In a recent post we noted the links between the church in the UK today and the readers of 1 & 2 Kings. Both looked like they had no future. But the writer of Kings gibes us reason to hope. And the first reason is that God’s word certain.
Look at 1 Kings 13:1-6:
By the word of the LORD a man of God came from Judah to Bethel, as Jeroboam was standing by the altar to make an offering. 2 By the word of the LORD he cried out against the altar: ‘Altar, altar! This is what the Lord says: “A son named Josiah will be born to the house of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests of the high places who make offerings here, and human bones will be burned on you.”’ 3 That same day the man of God gave a sign: ‘This is the sign the Lord has declared: the altar will be split apart and the ashes on it will be poured out.’
4 When King Jeroboam heard what the man of God cried out against the altar at Bethel, he stretched out his hand from the altar and said, ‘Seize him!’ But the hand he stretched out towards the man shrivelled up, so that he could not pull it back. 5 Also, the altar was split apart and its ashes poured out according to the sign given by the man of God by the word of the LORD.
6 Then the king said to the man of God, ‘Intercede with the LORD your God and pray for me that my hand may be restored.’ So the man of God interceded with the LORD, and the king’s hand was restored and became as it was before.
This takes place in Bethel where Jeroboam has just built one of his golden calves. Here a man of God denounces what Jeroboam has done. So Jeroboam tries to stop him. If he can stop the prophet speaking then perhaps he can stop God’s word and therefore God’s rule. So he stretches out his hand with an order to seize the prophet. But as he extends his arm, his hand shrivels up and the altar kind of blows up. Boom!
Jeroboam is powerless in the face of God’s word. He can’t even pull his own arm back to his side without the prophet’s intercession.
Jeroboam may be the king of Israel. But when the king goes head-to-head with the word of God there is only one winner. The king’s rule is limited. It’s God’s word that rules in God’s world. Verse 1 says, ‘By the word of the LORD.’ Verse 2 says, ‘By the word of the LORD.’ What drives the story forward is the word of the LORD. God is ruling through his word.
Then, to reinforce the point, the story takes an even more bizarre turn.
The confrontation with Jeroboam comes to an end and so it’s time for the man of God to go home. And God has told him not to eat or drink on the return journey. No idea why. En route he meets an old prophet who tricks him into eating. Again, no idea why. The old prophet claims God has now said it’s OK to eat. So the man of God eats and dies.
What’s clear is that the man of God tragically becomes an illustration of his own message. God’s word is certain. Even though he was tricked, he still dies in fulfilment of God’s word (13:26). How much more certain is God’s word against Jeroboam. That’s the conclusion in 13:32: ‘The message he declared by the word of the LORD … will certainly come true.’ God’s word is certain.
In chapter 14 Jeroboam tries to trick Ahijah, a half-blind prophet, by sending his wife in disguise. But, as she enters, Ahijah says, ‘Come in, wife of Jeroboam. Why this pretence?’ (14:6) Ahijah may be blind, but he sees clearly because of God’s word. God’s word is the reliable, fixed, true point. And so God’s judgment falls on Jeroboam’s family ‘according to the word of the LORD given through his servant Ahijah the Shilonite’ (15:29; 14:17-18)
God’s word is certain. For those who reject God this is bad news. For it means his word of judgment is inescapable. We need to feel the weight of this.
But God’s word of promise is also certain. And this is our hope, our good news or ‘gospel’. Look at 15:3-4:
[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 gave him a lamp in Jerusalem by raising up a son to succeed him and by making Jerusalem strong.
Here is Abijah, King of Judah. He’s as bad as his father Rehoboam. He’s as bad as any king in Israel. He deserves God’s judgment. ‘Nevertheless.’ Nevertheless God has promised David a dynasty. He has promised him an eternal king.
And God’s word of promise is certain. This promise shapes the history of Judah. In the northern kingdom there is coup after coup. But in Judah, despite all the chaos and defeat and apostasy, there’s always a son of David on the throne.
God’s word is certain. And that’s as true today as it was then. More true. Jesus the Son of David has risen and ascended to the throne of heaven. He reigns over God’s people and God’s world. He’s God’s eternal king. God’s word is certain.
Read these bizarre stories to increase your confidence in God’s word. It’s the same word that you hear and speak and hold in your hands. Trust God’s word to do its work in your life, in your church, among your friends. Don’t give up on it. Don’t think we need new approaches. Read God’s word. Pastor with God’s word. Proclaim God’s word. Because God’s word is certain and God’s promises are sure.