‘My chains fell off…my heart was free…’

30 07 2011

DAY ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-SIX : 1 Kings 14 v. 21 – 16 v. 7; Acts 16 v. 16 – 40; Proverbs 15 v. 21 – 30

Rehoboam King of Judah – Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, is 41 when he becomes king and he reigns in Jerusalem (God’s chosen city) for seventeen years.
Judah is inciting God’s anger by turning away from Him and to other gods, setting up Asherah poles, using male shrine-prostitutes, and generally taking on board the practices of the peoples they had driven out of the land.
In the fifth year of his reign, Egypt’s King Shishak attacks Rehoboam’s Jerusalem, carrying off treasures from the temple and the palace, including all those golden shields Solomon had made. Rehoboam replaces them with bronze shields, which were used by the guards to protect the palace and the king.
Everything else Rehoboam did is recorded in the book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah.
Jeroboam and Rehoboam were always at war.
When Rehoboam died, his son, Abijah, succeeded him.

Abijah King of Judah – Whilst Jeroboam was celebrating his eighteenth year as king, Abijah (son of Rehoboam and Maacah) became king of Judah. He lasted three years. He was as bad as his father before him (v.3); ‘his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his forefather had been.’
Because God wanted to continue to honour David’s line, for David’s faithfulness and commitment to the covenant / commandments (except the little incident with Uriah), Abijah’s purpose is to father Asa – ‘God gave Abijah a lamp in Jersualem by raising up a son to succeed him and by making Jerusalem strong’.
The warring between Judah and Israel continued through Abijah’s reign. Then he died, and all the event of his reign are listed in the book of the Annals of the kings of Judah.

Asa King of Judah – It’s the 20th year of Jeroboam’s reign in Israel, when Asa becomes king of Judah, where he reigns for 41 years.
‘Asa did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as his father David had done’.
He got rid of the shrine-prostitutes and the idols from his father’s short reign. He sorts his grandmother out when he discovers she’s made an Asherah pole (deposing her from her queen-mother role). He brought the dedicated silver and gold back into the temple.
Much of Asa’s time he was at war with king Baasha of Israel (who followed Jeroboam and Nadab). Baasha fortified Ramah (just 5 miles north of Jerusalem) to prevent the comings and goings of Judah.
The silver and gold treasures are then entrusted to the officials and sent to Ben-Hadad, king of Aram, in Damascus. In doing this, Asa sought a treaty with Ben-Hadad, and urged him to break his treaty with Baasha and Israel. Ben-Hadad agreed, and turned against Israel, conquering various towns and cities, including Dan and Naphtali.
Baasha withdrew, then, from Ramah, and Asa sent out an order to all Judah to go and bring the building materials from Ramah (stones and timber), which he then used to build up Geba and Mizpah.
All of Asa’s achievements are written in the book of the Annals of the kings of Judah. We are told that he contracted disease in his feet, in his old age. When he died, his son Jehoshaphat succeeded him as king.

Nadab King of Israel – Jeroboam’s son, Nadab, succeeds him during Asa’s reign, and he is king of Israel for just two years.‘He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, walking in the ways of his father and in his sin, which he had caused Israel to commit.’ So there’s a plot to oust him, by Baasha, Ahijah’s son. Nadab is struck down in a Philistine town, whilst on an attack.
Baasha succeeds Nadab and proceeds to start killing all of Jeroboam’s family, wiping them all out. A reminder of the word of the Lord to Jeroboam through ‘his servant Ahijah the Shilonite’.
Nadab’s brief reign is chronicled in the book of the Annals of the kings of Israel.
Asa and Baasha are continually at war with each other during their reigns in Judah and Israel.
Baasha King of Israel – So Asa has been king for three years in Judah, when Baasha succeeds to the throne of Israel, where he reigned for 24 years. His reign is marked by ‘evil in the eyes of the Lord’, following Jeroboam’s wicked ways.
God brings his word to Baasha through Jehu, son of Hanani, ‘I made you leader of my people Israel, but you…caused my people Israel to sin…so I am about to consume Baasha and his house…’
All the events of Baasha’s reigh are written in the book of the Annals of the kings of Israel. When he dies, his son, Elah succeeds him.

Paul and Silas in Prison – On the way to pray one day, they encounter a slave-girl who had a spirit which enabled her to tell fortunes, making a lot of money for her owners. The girl followed Paul and the others, shouting after them:
‘These men are the servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved’. (Good publicity ?)
She did this for many days, and undoubtably got on their nerves, perhaps preventing them from getting on with what the Spirit was telling them to do.
In the end, Paul turned to her and commanded the spirit to come out of her, in Jesus’ name. Immediately the spirit left her.
Their source of finance gone, her owners had Paul and Silas dragged off to the authorities. They appeared before the magistrates and were jailed on a charge of inciting an uproar in the city, ‘advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice’.
They are stripped and beaten and thrown into prison. Instructed to guard them very carefully, the jailer puts them in the inner cell, their feet in the stocks. The jailor things they are secure there! But God has miraculous plans….
~ at midnight they are praying and singing songs to God (the other prisoners have no choice but to ‘listen to them’)
~ a violent earthquake shook the foundations of the prison and all the doors fell open, all the chains fell off (a reminder to me that this gospel is good news for ALL) 
~ the jailer wakes up and sees the all the doors open, assumes the worst and goes to kill himself (before the authorities do it!)
~ Paul calls for him to spare himself, and when he sees they’re all still there, he falls trembling before them and asks ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’
~ they tell him to believe in Jesus for his salvation – and all his household too (he is being encouraged to involve his whole household, instrumental in bringing them all to faith)
~ late in the night they go with the jailer to his house, where he washed their wounds, and all the family were baptised; they ate a great meal together.
‘he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family’
~ in the morning, the magistrates order for the men to be freed – but, they already are !!
~ Paul states that they were beaten publicly without a trial – disregarding their rights as Roman citizens – ‘now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No let them come themselves and escort us out’. The innocent have a right to see their names cleared.
~ at this, Paul and Silas are appeased, and escorted from prison, with the request that they leave the city
~ they go to Lydia’s house, and meet up with the brothers to encourage them, then they move on.

