Friends: 1 Chronicles 27

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Today’s reading: 1 Chronicles 25-27.

Official Friend. There he is, near the end of a long list of men appointed to government positions in King David’s court. After the priests and Levites, singers, scribes, soldiers, and counselors.

Hushai the Arkite was the king’s friend. 1 Chronicles 27:33

Reading down the list, you might wonder if David’s counselors felt he needed an official friend to make up for some deficiency in his busy personal life. But make no mistake – Hushai wasn’t a friend for hire. He had proven the depth of his devotion to David during the time of Absalom’s rebellion. Then he crossed the enemy’s lines, pretended to be a friend of Absalom, and undermined the advice of the brilliant counselor, Ahithophel.

David was no stranger to friendship. His close relationship with Jonathan was one of the most famous friendships in history. The Bible has many other verses that extol the value of faithful companions.

  • The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume and incense. Proverbs 27:9
  • A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need. Proverbs 17:17
  • As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend. Proverbs 27:17

And there are many more. To round out this post on friendship, I rounded up a few posts from other bloggers that have wise insights on the topic.

Eight Tips for Maintaining Friendships.  Gretchen Rubin at The Happiness Project lists some key ways to start and grow good friendships. Like this one:  “Join or start a group. I’ve joined or started eleven groups since I began my happiness project, and almost all of them have been huge engines of happiness – in large measure, because they’ve allowed me to make and maintain new friendships.”

The Truth of True Friendship. From S. J. Wickham on Tribework, a testimony to the commitment friends require: “A friendship that lasts and lasts, enduring decades, till death does it part, is not only a blessing to both, but also it’s a testimony to the maturity in both individuals; to their tenacity to get through conflict; to their commitment to follow-up; to their energy in investing in the relationship.”

Friendship: a piece of cake. The (In)Courage site posts from a number of authors. Ann Swindell’s post will keep you motivated in your efforts to make friends. “If you’re not typically the pursuer in friendships, my encouragement is to try. Your phone call or text might be a lifeline one day for a friend who often seems very bold and put-together.”

What Everybody Ought to Know About Willpower and Friendship. Sarah Cunningham pointed out these great sites on Crowdsourcing Life and talks about the need to stick it out when friends are less than friendly: “Willpower comes in when we say, look, no matter what you do, no matter how much space you need, no martter how analytical or judgmental you can be, I *will* myself to be there for you if and when the time presents itself. That means, and here’s the tricky part, I have to let go…until the opportunity presents itself.”

Image by papaiFelps on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0

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After so many failings, the fall of Jerusalem: 2 Kings 23-25

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Today’s reading: 2 Kings 23-25.

Not even a great king, Josiah, could atone for all the failings of the Israelites. Eighteen years into his reign of thirty-one years, workers in the temple discovered the book of the Mosaic law. How many years had it been lost, unread, and unheeded? Josiah ordered the observance of the Passover, and the writer says no Passover celebration like it had been held since the time of the judges (six hundred years earlier). Josiah also removed all the idolatrous practices in the land of Judah. It’s a long list:

  • From the temple itself, he removed articles devoted to the worship of Baal, Asherah, and the starry hosts, including an Asherah pole.
  • He did away with the pagan priests who burned incense on the high places, and desecrated all the high places.
  • He threw the male shrine prostitutes out of the temple.
  • He destroyed the altar to Molech in the Hinnom Valley outside Jerusalem, where child sacrifices had been common.
  • He destroyed the pagan shrines at the city gates.
  • He destroyed pagan altars that Manasseh and other kings of Judah had set up in the temple. He destroyed the altar at Bethel that Jeroboam had established to worship the golden calf, and the pagan shrines that Solomon had built to the east of Jerusalem to honor Ashtoreth, Chemosh, and Molech.
  • He removed the statues of chariots and horses, dedicated to the sun, from the temple.

