I have a few questions
2Kings 20: I’ve just added fifteen yours to your life.
This incident gives us a lot to think about. Hezekiah’s sick and Isaiah comes to him with the news that God says he won’t recover. When Hezekiah pleads with the Lord, Isaiah returns with the news that God has heard his prayer and is going to add 15 years to his life. Also, Isaiah orders medicinal help in the form of a fig plaster. Hezekiah (foolishly brave if you ask me) asks for some kind of sign and Isaiah offers him a choice of the shadow on the sundial moving forward or backward. The king says, “Back” and that’s just what happens. As I said, there’s a lot to think about here. For instance, there’s the fig plaster. Did God give Isaiah a remedy for the illness or is Isaiah just having those caring for Hezekiah do something to bring relief until the healing takes place? These days the church often prays that God will “direct the surgeon’s hands” as an operation is performed. Is that similar to Isaiah saying God will heal but then ordering medicine as well? Then there’s the shadow of the sundial. When this happens it’s seen as a miracle, but now, with our knowledge of the nature of the world, it stands as one of the greatest miracles of the Bible. Talking about “moving heaven and earth” to accomplish something takes on a whole new meaning when I read this account! Then there’s the 15 years. Hezekiah, by my math, is probably 39 years young when this happens. The 15 years will take him all the way to the ripe old age of 54. His broken heart at the prospect of dying in the prime of his life is a very human response. The additional 15 years basically gives him a “normal” life span for that day and age. Is it reasonable for a person to plead with God for more time, a longer life? At what point does a person say, “God’s will be done – I’m ready to go if he chooses to take me”? We see in the story that later on, when emissaries from distant Babylon visit that Hezekiah foolishly shows them all the wealth of his kingdom. Isaiah tells him that he’s made a major mistake that will result in his own descendants being carried off as captives. Hezekiah more or less brushes it off. Had he died would this chain of events still happen? Does God answer one prayer that opens the way for disaster later on? Sorry, but I don’t have the answers. However, as you can see, I have plenty of questions!
Take Away: Some issues in the Bible that don’t make or break our faith are fun to think about.
Apples or fish
2Kings 4: They not only ate, but had leftovers.
During our Lord’s ministry some of the people think Jesus is possibly one of the prophets of old, resurrected from the dead. It might be that they’re thinking of this incident. In fact, Luke’s report of the suggestion that Jesus is a resurrected prophet comes right after Jesus feeds the five thousand. In this case Elisha feeds, not thousands, but a hundred; and not with bread and fish but with bread and apples. It’s a different day in which a different man provides and different main course. But it’s the same God. Because of that the lessons are the same. One lesson is that “little is much when God is in it.” Another is that I can trust the Lord with my meager resources; he can make better use of them than I can anyway. Whether I’m thinking about Elisha or Jesus or apples or fish it’s good to be reminded that when I give my all to the Lord he does wonderful things.
Take Away: The Lord takes the little bit that’s our all and does more with it than we ever could.
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.
The sacrifice of spiritual power
1Kings 19: Exhausted, he fell asleep.
Personally, if all I had from Elijah’s story was his confrontation with Ahab, Jezebel, and the prophets of Baal I think I’d be impressed with him but he wouldn’t be one of my favorites in the Bible. In fact, he just might scare me a bit as a bigger-than-life prayer warrior and miracle worker. It’s his humanity that draws me to him. This man prays down fire, out-runs chariots, and then, in fear, runs for his life out to the loneliness of the desert. It’s here that he collapses in the shade of a bush and gives notice to God that he’s ready to die. While I’m in awe of his power on Mount Carmel I just feel sorry for him out here past Beersheba, alone in the desert. As I look at him here I see that he isn’t some kind of superman at all. He’s an ordinary man who trusts God with all his heart and, in so doing, gets way out of his comfort zone! Doing all that stuff takes all his energy. Now, with nothing left, he first runs, then cries out to God that he’s had enough. It’s when I see that doing all these impressive things is terribly hard for this man that I more fully appreciate what he does.
Take Away: Spiritual giants are, in the end, ordinary people with an extraordinary trust in the Lord.
A miracle working God
1Kings 17: The jar of flour will not run out and the bottle of oil will not become empty….
The drought brought about by the judgment of God is a hardship for everyone. Elijah goes into hiding and for a time God sends ravens to feed him. Now, as the drought brings famine to the land, the man of God is sent to Zarephath for long-term lodging. The widow there is nearly out of food and about to surrender to starvation when Elijah shows up. He makes the startling promise that as long as the drought continues she won’t run out of oil or flour. And that’s how it is. For the duration of the ordeal God supplies the need. It’s good to know that God is the Way Maker in our lives. Only he can make something out of nothing. I need to be careful to not be so blinded by my circumstances that I count God out. Generally speaking, he works through the normal course of life to bless us, but he’s not limited to that. If necessary, he can work his purposes by suspending the laws of Creation and performing miracles. That’s the God I serve!
Take Away: Never count God out.
The Bible’s strong man
Judges 14: A young lion came at him, roaring. The Spirit of God came on him powerfully and he ripped it open barehanded.
