Follow the Leader Wherever He May Go – 1 Kings 16:8-28

Follow the Leader Wherever He May Go

Simon says, touch your head. Simon says raise your arms. Simon says stick out your tongue. Now turn to your neighbor and say, “Why are we doing this?”

Simon didn’t say turn to your neighbor.

Did you ever play that game as a kid?

Or maybe this one.

Following the leader, the leader, the leader
We’re following the leader
Wherever he may go

You chase the leader around copying his or her every move.

It’s just a game from when we were kids, but once we grow up, we keep following leaders.

Because that’s what leaders are for—to lead us. We follow leaders, because we believe they’ll lead us to where we want to go.

Or if we are leaders, we lead, hopefully because we want to help people get from A to B. We want to take them somewhere.

A large part of life is about who you’re following. And where they’re taking you.

Will this pastor/elder candidate lead the church, and where will he take the church?

Will this politician lead our community or our state or our country? And where will he take us?

Single ladies, will this man your dating or my daughter is dating lead your or her future family? And where will he take you?

Will I lead the people I’m influencing? And where will I take them?

Whom will we follow? And to where will he lead?

The audience in 1 Kings was asking the question this way: Will this king lead us to peace with God? Where will this king take us? 

Context

  • Wait, who is Jeroboam? What is idolatry?
    • Let’s do a quick recap of where we’ve been.
    • Remember David & Solomon? But a memory. David was handing the kingdom to Solomon in chapter 1, and Solomon led the nation to flourishing as the God-Blessed Kingdom by chapter 10, but by chapter 11 he was discarding his wisdom to chase wealth and women, and the country was plummeted into hardship and hostility with God.
    • Now we are in chapter 16, and we’ve seen how Israel was divided into Judah in the south / Israel in the north.
    • The writer now gives a parallel account of the northern and southern kingdoms. He briefly describes each king, giving his name, age, date of succession and length of rule.
  • By this point, Jeroboam has become a tagline in the north for alternative religion. He set up a worship of idols instead of the one true god so that he wouldn’t lose any followers while they traveled south to visit Jerusalem. And every king after him has continued to play this political/religious game of pursuing what is safe instead of what is holy.
    • Where Jeroboam started to create his alternative religion is not too far removed from popular level Christianity today in America.
      • The kind that adopts the external practices and lingo of Jesus, but does not follow his commands, or the kind of Christianity that relies on religious word associations like “just have faith” or “just believe,” but does not heed the word of the Lord.
      • This alternative religion to Christianity does not look like Hinduism or Islam as much as pagan Christianity, or prosperity Gospel Christianity, or supremacist Christianity, or militaristic Christianity or materialistic Christianity, or sin-dodging-instead-of-sin-repenting Christianity or convenience Christianity. In all of these, the external shell of Christian practice is retained, but the centrality of Jesus and his glory is replaced with the centrality of pursuing what makes you feel good or feel good about yourself.
    • But in the end, diversions from Jesus eventually lead to the discarding of Jesus. Alternative Christianity will eventually discard Jesus altogether, and then it does begin to resemble Hinduism, Islam, or a feel-good version of atheism.
  • Jeroboam’s alternative religion eventually became straight-up idol worship.

Will this king turn the nation back from Jeroboam’s idolatry to worship the God of Israel?

Will this king lead us to peace with God? Where will this king take us?

Turn to 1 Kings 16 but do not read ahead as we make our way through these three consecutive stories about three separate kings.

