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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:God Moves Kings and Nations
Text:2 Kings 8:7-15 and 9:1-13 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Providence
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-03-01
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 47:1,2,3                                                                             

Ps 89:6,7                                                                                                        

Reading – 1 Kings 19:11-18; Romans 13:1-7

Ps 9:1,3,4,6,10

Sermon – 2 Kings 8:7-15 & 9:1-13

Ps 2:3,4

Hy 46:1,2,3,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, politics in any country can seem like an endless cycle of plotting and planning. Who is supporting whom? Who is promising what? Who’s got the right image to win? And often the one who takes the big risk, or makes a backroom deal, is the one who takes power. So you might think that it’s all up to men and women standing on the stage, pulling the right strings, scheming their way to glory. It’s in their hands.

We know differently, of course, for we confess that our God is sovereign. At least we say that God is sovereign—but perhaps we wonder at times. Is He really directing each and every world event for his good purpose? What if an anti-Christian ruler is elected? Or what if a new disease rages out of control and kills millions? Is this really from God’s hand?

Our text reveals a truth that is most encouraging, something that reassures us even when things are uncertain. Our God reigns! He is Lord of all things, both the big and small. We can definitely see the small in previous chapters of 2 Kings when God takes a close interest in the poverty of a nameless widow, and for someone else He recovers a missing axe-head. And through Elisha, God has also been influencing the power balance in the Middle East—there’s been a few times in this book when God upsets nations and their armies.

In our text we see it again: God plans and guides every event for his own cause. For us as the Lord’s people, under the rule of Christ even in the last days, this is a reassuring and hopeful truth. I preach God’s Word to you from 2 Kings 8 and 9,

            For his own purposes, God moves kings and nations through Elisha:

                        1) Hazael and the Syrians

                        2) Jehu and the Israelites

 

1) Hazael and the Syrians: Right in the first phrase of our text, we get an indication that God is going international, “Then Elisha went to Damascus” (8:7). Let’s appreciate how unusual this is, for Elisha has always been a prophet for Israel. Like almost every prophet, Elisha was sent to minister to God’s covenant people: doing miracles among them, warning against sin, and bringing them messages from the LORD.

But Elisha now goes to Damascus, which is the capital city of Syria. Now, he was probably no stranger to the people there, if you remember how he once helped Naaman, a commander of Syria’s army. There was also the time Elisha led the blinded Syrian troops away from Dothan, or when he prophesied that the Syrians would suddenly quit besieging Samaria—and how they did flee, frightened by phantom sounds of a foreign army.

Elisha was known in Damascus—perhaps he was even feared as someone linked to the powers of heaven, and who could use them against people who got in his way. So it’s interesting that Benhadad, the king of Syria, sends for him when he’s sick. Elisha was from Israel, but was he the enemy? No, he stood above politics and nations. He operated at a far higher level than the plots and schemes of Israel’s kings, or any other kings.

Lying on his sickbed, Benhadad hears that the “man of God” has come to Damascus, and he requests the prophet to speak. He is seeking a message from God, wants to receive an insight into his condition: “Shall I recover from this disease?” (8:8). It’s similar to how Naaman once sought out Elisha for healing. That was most remarkable: an unbeliever and enemy of Israel, seeking mercy from Israel’s God. Here we see it again: a pagan king looking for answers, wanting certainty, clinging to hope, and knowing there’s really only one place he could find it: with the one true God.

There’s certainly a truth in this story about how God’s people are meant to stand out. Probably in all our lives, there are nonbelievers and sceptics and people who follow other religions. And probably they often act as if they don’t care one bit about our faith or about the Christ we serve. Yet there can be moments when they reach out with a serious question, or they ask for help, because they know that we have something different. This is how it should be, that we who know the LORD stand out as beacons of hope in a dark world.

Elisha had a special ability as a prophet of the Lord, of course, for he could prophesy future events and speak with direct authority from God. Yet through our union with Christ and our anointing with his Holy Spirit, we’re all prophets—we’re called to confess God’s name in this world, and we’re called to witness to God’s truth.

