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.
When the church isn’t at church
2Kings 17: They don’t really worship God.
After defeating and exiling Israel the king of Assyria relocates other people from under his rule to the now empty land. At first, these settlers ignore Jehovah God, but it becomes apparent that the Almighty is not going to allow that. A priest is brought back to teach them how to worship God. However, they only add worshiping the God of the exiled people to their list of gods to worship. In fact, we’re told, they don’t really worship God at all. How do we know that? The writer proves his point by saying that they don’t take seriously what God says about how to live and what to believe. Apparently, just doing the right things in a worship service isn’t sufficient so far as God is concerned. He’s just as interested in how people live, how they relate to one another, and what they really believe as he is with whether or not they can put on a proper worship service. What I do outside of church is just as important to God as what I do inside the church.
Take Away: Worship is defined as much by what I do outside the church as what I do inside it.
Trading bronze for gold
1Kings 14: King Rehoboam replaced them with bronze shields.
Solomon’s son Rehoboam sits on the throne of Judah, sovereign of what’s left of his father’s great kingdom. While it’s true that rival Israel is worse off than Judah, both of these kingdoms are unraveling. Up in Jerusalem, idol worship is taking root and a mixture of Jehovah and idol worship is common. When Egyptian forces raid Jerusalem and carry off the gold shields that Solomon made, Rehoboam simply replaces them with bronze shields. They’re not as beautiful as the gold ones, but they’ll have to do. Rehoboam orders that these substitute shields are to only be used for special occasions and kept in storage the rest of the time. I think this substitution of bronze shields for gold ones reflects what’s happening in the life of the people of Judah. Under David and Solomon they had the “gold” as they worshiped the God who had brought them to this land in the first place. Now, though, they settle for a cheap substitute. Those shields aren’t the real deal but they look a lot like the gold ones. How often do we substitute bronze for gold in our own lives? We could have the real deal, but we settle for a mere replica instead. Many years in the future Jesus will tell us that God is looking for people who want to worship “in truth.” I’ve already decided that I have no time or patience for just going through the motions. I want to know God, to live in him, and to experience him. I won’t settle for “bronze” when “gold” is available.
Take Away: The Lord’s best is simply “the best” – nothing else even comes close.
How far is too far?
1Kings 12: It’s too much trouble for you to go to Jerusalem to worship.
Jeroboam is now king of Israel with Rehoboam left with only the loyal tribe of Judah. Jeroboam immediately realizes that Rehoboam holds one powerful trump card. He has the Temple. Even though the people have made him king, his subjects will still go to Jerusalem to worship. Once they’re in Jerusalem they’ll be reminded of David and Solomon. When that happens, they’ll remember that Rehoboam sits on the throne of these two great men. He solves this problem by turning his back on God and the Temple. How does he convince these worshipers of Jehovah to abandon worship at the Temple built in his Name? He does so by telling them that it’s too much trouble to travel to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple. By keeping them away from the Temple he keeps them out of Judah, and by doing that, he keeps them away from Rehoboam’s influence. Of course it’s a blatant sin. The people, though, go along with his suggestion. I understand the temptation because, like them, I like convenience. I like having a remote control for my TV, a microwave oven, a garage door opener. I even like having my church less than a mile from my house. Still, there are some things that are worth inconvenience. I’ll drive extra distance to see the doctor in whom I have confidence and I will go out of my way to spend some time with my grandchildren. Am I willing to be inconvenienced to worship God? Do I want a worship experience that isn’t too much trouble, or do I want to really connect with God Almighty? What value do I place on having a genuine worship experience? Thanks, but no thanks, Jeroboam. I think I’ll just go on making that trip to Jerusalem!
Take Away: If we have to choose between convenience and God, well, the choice is obvious.
1Kings 8: The glory of God filled The Temple of God!
The painstaking work of constructing the Temple is complete. It’s a truly impressive structure with every detail perfect. This house of worship is one of the wonders of the world. But that’s the least of the story. What really matters is what happens next. As the dedication service is about to begin God’s glory falls on the place. His glory is so powerful that it’s tangible. The Presence of God flows into and through the structure to the extent that the priests, who have assumed their assigned positions of service are driven out! Like a cloud, God’s glory has descended and the people are in reverent awe of the Lord. I’ve been in church services in my life in which God came in glory and majesty. The scale was much smaller, but I’ve tasted just enough to imagine what it’s like on this day. In less public moments God has touched my life and these are my most precious spiritual memories. I thank him for such wonderful encounters with the divine. Beyond that, I hunger for God to pour his glory out on me and on his church. Passages like this both warm my heart and rekindle a hunger for God in the depths of my spirit.
Take Away: There’s nothing like the presence of the Lord.
I’m part of this story
2 Samuel 7: God himself will build you a house!
For David, the sun’s finally beginning to shine. His long struggle with Saul has come to an end. The promise made to him when he was a mere shepherd has come to pass and he sits securely on the throne of Israel. Even the Ark of the Covenant is now at rest in the city called the “City of David.” David’s comfortable and settled and he wants the same for the precious Chest of God, so he proposes the first ever permanent worship structure, a Temple, for Israel. To his surprise God says “no.” It isn’t that the Lord’s against the building of such a place but this is not the time. Still, God’s pleased with David and he tells him so. David will become one of the most famous people in the world. He’ll reign in peace and when his days on earth are over it will be one of his own offspring who will rule Israel. Even as the Lord fully rejected Saul he now fully accepts David. His family will rule Israel forever. David doesn’t know it, but he’s just heard the promise of the Messiah. One of his descendants will be King of kings and Lord of lords. He’ll rule, not only Israel, but all of Creation — forever! I’m not a part of the people of Israel but, today, I’m a beneficiary of the promise God makes to David. That ultimate Ruler only hinted at in this passage is the Ruler of my life. How wonderful to read about an event that happened thousands of years ago and to suddenly find myself a part of the story!
