2 May 2021


Who is our benchmark?

Speaker:  Ps Daniel Tan
Sermon Title:Who is our benchmark?
Scripture Text: 1 Kings 14:21–16:34

Introduction:

Idolatrous Living

 

Grace-filled faithfulness

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. What sort of spiritual compromises do some believers make in order to fit in with their culture?
  2. Reflect on what we have been benchmarking our lives on. Ask God for wisdom to recalibrate so that we can be in line with Him.
  3. Ask God to show us how we can live even more grace-filled lives for His glory. Let us keep one another accountable towards faithfulness. 
Scripture: 1 Kings 14:21–16:34 (ESV)

21 Now Rehoboam the son of Solomon reigned in Judah. Rehoboam was forty-one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned seventeen years in Jerusalem, the city that the Lord had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, to put his name there. His mother’s name was Naamah the Ammonite. 22 And Judah did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and they provoked him to jealousy with their sins that they committed, more than all that their fathers had done. 23 For they also built for themselves high places and pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree, 24 and there were also male cult prostitutes in the land. They did according to all the abominations of the nations that the Lord drove out before the people of Israel.

25 In the fifth year of King Rehoboam, Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem. 26 He took away the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house. He took away everything. He also took away all the shields of gold that Solomon had made, 27 and King Rehoboam made in their place shields of bronze, and committed them to the hands of the officers of the guard, who kept the door of the king’s house. 28 And as often as the king went into the house of the Lord, the guard carried them and brought them back to the guardroom.

29 Now the rest of the acts of Rehoboam and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 30 And there was war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam continually. 31 And Rehoboam slept with his fathers and was buried with his fathers in the city of David. His mother’s name was Naamah the Ammonite. And Abijam his son reigned in his place.

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transcript

Introduction

Blessed Sunday morning to all. I trust that for Hermonites, during the ACM, we were all filled with thanksgiving for how the Lord has sustained us through the past year.

The Lord truly has been our Ebenezer. For thus far has He helped us.

Let’s begin the sermon by asking the question ‘What is benchmarking’? According to the dictionary, it is a process of measuring products, services, and processes against those of organizations known to be leaders in one or more aspects of their operations.

In day to day terms – how do I know a cup of Kopi-C-kosong for $1.20 is reasonable? Well, I benchmark against the costs of this same cup in the coffeeshops that I frequent.

From the costs of items we regularly purchase, the salary increment we receive, how we judge our happiness and contentment in life, everything is benchmarked.

Social Media feeds on this benchmarking tendencies as well. And this is the reason why counsellors have advised some, get off social media if you don’t want to be depressed and discontented.

The curated lives of your friends will breed envy and exhaustion.

The thing is, as believers, where should our benchmarking be? Is it Society or is it Scripture?

Since we are going through 1 & 2 Kings, what is the benchmark for God’s rulers? Is it what the pagan nations are doing or is it what God says is acceptable?

Previously, 1 Kings 2, explained God’s benchmark as follows:

1 Kgs 2:2 Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn.

This is the benchmark that we are to evaluate all the kings of Israel and Judah throughout 1 & 2 Kings. Have they walked according to the Law of Moses, faithfully with all their heart and all their soul?

And Scripture further helps us identify kings who have positively met God’s conditions and those who have not.

If a king has met God’s condition, Scripture will pronounce that he has followed in the footsteps of David. As we will see with King Asa of Judah later.

However for those who have not met God’s conditions, they will be said to have followed in the footsteps of Jeroboam, the king of Israel.

Sadly, many will however be linked with Jeroboam and not David. 

Today as we observe the benchmarking of Israel’s kings, may it also cause us to consider the benchmarking in our lives as well.

In today’s passage, we will cover 3 kings in Judah and 6 kings in Israel. We are currently in the state of the divided kingdom.

Under Saul, David and Solomon, the kingdom was united.

But now God has split the kingdom into 2. 10 tribes in the North became Israel and 2 tribes in the south became Judah.

I hope the table above will help us to see the correlation of the kings of Judah and Israel in terms of their rule vis-à-vis each other.

Asa of Judah reigned a long time and so he had to deal with 6 kings of Israel.

Idolatrous Living

Let’s begin by looking at the rulers who benchmarked themselves with Jeroboam. These are the kings that sought to live in idolatry.

Let’s begin with the 2 kings of Judah – Rehoboam and his son Abijam.

The reign of Rehoboam began in 1 Kgs 12 but chapter 13 & 14, centred on his rival Jeroboam of Israel. Now in the 2nd half of chapter 14, the story returns to Rehoboam.

