The Partial Kingdom: God’s King
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The Partial Kingdom: God’s King

Providing a king for Israel was always part of God’s plan of redemption. But when the people demanded a king for themselves, they rebelliously filled God’s place of authority with an earthly ruler. In this sermon, Alistair Begg shows us how God mercifully used even Israel’s sinful desire to model His plan of salvation—a plan that was perfectly fulfilled by Christ Himself.

Series Containing This Sermon

The Kingdom of God, Volume 1

Genesis 1:1 – Malachi 4:6 Series ID: 26801

Sermon Transcript: Print

Now, we’re going to read from the Bible in the book of Deuteronomy, and we’re going to read just a brief section from the fourteenth verse. Deuteronomy chapter 17, and reading from verse 14. Deuteronomy 17:14:

“When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, ‘Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,’ be sure to appoint over you the king the Lord your God chooses. He must be from among your own brothers. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not a brother Israelite. The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, ‘You are not to go back that way again.’ He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.

“When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.”

Now let us pray together:

Our gracious God and loving Father, we’re glad of these moments, in the peacefulness of this evening hour, when we can turn to you in childlike trust and in believing prayer, when we can be reminded, as we were in our prelude music, that every mountain that we climb, that every tear that we are privileged to wipe away, that every night that’s turned to day and every sorrow that’s turned to praise is always and only by your grace.[1] And we confess ourselves to be debtors to your grace alone—to your amazing grace which, despite the fact that we were rebellious and disinterested in you, we were those who had broken your law and trampled on your love, and yet still you sent your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, as an atoning sacrifice for sin. And you awakened us to the fact that we had offended against you, that we were transgressors, that we were wandering sheep, that our hearts were full of iniquity, and we cried out to you and found Jesus to be the Savior that he professed himself to be.

And as we have proceeded along the journey of life, we found in Christ a friend who sticks closer than a brother. We found in him comfort in times of sadness. We thank you that the Lord Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to come and fill our lives, to enable us to cry out, “Abba, Father,” so that when we are unable to articulate how we really feel, we can simply utter your name and know deep within us that there’s not an issue that is before us, there’s not a concern that drives itself into our horizon that you are unaware of or unwilling to deal with.

And so, on this first evening of a new week, with all of our tomorrows before us, we cast our burdens upon you, Lord Jesus Christ, and we pray that as we turn to the story of the Bible, we might meet you in the printed page. For we ask this, seeking the forgiveness of all of our sins, in your precious name, Lord Jesus. Amen.

We continue the journey trying to come to terms with an overview of the Bible. And having dealt with the partial fulfillment of God’s promises in the nation of Israel as it relates to his rule and blessing and his people and his place, we now come to what is a new element, and yet an ongoing element in the Bible, and one that has been addressed already in our songs, and that is this whole aspect of God’s king. And the story of God’s king—and again, we are making these distinctions with a fairly broad brush—but this story is outlined for us in a foundational way, as you see there before you, between Judges and 2 Chronicles. And the promise that has been given is not an express promise concerning a king—Abraham wasn’t explicitly told that God’s people would be ruled by a king—but there is just a hint of it there in Genesis chapter 3 when God tells the snake, the Serpent, that he’s going to be defeated by one of Eve’s offspring. And right at the very beginning of the Bible, there in Genesis 3, for any thoughtful reader of the Bible the question must inevitably arise, “So who is this individual who will crush the head of the Serpent?” There is going to be someone who comes along the line here who will fill this picture.

And you have further emphasis of this in Genesis 49, and I’ll just read that to you in verse 10: “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.” “Jesus, King of the nations; Jesus, Lord of all.”[2] And here, right in the very beginning of the Bible, with this aspect and this expectation, we have the hint of the coming king.

And it is for that reason that I read from Deuteronomy chapter 17 the verses that we have just completed, which point out to us that before the Israelites even entered the land of promise, God had decreed that they would be governed by a king—a king that was not going to be an authority separate from God, but a king who was going to rule under God and submitting as king to the rule of God. So, in actual fact, the promise of a king is really a subset of the promise concerning God’s rule and his blessing. God rules in this era by means of a king.

