Read an Excerpt
Faith Lessons on the Prophets & Kings of Israel with Book
By Ray Vander Laan
Zondervan Publishing CompanyCopyright © 1998 Ray Vander Laan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSESSION ONE
Innocent Blood - Part I
Before You Lead
Because of the length and powerful message of this video, it will require two sessions to adequately cover the material presented. Part one will involve viewing the entire video followed by times for discussion and personal reflection. Part two will include a condensed version of the video for review followed by times for Bible discovery, personal reflection, and action points.
Tel Megiddo, where this session was filmed, was the greatest of the ancient cities of Israel. It was strategically located next to a crucial mountain pass overlooking the Plain of Jezreel. The Via Maris-the international trade route of the day-ran through this pass, so whoever controlled Megiddo also controlled the trade of the ancient world and exerted great influence on world culture. In fact, 1 Kings 9 reveals that Solomon gained much of his wealth because God gave him the power to control the Via Maris. Because of the importance of Megiddo's location, some scholars believe that more battles have been fought in the Jezreel Valley than in any other place in the world.
But Megiddo represents more than political control and economic and culturalinfluence. It also represents the battle for spiritual control-the battle between good and evil-that continues to this day and will culminate in the battle of Har Megiddo, or Armageddon.
Centuries before the Hebrew people settled in the Promised Land (from about 2950-2350 B.C.), Megiddo was a prominent "high place" where the Canaanite people worshiped their fertility god, Baal, and his supposed mistress, Asherah. When the ancient Israelites settled in the land, their beliefs and values clashed with those of the Canaanite residents. The worship of the Canaanite gods demonstrated a blatant disregard for human life and God's laws concerning human sexuality. Unfortunately, those ungodly attitudes and practices greatly shaped the culture and induced the Israelites to participate in Baal worship as well.
Over time, the worship of Baal became more and more a part of life for the Israelites. The gods of fertility, who were supposed to be responsible for providing rain for the lush crops of the Jezreel Valley, had an appeal that the Israelites' God, whom they viewed primarily as the God of the desert wilderness, did not have. The people drew further away from God, and eventually even the kings of Israel-especially King Ahab and his wife Jezebel (who had been a priestess of Baal in her homeland of Phoenicia)-encouraged Baal worship.
The rituals of Baal worship included sexual intercourse with temple prostitutes and the sacrifice of children in order to induce the gods to provide rain for the crops. Thus, as Ray Vander Laan points out, the Israelites sacrificed their children in order to ensure personal gain and success. These practices also perverted two of the most beautiful gifts God gave humankind: the gift of human life and the sexual relationship between a husband and wife within the bonds of marriage. Viewers will feel the horror of these abominable practices and will be challenged to consider the ways in which they also pervert God's gifts.
In this video, Ray Vander Laan emphasizes that the true significance of Megiddo is found in the spiritual battle for control of the hearts, minds, and souls of the people. That battle is represented by the high place at Megiddo, but it didn't end there. Christians today are also a part of the spiritual battle between good and evil that continues to take place throughout the world. So we must exert influence on the "Megiddos" of our world-the strategic places where culture can be influenced-whether they be Hollywood, Wall Street, Washington, D.C., or our families.
The battle in our culture between good and evil has great consequences. People who stand firm for God, who promote His principles in an increasingly pagan world, and who resist sinful and seductive influences are fighting a tough battle, a battle that will continue until the end of the world. Yet God's people can take heart. Jesus grew up in Nazareth, within sight of Megiddo, and lived there until He began His public ministry. How often He must have looked at Megiddo, knowing what had happened there, what it represented in His day, and what it would stand for in the future. In a sense, His work began at Armageddon and will one day end at Armageddon when His victory over evil is complete.
Key Points of This Lesson
1. Located above the Valley of Jezreel, Megiddo stood guard over the Via Maris at a key mountain pass; whoever controlled the city controlled the trade route. Within sight of that city, terrible battles took place in the Plain of Jezreel. Today, as in ancient Israel, great spiritual battles are taking place throughout the world between the people of God and the people of evil, between the values of God and the values of Satan. They are battles for the hearts, minds, and souls of people-and the consequences are great. 2. The Israelites were called to serve God, who loves innocence. But during King Ahab's reign, while they claimed to worship God, they also worshiped the evil gods of Canaan (especially Baal) and sacrificed their children for personal gain. God strongly condemned their claim to honor Him while they engaged in such abominable practices.