3 things we note about Rehoboam’s idolatrous rule.

Firstly, the author wants to highlight Rehoboam’s mother. He does this by bookending this section (v21 & v31) stating that Rehoboam’s mother is Naamah the Ammonite.

This is the terrible legacy of Solomon – 1 Kgs 11:For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father.

Because Solomon married a pagan idol worshipper, the strong influence of the mother has directed the affections of Rehoboam’s heart.  

Secondly, the author says, the influence of the mother is not just on her son, but nation-wide as well. V22 says, Judah, not just Rehoboam, did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.

Though the influence of this Ammonite, Judah’s king and her citizens were led deep into idolatry. They build high places and pillars on every hill and under every green tree. There were also male cult prostitutes.

And so the author give the damming verdict – they did according to all the abominations of the nations that the Lord drive out before the people of Israel.

What God did through Joshua and established through David has been reversed.

Judah is just like that of the surrounding nations. The benchmark for Judah seems the pagan nations.

Thirdly, we see the glory of Judah fading.

Shishak the king of Egypt took away the shields of gold and instead now Rehoboam had to make do with shields of bronze.

To put this into perspective, let’s recap 1 Kgs 10:

1 Kgs 10:21 All King Solomon’s drinking vessels were of gold, and all the vessels of the House of the Forest of Lebanon were of pure gold. None were of silver; silver was not considered as anything in the days of Solomon.

Gold was in such abundance that silver was practically worthless. But now Rehoboam had to make do with bronze shields.

Shields of bronze reflects how far Judah has fallen. And all because they have benchmarked themselves with the pagan nations.

Rehoboam was succeeded by Abijam. But he was no better. The benchmarking verdict was :

1 Kgs 15:3 And he walked in all the sins that his father did before him, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father.

Abijam did not benchmark himself correctly. He did not follow David whose heart was wholly true to the Lord.

I’ll skip Asa for now and let’s move to the kings of Israel. We already know that Jeroboam did evil in God’s sight.

Nadab – 1 Kgs 15:26 He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and walked in the way of his father (Jeroboam), and in his sin which he made Israel to sin.

Baasha – 1 Kgs 15:34 He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and walked in the way of Jeroboam and in his sin which he made Israel to sin.

Elah – 1 Kgs 16:13 for all the sins of Baasha and the sins of Elah his son, which they sinned and which they made Israel to sin, provoking the Lord God of Israel to anger with their idols.

Zimri – 1 Kgs 16:19 because of his sins that he committed, doing evil in the sight of the Lord, walking in the way of Jeroboam, and for his sin which he committed, making Israel to sin.

Omri – 1 Kgs 16:25 Omri did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did more evil than all who were before him. 26 For he walked in all the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and in the sins that he made Israel to sin, provoking the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger by their idols.

Ahab –  1 Kgs 16:30 And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him. 31 And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, 31 And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat.

6 different kings of Israel but they have two thing in common.

Firstly, they all benchmarked themselves with Jeroboam. Therefore lived in blatant idolatry.

And notice that in the last 2 kings – Omri and Ahab, we see that the evil escalates. Both are described as more evil that those who were before them.

Look at what was described of Ahab, it was a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam. In the words of Rehoboam – the little finger of Ahab is thicker than the thigh of Jeroboam.

Secondly, we see that in all of them, the phased ‘made Israel to sin’ is repeated. This is truly frightening right? How when the top goes south, the people follow.

And its ironic that evil can be so contagious but goodness faces a lot more resistance. 

In the Louvre (loo-ver) Museum in Paris, there is a black basalt stone displayed. This was erected by a Moabite King Mesha around mid-800 BC.

In its inscription, Mesha tells of King Omri’s reconquest of Moab and his own successful rebellion against Israel, which probably occurred during the reign of Omri’s successor, Ahab.

Of all the kings of Israel so far, it seems only Omri was prominent enough in international affairs. Historians have also found in Assyrian reports a few hundred years later, that Israel was still referred to as the house of Omri.

Kings of Judah and Israel, may be judged well in the eyes of the world if they benchmark themselves with society. But the true verdict is the benchmarking of God. And that means benchmarking with king David.

And against this benchmarking, God says, they do not measure up.

Idolatry is putting anybody and anything in God’s place. That is how society benchmarks itself.

Church, is this how we are benchmarking ourselves too today?

