Stand your ground….

17 10 2011

DAY ONE HUNDRED AND NINETY : 2 Kings 18 v. 1 – 19 v. 13; Acts 27 v. 13 – 44; Psalm 82 v. 1 – 8

Hezekiah King of Judah – Hezekiah becomes king aged 25 and he reigns for 29 years. He is a good king, doing ‘right in the eyes of the Lord’ :
removing high places,
smashing sacred stones,
cutting down asherah poles,
breaking the bronze snake Moses had made (which had become the focus for idol worship).
He trusted in God, he ‘held fast to the Lord and did not cease to follow Him’, keeping the commandments. God was clearly with Hezekiah as he was successful in many endeavours, not least in keeping Assyria at bay and defeating the Philistines.
The attack and defeat of Israel in Samaria is recounted, whilst Hezekiah was in his fourth year as king of Judah. This, again, is clearly seen as a consequence of Israel not following God’s commands, ‘violating His covenant’.
When Hezekiah had done fourteen years as king, Sennacherib of Assyria attacked Judah’s fortified cities and captured them.
Hezekiah surrenders all the silver and gold at his disposal, with a plea that the Assyrians withdraw.

Sennacherib Threatens Jerusalem – Assyria’s king sends his supreme officers and a large army to Jerusalem, to see King Hezekiah. They stopped at ‘the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to Washerman’s Field’. They summon the king, who sends his officials. They had a message for Hezekiah:
‘on whom are you depending….’ – not Egypt, for Pharaoh is wounded; not the Lord God, for hasn’t Hezekiah removed the high places and altars (yes, he has, that’s the point !!)
‘come, make a bargain with my master…’ – the king wants to offer Hezekiah 2,000 horses, and suggests that the Lord has told the Assyrians to march against Judah.
Hezekiah’s officials ask to be spoken to in Aramaic, not Hebrew (in the hearing of others).
The Assyrian commander says that the message is as much for the others who are listening in ‘who, like you, will have to eat their own filth and drink their own urine’.
In Hebrew, the commander urges the people to turn against Hezekiah, who will be unable to deliver them. Rather, they are urged to ‘make peace’ with the Assyrians, ‘then every one of you will eat from his own vine and fig-tree….a land I will take you to….choose life and not death’.
He sows seeds of doubt amongst the people about Hezekiah’s claim that ‘The Lord will deliver us’, reeling off the ‘gods’ of all the other nations which have fallen into Assyrian hands.
Hezekiah had commanded his people not to say anything, so they obediently remain silent, and his commanders return to him with the messages.

Jerusalem’s Deliverance Foretold – Hezekiah hears this and goes into mourning, tearing his clothes and going to the temple to pray. He sends his leaders to seek out Isaiah the prophet. His message to Isaiah is :
~ this is a day of distress and rebuke and disgrace
~ may God hear all the words of the king of Assyria (through his commander)
~ may God rebuke the king for his ridiculing the living God
~ pray, pray, pray that the remnant survive.

Isaiah’s message in return was :
~ do not be afraid of what you’ve heard
~ I’ve heard the blasphemy (says God)
~ God will put a spirit within him, and a sword will cut him down

The field commander for the Assyrian king hears that he has left Lachish, and goes to find him fighting against Libnah.
Sennacherib sends another message to Hezekiah warning him that Assyria will attack Judah and will defeat them, goading them by challenging whether their ‘god’ can really prevent an Assyrian victory (look at the failings of all the ‘gods’ of the surrounding nations!!).

The Storm – they set sail with a gentle south wind, along the shoreline of Crete; a north-easter hurricane wind swept in and the ship is caught in the storm, and is swept off course; the anchor is let down in fear of running aground. The ship is seriously battered by the storm and the next day they start to off-load the cargo. On the third day, the tackle is thrown overboard. The sky was dark for days (no sun or stars), and ‘we finally gave up all hope of being saved’.
It had been a long time since anyone had eaten anything. Paul spoke to the others on the ship:
‘you should have taken my advice in Crete…’
‘I urge you to keep your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed’
‘an angel stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar, and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you…..I have faith in God that it will happen just as He told me….’

