Really Bad News And Really, Really Good News

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

My cousin Dick Brogden wrote in his book Missionary God, Missionary Bible, “Since good news must often indeed rectify bad news, the gospel message is both warning and invitation.” This is so appropriate when reading the prophet Zephaniah: He wanted to share some really, really good news, but first, he must make us confront the really bad news. 

Zephaniah prophesied near the end of Judah’s decline toward exile. He saw the great revival in King Josiah’s day, and then watched his fellow Israelites once again turn their backs on God. If Jeremiah spoke to faithless Israelites, and Habakkuk spoke to faithful Israelites, then Zephaniah spoke to fake Israelites—those who appeared to be religious, but whose hearts were not actually devoted to God. 

This whole book looks backward in history and forward to soon-to-be-fulfilled prophecy. Most of the time when God speaks, He is asking us to look forward to what is unavoidably coming. Zephaniah then takes God’s words as a call for us to apply them to our lives today. 

In the first chapter, God’s forward-look is a warning of the judgment that most assuredly is coming. Built into His warning are two backward looks to the law of Deuteronomy (vv. 13 and 15 look back to Deuteronomy 28:29-30). 

Zephaniah uses this warning as a wake-up call for us, telling us to “seek the Lord” and “seek righteousness, seek humility” before the day of God’s judgment comes (2:1-3). 

The fact that God’s judgment would fall on godless people shouldn’t surprise anyone (2:4-15), but when Zephaniah says, “Woe to the city of oppressors” (3:1), he’s talking to the people of Judah! Zephaniah addresses his warning to the fake Israelites, the hypocritical people—those claiming God’s name but not God’s nature. 

The apostle Paul sounds a similar warning to New Testament Christians: 

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.’ We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Corinthians 10:6-14) 

The really bad news is ALL of us have sinned and we have ALL fallen short of God’s righteous standard. As a result, ALL of us would stand guilty before God on Judgment Day. 

But the really, really good news is that Jesus allowed our penalty to fall on Him instead! So if we put our faith in Jesus, God’s judgment will be appeased in Christ instead of on us! 

Christians, then, take the name of Jesus Christ, but we need to make sure we also take His nature.  Fake—hypocritical—Christians are those who are “Christian” in name only. 

I like the way Eugene Peterson paraphrased part of the 1 Corinthians passage above—These are all warning markers—danger!—in our history books, written down so that we don’t repeat their mistakes. Our positions in the story are parallel—they at the beginning, we at the end—and we are just as capable of messing it up as they were. Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence. (The Message) 

As we read those words, “So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall,” I’d like to suggest four action steps:

  1. Hear the Word of God to YOU—not your neighbor—but you personally. 
  2. After you hear the Word, examine yourself to see if you are truly living in God’s nature and not just using His name. 
  3. Respond like King Josiah did when he heard God’s Word: He made a public commitment “to follow the Lord and keep His commands, statutes and decrees with ALL his heart and ALL his soul” (2 Kings 23:3). 
  4. Stay diligent—Hebrews 2:1 tells us, “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” 

Don’t delay—the Day of the Lord is closer today than it’s ever been before! Pay attention to the really bad news that Judgment Day is coming, but then make certain you are standing in the nature of Jesus Christ on that day so that God’s judgment will pass over you. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series looking at the major lessons in the minor prophets, you can find the full list of messages by clicking here. 

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Why We Need Loving Friends

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Check out this excerpt from chapter 13 of my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter

David was the gold standard for every king of Israel who followed him. Numerous times throughout the history of Israel, we will see a note that a certain king either followed God like David, or turned from God unlike David. Yet there exists a wart on David’s portrait: an adultrous affair with the wife of a man in his inner circle, and then subsequent lies and a murder to cover up the affair. “The thing David had done displeased the Lord” (see 2 Samuel 11). 

