Spiritually deciding things in practical ways
Nehemiah 11: The people drew lots to get one out of ten to move to Jerusalem.
When the Jews return to the vicinity of Jerusalem to rebuild the city and reestablish worship there they find a city in ruins. They also find small settlements of the descendants of the remnant of Jews who had been left behind a generation earlier. Many, apparently, opt to live in those settlements rather than in the rubble of Jerusalem. That makes good sense; after all, this is an agrarian society in need of open land for their livestock and for growing food. Now, though, the wall project is complete and worship has been reestablished in their holy city. I’m impressed that the leaders have already led the way back by making their homes in Jerusalem. Now, the decision is made to draw lots to decide who else will join them. It’s an interesting mixture of spiritual and practical decision making. As God’s people they want to have a real presence in this City of David. However, they’re practical about it too. Not everyone can immediately relocate to this broken city. Instead, one tenth of them will, and to be fair, it’s decided by drawing lots. To me, this all embodies the balance the Lord wants us to have in our lives. Some would have us live mystical lives in which God opens parking spaces at the mall for us and in which we just flip our Bibles open to a random passage to find “God’s will” for us in big decisions. Others want us to keep our feet planted firmly on planet earth. “If it’s to be it’s up to me” is their motto. They plan their lives and operate the Church as though they’re putting on a performance for God, who sits off at a distance being impressed by it all. In the middle is the balanced life. Living with an eye toward God, seeking his direction and relying on his strength while at the same time using the brains he gave us, applying our experiences, intelligence, and gifts to all we do. As I watch these Jews lining up to draw lots, I’m impressed by their desire to walk with God even if it means the inconvenience of moving to the destroyed city. I’m also impressed by their practical way of working through who will do what.
Take Away: The people of the Lord are to live between the extremes; both trusting God and, at the same time, using all the capability he has given us.
The funeral service was poorly attended
2 Chronicles 21: There were no tears shed when he died – it was good riddance!
Jehoshaphat fathers five sons and he leaves them each an inheritance of wealth. Additionally each one is given a fortified city to rule, basically setting them up for life. His oldest son, Jehoram, gets the throne. This could work out as the most successful handoff of power since Solomon took the throne from his father, David. Instead, there’s murder and abandonment of God. This wicked man murders all his brothers and leads his subjects away from God. The Lord, in turn, is disgusted with him. There are rebellions and then a humiliating and destroying illness. After eight years of failure Jehoram is dead. And no one cares. What a pitiful life story. How sobering it is to think that the untimely death of a person is considered a favor of God to those under his influence and authority. What an important reminder to realize it all started when he turned his back on God. Each life journey arrives at key forks in the road. When I arrive at such a place I make a fresh decision concerning the type of person I will be. That decision will impact not only me, but those who are closest to me, and in some cases, even people I’ll never know. Because of the importance of how I handle those big moments in my life, I want to practice for them by dealing with the little stuff in the right way. Little things lead to big things. Big things lead to eternity.
Take Away: We become the people we are by the decisions we make along the way.
Hopefully, David wasn’t trustworthy
1 Samuel 29: He’s not going into battle with us.
How about that, wisdom from the Philistines! Fleeing from Saul (maybe said better: “getting away from Saul so he won’t have to kill him”) David’s living in Philistine territory, the town of Ziklag. Now the Philistines are uniting to take on Saul and the army of Israel in a major, decisive battle. Amazingly, David’s with the Philistines! King Achish, who mistakenly thinks that David has already been attacking his fellow countrymen in Judah, is confident that David has completely betrayed Israel. However, the other warlords of the Philistines aren’t convinced. They don’t know David, but they know his reputation. They think that in the heat of the battle he’ll turn on them. Achish reluctantly sends David and his men home. Are the other warlords right? I hope so. David has no business living in the land of the Philistines in the first place much less fighting on their side. I think this event is crucial to David’s future as king of Israel. In the story of Abraham and Lot, it’s Lot who mistakenly decides to live in the wicked city of Sodom. That decision changes his life. Had he not made this crucial mistake he might have gone down in history as a great man who walked in faith with his uncle, Abraham. Instead, his story is a mere footnote in the history of God’s people. In this incident, David’s at a similar crossroads. If he joins the Philistines in this battle he’ll never lead Israel. Instead, he’ll only be a minor player in the story of redemption. I hope these warlords are right and that David would have turned on them. If not that, I wish that it had been David, himself who decided to leave the battlefield. Instead, it’s the enemies of God and his people who wisely send him away. Is it possible that we can see the hand of God in this decision of the Philistine warlords?
Take Away: The Lord is sovereign and can use whoever he wants to accomplish his will.