The Shipwreck – and it is on the fourteenth night they sense they are nearing land, having drifted across the Adriatic Sea. They start taking soundings – at midnight the water was 120 ft deep, then ninety, so they dropped the anchors, and prayed for the daylight.
They set the lifeboat on the water, preparing to escape the ship, but Paul urged them,
‘Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved’. So they cut the lifeboat free, and watched it drift away.
Then, just as the dawn appeared, Paul urged them to eat, having not eaten anything for days. They needed to eat to survive.
He took bread
Gave thanks
Broke it
and they all ate some food – all 276 of them.
Then the remaining grain was thrown overboard to lighten the ship.
Now that daylight had arrived (though they didn’t recognise the land), they decided to run the ship aground, and raised the anchors to move towards the sandy beach.
They hit a sand-bar and ran aground, and the ship began to be broken into pieces.
As the soldiers considered killing all the prisoners to prevent them from swimming free, but because the centurion wanted Paul to live, they were all spared. Those who could swim, swam to land; everyone else clung to planks until they reached safety.

There in the middle of that shipwreck, Paul took bread, blessed it, broke it and shared it – an act of communion remembrance in the height of the storm – what a moving image.
Also, all the prisoners were spared for the sake of one man.
An image of salvation for all through Jesus.

My Lord, my God takes His place
ruling over the eternal gathering
Judge of all ‘judges’
‘Aren’t we done with all this injustice
Isn’t it time the wicked got what’s coming to them?’

(time to pause and reflect)

Get on the side of the weak, the orphaned;
Speak up for the rights of the poor, the downtrodden;
Save those who are struggling, and in need;
Rescue those who are in the grip of evil.
They are lost, in the dark, scared.
And the very foundations of the world shudder and shake.

‘I called you ‘gods’, sons of the one True God,
yet you will die like all people; you reign will end…

Stir Yourself, my Lord, my God,
Do Your judging
For all these nations are Yours, forever.’

whole-life discipleship thoughts :
(i) in the midst of the storm, Paul takes time to sacramentally break bread and share it with all the soldiers and prisoners on board
(ii) Hezekiah has to deal with an enemy attack, and worse still, with that enemy trying to stir dissent amongst his people, attempting to turn them against him. Hezekiah stands his ground, believing wholeheartedly in God to keep His promises.

Lord God,
today, may I stand on Your promises,
trusting in Your unfailing love and grace,
Your provision and Your protection.
May I not be swayed this way or that,
deflected by storm or by attack,
but hold unswervingly to Your saving presence.
May I bring Your light, Your hope, Your peace
into every situation
at home, at work, in our church life, in every encounter today.
May Your name be honoured
in the whole of my life.




Heed the warnings….

4 10 2011

DAY ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-NINE : 2 Kings 16 v. 1 – 17 v . 41; Acts 26 v. 24 – 27 v. 12; Psalm 81 v. 8 – 16

Ahaz King of Judah –
Ahaz is a bad king ‘in the eyes of the Lord’! He becomes king aged 20 and rules for 16 years. He abandons the ways David ruled (‘even sacrificing his son in the fire’, and offering sacrifices on the high places). Judah comes under attack from Israel and Aram, so turns to Tiglath-Pileser, king of Assyria. He offers Assyria’s king the sacred silver and gold from the temple and palace. The king of Assyria attacks Damascus and seizes it. King Ahaz of Judah sees an altar in Damascus which he likes the look of, sketches it out, and sends instructions to replace the altar in their temple. Uriah the priest oversees this so that when Ahaz returns, the altar is replaced, the side-panels, the basins and the giant Sea are also removed.
‘He took away the Sabbath canopy that had been built at the temple and removed the royal entrance outside the temple of the Lord, in deference to the king of Assyria’.

Ahaz systematically took apart those aspects of the temple which had been specifically ordained by God – preferring deference to Assyria’s king than to the King of kings ! NOT a good idea !

Read more about Ahaz in the annals of the kings of Judah. He is buried in the City of David and his son, Hezekiah succeeds him as king.

Hoshea Last King of Israel –
a bad king ‘in the eyes of the Lord’, who reigned for nine years. He was branded a traitor by king Shalmaneser of Assyria, for paying tribute to king So of Egypt rather than Shalmaneser, so the Assyrian king attacks Israel, and after a three year siege, Samaria is captured, the Israelites deported into Assyria.