But I’d like to turn your attention to when this affair occurred: “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war … David remained in Jerusalem” (2 Samuel 11:1). He was without his usual comrades. The men who knew David best, who could probably sense if something was amiss, weren’t around to warn him. When David tried to find out the identity of the bathing beauty on the roof next door to his palace, an unnamed attendant tried to remind him, “Isn’t that Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah?” but David dismissed him. 

Elijah was arguably the most forceful and fearless prophet in Israel’s history. Not only did he stand up to the evil kings of Israel, but he spoke out against the kings of surrounding nations, too. In answer to Elijah’s prayer, God brought a drought on the land, and again in answer to Elijah’s prayer, God sent rain. Elijah challenged the 450 prophets of the god Baal and the 400 prophets of the goddess Asherah to a duel to the death, which ended up in a decisive victory for Yahweh. Yet, shortly after this massive victory, Elijah was depressed to the point that he wanted to die. 

What led to Elijah’s depression? Something very similar to David’s slide into adultery: He was alone. Elijah ran away from Queen Jezebel’s death threat, left his servant behind, and proceeded all by himself into the desert. It was when he was without a comrade that he prayed to God, “I’ve had enough. Take my life” (see 2 Kings 17–19). 

And what about Peter? He boldly claimed his loyalty to Jesus, even to the point of wielding a sword at the guards who came to arrest his Master. But when Peter was alone, after the other disciples fled, he denied three times that he knew Jesus (Matthew 26:33, 51, 69–75). 

God designed us to be in relationship with others. His statement to Adam in some of the earliest words of the Bible—“It is not good for you to be alone”—are words for us still today. 

In a recent episode of “The Craig And Greg Show,” Greg and I discussed one of our favorite verses in the Bible: Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses (Proverbs 27:6). 

If you want to go far, don’t try to go alone. If you want an accountability partner that can keep warts away from your leadership legacy, don’t go alone. If you want to extend your leadership influence, don’t go alone. If you want to honor God’s investment in you, don’t go alone. Get those friends around you who love you enough to speak the truth! 

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Our Glorious King

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

I had just finished playing three games of full-court basketball and it was time to leave for work. A young kid challenged me to stay for another game by making some comment about my old(er) age, which give me a fresh motivation to play another game. I told him I would play one more game on one condition: he had to guard me. I scored all 15 of our team’s points. One of my teammates said to that kid after the game, “You shouldn’t have made Craig angry.”  

Last week Asaph told us about the boastful who say, “Hallelujah!” to themselves, and he continues with that theme in Psalm 76 by saying, in essence, “You shouldn’t have made God angry!” 

Sennacherib, king of Assyria, had defeated Babylon and Egypt and had now turned his eye toward Jerusalem. He sent Lachish, his general, to deliver some stinging insults against the people of Judah and even against God Himself.  

I know the Israelites had strayed from God, but the Assyrians made no pretense whatsoever to honor Yahweh, so why was God allowing them to get away with this? Doesn’t it seem sometimes like God is waiting too long to deal with these wicked insulters? 

Many scholars feel that Psalm 76 was written after Sennacherib’s defeat. And make no mistake about this: it was a decisive defeat—God struck down 185,000 Assyrian soldiers while they slept! Asaph’s song of victory contains two Selah pauses, both of them intended for us to consider the greatness of Yahweh: 

  • one Selah is after verse 3—pause and remember that God is Sovereign and Resplendent in glorious victory 
  • the second Selah is after verse 9—pause and reflect that God’s wrath defeats His enemies and brings forth praise from His people 

The Old Testament gives us actual historical events, but these physical events point to an ultimate spiritual fulfillment. Sennacherib’s physical threats against God’s people are still seen in the devil’s boastful threats against God’s people today.

Look at two attacks against Jesus— 

  • Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. (Luke 16:13-14) 
  • Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up His clothes by casting lots. The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at Him. They said, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” (Luke 23:34-35) 

These are the only two times in the New Testament that this Greek word for “sneer” is used. It means to deride, scoff, or mock. But in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) the same word that Luke used for sneer is used when God Himself says to Sennacherib, “The Virgin Daughter Zion despises you and mocks you” (see 2 Kings 19:20-28). 

