The history of the Jewish people has been summed up this way: “They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat… Chinese!” And indeed we shall eat – in a little while. First you have to let me put in my $0.02. I’m still wondering why I only get a penny for my thoughts, but I have to put in two cents. I’m losing on every transaction!
As Jerry has taught, the victory of the Jews in the 2nd Century BC demonstrated yet one more time in history that God delights to give victory to the small over the great, the few over the many, the humble over the arrogant. The Maccabees were a small army, and they were tremendously outgunned and vastly outnumbered by the Greco-Syrian armies of Antiochus IV. Indeed, if Antiochus had succeeded in his campaign to forcibly Hellenize our people, or if his vast and powerful army had prevailed, the Jewish people would have ceased to be. And so we like to say that without Chanukkah, there could have been no Christmas, because the Messiah had to come through the Jewish people.
But what do you do after such a great triumph? Is it possible to build on that? Does victory give way to enduring freedom and virtue? Unfortunately, the pattern of history suggests not – at least, not for long. A man named Alexander Tytler, a Scottish historian and contemporary of America’s Founding Fathers, observed a repeating cycle in history. He diagrammed it in a circle.
Societies seem to go through the same pattern of bondage – oppression of the people, leading to renewed spiritual strength. Through this, the people achieve the courage they need to fight for and win their freedom. The ensuing freedom leads to prosperity. But then that prosperity eventually breeds selfishness; and selfishness leads to complacency and apathy. Apathy leads to dependence, and dependence once again puts the people in a condition of bondage.
In the case of Israel in the 2nd century BC, the great and miraculous victory of the Maccabees led to a restoration of Israel’s religious freedom and to prosperity. But none of it lasted.
Proverbs 28:2 says, When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers… meaning any society that rejects God inevitably becomes unstable – a revolving-door of corrupt leader after corrupt leader. That, unfortunately, describes the ensuing Hashmonayim (Hasmonean Dynasty) in Israel. Soon after achieving independence, Israeli society began to deteriorate into an endless cycle of political avarice, religious corruption, division and even multiple assassinations.
The High Priesthood, for example, became so coveted because of the tandem religious and political power vested in the office, that people bribed and even murdered in order to obtain it. You can read about these events in the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees, as well as in Josephus’ book The Wars of the Jews. All of this corruption and intrigue left Israel unstable and weak, and eventually at the mercy of the rising and powerful Roman Republic, which conquered it in 63 BC.
But what about on the personal level? Does that same cycle of going from bondage to faith to courage to victory to prosperity to apathy to dependency and back to bondage play out in the lives of individuals? If so, is it a cycle that can be broken? Where our spiritual lives are concerned, the stakes are infinitely higher, so let me say this:
It isn’t enough to start well. You need to finish well.
Scripture warns us against letting our guard down. It is all too easy, when we have experienced a victory, to put ourselves on ‘spiritual autopilot’ and leave ourselves vulnerable to temptation and moral failure. Perhaps no one in biblical history embodies this warning as much as wise King Solomon.
We are told in 1 Kings chapter three that God appeared to Solomon shortly after his father King David had died. Solomon had just taken his father’s place on the throne of Israel. One night Adonai spoke to him in a dream, offering him whatever he wanted. Instead of asking for riches or more power or long life, or victory over his enemies, Solomon simply asked God to give him wisdom and discernment, so that he might rule this great people Israel with justice.
Adonai was so pleased with Solomon’s unselfish request, that He granted his request, and also added all the other things he didn’t ask for! And these early chapters of 1 Kings describe the splendor and greatness of Solomon’s rule, and how the land of Israel flourished amazingly under his leadership. It truly was Israel’s “Golden Age”. What an auspicious beginning of his reign!
But it didn’t last. He took his eyes off the Lord and neglected to give attention to His Word. One by one, recorded in 1 Kings 10 and 11, Solomon began violating the specific prohibitions Moses outlined in the Torah (Deut. 17). It culminated with Solomon marrying many foreign women, who brought their idols and pagan forms of worship with them to Israel. He took 700 wives and 300 concubines. Give me a break! And Scripture tells us that these wives from the countries about which God had forbidden intermarriage turned his heart away from God.
Solomon sank so low spiritually, that the writer tells us, “He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done. On the hill east of Jerusalem (that would be the Mount of Olives!), Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods” (1 Kings 11:5-8).
How tragic that Solomon, who began so well, so humbly, so dedicated to Adonai, ended his life so badly. For the sake of David, God allowed Solomon to go to his death in peace, but the kingdom was torn away from his son, and Israel went from being a land united and at peace to a divided country, with competing capital cities and kings and alliances.
So perhaps you’ve asked yourself, “If Solomon, with all that wisdom, and having had such an auspicious beginning, could turn away from God and end his life so badly, what’s to keep me from ending badly?” That’s a legitimate question, and there is a definitive answer, and the answer should give you great hope.
You can be kept from stumbling, and brought safely to the goal of eternal life, because you have something that was unavailable in the days of Solomon and unavailable in the days of the Hashmonayim. You have the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit. When you asked Yeshua to come into your life, when you transferred your loyalty to Adonai, you were born again, and you became a participant in the New Covenant. That was the single most important decision you have ever made, and there are so many benefits to being a member of Messiah’s Holy Community. As the saying goes, “membership has its privileges”.
The author of the Letter to the Messianic Jews devoted two entire chapters to showing the superiority of the New Covenant, which was enacted on better promises, having a superior priesthood (Messiah Himself!) and achieving a better outcome for those who are in it.
He says in chapter 7 verse 25: Therefore He (Messiah) is able to save completely (forever) those who come to God through Him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
Failure is not an inevitability for those who are joined by faith to Messiah Yeshua. The reason you don’t need to fear a defeating end to your life is because in Messiah’s New Covenant, you are kept by the power of God! The New Covenant Scriptures are replete with reminders of the promise that we will be brought safely and successfully to the goal. There is no way we could consider them all this morning, but for those of you who are (wisely) taking notes, jot these passages down and make it a point to study them and be assured of God’s good intentions concerning you.
- 2 Corinthians 1:21-22
- Ephesians 1:13-14
- Colossians 1:22
- 2 Timothy 1:12
- Jude 1:24-25
And consider Yeshua’s statement in John chapter 10:
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:27-30).
Let me stress, however, that the idea that we are eternally secure should not lead you to think that once you have come to faith in Yeshua you can do whatever you want, or that you have no role to play in the deepening of your faith. If you want to be strong in the faith, you need the nourishment of God’s Word – the Scriptures, and the nourishment of prayer, and of fellowship and assembling with God’s people for worship. Spiritual growth and strength doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Victory consists in becoming part of the New Covenant, and in remaining close to Messiah Yeshua. Don’t let your guard down.
Let me close with this, and it’s really the theme of our message. It is a word that should give you confidence and hope.
Theme verse: Philippians 1:6
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Messiah Yeshua.