Rough Justice and God’s Perfect Timing

31 08 2011

DAY ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY FOUR : 2 Kings 6 v. 24 – 8 v. 15; Acts 22 v. 22 – 23 v. 11; Proverbs 16 v. 8 – 17

2 KINGS
Famine in Besieged Samaria –
Ben-Hadad and his troops (from Aram) lay siege to Samaria. During this time there’s a great famine in the city (a donkey’s head could fetch 80 shekels of silver; a fourth of a cab of seed pods for five shekels).
The king of Israel is passing by the wall, when a woman cries out for help. He asks her what the matter is.
The woman tells a story of a pact she made with another woman where each would give up her son to kill and eat. She had kept her side of the bargain, and cooked and ate her own son, but the other woman had hidden her son!
The king of Israel is heartbroken by this story, tears his robes and walks about in sackcloth. He pledges to get the head of Elisha before the day is out. He sends his messenger out to get Elisha, but Elisha and the elders hold the door shut against him. Elisha prophecies that by that same time on the next day ‘a seah of flour will sell for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel’.
The king’s officer suggests that this is wholly unlikely, ‘even if the Lord should open the floodgates of the heavens’.
Cryptically, Elisha says that the officer will see it happen, but will not eat any of it.

The Siege Lifted – Next the story turns to four lepers at the gate of the city. They realise that if they venture further into the city they will die because of the famine, but if they stay put at the city gate they’ll die there also. So they decide to surrender themselves to the Arameans, and they head over to their camp. When they got to the camp, the Arameans had fled, for ‘the Lord had caused the Arameans to hear the sound of chariots and horses and a great army’. Believing it was the Egyptians attacking, they’d fled.
When the lepers enter the camp the help themselves to the food and drink, the silver, gold and clothes they find in one of the tents. Then they decide to head back to Samaria and let the palace know of their great find (‘we’re not doing right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves’).
The king is woken, but suspects it’s a ploy from the Arameans to draw them out to the camp and then ambush them. So a small advance group is sent ahead to check out where the Arameans have gone. All they discover are the strewn clothes and equipment the Arameans have lost in their quick exit. So the Samarians went out to the camp and plundered it completely.
The officer who had questioned Elisha’s prophecy that the situation of famine would change completely in 24 hours was posted on the city gate, and is trampled to death in the stampede to and from the Aramean camp.
So Elisha’s prophecy is proven true, as ‘a seah of flour will be sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel….you will see it with your own eyes, but you will not eat any of it.’

The Shunammite’s Land Restored – Earlier, Elisha had predicted the famine, and urged the woman whose son he had brought back to life to go elsewhere for the next seven years. She had gone into the land of the Philistines for that length of time.
After seven years, she returned, asking the king for her house and land back.
At just the right time, as Elisha’s servant Gehazi is in conversation with the king about Elisha’s miraculous ministry, the woman turns up and verifies Gehazi’s claim that Elisha has brought people back from death.
Because of this precisely timed turn of events, ‘the king assigned an official to her case and said, ‘Give back everything that belonged to her, including all the income from her land from the day she left the country until now…’

God’s timing is so often so perfect, that we couldn’t have arranged it better ourselves…the king gets a taste of how powerfully good Elisha’s ministry is…and the woman gets much more than she’d hoped or wished for…including seven years of income from her land! All to do with God’s good timing.

Hazael Murders Ben-Hadad – Elisha is in Damascus, at a time when king Ben-Hadad of Aram is very ill. The king hears that Elisha is there and sends Hazael to Elisha to enquire whether he will recover from this illness (he seems unaware of the healings which have accompanied Elisha’s ministry, but focusses on his prophetic renown).
Hazael takes with him 40 camel-loads of the finest wares in Damascus (where would Elisha keep all that ?).
Elisha gives the message, ‘Go and say to him (the king), ‘You will certainly recover’, but tells Hazael, ‘the Lord has revealed to me that he will in fact die’.
Elisha stares straight into Hazael’s eyes; Hazael feels a strong sense of shame rise up in himself – Elisha is touching on the plan Hazael has to murder the king. Elisha begins to weep, and Hazael asks why he is crying. Elisha tells of all he, the prophet, sees ahead for the people of Israel, and the role Hazael will play in setting fire to cities, killing Israel’s young men and children and pregnant women.
Hazael claims he doesn’t know how all this might come about – Elisha retorts‘The Lord has shown me that you will become king of Aram.’
Hazael returns with the news that the king will recover, but the next day he smothers the king with a thick cloth soaked in water.
Hazael becomes king !

RELEASE INTERNATIONAL : Praying for Persecuted Christians (check out their website : www.releaseinternational.org)
Pray for the release of Mussie Eyob, an Eritrean Christian being held in Saudi Arabia.
A relatively new convert to Christianity, Mussie was arrested in February for sharing his faith.

ACTS
Paul the Roman Citizen – Paul has finished addressing the crowd, and now they turn against him again, shouting
‘Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!’
Paul is taken to the barracks as the crowd throw cloaks, kick dust, shouting.
Paul is being stretched out ready to be flogged, when he asks the question, ‘Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?’
Good question – the answer, of course, is ‘no – it’s not legal’.
The commander is brought and he asks Paul directly if he is a Roman citizen. Paul confirms that he is. Although the commander had had to pay a high price for his citizenship, Paul was born a citizen! Paul’s questioners withdraw, and the commander is alarmed at what he has done.

Oh the power of a well-placed, well-timed question

Before the Sanhedrin – to try to get to the bottom of things, the next day the commander releases Paul, but calls the chief priests and the Sanhedrin to meet, and summons Paul before them.
Paul begins by proclaiming his obedience to God. The high priest responds by telling those near him to strike Paul on the mouth.
Then Paul lets rip:
‘God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck’.
People are shocked that Paul has insulted the high priest, but Paul claims he was not aware that he was the high priest.
Paul then seeks to divide his accusers by raising the issue of his ‘hope in the resurrection of the dead’. It’s a belief which splits his audience. The Sadducees don’t believe in a resurrection (nor in angels or spirits), but the Pharisees do. So they start arguing between themselves.
The argument gets more and more heated, with the Pharisees beginning to side with Paul in his belief in a resurrection.
‘The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them’, so Paul is whisked away to the barracks.
The next night Paul has a vision of the Lord standing before him, saying
‘Take courage! As you have testified in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.’

God has not finished with Paul yet !!

PROVERBS
‘Better a little with righteousness than much gain with injustice’
‘In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps’
‘Kings take pleasure in honest lips; they value a man who speaks the truth’
‘How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver’
 





In a right stew! But there are ‘chariots of fire’.

30 08 2011

DAY ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-THREE : 2 Kings 4 v. 38 – 6 v. 23; Acts 21 v. 27 – 22 v. 21; Psalm 79 v. 1 – 13

2 KINGS
Death in the Pot – Elisha goes back to Gilgal, where there is then a famine. He tells his servant to put on a big pot of stew. One went to fetch herbs and found a mysterious wild vine. He took some of the fruit of that vine back (gourds), and put them in the pot. As it was being eaten, the prophets cried out ‘There’s death in the pot’. Elisha called for some flour to be added – this was done, and there ‘was nothing harmful in the pot’.