The jailor encounters God in the workplace – on a particularly bad night – and his life, and that of his family, will never be the same again !!
Heavenely Father, may we encounter you, also, in our workplaces, when we sometimes least expect it.
Thank You for helping and equipping us through the challenging times.

‘a man of understanding keeps a straight course…
Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed…
how good is apt reply…a timely word
the path of life leads upward for the wise…
a cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones.’


You’re fired…..You’re hired

29 07 2011

DAY ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-FIVE : 1 Kings 12 v. 25 – 14 v. 20; Acts 16 v. 1 – 15; Psalm 78 v. 1 – 8


Golden Calves at Bethel and Dan – Jeroboam chooses Shechem as his capital city, fortifies it and makes his home there, and he builds up Peniel, also.
Jeroboam is fearful of Israel returning to the ‘house of David’, especially if people keep going to Jerusalem for the religious festivals etc., so he seeks advice and creates two golden calves, presenting them to the people as alternative gods, and setting them up in Bethel (in the south) and Dan (in the north).
‘And this thing became a sin; the people went even as far as Dan to worship the one there.’
Jeroboam sets up his own shrines, appoints his own (non-Levitical) priests, and establishes his own festivals (some to coincide with the ones in Jerusalem), and he, himself, leads the sacrificing (in place of a high-priest).

The Man of God From Judah – a strange story about a ‘man of God’ who comes from Judah to Bethel, and proclaims aloud, as Jeroboam is leading the sacrificing, that devastation will come – partly immediately, in the altar being split in two, and its ashes poured out, and partly in the future, when a son called Josiah will be born to the house of David (some 300 years later), and will see the burning of human bones.
This was not welcome news for Jeroboam, who stretches out his hand to shriek, ‘Sieze him’, and his hand shrivels in front of him. The altar is split in two and the ashes are poured out (‘the sign given by the man of God by the word of the Lord’). Jeroboam asks the man to pray for his shrivelled hand to be healed. The man prays, and Jeroboam’s hand is instantly healed.
When Jeroboam invites the man to stay for a meal, and to receive a gift, the man refuses, keen to get on his way. He needs to be obedient to God who called him to return immediately and not to accept a meal there, and to return by a different route.
In Bethel, there is an old prophet (as opposed, here to a ‘man of God’), who hears of the visit of the ‘man of God’, and arranges to meet him – ‘Saddle the donkey for me’ – and they find the man of God on his way back to Judah, sitting under an oak tree.
The prophet invites the man of God home for some food. Again, the man refuses, seeking to be obedient to all God has told him.
The prophet urges him even more, and falsely claims he, too, has had instruction from an angel-messanger – the ‘man of God’ decides to go with him.
Oops !!
During supper, God speaks to the man through the old prophet, telling him he has disobeyed the Lord’s commands, and forth-telling his destruction – ‘your body will not be buried in the tomb of your fathers’.
So, on his way home, back on his donkey, the man encounters a lion who kills him. There’s an image of the lion and the donkey stood side by side over the body of the man. The donkey was untouched.
(oh another story starring a donkey – one to add to the collection, and to add to the tracing of the role donkeys play throughout the bible)
People see this and report it back in the city. The prophet goes out to see for himself, and retrieves the body, bringing it back with him to bury him – laying him in his own tomb and mourning over him.
The old prophet recognises the message the man of God brought, that it will ‘certainly come true’, and asks his sons to bury him alongside the man of God, when his time comes.
Jeroboam, however, does not heed the warning in the message the man of God had brought – he continued appointing his own priests – ‘this was the sin of the house of Jeroboam that led to its downfall and to its destruction from the face of the earth’.

Ahijah’s Prophecy Against Jeroboam – Jeroboam’s son Abijah becomes very poorly, and Jeroboam sends his wife in disguise to see the ageing  prophet, Ahijah, in Shiloh (‘The one who told me that I would be king over this people’).
Ahijah, whose eyes are failing him, had already been told by God that Jeroboam’s wife was coming, and the news he shares with her is not good :
~ God is angry with Jeroboam, who He had given the kingdom to – he has not kept the commandments
~ ‘You have done more evil than all who lived before you’ – making false gods, metal idols
~ God will bring disaster on Jeroboam’s house – every last male in Israel will be cut off 
~ the house of Jeroboam will be burned up, like dung – the bodies will be eaten by wild dogs and birds
~ their son Abijah will die as soon as she gets home – he will be mourned and will get a decent burial, because he is ‘the only one..in whom the Lord has found anything good.’
~ there will be a new king, and God will strike Israel – the people will be scattered beyond the River
~ God is angry because of the Asherah poles which have been set up
As Jeroboam’s wife returned home, her son Abijah, died, and was buried, as the prophet had said.

