Why Do You Pretend?

Sermon preached on 1 Kings 14:1-20 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 12/01/2019 in Novato, CA.

Sermon manuscript

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Kings 14:1-20

Why Do You Pretend?

In today’s message, we’ve got some pretending going on. Jeroboam has his wife try to pretend to be someone that she’s not. That act of pretense illustrates a problem people still have today in the church. We can try to pretend to be something that we are not. As we walk through this passage today we’ll have a chance to think about both the pretense in this passage and how it speaks to our temptations toward such today. Ultimately, we’ll be directed again to the grace of God that can be found only in Jesus Christ.

We begin then by observing Jeroboam’s dilemma and the pretense he employs to deal with it. The dilemma is the terribly sad situation of a dying son. His son Abijah falls sick (vs 1) and he is sick enough to bring such great concern to his parents. Abijah, by the way, has a godly name. The name means “My Father is Yah(weh)”. Maybe Jeroboam had named him that when he himself was more outwardly walking in obedience to God’s laws. Or maybe Jeroboam named him that as a showoff to others that he was so godly as to give his son such a godly name. We don’t know. But the boy did have a good name, a name that must have in some sense reflected a truth since God says in verse 13 that he had found something pleasing in the lad.

So, Jeroboam has a plan. He wants to know what will happen to Abijah. He remembers the prophet Ahijah. This was the prophet that had predicted to Jeroboam that he would become king. Jeroboam references that in verse 2. But we also know that this is the same prophet that also told Jeroboam at the same time that he needed to carefully follow God’s laws and commands if his house was to be established as an ongoing dynasty. Jeroboam had clearly not done that. So, surely this is why he feels the need for his wife to go in disguise to the prophet. Clearly, that shows Jeroboam recognizes his sin, at least in some degree. It also shows that Jeroboam recognized the ability of the prophet to offer help or guidance in their situation. And so, faced with those two convictions by Jeroboam, he instructs his wife to disguise herself and go see the prophet, bringing a gift to give to him.

Let us here note an alternative for Jeroboam. Instead of dressing up his wife in disguise and sending her to the prophet, Jeroboam could have gone himself undisguised. He could have gone to the prophet and acknowledged his sin. He could have lamented over his failure to keep the prophet’s earlier charge. He could have sought to repent and turn from his waywardness. He could have come with the dust of destroyed golden calves in hand ready to pour out in the presence of the prophet. He could have come before Ahijah and thus before God, undone, sorrowful for his sin, and seeking mercy and grace. Instead, he chose to pretend to not be the disobedient person that he was who had rejected the prophet’s counsel.

Let me point out what is at the heart of such pretense here by Jeroboam. Essentially it is a form of hypocrisy. While the Old Testament Hebrew doesn’t contain a word that really translates as hypocrisy, the New Testament Greek does. Interestingly, a literal translation of that Greek word for a hypocrite is a pretender, or possibly an actor. Think about it. Religious hypocrisy is pretending to be more religious than you really are. It’s an act to try to fool others into thinking you are something that you are not. Jeroboam having his wife pretend to be someone that she’s not is a very visual illustration of the underlying matter of religious hypocrisy.

And why might someone engage in such hypocrisy – in such pretending? Because you think that you won’t get what you want from somebody unless you convince them you are something that you are not. In this case, Jeroboam must figure he won’t get the kind of service from the prophet that he wants if the prophet knows it is Jeroboam. Surely Jeroboam figures his sinful neglect of Ahijah’s past counsel would somehow hinder him getting new favorable counsel from him now.

We might note that such hypocrisy is bad, in general, for God’s people. But it is especially problematic when it comes from the leaders of God’s people. Recall that Jesus speak out a lot against such hypocritical leaders. In this passage, we are reminded that the failed leadership of Jeroboam led a whole nation astray, which brought disastrous consequences upon them.

Let’s turn next to consider how God’s sees past all the pretending here to pronounce this judgment upon Jeroboam’s house and even the whole house of Israel. Now, we are obviously not surprised to see that Jeroboam’s attempt to disguise his wife didn’t work. But what does surprise me a little bit, is that he evidently thought it might. Think of the inconsistency of Jeroboam’s logic. He wants to get help from a prophet. A prophet is a seer which by definition is one who “sees”. Jeroboam obviously values this prophet’s ability to “see”, otherwise he wouldn’t be going to him to learn about his boy’s future. So, if Jeroboam thinks the prophet is good at “seeing”, how does he think he can get him from seeing the truth about who his disguised wife really is? In fact, the prophet does see beyond the disguise, and he didn’t even need physical keep to do it, for we are told that in his old age the prophet had become physical blind. But for that matter, he didn’t even need to see her at all to see her true identity. He but hears her coming and announces that he knows her true identity. But that’s not because of his power. It’s because of God’s power at work in him. God knew the truth and God revealed it to the prophet. That’s, of course, the only way a prophet can see the future. It’s God who sees all and gives such knowledge to the prophets as he so decides.

