Seeking a righteous response
1Kings 2: The final verdict is God’s peace.
On his death bed David reminds Solomon of some unfinished issues that need attention. Solomon’s response is to execute some people. This isn’t pleasant devotional reading but there’s at least an insight into why David sets this agenda for his son. When Joab’s executed we’re reminded that he’s killed some innocent people. Then we read, “Responsibility for their murders is forever fixed on Joab and his descendants; but for David and his descendants, his family and kingdom, the final verdict is God’s peace.” We see that these executions aren’t for revenge but rather are for justice. David believes that if the crimes committed by these people are left without response that he and his descendants will be responsible in part for what happened. The concept here can only be carried so far and it’s important to remember that Solomon isn’t acting here as a vigilante. He’s acting in the capacity of king, head of the government. But let’s step away from the specific of executions and also lay aside the role of the government here. When I do that I’m still reminded that if I stand by while some wrong is done, declaring, “It’s none of my business” I become a part of that wrong. That’s true not only for government but for individual citizens as well.
Take Away: Sometimes doing nothing makes us as guilty in the eyes of the Lord as if we have done something.
The long arm of the law
1Kings 2: Do what God tells you. Walk in the paths he shows you.
The transition of the throne from David to Solomon will not be bloodless, but considering the day and age, it comes close to it. David calls for Solomon to come to him and they have a father-son (or maybe better, a king-king) talk. Some of what David says is lofty, truly uplifting. He encourages Solomon to walk in God’s ways. If he does that, the Lord will lead and bless him. Some of what David says sounds cold and calculating. There are some people who have acted in ways intended to promote their own agendas rather than his but for various reasons they’ve never been brought to justice. From his deathbed David lists them for the new king. He doesn’t tell him what to do in each case but he reminds him that he thinks something should be done. At its worst, this is just plain old revenge. At its best, it’s a cold reminder of reality. This, I think sums up David’s life. On one hand, he’s a hard pragmatist who’ll unflinchingly kill a man he thinks is a threat to the kingdom. On the other hand, he’s a man who loves God with all his heart, who can write soaring poetry and lift the spirits of all those around him. One thing is certain: there’s nothing lukewarm about David and that’s abundantly clear in this, his final appearance in the Bible.
Take Away: Let’s let David’s unhesitant devotion to the Lord inspire and challenge us in our own relationship with God.
There, but for the grace of God….
Judges 9: Just then some woman dropped an upper millstone on his head and crushed his skull.
Not all the inhumanity of Israel’s “dark ages” of Judges comes from the belligerent peoples surrounding them. A lot of the bleakness comes from within. Gideon apparently makes himself into a sheik and fathers lots of children. When he dies there’s a power struggle that’s won by Abimelech, the son of Gideon and one of his maidservants. Abimelech seals the deal by murdering his seventy brothers. However, he’s better at murder than he is at leading and within three years there’s mounting opposition to his rule. Abimelech acts to quash the rebellion and arrives at Thebez, a town known for its fortified tower. As this wicked leader prepares burn alive those who have taken refuge there a woman drops part of a millstone on his head, thus bringing an end to the short and evil leadership of Abimelech. This is an ugly, if somewhat interesting story of a bad man who does bad things and then dies in a violent, unexpected way. No doubt, the detail of his inglorious death is told to us that we might see the judgment of God on Abimelech. In the larger view, I’m reminded that when God is removed from their lives just how much these descendants of Abraham look like the other heathen of that land. When I look around my community and see people doing stupid, self-destructive things to themselves and one another; when I see them blindly pursuing worthless things; and when I see them stubbornly traveling down the wrong road I’m wise to remember that without the Lord in my life that could easily be me. One response then, is to be thankful for what the Lord’s doing in my life. It’s not about me – it’s all about him. Another response is that, rather than feeling superior, I’m to be compassionate to them. These are people who are like me. They just don’t yet know the Life Changer I know.
Take Away: There, but for the grace of God, go I.
Year of Jubilee
Leviticus 25: Sanctify the fiftieth year; make it a holy year.
