Provoking the LORD to Anger

Sermon preached on 1 Kings 15:25-16:14 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 12/29/2019 in Novato, CA.

** Due to technical difficulties, the audio for this sermon is unavailable.

Sermon manuscript

Repeated words and phrases in Bible passages often help point us to themes being conveyed. Unfortunately, the repeated phrase in this passage of scripture is that of provoking the LORD to anger. It’s said of Jeroboam here. It’s said of Baasha three times here. And it’s said of Elah. So, we are not surprised to see here the judgment of God fall upon these two houses – the house of Jeroboam and the house of Baasha. This is a sobering passage in regards to God’s judgment and a frustrating passage when we see the people’s stubbornness to repent of their sins and return to the Lord.

Our passage begins then in the context of Jeroboam’s house. Jeroboam’s son Nadab succeeds him to the throne of Israel. We recall that the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite had prophesied the doom of Jeroboam’s house back in chapter 14. Because of all the idolatry of Jeroboam, especially with the setting up of the golden calves, God condemned that house. Only one of Jeroboam’s sons were said to please the LORD, and God took him to himself. The others presumably all provoked the LORD to anger like Jeroboam their father. Consequently, God had said that all of Jeroboam’s sons would be killed and not buried. If any died in the city then dogs would eat them, and any that died in the open country then birds would eat them.

Well, we learn here that such judgment would come upon Jeroboam’s house by the hand of Baasha. This Baasha is a relatively obscure figure in Israel’s history. We don’t really know his background here. It’s said that he was a son of someone named Ahijah from the tribe of Issachar, but that was a very common name. No other genealogical details are known about Baasha from Scripture. The reason is probably because of what we find in 16:2. There, it says that God had exalted Baasha out of the dust to make him king. In other words, God’s providential hand allows for Baasha to come out of obscurity and rise to the throne of Israel. God ultimately allows him to reign for 24 years, which is a relatively decent amount of time.

So then, verses 27-29 describe how Baasha destroyed the house of Jeroboam. During Nadab’s short two year reign, Baasha conspires against King Nadab. The conspiracy happened when Nadab was leading Israel in a military campaign against the Philistines at Gibbethon. Gibbethon was one of the cities originally allocated to the tribe of Dan, but was under the control of the Philistines. So, King Nadab had Israel laying siege to Gibbethon – not a bad thing for an Israelite king to be doing, to try to liberate Israelite territory in the Promised Land. That’s when Baasha somehow wickedly conspired against King Nadab, killing him there at Gibbethon. Baasha then became king himself and proceeded to murder all of Jeroboam’s remaining descendants. Baasha’s evil, treasonous actions served to bring to pass the prophesied judgment against the house of Jeroboam. Just barely into the second reign from the house of Jeroboam, the house is completely cut off and destroyed.

So then, you might expect, even hope, that Baasha would do things differently as king than Jeroboam. Given the mighty downfall of Jeroboam’s house, you might think that Baasha would learn from Jeroboam’s mistakes, particularly as it related to the LORD. Sadly, that was not the case. Verse 34 says that he did evil in the sight of the LORD, and specifically that he walked in all the ways of Jeroboam. This likely refers particularly to all the perversion of worship that Jeroboam had instituted, in which he led the people into great sin. In other words, Baasha didn’t get rid of the golden calves at Bethel and Dan. He didn’t restore the Levites and call for people to offer their sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem. He didn’t rid the land of idols. All the things that led to the house of Jeroboam’s utter condemnation, he continued in the same way.

So then, like with King Jeroboam, God sends a prophet to Baasha to rebuke him, verses 1-3. God sends the prophet Jehu the son of Hanani. Jehu rebukes him for forsaking God who had given him so much. Jehu then declares that Baasha’s house will be completely destroyed. This is starting in verse 3. Baasha’s house will suffer the exact same fate that Jeroboam’s house. Like with Jeroboam, all of Baasha’s descendants would be killed and not buried. If they die in the city then dogs would eat them. If they die in the field then birds would eat them. If it’s not clear to you, please see the poetic justice here. God’s judgment on Baasha’s house so closely mirrors the judgment on Jeroboam’s house to teach a lesson. Had Baasha been faithful to the LORD he could have expected a different, positive outcome. Likely his family could have been established as a dynasty for Israel. But instead he ruled just like Jeroboam and so God gives him the same outcome of Jeroboam. It seems like such folly here of Baasha. He was poised to understand firsthand what Jeroboam’s sin resulted in. Yet he foolishly followed in his footsteps nonetheless in rejection of God. He gets the same result as Jeroboam.