The Era of Judges

Now, like all of the other aspects of this, this is partially fulfilled. And the story that then follows in some of the more neglected books of the Bible is the story of this kingship. And when you come to the book of Judges, you say to yourself, “Well, why is Judges even there?” And you might humorously say, “Well, it’s there to fill in the gap between Joshua and 1 Samuel.” And there is a sense in which that’s actually the case; it is in there to fill in the gap, and it’s there to fill in the gap to provide the historical narrative that shows us how we get from the way that Joshua finishes to the way that 1 Samuel opens.

And the book of Judges—as we’ve sought to summarize each of these books as we did this morning—the book of Judges is a story, a cycle, of sin and grace. What you have in the book of Judges is the story of the Israelites in the promised land after the death of Joshua, and it’s really a pretty depressing story, because the people very quickly rebel. The warnings that were given by Moses and then reinforced by Joshua are not heeded. And so there is a cycle that repeats itself again and again throughout the book, and it goes like this: Instead of doing what they’re told, the Israelites turn from God. They don’t turn away to nothing, but they turn to foreign gods. Having turned to foreign gods, God responds in judgment, brings judgment upon them. He allows them to be defeated by their enemies. They then cry out to the Lord for help, they say they’re sorry, and he, in turn, responds by raising up a judge or a ruler who is then used by God to bring equilibrium back once again. And these judges defeat the enemies—they are the leaders who are involved in the defeat of the enemy—they do so in the power of God’s Spirit, peace is restored to the land, but it actually never lasts for very long.

And, for example, I think it’s around about chapter 3 where it gives us the story of Othniel, the first of the judges, and actually, you get that right there at the end of the little section in Judges 3:11: “So the land had peace for forty years.” It was limited: they enjoyed a time of peace, and then that time of peace came to an end. And the people very quickly turn away from God, and the cycle is repeated all over again. And you have this—and I’m not going to belabor it—but if you go there to Judges 3, you get the notion of it in verse 7 and following: “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God … [they] served the Baals…. The anger of the Lord burned against [them],” the judgment of God came upon them; they cried out to God, “We’re sorry. We won’t do this again,” God raised up Othniel, Othniel exercises Spirit-led leadership, everything gets reestablished, and just when you think, “Fine, this is going to be terrific,” you go into the next cycle, and it starts all over again.

I think I remember from college that four s’s helped me to remember this when I had to be able to reproduce it on a blank sheet of paper. The cycle was sin, servitude, supplication, and salvation—sin, which brought them into servitude (they were enslaved again); supplication (the cry for help); and then the intervention of God for salvation. You may be helped by that as well. That’s really the story of Judges. From beginning to end, it’s the repetition of that cycle.

Why would God even bother to save the Israelites, in view of the fact that they just continually disobey? Well, because God is a God of judgment, but he’s also a God of mercy.

Again, any thoughtful reader must say to himself, “Why would God even bother to save the Israelites, in view of the fact that they just continually disobey?” Well, because God is a God of judgment, but he’s also a God of mercy.  We’ve seen all that all the way through, haven’t we? We saw it back with Noah: “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.”[3] God raises him up as a preacher of righteousness. His judgment descends upon the earth, but he shows mercy in judgment, and he gives them a man who calls out the opportunity of salvation—a man whom they ignore. And these judges, all the way through this book, are a sign of God’s grace. He raises them up so that they may provide help. They’re not an adequate solution to the problem, because actually they themselves are a motley crew. If you read this book for your homework, you’ll find just what a bad bunch they are. Jephthah, whom you will know, kills his own daughter. Samson, that you will all know, is a womanizing thug.[4] It’s interesting the people that God uses, isn’t it? Huh?

Now, most of the time, the only thing we’ve ever done with the book of Judges is get Sunday school heroes out of it. And we have little things, cartoon characters, that we give to children and send them home, and tell them about Gideon, and tell them about Sampson and his hair and everything else. And usually it’s not all bad, but it misses the point almost completely. Because the point of the story regarding these leaders is that the leaders are so lousy that they cause any sensible person to say, “There’s gotta be somebody better than this to act as leader. I mean, if this is how it’s going to be, we’re going to watch the people of Israel collapse.” They are collapsing religiously, socially, morally, economically; the whole thing is disintegrating. It’s continually breaking down. And even the people that come and are used are themselves not particularly fine.

And so, we are left looking for a lasting solution to the problem of Israel’s sin. And we find ourselves being prompted to this by the way the book of Judges closes. There’s an inkling that things would be a lot better if only a king were appointed. And you have four times this whole notion is given. 17:6: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” 18:1: “In those days Israel had no king.” 19:1: “In those days Israel had no king.” And 21:25, look how the book ends: “In those days Israel had no king; [and] everyone did as he saw fit.” So you say, “Oh, well I guess we’re moving now from judges to a king.”

