17 Oct 2021


The Faint Refrain of Hope

Speaker: Ps Luwin Wong
Sermon Title: The Faint Refrain of Hope
Scripture Text: 2 Kings 14-15

A king that self-destructed.

 

A kingdom that self-destructed.

 

A kingly line that God-preserved.

Reflection Questions:

  • In times of darkness brought about by human wickedness, do you turn to God’s word for hope?
  • How does knowing that God is still sovereign over the chaotic reigns of Israel’s final decades help us face the uncertainties of our own day?
  • God keeps to His promises, which all find their fulfilment in Christ. How can you encourage one another to remember this?
Scripture: 2 Kings 14-15 (ESV)

14 In the second year of Joash the son of Joahaz, king of Israel, Amaziah the son of Joash, king of Judah, began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jehoaddin of Jerusalem. And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, yet not like David his father. He did in all things as Joash his father had done. But the high places were not removed; the people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places. And as soon as the royal power was firmly in his hand, he struck down his servants who had struck down the king his father. But he did not put to death the children of the murderers, according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, where the Lord commanded, “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. But each one shall die for his own sin.”

He struck down ten thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt and took Sela by storm, and called it Joktheel, which is its name to this day.

Then Amaziah sent messengers to Jehoash the son of Jehoahaz, son of Jehu, king of Israel, saying, “Come, let us look one another in the face.” And Jehoash king of Israel sent word to Amaziah king of Judah, “A thistle on Lebanon sent to a cedar on Lebanon, saying, ‘Give your daughter to my son for a wife,’ and a wild beast of Lebanon passed by and trampled down the thistle. 10 You have indeed struck down Edom, and your heart has lifted you up. Be content with your glory, and stay at home, for why should you provoke trouble so that you fall, you and Judah with you?”

11 But Amaziah would not listen. So Jehoash king of Israel went up, and he and Amaziah king of Judah faced one another in battle at Beth-shemesh, which belongs to Judah. 12 And Judah was defeated by Israel, and every man fled to his home. 13 And Jehoash king of Israel captured Amaziah king of Judah, the son of Jehoash, son of Ahaziah, at Beth-shemesh, and came to Jerusalem and broke down the wall of Jerusalem for four hundred cubits, from the Ephraim Gate to the Corner Gate. 14 And he seized all the gold and silver, and all the vessels that were found in the house of the Lord and in the treasuries of the king’s house, also hostages, and he returned to Samaria.

15 Now the rest of the acts of Jehoash that he did, and his might, and how he fought with Amaziah king of Judah, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? 16 And Jehoash slept with his fathers and was buried in Samaria with the kings of Israel, and Jeroboam his son reigned in his place.

17 Amaziah the son of Joash, king of Judah, lived fifteen years after the death of Jehoash son of Jehoahaz, king of Israel. 18 Now the rest of the deeds of Amaziah, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 19 And they made a conspiracy against him in Jerusalem, and he fled to Lachish. But they sent after him to Lachish and put him to death there. 20 And they brought him on horses; and he was buried in Jerusalem with his fathers in the city of David. 21 And all the people of Judah took Azariah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king instead of his father Amaziah. 22 He built Elath and restored it to Judah, after the king slept with his fathers.

23 In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash, king of Judah, Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, began to reign in Samaria, and he reigned forty-one years. 24 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin. 25 He restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher. 26 For the Lord saw that the affliction of Israel was very bitter, for there was none left, bond or free, and there was none to help Israel. 27 But the Lord had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, so he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash.

28 Now the rest of the acts of Jeroboam and all that he did, and his might, how he fought, and how he restored Damascus and Hamath to Judah in Israel, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? 29 And Jeroboam slept with his fathers, the kings of Israel, and Zechariah his son reigned in his place.

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transcript

The Greek King Alexander III of Macedon is remembered in history as Alexander the Great. But for a man like him, being Great, it seems, isn’t quite good enough. He wasn’t content with being Great, he needed to be the Greatest. He believed he was a descendant of the God Zeus, he wanted to conquer more lands than any human conqueror before him. He wanted victory after victory after victory. Which of course, comes on the back of battle after battle after battle.