Sennacherib thought he was insulting God’s people, but God said, “You are really insulting Me!” Yikes—you shouldn’t make God angry! 

Psalm 76 gives us the same reminder that we read in Revelation 12:10-11—“Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” 

We defeat the enemy of our soul not by facing him but by facing our King! 

When we are confronted by the ungodly insults from snarling, scoffing, wicked people, we must Selah to remind ourselves that Yahweh is—

Alpha
Known and Renown
Invincible
Majestic
Awesome
Holy
The Final Judge
Irrefutable
Glorious
Omniscient
Omnipotent
Unrivaled
Undefeated
King of kings
Lord of lords
Sovereign Ruler
Omega
THE Decisive Word

Let me say it again: We defeat the enemy of our soul not by facing him but by facing THIS King of kings!

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in our Selah series, you can find the full list of those messages by clicking here.

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The Fear And The Comfort Of God’s Judgment

Near the end of the movie The Princess Bride, the grandson learns that Wesley, the hero of the story, has apparently died. He asks his grandfather, “Who kills Prince Humperdink,” the arch-villain in the story. 

His grandfather replies, “No one. He lives.” 

“You mean he wins!?” blurts out the exasperated boy, “Grandpa, why did you read me this story??” 

We love to see bad guys get what’s coming to them, don’t we? Some of the baddest bad guys—perhaps in all of history—are the kings of Assyria. When the Assyrians in Nineveh repented and God’s judgment didn’t fall on them, Jonah’s response was much like the grandson in The Princess Bride, “God, why did You send me here?!” 

Sennacherib was the king of Assyria who was threatening Judah. Nahum writes a short, scathing prophecy about the destruction that is headed Assyria’s way. This is fulfilled in a small part when God defeats Sennacherib’s army, which leads to Sennacherib then being assassinated by two of his sons.

For Judah, this is a short-lived victory because the two kings which follow Sennacherib turn out to be two of the evilest and ruthless kings of Assyria. Yet Nahum’s prophecy still stands: an ultimate destruction is coming. In 605 BC Assyria was defeated by the Babylonians, and the destruction was so complete that Nineveh’s very existence was questioned until archeological discoveries were made in the 19th century. 

Why is this prophecy given to us? What are we New Testament Christians supposed to do with this promise of judgment? 

Nahum’s name means comfort, so it seems like God’s justice should comfort us. But, interestingly, the root word of his name means to regret or to feel sorry

Why is this? Think about it: You cannot really know what peace is unless you have been through a period of turmoil. Likewise, you cannot truly understand the relief of being spared God’s judgment unless you fully understand the weight and totality of God’s judgment that should fall on you.  

Nahum reminds us that God will never let the guilty go unpunished, and yet in the very next breath he tells us that the Lord is a refuge for those who trust in Him.

God is Just. This is a cause for…

  • …BOTH fear of God’s anger AND rejoicing that He is good 
  • …BOTH humility for our sin AND confidence that He forgives our sin 
  • …BOTH regret that we fall short of God’s righteous standard AND relief that Christ’s blood makes us righteous in God’s sight 

It’s amazing to think that it was MY sin that nailed Jesus to the Cross, but it was HIS love that allowed that to happen so that I could be forgiven! 

God is not willing that any should be separated from Him, but we do have to choose to receive the forgiveness that Jesus purchased for us. 

Assyria’s utter destruction is less than a drop in the bucket compared to eternal separation from God. As C.S. Lewis commented about the end of time: 

“For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing: it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last forever. We must take it or leave it.” 

Today (and every day) is the day for heart-searching, acutely feeling the regret of our sin, and then knowing that our forgiven sins are forgotten sins! 

If you have missed any of the messages in this series on the major lessons from the minor prophets, you can find the full list by clicking here.

The Lingering Effects Of Poor Leadership

Surely these things happened to Judah according to the Lord’s command… (2 Kings 24:3). 