Feeding of a Hundred – A man from Baal Shalishah arrived with 20 loaves of barley bread. Elisha tells him to give it to the people to eat. When the man realises there’s more than a hundred men, he doesn’t know how it’s all going to go around. Elisha tells him the Lord has said, ‘They will eat and have some left over’. And that is what happened.

See how, with Jesus feeding 5,000 and more on different occasions, He is taking to another level the work of the prophets in the OT.

Naaman Healed of Leprosy – This is a great story.
Firstly, Naaman is a great character – ‘a great man in the sight of his master (the king), and highly regarded….He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy’.
Secondly, a young slave girl who had been trafficked from Israel, is filled with compassion for Naaman (the husband of her mistress), rather than bitterness in her situation, and opens up opportunities through her work-life to witness to God’s work through Elisha.
Thirdly, the king of Aram writes a letter to the king of Israel, offering gifts for the cure of Naaman’s leprosy. The king of Israel sees it as an incitement toward war, stating, ‘Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life?….’, panicking before first going to God himself. A reminder to us of the folly of panicking before we’ve had opportunity to go before God in prayer.
Fourthly, Naaman struggles with the way Elisha treats him. Elisha must be testing the man’s humility (as well as testing his motivations – this is, after all, a potential enemy army commander), when he sends a message for Naaman to wash seven times in the Jordan. Initially Naaman refuses, and is angry (he was hoping for a bit more ‘obvious’ magic from Elisha –‘I thought he would surely come out to me….wave his hand over the spot and cure me…’ and he moans about the quality of the river Jordan, preferring the rivers of Damascus (do we ever question God, as if we had a better idea than His…He is still teaching us humility, too).
Fifthly, it is Naaman’s servants who persuade him to give it a go (brave to challenge their master’s angry stubbornness). Naaman, does dip himself seven times and is cleansed. He returns to Elisha and offers him gifts – Elisha refuses (wanting the glory and thanksgiving to be offered to God, the source of Naaman’s healing).
Sixthly, Naaman commits to offer sacrifices only to the Lord (Elisha’s plan worked), but rightly seeks understanding that in his work he will have to go into the temple of Rimmon with his master, and to bow down (only in supporting his master) – ‘when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this’. Elisha offers ‘peace’ in this situation, and Naaman goes on his way.
Seventhly, Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, thinks he can benefit from this situation (again, thinking that he knows better than his master), so heads off after Naaman. He lies to Naaman, claiming that his master now needs some financial assistance (he has some surprise guests to cater for), and leaves with two talents of silver and two bags of clothes, hiding them in his house.
Elisha knows something is wrong, and initially denies having been anywhere. Elisha knows in his spirit that Gehazi has done wrong and proclaims, ‘Naaman’s leprosy will cling to you and to your descendants for ever.’

Naaman has learnt humility and obedience to God’s ways, whereas Gehazi has been disobedient and self-seeking, so the physical sickness passes from one to another….
I am particularly struck by the role that servants play in this story, steering Naaman towards God’s healing work in his life – what opportunities does God give us to be faith-filled in the workplace ? How might a word from us steer someone in the right direction ? It may, in fact, take less courage than is shown in this story…
 
An Axe-Head Floats – ‘The company of the prophets’ sounds a bit like a union – they are requesting a bigger meeting place, and have identified an area near the Jordan where they can get poles and build a place to live. Elisha says he will go with them.
Another miracle occurs, when one of them, cutting down a tree, sees his iron axe-head fly off into the river. He panics because it is a borrowed axe. Elisha throws a stick into the water at the spot where the axe-head sank, and the iron floated to the surface. The axe-head is retrieved.

God cares as much about our physical activity (and work) as about any other activity we may carry out. The key is to do everything ‘to the glory of God’, as if ‘for Him’.

Elisha Traps Blinded Arameans – so, the people of Israel and Aram are at war with one another. Elisha keeps receiving revelation about where the opposition camp is setting up. ‘Time and time again, Elisha warned the king, so that he was on his guard in such places’.
The king of Aram gets more and more annoyed by this, wondering where the information is coming from, suspecting a leak from within his camp.
His officers point the finger at Elisha, the prophet – he is able to ‘tell the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom’.
The king sends troops out to capture Elisha, surrounding the city of Dothan one night.
Elisha’s servants ask what should be done, as the city is surrounded.
‘Don’t be afraid…those who are with us are more than those who are with them’ (it’s a sort of ‘greater is He that is in us, than he that is in the world’ moment). Through Elisha’s prayer, the servant is able to see the hills filled with horses and ‘chariots of fire’.
Elisha prays that the enemy may be blinded – and they are – and Elisha guides the blinded enemy away from Dothan, all the way to Samaria, trapping them. When their eyes are opened, the king of Israel asks Elisha whether he should have them all killed. Elisha urges the king not to kill them, but to show them hospitality, feeding them at a great feast, and then sending them on their way, back to the king of Aram.
‘So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory.’

Never forget the host of God’s army, invisible, fighting on the side of justice and righteousness. Never forget all the riches of heaven made available for believers. Never be tempted to face struggles alone. The best of all is God is with us !

ACTS
Paul Arrested – After seven days in Jerusalem, some Jews from Asia recognised Paul in the temple, and stirred up the crowd to seize him. ‘This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place…he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place’.
There’s an uprising against Paul, and they drag him from the temple (the doors firmly shut behind him). As they are trying to kill him (!!), the Roman troops came in to stop the uproar.‘When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.’
Paul is arrested and bound with two chains. The crowd seem split on why Paul has been arrested, and the commander doesn’t feel he’s getting to the truth. Paul is taken to the barracks, where he has to be carried in by the soldiers because the people were being so violent towards him.

Paul’s life is literally in danger – such anger and aggression towards him, stirred up by these Asian Jews. He shows himself true to his word, that he is prepared to die for the gospel….

Paul Speaks to the Crowd – Paul asks the commander for an opportunity to speak to the people. He outlines his life story to the listening crowd.
– he addresses them as ‘Brothers and fathers’.
– he speaks in Aramaic to them (the commander had asked if Paul spoke in Greek, and if he was an Egyptian bandit???)
– he tells of his upbringing : a Jew from Tarsus, brought up in Jerusalem, trained (in the law) under Gamaliel
– he claims he was just as zealous as any in the crowd, persecuting followers of the Way
– he has references from the high priest and the Council testifying how he had arrested men and women and was on his way to Damascus to do the same
– he tells of his experience on the way : 12 noon, bright light, a voice saying ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’
– the voice introduces himself as ‘Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting’, and tells Paul to go to Damascus, where he will get his instructions
‘the brilliance of the light had blinded me’
– Paul tells how Ananias came to visit him (a highly respected Jew), and spoke healing into him, to receive his sight back
– Ananias tells Paul ‘You will be His (the Righteous One) witness to all men….what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptised and wash your sins away, calling on His name’
–  Paul tells how he heard from God once he returned to Jerusalem, where he realised that the testimony he would be bringing would not be accepted by those who had known him as a persecutor of the faith he was now proclaiming. He was known as the one who gave approval for Stephen to be stoned to death
– Paul heard the Lord say, ‘I will send you far away to the Gentiles….’

God uses this situation to convince Paul that he has a specific mission to the Gentiles – a mission which will involve a great amount of travelling. God is able to turn every situation to his good, perfect and pleasing purpose.