Jeroboam’s deeds are written in the ‘Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel’.
He rules for 22 years and then died (‘rested with his fathers’); then his son, Nadab, became king.

Lydia dealt in purple cloth from Thyatira

Timothy Joins Paul and Silas – Timothy enters the scene – a young man whose mother was a believing Jew (and his father a  Greek), from Lystra. He was well thought of in Lystra and Iconium. Despite the previous decisions about circumcision, Paul has Timothy circumcised ‘because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek’.
They travelled together, sharing the letter / decision the apostles had made – the churches grew in number and in strength of faith.

Paul’s Vision of the Man of Macedonia – Whilst travelling throughout the region, Paul is ‘kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word of God in the province of Asia’. The Spirit of Jesus prevents them from entering Bithynia, so they pass through Mysia to Troas. That night Paul has a vision, seeing a Macedonian man begging Paul to come and help them there.
‘After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia…God had called us to preach the gospel to them.’

It is striking how Paul, Silas and Timothy learnt to read the promptings of the Spirit – opening some doors and closing others – a willingness to go wherever God led.
Lord, may we know the guidance of Your Spirit today, in everything.

Lydia’s Conversion in Philippi – So, now the journey is from Troas to Samothrace and Neapolis, and then Philippi, the leading city in that area of Macedonia, where they stay for several days.
They take a walk down to the river on the Sabbath, to find a place to pray. They get into conversation with some women who were there. One, Lydia, was a business-woman / entrepreneur (Lord Sugar would be proud of her ?!?!), who dealt in fine purple cloth, a God-worshipper.
‘The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message’.
Lydia and her household are baptised, and she invites them to stay at her home – offering them good hospitality!

Note to self….no matter how diligent and determined our evangelism, it is ‘the Lord’ who opens people’s hearts to the message.
Lord, open hearts and minds today.
Set people free today.

a few years ago now, I found myself putting the psalms into my own words, for my own devotions; for the second half of this ‘through the Bible in a year’ experience, I want to share the psalm passages I’ve crafted for psalms 78 – 150.
Here goes….

One of Asaph’s songs

O my people, my people!
Listen to me. Hear me out.
I’ve got something to say to you. Something to teach.
I will tell you deep truths in stories. Parables.
I will reveal ancient wisdom to you,
things which were passed down to us,
from one generation to another.
So we will pass them on, too;
tell our children, and grandchildren, and on, and on.

We will let them know all that the Lord has done for us –
His might, His amazing acts –
the reason He is to be praised.
It was the Lord, our God, who gave us (Jacob) the commandments.
It was the Lord, our God, who gave us (Israel) our governance, our law.
And He told us to pass it on, and on, and on,
that every future generation, even those yet to be, may know it all.
Then, everyone would offer their lives in trust to God,
remembering forever His acts,
abiding my His commands.
Not like the previous generations,
who dug their heels in, stubborn and unruly,
who broke God’s heart because theirs were unfaithful,
who bruised God’s Spirit because theirs were disloyal.

Fighting for the crown….

28 07 2011

DAY ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-FOUR : 1 Kings 11 v. 14 – 12 v. 24; Acts 15 v. 22 – 41; Psalm 77 v. 10 – 20

Solomon’s Adversaries – Because of Solomon’s disobedience, the last days of his wonderfully successful reign are marked by opposition. Firstly, God raises up Hadad the Edomite – Hadad had originally fled to Egypt during the battle David fought in Edom (when all the men of Edom were destroyed by Joab). Hadad had finished his growing years in Egypt, in the care of Pharaoh himself. Hadad is given Pharaoh’s own sister-in-law in marriage, and they had a son, Genubath. Hadad hears that David and Joab have both died, so decides to head back to Edom to reclaim his land.
God also raised up Rezon, son of Eliada, who had fled from the king of Zobah. He became the ringleader of a gang of rebels, who had fled into Damascus, taking control there. ‘Rezon ruled in Aram and was hostile towards Israel.’

Jeroboam Rebels Against Solomon – Add to the list Nebat’s son Jeroboam, one of Solomon’s officials (and Ephraimite).
Solomon had built the terraces, and when he saw how well Jeroboam had worked on the task, he put him in charge of the whole work-force of Joseph’s clan.
Jeroboam met the prophet of Shiloh, Ahijah, on the way out of Jerusalem. Ahijah enacted a prophecy by tearing a brand new robe into twelve pieces. He told Jeroboam to take ten pieces for himself – the Lord says
‘See, I am going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon’s hand and give you ten tribes. But for the sake of my servant David…he will have one tribe’. Ahijah confirms that this will happen because of Solomon’s disobedience in worshipping false gods. This will happen once Solomon has died – the kingdom will be taken from his son.
‘I will give one tribe to his son so that David my servant may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city where I chose to put my Name.’
The promise is that Jeroboam will become king over Israel….’if you do whatever I command you and walk in my ways and do what is right…, I will be with you.’
Although Solomon tried to kill Jeroboam, he didn’t succeed, and Jeroboam fled to Egypt until Solomon died.

