Isaiah 8: Because when all is said and done, the last word is Immanuel–God-With-Us.
When the tiny nation Judah is under attack on two fronts Isaiah goes to King Ahaz with the promise that Judah will prevail and the attack will fail. Ahaz can hardly believe it. His nation is out manned and out gunned by the invaders. Isaiah tells him to ask for a sign, any sign, and it will be given him. However, Ahaz’s lack of faith is apparent when he off handedly says, “Oh, I won’t do that.” Isaiah tells him that the Lord’s displeased with his refusal to even bother asking for a sign, but that one will be given anyway. It’s here that we get into “virgin birth” talk. However, the promise isn’t for the Messiah to come, it has to do with current circumstances. Isaiah says that before a girl, now a virgin, can marry, conceive, and give birth (in other words, a poetic way of saying “nine months”) that those armies attacking Judah will be gone. To underscore the reason for this withdrawal the child could properly be named “Immanuel” or “God-With-Us.” Isaiah goes on to express God’s displeasure with Ahaz but, still, the bottom line remains. When all else is “said and done” “Immanuel” remains true, God is with us. When Christ is born this incident comes to mind and is played out in a very literal way. This time it is literally a virgin who gives birth, and this time it really is God who is with us. In these related incidents we see the dual nature of prophecy as there’s a very current application that’s echoed in an unimaginable way in a more distant future. We also see that, today, we can grasp this wonderful truth at a level Isaiah could hardly imagine: God is with us indeed.
Take Away: How wonderful to be reminded of Immanuel God-is-with-us.
Finding good advisers
2 Chronicles 18: I’ll get all the prophets to lie.
Jehoshaphat has no business being in Samaria, much less meeting with its wicked king Ahab. He’s treated to a meal “fit for a king” that’s intended to soften him up a bit. When Ahab thinks the time’s right he suggests an alliance between Israel and Judah against Ramoth Gilead. Jehoshaphat is hesitant and suggests that they consult the Lord. The result is a pre-arranged prophetic display from some of Ahab’s hand-picked prophets. Jehoshaphat knows what’s going on and asks for a second opinion, this time from a real prophet of God. It’s now that we meet Micaiah. I picture him as a little fireball of a fellow. In fact, his feistiness has already gotten him on the bad side of Ahab. Micaiah says this campaign will end in massive defeat, especially for Israel. When pressed on the matter he gives an imaginary scenario in which the Lord calls a meeting of his angelic advisors. The Lord wants their ideas of how to get Ahab to make the foolish decision to attack Ramoth Gilead. Finally, one angel says it won’t be hard to do; he’ll just get all of Ahab’s paid prophets to lie to him! As you can imagine all these so called prophets don’t take kindly to being called liars and pandemonium breaks out. Ahab has Micaiah thrown into jail and proceeds with his battle plans. It’s his last battle. It’s really not hard to find people who agree with us. Some folks really like us and think we can do about anything; they tell us to go for it. Others want to score points with us, or are afraid of us, or really don’t care one way or another. The trick is to find people who know what they’re talking about and who will risk telling us the truth, even if it’s not what we want to hear. One person who will do that is worth a dozen of the other sort.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for good friends who tell us the truth in love.
2Kings 10: God doing what, through Elijah, he said he’d do.
I don’t like reading the stories of uprisings, murders, and judgment found in the stories of Judah and Israel. Beheadings and assassinations somehow don’t make for good devotional reading! Still, there are some powerful themes in the story of Jehu’s uprising. God had judged Ahab’s sin years earlier, and even though he has, at times, blessed Israel with his help against her enemies, the Lord never overlooks what Ahab has continued doing. At the right time the Lord raises up Jehu to act in judgment on Ahab’s family. It’s bloody but it’s intended to give Israel a chance to return to the path that they left so long ago. Before Jehu’s finished Ahab’s family is destroyed and the altars of Baal are gone. In spite of all that, Jehu’s a disappointment. I see here that the Lord uses less than perfect vessels to accomplish his purposes. Also I’m reminded that no one has to fail. Jehu let a golden opportunity slip through his fingers.
Take Away: The Lord works in and through imperfect people to carry out his plans.
Thumbs up for Jehoshaphat
1Kings 22: No detours, no dead ends — pleasing God with his life.
