Reading Through the Bible in 2019

 

July 3                                        Psalms 46 – 51

Psalm 46 (assorted verses; NIV)

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way

and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging…

Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.”

 

In the opening Psalm of this section we have these very familiar words. Actually, this Psalm greatly comforted me back in September, 2001. Remember what happened back in September, 2001? The Psalmist describe perfectly how I felt back then as we seemed to be stumbling against surging waters. And let’s face it, there were a lot of nations in uproar and kingdoms falling. Remember?

 

But as the Psalmist describes similar, unsettling, bewildering chaos he pictures GOD right in the middle of all that chaos. GOD lifts his voice and the earth melts. I was reminded back then and am reminded even now as we find ourselves in such a time, in such a world that GOD is GOD. GOD is the Almighty, All-powerful, All-knowing, All-everywhere GOD and if he barely lifts his voice one decibel the earth will melt. I find solace and comfort and bravery in serving such a GOD!

 

Psalm 51:1-3 (NIV)

 

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;

According to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.

Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me…”

 

Here, David finds himself in the midst of a different sort of trouble where once again it feels like the earth has given away and he finds himself being swept into the relentless flood waters. This time, the nations cannot be blamed. This time, no-one else can be blamed. David is swamped by his sins.

I wonder how often King David was told just how wonderful he was. I wonder how many times a day he was met with flattering lips. I have a hunch as hard as he tried not to listen to such garbage that it began to sink in. Sometimes it may have been hard for David to see into his own soul and see the filth there. This time it took the prophet Nathan to remind him of just what a sinner he was.

Reeling from the disastrous treatment of Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah the Hittite, David reeks from the sin and comes clean before GOD. He declares his sinful nature and his sinful actions. He doesn’t use his credentials in seeking GOD’s forgiveness. What does he use? He trusts in GOD’s unfailing love, in GOD’s great compassion. Amen? Amen!

July 2                                        Psalms 40 – 45

Psalm 42:1-5 (NIV)

 

“As the deer pants for streams of water,

so my soul pants for you, my God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

When can I go and meet with God?

My tears have been my food day and night,

while people say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’

These things I remember as I pour out my soul:

How I used to go to the house of God

under the protection of the Mighty One

with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.

Why, my soul are you downcast?

Why so disturbed within me?

Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him,

 my Savior and my God.”

 

The Psalmist is in distress. The Psalmist is parched. The Psalmist is so thirsty for GOD that his soul pants for GOD like a deer being chased by a pack of wild dogs, pants for water.

 

I added that wild dog part which I witnessed long ago in a state park in West Virginia. We heard wild barking for several minutes and then a beautiful deer leapt from the sylvan forest right on to the fairway and dashed across the green looking for escape, looking for rescue, looking for water as it fled from a pack of hungry, snarling dogs.

 

Have you ever sought GOD like that? Have you ever been that desperate to find GOD? I have a hunch that in our hearts of hearts where we don’t roam too often, there is a deep-seated, unsatiated thirst for the Living GOD. What would it mean for us if we came to worship each Sunday morning cognizant of such a thirst?

 

The Psalmist here is hurting. The Psalmist here is hurting so much that he converses with his soul. He asks his soul not once, but two separate times in this short Psalm why it is so downcast within him. On both occasions he tells his soul to put its hope in GOD. He tells his soul two times to put its hope in GOD because in spite of feeling like GOD is nowhere to be found the Psalmist knows he will soon praise his Savior and his GOD!

 

I don’t know about you but maybe it’s time I talk to my soul. Maybe that is how I will discover just how much I am thirsting for the Living GOD. It may be such a deep, unsatiated thirst that I haven’t a clue. But I do know this, I will put my hope in GOD for I will praise Him, my Savior and my GOD!!! Hallelujah? Hallelujah!

July 1                                        Psalms 36 – 39

Psalm 36:5-10 (NIV)

“Your love, LORD, reaches to the heavens,

Your faithfulness to the skies.

Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,

Your justice like the great deep.

You, LORD, preserve both people and animals.

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!

People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

They feast on the abundance of your house;

You give them drink from your river of delights.

For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.

Continue your love to those who know you,

Your righteousness to the upright in heart.”

 

For me these are some of the most beautiful words in all of Scripture; nay, in all of human literature. To think that they are attributed to an uneducated shepherd boy who became king just blows my mind. But what makes my heart particularly sing to these glorious words and of course the truth they relate about Our Maker is their setting.

Did you catch that? In the first four verses of this Psalm David brings a message from GOD regarding the wicked. There is no fear or respect of GOD in their eyes. They think so highly of themselves that they aren’t even fully aware of their sinfulness against GOD. Their words and their actions are evil and they even spend their time in bed thinking of even worst things to do.

It is as if David, before getting fully caught up in his rant about the wicked, suddenly turns his attention to GOD. As he chooses to think about GOD instead of all the wickedness going on around him he is reminded of GOD’s character of love, of faithfulness, of righteousness, of justice. He is overwhelmed by GOD’s trustworthy character and waxes poetic comparing security in GOD to taking refuge in the shadow of his wings or feasting on the abundance of his house.

As we find if we read the following Psalms, particularly when David is focusing on the wicked and everything they get away with, his perspective is tempered by his relationship with GOD. David knows that even though it seems like the wicked are getting away with it that in reality, they are not. They will face the divine music soon.

And by the way, even more than that, it just may be that David reminds the wicked here of all the benefits from a relationship with GOD in order to bring them back from their wicked ways into the safe refuge of GOD. Amen? Amen!

 

June 30                                              Psalms 31 – 35

This section of Psalms is interesting. It begins and ends with Psalms of one under attack. We are told that it was David who wrote these particular Psalms and we can certainly think of occasions in his life when David was under attack.

He could have been referencing one of those long, lonely nights out with the sheep protecting them from thieves or lions or tigers or… Or maybe he was wrestling with the thought of contending with Goliath or one of his brothers. Who knows? Maybe he wrote either of these Psalms while hiding in a cave from the “resting” King Saul who searched high and low for him.

David could have been under attack by the Philistines in any number of different battles throughout his lifetime. Or he could have been referencing any number of battles with any number of different national enemies. Of course, he could have been referring to the mess with his son Absalom when he tried to overthrow his kingdom and his family was cast to ruin. Nevertheless David consistently entrusts himself to GOD under such attacks.

Psalm 32 seems to refer to a different kind of personal attack – an attack on the soul. David describes one of those long, restless nights of the soul; a long, restless night of the soul when he cannot sleep because he cannot find peace. David has sinned against GOD and knows it. This, too, could have been any number of occasions in his life. I wonder if he had the murder of Uriah the Hittite on his mind.

Maybe it was one of those more seductive sins that he hadn’t even been aware of. Maybe David twists and turns on his bed unable or perhaps unwilling to confess his sins before GOD. Then, he finally reaches the point where he boldly and loudly confesses his sins before GOD and discovers that GOD does forgive him.

Throughout these Psalms under attack we also find Psalms 33 and 34, perhaps serving as the cornerstones in this section which praise and worship GOD. David lifts his eyes to the heavens and acclaims GOD for his might and power to simply speak creation into being. David remembers in the past how GOD heard his cries and brought him redemption and salvation.

These five Psalms set a good model for us as we find ourselves under attack. It may not be from a javelin-carrying giant but an attack is an attack and today’s attacks can do untold damage with a single loose word sent out over the internet. As we find ourselves under attack – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual – may we follow David’s lead, entrust ourselves into GOD’s hands and worship from the depths of our souls. Amen? Amen!

June 29                               Psalms 23 – 30

Psalm 23 (NIV)

 The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

He leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.

He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,

I will fear no evil, for you are with me;

Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.

Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,

And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

 I first learned this Psalm in Sunday school class. Our teacher wanted us to memorize scripture so enticed us with weekly competitions for candy prizes. I was all over that! It was at that time that my sugar-infused brain learned the LORD’s Prayer, the 23rd Psalm, all the books in the Bible, etc. I had no idea my heart was soaking them in as well.

A few months later I lay in bed restless and unable to sleep. I had gone through my nightly ritual of looking in my closet, in the corners and under my bed to make sure there were no monsters hiding anywhere. I slept with my back to the wall just in case. On this particular night there were a lot of dancing shadows and I found myself awake long after everyone else was asleep. To a young boy, it felt like I was walking through the valley of the shadow of death.

As I desperately prayed for protection, the 23rd Psalm came pouring through my lips. I prayed the Psalm and was filled with peace. Shortly, I was sleeping soundly and securely. I learned a lesson that night as a young boy. I learned that GOD’s word is relevant for us in the here and now. I learned it wasn’t just to be learned or to win prizes by but it was actually to be taken deep into our hearts to dwell there, to lead us, to reassure us, to bless us.

So, which Psalm will you memorize next? I have discovered that as I grow older the Word of GOD remains constant and relevant to my life. Never do I feel at home as much as when I remember and pray GOD’s Word hidden in my heart. If you haven’t tried it yet, I highly recommend it. Amen? Amen!

June 28                                              Psalms 18 – 22

A quick survey of the first seventeen Psalms reveals songs of praise, songs of gratitude, laments, cries for help, cries of frustration, rebukes for the wicked, etc. In reality all of these Psalms are personal snapshots of real life; ancient snapshots which remain relevant to us today. I would say all of us have experienced in our lives such moments of euphoria that we have praised GOD at the tops of our voices while also knowing those moments of sadness and grief when we have cried out to GOD wondering where GOD has gone.

Such are the Psalms but they are more than that. You may have noticed in Psalm 2 that there seemed to be a reference to the coming Son. If not, go back and read Psalm 2 again looking for references to the Son. The apostles in Acts 4 were extremely aware of Psalm 2 which they quoted. In today’s reading we have another Psalm that seems to be Messianic in nature. Psalm 22 perhaps grabbed your attention with its opening line: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Ring any bells for you? Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34 tell us that Jesus cried out these very words from the cross shortly before his death. This couldn’t be an accident, could it?

Many have taken these words literally that Jesus was expressing what he actually felt at that moment; forsaken, forgotten, abandoned by GOD. That could be but what if more is going on here? What if Jesus in choosing these specific words wants to draw us back to Psalm 22? What do we find there? We do find the Psalmist, apparently David, feeling forsaken and far from GOD. He describes restlessness because GOD does not answer him and yet we still find him declaring his trust in GOD knowing that as GOD has responded in the past to deliver and save, so will GOD once again deliver and save him. Hmmm?

Beginning with verse 6 the Psalmist describes being scorned and despised by everyone; mocked and insulted on every side. In 22:8 he gives us this line: “He trusts in the LORD, let the LORD rescue him…” which is spot on with Matthew’s account in Matthew 27:43. The Psalmist’s descriptions seem to be taken directly from the scene of a crucifixion in 22:14-18: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death… All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.”

This Psalm continues from this point on in verse 19 until the end with bold declarations of GOD’s presence being near and a beautiful picture of all being set right. I am fully convinced these weren’t just words Jesus screamed out in agony. He screamed them out with purpose and intent to demonstrate this was GOD’s plan all along. Hallelujah? Hallelujah! Amen!

 

June 27                                              Psalm 10 – 17

Yesterday’s reading served as an introduction to the Psalms so today we will actually take a look at one Psalm in the first seventeen. I suggest you pick out one Psalm from this batch and work on memorizing it, I guarantee you it will enhance and bless your devotional life, your walk with Christ. It is obvious to me in reading the New Testament that Jesus knew most of the Psalms by heart, probably all of them; may be a great practice for us, too!

Let’s start with Psalm 1:1-3: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers.”

 This Psalm makes a clear contrast between the wicked and the righteous. This image of the righteous person, the one who refuses to follow along with the wicked or get caught up in their scornful conversations but instead spends time in GOD’s word, meditating on it and living it out always strikes me. The image of the righteous being like a tree planted by streams of water resonates with my soul like a bubbling brook.

When I meditate on this image of the righteous person, two pictures come to mind. The first is of a Weeping Willow tree right on the bank of a creek not far from where I grew up. This creek entertained and tested me for thousands of hours growing up but I still remember that flourishing willow planted right on the edge of the creek, soaking in that refreshing, nurturing water for life. That tree always had an ample source of water right at its roots; it was easy for it to flourish and grow its hanging branches long and low.

The other image comes to me from my most recent trip to Israel in 2015. We were traveling from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea area and found ourselves in some of the most barren terrain one can imagine. Lost in thought looking out the bus window looking at one empty ravine after another, I was surprised to see an obviously healthy tree covered with green leaves nowhere near an obvious source of water. I looked a bit closer and could tell that even though the terrain looked completely arid it seemed to be planted right on a dry river bed.

This tree was producing leaves even though the river was dry. The roots of that tree must have been sunk deep to draw in the sunken treasures of that forgotten stream, waiting for the next rainfall. Isn’t that the way the righteous life is? Sometimes it seems to be easy because we are right by the Source but often times when life turns difficult and challenging and downright mean, the Source is still there; we just have to dig deeper. May we dig deeper as we travel through the Psalms…

June 26                                              Psalm 1 – 9

Today we experience a course variant. We move from the intense tragedy of Job to the Psalms. I have to admit a bit of uncertainty as we enter the Psalms. I mean, I love the Psalms. I have memorized many of them over the years; some of them I still remember. I have incorporated them into my personal devotions and prayers.

But, I am not so sure how moving through them at a quick pace will bring them justice. On occasion I have just used the Psalms as my devotional tool throughout the year reading five Psalms and one Proverb daily for a year which meant I read through the Psalms and Proverbs twelve different times in that year. We will zoom through the Psalms this time in a little over three weeks. As we begin I am planning to focus primarily on one of the Psalms that really speaks to me each day. But, we will see how the Spirit leads.

The Psalms were written by a variety of people; some of them we know, some of them we don’t. I mean several of the Psalms are attributed to David, some to Solomon, some to Asaph (whoever that was) and others are anonymous. The Psalms have been used in Jewish worship for approaching 3,000 years now and in Christian worship for almost 2,000 years. Just last Sunday we used a Psalm as our Call to Worship and will use one again this week.

Psalms were originally used as songs and some churches use them as such even now. You may be surprised but many of our hymns and especially, more contemporary songs are taken from the Psalms. I was particularly excited in the early 1990’s to find a rather heavy rock version of a Psalm or two by the group Petra. I loved them!

One suggestion I want to offer is to experience the Psalms as if we are privately eavesdropping on another’s intimate conversation with GOD. Sometimes we will find ourselves caught up in the ecstasy of praise while in the next moment we may overhear one’s angry rants to GOD. If we view them as personal encounters with GOD, maybe, just maybe we will find ourselves personally encountering the GOD of the Universe. Amen? Amen!

June 25                                              Job 41 – 42

The questions continue only it is still GOD asking all the questions. Not only do GOD’s questions reveal GOD’s character, wisdom and strength but they also reveal all that lacks in Job. Job is experiencing the double-edged sword of GOD’s revelation.

When GOD finishes Job responds in 42:2-6: “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now and I will speak; I will question you and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

 Job did not attempt to answer a single question from GOD. Apparently, after all his demands and desires to question, Job no longer had any questions. He had encountered the One and Only! He could only stand there in his human ignorance and repent before the majesty of GOD. Did you notice that the explanations for Job’s miseries no longer matter? As a matter of fact they seem to no longer even exist.

What happened? Job encountered the Living One and Only! Job had heard about GOD but now he has seen him, he has experienced him face to face. He has no questions. As he encounters GOD he becomes aware of his sinfulness. The best we humans have to offer; the good, righteous and blameless man trembles and repents before the Holy, Holy, Holy GOD!

As we think back over Job what are some takeaways for us? Some for me are that when someone I know is going through a disaster that better than being theologically correct with all the answers I just need to be there with love, empathy and sympathy. By the way, it is probably best if I just sit there in silence. What was that Abraham Lincoln once said – “Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt?”

Also, as much as the opening chapter troubles me with this idea of GOD allowing Satan to do harm to Job, maybe that is just acknowledging the reality that we do live in a world whose prince rages around like a lion devouring and destroying all he can while he can. Such is freedom of choice…

Finally, another lesson for me is that when devastating, disastrous things happen to me which I cannot understand nor will I ever understand, I can simply choose to trust GOD no matter what. What would happen if I go ahead and make that choice now before anything happens to me? May save me a lot of trouble. A personal audience with GOD would be nice, though…

LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!

June 24                                              Job 38 – 40

So, have you ever heard the warning about being careful what you wish for? Well, that may have come in to play here with Job. He has weathered the withering attacks of his so-called friends (?) who seem to be more concerned about proving him a wicked man who deserves such devastating loss in his life than comforting him with empathy, sympathy and love. But, is he now ready for what he has wished for, nay, demanded?

From the beginning Job has demanded a personal audience with the One and Only. He gets the personal audience he felt he deserved and doesn’t get to ask GOD a single, solitary question. As a matter of fact, the Only One who asks any questions in this scenario is the One and Only who peppers Job with question after question related to the nature around them.

I love GOD’s opening questions here (Job 38:2-4) but have a hunch Job didn’t like them as much: “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man: I will question you and you shall answer me. ‘Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me if you understand.”

Job’s plan of getting GOD to clearly and carefully explain to him why all these bad things happened flies right out the window along with all of Job’s wisely, crafted questions. I have always thought about and even tried to number the questions I want to ask GOD some day when I am with Him in heaven, things I clearly don’t understand here on earth and always come back to this feeling deep in my chest that when I encounter GOD I won’t think of a single burning question to ask GOD. Because… I will be in GOD’s glorious presence and will fall down and worship GOD never remembering a single question.

After Job’s heart-ache and heartbreak and devastation, he felt like he deserved answers from the One and Only. I know Job already knew that GOD was GOD and he was not but after just a few questions, shoot, after the first question, he found himself totally out of his depth and could only marvel trembling before the Almighty GOD!

GOD phrases the questions in the simplest of terms using daily examples Job may have even wondered about but there are no answers. To answer these questions from GOD one would need to be GOD. Job was deeply assured that he was not GOD.

So, do you have any questions that are just burning within you that you need to have answered by GOD? You may want to rethink that and just be satisfied that GOD is GOD and we are not… Amen? Amen!

June 23                               Job 34 – 37

A new character comes on the scene in chapter 32 – Elihu. Elihu may or may not have been a friend of Job’s. He was much younger than Job and his three friends and had sat respectfully in silence as Eliphaz, Zophar and Bildad confronted Job or at last tried to confront Job. Frustrated by their inability to convince Job of his sinfulness and Job’s refusal to admit failure, Elihu leaps into the fray.

Elihu, although at least feigning respect, certainly thinks highly of himself. He reveals that GOD’s Spirit is in him and that he knows more about GOD than these others. He declares himself righteous, that his words come from an upright heart. He takes offense that Job has complained that GOD has refused to answer him and then tries to prove that GOD has indeed answered Job and continues to answer Job in his brutal suffering.

Even though Elihu brags that he has a different perspective on this situation than Job and his three friends the truth is that Elihu has the same perspective. He comes fairly quickly to the same point in 34:10 – 12: “So, listen to me, you men of understanding. Far be it from God to do evil, from the Almighty to do wrong. He repays everyone for what they have done; he brings on them what their conduct deserves. It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice.”

 It seems to me that Elihu has a pretty strong argument throughout his long tirade. It is obvious that Elihu seems quite familiar with GOD; so familiar with GOD that he ends up speaking for GOD apparently without GOD inviting him to be his mouthpiece. Before long Elihu leaves his deference for Job’s age and position in life and begins to attack him just as the others had done. One can see that Elihu, although announcing himself as righteous isn’t quite righteous enough. Elihu in 36:4 declares that he has perfect knowledge. I have a hunch that if Elihu had perfect knowledge that he would have known better to announce that.

He ends his rather lengthy diatribe by describing many of the wonders of the Almighty GOD! I sense that he is nearing the mark by turning his attention fully on GOD and thinking about the glories of the Almighty! However, as much knowledge as Elihu has about GOD he still cannot plumb the depths of GOD’s heart and know GOD’s motives. Elihu finishes his words of perfect knowledge and Job doesn’t even respond. What’s the point?

June 22                                              Job 30 – 33

I am astonished by Job. Job continues to defend himself against his friends, against GOD. In chapter 30 Job reveals how his fortunes have changed. Job describes how he is now the one who is scorned and mocked and attacked by the wicked, by those who have no business even looking at him. Job clearly sees his lot in life and feels like not only is GOD ignoring him but even worse, has turned on him ruthlessly.

However, in chapter 31 as if needing to be reminded of his true position, he takes a deeper look at himself. It is as if Job is running through a checklist of potential sins he has committed according to his accusers. He hasn’t looked lustfully at young women because he made a covenant with GOD not to (Job 31:1). Did he speak with falsehood (31:5)? Did he turn from GOD’s path in his life (31:7)? Has his heart been enticed by a woman or did he lurk by his neighbor’s door (31:9)?

Has he denied justice to any of his servants (31:13)? Did he deny any of the desires of the poor or the widows or the orphans (31:16-23)? Did he trust in gold or wealth as his security (31:24-25)? Did he worship the sun or the moon (31:26-27)? Did he rejoice at his enemy’s misfortune (31:29)? Did he curse another’s life (31:30)?

Job runs down a rather complete list of potential sins in his life yet throughout the list admits that if he had committed any of these sins that he deserved judgment and punishment from GOD rather it be in the form of failed crops or others reaping the rewards of his work or his wife being given to another or being confronted by GOD or losing his arm or … I think you get the picture. Job is more than willing to take the deserved judgment and punishment for his sins if he indeed had sinned.

What is more remarkable to me in this list of reckoning is that Job constantly has his eyes on GOD. It doesn’t seem like Job just thought about GOD on the Sabbath or when offering a sacrifice but Job knew GOD was with him and watching him at all times and he didn’t want to fail GOD. Job wanted to be faithful to GOD! It is clear that in spite of his family and his wealth and his position that being right with GOD was all-important to Job. Job lived a righteous life because Job loved GOD! Amen? Amen!

  June 21                                                            Job 25 – 29

Bildad speaks in finality for the three friends. His final speech is brief. He declares GOD righteous and wonders how any mortal can declare their own righteousness before GOD. Job has refused to give in to their collective argument that he did something to deserve the desolation of his fortune, of his family, of his health, of his reputation. Job holds on to his integrity in the face of old friends who attack him; in the face of GOD’s apparent attack on him.

I marvel at Job. Job knows a lot but he confesses that he does not know everything. Job loves GOD. Job trusts GOD. Job certainly enjoys an intimate relationship with GOD but Job will not take undue blame upon himself. Job will not give in to the commonly-accepted theories of suffering. He will not take responsibility for the devastation of his life. He mocks his friends for not bringing him comfort; frankly, for not even trying to bring him comfort.

I offer his declaration of his innocence from 27:2-6 as a reminder of his fierce confidence and integrity before GOD: “As surely as GOD lives, who has denied me justice, the Almighty, who has made my life bitter, as long as I have life within me, the breath of God in my nostrils, my lips will not say anything wicked, and my tongue will not utter lies. I will never admit you are right; till I die, I will not deny my integrity. I will maintain my innocence and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live.”

Have you ever felt that certain of your innocence, of your integrity? I haven’t. Right now I know that I have failed, I have fallen short, I have missed the mark and I deserve death or worse. That I am sure of but Job, he is certain of his innocence. Even more of that, he is certain that his innocence will continue. So secure his Job in his relationship with GOD that he can make such a declaration. Wow!

He puts the responsibility of his devastated life on GOD’s hands but he does admit that he doesn’t understand. He explores elusive wisdom and admits that he is unable to find wisdom during these days. Wisdom cannot be uncovered from the deep chasms of the earth. Wisdom cannot be dredged from the oceans. Wisdom is neither in the East, West, North or South. Wisdom comes from GOD. Job seeks wisdom. Job seeks GOD. He makes the declaration that wisdom in truthfulness is fear of the LORD; reverent, trusting submission before GOD. Maybe, Job has already reached his destination and just doesn’t see it yet. Maybe…

June 20                                              Job 21 – 24

Zophar argues in chapter 20 that the wicked are punished quickly by GOD here on earth. Job rebuts that argument by demonstrating over and over again how it seems like the wicked are actually rewarded on this earth for their wicked behavior. Job relates different cases on how it seems that nothing really bad happens to the wicked. The wicked do whatever they want to do, take advantage of whomever and they always seem to come out smelling like a rose.

Job declares that it even seems that the wicked stand in direct, blatant opposition against GOD, flaunting their evil ways in GOD’s face without punishment in their lifetimes. Job wants the wicked to get what they deserve in the here and now. I have to confess that when I am driving and along comes a driver weaving in and out of traffic, speeding, driving recklessly that in my heart of hearts, I want that driver to get caught then by the police so I can witness it and click by teeth as I pass by. Don’t we all want to see the wicked get their “up and comings” in our time so we can witness and relish it? Job did. I do, too.

Eliphaz, the next speaker cuts directly to the chase. Instead of indirectly discussing some “wicked” person out in the world who may or may not have a name, he aims his full darts directly at Job and accuses Job of being this wicked person. Here are some of his direct accusations against Job which go against all we know about Job in the book’s introduction.

“Is if for your piety that he rebukes you and brings charges against you? Is not your wickedness great? Are not your sins endless? You demanded security from your relatives for no reason; you stripped people of their clothing, leaving them naked. You gave no water to the weary and you withheld food from the hungry, though you were a powerful man, owning land – an honored man, living on it. And you sent widows away empty-handed and broke the strength of the fatherless” (Job 22:4-9).

 Frustrated by his feckless attempts to straighten out Job, good friend Eliphaz goes straight for the jugular. Instead of comforting Job in his agony, Eliphaz has grown so frustrated with Job’s inability to admit his own wickedness that he tries to help him name his wickedness. But Job, Job won’t even respond.

It seems that these wild accusations are baseless and Job refuses to answer to them. Instead, Job turns his attention back to the Almighty, where his attention has been all along. In spite of the topsy turvy world he now finds himself, in a definite positon of weakness, now being accused of atrocities for apparently no reason other than that he has suffered great loss, Job hungers for his encounter with GOD knowing that GOD does indeed bring judgment upon the wicked, upon all.

June 19                                              Job 17 – 20

Job continues his heart-wrenching lament. We can feel the depth of Job’s anguish – “My spirit is broken, my days are cut short, the grave awaits me. Surely mockers surround me; my eyes must dwell on their hostility…God has made me a byword to everyone, a man in whose face people spit. My eyes have grown dim with grief; my whole frame is but a shadow” (Job 17:1-7). This man is beaten. This man is being kicked while down by his closest friends. It feels to Job as if GOD himself is kicking him, spitting in his eye.

Yet, and this is another big yet; Job still has hope. Job declares in 17:11 – 13: “Yet the desires of my heart turn night into day; in the face of the darkness light is near. If the only home I hope for is the grave, if I spread out my bed in the realm of darkness…” You see, Job didn’t see righteousness as his duty. Job was righteous because Job loved GOD.

In spite of everything that had happened to thrust his life into the whirlwind; Job still loved GOD, Job still trusted GOD! Job trusted GOD that death wouldn’t be the end. Somehow, Job knew there was more to life than just this life on this earth. In 19:25 – 27 Job boldly proclaims: “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes – I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!

 But, it seems that it was more important for Job’s friends to be right than to be loving. After such a bold proclamation of faith, Zophar continues to pile on Job by inferring that he was sinful, prideful and without hope.

This makes me wonder about myself. When I see someone in pain and suffering, how do I treat them? Is it more important for me to be theologically correct in the heat of the moment or is it more important for me to love them, even if that means shutting my mouth and letting my mere presence speak for me?

As I think back over the years I am stunned at some of the well-meaning words that have come out of my mouth which most likely caused great damage. I remember the well-meaning words of others during times of grief and confusion which caused downright harm. May we leave those well-intended clichés far behind us and let us just be there. Words aren’t important, presence is… Amen? Amen!

June 18                                              Job 13 – 16

Job gets to the point in 13:1-5 when he declares: “My eyes have seen all this, my ears have heard and understood it. What you know, I also know; I am not inferior to you. But I desire to speak to the Almighty and to argue my case with God. You, however, smear me with lies; you are worthless physicians, all of you! If only you would be altogether silent! For you, that would be wisdom.”

Job’s friends are not helping him at all. Job’s friends are simply reinforcing the idea that if bad things happen to us then we have done something to deserve them. Job boldly stood on his character. Job knew himself. Job was secure in his relationship with GOD and yet terrible multiplied had happened to him. Job didn’t need his friends’ opinions, Job needed GOD. Job needed to air things out with GOD. Job’s friends seem afraid to let that happen. At the moment, Job is not.

In the midst of his agony, in the midst of his confusion, in the midst of his inability to grasp what has happened to him, in the midst of his anger with GOD; Job declares what I hold as one of the greatest declarations of faith in the entire Bible. Job 13:15 – 16: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face. Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance, for no godless person would dare come before him!”

 Job knew that just about the worst of the worst had happened to him. His agony was exponentially spiritual, mental and physical. There was no escape for him. His world had caved in on him and yet, and yet, Job still trusted GOD. Job didn’t just trust GOD when everything was going right, Job chose to trust GOD even when everything went wrong! Job demonstrates here a genuine, authentic, trusting faith in GOD when all around him screamed otherwise!

His friends continue their fruitless talking. Job calls them worthless comforters. I love his honesty in 16:2 – 3: “I have heard many things like these; you are miserable comforters, all of you! Will your long-winded speeches never end? What ails you that you keep on arguing?” Perhaps that last question captures the issue. Job’s friends are taking it all out on Job. Maybe this is their long-held jealousy of his righteousness coming to the fore. Maybe they are happy he is finally getting his. These are cautionary words of all of us to take hold when approaching another.

But Job, Job knows that this mediator he cried out for earlier is somehow already in heaven witnessing for him, advocating for him, interceding for him. His mediator pleads with GOD as one pleads for a friend. Sounds like he is describing in ancient times both Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Amen? Amen!

June 17                                              Job 9 – 12

So, three of Job’s friends hear what has happened to Job and travel to be with him. They sit with him for 7 days which seems to be an early example of sitting shiva. This is perhaps the only thing they do well in this entire encounter. They surround Job and sit with him in silence as Job sits in silence. They are there for him. They are simply “being” with him.

However, once Job speaks and begins to lament his life before GOD, these three friends just cannot help themselves. They are burning to join into the conversations themselves. It seems to me that for the most part once this conversation begins that Job is actually trying to converse with GOD. He wants answers. He needs answers. I don’t particularly think he is looking toward his friends for answers. It is as if they overhear his words to GOD and answer for themselves.

Their responses are fairly tricky and often times drawn out but one can see that their basic tenet is that the righteous do not suffer. They all seem to believe that for something so terrible to happen to Job and his family then Job is somehow at fault. Eliphaz in 4:17 seems to accuse Job of thinking he is more righteous than GOD and encourages him to accept this discipline from GOD as a blessing.

Bildad seems to say to Job in 8:4 that his children died because they had sinned against GOD. Remember, Job was so concerned about his children’s souls that when they gathered to party he offered individual sacrifices for each of them in case they had sinned against GOD. Job was certainly aware that his children could well have sinned against GOD but did Bildad need to say this directly to him.

Job needs comfort. Job does not need to be attacked by his friends as this all feels like GOD has already attacked him. Job’s responses are longer than his friends’ attempts and really seem to be more about talking to GOD than to his friends. Job realizing the failure of his friends’ attempts cries out for a mediator in 9:13, someone who could mediate between Job and GOD, someone to bring them together, someone to remove God’s rod of punishment from him.

Job is hurting. Job is devastated. Job loathes his own life and rather than trying to encourage and comfort him his friends pile on and blame Job for this disaster or tell him that he needs to try harder. I wonder what would have happened if Job’s friends would have just allowed him to cry out to GOD in anger, in confusion, in rage rather than trying to fix him? I wonder…

June 16                                              Job 5 – 8

Job is a good man. Job is described in 1:1 as “blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” Have you ever personally known anyone in your lifetime who could have been described in that same way? I haven’t. Such descriptions are few and far between in Scripture. Job was a good man who had been blessed extravagantly with 10 children; 7,000 sheep; 3,000 camels; 500 yoke of oxen; 500 donkeys and a large number of servants. If that isn’t enough to tell us how great a man Job was, the first paragraph ends in 1:3 with: “He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.”

The scene suddenly changes and we eavesdrop on a heavenly conversation among GOD and the angels when Satan, the Accuser, does what an accuser does, he accuses Job of being such a good man because GOD protects him and has given him everything. We see GOD then allowing Satan to do to him whatever he wants except for bringing physical harm against Job. On one certain day Satan takes everything away from Job – his 7,000 sheep, his 3,000 camels, his 500 yoke of oxen, his 500 donkeys, most of his servants and worst of all, his beloved children. Ever have a day like that?

How does Job respond to such a day? “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised” (Job 1:21). We are told that in all of this horrible, terrible, unthinkable, excruciating day that Job never once accused GOD of wrongdoing. Remarkable! Of course, we are transported back to a second heavenly gathering and the Accuser once again accuses Job of remaining faithful because no physical harm came upon him. GOD once again allows him to bring harm to Job. Covered from head to sole in oozing, painful sores Job still does not curse GOD and die as his dear wife recommends. He trusts GOD in spite of everything that has happened to him.

Now, there are certainly a lot of hard questions here. Actually, there are a lot of excruciating questions here, one of them being, “would GOD really allow Satan to do something like that to such a good man?” which inevitably leads one to ask “would GOD allow Satan to do something like that to me?” The text, as painful as it may be for us, says that it is so.

Job trusts GOD but he has as many or more questions than we do. In his aching brokenness Job sits and cries out to GOD for answers. May we listen with Job to see if and how GOD may answer him. First, though we will see how Job’s friends answer. Sometimes, friends ain’t pretty!

 June 15                                              Job 1 – 4

For the next several days we turn our attention toward the Book of Job. Some scholars believe that Job and the book bearing his name date back to the times of the patriarchs – Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Jacob, etc. If that is so and I don’t have any good reason to believe that it is not so, I wonder about its placement here almost in the dead center of the Bible.

Since we began our journey through the Bible back in January we have basically been looking at the history of GOD’s activity with humanity here on earth. In recent weeks we have taken a fairly good look at the period of the kings leading to the disastrous defeat to the hands of the Babylonians because of Israel’s unfaithfulness to GOD. Most recently we have looked at the period of exile through the eyes of Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther.

If I put myself in the place of an Israelite during the period of exile I imagine how difficult it would have been to have kept my faith in GOD during that trying time. For the most part people believed GOD was with them and GOD loved them because things went well with them. They were GOD’s people because they were so blessed in every way.

That thinking of course is simplistic but fairly true. I mean little, tiny Judah had survived the mighty Assyrians by trusting in GOD and now they find their beloved city Jerusalem in ruins, their temple where GOD lived among them in burned destruction and the very best and brightest of GOD’s chosen people led naked into captivity. Where was GOD? Was there even a god anymore?

I find the Book of Job to perhaps be an attempt to try and get a handle on life when everything goes wrong. Maybe it is placed here right after Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther as an attempt to try and explain where GOD is when everything falls apart on us; when we feel abandoned; when we feel betrayed; when we can’t feel GOD anywhere in our vicinity. As we read the book of Job together, let us come seeking GOD as Job sought GOD. Amen? Amen!

June 14                                              Esther 8 – 10

So we conclude Esther with a true reversal. The tide is turned when Esther fasts and decides to die to herself for her people – “if I perish, I perish.” King Xerxes allows Esther and Mordecai to send out a new decree giving the Jews throughout the empire permission to defend themselves against their enemies which they fiercely do on that date initially set by the rolling of the die.

Mordecai is elevated to a high position within the government, his niece Esther is queen, the Jewish people defend themselves valiantly against their enemies and all’s well that ends well. These events are celebrated annually in Israel and in Jewish communities throughout the world as children dress up in disguises and receive gifts to celebrate Purim.

A plot of bloody Jewish annihilation is hatched amidst a drunken revelry. Unwittingly, the king signs off on such a plot which directly involves his wife whose Jewish identity has been concealed from him. This evil plan sets off an empire-wide frenzy of bewilderment while the perpetrators calmly return to their drinks. This scene particularly bothers me and has always spoken to me of man’s inhumanity to man – drinking without a concern in the world while the world goes to hell in a handbasket all around them.

A disastrous day is saved by a Persian queen’s refusal to be treated as an object of beauty and lust; a nationwide beauty pageant unveiling an “unknown” beauty; one’s astuteness to recognize an assassination plot; one man’s fierce loyalty to his GOD-soaked heritage; a beautiful woman’s complete submission to do the right thing regardless of the personal cost; a sleepless night of restless, royal insomnia; the revelation of a forgotten good deed during the sleepless night; the inspired irony of the villain celebrating publicly the honor of the victim; not one but two banquets proving that food really is the best way to a man’s heart and GOD’s invisible hand moving all in perfect timing and harmony.