So, I’m a bit surprised at the inconsistency of Jeroboam’s logic here. If by the power of God the prophet could see the future, then he surely could also see past the wife’s disguise. But Jeroboam’s inconsistent logic thinks the prophet will be able to see the son’s future, but not past the wife’s disguise. Yet, Jeroboam’s inconsistency exposes a common problem that Christians face. We all can struggle with inconsistencies in our faith and practice. It’s like when you say you believe Romans 8:28, that God’s in control of your future for your good, and yet you find yourself plagued with worry. Or when you affirm Ephesians 1:3, that in Christ you have been blessed with every spiritual blessing, yet you find yourself grumbling or complaining about some trivial matter.

Well then, going back to God’s sight here. We should remember that it’s not just that God sees past outward disguises like with the wife here. We should remember that God also can see into human hearts. In other words, it’s not just disguises that won’t fool God. But whenever us humans fall into that religious hypocrisy of trying to pretend we are more spiritual than we really are – God knows. Humans might get fooled, but God sees, and God will chasten accordingly when that’s what we need.

And in fact, that’s what we find here with Jeroboam. God quickly moves past disguises to the heart of the matter and issues a stern judgment against Jeroboam and even all Israel. God begins in verse 7 by rebuking Jeroboam in light of all the grace he had received. God had given Jeroboam so much – literally taking ten of the tribes of Israel and putting them under Jeroboam’s reign. God goes on to point out Jeroboam’s sin in verse 9. He had done more evil than anyone before him in Israel. God points out all the idolatry. There God again sees things for what they truly were. While Jeroboam had painted to the people that the golden calves were just another way to worship the one true God, God says they are really other false gods. Likewise, under Jeroboam’s leadership the people had engaged in other forms of idolatry too – like setting up Asherah poles per verse 15 to honor the false goddess Asherah.

So then, we see the judgment pronounced starting in verse 10. God will strike Jeroboam’s own house. All male heirs to his throne will be cut off. They won’t even get proper burials. Likewise, down in verse 14 we see Israel itself will be struck. Because of all their sin of idolatry, they will ultimately be removed from the land and scattered beyond the Euphrates. With regard to the specific question for why they came to Ahijah, he tells them that their son Abijah will die as soon as the mother returns home – but at least he will get a proper burial.

That immediate judgment on the boy serves as proof for the other judgments. You see, the other judgments will not be so immediate in their fulfillment. It would be during the reign of Jeroboam’s son Nadab that God has all Jeroboam’s sons wiped out. And it wouldn’t be for about a couple hundred years before Israel would be conquered, exiled, and scattered, as prophesied here. But all these prophesied judgments would ultimately come to pass. As certain as the boy Abijah died when the mother returned home, so too in due time, each of the judgments would be fulfilled.

In our last point for today, I’d like to turn to consider how God’s inscrutable providence would then work things out in the future. I especially want to think about this in light of Abijah’s death. Think about how interesting the boy Abijah’s death is in light of verse 13. There the prophet says that there is something found pleasing to the LORD in the boy. The prophet says that is why the boy would get a proper burial when none of his other brothers would. The idea we get when we read this is that Abijah stood out positively above all the rest of Jeroboam’s sons. None of his other sons seems to have anything to commend in them. But there was something positive in the relationship between God and Abijah.

Yet, God takes Abijah and for a time leaves his other brothers. This means that Abijah himself will never get to reign. He’ll never have an opportunity to be king after Jeroboam. His brother Nadab will reign instead, for a time, after Jeroboam. Wicked, evil, Nadab will reign instead of Abijah. Next chapter will tell us that Nadab as king would walk in all the same sorts of sins that has father Jeroboam had walked. That’s what Jeroboam’s sons were like – they were like himself. Except for this Abijah. In God’s inscrutable providence, he takes Abijah right away, before he could ever come to the throne. And he leaves the other brothers for a time.

