Good versus evil
Esther 3: When Haman saw for himself that Mordecai didn’t bow down and kneel before him, he was outraged.
The final person we meet in the story of Esther is Haman. Every good story needs a villain and Haman fits the role quite well. He has it all: pride, revenge, selfishness, godless ambition. Haman rises to a position of great power in government and he expects all the perks that come with power. He especially likes it when the “little people” bow and scrape before him. And that is what sets this story in motion. Each time Haman arrives at the palace to see the King he enters the gate with a flourish. Everyone plays along except for one senior adult Jew. Mordecai doesn’t think Haman is worth honoring and his refusal to pay homage infuriates him. He could respond by killing Mordecai but Haman has grander ambitions than that. He knows Mordecai is a Jew, so he schemes a way to do away with the whole Jewish population. Haman and Mordecai are polar opposites. Haman’s a very bad man and Mordecai’s a very good man who loves and serves God with all his heart. It’s a classic conflict: good versus evil.
Take Away: Evil is real and it’s especially evident in the presence of good.
Pride goes before a fall
2 Chronicles 26: Arrogant and proud, he fell.
Uzziah is just a teen when he becomes king of Judah. By and large, he does a good job as king and his long reign is a good one for his nation. From the beginning he seeks God. The Lord is pleased with him and blesses his life with successful building projects and a strong army. Then, when it seems Uzziah will be one of the rare kings who have nothing but positive things on their record something ugly happens. His successes go to Uzziah’s head. We don’t know the full story but Uzziah decides, like Saul did many generations earlier, to take over the worship activities. He takes the one role in the nation that’s denied him – going into the Temple and acting as priest of God. The legitimate priests, descendants of Aaron, try to stop Uzziah, but he ignores them. With the holy censor in hand, he refuses to hear the objections of the priests. Then, God objects, and when he objects, he can’t be ignored. The dreaded disease of leprosy breaks out on Uzziah’s hand as he holds the censor. This is God’s judgment. It’s too bad isn’t it. Uzziah comes so far and does so many things right. His downfall comes, not as a result of some big temptation or some great threat. Instead, it’s brought about by his success. When things are going right and it’s clear that God is blessing us we need to remember Uzziah. Here we see a lesson in how success can lead to failure.
Take Away: The distance from impressive success to dismal failure is shorter than we might think.
I was w-w-w-wrong
2 Chronicles 25: But what about all this money – these tons of silver I have already paid out to hire these men?
The “chronicler” starts off telling us that Amaziah “lives well” and “does the right thing” and then begins an accounting of all the foolish blunders he makes. It’s likely that Amaziah handled things just fine until things begin to unravel near the end of his reign. At one point he’s preparing for war. After numbering his army he concludes that he needs more soldiers so he turns to Israel for help, paying a great deal of money to mercenary soldiers to fight on his side. However, the Lord sends word to him that this is a huge mistake. These soldiers won’t be helped by the Lord because they don’t trust in him. Amaziah’s response is reasonable. He wants to know about all the money he’s already spent on these fighters. The man of God reminds him that it’s better to have God’s help than it is to have a bigger army. The king yields, writing off the wages already spent as a bad investment. This account doesn’t earn Amaziah stellar marks, but it does earn him a passing grade. Failure, in this case, would have been throwing good money after bad. The lesson here is one well learned. Those of us who are of a strong will tend to lock our jaws and press on even when it’s more and more apparent that we shouldn’t have started down a certain path in the first place. Our argument is the same one the king used: “I’ve come too far and invested too much to turn back now.” No one believes in perseverance more than I do, but sometimes perseverance is just a flimsy cover up for pride. At some point a heaping helping of humble pie is in order. “I thought I was right and that this would work, but I was wrong.” Write it off and get on with life.
Take Away: Better to write off a loss than to compound the situation by doubling down on a bad decision.
We are family
2 Samuel 19: Because the king is related to us, that’s why!
David is a part of the tribe of Judah and as he victoriously returns to Jerusalem following the defeat of Absalom it’s the warriors from Judah who lead the way. This doesn’t sit too well with the other tribes, collectively called “Israel.” Ultimately, the rivalry between these “brothers” will result in one kingdom becoming two. For now, the seeds of the coming division are seen in arguing about who is most loyal to David. Shortly, Sheba of the tribe of Benjamin will try to divide Israel from Judah, but David’s forces will put down his rebellion. For now, we focus on the response of the men of Judah to the complaint that they’re being overly possessive of King David. Their answer is simple enough: “he’s related to us.” They feel a special connection to David and real pride in his leadership. Because of that, they want to stick as close to him as possible. As Christians, we feel that way about our King. We’ve been adopted into his family. He’s our Master and Savior, but he’s also our Brother. We want to stay as close to him as possible. After all, we are family.
Take Away: I’m glad I’m part of the family of God!
Speaking the truth in humility
Isaiah 65: There are still plenty of good apples left.
Even as Isaiah reports that the Lord’s running out of patience with the stubborn resistance of many, he reminds us that God’s very aware of those who live obedient, faithful lives. The nation of Israel is about to go through a culling. Many will face the wrath of God but others will be preserved by his grace. Frankly, from the devotional side of things I’m not sure what to do with passages like this. Am I to be somewhat frightened and spend a few moments doing a personal spiritual inventory? Am I to take on Isaiah’s role and start warning those “sinners” that the clock on God’s mercy is running out? I guess the answer is somewhere in the middle. I never arrive at the place where I’m above consideration of my own spiritual condition. Just a quick of reading the gospels reminds me that it’s spiritual pride that’s the downfall of the religious people of Jesus’ day. On the other hand, if I’m going to be effective in both warning and inviting the “outsiders” to come to the Lord I must do so in a sense of humility. Otherwise, I’ll drive them away from both myself and their Savior.
Take Away: Always deal with lost people with a strong sense of personal humility.
Do you want fries with that?
Proverbs 29: If you let people treat you like a doormat, you’ll be quite forgotten in the end.
Not long ago we stopped off at a fast food restaurant for a quick burger. I was taken with the quiet confidence and good nature of the young lady who took our order. The job she’s doing isn’t the highest paying, but she’s doing it with real class. Like many people who are “flipping burgers” that job is just a temporary stopping point for her along the way. The point of this proverb isn’t that we’re to demand respect, refusing to be anyone’s doormat. Instead, it’s that we’re to do whatever it is we do with excellence and pride and that will, in itself, demand respect. Those who think they’re “saving” their best for some dream job and just “getting by,” giving the least effort possible in some temporary place in life, are the ones who are accepting the “doormat” position in life. That young lady who was asking “would you like to super-size that order?” gets it and I seriously doubt she’s in danger of being forgotten in the end.
Take Away: A person can do whatever they do with class – and when they do, people take note.