June 13                                              Esther 4 – 7

Esther hears of Uncle Mordecai’s public display of tumultuous mourning, sends fresh clothes out to him and tries to get him to settle down. Her good, ole uncle gives her the latest news and tells her that she now has the opportunity to do something to save her people. Esther reminds him that if she approaches the king without being summoned he could put her to death. And, he hadn’t summoned her for thirty days…

Mordecai tells her that if she chooses to remain in hiding and refuses to help her people that rescue will come from somewhere else but he reminds her that she may have been born for just this moment; she may have become queen to save her people. She asks Mordecai and all the Jews in Susa to fast from eating or drinking anything for three days and after the three days she will go to the king. She ends with these amazing words in 4:16: “If I perish, I perish.”

It has been said that once we die to ourselves to entrust ourselves into GOD’s hands that there is really nothing anyone can do to us. “If I perish, I perish” reveals that Esther had died to herself and trusted GOD with the outcome even though GOD is never mentioned here. After three days she invited both King Xerxes and the wicked Haman to a private banquet during which she invites them to a second banquet the next day.

Haman, exhilarated by the invitation arrives home and tells his family just how great he is but his exhilaration is tempered by that darn Mordecai’s failure to bow down to him again. Encouraged by his family to build an execution pole 80 feet high he has it built and makes plans to impale Mordecai publicly. He heads to the palace to ask the king.

Overnight the king has insomnia and asks for the history of his reign to be read to him. Yes, this man sure was in love with himself and knew a surefire cure for insomnia by reading about himself. During the reading he hears of how Mordecai had intervened to save his life from assassination without any recognition. Haman entered the courts at just the right time to advise the king on how to honor such a man, thinking it was, of course, Haman himself the king wanted to honor. In an absolute reversal of fortune, Haman gets to live out his dream for Mordecai – what a nightmare.

Haman is escorted to the second banquet where Queen Esther reveals her true identity and the wicked plot of Haman to destroy her and her people. The enraged king calls for Haman’s execution on his own 80 foot pole.

I don’t know about you but as I read I find signs of GOD’s presence everywhere in this pagan setting though not a word is spoken specifically about GOD. This may be a good thing to remember as we find ourselves living out our faith in such a world. GOD is with us always, calling us to live out our faith by trusting him. If we perish, we perish. Hallelujah! Amen!

June 12                                                             Esther 1 – 3

In the last two books we have read about the challenges faced by those exiles who returned to Jerusalem after the proclamation by King Cyrus permitted them to return home to rebuild the temple. Esther takes place several years after that proclamation and treats Jews who weren’t able to return to Jerusalem but were still stuck in exile.

This section of Esther is book-ended by drinking. We find the Persian King Xerxes hosting a six month open house to basically demonstrate just how awesome he truly was. Scholars tell us this most-likely happened before his invasion of Greece when he was attempting to entice as many rulers and nations as possible to join with him by showing them the excessive opulence and power of his reign. After the six-month open house he throws a massive party where the wine flowed to excess.

Floating in wine he calls for his beautiful wife Vashti to be paraded through to show everyone just how beautiful she was. For whatever reason, Vashti refused. Maybe she just didn’t want to be treated like an object by a bunch of drunks; maybe she didn’t want to streak before them wearing only her crown; maybe she was eight months pregnant as some scholars presume and just didn’t want to parade around naked and pregnant.

Regardless of her reasons, this caused the king and all the men to have a conniption; a conniption which resulted in her being deposed and then, of course, a massive beauty pageant was held to select the next virgin queen for the suffering king. Intrigue enters in when the beauty he selects turns out to be secretly Jewish. Esther pleases everyone with her humility and beauty. Her uncle Mordecai foils an attempt on the king’s life and instead of being rewarded; the king honors the wicked Haman. Turns out that the king orders everyone to bow down before Haman but Mordecai just cannot bow down to an Agagite, an ancient enemy of Judah.

Discovering that this Jew won’t show him proper obeisance, Haman decides not to dispatch just one Jew but all of them. He decides to annihilate the entire Jewish population under the guise of being threats to the king. One gets the sense that the king just isn’t paying much attention and allows Haman to put his plot into action. The die is cast and a date chosen for the day of Jewish annihilation. When the word is sent throughout the kingdom, panic, fear and mourning set in on the Jews but Haman and the king just go back to their drinking.

As we read Esther it may be wise to see where we can see GOD working in this story even if GOD is never mentioned. Try it and see what you find.

LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!

 June 11                                              Nehemiah 13

What could go wrong? Anything can go wrong. Everything can go wrong.

After getting the walls completed and dedicated; after getting the temple properly organized; after getting everyone on the same page through the Law and the covenant, Nehemiah goes back to Babylon to look after the cup of the king. After an undetermined amount of time he returns.

After an undetermined amount of time Nehemiah returns to find that most of the “we’s” from the covenant have been shattered. Rather than shattered I wonder if it was more like a gradual slipping that before anyone noticed chaos and disobedience reigned and the we, we, we’s ran all the way home.

Eliashib the priest has allowed one of those “foreign enemies” to take up residence in the temple courts; a foreign enemy he was related to none the less. For whatever reason, one of their leaders allowed an enemy who had been trying mightily to disrupt their work to come right in and set up housekeeping under their very noses, under GOD’s very nose in the temple.

While these quarters were now being lived in they were supposed to be filled with all of the offerings which had been pledged as part of those “we dos” in the covenant. We aren’t really told while the offerings stopped, whether it was due to Eliashib loaning out the storage rooms or not, the offerings stopped. Eventually the Levites stopped working at the temple and returned to their fields probably to provide for their families since the offerings had stopped.

All sorts of work was being done on the Sabbath and intermarriage seemed to be happening everywhere. The sincerity and severity and seriousness of the covenantal “we’s” just don’t seem to have made it very far. Having the “right” people and only the “right” people involved didn’t seem to work either.

Nehemiah begins to immediately deal with all of these issues and seems to correct them but did he really? Maybe that is why he keeps asking GOD to remember all that he has done for Jerusalem because he knows that once he returns to Babylon or dies the memory of his hard, faithful work will fade away through his people’s disobedience and no-one else will remember.

As I think about Ezra and Nehemiah and their noble attempts to walk in obedience to GOD and call GOD’s people back into covenantal living with GOD, I wonder how frustrated they became. I wonder if they realized that this was just not going to happen through human effort with the “right” people or not. As I think about all of this I can only say what a colleague in Miami would tell me when speaking of the disasters of life, particularly within the walls of the church, “Thank GOD for Jesus!” Hallelujah! Amen!

 June 10                                              Nehemiah 11 – 12

We return to the genealogical record in these two chapters as the city of Jerusalem is settled intentionally. Lots were chosen to select certain genealogically-approved families to come in and settle Jerusalem while the rest of the families settled and populated their hometown areas.

Both Ezra and Nehemiah seem to take great pains for the accuracy of these records to make sure the “right” people are back in town. This seems to mean that the “wrong” people, those who don’t have the proper birthrights are not allowed in town.

The completed wall is finally dedicated with priests, Levites, gatekeepers, musicians, and choirs. All seems to be in order. All is organized for the temple to once again become the center of life for Jerusalem, Judah and all Israelites everywhere. The proper offerings are being given and collected. Everyone seems to be doing what they are supposed to be doing. Everything seems to be in its proper place. What could go wrong? Any guesses?

LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!

June 9                                                Nehemiah 9 – 10

As life in the now walled Jerusalem continues, Ezra continues to read the Law to the people and they begin to live it out. As they hear the Word and how they have fallen short, they begin to cry but are stopped by their leaders who tell them it is a time of celebration instead of mourning. They celebrate the festival of the seventh month (the Festival of Booths) by building and living in temporary shelters.

Called to gather again they meet to mourn in sackcloth and fasting and by throwing dust on their heads. They separate themselves from all foreigners and begin to confess their sins before GOD. Not only do they confess their own personal sins but also the sins of their nation. By confessing it seems to me they are taking responsibility for the sins committed by their nation.

They are then led in prayer by the Levites and I am struck by this prayer. They speak to GOD in reverence and worship and recount the glorious acts by GOD. If I count correctly “you” is used more than fifty times in this prayer in chapter nine referring to GOD and all GOD has done for the Israelites. It is a rather thorough accounting of all that GOD has done for them from the very beginning.

Eventually in this prayer, “they” is used to refer to the Israelites and their response to GOD’s “Yous” which far too often are negative, disobedient responses. I count more than 25 “theys” in this same prayer and more often than not, the “theys” are sinful and disobedient which seals their doom. Yet, there is clear recognizance by the people that in spite of their sinful “theys,” GOD is still for them.

In chapter ten they sign a covenant, a “binding agreement” to obey GOD. This section is filled with “wes:” “we promise not to give our daughters in marriage to the peoples around us…; we will not buy from them on the Sabbath; every seventh year we will forego working the land and cancel all debts; we assume the responsibility for carrying out the commands…; We – the priests, the Levites and the people – have cast lots to determine…; we also resume responsibility for bringing…the firstfruits of our crops; we will bring the firstborn of our sons…; we will bring to the storerooms of the house of our God; we will bring a tithe…; we will not neglect the house of our God.”

In all sincerity, in all severity, in all seriousness the covenant was made, signed and sealed in the midst of all the Yous, theys and wes. I wonder how it will all turn out…

LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!

June 8                                                Nehemiah 7 – 8

I want to say a bit more about the opposition Nehemiah and the new citizens of Jerusalem encountered. They were surrounded by enemies. Some of those enemies had been there for hundreds and hundreds of years and had been headaches and worst for the Israelites over their history. Some of those enemies had been transferred in during Assyrian conquest and repopulation when the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered and carried away into exile.

These are many of the same folks who were thorns in the flesh to Ezra and continuously tattled on him to the kings of Persia until their plan backfired on them when King Darius took their advice, read their history and found that King Cyrus had indeed made the proclamation which allowed them to return and rebuild. In Nehemiah’s day which seems to be just about the same time as Ezra, we no longer see them writing letters back to the king but instead see them making several other attempts to stop the work.

They write threatening notes to Nehemiah. They try to entice him into meeting them outside of Jerusalem. They even try some internal Jewish connections to get him to trespass on the temple grounds and ruin his reputation to discredit him and his leadership. They circulate rumors around the city which causes everyone to respond with fear and trepidation. They try whatever they can to cause the Israelites to become distracted and fail at their task.

Did I say everyone responded with fear and trepidation? I was wrong. Nehemiah responded with prayer. As busy as he was rebuilding the walls we find Nehemiah confronting each threat with prayer. He responds boldly to these accusers and frankly, won’t give them the time of day so as not to become frightened or distracted.

When the threat comes from the inside, he handles it the same way; with prayer and boldly confronting his own countrymen all while setting the godly example for them all to follow. Throughout he asks GOD to remember; to remember what the others are doing against this great work; to remember all that Nehemiah was doing out of obedience to GOD.

The wall was completed in an amazing 52 days which caused all their enemies to quake in fear. Once the walls were built, Nehemiah sets to the task of getting everyone organized in regards to the temple and worship. Ezra then called everyone to gather and read the Law to them as if for the very first time. Ezra had the Law read and explained to them so that they all would be on the same page in living out this new life together in this new attempt at Jerusalem. They were still people of the Book and were trying to once again live that out in their Jerusalem.

June 7                                                Nehemiah 4 – 6

Arriving in Jerusalem, Nehemiah takes a couple of days to perhaps rest and recuperate from his travels. I have a hunch during this time he is listening perceptively, trying to understand just exactly what the task before him is that has brought him so far from home to tackle. Nehemiah chooses to go out at night in the ruins of the city to see for himself.

He takes a close look to inspect the ruined city walls and gates in the dark of night. Once he gets a handle on the situation he calls everyone together and explains to them that they are called with him to repair the walls of Jerusalem. This had to be an overwhelming task for them all. I can’t imagine being there, surrounded by destruction, struggling for survival and then hearing that I am supposed to drop everything in order to build the walls of the city.

Yet, that is exactly what needed to be done for the good of them all. They were living in disgrace and danger without walls. Do I dare say that without those walls they didn’t really have an identity as citizens of Jerusalem? Perhaps Jerusalem couldn’t even be considered a city without those walls to protect and defend her. Each of the carefully named and genealogically researched residents was called upon to forget about themselves and their loved ones for a short while in order to build the walls for the good and betterment of them all. How easy it is to get caught up in our own individual needs while we overlook the needs of everyone else.

They begin to rebuild the walls and in a stroke of genius it seems that many of them, if not all of them begin to rebuild the walls nearest to their own homes. The list of builders starts out with the name of Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests. That is exactly where the list of builders should begin; with the name of their priest, their spiritual leader.

Emphasized are also the nobles of Tekoa who just would not put their shoulders to the task. May my name never be on such a list, knowing that far too often clergy names do and should end up on such a list. You know that old joke about ministers only working one day a week and a half day at that. Well, here in Jerusalem the “clergy” worked while the nobles of Tekoa didn’t. LORD have mercy on us all!

As the citizens are working hard on the wall and if rebuilding the walls isn’t hard enough, they find themselves the objects of opposition from their enemies surrounding them. As Nehemiah scrambles to defend against these outside attacks, he discovers that alas they are attacking themselves by mistreating each other with exorbitant taxes, interest, etc.

Isn’t that a shame? We find ourselves called to a noble task by GOD and discover that far too often we have become our own worst enemies. LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!

June 6                                  Nehemiah 1 – 3

In our reading we now move from the book of Ezra to the book of Nehemiah which continues the same story with a new hero – Nehemiah. Although telling us as if by afterthought that he is a cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, Nehemiah is an important, trusted confidant of the king and certainly found himself more than occupied with the tasks and responsibilities of his position.

Years after the exiles had been permitted by King Cyrus to return to Jerusalem, the return continued in fits and spirts. One of his brothers had returned from Jerusalem and Nehemiah questioned him. I have always wondered if Nehemiah was just being nice, feigning interest in his brother’s journeys or was he really concerned in the midst of his busy, important life with what was actually happening in far off, distant Jerusalem. When Hanani describes the dangerous position the returning exiles found themselves and the disastrous conditions of the destroyed wall of Jerusalem, Nehemiah is heart-broken.

Nehemiah was so heart-broken that he sat and grieved with tears and mourning and fasting. Finally he prayed a desperate prayer of confession to GOD. He not only confessed his own personal sins but he confessed the sins of his nation. Nehemiah wasn’t fooling himself, he knew that it was Israel’s fault she had ended up being defeated and carried into exile as a conquered people. Nehemiah remembered GOD’s words of warning to the Israelites centuries before through Moses. They deserved exactly what they received.

Nehemiah also remembered that in GOD’s words to Moses GOD had promised that if one day they found themselves a scattered, conquered, exiled people that if they turned back to GOD and cried out to GOD, they would be heard and answered and rescued and returned! Nehemiah reminded GOD of these long-lost words of promise. Nehemiah calling on GOD to remember becomes one of the themes of this book.

One gets the sense that by the end of the prayer, Nehemiah knows in part how GOD wants to answer this particular prayer – through Nehemiah. Nehemiah summons up the courage to allow himself to be sad before the king; certainly a dangerous proposition for one who tests to make sure the king’s wine is safe and good for him to drink. Why, a sad face could mean a death sentence for both the cupbearer and the king! But Nehemiah’s face just couldn’t conceal the sadness of his heart.

The king noticed and courageously Nehemiah poured out his heart to the king. Nehemiah was prepared for the king and asked him for exactly what he needed to go to Jerusalem and do his part to rebuild the city. Carrying with him letters of safe passage and provision from the king for the authorities near Jerusalem, Nehemiah left in obedience to GOD as GOD’s answer to Nehemiah’s own desperate prayer. How ironic! How often has that happened to you? Amen? Amen.

 June 5                                       Ezra 10

This chapter continues describing the problem of intermarrying with the pagan nations surrounding Jerusalem. This isn’t just anyone involved in this sin but the so-called leaders of the exiles. Many of them are from priestly or Levitical families. The very ones who are to set the tone for the rest of the nation by living according to GOD’s Word are the very ones who have sinned so publicly and egregiously.

Ezra actually lists those guilty of intermarriage with pagan women by name according to their families in a public setting; one that we can read about here and now more than 2500 years later. Can you imagine? What would it be like to have one’s name written down in perpetuity for a particular sin that has been committed somewhere in the dark expanses of our lives? What would it be like to know that in 2500 years someone would read about our sinfulness in bold lettering?

Perhaps we have something similar going on in our own time with social media. The #MeToo movement regarding sexual assault and harassment has swept across our landscape over the last couple of years revealing the depths of depravity some of slipped too and the perpetual damage done to so many innocents. There are many other such social media movements revealing the sins and trespasses of a fallen people. The most common response seems to be of denial or excuse-making before a few finally come around to admit their sins but far too often, much too late.

Yet one big difference between Ezra’s day and our own is that in this particular setting during the return from exile to Jerusalem, folks were so convicted by the Holy Spirit that they publicly confessed their sins, repented and took the necessary steps to rectify their sinfulness before it was too late; again. All they had to do to see the gravity of their current situation was to see the effect of similar sins centuries before in the burned ruins of GOD’s city on earth around them – Jerusalem.

What would that even look like in our own time? Rarely do we see such a voluntary and public act of confession and repentance where people actually take responsibility for their own sinfulness in sincerity and grief. Maybe it begins with each of us in the intimacy of our own hearts. Maybe it begins with the realization that if there was indeed such a book that contains all committed sins, dates and names; then each of our names would be written there in black and white with red all over it – the blood of Jesus!

Amen? Amen!

June 4                                 Ezra 8 – 9

In chapter 8 we find the author (most probably Ezra) speaking in first-person and describing their trip from Babylon to Jerusalem. Taking stock of all who are with them they realize that they need more Levites to take care of the temple and send for them. They wait for them at the Ahava Canal outside of Babylon while continuing to prepare for their trip to Jerusalem.

The Levites arrived and before setting out together they spent time fasting and praying. They had been quite bold with King Artaxerxes in declaring how GOD would look out for them and were ashamed to ask him for an armed guard to accompany them on their trip through dangerous terrain. In their embarrassment they turned to GOD and committed their needs into GOD’s hands. Ezra shares in 8:31 the results of their prayers and fasting: “The hand of our God was on us, and he protected us from enemies and bandits along the way.”

Funny that often times we turn to GOD in our embarrassment or as an afterthought and yet GOD is faithful, always faithful. Even in the dust of destruction in Jerusalem while the ashes cooled from the burnt temple leading many to think that GOD was nowhere to be found, GOD was already with them, going ahead of them to captivity where GOD would bless them. Now, GOD goes ahead of them back to Jerusalem where, of course, GOD had always been.

Arriving in Jerusalem, Ezra discovers that many of the returning exiles have forgotten the lessons learned the hard way from Israel’s past. Warned from the beginning about mixing with the pagan peoples who live around Jerusalem and the threat they present to lead them away from the One, True GOD, the returning exiles once again seek marriage with foreign, pagan peoples. If Solomon, one of the wisest persons who ever lived on this earth, a man who encountered GOD two separate times in dreams could be led away by pagan wives, anyone could be.

Ezra calls the people together. First it is a small group but the group grows to include most if not all of the returning exiles. They repent together with sack cloth and ashes, mourning their sinfulness against GOD and seeking more mercy. At the same time, those who are guilty are called to separate themselves from their pagan wives and even their children. Tough decisions have to be made for the sake of relationship with GOD.

Interesting that it wouldn’t have been so painful, so destructive if the right decisions had been made from the start…

 LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!

June 3                                    Ezra 6 – 7

It is so hard to be king. Imagine all that King Darius had to deal with in ruling over the now Persian Empire. Imagine all the little fires he had to put out in his own backyard, defending himself from palace intrigue. Imagine all the responsibility he held in making sure his army was on top of things over hundreds and hundreds of miles and hundreds of thousands of people. I have always wondered how any national leader gets any sleep. Did Darius ever sleep?

Now, imagine getting these letters about an obscure, unimportant people on a mission trip hundreds of miles away in some backwater city that didn’t even exist. Maybe he read this letter one night to try and cure a bout of insomnia. He reads of this people who persist in rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem who have gone so far to say that King Cyrus had ordered them to do it. He heads to the history books and discovers that King Cyrus indeed had ordered the Jews to return to their homeland and build a temple to honor their GOD, the One, True GOD.

He responds to the tattle-tales that as a matter of fact Cyrus had ordered them to return and build the temple. He tells them in no uncertain terms to cease and desist. That’s not really true. He actually orders them to do all in their power to make sure they complete their task. He orders them to provide whatever building supplies they need. He orders them to provide whatever they need for their burnt offerings. He even orders them to pay their salaries.

The enemies comply to the king’s declaration with due diligence and soon their work is completed. The temple is dedicated, the priests and Levites are re-organized and Passover is held. Our supposed author of this book, Ezra comes upon the scene in chapter 7 as he arrives in Jerusalem. He comes from a long line of priests and is known as a great teacher of the Law of Moses. It took him four long months to arrive in Jerusalem from Babylon.

He comes by the grace of GOD and the favor of King Artaxerxes who sends him with one of those letters. This particular letter once again instructs the perceived enemies of the Jews to help them in their efforts, to give Ezra whatever he needs. What is most remarkable to me in this letter from Artaxerxes is the ease with which he speaks of Ezra’s GOD and his desire to make sure the One, True GOD is pleased and praised. How could this be?

The miracle continues with a people who once were not a people then became a people, once more were not a people and have now been made a people once again, GOD’s people. The everlasting nature of that covenant which I am sure many had assumed had been destroyed in those Babylonian flames had perhaps smoldered but was now rekindled and burning brightly in the hearts of the faithful. Hallelujah!!!

June 2                                                Ezra 3 – 5

The first wave of returning exiles returns to Jerusalem and take up an altar for the work at hand. They then settle in their towns before beginning the work of rebuilding the temple. Called to their task by Zerubbabel they begin the work by starting on the altar so they can begin to offer GOD sacrifices and offerings even while they work, long before they get the temple finished. For me this is a stroke of inspired brilliance.

Remember back when Solomon completed the temple, what was the first thing he brought in to the temple? He brought all of his father David’s wealth into the temple before bringing back the Ark. What was the significance of this? Maybe nothing but it is sticking in my crawl. It seems that the treasure needed to be safe and secure first before bringing the Ark into the temple. The Ark represented the living presence of the Living GOD and it was not brought back first. I wonder if this revealed something deep in Solomon’s heart.

Nevertheless, this time around they begin work first on the altar so they can begin communing with GOD right off the bat. Even though surrounded by enemies they build the altar and immediately begin offering sacrifices to the One, True GOD. It is as if they realized that their true protection against all enemies comes primarily from their GOD, not any wall that most would have built first.

They then begin work establishing the foundation for the temple. As they laid the foundation for the temple some shouted in praise while others mourned from the very depths of their hearts. I wonder if those who praised had never before seen the temple and were just so excited for this new beginning. I wonder if those who mourned so deeply and loudly were the ones who were old enough to have remembered what Solomon’s Temple looked like and were mourning over this enduring loss.

As work starts in earnest, their enemies localize and inform the new king about the proceedings in hated Jerusalem. The new king is instructed to check out the history and sees that Israel had long been a thorn in the paws of the powerful kingdoms in Mesopotamia. He agrees with the enemies and shuts down the work on the temple. But as prophets are known to do, they continued to prophesy about the rebuilding of the temple, calling the people back to their task.

Zerubbabel and Joshua get back to work on the temple and a second attempt is made by their enemies to shut down the work. They just couldn’t leave well enough alone. They wrote another letter informing on the Israelites and telling King Darius verbatim the response of the Israelites on the history of this task of rebuilding. The Israelites give them the brief history which their enemies ask King Darius to check out. They just couldn’t leave well enough alone. Amen? Amen!

June 1                           Ezra 1 – 2

The book of Ezra picks up right where 2 Chronicles ended with the account of the Persian King Cyrus, now in control of the Babylonian Empire making the declaration that the Jews may return to Jerusalem and the surrounding area to rebuild the temple. Cyrus says in 1:2: “The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah…”

Uh, I am not sure if we realize just what an amazing event this is in the history of humanity. A foreign king, a pagan king even recognizes the One, True GOD of Israel as the One who has given him his success and wealth and power. Not only that but this foreign, pagan king has it in his heart to rebuild the temple for the One, True GOD and sends the Jews back to build and live and flourish. This is unheard of in human history.

A conquered nation; a people that have been uprooted from their homeland are being sent back to rebuild and repopulate their country. This is an exact reversal of what happened to the people of Israel. Previously at the hands of both the Assyrians and the Babylonians they were defeated, then separated and intentionally sown separately from each other all over the empire. Now they are being sent home.

There is a very important phrase here in Ezra chapter one. It occurs two separate times. Ezra 1:1: “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm…” Ezra repeats this phrase in 1:5: “Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites – everyone whose heart GOD had moved – prepared to go up and build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem.”

The LORD was moving in the hearts of men and women, even one particular man who was not from Israel, Cyrus. The LORD who many had just assumed had ceased to exist when the Babylonians entered his house, desecrated his house, tore down his house and then burned it all was still active and alive. Now the prophets during this period of exile had certainly known this truth but certainly many of the others as they languished in exile in a foreign land as captives had accepted the illusion that their GOD was dead.

Surprise! GOD is still alive and active and making himself known through the pagan Cyrus. Hallelujah! Amen!

May 31                               2 Chronicles 34 – 36

The end is drawing near for the kingdom of Judah. By now in the reading the northern kingdom of Israel has been annihilated by Assyria and the survivors carried off into exile scattered across the Assyrian empire. Little, tiny, seemingly insignificant Judah survived the Assyrian onslaught with godly leadership trusting in GOD against all odds, for a while.

The incredible accomplishments of Hezekiah were neutralized and erased by his wicked son Manasseh. Even though Manasseh seems to have repented, the irreversible damage had been done. Followed by his son Amon who just didn’t learn his father’s lesson of humble repentance, rather increased his own guilt and was assassinated by his own officials after two years. His young son Josiah follows in his footsteps.

I have a working theory which I am unable to prove but it sounds right to me. Often times we find sons following wicked fathers who choose not to walk in their footprints but seek GOD instead. Such is the case with Josiah. My working theory is that in spite of the wicked fathers, the godly influence just must have come from their mothers. Often times we are told very little about their mothers but for me, the proof is in the pudding. Just as Jezebel can negatively impact children, grand-children, etc., so can a godly mother positively impact many generations after her. I hope this happened in Josiah’s case.

Something happened because Josiah began as a youth with a fervor to transform his kingdom with GOD’s help. He got back to the basics of faith to turn around his nation. Even after being informed that doom was irreversibly approaching after his death, Josiah dove in with both feet to make a real difference in his world. It was apparently during the long years of Manasseh’s reign that the Book of the Law was lost but wonderfully recovered in the time of Josiah not just in the temple but in his heart. Revival began with a return to the Word of GOD, it always does.

As uplifting as Josiah’s story is he ended with a military blunder and those who followed him just did not have his heart or mind. Judah was plunged into disaster, defeated by Babylon and taken into exile leaving behind her city and nation in burning ruins. The historian of the Books of Kings ended with hope when he told us that King Awel-Marduk became king of Babylon and released the deposed and exile King Jehoiachin from prison and gave him a high seat of honor at his table restoring hope to Judah.

The Chronicler skips over all that and tells us about King Cyrus of Persia, conqueror of Babylon releasing the captives to return to Jerusalem and build a temple for the One, True GOD. In spite of all the personal and corporate disasters caused by GOD’s chosen people, he hadn’t given up. His side of the Covenant still stood. He still does… Hallelujah! Amen!

May 30                                              2 Chronicles 31 – 33

It is hard to be king. Hezekiah did so many things right. Hezekiah cleansed and purified the temple. Hezekiah fully re-established all of the proper, prescribed practices for the priests, the Levites and the common people. Hezekiah called them to consecrate themselves in order to serve GOD fully and wholeheartedly. Hezekiah invited what used to be the entire nation of Israel to gather at the temple in Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover.

Hezekiah proved to be a wise, military strategist. When the Assyrians approached it was Hezekiah who ordered the springs outside of the gates to be blocked and re-channeled through tunnels inside Jerusalem. It was Hezekiah who by trusting GOD refused to be intimidated by the Assyrian King Sennacherib who was on a rampage across the Middle East at that time. Hezekiah didn’t over-react. Hezekiah didn’t panic. Hezekiah chose to trust GOD. Hezekiah chose GOD. GOD acted on his behalf to annihilate the Assyrian army.

But, it is hard to be king. It is hard to be king and stay humble. It is hard to be king and remember that everything comes from GOD’s hand. Miraculously cured from an illness, the Chroniclers puts it this way in 32:24-25: “In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. He prayed to the LORD, who answered him and gave him a miraculous sign. But Hezekiah’s heart was proud and he did not respond to the kindness shown him…”

The Chronicler gives us a bit more information than the historian in Kings. We learn here that Hezekiah repented of the pride in his heart. But when the Babylonian envoys came to see the miraculous sign in Judah which most believe to be the miracle of Hezekiah’s healing, we are told that GOD left Hezekiah to test him. Unfortunately, when the Babylonians basically came to encounter GOD, Hezekiah pointed them to his achievements, his wealth, his power not GOD. It is so hard to be king!

Manasseh is born to Hezekiah during that 15 year reprieve from death and at first he seems to do everything he possibly can to destroy what his father Hezekiah had accomplished, especially his walk with the Living GOD of Israel! But the Assyrians return and take Manasseh captive with a hook in his nose. In captivity Manasseh finds humility and repents of his pride. GOD intervenes and brings him home. It is so hard to be king. Who is the king of your heart?

LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!

May 29                                              2 Chronicles 28 – 30

Uzziah is followed by his son Jotham who sought GOD without entering into the temple to offer incense as his father had done. Jotham served as king for 16 years and his reign was marked with success in a variety of ways. Most of all, Jotham followed after GOD. A revealing word from the Chronicler in 27:6 wraps up his story with a bow: “Jotham grew powerful because he walked steadfastly before the LORD his God.”

Jotham’s son Ahaz followed him as king but not really. Jotham followed the ways of the kings of the northern kingdom of Israel and we now know what that means: he set up and worshiped other idols; he offered his children as sacrifices to other gods; he worshiped those pagan gods anywhere he found one of those high places. Even more than that, Ahaz was given the opportunity by the prophet Isaiah to trust GOD when invaded by Israel but he chose to pay off Assyria instead who invaded and destroyed Israel.

Ahaz went so far in his disobedience that he removed all of the furnishings from the temple and destroyed them. He even shut up the doors of the temple and set up pagan altars on every street corner in Jerusalem. In reading the account of Ahaz it seems like he truly hated the One, True GOD and challenged him to a fight where-ever and whenever he could. Someone saw this truth in his life and when Ahaz died, he was not buried with the other kings of Judah.

Beginning in chapter 29, the Chronicler goes in to great depth to describe for us just how righteous King Hezekiah was throughout his lifetime. We are told that Hezekiah was the son of Abijah, Zechariah’s daughter. I wonder if she was related to either of the two prophets named Zechariah in 2 Chronicles. Probably not but Hezekiah received a terrific godly influence from someone and I bet it was his mother Abijah. Upon Ahaz’ death, Hezekiah immediately set to cleansing and re-opening the temple. He reinstated the priests and Levites.

Hezekiah seemed to clearly see that for his nation to succeed she had to return to her One, True GOD. He went all in to restore not just the temple but all the prescribed practices for the temple. He called upon the Levites to consecrate themselves to the LORD. He called upon all of Israel and Judah to celebrate the Passover which had not been properly celebrated in years and years. In this whole process of renewal and revival Hezekiah was out front, often way out in front of the priests who seemed to be slow to consecrate themselves. Not, Hezekiah. Hallelujah! Amen!

May 28                                              2 Chronicles 25 – 27

I got so hung up no Jehoshaphat’s marital woes yesterday that I didn’t even mention King Joash. I have to mention King Joash. At the death of his father Ahaziah, his grandmother Athaliah attempted to wipe out the whole royal family and it seemed like she had exterminated all of them but she missed one. Aunt Jehosheba, daughter of Jehoram, possible sister of Ahaziah and possible daughter of the wicked Athaliah stepped in and saved little Joash.

She entrusted little Joash into the hands of the trusted priest Jehoiada and his wife. They raised Joash secretly until the priest had consolidated his power and returned Joash to his rightful throne. This resulted in the execution of grandmother Athaliah. We are told in 24: 2: “Joash did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all the years of Jehoiada the priest” who must have enjoyed godly influence over the young king. This priestly influenced led Joash to lead a repair and cleansing of the temple that had been desecrated once again after the death of his great-grandfather Jehoshaphat years before.

However, we are later told that once Jehoiada died that Joash was approached by the leaders of Judah who came to blow flattering smoke at Joash and led him away to worship other gods. I wonder what they wished to accomplish through this treachery and betrayal of GOD. Even when GOD sent prophets to warn them to turn back, they ignored them. Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada, was filled with the Spirit of GOD and tried to warn Joash to turn back. Joash responded by executing Zechariah, the very son of his lifelong mentor.

Joash who started off so well ended so badly. He was murdered by his own officials in retribution for his execution of Zechariah. Followed by Amaziah whose mother was from Jerusalem (not from the wicked northern kingdom of Israel) ruled in righteousness but catch this worrisome description of him in 25:2: “He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, but not wholeheartedly.” Oops. This would soon become problematic when he massacred the Edomites and then brought back their own worthless gods to serve. In his pride he refused to return to the One, True GOD.

His son Uzziah replaced him and sought to please GOD as long as the prophet Zechariah was with him and we are told that as long as he sought GOD, GOD gave him success. But as success grew, so did his pride and he even went in to the temple to burn incense which was strictly reserved for the priests and Levites. Confronted by them he raged at them in the holy temple until leprosy broke out on his forehead. He remained leprous the rest of his life. Perhaps pride is a form of leprosy of the heart.

LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!

May 27                                              2 Chronicles 21 – 24

Even though the Chronicler has moved on from Jehoshaphat I haven’t quite yet. Far be it for me to be overly critical and may the LORD forgive me but Jehoshaphat was a wonderful man who sought GOD whole-heartedly but he apparently made one mistake which led to major issues not just for him but for those who followed in his footsteps and most importantly for the nation they served.

Jehoshaphat married the wrong woman. We aren’t told anything about her. I couldn’t even find her name mentioned anywhere. All we know about her was that she was a member of Ahab’s family – Ahab, a quite successful king of the northern kingdom of Israel; Ahab, the husband of the wicked Jezebel; Ahab, whose lust for all things pagan spelled the doom for his own country. The righteous Jehoshaphat made a key mistake, for whatever reason he married the wrong woman.

We are told that to form an alliance with wicked King Ahab, Jehoshaphat married into Ahab’s family which as we have previously seen, was steeped in sin, disobedience and apostasy. This alliance led Jehoshaphat to risk his life and kingdom for Ahab. This led Jehoshaphat to make a second silly alliance with Ahab’s son which resulted in the destruction of a Judean fleet of ships.

Even worse, it seems to have led the righteous king’s son Jehoram deep into sin himself and apparently enticed him to murder all of his brothers in cold blood. We are told in 21:6: “He followed the ways of the kings of Israel, as the house of Ahab had done, for he married a daughter of Ahab. He did evil in the eyes of the LORD.”

King Jehoram ruled for only eight years before dying and his epitaph contains some of the saddest words I have found anywhere “he passed away to no one’s regret…” His son Ahaziah followed in his father’s footsteps in multiple ways as he also followed the wicked ways of the family of Ahab led by his mother,  a daughter of Ahab. At Ahaziah’s death his mother Athaliah destroyed the entire royal family of the house of Judah. Judah is now deeply infected by the sin of the house of Ahab.

As I think of Jehoshaphat, I tremble and it makes me want to add a line to that old children’s song:

“Be careful little eyes what you see…

Be careful little ears what you hear…

Be careful little mouths what you say…

Be careful little minds what you think…

Be careful little heart who you love…”

 May 26                                              2 Chronicles 18 – 20

It’s hard to be king. Jehoshaphat follows his father Asa as king and is known as a king who seeks the One, True GOD with all of his heart. In 17:3-6 we are told: “The LORD was with Jehoshaphat because he followed the ways of his father David before him. He did not consult the baals but sought the God of his father and followed his commands rather than the practices of Israel. The LORD established the kingdom under his control…His heart was devoted to the ways of the LORD…”

Jehoshaphat had a heart for GOD and wanted his nation to have the same heart for GOD. Jehoshaphat even sent a team of Levites out throughout the country to train, teach and lead the nation back to GOD through the Book of the Law of the LORD. Jehoshaphat and the nation of Judah were blessed and prospered as the fear of the LORD fell on all the nations surrounding Judah. This is described as an incredible time of growth and wealth and strength as Judah sought GOD, GOD was with them and blessed them in every way.