We may not be blatant in our idolatry, but may I submit idolatry is not far away in the following situations: 

When in our relationships, we marry non-believers, when in our careers we do not observe the Sabbath, when in our families we reject the spiritual upbringing of our children and when our hobbies, take first priority of our resources.  

In such situations, are we not replacing God from His rightful place in our lives? Are we not benchmarking like society?

If we do so, it looks like we are no different from these evil kings of Judah and Israel.

Church, as believers, our yardstick, our plumbline is to be so different from that of society. We are instead to follow like David and have our hearts wholly true to God and His commands.

Jesus calls all believers –

Mt 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

Salt is used to preserve what is good. Good not according to what society thinks it is good. But good according to God’s word. Good in God’s eyes, as benchmarked by God.

So as believers, we are to be the salt of the earth. We are not to benchmark ourselves with society, we are to benchmark ourselves with God’s Word and to preserve it in our lives.

In the midst of all this evil, may I point out God’s grace.

Firstly He raised prophets to keep confronting these wayward kings.

1 Kgs 15:29 And as soon as he was king, he killed all the house of Jeroboam. He left to the house of Jeroboam not one that breathed, until he had destroyed it, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by his servant Ahijah the Shilonite.

1 Kgs 16:1 And the word of the Lord came to Jehu the son of Hanani against Baasha

God does not keep silence, He intervenes, and He raises His spokesman to highlight the error of their ways. So Ahijah and Jehu confronted Jeroboam and Baasha respectively.

I’m sure we all know that God’s still graciously speaks to us through Scripture today.

2 Tim 3:16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Do you know what is the first clear sign of a revival? It’s not when there is a manifestation of the signs and wonders. A true revival happens when there is a deep awareness of sin.

When the Holy Spirit fills us deeply, our first consciousness is our uncleanness in front of a Holy God. It’s the picture of Isaiah 6 – woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.

Because God desires His children to be like Him, He reaches out to the kings of Israel through the prophets.

Look at 1 Kgs 16:1-3.

Secondly the author is telling us that God used rulers as well as Prophets to turn his people back to Him. He graciously raised Baasha to be king. Yet Baasha walked in the ways of Jeroboam.

Finally I submit, we see God’s grace in His judgement of wiping out the whole line of Jeroboam and Baasha. We see that God’s judgement is fulfilled in 1 Kings 15:29 and 16:12.

Why is this God’s grace, well, firstly, like a terrible disease, God removed it completely so that Israel will no longer be led to sinning. This we see in the complete removal of the line of Jeroboam and Baasha.

Secondly, it shows that all God’s promises are true.

At the end of chapter 16, we have this comment by the author. 1 Kgs 16:34 refers to Joshua 6:26. This cruse was uttered by Joshua around 1200 BC. 300 years earlier. No one is to rebuild the city of Jericho.

This brings across to us how sure and exacting God’s word is.

Here Hiel of Bethel loses his firstborn and his youngest son because he did what God has expressly forbidden.

So we see the principle – what God says, will come to pass.

And so I can confidently claim His promise that when I put my trust in Jesus Christ, all my sins, past, present and future have been forgiven.

It means by the blood of Jesus’ once for all sacrifice at Calvary, God considers me righteous. And now I have a place in God’s kingdom for all eternity.

That is wonderful grace isn’t it. It’s not deserved, yet freely given. And all these truths, will never change.

If you have been benchmarking to the wrong things till now, remember there is grace flowing from the throne of God.

God promises that when we seek Him with all our hearts, He will show Himself to us.

Grace-filled faithfulness

For all the kings who have benchmarked with Jeroboam, I don’t know about you, but based on God’s verdict, to me, it seems they are as pagan as they can be.

Yet in the midst of such evil, I would like to highlight further, God’s grace.

Firstly God’s grace by keeping a lamp in Jerusalem.

1 Kgs 15:4 Nevertheless, for David’s sake the Lord his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem, setting up his son after him, and establishing Jerusalem, because David did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and did not turn aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.

Here I would like to quote from the bible study material our CGs are using regarding this lamp in Jerusalem.

“ 1st Kings 11–16 demonstrates God’s unconditional resolve to preserve the Davidic monarchy despite the rebellion of Israel against it.

When God promises to tear the kingdom away from Solomon, he makes the concession that he will leave one tribe to Solomon’s line “for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem that I have chosen” (11:13). Later he stipulates that he will leave one tribe to Solomon’s line “that David my servant may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city where I have chosen to put my name” (11:36).