We first meet Jehoshaphat when he insists that a prophet of God be called in when a decision to go to war is being made. That alone speaks well of this King of Judah. Now we find his short biography in the closing paragraphs of 1 Kings. His father was King Asa who also receives high marks and now we are told that Jehoshaphat is a “chip off the old block.” He seeks to please God in all his life and he refuses to drift off the road the Lord laid out for him. When Jehoshaphat insists to Ahab that the Lord be consulted before he’ll commit to war, he’s simply making decisions in the way he always makes decisions. When I read that Jehoshaphat pleased God because he was single minded in obeying the Lord and when I see the example of this in the meeting with Ahab I’m challenged to listen carefully to, and obey fully, the guidance the Lord gives me in my life.
Take Away: Generally speaking, what a person does when the chips are down is a continuation of what they’re in the habit of doing in the first place.
He nailed it
1Kings 22: As surely as God lives, what God says, I’ll say.
I’m drawn to little known people in the Bible who only make one appearance but who make a good showing in their one shot on the stage of history. The prophet Micaiah is one such man. King Ahab of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Judah are discussing the possibility of joining forces in a campaign against Aram. Jehoshaphat wants to hear from God on this issue and Ahab, anticipating that, has a crew of hired prophets standing by. They tell the two kings that they’ll be wildly successful if they go to war against Aram. However, Jehoshaphat’s unconvinced. His question reflects both his spirituality and his lack of confidence in the hired prophets of Ahab. He asks for a real prophet of God. It’s here that we meet Micaiah, unknown to us, but apparently well known to Ahab. The King of Israel says that there’s one guy who can speak for God, but he hates him because he never says anything good about him! Upon Jehoshaphat’s insistence Micaiah is called. As he comes, he’s warned that anything negative he might say, as some lawman might put it, “will be used against him in a court of law.” Micaiah starts off with pure sarcasm: “sure, go for it, you’ll win a great victory.” It’s so obvious that he’s making fun of the hired prophets that Ahab presses him for the truth. Micaiah gives it to him, right between the eyes! All of his hired prophets are liars and God’s going to use this war to be rid of Ahab once and for all. Our glimpse of Micaiah ends with his being drug out of the presence of the kings while shouting, “If you ever get back in one piece, I’m no prophet of God.” Then he adds that when everything happens just as he said he wants everyone to remember this event. Some people play big roles in the history of God’s work in this world and I thank the Lord for them. Others have just a bit part, but I can’t help but be impressed when they come through with flying colors. Today, I tip my hat to Micaiah, the prophet of God.
Take Away: As a “bit player” I too want to be ready when my moment comes.
Standing up to the king
1Kings 21: So help me God, I’d never sell the family farm to you!
Naboth the Jezreelite makes his only appearance in the Bible, not as a hero or a villain, but simply as a man with principles. His story is told not to inspire us but to show us what an evil man Ahab is. Naboth owns a vineyard that Ahab wants and when Ahab offers to buy or trade for it, Naboth refuses to sell. This is more than a pure business deal. In this culture the ownership of land carries with it strong religious undertones. God gave the land to families and it’s to be passed from generation to generation. To some extent, this concept is still true today and we see it as a key component in the struggles between Israel and Palestine in our daily news. Naboth responds to Ahab’s offer with shock and refusal. No matter how good a deal Ahab might offer, he’ll never give up his families’ inheritance. This is the only insight we gain so far as Naboth is concerned because the focus immediately moves to the wickedness of Ahab and Jezebel and how God deals with them. Still, what we do see of Naboth causes us to see him as more than a victim of Ahab’s greed. This is a guy who has some principles and, because of that, he’s willing to stand up to the powerful king. These days our post-modern culture views life as pretty much adrift on the “ethical sea.” “Right” and “wrong” are relative terms. What works for you may not work for me. The Ten Commandments aren’t binding, and there are many different paths to God. We Christians are being pulled in that direction too and if we aren’t careful we’ll sever the ropes that hold us steady in our faith and drift away from the firm truths of God. Naboth’s principled stand both encourages and challenges us today.
Take Away: When all is said and done, some things are right and some things are wrong. Christians need a firm grasp on the absolutes.