With all due respect, I see some sort of compartmentalization here in the life of Jehoshaphat. He was obviously a godly man who led his nation in godliness yet for some reason he makes an alliance with wicked King Ahab and Queen Jezebel of Israel. I wonder if he felt like for the betterment of his nation it was okay to make an alliance with such a wicked king. I wonder if he forgot that holiness was to permeate every area of his life and kingship, not just his personal life. I wonder.

If one reads carefully it seems easy to see that Ahab manipulated and used Jehoshaphat any chance he got. It always makes me laugh when Ahab talks Jehoshaphat into joining him in battle against Ramoth Gilead and then tells the junior king to wear his royal robes in all of his splendor while Ahab disguises himself. Of course the soldiers of Ramoth Gilead head straight for Jehoshaphat until he cries out and they realized he wasn’t Ahab. Meanwhile, the disguised Ahab is wounded “randomly” and dies.

In spite of this royal hiccup, Jehoshaphat remains faithful to GOD and leads his nation in faithful commitment to the One, True GOD. Even while enemies approach Jehoshaphat leads his nation in trusting praise and worship. GOD responds in a powerful way by destroying their enemies. Jehoshaphat has seemed to learn to trust GOD in all things except for making alliances with those wicked kings from Israel from time to time. Be careful with those marriage alliances…

LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy!

 May 25                                              2 Chronicles 14 – 17

The first three chapters of today’s reading deal with King Asa. We are told right up front in 14:2-4: “Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the LORD his God. He removed the foreign altars and the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He commanded Judah to seek the LORD, the God of their ancestors, and to obey his laws and commands…”

We are told later in 15:17 that “Asa’s heart was fully committed to the LORD all his life…” Asa started out well by seeking GOD and lived out his relationship with GOD through his kingship. He tried his best to stomp out pagan apostasy from his nation and called on his people to do likewise.

After a mighty victory against the Cushites he was encouraged and inspired by the prophet who told him in 15:2-4: “The LORD is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you. For a long time Israel was without the true God, without a priest to teach and without the law. But in their distress they turned to the LORD, the God of Israel, and sought him and he was found by them…”

Asa sought GOD and found GOD. As the nation grew in faithfulness to GOD and was blessed, people began to flock back to Judah, they wanted to encounter GOD, too. 15:9 reveals this fact: “Then he (Asa) assembled all Judah and Benjamin and the people from Ephraim, Manasseh and Simeon who had settled among them, for large numbers had come over to him from Israel when they saw that the LORD his God was with him.”

I want to quickly lift up a couple of truths here from this lengthy text. If we will seek GOD sincerely and whole-heartedly we will find GOD and GOD will reveal Himself in, to and through us. So much so, that others will come, too. Sounds like a movie catchphrase – “If you seek GOD, they will come…” If we seek GOD and are with GOD, GOD will be found with us and they will come… I sincerely believe that still holds true today…

Again demonstrating the difficulty of remaining faithful as we mature in age, Israel threatens Judah and Asa responds by paying off the Aramites who attacked several Israel cities. Apparent victory and rescue were tarnished when the prophet confronted King Asa and pointed out to him that he trusted the king of Aram rather than GOD and ongoing war would be the result. Angered, Asa turned away from GOD, even when seriously ill, he refused to turn to GOD for help. Pride always goes before the fall particularly to our leaders. LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!

May 24                                                             2 Chronicles 10 – 13

Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, was destined to be king of Israel but due to Solomon’s apostasy in the latter years of his reign, GOD had made other plans. It interests me that in GOD’s other plans oh so often are the willful decisions of men. In all of the wise writings of the magnificent Solomon it is just too bad that Rehoboam never read about “how to win friends and influence people.”

Jeroboam, an enemy of Solomon, leads a contingent from the ten northern tribes of Israel and speaks with Rehoboam. They tell Rehoboam that if he would treat them with greater kindness and respect than Solomon, they would be his people. Rehoboam first consults with his elders, advisers of his father who tell him to treat his new subjects with kindness and respect not in the harsh ways his father had treated them.

Rehoboam then turns to his peers who advise him to be even harder on them than his father was. Rehoboam sides with his peers and uses incredibly harsh language to intimidate his own people. He compares his pinky with his father’s waist, he tells them that his father whipped them with whips but he will whip them with scorpions. Needless to say, Rehoboam’s “kinder, gentler” words went nowhere and he lost 80 % of his kingdom in one fell swoop.

It seems that Rehoboam just wanted to flaunt his power and authority over his subjects instead of ruling them with kindness and compassion and wisdom. The nation of Israel is divided. As Jeroboam sets up his kingdom to the north, he sets up his own gods and altars and priests in direct opposition not just to Rehoboam but to GOD. As the Levites are pushed out of their divine-given right to serve in the northern kingdom, they flock south to Judah and are followed there by many who still want to serve the One, True GOD in holiness and obedience.

Once Rehoboam is established in his kingdom which contains the tribes of Judah and Benjamin we are told by the Chronicler in 12:1-2: that “he and all Israel with him abandoned the law of the LORD. Because they had been unfaithful to the LORD, Shishak king of Egypt attacked Jerusalem in the fifth year of King Rehoboam.” The prophet Shemaiah confronts Rehoboam and tells him that all this is happening to him because he and his people abandoned GOD so GOD abandoned them. Isn’t it funny how that works?

Rehoboam and his people humble themselves before GOD and GOD relents in his punishment. He delays in their release so that they might just learn to trust GOD always. How does one win friends and influence people? By humbling oneself before GOD and letting GOD be GOD. Amen? Amen.

 

May 23                                                             2 Chronicles 7 – 9

After Solomon prayed the magnificent prayer in chapter 6, fire came down from heaven and consumed all the offerings and sacrifices. The glory of the LORD then filled up the temple. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine what that must have been like for all the people there that day?

There was so much pomp and circumstance. In his majestic prayer, Solomon revealed that this would be a place of worship and prayer. Solomon very honestly reveals that there would come moments when he and the people would fail but that all they had to do was return to GOD in prayer and confession and repentance.

By sending down his fire and glory, GOD revealed that it would be more than that just a place of prayer and worship. This magnificent temple would somehow become the dwelling place for GOD and the universe itself wasn’t a large enough dwelling place for the One, True GOD! Can you imagine that?

After the temple is dedicated Solomon has another encounter with GOD where GOD tells him that His eyes and his heart will always be there. He reaffirms his covenant both with Solomon and Israel but includes a direct warning that if Solomon and/or Israel turn away from GOD there will be harsh judgment.

GOD made Solomon great and the Chronicler spent the next 9 chapters demonstrating the extraordinary greatness of Solomon and all his achievements. Well, not all of his achievements. The writer in Kings lifted up the “achievement” of all Solomon’s foreign wives who led him astray to worship other gods which led directly to his downfall.

Here, the Chronicler only mentions Solomon’s marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter and the fact that Solomon knew it wasn’t right as he wouldn’t let her live in the temple of his father David because the places where the Ark had touched were holy… As Pharaoh’s daughter she would have worshiped a plethora of other gods. No editorial judgment is made against Solomon here and the Chronicler leaves us with a sweet taste in our mouths regarding Solomon.

Solomon was indeed a great king but a flawed king. Solomon seems to be most important to the Chronicler because he was GOD’s instrument in constructing the temple and fully implementing the sacrificial system in the temple. As a people longing once again for their homeland, for their families, for their GOD – the achievements of Solomon though bitter at the time must have comforted the people. What once was could be once again in the hands of the Living GOD! Amen? Amen!

May 22                                              2 Chronicles 4 – 6

Because GOD was with Solomon and made him great, Solomon continued his work on the temple. Even though we know Solomon had help with the temple, the Chronicler gets so caught up that at times it seems Solomon did it all himself! He completes the construction of the temple. He completes all the furnishings of the temple. He! He!

After completing the temple with its furnishings he brings in all of the treasure David had consecrated and dedicated for the temple and puts it in the treasuries. Then and only then did he move the Ark from the tent David had made for it temporarily in Jerusalem to its new home. Solomon, perhaps learning from his father’s mistakes decades earlier moves the Ark strictly by the Book, having only the specific Levites carry the Ark with the provided poles in the prescribed ways.

I wonder and this is most likely swatting at those “no-seeums” at this point but I am intrigued. I wonder why Solomon put all of the dedicated treasure from his father into the temple first. It seems from the Chronicler’s descriptions that all had been done with sanctified intention and creativity. Solomon did everything regarding the temple with divinely-inspired excellence and brilliance. And yet, before moving the Ark into the temple he moved the money. Is this perhaps a sign of things to come which would bring about the downfall of Solomon and all Israel? I am definitely not sure but it makes me wonder…

Once the Ark is moved into place the temple is filled with the cloud of GOD’s glory and presence. Even Solomon seems to get caught up with himself and declares that he had built this temple for GOD. I am sure he had a lot of help, much of it from conscripted foreigners. Is this another sign of trouble to come? Nevertheless, the temple fills up with GOD’s presence and Solomon prays a prayer that perhaps only a man who had encountered GOD in such a powerful, personal way could pray.

Would the temple become all that Solomon hoped it would? Perhaps a more important question is would Solomon become all that GOD hoped he would become? For us today, a more important question may well be: will we become all that GOD has called and created us to become? Guess what? This GOD whose glory filled the temple back in Solomon’s time has offered to fill us up with His very presence here and now because as followers of Christ, we are now the temple of the living GOD. Hallelujah? Hallelujah! Amen!

May 21                                                             2 Chronicles 1 – 3

The Chronicler dives right in with Solomon’s story and seems to set the stage for what follows with this simple introduction in 2 Chronicles 1:1: “Solomon son of David established himself firmly over his kingdom, for the LORD his God was with him and made him exceedingly great.” “The LORD his God was with him and made him exceedingly great” serves to set the context for the next 9 chapters.

We are told of Solomon’s encounter with GOD when GOD tells Solomon to ask for whatever he wants. This may be the place to stop and ponder for a moment. If you had a similar encounter with GOD and GOD gave you the opportunity to choose whatever you wanted, what would you choose? Solomon asked GOD for wisdom and knowledge so that he would be able to lead his people. From your perspective, is there anything better Solomon could have requested?

Because Solomon was his father’s son and selflessly requested wisdom and knowledge so that he would be a good leader, GOD heard his request, answered his request and gave him oh so much more. Solomon’s encounter with GOD is in reality the context of all that follows from the Chronicler’s account of Solomon.

From this divine encounter we move from one extraordinary accomplishment to the next spending the most time on the temple preparations, temple construction, temple furnishings, Ark brought into the temple, Solomon’s prayer of dedication for the temple, the actual dedication of the temple, etc. In chapter 3 we find detailed information about Solomon building the temple in all its majesty and splendor in an attempt to reflect GOD’s majesty and splendor to the entire world.

From the Chronicler’s perspective, Solomon is a king all can be proud of. Solomon is a king who thanks to his earthly father and heavenly Father got a great start as king and began early on to demonstrate that the One, True GOD was with him, blessing him, making him great. The temple would prove to be Solomon’s greatest achievement. As great an achievement as the temple, like most human achievements it just didn’t last. How about Solomon’s legacy? Time will tell. Time will tell.

May 20                                              1 Chronicles 27 – 29

Today’s reading not only ends with the death of David but concludes 1 Chronicles. Much attention is spent in this section on the preparations King David made for the temple construction. Even though David was not permitted by GOD to actually build the temple, David didn’t give up on the idea. He knew it was not his blessed task but he wanted to make sure his son Solomon would be up to the task.

By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, David drew up the blueprints for the temple. He not only drew up the architectural designs but invested massive sums of wealth, much of it from his own personal treasury  – gold, silver, bronze, etc. – to insure that Solomon would be able to fulfill his plans for the temple.

I have noticed that sometimes we don’t really want those who come after us to succeed. I had some jobs earlier in my life when it seemed my more experienced co-workers held long lost secrets of how to get the job done in the best way but would not relinquish those secrets. I don’t know if they were afraid of losing their jobs or respect or position or they just wanted me to learn it on my own but regardless they made life just a little more difficult for the younger ones, myself included.

We can learn from David here that he considered Solomon’s success as king, his own. If Solomon became a successful king then that would reflect favorably on David and let’s be honest, David’s family had more than their fair share of disasters. Most of all, David desired to honor GOD with this temple and even more than that, wanted his son to honor GOD with his life. It looks like David went all in to make sure that GOD was honored by Solomon’s architectural accomplishments as well as by his faithful living.

David provided plans and provisions to help Solomon be a success in every way. Alas, the final results were up to Solomon. We can’t force someone else to be who we want them to be but we can give all that we can to help them along the way. Rather than gripe, complain or conspire against those who follow in our footsteps, wouldn’t it be better if we went all in to help them succeed and even surpass our achievements on this earth?

David gave Solomon a great head-start to becoming a man after God’s own heart while becoming a king all could be proud of. What steps are we taking today to insure the similar success of those who come along behind us tomorrow?

May 19                                                             1 Chronicles 24 – 26

Today we find ourselves neck-deep in genealogy, a genealogy which actually started in chapter 23 and continues through chapter 28. Once again the Chronicler focuses on the genealogy of the Levites and adds their particular assignments and responsibilities. I will be honest, it is more than I have ever wanted to know about the Levites and their responsibilities during the reign of King David.

Most of what we know about David we learn from 1 and 2 Samuel. In 1 Chronicles the Chronicler focuses on David’s capture of Jerusalem, his attempts to take the Ark to Jerusalem, a listing of his mighty warriors, a mention of many of his military conquests, GOD’s promises to David, his sinsus (excuse me, census) and a rather complete list of all the Levities serving the temple during his reign. The Chronicler doesn’t even give us many details for most of David’s life but does go into great and minute detail about the Levites.

In this sense the Chronicler reveals up to this point that he is most concerned about the importance of the Ark and the establishment of the Levites and their responsibilities with the Ark. We will see in tomorrow’s readings the focus redirects toward the temple. We will see that the Chronicler is writing for his exiled audience, reminding them of GOD’s continued existence and involvement with them in exile. Even though their homeland and temple have been destroyed, GOD has not been destroyed and is still alive and active in their midst.

Maybe that’s why the genealogy is so important for this writer. Reminding the folks in exile of their ancestral families and their covenantal relationship with the One, True GOD certainly inspired, encouraged and comforted them as they wondered if they had been forgotten, if they still had a future. Their future was embedded in GOD’s promises to them in the past. Though cast out of their homes,  their nation, even their families they were still members of GOD’s family. Amen? Amen!

May 18                                              1 Chronicles 21 – 23

Yesterday we noted that the Chronicler didn’t mention David’s sin against Bathsheba and Uriah at all. However, we are told here in chapter 21 that David was enticed by Satan and took a census of all of his soldiers. We have a regular census here in the United States every ten years. Now, I know to some that feels sinful because it can be such an intrusive pain but it seems to be necessary. In this case it was not necessary. I wonder why the Chronicler saw this census as so wrong and sinful. Did it perhaps have anything to do with pride?

As David neared the end of his career and life, and we have seen how challenging it is to end well (see Hezekiah), did David perhaps begin to take his eyes off GOD and place them on himself? Was this census a way for David to prove just how strong and mighty he was? I am not sure but we are told that Joab, the commander of David’s army, saw it as sin and even though ordered to carry out the census did not count all of the tribes. If we know anything about Joab we know that he was not normally lifted up as a paragon of righteousness but here he knew sin when he saw it.

Not only did Joab recognize the sinfulness of this census but GOD did as well. GOD responded to David’s sin by giving him three options for punishment: 3 years of famine, 3 months of being attacked by his enemies or 3 days of a plague from GOD. David chose the plague from GOD knowing that GOD was much more merciful than his enemies. There were devastating consequences of this census and David’s selection of the plague.

We are told that 70,000 died to the plague and as an angel approached Jerusalem to destroy it, GOD relented and restrained the angel. David saw the angel and responded by falling before GOD in sackcloth and asked GOD for the punishment to fall on he and his family since he was the guilty party. This brutish story ends with David buying the threshing floor of Araunah to build an altar to the LORD there. This threshing floor would eventually become the site of the temple. This threshing floor would be very close to where Christ would be crucified about a thousand years later.

I know the reading through the Old Testament is often rough sledding but oh so often GOD reveals the coming Christ through the tedium and strange stories of the Old Testament. Let’s look for Him as we struggle through this reading. Amen? Amen!

May 17                                    1 Chronicles 17 – 20

In this section everything just seems to be going peachy keen for David and Israel. David’s army is winning battles against all comers. Israel’s borders are expanding. Wealth is pouring into Israel. David once again turns his attention to his GOD and speaks with the prophet Nathan about his desire to build a house for GOD. Nathan seems caught up in the moment and perhaps David’s greatness and speaks without consulting with GOD, giving David permission to do whatever he thinks best.

 It is only later, perhaps while Nathan slept that GOD revealed to him that it was not the will of GOD for David to build him a house. GOD had never asked or commanded for anyone to build him a house and it wasn’t for David to do but one of his sons. Instead of David building GOD a house, GOD promises to build a lasting house for David; a house of heritage forever. David humbles himself before GOD in gratitude for all GOD has done for him, a mere shepherd boy.

 Chapters 18 and 19 regale us with tales of David’s mighty victories against the Philistines, the Moabites, Hadadezer, the Arameans and the Ammonites. Everything just seems to be going well and then we reach chapter 20. 1 Chronicles 20:1 begins like this: “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, Joab led out the armed forces. He laid waste the land of the Ammonites and went to Rabbah and besieged it, but David remained in Jerusalem.”

 Does that sound familiar to you? Does that ring any bells? Let me remind you from 2 Samuel 11:1: “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.” These two verses are basically the same yet what follows is completely different. The writer of 2 Samuel tells us that this is the instance when David committed adultery with Bathsheba and ordered her honorable husband Uriah the Hittite to be killed.

 The Chronicler doesn’t mention anything like that in 1 Chronicles 20. He sticks to the details of battle and totally ignores David’s failures and sin. Maybe the Chronicler believed that his readers who were most likely exiles suffering in Babylon and beyond because of their sinfulness didn’t need to hear of another’s failure. Maybe the Chronicler wrote with a purpose that didn’t need David’s sinanegans with Bathsheba highlighted (sorry, shenanigans).

 Yet it was just David’s sin with Bathsheba and Uriah that brought such pain and grief on David, his family and his nation yet he recovered through confession, repentance, submission and trust as GOD remained faithful in spite of David’s faithlessness. Don’t we always need to hear such details to be reminded that GOD’s grace is always greater than our sinfulness? Amen? Amen! Hallelujah!

 May 16                                    1 Chronicles 14 – 16

In today’s reading we find King David continuing to consolidate his kingship. In this case he is consolidating and protecting his kingship and nation against the Philistines who attack them on two different occasions.

 Israel is now experiencing a king who seeks out GOD before making a move. He specifically inquired of GOD whether he should fight the Philistines and hears affirmatively from GOD and has great success against them. In the second case he again inquires of GOD who actually gives him precise instructions on when and where to attack the Philistines. David again finds great success by inquiring to GOD and then obeying GOD specifically.

 David’s next step is to successfully bring the Ark of the Covenant to a permanent home in Jerusalem. Before attempting to move the Ark again we find the king doing two things. First, he prepares a specific, centralized location for the Ark and pitches a tent for it. Next, he reads the Book. Learning from his first disastrous attempt at moving the Ark David obviously went back and read the Book because he now knows only the Levites are to handle and move the Ark in very specific, pre-scribed ways.

 The Ark is successfully moved to Jerusalem without incident because they had read the Book and did it the right way this time. The Ark triumphantly enters Jerusalem and is taken to the tent. Just as the Tabernacle in the wilderness had housed the Ark in the center of the wandering community, now the Ark was located in the tent in Jerusalem to be once more at the center of Israel’s nation, the center of Israel’s heart.

 David also took the opportunity to set up the priestly and Levitical divisions so that they would properly fulfill the nation’s obligations with their sacrifices and worship. David once again read and followed the Book.

 Upon the Ark’s arrival at Jerusalem, David danced so fervently, so whole-heartedly that he offended his wife Michal who watched him critically from her window. Apparently, he acted in a non-royal way and she despised him in her heart. David went all in with GOD regardless of the cost to himself or his royal reputation. David not only put GOD at the center of his personal live but as king, brought GOD back into the center of Israel’s existence. David – what a king; what a man after GOD’s own heart! Israel has a fresh start!

 May 15                                    1 Chronicles 11 – 13

The Chronicler shifts his attention to David and the formation of his kingdom, stressing the importance of all those who joined him initially against Saul and then after Saul’s death as David sought to be king. We see in both instances a cross-section of Israel’s tribes joining David, even from Saul’s own tribe of Benjamin.

What draws my attention in this section of reading is David’s ill-fated attempt to bring the Ark of the Covenant from Abinadab’s house in Kiriath Jearim to Jerusalem. The Ark had remained at Abinadab’s house for many years since the Philistine Army had defeated the Israelites, including the sons of Eli the priest before the days of Saul.

In an attempt, I believe, to consolidate his reign and perhaps to prove the One, True GOD was on his side, one of David’s first actions was to bring the Ark to Jerusalem. In Numbers 4 we find specific instructions about care and handling for the Ark. A specific branch of the tribe of Levi, the Kohathites, was responsible for handling and moving of the Ark in very careful, specifically-prescribed ways.

After the priests had carefully covered the Ark and all the articles used in the Tabernacle the Kohathites were to reverently carry the Ark without touching it. They were to use the poles of Acacia wood overlaid with gold designed particularly for this purpose. The poles slid through the four gold rings attached to the Ark to enable the Kohathite carriers to carry the Ark both without touching the Ark or looking in to the Ark. Touching the Ark or looking into the Ark carried with them the penalty of immediate death.

It seems that Uzzah was the son of Abinadab where the Ark had remained for many years. Abinadab seems to be from the tribe of Benjamin, not the tribe of Levi and not from the clan of Kohath. Maybe over the years the family of Abinadab had become comfortable with the Ark in their presence. Maybe Uzzah took it for granted that it was okay for him to touch the Ark since he had been so familiar with the Ark. Nevertheless, instead of carrying the Ark with the Acacia poles, they loaded it on a cart pulled by oxen.

The oxen stumbled, the Ark rocked, Uzzah touched the Ark to settle it and the nation of Israel was rocked by Uzzah’s immediate death. It seems that David, Uzzah and all involved forgot about the holiness of GOD. They had good intentions but they didn’t fulfill those good intentions in GOD’s specifically commanded ways. Uzzah, surely a good man died an unholy death. David was upset and the Ark was dropped at the home of Obed-Edom. Fear consumed all involved. Their One, True GOD was also a Holy, Holy, Holy GOD and they needed to serve him with absolute obedience.

I sometimes wonder with fear and trembling if I have become too comfortable, too familiar with the holiness of GOD. LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!

 May 14                                    I Chronicles 8 – 10

We continue slogging our way through the genealogies. I know it is tough slogging. It is for me but what helps me get through it is to imagine that I am reading my own family’s genealogy. Trust me, my own family’s genealogy would be tiresome and tedious also but it is my own family’s genealogy so it is important to me.

The Chronicler gives us mainly straight genealogical information but from time to time throws in some tidbits of trivia to perhaps spice up the story. Somewhere on my mother’s side of the family, one of her ancestors, who was the first person to live in a certain county, actually killed someone with his bare hands. I remember reading that and wondering why the author (one of my great-uncles) thought that was important information to hold on to but I particularly remember that “with his bare hands” part. I cringed then and I cringe even now. Such it is with our genealogies…

Even though the Chronicler had already give us some of the tribe of Benjamin’s genealogical information in chapter 7, he gives us more from Benjamin in chapter 8 to highlight the family of Saul and Jonathan from the very beginning with Benjamin all the way down to beyond Jonathan’s great-great-great grandsons. So, the Chronicler demonstrates a great interest in the royal lineage of Saul and then turns his attention again to the tribe of Levi.

We have already been given much information about the Levites but find even more here about them after the exile in who specifically returned to Jerusalem on their own property and for what specific purposes related to the temple. We are then given a second genealogy of Saul’s family before receiving information about the demise of Saul and his household.

We are told in no uncertain turns in 9:1 that the Israelites…”were taken captive to Babylon because of their unfaithfulness.” And in editorial form in 10:13 – 14: “Saul died because he was unfaithful to the LORD; he did not keep the word of the LORD and even consulted with a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the LORD. So the LORD put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.”

Knowing what I know about my own family’s genealogy and I don’t know much but that is my own fault as others have done stellar work, but as I slog my way through these genealogies I realize that they are most likely not much different from my own. I can’t speak with absolute certainty on this but I can hazard a guess that we all have cringe-worthy moments in our family histories just like the Israelites. We are all fallen people. We all need Jesus! Amen? Amen!

 May 13                                    1 Chronicles 6 – 7

The genealogy continues in today’s reading with a twist. Jacob or Israel as his named was changed by the wrestling Angel of the LORD, had twelve sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Joseph, Benjamin, Naphtali, Gad and Asher. These sons became the twelve tribes of Israel.

Because Reuben defiled his father Jacob’s bed by sleeping with one of his concubines, he lost the rights of the first-born son. The first-born rights were thus given to Joseph, the first-born son of Jacob and Rachel. Before his death, Jacob split those first-born rights to Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh actually giving the first-born rights to the younger Ephraim.

We noticed yesterday that ample time was spent on the tribe of Judah, almost three chapters due to the regal importance of Judah’s sons. Today we find the most emphasis placed on the tribe of Levi, one complete chapter, most certainly due to the importance of the Levitical priesthood, their responsibility as intercessors between GOD and Israel and their numerous responsibilities for the Tabernacle and later the temple. I also presume that Levi is the tribe of origin for the author of 1 and 2 Chronicles.

The writer spends eight chapters on the genealogy with only two and a half chapters spent on the other tribes. As a matter of fact the writer doesn’t even mention two of the other tribes, Dan and Zebulun. There is conjecture why this is so. Perhaps with the conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel by Assyria both tribes were totally decimated and their histories lost. Dan and Zebulun were two northern tribes who turned away from GOD and toward apostasy early and often so perhaps their historical and genealogical significance became so diminished that the Chronicler felt no necessity to even mention it. How sad!

As we continue to plow through these genealogies it may be wise for us to think of our own descendants. If someone decides to write about us in a hundred years what will they say? What do we want them to say? It seems that we need to live out our lives in the here and now in such a way that a future biographer will easily be able to say that we were men and women after the heart of GOD who loved GOD with all our heart, soul, strength and mind; loved our neighbors as ourselves and even more, loved our neighbors as Christ loved us.

If need be we can begin to change our stories even today… Hallelujah? Hallelujah!

 May 12                                    1 Chronicles 3 – 5

After beginning in the beginning with Adam and his family, the Chronicler moves through the genealogy of history and arrives at Abraham and his family. I appreciate the fact that the Chronicler doesn’t skip over Abraham’s family through Hagar but rather starts off with Ishmael and his clans. The writer then focuses on Esau, the seemingly neglected son of Isaac, and all of his family.

Then beginning in chapter two the Chronicler writes with meticulous detail about Jacob (Israel), his twelve sons and their descendants. Almost three chapters (2:3 – 4:23) are spent on Judah and his descendants. Among Judah’s descendants we encounter David and his lineage of the kings of Judah.

Much more detail and attention will be spent on them through the rest of 1 and 2 Chronicles once we get through the genealogy. You will probably find that the details emphasized in latter chapters about David and the kings may be a bit different than the view presented in 1 and 2 Kings. It seems that the Chronicler wrote from the perspective of a priest.

For the most part we find this genealogy focusing on names and family connections, however from time to time we are given a bit more information. For example, in today’s reading we have an intriguing addition regarding the otherwise unknown Jabez in 1 Chronicles 4:9 – 10: “Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, ‘I gave birth to him in pain.’ Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, ‘Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.’ And God granted his request.”

This is pretty much all we know about Jabez. If you think about it, all of our names could be Jabez because each of us was born in pain. Pain is a natural part of birth and life. Over the years Jabez has been exemplified for his bold prayer to GOD and GOD’s answer to bless him and enlarge his territory and keep him from pain.

We would be wise to follow his boldness in praying to GOD. But I wonder if Jabez’ life was truly free from pain. He lived here on earth, didn’t he? Part of being human is living in and with pain. This prayer and the answer to this prayer make me wonder how one can live here on earth pain-free unless the One who placed us here takes that pain on Himself. Hmmm? Hmmm! Hallelujah! Amen!

 May 11                                              1 Chronicles 1 – 2

We start a new book today, 1 Chronicles. If you have already read today’s Scripture you know that we find ourselves back in the beginning. ”Adam” is the first word of 1 Chronicles. 1 and 2 Chronicles follow on the heels of I and 2 Kings. Chronicles and Kings have much in common. Yesterday we ended our reading of 2 Kings with the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians and many Judeans being carried into exile.

Chronicles seems to be written from the perspective of exile. Imagine if you will, what if would be like to be conquered and taken into captivity. Imagine what it would be like to be a defeated people led away from everything you know, everything you love, everything you have always depended on. Imagine what it would be like to be separated from those you love, those you call family. Imagine what it would be like to be forced out of your country and looking back to see it all in smoldering ruins. Imagine what it would be like to see the very place where GOD lived in ruins.

As I imagine such decimation and exile I get the feeling of abject lostness. Without a country I no longer know who I am. Without a temple I no longer know whose I am. Separated from my country, my family and seemingly my GOD; I no longer have an identity. I am lost.

Thus, the importance of 1 and 2 Chronicles. Most likely written while the Israelites found themselves in captivity the Chronicler attempts to remind them who they are and whose they are. Even though Babylon conquered them the Chronicler begins their story by starting from the very beginning, Adam. For you and I we will be slogging through another lengthy genealogy which probably won’t mean a whole lot to us.

But imagine just how important this genealogical reminder was to those early readers who were wondering just where they fit in to the story; their story, GOD’s story. I have a hunch it meant everything to them. May we read with such eyes; may we read with such minds; may we read with such hearts.

LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!

 May 10                                              2 Kings 23:21 – 25

 I can’t skip over Josiah. I got so caught up with Hezekiah’s faithfulness and then his failure to end well with faith and Manasseh deciding to tear down everything his father had built up (or vice versa), that I didn’t mention Josiah.

 Two years after Manasseh’s death, his eight-year-old grandson Josiah became king. 2 Kings 22:2 describes Josiah this way: “He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and followed completely the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left.” In other words, Josiah was the real deal.

 With tiny Judah surrounded by pagan nations and the powerful Assyrians all around their neighborhood, Josiah chose to walk in the holy paths of King David. I wonder what spells the difference between kings like Hezekiah and Josiah who seek GOD and the others who seek anything but… I wonder who influenced them early on to seek GOD wholeheartedly. Nevertheless, Josiah went all in as Hezekiah did.

 Josiah called for the cleansing and refurbishing of the temple and while that was going on, someone found a book; not just any book, this was the Book of the Law, most likely a scroll of Deuteronomy. When the book was read to Josiah his response was immediate, he tore his robes, put on sack-cloth and ashes and began to seek GOD in repentance in mourning. Hearing from GOD confirmation as to the punishment heading their way because of long years of disastrous disobedience, Josiah was comforted to know that because of his humble, faithful response to the Word that this would not happen in his lifetime.

 When Hezekiah heard similar words he rejoiced selfishly that these terrible things he was partly responsible for wouldn’t happen in his lifetime. On this hand, Josiah didn’t give in to the terrible future he would avoid but tried to do all he could while he could to change the future. He called his nation together to renew the covenant with the One, True GOD of Israel. He went all in to remove all vestiges of pagan practice not only in Judah but throughout the now vanquished northern kingdom. He even called the people to celebrate Passover as prescribed in the Book of the Law like it hadn’t been observed in hundreds of years.

 Alas, the amassed sinfulness of Judah and Israel proved too much to be resolved by the faithfulness of Josiah. He eventually died after 31 years on the throne and after his death Judah plunged into sinful lawlessness and eventual defeat by Babylon. As 2 Kings ends he seems rather hopeless but then I know the rest of the story.

 What one good man couldn’t bring about, one holy man sent by GOD through the virgin Mary could bring about through his spotless, holy, holy, holy life. Amen? Amen!

 May 9                                                2 Kings 21 – 23:20

 In extolling the virtues of Hezekiah yesterday, I didn’t quite finish his story. Something powerful happened in Hezekiah’s life. He became ill. The man who trusted GOD so much that he stood down the most powerful army in the world by his faith grew fearful of death. I have never been there and as much as I like to say, “I don’t fear death!” How will I know my true reaction until I actually face imminent death?

Hezekiah, who brought revival and reawakening to his nation and beyond by his faith and trust in GOD, gave way to the fear of death. Apparently unable to trust GOD in death as in life he cried out to GOD for GOD’s intervention. GOD responded, healed Hezekiah and gave him fifteen more years of precious life. It was during those fifteen years that pride seemed to grow in Hezekiah. When the Babylonians heard of his miraculous recovery they came to investigate and instead of pointing them to the One, True GOD he showed them the vestiges of his power and accomplishments. Oops. . How hard it was to finish strong. What happened to his trust?

During these fifteen years he also fathered a son, Manasseh, who would follow in his footsteps as king but not exactly. If you compare the list of Hezekiah’s accomplishments to the list of Manasseh’s accomplishments you will discover that Manasseh seemed to intentionally do the exact opposite of all that his father did. He seemed to intentionally rebel against his father and most importantly, his father’s GOD. For all the good Hezekiah accomplished in his lifetime Manasseh reversed it all in fairly short order.

2 Kings 21:2-6 gives us a summary which isn’t quite as succinct as the summary of Hezekiah’s reign: “He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, following the detestable practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had destroyed; he also erected altars to baal and made an asherah pole, as Ahab king of Israel had done. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them. He built altars in the temple of the LORD, of which the LORD said, ‘In Jerusalem I will put my Name’…He did much evil in the eyes of the LORD, arousing his anger.”

Of course, the consequences of Manasseh’s wicked life played out upon his nation. 2 Kings 21:9 concurs: “But the people did not listen. Manasseh led them astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites.” The life and legacy of Manasseh once again prove that leadership matters. Judah sought GOD under the righteous leadership of Hezekiah. Judah turned her collective backs against GOD under the wicked leadership of Manasseh. Leadership matters.

LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!

 May 8                                                2 Kings 18 – 20

When we last saw them, Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel were reeling from the consequences of their wickedness. King Ahaz in Judah had completely ignored the One, True GOD and relied on his political prowess to save his country by paying off the Assyrian king to attack and destroy his enemies of Aram and Israel. Rather than wait and trust GOD, Ahaz preferred to take matters into his own hands and let the chips fall where they may.

It was in the northern kingdom of Israel where the chips fell the hardest and the deepest. These chips were complete destruction of Israel’s army, invasion and domination of their country and the sending into exile of almost all the citizens. These chips were direct consequences of Israel’s centuries of turning her back against the One, True GOD and seeking other, lesser gods in apostasy, in disobedience, in sin. Throughout these centuries the One, True GOD called them back to Himself over and over again but they persisted in their insolence, their apostasy, their hate.

The story of the northern kingdom of Israel which started off with such promise under King Jeroboam I ends with exile and then conquered peoples from all over the world being brought in and sown in Samaria. GOD demonstrates interest in these newcomers as GOD sends lions to punish them and perhaps cause them to seek the One, True GOD. In Judah with the death of Ahaz, a new king comes to the throne and hope is restored.

Hezekiah seeks after the One, True GOD as his forefather David had and goes all in. Hezekiah cleanses the temple of all signs of pagan apostasy, even going so far as to destroy the bronze serpent from the days of Moses. 2 Kings 18:5-6 give us a succinct yet powerful description of Hezekiah: “Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the LORD and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the LORD had given Moses.”

Because he trusted the One, True, GOD Hezekiah was able to bravely face down the Assyrians who had just decimated the northern kingdom of Israel. By trusting GOD he was able to calm his people, defeat his enemies and flourish during a time of multiple Assyrian invasions. When the Assyrians sent him a nasty, threatening letter, he opened it up before GOD in the temple and let GOD deal with it. Hezekiah trusted GOD during difficult, dangerous times and GOD had Hezekiah’s back. Hallelujah? Hallelujah!

May 7                                                2 Kings 16 – 17

Political expedience; we see political expedience chosen over faith in today’s reading. In Judah, Ahaz became king and intentionally chose not to follow the ways of his ancestors serve the One, True GOD of his fathers but instead chose to follow the ways of Israel’s kings. Ahaz worshiped any number of pagan gods and even sacrificed his son in the fire.

