Lessons from Dead Kings
Some time ago, I was reading about the different kings in the Old Testament, and I came across one description that stopped me in my tracks!
2 Chronicles 21:20 (NLT)
Jehoram was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eight years. No one was sorry when he died. They buried him in the City of David, but not in the royal cemetery.
One translation (NASBU) says that he was not buried “in the tombs of the kings.” When I read this, I marveled at the sadness of living such a life and being such an unpleasant person that no one is sorry when you die. How tragic!
The Old Testament certainly contains history, but it’s far more than that. It contains powerful lessons and examples for us today. The Apostle Paul communicates one essential purpose of the Old Testament when he states, “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:11-12). The Message version of this is even more graphic:
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.
In other words, it is vital that we study the lessons of the Old Testament and find the appropriate personal applications that God has placed there for us. I fully understand that we are living under the New Testament, but the Old Testament is still important for us. When Paul said, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable…” (2 Timothy 3:16), he was undoubtedly referring to what we call the Old Testament. According to one count, there are 855 quotations from the Old Testament in the New Testament, and there are 2,309 allusions and verbal parallels from the Old Testament in the New Testament. With this in mind, I want to learn everything I can from the entire Word of God.
If you do an overview of the kings of Israel and Judah, one of the first things you see is that the good kings always addressed the issue of idolatry (some were more thorough than others), while the bad kings allowed idolatry to persist. If we are going to be the leaders and the people God wants us to be, we are going to make sure that God is always first place and pre-eminent in all aspects of our lives. We may think that idolatry passed away with the modern age, after all, we don’t know anyone who has statues of Baal, Dagon, or Molech. However, idolatry still exists blatantly in the lives of many.
The Apostle John writes, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols (false gods)—[from anything and everything that would occupy the place in your heart due to God, from any sort of substitute for Him that would take first place in your life]” (1 John 5:21, AMP). Paul even tells us, “a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world” (Colossians 3:5). Martin Luther insightfully states, “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God.” One of the most powerful statements I have read about modern-day idolatry comes from Tim Keller:
Anything you look to more than Christ for a sense of acceptability, joy, significance, hope, and security is by definition your ‘god,’ something you adore and serve with your whole life and heart. If you try to achieve your sense of self by a performance (as I have often done with my work and ministry), then you are putting something in the place of Christ as a Savior. That is an idol by definition. The sign of idolatry is always inordinate anxiety, inordinate anger, and inordinate discouragement. Idols are good things (family, achievement, work, career, romance, talent, etc.) that we turn into ultimate things in order to get the significance and joy we need. Then they drive us into the ground because we have to have them. If we lose a good thing, it makes us sad. If we lose an idol, it devastates us.”
If I want to avoid what brought down many of the kings, if I want to take away vital lessons from their tombs, then I must guard my heart from idolatry. But there are many other important lessons from the kings as well. Let’s examine a few:
From Saul We Learn: We Must Manage Both the Spiritual and the Natural
It probably seems that I’m overlooking several blatantly obvious lessons from Saul—his blatant presumption and disobedience, his arrogance, and his profound insecurity and jealousy of David. Those were all factors in his downfall and removal. Those are all worthy of attention and all worthy of exploration, but I want to focus on another lesson: some practical advice that Samuel gave Saul as he stepped into leadership. Consider:
1 Samuel 10:6-7 (NKJV)
Then the Spirit of the LORD will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man. (This is transformational) And let it be, when these signs come to you, that you do as the occasion demands; for God is with you. (This is practical)
- Verse 6 describes a dynamic and powerful spiritual experience.
- Verse 7 describes basic common sense and practical wisdom.
These two were always meant to be complementary, not contradictory.
Effective ministry is found in having the right blend between verse 6 and verse 7.
- Without verse 6, we’re so earthly minded that we’re no heavenly good.
- Without verse 7, we’re so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good.
From David We Learn: We Have to Keep Our Heart in the Game
There are dozens and dozens of lessons from the life of David, but one of the most important ones is found in Second Samuel.
2 Samuel 11:1-2
It happened in the spring of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the people of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king’s house. And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold.
Did you notice? It was the time of year when kings went out to war, but David remained in Jerusalem. Where was David’s heart? Where was David’s focus? We always tend to emphasize David’s adultery with Bathsheba, but before David committed a sin of commission, there was a sin of omission. He ended up doing the wrong thing because he wasn’t busy doing the right thing. We’ve got to keep our heart in the game!
From Solomon We Learn: Learning to Say ‘No’ is Vital
As much as we appreciate the wisdom Solomon shared with us in the book of Proverbs, it is important to recognize that Solomon didn’t always live by the wisdom that he shared. One of Solomon’s weaknesses was his seeming inability to show self-restraint or to demonstrate moderation. He writes, I did not restrain myself from getting whatever I wanted; I did not deny myself anything that would bring me pleasure” (Ecclesiastes 2:10, NET).
Solomon’s self-indulgence led him to violate many of the instructions in Deuteronomy 17:16-20 that were given for kings, and the final days of Solomon’s life were lived in blatant and miserable disobedience to God (see 1 Kings 11:1-10). Sadly, one of the last statements made about Solomon is the following:
1 Kings 10:9-10 (NLT)
The LORD was very angry with Solomon, for his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. He had warned Solomon specifically about worshiping other gods, but Solomon did not listen to the LORD’s command.
I don’t share these stories about David and Solomon to throw stones at them or to merely highlight the negative. We never want to forget the positive stories either. But remember these accounts were “written down so that we don’t repeat their mistakes” (1 Corinthians 10:11, MSG). We want our lives to count, and we want to leave a positive impact and a positive legacy. We certainly don’t want to follow Jehoam’s example so that no one is sorry when we die. Let’s live grace-filled, grace-based lives of obedience so that blessing is our legacy.