Monday, November 30, 2015

Folly affects many folks



2 Kings 23:28–25:30, Ephesians 6:1–24, Proverbs 9:13–18

Joash’s son and grandsons did evil in the sight of the Lord. God first put the first one, Jehoahaz, in bonds in Egypt and the leader of Egypt put a tribute on God’s people. It was 750 pounds of silver and 75 pounds of gold. In today’s prices, that would be about $185,000 or more. Jehoahaz died in Egypt.

The next king, Jehoiakim, continued to pay the tribute to the Pharaoh of Egypt, but he taxed the land and exacted the silver and the gold from the people. He died and his son, Jehoiachin ruled, also doing evil. During his reign, Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem and carried off all its treasures.

An uncle, Zedekiah, was put on the throne, but was eventually  captured. His sons were slaughtered before his eyes, then his eyes were put out. He was bound in chains and taken to Babylon.

Nebuchadnezzar sent men to Jerusalem where they burned the house of the Lord, the king’s house, and all the houses of Jerusalem. The city walls were broken and the rest of the people who were left in the city and the deserters who had deserted to the king of Babylon, together with the rest of the multitude, were carried into exile. But the captain of the guard left some of the poorest of the land to be vinedressers and plowmen. (2 Kings 25:11–12)

Nebuchadnezzar put Gedaliah in leadership. He told the exiled people: “Do not be afraid because of the Chaldean officials. Live in the land and serve the king of Babylon, and it shall be well with you.” (2 Kings 25:24) He was soon slain and the rest of the people fled to Egypt.

God had mercy on Jehoiachin. Babylon’s next ruler freed him from prison, spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat above the seats of the kings who were with him in Babylon. Until he died, he “dined regularly at the king’s table” and was given an allowance to meet his daily needs. (2 Kings 25:27–30)

This history seems to cover about forty years, not very long for the downfall of a nation and the disgracing of God’s people. Had the sons of Joash followed their father in obedience to God, their lives may have changed the outcome.

Solomon personifies their foolishness (and all foolishness) in a woman called “Folly.” He says she is loud, seductive, and knows nothing. She takes a seat on the highest places of the town (probably places of worship) and calls to those who pass by: “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” Those who lack sense hear her say, “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant” but are not aware that making those choices leads to death. (Proverbs 9:13–18)

How can I avoid the errors of those kings and the allure of folly? Paul tells me to use the weapons God gave me. He begins with, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” (Ephesians 6:10–13)

He describes the armor using the image of a warrior dressed for battle. The bottom line is that my battle involves prayer. As he says, I’m to be “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Ephesians 6:18–20)

Paul had a far deeper relationship with God than I do, yet he needed prayer. So do I, and I also need to pray for others that they might overcome foolishness and defeat temptation. Christians must wear all the armor of God so we can win our battles, and after winning (which is a vulnerable time) stand firm and continue to share the good news of Jesus Christ as God gives me words and boldness to say them.



Sunday, November 29, 2015

Godly living affects a nation and our world



2 Kings 22:1–23:27, Ephesians 5:1–33, Proverbs 9:1–12

One of the last kings in Judah began to rule when he was eight years old. Josiah reigned thirty-one years, doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord, not turning aside to the right or to the left. (2 Kings 22:1–2)

This shows that goodness can be in the heart of a child. He was deeply concerned about the spiritual lives of his people and the restoration of temple worship, collecting the money brought in and using it for the repairs.

While those repairs happened, his officials found the Book of the Law and read it to Josiah. He tore his clothes and commanded his leaders, “Go, inquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” (2 Kings 22:10–13)

I wonder what would happen in our country if our leaders did the same thing. Can leaders have a heart like Josiah’s heart? He humbled himself before the Lord, and even though God’s announced disaster on the nation would come, God was merciful toward him and said: “. . . You shall be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring upon this place.” (2 Kings 22:19–20)

At that, Josiah made a covenant before the Lord, to walk with Him and keep his commandments with all his heart and soul. All the people joined in the covenant. Then Josiah set to work. Even though God’s wrath could not be avoided, he wanted to rid the nation of all evil and idolatrous practices.

He removed everything related to false gods from the temple of the Lord and burned it all. He deposed the priests previously ordained to make offerings in the high places and who burned incense to Baal and the sun, moon, and hosts of the heavens. He destroyed the houses of cult prostitutes, all the high places, and the places where people had burned their children as offerings to Molech. This list goes on and included all the shrines in Samaria as well. Then he returned to Jerusalem. (2 Kings 23:19–20)

After that, Josiah commanded, “Keep the Passover to the Lord your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant” and restored this important celebration. Josiah also “put away the mediums and the necromancers and the household gods and the idols and all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might establish the words of the law that were written in the book.” The Bible says, “There was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him.”