When enemies encroached on Judah, in this case it was Aram and Israel, the nation he was emulating and honoring by his wicked actions. Out of panic and fear, he didn’t consult the Living GOD of Israel but instead sought out the services of Assyria. He submitted himself to the king of Assyria rather than to the One, True GOD of Israel. He paid the king of Assyria to attack the armies of Aram and Israel, his own relatives.

Assyria destroyed the army of Israel, sent all of the survivors into exile throughout the Assyrian empire and brought in conquered peoples from elsewhere to live in Samaria. Ahaz became so enraptured with the king of Assyria that he traveled to Damascus to meet him and show him obeisance. While there he saw a pagan altar he liked and had one just like it constructed in the temple of Jerusalem. He removed some of the divinely-designed details of the temple to make room for this pagan altar.

Ahaz trusted in his political abilities no matter what the cost. His cousins to the north were defeated and destroyed by the Assyrians and sent in to exile. Ahaz rebutted the One, True GOD, wouldn’t wait for Him in trust and instead took matters into his own hands with the Assyrians. There would be a steep, ongoing price to pay for such political expedience.

On the other hand, centuries before King Jeroboam I of the northern kingdom of Israel chose political expedience over trust in the One, True GOD. He concocted his own gods and led his nation into apostasy for the rest of their existence as a nation. Jeroboam’s political expediency led directly to eventual conquer and destruction at the hands of the Assyrians.

King Jeroboam I refused to trust the GOD who gave him the kingship of Israel and instead his own ideas, abilities and gods to keep his people under control. Ahaz, unwilling to learn from Jeroboam’s mistakes, followed in his footsteps of despicable apostasy. Both of their nations would suffer from their bad decisions, from their sin.

LORD have mercy! Christ have mercy! LORD have mercy!

 May 6                                                2 Kings 14 – 15

In spite of the norther kingdom of Israel’s pagan apostasy against their One, True GOD, their GOD continues to keep an eye on them. We find GOD responding to their desperate cries for help and sending them relief from the Aramites in chapter 13 but alas, the Israelites just can’t seem to get it right. When things get better for them, they forget all about why things got better and turn their backs once again on their One, True GOD to worship Jeroboam’s golden calves, etc.

Rather than finding ourselves in a parade of kings we soon find ourselves on a fast moving carrousel of kings. Judah’s righteous kings experience longer reigns than Israel’s kings. During the reign of Judah’s King Joash which endured forty years, Israel had the last seven years of Jehu’s reign, seventeen years of Jehoahaz and the beginning years of Jehoash’s reign which lasted sixteen years. Jehoash was followed by King Jeroboam II who reigned for forty-one years in Samaria. Even though his reign was marked by military achievements, expanded borders and enriched treasuries, Jeroboam II continued the lineage of doing evil in the eyes of the LORD.

Amaziah follows in the footsteps of his father King Joash and reigns twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. Amaziah was another fairly good king who did what was right in the eyes of GOD but not with all his heart like David. Amaziah is followed by his son Azariah (AKA Uzziah) who reigns for fifty-two years as a fairly righteous king.

During the reigns of these two Judean kings, the northern kingdom of Israel suffers through King Zechariah who reigned for six months, King Shallum who reigned one month, King Menahem who reigned ten years, King Pekahiah who reigned two years and King Pekah whose reign began in Azariah’s last year as king and lasted for twenty years. The northern kingdom of Israel is definitely on a slippery slope to devastation and disaster; all because they just can’t turn back whole-heartedly to their One, True GOD.

On the other hand, although Judah’s kings are overall much more righteous than Israel’s kings, they just can’t seem to get over the hump of the high places. The high places were spots of pagan worship around their nation which may or may not have had anything to do with their elevation. We are told in I Kings 11 that King Solomon built high places of worship for the pagan gods of his many wives.

Apparently, the kings who followed Solomon just didn’t have the heart to tear down those high places. Even though most of them sought out GOD, they just couldn’t go far enough to stamp out pagan worship. They just didn’t have the heart…

LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!

 May 5                                                2 Kings 11 – 13

The palace intrigue in Judah moves to a whole darker, nastier level. When King Ahaziah is killed by Jehu, his mother Athaliah destroyed the entire royal family so she could reign as queen over Judah. Or so she thought. Jehosheba, the fast-thinking, faithful sister of Ahaziah took Joash, the young son of Ahaziah and hid him before he could be murdered by his grandmother with all his other brothers.

She hid the young boy Joash for six years in the temple of all places. While in the temple, Jehoiada the priest became the mentor and friend of Joash. When Joash turned seven, Jehoiada decided enough was enough and made all the arrangements and precautions to present Joash formally as the true king of Judah. Surrounding the boy king with armed guards, Jehoiada leads him out by the pillar, places the crown on him, presents him with a copy of the covenant and proclaims him king.

Athaliah, of course, was not happy but found herself on the wrong end of the judgment scepter. She is killed outside of the temple while trying to get close to the boy king. With all the mess going on throughout Israel it is easy to forget that Israel was still GOD’s chosen people; that GOD still had a Master plan for Israel, even a divided Israel.

We find that not only did Jehoiada remind Joash of this by handing him a copy of the covenant GOD had made with David and his heirs years before but Jehoiada also made a covenant between the LORD and the king that they would once again be the LORD’s people. A cleansing of Judah began with the destruction of the temple of baal and the priests of baal. Long needed and long-delayed repairs were begun on the temple of the LORD. Judah is still on the right path.

King Joash was a good king. We are told in 2 Kings 12:2: “Joash did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all the years Jehoiada the priest instructed him.” Joash did what was right as long as Jehoiada instructed him. I wonder when that instruction ended.

Did Jehoiada die? Did Joash just decide at some point that he no longer needed instruction from his trusted friend and priest Jehoiada? Or did Joash just become busy with the affairs of the kingdom and forget about what made him such a good king in the first place?

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living GOD, have mercy on me a sinner.

 May 4                                                2 Kings 9 – 10

The palace intrigue in both Judah and Israel seems to never end. We find murder in back rooms. We find entire families wiped out in brutal bloodshed. We learn of subordinates taking matters into their own hands to assassinate their kings and make themselves king. It is a bloody, power-thirsty mess.

As I reel from all the bloodshed I realize that in reality the chickens have come home to roost, particularly in today’s reading. The power and influence of King Omri, his son Ahab and wife Jezebel, were long exerted over the northern kingdom of Israel leading them farther and farther away from GOD, away from who they were called and created to be.

Why, the royal family in Judah had actually married into Ahab’s family in Israel which meant both nations were now on the same page in abandoning their One, True GOD. For moments during this stretch, there seemed to be no hope whatsoever for the nation as there was no distinguishable difference found between Judah and Israel.  Judah had normally taken the high road; not any more.

And most disturbingly, there was no discernible difference between Judah, Israel and the pagan nations around them. We actually see GOD sending His prophets outside the borders to anoint and bless enemy nations in order to punish His own chosen people.

In the sordid case of Ahab and Jezebel, we see GOD rising up Jehu to be king of Israel in order to bring judgment to the wicked house of King Ahab who had died back in I Kings. However, his wife Jezebel, a large number of sons and an extended network of family and friends still existed to lead Israel and Judah astray.

Interestingly enough, Jehu follows GOD’s instructions in bringing long-delayed justice to Jezebel and her minions but Jehu is unable to walk obediently with the GOD who gave him the power. Even though Jehu seems to be obedient he soon turns to the golden calves of King Jeroboam and continues the long line of disobedient, disastrous kings to the north.

2 Kings 10:31 ends his saga with an epitaph of sorts: “Yet Jehu was not careful to keep the law of the LORD, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam, which he had caused Israel to commit.” Once again he comes down to a matter of the heart.

LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!

 May 3                                                2 Kings 6 – 8

In my own mind, which can often be a dangerous place, I have differentiated between Elijah and Elisha in the following way. I see Elijah as Israel’s prophet on the national stage staring down the gun barrel of pagan worship at the OK Corral of Mount Carmel by challenging the prophets of baal to a duel in front of the entire country. I mean for large swathes of Elijah’s career as a prophet he was on the run, hiding from King Ahab or his wife Jezebel.

With Elisha however I understand him in a little different perspective. Though certainly a prophet on the national stage we find Elisha dealing more so with normal people behind the scenes rather on a national stage somewhere. We find Elisha helping someone recover a lost axe head by miraculously causing it to float. We find him adding salt to purify poisoned water and flour to purify poisoned stew. We find him sending the leprous Naaman, the commander of Aram’s armies, to bathe seven times in the Jordan to find cleansing.

Make no mistake, both Elijah and Elisha fought for the soul of their nation Israel. Judah was bumbling around okay under the leadership of quasi-righteous kings (for the most part) but Israel just couldn’t escape the poison paganism adopted by Jeroboam after Solomon’s death. Some of Israel’s most successful kings in terms of prosperity and power turned out to be their most pagan kings. Often times in blood and gore, the prophets Elijah and Elisha fought for the very soul of Israel.

During war with Aram, every single time the king of Aram makes plans to attack and trap the king of Israel, Elisha knows exactly what, when and where it will happen and warns Israel’s king, time and time again. The king of Aram suspects a spy until told by his underlings that this man Elisha somehow hears what is spoken in the king’s private quarters. So, in a brilliant move, the king decides to go after Elisha, who is always at least one step ahead of him.

Surrounded by the Aramean army, Elisha’s servant Gehazi panics to see all the soldiers, horses and chariots amassed against them. Elisha calmly tells him in 2 Kings 6:16: “Don’t be afraid, those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” He then asks GOD to open Gehazi’s eyes who is able to see that in the unseen reality that Aram’s army is surrounded by a fiery army of angels.

This makes me wonder how often we feel overwhelmed and amassed against by our enemies both seen and unseen when in reality “those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Maybe we should pray to see more clearly or better yet just trust the One who loves us more than we can imagine…

May 2                                                2 Kings 4 – 5

Do you remember the episode when Elijah announced that there would be an ongoing famine in Israel over the next several years and then went into hiding? Elijah was led by the Lord to a widow in Zarephath who would provide for him. When he arrived the widow and her son were gathering sticks for their very last meal. They had barely enough oil and flour left for one meal.

Elijah convinced her to give him a piece of bread in spite of their poverty. He promised that the oil and flour would not run out until rain fell once again on the land. They survived day by day by a meager amount which was enough to miraculously keep them alive. GOD gave them just what they needed day in and day out, their daily bread if you will.

In our reading today we have a similar situation with Elisha except he encounters a widow of one of the prophets whose husband has just died and the creditors are about to descend. Elisha instructed her to gather as many empty jars as she could beg, borrow or steal (well, maybe not steal). Then they were to shut the door and begin to poor. The oil abundantly flowed until the very last empty jar was filled. They were then able to sell the jars of oil and pay off their creditors and save her sons from being sold into slavery.

I wonder about the differences here. I wonder why Elijah and the widow from Zarephath only received enough to sustain them day by day in a rather mundane way; while under Elisha’s watch this other widow’s needs were met in a spectacular way. I wonder if it had something to do with the long-term needs of the former and the immediate, short-term needs of the latter.

We may never know. As the old saying goes, “The Lord does work in mysterious ways” but perhaps the true point to be learned here is that GOD is faithful. GOD knows exactly what we need when we need it. I have a hunch that GOD was proving a point to Elijah about trusting him while on the run from Ahab and Jezebel and feeling the world cave in on him.

In the latter story it seems the point is more about GOD’s abundant grace that is just drenched out upon us. For me, I want to become more aware of all that goes on in my life. I am afraid I have truly missed some of GOD’s more sustainable miracles in my life because they weren’t spectacular or attention grabbing. Shame on me.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living GOD, have mercy on me a sinner…

 May 1                                                2 Kings 1 – 3

You may or may not have noticed but the perspective of I Kings changed a bit near the end when the prophet Elijah entered on the scene. Elijah and his actions seemed to become the focal point of the book in the activities of one king in particular, King Ahab from Samaria.

Even though we continue the parade through the royal families of both Judah and Israel, the perspective remains for the most part on Elijah and later on his successor, Elisha. Perhaps there is this slight tweaking of emphasis from the writer to serve as a reminder that even though there are human beings serving as king that GOD is still in charge…

I am particularly challenged today by one statement from today’s reading. Ahab’s son Ahaziah became king upon the death of his father, fell through the upstairs lattice and injured himself. Instead of sending messengers to consult with Elijah or other prophets of the One, True GOD, Ahaziah sent to consult with baal-zebub, the god of Ekron.

Elijah heads the messenger off at the past and asks in 2 Kings 1:3: “Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going off to consult baal-zebub, the god of Ekron?” This particular question is repeated three times in all. It has stuck with me and convicts me. In reality Who is my GOD?

I know there are probably very few if any folks in the United States today calling on baal-zebub or any of the baals or any of the asherahs or chemosh or molech or the bronze serpent or ra or isis or any of the foreign gods known to ancient Israel. At least I sincerely hope there aren’t.

But, I do have an inkling that there are many here in the good, old U.S. of A. who seek other, lesser gods. Maybe gods that we don’t really recognize as gods except in our passions and time spent: celebrity, wealth, pleasure, fame, astrology, tarot cards, news channels, sports channels, sports, teams, etc., etc.

I wonder if we can rephrase that question for us today? “Is it because there is no god in the United States that you are going off to consult ________?” I leave that blank for each of us to answer for ourselves. 

Maybe one way to tell how we could fill in that blank is to see what our calendars and our wallets reveal about what or Who is most important to us.

LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!

April 30                                             I Kings 21 – 22

Elijah got back to doing the work of a prophet as he had been commanded and Ahab got back to the work of a king. Soon enough Ahab finds himself under attack from the Arameans and actually receives assistance from GOD to defeat the amassed armies.

Ahab actually listened to the prophet and followed his instructions. After the victory the prophet counsels Ahab on what to do to be better prepared for the Arameans when they return and once again, Ahab followed the prophet’s advice. It seems that Ahab was beginning to at least recognize GOD in his midst.

Ahab mishandles the King of Aram, letting him live when he should have killed him so Ahab is warned and condemned by GOD through another prophet. Ahab lusts for his neighbor’s vineyard. His neighbor Naboth refuses to sell his vineyard to Ahab so Ahab pouts about it. Jezebel advises him to simply take it from Naboth.

She devises a scheme to have two scoundrels make false accusations against Naboth and then stone him. Upon Naboth’s death, Ahab arrived to see his new property as if nothing bad had happened. You see, in spite of himself, Ahab knew right from wrong. Ahab knew the Only, One, True GOD yet he chose to serve lesser gods. There were no excuses for him.

This time the word of GOD comes to Ahab through his old nemesis Elijah who tells him that the days on earth for him, Jezebel and their family are numbered and the numbers aren’t so big! We are reminded by the writer in I Kings 21:25-26 that “There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, urged on my Jezebel his wife. He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the LORD drove out before Israel.”

But, upon hearing the words of condemnation from Elijah, Ahab actually repented and mourned by tearing his clothes, putting on sackcloth and fasted. The might Ahab humbled himself, sincerely humbled himself before GOD at least for a while. In the end though, Ahab died an inglorious defeat and death. His wicked wife and their family would soon follow him to death.

Israel soon forgets the lesson learned on Mount Carmel that there is Only, One, True GOD and quickly reverts back to worshiping any sort and number of other gods. The clock is ticking on Israel. Israel doesn’t have much time left…

April 29                                             I Kings 19 – 20

Of course, after three years GOD called an end to the famine and told Elijah to challenge Ahab and all his assortment of gods to a duel. The hundreds of priests of baal and asherah (I am supposed to capitalize the names of those two gods but I just can’t) were invited as special guests. They were instructed to build an altar to their gods and call out for them to answer their prayers and consume the offering.

Of course, nothing happened. They built their altar, put the sacrifice on the altar, called on their gods, shouted to their gods, clapped their hands to wake up their gods, danced to get catch their gods’ eyes, slashed themselves so that their blood poured but no sign of their gods. No-one ever responded to their prayers, their cries, their antics, or their blood.

After giving them most of the day to impress him, Elijah called everyone to gather around him. He rebuilt his altar using twelve stones, one for each tribe of Israel. He put the sacrifice on the altar and then built a deep trough around the altar. He had water poured over the sacrifice and altar three separate times which soaked it all through and through. He then prayed I would say as he always prayed to his GOD and the response was immediate.

Fire fell from heaven and totally consumed the sacrifice, the kindling, the rocks, the dirt, even the water in the trench. GOD had handily won this duel to prove GOD as the Only, One, True GOD. Elijah then called for all the prophets of those false gods to be killed. There was much blood shed that day. Then, Elijah and Ahab waited for the rain which soon came down in buckets…

When Jezebel heard the news she threatened Elijah who began to run for his life. Many that day encountered the Living GOD and submitted themselves in worship. Others encountered the Living GOD that day and refused to submit. Elijah encountered the Living GOD in triumph and was vindicated in the eyes of the entire nation yet when Jezebel threatened him he grew fearful and despondent. He ran for his life.

He was provided for by angels and ran for forty days and nights to encounter GOD once again, this time on Mount Horeb. Consoled and comforted by the whisper of GOD, perfect for a bedraggled, starving, depressed prophet; Elijah was told to get back to doing what prophets do and to never forget that he wasn’t alone in this pagan nation. There were still 7,000 who had refused to bow to baal. Elijah took a deep breath and got back to work anointing a new king and a new prophet.

Ahab was just a king; Jezebel was just a queen; GOD is GOD Always and Everywhere! Hallelujah!

April 28                                             I Kings 16 – 18

In a growing list of bad kings there is at least one bright spot, maybe two. During Jeroboam’s reign as king of Israel, Asa begins to reign as king of Judah. Here the editorial on Asa’s life from I Kings 15:11-14: “Asa did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, as his father David had done. H expelled the male shrine prostitutes from the land and got rid of all the idols his ancestors had made. He even deposed his grandmother Maakah from her position as queen mother, because she had made a repulsive image for the worship of Asherah. Asa cut it down and burned it in the Kidron Valley. Although he did not remove the high places, Asa’s heart was fully committed to the LORD all his life.” Enough said about Asa; he wasn’t perfect by any means but his heart was fully committed to the LORD all his life.

On the flip side of the record, one is hard pressed to keep up with the kings in Israel: Nadab, Baasha, Elah, Zimri, Omri, and Ahab. Suffice it to say that as one reads down that list they go from bad to worst. Some of these kings only served for a short time. Many of them grasped power unlawfully and if one had any royal blood whatsoever (which became murky indeed back then) their lives were in danger of being short-lived – they were fortunate to escape the crib.

Interestingly enough, the writer dwells quite a bit on King Ahab who surpassed the evil and wickedness of all his ancestors and peers. One gets the sense that GOD looks down at Ahab and says, “Enough is enough.” Here is the description of Ahab from I Kings 16:30-31: “Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him. He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve baal that he built in Samaria…”

The great prophet Elijah makes his appearance during the days of Ahab to hold not only Ahab and Jezebel but the nation of Israel’s feet to the fire both metaphorically and literally. Elijah announces a famine which ends up lasting three years; a famine which brought Ahab and Israel to the brink of disaster. Meanwhile Elijah is spirited away, protected and fed by the veritable hand of GOD; sometimes by the beaks of ravens, most often by the poor widow of Zarephath.

With the widow it is not like GOD just dumps resources on her but she, her son and maybe even Elijah have to learn to trust GOD with each day as just enough flour and oil are provided for them to keep them alive day by day. This is a powerful lesson for us all. Rarely does GOD immerse us in our wildest dreams but seems to provide for us day by day so that we learn to trust GOD day by day by day. Amen? Amen!

April 27                                             I Kings 14 – 15

Jeroboam was not of the Davidic bloodlines and yet GOD specifically chose Jeroboam to rule over Israel in Solomon’s lustful wanderings into sin, disobedience and apostasy. As we have already seen, GOD made the same powerful promises to Jeroboam that he made to Solomon. Now, we really don’t know much about Jeroboam before he became king, other than that he had a great reputation as one of Solomon’s leaders.

However, when push comes to shove and Jeroboam became king, he seemingly forgot all about the GOD who had created him and placed him in this amazing position of king. With the fear of losing his kingdom weighing heavily on him we don’t see Jeroboam turn toward his GOD to worship and seek for divine counsel, instead we see him look at things through worldly eyes. He sets up his own worship centers, chooses his own priests and creates his own gods in an attempt to keep his country. Rejects GOD to keep his country – not real prudent!

Here we find his son ill so Jeroboam has his wife put on a disguise to visit the old prophet Ahijah and find out what will happen to his son. He doesn’t send her to seek healing for his son but knowledge. Of course, Ahijah is warned by GOD of her approach and knows exactly who she is. He tells her that her son will die and that eventually because of Jeroboam’s rejection of GOD that his entire family will be wiped out. Upon her arrival home, her son dies. Eventually, Jeroboam dies as well but the long-term effects of his wickedness continue to infect and destroy Israel long after his death.

Meanwhile back at the Judean ranch things are no better. King Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, fares no better as king. He also turns his back on the GOD of his fathers and leads his nation into sin, disobedience and apostasy. A contagion that will continue to haunt and curse both Israel and Judah for centuries to come…

Someone commented to me yesterday about these revolving doors of the wicked kings and how it seems GOD kept choosing poorly. I have thought about it and maybe that is the point. The people of Israel rejected GOD and wanted a king so that they could be like all the other nations. I think they got exactly what they asked for yet they could have had so much more…

April 26                                             I Kings 12 – 13

The cracks in Solomon’s façade become crevices for his nation. Jeroboam had risen through the ranks as one of Solomon’s officials to become a notable leader. Solomon elevated him to a position of leadership over the whole labor force from the tribes of Joseph. All went well until Ahijah the prophet stopped Jeroboam and told him that due to Solomon forsaking GOD and worshiping other gods, the nation of Israel would be divided and Jeroboam would be the king of the ten northern tribes of Israel.

GOD went on to make the same promise to Jeroboam he had made to Solomon. Here are his words in I Kings 11:37-39: “However, as for you, I will take you, and you will rule over all that your heart desires; you will be king over Israel. If you do whatever I command you and walk in obedience to me and do what is right in my eyes by obeying my decrees and commands, as David my servant did, I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you. I will humble David’s descendants because of this, but not forever.”

Jeroboam became a marked man after this and Solomon tried to kill him but after Solomon’s death, Jeroboam reappeared before Israel. Solomon’s son Rehoboam became king in his stead but made a poor decision. Listening to his young peers rather than to his elders, he told his nation that he would be much harder on them than his dad had been. Only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained with Rehoboam as the other ten tribes left this alliance and called on Jeroboam to be their king.

Now, GOD had spoken to Jeroboam through the prophet Ahijah and had assured him of his future. The first decisions Jeroboam made were about insuring that the people wouldn’t turn back to Rehoboam so he sets up his own centers of worship in the northern kingdom, he let anyone who wanted to be a priest serve as a priest and he even created two golden calves for his people to worship.

What was Jeroboam thinking? Apparently, he wasn’t thinking. It was GOD who determined that he would be king even during the heyday of Solomon. It was GOD who elevated hi m to the kingship and immediately upon the fulfillment of the prophecy, Jeroboam turns his back on GOD and takes matters into his own hands in order to ensure his future. Really?

In taking matters into his own hands, Jeroboam not only puts himself in jeopardy with GOD but leads his entire nation into apostasy, disobedience and ruin for generations to come. He modeled what a king should not be and the nation of Israel followed his lead to the bitter end. LORD have mercy! Christ have mercy! LORD have mercy!

 April 25                                             I Kings 9 – 11

I may well have overstepped my bounds on yesterday’s reading because GOD doesn’t seem to be bothered in the least by Solomon’s flowing oratorical prayer from the previous chapter. GOD appears to Solomon for a second time to reassure him on the following from I Kings 9:3-7:

“I have heard the prayer and plea you have made before me; I have consecrated this temple, which you have built, by putting my Name there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there. As for you, if you walk before me faithfully with integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did, and do all I command and observe my decrees and laws, I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father when I said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’ But if you or your descendants turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. Israel will then become a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples…”

You will note that GOD seems very pleased with Solomon and promised an eternal throne to him if he chose to live his life faithfully with the same integrity of heart and uprightness that his father David did and follow all of GOD’s commands, decrees and laws. GOD makes it very clear to Solomon that this is indeed a covenant between them made which both of them must abide by the demands of the covenant. GOD will do God’s part but Solomon must also live up to his end of the bargain. Surely this won’t be difficult for a man with GOD-endowed wisdom, right? Right?

Once again I wonder, is it truly wisdom regardless of all the glorious accomplishments if it just seems to dwell in the head and not the heart? As much as GOD acclaimed Solomon for his choice of wisdom, was that the best choice for Solomon? I suppose it was because to receive that greatest gift from GOD we have to give our hearts to GOD. Nowhere do we see in this particular text where Solomon submitted himself to the One, True GOD who appeared to him two different times. Unless I am mistaken, nowhere in Solomon’s story to we see his relationship with GOD a matter of the heart. LORD have mercy!

April 24                                             I Kings 8

In I Kings chapter 8 the Ark of the Covenant is moved in to the Temple. Learning the lesson from earlier in David’s time, the Levites carry the Ark on their shoulders as had been prescribed in the Law. This is a glorious day for King Solomon and all the people of Israel as the very presence of the Living GOD, GOD’s very glory descends and fills up the Temple! Can you imagine that?

Solomon then leads the nation in a prayer to GOD. It is basically a prayer of gratitude for GOD being GOD and all that GOD has done for Israel speaking promises by GOD’s mouth and bringing fulfillment to them all by GOD’s hands. This is certainly a beautiful prayer. This is certainly a powerful prayer.

Who am I to judge or criticize the wisest man who ever lived but I note a few things in this beautiful, glorious prayer. Solomon reminds GOD several times of who actually built the Temple. Solomon certainly uses “I” a lot in this prayer.

Even more than the usage of “I” in this prayer the fact that it seems like Solomon not only feels the need to remind GOD what the purpose of the Temple truly is but dares to (shall I say it?) command GOD over and over again on how GOD is to act.

Here are some of those words and phrases I am referring to here: give attention to your servant’s prayer (8:28); Hear the cry and prayer your servant (8:28); May your eyes be open (8:29); so that you will hear (8:29); Hear the supplication (8:30); hear from heaven (8:30); hear…, judge…, condemning…, vindicating…(8:32); hear…, forgive…,and bring…(8:34); hear…, forgive and act…deal…(8:39); so that they will fear you…(8:40); etc.

Maybe I am over-reacting here but I’ve read ahead and know the rest of the story. Maybe this is a perfectly, perfect prayer that a good, wise king should give on such a momentous occasion. It seems to me that Solomon dares to tell GOD what should or should not be done in GOD’s own Temple. Seems like shaky ground to me.

I honestly write this with discomfort, fear and trepidation but it just seems to me that the God-given wisdom may have all gone to Solomon’s head and not his heart. What do you think?

April 23                                             I Kings 5 – 7

I want to begin today’s reading with a description of King Solomon from yesterday’s reading, I Kings 4:29 – 34: “God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. He was wiser than anyone else, including Ethan the Ezrahite – wiser than Heman, Kalkol and Darda, the sons of Mahol. And his fame spread to all the surrounding nations. He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. He spoke about plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also spoke about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. From all nations people came to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom.”

This is an amazing description of the wisdom Solomon had been given by GOD and all seems to be going well – unless it was Solomon who wrote the above paragraph. I have no idea who wrote the above paragraph and doubt that Solomon did but all that glitters may not be…wisdom.

So, I guess we could say that Solomon possessed world-renowned wisdom. And yet, and yet; two sentences in the rest of this section reveal that maybe just maybe there is a problem here. “In the eleventh year in the month of Bul, the eighth month, the temple was finished in all its details according to its specifications. He had spent seven years building it” (I Kings 6:38). Solomon spent seven years building the temple in all of its glory.

The very next verse in I Kings 7:1 reveals the crack in the façade of Solomon’s world-renowned wisdom and grandeur. “It took Solomon thirteen years, however, to complete the construction of his palace.” GOD gave Solomon the blueprint of the temple through his father David who we know with all of his warts and weaknesses was indeed a man after GOD’s own heart. I can only surmise that Solomon designed the blueprints his own palace.

Something is up here. Solomon spent almost twice as much time working on his own palace than on GOD’s temple. Could this be a portent of problems to come? Me thinks so.

April 22                                             I Kings 2:26 – 4

Brother Adonijah did not give up on his lust for the throne. Perhaps forgetting about his episode hanging on to the horns of the altar or maybe he took Solomon for a sap but this time Adonijah approaches Bathsheba for a favor. You know when a conversation starts out with, “I need you to do me a favor” that you have been put on the spot and it probably won’t end up very well, right?

Adonijah kind of sort of blames Bathsheba for Solomon being named king over him but does admit that Solomon was given the kingdom by GOD. But, and this is a big but, Adonijah wants Bathsheba to ask Solomon if he can marry Abishag. You remember Abishag don’t you? She was the beautiful virgin found in some sort of twisted beauty contest to sleep with King David and keep him warm on those cold, winter nights maintaining her virginity all along. What was he thinking? Well, I know what he was thinking and so do you but did he really think Solomon would go along with this plan even if it did come to him through his very own mother?

By the way, what was Bathsheba thinking? She didn’t really guarantee success to Adonijah but she did put her son Solomon and his kingdom on the spot and at risk by asking him to give Abishag to Adonijah. I am sorry but Bathsheba of all people should have known what was going on here. If Adonijah, the oldest surviving son of King David married King David’s virgin concubine then for all intents and purposes that was declaring who was really king in Israel regardless of who rode on the king’s mule and was anointed by the king’s men. The one who won the woman won the throne…

Solomon, even without receiving the precious gift of wisdom which was soon to come, saw right through Adonijah’s “innocent” request. He gave Benaiah, one of his father’s Thirty and the new commander of Israel’s army, orders to kill his half-brother Adonijah and remove that particular threat to the throne. While he was at it, he dealt with Abiathar the priest who had sided with Adonijah and sent him back to the fields. He also took the opportunity to dispatch the treacherous shedder of innocent blood, Joab to complete this trifecta of treachery.

Encountering GOD in a dream, Solomon asks for wisdom rather than wealth and power. GOD is pleased with Solomon’s request and endows him with supernatural wisdom which he needs and uses to rule his people wisely. Put to the test by two prostitutes who argued over a surviving baby, Solomon astounded all by ordering the baby to be cut in two and split with the two women. The real mother reacted with pity to save her son’s life thus revealing who was whose. Solomon began his reign supernaturally well!

April 21                                             I Kings 1 – 2:25

As David aged the political machinations roared around him apparently without his notice. Cared for by the beautiful virgin Abishag, he tried his best to stay warm. His oldest surviving son Adonijah, perhaps following the political acumen of Absalom began to win over the hearts of his nation by at least acting like the new king. Plotting with Joab and Abiathar the priest, Adonijah planned a huge meal inviting all of his brothers minus Solomon to name himself king.

Nathan the prophet heard of Adonijah’s manipulative machinery and spoke to Bathsheba. He reminded Bathsheba that David had promised the kingship to her son Solomon. Bathsheba went before David and informed him of Adonijah’s treachery and the threat upon Solomon and her lives if he succeeded. Nathan then entered into the king’s presence to confirm all that Bathsheba had told David.

Though aged, David reacted quickly and firmly. He gave orders to Nathan the prophet, Zadok the priest and Benaiah one of his trusted mighty warriors and told them to take the young Solomon, sit him upon David’s mule and take him to Gihon where they would anoint him and officially declare him for all to know that Solomon is the new king.

Solomon therefore was anointed and named the rightful king just as David had planned and promised. Fearing for his life, Adonijah rushed and grabbed the horns of the altar. Solomon assured him that he would not put him to death that day and to go on home. Things seemed to have settled down between Solomon and Adonijah, sons of King David.

David’s last words to Solomon contain strong words of encouragement an d warning to always seek GOD first by being strong and obeying all that the LORD requires. David tells him in 2:3-4: “Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses. Do this so you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go and that the LORD may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’”

A father being a father and David being David, he adds in some practical wisdom to his last words telling Solomon he will need to “deal” with Joab who had shed innocent blood and Shimei who had cursed David during his escape from Absalom. Joab was put to death while Solomon ordered Shimei to live in Jerusalem and never to cross the

April 20                                             2 Samuel 23 – 24

The last three chapters of 2 Samuel seem to give a fitting conclusion to David’s life. Chapter 22, which I totally ignored yesterday, gives us a song which David wrote to honor and glorify GOD early in his life, perhaps shortly after consolidating his kingship in Israel. This is a masterpiece of beauty and art and heart-felt gratitude to GOD for all GOD has done for David. David demonstrates his remarkable vulnerability and confidence before GOD in this song, as if they were the best of friends. David’s humility is also evident here as he gives GOD all the credit for his success.

In chapter 23 David leaves some last words which add to his song from the previous chapter and once again demonstrate more of David’s confidence before GOD. At first blush and maybe at second and third, David can come off as arrogant and prideful in both of these works but the truth is, David is just so sure and secure in his relationship with GOD. David does indeed have an authentic relationship with the LORD of Lords…

David gives the list of his mighty warriors in the second half of chapter 23. Notable in this list is the absence of Joab who served as the commander of David’s army his entire career due most certainly to Joab shedding innocent blood in peace time in slaying both Abner and Amasa. Interestingly enough, Abishai and Asahel, both of Joab’s brothers are found prominently in the list. Abishai is listed as chief of the three mighty warriors. Asahel is listed first in the general list of the Thirty.

David also lists Uriah the Hittite in this list of the Thirty. Remember him? Uriah was the husband of Bathsheba David murdered by the hands of the Ammonites. I don’t think David listed him out of sympathy or guilt but simply because he deserved to be on the list. The damage David inflicted on an innocent family and nation by looking at that bathing one the second time!

In chapter 24 we have this strange story of David, late in years, deciding to take a census of all the fighting men. Joab, of all people, sees this as a wicked act and tries to talk David out of it but David persists. GOD also viewed this taking of the census as a wicked act on David’s part and gave David the choice of the deserved punishment for this act of sinful pride. David chose a plague for three days. After more than 70,000 of his citizenry had been killed for his act of insolence, David repented and asked for GOD’s punishment to solely fall on him and his family.

Say what you will about David, he is not a perfect man. He is not a man who models selfless trust in GOD with every waking moment. He certainly has moments when he manipulates others for his own pleasure with the best of them. David is a complex man with a simple relationship with GOD; a man after GOD’s own heart in the best of times and particularly in the worst of times.

April 19                                             2 Samuel 20 – 21

Yesterday, we took a quick look at Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth who refused to take advantage of David’s hardships for his own gain. Mephibosheth was a man of honor. Another more prominent character in David’s life is Joab. This seems like as good a time as any to take a quick look at Joab.

Joab was a son of David’s sister Zeruiah which meant he was David’s nephew. He had two brothers Abishai and Asahel; all three were known as fierce warriors. Joab long served faithfully as the commander of David’s army but sometimes took matters into his own hands which brought grief and distrust to the king.

After the death of Saul and Jonathan, Abner, a cousin of Saul and one of his military leaders, established Saul’s sole surviving son Ishbosheth as king of Israel. A civil war ensued with David during which war Abner killed Asahel, the brother of Joab in self-defense. Eventually, for a variety of reasons, Abner pledged his support to David and basically handed him the nation of Israel.

After the war ended Joab encountered Abner and killed him in cold blood, either in revenge or jealousy. David was not complicit whatsoever in Abner’s murder and ordered Joab and all of his men to properly mourn Abner’s death. David’s response to Abner’s murder gained him respect and favor with the nation of Israel.

After Absalom avenged his sister Tamar by killing his half-brother Amnon, it was Joab who interceded on his behalf with David and eventually arranged for Absalom to return to Jerusalem out of exile. Joab’s default mechanism seemed to be violence. During Absalom’s revolt, David ordered Joab and all of his army to treat Absalom gently and not to hurt him but Joab killed Absalom when finding him hanging in a tree by his hair. In the depths of grief and despair, David rued the day he made his nephew Joab the commander of his army.

Joab actually showed admirable loyalty to David throughout most of their time together but as David aged, Joan aligned himself with the wrong son and would help Adonijah become king. In his departing counsel to Solomon, David told him to remember all the harm Joab had done to him and his kingdom. Joab would shamefully run into the Tabernacle and hang on to the horns of the altar to keep from dying but he would soon lose his life.

Joab is a hard man to understand. In most occasions he was a solid rock for David but in others he took matters into his own hands, tricked David into making certain decisions and absolutely disobeyed David’s direct orders. It is difficult to know Joab’s motives or heart but seemed to allow his selfish passions to guide him to a shameful end.

