The Absence and Presence of God

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2 Kings 24:1-4; 20

During Jehoiakim’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon invaded the land, and Jehoiakim became his vassal for three years. But then he turned against Nebuchadnezzar and rebelled. The Lord sent Babylonian, Aramean, Moabite and Ammonite raiders against him to destroy Judah, in accordance with the word of the Lord proclaimed by his servants the prophets. Surely these things happened to Judah according to the Lord’s command, in order to remove them from his presence because of the sins of Manasseh and all he had done,  including the shedding of innocent blood. For he had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the Lord was not willing to forgive. It was because of the Lord’s anger that all this happened to Jerusalem and Judah, and in the end he thrust them from his presence.

Jehoiakim was the great great grandson of Manasseh. During his reign, Judah was invaded, captured and taken into exile by the Babylonians in fulfillment of the prophecy written in 2 Kings 21:10-15.

10 The Lord said through his servants the prophets: 11 “Manasseh king of Judah has committed these detestable sins. He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols. 12 Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. 13 I will stretch out over Jerusalem the measuring line used against Samaria and the plumb line used against the house of Ahab. I will wipe out Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. 14 I will forsake the remnant of my inheritance and give them into the hands of enemies. They will be looted and plundered by all their enemies; 15 they have done evil in my eyes and have aroused my anger from the day their ancestors came out of Egypt until this day.”

What exactly did Manasseh do to arouse the anger of the Lord? In 2 Kings 21:1-9, 12 year old Manasseh became king and reigned in Jerusalem for 55 years. Manasseh followed the evil practices of the nations which God had driven out of the promised land He gave to the Israelites. Manasseh’s evil deed was ‘idolatry.’ He rebuilt altars his father Hezekiah destroyed. He made new ones to worship Baal & Asherah, starry hosts. He sacrificed his son on the altar, practiced divination, sought omens and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did all these in the temple of the Lord – the temple where the Lord said:

“In Jerusalem, I will put my Name.In this temple and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my Name forever. I will not again make the feet of the Israelites wander from the land I gave their ancestors, if only they will be careful to do everything I commanded them and will keep the whole Law that my servant Moses gave them.”  (vv. 4, 7-8).

God’s presence… this was God’s promise to King Solomon when he built the temple. God’s Name is God’s presence. God’s presence is in his Name. He promised the Israelites to be with them in the land he gave to their forefathers if they would obey and keep his commandment. His foremost commandment is to love and worship him only – no other gods before him.

So all the bad things that happened to Judah and Jerusalem, the Israelites’ captivity and exile in a foreign land, these were the consequences of their bad choices – their rebellion against God.

Surely these things happened to Judah according to the Lord’s command, in order to remove them from his presence because of the sins of Manasseh and all he had done, including the shedding of innocent blood. For he had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the Lord was not willing to forgive. It was because of the Lord’s anger that all this happened to Jerusalem and Judah, and in the end he thrust them from his presence.

God’s presence does not mean absence of conflicts, troubles, sickness, death, and hard challenges of life. God’s presence gives his children stability and peace knowing that He is with them in all their circumstances – good and bad. God sees. God hears. God knows. He sees them through every step of the way.

In Genesis 39:2,21,23, God was with Joseph as a young slave and as a wrongfully-convicted prisoner. Joseph was 17, betrayed and sold into slavery by his brothers because of envy. From a favored son, he became a slave.

The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. 

From an entrusted slave, he became a prisoner because he refused to dishonor God with his master’s wife. He was falsely accused of sexual assault and put in prison because he resisted sinning with his master’s wife.

But while Joseph was there in the prison, 21 the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. 22 So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. 23 The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.

Today, how do I see difficult situations around me? Is God with me when life is not easy? Do I experience His presence when everyone or everything else is absent? How do I know he is with me? Is there peace in my heart? Is there rest in my soul? Is there anxiety? Am I afraid of what is going to happen or what is happening right now? Sure, fear is part of my human nature. So is worry. My human frailty is to be afraid and worry. But God’s presence grounds me in peace – a peace beyond human understanding. This peace cannot be explained because it is only possible in God’s presence.

The apostle Paul was in prison when he wrote the Philippians a letter – teaching them to rejoice. Surely the prison would be the last place to write about joy and happiness. Yet, Paul told them to rejoice again and again:

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