The Danger of Hearing God’s Word

God’s mercy is great, but it is not endless. In the life of a man, a church, a denomination, a community, or a country a place can be reached where even God’s mercy cannot be found.  II Chronicles 36:15-16 describes one such a circumstance: 

The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD rose against his people, until there was no remedy. 

God loved His people, Israel. He loved them enough to send them prophets and messengers. He loved them enough to send them messengers early and late or as the ESV says, “persistently.” He sent Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Hosea, Amos, and others. They came and they preached and they preached and they preached. They risked death and ridicule to bring them God’s Word. Why? God loved His people.

But the people would not hear. They mocked, despised, and scoffed at the prophets. They killed them, ran them out of town, threw them into pits, ignored them, and laughed at them. They continued to worship idols, commit adultery with the nations, oppress the weak and poor, commit sexual immorality, and ignore God’s law……Until there was no remedy. Look at that sentence. Let it sink in. “Wait,” we say, “Isn’t God’s mercy always there for the taking whenever I need it?” No. There was a point of no return. There was a line where God’s wrath could no longer be stayed. His mercy did not just keep coming and coming. Eventually His mercy dried up. Then He sent the Babylonians and they besieged Israel, burned her, led her best men away as prisoners, left the land ravaged, and killed her women and children.

Whenever we hear the Word preached it is God’s mercy to us. He is being kind to all, but especially to the hard-hearted. He is saying, “Here is my Word one more time. Now repent and turn.” He is saying, “Don’t take advantage of my patience. Don’t wait. Turn and be saved.”  

Sitting under God’s Word week after week, month after month is only good if we are repenting and pushing on to greater obedience. Hearing God’s Word without seeing the holiness of God, our own depravity, the wonderful provision of Christ, and the need to be forgiven will lead to hearts of stone, eyes that glaze over when the Word is preached, and a life that is not conformed to Christ. Often the hardest hearts in the world are those who hear the Word of God over and over and yet do not repent.

God’s compassion can run dry. A man who sits under the preaching of God’s Word week after week, but does not turn and change will find himself crying out for help and it will not come (Proverbs 1:28-29).  A denomination that tolerates sin despite the prophets in her midst will find her gates battered and the sheep slaughtered.  A church that allows grievous sins in her midst to go without rebuke and without discipline will find Jesus striking her with sword of His mouth (Revelation 2:16). There comes a point where there is no remedy, where the only option left is judgment. This idea is echoed in Hebrews 6:1-8 and in James 1:21-27, as well as numerous other passages throughout God’s Word.

II Chronicles 36:15-16 is a warning for all of us who enter God’s house week after week. Hearing is not enough. We must pray that the Spirit will work through the Word to change us. We must strive for holiness and the death of sin in our lives (Romans 6:12). Where we fail we must confess our sins and throw ourselves upon the mercy of Christ. Where we grow in holiness we must give thanks to the One who has begun a good work in us (Philippians 1:6). Otherwise we will find ourselves looking for a remedy when there is none. And we will be cast out with those who mocked God’s messengers.

Similar Posts:
Are You Embarrassed? 
Two Types of Preaching
Questions on Repentance

Burn Your Idols or Burn Your Children

The word ‘burn’ is rarely used in the Chronicles. However, its uses are instructive. Twice we find men burning idols. In I Chronicles 14:12 David defeats the Philistines and burns their idols. In II Chronicles 15:16 Asa burns his mother’s idols. In a similar act of cleansing, Josiah takes the bones of the priests of Baal and burns them on the altar as he purges Israel of all her idols (II Chronicles 34:1-7).  The Lord command Israel to burn idols when she entered the promise land (Deuteronomy 7:5, 12:3), David, Asa, and Josiah were following the explicit commands of God in burning idols.

There are two other examples of burning in Chronicles, but this time it is not stone or wood that gets burned. It is flesh and bone. In II Chronicles 28:3 Ahaz burns his children in the fire “according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord has cast out before the children of Israel.” In II Chronicles 33:6 Manasseh causes his sons to pass through the fire as act of worship.  The Lord warned Israel of this in Deuteronomy 12:29-32:

When the LORD your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it. 

Recently Israel approved state funded abortions for women ages 20-33 for any reason at all. Israel, the nation beloved by GOPers around the world, now has some of the most liberal abortion laws in the world. In 2013 there were over 980,000 children killed in the womb in America. There are 40-45 million abortions worldwide each year,  roughly 125,000 abortions per day. What is the reason we kill our children? What is at the root of this holocaust? As terrible as abortion is, it is just fruit, not the root of the problem. The root that gives us abortion is idol worship. We love pleasure. We love freedom. We love money. We love our houses peaceful and clean. We love our vacations and our toys.  We love convenience. We worship the great trinity of pleasure, freedom and money. Therefore we kill our children.