April 18                                             2 Samuel 19 – 20

If one took the time this would be a perfect opportunity for a good character study on any number of supporting characters in David’s life but since we don’t really have the time let’s do a quick study on someone we rarely ever hear mentioned – Mephibosheth. Mephibowho?

In the earlier chapters of 2 Samuel we watched as David became king of Judah while fighting against Saul’s son Ishbosheth for the nation of Israel. Eventually, David won that civil war and became the King of all of Israel, recognized as king by all twelve tribes. As he began to consolidate his kingship both externally and internally, he longed to do something for Jonathan’s sake.

David and Jonathan, the son of Saul, loved each other and had made a lasting covenant with each other; a covenant that endured even though Jonathan found himself caught in the middle between his jealous father intent on killing David and his friendship with his “enemy.” Jonathan never wavered in his love, support and covenant with David.

Now, David longs to do something for Jonathan and discovers that he still has one surviving son – Mephibosheth. Mephibosheth had been dropped as a child on the day of his daddy’s death and was lame in both feet. It is clear he saw himself as a nobody which is most likely the way he was being treated. David restored all of King Saul’s property to Mephibosheth, arranged for Saul’s servant Ziba to take care of Mephibosheth and all of his newfound holdings and invited Mephibosheth to live in Jerusalem and eat at his table. He treated Mephibosheth as one of his own sons!

Many years later when Absalom led his coup against his father, Mephibosheth did not arrive to escape with David who was told by Ziba that Mephibosheth was participating in a coup of his own. Reacting rather thoughtlessly, David gave all of Saul’s property to Ziba without hearing both sides of the story.

After Absalom’s ignominious defeat by that pesky tree and his flowing locks, David returns triumphantly to Jerusalem and encounters Mephibosheth who had obviously been in mourning over David’s plight as he had neither cared for his feet, trimmed his mustache or washed his clothes since David left.

David asks Mephibosheth why he hadn’t supported him in his dire need and Mephibosheth tells him that Ziba refused to help him escape (because of being lame in both feet he needed help saddling his donkey) and betrayed him. David then split Saul’s possessions between both Ziba and Mephibosheth but declines and simply says that it is enough to know David is safe and sound. In this mess we have found at least one person of steadfast loyalty who didn’t take advantage of David’s difficulties for his own gain. Say it with me: Mephibosheth!!!

April 17                                             2 Samuel 17 – 18

As astute a politician as Absalom proved to be, he was no match for his father. Maybe it was just that Absalom was so young and inexperienced while his father was skilled and experienced beyond his years. David intentionally left certain people behind to mislead Absalom and it worked. Ahithophel, Absalom’s counselor was honored by friend and foe alike for his wonderful counsel and gave savvy advice to Absalom about sending a huge force out ASAP to attack David and his guard. Instead of acting immediately on Ahithophel’s advice, Absalom asked for Hushai’s perspective on the matter.

Hushai had long been one of David’s advisors and had been strategically planted in Absalom’s cabinet for just such an occasion. Hushai advised Absalom to keep a level head and respond cautiously since David was such battle-tested leader. Absalom decided to follow Hushai’s advice which led Ahithophel to commit suicide and allowed David and his group more time to re-group, replenish and hide. When the battle lines were finally joined, David gave explicit instructions to his army to be gentle with Absalom. How exactly does one win a war by being gentle?

The vanity of Absalom finally traps him; actually, the more appropriate word would be “trees” him. Remember that luscious head of hair that was only cut once annually and then weighed for posterity’s sake. Well, in the heat of battle Absalom rides under a tree and not only gets stuck in the tree by his hair but hangs there in complete vulnerability. One of David’s soldiers sees this and rather than attack the helpless Absalom, remembers David’s words of gentleness and instead tells Joab. Joab, the leader of David’s army rebukes the soldier for his hesitancy and finding Absalom still hanging out in the tree kills him.

A great victory was achieved on that day by David’s army. His fierce, loyal soldiers fought valiantly to not only preserve David’s life but his kingdom and legacy. As David eagerly awaited news from the battlefield, two running messengers are spotted running toward his headquarters. One tells him of the victory but doesn’t mention Absalom’s fate. The other, a Cushite, rejoices in the victory and even more so in the death of Absalom. The heart-broken king cries out for his dead son, ignoring the triumph of his army.

David’s heart-broken cries for Absalom continue to resonate throughout history revealing the depth of his misery and the irreversible consequences of his own sinfulness: “O my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you – O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33)

 April 16                                             2 Samuel 15 – 16

The sword of punishment cuts ever deeper into the family of David. Absalom is restored at least back to Jerusalem if not into his father’s good graces. Absalom is described as this incredibly handsome man with a head of hair I certainly envy. Apparently, Absalom had such thick hair that he cut it with revelry once a year and had it weighed. Obviously, Absalom felt very good about himself.

As the years go by Absalom begins a political campaign against his father. He places himself strategically at the city gates and heads off all those seeking appointment with the king. He tells them that there is no one available to hear their demands but if only he would be assigned as judge. I don’t know if we get the term “glad-hand” from this event but Absalom is glad-handing all those who come to Jerusalem from all around Israel. I bet he even kissed the cheeks of babies and tousled the hair of the tykes.

We are told that after four years Absalom had stolen the hearts of Israel. Absalom then has himself announced as king in Hebron which is right where his father David first began to serve as king. When news of Absalom’s treacherous coup reached David, he fled from Jerusalem with his family, his closest advisers and his bodyguard. Maybe not quite the glad-hander or baby-kisser or tyke-tousler as Absalom, David demonstrates his acuity of leadership as he strategically leaves certain advisers behind both to delay Absalom and relay word to him.

Absalom enters triumphantly into Jerusalem and first things first, lays with his father’s concubines on the palace roof for all to see and witness. David on the other hand flees the city but sends the Ark of the Covenant and the priest back to Jerusalem saying in 2 Samuel 15:25: “Take the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the LORD’s eyes, he will bring me back and let me see it and his dwelling place again. But if he says, ‘I am not pleased with you,’ then I am ready; let him do to me whatever seems good to him.”

David also refuses to order his men to kill Shimei, a descendant of Saul, who throws rocks at him and curses him. David reasons that maybe GOD ordered Shimei to treat him that way. David continues to demonstrate humility and trust in GOD even as he pays the price for his sin against GOD. In spite of the tragic consequences of David’s sinful behavior and the steep price he is paying, he draws ever closer to GOD as the sword of punishment pierces him ever deeper.

 April 15                                             2 Samuel 13 – 14

The proverbial chickens come home to roost today and lay the cons”egg”guences of David’s sin against Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite.

Yesterday we read of David’s rape of Bathsheba and then his murder of her husband Uriah the Hittite. As part of GOD’s encounter with David through Nathan the prophet, we find these words in 2 Samuel 12:9-10: “Why did you despise the word of the LORD by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.”

David’s rape of Bathsheba and murder of Uriah the Hittite are seem primarily by GOD as David despising GOD’s word. David’s sin here is seen as a personal affront to GOD. Have you ever thought about sin in that way? I don’t think I have. I mean, honestly, I don’t like to think much of sin, particularly my own but to realized that if the sins committed by David were considered by GOD personal affronts to GOD then surely my own sins are seen in the same way. Ouch!

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living GOD, have mercy on me a sinner…

The prophetic pronouncement of punishment to David sown by him in his sinful behavior despising GOD begins to come to fruition in these two chapters. Being married to several different women, David had many children who were half-brothers and half-sisters to each other. Well, Amnon, a son by Ahinoam fell in love with Tamar the daughter of Maakah. Being led by one of his cousins (whose dad was a brother of David), Amnon decides to involve his father in an intricate plot to rape his sister. David unwittingly orders Tamar to take food to the “ailing” Amnon who lures her into his bedroom, rapes her and then despises her by throwing her out in shame and violation.

One of the saddest sentences in the entire Bible is this editorial on the beautiful Tamar from 2 Samuel 13:20: “…And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman.” Absalom, Tamar’s brother, waits for more than two years before serving his cold dish of revenge to Amnon and kills him. Tamar is left desolate, Amnon is dead, Absalom fled in exile and David mourns. The sword has definitely entered into the sanctuary of David’s family.

I leave us with these words from a nameless woman spoken to King David in 2 Samuel 14:14: “Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But that is not what GOD desires; rather, He devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from him.” Amen? Amen!

April 14                                             2 Samuel 10 – 12

     David continues to consolidate and confirm his kingship in the hearts and minds of his nation by extreme acts of grace and generosity on one hand and mighty victories on the other. David seeks out a survivor from King Saul’s family to show grace and generosity toward. For some reason, he doesn’t think of his wife Michal but instead learns of the crippled son of his friend Jonathan – Mephibosheth.

     David welcomes Mephibosheth into his courts, offers him a standing seat at his table, restores all of Saul’s property to him and assigns Saul’s steward Ziba to take care of it all for Mephibosheth. At the same time he demonstrates wisdom and strength in his political dealings with their surrounding neighbors. He wins a major battle against the Ammonites and the Arameans further cementing Israel’s power in the region.

     But and doesn’t it seem like there is always a “but” in our history. “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army” (2 Samuel 11:1). We are not told why David did not go out with the Israelite army. We are only told that at the time of year when kings went out with their armies, David stayed home.

Maybe he was sick; maybe he was tired; maybe he was bored; maybe he was restless… Regardless of the reason and it may have been a good reason, David stayed at home when he shouldn’t have. One night as he roamed listlessly on his rooftop he saw a woman bathing. As a man I know there had to have been for him that moment of choice. David had to choose to take a second look and he did. Even the second look could have been forgiven but he went even further. He sought to find out who the beautiful woman was innocently bathing on her rooftop.

     Even after discovering that she was the wife of one of his most trusted soldiers, he sent for her. He raped her. Make no mistake here. He raped her. She didn’t have a choice. He was the king. She was an object. The king took the object at a whim. She became pregnant. The king murdered her husband by the sword of the Ammonites.

     It intrigues me that we often set ourselves on a reckless, dangerous path with a seemingly innocent, innocuous decision. “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war…” David didn’t and the war entered Uriah’s bedroom, a new baby’s crib and David’s own home. Nothing would ever be the same.

April 13                                             2 Samuel 6 – 9

     Named King of Israel, David quickly begins to consolidate his kingdom and further win over the hearts of his nation. He conquers the city of Jerusalem and sets up his capital there. He soon defends Israel against the Philistines and with GOD’s guidance and help soundly defeats them. Victory ensues on every side against all enemies.

Overjoyed, David decides it is time to bring the Ark of the Covenant home to Jerusalem, further consolidating both his power as king and Jerusalem as the new capital of Israel. In the process of bringing the Ark to Jerusalem, the oxen stumble and a well-meaning Uzzah reached out to stabilize the Ark. He was struck dead at that moment for his irreverent act.

     Terrified and angry, David left the Ark in the home of Obed-Edom who was soon blessed by the Ark’s presence in his home. A second attempt is made at bringing the Ark to Jerusalem, this time with greater adherence to Moses’ instructions and perhaps more importantly, with the utmost of respect and reverence.

His heart deeply inspired and overjoyed at the entrance of the Ark of the Covenant safely into Jerusalem without incident, David danced with all of his heart and soul before GOD and before the people of Israel. It was a joyous day of celebration which David marked by giving bread and cakes to all. Everyone was pleased with the king.

     Well, not everyone. Michal – Saul’s daughter one of David’s wives – looking out her window at the spectacle before her grew offended at her husband’s dancing. She tried to shame David by telling him he had danced half-naked in front of the servant girls as vulgar man. David responds by telling her that the time will come when he will bring dishonor and humiliation on himself but that those servant girls would honor him.

     Overwhelmed by GOD’s goodness to him, David wishes to build a palace for GOD but GOD tells him that is not necessary. GOD goes on to give him the word through the prophet that GOD is pleased with David and will bless him eternally with heirs to sit on the throne of Israel because GOD loves him.

     David responds with these powerful words from 7:18-19: “Who am I, Sovereign LORD, and what is my family, that you have brother me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, Sovereign LORD, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant – and this decree, Sovereign LORD, is for a mere human!

     How long will this chosen man of GOD remain humble and faithful? Time will tell; time will tell!

 April 12                                             2 Samuel 3 – 5

     Civil war for the hearts and souls of Israel rages for seven and a half years. During battle, one of David’s first cousins, Asahel brother of Joab pursues Abner the leader of Ishbosheth’s army. Abner warns Asahel to back off and turn his attention elsewhere. Abner even tells Asahel that if he has to kill him he wouldn’t be able to look his brother Joab in the eyes. Asahel persists and one gets the sense that Abner kills him very unwillingly and reluctantly.

     After several years of fighting, Abner has gained much power and decides to hand the nation of Israel over to David. Abner and David meet to discuss terms and Abner leaves. Joab arrives and sends for Abner. Caught totally unaware, Joab acts as if he wishes to converse in private with Abner and murders him.

There are clear lines drawn in the narrative about these two events. The first happened in battle and Abner tried not to kill Asahel but seemingly had to for self-defense. The latter is labeled murder in that vengeance was the motive, they were not in battle and Joab took advantage of an unsuspecting Abner.

David’s clear response to Joab’s treacherous is proof enough that this was not acceptable. David puts all of the responsibility of Abner’s death on to Joab. David refuses to eat anything on the day of Abner’s death until nightfall demonstrating his integrity, his sincerity, his respect and his lack of involvement in Abner’s death. In the process he wins over the nation of Israel.

Later, Ishbosheth is murdered by two ruffians while taking a nap privately. The two ruffians, thinking David will be very pleased by their ruthless act actually take Ishbosheth’s head with them as proof of their heroic loyalty to David. In a similar response to Saul’s death, David rebukes them for daring to kill an innocent man and then has them executed.

     Knowing from Samuel’s prophecy of many years before, the tribes of Israel meet and declare David their king with these words in 5:1-2: “We are your own flesh and blood. In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the Lord said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’”

     So, my questions to ponder are the following: Why the seven and a half years of political intrigue and bloodthirsty civil war among relatives? Why didn’t they all agree at Saul’s death that David was the rightful, GOD-ordained King?

April 11                                             2 Samuel 1 – 2

     While Saul and the Israelite Army were busy being annihilated by the Philistines, David and his men were busy annihilating the Amalekites which is something Saul would not do. A survivor from the Philistine battle, of all things an Amalekite, journeys to David with news and artifacts of Saul’s defeat and death; surely thinking David would richly reward him for his service.

     The Amalekite tells David that the Israelite Army had been defeated and that Saul and Jonathan had both been killed in battle. When questioned, the Amalekite lies and says that he killed a mortally wounded Saul. He gives David Saul’s crown and arm bands as proof of his heroic story.

     David seems astonished that this foreigner, an Amalekite had no fear in killing the Lord’s anointed. David responds by having him killed. David then leads his men into a time of deep and sincere mourning for Saul and Jonathan. David reveals his poetic heart by writing a moving tribute to both Saul and Jonathan. As much as he had tried to honor them both in life, he honored them in death with words of heroism and love.

     David uses these words to describe his covenanted friend Jonathan in 1:25-27: “How the mighty have fallen in battle! Jonathan lies slain on your heights. I grieve for you Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women. How the mighty have fallen! The weapons of war have perished!” These are certainly surprising words of love and affection for one mighty warrior from another in a dirge of grief and honor.

     After waiting an appropriate time, David consults with GOD before moving back to Judah. Ishbosheth, a surviving son of Saul, had been declared the acting king of Israel although many throughout Israel supported David. A civil war of sorts ensued between the armies of David, stationed in the city of Hebron and Ishbosheth, stationed in Mahanaim. David basically represented the tribe of Judah at this point while Ishbosheth was named King of Israel et.al.

     A war begins among cousins for the nation of Israel. Better said, a war begins among cousins for the heart of Israel. Who would win their hearts?

April 10                                             I Samuel 28 – 31

     Saul descends ever deeper into darkness. Consumed with destroying David even while defending Israel from the Philistines, Saul seems more lost than ever. Samuel has died leaving Saul with seemingly nowhere to turn so he turns to the medium at Endor to conger up the dead Samuel’s spirit. It seems that the medium is terrified because instead of a ruse, the spirit of Samuel actually responds to her call.

     Dead Samuel rebukes Saul for disturbing him and tells him that the only advise he has for him is that his doom is sealed. He reminds him that just as GOD had previously revealed to him; Saul, his sons and his army will soon be defeated by the Philistines who will kill Saul and his sons. Saul collapses on the ground, weak with fear, starving for affirmation, hungry for food.

     This is a pitiful picture of Saul. Since the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul he has become a jealous, angry, manipulative, bitter, mad caricature of himself. While we see David seeking GOD through the priest as he journeys with his men, Saul seeks GOD through other, prohibited means. Saul has seemingly lost himself. The one chosen by GOD to be the first king of Israel lost his way and as he abandoned GOD found himself abandoned by GOD just as it had been foretold from the beginning.

     Saul’s sons are killed by the Philistines in battle. Saul is mortally wounded and rather than die at the hands of his enemies falls on his own sword thus dying at the hands of his worst enemy, himself. Saul’s life is full of self-inflicted wounds. Saul’s life serves as a warning to us if we but listen. Do we trust GOD; do we obey GOD at all costs in spite of our own understanding or lack thereof? Saul, for whatever reason didn’t. What a sad end for such a promising beginning.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.

April 9                                                I Samuel 25 – 27

At the same time I can laud David for his decision not to manipulate a situation, we find him in I Samuel 25 ordering his men to take good care of Nabal’s sheep while they share the same fields. He seems to take advantage of this situation in order to bless his troops; they are behaving for a potential reward.

     Nabal is described as a stubborn, hot-tempered, foolish man and proves the descriptions correct when approached by David’s men. David sent his men to Nabal to tell him that all the time they were together his men never stole any of Nabal’s sheep and actually protected Nabal and his property by forming a wall of security around them.

     They ask Nabal for a generous gift in return during the festive time of sheep-shearing. Nabal responded by basically saying David and his men were feckless ruffians rebelling from their king who didn’t deserve anything. He gave them nothing. Incensed and humiliated by Nabal’s foolish response, David and his men immediately prepared to attack and destroy Nabal and all he owned.

It is at this point that we are introduced to the lovely Abigail, beautiful wife of the foolish Nabal. His servants tell Abigail about David’s men and how good they had always been to them and their master’s flocks. They tell her how foolishly and recklessly Nabal had treated David and his men.

     Knowing immediately that disaster is at hand; Abigail reacts wisely and prepares a generous gift for David and his men. Abigail sends the train of delights ahead of her and encounters David and his men as they descend to destroy Nabal. She soothes David’s offended spirit with her humble grace, sumptuous gifts and wise words. She convinces him not to take revenge against Nabal and bring sin upon himself.

     David listens to Abigail, accepts her gift and chooses not to avenge himself or assuage his humiliation by destroying Nabal and his family. By wise, immediate action Abigail saves the day, her foolish husband, her family and David’s honor. David is impressed!

     Allowing her drunken husband time to sober up, Abigail tells him what she did to save his foolish hide. Hearing her words, Nabal’s heart failed him and his body became like a stone. It sounds like he may have had a massive stroke brought on by his anger. He died ten days later. Learning of Nabal’s death, David soon sends word to Abigail and she becomes his wife.

Wisdom wins in the end; wisdom when it is time to act, wisdom when it is time to listen and wisdom to know the difference.

April 8                                                I Samuel 22 – 24

David, a national hero, the slayer of Goliath, Saul’s son-in-law and one of Saul’s most trusted men has now become an “outlaw.” The official narrative of David has changed and he now finds himself on the run full-time from an angry, jealous king.

     This outlaw image seems to appeal to many of the disenfranchised, distressed, indebted and discontented who join up with David. They spend most of their time on the move keeping one step ahead of Saul and his cohorts. While we get an almost romanticized version of David’s exploits, Saul has become maddened with the thought of destroying David and anyone who helps him at all costs.

In the midst of such diabolic pursuit, David still finds time to come to the rescue of the city of Keilah who are attacked by the Philistines and left undefended by their rightful king. Even as an “outlaw” David fulfills his duties to the king, yet from a safe distance. David finds very few outside of his own merry band who support him and literally finds himself unable to trust anyone outside of his circle.

     Hearing of David’s latest location, Saul and his army pursue David into the wilderness. At a sheep pen, Saul stops to relieve himself in a cave where David and his men are hiding. His men try to convince him that “this is the day the Lord has made” for him to get vengeance against the king yet David refuses to lift his hand against GOD’s anointed.

     David adamantly refuses to take advantage of this situation where Saul has literally placed himself completely vulnerable in his hands. Instead, David cuts off a piece of Saul’s robe while it lay around his squatting body and later demonstrates his faithfulness and loyalty to Saul in spite of this golden opportunity to be rid of him.

     This incident reminds me that David trusted GOD so much that even when an event occurs that many would see as GOD-ordained for David to take advantage of, he steadfastly refused. Now, there are certainly other events in David’s life when he manipulated others and caused disaster for himself, his family, innocents, his nation, etc. But here he trusts and respects GOD enough and I will take it even further; even respects and honors Saul enough to return Saul back to GOD unscathed.

     I wonder what would happen in today’s world if we followed David’s example here and refused to take matters into our own hands and simply respected and trusted GOD. Amen? Amen!

April 7                                                I Samuel 19 – 21

Saul’s fear of David continues to grow; Saul’s jealousy of David continues to grow; so much so that David goes on the run. In danger of death at Saul’s courts, even in danger at home David flees into the wilderness.

     Seemingly outnumbered by enemies who should be his friends, David is strengthened by his covenantal relationship with of all people Jonathan, the king’s son. Jonathan, Saul’s son, Saul’s rightful heir and the man who should be king loves David. There is no real explanation for their friendship, for their love of each other. It goes against convention. It goes against politics.

     They are supposed to hate each other yet they make a covenant of friendship between them no matter what. David risks himself, his future, his present by trusting Jonathan. Jonathan risks himself, his reputation, his kingship by trusting David. Yet, they both loved each other and committed themselves to each other; no matter what.

     How that covenant must have sustained and encouraged David as he crept through the wilderness hiding from Saul and all his henchmen. It is hard to conceive a king with such ambition, jealousy and fear giving birth to a son of such humility, of such trust that he sacrifices everything for the man he knows will eventually be king in his place.

This covenant with David in friendship, in trust, in humility seems to take precedence and preeminence over all other relationships in Jonathan’s life, especially that with his own father.

Oh, for such a friend. Oh, for such a friend.

April 6                                                I Samuel 17 – 18

It happens every time. When I hear of honey or think of honey or taste honey, I pretty much think of nothing else. In yesterday’s reading there was a mention of honey and I lost myself. The honey forest captured my imagination but there was much vinegar in the text as well.

     King Saul is rejected by GOD apparently due to his inability to fully obey GOD, his fear of what others may think of him, his desire to be liked by everyone and again, his inability to obey GOD. GOD sends Samul to Bethlehem to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as the new king. To everyone’s surprise, it turns out to be the youngest son of Jesse, the shepherd boy who is anointed to be king. When the anointing oil drips down his collar the young David is filled from the inside out with the Spirit of the Lord.

     Battle lines are once again drawn with the Philistines and for forty consecutive days the Philistine champion Goliath taunts Israel and Israel’s GOD by challenging them to hand to hand combat, winner takes all! No-one from Israel responds to the challenge – not King Saul, not King Saul’s son Jonathan, not any of Saul’s mighty soldiers. David is sent by his father Jesse to take supplies to his brothers on the frontline and check on them. While there he overhears Goliath’s taunts.

     Unlike the others, David is not afraid. He begins to ask questions as any young boy would do. Rebuked by his older brother, who by the way hasn’t taken a step toward Goliath in almost six weeks; David ignores him and continues to ask questions. Finally, King Saul hears that there is someone interested in fighting the giant and calls David to his tent. Saul knows that this is all a terrible mistake! How can a young shepherd boy take on such a huge giant of a man? But again, Saul doesn’t volunteer…

     David convinces Saul with his faith-filled telling of his experiences in rescuing his father’s sheep from bears and lions. For David, he trusts in GOD and GOD alone, what else matters? Saul, who should have been the one to confront Goliath, tries to put his armor on David but it just won’t fit. It seems that David already has the weapons and armor needed; his trusting faith in GOD and five smooth stones.

     Excited that someone has finally stepped up to face him, Goliath quickly becomes incensed that it isn’t some mighty warrior but a little boy. Mocking both the boy and his GOD, Goliath rushes toward the boy to make quick work of this debacle. Surprisingly, the young boy runs just as fast toward the giant and unleashes one round, smooth stone that flies accurately to its target.

     Goliath lost his head. The Philistines lost the battle. Israel found its hero. King Saul lost his heart. GOD found that one boy who turned out to be a man after His own heart.

April 5                                                I Samuel 14:24 – 16

What would you do?

You are the leader of a nation struggling to become great. Long before you were named king your nation had been fighting a prolonged war with your neighbors. Things were so bad that you and your army had been dispersed and in hiding with little to eat or drink.

     Out of nowhere, someone on your side begins a skirmish and suddenly the tide of this entire war has turned and you had nothing to do with it. After vacillating between trying to discover who on your side started this battle and then deciding to see if GOD wanted you to join in the battle raging all around you, you finally order your men into the fray by telling them that no one can eat anything that day until you are avenged.

What would you do?

     You are a soldier. You are in the heat of battle. Leading up to this battle your army had been in such distress you hid from your enemy days on end with little to eat or drink. Surprised by battle that seems to be going in your favor you find yourself triumphing over the enemy yet growing weaker and weaker with each moment. You walk into a rich forest and find it literally dripping with sweet, delicious honey.

 What would you do?

      Jonathan, the son of King Saul, knew nothing of his father’s oath and did what any red-blooded soldier would do, he dipped his spear into the honey and ate. Immediately, he was strengthened and refreshed while being rebuked by the other soldiers. When a great battle had been won yet GOD was not responding to Saul, or so he thought, using the Urim and Thummim he discovered that Jonathan had broken his oath.

     Declaring that Jonathan must die for breaking his oath, King Saul is restrained by his army who declares the nonsense in killing Jonathan who won the battle for them that day. Saul decides not to kill Jonathan. What is it with we human beings and oaths? Are they our attempts to take control of a situation? Are they our attempts to take control of those around us? Are they our attempts to take control of GOD? Better not to make an oath. Better to submit to GOD and trust without any oaths.

 What would you do?

 April 4                                                I Samuel 12 – 14:23

 Samuel follows in the footsteps of Moses and Joshua. He calls the nation together and does something that I find remarkable, particularly in our world today. He boldly demonstrates his integrity by asking the nation if anyone has anything against him, if anyone has any proof that he ever took advantage of anyone for his own personal gain as he lead the nation. He bares himself before his nation and tells them if anyone finds that he has taken advantage of or oppressed anyone he will make it right!

     Can you imagine that happening in today’s world? First, would anyone ever think of doing that today and really mean it? Second, would anyone have the courage and integrity to do that? I wonder… Rather than being a breath of fresh air, that my friends would be a blasting gust of fresh air sweeping over us all bringing new life and refreshment upon us all. Having been found innocent before his nation Samuel then takes the step of reminding the Israelites about their GOD and all their GOD has done for them.

     He begins way back with Jacob in his personal walk with GOD and carries his reminder all the way up through their present day. He then gets to the veritable heart of the matter. Samuel had still not gotten over his nation rejecting GOD and preferring a king. Samuel reminds them that when they saw Nahash, the king of the Ammonites, wreaking havoc among them and surrounding Jabesh Gilead and threatening to blind all their males in one eye (I Samuel 11:1) that they panicked and asked for a king. Apparently, they could only trust GOD so far.

     He tells them that even with a king they are still commanded to serve, trust, and obey GOD’s commands and if they don’t, they will be punished severely yet GOD will always love them. Samuel then calls upon GOD to miraculously cause it to thunder and rain during the season when it never thundered and rained as an incredible sermon illustration. A massive storm ensued and the people submitted themselves before GOD and prayed that they wouldn’t die. Samuel comforts them by telling them that in spite of all the evil they have already done against GOD that GOD had not turned away from them and would remain faithful.

     As he fades into the past, Samuel ends by telling the Israelites that he would continue to pray for them and teach them the way with GOD. He reminds them to revere GOD and to serve GOD with all their hearts remembering what great things GOD had done for them.  He gave them one last rebuking reminder that if they persist in their evil that they will lose their king and their own lives. May we all have a person like Samuel in our lives who persists in speaking into our lives and leading us closer to GOD. Better yet, may we be a Samuel in the life of another…

 

April 3                                                I Samuel 8 – 11

     In the days of Eli, as he grew old, his sons became the priests of GOD for Israel and they treated GOD with contempt and disdain in the way they abused and manipulated the sacrifices. GOD responded by words of warning to Eli in a variety of ways while all the while preparing for the future through the miraculous birth of Samuel which frankly turned out quite well for Israel.

     We see in today’s passage that Samuel has aged and a similar situation develops with his sons who are elevated to lead the nation. Yet, they did not follow in their father’s footsteps and instead treated their holy responsibilities with contempt by seeking dishonest gain, bribes and perverted justice. The people respond by approaching Samuel, pointing out his sons’ moral failures and asking for a king.

     This all seems well and good until we realize that it isn’t exactly about Samuel’s sons. The truth is that Israel wanted to be like all the other nations around them, so they wanted a king – a handsome man of power and skill to lead them valiantly in battle – just like the other nations. In reality, the people of Israel led a pre-emptive strike against GOD.

     They were actually rebelling against GOD and turning their backs against GOD in the guise of wanting to look like, smell like, be like all the other nations around them when they were supposed to be different, peculiar even, from all the nations around them to honor GOD and bless the world. GOD did indeed allow them a king after rebuking them and warning them of the high cost of having a king.

     So, GOD gave them exactly what they wanted, a king who would look like and soon enough act like the kings from all the other nations. Interestingly enough, GOD chooses a man from the tribe of Benjamin which was nearly decimated by its own wickedness and stubbornness earlier in the story. GOD chooses Israel’s next leader from the smallest, weakest tribe. Hmm, I wonder why.

I also wonder who GOD had already been grooming and preparing to lead Israel. I wonder how this pre-emptive strike from Israel hurt her in the long run. I wonder what Israel sacrificed by demanding a king from GOD instead of just trusting GOD. Or was Saul the man GOD was grooming all along?

     Saul started off well. He seemed to legitimately care about his family and their concern for him. He was such a humble man that he hid in the luggage to avoid the call to leadership or was he simply afraid? In the beginning Saul seems to honestly seek GOD and defers to Samuel on leadership issues. We will soon discover that Saul had holes in his character that would lead his nation to doom but GOD was still GOD and GOD knew who would truly be king all along. Any guesses?

 April 2                                                I Samuel 4 – 7

     Battle lines are drawn between the Philistines and the Israelites, the Philistines rout the Israelites who decide that the reason they lost was because their god was not with them. So, they decide that for the next battle, to insure that their god is with them they will bring the Ark of the Covenant with them into battle. When the Ark arrives their camp is rocked by the raucous shouting and celebration of the Israelites, so much so that the Philistines quake with fear. They have heard about Israel’s gods and know what they did to Egypt.

     Even with the Ark in their midst the Israelites are once again routed, even worse than before. Hophni and Phinehas, Eli’s sons who accompanied the Ark into battle are killed and the Ark is captured. 98 year old Eli waits for news of the battle and when told about the defeat at the hands of the Philistines, the deaths of his sons and the capture of the Ark; he falls over and breaks his neck. His daughter-in-law, heavy with child, goes into labor and gives birth as she is told that her husband had been killed and the Ark captured. In dying despair she names her newborn son Ichabod which means “The Glory has departed from Israel.”

     It seems that both Israel and the Philistia at this point viewed the GOD of Israel as a regional, territorial god or maybe a good luck charm who needed to be toted around like a puppy in a wagon. Israel blamed their defeat on the absence of GOD when in fact it was their own disobedience, distrust and sin that brought them defeat and devastation while GOD was with them; there is no escape you know. It seemed they all had forgotten that their god was not some lifeless, listless idol made by human hands but the veritable GOD of the Universe!

     Interesting, isn’t it? It is once the Ark is captured when GOD truly reveals Himself to the Philistines. Their mighty god Dagon falls down before the Ark to worship the One, True GOD and has to be helped up to stand erect once again. And then the next night Dagon’s head and hands are cut off from his torso as he lay prostrate before GOD. The Philistines show more respect to the GOD of the Israelites than the Israelites do. As the months of captivity of the Ark endure the Philistine cities which host the Ark are thrown into disastrous disarray as they suffer a plague of tumors and other mishaps. Finally, the Philistines, realizing that they can’t control and manipulate the One, True GOD decide to return it to the Israelites before GOD destroys them.

     Two cows lead the Ark directly home where the Israelites rejoice and sacrifice the cows yet 70 of them, not learning the lesson of the Living GOD; dare to take a peek inside the Ark. They are instantly annihilated. Fear of GOD falls across the land and Samuel calls his nation to repent and return to the LORD with all their hearts. They rid themselves of all their gods and turn to the Living GOD. What if we today decided to rid our lives of all the foreign, fake gods? Where would we begin?

 April 1                                                I Samuel 1 – 3

     There once was a man who had two wives. One wife was fertile and had several children, she was blessed, she knew she was blessed, and she wanted everyone else to know it, too. The other wife was not so blessed or so it seemed, she could not have any children. Each year when they would go up to Shiloh to sacrifice their offerings to GOD, their husband would give out their portions of food and would always give a double portion to his barren wife because he loved her but she would weep and mourn just the same as the other wife made life miserable for her, more miserable. She yearned for a son.

     Then one year she approached the Lord’s house and prayed out of the deep anguish in her heart. Her deepest needs poured out from her heart without passing her lips so Eli the priest thought she was drunk. He rebuked her for her drunkenness but she defended herself and explained her situation to Eli who blessed her in passing. Later on, this barren woman, Hannah, gave birth to a healthy son and when he was weaned took him lock, stock and barrel to Eli at the Lord’s house and gave him to GOD. Can you imagine such gratitude, such integrity that she asked for a son and then entrusted him to GOD?

     This son grew up at the Lord’s house in Shiloh under the tutelage of Eli. Each year his parents would visit and for several years they brought new children with them as they came. Hannah, the barren woman, was blessed with three sons and two daughters. We learn that the aging prophet Eli has failed with his own sons who now serve as priests over Israel. We are told that they hold the offerings of GOD in contempt. They do not follow the prescribed instructions for properly handling the sacrifices and manipulate so they can get the best meat for themselves. Not only do they hold GOD’s offerings in contempt; it is obvious by their manipulation and neglect, they also hold GOD in contempt.

     One night the young boy, Samuel hears someone call his name three distinct times and each time he runs to the aging, blind Eli to see what he needs. The third time Eli realizes that this is GOD calling for Samuel so he instructs the young child on how to respond. The next time he hears his name called, Samuel replies: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (I Samuel 3:10). What Samuel hears burns his ears as GOD reveals to him how GOD is about to deal with Eli and his wicked sons for their insolence, their contempt, their sin. Forced to tell it all to Eli the next day, one has to be impressed with Eli’s trust in spite of his failure as a father and priest: “He is the LORD; let him do what is good in his eyes” (I Samuel 3:18).

     In spite of the murky moral mess of Israel in the time of the judges and in spite of Israel’s failure to be faithful to GOD, GOD is not finished, GOD has not given up. The Holy Spirit is indeed stirring in barren women, devoted sons and the prophetic voice. Hallelujah! Amen!

 March 31                                                    Ruth 1 – 4

In the book of Judges we observed that the nation of Israel found itself in a series of cycles. Israel walked with GOD and was blessed when they had strong leadership; in periods of weak leadership, Israel turned away to any number of other gods and experienced the woeful judgment and punishment of their disobedience. It could very well be that by the time we reached the brutal, disgusting end of Judges that the downturns of disobedience, idolatry and wicked behavior were plummeting far deeper than the upturns of good leadership. Israel was in desperate straits.

In today’s reading we encounter a family that seemed to be fed up with the disparate downturns and the creeping famine which overwhelmed the land. Certainly this was a famine of rain and crop and harvest but I wonder if it was also a famine of goodness and grace and laughter Elimelek’s family sought to elude by entering into the pagan, forbidden land of Moab. Famine just worsened for Naomi in Moab as her husband and two sons died leaving her with deepening bitterness and two Moabite daughters-in-law.

Hearing that famine had ended in Israel, she made plans to return home to Bethlehem and tried to convince her two daughters-in-law that there was no reason for them to accompany her; she had nothing to offer them – no sons, no future. Ruth abjectly refused to leave Naomi and clung tight to her while declaring her undying commitment to her and her GOD.