Most of his army at this time were hundreds of miles away from home, they hadn’t seen their family in 8 years, they are wounded, they are tired, their shoes were worn, their clothes were tattered. At this point in the campaign they were fighting ancient kingdoms in India which had war elephants within their ranks. How many elephants do you have to fight before your morale breaks?

But Alexander wanted to go further, he wanted more lands, he wanted more victories. So at the river Beas, which borders modern day India and Pakistan, the army mutinied. They revolted against Alexander the Great. He backed down.

And long after, he died. No one knows how exactly, but many historians believed he was poisoned. Poisoned by his own officers because they were sick and tired of his constant need to fight.

Had Alexander been content with simply being Great, he would probably have lived longer than age 32. He was struck down at his prime because he didn’t know when to stop.

One could say he was victim of his own successes.

He could, perhaps, have learnt from the lesson of the first king in our text today, king Amaziah. Who allowed his successes get to his head and pursued a pride-paved path of self-destruction.

Let’s dive into his narrative. Amaziah, the king who self-destructed.

  1. The King who self-destructed.

First thing we see is that as far as kings go as the time, he’s one of the good ones. His name will fall under the column “Good Kings of Judah”. But he’s far from the ideal. He’s not a king after God’s own heart.

“He did what was tight in the eyes of the Lord, yet not like David his father”.

He did not reinstate Baal worship like Ahab did, but he was not faithful to God like David was either. He’s somewhere in-between. He’s like Joash his father. We see from verse 6 that he is at least committed to keeping some of the law of Moses.

Nevertheless, during his reign, the people continued to worship in the “high places”, pagan locations of worship, not approved by The LORD. The LORD is truly worshipped at the House of The LORD, in the temple at Jerusalem.

So Amaziah is good, but he’s not good enough.

He defeated 10,000 Edomites in the Valley of Salt and took the city of Sela. Which is a good thing. Edom, the descendants of Esau is not a friend of Judah, the descendants of Jacob. And so the battle result reflects well on Amaziah.

But it’s as if the author mentions this victory, not with the intention to praise Amaziah, but for the purpose of explaining his downfall.

Because in the very next verse, we see Amaziah of Judah picking a fight with Jehoash of Israel. Which is something you don’t do.

Israel, unlike Edom, share the same father with Judah. They both trace their lineage to Jacob, the father of the 12 Tribes.

Which means to say, the southern kingdom of Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel aren’t just neighbours, they are brothers, the sons of the same father.

“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” (Lev 19:18)

So at once, when Amaziah picks a fight with Jehoash, we know it can’t end well. Especially when Jehoash basically says, “let’s not do this, ‘why should you provoke trouble so that you fall, you and Judah with you?’”

Now mind you, this is the Jehoash that we saw, in just the previous chapter, reclaiming cities of Israel from the hand of Ben-Hadad the king of Syria. So Jehoash isn’t some novice when it comes to war. He has come up victorious over the mighty army of Syria.

And so Jehoash wasn’t simply trash-talking when he told Amaziah to stay home instead of coming to fighting and losing. But Amaziah insisted on fighting.

And the result of the battle is the fall of the walls of Jerusalem.

“And Jehoash king of Israel captured Amaziah king of Judah, the son of Jehoash, son of Ahaziah, at Beth-shemesh, and came to Jerusalem and broke down the wall of Jerusalem for four hundred cubits, from the Ephraim Gate to the Corner Gate” (2 Kings 14:13)

Now this is significant. Because up until now, the walls of Jerusalem has never been broken. Not even by the might of the Syrian army at the time. The fact that the walls of Jerusalem came tumbling down is a watershed moment in the kingdom of Judah.

At the start of the year, on Jan 21, Liverpool football club was on a 68 game unbeaten home record in the English Premier League. Which means that when they were playing in home stadium at Anfield, Liverpool has not lost to anyone in nearly 3 years. Some of the younger players even haven’t experienced what it was like to suffer a defeated at Anfield.