The good, the bad, and the ugly
1 Samuel 27: The best thing I can do is escape to Philistine country.
One thing about the narrative of the Bible is that we’re told the whole story, both good and bad. I think that David’s time in Philistine country is, for him personally, what the book of Judges is for the Israelite people as a whole. David does it and we’re told about it, but none of it’s to his credit. Right off, David says that he thinks sooner or later that Saul’s going to capture him, so he needs to escape the country. Where’s his faith in God who’s proven faithful to him across the years? Has he forgotten the incidents at the cave in En Gedi and at Hakilah Hill? Then we see him go to the enemies of Israel and of God, the Philistines, for refuge. King Achish foolishly thinks to himself that, “An enemy of Saul is a friend of mine.” That’s a major mistake on his part but David’s decision stinks to high heaven. It’s unworthy of one anointed of God. Once he settles in Ziklag, David starts raiding small towns. When Achish asks him where he’s been he lies and says he’s been raiding his own people, Judah. Instead, he raids Philistine towns and hides it by killing everyone living in them. When I read of mass killing during the occupation of Canaan I’m uncomfortable, but at least that they felt they were doing God’s will. In David’s case, he’s just making a living off of raiding villages and killing people. The writer of the Scripture just tells us what happened, but I come away from this passage thinking that this isn’t of David’s proudest moment. Later on, when David wants to build the Temple he’s told he has too much blood on his hands. I think this incident is an example of that. I understand that David was living in different times and that beyond that I’m not David’s judge. I also remember here that even biblical heroes (not to mention me) stand in great need of God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness.
Take Away: Even heroes of the Bible need God’s mercy.
Joshua 9: The men of Israel looked them over and accepted the evidence. But they didn’t ask God about it.
Word of the impressive victories of the Israelite army has spread far and wide. Waves of fear sweep across Canaan when the powerful armies of the kings west of the Jordan fall. Now, with Jericho and Ai both destroyed the region is in the grip of dismay. Some are gearing up for war but one group desperately tries a different approach. The people of Gibeon send emissaries to the Israelites. They’re made up to look as though they’ve been on a long journey but actually they’re local. They tell Joshua’s people that they’ve heard of the might of God and their exploits and that, from a distance, they want to make a peace treaty with them. Apparently, the Israelites are somewhat flattered that their fame has spread far and wide, so, without giving it much thought, they seal the deal with Gibeon. To the surprise of the Israelites, they find that they’ve made a deal with one of the groups they’re supposed to purge from Canaan! What a blunder on the side of the Israelites and what resourcefulness on the side of Gibeon! The problem, of course, for Israel is that, while they were examining the dried, moldy bread from the saddlebags of the emissaries they forgot to “ask God about it.” They relied on their own wisdom rather than on the guidance of the Lord. I’d like to be very critical of the Israelites at this point, but I’d better tread carefully here. How many times have I, in my so called wisdom, checked out all the facts, made up a “pros and cons” list, researched the issue and moved on it. Only after the fact I may have tossed an “and, by the way Lord, please bless what I’m about to do” prayer. As I see Israel making an un-prayed over deal with Gibeon I’m sorry to say I see myself all too often doing the same sort of thing.
Take Away: You’ll never be sorry you prayed first.
A practical conversion
Joshua 2: They left and arrived at the house of a harlot named Rahab and stayed there.
As the Israelites prepare to cross the Jordan two spies are sent to learn about their first target, Jericho. They slip into the walled city and take up residence in what was likely a common place of lodging. The commentators tell me that Rahab’s house was likely a tavern and inn. While some squirm around Rahab’s being called a “harlot” it’s likely that the scriptures are simply telling it as it is. We’re talking about a Canaanite women living in a Canaanite town here. When she acts to protect the spies it isn’t because she’s gotten saved in a revival meeting! She’s acting out of self-preservation. Still, her actions carry real weight. In spite of her questionable past and her lack of knowledge about the God of the Israelites she’s concluded that this God of theirs is powerful and will deliver Canaan to his people. She may not know the Ten Commandments or the Shema or the story of Abraham and Isaac, but she’s heard enough about this God that she’d rather be on his side than on the side of the people and gods of Canaan. In what might be considered a “practical conversion” she picks that God over all others. Hopefully, in the years to come her theology will mature and her relationship with God and his people will deepen. However, for all of us, our faith journey has to start somewhere. Deciding one would rather be on God’s side in the battle isn’t a bad place to start.
Take Away: All spiritual life begins with a simple decision concerning one’s relationship to the Lord.
Exodus 1: He killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand.
