Nehemiah 9: In your great compassion you heard and helped them again.
One result of the reading and study of God’s Word is a powerful reconnection by the returned exiles to their history. Nehemiah 9 is made up mostly of a song written to tell this story. In it, God’s grace and mercy is highlighted. The Lord is good to them, from Abram of Ur to the day when they occupied the Promised Land. However, there’s great spiritual failure as their ancestors reject God and his Law. There’s a lot of repentance in this song, but there’s also great hope. God is still their God and they rely on him to deliver them from their enemies and re-establish them in this place that was promised to Abraham so long ago. This song is not only a song of history but is a hymn of invitation as well. As it ends, the heads of the families are challenged to come forward to sign a binding pledge. From this moment forward they’ll be a faithful people of God. They’re sure of God’s grace, now they commit themselves to that grace. It’s a powerful moment. Without it, the story of Nehemiah is just about rebuilding a wall. With it, we have a story about God rebuilding a people.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for his patient, merciful, transforming grace.
The End…well, not quite
2 Chronicles 36: …he wanted to give them every chance possible. But they wouldn’t listen.
The intended audience of the Chronicles is the descendants of those in the story that’s told here. The original readers live in exile, hundreds of miles from Jerusalem. These people have never seen the City of David and are in danger of becoming disconnected from their rich heritage. However, there’s more. These books tell why they are where they are. The passage before us gives the final word. God had warned their ancestors again and again that if they continued down the road they were traveling it would end in destruction. The mercy and grace of God in reaching out to them was disregarded. His repeated overtures to them were rejected and because of that rebellion God gave up on them and all was lost. Now both Israel and Judah are gone and the holy city of Jerusalem is destroyed. The End. However, the Chronicles author can’t let it end like that. After writing the obituary of Judah he ties the old story to their current lives. The God who gave up on their ancestors is now reaching out to them. There’s the possibility of rebuilding the Temple they’ve read about in this story. The God of Second Chances is still at work even in their lives. This story tells us a lot about the descendants of Abraham but it tells us even more about God.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances.
Better late than never
2 Chronicles 33: As he prayed, God was touched.
Manasseh’s father, Hezekiah, made some mistakes, but his leadership of Judah was, by and large, pleasing to God and to his people. Now it’s Manasseh’s turn. He messes up – “royally!” Under his leadership the descendants of Abraham turn back to the idol worship of the past. He even brings disgusting idols right into the Temple his father had so carefully restored. It’s as Manasseh’s doing these stupid things that we find a chilling statement. The Scripture reports: “And God was angry.” Tell you what; if you’re doing your own thing and ignoring God you really don’t want to hear these words! The result is that God allows Assyria to accomplish what they were kept from accomplishing before. Jerusalem falls before this regional power. Manasseh, himself, is led off like a farm animal to distant Babylon, likely destined for execution. To Manasseh it seems that this just might be a good time to pray! Well, to be honest about it, it is way past time for him to pray; but pray he does. He falls on his knees and cries out to God, repenting “totally” of his sins. If one thing you really don’t want to hear about yourself is that “God is angry” the sweetest sound that can fall upon the ear is what we read here: “As he prayed, God was touched.” Manasseh shouldn’t have messed up in the first place. His life would have been vastly better had he been true to the God of his father. However, once he messed up, the next best thing was to pray a prayer of absolute, from-the-heart repentance. Such prayers always touch the heart of God. It’s true for Manasseh. It’s true for you and me.
Take Away: Better to not mess up in the first place, but if you’ve messed up it’s time to pray like you’ve never prayed before.
Abundance of grace
2 Chronicles 1: What do you want from me? Ask.
Students of the Old Testament have long marveled at the wisdom of Solomon who, when offered anything from the Lord, asks for wisdom. In fact, the Lord, himself, is pleased with the request. Today, though, I find myself thinking about the question the Lord asks Solomon. Really, at this point Solomon has done little to cause the Lord to be impressed with him and, to be brutally honest, as I see his life being played out, I doubt he’s worthy of it. I understand that he’s assuming David’s throne and is now the leader of the people God has chosen to be his very own and in this passage I see that he starts off on the right foot, beginning his reign with a great worship service. Still, by any measure this is an unprecedented offer by the Almighty. God wants to bless Solomon. He wants this young man to be successful in all he does. Because of that, the Lord basically signs a blank check and hands it to him. I’m taken here with God’s good will toward us. He may not, like a genie, grant us anything we wish, but he does give us good things. Without doubt, he treats us better than we deserve. I know the focus on this passage is on Solomon’s answer, but today I’m taken with the abundance of grace in the question.
Take Away: The Lord delights in blessing us.
The last ray of light
2Kings 21: And God was angry.
