Friday 26th August 2022

2 CORINTHIANS 1

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians is addressed to people who are ‘in trouble’.  God is the ‘God of Comfort’ – the first person to turn to when you are in a crisis and the one who is best able to meet your needs in that crisis.  He also uses other believers to dispense this comfort, training them in experiencing first-hand how God meets needs by rescuing them from their crisis.  This could be sickness, persecutions, rejection or some other of life’s little ‘knocks’.  Actually, Paul and his team suffered rather more than just a few ‘knocks’: 

“We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death.  But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.  He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again…” (2 Cor 1:9-11)

This world is, in part, a training camp designed by God for the perfecting of the saints – that’s you and me.  Some of the time we experience suffering so that we can empathise and help others who are suffering – not always in exactly the same way – by pointing them to Christ as the ultimate and only solution.

Paul goes on to underline the great power and effectiveness of corporate prayer: “On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers.  They many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favour granted us in answer to the prayers of many”.  When the Body of Christ gathers to pray, there are always significant results and, also, the credit goes to the Lord.

We may suffer many things in this life, but we need not be afraid of losing Him: “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ.  He anointed us, set his seal of owner ship on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”  (1:21-22.)  If God gives the guarantee, then that settles it!

2 CHRONICLES 26, 27 and 28

Uzziah – whose name means: “My power is the Lord” – was the official name of Azariah – meaning: “Helped by the Lord”.  He reigned in Judah for 52 years, longer than any other king except the evil Manasseh (who reigned for 55).  The length of his reign was helped by the fact that he began it at the age of sixteen, as a co-regency with his father, Amaziah.  He was instructed wisely by Zechariah, who instructed him in the ways of the Lord and encouraged him to seek Him, which he did with successful results.  He did what God approved of and obeyed the Law.  He was a great builder and a military engineer, constructing weapon machines and huge defensive battlements.  His armies were well-trained, disciplined and superbly equipped for battle, and he was blessed by God in all he did.  None of the neighbouring powers dared attack him and his fame and wealth became great. 

Then the problems arose: seeking God and trusting in him always seems to bring success; success often produces pride in successful people; pride then causes their downfall.  The thing that feeds this vicious circle is being forgetful: failing to remember that it was the Lord who made you successful in the first place.  Grace is only effective if received with gratitude and applied with humility.

Uzziah became forgetfully proud and decided that he had earned the right to burn incense to the Lord in his temple – after all, those priests only had a job because Uzziah had promoted the true faith for so many years of his reign!  Ignoring the protests and warnings of wiser men than he, he blundered into the sanctuary and paid the price for his pride: leprosy came upon his flesh and never again left him.  (Recall how many centuries before, Miriam the sister of Aaron and Moses incurred the wrath of God and a dose of leprosy, as a punishment of pride and presumption.)  So they hurried him away and he lived in isolation, forever separated from the temple, until the day he died.  His son, Jotham became the effective governor of the land in his place.  What a sad ending for a great king!  How great a fall is engineered by pride!

His son, Jotham, was also a generally good king, although not much is said about him in scripture.  He also had a co-regency with his son Ahaz.

Meanwhile a whole succession of kings reigned and were deposed in the Northern Kingdom.  Zechariah, Shallum, Menahem, Pekahiah, and Pekah were no longer from the line of Jehu, but reigned on the basis of ‘winner takes all’!  The land of Israel was now really starting to fall apart!  The Assyrian empire was gaining in strength and military influence and the lack of a living faith or moral compass amongst the Israelite kings was also the cause of military erosion.  Israel was a couple of hundred years ahead of Judah in terms of the nation’s disappearance altogether and was now completely under God’s wrath.

Since the reign of Uzziah, which started so promisingly and ended so sadly, there had been two more kings – Uzziah’s son and his grandson.  We see in 2 Chronicles 27 (the previous chapter from today’s reading) that Jotham, the son, had begun to reign whilst Uzziah was in the later stages of his leprosy, and he simply continued after his father’s death.  He is a good man and a godly king, who acted justly and with a respect for the Temple – unlike his father!  He walked with God and became very powerful as a result – have you noticed that this is a recurring theme in the historical books of the Bible?  After a short reign of only 16 years, he died and rested with his ancestors in the City of David.

