Thursday, October 15, 2015

Lesson 3: The Last Five Kings of Judah

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
Lesson 3: The Last Five Kings of Judah

Millions of Seventh-day Adventists around the world are studying this week about the last five kings of Judah, but as our lesson begins with King Josiah, the king who did everything just right, our main focus will be on his rulership. Can we draw parallels between the history of Josiah, and the history of the 1888 message?
Josiah knew that the kingdom of David, of which he was now the ruler, was virtually on the rocks; their very existence was only a "millimeter" away from national disaster, for God was on the verge of withdrawing His care and protection from them, leaving them to the mercies of the pagan Babylonians.
Hilkiah the high priest had found the book of Deuteronomy in the Temple, and when Shaphan the scribe read it to the king he "rent his clothes" (II Kings 22:8-13). He was utterly sincere in his efforts to avert the national ruin he saw coming. He put his whole soul into a work of repentance as he saw it was needed; what he led the people into was a "national repentance" or one might say, a "corporate repentance." It began in the king's palace, the proper place for any national or corporate repentance to begin.
Jeremiah hopes that there will be no more weeping his eyes out in anguish for the incomprehensible rebellion of God's own people. The evidence indicates that they are repenting and doing what is right, for they are following their king (Jer. 9:1, 2).
But that was exactly their problem--they were following their king. That's what Israel did throughout their history--they followed their good kings like Hezekiah and Josiah and they followed their bad kings like Manasseh and Ahab. They never truly followed the Lord!
Ellen White described this condition: "Depending on man has been the great weakness of the church. Men have dishonored God by failing to appreciate His sufficiency, by coveting the influence of man. Thus Israel became weak. The people wanted to be like the other nations of the world, and they asked for a king. They desired to be guided by human power which they could see rather than by the divine Theocracy, the invisible power which till then had led and guided them, and given them victory in battle. They made their own choice, and the result was seen in the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the nation." [1]
The Importance of Telling the Truth About History
The person who loves Bible truth is also concerned about the importance of historians telling the truth about history. The same honest concern applies to the history of God's work. Jeremiah 8:8 reveals the prophet as telling the Kingdom of Judah that their historians have falsified their national history and in so doing plunged their nation into ruin. "How can you say, 'We are wise for we have the law [torah] of the Lord,' when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely?" (NIV). Likewise, the scribes and Pharisees in Jesus' day "handled falsely" their history and thereby prepared to lead the nation to crucify the Son of God. Ellen G. White has warned the church that "we have nothing to fear for the future, except as we forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history." [2] Jesus says, "Take heed that no man deceive you" (Matt. 24:4). To be deceived is not merely a temporary setback, it can be fatal.
In this time of great crisis for God's work of proclaiming the gospel to all the world, it is especially important that the history of the work of the Holy Spirit not be "falsified" as wrote the ancient scribes in Jeremiah's day. Those who dig into the facts of national or church history and present them honestly are to be welcomed not resented or silenced. "Prove all things," says the inspired apostle, and "hold fast that which is good" (1 Thess. 5:21). You want your doctor to be careful and accurate when it comes to your health; it's also important to remember that the health of the church is involved with honest history.
A Demonstration of Old Covenant Unbelief
A thumbnail sketch of Israel's story demonstrates Old Covenant unbelief impelling them to final ruin. Monarch after monarch dragged their nation downhill. Not one ruler of the northern kingdom ever did what was "right," although the Lord pleaded with them by numerous prophets and messengers (2 Kings 17:13, 14). Finally Assyria crushed them forever as a nation and scattered them irrevocably among the Gentiles.
Meanwhile, Judah steadily rebelled. Several of their kings desperately tried "stop-gap" measures of revival and reformation, such as Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and last of all, beloved young Josiah. But Scripture shows that each simply tried to renew an Old Covenant revival. Never was New Covenant justification by faith recovered. They were sincerely blind to the faith which Abraham had experienced. The problem was not that they had an "organization"; it was their heart-alienation.