And so there will be times when people seek truth from us, or a word of hope. Think of what Zechariah says about this task of witnessing to the LORD, “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you’” (Zech 8:23). We should count on this, and prepare for this. A child of God who lives a prophetic life will almost certainly invite questions from those around us, “We have heard that God is with you.”

So the king wants to send for Elisha. But before we get to their encounter, what brings the prophet to this foreign city? He is here to fulfill a task that Elijah had not completed. Some years before, in 1 Kings 19, the LORD had appeared to Elijah and given him these instructions: “Appoint Hazael, king of Syria. Appoint Jehu, king of Israel. And appoint Elisha as your successor.” It wasn’t exactly a pleasant assignment. For in their own way, each of these three men would be instruments of God’s judgment on unfaithful Israel.

Now, Elijah had carried out the third part of his assignment at once, finding Elisha and taking him along for the closing years of his ministry. But whatever happened to his task to appoint Hazael and Jehu? It’s hard to say. Perhaps Elijah was scared about venturing into a foreign country and appointing Hazael, or perhaps he was fleeing from King Ahab so constantly that he couldn’t get to Jehu. Or maybe God always intended that Elijah’s task of anointing new kings be shared with his disciple Elisha.

At any rate, Elisha has come to Syria. And who should meet him but the very man he must anoint, Hazael? For Benhadad tells Hazael his servant to bring a present to the prophet and to ask that question, “Shall I recover from this disease?” (8:8). We get the sense again that Benhadad realizes just how much weight is carried by Elisha’s words, for he speaks to him humbly and respectfully, calling himself “your son Benhadad.” He also sends a massive gift: forty camel-loads of the finest souvenirs from Damascus. It might’ve been more than a thank-you gift for coming, but an attempt to bribe the prophet into speaking a favourable message.

Elisha, of course, has to give whatever message God entrusted to him—that’s what a prophet does, after all. Listen to what Amos says, “The lion has roared—who will not fear? The Sovereign LORD has spoken—who can but prophesy?” (3:8). If you’re a prophet (and you are!), then you’ve got to speak the Lord’s words. We shouldn’t let anything sway us, or silence us.

The prophet’s message to Hazael is somewhat two-sided, “Go, say to him, ‘You shall certainly recover.’ However, the LORD has shown me that he will really die” (8:10). Is this a kind of riddle, or Elisha trying to play it safe? No, truthfully, the king would not die from the illness he’s asking about. If left to normal circumstances, with time and healing, the king would recover and live on. He wouldn’t die from this illness, but he would die—by the hand of an assassin. And Elisha knew that Hazael would do it.

This doesn’t mean that Elisha agrees with the killing of the king. But this is how it’ll go. For when he hears that his master Benhadad is definitely going to die, Hazael is inspired. Maybe this is his moment! So he’ll hurry things along, and he’ll suffocate the weak king with a wet cloth on his face, and a strong arm.

Having passed on the ominous message, Elisha “set his countenance in a stare” (8:11). What does that look like? He must’ve fixed his gaze on Hazael, stared him down, drilled holes right through him with his eyes. And he does this until it gets uncomfortable and Hazael is “ashamed,” while the prophet weeps (8:11). This is an intense meeting, and Elisha still has to share an uncomfortable message, even a message that brings him to tears.

Hazael asks, “Why is my lord weeping?” And Elisha answers, “Because I know the evil that you will do to the children of Israel: Their strongholds you will set on fire, and their young men you will kill with the sword; and you will dash their children, and rip open their women with child” (8:12). Elisha is allowed to peer into the future, and it’s a disturbing glimpse. For many years Hazael will be a violent and brutal enemy of the Israelites, bringing on them fire, bloodshed, and all the atrocities of war.

Over the last number of chapters, a keynote of Elisha’s ministry has been God’s rich grace. By miracle after miracle, God showed himself to be deeply patient with his sinful people. Yet the day of mercy eventually comes to an end, and then there is judgment. Hazael will be God’s instrument on wrath on his people. And this judgment is deserved, for Israel has been so stubbornly devoted to her idols, her Baals and Asherahs. God graciously called out to his people again and again, yet she has persisted in her own way. So Hazael and the Syrians will come with their chariots and weapons.

