aroused the LORD’s anger by making Asherah poles. 16 And he will give Israel up because of the sins Jeroboam has committed and has caused Israel to commit.” 

Reflection: Kingdoms Breaking Bad
By John Tillman

Watching a comedy we often imagine ourselves as the bumbling, yet eventually triumphant hero. Watching tragedies, however, we tend to disassociate from the hero. We judge them harshly, thinking we would have done differently.

The show Breaking Bad is one example. Audiences loved Walter White and mistook him for a system-challenging anti-hero and they identified with him. Then, slowly, his character arc was revealed—the sympathetic hero who becomes a villain. Some fans felt betrayed. They wanted Prince Hal and got Macbeth. But it was all there in the title: “Breaking Bad.” How did we expect it to end?

Jeroboam’s story starts like a hero’s story. Like David, he was secretly told by a prophet that he would be king. When idol worship was expanding in Solomon’s kingdom, Ahijah pulled Jeroboam aside, telling him that he would be king because of Solomon’s sins. Representing the fracturing of the nation, Ahijah tore his new cloak into twelve pieces, giving Jeroboam ten of them. (1 Kings 11.29-31)

But this story is a deep tragedy. Near the end of Ahijah’s life, the blind prophet could see the bloody end of Jereboam’s dynasty. For generations, Jeroboam’s name would become a byword for biblical authors to measure the evil of kings to come. 

As Israel fractures, each dynasty hopes to be the answer. But each one, especially in the northern kingdom, “breaks bad.” Ahijah prophesies to Jeroboam that it will all end in death and exile.

Ahijah ministered in a country going bad fast and with worse coming over the horizon. 
Through Ahijah’s words, we hear God’s frustration with Jeroboam and his other chosen instruments. 

Like Ahijah, we may serve in a nation or a time when leaders rise with promise and fall with the shattering clamor of scandal. It is still possible to serve God faithfully amidst political corruption, idolatry, and a culture that rejects God. The prophets prove it.

Ahijah says, “I have … bad news,” but we also bear the Good News. Our God is slow to anger, gracious, and forgiving. He pleads with those who reject him to repent. 

The gospel we prophesy is that tragedy can be reversed. Those with ears to hear and eyes to see can come and be saved. Those doomed to ruin can be restored. Those exiled can come home. Those who have been harmed can be healed. Those dead can be raised to life.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Let those who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; let those who love your salvation say forever; “Great is the Lord!” — Psalm 70.4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 14 (Listen – 5:22)
Colossians 1 (Listen – 4:18)

Read more about Uprooting and Replanting
We the unworthy and unrighteous can be replanted into a new kingdom of peace.

Read more about Prepare for the End
Christians are sometimes guilty of looking forward to the apocalypse like a private revenge fantasy.

Solomon’s Cheating Heart

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 11.4-8
4 As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. 5 He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. 6 So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done. 
7 On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. 8 He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods.

“Your cheatin heart will tell on you.” — Hank Williams

Reflection: Solomon’s Cheating Heart
By John Tillman

If we could ask God about “Solomon’s Temple,” there’s a good chance he’d respond, “Which one?”

Solomon was a temple builder but he did not only build temples for Yaweh. He built temples for the very gods that Israel has been warned about. Here, in this account we are told that he built temples for all the gods of his 700 wives. Temples for the Moabite god, Chemosh, and the Ammonite god, Molek, are mentioned specifically. The prophet, Ahijah, also mentions the worship of Ashtoreth and in 2 Kings, the description of Josiah’s reforms specify that Solomon also built a temple to Ashtoreth.

Solomon’s pursuit of pleasures and riches kept him from maintaining a heart that sought God as his father David had. Solomon gave his heart to wealth. He gave his heart to many, many different women. Eventually, Solomon gave his heart to foreign gods worshiped by his wives.

Scripture specifically tells us that Solomon’s wives led him astray. But “blaming the women” here is just as bad a take as Adam blaming Eve in the garden. We have to remember that many of these women were basically sold to Solomon as a part of diplomatic trade deals. They share the difficult life of Leah and Rachel, used as sexual bargaining chips in negotiations between powerful men.

God certainly doesn’t have harsh words for Solomon’s wives. It is Solomon’s heart that has turned away. He is held responsible by God. Not them. When we allow our hearts to stray from God, we may have a tendency to point the finger at someone else as well.

