*August 3 - 9
Apostasy in the North
MEMORY TEXT: "Elijah went before the people and said, 'How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him'" (1 Kings 18:21, NIV).
THE LAND FLOWING WITH MILK AND HONEY. . . AND BLOOD. We last left off with the northern kingdom of Israel after Jeroboam, who, having split Israel from Judah, forged golden calves, constructed idols, and did "more evil than all who were before" him (1 Kings 14:9, NKJV). After his death, he was succeeded by his son Nadab (910-909 B.C.), who also did "evil in the sight of the Lord" (1 Kings 15:26). Nadab was soon murdered by Baasha, who, after taking the throne, walked in all the sins of Jeroboam and who caused Israel to sin (1 Kings 16:2). After Baasha died (886 B.C.), Elah his son (another corrupt ruler) took the throne but was murdered by Zimri, who reigned only seven days (1 Kings 16:15), before burning himself to death rather than surrendering to the Israelite army. Enraged over the murder of Elah, the Israelite army revolted and placed Omri, the commander of the army, on the throne (1 Kings 16:8-20).
That is the good news. The bad news is that, under the house of Omri, things start to go bad.
THE WEEK AT A GLANCE: What was the history of the house of Omri? What kind of false religion did Ahab bring to Israel? What was the role of Elijah? What can we learn from the struggle at Mount Carmel?
*(Study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, August 10.)
Sunday August 4
The dates for the entire dynasty of Omri are from about 885 B.C. to around 841 B.C., 44 years, one-fifth of the entire existence of Israel as a nation.
The outstanding characteristic of the dynasty of Omri is the constant repetition of the phrase that each successive ruler "did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him" (1 Kings 16:30, NIV). Probably the worst epitaph used is that Ahab "considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam" (1 Kings 16:31, NIV).
As commanding general of the Israelite army, Omri took over the kingdom after a four-year struggle with Tibni. Omri is the first Hebrew king mentioned in archaeological records outside the Bible, on the Moabite Stone, which said that Omri, king of Israel, had oppressed Moab for many days, for Kemosh was angry with his land.
Omri established a powerful dynasty and made Samaria the capital city. Years after his death, Assyrian leaders still called Israelite kings "Sons of Omri."
THE OMRIDE DYNASTY
|King's Name||Who Was He?||Length of Reign|
Founder of the dynasty
Kings 16:25, 26: "But Omri wrought evil in the eyes of the Lord, and
did worse than all that were before him. For he walked in all the way of
Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and in his sin wherewith he made Israel to sin,
to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger with their vanities."
The key thought here is this notion that he "made Israel to sin." It is a pretty direct translation from a Hebrew verb, "to cause to sin." How do we understand this phrase? Can someone really cause another person, or even a whole nation, to sin? The text implies that a certain amount of guilt and responsibility belong to the kings, and that is understandable, considering their role; but can anyone cause, as in force, someone to sin who ultimately does not want to? Who, in the end, ultimately is responsible for sin? At the same time, can we be held accountable for other people's sin?
If Omri were not bad enough, his son Ahab, who ascended to the throne in 874 B.C., has been immortalized for evil. No question, though, his biggest problem arose from his wife, a pagan princess from Phoenicia who determined that her pagan faith, which included the worship of Baal, dominate in Israel. Ahab seemed more than happy to oblige, though the names of his two sonsAhaziah, "The Lord grasps," and Joram, "The Lord is exalted"suggest that, perhaps, he did not intend to replace the worship of Jehovah with the worship of Baal but simply to meld both faiths together.
If, indeed, Ahab simply wanted a mixture of Baal worship and that of Jehovah, why would that be so bad? Suppose he was able to find common ground in certain areas and stressed those common grounds. Would that be acceptable? Why, or why not? Can you see any example in the church today of an attempt to meld aspects of our faith with others? If so, in what ways, and is that always bad? If so, explain why?