This is even closely mirrored in how the judgment worked out. Starting in verse 8, we see Baasha’s son Elah come to the throne. Elah is the parallel of Nadab, with Baasha’s house being destroyed during Elah’s reign like Jeroboam’s house was under Nadab’s reign. Like Nadab, Elah reigned for just two years. Like Nadab, Elah was the victim of an evil conspiracy by a citizen who was supposed to be loyal to the throne. Like Nadab, Elah was murdered when Israel was yet again laying siege against the Philistines at Gibbethon – we didn’t read that but it comes out in verse 15 (next week’s passage). Yet, unlike Nadab, Elah wasn’t out at battle with the army – he was back at the capital drinking himself drunk. Unlike Nadab, the text chooses to explicitly speak of how Elah was busy provoking the Lord to anger, verse 13. In other words, Elah is painted in even worse light than Nadab. But it’s in such similar circumstances that then this Zimri murdered Elah and all the house of Baasha.

So then, this is how this passage tells us about the downfall of these two houses in Israel. God brought them both down at the start of the second generation in light of the major evil leadership of the first generation. Neither would be an ongoing dynasty in Israel.

I’d like us to then step back and observe an interesting truth here about God’s providence. God’s here twice uses evil people and their evil ways to be an instrument of his righteous plans. What do I mean? I mean that Baasha’s treasonous actions were evil. It was evil to conspire against the sitting king and kill him. It was evil to then wipe out his family. Kings are owed honor and submission. Neighbors are not be murdered. Baasha’s treason was wickedness in the eyes of the LORD. We see that stated in verse 7. When describing why God would cut off the house of Baasha, it includes his wickedness in destroying the house of Jeroboam. It says that wickedness also provoked the Lord to anger. Just because the word of the LORD prophesied that Jeroboam’s house would be destroyed didn’t mean it was lawful for someone like Baasha to betray and murder Jeroboam and his house. As an opposite example, remember King David. David was actually anointed by the prophet Samuel to be the next king after King Saul. But David knew it would be wrong to kill King Saul himself, even when Saul was unjustly trying to kill him. David instead patiently waited for God’s providence to bring about Saul’s downfall. So then, Baasha clearly was in the wrong when he did this. So too with Zimri when he wiped out Baasha’s house. Yet, in God’s inscrutable providence, sometimes he ordains to use the evil actions of people like Baasha and Zimri to accomplish his purposes. In such, God is just even while humans author their evil actions.

Scripture is full of such examples. Going backward in time, we can remember how God saved Israel by Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery. What they meant for evil God used for good when he rose Joseph to prominence in Egypt and was able to provide for Israel during the great famine. Going forward in time from this passage, this is what God would do through Babylon in bringing judgment later to God’s people. Isaiah 47 comments on this in a very fitting way in light of today’s theme of provoking God to anger. It speaks of how the anger of the LORD toward his people allowed the Babylonian nation to afflict them and conquer them. That was God’s providence at work. But Isaiah 47 nonetheless explains how God will also hold the Babylonians accountable for their wickedness in harming God’s people. In God’s sovereignty he shows forth his inscrutable plans. He often brings judgment upon people at the hand of evil people that he then judges for their evil. This only highlights the perfect righteousness and goodness of God at the same time as highlights his perfect justice. If you think about it, it’s actually a very fitting and just sentence that someone who afflicts great evil on others would be punished by someone afflicting such great evil on them. The punishment fits the crime.

This sort of thing takes on its most climactic significance with Judas Iscariot. Jesus prophesied his death in Lk. 22:22 saying, “For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” There he was speaking of how Judas Iscariot would betray him resulting in his arrest and ultimate crucifixion. Jesus acknowledges that it would a great evil for Judas to do that – to betray not only his friend but an innocent man and even the rightful heir to the throne of God’s people! Yet, it was at the same time God’s providential plan to allow Judas’ to do that so that on the cross Jesus could be an offering for the sin of the elect. God used Judas’ great evil for good to bring about the salvation of his chosen ones. So then, let us take comfort as we read of God’s sovereign workings here in this passage. It is just another reminder that while evil yet exists in this world, there is a good and righteous God who superintends all things for both his glory and our good as his people.

As we continue to step back and look at this passage as a whole, let’s now think further about this theme of divine provocation. This passage has emphasized the idea that these kings and the nation with them provoked the LORD to anger. In case the meaning of this is unclear, to provoke the LORD to anger means to do something that makes God angry. For example, this word provoke is what we find in Ephesians 6:4 where parents are told to not provoke their child to anger. That’s talking about how parents shouldn’t parent in a harsh or unfair way that sparks righteous anger within their children over such unrighteous parenting. Likewise, this passage tells us that sin can make God angry! To clarify, this is an anthropomorphism. God doesn’t change and thus doesn’t have changing emotions in the way we do. But when Scripture speaks of God becoming angry over sin, it is an expression of his unchanging disposition that hates sin and all forms of wickedness.

