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 family’s 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.
The God of the mountain
1Kings 20: Their god is a god of the mountains.
Israel has already soundly defeated Ben-Hadad and his forces once, but he’s ready to go to battle a second time. After some reflection he thinks he understands what happened. It was their God who engineered the defeat. It has to be something like that because he knows that he has the superior army. Know what? He’s absolutely correct! The only reason he lost the first battle was because of the God of Israel, otherwise, there was no way that Israel could have survived, much less came away victorious. Ben-Hadad needs a battle plan that will not only over-power Israel, but will somehow circumvent their “God advantage.” His solution is to draw the Israelite army out of the hill country and onto the plain. He thinks that their God is a limited God, whose power is concentrated in the mountains. If he can fight Israel out on the plains he’ll level the playing field (pun intended) and easily defeat Israel. Know what? He is totally mistaken! This underestimation of Jehovah God will lead to an even more humiliating defeat than before. God is not a territorial God and no place is beyond his authority. To this day God is still Lord of all. There’s no part of my life that operates beyond his reach. Religious stuff, sure, but also everything from my every day coming and going and the big, unexpected life changing stuff too. The God of the mountain is also the God of the plain.
Take Away: Where I am, God is.
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.
It’s easy to miss
1Kings 19: …a gentle and quiet whisper.
After hearing the voice of God Elijah’s told that he’s to prepare himself for a personal encounter with the Lord. As Elijah sits inside the mouth of the cave things start happening outside. There’s a great wind, then an earthquake, and then a fire. We’re told that God isn’t in these things. In other words, while they’re sent by God he doesn’t inhabit them. What the Lord has for Elijah is yet to come and it’s only after the wind, earthquake, and fire that the Lord comes to Elijah in the gentle, quiet whisper. When Moses met God on this same mountain it was the same way. There was thunder and lightning and earthquakes followed by a face to face meeting with the Lord. We see this pattern repeated throughout the Bible. For instance, on the Day of Pentecost it won’t be about the sound of wind, the tongues of fire, or other languages being spoken. Rather, it will be about God, the Holy Spirit, filling their lives with himself. As I see this repeated spiritual fact of life I’m reminded to dial back my love of the spectacular and pay more attention to the “gentle quiet whisper” of God in my life.
Take Away: Ultimately it’s not the fireworks but is, instead, the personal presence of the Lord that counts in my life.
Praying when in pain
1Kings 19: Elijah, what are you doing here?
More than a month has passed since Elijah fled Jezebel and asked God to take his life. During this time the angel of the Lord has ministered to him and he’s traveled 40 days across the wilderness to Horeb which is the mountain range that includes Sinai where Moses met God and was given the Law. In other words, Elijah has retreated to holy ground. Here, even as Moses encountered God, Elijah has an encounter of his own. This meeting though, starts very differently. For Moses, there were earthquakes and thick smoke. For Elijah, things start with God asking him a question, “So, Elijah, what are you doing here?” With that, Elijah begins to state his discouragement, loneliness, and fear. The big stuff is still coming but I’m taken with just this today. I know that prayer should generally start with words of worship and reverence. Sometimes, though, we’re so broken and confused that we can hardly bring ourselves to pray at all. Sometimes we have to travel out into the wilderness for a while possibly ending up at some place that’s significant to us. And then, it isn’t us but God who starts a conversation that doesn’t begin with “Our Father who art in heaven” but instead with words of pain. Know what? That’s okay with God. Take note of just who it is that asks the opening question here.
Take Away: Our prayers are going nowhere if they don’t come from an honest heart.
The sacrifice of spiritual power
1Kings 19: Exhausted, he fell asleep.