Through 1 Kings 12–16, and indeed through the entire book, we find God faithfully preserving the Davidic line. For instance, during the reign of Abijam (Solomon’s grandson), although the king’s heart was not devoted to the Lord, nonetheless “for David’s sake the LORD his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem” (15:4).

The imagery of a burning lamp signals God’s unconditional faithfulness to his promises despite the frequent disobedience of his people, directing our expectation to Jesus Christ, the Davidic Messiah who rules “on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore” (Isa. 9:7). ”

God continues to extend grace today. The gift of salvation in Christ Jesus is God’s grace to us sinners. The gift of forgiveness when we repent after sinning and sinning yet again, is also God’s grace.

And so since our benchmark is David the son of Jesse, then our lives are to exhibiting grace-filled faithfulness.

David’s life displayed God’s grace because 1 Kings 15 says, David did what was right in the eyes of the Lord except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.

There we know he committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered Uriah.

But David repented fully when confronted and we have Psalm 51 to guide us in our own confession today.

Secondly, we thank God for the life of King Asa.

Like David, he exhibited grace-filled faithfulness. And so it brings fresh air and lifts the gloom in our souls when we read :

1 Kgs 15:11 And Asa did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as David his father had done.

Now we see that Asa was of the same family as the previous king of Judah Abijam. They both were sons of Maacah, the daughter of Abishalom.

So even though the author emphasizes the strong pagan influence that Rehoboam’s mother had over him. It was different for Asa.

May it help us to appreciate that the state of our family of origin is not the only influence on our lives’ trajectory.

And I submit that many of us who are first generation Christian can testify to that.

In spite of our family of origin and even under great objection, we pledge our allegiance to Jesus.

And so we rejoice to read –

1 Kgs 15:12 He put away the male cult prostitutes out of the land and removed all the idols that his fathers had made. 13 He also removed Maacah his mother from being queen mother because she had made an abominable image for Asherah. And Asa cut down her image and burned it at the brook Kidron.

I’ve titled the life of David and Asa as grace-filled faithfulness because that is the only way a believer can live.

We have already seen how grace has impacted the life of David due to his sin against Uriah.

In Asa’s life, we see 3 areas in which God’s grace covers him.

Firstly in v14, we see that though he set about removing much of the idolatry in Judah, he did not fully eradicate them. He did not take away the high places.

Remember, absolute obedience to God is required as seen in the case of Hiel and the rebuilding of Jericho and the death of the young prophet in 1 Kgs 13.

I can identify with this. I’ve experienced God’s sanctifying work in my lives where He systematically brings different areas under His control.

Secondly, though it was a great political move to quench the opposition of Baasha by having the alliance with Syria as seen in v19-22, we know that God was not pleased.

2 Chr 16:7 At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him, “Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you….. For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.”

God know when we turn our dependence upon our human wisdom instead of relying on Him. And that to God is idolatry.

And this I’m sure is a very real struggle for pragmatic and solution-solving believers.

May this remind us to humbly seek God always for His discernment as to how we can proceed –  trusting God on one hand and at the same time exercising human responsibility.

Thirdly and finally, the author makes this passing comment:

1 Kgs 15:23  ………. But in his old age he was diseased in his feet.

The author of 2 Chronicles tells us

2 Chr 16:12 In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe. Yet even in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but sought help from physicians.

Now there is nothing wrong in seeking treatment from doctors, but what the author is emphasizing is that both in his rule and in his personal life, King Asa did not seek God.

If God is Lord, He is Lord of all. He is interested in every detail of our lives. Our responsibilities at work, in society, in church, at home and in our personal lives.

We see that Asa like David lived out grace-filled lives. For they were imperfect men, just like you and me.

Let’s benchmark against them. May the description of Asa be said of us – ‘nevertheless, the heart of Asa was wholly true to the Lord all his days’.

Conclusion

Who are you benchmarking your life upon today? 1 Kings says, either you follow David and Asa or you follow Jeroboam.

One is grace-filled and the other is idolatrous.  And we know that the one who is grace-filled has the heart wholly true to God.

And so this principle is clearly seen in Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthian believers – 1 Cor 11:1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

For Christ Jesus is the perfect person to follow. For he says:

Mt 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

Thus in Christ, God’s requirements are fully satisfied.

Church, would we edify each other by modeling grace-filled faithfulness?

For leaders, God has called us to model for the flock – Heb 13:Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

As a church, God says, we can model for other believers as well.

Paul describes the testimony of the Colossian believers – Col 1:We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.

Church, let us model the correct benchmarking in our lives today.

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