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7 July 2024

10:30am

How does God feel?

As many of you know, we’re in a time where many leaders in the Church of England (and beyond) disagree with what the Bible says on marriage. Sadly, that means they would lead others in that direction – not just away from God’s Word, but God himself. And that kind of thing has happened not just in this country, not just on sexual ethics, but false teachings around the world like with prosperity gospel. Where people have said to God ‘Actually, no – we’re going to live like this because that’s what most people are saying. Actually, no – we’re going to trust in this instead because that’s going to give us what we want.’ Which makes us wonder, what does God make of all this? How does God feel when his people turn away from him? That’s the question we’re asking today as we start our new series in 1 Kings where God’s people, Israel have been consistently turning away from God, at least since King Solomon’s time.

Back in 1 Kings 9 God promises Solomon that if his people would walk in God’s ways, God would establish their nation forever. If they turn from God’s ways to serve other gods, God will cut them off from the land. Those are similar terms that God has promised his people before – not as a legal obligation to ‘do as I say or die’ but the terms of his covenantal relationship with his people who he saved. And that’s really important to remember because if we forget that then all that we read will just seem like disobedience and rebellion. But because of that loving relationship that binds Israel to God, turning away from God becomes unfaithfulness against the one you belong to. Not long after and the nation is divided, Judah in the south and Israel in the north. Then, in 1 Kings 16 we reach a new northern dynasty that seems to be the height of Israel’s unfaithfulness. Next week’s passage tells us what God does. Today’s passage gives us a summary of the kings or in other words, how God feels towards his people. God is jealous and angry towards his unfaithful people. Let’s pray:

Lord, open our hearts and minds to your living word, that we may know and love you more above everything else.

Turn with me to page 298 where you’ll find that passage which was read to us from 1 Kings 16.21-34. We’re without graphics today so having that in front of you would help even more. Our first king today is Omri who shows us, unfaithfulness and meaningless success.

1. Unfaithfulness and meaningless success.

Here’s the summary of Omri after he became king. 1 Kings 16.24:

He bought the hill of Samaria from Shemer for two talents of silver, and he fortified the hill and called the name of the city that he built Samaria, after the name of Shemer, the owner of the hill.

So, in his 12 years as king Omri, strategically founded Samaria (which would be the capital), improved the country’s national defence with the new fortress on the hill, and…that’s it. That’s all that we’re told here. Here’s what the writer of 1 Kings makes of Omri’s life, 1 Kings 16.25-28:

Omri did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and did more evil than all who were before him. For he walked in all the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and in the sins that he made Israel to sin, provoking the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger by their idols. Now the rest of the acts of Omri that he did, and the might that he showed, are they not written in the Book of Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? And Omri slept with his fathers and was buried in Samaria, and Ahab his son reigned in his place.

Omri didn’t appear to have any involvement with mass murdering or abuse of power like the kings before. If anything, much could probably be said about bolstering the countries stability or encouraging economic growth as king, but the bottom line was he was evil in God’s eyes because he turned away from God to idols. He ruled as king, didn’t live God’s way, and died. Wanna find out more about what he did? Go to The Chronicle (back in the day) and read for yourself. But what really matters to God is faithfulness – and Omri wasn’t faithful. We don’t know precisely what kind of idol worship but it provoked God to anger because it led his people to live as if they didn’t belong to him. It's a sobering reminder that to the world, the history books could describe a life of achievement, success, a loving father, a great friend, and no criminal records. But at the end of the day, to God, that life could be seen as evil, unfaithful, and nothing more.

God wants his people to be faithful to him and today, that desire hasn’t changed. If you’re following Jesus, then he has saved you to be in a loving relationship with him as Lord and Saviour; and Jesus demands the same commitment to him.

2. Further unfaithfulness by deeper idolatry.

Well, just when we think it can’t get any worse if this was Israel’s most evil king, it can get worse, and it does with king Ahab, who shows further unfaithfulness by deeper idolatry. Have a look at 1 Kings 16.30-33:

And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him. And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshipped him. He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria. And Ahab made an Asherah. Ahab did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.

Ahab followed his father’s footsteps and outdid him in evil, together with all the kings before. Other kings like Jeroboam made idolatrous images of God, but that was nothing compared to what Ahab did. At the heart, he turned from the one and only LORD to serve another god. It starts with marrying Jezebel, a foreigner from Sidon, which would seem like a great political move for Israel to join alliances with a powerhouse nearby; expand your trading capabilities with full access to the coast. But this was marrying someone whose country, family, beliefs, and identity were intertwined with Baal worship. And as you’d already expect, that led Ahab to serve Baal, worship Baal, and build an altar for Baal. Where? In the heart of the city, at the highest point, in Samaria. Marrying a foreigner meant marrying into all of their different and opposing beliefs, so it’s no surprise that it meant importing her strong belief of Baal worship into God’s place. And whether by societal influence, or law, or a very certain combination of both, that led the people to cultivate their daily appetite of Baal worship.