Returning to Bethlehem, Ruth soon demonstrated the quality of her character and commitment to Naomi as she worked hard, even putting herself in harm’s way to provide for Naomi. Ending up gleaning in the fields of a noble man, who just happened to be related to Naomi’s husband, Ruth impressed him with her grace, dignity and righteousness as she picked up the scraps of barley left behind.

Naomi thought this Boaz a good match for Ruth so with her mother-in-law’s advice, Ruth approached Boaz in the dark of night and took the risk of uncovering his feet while he slept and this uncovering most likely had nothing to do with feet or sandals if you know what I mean. Awakened by someone in too close of quarters with him, Boaz is honored that the lovely Moabite hadn’t run after any of the younger men and made arrangements to redeem both Naomi and Ruth that very day.

Boaz did indeed become the kinsman redeemer for Naomi and Ruth and in the process took Ruth as his wife. Naomi’s famine was further broken when Boaz and Ruth had a son named Obed who would have a son named Jesse who would have a son named David. Ring any bells???

So I guess we could say that GOD used a “pagan, forbidden” Moabite woman to break the famine of Naomi’s bitter life and Israel’s famine of faithful living. Hallelujah? Hallelujah! GOD does indeed work in mysterious ways!

March 30                                          Judges 20 – 21

I feel a little slimy with today’s reading and offer a warning of extreme, explicit adult material here. It seems in a further attempt to demonstrate just how far the Israelites have moved away from their GOD, GOD’s implicit instructions on how to be GOD’s people and let’s face it, decency; we are once again reminded that there was no king in Israel, as if that would solve all their problems. It won’t.

 Actually, we discover the depths of depravity the Israelites have fallen to when a man journeys with his concubine and stays for the night at Gibeah. Invited to stay with a man in Gibeah, the house is soon surrounded by wicked men of the town who want to have sex with the man reminding us of the angelic visitors’ long night at Sodom and Gomorrah. I am appalled that the immediate solution seemed to be to send out the concubine and the host’s virgin daughter to entertain the wicked men. Really, what decent man would think of such a thing? What happened to the morality of this new community in relationship with the living GOD?

Instead, we are told that the man sent out his concubine who was raped and violated and abused throughout the night. Finding the young woman dead the next morning, the man travels to his home, then cuts her up in 12 pieces and sends them to each tribe of Israel as a sign of this wicked, lewd and outrageous deed among their own people. The nation is shocked by such evil and moved to action. They gathered as one with their leaders and an army of over 400,000 soldiers. Hearing from the Levite whose concubine was raped and murdered, war is declared on the tribe of Benjamin where Gibeah was located.

They sent messages to the leaders of Benjamin asking them to turn over the wicked men of Gibeah who had committed this atrocity. The Benjamites refused and instead defended Gibeah. War ensued which led to the deaths of more than 40,000 Israelite soldiers. Not until massive losses and time spent before GOD in fasting and prayer was victory given to the Israelites who eventually killed 25,100 Benjaminite soldiers. Only 600 Benjamite men were spared as their livestock, crops, homes, possessions and cities were destroyed by fire.

There seems to be remorse over the almost complete devastation of the tribe of Benjamin so steps are now taken to provide women for the 600 men. At a tribal gathering it is discovered that no-one from Jabesh Gilead was there so a decision was made to attack and annihilate Jabesh Gilead, leaving alive their virgin women as wives for the Benjamites but there were only 400 of them. To meet the required number of 600 they gave the Benjamite men permission to raid a festival at Shiloh and steal their women. Have they all gone stark, raving mad? Who will bring sanity to this mess in Israel? Judges ends with this familiar refrain: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 21:25).

 March 29                                          Judges 18 – 19

Unmentioned in yesterday’s rant about Samson, we seemed to move into a new era. No more do we find the refrain about the Israelites doing evil in the eyes of the Lord. Instead we find this refrain repeating through the end of Judges – “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 17:6).

We are first given this explanation when Micah stole 1100 shekels from his mother then returns it to her and she dedicates it to making an idol for the LORD. Again, where did Moses’ Law disappear to so quickly? What happened to the Ten Commandments? There isn’t even an editorial diatribe here as there was when Gideon basically did the same. There isn’t a single syllable of rebuke here. After all, there was no king and everyone did what they wanted to do. Micah hires a Levite from Bethlehem to be the personal priest of his idol and other gods he created.

Meanwhile, the tribe of Dan still had not found a homeland so they sent out scouts to find them a new home. On their way they encounter Micah’s personal priest and ask him to inquire of GOD for them. The priest blesses them and sends them on their way. The scouts soon find an isolated, prosperous, peaceful town which pleases them. They return to tell the rest of the Danites about their discovery and make plans to conquer this city and set up housekeeping.

As they make their way back to the ambush they decide that a personal priest was a good thing to have so they stop off at Micah’s and pilfer his priest. Micah isn’t happy and calls out his men but the Danites outnumber them and overwhelm them with their show of force. They attack and destroy the isolated, prosperous, peaceful town knowing that their nearest allies are far away in Sidon. They do set up housekeeping in their new city named Dan and also set up their idol there which is used for hundreds of years even though the house of GOD is in Shiloh.

We can see here by the story on Micah, the personal pilfered priest and the Danites that the commands of GOD through both Moses and Joshua have been pushed aside, ignored and forgotten. There is no king and everyone does what they want to do to whomever they choose whenever they want. We will perhaps plumb the depths of such behavior in tomorrow’s reading. I personally hate to go there. I can tell the Israelites now, they don’t need a king; they need a Savior. We all do!

 March 28                                          Judges 15 – 17

It is time for true confessions. I like the story of Samson, always have. I like the miraculous nature of his birth to a barren woman. I like that he was dedicated to GOD from the womb. I like that he is this mythical, larger-than-life figure in the annals of Israel’s history. I like that his immense strength is matched solely by his poetic sense of humor. I like that he seems to be more man than myth.

Now, having said all that, I don’t quite know what to do with Samson. I actually had a college course on John Milton at Marshall University and we spent a long time on his work “Samson Agonistes.” Even after that and all the time spent over the years reading the Bible, Samson baffles me. It was just a few weeks ago that we were reading the strict laws, rules and regulations of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy from which this new community had to abide by and here we find our friend Samson busting most of them wide open. The careful, concise control of the Pentateuch is seemingly non-existent in the world of Samson when one who has been set apart to GOD from the womb basically does what he wants to do.

 Did I say that Samson’s strength was matched solely by his poetic sense of humor? I was mistaken. It seems that Samson’s immense strength was matched and outmatched by his raging libido. Even though we are told on more than one occasion that the Spirit was stirring in Samson with the decisions he was making, I am hard pressed to make sense of it all and say it was the Holy Spirit. It seems to me there would have been many ways to engage the Philistines in battle but with Samson it seems enemies meet more often in the bedroom than the battlefield.

Women are used as pawns to get back at the Philistines. His poor wife, who ended up being given to another over the riddle debacle, was burned with her father because Samson was upset and set the Philistines’ crops on fire by tying the tails of 300 foxes together. Couldn’t he have just used a torch or a bonfire? Why did they have to burn his wife? We see him cavorting with a prostitute. We find him falling in love with Delilah. Their relationship is often lifted up secularly as this great romance yet Delilah seems to spend more time taunting Samson and trying to discover the secret of his strength than actually loving him.

The playful, witty Samson comes off more as a buffoon by teasing her about his strength yet drawing ever nearer to the truth by involving his hair. GOD seems to leave him when his hair is cut and his strength is greatly diminished. He is blinded, bound and used as a party favor by the Philistines. He seeks revenge on them not because of any calling but to revenge his eyes and is honored for killing more Philistines in his death than during his life. I remain baffled by the big man but encouraged that if GOD could use this mess of a man during such a disastrous time then GOD could use any of us…

March 27                                                    Judges 12 – 14

Back in Gideon’s day he encountered difficulty with the tribe of Ephraim because they felt left out when he didn’t call them to help him in his defeat of Midian. Many years later Jephthah runs in to similar problems with the tribe of Ephraim when he attacks the Ammonites without calling for help from Ephraim. Jephthah says that he did ask for their help which was ignored and a battle ensued which tore at the fabric of the very heart of the family relationship of Israel. It interests me that the one who sacrificed his own daughter thus fracturing his family forever is also involved in fracturing Israel’s connected community. It will get worse before it gets any better.

Soon, the Israelites have once again turned away from GOD and done what is evil in the eyes of their LORD. As punishment, GOD gives them to the harsh treatment of the Philistines for forty years. During this time a nameless, barren woman encounters no-one less than the Angel of the LORD who tells her that she would soon have a baby boy who would be dedicated to GOD from the womb and would take the lead in delivering Israel from the Philistines.

The angel gave her strict instructions on both pre-natal restrictions for her and post-natal instructions for her son. She is not to drink any fermented drink nor eat anything unclean. A razor was never to touch the head of her precious baby boy, he would be considered a Nazirite from birth, dedicated to GOD. When her son was born, he was named Samson. As Samson grew to manhood the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him in mysterious ways.

Samson fell in love with a Philistine woman and wanted to marry her. An Israelite man was not to marry a Philistine woman but trouble was brewing between nations as the Spirit stirred this reckless romance. Samson’s parents went with him to meet this woman and work out their wedding plans. On their way, they were attacked by a lion which Samson dispatched with his bare hands, tearing it in two. On his return trip to marry this Philistine, Samson remembered the lion and when he saw the carcass there was a honey-producing beehive in the carcass. Such honey in a carcass should have been unclean for such a dedicated man but he enjoyed it and gave it to his parents.

Loving a good riddle as well as the next guy, Samson challenged his 30 male wedding guests with this riddle: “Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet” (Judges14:14). Their reward for answering the riddle within the week was a new set of clothes for each of them. If they didn’t guess the riddle tthey had to provide Samson with thirty new sets of clothes. Growing frustrated on the fourth day the guests threatened the blushing bride and her family who manipulated her husband into giving her the answer by feast’s finale. Not quite a riddle but my own humble attempt at Samsonite poetry to conclude:

Lion producing honey; Bride gave up the sweets; Samson thought it not funny; Groomsmen got tainted treats;

Guests preferred new threads; Samson got hands dirty; Clothes in a variety of reds; Ashkelon mourns dead thirty;

Wife given to another; Spirit still stirring; Samson home to mother; Judah’s lion just purring.

 March 26                                          Judges 10 – 11

“Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord” (Judges 10:6) continues to be the repeating refrain of the first half of Judges. In the absence of strong leadership the Israelites have again turned away and forgotten the Living GOD to serve the Baals, the Ashtoreths and the gods of Aram, Sidon, Moab, Ammon and Philistia – a veritable plethora of dead pagan gods. GOD became so angry at their insolent disobedience that the text tells us GOD sold them into the hands of the Philistines and Ammonites who shattered, crushed and oppressed them for 18 long years.

Their disobedience so disheartening and complete that even when the Israelites cried out to GOD, GOD refused to hear and told them to cry out for their own gods to help them. In an act of desperation, the Israelites repented and submitted to GOD telling GOD to do to them what GOD wished but to rescue them. They disposed of all the foreign gods in their midst and turned back to their GOD. It is about here in the story that we are introduced to the mighty warrior Jephthah whose father was Gilead but his mother was a prostitute. Being considered an illegitimate son yet a legitimate threat to the inheritance, Jephthah was thrown out of the family and shunned.

Yet years later when Israel was fighting against the Ammonites, the elders of Israel sought out the mighty Jephthah to lead them in battle. He wasn’t good enough to be considered family, he wasn’t good enough to receive any of the inheritance but he was apparently good enough to lead Israel in battle. As he confronted the king of the Ammonites we are told that the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah as he prepared for battle. Perhaps getting caught up in the moment, perhaps believing he could make a deal with GOD, perhaps thinking he could entice GOD to help, Jephthah vowed that if GOD would grant him victory against the Ammonites that he would sacrifice the first thing that ran out of his house to greet him.

Now, I have no idea what Jephthah was thinking. Some have said that Jephthah thought the family pet or livestock would run out the door to greet him but after an amazing victory it was his only daughter who ran out to greet him. I have always wondered about this story. I have frankly been sickened by this story. For some reason, Jephthah decides not to break his vow and save his daughter’s life but to sacrifice his daughter to GOD, something that through the years GOD has said repeatedly was absolutely forbidden. In a sad, morbid ending, Jephthah gives his daughter two months to mourn the fact that she would never marry with her friends and then sacrifices her to a GOD who wanted nothing to do with it.

Why didn’t Jephthah face up to the fact of a rash, foolish vow? Why didn’t Jephthah take the consequences for that rash, foolish vow on himself? We will never know but maybe it had something to do with all Israel being stuck in the muck of doing evil in the eyes of the Lord. I mourn today for Jephthah’s nameless daughter.

March 25                                               Judges 8 – 9

The interesting saga of Gideon continues. Remember Gideon, that unassuming, young man threshing his father’s wheat privately at night to keep it from the Midianites? Remember Gideon, that unassuming, young man who had a hard time believing that GOD would call him to rescue his people? Remember Gideon, that unassuming, young man who had a hard time believing that GOD would intervene on behalf of the Israelites?

Gideon, that unassuming, young man who saw himself as the weakest link of his father’s clan which he saw as the least clan of all the clans just couldn’t seem to grasp that GOD cared about him or could use him. GOD had incredible patience with Gideon. GOD seemed to give Gideon more leeway than GOD gave others throughout the biblical story. GOD didn’t strike Gideon deaf or blind or give him leprosy or choose another because of his inability to trust.

GOD responded to Gideon’s need for proof, Gideon’s need for reassurance by responding as Gideon requested and even by allowing Gideon to overhear the enemy’s dread and fear of Gideon. And yet, when the rubber met the road and the battle drew near, GOD decreased the size of Gideon’s Army from 10,000 or more to 300 so that all would know, especially Gideon, that GOD won this victory for them. It had to be GOD because GOD’s weapons of choice for Gideon’s Army were trumpets and broken jars which caused the Midianites to panic in the night and attack each other. Wow!

In the midst of a major victory, some of Gideon’s very own relatives from the tribe of Ephraim are upset that he had not called them to the battle; they got their little feelings hurt. This unassuming young man did not let the victory go to his head and responds to the angry, self-centered Ephraimites with humility and deference. Gideon ended up leading the Israelites for forty years of peace.

GOD did much for this unassuming young man who never dreamed that GOD could do anything for him yet Gideon made his own ephod, which was used by priests, particularly the high priest. Gideon’s ephod eventually led Israel to prostitute themselves to other gods and became a snare for Gideon, his family and his nation.

After Gideon’s death we are told that the Israelites immediately turned away from their GOD and sold themselves to the Baals. We are told that the Israelites did not remember their GOD. I wonder, did they forget or just choose not to remember? How easy it is to forget, especially if we don’t want to remember…

 March 24                                          Judges 6 – 7

Chapter six starts out in a far too familiar way, “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord…” This time the Lord gave them over to the Midianites who ravaged them so oppressively, so systematically that the Israelites lived in caves and clefts and strongholds. The Midianites regularly destroyed all of the crops and livestock leaving nothing living for the Israelites. The writer tells us they were so numerous and so oppressive and so destructive that he compared them to a swarm of locusts – a veritable plague if you will of their own doing…

Once again, the Israelites cry out to GOD who sends them the unlikeliest of heroes – Gideon. When the angel of the Lord approaches this Gideon who is threshing wheat in the dark of night to hide from the Midianites, Gideon responds by questioning this GOD they had heard so much about but hadn’t seen much out of Him lately. His words in 6:13 captured his feelings and that of his nation perfectly: “’Pardon me, my lord,’ Gideon replied, ‘but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.’”

The angel commands Gideon to rise up and save Israel. Gideon responds in 6:15: “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “But how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in the family.” Well, at least we can say Gideon was honest and polite. His view of GOD was skewed however. He blamed GOD for Israel’s ills instead of taking responsibility for them. There was much work to be done here with this Gideon and yet GOD demonstrates remarkable patience with him. This probably demonstrates just how low Israel had sunk in such a brief time.

Gideon trusted GOD by wanting to offer a sacrifice but needed great reassurance all along the way. Gideon asked for proof and reassurance on numerous occasions that this indeed was GOD. On one occasion Gideon asked for the fleece to be wet while the ground was dry and again that the ground was wet while the fleece was dry. GOD allowed Gideon to overhear a dream from a Midianite which reassured him.

Interestingly enough, as GOD continued to reassure Gideon by proving Himself to him, GOD also called Gideon to greater faith and action. Seemingly with each proof GOD decreased the size of Gideon’s army so much so that he was left with an army of 300 men. GOD would deliver Israel in such a way that all Israel and the surrounding nations would know that GOD had done it. Oh, also an important point is that Gideon would know it as well. After a monumental victory over the Midianites, Israel experienced peace for forty years under the surprising and perhaps surprised leadership of Gideon.

 

March 23                                          Judges 3 – 5

We are told in the opening paragraph of chapter three that the nations were intentionally left to test the Israelites both in their learning of warfare which let’s face it, was definitely a real part of their daily lives and whether or not they would trust and obey their GOD’s commands. In short order we are told that the Israelites mix with the neighboring folks in more ways than one, marry off their sons to the others’ daughters and soon enough they are worshiping pagan gods.

In 3:1 we run into a sentence we will become quite familiar with in our reading of Judges, “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and Asherahs.” How soon they forget. How soon we forget. These forgetful people soon find themselves sold by GOD to the King of Aram Naharaim who treats them despicably for eight long years. When the Israelites finally cry out to GOD, He responds by raising up a deliverer for them, Othniel, Caleb’s younger brother. Othniel, filled by the Spirit of the Lord, became Israel’s judge and led them into triumphant war against the Aramites. Israel had peace for forty years until Othniel died. 

Soon after Othniel’s death, the Israelites do evil again and become subject to King Eglon of Moab. Eglon joined with the Ammonites and Amalekites and with great spite and subjected the Israelites for 18 years of brutal oppression. Again the Israelites cried out to GOD who gave them another deliverer, this time the left-handed Ehud who sunk his sword deep into the belly of the fat Eglon liberating Israel and granting her peace for eighty years!

But chapter four starts out in a familiar way: “Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, now that Ehud was dead…” This time they found themselves sold by GOD to King Jabin of Canaan whose commander of a fierce army was Sisera who cruelly dominated Israel for twenty years. This time, GOD heard their cries and raised up Deborah as judge. Deborah was also a prophet and she prophesied that Barak would be the man by whom GOD defeated Jabin, Sisera and their army. Barak wouldn’t go unless Deborah accompanied him and she told him that because of this a woman would get the glory for their victory.

Barak gathered 10,000 troops and stormed down Mount Tabor to attack Sisera with his 900 iron chariots and won a huge victory. As the Canaanites fled, they were pursued by Barak and his army. General Sisera ended up seeking refuge from a radically hospitable woman named Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite. Jael actually went out to meet Sisera and welcomed him graciously with milk then drove a tent peg through his head while he slept. As the nation exulted in song over this victory it was Jael who received the accolades of Sisera’s defeat. The land now had peace for forty years. Do you see a cycle happening here?

 

March 22                                          Judges 1 – 2

The Israelites now find themselves in a brave, new world without Joshua. By this time, except seemingly for the long-lasting Caleb, the rest of that initial generation is gone. By this time, Caleb is the only one left who saw with his own eyes all that GOD did for them in Egypt and through their long years wandering through the wilderness in self-deserved exile. I guess we will see if that initial generation did a good job in transmitting to their children and grand-children all they had experienced and learned about GOD.

The Israelites start off well. Instead of going to Joshua to see how they should proceed, they ask GOD who tells them that Judah should go up first in the conquest. In another positive move, Judah teams up with Simeon to conquer their territories together. The conquest is underway at full force and yet we eventually discover by the end of chapter one that most of the tribes are not able to completely vanquish their foes and must share the land with them in a variety of arrangements which leads to their downfall.

The angel of the Lord appeared to the Israelites and told them that because they had already disobeyed GOD in turning away from their GOD and the covenant made between them that GOD would no longer drive out the peoples before them who will become traps for them and lead them even further into disobedience and pagan worship. The Israelites react to the angel’s words with tears and sacrifices but very little change of behavior. It comes down to their choices. Who will they choose?

After the death of Joshua, we are told in chapter two that an entire generation grew up which knew neither the Lord nor what the Lord had done for them. How can this be possible? Time and time again both Moses and Joshua had reminded the people of all GOD had done for them. Time and time again both Moses and Joshua had taught the Israelites of GOD’s Law, GOD’s expectations for them, GOD’s promised blessings for them if they obeyed and GOD’s promised punishments for them if they disobeyed.

Both Moses and Joshua, shortly before their deaths, called the nation together, reminded them about GOD and all GOD’s expectations for them and led them into renewing their covenant with GOD on two separate occasions. But as soon as Joshua dies, a generation arises that knew neither GOD nor all GOD had done for them? Difficult days are ahead for the chosen people. How can this be possible? How could they have so soon forgotten their GOD and all GOD had done for them? Are they that much different from us today?

 

March 21                                          Joshua 22 – 24

One last bit of book closing continues in today’s reading as Joshua calls together the tribes of Gad, Reuben and the half-tribe of Manasseh, thanks and congratulates them for living up to their covenant made with the rest of the tribes in leading them in combat and conquest. He then releases them to go home across the Jordan.

On their way home these tribes erect an altar as a monument which is misunderstood by all the other tribes and war almost ensues but is avoided by negotiation and listening. Turns out the altar was simply a monument honoring their GOD as a reminder to them all that they were one family even though separated by a river; one family worshiping and serving the same GOD. This incident is a foretaste of how difficult this new community would find it to live together in unity, river or no river…

Today, we also see Joshua closing out the books on his life. Joshua called everyone together, much as Moses did before his death and reminded them all of everything GOD had done for them. He reminded them that GOD had fulfilled every single one of the promises made to them and that it was now their turn as they lived out those fulfilled promises to remain steadfast, committed and absolutely obedient to their GOD.

Joshua pulled no punches. He told the Israelites that if they turned their backs on their GOD and allowed those people in their midst to lead them away to their lesser gods that there would be judgment, swift punishment and destruction. He laid before them once again this idea of blessing and cursing, life and death. He gave them the opportunity to choose for themselves which gods they would serve; whether those gods their forefathers had served or those new gods in Canaan but as for himself and his family, Joshua chose GOD!

Even as the Israelites do likewise, Joshua firmly reminds and rebukes them with these words in 24:19-23: “’You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.’ But the people said to Joshua, ‘No! We will serve the Lord.’ Then Joshua said, ‘You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.’ ‘Yes, we are witnesses,’ they replied. ‘Now then,’ said Joshua, ‘throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.’”

Joshua plainly laid it out before his people and they committed themselves to serve the Lord, the God of Israel. Then he had to call them to throw away the foreign gods they already had in their midst. This probably doesn’t bode well for them after Joshua dies. Oi veh!

 

March 20                                          Joshua 20 – 21

At this point in the book of Joshua it seems we are nearing the end and the accounts are being properly closed. Chapter 20 deals with cities of refuge on the western side of the Jordan River. We have heard about cities of refuge several times now which just may demonstrate how important they were to GOD and to GOD’s new community.

Cities of refuge were certain cities set aside for immediate protection of someone who accidentally killed another person without malice, without intent. There are now regional cities of refuge set up throughout the territory of the Israelites. These cities of refuge were to insure that an innocent person would not be murdered by a family member of the deceased taking matters into their own hands before a proper trial.

Upon arriving at the city of refuge, the accused murderer was to stand before the gate, thus the city elders, and explain the situation. They would then be allowed safe passage into the city until such a time that a proper trial was held by the assembly. It interests but doesn’t surprise me the steps that GOD took with this new community to insure a fair trial and the possibility of one staying alive until such a trial. GOD took the shedding of innocent blood seriously and wanted His community to do likewise.

Chapter 21 instructs on the division of land for the Levites. Of all the tribes, only the Levites were not given their own inherited lands but were considered part of GOD’s inheritance. So, the Levites, who worked and served among the “holy” things in the Tabernacle and received their sustenance from the tithes and offerings brought there, received their cities and pasture lands from the other tribes.

The Levitical towns and pasture lands were spread throughout the entire territory so as not to burden one tribe over another and perhaps, to extend the Levitical influence and presence over the entire territory. I find it interesting that several of the towns given to the Levites were also cities of refuge which meant that the people who worked among the “holy” things would potentially find themselves living among folks who had killed others innocently. I don’t know what this means but it may speak again to a forgiving, loving GOD welcoming such people into His presence. Hmm… What do you think?

 

March 19                                          Joshua 17 – 19

Beginning back in chapter 15 we no longer wade through blood-soaked pages but we now find ourselves trudging through the monotonous descriptions of the land divisions tribe by tribe. Although I have never done this so am definitely speaking from personal experience here but this must be what it is like to read the will and testament of someone I never knew which pertains to me not in the least. Frankly, just considering that possibility makes my eyes glaze over and my mind becomes blank. Sound familiar?

Now, if there was the hope that there might be something for me in this last will and testament I would hang in there with hopeful expectation until the brutal end, wouldn’t you? That is kind of the mindset with which I read this section. I try to imagine myself sitting there more than three thousand years ago while Joshua or his faithful scribe write these words as if they were informing me for the very first time where my inheritance would be?

By the way, I am not too experience in reading blueprints or architectural designs either but if they dealt with my new property or my new home I would be all over that! So, why don’t we read these next sections as if these promised, inherited lands did belong to us and we had just traveled for more than forty years and had just been fighting for the last five years to take ownership of the land. It just may bring a little life into our reading.

By the way, if we think about it, because of what Jesus did for all of us in the heart of that land. Because the precious blood of the Lamb, our Lord and Savior was poured upon the very heart of this land, it has become part of our inheritance. Isn’t that amazing? Let’s keep reading with hopeful, faithful eyes on how GOD wishes to speak to us through these pages. Hallelujah! Amen!

 

 

March 18                                          Joshua 14 – 16

The division and the distribution of the land in Canaan now begins in earnest. For the most part, the warfare has ended for a time. We now hear a name we haven’t heard about in a while – Caleb. Remember Caleb? Caleb was one of the two spies forty or so years previously who trusted that GOD was able to bring them into the Promised Land and gave a favorable report on the land. While the other ten spies allowed the size of the land and its inhabitants to make them see themselves as fearful grasshoppers, Caleb kept his eyes on GOD and knew his GOD was big enough!

It encourages me greatly that here 45 years later, Caleb is still on the scene. While all of the other men his age, except for the faithful Joshua, have all died, Caleb is still around. And more than just being around, Caleb’s faith is still as strong as ever. He reminds Joshua of the promise that Moses had made to him so many years before to inherit the land where his feet had trod. Caleb isn’t asking here for land that has already been conquered – no, sirree. Caleb asks for the specific land Moses promised to him where those fearsome, loathsome, legendary Anakites lived. Anakites were massive people, I suppose we could call them giants. The Anakites lived in large, heavily fortified cities. Caleb asked for the toughest assignment.

Although way up in years by this point, Caleb describes himself as just as vigorous as when he first put his feet in the Promised Land. I can tell what is just as vigorous as Caleb’s health and energy is his faith. Through all those long, fitful, frustrating years of wandering through the wilderness when it was not his fault, we never hear a word of grumbling or complaint from Caleb. He lived for the day by trusting in GOD when he would have the opportunity to claim what GOD had promised him. Caleb had a vigorous faith in the Living GOD until his dying breath.

I have always admired Caleb. We don’t really ever hear much about him but he serves as a witness for us to draw close to GOD throughout our entire lives by practicing a vigorous, trusting, time-tested faith. I have met other “Calebs” over the years, both male and female who have exercised such faith way past their vigorous, active years. I thank GOD for them all. Do you want to be a Caleb? I do!

 

March 17                                          Joshua 11 – 13

The story of the crafty, sneaky Gibeonites so captivated my attention in yesterday’s reading that I didn’t mention chapter 10 but shortly after making the treaty under false pretenses with the Israelites, Gibeon is now viewed as an enemy by the other neighboring peoples. It turns out that Gibeon was a large, important city so the five kings of the Amorites join together and attack Gibeon. Joshua comes to their rescue and ends up not only defeating the five kings and annihilating their kingdoms but continues through the southern territories in full conquest mode.

In chapter 11 we see described the similar blood-letting in the northern cities. It seems to me that chapters 10 and 11 are perhaps the bloodiest, most merciless chapters in the Bible. They must be. We see how they destroy all in their path. We see how nations are wiped out, where they don’t leave anything breathing in their wake. As I read these chapters I confess my deep sadness and confusion. I am definitely squirming in my squeaky office chair as I read and write. I am so sorry it had to happen this way. I don’t understand but I trust GOD with it all. Hopefully we can learn from it…

The rest of this section is basically a listing in chronological order of all the defeated kings followed by a listing of the land that has not yet been conquered and the land that has already been distributed to the half tribe of Manasseh, the tribe of Reuben and the tribe of Gad on the east side of the Jordan River. The author seems to be tying up some loose ends by reminding us of the land distribution on the other side of the Jordan River before diving in to the land distribution on the western side. I will give you a spoiler alert here, we will soon find ourselves walking through some monotony but let’s hang in there together. Amen? Amen.

 

March 16                                          Joshua 9 – 10

You have probably noticed that the book of Joshua is particularly blood-soaked. Joshua is the book that describes the conquest of the Promised Land so it seems logical that it would be quite bloody but there are certainly parts that make me uncomfortable and squirmy. It definitely threatens our modern day or post-modern day sensibilities. I know that in forming a new community in a new land that a fresh start was needed and in this case necessitated bloody, annihilating war to insure no pagan influence from their neighbors but still…

The Israelites continue their invasion; as word spreads of their impending arrival of the powerful Israelites, whose GOD fights for them, the Canaanite nations begin to panic and swoon with fear. Most of the nations prepare for war and join together in attempts to defeat the Israelites. There was one people group that came up with another idea. Instead of trying to defeat the Israelites in war which had not worked so well they turn to deception. They disguise themselves as a worn-out, exhausted, starving people who have been traveling for years to seek a treaty of submission and protection with the Israelites.

Joshua and his leaders speak with the Gibeonites and interview them. They look at all their supplies which are dry and cracked and moldy giving the distinct impression that they have been brought on a long journey and are far from their homeland. You can tell that Joshua and the Israelites smelled a trick but didn’t go there. They relied on their senses, particularly sight and did not specifically inquire of the Lord. They decided to make a treaty with the Gibeonites who became their servants under their protection.

Of course, a few days later they discover that the Gibeonites had tricked them but by then, it was too late. They had sworn before their GOD to protect and defend the Gibeonites therefore insuring the lives of the Gibeonites and the ongoing possibility of Gibeonite influence on them. They lived by their treaty and let the Gibeonites live.

This story makes me wonder first, why other neighboring nations didn’t try similar tactics. I mean, as Andy Griffith once said, “There is more than one way to pluck a buzzard…” But more than that, it reminds me and calls me to walk in such a way with GOD by the power of the Holy Spirit that I bring my decisions always before the Lord to inquire of Him. This should make me more dependent on GOD instead of relying on myself.

 

March 15                                          Joshua 7 – 8

I would once again be remiss if I didn’t return to yesterday’s reading and get us caught up. Joshua has an encounter with the commander of the Lord’s Army who informs him that he is neither for the Israelites nor against them but is the commander of the Lord’s Army. Hearing this, Joshua falls on his face in worship as the angel tells him to take off his shoes because he was on holy ground. Sound familiar? I am intrigued that the angel didn’t take sides, he just obeyed GOD. That’s what angels do, well, most of them anyway but this isn’t about Lucifer.

They turn their attention to the ancient city of Jericho. GOD informs Joshua that He has already delivered Jericho into his hands and demonstrates that by the unusual way the city is conquered. The Israelite Army is instructed to march around the city once a day for six days in a row without saying a word. Imagine the psychological warfare this must have caused for the citizens of Jericho. On the seventh day they make seven circuits around the city, the trumpets are blown, all the soldiers shout in unison and the walls collapse.

Careful instructions are given to the Israelites to spare Rahab and her family but to wipe out everything else. All gold, silver and bronze goes into the treasury and the sacred things were to be avoided at all costs. Well, the Israelites completely destroy Jericho and her people as an act of devotion to GOD. I know, this is one of those hard parts that I don’t understand but I know it is somehow about safeguarding the souls of the Israelites in their new homeland.

All seems to be going well until Joshua sends a small army out to defeat the smaller city of Ai and the Israelites are routed. Panic and despair overwhelm Joshua and the Israelites. I love this picture of the despairing Joshua as he falls before GOD in panicky prayer questioning in doubt and fear why GOD ever brought them across the Jordan. It is obvious Joshua forgot himself there or rather, forgot his GOD there and saw all sorts of horrible possibilities flash before his mind’s eye. His GOD wasn’t powerful enough. Sound familiar?

Joshua and the leaders are in the traditional poses of mourning with torn clothes and ashes on their heads. They stay bowed low before the Ark for hours. GOD’s response? “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep.” (Joshua 7:10-11) Turns out someone had disobeyed GOD and stolen some of the sacred objects – a beautiful robe from Babylonia, silver and gold. As Bruce Willis says in the “Die Hard” moves, “It’s always about the money.”

The culprit is discovered through a process of divine lottery; there is no escape from GOD regardless of how careful we think we are, regardless of how secretive we are. GOD knows! Achan, his family, his livestock and all his animals are stoned and all of their possessions, including those sacred items are destroyed as well. Achan’s sinful acts of greed brought death and shame to his family and his entire nation. Community living is hard! Community living is impossible without GOD! I will go even further, community living is impossible without the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit within us. Circumcision has to go deep down into our hearts…

 

March 14                                          Joshua 4 – 6

I must backtrack a bit to yesterday’s readings to get us back on track. How’s that? There is so much in the first three chapters. Joshua decides to send spies across the Jordan to spy out the land but this time he only sends two. I wonder if he learned that with past experience from Moses sending out twelve spies, one named spy from each tribe with great fanfare and the ensuing disaster. If Moses had only sent two spies, Joshua and Caleb for instance, they may have just avoided forty years of wandering.

Joshua sends two un-named spies without any fanfare across the river and they enter Jericho and end up at the prostitute Rahab’s place. It is Rahab who first saves their lives, then tells them how the whole city is quaking in fear because of them and demonstrates her own faith and trust in their GOD. They make a deal with her to save her and her family when they conquer Jericho. They return with a positive report to Joshua and plans are put in motion for the conquest to begin.

The word is given and the Levites take up the Ark of the Covenant and lead the Israelites, with a safe distance behind them toward the river. At the moment that the priests carrying the ark touch the flooding Jordan, the waters pile up and the riverbed becomes dry. The priests stand in the middle of the river while all the Israelites cross safely and dryly over the Jordan into their new homeland. Sound familiar? Remind you of anything?

After crossing the river, a hand-selected representative from each tribe gets a rock out of the river and carries it to the other side where a monument is made so that the Israelites will always remember this miracle and teach their children well how GOD brought them safely, dryly and miraculously into the Promised Land. By the way, this miracle not only provided the Israelites safe passage but literally put the fear of GOD into all the surrounding nations as they heard how GOD had dried up the flooding Jordan.

At this point it seems like the condition of their hearts in covenant with GOD was more important than their location on the other side of the river. GOD gave the command to Joshua that all of the men of fighting age, twenty years or older needed to be circumcised. Apparently no circumcisions had taken place during the forty years of wandering. This means that all the adult males except for Joshua and Caleb from the original generation of disobedient wanderers had died in the wilderness wanderings and now the new generation needed to submit themselves to GOD and GOD’s covenant through circumcision. Circumcision though dealing with another intimate part of the body fully represented the males and the nation submitting themselves and trusting themselves to GOD. After circumcision and Passover, they are now ready to start the conquest…

 

March 13                                                 Joshua 1 – 3

Moses is dead. Moses, the servant of GOD, the Lawgiver, the one who walked with GOD, the one who spoke with GOD face to face is dead. Moses, who walked with GOD for 120 years, forty years as a prince of Egypt, forty years as a shepherd in the wilderness, and forty years as the shepherd of Israel is dead! The one the people of Israel had looked to for guidance, for courage, for inspiration, for grumbling, for bread, for meat, for water, for everything had left the building. What next?

Can you imagine what the Israelites must have felt when Moses did not return from that mountain? I wonder if anyone slept those first few nights. I wonder if panic began to set in. I wonder if Joshua thought about running away. Joshua had been Moses’ constant companion over the last forty plus years. Moses had poured himself out to Joshua day in and day out. Joshua had often been in the Tabernacle when Moses met with GOD in the midst of cloud and fire. When Moses left, Joshua remained behind in the cloud and fire.

