Last Thursday night, we saw the young boy Yo-AWSH become king at the age of seven, after having been hidden in the temple from the murderous rampage of the wicked queen mother.
King Yo-AWSH walked with God until the high priest, who had been his mentor and surrogate father, died. It was after that man's death that the king turned to idolatry. The high priest's son Zechariah came and rebuked him for transgressing the commandments of God.
2Chr. 24:20 ..."Because you have forsaken the LORD, He has also forsaken you."
The king didn't want to hear it, and so he commanded that Zechariah be stoned to death in the house of the Lord (2Chron. 24:21).
Soon afterward, the Arameans attacked Jerusalem, leaving the king wounded. As a result,
2Chr. 24:25 ...his own servants conspired against him because of the blood of the son of Jehoiada the priest, and murdered him on his bed.
Now we read that Yo-AWSH's son becomes king over Judah.
Am-ats-YAW's became king when his father died. He was 25 years old, and knew right from wrong. Interestingly, he did what was right, but his heart wasn't necessarily in the right place. His actions were godly, but the attitude behind the actions wasn't devoted to God.
This reminds me of our study of the book of Galatians last Sunday night. That study highlighted for us the difference between living a life dictated by laws and rules versus living a life being led by the Spirit. Outwardly, they look very much the same, doing right, avoiding wrong. But inwardly, they are completely different.
Here we see Am-ats-YAW doing right, but not because of having a heart for God. This can't last for long.
You recall that Am-ats-YAW's father Yo-AWSH had been assassinated by these conspiring servants. Now, Am-ats-YAW has them put to death.
This was certainly the administration of justice, and no one would fault him for it.
He even went above and beyond tradition to do what was right. You see, it was typical and traditional to kill a man's sons as well, to prevent later retaliation. It avoided the family's almost inevitable attempts at vengeance.
But Am-ats-YAW would not put their children to death. He followed the command of God in Deuteronomy 24:16.
Deut. 24:16 "Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin."
This command had been largely forgotten, and would continue to be. But over 200 years later, the Lord would speak through Ezekiel, reminding the Jews again of this principle. He said,
Ezek. 18:2-3 "What do you mean by using this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, 'The fathers eat the sour grapes, but the children's teeth are set on edge'? As I live," declares the Lord GOD, "you are surely not going to use this proverb in Israel anymore."
The Jews were complaining that they were suffering for the actions of their fathers, and not their own. But God set them straight in the entirety of Ezekiel 18.
He gave them the illustration that a righteous man with a wicked son won't die for his son's actions. And if that wicked son has a son...
Ezek. 18:14 "Now behold, he has a son who has observed all his father's sins which he committed, and observing does not do likewise."
That righteous son will not be put to death for his wicked father's actions.
The Jews protested, saying,
Ezek. 18:19 "Why should the son not bear the punishment for the father's iniquity?" When the son has practiced justice and righteousness and has observed all My statutes and done them, he shall surely live.
Ezek. 18:20 "The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father's iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son's iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.
This is God's standard. Now, consider the teaching of "generational curses" that has floated around the Christian church for the last few decades. The teaching that you're not being blessed because your grandfather's sin was never repented of. Is it biblical? Is that God's standard? Not at all.
When Am-ats-YAW was going to go out to war against the Edomites in Mount Seir, he was only able to muster three hundred thousand of his own men. Feeling the need to supplement the military, he hired 100,000 mercenaries from the northern kingdom of Israel.
Now, we've seen enough in 2Chronicles to know that making the northern kingdom of Israel an ally is a big mistake for a Judean king. Yeh-ho-shaw-FAWT made the mistake of going to war as an ally of Israel (2Chron. 18; 20:35). His son Yeh-ho-RAWM married into the Israeli royal family (21:6). In the next generation, Akh-az-YAW partnered with Israel in war at Raw-MOTH-Ghil-AWD (22:5). These actions had been rebuked by God and proved to be devastating to the nation of Judah.
It is true that, as philosopher George Santayana said, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." Or, as the Apostle Paul said,
Rom. 15:4 ...whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction...
One of man's biggest mistakes is to fail to learn from past failures. Fortunately, the voice of righteousness will speak...
A prophet came to the king and told him that this shouldn't happen. Now, Am-ats-YAW might have been justifying this in his mind. "I've hired them OUT of Israel, it's not like I'm allying myself WITH Israel." But God recognized them for who they were: "the army of Israel" (25:7). Don't ever try to catch God in a loophole.
The prophet told Am-ats-YAW that if he maintained this alliance, that he should make himself as strong as possible. That way, when he lost, he would know that God had brought him down.
Am-ats-YAW recognizes that the alliance is wrong, but there is one hold-up: He's paid these guys a hundred talents of silver. "If I just send them home, then I'll have lost all this cash!"