Story 1: King Elah – v 8-14

  • Will King Elah lead us to peace with God? Where will this king take us?
  • Whom will we follow? And to where will he lead?
  • Spoiler alert. Unfortunately, the prequel came out last week.
  • Elah’s dad is Baasha, which was a completely new dynasty in Israel (different than the lineage of Jeroboam), but he followed in Jeroboam’s religious footsteps.
  • Baasha completely eradicated the family line of Jeroboam, but then he pretty much became Jeroboam.
  • See, some times when we hate someone and their atrocious sins, instead of conquering their legacy through righteousness, we become them in our hatred. We become the very people we hate.
  • So again, in the prequel, the word of the Lord was sent through the prophet Jehu, and Baasha was told that his entire family line would be destroyed just the same way that Jeroboam’s family line was destroyed.
  • So things are not looking up for King Elah. In fact, he’s only going to be a king for 2 partial years.
  • Let’s close our eyes, and envision ourselves now in the northern kingdom of Judah. It’s the 27th year of Asa, down in Judah in the south. Those southern kings, I tell you, they reign a long time.
  • Elah has been crowned king for only about 18 months or less.
  • We’re at the headquarters, in the capital city of Tirzah.
    • Ah, Tirzah. The name actually means “Beauty” or “Pleasure” and its aptly named!
    • There’s a beautiful, immaculate palace. And the city is outstanding!
    • Well fortified, and just shining in the sun. So peaceful and calm.
    • So beautiful, you could almost write a poem about it.
    • In fact Solomon, did write a love song to his wife once, and compared her beauty to Tirzah.
      • Song of Songs 6:4 You are beautiful as Tirzah, my love, lovely as Jerusalem, awesome as an army with banners.”
    • But it’s really quiet.
    • Where is everybody?
    • All the shops are closed up, and there doesn’t appear to be a man anywhere in the city!
    • Oh, that’s right. Back in the prequel, Israel was at war with the Philistines over at Gibbethon.
    • All the men must be over there helping with that military campaign. You’re probably only going to find the women and children in the city right now.
    • But wait, wait, there are some signs of life in that one house…there!.
    • The house of Arza. Arza is caretaker of the palace in Tirza, so it makese sense that he’s home away from the battle, but it appears he has a guest with him.
    • What’s going on?
    • And a guy just now entered Arza’s home and ducked around the corner as if he didn’t want to be seen!
    • Something’s up. Something’s not quite right.
    • Oh, never mind.
    • It’s Zimri! He’s Elah’s servant and one of the military personnel! He commands half of Israel’s chariots.
    • Why’s he not at the battlefield?
    • Zimri has made his way into Arza’s home, and there reclining at the table is King Elah himself!
    • Why is King Elah in the palace instead of at the battle?
    • And why does he look like he’s about to fall out of his chair and slurring all his words? And laughing at pretty much everything Arza says?
    • Wait, why does he smell like…alcohol.
    • He’s full of the stuff. And he’s guzzling it down like he can’t get enough.
    • King Elah is drinking himself into a drunken stupor.
    • Wait, what’s that in Zimri’s hand? It’s a dagger!
    • Oh my goodness! It’s happening so fast!
    • In an instant, Zimri, Elah’s own servant, has struck down Elah dead in the midst of his drunkenness.
    • It’s clear what he’s after, as he removes the crown from Elah’s brow.
    • This is a coup d’état. An assassination. An overthrow.
    • Zimri is now king.
    • Isn’t it ironic? Elah was probably drinking himself silly because he felt safe away from the battle. His dad Baasha became king by killing a fellow Israeli, Nadab, at that same battlefield in Gibbethon, and then his dad slaughtered every family member of Nadab’s. So what did he have to fear, now that he was the new king, and hiding out in Tirzah?
      • Life was good. He was a leader! He had followers! And he had his liquor.
      • I mean, what else matters in life when you have comfort and pleasure?
      • Or what more do we need in our leaders if they lead us to a life of comfort and pleasure?
    • But now Elah is dead.
    • And Zimri acts swiftly.
    • Practically everyone is a couple day’s journey over at Gibbethon in battle, but apparently he still has military buddies, because within about 24 hours he’s seated on the throne, and every single male relative or friend of old king Baasha is murdered.
  • Verses 12-13: Thus Zimri destroyed all the house of Baasha, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke against Baasha by Jehu the prophet, for all the sins of Baasha and the sins of Elah his son, which they sinned and which they made Israel to sin,
  • Will this king lead us to peace with God? Where will this king take us?
  • Here is where King Elah led his people:
  • “provoking the Lord God of Israel to anger with their idols. Now the rest of the acts of Elah and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel?”
  • “provoking the LORD God of Israel to anger with their ‘idols’
  • NOT their גִּלּוּל (gee-lul-eem) or idolatrous images but their הֶבֶל (he-vel) or their worthless vanities or mere breaths or mere vapors.
    • This word carries the connotation of “nothingness.”
    • Instead of the king leading the people to peace with God, he led the people to angry hostility with God with their chasing after nothingness, worshipping invisible, unprofitable, unimpacting vapors.
    • It infuriates God when people esteem or value as ultimate: objects or people or experiences or human pursuits which hold no true power. It infuriates him when they deem these things as powerful enough to save them and provide for them life.
    • He refers to these powerless, unprofitable objects or pursuits as “he-vel” or “vanity” or “empty”

Thus says the Lord,
“What injustice did your fathers find in Me,
That they went far from Me
And walked after emptiness [he-vel] and became empty? (Jeremiah 2:5)

  • Notice the tendency of people becoming like the things they worship. Or becoming enslaved to the things they worship.