The reforms of Josiah failed to save Judah and Jerusalem from God’s coming wrath. It wasn’t so much a case of too little/too late as much as the legal failure of the people of Israel to abide by the terms of the covenant they established with God when first entering the Promised Land. The list of abuses noted above makes it clear how far the nation had transgressed. God also said repeatedly that the excesses of Manasseh were so great that he could not overlook them.

Some twelve years after Josiah’s death the Babylonians captured Jerusalem, plundered the city, carried off its king, and set up a puppet ruler on the throne. Eleven years later Jerusalem and the temple were completely destroyed after the puppet king revolted against Babylon. The year was 587/586 BC. It had been 800 years since Israel had entered the Promised Land.

Image by Michael Kotter on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0

The power of prayer … and a lost opportunity: 2 Kings 20

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Today’s reading: 2 Kings 20-22.

My head spins as I consider the implications of Hezekiah’s near-death experience. I’m convinced I don’t have the wisdom to sort out all the metaphysical possibilities. So instead of speculating about what might have been, I’ll stick to the things that are certain.

God had determined that Hezekiah was going to die from a severe boil. In the days before antibiotics and surgical skill in draining abscesses, this was the usual outcome. God told Hezekiah plainly that his death was near.

Hezekiah’s prayer changed God’s plan. We cannot know whether God was testing Hezekiah to see how he would respond. We can clearly see the power of prayer to change outcomes, even in matters of life and death. God hears our prayers and sees our tears (20:5). Before the prayer, Hezekiah was going to die; after the prayer God said he would heal him. I don’t mean that prayers routinely bring the dying back to life, only that prayers have the power to change what happens to us.

Hezekiah saw the purpose of God’s healing him. Isaiah 38 fills in the gaps in the events that took place after the king recovered. Hezekiah prayed in thanksgiving this time, acknowledging that God had brought him through his illness:

  • to humble him (38:15)
  • because his sins had been forgiven (38:17)
  • so that he could praise God before men (38:19)

God strengthens our weak faith. God could have insisted that Hezekiah accept his promise unconditionally, but with grace he rolled back the sun by ten degrees to further cement the certainty of Hezekiah’s salvation.

Hezekiah lost the opportunity to capitalize on God’s gift. Ephesians 5:16 says we should redeem the time, because the days are evil. In other words, we should use our time to make a difference in eternity. Hezekiah knew that he had been saved to praise God, and that he had suffered in order to learn humility, but the record of his final fifteen years is a sad one. When a delegation from Babylon came to congratulate him on his recovery, he showed off the wealth of his treasury (pride) instead of giving God the glory (failure to praise). Within the next 100 years the Babylonians would return to capture all the wealth of Judah.

And one more thing: Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh, began to rule Judah when he was twelve years old. He was born within Hezekiah’s last fifteen years. He ruled for fifty-five years. And he was probably the most vile king that ruled Judah.

Some people argue that Hezekiah should have accepted God’s initial plan and accepted his death. I say, instead, that we should praise God for the power of prayer, but humble ourselves and make the most of God’s grace when he does deliver us in the day of trouble.

