A chip off the old block, almost
2Kings 14: He lived the way God wanted and did the right thing. But he didn’t come up to the standards of his ancestor David.
When Joash is assassinated his son, Amaziah, becomes king of Judah. This young man picks up where his father left off: doing the right thing and honoring God. Because of that, he goes down in history as one of the good kings of Judah. This man rules for 29 years and, over all, does what is pleasing in God’s sight. Still, I can’t get past the statement that “he didn’t come up to the standards of David.” In other words, Amaziah does “okay” and receives a passing grade from the Lord, yet he could have been much more. You might say that David earns an “A” while Amaziah earns a “C+.” It’s too bad when a person has great potential yet, while things aren’t a complete disaster, never quite measures up. Do you know what really bothers me here? I’m not as concerned about Amaziah’s lukewarm reviews as I am of my own! Can it be said of me, “Well, he did the right thing, but he never measured up to his full potential.” I don’t want to live a lukewarm life.
Take Away: Oh Lord, set me on fire for you.
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.
Sitting on a barbwire fence
1Kings 18: How long are you going to sit on the fence?
No doubt, Elijah has everyone’s attention. The drought and resultant famine has seen to that. Now he calls for a meeting and a confrontation. Their divided loyalties have created a pitiful situation. Historically, they’ve worshipped Jehovah, but for generations now worship of Baal has grown like a cancer in their number. Now, it appears that Jehovah worship is going to be only seen in the history books as they align themselves with Baal. Yet, somehow, they’re having a hard time committing themselves to Baal. The recent drought has caused some doubts. Why couldn’t this fertility god answer their prayers for the rain necessary for them to grow crops? The result of their doubt is that they’re terrible followers of Jehovah God and not very good followers of Baal either. Elijah says it is time for a decision to follow the God who answers prayer, who has power in this world. Our nation has more in common with these ancient Jews than we might think. We too are on the fence. We sing “God bless America” and put “In God we trust” on our currency. We open sessions of Congress and the Supreme Court in prayer. At the same time, we ignore God’s Law and seek to isolate him from secular society. We tip our hat to God but really want to serve, not Baal, but ourselves, and in so doing, adopt a religion of materialism, secular humanism, and pleasure. Will God send an “Elijah” to challenge our nation? Does the Church even want that to happen?
Take Away: It’s rather unreasonable to sing “God bless America” while at the same time attempting to isolate him from all but a few corners of our lives.
The heart of the matter
1Kings 15: His heart was in the right place, in tune with God.
Both Israel and Judah are traveling down the same miserable road of spiritual failure. Jeroboam, the first king of Israel, messes up “royally” and God tells him he’s going to toss him out like the garbage. Rehoboam, son of wise Solomon and grandson of faithful David, also fails. He follows Jeroboam in selling out to the worship of the idol Asherah. Meanwhile the precious Temple is raided by Egyptian forces and much of its wealth carried off even as Judah and Israel make war with one another. After Rehoboam’s son, Abijah, rules for just three years, his grandson, Asa, comes to the throne. Finally there’s some good news. Asa picks up where his ancestor David left off some 60 years earlier. He isn’t quite the man David was, but he’s like David where it matters most: “his heart is in the right place.” As we learned way back when we saw David being anointed as king, God looks on the heart. Today, my relationship with the Lord isn’t performance based. I certainly want to be pleasing to the Lord in all I do, but that isn’t the bottom line. More than proper performance, God wants, in me, a heart that’s right. My prayer is for a heart that’s in tune with God.
Take Away: I want to always do the right thing, but even more, I want to always be the right person in the eyes of the Lord.