Thus you shall say to them, “The gods that did not make the heavens and the earth will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.”
It is He who made the earth by His power,
Who established the world by His wisdom;
And by His understanding He has stretched out the heavens.
When He utters His voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens,
And He causes the clouds to ascend from the end of the earth;
He makes lightning for the rain,
And brings out the wind from His storehouses.
Every man is stupid, devoid of knowledge;
Every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols;
For his molten images are deceitful,
And there is no breath in them.
They are worthless [he-vel], a work of mockery;
In the time of their punishment they will perish.
The portion of Jacob is not like these;
For the Maker of all is He,
And Israel is the tribe of His inheritance;
The Lord of hosts is His name. (Jeremiah 2:11-16, ESV)

Story 2: King Zimri – v 15-20

  • Whom will we follow? And to where will he lead?
  • Will King Zimri lead us to peace with God? Where will this king take us?
  • Well…when a man uses evil and deception to get into power, you can generally expect him to continue to do so once he’s in power.
  • In the 27th year of King Asa’s reign down south in Judah (those southern kings, though!), Zimri became the new king.
  • And he reigned for seven…long…days.
  • Word traveled swiftly from Tirzah to Gibbethon where all the troops were stationed.
  • “Zimri has conspired, and he has killed the king.”
  • Did they throw a party? We have a new king!
  • Were they happy?
  • Apparently not, because they immediately make the decision to crown a king amongst themselves.
  • Now, how did they choose their new leader?
  • Did they cry out to God? Did they seek the Lord in prayer?
  • Perhaps if they were in Judah, they could have just looked for the next of kin to the bloodline of Judah. But they had already lost two entire dynasties, so there was no bloodline to even choose from.
  • Did they say, “Who will lead us back to peace with God? Who will kill the hostility that exists between God and us?”
  • No, they said what most of us would say. They said, “Who’s the most capable and powerful among us to get things done? Who is going to be a change agent and a hero to conquer our new enemy?”
  • And they made Omri, commander of the army, their king right there in the camp.
  • Can you hear that noise? It sounds like a battle.
  • Only it’s not at Gibbethon. It’s a couple days later, and it’s all of Israel at the doorstep of Tirzah, driving their way through the gates into the city, besieging it.
  • Zimri sees the chaos coming his way, and he runs as fast as his freshly enthroned legs will carry him into the palace.
  • He’s maybe thinking, “How did this happen? I had the best of plans! I strategized! I planned this for months! I organized this so well! I killed off all of Baasha’s relatives! I eliminated the possibility of retaliation!”
  • Before today, Life was good. He was a leader! He was cunning! And he was in control.
  • I mean, what else matters in life when you have control of your circumstances?
  • Or what more do we need in our leaders if they lead us to a life of stability and security?
  • But that was earlier in the week, and this is today.
  • So Zimri, the man in control, decides to once again take matters into his own hands.
  • He takes a torch and throws it onto the royal bed, which then erupts into flames.
  • It doesn’t take long until the whole room, and in fact, the entire palace is licking with flames until it crumbles down on top of him, and Zimri, the man who is in control for one week, is no more.
  • Will this king lead us to peace with God? Where will this king take us?
  • Verses 18-20: And when Zimri saw that the city was taken, he went into the citadel of the king’s house and burned the king’s house over him with fire and died, because of his sins that he committed, doing evil in the sight of the Lord, walking in the way of Jeroboam, and for his sin which he committed, making Israel to sin. Now the rest of the acts of Zimri, and the conspiracy that he made, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel?
  • Does anyone else, like me, think it’s incredible that Zimri’s week-long reign is merely a tool in God’s hands to carry out the destruction of Baasha’s dynasty in almost exactly the same way he destroyed Jeroboam’s dynasty?
  • God is sovereign and God is sinless.
  • This means that he holds all power, even power over wicked men who rise up and believe they are autonomously carrying out their desires, when in fact, they are merely working out the very judgments God ordained for them by allowing them to chase their own depravity.
  • The slaughter of Baasha’s friends/family is both evil and the sovereign fulfillment of word of the Lord from Jehu.
  • God did not cause Zimri to be a mass murderer.
  • He simply allowed Zimri to become the judge and executioner of another mass murderer, and then allowed Zimri to kill himself, which was Zimri’s own punishment for his own sins.
  • You simply cannot escape the judgment of God.
  • Zimri thought he was in control, which means he though he was sovereign.
  • Zimri went beast mode on protecting his assets, probably thought he was a self-made made, probably thought that he would conquer his fears of being murdered by others, and in God’s inescapable sovereignty, he kills himself. The author wants this to rest on us fully.
  • The author says, “This isn’t just another suicide. It’s justice.”
  • Zimri is just a lion in God’s hands.

