February 6, 2017

"According to the word of the Lord"

As my friend Nathaniel recently pointed out to me, the theme of the biblical books of Kings is that God always keeps His word; that God’s word always comes to pass. And few instances of that reality could be more striking than this little note, mentioned almost as if in passing, at the end of 1 Kings 16:
In his days Hiel the Bethelite built Jericho; he laid its foundations with the loss of Abiram his firstborn, and set up its gates with the loss of his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the LORD, which He spoke by Joshua the son of Nun. (1 Kings 16:34).
No further comment is given. And indeed, none need be! It was plain and simple. When Joshua and his men destroyed Jericho, God’s solemn warning, through Joshua, had been straightforward and no-nonsense:

Cursed before the LORD is the man who rises up and builds this city Jericho; with the loss of his firstborn he shall lay its foundation, and with the loss of his youngest son he shall set up its gates. (Joshua 6:26).
God was that serious about Jericho’s remaining in ruins. And yet, along comes this man named Hiel, and flouts the curse of God. Perhaps he was simply an infidel, suggested one Scottish preacher of a day gone by. Perhaps Hiel was so atheistic, said John MacDuff, that he considered such a warning from five centuries past as a mere folktale. Or, more moderately, suggested the same preacher, perhaps Hiel believed in the one true God, but reasoned with himself, concerning this 500-year-old prophecy, something like this: “There surely could be no great sin, or risk, or danger now, in rescuing such a noble site from ruin. … The curse, binding and literal at the time, ha[s] now, surely, become obsolete.”  In other words, ‘God’s promise was very real and very serious in its day … but surely, now that all this time has passed, the parameters have changed and updated with the times.’

I wonder how many people today think this way about various warnings, commandments, and prophecies in the Bible – even people who would otherwise claim to believe in and follow the Lord. They presume that certain parts of the word may have been really serious back then, but surely God has slackened the reins a little over all these centuries: ‘Surely the commandments, warnings, and prophecies of old aren’t quite so literally binding now. I mean, we live in the 21st century after all!’

But the graves of Hiel’s two dead sons speak otherwise! It didn’t matter if the warning was five hundred years old. The word that God had spoken five centuries prior was just as binding, and just as definitely to be enforced in Hiel’s day, as it was when the smoke of Jericho had first cleared. And, by the same token, God’s words are just as true for us as they were in either Hiel or Joshua’s day! And we do well to take that to heart. God’s standards of morality, God’s promises of the wrath to come, and (yes!) God’s promises of blessing are the same today as they ever were. The times may have changed, but God’s word (and His commitment to that word) do not!

Let us not forget these things when our culture, or our own desire for expedience, tell us that these changing times mean that the Bible’s teachings are outmoded when it comes to sexual ethics, or gender roles, or the value of the unborn and elderly, or the need for Sabbath rest, or the fact of creation, or the spiritual importance of words (over against pictures), or the exclusivity of Christ, or whatever is the next thing along the pike that our culture will blow off as an obsolete way of thinking. Like Hiel, we imperil both our own happiness, and the futures of our children, if we assume that God’s words, because they are old, must not be applicable.

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