Today, we face similar choices. How easy it can be to honor God, on the one hand, and yet allow sinful patterns of thought and action to remain rooted in our lives. How easy it can be to sacrifice others in order to gain personal blessing and achieve "success."
3. Megiddo also stands as a symbol of hope and promise. It reminds us that the battle between good and evil is ultimately the battle for control of the world. Because of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, those who engage in the battle against evil can take heart. For when the battle is finally over, Jesus Christ will be the victor. He will be crowned King of Kings!
Session Outline (52 minutes) I. Introduction (5 minutes) Welcome What's to Come Questions to Think About
II. Show Video "Innocent Blood" (33 minutes)
III. Group Discovery (7 minutes) Video Highlights
IV. Faith Lesson (5 minutes) Time for Reflection V. Closing Prayer (2 minutes)
No additional materials are needed for this session. Simply view the video prior to leading the session so you are familiar with its main points.
Assemble the participants together. Welcome them to session one of Faith Lessons on the Prophets and Kings of Israel.
What's to Come
Today our attention is drawn to the ancient city of Megiddo, which has played an important role in Israel's history and promises to play an important role in the future. Towering above the Plain of Jezreel and the Via Maris, the city was the defining point for economic and political control of the ancient world. The city also represents a defining point in the battle for spiritual control of the people.
In this video, the ongoing battle between good and evil-the battle for control of the hearts, souls, and minds of the people-will be powerfully demonstrated. We'll also see how important it is to participate in the spiritual battle between good and evil and to influence culture in strategic ways. Because of the length and nature of the material covered in this session, our format will be a bit different from that of subequent sessions. We will take two sessions to complete the study of this video, focusing our attention on the video this week and on the Bible discovery next week. Let's begin with a few questions that will prepare our hearts and minds to receive the message of this video.
Questions to Think About
1. How do you think a historian 150 years from now would describe our culture's values and life priorities? How might that historian evaluate the current status of the battle between good and evil?
Suggested Responses: These will vary. Encourage participants to identify the issues, beliefs, and practices in which the battle between good and evil is intense and readily evident as well as where it is more subtle. Issues regarding the value of human life-abortion, homelessness, and care of the elderly or infirm-would be examples. 2. Today, many of us really want to "succeed" in life and will sacrifice a great deal in order to achieve personal benefits. Yet innocent people around us can be harmed by our choices. Give a few examples of how striving for personal success or gain can harm other people. You may use your own experiences or the experiences of people you know as examples.
Suggested Responses: These will vary, but may include men and women who put more effort into their careers than their marriages; children who don't receive adequate attention from their parents because of their parents' devotion to other pursuits; people who are so consumed by their own interests that they cannot see the needs of others; people who "use" other people in order to promote themselves; etc.
Let's keep these ideas in mind as we view the video.
IT'S WORTH OBSERVING ...
The Struggle for Our Hearts and Minds
When the Israelites-nomad Hebrews-entered Canaan, they discovered a lush land of farmers, not shepherds. The Canaanites attributed this fertility to their god, Baal. Because people of that time thought of their gods in terms of a specific place, the Israelites wondered if their God, whom they perceived to be the God of the desert wilderness, was still their God in the vastly different land of Canaan. The Israelites were wondering, Can Yahweh, who led us out of Egypt and through the wilderness, also provide fertile crops in Canaan, or do we have to honor Baal? Or do we honor both?
An intense spiritual battle began for the hearts and minds of God's people. Over and over again in the Old Testament, we read about the Israelites' attraction to and worship of Canaanite gods, God's disciplinary response, the people's repentance, and God's merciful forgiveness. Then the cycle would repeat itself.
By the time of Ahab and Jezebel, the fertility cults seem to have had the official sanction of Israel's leaders. Ahab, with his wife's encouragement, built a temple to Baal in his capital, Samaria. Yet, prophets like Elijah (whose name means "Yahweh is God"), Hosea, Isaiah, and Jeremiah thundered that Yahweh alone deserved the people's allegiance. It took the destruction of Israel by the Assyrians and the Babylonian captivity of Judah to convince the Israelites that there is only one omnipotent God.
The struggle to be totally committed to God is of vital importance to us today, too. We don't think of ourselves as idol worshipers, yet we struggle to serve God in every part of our lives. It is easy (and seductive) to honor self, possessions, fun, relationships, fame, money, and many other gods.
Excerpted from Faith Lessons on the Prophets & Kings of Israel with Book by Ray Vander Laan Copyright © 1998 by Ray Vander Laan. Excerpted by permission.
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