How many times have I heard variations on this theme?
- "But if I commit to church on Wednesday nights, I'll lose the overtime pay I've been getting!"
- "If I break off the engagement, then all the money I've spent on invitations and the reception hall will be lost!"
- "If I get out of this business partnership, I'll lose tens of thousands of dollars that I've invested!"
- "I know the job has a terrible impact on my spiritual life, but where else am I going to make this much an hour?"
I believe we talked about this very thing last Sunday morning in our study of Matthew. About the hold that money can have on people, and about the necessity of being willing to lay down anything that gets priority over God's will in our life.
Mark 10:29-30 Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel's sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age...
If you forsake the hundred talents of silver and get out of the bad situation, do you believe that He will balance the scales? Are you willing to put your faith to the test?
Am-ats-YAW did the right thing (though we know that his heart wasn't in it). He told the Israeli troops to take the silver and go home. You'd think they'd be happy. After all, they'd been paid, and won't be facing the dangers of war. But instead, they left in "fierce anger." This is an anger that is so furious, it burns your nostrils ("khor-EE af").
Why were they so angry? Because they had been denied great gain. Oh, they'd received the hundred talents, but it was the spoils of battle that would have been their real profit.
And as we will see in the upcoming verses, they will not be going home quietly.
With his army now 25% smaller, Am-ats-YAW was able to defeat the Edomites, the sons of Seir. The victory was decisive.
But while Judah was fighting the Edomites, the Israeli troops that had been sent home were plundering the Judean cities on the northern border as they went back to Israel. 3,000 of Judeans were killed.
Up until this point, we have not seen any reason why doing right without a whole heart is problematic. After all, Am-ats-YAW has been making the same decisions that anyone who loves God would be making. Justice with mercy, applying the commandments, turning from wrong decisions. Looks just like a person with a right heart. But now, Am-ats-YAW is bowing down before the gods of the Edomites.
When a heart is far from God, it becomes utterly foolish. Look at our example: Am-ats-YAW has just defeated the Edomites, yet he wants to worship their gods. These gods weren't able to deliver the Edomites. These gods were stolen from the Edomites.
Do you want to worship a weak god that can be stolen?
This is the same foolishness that I see happening in America today. The eastern religions of Buddhism and Hinduism fascinate Americans. Islam is increasing in interest and popularity. But do they consider what these religions have done to their societies in Asia and the Middle East? Paul said to the Galatians,
Gal. 4:8-9 ...at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?
The same question could be asked of Am-ats-YAW: "What are you thinking? You're turning from God who gave you victory to these false gods that could only offer defeat?"
Another prophet came to Am-ats-YAW. He'd listened last time, but this time, he responded, "Did I ask for your opinion?" (Message). "Since when have I asked your advice?" (NLT).
Although the king threatened that the prophet would be struck down, in reality it was the king that would be stricken.
Having rejected the prophet's rebuke, the king turned his attention to the harm that had been inflicted upon his kingdom to the north. Am-ats-YAW was going to retaliate for the incursion of Israeli troops into Judah.
But Yo-AWSH, the king of Israel was full of disdain. "You are a thorn bush, I am a cedar tree. Will you dare to tell me anything? You're going to get stomped! Just because you defeated the Edomites doesn't mean you're strong enough to defeat me. Why should you provoke trouble? Why should you stir up difficulty for yourself? Leave me alone, or you'll be defeated."
"Am-ats-YAW would not listen, for it was from God." Sometimes, the voice of reason doesn't prevail. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, no matter how many people say, "You're on a path of destruction," we can't prevent the disaster. I have found great peace in the fact that sometimes, it's from God. The heart is hardened, the defeat is certain, and there's nothing else I could have done about it, because that's the way God has foreordained things to happen. I just need to make sure I have done what I can. The Lord told Ezekiel,
Ezek. 3:17-19 "Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman to the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from My mouth, warn them from Me. When I say to the wicked, 'You will surely die,' and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet if you have warned the wicked and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered yourself."
If I have spoken the truth, and given the warnings, and yet they still insist on heading down a path of destruction, then I say, "It was from God."
The war happened, and Judah was defeated. Jerusalem was attacked. A 600-foot section of the wall was broken down, and the treasures were taken.
Am-ats-YAW's sin had resulted in the destruction of his city's defensive barrier. That's what sin does in our lives as well: Sin will destroy your defensive barrier. You put yourself in a place where it's inevitable that you're going to get ripped off.
And the compromise eventually leads to complete destruction: His enemies attacked, and even his own people turned away from him and killed him because he'd turned away from following the Lord.
What a reminder to not only do right, but to maintain a whole heart before God!