From Judges to a King

And you turn over the page, and you’re into 1 Samuel, and the story of 1 Samuel is essentially—skipping Ruth for the moment—the story of 1 Samuel is a false start. Samuel is the greatest judge ever to rule Israel. He comes at the end of the judges and the beginning of the prophets, as it were. But after a lifetime of service, this fellow, who was remarkably solid, he appoints his wicked sons to serve in his place. It’s amazing! Such a good fellow, and then he does such a dumb thing at the end! And so the elders of Israel come, in 1 Samuel 8, and they demand that he appoints a king to rule them. And the response of God is anger—not because they want a king, because we’ve already seen that God had already got this in his program, if you like, if we might say it that way. It’s not that they want a king that makes them angry; it is because of their motivation. Because it is clear that they want a king instead of God rather than a king under God. They want to be like the other nations: “The other nations have a monarchy. We want a monarchy, too. Our thing is really messed up. Maybe if we had a king like they have…”

And so, in seeking to be like other nations, they are rejecting God’s kingship—the very thing that makes them unique. What they want is a monarchy, rather than a theocracy. In other words, instead of the king ruling under God and in the place of God, they’re looking for a king who will rule instead of God. And the remarkable thing is that despite the sinfulness of their motivation, God grants them their request, and Saul is anointed king. But how does it go? Not good. Because Saul is persistently disobedient. And the result is very clear, and it’s there in the text—for example, 1 Samuel 15:23: “For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.”

Alec Motyer, again, in the book that I mentioned this morning, has this wonderful quote where he says,

It is true that the request for a king was evidence of their weakness, faithlessness, ingratitude, and forgetfulness. It is also true that, in asking for a king, they were not rejecting Samuel, but rejecting the Lord. But into this situation of bleak unspirituality, the Lord came in mercy, accepting the people at their own self-valuation, agreeing to their request, and proceeding to make what they asked in unbelief into the primary and golden vehicle of his eternal purposes and blessings.[5]
Fifty percent of our decisions may well be wrong. God is bigger than all of that. He is sovereign over all things.

See how immense God is, that he is able to sweep into his purposes—he sweeps into his purposes—even foolish requests and even bad motivations? It ought to be a great encouragement to us when we’re tempted to think, “Oh, I can’t make a decision, because this may be the wrong decision.” Fifty percent of our decisions may well be wrong. God is bigger than all of that. He is sovereign over all these things, and his King is going to come, and he is going to reign, and he will be the supreme gift to an unworthy people. 

So, Saul goes. The focus shifts to David; he’s already been anointed as Saul’s heir. The presence of God is with him—we understand that, because chapter 17 tells us the great story of Goliath, the defeat of Goliath. But just as Jesus, David’s descendant, is going to discover years later, being the Lord’s anointed doesn’t guarantee a smooth passage through life. And the jealousy of Saul causes him, you will remember, to try and kill David. So David’s forced to live as a fugitive. He lives as a fugitive until Saul dies. Saul dies, you remember, in the battle against the Philistines, and David then becomes king in his place. And 2 Samuel is the story of David’s reign.

At last, you turn the page and you say, “Well, good. Now Israel has the kind of king that God wants. After all, he’s described in 1 Samuel 13:14 as ‘a man after [God’s] own heart.’” That may strike us as very interesting, especially when we know that David isn’t perfect. David falls foul to lust and to adultery and to murder. But for most of his life, he seeks to be faithful to God, and God blesses him and blesses his people through him. But still, it’s only partially fulfilled, this notion of kingship, because the fulfillment of the King still isn’t there. David is not the Serpent crusher of Genesis 3:15. He’s clearly not the great ruler of Genesis 49. There’s still someone greater to come, as God makes clear through his prophet Nathan. And God underlines the covenant promises that he made to Abram in Genesis 12, and you can read this for yourselves in 2 Samuel 7. And when you look at this later on, you will find that the word of God to his servant David is this:

This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture and from following the flock to be ruler over my people Israel. [I’ve] been with you wherever [you’ve] gone, … [I’ve] cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men of … earth. And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed.[6]