Before panic sets in GOD gave Joshua his marching orders to go right up, cross the Jordan, enter the land of Canaan and take the Promised Land. Before panic sets in GOD reminds Joshua of His promises to him personally and to the Israelites. “No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.” (Joshua 1:5-6)

Have you ever followed in someone’s footsteps of leadership? Have you ever tried to live up to the accomplishments of another? Have you ever been a Joshua after a lifetime of preparation getting ready to take Moses’ place leading millions of people daily? Can you imagine the pressure, the stress, the anxiety he must have experienced?

In successive verses GOD tells Joshua to be careful to obey all the law Moses had given him. I end with these two verses at the beginning of Joshua which just may speak to us all in a world that still evokes fear and anxiety and worry and sleepless nights: “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:8-9)

 

March 12                                Deuteronomy 32 – 34

After reminding the Israelites of all that GOD has done for them, after reminding the Israelites of all that has happened to them when disobeying GOD and all that will happen to them if they wander away from GOD, after reminding them of all the blessings GOD has in store for the Israelites if they just believe and obey, Moses ends his sermon with a song. Putting important messages and reminders to music is a stroke of brilliance.

Over the years I have remembered the books of the Bible in song. I once knew many of the bones of the human body by song. I can’t say I did but know some who have even learned the Periodic Chart of Elements by song. I learned the English alphabet by song and I in a pinch learned the Hebrew alphabet by a song from Barney, that purple dinosaur. When I think of most of what I know about GOD I melodiously confess that I first learned it by song. And let’s be honest, the Wesley brothers were genius in teaching biblical theology through the hymns of the Church which still resonate in our hearts and minds today.

If we want to remember something, put it to music. In this particular case I am curious of what music Moses used. I first tried the tune to “Amazing Grace” which seems to work for most but didn’t have much luck. Since these particular words are words of warning and of impending disaster if disobedient, idolatrous living occurs I went to the opposite end of the spectrum and tried the nightmare music to “Enter the Sandman” by Metallica. That seemed to work a bit better than “Amazing Grace” and then it occurred to me to try “Jesus Loves Me.” What do you know? With some poetic license and a bit of tweaking, the tune to “Jesus Loves Me” seemed to work well.

After singing words of beauty and warning to the Israelites, Moses ends by blessing them tribe by tribe. I don’t know exactly what it means but Moses spends longer time blessing his own tribe of Levi and then the tribes of Joseph than any of the others, a few of whom only get a sentence. He ends his blessing with a beautiful reminder of the glory, majesty, power and faithfulness of the GOD who goes before them giving them a stirring pep talk before he departs and they move on to Canaan.

Finally, Moses climbs Mount Nebo and is given a virtual tour of the Promised Land by the Tour Guide to surpass all tour guides and then dies. Moses is then buried by GOD himself. Moses, whose presence has dominated these first five books of the Bible and has been the subject or the interpreter of these last four has been faithful to GOD and finished the race set before him – a daunting, challenging race. GOD is with him as he takes his last look at the Promised Land and takes his last breath. Moses, thank you for your faithfulness to GOD and His people. Hallelujah! Amen!

 

March 11                                Deuteronomy 29 – 31

Yesterday we saw the importance of that little, tiny, minute word of utmost importance “if.” If the Israelites love GOD and obey GOD’s commands they will be blessed beyond their wildest dreams. If the Israelites turn their backs on GOD and do their own things and worship other gods then they will be cursed beyond their worst nightmares.

As Moses approaches ever closer to his death he reiterates GOD’s desire to make a covenant with the Israelites which focuses on the love and blessing but to be a genuine covenant must also include that cursing part. Let us not make the mistake to think that the cursing part means GOD loves them any less, it doesn’t but the people will need to make up their minds.

We see later in the reading that both Moses and GOD both know well that the Israelites, once they have settled in the Promised Land will turn their backs on GOD, worship other gods and do whatever they feel like doing. Moses is particularly out-spoken not about this very real possibility but the absolute fact that these people who have seen GOD’s mighty miracles and experienced GOD’s faithfulness over the last forty years and walked through the wilderness of testing together with him that these people will turn away from GOD.

However, this does not refrain GOD from making the covenant of good faith with the Israelites. GOD loves them. GOD wants the best for them. GOD knows what is best for them, He is. GOD also knows them and as the songwriter said, “we are prone to wander…” Nevertheless, GOD makes the covenant with His people.

I am intrigued by a phrase Moses uses when he says in Deuteronomy 29:4 – “But to this day the LORD have not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear.” I know Isaiah says the same thing about them in Isaiah 6 and Jesus also mentions this same phenomena of not having eyes to see or minds to comprehend or ears to hear. I am just wondering now off the page now. I wonder if having eyes that see and ears to hear and a mind to comprehend comes down to each of us. Do we choose to see and hear and comprehend? What do you think? I don’t know about you but I choose to see, to hear and to understand. In Moses’ own words, I choose life…

By the way, I sure am glad GOD has a Plan B with all this covenant stuff. Plan B as in only Begotten Baby Boy Born in Bethlehem. Amen? Amen!

 

March 10                                       Deuteronomy 28

Backtracking a bit to chapter 27, we see that GOD orders an altar to be built on with un-tooled stones on Mount Ebal once the Israelites have entered in and settled in the land of Canaan. The stones of this altar are to be plastered over and then the words of this Law are to be written on the stones. Sacrifices and offerings are then to be offered on this altar of the Law. I wonder… Is the altar covered with all the commands of the Law to remind the people of their unending sinfulness and inability to live up to the Law or is the Law written on the altar a subtle reminder that One certain sacrificial offering will fulfill all that is written therein??? I wonder…

Continuing from the middle section of chapter 27 and throughout all of chapter 28 we see that the Israelites are reminded of the curses and the blessings of the Law proffered to them. This section covers about 86 verses and is full of cursing and blessing and more cursing. Yet, the most important word out of all these 86 verses is a biggie. Two letters. One syllable. Any guesses?

“IF”

IF you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you IF you obey the Lord your God…”

You will be blessed in the city and in the country…

The fruit of your womb and the crops of your land and your livestock will be blessed…

You will be blessed when you come in and when you go out, etc., etc., etc.…

 

HOWEVER, IF you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you:

You will be cursed in the city and in the country…

Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed…

The fruit of your womb and your crops and your livestock will be cursed…

You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out, etc., etc., etc….

IF

 

 

March 9                                             Deuteronomy 24 – 27

We can continue to see the balance in GOD’s law. Of course, there are and will continue to be segments that seem harsh to us but at the same time there is demonstrated love and grace in ways that were unheard of back in the day this was written and lived out.

When I feel myself reeling and perhaps even rebelling at the harshness I am constantly reminded that GOD is GOD and Brian is not. I am also reminded that GOD had a specific purpose behind each of these laws and commands – to make a new nation, a new community, a treasured possession holy for their GOD is holy to bless the world around them.

For instance, chapter 24 starts out speaking of divorce and even allowing a man to divorce a woman who became unpleasing to him. It seems unpleasing to me but at a day and time when a man could most likely at his whim dispose of such a woman who may have displeased him by not fixing him poached eggs and steak (almost said bacon there but caught myself) for breakfast. This at least allowed the woman some sense of rights and protection. Again, many of the marital restrictions seem to be about protecting one’s lineage and inheritance…

There are also instructions here that speak to a gentle, caring, nurturing GOD. A newlywed is not to be sent to war until a full year has passed so that he can spend his time making his wife happy. Who knows? After a full year he may enter one war to escape from another. 🙂 Just kidding. The instruments one used to make a living were not to be taken as collateral on a debt – how else would the man pay off his debt?

If a loan is made to a neighbor of lesser means, respect for the neighbor was to be demonstrated by not just entering into the neighbor’s house and take what was offered as a pledge but one should wait respectfully outside to let the neighbor with dignity bring out the pledge to you. If the neighbor is poor and can only offer a cloak as pledge then that was to be returned by nightfall so that they don’t sleep cold. Hired workers were to be paid at the end of each work day. If not, the one with-holding the daily wage would be considered in sin.

And of major importance for all of us, parents are not to be executed for the sins of the children neither children executed for the sins of the parents. Each of us dies for our own sins. This echoes down throughout the ages into the New Testament where One die for all of us for each of us and the many sins we all carry with us.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy!

 

 

March 8                                             Deuteronomy 21 – 23

Once again we journey through explicit details and instructions dealing with a wide variety of possible situations and scenarios. I will be honest there are some instructions here ranging from eggs in a bird nest to mixing seeds in a vineyard that I don’t really get. There are also more stringent rules on marriage which seem to be about protecting the heritage of the family and the innocence of the parties involved…

We find that there were structures and rituals in place if a dead body was discovered outside of any town. Measurements were to be taken from the body to the nearest towns to see which was closest and those folks had to perform a ritual involving a heifer declaring that they nor did their town have anything to do with this death. In that way atonement was accomplished.

It is obvious in this passage and others like it we have already encountered that GOD took seriously the shedding of innocent blood. The shedding of innocent blood seems to be inexplicably linked to the purity of the land itself which dates back to Genesis 4 when Cain killed Abel and GOD said that Abel’s blood cried out to him from the land.

We have also discovered in our reading that as the Israelites approach their Promised Land that because of the wicked behavior of the previous tenants, the land is spitting them out. GOD warns the Israelites that if they too participate in the same sort of wicked behavior as the former tenants (sinful practices, worshiping other gods, etc., etc.) that they as well will be vomited out of the land. It makes me wonder if the Promised Land, the land of milk and honey had also been graciously given to the previous tenants with similar instructions and they blew it.

Of course, all of this makes me wonder about our own Promised Land. I remember our guide during my first trip to Israel in 1984. In jest he told us that when GOD was telling Abraham about the Promised Land that he stuttered a bit and Canaan came out of his mouth but it was supposed to be…drumroll, please: “California!!!”

Anyway, as I see what care and concern and extremes GOD takes for this new community preparing to conquer move in to their own Promised Land, it makes me think about our own blessed Promised Land and all the innocent blood that is shed all the time. One needs only to turn on the television to see our sinfulness and inhumanity to each other. I know we can’t equate our situation with the Israelites’ situation but it still makes me wonder and worry and pray.

LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy.

 March 7                                             Deuteronomy 17 – 20

The instructions from GOD through Moses to the Israelites continue in this section in great variety. In these four chapters we have instructions on proper sacrifices, violating GOD’s covenant, law courts, the king’s behavior, Levitical care, practices of the occult and proper punishment, the Prophet, cities of refuge, witnesses of crimes or disputes, and instructions on warfare.

There are certainly sections here which are most likely uncomfortable to all of us particularly pertaining to death for some acts of disobedience. The crimes for which GOD demands death are the intentional shedding of innocent blood, breaking GOD’s covenant by worshiping other gods, breaking GOD’s covenant by worshiping in the despicable ways of the world, occult practices, false witnessing in extreme cases.

I know I am an ole softy but this just seems harsh to me but then I keep encountering the sentence or something like it, “You must purge the evil from among you.” GOD was offering these stringent instructions for the betterment of this new community. GOD was commanding them to be swift, harsh and thorough with punishment in order to grant this new community a new start on holy living in community with each other but especially, in community with GOD.

At the same time as we read of these harsh measures we see once again how much care and concern are taken to set up cities of refuge so that people who have unintentionally killed others have safe places to live while their innocence is being determined and proven. Otherwise, the avenger of blood, representing the family of the deceased could just take matters into his own hands and kill the innocent party without a trial.

In closing I also notice we have three restrictions on how the future king is to behave and using baseball lingo, in several centuries Solomon will strike out! I also note that at the inauguration of the king, the king is to be given a scroll and in the presence of the priests is to write out on that scroll in his own hand a copy of the law. Writing things out in our own hands seems to connect what we are writing in a deeply settled way down in our hearts and minds. Sounds like good practice for us as we journal…

I am struck by how GOD strives for holiness in this new community in a quite balanced way demonstrating love and care in a wide variety of ways…

 March 6                                             Deuteronomy 14 – 16

“You are the children of the Lord your God… for you are a people holy to the Lord your God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the Lord has chosen you to be his treasured possession” (Deuteronomy 14:1-2).

The Call to Holy Living is Reiterated Again and Again in a Variety of Ways:

That holiness as GOD’s treasured possession is to be reflected in the way they mourn their dead – not as the world around them mourned with cutting or shaving.

That holiness as GOD’s treasured possession is to be reflected in what they eat and don’t eat. Moses gave them a whole list of animals, birds, fish and insects they could safely eat and a whole list of animals, birds, fish and insects they could not eat.

That holiness as GOD’s treasured possession is to be reflected in how they give and what they give. They were to set aside a tithe or 10% of what their fields produced including grain, olive oil, wine, firstborn livestock, etc. and present it to GOD as an offering by eating it in the place GOD set aside for such worship.

That holiness as GOD’s treasured possession is to be reflected in how the Israelites met the needs of those around them with blessing and generosity whether Levite, foreigner, poor Israelite, slave, etc.

That holiness as GOD’s treasured possession is to be reflected in how the Israelites properly worshiped GOD particularly during the annual feasts of the Passover, the Festival of Weeks and the Festival of Tabernacles.

That holiness as GOD’s treasured possession is to be wrapped up and undergirded with the memory that they were once slaves in Egypt but were redeemed by their GOD of power and might and love. These memories were to inspire and empower them to reflect GOD’s compassion and mercy and love and holiness in genuine, authentic, real ways.

That holiness as GOD’s treasured possession has been given to us all through the precious blood of the Lamb of GOD crucified on that tree on that hill to confirm Moses’ words that we are treasured indeed. Won’t you surrender to such a loving, redeeming, compassionate GOD? Hallelujah? Hallelujah!

 March 5                                             Deuteronomy 11 – 13

Much of this section is dominated with warnings on worshiping other gods. Moses explicitly commands them to destroy and annihilate (which once again makes our skin crawl in our day and age) in order to safeguard themselves from being led astray. Remember they had forgotten themselves and been indoctrinated in Egyptian polytheism over hundreds of years. They had just wandered in and around pagan nations for forty years who worshiped a variety of lesser gods and from time to time the Israelites had caved in and joined in that worship.

They were now about to enter the land promised to them of dreams and riches but was currently occupied with many nations who worshiped a variety of gods in unacceptable ways. Moses warned them not to worship GOD in the same way that those other nations worshiped their gods because they worshiped in vile ways which GOD had never dreamed of demanding, particularly the sacrifice of children and I would add, sexual, orgiastic practices.

Moses even warns the Israelites against allowing the closest members of their families to lead them astray in worshiping other gods, even in the privacy of their own homes. He commands them that death is the penalty for such behavior and they were to be held responsible to hold their closest family members accountable by death for such an offense. Very challenging words which for me, as painful as they may be to my ears, reveal just how important it was to GOD for GOD’s chosen people to worship only their GOD who chose them, who love them, who promised them blessing for obedience and cursing for disobedience.

Warnings aside, Moses commanded the Israelites in Deuteronomy 11 to be intentional and faithful to teach their children regularly, daily even about GOD and all GOD had done for them. Reminding them that their children had not witnessed what they had witnessed in Egypt and all those miraculously deeds GOD used to bring them to freedom. Their children had not witnessed all of what GOD had done for them in their wilderness wanderings. So, Moses commanded them to tell the stories. Moses commanded them to teach them diligently how to live in faithful, loving obedience with GOD. Moses instructed them how to decorate their homes, bodies and lives with GOD’s word so that the children would learn and remember.

As I write this waiting on Sterling at swim practice, I am convicted. Even though I am a pastor and most of my time is spent at church, I have not told the stories to my girls, my precious daughters, of all GOD has done for me and for all of us. I am so excited about what GOD has done for me in countless ways. Have I properly transferred that to my children? I have work to do. Boy, do I have a story to tell. Hallelujah? Hallelujah!

 March 4                                   Deuteronomy 8 – 10

Whether the Israelites were confident of it or not, their wandering days were over. On the precipice of crossing the Jordan River and entering into the Land of Promises and Dreams, Moses reminded them. Moses reminded them of the challenges of their forty year journey through the desert.

After the disaster with the spies and their resultant distrusting, disobedience to enter into the Promised Land, Moses explained that the resulting forty years represented a time of testing to discover if they trusted GOD or not. GOD led them into hunger and thirst; the Israelites grumbled and complained; GOD provided them with the miraculous manna which no-one had ever seen before; GOD provided them with flocks of quail out of nowhere and water from the rock. Moses pointed out to them that over all those miles and miles of brutal travel GOD did not permit their feet to swell or their clothes to wear out.

While testing them to plumb the depths of their love and trust, GOD richly and miraculously provided for them all. Now, on the verge of entering a land overflowing with riches and goodness, Moses warns the Israelites that once they have conquered and settled the land and are enjoying the benefits of their land, they are to praise GOD lest they forget who provided all of this for them and why. Lest they forget who their GOD is, turn their backs on the One GOD and worship other gods.

Moses reminds them in chapter nine that it is not because they are righteous or any better than the nations that are being forced out of their lands but it is due to the wickedness and unrighteousness of the other nations. Moses reminds them of the golden calf incident when Moses was away communing face to face with GOD, they turned away and worshiped the golden calf. Moses tells them that he fell down on his face with fasting and prayer before GOD for forty days and nights to convince GOD not to destroy them or Aaron.

In chapter ten, Moses reminds the Israelites who is their GOD, the One to whom belong the highest heavens and the earth and everything in it. Yet it is this glorious, amazing, all-powerful GOD who chose this ragamuffin family to love. The phrase used in the NIV in 10:15 is “set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations – as it is today.” I love that phrase “set his affection” because for me it paints a picture of a parent tousling the hair of a tyke basking in Daddy’s love. Sure there were awe-inspiring demands on how to live out this affectionate love affair but GOD chose them to love and demonstrate that love to the rest of the world. Amen? Amen!

 March 3                                   Deuteronomy 5 – 7

Moses reminds the Israelites of the Ten Commandments in chapter five. Note again that the Ten Commandments begin with four commands on right and proper relationship with GOD and then the last six commandments deal with right and proper relationship with each other. There is a definite emphasis here on right and proper and holy even community living with GOD and human beings around us.

Moses then reminds the people that when these commandments were first given to them, GOD spoke directly to all of them out of the fire and cloud but the people were frightened. They asked if GOD might speak only to Moses who would then tell the people what GOD had said. This was commended as a good idea but I wonder what the people lost in their fear. Since then it seems that we have all yearned to have GOD speak directly to us…

In 6:4-5 we have the majestic declaration: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Moses declares the ineffable character of monotheism here. The Lord is One! A definite change from all the gods they were familiar with from their time in Egypt and all the baals and others they encountered in their wilderness wanderings. There is One GOD and we are commanded to love that One GOD with all heart, all our soul and all our strength. I struggle whenever talking about this and other similar verses whether I should say corporately heart, soul, and strength or hearts, souls, and strengths. Me thinks it best to follow the biblical example which is purposeful: heart, soul, strength and mind. We are a community of GOD’s chosen people. GOD is One and so are GOD’s people. Wow!

In chapter 7 we once encounter the destruction of entire people groups which horrifies us. I will give you a head’s up that we will encounter this issue quite a bit in the next few weeks. Again, this is from a different time and place but far too often we do see similar actions in our own world now. In reading this particular chapter (and other texts) I get the sense that those living in the land had forfeited their right to the land due to their vile behavior, particularly in worshiping other gods. The real danger lay in these people leading the Israelites astray to other gods as we just saw happen with the Midianites.

It makes me consider what bad habits or other openings to sin I allow in my life which just may lead me astray and far from my GOD. I am reminded of Hebrews 12:1-2: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God.” In moments of doubt, in any moments, may we throw off whatever hinders us in our walk with GOD and keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. Amen? Amen!

 March 2                                             Deuteronomy 3 – 4

Moses begins to speak his last words to the Israelites. It must have been a powerful moment for him, for them all. Moses was nearing the end of his long life, 120 years’ worth of living. The last forty plus years of his life had been spent leading, nurturing, discipling and calling onward the Israelites. He begins his last words by reminding them of all that GOD did for them as they wandered in the wilderness over the last forty years.

I am struck that he did not remind them of their time in Egypt and all they suffered there but then remember that these people who hear him were the new generation that had arisen during their wandering days. Remembering about their suffering in and deliverance from Egypt was now part of their DNA as they remembered it actively each year for Passover. He reminds them of GOD’s faithfulness to them along the desert road.

It is obvious that Moses really, really wanted to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land but was unable to due to sin. Two different times we find similarly wording in these two chapters: “The Lord was angry with me because of you, and he solemnly swore that I would not cross the Jordan and enter the good land the Lord your God is giving you as your inheritance. I will die in this land; I will not cross the Jordan; but you are about to cross over and take possession of that good land.” (Deuteronomy 4:21-22). It seems Moses is referring to the incident at Meribah (Numbers 20) and seems to blame the Israelites for his behavior. GOD cuts Moses off in 3:26-27 and tells him to go to the top of Mount Pisgah and look over to see the Promised Land but he will not get to enter.

Make no mistake, Moses surely did want to enter into the Promised Land, that had been his goal for several decades now but not for personal gain. Moses no longer took matters into his own hands as he did in his youth. Forty long years of exile in the desert keeping sheep had taught him to trust GOD in humility before being called and tasked with keeping human sheep.

Moses knew how important this action was for GOD and the Israelites. Moses knew that GOD had brought them out of slavery, tempered them through forty years of wandering to bring them into Canaan for the purpose of demonstrating GOD’s character to the world around them by the way they lived together. This was of the utmost importance.

Moses had spent most of these last forty years pouring himself out into Joshua to prepare him for just this moment. He gives Joshua and his people these last words calling them all to remember GOD, remember GOD’s commands and live them out for their own lasting benefit and the benefit of the world around them. As you think about your last words, what would you say about GOD to your loved ones?

 March 1                                             Deuteronomy 1 – 2

Congratulations! We have now made it through 80% of the Pentateuch having read Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. Let’s not take that for granted because for many, Leviticus and Numbers are the most challenging books of the Bible to read. In reading through the Bible many don’t stay engaged after these two but here we are, continuing onward, preparing to cross that proverbial river together.

“Deuteronomy” basically means “Second Law” in Greek and we find Moses nearing the end of this life taking the opportunity to give his last words in an extended version over several different speeches. Moses knew his life was coming to an end but wanted his life’s work to continue. He chose his words carefully. Have you ever been in a situation of “last words?”

I found myself on a mission trip to Honduras several years ago. We had just been there a few months before and were excited to return. Someone (i.e. the team leader; me) had not been paying attention to Central American weather. As we approached Honduras we saw angry brown ribbons stretched across the landscape consuming all in their paths. Honduras had experienced a recent tropical storm and would actually receive a second one while we were there. We were welcomed by a water-logged country.

We discovered a heavily damaged bridge about halfway to our destination. In the descending darkness we had to unload one bus, carry the luggage and supplies through a long line of parked traffic, across a mud path to the other side of the damaged bridge and load our stuff on another bus for the rest of the way. Rushing back the next day in the back of a truck in a driving rainstorm because one of our team members was sick, we crossed that same area only this time to find that the spot where we had walked the night before had collapsed into the raging waters below.

I realized how close I had come to death and how unprepared I had been; unprepared, in the sense, that I had left home without giving my girls any last words of wisdom, hope or of a future. I know I had told them I loved them but I felt deep in my heart that I should have left them with more; words that may have helped sustain them in difficult moments. I have a hunch that Moses felt the same way and took this opportunity as described in Deuteronomy to leave his people last words of hope, inspiration, conviction and direction. Over the next several days we will walk through Moses’ last words together. By the way, have you ever thought of what your last words to your loved one should be? If not, shouldn’t you?

 

February 28                              Numbers 34 – 36

In days of old while waiting to cross the Jordan River, GOD lays out before them the boundaries of their new home. This had to be an exciting, excruciating time for the Israelites. Just across the River was the land of their promises, the land of their dreams. GOD gave them the boundaries of their new home. It had to be so exciting to see and know how close they were to home. It had to be excruciating to know that not only did the Jordan River stand in their way but the land still had to be conquered.

GOD made special provision, once again, for the Levites in reminding Moses that each of the tribes were to set aside specific towns and their pasture lands for the Levites, as part of their inheritance. Within these Levitical towns were to be six cities of refuge. The cities of refuge were to be set aside for people to flee who had committed murder, intentionally or unintentionally.

The general punishment for murder was death and in this section we hear of “the avenger of blood” who would seek blood for the death of their loved one. This isn’t from any comic book. Life was a deadly serious matter yet GOD provided due process within the Law. Due process demanded that the accused party stand trial which included testimony of witnesses. Numbers 35:30 tells us that “no-one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.”

Without a safe place to flee, one accused of murder would be immediately killed by the avenger of blood, whoever that may turn out to be. If on the way to the city of refuge the accused encountered the avenger of blood then death could ensue before the trial, before the testimony of witnesses. This has always been a fascinating topic for me. I used to think that “the avenger of blood” was some mythical persona who traveled across the land avenging death and then I learned it was a family member set on vengeance for their loved one.

I would love to know how these cities of refuge functioned. I would love to know if these cities of refuge functioned because I don’t remember ever hearing of them being used in the rest of Scripture but I could be mistaken (it does happen you know). I wonder what that would look like in our own day. I wonder what it would be like if we lived like people of refuge that regardless of what someone had done in their lives that caused them to wander far from home, far from their families, far from their GOD, that they could come to us for safety, for refuge, for love. Once again, I wonder…

February 27                                 Numbers 32 – 33

So, everything appears to be ready. After wandering through the wilderness for forty years the Israelites are ready to finally cross the Jordan River and take possession of the Promised Land. They have gone through a long period of tempering for this moment. All of the adult males minus two who were alive forty years before have now passed on. Hopefully a new generation of faithful, trusting people has developed. What would go wrong?

Well, the tribes of Reuben, Gad and half the tribe of Manasseh take a good, long look around them and like what they see on this side of the River. They have a lot of very large herds and flocks. They saw that the land they had just conquered looked “suitable” for livestock. Without getting a really, good look at the Promised Land, the land of their dreams, the land promised to them by GOD, the reason they had been traveling for so many years, these people decide they knew best and decided to stay on the other side of the River.

After promising Moses that they would cross over the Jordan River and help all of the other tribes invade and conquer the land, they were given permission to settle down on the other side of the River. Never mind that this wasn’t really what GOD had intended for them; never mind that they hadn’t really seen all GOD had in store for them, they liked what they saw at first blush and decided it was best for them and their families for the rest of their lives without even experiencing GOD’s promised territory.

Now, in their defense the tribes of Gad, Reuben and half of the tribe of Manasseh were indeed given permission to settle there so it doesn’t look like such a grave offense against GOD but I wonder. I wonder how settling on the other side of the River would affect their relationships with all the other tribes. I wonder how having the natural barrier of the Jordan River between them would keep them from fully experiencing all GOD had in store for them. I wonder how deciding to depend on what their own eyes saw rather than trusting what GOD saw affected them and their nation from that point on. I wonder how often I have done the same. I wonder…

 February 26                                                     Numbers 30 – 31

This is one of those passages I was warned about. This is one of those passages that make us extremely uncomfortable. This is one of those passages that I have a hard time comprehending and making sense of. This passage is of another time and place. This passage reveals the Israelite Army defeating Midian in battle; not just defeating Midian in battle but annihilating Midian in battle and dividing up their possessions, including their virgin women as pirates might distribute booty. How could that be GOD’s will?

I won’t dare speak for GOD here. Numbers 30 is the culmination of the conflict begun in chapter 22 as Israel approached the Jordan River on the edge of the land of Moab drawing very close to the Promised Land. Balak and the nation of Moab were terrified as they saw the approaching Israelites and heard the stories about them. Balak knew he didn’t have a chance with conventional warfare so he sent for a prophet to curse the Israelites on a spiritual level. Balaam, the prophet, seems to have had his heart in the right place. He went rather reluctantly to Moab explaining that he could do only what GOD told him to do. GOD had made that very clear to him through his talking donkey – a lesson one wouldn’t soon forget.

Nevertheless, Balak takes Balaam to three different sites and views of the enemy but Balaam can do nothing but bless the Israelites. Balak angered, sends Balaam away without his promised pay. In short order however the Israelite men bring curses upon themselves by “mixing” it up with the Midianite women who seductively welcome them into sexual immorality and idolatry leading them astray to worship a pagan god, baal. A plague ensues and kills 24,000 Israelites in judgment and punishment.

Several chapters later we still find the Israelites on the edge of the Jordan River with the Midianites still in front of them. The order for war is given and brutal annihilation occurs. When some of the victims are named we find the prophet Balaam among them. Apparently, he had not left the field of battle nor had he fully obeyed the GOD he claimed to serve so obediently. We don’t hear much of anything about Balaam until II Peter, Jude and Revelation 2 much later in the New Testament who reveal that Balaam ended up earning the offered pay from Balak by teaching the Midianites how to snare and trap the Israelites through sexual immorality and idolatry – the physical enticement led to spiritual downfall.

This battle we have described for us though bloody and gory and distasteful just may have been a battle for the soul of a nation, for the soul of a people who were called to be GOD”s people right as they neared their new homeland. A homeland that we have already learned had become so defiled by the wicked behavior of the previous tenants that the land was vomiting them out. Hmm? How seriously do we take the condition of our souls? How seriously do we take sin in our lives?

February 25                                      Numbers 28 – 29

We find ourselves back in the midst of explicit details regarding offerings, not just daily offerings but weekly offerings, offerings for special occasions and extra special offerings. I will be honest; it is so easy for me to get bogged down in the offering details so that they don’t really matter to me. And yet, they certainly must have mattered to GOD because we have already seen from Exodus, Leviticus and now Numbers just how many times the offerings have been defined, described and demanded in glorious detail.

I am speaking from human experience now because I am definitely human. I have a hunch that maybe the people responded eagerly and exactly and extravagantly out of love and respect in the early days of their relationship with GOD. It may have been exciting. It may have been inspiring. It may have been important. But with the passage of time I wonder if the people just started to go through the motions. I wonder if they needed smoke-signal reminders from time to time that their offerings were due. Did they need smoke-signal reminders that their GOD was patiently waiting for them? I wonder if they began to grudgingly give their offerings without real thought or care of why they were making their offerings.

I also wonder if GOD prescribed such offerings in such times so that His people would keep their eyes and minds and hearts on GOD at all times. I am honestly intrigued by the idea of a specific offering early each morning and a specific offering each evening just because. I am pretty good about starting the day and offering myself to GOD early in the morning but not so much late at night. I often go to bed without a second thought of GOD and all He has done for me throughout the day. GOD, please forgive me. Prayerfully, I want to figure out a way to begin and end each day offering myself as a living offering to GOD. Any suggestions?

One way for me to begin this process of returning to my first love and all the practices of those early days is to remember all GOD has done for me. I must remember that I no longer have to go through the dutiful exercises of these explicit, excruciatingly detailed offerings because GOD so loved us that His Son Jesus made the offering for us once and for all! Talk about excruciating details… We are loved! Hallelujah! Amen!

February 24                                                     Numbers 26 – 27

Still on the edge of the Jordan River, just chomping at the bit to invade and enter their Promised Land, GOD orders a new census to be taken. Sound familiar. That is exactly how this book of Numbers began, with a census of all the men twenty years or older. We now have a second census forty years later.

You may not be as curious as I am but I think it interesting to compare the numbers of the tribes forty years apart:

TRIBE                    Before                  After

 

Reuben                 46,500                  43,730

Simeon                 59,300                  22,200

Gad                       45,650                  40,500

Judah                    74,600                  76,500

Issachar                54,400                  64,300

Zebulun                57,400                  60,500

Ephraim                40,500                  32,500

Manasseh            32,200                  52,700

Benjamin              35,400                  45,600

Dan                       62,700                  64,400

Asher                    41,500                  53,400

Naphtali               53,400                  45,400

TOTAL                   603,550                601,730

Levi                       22,000                  23,000

Only two of these numbered were counted in the first census forty years previously: Joshua and Caleb. “Not one of them was among those counted by Moses and Aaron the priest when they counted the Israelites in the Desert of Sinai. For the Lord had told those Israelites they would surely die in the wilderness, and not one of them was left except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun” (Numbers 26:64-65).

 Failure to obey GOD, failure to trust GOD, success in complaining against GOD all led the original Israelites minus two to die in the wilderness without ever experience the Promised Land. Amen? Amen

February 23                                                     Numbers 23 – 25

Today’s story began in yesterday’s reading. As the Israelites approach the Jordan River and the territory of the Moabites after several, successive, stunning victories, the Moabites are terrified. Their king, Balak, knows that they need assistance to defeat the Israelites so he sends messengers to the seer Balaam. Balaam was apparently known as a man who spoke with GOD and it was said of him that, “whoever you bless is blessed, and whoever you curse is cursed” (Numbers 22:6).

Balaam does indeed have a relationship with GOD and when approached by Balak’s messengers consults with GOD and discovers that the people he is being asked to curse are already blessed by GOD and GOD will not permit him to go with them. Balak sends ever more important people and reward to entice Balaam to come and do his bidding. When consulting with GOD this second time, GOD gives Balaam permission to go with him but tells him to do only what He tells him.

As they start off it seems that GOD has concerns that Balaam will not obey him so sends an angel to oppose him. This isn’t just any angel but the powerful Angel of the Lord who waves his sword in front of Balaam but remains unseen to all but Balaam’s trusty donkey. Three different times the donkey moves out of the angel’s way to save his master and each time his master beats him. After the third time, the Lord enabled the donkey to speak who asked Balaam why he had beaten him those three times. A conversation ensues between Balaam and his donkey which in reality reveals who was the real donkey. Balaam’s eyes were opened, he saw the Angel of the Lord and a whole, new deeper level of respect and obedience entered his heart or so it seemed.

Arriving with the Moabites, Balak entices Balaam to curse the people. Balaam does try on several occasions by seeking GOD on behalf of Balak but each time GOD reveals that these are his blessed people and they are not to be cursed. Even if his heart was not in blessing these Israelites, when the Spirit of GOD entered in to him he had no other choice but to bless them each and every time.

Balak’s plan to curse the Israelites in order to defeat them failed but wouldn’t you know it, as the Israelites encamped by the Jordan River on the edge of Moab the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with the Moabite women who enticed them to even worship baal with them. They worshiped foreign gods, engaged in sexual immorality and even practiced it boldly in front of everyone. The anger of the Lord burned against them and sent a plague against them. The leader of each tribe was instructed to kill their own people who were engaging in such sin. Eleazar the new high priest was so zealous in obeying GOD that the plague was halted after killing 24,000 Israelites.

So the Israelites really didn’t need anyone else to curse them because they were just so good at cursing themselves. Humans!

February 22                                                     Numbers 21 – 22

In the previous reading yesterday it went unsaid that Moses’s sister Miriam died in the Desert of Zin. Today we discover that Moses’ brother Aaron, the high priest, died on Mount Hor. Imagine what a shock those deaths must have been to the Israelite community. Their leaders, those who led them and represented them before GOD since their days in Egypt, were beginning to die. It must have been unnerving to say the least. But, at least Moses was still with them.

To add to their discomfort and angst, the Israelites begin to approach lands controlled by other nations. First, they come to territory controlled by their distant cousins Edom (through Jacob’s brother Esau) and ask permission to use the road through their area. The Edomites just don’t deny them passage but threaten them with war if they pass through. The Israelites turned back and went another way.

In short order they were attacked and some of them were captured by the Aradites who were then annihilated in battle. In words that are too common we are told that the Israelites grew impatient along the way and spoke against GOD and Moses. In response to their complaints GOD sent venomous snakes among them and many died. When the people come and repent to Moses, he prays for his people. The Lord commands him to make a bronze snake and put it high on a pole so when the people are bitten by the snakes, if they look at the bronze snake they would live.

This bronze snake on the pole would endure for hundreds of years and eventually became an object of worship which the Israelites would burn incense to. It would remain as an object of worship until King Hezekiah had it destroyed while cleansing and purifying the temple. In John 3 when Jesus met with Nicodemus after dark, Jesus actually used this bronze snake on the pole as a symbol of his impending death, being lifted up on the cross which would truly bring healing and life to the people.

Maybe that’s what we hold on to here in the wilderness. In the midst of enemies to the left, to the right and looming ahead of us on the horizon; in the midst of leaving our old lives behind (Egypt) and discovering ourselves as perhaps our greatest enemies, may we look to that bronze snake lifted up in our pain and agony and frustration. May we look to the snake and remember Whom it represents and what it represents: “that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (John 3:15).

February 21                                      Numbers 19 – 20

More details on cleansing occur in chapter 19 but that which draws my attention follows in chapter 20 when the Israelites arrive in the Desert of Zin where of course, there is no water. Water just doesn’t seem to be found abundantly in deserts so I am not real sure what the Israelites expected. As we have come to expect from them, they began to complain against Moses and against GOD for bringing them out of Egypt into this “god-forsaken” place (those are my words).