PSALM (from ‘My Psalms’ : putting the psalms into my own words)
O Lord, our God,

see how the surrounding peoples have invaded Your property,
have desecrated Your temple,
have torn Jerusalem down to dust.
See how the neighbouring nations have hung up the bodies of Your people
as food for birds,
as meat for wild animals.
See the blood flowing down Jerusalem’s streets,
and bodies strewn with no-one to bury them.
Listen to the scorn, the jeering, the ridicule of our near-neighbours.
We are a laughing stock.

O Lord, our God,
how long will this go on for ?
Will You always be this angry with us ?
Will Your jealous ownership of us always come with such fire-hot burning ?
Turn Your anger against our enemy-neighbours.
Take it out on those who don’t honour You,
on the peoples who don’t cry out Your name.
It is they who have ruined the land (of Jacob),
it is they who have destroyed the homeland.
Please don’t keep us trapped in the punishment caused by our ancestors;
instead, meet us with your mercy and forgiveness.
We are desperate. We need You.
Now.

O God, our Saviour,
bring great glory to Your name. Rescue us !
Save us from the consequences of our sins.
Set us free!
Listen to all the peoples, muttering
“So, where is their mighty God now, then ?”
Show them, Lord. Let them have it, God.
Let eyes see for themselves how You
pay back those who attack and kill Your people,
Your servants.
Hear the cries of Your people in prison,
and flex Your muscles,
that those on death row may live on, and on.

O Lord, our God,
heap seven times the trouble on them,
our neighbours who have cursed You.
Then we will worship You for ever and ever,
praising You down the ages,
glorifying You down our family lines,
Your people, Your flock,
singing of all Your goodness, over and over again.
AMEN.





Against all the advice….God’s will be done.

17 08 2011

DAY ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY TWO : 2 Kings 3 v. 1 – 4 v. 37; Acts 21 v. 1 – 26; Psalm 78 v. 56 – 72

'pour oil into all the jars until each is filled'

2 KINGS
Moab Revolts – So Joram becomes king of Israel in Jehoshaphat’s eighteenth year as king of Judah. Joram reigns for twelve years, but continues the line of those who do evil in the eyes of the Lord. Although he did get rid of the ‘sacred stone of Baal that his father had made’, he still clung to many of the sins of his ancestors, turning from God.
There had been an arrangement with the king of Moab, Mesha, that he would supply 100,000 sheep (and the wool of 100,000 rams) to Israel. However when king Ahab died, Mesha rebelled against this agreement. King Joram enlists the support of king Jehoshaphat and all the army of Israel and Judah. They agree to go via the Edom Desert (and the king of Edom joins with them, too). However, after seven days, all their water had gone, and the fear grew that they and their animals would die of thirst.
Ahab, in his lack of faith and trust cries out, ‘Has the Lord called us three kings together only to hand us over to Moab?’
Elisha, the Lord’s prophet, is in the entourage, so the kings seek him out.
Elisha asks Ahab first off, why has he not gone to the prophets his father and mother used. Ahab recognises, however, that it was the Lord God who brought the kings together. Elisha states that it’s only because Jehoshaphat is there that he will get involved. He asks for a harpist.
It is as the harpist plays that Elisha senses God’s hand, and knows God’s instruction that they build ditches which He will fill with water.
‘You will see neither wind nor rain, yet this valley will be filled with water, and you, your cattle and your other animals will drink.’
And the promise is that Moab will be handed over to them.
The following morning, just as God had promised, the ditch was filled with water (flowing from Edom). Enough water for all.
From Moab, the enemy look on, and see what looks like rivers of blood. They assume that the kings have fought with each other, and slaughtered themselves. So they head in to plunder their goods.
All Israel rises up to fight, to their surprise, and the Moabites flee – the Israelites invade the land and slaughter the Moabites, mass destruction of fields, springs, trees.
In one final, last-ditched attempt, Moab’s king rallies some 700 troops and tries to push through to get the king of Edom, but fails. So, he offers his firstborn son (and heir) as a sacrifice, enraged at all Israel has done, and retreating.

The Widow’s Oil – Elisha hears the cry of a widow, whose husband had been one of the prophets ‘who revered the Lord’, and who has the creditors coming to take her two sons into slavery. Elisha (like Jesus at times) asks, ‘How can I help you….?’. He asks what she DOES have in her home.
Nothing but a little oil.
Elisha sends her out to collect lots of empty jars from her neighbours (‘everybody needs good neighbours…’), and not just a few jars, but LOTS !!
Elisha tells her to secretly (just her and her sons, behind closed doors) pour oil into each jar, filling each one.
When all the jars were filled, the oil stopped flowing! (Just enough and no more….‘give us this day our daily bread’)
Elisha instructs her to go and sell the oil, pay the debt, and live on what’s left.
God’s miraculous provision !

The Shunammite’s Son Restored to Life – Another day, Elisha is in Shumen, where a wealthy lady invited him to dinner. He ate with her and the family on several occasions, until she persuades her husband to make up a room for him on the roof, so that Elisha could stop over whenever he was in the area.
On one such occasion, he get his servant to call the Shunammite woman to him, and asks her what good deed he can do for her (as she has shown such kindness to him). She and her husband have had no children, and her husband is quite old now. Elisha announces to her that this time next year she will have a son in her arms. She begs him not to give her false hope.
Just as Elisha had prophesied, a year later she gave birth to a son, who grew into childhood. One day he complained about a sore head, and his mother nursed him until noon, when he died. She laid him on Elisha’s bed and sent a servant to fetch the prophet. Her husband suggested she wait till New Moon or the Sabbath (seen as good days to seek out the prophet), but she can’t wait.
She goes speedily on the donkey her servant has brought, and approached Elisha on Mt. Carmel.
Elisha sees her coming and sends his servant out to ask if everything is okay. She gives the message that everything is alright (though it’s clearly not…I think she just wants to get to see Elisha in person as quickly as possible).
She falls at Elisha’s feet and he sees her ‘bitter distress’. Again, the woman suggests that Elisha gave her false hope all along – the son she had been promised had died.
Elisha arranges to send Gehazi, his servant, to lay Elisha’s staff on the boy, that he might be revived.
The woman is insistent that Elisha goes back with her – she won’t leave him until he does.
So they leave, Gehazi going on ahead. He lays Elisha’s staff on the boy, but it has no effect.
Elisha finds the boy laid out on his bed / couch. He prays, and lies over the boy’s body. The boy’s body gradually got warmer.
‘Elisha turned away and walked back and forth in the room and then got onto the bed and stretched out upon him once more’  (my study bible says ‘the effort required to raise the dead may be contrasted with the spoken word of Christ (e.g. Mark 5 v. 39 – 42)’
The boy sneezes seven times and opened his eyes.
He is revived with a loud atchoo !!
The boy’s mother falls at Elisha’s feet in awe, wonder and praise.