Now, when you go on and you read further, it becomes absolutely clear that the prophecy concerns a king who is actually greater than David. For verse 12—I should show it you rather than tell: “When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. [He’s] the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. [And] I will be his father, and he will be my son.”[7] “Oh,” you say, “this looks like it’s pointing way ahead.” Then you come to the next statement: “When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men.”[8] “Oh,” you say, “oh, well, then it isn’t who I was thinking it was.” “But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed before you. Your house and your kingdom [shall] endure forever before me; your throne [shall] be established forever.”[9] So you say, “Well, I don’t know how to understand this.” Because we were going along very nicely till we came to “when he does wrong, I will punish him.” Everything else seems to fit perfectly the coming of this ultimate king—namely, Jesus. But Jesus doesn’t do any wrong. So then, how can the prophecy here by Nathan fit?

Well, the answer is because, as is true of prophetic statements with frequency throughout the Bible, they’re not always and only fulfilled on one level. As I’ve said to you before, the fulfillment of prophecy in the Bible is like hill walking. If you do hill walking in the Lake District of England, it’s so gradual that as you look ahead of yourself, you say, “You know, in fifteen minutes, we’re going to be at the top of this whole thing,” only in a quarter of an hour to get to what you thought was the top and look and find that there’s another top. And it may happen to you four or five times. And that’s actually what happens in so much of the prophetic passages of the Old Testament, so that part of this is fulfilled by Solomon, who builds the temple, the “house for my Name,” but it is finally only fulfilled in the Lord Jesus himself. We saw that when we studied Luke’s Gospel, and there in Luke 11:31: “The Queen of the South will [arise] at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.” You see what this does? It simply points always onward. The kingdom must be established by him, the Messiah—Messiah, Hebrew for “the anointed one,” the Christ, which is simply Christos, which is the Greek.

That brings you into 1 Kings. I don’t know how much reading you’ve been doing in 1 Kings lately—probably, if you’re honest, not a lot. What is the story of 1 Kings? Well, it’s the golden age. You finally get to the pinnacle of the Old Testament. “Oh,” you say, “that’s good. It’ll all be downhill from here.” Well, I’m hoping so as well. First Kings 8:56, for example: “Praise be to the Lord, who has given rest to his people Israel just as he promised”—this is Solomon’s prayer—and “not one word has failed of all [of his] good promises he gave through … Moses. May the Lord our God be with us as he was with our fathers; may he never leave us [never] forsake us. May he turn our hearts to him,” and so on.[10] It’s a wonderful, wonderful prayer. Because Solomon, having succeeded David, rules wisely, and in wisdom, security and prosperity follow. He builds the temple, which provides a permanent place for God.

And so, God’s people are in God’s place, they’re under God’s rule, and they’re enjoying God’s blessing. And the blessing extends beyond their borders. It extends to the surrounding nations. Being blessed by God, they are, in turn, a blessing. It’s interesting that in Luke it mentions the visit of the Queen of Sheba—1 Kings chapter 10 tells you about that—and the Queen of Sheba comes, and she’s blessed as a result of the blessing of God himself.   

Now, we might just pause here and remind ourselves what we’re doing. We’ve said that this key that opens up the book is the story of the kingdom of God, which is God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule and blessing.[11] We then said the pattern of the kingdom is then established in the garden of Eden: Adam and Eve, God’s people; the garden, God’s place; and God’s word and perfect relationships, his rule and his blessing. We then saw that the kingdom was spoiled. Who are God’s people after the fall, as a result of the fall? No one. Where are they? They’re not in God’s place; they’re banished. Are they living under God’s rule and blessing? No, they are living with disobedience and with curse.

We went on from there to realize that God, who is a merciful God, comes seeking and saving. And the promise of the kingdom is then given to Abram and to his descendants—that’s Genesis 12, a vital verse for us. What is God’s place? Well, it’s Canaan to which they’re moving. And God’s rule and his blessing is just exactly as we’re describing it here: God’s blessing to Israel and his blessing through Israel to the surrounding nations. But we’re also recognizing that this kingdom is partial—that the promises are only partially fulfilled in the Israelites, that they’re only partially fulfilled in Canaan and in Jerusalem and in the temple, and they’re only partially fulfilled in the Law and in an earthly king.