When we do this we condemn ourselves. It is our hearts, like Solomon’s, that go astray. Why do we give our hearts to others, to celebrities, to news media, to politicians? It is, perhaps, because we have failed to actually give our hearts to God.

What or who are you worshiping instead of, or in addition to, God?
What “Temple” have you built with the time and resources of your life?
Who is that Temple dedicated to?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
I will confess you among the peoples, O Lord; I will sing praises to you among the nations.
For your loving-kindness is greater than the heavens, and your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. — Psalm 108.3-4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 11 (Listen – 7:05)
Philippians 2 (Listen – 3:45)

This Weekend’s Readings

1 Kings 12 (Listen – 5:15), Philippians 3 (Listen – 3:21)
1 Kings 13 (Listen – 5:14), Philippians 4 (Listen – 3:20)

Read more about Born to Serve
Jesus is the full representation of God, but he also represents what it means to be fully human: to live life completely in service of others.

Read more about Confessing Idolatry
Our hearts are deceitful, Lord. 
Point out our guilt and break down our idols.
Help us see and confess our sins, so similar.

Solomon’s Folly

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 10.6-9
6 She said to the king, “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. 7 But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard. 8 How happy your people must be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! 9 Praise be to the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the Lord’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king to maintain justice and righteousness.” 

“They would ask me to advise them like a Solomon the Wise
“If you please, Reb Tevye…”
“Pardon me, Reb Tevye…”
Posing problems that would cross a rabbi’s eyes!
And it won’t make one bit of difference if I answer right or wrong
When you’re rich, they think you really know!” — Tevye, “If I Were a Rich Man”, Fiddler on the Roof.

Reflection: Solomon’s Folly
By John Tillman

God promised Solomon wisdom and wealth and power and God delivered. Because of this, I don’t mean to imply Solomon wasn’t wise, however, he used his wisdom foolishly.

Solomon was, perhaps, the world’s first and most successful “influencer.” He became more famous and more wealthy by being famous and wealthy. People shared about his wisdom. Others came to see it and gave massively expensive gifts. The queen of Sheba, wealthy beyond the dreams of any billionaire, is described as being “overwhelmed” by Solomon’s wealth. Does anything impress wealthy people like wealth? 

Nothing impresses God like righteousness. Scripture, including words of Jesus warn: wealth often short-circuits righteousness. (Deuteronomy 8.13-14; Matthew 6.20-24) We see this play out in Solomon.

Foolishly, Solomon didn’t apply his wisdom to God’s purposes. The Queen’s statement is ironic: “he has made you king to maintain justice and righteousness.” Solomon failed to use wealth or wisdom to maintain justice or righteousness. 

Was anyone richer than Solomon? Perhaps no one, but definitely no king of Israel or Judah. Think for a moment—why did the richest king in the world use slave labor? 

Rather than set a new example for the nations of justice and freedom, Solomon remade Israel in Pharaoh’s image instead of Yaweh’s, returning the people God freed to slavery once again.

Economically and politically advantageous marriages corrupted not only the covenant of marriage but Solomon’s worship of Yaweh. Idol worship became commonplace.

In Ecclesiastes, we get behind-the-scenes notes where Solomon describes his extreme lifestyle as a noble experiment. However, few of us accept Solomon’s conclusion about wealth and pleasure: “All is meaningless!” (Ecclesiastes 2.10-11) Most people seek to retest Solomon’s findings. “Sure, sure, wealth and pleasure are meaningless,” we say, “but let me try.”

We are so easily overawed by wealth and wealth so easily overturns our morality. None of us are Solomon but we can all fall for Solomon’s folly. Any of us can become wealthy enough that our perspective is twisted. Any of us can apply a God-given skill, like wisdom, in a foolish and sinful way.

God’s gifts are less important than how we use them. God has chosen us as his royal ambassadors on earth, for the purposes of righteousness and justice. We should judge ourselves and others not by how much wisdom or wealth we have but by how closely we live out God’s purposes of justice and righteousness.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Behold, God is my helper; it is the Lord who sustains my life. — Psalm 54.4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 10 (Listen – 4:27)
Philippians 1 (Listen – 4:03)

Read more about Paul’s Example of Thankfulness
Who has been used by God to help you in your walk with Christ?

Read more about Better Temples
May we be a better Temple, shining the light of truth that exposes sin but also celebrating and proclaiming forgiveness for all.