Reflections on Discipleship – Evil in the eyes of the Lord

My job at the moment is developing discipleship in one Anglican diocese, so as you can imagine I do quite a bit of thinking about what discipleship is, what it means, and what it looks like. Here are some random thoughts, gleaned from my reflection on the Bible and current thinking …

Funny how things work out. Last week in this series I had a rant about parenting and discipleship, and elsewhere I’ve been blogging about the Deuteronomic history and the decline and fall of the Israelite empire. What an exciting life I lead! Then this morning we were reading about Manesseh, the king of Judah who led Israel into occult practices so that ‘they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before them’. The interesting part of this tragic tale, though, comes in 2 Chronicles 33:3 where we discover that Manasseh was the son of Hezekiah. Reading on, we discover that after his radical turn-around and repentance following Assyrian torture, he was succeeded by his son Amon, who again ‘did evil in the eyes of the Lord’.

I made the point when writing about this era of history that although there were some high points and some godly reforming kings, the general trend was downhill and where there were reforms they were usually short-lived and only lasted as long as the good king in question. So Joash, who repaired and re-opened the Temple, was succeeded by his son Amaziah, who, while he tried to follow in his father’s footsteps, failed to stamp out idolatry. Hezekiah, as we have seen, was followed by Manesseh, the nadir of evil, and the other great reformer, Josiah, was succeeded by his son Jehoahaz, who lasted in his evil practices for 3 months, before being succeeded in turn by Jehoiakim, who again ‘did evil in the eyes of the Lord’.

I couldn’t help but think that wonderful though their attempts to renew and reform the nation were, as parents these godly kings left a certain amount to be desired. They had clearly failed totally to form their children as godly people, with a heart for the Lord and a desire to see the nation blessed and prospering through its faithfulness to God. In fact we see this quite a bit in the pages of Scripture, and again it screams out at me about the vital importance of discipling our kids. What’s the point of being godly and wise, of seeking to bring health to our communities, if within a whisker of our death things revert to how they were, or worse?

I sense from the evidence in last week’s blog that we have a serious problem in the church, a massive loss of nerve among parents, and a lot of work to do among young couples on the edge of being parents. One commentator on 2 Chronicles says that we shouldn’t be too hard on poor Manesseh, because the political scene at the time made godliness very difficult. Does that let us off the hook, because we live in a time when political correctness has eaten away at stable family life almost to the point of extinction? Or do we not need to bring much further up our agenda in the church the equipping of parents faithfully to disciple their kids? The life of our nation might just be at stake.

(That’s enough parenting rants. Ed.)

Through the Bible in Just Over a Year – 2 Kings

 

The downward spiral of decline and apostasy continues with more of the same as we move into the final book of the Deuteronomic history, although there are some highspots too. The ministry of the prophet Elijah draws to a close and Elisha is appointed to succeed him. There are several stories about his prophetic work in chapters 2 to 9, my personal favourite of which is the cursing of the ‘children’ in 2:23-24, resulting in them being attacked by two bears. If you go down in the woods today …

This is a book of quite black and white heroes and villains. Ahab and his queen Jezebel stand out as highly evil characters, although it is interesting that ‘secular’ histories of this period laud Ahab and a great king and a mighty warrior. But of course the Deuteronomic historians aren’t interested in that, but only in the centralisation of worship in Jerusalem and the idolatry of the nation and its leaders. Later on Judah’s king Manasseh sinks to an all-time low by promoting mass occultism and the practice of child sacrifice, but in between are a few more minor villains who are assessed, as we have now come to expect, on their perpetuation or not of the rival sanctuaries at Bethel and Dan. Typical is this summing up of the reign of Pekahiah of Israel from 2 Kings 15:

  23 In the fiftieth year of Azariah king of Judah, Pekahiah son of Menahem became king of Israel in Samaria, and he reigned for two years. 24 Pekahiah did evil in the eyes of the Lord. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit.

the sins of Jeroboam, of course, being the setting up of the rival shrines.File:Jerusalem ruins from Davids.jpg

However there are some heroes too, leaders whose hearts seemed set on God and therefore the renewal of the nation’s life. After Ahab’s death Joash sets about restoring the physical Temple, opening its doors once again for worship, and later Hezekiah, with the help of his contemporary prophet Isaiah, attempts reform. After him Josiah again sets out of building renovations, and discovers some lost scrolls, probably parts of the book of Leviticus, which cause him to realise how far wrong the nation has gone.

But the reforms are short-lived, and in chapter 17 the Northern Kingdom of Israel goes off into exile in Assyria, followed in the final chapter by Jerusalem falling and people being deported to Babylon.

All in all it is a sorry tale. Like watching with a terminal cancer patient we read this history knowing that death is inevitable, and that even if there is an occasional better day, the direction is inexorably downhill. Later on, when the sadder and wiser historians seek to write up this sad tale and learn lessons from it, their viewpoint is simple: people abandoned God, so eventually he abandoned them. It’s pure Romans 1 theology, or, if you’ve ever read it, straight out of The Tale of Georgie Grubb.

We’re going, of course, to see that the exile was far from being the last word, but before we move on from this sad period we’re going to read it all over again, but written up from a very different point of view.