Josiah personified Solomon’s words from Proverbs 9:9-11: “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. For by me your days will be multiplied, and years will be added to your life.”

This king also exemplified the commands in the NT. We are to be imitators of God, walking in love as Christ loved us. No immorality, impurity or covetousness should be named among us, nor filthiness, foolish talk, or crude joking. Instead, we are to be thankful people. We were at one time darkness, but now are light in the Lord. So it is fitting that we, “Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” (Ephesians 5:8–11)

Paying attention to how I live, not as unwise but as wise, means making the best use of my time, not being foolish, but understanding God’s will.

This is not pie-in-the-sky stuff, or matters reserved for church and Sunday. Josiah rebuilt a literal temple, but since I am a “temple of the Holy Spirit” in which the Lord now dwells, I’m to keep that temple in good order. Because I am His child, He cares about all aspects of my daily life. Actually, the everyday way people live is just as vital to the health of a nation as the godly leadership of a king.

Ephesians 5 includes an admonition about drinking and how being filled with God’s Spirit will give me all that I need to wisely walk with Him. The Spirit produces harmony among His people. This extends to marriage where husbands are told: “Let each one of you love his wife as himself” and wives are told to respect their husbands. (Ephesians 5:33)

The zeal of Josiah pleased God. Even though Solomon had trouble putting it into practice, his wisdom pleased God too, and enough to record it in His Word for all time. My daily life, what I talk about, how I use my time, where I find my joy, and how I treat my husband are all ways to please God also. This and more is part of the bigger picture —the way God’s people can affect the world in which we live.


Saturday, November 28, 2015

History’s sorrows without God’s wisdom



2 Kings 20:1–21:26, Ephesians 4:1–32, Proverbs 8:27–36

Mothers and fathers know the guilt they might feel over a child that turns bad. They raised him with instruction and lived a good example, but for some reason the child decided to not follow their teaching.

Hezekiah was a good king. When he died, his son Manasseh reigned in his place. He was only twelve years old and his reign in Jerusalem lasted fifty-five years, but his behavior was evil in God’s sight. He followed the sinful practices of the nations God had banished. He rebuilt the high places that his father had destroyed, erected altars for Baal, made an Asherah, worshiped all the host of heaven and served them by building altars in the two courts of the house of the Lord. He burned his son as an offering and used fortune-telling and omens and dealt with mediums and with necromancers. (2 Kings 20:21–21:6)

The Lord was angry and conveyed this message through His prophets: “Because Manasseh king of Judah has committed these abominations and has done things more evil than all that the Amorites did who were before him, and has made Judah also to sin with his idols, therefore . . . I am bringing upon Jerusalem and Judah such disaster that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle.” (2 Kings 21:10–12)

Manasseh became a leader in Israel’s downfall. When he died, Amon his son reigned in his place. He was twenty-two years old and reigned only two years. His servants must have been sick of having an evil king for they conspired against him and put him to death. “Then the people of the land struck down all those who had conspired against King Amon, and the people of the land made Josiah his son king in his place.” (2 Kings 21:18–24)

I feel like I’m reading the morning news. Many nations in the world have histories like this with evil leaders, military coups, internal wars, and horrendous suffering. While many people do not see it this way, the Bible says that much of our pain and conflict comes because we do not heed God and His Word, and we refuse the wisdom God offers. If only we would love wisdom.

Solomon personified wisdom: “And now, O sons, listen to me: blessed are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord, but he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me love death.” (Proverbs 8:32–36)

He affirms my thoughts. Wisdom comes from the fear of God and obedience. With it we find life and the favor of God. Without it, we are drawn to death. If only we would listen and obey, instead of being so unwise.

However, the NT says that the people of God are offered wisdom for the asking. We need it. Our world is filled with evil, and if it were not for the claim of Jesus Christ on our lives, we would be drawn into it. Instead, God calls to us with wisdom and grace. In Ephesians 4, He says through the Apostle Paul, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1–3)

The kings of the OT knew this calling. Some walked worthy; many did not. Yet as God’s people, they were not to live like the nations around them. Neither are His people today.
Again, Paul says, “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.”

Then he gives this contrast: “But that is not the way you learned Christ! — assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness . . . . Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

There are so many acts of violence, so much sorrow since the world began. When I read OT history, when I look at world history, when I consider even my own history, all I can say is, If only, if only . . . .