Story 3: King Omri – v 21-28

  • Whom will we follow? And to where will he lead?
  • Will King Omri lead us to peace with God? Where will this king take us?
  • His is a new dynasty after all!
  • Well, Omri doesn’t become king right away, because after Zimri is out of the picture, the nation is split in their loyalties.
  • Half the nation wants to keep Omri as their king, but the other half says, “He’s a great commander, we love that he has experience in the military, but he doesn’t really have any sort of lineage. We have a different guy in mind for the job! Our buddy Tibni, son of Ginath, is better suited for the job.”
  • This leads to about 4 years of civil war between the pro-Omri camp and the pro-Tibni camp.
  • But Omri must have had more of the army on his side, because his followers overpower the pro-Tibni group, and Tibni dies.
  • Thus, in the 31st year of King Asa’s reign down south in Judah (those southern kings, though!), Omri becomes the new king.
  • And wow, what a king!
  • Omri is powerful!
  • Omri is mighty!
  • Omri is a man of international importance!
  • Omri is a military, cultural, commercial, and political powerhouse!
  • Omri is an achiever!
  • Omri is a dude! He gets things done!
  • After 6 years of ruling in Tirzah, he builds a new headquarters on the hard to conquer hill of Samaria, which he bought from Shemer for about 150 lbs of silver.
  • He gives the nation a fresh start and a new city!
  • He builds the economy by selecting such a strategic and centrally located hill site overlooking the chief commercial routes of the Esdraelon Plain.
  • He conquers enemies and wards off marauding invaders!
  • He builds fortresses!
  • He brings prosperity to Israel!
  • He makes alliances by getting his son Ahab married to Jezebel the princess of Phoenicia!
  • For over a century, Israel will be known as the “Land of Omri” by the Assyrians.
  • Omri is one of the few people in the OT that you can read about outside the Bible in other historical documents. For example, The Moabite Stone, which is an ancient stone uncovered from the time period depicting the history of Moab tells the story of Omri fighting Mesha, king of Moab, and winning.
  • Life is good! He was a leader! He was powerful! He was mighty!
  • I mean, what else matters in life when you have power and the ability to change things?
  • Or what more do we need in our leaders if they are powerful, capable, and able to get things done?
  • Will this king lead us to peace with God? Where will this king take us?
  • Verses 25-27: Omri did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did more evil than all who were before him.
  • Verses 25-27: Omri did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did more evil than all who were before him. For he walked in all the ways of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and in the sins that he made Israel to sin, provoking the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger by their “he-vel” [vanities or emptiness]. Now the rest of the acts of Omri that he did, and the might that he showed, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? And Omri slept with his fathers and was buried in Samaria, and Ahab his son reigned in his place.
  • Wait, that’s it?
  • What about all his accomplishments?
  • What about beating Moab? Or bringing wealth to Israel? Or making Israel great again? I don’t even see that in the text!
  • Is this the same Omri?
  • The Bible does not tell us Omri was great. We have to go outside the Bible to find that out.
  • Here’s what God essentially thinks of Omri and his greatness.
  • Omri bought the hill and Omri did evil. What more is there to know?
  • When God is not worshipped, nothing else counts
  • The rest of the world outside the Bible saw Omri as powerful and strategic. God saw him as nothing more than an obituary.
  • The power and might that drove Omri’s living and doing only elicit a yawn from Heaven.

Conclusion

Elah, King of Pleasure, Zimri, King of Control, and Omri, King of Power, did not lead the nation to peace with God. In fact, they led the nation into greater hostility with God than ever before because they clung to their nothingness, and they led Israel to do the same.

Simon says, “Now turn to your neighbor and say, “Why are we doing this to ourselves?”

Following the leader, the leader, the leader
We’re following the leader
Wherever he may go

Whom will we follow? And to where will he lead?

I believe there are many implications from this passage of Scripture, but we’ll settle on only a few.