Their stadium was a fortress. They can’t be beat. Liverpool knew it, their opponents knew it. There was an air of invincibility about Liverpool at Anfield.

But on 21 Jan 2021, Liverpool lost at Anfield to Burnley.

And the proceeded to lose the next 6 home games in a row.

What happened? Dn David and Jiayi will tell you it’s because their best defenders were injured, there were no fans at the stadium, yada yada, but the point is that moment the lost at Anfield, it meant that Liverpool could be defeated at home. If they could be defeated once, they could be defeated period.

The same went for the walled city of Jerusalem.

So long as the walls held, one can always say, the house of the Lord is in Jerusalem, and the Lord will defend the city for his honor. So long as the walls of Jerusalem stood strong, there is an air of invincibility surrounding the Kingdom of Judah.

Amaziah’s folly created an opening. It opened up the possibility of Jerusalem falling to her enemies. This is a preview of the eventual exile of Judah to Babylon.

All this to say, although the kings of Judah in these chapters have a good summary evaluation – that is, “they did what was right in the sight of the Lord”, and the kings of Israel, have a bad summary evaluation – that is, “they did what was evil in the sight of the Lord”, you mustn’t read these chapters as a way to contrast between the reigns of good and evil kings.

That’s not the point. The thread of evil runs through the heart of both kingdoms. If hope is to be found, it will not be in the goodness of the Judahite kings. The faint refrain of hope must sound from a different instrument.

There is hope for the kingdom of God, but it is not because one set of kings in this chapter good enough to the covenant blessings of the Lord.

For notice how the “good” king Amaziah ends.

And they made a conspiracy against him in Jerusalem, and he fled to Lachish. But they sent after him to Lachish and put him to death there. (2 Kings 14:19)

Amaziah didn’t end well. Like Alexander the Great, he lost the confidence of the people, and they conspired to assassinate him.

But that’s not the final detail of his narrative. It ends, rather, on this note:

And all the people of Judah took Azariah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king instead of his father Amaziah. (2 Kings 14:21)

Amaziah’s reign concludes with the succession of his to the throne of Judah. Which isn’t just a matter of fact, it’s a note of grace, it’s the first of the faint refrain of hope.

To understand why it’s a hopeful thing, we have to see what could have been.

And we see this in the counterpart kingdom of Israel. To get a context of how to understand this quick-fire succession of kings in Israel in chapter 15, let’s take another leaf from the pages of history. This time, the Roman Empire.

193AD was a significant time in the Roman Empire. It came to be known as “The Year of the Five Emperors”. So named because in that year alone, 5 different men sat on the “throne” of Rome.

It began with the assassination of Commodus, the people couldn’t take him, because he was a cruel, paranoid and narcissistic. It was perhaps quite fitting that his assassin was a wrestler by the name of Narcissus.

Pertinax, a high ranking military official, claimed the seat vacated by Commodus, but he only lasted 3 months, and then he was killed by the Praetorian guard.

Didius Julianus outbidded his father-in-law for the amount he would pay the troops in order to secure the seat of emperor. He literally paid his way to the top. But all that money was for nought, because he only reigned for 1 month, executed on the order of a Severus, who was to be the fifth emperor “of the Year of the 5 emperors”.

In-between Didus and Severus were Pescennius Niger and Clodius Albinus, who isn’t known for anything, apart from fighting to hold on to the title of emperor for dear life, which they failed to do.

The year of the 5 emperors marked the end of the Pax Romana, a period marked by peace and prosperity in the Roman empire. One historian described the year of the 5 emperors as the point where the Roman empire turned from a kingdom of gold into a kingdom of iron and rust.

From that point, the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome, was over. The height of glory of Roman Empire was henceforth consigned to history.

The years that followed was a period marked by power hungry men, conspiracies, assassinations, and civil war.