The Canaanite religions were some of the most depraved of the time. To prompt the gods to action, worshipers performed sexual acts, and the Baal shrines were staffed with male and female attendants for this purpose. "Through the influence of Jezebel and her impious priests, the people were taught that the idol gods that had been set up were deities, ruling by their mystic power the elements of earth, fire, and water."Ellen G. White, Conflict and Courage, p. 204.
|"By bringing from her homeland hundreds of cull personnel of Baal and Asherah, by introducing the rites of the Canaanite cult system and by persecuting and killing the worshippers of Yahweh, Jezebel caused a religious crisis of the first magnitude (1 Kings 18:4, 19). "Siegfried Horn, Ancient Israel: A Short History from Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple, ed: Hershel Shanks (Washington, D.C.: Biblical Archaeological Society, 1988), p. 121.|
|In the context of today's lesson, read Romans 1:24, 25 and ask, What is it about humans that we seek to worship the creature more than the Creator? In fact, even in today's world, without such crass idolatry in most places, how is the same principle of idolatry being manifested? In what ways can we, even in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, be subtly caught up in this perennial problem?|
"Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months" (James 5:17).
Imagine that you are king of Israel (a fairly "successful" one at that point), when, one day, apparently out of nowhere, some farm boy appears, stands before your throne, and announces," 'As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word' " (1 Kings 17:1, NKJV). Then, before you know it, he is gone. At first, you might have been tempted to dismiss him as some kook or fanatic (after all, claiming that it would not rain except at "my word" does sound a bit much)that is, until it, in fact, stops raining, to the point that there is, indeed, a famine in the land.
Read Deuteronomy 11:16, 17; 28:23, 24; Leviticus 26:19. In light of these texts, however bold and brash Elijah's words were, why should they not have come as a surprise to the king?
|The name Elijah means "my God is Jehovah," which is appropriate, considering the battle that he was engaged in.|
After Elijah made his warning to Ahab, he is told by the Lord to flee to Brook Cherith, and there he could drink from the brook, and there the ravens (by God's miraculous command) would feed him. Thus, his water came from something natural (the river), his food from something supernatural (the ravens). Eventually, the water of the brook dries up "because there had been no rain in the land" (1 Kings 17:7, NKJV). Food from the ravens was fine, but if Elijah did not find water, he would soon be dead.
|How many of us have ever been in a similar situation: One of seeing the miraculous providence of God at work in our lives while at the same time struggling with what appears to be a "natural" turn of events that does not seem to be working in our favor or that, in fact, seems to be undermining the providence of God? Think of similar examples from biblical history where the same thing happens. For instance, God called Abram to the Promised Land, and when he arrives there, he faces a famine (Genesis 12); and the children of Israel, right after the miraculous deliverance from Egypt, face thirst (Exod. 15:22-24). What lessons can we learn from these experiences?|
Read the story of the confrontation on Mount Carmel and answer the following questions:
1. Why was Obadiah so frightened to do what Elijah had asked him to do? What previous events gave him reason to be scared of the king?
2. What was Ahab's first reaction to Elijah when he appeared before him, and why was it so typical? What other examples can you find in the Bible of the same principle, that of blaming others for your own sins?
3. Read Elijah's question to the people in verse 21. What does it imply regarding the kind of worship that was practiced in Israel? In other words, was it pure paganism or a mixture of both?
4. Why did Elijah mock the prophets of Baal? Was there any need for that verbal barrage or, perhaps, was it his own personality and frustration coming through?
5. Notice the time that Elijah chose to call upon the Lord to respond from heaven and vindicate His name and power. What was significant about that specific time of the day?
6. Why was the punishment so harsh against the prophets of Baal? After all, they were following only the beliefs of their religion. Why should they be put to death for their beliefs, whichconsidering their actions on the altar (vs. 28)they held sincerely?
7. The story of Elijah on Carmel is one of the more popular ones in the Hebrew Bible. Clearly, the principles derived from it are simple enough: We should not worship false gods but only the true One, the "Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel" (vs. 36), the Creator of heaven and earth. The question remains, however: What can we, today, learn from it? In other words, how often are we put in situations so dramatic and clear as this? How often are we ever confronted with truth and error in such stark, unmistakable terms? How often do we expect fire from heaven to come down and devour sacrifices, wood, stone, and dust when a voice from heaven would be more than enough?
"And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and withal how he had slain all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time" (1 Kings 19:1, 2).
"The heart of Asa was loyal all his days" (2 Chron. 15:17, NKJV).