Another display of God’s grace
1Kings 20: And you’ll know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that I am God.
Ahab is about as pitiful a king as Israel could have. He’s weak, wicked, and dominated by his wife, Jezebel. When he had a firsthand demonstration of God’s power on Mt. Carmel he was unmoved and remained committed to the sinful life he’s living. It would have served him right had God swatted him like a fly and moved on. But that isn’t what happens. When war comes to Israel the Lord takes the initiative, sending word that he’ll work on Israel’s side to bring victory. The reason is that the Lord wants Ahab, who’s already seen fire fall and consume the sacrifice and altar when Elijah prayed, to finally come to believe in God. This is mercy and grace beyond imagination. God reaches out to one who’s not only lost but is also stubbornly lost. Ahab isn’t going to respond, but it won’t be because the Lord isn’t giving him sufficient opportunity to do so.
Take Away: We serve the God of Second Chances – a fact proven repeatedly throughout human history.
Are you a troublemaker?
1Kings 18: So it’s you, old troublemaker!
Ahab has looked everywhere he can for Elijah but without success. Elijah had appeared out of nowhere, announced God’s judgment, and then disappeared for three years. Now he’s back and Ahab’s first words to him are, “So it’s you, old troublemaker.” Elijah responds with the truth. He’s no troublemaker. Instead, it’s Ahab and his Baal-worshipping, God-insulting leadership of Israel that’s the source of all the trouble. Of course, that’s how it always is. We always want to blame others for our failures. Sometimes failure is blatant, as was Ahab’s. Other times it’s unintentional, the result of human misunderstanding. Either way, the first thing we do at times like that is to look around for someone to blame. Ahab could have allowed the three years of drought and hardship to soften his heart. He could have realized that the idol Baal he worshiped couldn’t make it rain and therefore wasn’t worthy of his faithfulness. It’s his sin that brought about the famine and it’s his repentance that could end it. Instead, he becomes angry with Elijah for standing up to him. On one hand, I don’t want mirror Ahab’s refusal to see the truth when it’s right in front of me. On the other hand, I need to remember that sometimes I may be called upon by God to serve in Elijah’s position; to be the one who’s used to accomplish his purpose in the world. In that case, being called an “old troublemaker” isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Take Away: It may be that not everyone will cheer when we are used by the Lord.
God’s man storms onto the stage
1Kings 17: Elijah the Tishbite, from among the settlers of Gilead, confronted Ahab.
To say that Elijah “appeared” is a great understatement. This spiritual giant storms onto the stage. The dreary story of one failure after another by the kings of Israel has given us a feeling of gathering darkness. Now, for the first time since Samuel’s day we meet a powerful prophet of God. Elijah, God’s man, will change the dreary status quo. We have no record of his ancestry and his home town is nearly as obscure. King Ahab is feeling pretty secure in his sin when this unknown man appears to confront him with his spiritual failure. God’s going to move directly into what Ahab believes is Baal’s territory. No more rain until Elijah, in the Name of the Lord, permits it. From this first public move and for the rest of his life, all eyes of Israel are going to be on Elijah. Then beyond his life he’ll challenge and inspire generations. This is God at work, moving when it seems all is lost. I pray that God will raise up some “Elijahs” for our day too.
Take Away: There are times when the Lord moves in unmistakable, powerful ways. Let’s pray we will see such a move in our society, today.
Champion of evil
1Kings 16: Ahab son of Omri did even more evil before God than anyone yet — a new champion in evil!
Kings of Israel rise and fall and most die violent deaths. Zimri assassinates Elah, but only reigns seven days before he’s killed by Omri. Omri lives an “empty-headed, empty-hearted life” but does purchase a hill upon which he builds the new capital city, Samaria. It’s his son Ahab who so sells out to evil that he’s given the dubious title, “champion of evil.” The other kings are nothing to be proud of, but their spiritual failure is minor in comparison to his. He marries the wicked Jezebel, builds a temple for the worship of the idol Baal, and becomes an enemy to the remaining people of God. The long slide away from God and to paganism is nearly complete under Ahab’s leadership. However, God isn’t finished yet…here comes Elijah!
Take Away: Always remember this: no matter how dark the situation the Lord keeps his promises.