  1. Implication One: Only follow leaders who will lead you closer to God.
  • You will be told by your peers that you need to follow a warrior or a hero or a self-made man or someone who really “gets” you, and all those things are nice to have, but if your leader doesn’t lead you closer to God, he or she is leading you further away from him into nothingness and vanity.
  • We need leaders who will lead us in casting off our idols; not chasing new ones.
  • What do I mean by this specifically?
    • When you are asked to consider a man as elder in this church: Will this elder lead our church from our vanities to gaze more at Jesus?
    • America is not a Christian nation, and I’m not saying we should only vote for politicians who are believers, but we should ask ourselves: Will this politician lead our community or our state or our country from our vain pursuits of pleasure, comfort, control, or power back to a heart for God? Will he or she make America great or drive us deeper into our worship of vanity, and further away from our worship of Yahweh?
    • Ladies, when you are considering a husband: Will this man lead our future family closer to God or further into my vanity?
    • Leaders in the room: Will I lead those I influence closer to the heart of God or further into their vain pursuits, their nothingness, their idolatry of themselves, their own comfort and pleasure, their own control, or their own power?
    • Only follow leaders who will lead you closer to God.
  1. Implication Two: Believe in God’s Horrible Holiness & Man’s Utter Wickedness because they are a foundational aspect of the Gospel.
  • When we read these historical accounts of God’s judgment against sin, and entire family lines being eliminated, we have a hard time with it.
  • Particularly the sin of just not worshipping properly, or for adding a little bit of idolatry to their diet.
  • Some people walk away from professing faith because of the harshness of the Old Testament.
  • We cannot understand how a deity could be upset over varied religious preferences.
  • Are we sure God gets angry? Isn’t he chill all the time? Doesn’t he want us to chill? I’m not sure I can believe in a God who gets angry. Or at least not THAT angry.
  • Why should any god care that much?
  • Perhaps the reason we can’t believe God would be this judgmental towards rejecting him in this life, is because we struggle with his being judgmental towards rejecting him in the life to come as well.
  • Judgment like this in the Old Testament pre-Jesus is simply what we call “Hell” on earth. It is God’s wrath on sin becoming real right before our eyes instead of coming in the future after we die.
  • I want to encourage you to not look away, but think through the implications here: wrath against sin is at the heart of the Gospel.
  • Being a Christian means crying out to God for mercy because you deserve that wrath, and you believe it exists, and you believe the only way the wrath will be averted from you is if someone else takes it in your place.
  • If Hell doesn’t exist, if God’s wrath doesn’t exist, then neither does the need for a Savior. Neither does the need for a crucifixion. Neither does the need for a resurrection. In fact, Christianity doesn’t exist at all.
  • Perhaps we only have faith in Christianity when it makes secular sense to us.
  • Perhaps our Christianity is only appropriate to us when it is invisible, fairy-tale like, far away. But when God’s holiness and man’s need for forgiveness or destruction comes into full view in the real world with real blood and real tears like in this text, we hesitate in believing.
  • But God’s holiness is the only reality. And our nearness to his holiness is our only hope.
  • We cheapen grace when we believe that all people are essentially good at heart.
  • We cheapen grace when we believe that no one deserves what we see in this text.
  • We cheapen grace when we believe we, of all people, certainly do not deserve it.
  • Please allow me to call you to faith right now. You are stained with the sin of choosing self over God. You choose pleasure/comfort, control, and power over God regularly!
  • God’s anger is stirred over people clinging to worthless, unprofitable, impotent things as a replacement for him, the well-spring of life, the victor, the provider, the cosmic one.
  • And God’s wrath against sin is actual, tangible, demonstrably, horribly inescapably real.
  • Weeping and gnashing of teeth are not a metaphor when God is exasperated beyond the timeline of grace.
  • But Jesus!
  • He is the King to follow! He says, “Follow me!”
  • And to where does King Jesus lead us?
  • He leads us right into the eye of the storm!
  • He leads us straight into the hostility of the looming wrath of God which bears down on our sin! And he absorbs it in all of its nuclear-grade magnitude!
  • Jesus dies the death that we deserve because he takes our wrong and makes us right with God!
  • King Jesus leads us to life, and life eternal with God!
  • Follow Jesus! Cry out to Jesus for mercy!
  • We are the Elah’s, Zimri’s, and Omri’s but he invades our hearts and makes us like King David.
  • Jesus saves us BOTH from the penalty we deserve and the vanity we pursue.
  • He saves us from choosing the lesser value. He saves us from the slavery of our desires for worthless things. He saves us from being subservient to triviality to being enamored by glory.
  • He saves us from leaking fulfillments to all-encompassing joy.
  • Jesus leads us from wickedness to worship. And from vanity to victory.

 

Oh, God! Eclipse our vanity with your victory! Replace our small desires with a hunger and thirst which cannot be quenched by mere sin! Give us a taste of true life! True love! True joy! True wonder and exquisiteness and soul-stirring, transforming awe! May we discard our 7-day glory for eternal bliss! May we be freed from the futility of lesser things!

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