Solomon’s Death – Just a brief mention of the ‘Book of the Annals of Solomon’ – a record of all the events of Solomon’s life – a reign of forty years. When he died, his son, Rehoboam briefly succeeded as king.

Israel Rebels Against Rehoboam – Rehoboam is on his way to Shechem, to be crowned king by all Israel, as Jeroboam returns from Egypt. He and the whole assembly of Israel go to Rehoboam and ask for a lighter touch than his father, Solomon, in the way they will be ruled. Rehoboam asks for some time to think it through – three days, and then he will answer.
Rehoboam asked his elders (who had served Solomon faithfully) – they encouraged him to grant the request – ‘give them a favourable answer and they will always be your servants’.
Rehoboam rejected the advice, and consulted with the young men who were serving him – they encouraged him to lay it on thicker – ‘My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions’.
Three days later, Rehoboam gives his considered reply, giving the‘harsh reply’.
If only Rehoboam had listened to the wise counsel of the elders. However, all Israel turns against him (fulfilling God’s word to Jeroboam through Ahihah), except those in Judah, where Rehoboam continued to rule.
King Rehoboam tried to reclaim the situation, sending Adoniram (in charge of forced labour) our – but he was stoned to death. Rehoboam retreated to Jerusalem. ‘All Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.’
All Israel makes Jeroboam their king (except Judah / the house of David).
Rehoboam tries to gather his troops to fight a war against Israel, to regain the kingdom, but God’s word came to him through Shemaiah – ‘Do not go up to fight against your brothers, the Israelites. Go home, every one of you, for this is my doing.’
So, they all head home….

All this is presented as the consequence of Solomon’s lack of wisdom towards the end of his life, allowing the worship of false gods to be promoted in the land – Rehoboam displays a lack of wisdom in the decision he faces – follow the elders or the young advisors – yet he retains the region of Judah, and the city of David, to keep alive the promise, and the hope of restoring Israel through David’s line….

The Council’s Letter to Gentile Believers – A letter is drafted and key people are sent to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas – Judas (Barsabbas) and Silas, two of the leaders. The letter spelt out the decision regarding circumcision or not….
~ those who had visited them previously from Jerusalem had done so ‘without our authorisation’, and had spread trouble
~ Barnabas and Paul are honoured as those ‘who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’
~ the Holy Spirit had led them to ‘not burden you with anything beyond…eating food sacrificed to idols, blood, unclean meat, or being sexually immoral’
So, they set off, gather the church in Antioch together and share the contents of the letter. ‘The people were glad for its encouraging message’ (yippee, no circumcision….).
Judas and Silas, as prophets, encourage and strengthen the brothers, then they are blessed and sent off back to Jerusalem.
Paul and Barnabas remained, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord.
Disagreement Between Paul and Barnabas – Paul wants to go back visiting all the towns they’ve brought the gospel to, to ‘see how they are doing.‘ Barnabas wanted to take Mark with them. Paul did not want to take Mark, because he had ‘deserted‘ them in Pamphylia, not continuing with them.
Paul and Barnabas really clashed over this and went their separate ways. Barnabas and Mark went to Cyprus; Paul and Silas went through Syria and Cilicia, ‘strengthening the churches’.

What a shame that there had to be a fall-out between Paul and Barnabas, for the result is a strengthening of the mission – a new team heading through Cyprus and one travelling through Syria/Cilicia. Paul and Barnabas had just been part of ensuring there was no split Jew/Gentile within the new Christian communities – maybe it was a time when they were most vulnerable. God is able to bring His good through all situations.

I came to my senses : ‘I will go to the top – appeal to the highest authority
– Almighty God.
I will recall His glorious acts, His miracles, His works.’
You are holy in everything You do.
You are a great and awesome God.
Miracle-worker, mighty, powerful – all Israel, all Your people see and know You.
The waters You created see You – they ebb and flow.
The clouds respond to You – showering, thundering, hurling bolts of lightning.
The earth trembles in Your presence.
You stride through the deep seas, Your footprints hardly visible.

Yet, gently You lead us
like a shepherd with his sheep
in the hands of Moses and Aaron.’

‘All the riches of His love…He gives to you, He gives to me!’

27 07 2011

DAY ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-THREE : 1 Kings 9 v. 10 – 11 v. 13; Acts 15 v. 1 – 21; Psalm 77 v. 1 – 9

Solomon’s Other Activities – After a period of twenty years, during which the temple and the palace were built, Solomon gave his trusted servant Hiram (who had supplied all the wood (cedar and pine) and gold) twenty towns in Galilee. When Hiram sees the towns, he is not pleased. Hiram called this area Cabul (‘good for nothing), which marked out a territory between Tyre and Israel. ‘Now Hiram had sent to the king 120 talents of gold.’
Solomon conscripted non-Israelites (Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites etc.) into forced labour to build the temple, the palace, the terraces, the wall of Jerusalem, Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer (Gezer had been captured by Egypt’s Pharaoh and set on fire, but Solomon’s wife (Pharaoh’s daughter) was given it.
He also built store cities and towns for his chariots.
The Israelites made up Solomon’s army, his government officials, his commanders, and chief overseers of the working projects (550 officials supervising the work).
Pharaoh’s daughter moved up to the City of David and lived in the palace – and Solomon had supporting terraces built.
Solomon offered sacrifices three times a year…‘so fulfilled the temple obligations’.
Solomon also built ships, on the shore of the Red Sea, and Hiram’s men served alongside Solomon’s there. The ships carried more gold back for Solomon!