ACTS
On to Jerusalem – The emotional farewell to the Ephesians out of the way, Paul set sail for Cos, then Rhodes, then Patara; then on a boat to Phoenicia, sailing south of Cyprus, on to Syria. The boat landed at Tyre, where the cargo was unloaded, and they met up with the disciples there, staying for seven days. ‘Through the Spirit, they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem’. However, they did continue on their way. Again, there’s an emotional farewell from the beach there, where all the disciples and their families gather to pray with them before they leave.
From Tyre to Ptolemais, staying with the ‘brothers’ there overnight. From there to Caesarea, stopping for a few days with Philip the evangelist (one of the Seven), whose four unmarried daughters all prophesied.
Agabus the prophet came from Judea to see Paul; he took Paul’s belt and symbolically tied his feet and hands with it. He said the Holy Spirit had told him ‘the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and hand him over’.
Plenty of warnings are coming Paul’s way, and everyone pleaded with Paul not to go to Jerusalem.
‘I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’
Eventually the people gave up trying to dissuade him and prayed, ‘The Lord’s will be done.’
So the journey to Jerusalem continued, and they stayed in the house of Mnason, a Cypriot, who was amongst the earliest of all the disciples.

Paul had to resist a lot of advice, concern, warnings, even from the Holy Spirit’s promptings, to get to Jerusalem. He is afraid of nothing and no-one, and is determined to get there.

Paul’s Arrival at Jerusalem – Paul and his companions receive a warm welcome from the ‘brothers’ in Jerusalem. After a night’s rest, they go to visit James and the elders the next day, reporting back all that was happening in the mission to the Gentiles.
They praise and worship God for all the news that is being received.
There is clearly still sharp disagreement in some quarters about Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles. The decision that Gentiles do not need to be circumcised is making some say that Paul’s teaching is a turning away from Moses. To show that this is not the case, Paul is urged to join in with the purification rites of four men who have just made a vow, and to pay for their heads to be shaved as part of that vow. In this way, Paul will be showing his allegiance to both the Gentiles and the Jews who are turning to Jesus.
Paul does as has been proposed, taking the men with him, and giving notice of the days of purification and the offerings at the end of this ritual.

PSALM
‘God is tested – they rebel against Him, the Most High;
disloyal, faithless, like their ancestors;
angering God with their high shrines;
God is angered, and Israel is rejected;
God abandons His tabernacle in Shiloh;
the ark is captured – ‘His splendour into the hands of the enemy’;
His people are given over to the sword and to fire;
maidens are left unmarried; widows unable to weep;
THEN THE LORD WOKE, AS FROM SLEEP –
He beat back the enemies…He chose the tribe of Judah,
Mt. Zion which He loved, building His sanctuary there.
He chose David, from the sheep pens, to shepherd His people…
AND DAVID SHEPHERDED THEM WITH INTEGRITY OF HEART
WITH SKILFUL HANDS HE LED THEM…’

(I like the twin-track praise the psalmist sees in David – both CHARACTER (Integrity of Heart) and COMPETENCE (Skilful Hands) – are necessary qualities in Christian discipleship and leadership).





Time to say goodbye – Elijah leaves Elisha…Paul leaves the Ephesians

13 08 2011

DAY ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-ONE : 2 Kings 1 v. 1 – 2 v. 25; Acts 20 v. 1 – 38; Psalm 78 v. 40 – 55

2 KINGS
The Lord’s Judgment on Ahaziah – After the death of Israel’s king Ahab, Moab rebels. Ahaziah (the successor) fell from his upper room in Samaria and was injured, so he enquired of Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron, to see if he would get better.
The Lord sent Elijah to intercept the messengers, and he questioned them : ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going off to consult Baal-Zebub…therefore you will not leave the bed you are lying on. You will certainly die.’
The messengers pass on the news to Ahaziah. From a description of the man who had met them on the way, Ahaziah worked out it was Elijah (‘a man with a garment of hair and a leather belt around his waist’), so Ahaziah sends a troop of fifty men with their commander to bring Elijah to him.
Elijah, sitting on top of a hill, states that if he is a man of God, fire will come down from heaven and consume them….and it does. All of them!
The king sent another fifty men with a captain. The same thing happens again – fire from heaven consumes them all.
The king sent a third captain and fifty men. This time the captain pleads with Elijah to ‘have respect for my life and the lives of these fifty men…’, aware of the destruction of the previous two groups.
Elijah is instructed by the angel of the Lord to accompany this third group, which he does. He passes the same message directly to the king – ‘because you have sent messengers to consult Baal-Zebub…you will certainly die.’ And he does. There and then!
Ahaziah has no heir to his throne, so Joram becomes king as Jehoram is enjoying his second year as king of Judah.
All Ahaziah’s deeds are recorded in the annals of the kings of Israel.

Elijah Taken Up to Heaven – It is coming towards the time when Elijah is to be taken up to heaven, and he and Elisha are together, travelling from Gilgal. Elijah asks Elisha to stay where he is, whilst Elijah goes on to Bethel. Elisha says he won’t leave him, so they travel onwards together.
The prophets of Bethel know what is about to happen, too. They approach Elisha and ask if he’s aware that the Lord is going to take Elijah on that day. Elisha says that he knows. Elijah says he must push on to Jericho, but that Elisha should stay put. Again Elisha insists on going, and not leaving Elijah, so they travel onwards together.
The prophets of Jericho come and ask Elisha the same question, and Elisha says he knows that the Lord is going to take Elijah on that day.
Elijah says he must push on to the Jordan, but that Elisha should stay put. For a third time, Elisha insists on going with him, so they walk on together.
Fifty prophets have accompanied them to this place and, at a distance, face Elijah and Elisha at the Jordan.
Elijah takes his cloak off and strikes the water with it – the Jordan river parts, and they cross over the river on dry land.
Elijah offers Elisha any last request – ‘what can I do for you before I am taken from you?’
Elisha asks for ‘a double portion of your spirit’. Elijah suggest that though this is difficult to promise, yet‘if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours’.

The ‘double portion’ represents the first-born son’s inheritance – a double portion for the son-and-heir, and a single portion for other sons. Elisha is asking to be Elijah’s true successor / heir.

Suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared, and Elijah is taken up into heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha is just stunned and stands shouting, ‘My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!’ Elijah disappears from his sight, and Elisha tears his own clothes in anguish.
He picks up Elijah’s cloak (symbolic of passing / receiving the baton), and when he arrives back at the Jordan river, he strikes the water with Elijah’s cloak, and the waters part for him. Clearly this indicates that the ‘God of Elijah’ is most definitely with Elisha.
The prophets from Jericho see all this and recognise that ‘the spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha’.
The prophets go to meet Elisha, and bow before him. They ask that they might go searching for Elijah – ‘perhaps the Spirit of the Lord has picked him up and set him down on some mountain or in some valley’.
Elisha urges them not to waste time looking for Elijah, but they will have none of it, and so fifty men are sent to search for him. Three days later they return with no news of Elijah, and Elisha says…’told you so!!’.

Healing of the Water –
Something has gone wrong with the water supply in Jericho, and it is making the land unproductive. Elisha asks for a new bowl and some salt to be brought to him. Elisha then throws the salt into the spring, and says, ‘The Lord says, ‘I have healed this water. Never again will it cause death or make the land unproductive’. Jericho’s water has remained ‘wholesome’ from then on.

Elisha is Jeered – Elisha returned to Bethel, where some young people came out and started laughing at him, jeering, calling him ‘bald-head / baldy’. Elisha looked at them, calling down a curse from the Lord upon them. Two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of them to death.
Elisha continued on to Mt. Carmel and then on to Samaria.

