2 Chronicles 16: You were foolish to go for human help when you could have had God’s help.
These words are addressed to the man who prayed the wonderful prayer of 1 Chronicles 14. Now 26 years have passed and Asa’s nation is once again threatened. This time, though, he turns to the king of Aram for help, sending a “king’s ransom” to him in exchange for his support in the war. The combined force of Judah and their hired army is victorious and the enemy is defeated. As Asa celebrates this God’s man Hanani shows up. He tells Asa that God’s not pleased with him. In fact, the Lord’s insulted that Asa would trust in Ben-Hadad instead of himself. The consequence will be a series of wars, one round after another. I wonder if I, like Asa, insult the Almighty. Do I turn anywhere but heavenward in dealing with the issues of life? The very same God who saw me through in the past stands ready to see me through the issues of this day. In fact, that’s his preference! The Lord doesn’t say, “When you’ve tried everything else without success, I’ll help you.” Instead, his message is a wonderful word of commitment. He promises that if I call he’ll answer. God doesn’t want to be my last chance. Rather, he wants to be my Partner in every issue of life.
Take Away: Don’t make God your last resource…he wants to be your first.
On the solid rock I stand
1 Chronicles 28: Don’t be anxious or get discouraged. God, my God, is with you in this; he won’t walk off and leave you in the lurch.
The job David is leaving his son is a big one. He must lead Israel and he must build a Temple for the worship of Jehovah God. David wants his son to know that God is utterly dependable. Others will deliberately or accidentally let him down but God remains faithful all the way. With that in mind David wants Solomon to put his weight fully and firmly on his God, and for him to keep it there. That’s good advice to a young man who’s about to become king but it is also good advice for you and for me. Everything and everyone else in life is destined to disappoint us sooner or later. Only the Lord is fully trustworthy. If I look anywhere else, I’ll find plenty of reasons to be anxious and discouraged. In the Lord I find my Rock.
Take Away: We need to pass our faith on to our children – they will need it just as much as we’ve needed it.
There’s a time for simple faith
1 Chronicles 21: I want to know the number.
The story of David’s census of Israel has always been a bit puzzling to me. David is king and it’s certainly reasonable that a king have an idea of the population of his kingdom. After doing some reading about this, I’ve decided that it’s not the census that displeases God. Rather, it’s the purpose of it. Throughout his life David has been delivered by the Lord again and again. This census is designed to count the number of fighting men who are available to him. In other words, rather than trusting God to be his protector, David’s numbering his potential army. When I remember that this is late in David’s life I conclude that this might be an acceptable thing for someone less experienced with God but it’s not acceptable for David. Or put more simply, David’s old enough to know better. God expects us to mature in our relationship with him. For instance, in Matthew 16 Jesus reprimands his disciples for their lack of faith. He tells them that they’ve seen the 5000 and then the 4000 fed and it’s time to for them to get a handle on the fact that God supplies the needs of our lives, both physical and spiritual. As I read the story of David’s census I see that, as a person who’s seen his share of what God can do I’m expected to trust him more, and if I won’t do that, God will be displeased with me.
Take Away: The Lord expects us to grow in our relationship with him – to learn to trust him more – to be more and more secure in our walk with him.
I’ll just trust God anyway.
1 Chronicles 13: God erupted in anger against Uzziah and killed him because he grabbed the Chest.
The death of Uzziah is shocking to me even as it is to David in this passage. They’re doing a good thing, bringing the Chest of God back from obscurity to its rightful place of honor in Jerusalem. Everyone agrees that it’s “the right thing to do.” For transport they go so far as to build a brand new cart and David and others lead the way in a joyful procession. It’s at the threshing floor in Kidon that disaster strikes. The oxen pulling the cart stumble and Uzziah, who is, it seems, somehow involved in the mechanical part of the move reaches out and touches the Ark to steady it. That’s when the shocking thing happens. God strikes Uzziah dead for showing a lack of reverence for this holy object. If you expect me to explain all this away I’m afraid I must disappoint you. Even David who’s right there is frightened by what he’s just seen. He decides to put the Ark in the building there, unwilling to bring it to Jerusalem. It may be that Uzziah didn’t really need to steady the Ark and only used the incident as an excuse to reach out and touch it. After all, everyone knew that the Ark was to be carried with poles so that the Levites who were entrusted with the task wouldn’t ever actually touch it. However, that’s just speculation. Ultimately I’m left with my belief that God’s character is pure love and that he never acts in a way contrary to his character. This situation, like a million others, is beyond me. It’s another of those “I’ll just trust God anyway” situations we find in both the Bible and in our own lives.
Take Away: Happily, our salvation isn’t based on knowledge, but is, rather, based on faith.
What to do after God answers
2Kings 19: And Hezekiah prayed — oh, how he prayed!