Solomon is very well organised, and the gold keeps arriving. He appears to be thriving.

The Queen of Sheba Visits Solomon – Sheba was in SW Arabia, a kingdom perhaps the size of Yemen today – an important and wealthy region built on trade between Africa and Asia. The Queen hears of Solomon’s fame and faith, and comes to visit Solomon ‘to test him with hard questions’.
The Queen has an impressive entourage – camels carrying spices, gold, precious stones – and she arrives in Jerusalem to talk things through with Solomon.
‘Solomon answered all her questions; nothing was too hard for the king to explain to her.’
The Queen is overwhelmed at Solomon’s wisdom, his faith, his riches, his power. She tells Solomon that she is more than doubly amazed at his achievements and wisdom. She proclaims
‘Praise be to the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel.’
She gives Solomon 120 talents of gold, lots of spices and precious stones – never again did he have such extravagant gifts given.
Solomon, in return, ‘gave the Queen of Sheba all she desired and asked for’.
Then she returned back to Sheba….

Solomon’s Splendour – This is a great account of all Solomon’s wealth.
666 talents of gold received annually, with revenues from merchants, traders, kings and governors.
200 large shields of gold (600 bekas of gold in each shield) and 300 small shields (3 minas of gold in each) are made, and placed in the Palace of the Forest of Lebanon.
A beautiful throne is crafted – ivory and fine gold, lions on the armrests, lions marking the steps up to the throne.
Goblets of gold, golden household objects
‘Nothing was made of silver, because silver was considered of little value in Solomon’s days’
Trading ships returned every three years filled with gold, silver, ivory, apes and baboons !!
‘King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth. The whole earth sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart.’
Everyone who visits Solomon brings gifts – gold, silver, robes, weapons, spices, horses and mules.
1400 chariots and 12,000 horses (imported from Egypt and Kue).

It is Solomon’s much sought after wisdom which enables him to build up such wealth and treasures – this is a rich and fruitful time for Israel.
Solomon’s Wives – Solomon’s weakness? The chink in his armour ?
‘Solomon loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter…He had 700 wives and 300 concubines, and his wives led him astray…’
Gradually, Solomon’s heart is turned away from God, and accommodates the false gods of his wives (Ashoreth and Molech to name some of the ‘detestable gods’).
‘So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done.’
Solomon oversees the building of a place of worship to Chemosh, god of the Moabites, and Molech, where incense was burned and sacrifices offered.
God was angry with Solomon, after all ‘He had appeared to him twice’. Solomon had broken the command not to follow other gods. God’s judgment is that the united kingdom will be torn apart
‘Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son.’
Because of David, even then, Solomon’s son will be given authority over one of the tribes.

Solomon married many wives from neighbouring kingdoms, a form of making political allies, strengthening his arm, and his treasury. Subtly, though, Solomon was being influenced away from the one true God, and lured into accommodating, and then even promoting the worship of other gods…
As for us all, there are limits to our wisdom, and there are areas of weakness.
Solomon was expressly breaking one of the covenant commandments, and there would be consequences in the years that followed.
Lord, help us to remain true to you, unwavering on Your commandments, as we open ourselves up to all sorts of friendships and alliances within our community.

The Council at Jerusalem – Really good lessons here on how the early church grappled with differences of opinion in relation to new Gentile converts to Christianity, and a move away from the Jewish regulations and requirements (in particular, circumcision).
Clearly, there were some who believed,‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’
Thankfully, for all who will follow, they (Paul and Barnabas, returned to Jerusalem, along with the apostles and elders) decided to agree that 
‘We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they (Gentiles) are’ – Peter, himself, addressing the assembly, reminding them that God had revealed his gospel to the Gentiles, they believed and were filled with the Holy Spirit. ‘He made no distinction between us and them, for He purified their hearts by faith’. Circumcision is described as a yoke on their necks, and not a requirement for salvation through Christ.
The assembly is silent as they listen to all Paul and Barnabas have to tell them about the fruit of their ministry – including miraculous signs and wonders.
James speaks up, quoting from the prophet Amos about the restoration of the tent of David : ‘that the remnant of man may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name’.
James’ judgment seems conclusive (he is the leader of the church in Jerusalem ?)
‘we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God’ (though he still encourages them to abstain from food offered in idol-worship, from sexual morality, and from unclean meat, underlining the value of reading and abiding by the books of Moses).

This passage highlights the issues of dealing with disputes (gathering the elders, listening to the testimonies of what God is doing, honouring silence to hear from God), and of welcoming people of all backgrounds into the family / fellowship of Christ, growing in our understanding that it is belief in the grace of Jesus, alone, which makes salvation possible (not any list of ‘do’s and don’ts’, or acceptable behaviours, or traditions); then there is the need to commit to one another in love, whilst holding differing views at times about what makes for the life of a disciple, seeking never to be a ‘stumbling block’ for others to come to know the fulness of God’s love.
A challenging and inspiring passage to dwell / reflect upon, and pray through.