Judgment is necessary, yet it’s sad. It means people will die. Souls will be lost. It means that for some, there will no longer be a chance to repent and be forgiven. This is exactly why the Bible tells us that our God is slow to anger, that He doesn’t delight in the death of the sinner. As God’s prophet, Elisha weeps at the thought of what’s going to happen.

Elisha’s tears remind us of how Christ too, once grieved for God’s unrepentant people. In Luke 13, Jesus cries out to them, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (v 34). But you were not willing…

Beloved, take this warning of judgment as an urgent call to repent from our sin. That’s a call we need to hear every day of our life. For it delights God when we sinners turn from our wickedness and we escape judgment. It brings joy to Christ when we run to him and his cross for refuge from our guilt. It’s what Christ earnestly desires for us, so that we can enjoy the security of God’s grace. But if you’re living an unrepentant life—if you’re proudly continuing your own way, and you're deliberately ignoring the words of the Lord, then know that God’s kingdom is closed to you right now. Without repentance, there is no mercy from God, but only judgment.

Hazael can’t imagine that he’ll be the cause of so much misery. He protests, “But what is your servant—a dog, that he should do this gross thing?” (8:13). He was just a lowly man; the Assyrians kept good historical records, and they described Hazael as “a son of a nobody.” He was the last person you’d expect to take the throne of a mighty nation. But isn’t that how it goes so often? The unlikely rise to the top.

And the LORD’s will is certain. As Elisha answers, “The LORD has shown me that you will become king over Syria” (8:13). And with that, Hazael departs from Elisha and prepares to assassinate Benhadad the very next day.

Let’s pause and reflect on how God’s providence is at work in this story, for the LORD really is directing all these events. He is Lord and King, in Israel and Syria and everywhere else. God had a perfect foreknowledge of Benhadad’s illness, and Hazael’s scheming, and Hazael’s brutalities. God will use all this for his own purpose—even to judge his own sinful people.

Now, when we see catastrophic events today, like natural disasters or diseases, we shouldn’t dare to say that God must be judging a particular nation all for their sins. We also can’t say that God puts certain people into power for an exact purpose—to discipline his church, perhaps, or to punish the wicked. These are not insights that have been given to us, and we shouldn’t speculate on God’s sovereign ways.

Yet it is true that even when evil people do their very worst, the Lord reigns. Even when new world leaders take power, the Lord reigns. Even in times of global crisis, the Lord reigns. This is our sure comfort, that kings and nations must bow to God on high.

 

2) Jehu and the Israelites: For the second task left undone by Elijah, the prophet Elisha is back on familiar ground in the land of Israel. And here the man he must appoint as king is Jehu. See how Elisha employs one of the sons of the prophets to do this job; he tells him, “Get yourself ready, take this flask of oil in your hand, and go to Ramoth Gilead” (9:1). Perhaps Elisha is thinking about the time when he’ll depart from this life, and he wants to entrust more responsibility to his helpers. Or perhaps Elisha knows it’ll draw a lot of attention if he shows up at Jehu’s place. In no time at all, there might be a big crowd, but this anointing must be done discreetly. After all, there was already a king in the land, King Joram.

This Jehu, son of Nimshi, used to serve Ahab as a commander, and he’s still involved in the army. Later on we find out that Jehu is a man with strong ambition. After becoming king, he embraces his powerful position and uses it to benefit himself. Yet just as we saw with Hazael, Jehu was God’s chosen tool for judgment. The LORD was going to use this flawed man to bring justice to the land, and to punish the wicked house of Ahab.

Elisha’s servant comes to the place where Jehu is meeting with the captains of the army. The servant asks to speak with Jehu in an inner room. This gave some privacy, so that Jehu could choose his own time to go public. Maybe he’d run away for a time before taking the throne from Joram—everything depended on the reaction of the army. Would they support a new king, or be loyal to the current one?

Taking a flask of oil, the servant announces, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘I have anointed you king over the people of the LORD, over Israel” (9:6). This pouring out of oil was symbolic of setting someone apart for a unique task, and endowing them with the Spirit of God. When you look at the history of Israel’s kings, Jehu is actually the only king of the northern who is anointed by one of God’s prophets. This showed that he was the legitimate ruler, just as David’s sons were in the south.