Until we burn our idols like David and Asa we will continue to kill our children. Until pastors encourage their parishioners to stop loving the world and start loving God then we will continue to kill our children. Until we teach our sons and daughters that God made them to be fruitful we will continue to sacrifice our children, Until we want children more than we want money or time or pleasure or cleanliness we will continue to burn them. Often those who do not abort their children worship the same gods.  We may not burn our children, but we still love pleasure and money. We still whine and complain about our children. Or refuse to have any or carefully limit how many we have. Or send them off to the state to educate them because it is too hard to do at home or costs too much to send them to a private Christian school. Many people who oppose abortion with their mouths support it with their lives. Even though we may not abort our children, the idols of pleasure, money, freedom, and convenience are often set up in our homes and our churches.The church must burn these idols and cleanse her sanctuaries of these abominations before she can speak with authority in the public square and abortion ends in this land.

Seeking the Lord in the Chronicles

The Chronicles have always been some of my favorite books. Maybe I got that from my father, who loves the stories there, especially David’s mighty men.  As you study a book, you begin to recognize themes, threads that tie the book together. Chronicles has several different themes, but one that I did not anticipate was that of seeking the Lord. In the very first narrative section (I Chronicles 10:1-14) we see that Saul was killed by God because he failed to “seek guidance” from the Lord. So from the very start the author wants us to realize that one of Saul’s great sins was failing to seek God. David repeats this theme when he says that during the days of Saul men did not “seek” the ark of the covenant. Here are the two verses. The translation is ESV. The Hebrew word used is “darash.”

1 Chron 10:14  He did not seek guidance from the LORD. Therefore the LORD put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse.

1 Chron 13:3  Then let us bring again the ark of our God to us, for we did not seek it in the days of Saul.”

This idea permeates the book. After David’s failed attempt to bring back the ark he says:

Because you did not carry it the first time, the LORD our God broke out against us, because we did not seek him according to the rule (I Chron. 15:13).  

In other words, David, just like Saul, had failed to seek the Lord before bringing back the ark.

The other uses of “seek” in I Chronicles are listed below.

1 Chron. 22:19  Now set your mind and heart to seek the LORD your God. Arise and build the sanctuary of the LORD God, so that the ark of the covenant of the LORD and the holy vessels of God may be brought into a house built for the name of the LORD.”

1 Chron. 28:8-9  Now therefore in the sight of all Israel, the assembly of the LORD, and in the hearing of our God, observe and seek out all the commandments of the LORD your God, that you may possess this good land and leave it for an inheritance to your children after you forever. And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever.

All of these verses are David giving commands to people. In 22:19 he addressing the leaders of Israel and encouraging them to seek the Lord and be a help to his son Solomon. In 28:8-9 He is addressing Solomon as he prepares to take the throne. Notice that I have “searches” in bold in 28:9. That is the same word as “seek.” It gives us a better idea of what the word means. Those who seek God are not passive. They are searching for him, searching out his laws to see what he requires, searching for his face in prayer. Seeking God is not like wandering in the woods. It is like searching for hidden treasure.

Here are some other uses of the word in II Chronicles.

2 Chron 12:14 And he [Rehoboam] did evil, for he did not set his heart to seek the LORD.

2 Ch 14:4  and [Abijah] commanded Judah to seek the LORD, the God of their fathers, and to keep the law and the commandment.

2 Chron 15:2  and he went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: The LORD is with you while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.

2 Chron 15:12-13  And they entered into a covenant to seek the LORD, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and with all their soul,  but that whoever would not seek the LORD, the God of Israel, should be put to death, whether young or old, man or woman.

2 Chron 16:12 In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe. Yet even in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but sought help from physicians.

All the references in 15 and 16 are to King Asa and his reign.

2 Chron 17:3  The LORD was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the earlier ways of his father David. He did not seek the Baals,

2 Chron 19:3  Nevertheless, some good is found in you [Jehoshaphat], for you destroyed the Asheroth out of the land, and have set your heart to seek God.”

2 Chron 20:3  Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.

2 Chron 26:5 He [Uzziah] set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the LORD, God made him prosper.

2 Chron 30:19  who sets his heart to seek God, the LORD, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness [Hezekiah praying for the people].

2 Chron 34:3  For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet a boy, he began to seek [Josiah]  the God of David his father, and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, and the carved and the metal images.

Here a few other points from these texts.

Seeking God begins in the heart (I Chron 22:9 and II Chron 12:14, 19:3, 30:19), but it leads to concrete behavior, such as the rejection of idols, obeying God’s word, prayer, and humility.

Seeking God and his commandments are not quite synonyms, but they are closely related. We see this parallel in II Chronicles 14:4 where Abijah commands Judah to seek God and keep his commandments. The two ideas are in parallel with each other.

