A Lamp in Jerusalem

Sermon preached on 1 Kings 14:21-15:8 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 12/08/2019 in Novato, CA.

Sermon manuscript

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Kings 14:21-15:8

A Lamp in Jerusalem

Not all lights are created equal. On the one hand, we see how these two kings from David’s lineage, Rehoboam and Abijam, are lamps in Jerusalem. That’s the point of 15:4, that those kings in the dynasty and lineage of David were lamps in Jerusalem. We also see here how those two kings do not measure up to the kind of lamp that David had been. We’ll reflect on both of these two kings together today from this passage. We’ll have a chance to think of some of the ramifications of their failings as such lamps. And in that, we’ll have a chance to make application to ourselves as well.

I’d like to begin then by recognizing the sin of Judah here and the Lord’s jealousy because of it. There’s obviously a connection there with the failed leadership of these two kings. Now with regard to Rehoboam, interestingly the passage here doesn’t actually name Rehoboam specifically in the evil. Surely, he is implied in this passage as participating in the nation’s evil, but 14:22 attributes the evil specifically to the nation as a whole. It says there that “Judah did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and they provoked him to jealousy.” The text continues to describe their evil idolatries and immoralities in that third person plural. This is what they collectively did. Now, I think this is important to note because so often in 1 and 2 Kings, when describing a king’s reign, it will most commonly tell us whether the king himself did either good or evil in the sight of the Lord. That’s typically told to us near the beginning of the description of that king’s reign, right after it tells us the opening details about when the king started reigning and for how long he reigned. In other words, verse 22 is that typical spot, but here it speaks in collective terms of the evil done in the sight of the Lord instead of specifically Rehoboam’s failure. Now, I don’t mean to give Rehoboam a pass here. Surely, he was part of the people of Judah involved in such sin. Surely, he could have exercised leadership to keep the nation from going in this evil way. In fact, the 2 Chronicles account of this does specifically mention Rehoboam along with all Israel being complicit in these sins.

What’s my point? Well, so often as we read these accounts, we can see that as the king goes, so the people go. When the king led the nation in righteousness, it often promoted righteousness in the people. And when the king led the people in wickedness, the opposite result was typical. But it would be a wrong conclusion to therefore assume that everything was just about the king. You couldn’t just blame the king for your sin. So then, this passage reminds us that despite king Rehoboam’s contribution to the sin of the nation, the people themselves were also responsible. If anything, this passage with Rehoboam highlights the nation’s sin more than Rehoboam.

Of course, in contrast then, you have the sin mentioned of King Abijam in verse 3. There, again in the typical place, we see a commentary of the king’s moral record. Notice it doesn’t say that “he did evil in the sight of the LORD.” Such is often said of various kings in this book. Rather, it said that his “heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God”. That’s the same way Solomon’s later in life sin was described in 1 Kings 11:4. The language seems to suggest that the serious failing of religious pluralism that Solomon began later in life continued to be practiced by King Abijam. Yet remember, Solomon was not described as stopping the worship of the one true God. Presumably, Solomon continued to worship the LORD at the temple he built all his days. But Solomon is described as also at one point beginning to worship other false gods too –- the idols of his various pagan wives. This sort of religious pluralism is clearly described in verses 23-24 during King Rehoboam’s reign. And it seems to be King Abijam’s major failing too. But it is helpful to note, that despite the clear violation of the first commandment, it seems that both Rehoboam and Abijam generally tried to continue to worship the one true God. Noticing such details are important so we can be true to the record and not describe people or the situation inaccurately. Yet, their mixed hearts toward the LORD and pure religion show why they failed to be the kind of lamp in Jerusalem that they should have been.

Well then, given that the situation then in Judah was one of such religious pluralism, where there was some worship of the true God but also a lot of worship of pagan idols, we are not surprised to see God’s response put in terms of jealousy. That’s verse 22 – that Judah provoked God to jealousy. Remember, in the Ten Commandments God spoke against idolatry saying that he was a jealous God. God demands fidelity from his people. He doesn’t want to share them with any other gods. He wants his people to have hearts wholly devoted to him and his worship. While human jealousy often is misplaced or misused, God’s jealousy is a perfect and righteous jealousy. God has every right to demand the complete devotion of us his people. And God has every right to chasten his people when they stray.

Let us turn then to see such chastening in our second point for today. This is described in verse 25 of the pillaging Shishak king of Egypt did to Judah during Rehoboam’s reign. History records that this Shishak kingship was the start of a new dynasty that took control in Egypt and he did a lot to not only strengthen Egypt as a nation but also to wage much war in the middle east. Here we find how that affected Judah. Sadly, there is a tremendous loss here of so much of the outward glory and splendor that Rehoboam’s father Solomon had just put in place.
All the wonderful treasures from both the temple and the palace are stolen away to Egypt. Four some chapters in 1 Kings about the building up of the temple and the palace and in one verse we find all their treasures are lost. Think about that. When studying Solomon’s reign, we repeatedly mentioned that Solomon’s glorious kingdom was a sort of golden age for the church. As an example, think of all those gold shields that Solomon had put up in Jerusalem in that large structure of his palace called the House of the Forest of Lebanon. Those were described in the text as something very emblematic of the outward renown and prosperity of Solomon’s kingdom. They sort of were a representation of all the wealth and grandeur of the nation. But here they all get taken away. In the very next generation after Solomon, they lose them all. It’s like they barely had them – maybe for twenty-five years at the most. Easy come, easy go, I guess. But the point is that this is God chastening Judah for their sin.