Paul raises Eutychus from death

ACTS
Through Macedonia and Greece – after the riots, Paul sends for the disciples, encourages them, and then prepares to leave for Macedonia. He went encouraging people throughout that region, finally arriving in Greece, staying there for three months.
The Jews are plotting against him, so he alters his plans, not sailing for Syria but going back through Macedonia.
He has many companions, including Sopater, Aristarchus, Sedundus, Gaius, Timothy and Tychicus and Trophimus. They go on ahead of Paul, waiting at Troas, whilst Paul sails from Philippi and join the others five days later. They stayed in Troas seven days.

Eutychus Raised from the Dead in Troas – there’s a breaking of bread on the first day of the week (Sunday?), Paul speaks to / teaches the people all night (’til midnight). The upper room where they were sitting was filled with lamplight. A young man, Eutychus, was sitting in the window the home, and he dropped off to sleep (as Paul ‘talked on and on’), and dropped out of the window! It was a three-floor drop, and he died when he hit the ground. Paul went down, threw himself on the man, and wrapped his arms around him, telling the people not to worry and proclaiming him alive. They went upstairs and shared broken bread.
Paul didn’t even call it a day then, but carried on teaching until daybreak, then he left them.
Eutychus returned home fit and well.

This story is almost an aside in the teaching ministry of Paul, but how wonderful that he sees the dead raised ! Check out Jeff Larson’s brilliant cartoon, where he jokes that Eutychus becomes the patron saint of all who fall asleep in church !!!
http://thebackpew.com/backpew/0_eutychusfalls.htm

Paul’s Farewell to the Ephesian Elders – the journeys continue : sailing for Assos to take Paul on board, as he had travelled there on foot. Sailing on to Mitylene, and then to Kios, and on to Samos, and Miletus. Paul was keen to get to Jerusalem as soon as possible (by Pentecost), so decided to sail past Ephesus, but he did send word to the Ephesians, asking to see the church elders. His message to them included the following :
~ I served the Lord amongst you with great humility and tears, tested by the plots of the Jews
~ I have taught publicly what I believed to be helpful, to both Jews and Greeks (turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord)
~ compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem
~ I know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me
~ ‘However I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace’
~ you won’t see me again; I declare my innocence (others must be casting doubt on this, claiming Paul is guilty of bloodshed);
~ keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, bought with His own blood
~ savage wolves will come in to destroy…arising and distorting the truth to draw disciples away. Be on your guard !
~ I commit you to God and to the word of His grace which can build you up…among all who are sanctified (made holy)
~ my own hands have worked for what I’ve needed – I’ve not coveted – help the weak
~ ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’
Paul kneels and prays for them all. Lots of weeping and kissing, because he’d said they’d probably not see him again. They go to the ship with him to wave him off….

PSALM
‘they kept on rebelling against Him in the desert
again and again they put God to the test
they did not remember His power – the day He redeemed them
forgetting all the plagues He sent – rivers of blood, swarms of flies,
frogs, grasshoppers, sleet, hail and lightning, striking the firstborn of Egypt.
He brought His people out like a flock…He guided them safely whilst the sea engulfed their enemies,
bringing them to the holy land…and settling the tribes of Israel in their homes.’





Political turmoil and rioting on the streets…of Ephesus!

12 08 2011

DAY ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY : 1 Kings 22 v. 1 – 53; Acts 19 v. 14 – 41; Proverbs 15 v. 31 – 16 v. 7

1 KINGS
Micaiah Prophesies Against Ahab – There’s a three year peace between Aram and Israel, but then the kings of Judah (Jehoshaphat) and Israel met. Israel was wanting to take back Ramoth Gilead from the king of Aram. Jehoshaphat offers to stand with the king of Israel : ‘I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses’.
They agree, first, however, to seek the Lord. The king of Israel gathers around 400 prophets, and all of them bring the word that they should go, fight and reclaim Ramoth Gilead (the Lord will give it to the king). Jehoshaphat asks for a second opinion (or a 401st opinion) from a true prophet of the Lord. The king of Israel says :
‘There is still one man through whom we can enquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad….’

The role of the prophet is often to bring challenging, unpopular words especially to those in authority / power. Some of the prophetic words being spoken at present in the light of the riots across our cities will be difficult for our politicians, media, police etc. to hear, and are a real challenge to us as church in this land….the king of Israel had hatred for the prophet of the Lord…

Jehoshaphat tells the king of Israel that he shouldn’t be talking about God’s prophet like that, and Micaiah is sent for.
The two kings are sat on their thrones together, surrounded by the prophets. Zedekiah steps forward with iron horns he has crafted – a symbolic prophetic act  – ‘with these you will gore the Arameans’.
All the other prophets join in urging them to attack Ramoth Gilead.
The messenger who has gone to Micaiah urges him to align himself with the hundreds of prophets, but he stands his ground :
‘I can tell him only what the Lord tells me’.
Before the kings, Micaiah is asked by Ahab whether they should go to war or not.
Micaiah initially suggest that they should fight – maybe Ahab was not expecting that answer (thought there’s more to come), and he urges Micaiah to tell ‘nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord’.
Micaiah tells Ahab of a vision he’d had of all Israel scattered like lost sheep without a shepherd (a direct attack on the lack of spiritual leadership from Ahab). Ahab recognises this attack, with an ‘I told you so’ to Jehoshaphat.
Micaiah continues to say that, in his vision, God had asked who (from the host of heaven) would ‘entice’ Ahab into a battle with Ramoth Gilead, where Ahab would lose his life. Various suggestions were made (that’s unsettling in itself!), before one spirit came forward and offered to be a lying spirit infecting the 400 prophets. God approves this plan.
‘So now the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The Lord has decreed disaster for you.’
Zedekiah slapped Micaiah in the face, spitefully suggesting the lying spirit has left them and entered him !
All Micaiah, as a true prophet, needs to say is ‘let’s see what happens’, knowing that God will fulfil all He has said.
Ahab orders Micaiah to be thrown in prison, and given meagre rations.
Micaiah’s final warning, as he is taken of is, ‘If you ever return safely, the Lord has not spoken through me….Mark my words, all you people!‘.

Ahab Killed at Ramoth Gilead –
the two kings go to Ramoth Gilead – Ahab going into the heat of the battle in disguise, while Jehoshaphat wears his royal robes (who is most vulnerable here ?).
The king of Aram had sent the message to particularly go for the Ahab, and some of the commanders mistake Jehoshaphat (dressed in his robes) as the king of Israel and are ready to attack him until they recognised that his voice was not that of Ahab’s. They leave Jehoshaphat alone.
Ahab, however, is struck in battle, hit by an arrow between the sections of his armour. The king bleeds to death throughout the day, watching the battle from a distance. There’s a cry throughout the army camp on the news of his death.
Ahab is buried in Samaria – his chariot is washed down with water from the pool where prostitutes bathed (and dogs licked the blood, too, as a fulfilment of a prophecy).
All Ahab’s deeds are recorded in the annals of the kings of Israel, including the ivory-inlaid palace he had built, and the cities he fortified.

Jehoshaphat King of Judah – Asa’s son Jehoshaphat become king in Judah, after Ahab has been king in Israel for four years. Jehoshaphat is 35 years old, and he reigns for twenty-five years. In contrast to Israel’s evil kings, Jehoshaphat ‘walked in the ways of his father Asa and did not stray from them; he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord’.
There is also peace between Israel and Judah during Jehoshaphat’s reign.
All Jehoshaphat’s deeds are recorded in the annals of the kings of Israel – including ridding the land of the male shrine-prostitutes. He also influenced the region of Edom, reclaiming it. He built a fleet of trading ships to set sail for Ophir’s gold – but they were wrecked before they could get there.
When Jehoshaphat died (‘rested with his fathers’) he was buried in the city of David. His son, Jehoram, succeeds him.