Think of what might have been different if Abijah had been allowed to go to throne. He alone of all his brothers had a relationship with the Lord that pleased the Lord. Think of what might have happened if God didn’t take Abijah with this illness. Abijah might have succeeded his father to the throne. Think of the hope there with Abijah. He might have led Israel in righteousness. He might had led Israel in religious reform. He might have led the people away from the sin of Jeroboam. He might have been the only king of the northern kingdom that did good in God’s sight because God was truly his father. Or maybe he would have ushered in a dynasty of kings that did please the Lord and the whole course of Israel’s history would be changed. But now do you see why the Lord took him? Why did God not give him an opportunity to reign but instead took Abijah, surely graciously, to be with him in heaven? So that God’s decreed judgments here would come to pass. So, that wicked Jeroboam’s wicked sons would not take the kingdom back to the Lord and God would then be all the more justified to wipe them all out in the terrible judgment announced here.

Look at how God describes this in verse 14. He’s going to destroy Jeroboam’s male descendants by God raising up for himself a king over Israel who will cut off the house of Jeroboam. This is a reminder that it’s God who raises up kings and who removes kings. God raised up Jeroboam as king but could just as easily raise up someone else who would cut off Jeroboam’s dynasty. But that language of verse 14 also sounds hopeful. If there a sense of hope with the idea that Abijah was found to have something pleasing to the LORD, think of the hope here in verse 14. Yes, God would cut off Jeroboam’s house, but God would do it by raising up a new king for himself. Does that mean God would raise up a new, better, godly king? Maybe even a king after God’s own heart to rule Israel? Is there such hope held out in verse 14?

Well, if anyone hoped for that, it’s hope that would have been quickly dashed when you get to the events of next chapter. It’s a king named Baasha whom God would raise up to destroy Jeroboam’s house in the very next generation. But just a few verses after it records Baasha completely destroying Jeroboam’s house, it says this about Baasha as king, “He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and walked in the way of Jeroboam and in his sin which he made Israel to sin” (13:34). So, again, I would ask, “Why?” Why would God raise up an evil Baasha as king over Israel? Yes, we understand that God raised up Baasha to bring his judgment on Israel’s house. But why not while you are at it, raise up a good king to do it? Well, the sober answer is to point again to the inscrutable providence and purposes of God. God had decreed the judgment here that Israel would be conquered, removed in exile from the Promised Land, and scattered in a far away land. In God’s providence, he does not raise up any king at that time who might have saved them from that judgment. God would see that his promised judgment would fall upon Israel as he decreed here through the prophet Ahijah.

These are sobering thoughts. In the words of Romans 11:33, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” In God’s inscrutable providence, ultimate hope and salvation was stayed until these judgments could come about.

Yet in the fullness of time, God would yet raise up another king for himself. One who would truly be “Abijah” in the fullest sense. One who is fully pleasing to the LORD. One who would, yes, go to the grave and be buried — in our place! But one whom the grave wouldn’t be able to hold. One whom the grave would not prevent from taking the throne of his father. One who would reign on high over his people, on the throne of David his father, and on the throne of God his father! One who would lead the people out of their sin. One who would even gather back up the remnant of these scattered and dispersed exiles from among the elect of Israel. And one who would gather up even of those elect of God from among the Gentiles! I speak of Jesus Christ, son of David, and Son of God. Renew your hope in the salvation from sin and damnation that is in Jesus Christ. This too is part of the inscrutable providence of God!

So then, may we step back from our passage today and bring this all together in Jesus Christ. This temptation to hypocrisy, to “pretend” you are something you are not, is something common in a church setting. We might look around and incorrectly think that everyone else has it all together and we have to act like we do too. We might try to disguise our true self before others in the church, trying to hide our own struggles from others. We might even foolishly try to do the same before God, as if we could pretend before him that we are something that we are not. But the LORD knows our heart.

In a similar way, we can struggle with the inconsistencies of a double mind. In the one moment we can know and affirm God’s truths, and in the next do something that shows we don’t really trust in those truths. Surely these are all related and interconnected matters.

So then, Trinity Presbyterian Church, the answer is not to try to hide these struggles, especially from the LORD. The answer is to lay them all before King Jesus and ask for his grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love. The answer is to come to him as the sinful and broken people that we are. The solution is to come to him as a savior because you are a sinner that needs one. The solution is to come to him as your great physician because you are sick person who needs to be healed. Come to him because he calls you to come to him and find such salvation and redemption, and even help to begin to a new live a new way. Come to him in the realness of your struggles and know that his grace is sufficient for you. And as we come to him and are found in him, know that’s how you can know God as your father – “Abijah”! You too can be found to be fully pleasing to the LORD God, as you are found in Jesus Christ and in his righteousness. Come to him all who are week and heavy laden and he will give you peace. Amen.

Copyright © 2019 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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