Good leaders seek God and call those under their authority to seek God. Abijah, Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Hezekiah all called upon Israel to seek God. Parents, pastors, dare I even say it, magistrates are to call upon their people to seek God.

The opposite of seeking God is seeking help from some other source. Asa sought help from physicians instead of from God. Jehoshaphat refused to seek help from the Baals instead he sought help from the Lord.  This means prayer is one of the essential ways seek his face. We do not rely upon man or our own resources, but we cry out to the Lord to rescue and deliver us.

Priests as Prophets

Richard Pratt notes that prophets have a huge role in I and II Chronicles. They are mentioned almost forty times. One way the Chronicler emphasizes the role of the prophet in Israel is by calling the Levites prophets. Here is what Pratt says:

The Chronicler highlighted the importance of prophecy by assigning a prophetic role to many Levites. On a number of occasions he designated Levites as “prophets” and “seers” (I Chr. 25:1-5, 2 Chr. 20:14, 24:20, 29:30, 35:15). This identification appears in Chronicles more clearly than any other portion of the Old Testament. It probably reflects the conviction that the Levites, especially the musical Levites, had a prophetic role in the post-exilic community. 

The Voice of the Prophets in II Chronicles

“And the Lord God of their fathers sent warnings to them by His messengers, rising up early and sending them, because he had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy.” II Chronicles 36:15-16

At the end of II Chronicles we find the ultimate condemnation of the Southern Kingdom, Judah. She had rejected God, His Word, and His Prophets. After Solomon dies at the end of II Chronicles 9, the idea of God, His Word and His prophets permeates the book. Prophets are there in I Chronicles and in the early section of II Chronicles. But after Solomon they become a theme. Here are most of the examples of the prophetic word coming to Judah in II Chronicles.

11:2-4 Shemaiah

12:5-8 Shemaiah
13:4-12 Abijah functions like a prophet
15:1-7 Azariah the prophet
16:7-9 Hanani: Killed by Asa
18:6-27 Micaiah: Imprisoned
19:2-3 Jehu functions like a prophet
20:14-17 Jahaziel
20:20 Jehoshaphat tells Judah to believe the prophets
21:12-15 Elijah
24:19 The Lord sent prophets
24:20 Zechariah: Killed by Joash
25:7-10 An anonymous man of God
25:15-16 An anonymous prophet
28:9-11 Oded
30:6-12 Hezekiah functions like a prophet
32:20 Isaiah is mentioned
33:18 Seers spoke to Manasseh
34:22-28 Huldah the prophetess
35:20-22 Necho, the king of Egypt is a messenger of God
Jeremiah is mentioned 4 times at the end of the book: 35:25, 36:12, 21, 22.

There are also several places where the kings function like a prophet. I have noted a few of those above. 

Finally, there are a couple of examples of men, usually priests, teaching Israel: II Chronicles 17:7-10, 30:22, 35:3.

When the Lord makes the summary statement in II Chronicles 36:15-16 he is not lying. He sent them prophet after prophet after prophet. He was merciful and kind. His Word flowed throughout out the land. Yet Judah did not hear. What can we learn from this?

First, God in his mercy sends his Word to us when we stray. God’s Word often cuts us, but this cutting is the scalpel of a surgeon, not the sword of an enemy. The mercy of God is given to us every time we read his Word or hear it preached. Unfortunately, we don’t often view it that way. 

Second, how we respond to this Word will determine whether or not we are destroyed. Throughout II Chronicles men respond different ways. Those who listen are blessed. Those who don’t are cursed. 

Third, the humble hear God’s Word. The proud do not. (See II Chronicles 12:6-7)

Fourth, killing or silencing the prophets does not stop God’s Word. God’s Word comes true though his prophets are slain. (See especially II Chronicles 18:1-34) People who don’t want to hear God’s Word will find that His Word is still there, even if his messengers are cast out. 

Fifth, leaders (husbands, fathers, pastors, elders, government officials, denominational heads) need to the lead the way in repenting and turning back to God’s Word. 

Finally, God is very patient with His people when they stray. He does not usually strike them immediately. He sends his Word and waits to see if we will turn and repent. But at some point his patience does run out. At some point countries, denominations, churches, families, and individuals who reject God’s Word will find God rejecting them. This is a sobering thought that should drive us to our knees with weeping and bring us back up again ready to obey. 