This, in a nutshell, is the situation the Kingdom of Israel finds itself in. Sure, It goes through 6 kings over a far longer period than a year, but the brief and hurried manner the author runs through the description of these 6 kings of Israel offers that sense that the main thing to notice about these succession of kings from Jeroboam II to Pekah is the instability of their reign. None of them is able to hang on to the throne, none of them is able to establish a dynasty, most of them had the crown ripped from their dying hands.

It’s a symptom of the kingdom’s decline and decay. There is no longevity to the kings, why would you expect the kingdom to last? It’s a picture of a kingdom headed for destruction.

Self-destruction might I add. It’s a kingdom that is self-destructive for two reasons.

  • Because the kings insist on bringing the covenant curses upon themselves by their stubborn refusal to cast off the shackles of idolatry.
  • Because the transition between the kings were brought about by internal strife and bloodshed.

Let’s have a look.

The common refrain that sums up the reign of each of these 6 kings employ the exact same verbiage:

“The did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin.”

Well, all but one actually. Shallum has no evaluation, because he only reigned for one month. There wasn’t time to do anything that constituted a pattern for evaluation, whether good or bad. But such was the culture of the kingdom of Israel at the time, that it’s safe to say that had Shallum reigned for longer, he too would have counted amongst the rest who did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin.”

The sin of Jeroboam son of Nebat is the creation and worship of two golden calves housed in Dan and Bethel, as a blasphemous proxy for the worship of YHWH in Jerusalem. This is done in direct violation of the first two commandments.

None of the kings saw fit to restore true worship back to the Kingdom of Israel. The consequences of idolatry is clear in the covenant. It’s exile from the land. Like a heroin addict who returns time and time again to the very thing that is ruining his life, this is a kingdom pursuing a cycle of self-destructive behaviour through their persistent idolatry.

And notice how the crown changes hands. It’s seldom through hereditary, it’s seldom peacefully, it’s conspiratorially and it’s violently.

Only two times, was the throne passed from father to son, and we’ll take a look at that in a bit. But the rest of the time, the description is, so-and-so usurper “struck down the incumbent king, put him to death and reigned in his place”.

How is this a viable system for running a kingdom? Most of your reign is devoted to defending yourself from threats within your kingdom, what hope is there to fend off threats from other hostile nations?

Which is why Menahem had to exact money from his people to pay “protection money” to the king of Assyria. Presumably, Pekahiah his son maintained that policy.

But Pekah murdered Pekahiah to reign in his place, and we can imagine that he killed Pekah because he didn’t agree with Pekahiah was doing.

Which meant that Israel stopped paying Assyria, and so we see Assyria annexing cities from Israel during Pekah’s reign, and exiling some of her citizens.

Suffice to say, it’s a very bleak picture of the state of affairs in the northern kingdom of Israel.

But all is not lost. There are glimpses of stability and salvation. There is a faint refrain of hope.

Let us see.

During Jeroboam’s reign, he actually restored the borders of Israel. That is, he fought and won back lands from the king of Syria. Now how is this possible?

Well, historians will say that Syria at the time, hand her hands full dealing with the threat of growing Assyrian Empire which repeatedly knocked on the doors of their northern front, which meant that Israel could now reclaim territory from Syria from her defenceless southern border. That may be the case. But the bible offers the fundamental reason.

The reason Jeroboam was able to “restor the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah” was “according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher.  For the Lord saw that the affliction of Israel was very bitter, for there was none left, bond or free, and there was none to help Israel.

It is the word of the Lord that restored Israel, it is compassion of the Lord that came to Israel’s aid.

And why would God show compassion to Israel?

Because “the Lord had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, so he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash.”

Do you see?

In verse 25, the reason Jeroboam was able to save Israel is because of what the Lord has said. In verse 27, the reason Jeroboam was able to save Israel is because of what the Lord had not said.

Do you see? The fate of the kingdom of Israel, the rise and fall of earthly empires, the events of world history, all of these hinges on the Word of the Lord.