Manasseh wasn’t even born when Hezekiah received the 14-year extension on his life. He assumes the throne at just 12 years of age and rules Judah for 55 years. His record as king is that of total failure. All the reforms of his father are reversed. He’s as committed to sin as his father was to righteousness. Over time he moves heathen idol worship right into the Temple of God. The result, according to the Bible, is that, “God was angry.” Now, decades after the fall of Israel God says he is sending the same, and worse, upon Judah. He’s put up with their evil long enough. Still, in spite of the dire words of doom, the Almighty does not act, at least not yet. Manasseh finishes his life and is buried in peace. His son Amon doesn’t fare as well and is assassinated within two years of assuming the throne. In these accounts I’m overwhelmed by the patience of mercy of God. Even when he’s “fed up” he waits a bit longer. That doesn’t mean that I can assume that God will always give me one more chance but it does mean that God’s patience is beyond my comprehension. In each generation he reaches out with a new and old message of hope. Even as the door of his mercy is closing he extends a final ray of light, one last opportunity to receive that light. This is what sometimes happens on a deathbed where a merciful God gives a person who has rejected him again and again one last opportunity. It works in lives that are, so far as the world is concerned, ruined beyond repair. Even as the darkness descends, there’s one last glimmer of hope for the one who will reach out and grasp it. And it works for people who are reading the Internet desiring some word of hope when they stumble upon a mostly unread blog.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances.
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.
Murder most foul
2 Samuel 11: War kills — sometimes one, sometimes another.
David’s failure in 2 Samuel 11 is stunning. There are no excuses, no contributing circumstances that in any way lessen his failure. When Saul takes it upon himself to play the role of priest rather than wait on Samuel it’s a horrible failure, but it’s no greater than the one I read about here. David, King of Israel sees a woman taking a bath and wants her. Abusing his authority as king he sends for her and then has sexual relations with her. When she later discovers that she’s pregnant, he sends for her husband in hopes of covering up his sin. The only things we know about Uriah are what we find in this story but it’s clear that he’s an honorable man and a loyal soldier. Failing in his plan, David sends a note to his general, Joab (a note carried by Uriah, himself) that’s actually a death sentence. When David receives word of Uriah’s death, he shrugs it off with “war kills.” In this case it isn’t war that kills. It’s David. In the words of Agatha Christie, this is “murder most foul.” David’s a great man, a real hero, and a key figure in God’s plan for the world. Still, the writers of Scripture do not avoid the issue here. They tell us the whole ugly story. Still, what happens, as unsavory as it is, isn’t beyond the grace of God. I’m glad the story doesn’t end here.
Take Away: The Lord can’t deal with our sin until we admit we have sinned and repent of it.
2 Samuel 9: Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, taking all his meals at the king’s table.
David remembers his friend Jonathan. He and David stood together in the dark days years earlier. At that time they made promises to one another and David hasn’t forgotten those promises. When David learns that Jonathan has a surviving son he seeks him out. Mephibosheth is lame and has had no contact with David, yet David treats him with respect and kindness. Mephibosheth, obviously, has done nothing to earn anything from David. In fact, as the grandson of Saul, he might still have a claim on the throne in the eyes of some people. Most kings of that era would make it their first order of business to wipe out all his predecessor’s heirs to the throne. David, though, does the very opposite. He returns all Saul’s wealth to Mephibosheth and then gives him an honored place in his own household. David’s action here reminds me of the unmerited favor the King has shown to me. Like Mephibosheth, I’ve done nothing to make myself worthy of this great kindness. And, as David reached out to Mephibosheth because of Jonathan, so has the Lord reached out to me because of Jesus.
Take Away: All the people of the Lord are recipients of the unmerited favor of God – unworthy, but made welcome in his household.
Blown away by God’s grace
2 Samuel 7: You’ve done all this not because of who I am but because of who you are.
The promise God makes to David through the prophet Nathan is an enormous one. His offspring will rule Israel forever. When I see how Saul’s sad story plays out then compare it to this promise of “forever” made to David I find it to be breathtaking. All this blows David away too. He goes into the presence of the Lord to express his thanks. Along with that is a real sense of unworthiness on his part. While David’s done a lot of the right things, this isn’t God responding to David’s deeds. Instead, this is God acting out of his goodness and David responding as he ought to respond. It’s true of me too. Oh how blessed I am! God is good to me in wonderful ways. He’s blessed me, not because I’m more spiritual, or more obedient than others. He’s blessed me because of his goodness. Like David, I’m blown away by all the Lord has done and is doing for me. And, like him, I want to express my thanksgiving to the Lord.
Take Away: How can I say thanks for all the good things the Lord has done for me?
War games aren’t fun
2 Samuel 3: The war between the house of Saul and the house of David dragged on and on.
Sadly, Saul’s death and David’s return to Israel isn’t the end of Saul’s story. His general, Abner, makes Saul’s son, Ish-Bosheth king over Israel. Meanwhile, David has moved to Hebron in the area of Judah. He’s made king there. Israel’s now divided, with the larger part being ruled by Saul’s son and the smaller area ruled by David. The result is civil war. David no longer needs to run. He has an army equal to that of Israel. Because of that both sides jealously defend their territory. This is civil war at its ugliest, with relatives battling one another. One major battle takes place at the Pool of Gibeon, where the armies meet face to face. In a deadly game, representatives from each side are pitted against one another in one-on-one fights to the death. As David’s men win one round after another things escalate to a major battle in which fighters from each side can call one another by name. It is ugly, ugly, ugly. Civil wars are the worst wars in which people who know one another and share common interests and goals fight it out, leaving corpses scattered across the battlefield. There’s nothing more tragic than war within the family. Church people should do everything possible to avoid such wars. The problem is that, as happened at the Pool of Gibeon, such wars start with much smaller barbed “games” of saying two edged things to one another or giving or taking offense easily. Oh, how we need the grace of God in our relationships with one another.
Take Away: We can more skillfully hurt those closest to us – so dealing with these precious ones must be especially flavored with grace.