Ahaziah King of Israel –
So, Ahaziah, Ahab’s son, succeeds him and becomes king in Israel, after Jehoshaphat has been ruling in Judah for seventeen years. Ahaziah only lasted two years, as he ‘did evil in the eyes of the Lord’, causing Israel to sin, serving and worshipping Baal, provoking the Lord’s anger.


ACTS

Paul in Ephesus (cont.) – amongst those Jews who were trying to drive out demons in Jesus’ name were the seven sons of Sceva (Chief Priest). One day they were surprised to hear back from the evil spirit they were trying to banish…
‘I know Jesus, I know Paul, but I don’t recognise you’
and the spirit compelled the man to jump on them and beat them all up, such that they all fled the house naked and bleeding.
News of this spreads around Ephesus, and a holy fear, even a reverence for the power which is in the name of Jesus.
People who had become believers in Jesus ‘openly confessed their evil deeds’ – an expression of a deep desire for holiness (sanctification) beyond initial conversion. They burnt artifacts from their past (especially connected with sorcery) – approximately 50,000 drachma-worth of scrolls were burnt.
The word of the Lord is conquering the scrolls of sorcery.
Paul is then led to prepare to go to Jerusalem (via Macedonia / Achaia) and then on to Rome, sending Timothy and Erastus ahead of him, whilst he finished off in Asia.

this week we have seen anti-riot police on the streets of Britain, once again...

Riot in Ephesus –  mmm, timely reading today, after a week which has seen terrible rioting and looting on the streets of Britain’s cities. After all the heat and anger, sadness and disgust directed at the rioters, there is a need to ask the deeper questions about ‘why’; what motivated people to do this; what underlying problems in our society lead to such violence, and disregard for people and their properties ?
So, we have a passage of scripture about a riot in Ephesus, and the ringleader is a businessman named Demetrius, a silversmith ‘who brought in no little business for the craftsmen’. His trade around the shrines of Artemis is threatened by the spread of the gospel. Paul is preaching against their gold and silver idols such that ‘there is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited…and robbed of her divine majesty’.

I find these words very revealing. The real motivation for rioting here is not protecting the name and shrines of Artemis, but a greed and self-protectionism which the shrines of Artemis have allowed to develop. I would dare to suggest that those who have been ‘discredited’ in recent years in Britain include the bankers (recklessness leading to financial meltdown), the politicians (expenses claims), the media (phone hacking), the police (accepting bribes for information) – those who may be quickest to throw mud at the rioters this week. 
Even today, I felt the media were showing too much, even ‘glorifying’ ten, eleven and twelve year olds for their acts of violence. This nation needs a much bigger and deeper conversation about its people and our social responsibility, not the shallow protectionism of business and personal interest. The gaps are too big, the inequalities too great.
Those are my thoughts today, for what they are worth….

The tradesmen are furious and shout loudly stirring the ‘whole city’ into a frenzied uproar. Paul’s companions (Gaius and Aristarchus) are seized, and the great theatre in Ephesus becomes the stage for the unfolding scene. Paul wanted to make an appearance but the disciples persuaded him not to.
There was great confusion (as there is in a riot) – different people there for different reasons (and some for no reason at all, I guess – ‘most of the people did not even know why they were there’ (sheep without a shepherd?))
A Jew, Alexander, is pushed to the front to try to quieten the crowd, but they turn against his Jewishness and shout even louder for Artemis.
It is the city clerk who quietens the crowd some two hours later. He basically encourages them to let the law and the courts settle this dispute – that’s where charges should be pressed. ‘We are in danger of being charged with rioting because of today’s events’. He succeeds in sending the crowds home.

PROVERBS
‘He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise…
He who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever heeds correction gains understanding…
The fear of the Lord teaches wisdom, and humility comes before honour….
Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed…
Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for;
through fear of the Lord a man avoids evil.’





Light and darkness, good and evil….mob rule destruction or Spirit-filled transformation

10 08 2011

DAY ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-NINE : 1 Kings 20 v. 1 – 21 v. 29; Acts 18 v. 9 – 19 v. 13; Psalm 78 v. 32 – 39

Ahab has his eye on Naboth's vineyard

1 KINGS
Ben-Hadad Attacks Samaria – the king of Aram gathers his army, along with 32 other kings and their armies, Ben Hadad attacks Samaria. The dialogue between Ben-Hadad and Ahab is a reminder of how wars escalate :
B-H : We’re going to attack and take off with all your silver and gold, and the best of your wives and children (how would they choose the ‘best’?)
A : Okay, you can have all the silver and gold, and the wives and children – ‘I and all I have are yours’.
B-H : Okay, but tomorrow, my officials are coming to search your palace and your officials’ houses, and will take everything valuable
A : (after consulting with his elders, who tell him not to give in to B-H’s demands) No way ! The first demand was just about acceptable, but not the second!
B-H : (a reply along the lines of ‘then I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down’) Samaria will be wiped off the face of the earth, not even traces of dust will remain.
A : ‘One who puts on his armour should not boast like one who takes it off’
B-H is now well and truly pumped up for battle – ‘Prepare to attack’ he orders his men, as they sit drinking in their tents.

Ahab Defeats Ben-Hadad – however, B-H doesn’t realise the power of God on Ahab’s side. Ahab is visited by a prophet who tells him that God will deliver this vast army into his hands.
A : But who will do this ?
P : ‘The young officers of the provincial commanders’
A : And who will start the battle ?
P : You will
Ahab gathers his men and sets out at noon, while B-H and his men are still getting drunk in their tents. B-H’s scouts see the Israelite army approaching, and instructs his men to take them alive (they are of more use to him that way).
But it’s the young officers of the Israelite army who strike down all their opponents, pursuing the Arameans, with B-H escaping on horseback.
Ahab advances and overpowers many – the Arameans suffer heavy losses.
The prophet reappears urging Ahab to strengthen his position, because another attach will come in the spring.
B-H’s officials advise him to fight next on the plains (claiming Israel’s gods were gods of the hills), and to take the time to muster a larger army. B-H agrees and spends time doing this.
In the next springtime, B-H gathers the Arameans to fight Israel at Aphek.
As the two armies gather, B-H’s army covers a vast area of countryside, whilst Ahab’s army looks like two small flocks of goats (another David and Goliath moment for Israel).
Again the prophet (the man of God) comes to encourage Ahab, that God will deliver this vast army into his hands (for the Arameans’ sin of calling the Lord a god of the hills).
There’s a seven day stand-off, then the battle commences. 100,000 Arameans are killed in one day; the rest escape to Aphek, but the city wall collapses and kills another 27,000. B-H is in hiding in an inner room.
B-H pleads for mercy from Ahab, sending messengers in sackcloth; Ahab prepares to make a treaty with B-H (‘Is he still alive ? He is my brother.‘) and sets him free.

