Friday, March 20, 2015


I've been noticing lately the bleak historical record of how quickly God's people fall short of practical righteousness; that is, God does something spectacular on behalf of His people, after which He commands them to obey His laws, and in a shorter period of time you can imagine, they are falling--no, stampeding--away from Him.

Two quick examples, though there are many more:

God appears to King Solomon in a dream, and asks him to name anything he wants, and God will give it to him.  Solomon famously asks for wisdom.  And God replies, "Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked long life for yourself, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have asked the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern justice, behold, I have done according to your words; see, I have given you a wise and understanding heart, so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you.  And I have also given you what you have not asked: both riches and honor, so that there shall not be anyone like you among the kings all your days" (1 Kings 3:11b-13 NKJV).

In the next verse, the Lord declares His requirement for Solomon: "... walk in My ways, to keep My statutes and My commandments, as your father David walked...."

Later on Solomon builds God a temple; the Lord appears to him a second time. "Now if you walk before Me as your father David walked, in integrity of heart and in uprightness, to do according to all that I have commanded you, and if you keep My statutes and My judgments, then I will establish the throne of your kingdom over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, 'You shall not fail to have a man on the throne of Israel'" (1 Kings 8:4-5 NKJV).

Sounds great, doesn't it?  Obey the law of God, and you and your descendants will be blessed forever.  But Solomon, who has twice been visited by the Lord who promised that blessing, quickly turns aside.

But King Solomon loved many foreign women, as well as the daughter of Pharaoh: women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites—from the nations of whom the Lord had said to the children of Israel, “You shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you. Surely they will turn away your hearts after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love.  And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart.  For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David.  For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites.  Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not fully follow the Lord, as did his father David.  Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, on the hill that is east of Jerusalem, and for Molech the abomination of the people of Ammon.  And he did likewise for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods. 
So the Lord became angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned from the Lord God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not keep what the Lord had commanded. (1 Kings 11:1-10 NKJV)
God's promise to Solomon was revoked because of the king's failure to obey; most of the kingdom of Israel was snatched from the hand of Solomon's son Rehoboam and given to another.

The other example I wanted to share briefly is the story of the Israelites immediately following their deliverance from Egypt under the guidance of Moses.  These people had just witnessed the ten miraculous plagues sent from the hand of God; they had participated in the first Passover feast; they had passed through the waters of the Red Sea and had seen the Egyptian army covered by those same waters.  Moses goes up on the mountain to receive the commandments from God, is up there only forty days, and by the time he comes down, the Israelites had already made a golden calf for themselves, saying, "This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!" (Exodus 32:4b NKJV).  At least Solomon served the Lord for awhile; these guys departed from the truth almost instantly!

These are the kinds of lessons the Holy Spirit has been highlighting for me lately.  Which brings us to the topic for this post: Johanan the son of Kareah.  Most of you will have no idea who this character was.  I didn't, myself, until I read his story recently in the book of Jeremiah.

To set the scene: Jeremiah was a faithful prophet of God, and he had been appointed to speak a harsh sentence from the Lord to Israel, namely that they were going to be taken captive by the mighty King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, because of their many sins and idolatries.  Jeremiah was permitted by the Babylonians to stay behind and live with the remnant of the people who escaped being carried away from their homeland.

Johanan first appears in 2 Kings 25 in an abbreviated account of the same story told in the book of Jeremiah, chapters 40-43.  It would be helpful for you to read this summary account after reading the Jeremiah passage, just to add some color from another viewpoint.

Anyway: Because of some events that I won't bother addressing here in order to not belabor the story, Johanan makes his appearance as a kind of heroic figure in the Jeremiah account; he is called a "captain of the forces that were in the fields" in Jeremiah 40:13, and seems to be the captain of all the captains, as he is assigned the task of speaking with the officials left in Jerusalem.  It's kind of a relief to read about Johanan at this point; after so much treachery and disobedience in Israel, it's refreshing to find a man you feel good about.

The afore-mentioned events transpire, and Johanan makes an earnest request of the prophet Jeremiah. Johanan asks, "Please, let our petition be acceptable to you, and pray for us to the Lord your God, for all this remnant (since we are left but a few of many, as you can see),  that the Lord your God may show us the way in which we should walk and the thing we should do" (Jeremiah 42:2b-3 NKJV).  He doesn't stop there, adding, "Let the Lord be a true and faithful witness between us, if we do not do according to everything which the Lord your God sends us by you.  Whether it is pleasing or displeasing, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God to whom we send you, that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the Lord our God" (Jeremiah 42:5b-6 NKJV).

So, to make an abbreviated story shorter yet, Jeremiah prays for God's direction, and speaks the word to Johanan and his followers.  It was not what they wanted to hear.

"'You speak falsely! The Lord our God has not sent you to say [the thing that Jeremiah said].' ... So Johanan the son of Kareah, all the captains of the forces, and all the people would not obey the voice of the Lord" (Jeremiah 43:2b, 4a NKJV).  This incident, incidentally, marks the last appearance of Johanan in the scriptures.

I mentioned earlier that God had impressed upon me how very quickly us humans, left to our own devices apart from the influence of the Holy Spirit, turn our backs to Him.  Johanan is a whole 'nother thing.  He had already determined his course, no matter what God said; he was just using his plea to Jeremiah in hopes of getting God's imprimatur stamped upon his own plan.

In a sense, Johanan and his crew had already disobeyed the Lord at the time they made their request to Jeremiah, since they had already decided that they would obey only if the word of God was pleasing to them.

We still do that today.  At least I have.  I never pray to God asking Him if He would like me to get rid of my prized baseball card collection; I fear that I already know the answer; I fear that I wouldn't have the strength of character it would take to obey.  Does that make me the moral equivalent of a Johanan?  Perhaps it does.  But by depriving myself of the ability to ask God the question, it also deprives me of the possibility that God might answer favorably.  I have already disobeyed, according to the intent of my heart.

I'm sure you can think of a way this applies to you. "Should I date this girl?" "Should I buy this car?"  Are you sure you're not just looking for God's stamp of approval for something you intend to do, no matter what?  I don't know what to tell you about this ... I just want you to think about it, and then let the Holy Spirit do what He will.

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