What is it in a human that demands education beyond all bounds, beyond all other of nature’s creatures? Ridley’s Sea turtles hatch out of their eggs, buried in the warm sand where his mother had hatched out of her egg, and instantly know to make a break for the never-yet seen ocean, the ocean whose waves try to push them back to shore. No one instructs them. The Artic tern knows its migratory way from the North Pole to Antarctica and back. A humpback whale may be with her mother five years, up to ten years for a chimp, but we humans go beyond all bounds. 18 years at home, thirteen of them in school (15 if you count preschool), and then for many another four years in college. I don’t even want to go into graduate and post-doc calculations. Why do we need so much education? What do turtles have that we don’t? What puts us on a slower learning curve than a wide-ranging bird? And that’s just in earthly matters. Give man an eternal soul and there is all that spiritual education, education that dare never quit in a human’s life, to take into account. How come we are always in need of teachers, be they in the classroom or in the pulpit?
Today’s text gives us insight on this day we celebrate the teachers in our midst, install Mrs. Coil as a teacher for our Green Valley Lutheran Preschool and Kindergarten and rejoice in the graduation of our toddlers from Cradle Roll–you guessed it, they are ready to start their life-long learning quest at the feet of teachers, in Sunday School and/or Preschool this year, the other teachers a little down the road. Today’s text shows us two kings, both new to power, young and untainted by experience and the baggage of favors given and favors owed. In both cases we see why all education is so important for people who, by nature, go
Beyond All Bounds.
1.Proud folly (1-20)
2.Spiritual rebellion (25-33).
3.Restraining grace (21-24).
Solomon had died. His son, Rehoboam, was to succeed him. In Israel, the people had the right to ratify the process. Their allegiance would carry a price.
“Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you (4).”
The people wanted tax relief and cutbacks in the involuntary labor owed the king. We Americans, faced with ever-increasing tax debt can understand that. The reservists going back to Iraq for their third tour of duty can identify with that.
Rehoboam takes three days to answer the people. He consults Solomon’s cabinet. The old advisors tell him to listen to the people. “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants (7).” A ruler is to serve, not to, well, not to lord it over people. If the people see Rehoboam as a servant with their needs and wants at heart, they would be loyal all their days. But Rehoboam consulted the young bucks, the gang he had grown up with, the ones who, thanks to Solomon’s wealth, had been born on third base with a spoon in their mouth and a limo driver waiting to pick them up from surfing at the beach. “Tell ’em they ain’t seen nuttin’ yet!” “Rejecting the advice given him by the elders, he followed the advice of the young men and answered the people harshly (113-14).”
After the ten tribes of Israel, the entire north, refuses to ratify Rehoboam as their king, Rehoboam is stupid enough to send the man in charge of forced labor, Adoniram, to muster the next month’s labor gangs. The Israelites pull him out of his fancy Rolls-Royce chariot and stone him to death. Rehoboam finally gets the hint, hops in his coupster chariot and a fast convoy of court nobles makes the break to Jerusalem. If only he had answered the people gently. But this is not the nature of a person. Proud folly is our lot.
“The sinful mind is hostile to God,” Paul says, “It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so (Romans 8.7).” It is impossible for people, walking by their own inner light, to make the right decisions. Look at Cain. The Lord told him, warned him, of the murder he was contemplating. “Sin is crouching at your door, but you must master it (Genesis 4.7).” Benefiting not a bit from this little father-son talk with God, Cain immediately goes out and slays his brother. Even when God confronts him, “Where is your brother Abel?” Cain proudly spits in God’s face–“I don’t know–am I my brother’s keeper?”
What made King Saul repeatedly pursue innocent David to take his life, even though Saul knew David was the Lord’s anointed, the next king of Israel? Wasn’t it proud folly that lurks in the human heart? This was the proud folly of Rehoboam and this is the proud folly of you and me. “Light has come into the world, but men love darkness instead of light, because their deeds are evil.
Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed (John 3.19-20).” Too proud to believe in Jesus. That is what we were by nature. That is why we, young and old alike, need teachers who teach more than facts, teachers who by their words and actions can give our youth a moral compass. That takes a lot of years.
Another reason we need this life-long education is that we display spiritual rebellion against God beyond all bounds.
Jeroboam, upon hearing of the ratification ceremony for Rehoboam, had returned home. He was welcomed by his own and, as soon as Israel rebels against Rehoboam, they reconvene and choose Jeroboam as their new king of Israel, the northern Ten Tribes. Jeroboam has a clean slate to work with. No history of heavy taxation dogs his steps. He has the united support of his people and the assurance from the prophet, Ahijah, that the Lord supported him. What does he do? He rebels against God beyond all bounds. He forbids the people from worshipping God in Jerusalem. “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt, these two golden calves.” One he set up in Bethel, in the south, and the other in Dan, in the north. And this thing became a sin; the people went even as far as Dan to worship the one there (28-30).” And whoever could be a priest before, the Levites, they could no longer be priests in Israel, but every other Tom, Dick and Harry could! And as for the festivals, Jeroboam made up his own! It would be like the Chinese Communists taking over the United States and their puppet President would outlaw Christmas and Easter and instead, have national holidays for Mao-Tse-Tung’s birthday and one celebrating the national debt and sale of Treasury bonds!
