Reading Through the Bible in 2019

 

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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