So although everything is looking very hunky-dory at this point, it’s not going to last. Because, remember, when we read in Deuteronomy, the word was given, “And when you have a king”—remember what their prohibitions were?—“make sure he doesn’t amass a lot of stuff. Make sure that he doesn’t marry a bunch of wives.”[12] And what does Solomon do? Marries a bunch of wives. Marries foreign women. They turn his heart away, and he begins to worship foreign gods. For David’s sake, God delays his judgment on Solomon—God delays his judgment until Solomon dies. But then he causes civil war to break out, and the kingdom begins to disintegrate. And the story so far looks like this: Eden; the fall; the promise; in fulfillment of the promise, the exodus, the giving of the Law, the conquest in Joshua, the establishment of the monarchy.

The Divided Kingdom

But then it gets really complicated, really confusing. I’m going to do this very fast, so I don’t give away my ignorance. But this is where you’ve got this divided kingdom. You’ve got civil war; you’ve got people in the north, people in the south. The bit in the south sounds like it should be called “the bit in the north”; the bit in the north sounds like it should be called “the bit in the south.” It is terror when you do this at university. It’d drive you completely insane. You have to diagram it all and make sure where everybody is, and so many of the names are almost the same as each other that you can make a real mess of it. And so, I’ve thoroughly convinced you of the need to go forward. It shouldn’t say “partial fulfillment” up there. That’s my mistake. Ignore that. First Kings 12 to Second Kings 25, to the end of it, is the story of disobedience, division, and decline.

Now, I would like actually just to say amen and finish there, but I think you’d say I was cheating, so let me give you a word on it to prove that I do know just something concerning it. Solomon dies, and his son comes to reign. His name is Rehoboam. All right? But the ten northern tribes rebel against Rehoboam, and they set up their own kingdom, and they do so under Jeroboam. See what I mean? Rehoboam, Jeroboam. You’re already moving in the wrong direction.

Israel, under David and Solomon, had enjoyed a really nice time, an undivided monarchy, for 120 years. But now it’s divided. And the Northern Kingdom, confusingly, is called Israel, and its capital city is Shechem, and later, Samaria. (Don’t worry about this; you’ll get all this at the end, when it’s finished, when you get your prize.) The Southern Kingdom is called Judah, and Jerusalem is its capital. And the story is essentially this: The searchlight, as it were—God’s searchlight—is scanning throughout time and throughout these kingdoms, looking for a decent king. Every so often, the searchlight hits on somebody who does a pretty good job for a wee while, and then he fouls it up, and then the searchlight swings around again, looking for someone. Occasionally there’s a good one in the north, occasionally there’s a good one in the south, but it really is quite an unmitigated drift into degeneracy and decline—a decline that is very obvious in the north from the very beginning. And the reason is simple: Jeroboam, remember, who is opposed to Rehoboam (you got that part clear), and Rehoboam was Solomon’s son—Jeroboam is concerned that his people will want to go to Jerusalem, because Jerusalem still has a hold in their minds. They, although he’s the leader of the ten in the north, they’ll want to go down south so that they can meet God in the temple. So he says, “I’m going to have to do something to prevent them from going there,” so he establishes two alternatives shrines; one is Bethel, and one is Dan.[13] And in order to give it a little bit of credibility, he puts—think about this—he puts a golden calf in each of them.

Now, that, of course, rings bells for you, right? You’re able to go back to Exodus 32 and say, “That was Aaron did that business with the golden calf.” That’s exactly right. And 1 Kings 12—actually, if you want a reference so you can dip in and find what we’re saying, 1 Kings 12:28: “The king made two golden calves. He said to the people, ‘[It’s] too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’” That’s exactly what Aaron said: “Moses is up there. I don’t know where he went, I don’t know when he’s coming back. But listen, why don’t you just put your stuff together, and we’ll do something?”[14] And out popped the golden calf, and he said, “Here is your god, O Israel.”[15] “‘Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ One he set up in Bethel, … the other [he set] in Dan. And this thing became a sin; [and] the people went even as far as Dan to worship … there.”[16] And Jeroboam took it a step further; he “built shrines on high places,” he “appointed priests from all sorts of people, even though they were not Levites.”[17] And so the sorry saga goes.