PSALM (One of Asaph’s songs)
‘I cry for help – O God, hear me!
In my anguish I seek Him, need Him.
In the night-time my hands stretch out, my soul is un-comforted.
I think of You, God, and I sigh, I ponder, my spirit is wearied.
You kept me going, when I had no energy left to mutter a sound.
Oh for the good old days – my music-filled nights, my happy slumber and my singing soul.
Will I be this down forever ? Will You not lift me up, once again?
Show me Your favour? Delight in me once more?
Is this it?
Your unfailing love finally fading, Your faithful promises wearing thin?
Have You forgotten how to be….God?
Mercy, compassion…..?’

The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart…..

26 07 2011

DAY ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY TWO : 1 Kings 8 v. 22 – 9 v. 9; Acts 14 v. 8 – 28; Proverbs 15 v. 11 – 20

Solomon’s Prayer of Dedication – Before all the people, Solomon prayed, stood in front of the altar, hands stretched out heavenwards :
‘O God of Israel, there is no God like You in heaven above or on earth below…You keep Your covenant of love…
You have kept Your promise…
He asks that the promise to have a man sit on Israel’s throne as long as David’s sons walk in God’s ways be fulfilled.
Solomon acknowledges that God is too great to confine to a temple – ‘The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain You. How much less this temple I have built!’
‘May Your eyes be open towards this temple night and day, this place of which You said, ‘My Name shall be there.”
Solomon asks that God will hear the prayers of His people offered in that place; he asks that God judge, condemning the guilty and declaring the innocent when cases are brought to the altar.
Solomon asks God to hear and forgive, when Israel has fallen and turns back to God repentant, or when drought, famine or enemy attack hits because the people have turned against God, but then turn from their sin and pray to Him.
‘Forgive and act; deal with each man according to all he does, since you know his heart (for you alone know the hearts of all men)’
Solomon pleads for the foreigner who has come to Israel because of God’s renown, and who turns to God in prayer ‘hear from heaven…and do whatever the foreigner asks of You, so that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name and fear You…’
If God’s people are away in battle, but turn towards Jerusalem and the temple to pray, Solomon asks that God hears and‘upholds their cause’.
Solomon acknowledges that no-one is sinless, but that when the sinner has a change of heart, repents and pleads, maybe whilst in captivity, when the enemy has overtaken them, when ‘they turn back to You with all their heart and soul…and pray to You…towards the city You have chosen and the temple I have built for Your name’, again Solomon asks that God hear the plea and uphold their cause, forgiving them, and restoring right relationships with their captors etc…
There’s a reminder of the special place for which God has singled out Israel.
Then Solomon turns from the altar to the people, blessing the whole assembly of Israel :
He reminds the people of God’s faithfulness – ‘not one word has failed of all the good promises He gave through His servant Moses….’
‘May the Lord our God be with us….may He turn our hearts to Him…and may these words of mine be near to the Lord day and night…’
‘Your hearts must be fully committed to the Lord our God…’

Solomon’s prayer of dedication pleads with God to hear and answer the prayers offered in the temple, keeping His people in His will.

The Dedication of the Temple – Solomon’s prayer is followed by the king and all Israel offering sacrifices (22,000 cattle, 120,000 sheep and goats) as a way of dedicating the temple.
The middle of the courtyard is consecrated with burnt, grain and fat offerings (because the bronze altar was not big enough to take all those offerings!!).
The festival went on for fourteen days, a real community celebration, with vast numbers of people from all over. At the end of it all, Solomon sent the people away, and they blessed the king as they went, joyfully, thanking God for all He had done for them.

The Lord Appears to Solomon – After all this building and dedicating, God appears once more to Solomon (as He had at Gibeon), and says
‘I have heard the prayer and plea you have made…I have consecrated the temple…by putting my Name there for ever. My eyes and my heart will always be there…’
God reminds Solomon of the importance of walking ‘before Me in integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did’, if he wants to see the royal throne established and continuing for ever.
Failure to do this would result in a turning away from God, and God will cut Israel off from the land, reject the temple. Israel will become a laughing stock, an ‘object of ridicule’. Even the temple, itself, will become a symbol of Israel’s sinfulness and turning from God, as people scoff.

In Lystra and Derbe – In Lystra, a crippled man listens to Paul speaking. He has never walked in all his life. Paul looked directly at him and shouted, ‘Stand up on your feet’. At once the man did, and he walked off.
This act is misunderstood by the crowd, who then see Paul and Barnabas as gods themselves (they call Paul Hermes, and Barnabas Zeus!!). They fetch for the priest of Zeus, and they prepare to offer many sacrifices.
Paul and Barnabas are horrified that they are being cast in the roles of gods! They tear their clothes and run into the crowd to stop them.
‘We too are only men, mere humans like you…we are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God…’
This outpouring, though, was not quite enough, and they had to try all the harder to stop them sacrificing to / for them.
Jews from Antioch and Iconium, by now, had arrived, and were stirring opposition against Paul – they stone Paul to a point of thinking he was dead, and drag him from the city – the disciples there gather round him, and when Paul gets up, they take him back into the city – only to the next day, when they left for Derbe. 