I am intrigued by the succession of the last kings of Judah just before Jerusalem falls in 586 BC. The leadership authority has been completely undermined by the downward spiral of sin in the previous leaders. As a result, the kings of Judah are now just an “empty suit,” with someone else exerting the real influence.

King Josiah was the last God-fearing king Judah had. After Josiah died, “the people of the land” made Jehoahaz king of Judah. He only reigned three months. 

After Jehoahaz died, “Pharaoh Neco made Eliakim son of Josiah king” after Egypt subdued Judah. Pharaoh changed his name to Jehoiakim, took all of Judah’s treasures, and imposed a tribute on Judah, forcing Jehoiakim to tax all the citizens. 

Later on, Jehoiakim became a vassal king of Nebuchadnezzar. After Jehoiakim died, his son Jehoiachin only reigned as king for three months before he was deposed by Nebuchadnezzar. 

Nebuchadnezzar then “made Mattaniah” king. He also imposed tribute and changed the king’s name to Zedekiah. 

King Zedekiah rebelled and was executed, after which Nebuchadnezzar “appointed Gedaliah as governor.” Gedaliah was assassinated shortly thereafter, completing the collapse of Judah and sending the people into exile in Babylon for the next 70 years. 

[Check out all of the biblical references for these sad events by clicking here]

Oh, what misery for the people of Judah for this last 20-year span under these final kings! The consequences of the leaders’ continual rebellion against God brought such uncertainty and heartache for the citizens. 

A mark of a godless leader is the wake of misery that follows him for generations afterward. 

Lord God, help me to see that my actions today have consequences for tomorrow. I want to leave an empowering, God-honoring legacy for the next generations, but this can only happen as I remain obedient to You! 

This is part 51 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here

Why Couldn’t This Be Said Of You?

“Never before had there been a man/woman like ___________, who turned to the Lord with all his/her heart and soul and strength, obeying all the laws of Moses. And there has never been a man/woman like him/her since.” (2 Kings 23:25 NLT) 

What would it take to put your name in the blank? 

God wants you to put your name there, and He will help you if you will ask Him! 

A Hideous Strength

“…Come, let us face each other in battle” (2 Kings 14:8). 

Based on Amaziah’s request and Jehoash’s unusual parable-based response, it appears that this is the chronology of what happened:

  • Amaziah requests that Jehoash give him one of his daughters in marriage
  • Jehoash refuses
  • Amaziah attacks and defeats Edom 
  • Amaziah, feeling very proud of himself, then repeats his request to Jehoash, who again refuses
  • Amaziah begins to muster his troops to attack Jehoash and Israel
  • Jehoash defeats in Amaziah battle

Jehoash correctly diagnosed Amaziah: “You have indeed defeated Edom and now you are arrogant. Glory in your victory, but stay at home” (v. 10). 

Pride makes us think we are better than we are. Pride leads us to believe that we are owed something more. Pride comes before a fall. 

Amaziah’s pride had an expensive price tag:

  • he lost the battle
  • the walls around Jerusalem were torn down
  • the temple at Jerusalem was plundered
  • he was assassinated by his own military leaders

Pride is a hideous strength because it is a deceptive and short-lived strength.

C.S. Lewis described pride so well: “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good looking, there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone. That is why I say that Pride is essentially competitive in a way the other vices are not. … Nearly all those evils in the world which people put down to greed or selfishness are really far more the result of Pride. … Pride is ruthless, sleepless, unsmiling concentration on the self.” —C.S. Lewis 

Oh my! We must pray: “Holy Spirit, help me guard my heart against this propensity to pride. Yes, a victory can lead to pride and a false sense of strength, but it is a hideously deceptive strength. Please remind me that: 

  • victory makes me susceptible to pride 
  • pride makes me think I’m better (stronger, more impressive, more spiritual) than I really am 
  • this hideously deceptive vice makes me forget to remain dependent on God 
  • the dependence on myself makes me vulnerable to attack and defeat.” 

