1 Kings 15:25–17:24, Mark 9:38–10:16, Proverbs 4:1–7
The story of the kings of Israel reads like the worst soap opera ever. No one learned anything from the previous king that they rebelled against and then replaced.
For instance, Jeroboam’s son Nadab did evil in God’s sight and made Israel sin. Baasha killed him and reigned in his place, and as soon as he was king, he killed all of Jeroboam household, as the Lord earlier said would happen. But there was war between the king of Judah, Asa, and Baasha king of Israel all their days. (1 Kings 15:32)
Baasha reigned twenty-four years, doing what was evil in the sight of the Lord just as Jeroboam had done, making Israel sin also. For this, God said: “Since I exalted you out of the dust and made you leader over my people Israel, and you have walked in the way of Jeroboam and have made my people Israel to sin, provoking me to anger with their sins, behold, I will utterly sweep away Baasha and his house, and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam . . . .” (1 Kings 16:2–3)
God did just that, and then Elah the son of Baasha reigned two years until his servant Zimri, commander of half his chariots, conspired against him and killed him. Zimri reigned in his place, killing all Baasha’s male relatives and his friends. But Zimri reigned only seven days in Tirzah because Israel heard what he’d done and made Omri, the commander of the army, king over Israel. Zimri committed suicide by setting his house on fire.
Then Omri also did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, more evil than all who were before him and sinning like Jeroboam as he also provoked the Lord to anger by idolatry. After he died, his son Ahab reigned over Israel, and he did more evil yet. He married Jezebel, a Sidonian and erected an altar for Baal in Samaria. He made an Asherah, and did more to provoke the Lord to anger than all the kings before him. (1 Kings 16:29–34)
Contrast all this with Elijah the prophet. God sent him to tell Ahab this: “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”
Then God told Elijah (whom Ahab wanted to kill) to “Depart from here and turn eastward and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” (1 Kings 17:1–4)
After that, Elijah was sent to stay with a woman of Zarephath who fed him even though she was nearly out of food. God took care of Elijah, the widow and her son in a miraculous way because small bit of flour and oil she had did not run out. Also, when the boy died, Elijah cried to the Lord who listened and the child revived. Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.” (1 Kings 17:1-24)
What a difference between the life of this one man of God and the lives of those kings who refused to follow God. Solomon wrote what his father David taught him: “Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments, and live. Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you” (Proverbs 4:3–6), but out of these generations that followed, only Elijah took those words to heart.
Each of those kings wanted power and control, but without the Lord in their lives, that power became destructive, not only to them, but to the entire nation, for these leaders caused their people to sin also. Jesus echoed their fate when He said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”
He also offered a solution to the problem, spoken in hyperbole yet showing that sinfulness is a drastic thing and so might be the measures taken to deal with it: “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.” (Mark 9:42–43)
As I think about my own battles with sin, I know that Jesus isn’t telling me to cut off my hand or whatever else is related to those things that cause me problems, but He is saying that I cannot consider even forgiven sin as a light and inconsequential problem. It affects my relationship with Him. Not only does it dull my spiritual hearing, but it also takes my focus off eternal matters and puts it on myself, and perhaps even causes others to sin. Those “I-wants” must be denied, at the very least because Jesus says that being crippled by their loss is far better than being judged because of any supposed gain.