And Jehu is handed an important mission: “You shall strike down the house of Ahab your master, that I may avenge the blood of my servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the LORD, at the hand of Jezebel” (9:7). This is what’s been expected ever since the close of 1 Kings—the judgment on Ahab’s house. For Ahab had accomplished so much evil in the land. And his sons, including Joram, continued in his wicked ways.

High on Jehu’s “to do” list is to wipe out Baal worship in the land. Whenever we worship a false god or trust in an idol, we open the door to an entire company of related sins. This is what happened in Israel: Baal worship led to injustice, and corruption, and sexual immorality. So if you eliminate Baal worship, you eliminate the cancer right at Israel’s heart. When you read the next chapter, this is what Jehu does—he destroys Baal from Israel (10:28).

God also mentions vengeance for “the blood of my servants the prophets.” Ahab and Jezebel had killed many who were loyal to the LORD, both prophets and ordinary people like Naboth. And God remembered this. God is a judge who sees and takes note.

God saw how his people suffered under Ahab, just as God saw how his people suffered under the Roman emperors, or how they suffer in China or Egypt today. And God will act. Think of the souls under the altar in Revelation 6, “the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until you judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’” (vv 9-10). God will avenge, for He is just and good, and his people are precious to him.

In Israel, God’s vengeance will be severe, “For the whole house of Ahab shall perish; and I will cut off from Ahab all the males in Israel, both bond and free” (9:8). Ahab’s line will come to an end. And as for Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, she’ll be killed and left for the dogs, with none to bury her. And so it happened, just as God said.       

After anointing Jehu, Elisha’s servant flees. Jehu’s comrades are puzzled by this young man interrupting their meeting. He might be a madman, or a spy. But Jehu can’t keep it secret: “He spoke to me, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD: ‘I have anointed you king over Israel’” (9:12). The captains of the army are persuaded, and they crown Jehu as the new king. Was it because they held the prophet’s word in such high esteem, and because they accepted God’s authority? Maybe not. They might’ve had their own motives in supporting Jehu as king.

But it remains true that the Word of God moves history. God speaks, and things happen. God decrees an event, and it shifts everything dramatically. In the span of a day, Syria has a new king. And then Israel has a new king. For it is God who reigns. All nations and governments stand under God’s direction, and all authority is in his hands. It says in Daniel 2:21, “The LORD changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others.”

Simply by his command, God can change things so quickly—Hazael and the Syrians learned that, as did Jehu and the Israelites. In a moment everything is turned upside down. When we look at the events in the world, we learn this too—a big disaster, a surprising outcome in an election, an economic crash—and so much is changed, and the nations are left reeling.

Even in our own lives, we see this: in a moment everything changes, when we lose our job, or a loved one is suddenly called home to God, or the doctor gives us bad news. Yet God directs it all, and that is good, for He is our God and Christ is our King.

As we close, look again at verse 13: “Then each man hastened to take his garment and put it under [Jehu] on the top of the steps; and they blew trumpets, saying, ‘Jehu is king!’” Does that verse remind you of another story in Scripture? It’s like what people did for Jesus when He entered Jerusalem near the end of his earthly life. As they cheered and sang, “Hosanna,” the crowds took garments and spread their clothes on the road for Jesus to ride upon. And as He rode past on his donkey, they cried out a prayer for a king, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Christ is king! This is the great Son of David who will reign forever!

On that day it was all much truer than they knew. For Jesus is a king—not a king in shining armour, nor a prime minister making an alliance, nor a president winning a debate—but a king who made his throne out of a shameful cross. By his death and resurrection Christ has become Lord and Master of all who turn to him.

Christ has received all authority in heaven and on earth, and God has put all things under his feet. As King, He is greater than every opponent. He is wiser than every conspiracy against him. He can also outlast anyone who challenges him. Christ the King isn’t sitting on the throne with his fingers crossed, hoping everything works out by the end. He’s on his throne, ruling from a position of total strength. Our salvation is his constant goal. In times of uncertainty, in times of fear, in terms of change, we look to him—the King of kings and Lord of lords!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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