In addition to the weekly Sabbath and the annual feasts the Lord designates that every seventh year the farm land is to lay fallow. This allows the land to rebuild and continue to produce a good yield. Then there’s a once in a lifetime event called the Year of Jubilee that comes each fifty years. Again, there’s to be no dirt farming during that year but there’s a lot more to it. The Israelites will be given land by family. That land is their inheritance for all time. Because of that, they can’t sell the land to another family. Instead, they’re to do a sort of lease agreement that can last no longer than the next Year of Jubilee. In that year, all land reverts to the original families. Still, there’s more. An Israelite can sell himself into slavery to another Israelite, but it really isn’t slavery. Instead, it’s more like indentured servanthood. The term can end at an agreed upon time, but in all cases, it must end on the Year of Jubilee. When the value of the person’s service is being calculated this must be taken into consideration. From what I’ve read the Israelites were unfaithful in observing Jubilee and it was only practiced, I think, once. Still, there’s a lot of wisdom in this approach. It gives the land rest, protects against the wealthy buying up all the land (very important in an agricultural society), and guarantees human freedom even in a culture all too familiar with the concept of slavery. The Year of Jubilee is an example of how the Lord gives rules intended, not to bind to unreasonable laws, but to protect the weak from unscrupulous people of means. Of course, there are some neat spiritual parallels. In Luke four Jesus proclaims his ministry to be “the year of the Lord’s favor.” His ministry is a Jubilee sort of ministry in which things are made right and those held captive by sin are set free. The Israelites may have never put the Jubilee concept into practice, but to our benefit Jesus the Messiah does just that.
Take Away: In Christ we are set free and things are made right.
The Ten Commandments
Exodus 20: I am God, your God.
And so it begins. This God who spoke to Moses through the burning bush, this God who brought the plagues to Egypt in securing their freedom, this God who delivered them at the Red Sea now describes how they’re to live. He didn’t bring them up out of Egypt so they could do their own thing, living as they pleased. The Lord God brought them out of slavery to be his own people. Their relationship to their God is going to be very different than the Egyptians relationship with their gods. The very first thing their Redeemer does is state Ten Commandments to them. These Commandments are just as focused on how a man treats his neighbor as how a man relates to his God. In this new relationship with the Almighty they’ll treat the Lord with absolute reverence, but they’ll also treat one another with respect, honesty, and fairness. One doesn’t have to be Jewish or Christian to recognize the brilliance of the Ten Commandments. In just a few words the foundation is laid for a God-fearing and just society. To this day there’s no finer expression of how society can function at its best. This gift from God to his people is every bit as impressive as was his parting the Red Sea for them.
Take Away: We can find no better set of rules for living than what we find in the Ten Commandments.
The blood of the martyrs
Revelation 6: I saw the souls of those killed because they had held firm in their witness to the Word of God.
The seals unveil future events, although readers though the centuries have been all over the place in their understanding of just what it is John is seeing. Perhaps the broad view is the best one. History is marching to a climax and as that climax draws near the world’s going to experience powerful and disturbing events. As the fifth seal is removed we see those martyred for their faithfulness to the Lord. In John’s day people are already suffering for their faith. John, himself, in fact, is exiled from the church. However, things are going to get worse. Many will die on the floor of the Coliseum in Rome. History, in fact, will see many faithful Christians die as martyrs. Sad to say, it continues to this day. John hears their voices as they cry out for justice. They’re told that the day of justice is coming. As I think about these who’ve followed Jesus even into death I feel small and insignificant. I confess that I’m hardly worthy to share the name “Christian” with them. I don’t want to forget that my heritage of faith has been a costly one. I don’t want to forget those who, even as I write these words, are paying a dear price for standing firm in their faith. At the same time, the promise of this passage speaks to my heart today. These have already been given “white robes” – honored in heaven. The day will come when the books will be balanced and justice will prevail. It doesn’t take my feeling any sense of vengeance at all for me to say, if God is just, then he’ll “avenge their murders.”
Take Away: The justice of the Lord demands that things be set right, and that day is, indeed, coming.
I’ll see you in court!
1Corinthians 6: Just because something is technically legal doesn’t mean that it’s spiritually appropriate.