Personally, if all I had from Elijah’s story was his confrontation with Ahab, Jezebel, and the prophets of Baal I think I’d be impressed with him but he wouldn’t be one of my favorites in the Bible. In fact, he just might scare me a bit as a bigger-than-life prayer warrior and miracle worker. It’s his humanity that draws me to him. This man prays down fire, out-runs chariots, and then, in fear, runs for his life out to the loneliness of the desert. It’s here that he collapses in the shade of a bush and gives notice to God that he’s ready to die. While I’m in awe of his power on Mount Carmel I just feel sorry for him out here past Beersheba, alone in the desert. As I look at him here I see that he isn’t some kind of superman at all. He’s an ordinary man who trusts God with all his heart and, in so doing, gets way out of his comfort zone! Doing all that stuff takes all his energy. Now, with nothing left, he first runs, then cries out to God that he’s had enough. It’s when I see that doing all these impressive things is terribly hard for this man that I more fully appreciate what he does.
Take Away: Spiritual giants are, in the end, ordinary people with an extraordinary trust in the Lord.
Praying to exhaustion
1Kings 19: When Elijah saw how things were, he ran for dear life.
It’s been a banner day for Elijah, the man of God. First, he challenges the prophets of Baal to a “god-contest” and wins a decisive victory when, as a result of his prayer, fire falls from heaven. The people are now convinced that “the Lord is God.” Then, he turns his attention to the three-year drought. He prevails in prayer and, as a result, the rain comes in a great storm. Finally, empowered by the Spirit of God, Elijah outruns the chariot of Ahab, racing down the mountain into the city. Tell you what, I call that a good day’s work! Ahab arrives home in the midst of the welcome storm, but the news for his Baal-worshipping, God-hating wife Jezebel isn’t good. All because of Elijah Baal has been defeated and his prophets executed. Jezebel never hesitates; she sends word to Elijah that he’ll be next. In a surprising twist, her words terrify Elijah! This is the guy who prayed down fire on the altar and rain from the sky. This is the guy who saw to the execution of hundreds of false prophets. Now, because of the threats of one woman he runs for his life. I’d expect Elijah to just pray down a bit more fire and take care of this wicked woman then and there. Why on earth is Elijah scared witless by Jezebel? I think the answer is that he’s simply out of gas. Intense praying, especially intercession requires of us all our energy. Sometimes prayer is pictured as a tranquil respite from the pressures of life, and, happily, sometimes it is. Still, that’s not always the case. Sometimes prayer is the hardest work we’ll ever do. Such prayer is worth doing in spite of its emotional, spiritual, and even physical price. In this, we’re soldiers in the army of God who have an active, demanding assignment.
Take Away: Prayer can be the most rewarding, exhausting work we’ll ever do.
With Elijah in the school of prayer
1Kings 18: Oh yes, a cloud! But very small….
Revival has come to the famine, drought stricken land of Israel. The people have turned from Baal back to Jehovah God. Now Elijah, God’s man, turns his attention to the drought. He begins to pray for rain. Six times he stops praying and sends his servant to scan the horizon and six times there’s a negative report. Elijah never gives up and continues calling on God to send rain. Then, on his seventh reconnaissance mission, the servant reports a very small cloud rising out over the sea. That’s enough for Elijah. He stops praying and starts preparing for a rainstorm! This incident causes me to think about prayer. I wonder why it is that Elijah could pray one 30-second prayer resulting in fire falling from the sky, but then has to pray seven intense prayers to get rain to fall from the sky. My own prayer life, in much less spectacular ways, is like that. Some prayers are answered quickly and others, after years, are still unanswered. Then, this story reminds me of the power of prayer. Many years later James uses this incident as his example of what happens when just one man prays a fervent prayer. It’s interesting that Elijah doesn’t contact everyone he knows (the country is filled with newly committed followers of God) to ask them to join him in praying for rain. In similar circumstances I might have posted the need on the Internet and fired up the church prayer chain. Instead, Elijah just shoulders the task and starts praying this important prayer. Finally, there’s Elijah’s response to the cloud the “size of a man’s hand.” For me, that would be encouragement to hang in there and keep praying, but for him, it’s answer enough. In this case, his ceasing prayer is more of an act of faith than his continuing in prayer. For those of us who are “prayer learners” this is instructive reading indeed.
Take Away: The prayer of a righteous person avails much.