What to do when you face a giant
2Kings 19: Maybe God, your God, won’t let him get by with such talk.
Even though Hezekiah has tried to mend relations with Sennacherib king of Assyria it’s too late. Having whipped into shape several other countries that attempted to break away, Sennacherib returns his attention to Judah. A representative is sent, not to broker a deal, but to call for complete surrender. That representative is named Rabshaketh and, in an attempt to frighten the people of Jerusalem into rebellion against Hezekiah he not only insults Hezekiah and his small army, but he insults the God Hezekiah serves. This situation is filled with military, political, and historical elements but we read the story from a spiritual viewpoint. Earlier Hezekiah’s father, Ahaz, yielded to Assyria and even installed a new altar at the Temple modeled on one used for idol worship in Damascus. When Hezekiah comes to power he not only refuses to pay tribute, but he gets rid of that altar and all the shrines and altars to the pagan gods. Even when he agrees to resume paying tribute to Sennacherib, his removal of the pagan altar is seen as a refusal to be the lap dog to Sennacherib. Because of that, the insults by Rabshaketh focus on God Jehovah. Now, Hezekiah faces absolute destruction from the giant Assyrian army. He turns to the man of God, Isaiah, asking for prayer and direction. He thinks that perhaps God will take up his cause, especially in light of the way Rabshaketh has insulted the Almighty. Facing the impossible, he turns to the One who specializes in doing the impossible. And, he isn’t disappointed.
Take Away: We don’t want to make enemies but to, instead, live in peace with all people. However, if we have to make enemies, let’s make them for the right reasons.
2Kings 4: “She said, “Everything’s fine.”
This is a surprisingly powerful story. Elisha the man of God promises a woman from the town of Shunem that she’s going to have a son. The child is born the following year. A few years later the little boy becomes suddenly ill and dies. His grieving mother seeks out Elisha. As she’s coming she encounters the servant of Elisha first. Clearly something’s wrong, but when Gehazi asks her how things are, her reply is “Everything’s fine.” It’s only when she gets to Elisha that she pours out her heart. Elisha goes to the lifeless child and performs a miracle, raising him back to life. While I see that this is another story intended to show me how powerfully God is working in the life of the prophet, I’m drawn to the Shunammite woman. If there’s ever an example of desperate faith it’s here. Her heart is broken as she lays her dead son on the bed. The only thought on her mind is to get to the man of God, the miracle worker who promised the son in the first place. She desperately wants to believe he can make things right, but looking into the face of such loss it’s nearly impossible. Knowing that, she realizes she has to get to Elisha as quickly as possible, and, instinctively, she knows that even saying the words, “my son is dead” will destroy the mustard seed of faith to which she clings. How is it that “it is well” in her life? It’s because she’s holding on to God with her last ounce of spiritual strength. This is miracle-working territory. Without a cross or an empty tomb she believed the impossible. God can do a lot with faith like that.
Take Away: All it takes is faith the size of a mustard seed to see miracles take place.
Ditch digging for the Lord
2Kings 3: Dig ditches all over this valley.
An alliance of three armies has formed to take on the army of Moab. The armies of Edom, Israel, and Judah plan to circle around and attack from an unexpected direction. However, it all backfires. They find themselves a day out of Moab and in the desert having exhausted their supply of water. Jehoshaphat asks for a prophet of God and Elisha “just happens” to be nearby. God’s word through Elisha is that they’re to begin digging ditches in this desert plain because, without a single drop of rain falling on them, God will fill those ditches with water. Many years earlier Elisha’s predecessor had prayed for rain and, when a cloud “the size of a man’s hand” appeared on the horizon he stopped praying and started running in preparation for the rain storm that was coming. Now, Elisha promises water, but tells them that they need to start preparing for it before they see even the first drop. Obviously there’s a pattern here and in many other instances in God’s Word. God expects us to act in faith that he’ll keep his word to us. For Elijah that meant he needed to stop praying and start running. For this army it means that out in the arid, dusty desert they’re to prepare for flowing water. How does this principle apply to my life today?
Take Away: Our acts of faith really do have a bearing on what the Lord does for us and through us.
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.
The God who answers with fire
1Kings 18: The god who answers with fire will prove to be, in fact, God.
Elijah proposes a sort of contest between Baal and Jehovah. An animal sacrifice will be prepared and laid out. Only one thing will be missing: the fire. Baal’s prophets will call out for their god to send fire, and then Elijah, God’s man, will call out to his God for fire. Whichever one sends fire will be the One they’ll worship. The people agree to the proposal, calling it “a good plan” and the contest begins. I think it is, indeed, “a good plan.” Why serve a god that can’t answer? If Jehovah God can act, if he can move in this world and in our lives, it makes perfect sense to serve him. That’s one side of the story. The other is a reminder that we have no authority to set up hoops and demand that God jump through them if he wants us to serve him. Not only has he already answered with fire in this story, but also he continues to work in this world every day. The very fact that the sun came up this morning is proof that he is God. Frankly, the fact that you’re reading this right now, even as you’ve had questions about the reality of God is evidence that he’s real and that he’s reaching out to you. Tell you what, if you’ll respond to this offer of fellowship from the Lord, you’ll experience something a lot more impressive than fire falling from heaven as God moves on your heart and life. And, it can happen this very hour!
Take Away: When you reach out to the Lord in faith he’ll move in ways in your life just as convincing as fire falling from heaven.