And what you have, then, is the besetting sin of Israel. This comes again and again and again: the fact that Israel turns away and worships foreign gods. And as a result, the end comes in 722 BC. Two hundred years after these kingdoms have divided, the Assyrians attack, and they destroy Samaria. And in 2 Kings 17:7—I just got to 1 Kings 17, which is the story of Elijah and the ravens; that was an emotional surge for me there, just for a moment—2 Kings 17:7, the Assyrians come, they attack, and they destroy. Why? Here’s your answer: “All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They worshipped other gods … [they] followed the practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before them, as well as the practices that the kings of Israel had introduced. The Israelites secretly did things against the Lord their God that were not right.”[18]

The Babylonian Exile

That’s the story. It’s amazing, isn’t it? It is a phenomenal story. You know, they have the tremendous intervention of God, they have the prophets of God, they have the judges; he gives them kings, he gives them “a man after his own heart,” and so on. And despite all of that, they are obliterated. And from this point, the ten northern tribes never have a separate existence again. And their descendants—remember, the Assyrians come in and they destroy Samaria. What do you get in Samaria? You get Samaritans. And the Samaritans, who are so despised by the Jews in the time of Christ, are the descendants of those who were disintegrated 722 BC.

So, goodbye to the northern gang. What about the south? South doesn’t do actually any better. The sad story of the south is told in the second half of 2 Kings, and also in 2 Chronicles. Even though they’ve got the temple, which is going for them, their people turn to other gods. They have little periods of obedience—for example, under the reforms of Josiah, who, having found a copy of the Law in the temple, institutes reforms, but the reforms don’t go far enough, they don’t go deep enough to deflect God’s anger. The people have broken his covenant; they must be punished. God had warned them before they entered the land that they would not be allowed to stay if they disobeyed. Remember? You saw that this morning. He was very clear: “If you do this, then you’ll be fine, but if you don’t, you’re out of here.” Didn’t say that, but that’s essentially it.

And so, he keeps his word, and in 597 BC the Babylonians come in and drag away a whole host of these folks into exile. That judgment is extended in 586 BC, when the city of Jerusalem and the temple are destroyed and more are taken captive into Babylon. And then, in Psalm [137]—and not, as I said this morning, in Psalm 39; I caught myself later on, but far too late—Psalm 137:1, this is the historical context of that psalm. It’s so clear and obvious. It was a reggae song in Britain and a number-one hit with a Rastafarian group in the late ’70s:

By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion.
And there on the poplars we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for our songs, and our tormentors demanded songs of joy; and they said, “Hey, sing us one of your Zion songs!”
And we said, “How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”[19]

            So, now we have them. There they sit in exile—very little evidence that they’re God’s people. They’re certainly not in God’s place. They’re facing the curse of God’s judgment rather than his blessing. It’s almost as if the fall has happened all over again. God had given them the warning that disobedience would bring eviction, they rejected his rule, they’re banished from his presence, and so the partial kingdom is dismantled—is dismantled.

God’s work amongst the Israelites was never intended to be the final fulfillment of his gospel promises. Within the story of the Bible as a whole, the story of Israel ultimately serves as a model.

It’s a very sad part of biblical history, but it’s not the end of the Bible story. And the reason is obvious: because God’s work amongst the Israelites was never intended to be the final fulfillment of his gospel promises. Within the story of the Bible as a whole, the story of Israel ultimately serves as a model.  And a model, no matter how impressive, is not the real thing. Sometimes, in a travel agent, you see a model of a 747. It’s impressive on its stand—you can go and look at it and see inside—but it’s nowhere nearly as impressive as standing underneath one on the tarmac and looking up at this fantastic piece of aviation.

And so we read the story, and we see the model that God has established. And you see, what is here is so vital for you to grasp, and this will come out as we go on: in a similar way, the partial kingdom is just a shadow of the perfect kingdom that God is establishing through Jesus. This partial kingdom is fantastic, but it’s not perfect. For example, in the partial kingdom, the story of the exodus is a great story, but it’s a pale reflection of the redemption that is provided for us in the Lord Jesus Christ. The introduction of the tabernacle and the temple as a symbol of God’s presence is a wonderful thing, but it can’t compare with John 1:14: “And the Word [became] flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory … of the only begotten [son] of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”[20] All of this stuff, you see, is pointing forward to a fulfillment. It’s pointing upward and onward and beyond itself. And in the same way, David and Solomon were great kings, but Jesus is far greater—far greater:

There David’s greater Son
Has fixed His royal throne,
And He sits for grace and judgment there:
And he makes the sinner sad
Before he makes them glad.[21]

Now, I hope that you grasp something of this—and I am finishing now—because this is absolutely crucial to the way you view everything. And those of you who are perceptive will know that this speaks directly to the issues of ethnic Israel in our day. And those of you who are big fans of the millennial mythology, which has sold, apparently, on the front of Newsweek magazine, forty-four million copies—Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’s books have now sold forty-four million copies—that is as clear an indication of where American evangelicalism is as any other statistic that I’ve seen in the last six months. We have a world that doesn’t understand the first coming of Jesus, we have a culture that is collapsing within us, and we have people sitting around reading mythology and checking out of their responsibilities to live for Christ in our day and in our generation.