However, we should recognize God’s restraint here. Notice what it says about their sin in verse 24. It says that Judah “did according to all the abominations of the nations that the LORD drove out before the people of Israel.” In other words, God says here that Judah is acting like the Canaanites had acted – you know, right before God had the Israelites remove them from the land in judgment. In other words, God would be justified in doing just that right now to Judah. God would be justified to have an enemy nation conquer them and remove them from the land just liked God had warned them through Moses before they came into the land in the first place. And so, when Egypt is able to attack them like this and steal away all these treasures, it sent a message to Judah. God could have had Egypt completely conquer them and remove them from the land. Instead, God graciously showed restraint in this chastening on Israel.

Well, in the aftermath of such chastening we would expect to see rebuilding and hopefully reform. With what we do and don’t know both in the case of Rehoboam and then Abijam, we can at least point to some of that taking place after Egypt pillaged Judah like this. I think we should see these things as positives. I point to you first what is found in verse 27. After Egypt stole these gold shields, Rehoboam replaced them with bronze shields. Now, obviously such replacements are greatly inferior. But I think we should see it as an effort to rebuild and restore the glory of what was lost. Yes, it was not as glorious as before, but it was an effort of recovery. And I think the value of such efforts should be seen in light of the next verse. Notice in verse 28 that these bronze shields are mentioned as used by the king “as often as the king went into the house of the LORD.” Don’t miss the fact that the rebuilding of the kingdom after Egypt’s attack not only involved replacing the shields. But that’s described in the context of the king worshipping at the temple. We’re not told the state of religious pluralism at that moment in Judah. Surely there were still high places and some idolatry going on. But at least we see the Davidic king Rehoboam worshipping at the temple in Jerusalem. That, in itself, is a good thing. In fact, while this is only described so briefly here, it is given quite a bit more detail in the parallel account of 2 Chronicles. What we find there is that Rehoboam, and Judah along with him, did humble themselves before the LORD because of the Egyptian attack. What is surely implied here in 1 Kings with just a few words, is clearer in 2 Chronicles. Not only did Rehoboam look to rebuild the kingdom after the Egyptian attack, but there was also at least some degree of repentance that was produced by this. But that’s what godly chastening and discipline is supposed to bring about.

We can also say a little bit about the further kingdom rebuilding work that then happens under King Abijam here. Again, I remind you that the text in 15:3 doesn’t say that Abijam did evil in the sight of the LORD, like so many other descriptions of wicked kings. No, it has a more nuanced view. I would argue that this is painting a king who does somewhat follow the LORD, though with some great sin and error mixed in. This is again brought out much more in the parallel account of King Abijam in 2 Chronicles 13. Where our verse 15:7 simply mentions “and there was war between Abijam and Jeroboam”, 2 Chronicles 13 gives us a whole chapter about that warring. There we find a faith and trust by King Abijam in God’s faithfulness, especially regarding the Davidic covenant. But there we also see how God used this warring between Abijam and Jeroboam to begin to reclaim to Judah some of the cities that had been previously lost to the northern kingdom of Israel. Not only that, but that chapter in 2 Chronicles also seems to root Jeroboam’s downfall and eventual death in this successfully military activity by King Abijam. My point is that this is more kingdom rebuilding. Rehoboam did some kingdom rebuilding after a foreign affliction by Egypt. Then Abijam accomplishes some kingdom rebuilding with regard to the internal conflict God’s people had when Jeroboam led the ten northern tribes away from Judah and Jerusalem. Both of them, in spite of their far from perfect walk with the LORD, performed their kingdom rebuilding efforts in the context of the LORD. So then, God’s chastening did seem to have at least some positive effect of reform among Israel, even if the reform did not bring out the full degree of repentance that God’s people should have done.

That leads us to our third point then to recognize that for both these kings, God’s grace was bound up here with the remaining glory in Jerusalem. In recounting Rehoboam’s reign, this is mentioned in 14:21 – that Rehoboam reigned in the city that the LORD had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel to put his name there. And in recounting Abijam’s reign, it’s mentioned in 15:4, that for David’s sake the LORD gave David a lamp in Jerusalem by setting up and establishing his descendants there to reign in the city of Jerusalem. It’s that longer description about this there in chapter 15 that is especially helpful to understand what’s going on. Basically, it’s implying that Rehoboam and Abijam are lamps or lights in Jerusalem. God has such a lamp or a light in Jerusalem for two reasons here. One, God has chosen that city to specially bear his name. Two, for David’s sake. Those two reasons stand above the fact that neither Rehoboam or Abijam lived up to the kind of king God wanted for his people. But because of the glory God desired for Jerusalem, God graciously allowed Rehoboam and Abijam to reign in Jerusalem, and even promote its glory, to the degree that they were able.