Why, that man Hezekiah, God had prospered him, and God had blessed him, and God had enriched him, and God had saved him, and God had delivered him, and God had given him the whole world, apparently, in his arms. And Hezekiah’s heart was lifted up. And he walked through his grounds, and he walked through his palace, and he said, “Look. Look. I am the greatest man in the world. I thank God I am not like other men.” And his heart was lifted up [2 Chronicles 32:25], and his heart was proud [2 Kings 20:13; 2 Chronicles 32:27-31].
And when those ambassadors came from Babylon, Hezekiah gave them the impression that it was he, Hezekiah, who had done those marvelous things. For his benefit, the very stars in their courses were changed and the sun went back [2 Kings 20:8-11] – for his benefit. And look what his acumen and astuteness and wisdom had brought into the kingdom; riches beyond compare. And his genius and might had delivered the country and had annihilated the Assyrians [2 Kings 19:32-35]. His heart was lifted up [2 Chronicles 32:25].
And when those people, those ambassadors, came from Babylon to see him, he was complimented. “Look at those worldly people seeking my words of wisdom. And look at these high and affluent and famous people calling upon me. Look, look, look!”
And the Lord God said to Isaiah, “Go tell him. Go tell him. Go tell him. He is the last man in this earth that I ever thought would be lifted up and proud. But go tell him that the day is going to come when every treasure he has” – and wouldn’t that be normal? When the king of Babylon heard of the mighty store of riches that were in Jerusalem, first thing he did was to run it down and to make plans to destroy it, to carry it away, to take it.
“Go tell him,” said the Lord God to Isaiah, “go tell him that the day will come when all these treasures will be carried into Babylon, and when all these people will be carried into Babylon, and when thy very sons shall be eunuchs to the kings in the palaces of Babylon” [2 Kings 20:17-18]. – WA Criswell

Image by SimpleInsomnia on Flickr, CC by 2.0

The age of prophets: 1 Kings 13

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Today’s reading: 1 Kings 12-14.

I am the prophet and I smolder and burn
I scream and cry and wonder why you never seem to learn
To hear with your own ears with your own eyes to see
I am the prophet, won’t you listen to me?

With that refrain Michael Card captured the essence of the mood and motivation of the Old Testament prophets. They were men of God who told forth the word of God, and except for the wisdom writings their stories will dominate the remainder of the Old Testament. We have seen glimpses of the prophets before now, but with the division of the kingdom of Israel they begin to play a huge role in God’s interaction with men.

Why the sudden surge in prophetic activity?

  • The kings who led the people were ungodly. Not one good king would sit on the throne of the northern kingdom until it fell some 200 years after it split from the united kingdom. Only a handful of godly kings would rule in Judah, the southern kingdom, before it fell some 300 years after the split.
  • The priests were not fulfilling any role of correcting or rebuking the sins of the people. Many times they were just as guilty of idolatry, oppression, or greed.
  • God still wanted to interact with his rebellious children, but the most effective method was to use the rare devoted man who heard his voice and was brave enough to share the often hostile message.

In a peculiar account, a prophet comes and gives God’s message of condemnation to King Jeroboam, the first king of the northern kingdom, who quickly abandoned the LORD and began promoting pagan idols.

When King Jeroboam heard what the man of God cried out against the altar at Bethel, he stretched out his hand from the altar and said, “Seize him!” But the hand he stretched out toward the man shriveled up, so that he could not pull it back. Also, the altar was split apart and its ashes poured out according to the sign given by the man of God by the word of the LORD. 1 Kings 13:4-5

We can see several of the characteristics of a prophet in this unnamed man of God. He speaks for God, he speaks at personal risk, and his message is confirmed by signs or wonders.  As was true for Jeroboam, his message usually goes unheeded.

The peculiar part of the story occurs after the prophet leaves Jeroboam. He says God has told him not to stop on the way home, but an “old prophet” lies to him and tricks him into believing it is alright for him to stop and eat at his house. Perhaps the old prophet was trying to curry favor with the king, or perhaps he wanted to discredit the man of God, or maybe he was just envious of his ability to hear God. Whatever the reason, it was wrong for the younger prophet to stop, and God condemned him for it, sending a lion to kill him as he made his way home. Here’s what his death teaches us about prophets:

  • No prophet is beyond reproach but must remain obedient to God.
  • Everything about the prophet’s life, even his death, is a message to others about the truth of God’s word.
  • There must be integrity between the message and the messenger.

These characteristics are good reminders for anyone who wants to be a witness to the world. The message of salvation through Christ alone is a message many will find hard to hear. In much of the world the message is shared at great risk. Most importantly for the church, the message must be shared with integrity, with the messenger beyond reproach, or the message will have no impact.