Read their favorite refrain of contempt here: “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! Why did you bring the community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!” 

Note how they emphasize “you” in their indictments against Moses and GOD as if it were their fault. If they had obeyed GOD in the first place instead of listening to those fearful, insolent spies they could have well been eating from the milk and honey of Canaan instead of that miserable wilderness but it seems they have forgotten all about that! “You” indeed!

GOD instructs Aaron and Moses to take Aaron’s staff and speak to the rock so that water will pour out of it. GOD provides water for the Israelites out of a rock! Hallelujah! But in frustration Moses took the staff and said, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Moses then struck the rock twice with the staff.

Water poured out of the rock and trouble poured out on Aaron and Moses because in their frustration they didn’t follow GOD’s explicit instructions. Not only does Moses not speak to the rock but he strikes the rock twice and speaks to the people saying “they” will bring out the water from the rock. They?   I am sorry but I have a hunch that the “they” in this case is Moses and Aaron. Did they too forget momentarily about GOD?

Neither Aaron nor Moses will enter into the long, sought-after, Promised Land because of their disobedience here at the Rock of Meribah. GOD tells them it is because they did not trust Him enough to honor Him as holy before the Israelites. They took matters into their own hands instead of trusting GOD and doing what He told them to do – speaking rather than striking.

Trust? Trust seems to be at the very heart of the matter not just with Aaron and Moses in their relationship with GOD but with the entire community. Trust? Where would you say we would fall in to this conversation on trust? Do we trust ourselves with our lives? Or do we trust GOD? Trust? Trust!

February 20                                                     Numbers 16 – 18

How many times so far have the people complained against GOD because of food or water or meat or bread, etc.? The last I looked we even had Moses’ own sister and brother, Miriam and Aaron, get into the act and complain against Moses and his wife, seeking in reality to supplant them. Then we see 10 of the 12 spies return from the Promised Land with a negative, fearful, complaining report which causes the nation to rebel against Moses and against GOD. We find individuals continuing to blaspheme against GOD and breaking the Sabbath – death results. They just don’t seem to obey or maybe, want to obey.

In today’s reading we see several of the leading Levites rebel against Moses. We saw last week that the Levites were considered special by GOD. They were not counted in the military census as were all the other tribes. They were taken as the firstfruits; they were taken in place of the firstborn sons of all the other Israelites. They were given explicit instructions on what each group of them was to do pertaining to the Tabernacle and the holy things of GOD. They were to serve as a buffer zone of protective grace between the Tabernacle and the rest of the tribes of Israel. They were even provided for in a special way from the required tithes of all the people. They were GOD’s special people among the chosen ones…

And yet; and yet that just doesn’t seem to be enough for some of them. Several of their leaders bring charges against Moses and Aaron, wondering who had elevated them to such high places of leadership instead of them; wondering why they weren’t the priests, too. GOD tells them to present themselves and all their followers to Him the next day with their censers filled with coals to see who GOD will select from among them. In insolence some of them even refuse to participate as GOD has commanded. Long story, short: The leaders, all in their families, and all their possessions are sucked down into the earth while all the other 250 are burned up by fire from GOD.

As I read and chew on these texts I chalk up this insolent behavior to discontentment and then I pray and seem to go a bit deeper. I discover that this complaining and perhaps all the complaining we have encountered in our reading goes to pride in the hearts of the people. They don’t want to listen to anyone else. They don’t want to serve anyone else. They want to be the gods of their own lives. Sound familiar? Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy!

February 19                                                     Numbers 14 – 15

Last we saw Moses and his large, extended family they were reeling from several incidents of complaint; many against GOD from the crowd; another from two of Moses’ closest family members. As they suffered the consequences of their complaints and there are always consequences to complaints, they draw ever closer to the borders of the Promised Land. Moses sent twelve carefully selected men to enter the land of Canaan as spies and learn about their new homeland.

We now discover in today’s reading that the spies find a land that overwhelms them in every way. They are overwhelmed by the amazing bounty they find in the land. I mean it takes two of them to carry a bunch of grapes between them! They find a land that is in truth, flowing with milk and honey. They must have been overjoyed to see such fruitfulness just waiting for their arrival.

On the other hand they also find a land that overwhelms them with large, fierce inhabitants rumored to be related to legendary, gigantic, mysterious people living in heavily, fortified, impenetrable cities. Their joy at the overabundance in the land is surpassed by their fear of the land, well not all of them…

Upon returning to a curious, impatient, skeptical people ten of the twelve spies give them a negative report of the land. When they tell their family about the large people and even larger cities in the land, they tell them in Numbers 13:33 – “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” Only Joshua and Caleb trust GOD and encourage their people to take the land but it seems everyone else forgot who they were, Whose they were.

Apparently, their GOD, remember their GOD, the One who defeated the mighty, god-like Egyptians and delivered His people out of slavery into slavery had suddenly become grasshopper-like as well. The grumbling begins in earnest once again revealing the true hearts of the Israelites. They want to go back to Egypt. They want to go back to the gods of the Egyptians where all that was expected of them was back-breaking labor 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Hard work is better than trusting faith any day, right?

Anyhow, as we have already seen, complaining brings consequences. This lack of faith from ten of the twelve spies and the majority of the Israelites dooms them to wander through the wilderness for forty years until all the males of adult age have died… Oops! The consequences of their rebellious, complaining, unbelieving sins come from their own lips (Numbers 14:26-35).

Then, after the dust clears and the punishment has been handed down, many of the Israelites decide to do what GOD called them to do in the first place and enter the land of Canaan. How many times do we do that after first balking to do GOD’s will and then decide after it’s too late to go ahead and do it? GOD was not in it with them and they were soundly defeated. Wandering through the wilderness until a nation is born of faithful trust has begun…

February 18                                                     Numbers 12 – 13

There is one thing about being attacked by a crowd of people. Even though it was difficult at first, I have a hunch Moses grew comfortable with all of the complaining, griping and criticizing coming from all of the people he was called to lead. We know he grew so frustrated with them that at times he just wanted to die but the crowd is the crowd and I am sure dealing with them became like second nature to him.

But in chapter 12 we see Moses attacked by his very own brother and sister which must have devastated him to the very core. His sister Miriam was certainly a leader as she had led the women in song after emerging victorious from the parted waters of the Red Sea which left Egypt in their ruinous wake.

Aaron was Moses’ right-hand man. Aaron was called to represent Moses as Moses was called to represent GOD. And here we find Aaron and Miriam complaining against Moses because he had married a Cushite or Ethiopian woman. Hmm… Did they think themselves better than her because of her race or where she came from? Did they think themselves better than Moses because of who he married?

They certainly thought themselves at least equal to Moses as they elevated themselves to Moses’ stature all while we are told that Moses was the most humble person on the face of the earth. Shouldn’t they have lowered themselves in humility rather than exalt themselves over him?

Nevertheless they complain against Moses and seemingly Moses does not respond in any way but surely he was shattered by their judgment and betrayal. As Aaron and Miriam spoke against Moses, GOD overheard them and responded by rebuking them and reminding them that GOD speaks to prophets through visions and dreams but speaks directly to Moses face to face. How then could they dare to say anything against Moses?

GOD is angry at their treatment of Moses and leaves them. When the clouds clear Miriam has contracted leprosy. Moses cries out for her healing and GOD hears. GOD heals Miriam but banishes her outside the camp for 7 days as if her father had spit in her face…

Moving on from this incident with his brother and sister, Moses selects twelve men to enter the Promised Land as spies to bring back a report on the land. What could go wrong?

 

February 17                                                     Numbers 10 – 11

After the explanation of chapter 9 about the presence of GOD leading the Israelites through the cloud by day and the fire by night, we actually see that happen in chapter 10. The cloud lifts from the Tabernacle letting all know it is time to move on. The process of all the tribes beginning to move begins while the Levites work at tearing down the Tabernacle properly and moving along with the nations. Remember, the Living, Creating, Awesome GOD is literally living in their midst, directing them, providing for them. If they doubt for a moment that GOD is not with them, all they need to is lift their eyes to see the cloud and fire of GOD.

You would think that would suffice but after all, people are people. I heard recently someone say that they love humanity; it was just people that drive them crazy. Another said that the Bible is still relevant and trustworthy today because people have not changed over the thousands of years they’ve been here on earth. People are still people and we are the people.

In the very midst of the Awesome,” I AM THAT I AM,” the people as people are want to do, begin to complain. In the early verses of chapter 11 we are told that the people begin to complain against GOD for the hardships in their lives. Strangely enough, fire begins to consume the outer edges of their camp. They run to Moses who prays for them and the fire relents.

In the very next verse the people now begin to complain about eating manna all the time. Manna is the bread from heaven. No-one had experienced manna before or since but the Israelites wanted something else; the Israelites wanted something different than bread from heaven. They wanted meat. They wanted fish. They wanted the meat, fish and vegetables they had eaten in Egypt. Let’s be honest, they wanted Egypt. Did they also want Egypt’s gods??? Apparently, it was all a packaged deal.

At this point we see how frustrated Moses grows at this huge burden of leadership. He feels all alone. He needs help. He wonders where he alone will find meat for all of these people. It seems that momentarily he forgot his place, he forgot his GOD. While Moses grew frustrated, GOD grew angry. GOD threatens to destroy them all. As he surveys the mess around him, Moses basically says, “Kill me now!”

GOD provides Moses help by raising up 70 leaders from the tribes and anoints them with the same Spirit Moses had been given. GOD then caused the wind to blow which blew in quail by the millions from over the sea and the people then had so much meat they didn’t know what to do with themselves. But there are consequences for sin; there are consequences for complaining. “But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the Lord burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague” (Numbers 11:33). Complained any lately??? Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy!!

February 16                                                     Numbers 8 – 9

There are several things which tweak me from this reading. The first is the details we are given on setting apart the Levites. If you read chapter 8 you will see that all the Levite males are literally given as a gift to GOD. You may remember our discussion of the other day how all the Levite males are taken in place of all the first-born Israelite males – an entire tribe of Israel. The Levites are not counted as everyone else was for the military census; they are reserves if you will to serve with the holy things of GOD. I still can’t get over the thought that just like the Levites, those of us who know Christ personally and intimately are also to be gifts to GOD and those around us. Wow? Wow!

A second point to ponder is fairly buried in 9:8. When celebrating the Passover there were several people who could not participate because they had been made unclean by a dead body. They went to Moses to tell him that they wanted to still offer the Passover sacrifices and didn’t understand why they couldn’t. So Moses tells them this: “Wait until I find out what the Lord commands concerning you.” Did you notice the important word which began this last sentence? Wait. It seems to me that “wait” has become a bad word in our society today. It is always rush, rush, rush! It seems to be that it is better to do something, anything rather than to be still and wait on GOD. But the key word remains. Wait. “Wait until I find out what the Lord commands concerning you.” How about it? Is waiting too weighty for us? Let us endure the weight of waiting to encounter GOD. He is worth it!

Finally, in the last section of chapter 9 we have the description of how when the cloud and fire lift from the Tabernacle that it is time for the nation to move and when the cloud and fire stop over the Tabernacle, it is time to rest for a while. I sometimes wish it was like that for me. Trust me, sometimes I really need GOD to let me know what I am to do so much that I would prefer a swift swat from a two-by-four than waiting but in the waiting as a disciple of Christ we have the assurance of the in-dwelling presence of the Holy Spirit within us so I think it is more a matter of slowing down, praying and learning to be aware of GOD’s presence within us. The clouds will disappear and the fire will burn within us brightly, leading us onward. Amen? Amen!

February 15                                                                    Numbers 7

Numbers 7 is one of those frustrating chapters in which it is so easy to get bogged down and give up. Most of the 89 verses in this chapter are repeated, detailed, repetitious details of gifts given by the appointed leaders of each tribe which happen to be the exact same gifts. So for posterity’s sake I think it proper and wise I repeat those gifts for you here, but only once:

“His offering was one silver plate weighing a hundred and thirty shekels

and one silver sprinkling bowl weighing seventy shekels,

both according to the sanctuary shekel, each filled with the finest flour

mixed with olive oil as a grain offering; one gold dish weighing ten shekels,

filled with incense; one young bull, one ram and one male lamb a year old

for a burnt offering; one male goat for a sin offering; and two oxen, five rams,

five male goats and five male lambs a year old to be sacrificed as a fellowship offering.

This was the offering of …”

 

So because each gift from each of the tribal leaders is the same, this chapter could have been much shorter and easier to read. Did you notice that long, complicated, complex sentence above repeated 12 times? Grammar experts are groaning the world over! But then I get over myself and think. If each gift is the same and yet each gift is repeated in great detail 12 times, it must have been important to the writer; it must have been important to GOD.

And then it hits me. What if all of our gifts to GOD are written in great, specific detail somewhere? What if each time we give a gift to GOD – day in, day out; every week; every other week; once a month; once a year, etc. – our gifts are written down somewhere to be remembered forever? Uh, it may make me more cognizant of what gifts I am giving GOD. It may encourage me to give gifts I won’t be ashamed of on that last day. Amen? Amen!

February 14                                                     Numbers 5 – 6

In today’s reading we have a returned emphasis on the importance of the purity of the camp of probably around two million people; you heard that right, 2,000,000 people! Imagine the challenge of keeping the camp pure with just a handful of people and here Moses is dealing with around two million. Wow! Can you imagine? I can’t. I don’t want to…

So, instructions are given for making restitution, the test for an unfaithful wife, the special rites for becoming a Nazirite and the priestly blessing. I have to tell you that as a grandson of a wonderful woman, the son of a godly woman, the brother of two incredible sisters, the husband of an amazing,  “Proverbs 31,” noble woman and the father of three remarkable daughters, the testing of the unfaithful wife bothers me.

As I read this section I am wondering what happens when the wife suspects the husband of marital unfaithfulness. As I read this section I am wondering if there is a test for the man involved in this unfaithfulness. I know that inherit in this process is protection for the falsely-accused woman but still I wonder and fume. Then the thought occurs to me that in a male-dominated society as the Old Testament society was, such importance was given to the woman’s role in Israelite life demonstrating how in reality, just how important women were to the holy community GOD was trying to build. By the way, that importance remains today and is perhaps even more important today!

And then I return to Numbers 5: 5-7: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites: ‘Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the LORD is guilty and must confess the sin they have committed. They must make full restitution for the wrong they have done, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the person they have wronged.’”

Once again we see how seriously GOD takes sin. Once again we are reminded of just how important holy, communal living is to GOD so much so that GOD says if we wrong another in any way and thus is unfaithful to GOD… Did you catch that? If we wrong another person (male, female, Jew, Gentile, etc.) then we have been unfaithful to GOD. Wow! If I wrong another I wrong GOD. But there is hope. We are to confess our sin to the other and before GOD and we are to make restitution for our sin. Hope is restored. Relationship is restored. Purity in the camp is restored.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy!

February 13                                                     Numbers 3 – 4

Remember the Passover? The Passover is in reality the central event in Jewish history. GOD brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt by and through the Passover. GOD instructed Moses and the Israelites to kill a lamb without spot or blemish and paint their door faces with some of the blood so that when the angel of death passed by it wouldn’t visit their families but pass over them. To those homes not marked by the blood of the lamb, the angel of death would visit and their firstborn sons would die, as well as the firstborn of the cattle. Even now, after more than 3,000 years the Israelites remember the Passover by special observance of a symbolic meal. Passover matters still.

In this section in Numbers we discover that the Levites, the sons of Levi, were not counted for military service like all the other tribes for GOD had other plans for them. GOD set them aside to serve with the “holy” instruments in the presence of the Holy, Holy, Holy One. Not only did GOD have special purposes and instructions for them but all of the males in the tribe of Levi were considered as the firstborn males for all of the Israelites. The livestock of the Levites were also considered as the firstborn livestock for all the Israelites. Another count was taken for the firstborn males and it was discovered that there were not enough Levites so 273 firstborn Israelites were redeemed monetarily at five shekels each. Hmmm?

So, stay with me here, in reality the Levites were treated like firstfruits from each Israelite family. The Levites are kind of like tithes which are to be the first offering, the best offering to GOD. I wonder what those 273 felt when they learned they were redeemed by five shekels rather than another’s life? But the truth is that we are all redeemed by the Firstborn. Some of my favorite words in the Bible confirm this: “The Son is the image of the invisible GOD, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy…But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation…” (Colossians 1:15-23, NIV). Hallelujah? Hallelujah!!!

February 12                                                     Numbers 1 – 2

Congratulations! We made it through all the detailed details of Leviticus and now move on through the names and numbers of well, “Numbers.” It can be so easy to get bogged down at this point. As I think back over my own life and remember comments from many others, this is the point in an annual attempt to read through the Bible where many people give up. Let’s covenant together to not get bogged down in the names and numbers but to instead look specifically for what GOD wants us to learn and apply to our lives through His book of Numbers. Thanks. Blessings on you all.

What resonates with me in this section is the arrangement of the tribes. We see that the tribes of Judah, Issachar and Zebulun are stationed to the east of this massive group of people leading the Israelites through the wilderness toward the Promised Land. I notice that this is the largest group as far as males over twenty years of age are concerned. I wonder if that is the sole reason they are leading or from the get-go was GOD giving us a hint just how important the tribe of Judah will become for us all in leading us to Him?

We see that the twelve tribes are broken up in groups of three and there are three tribes arranged on each point of the compass – North, South, East and West – with the Tabernacle in the middle. Interestingly, one of the tribes of the sons of Jacob is not included in this census – Levi. When Jacob blessed Joseph way back in Genesis 46, he told Joseph that he claimed Ephraim and Manasseh as his own sons. We see that demonstrated here in the arrangement of the tribes but what about Levi?

GOD has special plans for the tribe of Levi. The “Levites” have a particular purpose. They are to be concerned solely with the care of the things of GOD, particularly in this specific case, the Tabernacle. The Levites are broken up in to smaller, family groups and given responsibility to take care of certain, specific areas in the Tabernacle. The Levites are also stationed strategically immediately surrounding the Tabernacle in the very middle of all the tribes serving perhaps as a buffer zone to protect all of the other tribes from getting too close and inadvertently bringing disaster on themselves.

I wonder, does GOD dwell in the center of our lives or have we pushed GOD away to some dark corner somewhere keeping GOD out of sight and mind? Or like the Levites, does GOD live right in the center of our lives so that we live between GOD and the world? How might GOD want us to live and serve in such a place; in such a world?

February 11                                                     Leviticus 26 – 27

The penultimate chapter of Leviticus sums up the entire book in a powerful way comparing obedience to disobedience, blessing to cursing.

GOD told the people through Moses that if they refused to make or worship idols; if they observed the Sabbaths and had reverence for the sanctuary; if they followed GOD’s decrees; if they obeyed GOD’s commands… Those are certainly big “ifs” and as humanity has demonstrated time after time after time much easier said than done.

Nevertheless if they complete their side of the covenant then GOD promised to send them rain in its season so much so that harvest will continue until planting and there will always be enough to eat. There will be peace in their land and they can sleep without fear. A handful of them will be able to repel great hordes of enemies. GOD will make them be fruitful to multiply their numbers and most importantly, GOD will dwell among them, right in their very midst!

However, GOD also told them that if they refused to listen to Him and refused to carry out all these commands and if they reject His decrees and abhor His laws then GOD will bring upon them sudden terror, wasting diseases, invasion, hunger, starvation, desperation to the point that the land will be devastated, their numbers will be sorely decreased and they will eventually be carried in to exile.

This second half of chapter 27 is difficult to read. God warns them that if they continue to refuse to repent and live in disobedience that all of these curses worsen in divine attempts to bring them back to GOD. It is a brutal picture of in actuality what lay in store for those who lived in disobedience and rebellion to GOD.

However, at the end of this list of curses we find these words in 26:40 – “But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors – their unfaithfulness and their hostility toward me, which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies – then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sins, I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land…”

Regardless of how insolent, arrogant, rebellious, disobedient, hateful, spiteful, etc. we human beings are and can be toward GOD, GOD will not forget. GOD will not give up on us. GOD will do whatever necessary to bring us human beings back to Himself, even to the point of His Son taking all of our insolence, arrogance, rebellion, disobedience, hate, spite, sin and their corresponding curses upon Himself and nailing it all to that tree. Hallelujah? Hallelujah!

February 10                                                                    Leviticus 24 – 25

These two chapters are chock full with powerful teaching. Chapter 25 introduces the concepts of the Sabbath Year and the Year of Jubilee. The Sabbath Year is to occur every seventh year when the ground is to lay fallow and allowed to rest and recover. Anything that grows on its own that year can be used for food and provision. The Sabbath Year is intended to look out for the welfare of the land but I think also to encourage the Israelites to trust GOD – no working in the fields, no depending on the sweat of their brows but completely trusting in GOD’s provision for them.

The Year of Jubilee was to happen after every seven Sabbath Years which means every fiftieth year. Many glorious things were to happen in this year of jubilation from granting freedom to slaves to recovering sold property but what had to be most demanding was the idea that they had to trust that GOD would provide them sufficient harvest in the sixth year to carry them over to harvest in the ninth year because they were not to sow crops at all in the seventh year. They were not to sow crops until the eighth year which meant no harvest until the ninth year. Wow! Talk about trusting GOD yet scholars are of the opinion that Israel never took the risk and lived out or in to either of these concepts…

Leviticus 24 hit me between the eyes in the account of the man who blasphemed GOD’s name and was taken to account for it. He was taken into custody until receiving GOD’s will for him which was for the people to put him to death. Again, this is not comfortable to read at all. This was a different time as a nation continued to be formed to be a holy nation in relationship with a holy, holy, holy GOD. Those who heard the blasphemer – those who obviously testified against him – were to be the ones to lay their hands on his head. They therefore had to look deeply in his eyes. Can you imagine that? I can’t. I don’t. I suppose that command for the witnesses to lay their hands on the blasphemer was to insure they spoke the truth in their condemnation.

Again, I can’t tell you how grateful I am that Christ fulfilled the Law and I don’t have to but I am wondering how to apply that action in my own life here and now. I have come to the conclusion before I speak a word against anyone or condemn anyone I should imagine myself approaching them with stone in hand, putting my hand on their heads and testifying against them as I look deeply in their eyes.

Just the sheer thought makes my insides lurch. I know at this moment that I will now think twice before speaking a word against anyone! Holy living is not real comfortable is it? But we are called to be holy for GOD is holy! Amen? Amen!

February 9                                                       Leviticus 22 – 23

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell Aaron and his sons to treat with respect the sacred offerings the Israelites consecrate to me, so they will not profane my holy name. I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 22:1-2)

In today’s reading this is what struck at my heart. If Aaron and his sons and descendants who follow in his footsteps as priests treat with disrespect the sacred offerings given to GOD then they (the priests) will profane GOD’s holy, holy, holy name. And there will be a heavy price to pay…

I cannot describe to you, even in the two different languages I speak, just how relieved I am that this original sacrificial system is no longer in effect due to Christ’s One and Only sacrifice offered for us! First and foremost, I am not a descendant of Aaron (Thank God!) but as one who has been called by GOD to serve as a pastor I serve in a similar position as Aaron and his descendants. I am quite confident that I would not have lasted one single, solitary day without committing a major error or faux pas in the old sacrificial system and paying the ultimate price.

I am not saying I would have done something intentionally to profane GOD’s name but I have a feeling that either unintentionally or by becoming lazy or sloppy I would have mishandled a sacrifice and brought GOD’s name in to disrepute. If any of you have experienced Communion Sunday with me, particularly in the sanctuary, you well know that potential. Anyone remember when I served the grape juice first? I actually expected to be struck down in the midst of that particular service but GOD was merciful. Thank you, GOD!

However far removed we are from these rules, regulations and restrictions on how to properly worship GOD I think it still wise we become familiar with them. I find it even wiser that we consider how we worship GOD now.

Do we prepare at all for worship? Do we make sure our hearts are right with GOD before entering worship? Are we repentant and confessed up with GOD and our neighbor before worshiping GOD? Do we ever profane GOD’s name by the way we worship, by the way we handle the offerings we are given?

As I consider the New Testament command to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to GOD (Romans 12:1-2), it brings a new perspective to me on how I treat those around me who are living sacrifices. Do I treat them in such a way as to bring disrepute, disrespect and dishonor to GOD’s name? Do you? Lord have mercy! Christ have mercy! Lord have mercy!

February 8                                                       Leviticus 19 – 21

I know; I know. The reading is becoming more demanding of our time and attention. It will get more demanding as we travel together through Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy and onward. Please hang in there joyfully and flexibly. May we encounter GOD in a new, deeper way as we wade through the details of a new community, of a new life.

Make no mistake, the details are overwhelming. In today’s section alone we receive strict instructions on ever more laws ranging from treatment of the foreigner to not cutting the hair on the sides of the beard. We then read of the punishments for certain sinful behavior; most of the punishments rendered in chapter 20 involve death in not so subtle forms.

It is hard for us in this day to comprehend. It seems cruel and unusual. We don’t even want to go there and yet here we are. Helpful to me in this instance is to remember that these were in the days of origin for a new nation; a new community learning how to live in a fresh new communal relationship not just with each other but with their GOD they were really just getting to know.

The sheer number of people who were coming out of harsh slavery for hundreds of years where they were dictated and controlled on every aspect of life were moving into freedom is overwhelming enough. The task of learning how to live in freedom with each other and with their GOD in wholly new, holy ways must have been staggering. I wonder how they learned all of these laws and rules which became for them a matter of life and death, literally. They were taught these laws, rules and regulations each day; parents were to teach them to children on a daily basis. My mind swims as I consider this endeavor and the stakes involved.

And yet, I notice throughout that in this solid attempt to force people to become holy people (and we know how that turned out and continues to turn out in our own day) the resonating words of GOD ring in my ear: “Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am the Lord your God. Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the Lord, who makes you holy. (Leviticus 20:7-8)”

Bottom line, in the midst of all these laws, rules and regulations which will always eventually break us because we just can’t live up to them, it is always GOD who will make us holy; make us holy on that hill faraway…

February 7                                                       Leviticus 16 – 18

I find it intriguing to say the least that we learn in today’s reading about the correct practices for the Day of Atonement. As if his life depended on it (it did), extremely explicit instructions are given to Aaron on the way he is to enter into the Holy of Holies on one certain day of the year, not whenever he wanted to, in order to offer a sacrifice for his own sins, the sins of his household and the sins of the entire nation.

Specific animals without spot or blemish; perfect specimens are to be sacrificed while one goat is reserved as the scapegoat. Aaron lays his hands on the goat and confesses all of the sins – his, his household’s and his nation’s – before God while transferring them onto the scapegoat which is then led into a remote spot in the wilderness to be released, carrying the sins of the people away.

We also find Aaron being ordered to anoint the Ark of the Covenant, the Tabernacle and even the altar itself with the blood of the bull to make atonement for them – the Ark, the Tabernacle and the altar – because they have also been defiled by the sins of the Israelites. Hmm? I had never really thought about the apparent infectious contagion of our sins on even the holy things of GOD; such is the all-consuming, infectious nature of our sin.

In chapter 18 we find a long list of unlawful sexual relations which does seem rather exhaustive but I have the sense that such a list will never be exhaustive with the depravity of our human minds and desires. Some of these relations are mentioned now more than others but note the list. Also note throughout this particular list that GOD continues to remind the people that “I am the Lord your GOD,” that honor is of utmost importance in our sexual relations and finally that these restricted behaviors were rampant in Egypt and Canaan. GOD’s people are to be different than everyone else.

As I take a look at the world around me these particular words cause me to quake with fear and trembling for us all: “Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.”

Sandwiched between the Day of Atonement and this list of defiling sexual behaviors is a section on just how important blood is to this process of atonement. Here is a reminder from 17:11 – “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” Further on in our reading we will discover that a sinful high priest nor animal blood nor a scape goat was sufficient for true atonement. It took the blood of One who knew no sin but became sin so that we might become the righteousness of GOD (II Corinthians 5:21). Hallelujah? Hallelujah!

February 06                                                     Leviticus 14 – 15

I know the reading has become more difficult in recent days and will probably become even more difficult but I encourage you to hang in there with eyes wide open to see GOD in the details and encounter GOD in a deeper way.

Have you heard about that television show many people just love to watch called, “Dr. Pimple Popper?” I can assure you that I have never seen that particular show nor will I ever watch that particular show, the Lord willing. Just the thought of it grosses me out, embarrasses me and frankly, makes my rock-solid stomach a bit queasy.

It just seems like there are some things that should be kept quiet and confidential, like pimples, growths, discharges, emissions and periods. I know they are a fact of life. I know they happen. I know they are actually natural but I don’t need to know about it. After today’s reading I feel like I had just watched an ancient version of “The Old Testament presents Dr. Pimple Popper.”

Today’s session covers discharges, emissions and periods among other things. I am intrigued because in spite of most of these things happening naturally without human control, humans are still held accountable for them and become unclean. Not only do human beings become unclean but things they touch, including other human beings also become unclean.

We are given the prescriptions here on how to handle the uncleanness of these naturally-occurring events in our lives so that we do not defile the holy place, in this particular case, the Tabernacle where the presence of GOD dwells.

Once again we are reminded of just how seriously GOD views sin and the broken relationship which ensues in community living with GOD. Notice that others had to be informed in these personal, private situations of what was going on in trust and vulnerability not to bring judgment from others but most likely compassion and assistance.

I am also reminded of Luke 8 when Jesus walked with the synagogue ruler Jairus and a massive crowd when Jesus stops and says someone touched him. Among the bewildered crowd a woman bravely or perhaps resignedly stepped forward and admitted she had touched Jesus.

She had a bloody discharge for twelve long years that had made her perpetually unclean and isolated from everyone. She made anyone she bumped into unclean. She even defiled Jesus but she took the risk of death here to be made whole. Jesus healed her. Jesus set her free. Such is the grace of the GOD who cares so about the minutest details. Amen? AMEN!!!

February 5                                                       Leviticus 11 – 13

Again we find ourselves among detailed details differentiation between clean and unclean foods, purification after childbirth and defiling skin diseases and molds. Being a man who thinks a lot about food I am struck that the folks in that day could not eat shrimp or lobster but could eat grasshoppers, crickets, katydids and locusts. No comment on that but I can tell you that many of the detailed details we encounter in our reading today have direct consequences on good health.

I remember learning in history class that during the Black Plague and other horrible outbreaks of diseases over the ages that often times the Jews were blamed for the outbreaks. In those days the Jews lived in restricted sections called ghettos and for the most part remained remarkably disease free while many others died gruesome deaths. Blamed because they were healthy, historians have attributed their health during such horrible, tragic times to these strict, detailed regulations…

Hmmm? Could it be that GOD really has our best interests at heart in all these detailed, details? Could it be that GOD really wants us to enjoy life and live life to its fullest by giving us these details? Could it be that the call we begin to see and will see the rest of the way through the Bible, “Be holy, because I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44-45) is not to be a burdensome call but to be a call to abundant life of trusting relationship with the Living GOD? Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy!

February 4                                                       Leviticus 9 – 10

In these two chapters we begin to see Aaron and his staff (his sons) begin their ministry to and for the people. Things seem to go well at first. All of the offerings, sacrifices and rituals are followed obediently as GOD had instructed; so much so, that when the offerings were complete the glory of the Lord appeared to them all. What a moment that must have been! Fire came from the Lord’s presence and literally consumed their offerings. Wow! The people could only respond by falling flat on their faces in joy. Can you imagine?

Their joyous euphoria is short-lived however as Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s two eldest sons, for whatever reason, decide to offer unauthorized fire before the Lord. Now, we are not told why they did this. We don’t know if they had perhaps seen the priests in Egypt offer incensed fire in this way or maybe they had witnessed that along the road from Egypt in the worship of Baal or maybe they just thought it was a good idea, that GOD wouldn’t mind. Well, apparently, GOD did mind. Fire came from the presence of the Lord and consumed them – they died right there on the spot.

Not knowing why they offered the unauthorized fire in a way that had not been prescribed to them, their hearts in this matter are not revealed to us; or are they? I wonder since they are given the command in 10:9 about no drinking of fermented drink while on duty if Nadab and Abihu had been imbibing. We certainly aren’t told that. What we do know is apparently they did not take their responsibilities serious enough. Apparently, they did not recognize the importance of standing in the gap between human beings and the Living GOD. They paid the ultimate price.

As I sit here chewing on this passage I am struck to the core as one who stands between the people and GOD in leading worship. Thankfully, I offer no sacrifices or burnt offerings; that has been gloriously taken care of for us once and for all by our Great High Priest, King Jesus! But the awesome responsibility still lies before me. I tremble and quake. Frankly, I blanch at the thought.

Wait a minute, we are all called to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to GOD (Romans 12:1-2). The responsibility lies before us all. As followers of Christ, the royal priesthood, a nation of priests, we are all called to stand in the gap between people and their GOD. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy!

February 3                                                       Leviticus 7 – 8

In these two chapters the specific regulations and instructions regarding the offerings and sacrifices continue giving us the very powerful impression that this is all of crucial importance and severity. There is power in the details. There is life-bringing importance in the details.

We then watch these details come to life, if you will, by the ordination of Aaron and his sons to the priesthood. Moses absolutely follows the letter of the Law in preparing them and ordaining them for ministry. Not just their instruments or their clothes but their very selves are cleansed and anointed and set apart for GOD and their people.

Aaron and his sons and their descendants to come are responsible to properly represent the people to GOD and GOD to the people. It is absolutely imperative that they know all of the regulations and instructions and ordinances and details and not only know them but live in them.

Theirs was no easy task. Even though all their physical needs were well taken care of in this sacrificial system, their responsibility was huge. Maybe, it would turn out to be too much for them. By the way these instructions are given to each person it becomes obvious that in reality we are each held accountable for our own sins, for our own spiritual responsibility. Uh oh. That means I can’t blame anyone else. I can’t blame my parents or my spouse or my teachers or my friends or dare I say it, my pastors. LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!

February 2                                                       Leviticus 4 – 6

As we continue our reading in Leviticus I get the sense that all of these detailed instructions regarding the correct offerings and sacrifices aren’t just about our relationship with GOD. We find that right relationship with GOD demands flesh and blood sacrifices to atone for our sin, to forgive our sin, to redeem our sin.

In this section we learn that we are held responsible for our sins, even when we commit those sins unintentionally, even when we don’t even know we have committed sin. As we read we discover that eventually it will be brought to our attention that we have sinned, that we are guilty whether we meant it intentionally or not. We are responsible for our own sin.

And I have a feeling that more often than not, the sin which separates us from GOD is sin which has been committed against another person. We return to the idea that right relationship with GOD is interdependent on right relationship with our neighbor. Hmmm?

My mind wanders and is boggled by this thought of unintentional sin. What does that then say about intentional sin? I don’t even want to go there. But I do know that the blood which flowed freely from that cross on Golgotha long ago cleanses us from all our sins but you know, we still have to step up and take responsibility for our sin. We have to confess our sin. We have to make recompense for our sin. To have right relationship with GOD demands right relationship with our neighbors, all of them. LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy!

February 1                                                       Leviticus 1 – 3

As we begin our readings for February in Leviticus and Numbers I have an educated guess that we are going to run headlong into even more specific, explicit and tedious details. I also have a deep sense that as we read GOD’s word together amidst these details that He will reveal more and more of Himself to us. May we revel in the details by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit! May we encounter and be transformed by the Living GOD!

Today we encounter specific descriptions of the particular sacrifices which are to be offered continually on the altar of the Tabernacle. We receive instructions regarding the burnt offering, the grain offering and the fellowship offering today. The details are too much for me. Knowing who I am and where I am from, one would think that having access to livestock and knowing how to handle them would be second nature to me but they are not. I wonder if I would have had a clue even back in the day three thousand years ago how to lead the animals to the Temple. I fear my sacrificial offerings would have been offered incorrectly. I see myself chasing the animals all through the holy places…

Frankly, the blood is too much for me. The demand for all that blood is too much for me. I imagine what it must have been like for the priests handling all of the sacrifices. I cringe seeing that blood splattered against the altar and the instruments and on the robes of Aaron and his sons. I cringe, wondering if the animals cried out in pain. In the instructions it seems that sometimes the priests slaughter the animals and other times the person bringing the sacrifice slaughters the animals. But my mind is transported to that foreboding hill on that dark day. I see His blood splatter the cross and the cruel instruments of torture and death. I hear Him cry out, “It is finished.” I cringe. I cry. I bow in shame and deep gratitude. I am forgiven. We are forgiven…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have you been to the church library lately?

The library is located in Room 106 of the Beacon Life Center. If you have never visited or haven’t in a while, you should definitely plan to stop by soon.  There are lots of changes to make check out easy and lots of good reads!  There is even a children’s section.  Let us know what you think after your visit…

Carole Williams

Church Librarian