Moses is thought of as the grandson of the king, but he’s raised by the woman who’s secretly his own mother. On one hand, he’s an Egyptian and a member of the ruling class at that. On the other hand, he’s a Hebrew, condemned at birth, a member of a nation of slaves. Sooner or later he has to decide who he is. That day comes, even though his expression of solidarity with God’s people is quite flawed. First, he kills an Egyptian who mistreats a fellow Hebrew. He then tries to be a peacemaker between two Hebrews who are having a fight. There’s no question in his mind or in the mind of Pharaoh which side he’s on and soon Moses finds himself fleeing for his life. I’ve heard some sermons about how Moses should have waited for God to call him to be the liberator of his people and that, had he done that, it would have saved him four decades of leading sheep. For all I know, those sermons are right on. Still, I’m taken today with the need to decide early on which side one is on. Moses is likely mistaken when he kills the Egyptian, but his decision to cast his lot with a nation of slaves rather than be a member of the Egyptian royal household is courageous and ought to be appreciated by all who read the story. I’m glad that early on in my life the Lord spoke to my heart and that, right then, I decided to say “yes” to him without over thinking what such a response might mean. Today, I won’t give Moses a “thumbs up” on what he did but I’ll certainly give him credit for why he did it.
Take Away: Sooner or later we need to decide what side we’re on…and the sooner the better.
Seeking God’s direction
Genesis 46: I’ll go with you down to Egypt.
The news that not only is his son Joseph alive but that he’s running the entire country of Egypt is almost more than Jacob can absorb. For over 20 years he’s thought his son was dead, killed by a wild animal. Now, he’s to leave the land promised to his grandfather, Abraham, and join Joseph in Egypt. With a region-wide famine ravishing the land and Joseph calling him to Egypt Jacob is ready to go; well, almost. As he begins the relocation of his family, Jacob stops at Beersheba. This is the site of a well that was dug by his ancestor Abraham. It was also a favorite location of his father, Isaac. Jacob comes to Beersheba to seek the face of God and the Lord doesn’t disappoint. The promise is a wonderful one. God will go with Jacob to Egypt and he’ll prosper him there. When the time is right, Canaan will be given to his family, just as the Lord promised Abraham. With this promise ringing in his ears, Jacob leads his family to Egypt. I really like all I see here. Jacob’s returning to holy ground to seek God’s direction makes perfect sense and the response of the Lord proves the wisdom of this action. I need to remember to seek God before making big decisions. Actually, come to think of it, I need to practice for the big decisions by seeking his face in the minor ones too.
Take away: It makes good sense to seek the wisdom of God as I make decisions in my life.
Road to ruin
Genesis 19: God was so merciful to them!
I really dislike the story of the destruction of the wicked cities, Sodom and Gomorrah. There’s almost nothing uplifting in it. Years earlier, Lot and his family had taken up residence in the vicinity of Sodom. Now, in spite of its reputation for sexual wickedness, we find him at home there. When the messengers of God warn him to take his family and flee he doesn’t want to go. His wife can’t bear leaving and his daughters have a warped view of morality. Even when he’s convinced to run he can’t bring himself to leave the area and, even though he later changes his mind about it, strikes a bargain to move to a smaller town in the area. I squirm a bit as I read all this and then, even though I’ve read the story many times, I want to turn my head as the fire and brimstone falls in judgment. I come away from this passage thinking I’d better be careful about the choices I make…that they may have more impact on me and those I love than I realize. I’m also reminded that I must never underestimate the seriousness of sin. As does Abraham, once in a while I need to glance out over the plain and see the smoke rising from the destruction and remember that Judgment is real and sure and serious. And, as I see Lot and his family being ushered away prior to that Judgment, I had better be reminded of God’s mercy. That was their only hope and it’s also my only hope.
Take away: I’d better be careful about the choices I make.
Wandering in the wilderness
Ephesians 2: You’re no longer wandering exiles.
We know the story of how under the leadership of Moses the children of Israel refuse to enter the Promised Land and end up wandering in the wilderness for 40 long years. In this passage, Paul describes the Gentiles as also wandering out in the wilderness, separated from God. Now, thanks to Jesus, the way into the Promised Land, the “kingdom of faith,” has been provided. Everyone is invited, both Jews and Gentiles, to make the crossing into that place of peace, at home with God. The reason, of course, that the children of Israel even make that long detour in the first place is that they didn’t trust God. Having rejected him, they turned away to the misery of the desert. For the Gentiles, the situation’s a bit different. Because of Jesus they’re experiencing their first opportunity to come to God and they’re taking full advantage of it, coming in by the thousands and tens of thousands. For those who respond, the wandering days are ended and the days of spiritual abundance have begun. On a personal level I’ve seen more than one respond to what Jesus has done. They’re rewarded with new, everlasting life for their decision. Sad to say, I’ve seen a few who have opted for the wilderness instead. Decisions have been made, priorities have been set, and they’ve followed the road out into the desert. Happily, God is the God of Second Chances. At some point, I hope and pray that they’ll find themselves once again at the point of decision. I sincerely pray that at that time their wandering days will end.
Take Away: Jesus provides us all the way to God.