God has set aside his model, but he has not set aside his promises.
The focus of God is not upon an ethnic people, but upon a multinational congregation that will gather before his throne from every nation, language, tribe, and tongue.

But that’s just a little aside. The fact of the matter is that if you are paying attention, you will already know that this kingdom fulfillment is going to take us somewhere different from where we may be used to arriving. So, listen up, because God has set aside his model, but he has not set aside his promises.  And you see, it’s going to be the role of the prophets to stand on the stage of human history and tell the Israelites this. God is going to “give … a heart of flesh.”[22] And the prophets are going to stress that the decline of Israel, the decline of Judah, is not out of God’s control, but rather he is at work. He’s dismantling the model because of the sin of his people, but that is not the end. He will never rebuild the model again, but he’s going to establish the real thing through Jesus. He will never rebuild the model again, but he’s going to establish the real thing through Jesus. And the focus of God is, as we discover in Revelation 9, not upon an ethnic people, but upon a multinational congregation that will gather before his throne from every nation, language, tribe, and tongue.  And where will they gather? They will gather at the feet of the King. Who is this King? Yeah.

Now, you see, when you get that, the whole thing starts to make sense. You didn’t get much of this tonight; I know it was a bit of a shambles, but you basically got the big picture, right? There couldn’t be a good enough judge. There couldn’t be a good enough leader. There couldn’t ultimately be a good enough king. There can’t be, because it is all pointing forward to the one who will come. And ultimately, the King is coming. You see?

Let us pray together:

O God our Father, we thank you that

We serve a risen Savior
He’s in the world today.
We know that he is living,
Whatever men may say.
And we see his hand of mercy,
And we hear his voice of cheer,
And just the time we need him,
He’s always near.[23]

We thank you that Christ is alive; that he is ascended to your right hand; that even today, in all of the machinations of society, all of the ebb and flow of history, all of the turmoil in the nations, that the ascended Christ is a reigning King; and that he awaits the day when the earth will become his footstool.

And so we find ourselves here, at the end of May, the year 2004, buffeted, sometimes tempted to believe that we’re just lost in the middle of nowhere, and this helps us, it gets equilibrium for us. We look back and sing the praise of him who died, the one who loves us with an everlasting love, the one who is coming for his people.

So then, tune our hearts, and may your praise be uppermost on our lips, despite our circumstances and our own cycles of sin and servitude. Thank you for your mercy. Receive our lives, and receive our gifts, we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] Scott Wesley Brown, “Grace Alone” (1998). Paraphrased.

[2] Graham Kendrick, “King of the Nations” (1992).

[3] Genesis 6:8 (KJV).

[4] Vaughan Roberts, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 80. Paraphrased.

[5] Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock: An Old Testament Background to Our Understanding of Christ (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1996), 26.

[6] 2 Samuel 7:8–10 (NIV 1984).

[7] 2 Samuel 7:12–14 (NIV 1984).

[8] 2 Samuel 7:14 (NIV 1984).

[9] 2 Samuel 7:15–16 (NIV 1984).

[10] 1 Kings 8:56–58 (NIV 1984).

[11] Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom: A Christian Interpretation of the Old Testament (Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1981), 47.

[12] Deuteronomy 17:16–17 (paraphrased).

[13] 1 Kings 12:26–30 (paraphrased).

[14] Exodus 32:1–2 (paraphrased).

[15] Exodus 32:4 (paraphrased).

[16] 1 Kings 12:28–30 (NIV 1984).

[17] 1 Kings 12:31 (NIV 1984).

[18] 2 Kings 17:7–9 (NIV 1984).

[19] Psalm 137:1–4 (paraphrased).

[20] 1 John 1:14 (KJV).

[21] Isaac Watts, “How Pleased and Blest Was I” (1719). Paraphrased.

[22] Ezekiel 11:19 (NIV 1984).

[23] Alfred Henry Ackley, “I Serve a Risen Savior” (1933). Paraphrased.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.