Why was Israel, the northern kingdom, more righteous than Judah, the southern kingdom? The Lord Yahweh says, “Faithless Israel has shown herself more righteous than treacherous Judah.” That does not seem to make sense, since the Lord sent Israel into exile before Judah. Israelite kings were virtually all wicked and chased idols, whereas roughly half of the kings of Judah were faithful to the Lord. So in what way did He consider Israel more faithful?
For one things, Judah saw the spiritual adultery of Israel, but did not learn. Yes, Israel was punished first, but that should have made Judah learn from their mistakes. Instead the southern kingdom jumped eagerly into idolatry as well. Even after they saw the destruction of the northern kingdom as punishment for their unfaithfulness, Judah did not learn. In this way, Judah was less righteous.
Adding to their guilt was the fact that they had the Temple with the Ark of the Covenant in their territory, in the city of Jerusalem. Yet they did not use these things to learn, nor repent, nor hold fervently nor thankfully to God’s gracious gifts.
Are we more righteous? Or are we sometimes faithless?
To be sure, we are not chasing after idols, at least not obviously. The little idols in our hearts are not the same as literally bowing down to a graven image. Yes, our little idols are serious, and should not be excused. But they do not necessarily show the same kind of lack of repentance that Israel and Judah displayed.
But they can, so be on your guard. Watch the things that take high priority in your lives. Do not let them start to get in the way of your devotion to God. When they do, be quick to repent most sincerely.
Whatever our advantages, we must not use them for a life of laziness or lack of repentance. And we do have advantages! We have the full revelation of God’s work in history laid out for our eyes. Scripture is complete in showing us the wonder of the atonement achieved by Christ’s death and resurrection. God has painstakingly shown us the depths of His gracious teaching, and given us fantastic gifts in Baptism and the Holy Supper. How could we ever think of becoming lazy.
Yet we do sometimes. We take for granted what we have sometimes.
To some extent, our failings are inevitable because of our old Adam. But we must not be complacent, as if to say, “Well I can’t help it because I’m a sinner.” No, we must treat our sins as most horrible, and seek God’s grace, fully aware of our weak condition.
But if we think it does not matter, and we are the people of God no matter what we do, then we are following the spiritual footprints of the wicked people of Judah. May it never be so for us.
The Lord Yahweh entices us to repentance with promises of grace. “I am merciful,” He says, “so acknowledge your guilt.” We need not be fearful of repenting, as if we do not know whether God will forgive or not. Of course He will forgive! Look at the price He paid for us. If the Cross and the Empty Tomb do not convince you that the Lord is merciful, then nothing will.
Do not fear His anger, but instead cast yourself upon His mercy. He sincerely wants you to be faithful. We You should not think that He might not care whether you are saved or not. Even worse, you should not think that He secretly wants you to fall away. No, He is not an angry, vindictive god. He is the tenderly merciful and gracious Lord Yahweh, who delights in forgiving His children.
So He sends shepherds after His own heart, and there will be no more saying “The ark of the covenant” Instead, Jerusalem is the throne of the Lord, and Israel and Judah shall be rejoined together
Now, this rejoining of Israel and Judah never literally happened. The northern kingdom never returned from exile. So this is not a national or political promise, as if God intended to recreate Old Testament Israel. Such a promise never manifested itself, nor ever will. What Old Testament Israel was cannot be recreated because the heart and soul of its laws and practices pointed to the coming Christ. Now that He is come and accomplished and fulfilled all things, to recreate the old religion would be to deny the coming of God’s promised Messiah.
Instead, the true Israel has been joined together. All who belong to any nation who have faith in the promised Son of God are joined to faithful Israel. Whether they were in the northern kingdom or southern, whether they were Semites or Gentiles, whether circumcised or not, all who trust the promises of God are one people.
Both Gentile and Jew were gathered together when Christ made Jerusalem His throne by achieving the atonement of the world’s sins there. He established His church first there after His ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Then it spread out over the whole earth to all whom the Holy Spirit brought to faith.
Now the spiritual Israel does not depend on the old rituals like the ark of the covenant and the one Temple in one place NOR SHOULD THESE THINGS BE MISSED because they were shadows and now the reality has come. The ark was a place where the Lord Yahweh dwelt among His people, and where the blood of animals was sprinkled to atone for the people’s sins. But now Christ is the presence of the Lord in human flesh, who dwelt with His people and now is with us always, even to the end of the age. Christ is the Source of the atonement Blood that was sprinkled, once and for all time, to satisfy the wrath of God against sin. Now no wrath is left for us who believe, for God sees us only as righteous.
Today the Church is everywhere, having gone out to all nations. The Church is where the King of Jerusalem reigns with His grace. We are gathered to Him to join the faithful people of Israel and Judah who lived centuries before He called us.
The Holy Spirit keep us from arrogance, since we are merely grafted on branches, and keep us in repentance and grace. Amen.
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