Our God is a God of mercy, of forgiveness, of unimaginable grace. At the Cross, Jesus Christ paid the penalty for the sins of the world. All our lies, our greed, our envy, our lust, our pride, our cheating, our selfishness, and all the nasty and dirty little things we have thought and done were brought to the Cross. All the things were brought to the Cross that by themselves might not seem so bad but, if gathered together, added up, and shoved in our faces, would cause us to beat our breasts in woe. All of them were there, at the Cross, killing Christ so that when all the evil moments of our life are tallied and weighed, they do not have to ultimately, and forever, kill us. Talk about grace!
Read each of the following verses and write down what they say about salvation and grace:
John 3:16, 17 ________________________________________________________________________
1 John 2:2 __________________________________________________________________________
In this context, look at the reaction of Jezebel; that is, after Ahab had told her what happened at Mount Carmel. One would think that after such a powerful manifestation of the power of the true God, Jezebel would have, at best, converted, repented, and sought forgiveness from the God who had so completely devastated her gods; at worst, she would have thought, perhaps, it would be best to leave town and leave Elijah alone.
Instead, what happened?
Perhaps none of us has ever been so close to something like that day at Carmel. Perhaps there is no need for us to be convinced of God's power in such a dramatic fashion (after all, look what good it did Jezebel). Nevertheless, we all need to be careful not to allow our hearts to be so hard that, even in the face of God's incredible grace, we turn our backs on the Lord. How can we protect ourselves from doing, at least in principle, what Jezebel has done in reality?
For additional information on the religious and cult practices of the Canaanites, see The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 1, pp. 126, 129, 162; vol. 2, pp. 38-40, and the additional note on Joshua 6.
History teaches that the peoples on the eastern seaboard of the Mediterranean were as corrupt and depraved as any nation that ever existed. They made a religion of lust. They sent their children into the fires of the god Molech. Leviticus 18 presents briefly something of the moral rebellion of the Canaanites. The imagination and a little knowledge of history supply the rest. According to the Bible, the Canaanites were so vile that the very land did "spue" them out (see Lev. 18:28). No wonder the Lord was so firm with Israel that they not be contaminated with that religion.
"The priests of Baal witness with consternation the wonderful revelation of Jehovah's power. Yet even in their discomfiture and in the presence of divine glory, they refuse to repent of their evil-doing. They would still remain the prophets of Baal. Thus they showed themselves ripe for destruction. That repentant Israel may be protected from the allurements of those who have taught them to worship Baal, Elijah is directed by the Lord to destroy these false teachers. The anger of the people has already been aroused against the leaders in transgression; and when Elijah gives the command, 'Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape,' they are ready to obey. They seize the priests, and take them to the brook Kishon, and there, before the close of the day that marked the beginning of decided reform, the ministers of Baal are slain. Not one is permitted to live."Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, pp. 153, 154.
J. H. Zachary
When Felix was a teenager, Protestant pastors occasionally came to speak at his school. Several times the students chased the pastors out of the village, and sometimes Felix joined them. But he could not deny that these pastors were different from the religious leaders he knew.
After high school, Felix started a little business, but it went bankrupt. Felix felt a great emptiness in his life. With time on his hands, he thought a lot about spiritual matters. He remembered the pastors that he had helped drive out of the village. What made them different? He remembered the importance these pastors placed on the Bible.
Felix bought a Bible and began to read it, searching for spiritual meaning to life. One day he passed a public meeting held by a Protestant group. He stopped to listen and decided to attend the meetings. He arranged for studies and planned to join this church. But before he could join, an elderly Adventist neighbor invited him to evangelistic meetings in town. Felix decided against attending the Adventist meetings, since he had found another church.
The Adventist meetings were held close to Felix's home, and he could hear the preacher from his front porch. Felix noticed that the pastor quoted many Bible texts. Felix began following the pastor's study in his own Bible. Night after night he listened from his porch.
When the message on the Sabbath was presented, Felix felt strong conviction. He left home and walked to the meeting. He arrived just as the pastor made an altar call. Felix never took his seat, but walked straight to the front in response to the pastor's invitation.
When Felix returned home, he told his brother with whom he was living about what he had learned from the Bible. He was surprised at his brothers strong resistance to his attending these meetings.
Felix decided to return to his parents' home. He knew that they would not resist his decision to follow Christ. Felix has been baptized and has found peace and happiness in working for God as a literature evangelist.
Felix Kansamugire (left). J. H. Zachary is coordinator of international evangelism for The Quiet Hour and a special consultant for the General Conference Ministerial Association.
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