What I find especially noteworthy about this anthropomorphism is how it describes humans as making God get angry. It’s not just that God gets angry over sin. Here it describes humans making God angry because of their sin. I think that nuance is important to note. It’s easy for someone try to distance themselves from their sin. It’s one thing to say, “That sin made God upset.” But it turns up the heat if someone were to acknowledge, “I made God upset – by my sin.” There are things people do that not only displease the Lord, but they anger the Lord. Again, I’m speaking in terms of anthropomorphisms. But the reason Scripture speaks in anthropomorphisms is so we can understand better. The concept of righteous anger is to be recognized here. Human sin can be said to infuriate God. To speak of God’s wrath is essentially a term of anger being expressed in judgment. Sin provokes the Lord to anger. And certain sins are especially heinous in the sight of God. Sin such as idolatry by those who are supposed to be his chosen and holy people. Sin such as a leader leading a people astray after false gods when you should be leading them in allegiance to the LORD. These things especially upset our Lord!

Well, what happens in this regard is putting Israel on a certain trajectory. In this passage alone we see four generations of kings explicitly described as provoking God to anger. That continues on in the history of Israel, with them as a nation never turning from the perverse worship instituted by Jeroboam. Instead they continue to do worse and worse evil, further provoking the Lord. This trajectory would end in the nation being conquered, removed from the Promised Land in exile, and God scattering the people among the nations. The Assyrians would do this to Israel in 722 BC, approximately 200 years after the time of this passage. The prophet Zechariah in Zechariah 8:14 specifically reflects back on this. Zechariah describes what happened in such terms. He says that the reason Israel was conquered and scattered like that was because of how they provoked God to wrath. And so, what we see here in today’s passage, still early in Israel’s history as its own kingdom, has set a course toward its own destruction. All because they continued from one generation to the next to provoke the Lord to anger.

Yet, in the manifold grace of God, it’s there in that passage I just referenced in Zechariah 8 where God then proceeds to promise a grand and glorious restoration for God’s scattered people. Zechariah there says that as certain as God purposed to bring destruction on Israel because they had provoked him to anger, so too it was certain that God would bring good to them in these latter days (Zech 8:15). Many other prophets prophesied of this restoration as well. And we know that they all spoke of what God would do in sending the Messiah. God would raise up a Messiah King who would gather up God’s chosen people from wherever they had been scattered. He would gather them up into one kingdom and make them a people faithful and righteous and blessed to the Lord. And of that kingdom there would be no end. That king of course is King Jesus. He came in his first coming to save us from our sins. Now from on high he reigns as he has sent his people into the world to gather up his lost sheep. And he is coming again to judge the living and the dead and to usher his redeemed people into the glory of the new creation.

But let’s stop and acknowledge a sobering fact. Zechariah’s prophecy is one of many that speaks specifically about how this restoration will be for the house of Israel and the house of Judah. Yet, we know that so many of the house of Israel and Judah have rejected the Messiah, Christ Jesus. They have rejected the king whom God sent to save them by turning them back to righteousness. They’ve rejected the king whom God sent to gather them back up into a glorious and everlasting kingdom. Does that mean the promises of God will fail? How does God respond then to these stubborn Israelites according to the flesh who are unwilling to receive his promised salvation in King Jesus? How does God respond to them?

God makes them angry. God provokes them to anger. God provokes ethnic Israel to anger. Moses himself prophesied this long before any of this happened. In the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32:21, God predicted that Israel would provoke him to anger by idolatry, by going after other gods that are no god. So, God prophesied that he would in turn provoke Israel to anger by going after other peoples who are no people. God would turn his saving and electing love toward the Gentiles and save many out of there. This is how the Apostle Paul told us to understand Moses’ prophecy in Romans 10:19. God is saving the elect out of the Gentiles, while at the same time provoking ethnic Israelites to anger and jealousy? Why? So that the elect of Israel would be saved. So that they would see the error of their idolatrous ways and return to God in Christ Jesus and be saved.

We are here then today as another example of the inscrutable providence of God. God took us wicked and foolish gentiles and saved us in Jesus Christ and now uses us to spark repentance even in ethnic Israelites. Many have in fact been drawn to Christ in this way already. Surely more will come until the final number of the elect from all the nations, Israel included, are brought to allegiance to King Jesus. I therefore issue a call to repent and believe in King Jesus again today. I issue this call to both Jew and Gentile. Turn from the false gods of this world and follow the one true God in his Son, Jesus the Christ.

In conclusion then, let us all today who bear the name of Christ seek to humbly serve him in faithfulness. Yet, may we not rest in the fact of God using us for his purposes. Whether God uses us in witnessing to Jews or in testifying to Gentiles, let us not rest in such. Being used by God is not how we are right with God. Baasha was used by God but was not right with God. So too with Zimri. Jesus gave that same warning in Matthew 7:22 that someone might accomplish many mighty things in Christ’s name but still not have a real saving relationship with the Lord. Let us rest and trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. Let us know God as father through the grace that is ours in Jesus. Let us rest in that.

If we have such a hope, then let us truly desire to please our heavenly father. Let us put off each day those things that would provoke fatherly chastening. Let us instead look to put on those things that please our God. As we enter the new year, this is especially a good time to reflect. Will we look to repeat those same sins of the past year or take this providential time of a new year to start afresh in new obedience? Our God has raised each of us out of the dust of our sin to serve him. By his continued grace may we look to live lives pleasing to him in 2020 and beyond. Amen.

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