Getting out what we put in
2 Samuel 24: I’m not going to offer God, my God, sacrifices that are no sacrifice.
The final story in 2 Samuel is difficult, if not impossible, to understand. It seems that David, fearful that God wouldn’t supply an army strong enough to protect Israel, decides to do a national census. The result is that the Lord moves to punish David and Israel. The king is given three choices of punishment and David picks three days of epidemic sweeping the land because he’d rather be directly in the hands of God than be punished through the actions of his enemies as is proposed in the other two alternatives. This story doesn’t work for me very well. Offhand, it sounds as though an epidemic came and someone connected it to David’s lack of faith in taking the census. However, it’s right here in the Bible, so I’ll take it at face value, while, at the same time, keep in mind that there’s certainly more going on here than I see when simply reading the story. However, what happens next is easy to understand and challenging to me in my relationship with God. The plague is sweeping across the land and thousands are dying. David is told to build an altar in a specific place. If he does so, and offers sacrifices there, the plague will stop. David goes to the owner of the land and asks to purchase it. The man, Araunah, offers to give it to him but David replies that he isn’t going to offer to God that which costs him nothing. The price is set, the purchase made, the altar built, and the sacrifice is made, thus ending the plague. While I struggle with this story, I’m reminded of the tendency to offer God that which costs us nothing. We attend church when it’s convenient, we pray when we think we have the time, and in general, we practice a low impact religion. David’s example is one we need. We get out of our relationship with God what we put into it.
Take Away: I’m going to give the Lord my best because I want to get all I can from living in a quality relationship with him.
Hearing, believing, acting
1 Samuel 17: David took off from the front line, running toward the Philistine.
I’m not sure why this phrase stands out to me but it does. It has to do with David’s confidence, his rushing to, in the eyes of common sense, disaster. There’s no trace of hesitancy here. This isn’t one of those reluctant “well, someone has to do it, it might as well be me” situations. David’s eager for this fight. The mental picture is powerful. On one hand, big old Goliath, armed to the teeth, stands there spewing out promises of death. On the other, young David armed only with a sling, proclaims God’s authority, running toward this giant of a man. Within seconds Goliath lies face down in the dirt and David stands over him, with Goliath’s own sword in hand, preparing to chop off his head. It was never about the brashness of youth, or David’s “secret weapon.” Everything here carries the mark of God at work. David acted with confidence because he had heard the voice of God in his life. Not only had he heard, he had believed. A realization of this truth is not only good for combat with giants — it’s good for everyday life too. I need to spend enough time with God that I can clearly hear him, and then, having heard, to believe, and having believed, to act with confidence.
Take Away: Once you’ve heard a certain word from the Lord you can move forward in absolute confidence.
When God says “yes”
1 Samuel 1: Crushed in soul, Hannah prayed to God and cried and cried — inconsolably.
As I begin reading the books of Samuel the first thing I hear is the prayer of a broken hearted woman named Hannah. Young women across the ages have longed for children and that desire is especially true in this age, 3000 years ago. In her society much of Hannah’s worth as a human being is dependent on her ability to have offspring. Even her good husband’s efforts to make her feel better about herself fail. On a trip to Shiloh everything comes to a head. In her misery Hannah pours out her heart to God at this place of worship. The Lord hears her prayer and answers, bringing not only relief to this good woman, but the beginning of restoration to Israel which has fallen far from God. I wish I understood why God hears and responds to Hannah’s prayer and not similar prayers prayed by people just as good and just as miserable as she. I know that God cares for hurting people and provides strength and comfort for them, and, sometimes he says “yes.” The rest of the time, we do the only thing we know to do: we trust him with that which we don’t understand.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for the times when the answer is “yes” – trust him in the times when the answer isn’t the one we want.
Generation to generation
Judges 2: Eventually that entire generation died…another generation grew up that didn’t know anything of God….
This is a pitiful situation. How foolish! Here are parents who ate manna, had ever-wear shoes, crossed through the Jordan on dry ground, saw the walls of Jericho fall, and won an amazing dominance in Canaan. Somehow, those same parents failed to instill the knowledge of God in their children. What’s wrong with these people? Years earlier Moses warned them that it would be easy to enjoy their success and forget God. Now, a generation has passed and the nightmare scenario he described has come true. Apparently, it’s easier to fail to pass faith from one generation to the next than we might think. My experience with God might be vivid to me but can mean almost nothing to my children. I must assume nothing and take nothing for granted. If those I love are to know God I must be resolutely intentional in instilling that knowledge in their lives. God help us to reach our children.
Take Away: How can I best pass my faith on to those who are dearest to me?
What can an old man do?
Joshua 14: So give me this hill country that God promised me.
With the battles ending, the country is being divided up among the people of Israel. An old friend comes to the leader, Joshua, with an insistent request. Caleb was a mature 40 years old when he was named one of the 12 to scout out the Promised Land. Now of the 12, only he and Joshua are left, with Caleb at 85 years of age. All of his contemporaries are dead and he’s in the twilight of life. But he doesn’t come to Joshua to reminisce about the good old days. A generation ago, when the people were revolting against God this man stood firmly for God. The Lord was pleased with Caleb and promised that a portion of Canaan would be his. Now, Caleb is reminding Joshua of that. For over 40 years Caleb has remembered that land and now he wants it as his inheritance. The thing is this section of Canaan is still unconquered. In fact, there’s a fortress there. What is an 85-year-old man going to do in the face of such opposition? Caleb says, “Just give it to me and see what I am going to do!” You have to like old Caleb! This guy trusts God to keep his word, and not just in some vague theoretical sense. He trusts God in a blood and dirt, “let’s get to it” kind of way. Tell you what, I want to be more like that — more ready to take God at his word and start claiming that which he’s promised me.
Take Away: The Lord can do amazing things through a person who takes him at his word.