There are patterns in these stories of encounters in Acts, where miracles occur, the apostles are misunderstood, opposition and persecution is stirred up, and the apostles move on, having established a community of believers (disciples) there…

The Return to Antioch in Syria – In Derbe, when they preach, many become believers (they ‘won a large number of disciples’). They return to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, seeking to strengthen the disciple there, ‘and encouraging them to remain true to the faith’.
Hardship has to be endured as part of entering the Kingdom of God.
Elders are appointed in each church, by praying and fasting and committing them to the Lord.
They journey through Pisidia to Pamphylia, then preaching in Perga, and going down to Attalia; then they set sail to Antioch – they gather the church there and report all that God had been doing – particularly celebrating the way God was opening doors for the Gentiles to hear the good news.
‘They stayed there a long time with the disciples.’

Wesley described Paul’s surviving the stoning in Lystra as a miracle, almost like a resurrection, that Paul could get up and walk back into the city.
The opposition and persecution are growing all the time, and Paul and Barnabas prepare the new disciples for the ‘hardship’ which is part of entering the Kingdom of God. Sometimes, the hardship we experience is directly linked to being a citizen of the kingdom – Paul’s testimony is that it is so much better to identify with Christ’s suffering for the glory of knowing Him, and the power of His resurrection.
May the power of Christ’s resurrection equip and inspire us with the challenges we face today….

‘Death and destruction lie open before the Lord – how much more the hearts of men!
A happy heart makes the face cheerful…a discerning heart seeks knowledge…the cheerful heart has a continual feast…
Better a little with the fear of the Lord, than great wealth with turmoil…’

The Glory of the Lord filled the temple…..and the gospel of Jesus splits a town

25 07 2011

DAY ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-ONE : 1 Kings 7 v. 23 – 8 v. 21; Acts 13 v. 42 – 14 v. 7; Psalm 76 v. 1 – 12

Solomon Builds The Temple (cont.) – A ‘Sea’ was constructed our of metal – a large bowl/dish, ten cubits from rim to rim, and five high. This ‘Sea’ was set on twelve carved bulls, and it could contain 12,000 bathfulls of water.
Stands were also made out of bronze, with lions, bulls and cherubim within them. Each stand had wheels and four handles (each corner). Then ten bronze basins were made (each holding forty baths).
The ‘Sea’ was placed at the south side of the temple, and the five stands and basins were at the north and five at the south of the temple.
Huram completed all his work – pillars, capitals, 400 pomegranates, ten stands and ten basins, the ‘Sea’ and twelve bulls, ‘the pots, shovels and sprinkling bowls’.
All were made of bronze.
A list is given, also, of the furnishings in the temple :
~ golden altar and table
~ golden lampstands, with their floral work
~ gold dishes, wick trimmers, bowls, dishes
~ gold sockets for the innermost doors
When all was finished, Solomon brought in all those things David had previously dedicated, and these were placed in the temple treasury.

The Ark Brought To The Temple – All the elders of Israel and the tribal heads are summoned, and the ark of the Lord’s covenant is brought. When everyone had arrived, the priest took the ark, and the Tent of Meeting and all the furnishings, and many sheep and cattle were sacrificed.
The priests took the ark of the covenant into the Most Holy Place, the inner sanctuary, placing it beneath the cherubim wings.
‘There was nothing in the ark except the two stone tablets that Moses had placed in it at Horeb…’
As the priests left the temple, ‘the cloud filled the temple of the Lord…for the glory of the Lord filled His temple.’
Solomon told everyone that the Lord had said this would happen :
‘I have indeed built a magnificent temple for You, a place for You to dwell for ever.’
Solomon then blesses the people and pronounces :
‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who with His own hand has fulfilled what He promised with His own mouth to my father David.’
David had a heart to build a temple, but God prevented him from being the one – ‘but your son, who is your own flesh and blood – he is the one who will build the temple for my Name.’
This day of dedication is about God keeping His promise – making David’s son, Solomon, King of Israel, and the temple completed, a ‘place for the ark’.

Solomon gives God all the glory for keeping His promises when the temple is finally dedicated.
It is a sign and symbol to the nation of Israel of God’s salvation and faithfulness.

Paul and Barnabas (cont.) – once finished talking, Paul and Barnabas were about to leave the synagogue, others urged them to return the following Sabbath to tell them more. Some even continued talking with them on the road, and Paul and Barnabas ‘urged them to continue in the grace of God’.
We know nothing of the intervening week, but on the following Sabbath, ‘almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.’
The Jews felt jealous about this popularity, and opposed Paul abusively.
Paul and Barnabas spoke back to them boldly, suggesting that a Jewish rejection of the good news (the ‘Word of God’) would only urge them onwards to share the gospel with Gentiles. The Gentiles are so glad to hear this, and God’s word spread throughout the region. However, the Jews incited opposition  amongst the women of high-standing and the leading men, persecution falls on Paul and Barnabas, and they are driven out of the region, journeying to Iconium.

In Iconium – Paul and Barnabas head again for the synagogue,‘speaking so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed.’
Again, opposition was stirred up against them, minds being ‘poisoned‘ against them.
Paul and Barnabas continued, however, speaking boldly and God added miraculous signs and wonders to their message.
Thus the people were divided (as ever) between those who believed in Jesus and others who didn’t. A plot to stone the two of them is hatched, but they are warned and flee to the areas of Lystra and Derbe, ‘where they continued to preach the good news.’

One of Asaph’s songs, to be played on string instruments
‘In Judah God is known : His name is great in Israel….
You are resplendent with light, more majestic than mountains rich with game…
Make vows to the Lord your God and fulfil them; let all the neighbouring lands bring gifts to the One to be feared.’

