During the Divided Kingdom
T. Ernest Wilson, USA
After the death of solomon, the tragic dividing of the kingdom took place in 930 bc under Rehoboam. A young revolutionary activist called Jeroboam led the revolt. Ten of the twelve tribes of Israel followed him to Shechem in Mount Ephraim where he founded a new kingdom with himself as its first king. To consolidate the split from Jerusalem and the temple worship, he made two golden calves and set them up as objects of worship at the two strategic points of Bethel and Dan. He instituted a false priesthood and false feasts. He is pilloried in scripture as the man who made Israel to sin, 1 Kgs. 12. This kingdom of Israel lasted for 250 years. Every one of the nineteen kings that reigned over Israel during this period was an apostate. Ahab and his wicked consort Jezebel are an example. The outstanding prophets who witnessed for God at this dark time were Elijah and his successor Elisha. Elijah, the prophet of fire, built his altar to Jehovah on Mount Carmel in defiance of Ahab and the 450 prophets of Baal. He built the altar with 12 stones, one for each of the 12 tribes, disregarding Jeroboam's schism. He saturated the altar and its sacrifice with water 3 times. Then, at the time of the evening sacrifice, he prayed and called upon the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to vindicate His Name and His servant. 'Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, 'The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God', 1 Kgs. 18. 38-39. This is the one bright spot in the long history of the kings of Israel who followed Jeroboam, the man who made Israel no sin. Elijah knew the meaning of the altar and the blood sacrifice and the power of God behind it. 'In some respects Elijah was unique amongst the Old Testament prophets. He was the first to raise a dead person; he passed out of the world without tasting death; he left an immediate successor behind him in Elisha; and he had a moral successor in John the Baptist, Luke 1.17; Matt. 17. 12. Moreover, Elijah was sent back to earth with Moses to do honour to the Lord on the Mount of Transfiguration; and his work is even yet unfinished. His voice will be heard again in the land of Israel, Mai. 4. 5', W. W. Fereday.
The history of the apostate kings of Israel ended when Shalmanezer king of Assyria invaded the northern kingdom and carried them into captivity 721 bc, 2 Kgs. 17. 23. The kingdom of Judah continued in Jerusalem for a century and a quarter after that of Israel ceased to exist.
From Rehoboam 930 bc to Zedekiah 587 BC ending in the captivity to Babylon, there were twenty reigning kings of Judah in Jerusalem. Only five of these could be called good, and with some of these there were serious flaws. Concerned with our subject of sacrifice there are just three.
Asa started well. He cleansed the land from idolatry and the Sodomites. His mother was deposed from being queen because she had made an idol in a grove. Asa destroyed the idol and burned it by the brook Kidron. God granted him a notable victory over an army of a million Ethiopians who had invaded the land. As a result of the preaching of Azariah the prophet, the altar of the Lord was repaired and sacrifices offered to which the northern tribes of Israel were invited. All this was dedicated by a solemn covenant to seek and serve the Lord, 2. Chron. 15. 8-12. But unfortunately his last days were marred by three things: he allied himself with Ben-hadad, the pagan king of Syria; he imprisoned the prophet Hanani who had the courage to rebuke him; and in his final illness, instead of depending on God, he went to the physicians who were likely to have been idolatrous medicine men.
Revival under Hezekiah. In the closing years of the monarchy of the kings of Judah, God raised up two good kings who were responsible for a measure of reform and revival. It is important to notice the principles behind this. First of all their attitude to the temple, God's centre and gathering place. Then the discovery of the lost Book of the Law in Josiah's time and his call for the nation's obedience to it, and finally their observance of the Passover and the blood sacrifices on the altar. It is interesting to note that the ministry of Isaiah and Micah coincided with the reign of Hezekiah, and that of Jeremiah with Josiah's period in office. These great prophets must have had an influence on the nation's return to the scriptures.
Regarding Hezekiah, his father Ahaz, for 16 years had poisoned the spiritual life of the people. His son's first task was to rid the land of pagan idolatry. Then he turned his attention to the temple. He began at the right place, the sanctuary, see 2 Chron. 34. 29-30. Revival begins at the House of God, Ezek. 9, as does God's judgement, 1 Pet. 4. 17. Then the altar of burnt offering was cleansed, as were the vessels that Ahaz had polluted and the table of shewbread. The first sacrifice was a sin offering for the kingdom, for the sanctuary and for Judah and all the tribes of Israel. His great heart yearned for the remnants of the separated northern tribes. He wrote letters to Ephraim and Manasseh inviting them to come to Jerusalem to observe the Passover. Some laughed and mocked but some of Asher, Manasseh and Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem. The Passover was delayed to the second month so that their hearts might be prepared. This was the first time in over 800 years, with one exception which was insincere and unscriptural, that blood is referred to as part of the sacrifices offered by the Israelites.
While it is sadly true that there was failure towards the end of Hezekiah's life, it is equally true that of all the kings of Judah since Solomon, he is the shining example of true revival. Not just reformation; others before him did that, but he got back to the basic truths of a cleansed sanctuary and to the supreme importance of the brazen altar and its blood atoning sacrifices offered thereon.
Josiah is the last good king to sit on the throne of David in Judah. His father Amon, a wicked king, had been assasinated and he succeeded him at eight years of age. For 57 years, under his grandfather Manasseh and his father Amon, paganism was entrenched in the land. The first twelve chapters of the book of Jeremiah give some idea of the condition of things in Judah and Jerusalem when Josiah came to the throne. There are three periods in his early life which are distinctly marked in the records. In the eighth year of his reign he began to seek after the God of David his father. In the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem, and in the eighteenth year of his reign, when he had purged the land, and the house, he sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, and Maaseiah the governor of the city, and Joah the son of Joahaz the recorder, to repair the house of the Lord his God. Here we see the work of the Spirit of God in the heart and conscience of an exercised young man. Then came a marvellous discovery. In clearing away the accumulated rubbish in the temple, Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law of the Lord given by Moses which had been lost for centuries. Hilkiah passed it on to Shaphan the scribe who took it to the king, and read it before him. When Josiah heard the words of the law, he tore his clothes as a token of repentance and distress. It revolutionized his life and behaviour. Immediately it had the following results:
A public meeting was held at the temple in Jerusalem when the elders, priests, Levites and all the people great and small were gathered together to hear the king read in the Book, 2 Chron. 34. 29-30.
The king made a covenant before the Lord to walk after the Lord and keep his commandments, vv. 31-32.
They kept the Passover 'as it was written* on the fourteenth day of the first month, and the feast of unleavened bread seven days. 'And there was no passover like to that kept in Israel from the days of Samuel the prophet; neither did all the kings of Israel keep such a passover as Josiah kept, and the priests, and the Levites, and all Judah and Israel that were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem', 35. 18.
The holy ark was put in ity place in the temple, 35. 3. This is the last historical reference to the ark in scripture. It is never heard of again and probably perished when the temple was burned by the Chaldeans, 36. 19.
The lessons of the revivals in the lives of Hezekiah and Josiah are simple and plain:
The temple of God must be clean and holy. It is God's dwelling place. It would correspond to the church of God today, 1 Cor. 3. 10-17; 2 Cor. 6. 6-14; 7.1.
The blood sacrifices of the Passover and the Levitical atonement offerings are the way of approach to a Holy God. They were the fore-shadowings of the cross and sufferings of the Saviour, 1 Cor. 5. 7-8; Heb. 9. 11-10. 14.
The importance of absolute obedience to the written word of God both in the past and in the present age of grace, 1 Pet. 1. 2, 14, 22. When these three great principles are neglected or rejected, then departure and apostasy are the inevitable results.