Samson is the “strong man” of the Bible. When artists depict him, they always draw him as a muscle man. Frankly, I doubt it. Remember that his enemies try to discover the secret of his strength. If he’s built like a super hero they wouldn’t do that. I think he’s of average build and that the only physical characteristic that makes him stand out in a crowd is hair; hair, and lots of it: long, flowing hair on his head and on his face. This guy has never had a razor used on him. His nickname could be “Harry!” The key to his strength is tied into his faithfulness to God. And, in his case, the symbol of that faithfulness is uncut hair. Really, I don’t even see evidence that Samson is always strong. It’s when the “Spirit of God comes on him” that he’s strong. The rest of the time, he’s just an ordinary, hairy guy. Thinking devotionally here, I’m reminded that it’s when the Spirit of God moves in my life that I move into the realm of extraordinary possibilities. I may not be “more powerful than a locomotive” but, when the Spirit of God is directing and empowering, I can do whatever it is the Lord wants me to do.
Take Away: The Lord gives us whatever capability he needs for us to have to accomplish his purposes.
A good story
Judges 13: The angel of God appeared to her.—
The set up for the story of Samson begins with the visitation of an angel. Manoah’s wife (unnamed in the Bible) is minding her own business when the angel appears to inform her that she’s going to have a baby boy. The child is to be raised under a strict code including his partaking of no fruit of the vine or ever having his hair cut. While the Nazirite vow was introduced in Numbers 6 this is the first time we hear of anyone actually under that vow and his case is (obviously) extraordinary. Not only does his being under the Nazirite vow set up the unique “haircut” feature of the story of Samson there’s also the fact that in Samson’s case being a Nazirite is not so much a vow as it is a lifetime assignment. His faithfulness to this vow is such a big deal that the angel has arrived early to stop his mother from drinking or doing anything that would constitute a breaking of the vow while Samson is still in his mother’s womb! When Manoah asks the angel his name he’s told that it’s a name beyond his vocabulary and comprehension. Then, as a burnt offering is made, the angel suddenly blends into the flames and ascends heavenward. It’s all very impressive and fun to read and think about. In fact, that’s all I’m doing with this passage because I don’t have a compelling devotional point to make. Sometimes a good story is just a good story!
Take Away: Most of God’s people just live their lives without visions or miracles. When those things happen, though, we have a story worth repeating.
Stopping the sun
Joshua 10: The sun stopped in its tracks in mid sky; just sat there all day.
Because of the significant military victories of the Israelite army, word of their success has spread like wildfire through the area. These residents of Canaan are cruel, child sacrificing, warring peoples, but some unite in an effort to stop the advance of Joshua and his army. The battle that ensues is a momentous one. In one fight they’ll either gain a decisive advantage or be beaten back. It’s during this battle that Joshua asks for an unbelievable favor from God. He asks that the sun stand still so that they can continue to fight while they have the advantage. God answers and the sun stops in the sky as the battle rages. Of course, the impossibility of that actually happening is clearer to me than it is to Joshua, who doesn’t understand anything at all about the solar system. I’m no scientist, but I know that if the sun stood still that it would mean the earth quit rotating, and if the earth stopped turning…well, it would be the end of the world. Needless to say, I would never pray the prayer Joshua prayed — I’m too educated to do that. But here we have poor, ignorant Joshua asking for something that couldn’t possibly happen. What’s that? You say that the Bible says it did happen? Listen, I have no idea of how God could stop the sun in the sky without the entire solar system crashing. It’s such a big miracle that I, even with my limited knowledge, could never pray for it. Joshua doesn’t know that the earth is round and is spinning and is orbiting around the sun. All he knows is that he needs a miracle from God. And that, my friend, is the whole point. Sometimes I need to throw out all the facts and hold on to the only real Fact, God, Himself. I need to be careful that I’m not so “smart” that God can’t do for me what he wants to do. Take Away: God specializes in doing the impossible and he doesn’t need for me to explain to him what he can or can’t do.
Exodus 14: The Israelites walked right through the middle of the sea on dry ground.
The crossing of the Red Sea is a vivid, unforgettable event. We don’t need Charlton Heston and the magic of Hollywood to picture for us something spectacular happening. Moses lifts his staff over the waters and the wind begins to blow, splitting the sea. Then, after a night of waiting, the order is given to move out and over 600,000 people walk through that canyon of water, arriving safely on the other side. The rest of their lives they’ll remember that experience, and well they should. Big events, powerful evidences of God, don’t happen every day, although this generation of Israelites is going to see way more than the rest of us. I’ve never seen the sea part or anything else that could be labeled “spectacular.” However, I’ve experienced some personal encounters with the Lord that have shaped my life. No, I’m not going to write about them here…they’re my precious memories and not for public consumption. However, like those Israelites of old, I warmly remember them and they have defined my life. I don’t need to see daily miracles to keep on believing but I’m both thankful for and humbled by what I have seen and experienced.
Take Away: Our personal divine encounters may not be as spectacular as those in Scripture, but they define our lives.