Glorious temple….and a Glorious Saviour

23 07 2011

DAY ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY : 1 Kings 6 v. 1 – 7 v. 22; Acts 13 v. 13 – 41; Psalm 75 v. 1 – 10

Solomon Builds the Temple – we are told it is 48o years since the Israelites had come out of Egypt, and the fourth year of Solomon’s reign as king of Israel, when the temple building began (in the month of Ziv).
Dimensions – sixty cubits long, twenty wide and thirty high.
A portico to the front of the main hall, also twenty cubits wide, and ten cubits extending further.
It had narrow windows, a main hall, an inner sanctuary, side rooms.
Dressed blocks of stone from the quarry were used – no hammers (etc) were used on site.
There were entrances to the three levels built; the temple was roofed with beams and cedar planks.
The side rooms were build all around the temple, five cubits high.
God encourages Solomon during the building, ‘As for this temple you are building….if you follow my decrees….I will fulfil through you the promise I gave David, your father….’

The temple is built to king David’s plans, and there is a reminder from God that building a temple is not ‘it’! Obedience will still be the doorway to experiencing God’s richest promises.

The building work completed, Solomon got on with the interior decor – cedar boards, panelling, pine flooring; he formed the inner sanctuary with cedar boards (the Most High Place). Carved gourds and flowers adorned the interior, and everything inside the temple was made of cedar, not stone.
The inner sanctuary (20 cubits long, 20 high and 20 wide), was overlaid with gold, including the altar. An identical pair of olive wood cherabim, ten cubits high, were carved, their wings (five cubits long)  were placed in the inner room, with their wings spread out, touching opposite walls, and touching each other. These, too were overlaid with gold. The inner sanctuary had olive wood doors (with five-sided jambs), with carved cherubin, palms and flowers.
The whole interior of the temple was overlaid with gold, and the walls adorned with carved cherubim, palm trees, open flowers. The doors to the main hall were made of olive wood.
The inner courtyard was three courses of dressed stone, and one of cedar beams.
It took seven years to build this temple, completed in Solomon’s eleventh year (in the month of Bul).

Solomon Builds His Palace – Solomon’s palace takes thirteen years to build. The ‘Palace of the Forest of Lebanon’ was one hundred cubits long, fifty wide and thirty high – cedar columns supporting cedar beams, roofed with cedar, high windows in sets of three. Great doorways, in sets of three, facing each other were included. A colonnade (50 x 30 cubits), with a portico in front, and then pillars with an overhanging roof.
A throne hall (‘the Hall of Justice’), where the king would do his judging.
There was a palace of residence for Solomon, set further back; and he built a palace for Pharaoh’s daughter, one of his wives.
All this was made with ‘high-grade stone cut to size and trimmed with a saw’. Only the finest materials.

The Temple’s Furnishings – Solomon sends for fine bronze craftsman – Huram, whose mother was a Naphtali-ite, his father from Tyre. Huram came and worked brilliantly for Solomon.
Two bronze pillars, eighteen cubits high, and twelve cubits round, with five-cubit-high capitals to set on the pillar tops.
Interwoven chains ‘festooned the capitals’.
Pomegranates galore were crafted as decoration.
The portico capitals were lily-shaped, four feet high.
He even named the great pillars Jakin and Boaz. The pillars were complete!

In Pisidian Antioch – continuing Paul’s first missionary journey, they set sail from Paphos to Perga, where John leaves them to return to Jerusalem. From Perga, they journeyed to Pisidian Antioch, entering the synagogue there on the Sabbath day, and sitting down. After the reading of the word, the synagogue rulers invite Paul and the group to bring ‘a message of encouragememt’.
Paul stands up to address the congregation.
Paul grounds his address in God’s choosing of His people, their forefathers, leading them out of Egypt, through forty years in the wilderness, overthrowing nations in Canaan, and His people inheriting the land – around 450 years.
Then he speaks of the period of the judges and the prophet Samuel, then the kings – Saul, David and others – linking ‘the Saviour Jesus’ to the line of David, preceded by John the baptiser, quoting him saying, ‘He is coming after me, whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’
Then addressing the ‘children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles’, he outlines the ‘message of salvation’.
Though having no grounds for a death-sentence, the Jerusalem rulers asked Pilate for an execution. Jesus is crucified and buried, but is raised from the dead, and appears to may who are His witnesses.
Paul says it is good news  – the fulfilment of prophecies and promises – and uses Psalms to show them that Jesus was God’s Son. Unlike David, who died, was buried, and whose body decayed, ‘the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay’.
Paul tells them that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed.
‘Through Him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the Law of Moses’.

Here is the essence of Paul’s message, that Jesus brings a freedom and a complete ‘justification’ which is impossible for people, or for the Law to bring. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection IS the proclamation of forgiveness.

Musical direction for this song includes the tune ‘Do Not Destroy’ (would love to know what some of these tunes sounded like).
‘We give thanks to You, O God…for Your Name is near.
You say….’it is I who hold earth’s pillars firm.
To the arrogant I say, ‘Boast no more’.’
It is God who judges: He brings down one, he exalts another.
As for me, I will declare this for ever – I will sing praise to the God of Jacob.’