Take Away: All those who live by faith have a place in the story of the people of the Lord.
Poor old Dagon didn’t have a chance
1 Samuel 5: They were shocked to find Dagon toppled from his place, flat on his face before the Chest of God.
The people of Israel aren’t much more spiritually aware than are the Philistines. When the Israelites get into a difficult battle they think that bringing out the Ark of the Covenant will bring them luck. However, it doesn’t work out that way. They’re soundly defeated and their enemies take the Ark, their most holy relic. Now, the story shifts to the Philistine city of Ashdod, the shrine of the idol Dagon. Someone has the bright idea of putting their new religious prize on display there with their idol. After a bit of rearranging the Ark is in its new place. To their surprise, when they visit the shrine the next morning their Dagon idol has toppled face down before the Ark. “I wonder how that happened?” someone asks in an unsteady voice. Dagon is stood up again. The following morning the priest of Dagon peeks around the corner and it’s happened again! This time, though, poor old Dagon’s in bad shape. His head and arms are broken off and he’s once again bowing before the Ark. Something has to be done and the decision is made, not to start worshipping the God of the Ark, but to get rid of it so that they can patch up poor old Dagon and prop him up back in his place again. It sounds dumb and in a sense it is. Still, they believe in national gods and the God of Israel, in their thinking, can never be theirs. The Chest has to go. As I read this interesting account I’m reminded that everything in my life must ultimately yield to God Almighty. Also, God isn’t a good luck charm. He’s the real deal and he insists that I live in a relationship with him.
Take Away: Ultimately everything in my life must bow before the Lord.
The Golden Ephod
Judges 8: Gideon made the gold into a sacred ephod and put it on display in his hometown.
Gideon and his army have won a great series of victories and now he returns home to a hero’s welcome. When the people want to honor him he asks for some of the gold earrings that were taken from the slain enemy. One has to read between the lines a bit but it seems Gideon’s intentions are good. He takes that gold and uses it in making a priestly garment called an “ephod.” In the history of the Israelites the ephod was worn by the high priest. It appears that this ephod isn’t intended to be worn; after all, it weighs around 100 pounds. Instead, it’s put on display as a reminder of all the Lord has done for them through Gideon. If this understanding is accurate this fancy “reminder” isn’t all that bad. However, it isn’t long before this object of remembrance becomes an object of worship. In fact, Gideon, himself, leads the way in bowing down before the Golden Ephod. How easy it is for us to elevate things to supreme importance while overlooking that which really matters. We church people debate music styles or building plans and worry about who will clean up after the potluck dinner (none of which are bad in themselves) while forgetting why we came to church in the first place. All the while, God is calling out to us, “Here I am, over here.” We miss his call for attention because we’re busy buffing our Golden Ephod.
Take Away: Ultimately, it’s all about the Lord and our relationship with him.
Now that I have your attention
Numbers 7: When Moses entered the Tent of Meeting to speak with God, he heard the Voice [of God]…He spoke with him.
One thing about these ancient Israelites: they know how to throw a party. The dedication of the Tent of Meeting lasts twelve days with each day having its own pageantry and symbolism. Each of the family tree groups gets a day of its own and as the days progress each family is connected to this sacred place. The offerings have been made and now Moses, instead of going up on the mountain to meet with God, enters the Most Holy Place in the new Worship Center to complete its dedication. In an awesome moment, there above the Covenant Chest and between the golden angels God’s Voice is heard. Wow! No longer will it take a trip up Mount Sinai for a meeting with the Lord. Instead, he comes to them, dwelling right there at the heart of their camp. It’s impressive to remember that this wasn’t Moses’ idea. The building and furnishing of the Tabernacle was initiated by the Lord, himself. The Israelites don’t have to figure out some way to get God’s attention. In fact, from the very beginning of their story it’s the Lord who has reached out to them, initiating a relationship with them. So it is to this day. It isn’t that I figure out just what I have to do to get God to respond to me. Instead, from the start, he reaches out to me, inviting me to be his very own. When I hear and respond I find that the Almighty is more than willing to allow me to connect my life to his.
Take Away: God has always been a communicating God.
Leviticus 10: Distinguish between the holy and the common, between the ritually clean and unclean.
It starts with another “fire” issue. Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu have failed to follow the Lord’s instructions concerning fire used in worship. The result is fire from Above! The fire of the wrath of God kills them. Things have calmed down a bit, and Moses warns everyone to not take the things of God lightly. Holy things must be treated as such; with reverence. If it’s possible to treat uncommon things as common and thus bring condemnation, it is just as possible to treat common things as uncommon. Our society specializes in that. Things that should be treated with absolute reverence are tossed aside as though they’re worthless. Silly things that are either simply common or worse are held up as shining objects of worship. My society does that with sports, entertainment, and so-called success. To treat the holy as common is sin that brings death. The same can be said of treating common things as holy.
Take Away: Priorities are critically important in all of life.