A Prophet Condemns Ahab – by a strange turn of prophetic events, a son of a prophet asks his companion to strike him, and he refuses; the prophet’s son declares that this companion, because he has refused, will be attacked and killed by a lion. This, of course, is what happens next – he is attacked and killed by a lion.
A second time, this prophet asks a companion to strike him. This time the companion does, and wounds the prophet.
The third act involves the prophet disguising himself along the roadside to intercept king Ahab as he passed by. The conversation goes :
Prophet (disguised) : I was sent into battle, your majesty, and was asked to guard a man who had been taken captive. If I lost this man, I would lose my life (or at least lose a talent of silver). When I was busy, in an instant, with my back turned, the man escaped.
Ahab : You pronounced your own sentence ! Life for life.
P (taking off his disguise, and instantly recognised by Ahab) : God says that this is precisely what you have done – set free a man God had determined to die – therefore, life for life is the sentence.

King Ahab returns to his palace ‘sullen and angry’. Well you would, wouldn’t you !!

Naboth’s Vineyard –
an incident occurred sometime later. Naboth’s vineyard, in Jezreel, was near to Ahab’s palace, and Ahab asked for it to be a vegetable garden for the palace in exchange for a better vineyard elsewhere or good money. Naboth refused to hand over the vineyard which had been in his family for generations.
Ahab is ‘sullen and angry’ again (this emotional response is beginning to be habitual !!). He sulks and refuses to eat – the king is having a strop !!
Queen Jezebel comes to find out what’s wrong, and when she hears, persuades Ahab to let her sort the situation out.
‘Is this how you act as king over Israel? Get up and eat! Cheer up. I’ll get you the vineyard…’
She writes letters in Ahab’s name to the leaders in Jezreel, organising for Naboth to be wrongly accused of cursing God and the king, and to be stoned to death.
When Jezebel gets the news, she immediately tells Ahab to take possession of the vineyard, and he does.
At the same time, God is speaking to Elijah, arranging for him to meet Ahab, with the message
‘Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?…..In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood – yes, yours.’
Ahab addresses Elijah as his ‘enemy’, and Elijah talks of the disaster God is going to bring upon Ahab and his descendants ‘because you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord.’ God will do as He had done to Jeroboam’s and Baasha’s household.
Jezebel, also, will be devoured.
Ahab is cast as the worst of all men, selling himself to do evil, urged on by Jezebel. ‘He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols…’
Ahab tears his clothes and wears sackcloth and fasts, truly repenting. This brings God’s mercy to bear, and He tells Elijah :‘because he has humbled himself, I will not bring disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son.’

ACTS
Paul in Corinth – Because of a night-vision in which God tells Paul it is safe to stay in Corinth, that he should keep speaking, Paul remains there for one and a half years, teaching God’s word.
Jews unite to have Paul brought before Gallio, the proconsul, in court, charging Paul with ‘persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law’.
Before Paul has the chance to speak, Gallio throws the case out of court, telling the Jews to settle the matter themselves; he does not want to get caught in such trivial issues. As a result Sosthenes, the synagogue ruler, is beaten up in front of the court.

Priscilla, Aquila and Apollos – when the time came for Paul to leave, he set sail for Syria, with Priscilla and Aquila. Paul has his hair cut off as part of a vow he had made. Paul parts from Priscilla and Aquila at Ephesus, where he stays and teaches in the synagogue. Although they urge Paul to stay, he presses on, promising to return ‘if it is God’s will’.
Paul arrives in Caesarea, greeting the church there and makes his way to Antioch. After time in Antioch, he moves on through Galatia and Phrygia, ‘strengthening all the disciples’.
A Jew named Apollos (from Alexandria) arrived in Ephesus – a man well-versed in Scripture – he ‘spoke with great fervour and taught about Jesus accurately, though he know only the baptism of John.’
Priscilla and Aquila take him into their home and teach him some of the deeper ways of God.
Apollos moves on to Achaia, encouraged by a letter sent to the church there urging them to welcome Apollos. He is a great help to the grace-filled believers there. His strength was in public debate, arguing convincingly from Scripture that ‘Jesus was the Christ.’

Paul in Ephesus – So, with Apollos in Corinth, Paul travels to Ephesus, where Apollos has been. His question to the people of Ephesus is whether or not they have received the Holy Spirit (there’s a further experience of the Holy Spirit which may or may not accompany the moment of belief, of conversion). The Ephesians answer that they have never heard of the Holy Spirit.
They had received a baptism of repentance (only), John’s baptism. So Paul has them baptised in the name of Jesus, and as he places his hands on them, ‘the Holy Spirit came on them (all twelve of them), and they spoke in tongues and prophesied’.
For three months, Paul teaches about the kingdom of God in the synagogue there. There is a group who become obstinate, refusing to believe and ‘publicly maligning the Way’.
So, Paul leaves the synagogue and takes up his debates within the public lecture hall. He engages in these debates for a good couple of years, until ‘all the Jews and Greeks….heard the word of the Lord’.
Miracles accompanied Paul’s teaching ministry:
~ handkerchiefs and aprons he’d touched were means of healing for the sick
~ illnesses were cured
~ evil spirits left people
Some Jews even tried to copy Paul, seeking to drive out spirits in Jesus’ name…..

I am struck, in these days (summer nights of rioting in London, Manchester, Birmingham etc.), that there are still times when the mob rules, when gangs of people rise up, and it’s difficult to police them or protect the public.
I am struck, too, by the copy-cat mentality of some of the Jews in Ephesus, seeking to get in on the healing action which is only possible in Paul because of his openness to the Spirit.
I am struck, finally, by the need for all not only to ‘repent and be baptised’, but to be ‘filled with the Spirit’ over and over, that we may truly be the salt and light, the body of Christ we have been created and redeemed to become.
‘If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land…’

PSALM
‘Israel kept on sinning…not believing, in spite of His wonders…
their days became futile and terror-filled…
whenever disaster fell, they would turn back to God, eagerly seeking Him…
remembering God the Rock, Most High Redeemer…
however, they merely flattered God, lying to him…
disloyal hearts…
unfaithful to the covenant…
God is merciful, forgiving, resisting destruction…
restraining His anger, not fuelling His wrath…’





‘The god who answers by fire – he is God.’

8 08 2011

DAY ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-EIGHT : 1 Kings 18 v. 16 – 19 v. 21; Acts 17 v. 22 – 18 v. 8; Psalm 78 v. 17 – 31

I am amazed that this blog has just attracted its 30,000th hit ! I don’t know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t that sort of a figure. It is a great boost and encouragement, especially as I’m now several weeks behind ‘schedule’, but remain very excited by all God is revealing through this discipline. THANKS FOR YOUR ENCOURAGEMENT !!

