From a sermon series on 1 Kings by See Huang Lim, a missionary at IBF.
My last few sermons focused on the Northern Kingdom of Israel during the time of 1 Kings. Today, we will read about the Southern Kingdom of Judah, about the first 3 generations of kings there. The first is King Rehoboam. The second is his son Abijah. The third is Abijah’s son Asa.
When you read about the kings in this book, you might think their stories sound very similar. That is true. But each king’s story contains one or two details that are unique. I’ll focus on these unique details.
[Read 1 Kings 14:21-15:24.]
King Rehoboam and idolatry
King Rehoboam’s story is mainly about the sin of idolatry. Let’s re-read chapter 14:22-24:
Judah did evil in the sight of the Lord. They made him more jealous by their sins than their ancestors had done. They even built for themselves high places, sacred pillars, and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every green tree. There were also male cultic prostitutes in the land. They committed the same horrible sins as the nations that the Lord had driven out from before the Israelites.
Usually, each king’s story contains a statement from the writer like, “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” King Rehoboam’s description is a bit different. In verse 22, rather than single out Rehoboam, the writer said, “Judah did evil in the sight of the Lord.” Here, the writer wants to give us a picture of an entire nation turning away from God. Though the nation of Judah possessed Jerusalem, the religious center of worship, they failed to worship the true God.
As a result, God followed up on his earlier threat of judgment. In verse 25, God allows the king of Egypt to attack Jerusalem, but without destroying it completely. Egypt ransacked the temple and the royal palace, carrying away its most valuable treasures. It was a terrible blow to Judah, not only to its treasury but also its pride. What we learn here is that God was angered by Judah’s worship of other gods.
As 21st century Christians, we may not bow to physical idols. But perhaps we have other kinds of idols in our lives.
For example, one idol found across the world is the idol of happiness. More than anything, we wish to be happy. We believe that happiness is the most important possession in the world. We think anything that makes us sad or uncomfortable or in pain must surely be bad. We try to find happiness in all kinds of ways – through work, love, friendship, travel, and so on.
Yet, somehow, happiness is elusive. When we find it, happiness slips away again so quickly. Why is that? Just as a false god has no true power, in the same way, we cannot rely on happiness to make our lives complete. Furthermore, our blind pursuit of happiness sometimes leads us further and further from the Creator God, who designed us and knows what we truly need.
It’s not wrong to seek happiness, but making it our highest value or highest priority can lead us astray from an abundant life.
When Jesus came to tell us the good news about God’s kingdom, he didn’t say, “Follow me, and you’ll be happy.” Instead, he said, as recorded in Mark 8:34-37, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”
It’s not that Jesus wants us to be sad people, living sad lives. After all, Jesus said in John 10:10: “I have come that they may have life; and have it to the full.” He promises us a full, abundant life. It’s just that we tend to have narrow ideas about what is a full life.
But a full life can only be experienced when we begin with the right starting point. That starting point is to know the God who created us and see reality through His eyes. That leads us to be amazed at God’s love and provision for us, and worship Him. That leads us to be amazed at God’s power and wisdom, and seek Him for what we need in life.
King David, who was mentioned in today’s passage, experienced this reality. He wrote the song we call Psalm 23, which begins like this: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.” David was saying, “I lack nothing in life. Because I follow the Lord like a sheep follows its shepherd.”
Unfortunately King Rehoboam did not follow the Lord’s path in the same way as David. Rehoboam and his people suffered because they relied on false gods.
King Abijah and God’s mercy
Moving on, let’s look at his son, King Abijah. Let’s read chapter 15, verses 3 to 5:
“Abijah committed all the sins his father had done before him; his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his forefather had been. Nevertheless for David’s sake the Lord his God maintained his dynasty in Jerusalem by giving him a son to succeed him and by protecting Jerusalem. He did this because David had done what he approved and had not disregarded any of his commandments his entire lifetime, except for the incident involving Uriah the Hittite.”
How interesting that God was merciful to Abijah, just because of his forefather David. Here, the writer also says that David was not perfect. David had killed Uriah the Hittite, one of his military commanders, in order to marry Uriah’s wife. Can you believe that a murderer and adulterer like David was so highly approved by God and by the writers of the Bible?
In God’s relationship with David, we see God’s merciful heart and his ongoing love for David.
Meanwhile, on David’s side, the Bible records that he repented of his sins. He humbled himself before God and asked for forgiveness. He did not let his mistakes stop him from returning to God. As a result, God was pleased by David and even granted favor to David’s descendants, such as Abijah.
How about us? Like David, we too can move on from our mistakes, with the Lord’s help. 1 John 1 says, in verses 8-9, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
King Asa and self-reliance
Lastly, let’s look at King Asa, Abijah’s son. Unlike his father and grandfather, he was much more faithful to God.
Chapter 15 verse 11 says, “Asa did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as his (fore)father David had done.” He brought religious reforms to the country, getting rid of all the idols his forefathers made. Verse 14 says, “Although he did not remove the high places, Asa’s heart was fully committed to the Lord all his life.”
His story is a hopeful one. Not only David but other people too could obey the Lord faithfully.
Unfortunately, Asa also did things that weren’t so good, like bribing the King of Aram to break a treaty. This is described in verses 16 to 22. The writer of 1 Kings doesn’t comment on this story, but we can find more details in the book of 2 Chronicles, which also records this event. Let’s look at 2 Chronicles 16:7-10:
“At that time Hanani the prophet came to Asa king of Judah and said to him: ‘Because you relied on the king of Aram and did not rely on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Aram has escaped from your hand. Did not the Cushites and Libyans have a huge army with chariots and a very large number of horsemen? But when you relied on the Lord, he handed them over to you! Certainly the Lord watches the whole earth carefully and is ready to strengthen those who are devoted to him. You have acted foolishly in this matter; from now on you will have war.’ Asa was so angry at the prophet, he put him in jail. Asa also oppressed some of the people at that time.”
Verse 12 adds:
“In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was afflicted with a disease in his feet. Though his disease was severe, even in his illness he did not seek help from the Lord, but only from the physicians.”
Asa’s problem was he didn’t seek help from the Lord. Instead, he relied solely on human wisdom to resolve his national crisis and his illness. We can only imagine how things could be better if Asa consulted God.
Likewise, do we hesitate to bring our problems and decisions to God’s ears? Do we feel God doesn’t care? Do we feel God cannot really help us?
If we are willing to ask, perhaps God will surprise us. James 1:5 encourages us: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”
Let me to close by reading David’s song, Psalm 23. It shows the kind of experience we can have if we depend on God:
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”