2 Samuel 17: Shobi…Makir…and Barzillai…brought beds and blankets, bowls and jugs filled with wheat, barley….
David and his supporters have fled Jerusalem with scant preparation for their exile. Still, David has friends. Hushai takes his life in his hands to not only be a spy in Absalom’s court, but even offers Absalom bad advice as he makes plans to go after his father. Jonathan and Ahimaaz and an unnamed servant girl serve as couriers. A woman at Bahurim helps these couriers hide. Meanwhile, others are providing provisions for David and those who have fled with him. Before long they have “roasted grain, beans and lentils, honey, and curds and cheese” thanks to Shobi, Makir, and Barzillai. Know what? As I type the names of these people the spell checker on my computer is going crazy. Apparently, my computer has never heard of Hushai or Ahimaaz or Makir. Maybe you haven’t heard of them either. These people aren’t major figures in history so their names aren’t well known. However, on this day as David flees for his life, they all play vital roles. You might say that they each rise to the occasion. The fact is that there are a lot more people like dear brother Barzillai and the woman at Bahurim than there are people like David. I identify with that crowd and maybe you do too. We may not get the headlines, but, if we’re faithful to do the right thing at the right time, we might just make a major, if unnoticed difference in the world.
Take Away: Not all heroes are famous.
President of David’s fan club
1 Samuel 19: I’ll go out and talk about you with my father and we’ll see what he says.
Saul has a haunted look these days. There’s no peace for him, but instead, a constant, nagging fear. He has power and authority and a certain kind of cunning, but things are going downhill for him. David is his greatest irritant. David is everything Saul should have been. No one will actually say this to Saul, but in his heart he knows that David is the next king of Israel. Of all people who should side with him in opposition to David, his son Jonathan should be first. In this age, when the throne’s at stake, there’s generally a bloody coop. Jonathan should realize that, not only is his future position at stake, but his very life depends on dealing with David. Jonathan, though, will have none of it. He’s the president of David’s fan club. When Saul signs a death warrant for David, it’s Jonathan who talks his father out of it. Every time Jonathan appears in this story he’s doing the right thing. He fights the enemies of God with skill, bravery, and resourcefulness. He’s a friend to David without thought to himself. He stands up to his father even when doing so can easily make himself the target of his father’s murderous rage. It occurs to me that Jonathan reminds me of one of my favorite people in the book of Acts, the Son of Encouragement: Barnabas. I thank God for people who simply do the right thing. Often they aren’t the ones with the starring roles in life’s stories but they support the stars, like David or Paul. Jonathan, like Barnabas, is a good role model for me.
Take Away: Jonathan’s example of always doing the right thing should challenge and encourage us.
By God’s help we can live steady, Christ-like lives
1 Samuel 7: Samuel gave solid leadership to Israel his entire life.
This is a powerful and important statement about Samuel. Only rarely do we encounter such high credentials, even in the Bible. Abraham messed up by trying to “help” God in his relationship with Hagar. Moses failed at the Waters of Meribah Kadesh. Just about all the heroes of the Bible have blots on their records. But it’s not so with Samuel. From the time that as a lad serving in the house of God at Shiloh he hears God’s Voice to the end of his life Samuel is faithful. As a result, some of the golden days of the Old Testament are before us in our Scripture reading. Of course, this is actually a God-story more than it is a Samuel-story. It’s God who answers Hannah’s prayer that brings Samuel into the world in the first place. It’s God who initiates contact with the boy Samuel. And it’s God who continues to lead Samuel even as Samuel leads Israel. We see today that spiritual failure doesn’t have to be part of anyone’s story. I know it’s true that just about everyone has a story of spiritual breakdown, but here we see that the Lord’s able to keep us as we allow him to work freely in our lives. Isn’t it wonderful to be reminded that because the grace of the Lord is freely available to us that we don’t have to stumble our way through life hoping we can hold it together just enough to squeeze through the Pearly Gates at the finish line of life?
Take Away: The Lord provides us everything we need to live faithful, victorious Christian lives.
