From a sermon series on 2 Kings by See Huang Lim, a missionary at IBF.
Just last month, Tetsu Nakamura, a Christian doctor who dedicated more than 20 years of his life to the aid of the people of Afghanistan died after he was shot by presumably Islamist militants. We wonder, why do such things happen? This is one of the few questions we ask ourselves when we read 2 Kings 11. From this chapter, I would like to draw 3 points: 1) the sovereignty of God, 2) the silence of God, and 3) the servant of God. Before we read the text, let’s pray.
[Read 2 Kings 11]
To rewind the story a little, Ahaziah the king of Judah was assassinated in chapter 10 along with his cousin Joram by Jehu. Hearing that Ahaziah is dead, his mother Athaliah seizes the throne and starts murdering her own grandchildren.
We don’t know for sure why she does so, but it’s not hard to speculate that she wants power and control. Eliminating the direct male heirs would secure her rule even if it means destroying her own family line.
While Athaliah is the prominent figure in this chapter, let us not forget that the main character is God. Much earlier before this massacre, God promises David in 2 Samuel 7:16, “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” How will God fulfill his promise to David when this madwoman is hell-bent on killing all of David’s remaining descendants?
This brings me to my first point: the sovereignty of God in the midst of evil. 2 Kings 11 reminds us that this world is filled with evil.
The Bible acknowledges that suffering is the result of the presence of sin in this world. Sin is defined as rebellion against our creator God. When we choose other things and self above God, we sin against him, bringing evil to our lives and those around us.
The Bible also tells us that God, though a good and sovereign God, allows for evil to continue existing. When I say that God is sovereign, it means that he is in control and can bring goodness even out of the darkest of situations.
The cross of Christ clearly indicates this. Though God the Father allowed the evil that resulted from our sins to befall Jesus his own beloved Son, it is through Christ’s death that the power of sin and death was defeated. As rebels against God, we deserved to die for our sins, but Christ died on our behalf. The good news is that Jesus rose from the dead on the 3rd day. To anyone willing to acknowledge their sins, repent from them and believe in Christ, he gives them the power to overcome the evil in their hearts and to one day be raised to eternal life. What this tells us is that there is no evil so dark that God’s goodness can’t eventually overcome.
Now, let me draw out a few applications from this particular characteristic of God.
First, we ought to trust God even when our situation seems bleak. Sometimes, unexplainable bad things do happen. I have friends who tried many times to have kids, but end up having miscarriages multiple times. I don’t know why such things happen.
The book of Job reminds us that because we are human, we can’t fathom the mind of God. Job though a righteous man, suffered tremendously, and he demanded for answers to why God allowed him to suffer in such a seemingly unjust manner. At the end of the book of Job, God speaks to Job and asks him, “Were you there when I created the universe?” The work of running the universe is complex, and God doesn’t expect us to understand that. However, he does expect us to trust that he is good and in control even when our external situations suggest that he is not.
Second, our trust in God transforms us and in turn transforms others. I think of Jim Elliot who went to the jungles of Ecuador to preach the gospel to an indigenous tribe there. He and four others were killed by some tribesmen. Such tragedy could have made the family members of those who lost their lives bitter. Instead, through this tragedy, God taught them the hard lesson of true forgiveness. Elliot’s wife and the sister of one of the victims eventually went back to the tribe to share about the power of Christ to forgive. Because of them, many of the indigenous people turned to Christ. Even two of the killers became convinced of their sins and became believers. They even attended the 1966 World Congress of Evangelism in Berlin and testified of the reality of Christ’s power to forgive sins. No matter how tragic the circumstances of our lives are, there is hope that God works all things both good and bad for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28).
Third, while it is true that God can bring good even out of evil, it doesn’t mean that we should make unwise decisions. Coming back to 2 Kings 11, the reason why Athaliah is in the picture is because Joram Jehoshaphat’s son married her. This marriage is probably arranged by Jehoshaphat because he made an alliance with the house of Ahab. In those days, when you make an alliance, it was common practice to give your children in marriage to your ally’s children. Jehoshaphat probably thought it wise to give Joram in marriage to Athaliah to strengthen the relations between Judah and Israel. He knew God hated idol worship and strictly prohibited marriage with pagans. Yet, he ignored God’s commands. The result was that his entire family line was almost wiped out by his daughter-in-law.