An amazing witness lost: 1 Kings 10-11

Today’s reading: 1 Kings 10-11.

Spring is in full bud here in piedmont North Carolina, and it always reminds me of Robert Frost’s Nothing Gold Can Stay.

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Spring’s golden hues are quick to disappear, and so was Israel’s golden age under Solomon. The brief pinnacle of Israel’s success was punctuated and underlined by a visit from the queen of Sheba.

When the queen of Sheba saw all the wisdom of Solomon and the palace he had built, the food on his table, the seating of his officials, the attending servants in their robes, his cupbearers, and the burnt offerings he made at the temple of the LORD, she was overwhelmed. She said to the king, “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard. How happy your men must be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! Praise be to the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the LORD’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king, to maintain justice and righteousness.” I Kings 10:4-9

At this high water mark of Israel’s history, Solomon and his people were fulfilling God’s plan that they be a light to the Gentiles. Solomon’s wisdom and the prosperity and order of his kingdom were an amazing witness to the queen. The wording of the text indicates she was so moved that she may have fainted. But more notable than her emotional condition was her recognition that the LORD was the force behind Israel’s success.

Unfortunately, for Solomon as for his father, David, success was soon followed by sin. The nature of his sin was idolatry: he began to worship the false gods of the nations around Israel. The cause of his sin was his unbridled affection for hundreds of foreign women, his wives and concubines, who turned his heart to the idols. The wise king became a fool, ignoring his own precepts. The Bible records a laundry list of excesses that show how wrong things were with Solomon:

  • He had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, most of them from peoples that Israelites were forbidden to marry because of their idolatry.
  • He built shrines on the high points of Israel where these false gods could be worshipped.
  • He made 500 shields of gold for his palace, an ivory throne overlaid with gold, and all the eating utensils he used were gold “because silver was considered of little value.”
  • He had 1400 chariots and thousands of horses, many from Egypt, though both the accumulation of horses and trading with Egypt had been forbidden by the Law.

Solomon had been given much. Israel was at peace, its borders were large, its wealth was great, and the LORD was enthroned in the temple. Yet the king threw all this away. He proved the truth of his own proverb. “Keep your heart with all vigilance; for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Solomon’s unguarded heart left the door open for sin to enter his life, and his personal sin tore the nation apart. Within a few years of his death, the ten northern tribes separated from Judah and Benjamin and that was the end of the unified kingdom. More than that, it was the end of an amazing witness that shined the light of God’s glory on the unbelieving Gentiles.

Image: Lorenzo Ghiberti, “The Gates of Paradise”

 

A woman’s wisdom: I Samuel 25

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Today’s reading: I Samuel 25-27.

Blessed are the peacemakers. Jesus proclaimed it, but a woman named Abigail proved it one thousand years before Jesus walked the earth. When her foolish husband incurred David’s wrath, she knew exactly what to do to bring an end to a potentially deadly conflict.

David’s band of exiles had been helping protect the flocks of a wealthy man of Judah named Nabal. During the bounty of the shearing time David’s men asked Nabal for some provisions, but all they received were insults. David flew into a rage when he heard it. He had spared the life of the man who wanted to kill him, but now he wanted to kill a man who had only insulted him.

Fortunately for David, Abigail heard of the problem before David could act. She intercepted him on the way to kill her husband and calmed his anger through her diplomacy and gifts of bread, wine, and fruit.

David said to Abigail, “Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands. Otherwise, as surely as the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak.” I Samuel 25:32-34

Abigail might have been tempted to let her husband meet his fate at David’s hands. She called him wicked, the writer of Samuel called him surly and mean, and even his servants thought he lived up to his “foolish” name. But she wisely saw that violence should be avoided if possible. Once his anger softened, David agreed with her.

  • He accepted that his intended vengeance would not have honored the LORD.
  • He saw this bloodshed would have brought guilt upon him.
  • He learned that he needed to leave this matter in God’s hands, not his.