Solomon’s Great Prayer and the Declaration of Forgiveness

Israel had been waiting for this day since she came out of Egypt.  (Deuteronomy 12:5, 11) God had promised he would dwell with Israel in a permanent house. Now that day had come. After years of preparation by David followed by years of building by Solomon, the temple was finished. All Israel had been called by her great king to dedicate the temple with prayer and feasting.
Solomon’s prayer in II Chronicles 6:12-42 (see also I Kings 8:22-53) is one of the great prayers in Scripture.  Solomon, the great king, the son of David, kneels down on a bronze platform and raises his hands to heaven (II Chronicles 6:13). He then prays to the Lord. As I read this prayer recently it struck me for the first time what the theme of the prayer was: forgiveness of sins.
Solomon begins by repeating by to the Lord that He is merciful and keeps his promises. (II Chronicles 6:14-17) He then add that the Lord is not confined by human hands to this temple. (6:18) Yet this temple is special and Solomon asks the Lord to remember his people which pray toward this place. (6:19-21) You might think that Solomon wants the Lord to hear their prayers so they can be deliver from their enemies or they can prosper as a nation or any other number of reasons. But Solomon wants the Lord to hear their prayers and forgive them. (II Chronicles 6:21b)  Solomon’s great concern is that God would forgive and this concern is woven through the entire prayer:
6:22 If anyone sins…
6:24-25 If your people Israel are defeated before an enemy because they have sinned against You and return and confess Your name…hear from heaven and forgive the sin of Your people.
6:26-27 When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you when they pray toward this place and confess your name, and turn from their sin…forgive the sin of your servants.
6:28-30 When there is famine, blight….when each one spreads out his hands to this temple then hear from heaven Your dwelling place, and forgive.
6:32-33 This section is interesting because it does not specifically mention the forgiveness of sins. It is talking about when a Gentile prays to the temple. Solomon asks that God “would hear from heaven and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You.” While forgiveness is not mentioned, it could certainly be implied given the context.
6:36-39 When they sin against You…and repent…forgive your people who have sinned against you.
II Chronicles 7:12-17, which contains some of the most famous verses in the entire Old Testament, is God’s answer to Solomon’s prayer. He promises Solomon that he will forgive the sins of his people. (7:14)
There are several items of note to gather from this prayer and the circumstances surrounding it.
First, the forgiveness of sins was a central concern for Israel. Here is the most important event in the history of Israel outside of the exodus and at the center is forgiveness of sins. Here is one of the greatest king in his greatest moment and forgiveness of sins is central. We often think of the Old Testament as preaching forgiveness, but in a hidden, concealed way.  Solomon’s prayer shatters that idea. They knew they needed forgiveness of sins. They knew only God could provide it. 
Second, the temple was about Israel’s sins being forgiven. There are many things Solomon could have emphasized the day the temple was dedicated.  But his prayer centered on the forgiveness of sins.  For Solomon, the temple existed in large part to be a place of prayer, but a specific kind of prayer, confession.  It was huge building reminding Israel that God was the God who forgives. (Psalm 99:8)
Third, Solomon expected Israel to sin (6:36) and also expected Israel to repent of her sins.  The entire prayer is very Gospel oriented. Israel sins. God disciplines her. She repents. God forgives. The life of every Christian body and every individual Christian is summed up in this prayer.  We run through this cycle week in and week out, often day in and day out.  
Finally, God promises to forgive.  God does not leave Israel wondering.  He tells Solomon in 7:14 that when his people repent and pray he will forgive.  There is no doubt that this promise is behind three other great prayers in the Old Testament, Ezra 9, Nehemiah 9, and Daniel 9.  All of these are confessions of sins.  Isn’t it interesting that four of the greatest prayers in the Old Testament are all about confession and forgiveness?
I want to end with three points.
First, we should be regularly confessing our sins both corporately and privately.  I would hope this was a given, but unfortunately it often is not. When I ask my children to pray after family worship I give them four options: praise, ask for something, pray for someone, or confess a sin. Guess which one never gets taken?  Confessing our sins does not come as naturally as it should. It is easy to talk about confessing our sins. It is much harder to actually confess them. While private confession is often emphasized corporate confession is not. We should be confessing together that we are sinners. 
Second, every church should have a declaration of forgiveness in worship.  Our worship service begins with a call, followed by a time of confessing our sins. When we are done confessing our sins I say, “Almighty God who is rich in mercy has given His only Son to die for us, I therefore declare to you that all of your sins are forgiven in Christ.” Every week my people are reminded that God forgives them. Every week my people are told that they are clean because of Jesus.  We need this every week. We need someone telling us that cross of Christ is still there with mercy for all our sins. The Church, the new temple (I Peter 2:5), is the place where the forgiveness of sins in Christ should be declared regularly and emphatically. (Luke 24:47)
Third, we must believe that God actually does forgive our sins when we repent and confess them. Before we confess our sins in worship our congregation recites I John 1:8-9. Here is that great promise, just like in II Chronicles 7:14, that God can and does forgive. One of Satan’s greatest ploys is to keep bringing up our sins.  We confess them. He sends us a postcard reminding us of how wicked we are. The guilt comes back. I remember as a kid lying in bed confessing sins I had confessed dozens of times before trying to make sure I was “really” forgiven.  Oh, how we need to hear and be reminded that he is faithful and just to forgive all our sins.  Your sins died with Jesus. Let them stay dead.