2 Kings 21:
After the Godly rule of Hezekiah came two dreadful generations given over to evil. It is amazing to recognise that a good man’s son has the capacity to do such bad things. Every man and women is responsible for their own life before the Lord. Every individual has an opportunity to make their life count or to waste their lives with selfishness, wickedness and lust. The outcome of these lives was not immediate judgement, the Lord did not send someone to finish them off but they did reap what they sowed and their testimony was forever marred by their sin. We should be looking for and working towards the testimony from the Lord which says “Well done, good and faithful servant!” That should be reward enough for anyone!
Paul and Barnabas come to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch and in each of these cities they face two responses. The first response was that they were received by willing hearers, these welcomed their words and were challenged and changed by the Gospel. Over weeks and months Barnabas and Paul came alongside them and discipled them to maturity so that when they departed the brethren were able to fend for themselves. The second response was not as positive; along with acceptance came the rejection of the message and open hostility towards them. Paul was taken outside the city and was stoned close to death (if not dead?) and only by a miraculous healing was he able to continue to the next town. This tension between acceptance and rejection of the Gospel will continue to be a recurring theme throughout the book of Acts and it should stand as a warning and encouragement to each of us that this is to be expected as we in turn preach the Gospel.
Jeremiah’s words finish will a final plea to the Lord to remember His people. The depth of sorrow is only understood as you remember the context the words were spoken in. Jerusalem had fallen to the Babylonians, the remnant had tried to escape to Egypt and had been judged by the Lord, the land was now inhabited by a diminished few who were beaten, demoralised and filled with horrible memories of the brutal treatment they had received under the hands of the Babylonians. Jeremiah’s final words ring out and await an answer from the Lord but we all must remember the faithfulness of the Lord and the reality that He consistently promised. He will cause the nation to return and it shall be rebuilt. God is faithful, He always has been and He always will be!
2 Kings 20:
Hezekiah faces another enemy, an enemy that all men and women must contend with. Hezekiah grows sick and receives the news from the Prophet that it is time to set his house in order for he is about to die. Hezekiah is obviously distressed but again he turns to the Lord rather than to despair. His prayers are heard and he is healed as they follow the commands of Isaiah and employ an apparent healing ‘poltis’ of figs. Hezekiah asks God for a sign that His word will come to pass and the sundial moves in reverse 10 degrees, this further displays the power of the Lord and reinforces the fact that nothing is too hard for Him! Hezekiah makes one mistake in the last years of his life, he opens his treasury to the Babylonians in pride and conceit, a move that breeds lust and jealousy in the hearts of that nation…he dies as a good King with a good report having pleased God with the life that was his.
As the understanding of the huge task that was before the church grew (The Gospel needing to be taken to the Gentiles), the Disciples continued to pray. As they did the Lord called them to separate Barnabas and Paul to the work of ministry. These two went out, following the leading of the Lord and made an impact in each city they arrived in. Firstly they looked for Disciples and then they headed for the Synagogues or marketplaces. They aimed at the crowd, knowing that the Lord would touch individuals within it. It was not without controversy, in fact, upheaval seemed to follow them wherever they went. They were always ready to speak, to preach and to give defence of the Gospel wherever they went and this becomes a great model for us to emulate. This chapter sees the student become the teacher as Paul grows in strength and boldness and Barnabas takes more of a back seat.
The Golden city has grown dim, the fruitful city has become a wilderness, the blessed city is forsaken and destroyed. Jeremiah cries out his lament over all that has been lost and all the beauty that has passed away. Israel was a gem and Jerusalem its brightest facet and yet the Lord has allowed it to become tarnished and moth-eaten. Jeremiah’s sorrow is a song that was sung in chorus as thousands of individuals took turns in composing their own stanza to this familiar tune. The sorrow of the people would not go unnoticed and their laments and tears ascended to the ears of the Lord but His judgement would be complete and He would not lift His hand until it was fully accomplished. Then everyone would know that He had brought them victory!
2 Kings 19:
Hezekiah’s response to the threats of his enemy clearly display the reason that he is known as a good king. His natural response is to cry out to the Lord and to seek out the Prophet Isaiah to hear the mind of the Lord. The Lord gives a promise to his faithful king and the king is faithful in return. The enemy is vanquished, not by the power of the people nor the actions of the King but by the hand of the Lord himself. The reality is displayed that if you seek the Lord, He will hear and respond. It only takes one generation to change the heart of God! We can have His attention, response and power – if we are willing to call!
