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.

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