Behind all the events we witness in these chapters stand a sovereign God, who ordains all things by the power of his word. If hope for salvation is to be found, perhaps this is where we look – at the word of the Lord.

Let’s take another example. In these two chapters, we witness a turbulent and violent culture of the kingdom of Israel. Men have a habit of killing kings to take over the crown. No dynasty to speak of, can be found.

Except for the reign of Zechariah. He is a 5th generation king of Israel. A incredibly rare occurrence. Is it because his house was marked by succession of good kings who deserved to be on the throne? No.

Both Zechariah, his father Jeroboam, his grandfather Jehoash, and his great-grandfather Jehoahaz received a bad report card for their respective reigns. They all “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam”.

The reason why Zechariah’s house was able to maintain a 5 generation dynasty in Israel is not because of merit or luck.

It is because God is faithful to his word.

“This was the promise of the Lord that he gave to Jehu, “Your sons shall sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation.” And so it came to pass.”

Again, if hope is to be found anywhere in our text today, it is found in the promises of a promise-keeping God. The faint refrain of hope we hear in our text today rings from the promises that God had made.

Which is why for all the nonsense that the Kingdom of Judah got up to, there remains one thing they have which the Kingdom of Israel did not. An unbroken line of kings tracing back to King David.

Let’s be clear, because the text makes it clear. This is not a reward for the goodness of the Judahite kings.

Every king in this chapters were punished for their wrong-doing.

Amaziah lost the battle against Israel and Jerusalem fell. And he got assassinated.

Azariah was touched by God to become a leper.

Jotham was invaded by Rezin the king of Syria and to Pekah the king of Israel.

The kingdom of Judah had no inherent righteousness to rely on. They were, in fact, punished by God. But though the line of the kings of Judah was bent, it remained unbroken.

A succession of kings from the line of David was preserved, not by merit, not by chance, but by the promises of a promise keeping God.

The reason why the kingly-line in the southern kingdom of Judah was preserved is because God made a promise to David.

When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever…

And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me.

Your throne shall be established forever.

Let’s put all of these together.

We have seen that the kings of both Judah and Israel exhibit a proclivity towards to self-destruction. And yet, in both kingdoms, there exists glimpse of salvation.

In the midst of evil and violence and chaos, the faith refrain of hope can be heard, through the gracious promises of God.

That is where hope is to be found. And what has God ultimately promised?

He has promised a kingdom. A kingdom where love makes its home, where righteousness dwells, and where justice rolls like a mighty river.

We know it, this world isn’t it. This world is fundamentally broken. This world is not just, it is not good, it is not ruled by mercy and love.

I hope by now, we have come to realise that science will not heal the world, that education isn’t the guarantee for a better humanity, that neither capitalism nor communism nor any -ism in-between can bring about the utopia we so desire.

The reason why human kingdoms cannot be the answer to the longing of the human heart is because the human heart is the problem.

That’s why every nations has laws, that’s why every nation has a police force, and that’s why despite all of that, every nation has its prisons. The thread of evil that ran through the heart of Judah and Israel, runs through our hearts today as well.

A human king will always fail to bring about the sort of kingdom that all our human hearts are yearning for – the kingdom of truth and love, of righteousness and justice, of peace and beauty.

Which is why God promised a son of David who is greater than all. In the person of King Jesus, fully God and fully man, the hope of that eternal kingdom is realised.

And the good news is that through faith in him, we can all be transferred from this domain of darkness into his kingdom of light.

Do you want to experience the hope of that kingdom? Come to Jesus today. Come and learn about him, come and receive his grace, come and enter his kingdom and live under his perfect rule.

For us who are in his kingdom, who are under his rule. Let us live such lives that testify that a kingdom of light has broken into this world of darkness, is the life and death and resurrection of King Jesus.

And by his Spirit, make his rule a reality in our lives, that we might bring the hope of salvation to a world dying to hear it.

Jesus, the expression of God’s love,
The Grace of God, the Word of God, revealed to us.
Jesus, God’s holiness displayed,
Now glorified, now justified, His Kingdom come.

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