Friday, November 27, 2015

God’s wisdom covers our mistakes



2 Kings 18:13–19:37, Ephesians 2:1–3:21, Proverbs 8:19–26

Hezekiah was a godly king but when Sennacherib king of Assyria threatened, he “gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord and in the treasuries of the king’s house. At that time Hezekiah stripped the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord and from the doorposts that Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid and gave it to the king of Assyria.” (2 Kings 18:15–16)

The Assyrians came back to the people and said, “Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord by saying, The Lord will surely deliver us . . . .” but Isaiah the prophet told them, “Thus says the Lord: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land. ” (2 Kings 19:6–7)

Hezekiah also prayed, “. . . O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.” (2 Kings 19:17–19)
The Lord responded, “He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city . . . . for I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”

That night the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the Assyrian camp. Sennacherib went home and as he was worshiping in the house of his god, his sons killed him. (2 Kings 19:31–37)

God in His wisdom covered Hezekiah’s mistake of attempting to buy his safety with gold instead of trusting his God. He knows His people are frail and faulty and need His wisdom and grace.

Solomon says that the wisdom of God produces fruit better than fine gold or choice silver. Wisdom “walks in the way of righteousness, in the paths of justice, granting an inheritance to those who love it, and filling their treasuries.” (Proverbs 8:19–21) Whether it is gold, silver, or my own ideas about life, God’s wisdom is superior. I cannot live without His wisdom or His grace.

In the NT, the Gospel is a grand display of how God’s wisdom covers my errors. As Paul says, I was once dead in trespasses and sins, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, living in the passions of my flesh, carrying out the desires of my body and the mind. I was by nature a child of wrath. Ugh!

But God, rich in mercy and because of His great love, made me alive in Christ! By grace I have been saved through faith. This was not my own doing. It is the gift of God, not my works, so I cannot boast. I am His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that I should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:4–10) This too is the wisdom of God; He covers sin with the blood of His Son.

Even more amazing, particularly for the OT saints, is that God would unite Jew and Gentile by faith in Jesus. He says to the Gentiles, “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one . . . that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility . . . . you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God . . . .” (Ephesians 2:11-19)

That means that had both Hezekiah and the king of Assyria known and believed the Gospel, they would not have been enemies but brothers in Christ, united in His grace. 

As Paul says, God is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” through the power of Jesus Christ whose grace and wisdom work amazing changes in His people!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Holding on to Hope



2 Kings 17:6–18:12, Ephesians 1:1–23, Proverbs 8:9–18

Towards the end of the time of kings in Israel, their loyalty to God continued to deteriorate. In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria. According to Assyrian records, the Assyrians deported 27,290 inhabitants of Israel to distant locations.

“This occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had practiced. And the people of Israel did secretly against the Lord their God things that were not right.”

They built high places, set up pillars and Asherim, and made offerings to their idols. The Lord warned both Israel and Judah by every prophet: “Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the Law that I commanded your fathers, and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets.”

But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the Lord their God. “They despised his statutes and his covenant that he made with their fathers and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false idols and became false, and they followed the nations that were around them . . . “ They even “burned their sons and their daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord” so none was left but the tribe of Judah, but Judah also disobeyed God and followed what Israel had done. (2 Kings 17:6-19)

When the king of Assyria repopulated the cities of Samaria, God sent lions among them. The king was told it was because “they do not know the law of the god of the land” so he sent an Israelite priest to teach them, but every nation still made gods of its own, serving their carved images. Their children did likewise, and their children’s children—as their fathers did, so they do to this day. (2 Kings 17:41) These were the origin of the NT Samaritans.

Meanwhile, Hezekiah son of Ahaz, began to reign. “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that David his father had done. He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it . . . . He trusted in the Lord . . . there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. For he held fast to the Lord. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses. And the Lord was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and would not serve him.” (2 Kings 18:1–7)

Judgment on Judah was delayed because Hezekiah obeyed the words of Solomon: “The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil.” By wisdom, he reigned and decreed what was just. (Proverbs 8:13–15) Yet eventually, most of the OT people of God failed. They were not able to look ahead in faith to the promised Messiah and struggled to love God and persevere in faithfulness.

When the Messiah came, the Apostle Paul described some of what God’s people have in Jesus: an inheritance, predestined according to God’s purpose, and hope in Christ to the praise of his glory. He also said that in Christ, when we hear the gospel of our salvation and believe it, we are sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. He is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it. All this is also to the praise of his glory.

Paul prayed for the new Christians at Ephesus: “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might.” (Ephesians 1:11–19)

While OT believers had faith in the Messiah, many of them did not hold on to that hope until He actually came. Because of what Christ has done, my confidence is that the Holy Spirit will keep me holding on until He actually comes again!