Chapter 28 reveals Jotham’s son, Ahaz, who was a nasty piece of work and the only king about whom the Bible does not mention a single redeeming feature!  His godly father must have wondered how he had managed to produce such a wicked child; it is a fact of parenthood that we can make great efforts to instil our values and our faith into our children, but in the end we cannot impose these things on them.  They, as adults, will make their own choices and God will one day hold them accountable for those choices, rather than us.  We can be good examples to them, and we can pray for them, but it is their lives to live and their opportunities to take advantage of or to squander.  Ahaz made idols to facilitate the worship of Baal.  He was so committed to the worship of this false god that he even sacrificed one or more of his own children in the fire to ingratiate himself further with Baal.  He was the first Israelite king to do this.  In fact, there was no limit to the depths of depravity to which Ahaz was prepared to sink. 

God punished him and punished Judah by handing them over to more powerful kings and their armies: particularly the kings of Syria and of Israel to the north.  A hundred and twenty thousand Jewish soldiers were killed, and two hundred thousand wives and children taken into captivity by Israel.  It is almost refreshing to read that a prophet from Israel and some of the more upright Israelite officials with a conscience rebuked the marauding army and persuaded them to set free these prisoners and allow them to return home to Judah.  Ahaz did not learn his lesson, however, and was next negotiating a treaty with the king of Assyria to provide protection for him and his country – paying for the Assyrian’s favour by plundering God’s temple in Jerusalem.

God humbled Judah even further, because of Ahaz’ wickedness; it is a sober lesson that a nation will pay for the crimes of its king, and a church will fall because of the shortcomings of its leaders.  Kings must set an example by being an example; if they are faithless then famine will often come into the land.  Similarly, poor leaders also cause a church to become poor – materially and spiritually.

In the end, Ahaz even closed the Temple entirely, removing all its furnishings to pay for his bribes to foreign kings and building altars in the surrounding towns instead.  He had a replica of a pagan altar – seen in Damascus – made to replace the bronze altar in Jerusalem.  God was not pleased!  Eventually Ahaz died and was given a non-royal burial in Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, up in the North, Hoshea was king of Israel; he was of approximately the same moral calibre as Ahaz and was adept at double-crossing the various kings of the stronger nations around him.  But this high-risk strategy soon ended and Hoshea was captured and imprisoned.  Samaria itself was invaded and the city laid siege to for three years before it inevitably gave way.  In his rage, the king of Assyria deported the entire population of Israel to various scattered parts of the empire, to prevent them ever becoming a coherent nation again; they never did!  In 2 Kings 17: 7-23, it reads like the sentence of a court, passing judgement upon a convicted defendant. 

As far as the Lord was concerned, that was the end!  But a strange sequel occurred in the empty land of Israel: the people that the Assyrian king chose to resettle the towns of Samaria were even more complete pagans and idolaters than the Israelites who had left.  God sent lions among as both a punishment and as a warning, so they petitioned the king of Assyria who specially returned one of the priests of the Lord to the land of Samaria to teach the new population what the ‘local god’ required of them.  He did a mediocre job – but possibly just enough to improve the situation slightly – and the new population ended up about as bad as the ejected Israelites had been, with their mixture of worship of the Lord and worship of a range of other ‘gods’ and their idols too.  The writer of 2 Kings ends by saying: “To this day, their children and grandchildren continue to do as their ancestors did”.

So Samaria became completely a foreign, pagan country to their neighbours, Judah.  They were neither related by blood, nor by a true faith in the one true God.  This situation persisted even when the exiled Jews (from Judah) returned to their homeland many centuries later.  It persisted right up to the time of Jesus too, and the hatred between Jews and Samaritans was clear for all to see in the gospels.  The parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’ – as told by Jesus himself – would have caused shock and outrage in the mind of an orthodox Jew, who would have been mortified and offended that a Jewish rabbi such as Jesus would ever dare to use the Samaritans in a positive light in his teaching. 

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