Through Isaiah Hezekiah receives an encouraging word from the Lord. God is at work even as Sennacherib issues his threat against Judah. Things are going to be okay because God says they’ll be okay. Soon thereafter Sennacherib has to turn his attention to another battle line, but before doing so, he sends Hezekiah another message which is intended to scare him witless. Whether it succeeds in scaring him or not, I do not know, but it certainly gets his attention. Rather than running and hiding, Hezekiah goes to prayer. Taking the letter from the King of Assyria to the Temple he spreads it out before God and begins pouring his heart out to the Lord. The answer comes sooner and not later. A messenger arrives from Isaiah with word that God has heard his plea, and that God has an answer for Sennacherib; an answer that should scare him witless! Well, this all makes for good biblical drama; fine devotional reading from which I can glean lessons to apply to my life. However, today I’m reminded that on this day so long ago this isn’t just a story from out of a Book as far as Hezekiah is concerned. There’s a real and powerful enemy who intends to kill him and massacre his people. When I see him going to pray I see a man desperate beyond words, and when I hear God answer him through Isaiah, I know that the story isn’t all wrapped up with a neat bow at that point. Now that Hezekiah is hearing from God he must do what may be the hardest part of all: he must believe. It’s one thing to read stuff like this in the Old Testament but another to see it really work in our lives. What do I do when a sad doctor is saying that there’s nothing else to be done, yet some uncertain messenger from God is saying otherwise? Even when I want to believe it isn’t all that easy. Hezekiah cries out to God and God answers. The rest of the story is that, when God answers, Hezekiah believes.
Take Away: Believing takes effort and is an act of the will. We choose to believe.
What to do when you face a giant
2Kings 19: Maybe God, your God, won’t let him get by with such talk.
Even though Hezekiah has tried to mend relations with Sennacherib king of Assyria it’s too late. Having whipped into shape several other countries that attempted to break away, Sennacherib returns his attention to Judah. A representative is sent, not to broker a deal, but to call for complete surrender. That representative is named Rabshaketh and, in an attempt to frighten the people of Jerusalem into rebellion against Hezekiah he not only insults Hezekiah and his small army, but he insults the God Hezekiah serves. This situation is filled with military, political, and historical elements but we read the story from a spiritual viewpoint. Earlier Hezekiah’s father, Ahaz, yielded to Assyria and even installed a new altar at the Temple modeled on one used for idol worship in Damascus. When Hezekiah comes to power he not only refuses to pay tribute, but he gets rid of that altar and all the shrines and altars to the pagan gods. Even when he agrees to resume paying tribute to Sennacherib, his removal of the pagan altar is seen as a refusal to be the lap dog to Sennacherib. Because of that, the insults by Rabshaketh focus on God Jehovah. Now, Hezekiah faces absolute destruction from the giant Assyrian army. He turns to the man of God, Isaiah, asking for prayer and direction. He thinks that perhaps God will take up his cause, especially in light of the way Rabshaketh has insulted the Almighty. Facing the impossible, he turns to the One who specializes in doing the impossible. And, he isn’t disappointed.
Take Away: We don’t want to make enemies but to, instead, live in peace with all people. However, if we have to make enemies, let’s make them for the right reasons.
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.
Better think twice before mocking bald men
2Kings 2: Elisha turned, took one look at them, and cursed them.
This story makes me uncomfortable. Some children mock Elisha, the man of God, so he curses them resulting in two bears coming out of the woods and killing 42 of them. What’s this all about anyway? Some Bible scholars I’ve read say that “children” is not the only meaning of the Hebrew word used. It can mean “servants” and can refer, not to 7-year-olds, but to young people and even young adults. However, reading that a group of 20-year-old servants mock Elisha and he curses them doesn’t do much to solve my discomfort with this incident. So what do I do with this passage? I think I have to just read it and go on, believing that there’s something happening here that I don’t get. I have to conclude that I’m missing some vital bit of information that would help me make sense of the passage. It isn’t unusual to have to deal with life issues that way. For instance, someone tells me that a person for whom I have great respect has done something totally out of character. I can’t defend what they’ve done but I can conclude that I don’t know the whole story. Perhaps, if I did, it would make sense to me. So, as I come to this passage I read something that doesn’t fit in with what I know about God: that “God is love,” holy and righteous. I can’t explain it, but instead of making me doubt God, it just reminds me that I don’t know the whole story about this or about another million or so issues of life.
Take Away: Sometimes I have to admit I don’t understand things and rely on the character of the Lord.
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.
Sometimes I just don’t get it
2 Samuel 12: The son born to you will die.
I hope this doesn’t sound disrespectful, but I really dislike this passage. I struggle with the result of David’s sin being the death of this innocent child. I wish I had some nifty, easy-to-swallow answer that fits neatly into my understanding of God, but I don’t. I can just barely reach out and grasp the concept that God is the Giver of Life and that he can take that gift by his own sovereignty. That doesn’t really solve my problem with this passage although it causes me to acknowledge that God is God and that this is all under his authority. David prays and fasts that his son might be spared, asking God to show him mercy. He knows that God is merciful, so there’s hope that it might just happen. But it doesn’t and the child dies. If you think I’m about to come up with some devotional gem here, well, I’m sorry to disappoint, but I have nothing. That doesn’t stop me from believing that “God is love” and that he’s a compassionate and merciful God. All I can do is confess my failure to understand and go on trusting in the good character of the Lord. Frankly, this isn’t as isolated a situation as I would like it to be. Still, I go on trusting in those situations too.
Take Away: Even when we don’t understand we can trust. Actually, that’s a definition of faith.