As I wrote previously, we need to leave margin in our lives for God to act. Abigail made this possible. Within a short time Nabal’s heart failed him and the LORD took him away. David married Abigail, and very likely became the owner of all of Nabal’s wealth. All because a wise woman knew to avoid violence and let God control the outcome.

Abigail … recognized that God was Israel’s true king, but that David would indeed rise to the throne of Israel as prince over God’s people. The knowledge of God’s intentions concerning David were, at this time, apparently known throughout Israel, or at least in Judah where Abigail resided. “No pangs of conscience for having shed blood without cause” (1 Samuel 25:31). Abigail’s wisdom here was surely inspired of God, because, David’s shedding the blood of this well known Judahite (Nabal), would have started a blood feud among the clans of Judah that would involve men that David would need on his way to the kingship. David had only Judah to back him in his claim upon the throne. – Coffman’s Commentaries on the Bible

Image by Ian Britton on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0

The end of an era: Deuteronomy 34

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Today’s reading: Deuteronomy 32-34.

Three things draw to an end with this post: Deuteronomy, the first five books of the Bible known as the Torah or Pentateuch, and the life of Moses. The children of Israel move on without their faithful leader, but let’s stop and look at what made Moses so remarkable.

Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt–to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. Deut. 34:10-12

The LORD knew him face to face. This relationship sums up Moses’ character without revealing the reason why he and God were so close. The character traits below may explain this intimacy.

He overcame failure again and again. He went into exile for murder, but returned to Egypt as God’s liberator. He saw the Israelites balk at invading Canaan, but led them for forty years and raised up a new generation. When God censored him for striking the rock, he didn’t get discouraged but finished the task of bringing the people to the Promised Land.

He was teachable. The burden of overseeing the horde of Israelites would have burned him out, but he listened to his father-in-law’s advice and solved the problem.

He was humble. God said that there was no man as humble as Moses. He reluctantly took on the leadership role. His heart was always for the people and God’s glory rather than his own interest.

He was faithful. When everyone else abandoned God, he did not. When the next steps were unknown, he trusted God. When things seemed impossible, he believed God would keep his promises.

He was human. By God’s power he worked miracles. As a man, he made mistakes. He disobeyed God at times. But his human passions also fueled his devotion to God, to the people, and to the task of reaching the Promised Land.

He prayed. Moses got on his face before God for extended periods of time, especially when there was a crisis. He knew how to pray based on God’s character and promises.

He was the friend of God. That’s how God described him. What makes a good friend? Someone who spends time with you, who does life together with you, who sticks with you through good and bad, who is loyal, and who never speaks ill of you. Moses was all of those things, and as a result he developed a deep friendship. Because of that friendship and all of his other qualities Moses was able to come face to face with God.

God chose Moses when he was just a shepherd in the desert. You and I may think we could never accomplish great things like him. But God chooses us when we are lost and separated from him, and like Moses he fills us with his spirit and showers us with his grace. We can be faithful, and pray, and humble ourselves. We can learn from others and keep going even when we fail. If we do all these things, and continue to deepen our friendship with God, then God will also use us to grow his kingdom.

Soon our turn shall come. Do we dread it? As we are favored to serve our Lord we shall be favored to be called home in due season. Let us always be ready, yes, joyfully ready. When we are dying we shall see not the land of Naphtali and Ephraim, but the covenant, and the infinite provisions of its promises will be spread out before our soul, as Canaan at the feet of Moses. Wrapt in happy enjoyment of precious promises, we shall with surprise find ourselves ushered into the place where the promises are all fulfilled— “There shall we see His face, And never, never sin, But from the rivers of His grace, Drink endless pleasures in.” To the believer it is not death to die. Since Jesus has died and risen again, the sting of death is gone, therefore let us prepare ourselves to climb where Moses stood, and view the landscape o’er. Amen. Charles Spurgeon

Image by PeteDz Photography on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0