Think especially of this second reason, that God established them on the throne for David’s sake. That language is used several times in this book. Elsewhere when that statement is made, it arguably is more about the faithfulness of God to how he promised David an everlasting kingdom through his lineage. But here, that’s not the point made. Here, in 15:5, it’s David’s own righteousness that’s emphasized. Because David was so faithful to the LORD, God was going to continue the Davidic dynasty and kingdom there in Jerusalem. While today we’ve recognized Rehoboam and Abijam as being such “mixed” characters in terms of their relationship with their Lord, here we are pointed back to David as someone who was so much more faithful. If Rehoboam or Abijam could be any sort of a lamp in the city where God had put his name, David was much more so such a light. Though, do note that the text rightly points out that even David wasn’t perfect in his righteousness. It gives the example of Uriah the Hittite, and we all then remember the Bathsheba incident and know David wasn’t perfect. That just shows us that even with David there was grace involved. God chose to graciously reward the imperfect service of David to establish his kingdom forever.

Realize then, that for the text to treat David’s righteousness like this, it’s to set him as a type of Jesus Christ. It’s says here that it was for the sake of David’s righteousness that Abijam and surely Rehoboam were allowed to reign. Abijam and Rehoboam who had such a troubled relationship with God, they were allowed to reign for the sake of David and his righteousness. But David’s righteousness was flawed and imperfect. For whose sake was David allowed to keep reigning when he murdered Uriah the Hittite after stealing his wife? For whose sake was David granted forgiveness from such an abuse of power and wanton display of injustice and evil? For whose sake was God even righteous to pardon such wickedness by David who did what he did to Uriah the Hittite? The answer, of course, is for Christ Jesus’ sake. King Jesus, David’s greater son, is the only Davidic king who not only did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, but he always and fully and completely did so. King Jesus’s righteousness is indeed reward-worthy of a dynasty and a kingdom because it was perfect. His heart was wholly true to the LORD in the fullest sense. And it was that perfect righteousness of Christ that meant that Jesus obeyed God even to the point of offering himself as a sacrifice for sin. That’s why God could rightly forgive David and pardon him for the Uriah matter. David could reign, even after the Uriah matter, for Christ Jesus’s sake. Ultimately Rehoboam, and Abijam, and all the other Davidic kings could have the opportunity to be a lamp in Jerusalem for Christ Jesus’ sake. Jesus, the lamp and light of the world, has earned a place for all the kings in his lineage because of his perfect righteousness.

Well, what’s true for the kings among God’s people is true for all God’s people. Each of us who have a part and place in God’s house, do so, because of Christ Jesus and his righteousness. The gospel offers sinners forgiveness of sins and a part in this glorious kingdom through faith in Jesus Christ. As we repent of our sins and put our faith and trust in Jesus, the Bible assures us that we are saved from the judgment of God to come on this world of sin and disobedience.

And let me add this additional thought. Under the old covenant, God put his name on an earthly Jerusalem and few of God’s people had a chance to serve as a king. Few were called a lamp in that Jerusalem. But in the new covenant, God doesn’t put his name on any one earthly city. Rather, he has put his name on his people, on all those who belong to the church of Jesus Christ. Us his people have ultimately been called away from an earthly Jerusalem to a heavenly Jerusalem. But while we await the glorious arrival of that city, the Lord has us yet on this earth. Yet we are here, not only as those who bear his name, but we are all here as royalty now. 1 Peter 2:9 calls us a royal priesthood. Revelation 20:6 speaks of us reigning with Christ. We are adopted sons of God and heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ

So think about it then. As kings of the Lord on earth, we now are called to be a lamp for Christ on earth. Christ Jesus is the ultimate lamp set by God, set even now in the hearts of each of his people. Jesus himself called us to shine God’s light to the world. Matt. 5:14-16, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” So too, the book of Revelation speaks of the churches of God being lampstands in this world. Let us be a lamp to the world of the word of the Lord and of his kingdom and of his righteousness.

Yes, while we strive to be such a light, we’ll won’t to do it perfectly. While Christ Jesus is perfect, we are still not yet perfect. When we stray, let us repent afresh when we come to our senses and see where we’ve errored. Sometimes our failures in this life will carry consequences with it. Sometimes we can suffer because of it. But remember today that glory yet awaits in its fullness. Solomon’s kingdom was not the best glory God’s people will ever see. It was not something lost that could never be attained again. It was but a foretaste of something yet far better ahead for us. Of this, Scripture is so clear. There is a glory yet to be revealed when Christ returns. We are partakers of that blessed hope as those who trust in Christ. Let us keep then looking to shine as lights in this world, to the best of our God-given abilities, now and unto the arrival of that day of glory in the full. Amen.

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


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