As the church grew so too did the work of the enemy. Persecution arose against the Church and Herod was the chief perpetrator. More leaders of the Church gave their lives for the cause of the Gospel and it looked as though Peter was going to be next. But with the increase in opposition came the increase in boldness and prayer being offered by the Disciples…this in turn led to powerful deliverance and the purpose of God going forward. Peter is miraculously released and the Church continues to grow which demonstrates and eternal truth…no one can stop the Word and Will of the Lord if there are individuals who are willing to stand up for the Gospel.
Jeremiah displays himself as a slave of hope. His life has been spent in service to bring the Word of the Lord to a people who did not want to hear it. This chapter shows just how much Jeremiah was prepared to give, sometimes an individual has to be prepared to sacrifice personal freedoms and personal resources to fulfil the calling of God upon their lives. We need to be thankful for these actions and give thanks for those who are willing to make a stand for the Lord. This chapter contains the ‘high point’ of the Book of Lamentations as we are pointed towards the faithful mercy of the Lord and the fact that His compassions never fail!
2 Kings 18:
After a long line of Kings that fail we come to a breath of fresh air! Hezekiah is one of the truly good kings. He follows the Word and ways of the Lord and even goes further than those who have come before him as he tears down the high places and any image that is being misused as an idol. His righteousness has great rewards as he faces his enemies, establishes a pattern of real worship and deals with obstacles all the while remaining a servant of the Lord. The second half of this chapter sees Hezekiah facing a huge enemy, in the midst of this challenge Hezekiah offers sense, leadership and vision to his people. His life reinforces the truth that any leader is an inspiration when they keep their eyes on the Lord!
Peter brings the report back to the Apostles regarding the moving of the Spirit upon the Gentiles. As he recalls the events in Cornelius’ house, the Apostles rejoice, understanding that the Lord had opened a wonderful doorway to the rest of the world. Barnabas is dispatched to bring strength to the growing and expanding Church but he first takes a detour to collect and encourage Paul. Together they begin a whirlwind trip which sees them make a huge impact in every city they travel to. The Gospel is displayed here as being all about restoration – The Gentiles are restored, Paul is restored…this should give us great understanding that there is nothing too hard for the Lord and no-one outside the power of His hand!
The sadness in Jeremiah’s song is reminiscent of many of the Psalms written by David during times of trial. Jeremiah is amazed and surprised by the fact that the Lord has chosen to judge His people with such harshness and anger. It is not that Jeremiah believes that the Lord should not be angry but the fact that he is so aware of the grace, patience and mercy of God. However, these attributes have been exhausted by the willful and recurrent sin of the people and there is nothing left for him to do but to sing a song of sadness as he witnesses the judgement, captivity and reduction of Israel to a remnant. This song is a woeful account of the desperation of the heart of one who witnesses the unnecessary diminishing of God’s people.
2 Kings 17:
Here we have the final judgement upon the Northern Tribes which have come to be known as Israel. One more King, one more error of judgement and the trap is sprung. King Hoshea fails to keep treaty with the King of Assyria and Assyria invades and takes captive the whole of Israel (those who are left after the battle). This is because of their constant and flagrant contempt for the Word and Law of the Lord. After hundreds of years of warnings they refused to change and so the Lord finishes with them. The King of Assyria imports people to fill the cities, which are now known as Samaria. But these new inhabitants do not honour the Lord and so they are, in turn, judged. A Israelite Priest is then dispatched from Assyria to instruct the Samaritans on how to worship and so the Spiritual course of the new nation and the division between Jew and Samaritan is formed and understood.
Peter had been brought up to have a very narrow world-view. He believed that God was only interested in the Jew and did not yet understand that the Lord Jesus had called them to reach far beyond that limitation. The Lord has to re-start Peter’s thinking and does so with a Vision which challenges his understanding of what is clean and unclean. He further explodes his thinking as Peter travels to Cornelius’ household and witnesses a mighty outpouring of the Spirit. This experience opens the doorway to a much bigger world and the Gospel now has much further to travel. The exciting reality takes a why to filter through but eventually we see the Church emerge as a force which is now destined to touch and change all nations!
The 5 chapters of Lamentations are (as the name suggests) prayers and songs which Jeremiah offers after the captivity of Judah. It is a sorrowful and soulful moment of introspection and recall. Jeremiah goes over the judgement of God and the wickedness of the people. There is no frustration present but merely a realisation that this is where sin has led them. There is hope expressed in these chapters and there is faith in the Lord who has orchestrated these great happenings. The wish of Jeremiah is that these lessons have been fully learned and that no repeat will be necessary. This book is a strong picture of how you can feel when observing others who have failed to follow the will and purpose of God.