Not famous, but faithful
1 Samuel 7 They ordained his son, Eleazar, to take responsibility for the Chest of God.
The Ark of the Covenant ends up in Kiriath Jearim, the house of Abinadab. Someone needs to be responsible for the Ark. After all, during the seven years that it was in the hands of the Philistines tumors broke out among the population and when the men of Beth Shemesh treated it in an irreverent way they were struck dead. They can’t have the Ark just sitting around. Someone has to care for it. Abinadab’s son, Eleazar, takes the job. For the next twenty years Eleazar takes care of the Chest of God. We know nothing else about him. Not a single word from him is recorded in Scripture and he’s associated with none of the adventures of the Bible. He just takes care of the Ark. During that time a spiritual change for the better is taking place. Samuel is growing too — in spirit and in body. Soon, this spiritual giant will take center stage and will be the spiritual leader of Israel for decades to come. But, for now, God just needs someone to look after the Ark; to be a “place holder” for Samuel until he’s ready to assume leadership. Not many of us are “Samuels.” No doubt, God calls some to do the big stuff, and I thank God for them. Most of us are called to simply be faithful, serving the Lord every day, doing what he’s placed before us. It’s nice to be reminded though, that in this small way Eleazar kept things going for the good. His faithfulness held things together while God prepared the “big player” to come on the scene. I think that is pretty impressive.
Take Away: What an honor it is to be used of the Lord, even in some small, unnoticed way.
1 Samuel 3: God continued to show up at Shiloh.
God’s presence has been rare and, as a result, even those who desire righteousness have blindly stumbled through life. At our best humans are still pretty pitiful and, in this distant day, most people have no interest in striving for anything close to “the best” anyway. Because of that spiritual darkness dominates. Then, in the figurative and literal night God speaks to young Samuel. Even better than that: God speaks and then continues to speak. There’s something wonderful about the phrase, “God continued to show up at Shiloh.” It has the feel of springtime in it. After the long, cold winter, the sun is shining and new life is breaking out everywhere. I’ve journeyed through my share of spiritual winters: times when God seemed far away and unreachable. But I’ve also enjoyed spiritual springtime. Frankly, my experience was more like Samuel’s than I care to admit, because in my case, like his, I didn’t have much to do with the dawning of the new day in my heart. All I know is that, after the night, God showed up and then continued to show up. By his grace, I will be faithful when spiritual winter comes, but, oh, how I love the spiritual springtime!
Take Away: Spiritual winter comes to just about everyone. How good to be reminded that after the winter season, springtime arrives.
People are watching
Ruth 3: Everybody in town knows what a courageous woman you are.
There’s a lot of cultural stuff in this story that seems odd to me. Apparently, even though Ruth is a widow, she’s still considered to be “married” to her husband’s family. If she marries again, it needs to be “in the family.” Naomi tells Ruth it’s time to act. Boaz is eligible to marry Ruth and he’s shown kindness to her. Maybe even more than kindness is in the air! Ruth makes herself as beautiful as possible and attends his harvest party. As the festivities wind down, Boaz finds a place to sleep and that’s when Ruth makes her move. She quietly lies down at his feet. Again, there’s some cultural stuff happening here that feels strange, but apparently this is a way for Ruth to let Boaz know she’s interested in him. When Boaz sees her there he’s quite pleased and promises to pursue the legal side of marrying her. I find his comment that “everyone knows what a courageous woman you are” to be interesting. Apparently, from the time Ruth arrived with Naomi people have been watching her. She’s not an Israelite; in fact, her people have been sometimes enemies of Israel; so they’ve kept an eye on her. At first, she was possibly even unwelcome but little by little her faithfulness to Naomi, her solid work ethic, and her courage have won them over. People may not be interested in hearing me tell them about Jesus. They may think I’m strange and not worthy of their trust. However, they are watching. As I go about living for the Lord in good days and in bad and as I concentrate on doing the right thing whether or not it’s convenient doors will open for me that were closed in the beginning.
Take Away: A life lived for Jesus will open doors for spiritual conversations with people who have been watching.