One of the bones Paul has to pick with the Corinthians is that some of them have taken fellow Christians to court. He’s shocked, disgusted, and angered that Christians would drag their disagreements to court to be judged by non-believers. For one thing, it undermines the influence of the gospel. For another, it surrenders God’s way in favor of man’s way. Paul labels this action as “stupid.” This, he declares, isn’t the way Christians are to behave. Someone might respond that it’s the only way they can get justice. The Apostle says that being wronged is better than wounding the cause of Christ. It’s on this point that he makes his most powerful argument on this topic: an action might be legal but that doesn’t make it appropriate for God’s people. Out in the world filing a lawsuit might be considered business as usual, but among God’s people doing such a thing is inappropriate. I think it’s sad that Christians ever part ways. We’re supposed to be branded by our love for one another. If it happens though, we aren’t to handle things the world’s way. As Paul points out, surely there’s someone in the body of Christ that both sides respect. Surely they can turn to them for help in straightening things out. If not, sometimes it’s better to take the short end of the stick and trust God with the long term results. I feel compelled to add here that there are times when Christians are dragged into court against their will, or must seek justice in their dealings with non-believers. At such times we have every right to defend ourselves and seek justice in every legal way possible. In fact, Paul does that in the book of Acts. Even then, though, he concludes that his current legal problems are being used of God to advance his Kingdom. Again, though, just because something’s legal that doesn’t mean that, for the believer, its right.
Take Away: God’s people follow a higher way.
Standing alone if necessary
Zephaniah 2: Seek God, all you quietly disciplined people.
The nation the prophet addresses is filled with sinful, guilty people. However, there’s another, much smaller group. Zephaniah knows that there’s a minority that has humbled themselves before the Lord. They’ve been meek when chastised by God and have quietly accepted his discipline. They’ve been an oasis of justice in an unjust land. Now, Zephaniah says, the Lord is about to bring an end to all the rebellion. God’s man advises those who have swam against the tide to focus their attention on the Lord and center their lives on doing the right thing even if they’re alone in doing it. In this day, I can’t force everyone to do the right thing but that doesn’t stop me from righteous living. I want to influence everyone I can for Christ, but whether or not I’m successful in that, I can commit myself to walk in the ways of the Lord. Zephaniah is certain that the “Day of God’s anger” is coming but he’s also convinced that there is a way of living that prepares us for that sure day.
Take Away: As Joshua of old says: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Good news for people who don’t find harp playing especially attractive
Obadiah 1: A rule that honors God’s kingdom.
The final words of Obadiah’s prophecy describe a coming golden age in which God’s people will be restored to their homeland. Beyond that, they’ll live righteously, in sync with the Lord’s purposes for them. Because of that they’ll be put in charge, ruling even over their old enemies of Edom. Their rule will not be that of a conquering nation, grinding their enemies into the ground, but a fair and just one, representative of their God who loves all human beings. I find it interesting that the Apostle Paul reflects this concept in his second letter to Timothy. Paul writes: “If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.” At the very beginning of the Bible I see Adam and Eve who are placed in dominion over the earth. In this passage from Obadiah, I find a promised brighter day in which God’s people rule justly, throwing off the old animosities. Then, I see Paul looking forward to the return of Christ and his righteous people ruling with him. I don’t claim to understand all that might include, but it sounds like God has more in store for his people than merely sitting on a cloud playing a harp.
Take Away: As a people of the Lord we’re to reflect his love for all human beings.
Amos 5: You talk about God…being your best friend.
I was talking to a car salesperson about a car. He was a friendly guy, a bit rough around the edges, using a few words I don’t have in my vocabulary. Then, he asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was the pastor of a church. Guess what happened? Suddenly, he was a very faithful Christian man. He told me about his church and his pastor and some words disappeared from the conversation. Amos complains about people who claim God as their best friend but live very different lives than what the Lord demands. The big issue to Amos is how the poor are treated. He says that in his society “justice is a lost cause” and people are “kicking the poor when they’re down.” God’s man says that won’t cut it. I can’t expect to get away with giving the Almighty lip service while ignoring his directions on how I’m to live. Amos says, “You talk about God, the God-of-the-Angel-Armies, being your best friend. Well, live like it, and maybe it will happen.” By, the way, I bought my car elsewhere.
Take Away: Live like it.