By now you can already get a sense how God would feel, but we’re not at the heart of it just yet. So, keep going with me. What was so wrong about worshipping Baal that gave Ahab the title of baddest king? This was idolatry at its deepest – worshiping and living for another god instead of the one true LORD. Baal was the god of fertility. He made it rain – or rather that’s what people believed. Which doesn’t have much appeal to us today when most of the time, rain mainly affects our barbeque plans. Back then, rain or drought could be a matter of life or death. Because rain brought water for you, your family, livestock, and crops. With continued rain and ideal climate conditions, that’s successful harvest, sustainable food to keep you going longer. While allowing you to trade, expand your small business, gain more resource, improve your quality of life, and as a nation prosper. And with all that, comes the achievement from hard labour, acceptance and recognition from others because you did well in life, and a greater sense of worth. So, in a deeper sense, Baal wasn’t just the god of the clouds and fertility. To many he would have been the god of daily necessity, the god of security and comfort, the god of peace, the god of whatever your heart desired most. You want water in your well and food for the month? Go to Baal. You want the added assurance that you’ll have enough for the rest of the year? Go to Baal. Sorry, I don’t have time for this. I have to go to Baal if not my crops will die, then all my hard work is wasted, then my cows die, and so do my chances of starting a family. Then what would people think of me? All because I didn’t go to Baal enough. And that’s why Ahab did more to provoke the LORD to anger – he led the people away from the God who saved them, loved them, and made them his people. And he led them to worship and live for a false god who gave them nothing but the false sense of whatever they were looking for.

This isn’t God just angry that they broke his rules and laws. This is God angry that they broke his heart. Forsaken by the people he called to be his; I saved you out of trouble in Egypt. I brought you out of the wilderness. I provided everything you needed. I gave you a land. I gave you kings to rule you like you wanted. And now all you’re saying is…‘Actually, Baal is the one I’m going to because he can give me what I want. I remember you God, but when it comes down to it, Baal is the one I’m offering my sacrifices to. Maybe I’ll come back to you if all else fails.’ And this is rightful anger from the LORD who takes idolatry seriously and cares about his people being faithful to him.
Because if he didn’t care, he would have just let them go. ‘Wanna leave me for someone else? Fine, no big deal for me. I didn’t care in the first place.’ Who would want to be in a relationship like that?

King Ahab was about to take Israel to deeper levels of idolatry and unfaithfulness that they had never been to before. And he gets screentime till nearly the end of 1 Kings to show just how bad he was. How does all this make God feel? God is provoked to anger and jealous for his people to return to him. So where does this leave us today, when we see church leaders in the country taking similar directions away from God? As they decide to import the views of the world into the church because that seems to elevate their position or boost their approval by man. As they lead people to believe and affirm the opposite of God’s design for marriage because it’s the more popular voice. How does God feel? It saddens me to say that he might use similar words we find here. Provoked to anger and jealous for his people to return to him. So, we need to pray that many would return to God before it’s too late.

And through all this, there is comfort in knowing that God knows the times that we are in just like he knew the times Israel was in. When some would have been asking ‘How on earth did we end up with a king like Ahab? What is God doing about this?’ God is not surprised by anything. He is making his evaluation on his kings and people. We get a hint of this already in the last verse where the decision to rebuild Jericho was met with the loss of their sons – just as the LORD had warned. And we’ll see more of what God does in next week’s passage and the weeks to come. But it’s not just a problem that’s out there, what about in our own hearts?

As a church we may be standing for the truth on these issues, but our hearts just as easily turn to other things more than God himself. At the core, we’ve seen that idolatry is to want or trust in something else more than God. How often do we think, I know I’ve done enough and should leave the rest to God, but instead take things into our own hands by working beyond your limits – because that’s what’s really going to get the job done. You’ve made your own efforts your idol by trusting in it more than God. How often do we start serving others with good intention but end up doing it for their affirmation because that’s what’s really going to make me feel good about myself? You’ve made affirmation your idol by seeking acceptance from others more than God. How often do we think, if I can just get that position at work, then I’ll really be fulfilled? You’ve made achievement your idol by chasing a sense of worth in work more than God. How does God feel about all that? It provokes him to anger because he has saved us to belong to him and wants us to return to be faithful to him. So, we need to pray that he would help us want and trust him above everything else. Let’s pray:

Lord, forgive us for the ways we have been unfaithful to you by seeking other things more than you. We thank you that through Jesus, the unfaithful can be accepted. So, help us by your Spirit to be return to want and trust you most. And we pray that church leaders in our country would do the same.

Amidst the uncertainty we lie in now, we can be sure of our God who is reigning on his throne above all. He will keep us, and we can trust in his name. So, let’s sing that in response. Please stand.