1 KINGS
Elijah on Mount Carmel – So the message is passed to Ahab, through Obadiah, and Ahab goes to meet Elijah. His greeting sets the tone :
‘Is that you, you troubler of Israel’. (nice !)
Elijah points out that it is not he, but Ahab and his family, who have brought trouble to Israel, taking on the worship of Baal. Elijah lays down a challenge for the prophets of Baal (450 of them) and of Asherah (another 450), ‘who eat at Jezebel’s table’.
The prophets assemble on Mount Carmel. Elijah’s message is particularly for those who ‘waver between two opinions’, who seek to be worshipping both God and Baal.
Elijah represents the last remaining prophet of the Lord, and he stands against the 450 prophets of Baal.
Two bulls are obtained and slaughtered. Elijah takes one and the prophets of Baal the other.
‘Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire – he is God’.
There follows a frenzy of activity, calling on the name of Baal all morning and dancing around the altar, but with no answer.
At noon, Elijah began to taunt them – ‘maybe if you shout louder, you will wake him up, or maybe he’s off on his travels !!’
The activity increases – louder and more frenetic – until evening – no response from Baal.
So, then it was Elijah’s turn. He prepared the altar, using twelve stones for the twelve tribes, arranging the wood, preparing the bull, and then having large water jugs poured over the bull (twelve jugfuls).
Elijah stepped forward and prayed:
‘O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am Your servant….Answer me, O Lord…so these people will know that You, O Lord, are God, and that You are turning their hearts back again.’
The fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil – a mighty, roaring fire, consuming everything.
All the people fell prostrate and acknowledged the Lord as God.
The prophets of Baal are then seized, as Elijah commands, and they are killed in the Kishon Valley.
Ahab is sent off to party, for the rains are about to return, whilst Elijah continues to the summit of Mt. Carmel, where he falls down on the ground in prayer. His servant is sent to look towards the sea for the coming rains. It’s after the seventh attempt to look, that the servant returns saying he sees a small rain cloud approaching. The servant is then sent off to Ahab to tell him the rains are on their way, and that he should make his journey before the heavy rains arrive.
Ahab heads off to Jezreel as the sky darkens, a wind rises, and a heavy rain approaches. Elijah actually gets to Jezreel before Ahab, running all the way, by ‘the power of the Lord’.

it’s a dramatic story, the contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal, but I noted a couple of interesting points this time also:
(i) ‘Mount Carmel was believed to be sacred to Baal, so Elijah has challenged Baal and Asherah ‘on their own turf”. (Wesley Study Bible)
(ii) In contrast to the lengthy magically grounded routines of the Baal prophets, the simple prayer of Elijah reflects utter dependence on God and single-hearted devotion to His work and His people
(iii) the seven times Elijah is in prayer, and sends his servant out before the rains come, is a lesson in persistence in prayer – never give up praying

Elijah Flees to Horeb – When Jezebel hears from Ahab all that Elijah as done, Jezebel is furious and vows to make his life ‘like one of them’ (doing to him what he has done to all her prophets of Baal). Elijah has to run for his life, so flees to Horeb (the mountain range which includes Mt. Sinai, via Beersheba (where he leaves his servant), sleeping one night under a broom tree, so depressed with his lot : ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors…’
An angel woke him and told him to get up and eat – freshly baked bread and refreshing water were alongside him – so, he ate and drank and then slept again.
An angel woke him a second time, urging him to eat more ‘for the journey is too much for you’ (in more ways than one, I suspect).
‘Strengthened by that food, he travelled for forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.’
He finds a cave and goes in to sleep.

The Lord Appears to Elijah – hiding in that cave (like Moses in the cleft of the rock), God asks, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’. Elijah pours out his woes :
I’ve been slogging my guts out for You, God, against a tide of Israelite rejection of Your covenant, where altars have been destroyed and prophets killed – ‘I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.’
God promises Elijah as special encounter with Him – he is to go out onto the mountain and stand there as the Lord passes by.
There was a mighty wind which shattered rocks – ‘but the Lord was not in the wind’
There was a great earthquake – ‘but the Lord was not in the earthquake’
There was a fire – ‘but the Lord was not in the fire’
There was a gentle whisper….

all of those ‘events’ have spoken at times of God’s awesome presence and power – wind, earthquake, fire – but here God is known by His still, small voice of calm….just what Elijah needed at this time

Elijah returned to the mouth of the cave. He hears God ask him a second time – ‘what are you doing here ?’
Elijah repeats his prepared statement of woes.
Then the good news Elijah didn’t want to hear – God tells him to go back to Damascus Desert, back ‘the way you came’. He is to anoint various new kings (his job is not yet complete), and to anoint Elisha to succeed him as prophet.
‘I reserve seven thousand in Israel – all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.‘ (Elijah is not as alone as he has claimed).

The Call of Elisha – Elijah goes and finds Elisha, ploughing with twelve yoke of oxen, with Elisha driving the twelfth pair (a prophetic picture of the role Elisha would play). Elijah threw his cloak around him, symbolising the mantle of the prophet, passing on his role.
Elisha leaves his oxen, asks to say goodbye to his parents, burns his ploughing equipment (the tools of his trade which he is leaving behind) then sets out to follow Elijah and become his attendant.
A dramatic leaving of his former way of life, much as the disciples left their fishing boats and nets to follow Jesus…

'still let me guard the holy fire, and still stir up Thy gift in me'

ACTS
Paul in Athens (cont.) – Paul’s address to the Athenians starts where they are (Paul doesn’t start with scripture in this setting, as he clearly usually did in the synagogue, but with their experience, the worship Paul has observed).
Paul has seen an altar dedicated to ‘An Unknown God’, and uses this as his starting point. He wants to introduce them to a God who desires to ‘be known’.
God is known in creation, Paul contends – ‘The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth….’
God does not need anything from humans, it is He who has given humans everything.
God has placed within each person a desire, a need to ‘seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him’ – Paul is picking up on the spiritual thirst in Athens for various religious expressions and philosophies.
‘GOD IS NOT FAR FROM EACH ONE OF US’ – a glorious truth which is key to grasping how God desires relationship with Him – draw near to God and He will draw near to you.
Paul quotes from one of their poets, again meeting them where they’re at, and speaking into their culture.
God is looking for repentance. The proof of all that Paul contends is given in the way Jesus has been raised from death.
At this idea of resurrection, Paul is mocked by some, others want to hear more, and yet others believe and follow. Among those who commit, are a council leader, Dionysius, and a woman named Damaris, and some others – i.e. the message is for all people, from all walks of life.

The other question I ask myself in relation to this passage is ‘where is the modern day ‘market-place’ or Areopagus, where people gather to discuss / debate issues of faith / philosophies of life ? And how do we engage with that debate in that arena ? What are the clues in our culture which provide a way in for the gospel to be heard relevantly ?

In Corinth – although Paul had been waiting for Silas and Timothy in Athens, it’s time to move on, and Paul goes to Corinth, where he meets Aquila and Priscilla (Jewish husband and wife) – all the Jews had been ordered to leave Rome.
Paul, a tent-maker, hits it off with them, for they, also, make tents. He worked alongside them, and taught in the synagogue each Sabbath.
Silas and Timothy arrive from Macedonia, and Paul ‘devoted himself exclusively to preaching…that Jesus was the Christ’.
Paul feels the heat of rejection from the Jews there, so brushes them off, and says, ‘I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles’.
Paul leaves the synagogue, but goes next door to the house of Titius Justus – a God-worshipper. Various people come to faith in Jesus, including Crispus the synagogue ruler and all his household.
‘Many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptised.’

PSALM
God’s people continue to wilfully sin against Him…
‘rebelling in the desert…demanding the food they craved…speaking against God
When the Lord heard them, He was very angry…fire broke out against Jacob, wrath rose against Israel.
Yet, He rained down manna for the people to eat…the grain of heaven.
Men ate the bread of angels…
He rained meat down on them like dust…they ate till they had more than enough…
but before they turned from the food they craved, even while it was still in their mouths, God’s anger rose against them….
cutting down the young men of Israel.’