Israel Exiled Because of Sin –
The writer is clear to say that this Assyrian attack, and the fall of Samaria was a direct result of the Israelites displeasing God, after all He had done in bringing them from Egypt into the Promised Land. Their worship of other gods, and secretly doing things against the Lord God (building high places and towers, sacred stones and Asherah poles). ‘The Lord warned Israel and Judah through all his prophets and seers: ‘Turn from your evil ways. Observe my commands and decrees.’
But they would not listen…stiff-necked people.
They rejected the covenant and all God’s decrees.
‘They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless’.
They forsook God’s commands, make idols (calves), bowed down to the stars, worshipped Baal, sacrificed sons and daughters, practised divination and sorcery, and sold themselves to do evil.
‘So the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them from His presence.’
Judah remained faithful for a time, but not wholly, and some adopted the practices from Israel (handed down from Jeroboam, right at the start when the lands were split from king David).
This is why Israel is plundered, thrust from God’s presence, and the Israelites are taken from their homeland into exile in Assyria.

Samaria Resettled – once Samaria is captured, Assyria’s king resettles people from Babylon, Cuthah and other places into Samaria, taking over the towns in that region. As they did not worship God, He sent lions in among them and some were killed. Word gets back to Assyria’s king that because these resettled people don’t know who or how they are to worship in their new land, the lions have attacked.
So the king calls for one of the exiled priests to be brought back to teach the people who and how to worship.
But the peoples from different regions each brought their own customs in worship, their own gods. So they worshipped the Lord, and they worshipped their own gods too, with their various practices.
To this day, we are told, they continue with these practices, and thus break the command not to worship any other gods. They do not listen to the words of the covenant, but continue to try to worship both the Lord God and their own deities.

Paul Before Festus –
Festus interrupts Paul’s great speech, accusing him of being mad – ‘Your great learning is driving you insane’.
Paul defends his sanity and honesty in the report he is giving. Paul turns to Agrippa and asks him directly, ‘Do you believe the prophets? I know you do.’
Agrippa’s reply is, ‘Do you think that after such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?’
Paul states that whether it takes a short or a long time, his prayer is that everyone comes to know Christ (‘becomes what I am….’)
As the royal party leave, they are discussing the situation, and find no reason to condemn Paul to death. Indeed, had Paul himself not insisted on seeing Caesar, Agrippa would’ve suggested he is simply set free.

Paul Sails for Rome –
along with some other prisoners, Paul boards a ship for Italy. They are in the charge of Julius, Roman centurion from the Imperial Regiment. Aristarchus is along with them too on the ship.
The ship stops at Sidon, and Paul is allowed to see his friends there ‘so they might provide for his needs’.
The route passed Cyprus to Myra in Lycia. There they changed ship, boarding an Alexandrian vessel for Italy. It was a difficult journey for several days, the strong winds affecting their route considerably. Eventually they came to a place called ‘Fair Havens’.
Paul then warns the men not to set sail for now because it had become so dangerous. However the centurion and the ship’s pilot and owner wanted to press on, ignoring Paul’s warning – they wanted to beat the oncoming winter.

We shall see that it was right that Paul warns them not to set sail. Sometimes we get a sense of people about to take a wrong turn, and need the courage of our convictions to send out a warning message….maybe that sense is God-given, whether people hear or heed it, or not.

PSALM (from ‘My Psalms’)
‘Listen to me, my people, hear my warnings to you –
listen, listen, listen.
Don’t bow down to any other god – foreign gods are nothing.
I am the only Lord, your God.
I rescued you from the Egyptians.
I have filled your stomachs with daily bread.
Why don’t you listen to me?
Why won’t you surrender your will to mine?
I watch your stubborn hearts lead you to destruction –
your ways, your plans.

If only my people would pay attention to me,
if only my chosen ones (Israel) would let me lead,
then they would see famous victories against their enemies,
those who detest the Lord would suffer eternal punishment;
but you, my people, my chosen ones would dine in style –
finest bread, and honey from the rock –
mmm, with good food I would satisfy you completely.”

whole-life discipleship thoughts :
‘LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN TO ME’ – there’s just such a strong sense of God urging His people to pay attention to His words, His decrees, and there is a warning to those who don’t do what He’s instructed. Israel falls into the hands of Assyria, Paul’s co-travellers are heading into a disasterous storm, and the psalmist lays out the choice of ‘dining in style’ or ‘eternal punishment’ dependent upon our response to His call, His direction.

Father God, in EVERY situation today, in work, at home, in the community, help me to LISTEN, and to ACT according to Your will, Your way, even if, in doing so, I draw attention to Your presence in me; there’s a time to speak out, and to act in a way which communicates something of You to others.
I even pray that You would give me a prophetic voice, if a warning is needed, to promote Your coming kingdom of justice and righteousness.
Embolden me, Lord God; strengthen the Light that is in me.