2 Kings 16:
As a new king rules a new type of evil invades the people of God. Ahaz acted in all the same was as many of his predecessors did…worshipping Idols, sacrificing to Molech and generally rebelling totally against the Word of the Lord but Ahaz added yet another evil. He made a one sided treaty with the King of Assyria which slowly but surely stripped Israel of its national, spiritual and financial treasures. Throughout this chapter we find items from the Temple, utensils, decorations and treasures being systematically removed and yet the position of Israel is not strengthened. This is an illustration of what agreement with the world will lead to. It does not lead to strength but will lead to compromise and devaluing of all the Lord has built and secured in your life! The only agreement we should ever make is with the One who cares for us and has our best interests at heart!
The tide of testimony changes again with the conversion of Saul. No-one (especially Saul) expected such a transformation. His powerful encounter upon the road, his blinding, conversion, healing at the hands of Ananias and the Words of the Lord spoken to him revolutionise and catapult his ministry into the unsuspecting world. Within weeks he is standing in Jerusalem testifying regarding Jesus and the calling that He had given to him. This is a powerful encouragement to the Church and the challenge to ‘change the world’ seems more accessible. Boldness adds to boldness and faith to faith, it is as though the accelerator has been pressed harder and the speed things happen increases. We see more miracles and yet more joy, boldness and vision as the Holy Spirit guides His faithful Church!
The last chapter of Jeremiah is a historical recap on the whole content of the book. We have outlined the reason for the fall of Israel (the sin of the King and its people) the siege against Babylon, the famine, the fall of the walls, the destruction of the Temple and the captivity of the people. 4600 people taken away into the land and the nation is left desolate with just a remnant remaining. The matter-of-fact manner of this last chapter suggests that Jeremiah is overwhelmed that the people completely ignored his warnings and the multitude of messages the Lord entrusted to him. He must have felt in some respects that he had failed but the contrary is actually true. He had been called to be the mouthpiece of God and he had performed that role without error. He stands as an illustration of how we need must be prepared to stand our ground even in the midst of evil. Jeremiah was a true champion!
2 Kings 15:
More Kings of Judah who walked right in the sight of the Lord and yet still failed to tear down the high places. What we see is a lack of personal relationship with the Lord. We have a King struck down with leprosy but no-where is there mention of him crying out to the Lord for healing (Like Hezekiah). Also these kings are beset by enemies but there are no recorded prayers, fastings or even enquiries made of the Lord. The Kings of Israel are all evil and we have long given up hope for ant light on that side of the Kingdom but in Judah we look for a spark of life and hope and none really comes for many generations. Each of us have one life to fulfil the purpose of God, if we are too relaxed and casual we may find that opportunities pass us by, if we are too tense and afraid then we will be restricted in what we attempt and achieve. What we need to do is to listen and trust the Lord for direction and rest in His ability to lead us home!
Here we are first introduced to Saul – As Stephen’s body is taken away Saul starts his rampage upon the Church seeking to destroy the message that Stephen and the Disciples were preaching. His action sparked the dispersal which had been the will and purpose of God in the first place. The Gospel was never to remain in Jerusalem and now it was in Samaria and headed for the rest of the world. We now see individuals being encountered with the message of Christ and their response…we have Simon the Sorcerer who attempts to buy the power of the Spirit and in the process the contents of his heart are revealed. Then we meet the Ethiopian Eunuch who in the space of a few short kilometres has the Gospel explained to him, accepts the Lord, is Baptised and sent home to take the message all the way to Africa! The Gospel is on the move and it has not stopped until today…who will we speak to?
Babylon continues to receive the greatest condemnation of all of the nations which the Lord speaks to. The Lord has used Babylon to bring judgement to the other nations including His people Israel but His ‘Battleaxe’ has delighted to do evil and delighted in killing innocent women and children. The Lord will repay. But another important issue is hidden within this chapter. Babylon is not to be trusted in. The Israelites had been exiled into Babylon for 70 years, many of them had made comfortable lives, built houses, raised families and assimilated into their culture but the Lord is calling them to remember Jerusalem and allow their hearts to turn there once again….how many will return when they are given the opportunity? Will comfort and convenience prevail?