I love to eat. And I’ve learned something over the years that’s probably obvious to everybody else, but it was big news to me: food only tastes good when I’m hungry.
If I’m not, it’s just filler. It doesn’t zing me. It doesn’t set off delight. It doesn’t speak.
I must’ve been hungry when I started today, because these passages sure speak to me.
2 Chronicles 11-13
It was bright-n-early when 800,000 warriors stretched out before Abijah, king of Judah, Solomon’s grandson. With 2-1 odds against him, you’d think he’d be shaking in his boots, trying to figure out a way to appease them and avoid the disaster that’s certainly coming to his 400,000 men.
But Abijah doesn’t miss a beat. He steps up to the battle line against Israel and speaks to them, not in terms of peace but of winning, claiming in absolute confidence that the victory will be his.
He reminds them that God is on their side because they’re on God’s side: they still worship him as he’s commanded, “we continue to do what God’s told us to do in the way he told us to do it, but you have rid yourselves of him,” he chides, 2 Ch 13:11, MSG.
Before we get to the end of the story, let me remind you of the backstory: Jeroboam, king of Israel, has come to power, taking ten of the 12 tribes away from Abijah’s father, Rehoboam, and changed worship so entirely, it’s unrecognizable, 1 Ki 12:26-33.
For one thing, he set up golden calves in the towns of Bethel and Dan, officially moving the worship center from Jerusalem, but worse, he also officially made idols the focus—not God, 1 Ki 12:29-30.
He let anyone become a priest who wanted to be one, regardless of background, regardless of birth. God had said only Levites could serve in the temple and that only men from Aaron’s family line could be priests. But Jeroboam is all-inclusive, and at his temple, anything goes, 1 Ki 12:31.
What’s he thinking?
Even though God told him he’d become king long before it actually happened, Jeroboam is still insecure about it. He didn’t trust what God said when he promised to transfer David’s dynasty to him if he followed God, 1 Ki 11:29-39.
But he knows worship is central for his subjects, so he figures out a way to keep them from making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship at the temple Solomon built, where they might be tempted to throw in with Rehoboam again, for ole’ times’ sake. Jerusalem was a far hike away for many of the tribes, so he comes up with the idea of local worship and sets up golden calves with newfangled priests, 1 Ki 26-30.
The calves were an intentional throwback to the Israelites’ oops when Moses was on Mt Sinai, getting the Ten Commandments, which is ironic, since the first of those commandments was this, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” and the second, “Thou shalt not make an idol…,” Ex 20:1-4, 32:1-4.
But Jeroboam reframes the calves as traditional worship from the good ole’ days, when their nation wandered around in the wilderness, after walking straight through the Red Sea.
Rehoboam was replaced by his son, Abijah, and evidently, Abijah’s been doing his homework, because he’s not intimidated by Jeroboam or Israel. He’s confident. He’s fearless. He says what he knows to be true to the many men before him, “…we’re sticking with God. We have not traded him in for the latest model…Can’t you see the obvious? God’s on our side; he’s our leader…You will not win this battle,” 2 Ch 13:10, 12, MSG.
And sure enough, they don’t.
Abijah trusted God; he lead his people to worship God the way God said to do it. Jeroboam didn’t, and “the army of Judah won hands down because they trusted God, the God of their ancestors,” 2 Ch 13:16-18, MSG.
But it wasn’t because Judah was righteous and followed the rules that God rescued them. It wasn’t their goodness that won the day. It was because they looked to God to save them, “They cried out to the Lord…they relied on the Lord, the God of their fathers.” It was God who routed Jeroboam and all Israel. It was God who “delivered them into their hands,” 2 Ch 13:14-18, NIV.
Worship is still central for living. God hasn’t changed. And doing what he says is key for successful living. But it’s not perfect worship or trust or obedience that we depend upon. It’s God’s perfect love and care for us. It’s his rescuing whenever we call that saves the day.
He’s the Savior, after all.
In a nutshell, he says the one thing I can’t lose is God’s love, Ro 8:39.
Regardless of my circumstances, regardless of my sin and failures, God’s got his hand on me. The Spirit prays my sighs and groans. Jesus saves and lives to stick up for me, Ro 8: 18-28, 33.
Who can be against me with these Mighty 3? Ro 8:31.
Lots of folks and lots of circumstances, actually. Life is hard, and we have enemies out to get us. But they can’t snatch us away. They can’t diminish us. They don’t have the power to command our destiny. And they can’t strip us of what’s essential—God’s love for us, Ro 8:33-35.
If the nay-sayers have any influence, the best and worst they can do is drive us deeper into Jesus, the Rescuer, our Strong Tower, our Fortress. Another person is just a person, after all, who one day, goes six feet under.
But God is the Almighty, the Source of Life and Love, and “nothing else in all creation can separate us from his love,” Ro 8:38-39.
This is a love song David wrote in praise of God’s rescue all his life. God always came through; he always saved the day. And it’s not because David always did what was right. He admits he was a mess, “God made my life complete when I put all the pieces before him…he gave me a fresh start,” Ps 18:20-24, MSG.
God made him strong and smoothed his way. He trained him for battle and gave him victory. God stooped down to make David great. And God took care of his enemies, “He is the God who avenges me…You exalted me above my foes; from violent men you rescued me,” Ps 18:32-36, 46-48, NIV.
No wonder David began this psalm with praise,
“I love you, God–
You make me strong.
God is bedrock under my feet,
the castle in which I live,
my rescuing knight.
My God–the high crag
where I run for dear life,
hiding behind the boulders,
safe in the granite hideout.
I sing to God, the Praise-Lofty,
and find myself safe and saved,”
Ps 18:1-3, MSG.
Abijah trusts God against the odds…Paul promises God’s love can’t be lost…David sings of God’s saving love.
Sometimes I wish I didn’t live with circumstances that make these words throb, God. But then I realize I wouldn’t trade my life for any other. This one is best because it makes you alive for me. It makes me run and hide and cling. It makes you dear.
You are all I need.
2 Chronicles 11-13, Romans 8, and Psalm 18 are selected for today in The One Year Bible.