Let that be a warning to us when we think of our future marriage partners. It is easy to justify our choice of love interests, but there will be painful consequences for choosing to marry someone outside the faith that you may not expect. Some who marry non-believers have found it hard to cope with the stress of having different values, while others have given up on the faith entirely. That is not to say that God can’t bring good out of the situation, but before he can do that, he will most likely allow you to suffer the consequence of your poor choices. The question is: are you willing to suffer when he has warned you beforehand of the consequences of unwise decisions?
To sum up this point: God is sovereign. He uses even the worst of situations to make us more into the image of Christ.
Let me now move on to my second point: the silence of God. While the previous chapters present God as being active in speaking and directing the course of history, this chapter doesn’t. Instead God is only referred to in the 3rd person. 9 times, the house of the Lord is mentioned and twice, the author refers to him. God is silent in this chapter.
The Bible doesn’t shy away from addressing the issue of God’s seeming silence in the midst of trouble or evil. Jesus is a prime example of someone who experienced the silence of God. When he hung on the cross, he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
There will be moments where we may feel, like Jesus, abandoned by God. Mother Teresa, one of the greatest Christian saints, confessed to her superior, “the silence and the emptiness are so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.” In our walk with the Lord, we may go through season of dryness where God just doesn’t seem close at all. You may be going through such a time right now.
While in the US, I had such a moment. I was at that time struggling with doubt as a result from being burnt out from serving at church to the point that I stopped going to church for a while. It was during that time that my mother became bedridden after a stroke. I was angry with God. I couldn’t see him at work in my life at that moment. Though I asked him to speak to me, I didn’t receive a response from him.
I only began to overcome that season of spiritual dryness when my mentor recommended me to pray by reviewing my day with gratitude. Before this, I had only thought that God was at work only when something momentous happens, for example, when my prayers are answered or when I see a dramatic change in someone’s life when they believe in Christ. However, as my mentor taught me, God is at work at all times. We live such fast-paced lifestyles that it is easy to not see God in the little details of life.
When I started to look into my life for things to be grateful for, I realize that God hasn’t been silent or absent as I thought. The blue sky that made me smile, the food I have on the table, or the friend who called to ask me how I was doing are examples of the ways that I wouldn’t otherwise associate as God’s kindness to me, but they are.
If you want to have a closer walk with God but sense that he is distant or silent, you may want to consider a few things. Are you too busy and tired? Are you resting enough? Is there a sin that you have not confessed and repented from? Do you take time to slow down and list down the things you are grateful for? Do you regularly make time to pray or read the Bible? God is always near to us, but it takes eyes of faith and hearts of gratitude to see him at work.
Coming back to the passage, while God is seemingly absent, his servants are not. This brings me to my final point: the servant of God.
The great reformer Martin Luther says that God wears a human-face mask. Often times, God acts through a human agent to bring about his plans. In 2 Kings 11, while God doesn’t directly act, we can see him through Jehosheba who takes quick action to rescue her nephew from the slaughter. Jehosheba isn’t a famous biblical character, and yet if you think about it, it is precisely because of her action that we even get to celebrate Christmas. If Athaliah had gotten her hands on Joash, we wouldn’t have Jesus who is a descendant of Joash. It was because of this relatively unknown woman that the line of David was preserved and thus the Savior could be born the way God has promised. Just when we are tempted to think that God is taking a nap while Athaliah goes on her killing spree, here we see how Jehosheba is in the right place at the right time.
Jehosheba is not a prominent figure. God could have caused Athaliah to trip over a flower pot, breaking her neck, and die on the spot, but he didn’t. Instead he used a nobody, someone obscure in history to bring about his will. When we start thinking that God only uses prominent and talented people at church for his purposes, may Jehosheba’s example challenge us. He can use you as you are. Each of us have a part to play, and if you are open to obeying God through your service, you might just see God bringing about his goodness in your life or those around you just as he did so through Jehosheba.
Before I end with a word of prayer, let me briefly recap today’s points. First, God is sovereign and works out good even out bad situations. Second, God may appear silent in our times of trouble, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t at work in our lives. Third, God works through his servants who often times are people who are relatively not prominent. May we be challenged to trust God amidst our difficult circumstances, believing that he is transforming us for his good purposes and to be his servants in this broken world. Let’s pray.