Josiah was the last hope. This young king's zeal for the Lord was unbounded. Again, in deep piety he sought to renew the Old Covenant: "He made all who were present in Jerusalem and Benjamin take their stand for it" (2 Chron. 34:31, 32). But the prophetess Huldah had to tell him sadly that it was too late; all this "reformation" was only veneer. Utter disaster must take its course. The Old Covenant must "gender [its] bondage" to the ruin of the nation and their captivity in an alien land (cf. Gal. 4:24).
Josiah even surpassed Hezekiah in his devotion to the Spirit of Prophecy, zealous in following every detail as he knew it--especially Deuteronomy. Never had a king so meticulously obeyed the written word. The young Jeremiah rejoiced. But while maintaining such devotion to the written Spirit of Prophecy, Josiah managed to reject its living demonstration. The problem was that the renewed "spiritual gift" came through the most unlikely avenue that king or people could imagine--the mouth of a supposedly pagan king!
Pharaoh Necho of Egypt was leading his army in opposition to the rising power of Babylon. Josiah thought it his duty to attack him. Didn't Moses in the Spirit of Prophecy tell Israel to oppose the heathen? But the zealous king couldn't discern how Necho was on God's errand. He warned Josiah, "Refrain from meddling with God, who is with me, lest He destroy you" (2 Chron. 35:21). The Chronicler says the king "did not heed the words of Necho from the mouth of God." The Lord was forced to let the young king die of his battle wounds (vss. 22-24). Jeremiah was heart-broken, for Josiah's revival fizzled out with his untimely death. From then on it was downhill all the way.
Reliving Josiah's blindness.
Like Josiah, is it possible for us as Seventh-day Adventists to think we are super-loyal to "the Spirit of Prophecy" while at the same time rejecting its living demonstration? That actually happened in 1888; our brethren were replaying Josiah's "tape." In rejecting that "most precious message" "sent from heaven" they imagined they were loyal to Ellen White's past writings while setting aside the Lord's living message[3]
Are we replaying Israel's Old Covenant revivals and reformations? Sober reflection forces an answer: as a body we are as lukewarm now as we were over a century ago. When "we" "in a great degree" and "in a great measure" rejected that "most precious" New Covenant truth that came in the 1888 era, "we" locked ourselves into "many more years" of an Old Covenant detour as surely as did Israel at Sinai[4]
The faith-experience of the New Covenant was the main focus of leadership opposition to the 1888 message. While they opposed Jones and Waggoner, they actually preferred the essential elements of the Old Covenant. Ellen White was shown in vision that these revered leaders were wasting their time trying to urge a view different from Waggoner's, for she was "shown" that he was right. [5]
Old Covenant ideas have continued to predominate in our experience. Our revivals and reformations have followed the pattern of those of Israel, including the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. Not yet have we as a church body truly recovered the New Covenant which "we" largely rejected a century ago.
Who can estimate the confusion and tragic apostasies that have come because of the unsatisfied hunger within the church (and the world) for that "most precious" gospel? Speaking of Uzzah irreverently grabbing the sacred ark, Ellen White in 1890 pleaded with her brethren, "Take your hand off the ark of God, and let the Spirit of God come in and work in mighty power" [6]
That little word "let" means that the Holy Spirit is eager to go to "work." When that New Covenant message is rescued from the oblivion of the archives, He can feed it like heavenly manna to our famishing world.
A converted Jew likened his people's problem to a farmer driving a horse and wagon to town. A wheel falls off; does he look for it further ahead down the road, or does he go back to where it fell off? If the Jews must recover what they lost 2000 years ago, is it too humiliating for us to go back and recover what we lost over a century ago? Going back to retrieve what he lost would be the farmer's only hope, wouldn't it?
--From the writings of Robert J. Wieland
[1] Ellen G. White, Ms. 159, 1899.
[2] Selected Messages, book 3, p. 162.
[3] See, for example, Uriah Smith's and G. I. Butler's letters to Ellen White of Feb. 17, 1890, Sept. 24, 1892 (Manuscripts and Memories of Minneapolis 1888, pp. 152-157, 206-212). The Lord not only sent "prophets" to Israel, but "messengers" also (2 Chron. 36:16).
[4] See Ellen G. White Letter 184, 1901; Evangelism, p. 696.
[5] See Ellen White Letters 30, 59, 1890.
[6] The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, p. 543.
Note: If you would like to view or download a copy of "The Two Covenants Contrasted," you will find it on the Internet at