Don’t let Pride be your undoing, as it was for Amaziah. 

Stand Up For God’s Word

…Josiah read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant… (2 Kings 23:2).

The leader must go first.
The leader must go big.
The leader must be visible.
The leader must be consistent.

This is the only way to affect real change.

Josiah did this extremely well. In fact, he did it better than any other king!

Josiah called all the people together and read “in their hearing” God’s word. Then he made it his own and took a public stand to confirm it (v. 3). Josiah went first, and “then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant.” 

The rest of Josiah’s reign is punctuated by telltale phrases like:

  • in accordance with the Word of the Lord
  • as it is written in this book of the covenant
  • fulfilled the requirements of the law

Here’s one of the most amazing things to me: Josiah’s wholehearted obedience to God ends up fulfilling perfectly a 300-year-old prophecy that God gave through a prophet of Judah (v. 16; 1 Kings 13:1-3).

A mark of a godly leader is his public alignment with God’s Word.

When the leader goes public and then wholeheartedly follows through on his commitment to God, others will follow his lead. May all of us be that kind of pacesetting leader. 

This is part 51 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here. 

Assyrian Kings Involved With Israel

A helpful Bible study tool—

Assyrian Kings Involved With Israel

  • Shalmaneser III (858-824 BC)—2 Kings 17:3-4
  • Adad-Nirari III (810-782 BC)—took tribute from Israel; king during Jonah’s visit (Jonah 3) 
  • Tiglath-Pileser III (745-727 BC)—deported most of the northern part of Israel 
  • Shalmaneser V (727-722 BC)—besieged Samaria (2 Kings 18:9) 
  • Sargon II (721-705 BC)—deported the rest of Israel (Isaiah 20) 
  • Sennacherib (704-681 BC)—invaded Judah (Isaiah 36) 
  • Esar-Haddon (681-669 BC)—very powerful king 
  • Ashurbanipal (668-626 BC)—most powerful and brutal Assyrian king 

Two weak kings followed (626-607 BC), and Assyria fell in 605 BC. 

Source: Halley’s Study Bible 

You may also want to check out my chart of the kings and prophets of the divided kingdom of Judah and Israel.

The Attitude That Thwarts God’s Blessings

Two of Israel’s king Jehoahaz and his son Jehoash perpetually hung on to an attitude that limited what God wanted to do for Israel. That attitude can be summed up in a single word: but. 

Jehoahaz “sought the Lord’s favor” during a time Israel was under the oppression of their enemies, and “the Lord listen to him”! God raised up a deliverer who brought them freedom. Israel, under Jehoahaz’s leadership, could have used this newly won freedom to live closer to God and remain in a place of renewed worship. “But” they used their freedom as a license to sin and God reduced Jehoahaz’s army to a mere skeleton of what it had been (2 Kings 13:4-7). 

Jehoash went to visit Elisha. It doesn’t appear he went with a prayer request but merely to pay his respects to this dying prophet. God in His graciousness gave Jehoash something he didn’t even ask for: a promise of victory over Aram! Jehoash was invited to boldly ask for God’s help “but” he thought God had a limited supply and he asked for just a small portion. As a result, his victory over Aram was small—much smaller than God wanted for Israel (13:14-19). 

Once again, enemies surround Israel and we read a statement pregnant with possibility: “But the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion and showed concern for them because of His covenant” (13:22-23). Despite their sin, God still wanted to bless them! 

God wants so much more for us than we even want ourselves! But our sinfulness, stubbornness, and unbelief will limit the fullness of what God wants to do. 

Jesus fulfilled God’s covenant. If God did not spare His own Son, how can I ever continue to remain skeptical that He wants to bless me?! He is glorified when I am abundantly blessed in Him. What do I do with God’s gracious concern? Will I squander it and live hemmed in by oppressors? Or will I embrace everything God has for me in Jesus and live in a way that He delights to bless? 

My attitude will determine the blessing I receive. 

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