BaptistWay Bible Series for May 25: There but for the grace of God …

There but for the grace of God …
(2 Kings 23:31-32, 36-37; 24:8-9, 18-20; 25:8-21)

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• 2 Kings 23:31-32, 36-37; 24:8-9, 18-20; 25:8-21

I remember the first time I read a tale by the American poet, Edgar Allan Poe. The short story tells of the revenge Montressor exacts over his fellow nobleman, Fortunato.

We were assigned to read it in English class. As I reached the end of the tale, I was shocked to learn Montressor was cold and calculating enought to actually seal up a wall with a man inside. The unexpected twist caused me some alarm. Then I regained my composure and reassured myself, it’s just a story—it’s not true.

As we look through the final chapters of 2 Kings, we have no such reassurances. This is not a piece of fiction. This is a recording of what happened to God’s chosen people after they continued to disregard warnings of judgment. Perhaps most unsettling to me is the thought that there but for the grace of God go I.

This lesson on the history of the kingdom of Judah continues after the death of Josiah. The last of the God-fearing kings, his sons apparently learned nothing of the value of walking in the ways of the Lord. The focal passages look briefly at Jehoahaz (three months); Jehoiakim (11 years); Jehoiachin (three months); and Zedekiah (11 years).

The summary of their lives is found in the repeated statement, “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, just as his fathers had done.” The tragedy of this recurring phrase is that Josiah had been a king who was conscious of the impending judgment that had been pronounced on the Southern kingdom. He had called the people to repentance and righteous living. It seems unfathomable his sons would not have heeded the call as well.

The book of Jeremiah has some valuable insights into this time period. If you never have seriously considered the weeping prophet, spend some time with him now. Chapters 22, 46 and 52 are of particular relevance. The prophet warned, cried, prayed and preached to ears that did not hear. The writings of Jeremiah help fill in some of the blanks 2 Kings is not concerned with. It points to the growing apostasy of the people and the dereliction of duty that each successive king was guilty of.

In the small town where I pastored my first church, there were three church structures built in the 1920s and 1930s (the town’s heyday). They were very similar in concept—each had  a half basement with the main sanctuary above that. To reach the sanctuary, it was necessary to climb up a flight of stairs. As the congregations aged, this became a larger issue.

As I visited with one of the older members of the church, she reminisced about the constructing of the church buildings, and then her thoughts turned to the physical problems facing her generation. “I don’t know why we didn’t think about the stairs being a problem” she mused. “I guess none of us ever figured we would get old.”

In the final generations of the southern kingdom, perhaps we could paraphrase their attitude in light of my friend: “I guess none of us ever figured God would really bring judgment.” 

Why did this happen? How could the chosen nation of God’s people of promise come to such a debilitating end? The writer of Kings echoes the word proclaimed in Jeremiah’s writings. 2 Kings 24:20 states clearly, “It was because of the Lord’s anger that all this happened to Jerusalem and Judah, and in the end he thrust them from his presence.”

Jeremiah 22:8-9 points to the reason behind God’s anger: “People from many nations will pass by this city and will ask one another, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this great city?’ And the answer will be: ‘Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord their God and have worshiped and served other gods.’”

The message is clear—this is no coincidental series of unfortunate events. This is God’s judgment on a rebellious people who are reaping what they have sown.

John Grisham, author of novels such as The Firm, The Client and The Pelican Brief, made an interesting observation in a Newsweek interview: “One of my best friends in college died when he was 25, just a few years after we graduated from Mississippi State University. I was in law school, and he called me one day and wanted to get together. So we had lunch, and he told me he had cancer. I couldn’t believe it.

“‘What do you do when you realize you are about to die?’ I asked.

“‘It’s real simple,’ he said. ‘You get things right with God, and you spend as much time with those you love as you can. Then you settle up with everybody else.’

“Finally he said, ‘You know, really, you ought to live every day like you have only a few more days to live’” (www.preachingtoday.com).

It is tragic that the people of the southern kingdom didn’t see it that way. They continued to ignore God’s pleas for repentance. They continued to resist the messages from his prophets. They continued to try to do things their way. The end result was predictable, and noted simply in 2 Kings 25:21 “So Judah went into captivity, away from her land.”

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