Jeroboam had everything he needed, everything he could ever ask for. He only needed trust in the promises of God to know that his throne and dynasty was secure. But he listened to the voice of doubt and fear that the people would again give their allegiance to the house of David and, in the process, kill him.
Isn’t that what Adam and Eve did? Give up the words and promises of God and give in to the slanderous doubts of the devil as they rebelled against God by eating the forbidden fruit? Isn’t that what Judas did, going beyond all bounds by pretending to be Jesus’ friend as he gave him the kiss of betrayal as he rebelled against his Lord and Savior? And here’s the kicker. You cannot rebel against God a little. You can not be an occasional traitor to Jesus. By its very nature, rebellion pushes and pushes and pushes the rebel beyond all bounds.
Isn’t that what we have discovered? We can’t get a little drunk. We can’t be a little unfaithful. We can’t be living in sin a bit. To stand with Christ is to stand with him 100%. To rise up against Jesus is to rise up against him 100%.
But the little ones are immune from that, aren’t they? They are so young and innocent! And certainly we Christians who are called by Jesus are immune from that, aren’t we? After all, doesn’t the Bible say that we are sinless and holy in God’s sight? Who has been educating you all these years? What sermons have you been listening to? Whose kids have you been raising?
Haven’t we seen that look of defiance and that “dig your heels in” defense posture when the kid had to go somewhere he didn’t want to go–like bed or the dinner table? Haven’t we given God our full attention on Sunday mornings, just to studiously and deliberately put none of his words into action when the next Saturday night came around, or, even worse, reject his words counseling forgiveness and acceptance outright because, “life isn’t that way”?
Stiff-necked and rebellious is how God continually portrayed the houses of Israel and Judah. He could just as well have been talking about us. Where the sin of proud folly and spiritual rebellion went beyond all bounds, God’s restraining grace went even further.
We can find God’s acts of love in this sorry account of Israel and Judah’s first kings. Rehoboam, once he gets back to Jerusalem, wants to go to war against the rebellious north, to bring them back into the fold. He assembles an army of 180,000 men. That’s 42,000 more than we have in Iraq right now. A bloody civil war looms. The Lord graciously steps in.
“But the word of God came to Shemaiah the man of God: ‘Say to Rehoboam son of Solomon king of Judah, to the whole house of Judah and Benjamin, and to the rest of the people, “This is what the Lord says: Do not go up to fight against your brothers, the Israelites. Go home, every one of you, for this is my doing.”‘ So they obeyed the word of the Lord and went home again, as the Lord had ordered (22-24).”
If God wanted these people, including us, to go on our own way to death and certain eternal destruction, he would keep his mouth shut. But he doesn’t do that, does he? From the very beginning, with Adam and Eve, he promised a Savior and turned their hearts away from sin and grief to life and salvation. He appeared to Rehoboam’s grandfather, David, when he was neck deep in adultery, murder and perjury and brought him back. He appears to Rehoboam and turns his proud and bitter heart. Jesus appeared to Peter and told him to “Feed my lambs,” as he reinstated him as an apostle. And he opened his loving arms through the words of the sacrament of Baptism, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” when he made each one of us and each one of these cradle roll graduates, sinners then, now saints called by his grace through the washing of water and the Gospel in baptism.
Just as every day a teacher has his or her students in class, well, that’s a chance to teach them something new or review something important so they don’t forget! So every day our Lord Jesus, “Teacher” to those who saw him with their own eyes, every day our Teacher Jesus has with us on this earth is another chance to teach us something new from his Word or to review something so important we can never forget. Every day is a chance to strengthen faith, deepen love, increase our fervent hope of eternal life in heaven.
Rehoboam learned. He did not go to war and for the rest of the history of Israel and Judah there was a split. But it was from God and Rehoboam, as he had submitted his soul’s salvation to his Savior God, so he was wise enough to submit his political aspirations to God’s guidance. Adam and Eve learned. And King David learned. And Peter learned. And you and I learned. We learned to trust and love and cling to ever more this Savior who first gave us faith, hope and life
Beyond All Bounds.
1.Proud folly (1-20)
2.Spiritual rebellion (25-33).
3.Restraining grace (21-24).
Maybe that’s why we have such a long learning curve. There’s so much more for humans to learn. Those sea turtles and arctic terns, everything they have is hard-wired into them through instinct. The whale and the chimpanzee, well, let’s just say Calculus will never be on their agenda nor will pressing moral issues. But we have everything on earth and in heaven to learn. To make sure we give it a shot, God put a natural curiosity, a longing for love and acceptance, a search for the ultimate goodness and power in us. He has set eternity in our hearts. We will not rest until we find rest in the arms of the one they called “Teacher.”