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Series Theme: Meditations on the Theme "God turns up"

Meditation No. 10

Meditation Title: To David (2)


2 Sam 6:6,7 When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. The LORD's anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God.


When you have good intentions and it goes pear-shaped that is particularly hard. The trouble is that perhaps our good intentions were misplaced or, worse, they were wrongly motivated. But people don't go on motivations (I really meant it for good), they go on outcomes!

David had decided to take the Ark of the Covenant from its present resting place in Kiriath Jearim to Jerusalem. The ark had been the visible resting place of the presence of God in the Tabernacle. It seemed only appropriate that it be taken to the capital, Jerusalem . But even the way David went about it creates slight unease: “David again brought together out of Israel chosen men, thirty thousand in all. He and all his men set out … to bring up from there the ark of God.” (v.1,2). Now I may be wrong but the fact that David took a large fighting force with him suggests more of a victory parade than anything else and victory parades tend to exalt the commander in chief. The only trouble is that God doesn't share His glory and He doesn't like being used. So there is this slight question mark from the outset.

But then we are told, “They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before the LORD, with songs and with harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums and cymbals.” (v.3-5) So they put the ark on a new cart, on open display. Perhaps David had forgotten that originally the place of the ark was the innermost part of the Tabernacle where it was never seen.

Yes, he has all Israel celebrating with all their might before it but even that has a slight air of showmanship about it. But then it suddenly goes wrong: “When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. The LORD's anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God.” (v.6,7)

So far when we have spoken about the Lord ‘turning up' it has been very encouraging; He's turned up to create relationships with very imperfect men, but this occasion of Him turning up is something else! This time He turns up to kill someone! David's response is twofold and again indicates that all is not as it should be: “Then David was angry because the LORD's wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah. David was afraid of the LORD that day.” (v.8,9) What we see here are resentment and anxiety. David is resentful that when he was trying to do the right thing, the Lord rained on his parade! I was only trying to do the right thing! But he's also fearful and it seems to be a fear that worries that he may be next in line for punishment. Suddenly it seems that his relationship with the Lord is not so secure.

So for some time the ark is left there but the Lord blesses those who looked after it. With the passing of time David thinks some more about what happened and realises that he has become casual with his relationship with the Lord. We need to go to 1 Chronicles to see the detail of how they next went about moving the ark: “Then David said, "No one but the Levites may carry the ark of God, because the LORD chose them to carry the ark of the LORD and to minister before him forever.” (1 Chron 15:2) Ah! That's better! David is now paying attention to the instructions that the Lord had given about how the ark was to be carried. Now it is God-centred and not David-centred!

But look: “Then David summoned Zadok and Abiathar the priests, and Uriel, Asaiah, Joel, Shemaiah, Eliel and Amminadab the Levites. He said to them, "You are the heads of the Levitical families; you and your fellow Levites are to consecrate yourselves and bring up the ark of the LORD, the God of Israel , to the place I have prepared for it. It was because you, the Levites, did not bring it up the first time that the LORD our God broke out in anger against us. We did not inquire of him about how to do it in the prescribed way.” (1 Chron 15:11-13) Wow! David has learnt something! When you handle God's stuff you only do with His permission and in His way.

The death of one careless, possibly uninstructed man, has put the whole of Israel on alert, that you do not take God for granted, you do not treat Him casually and you do not use Him to create a show. Possibly some serious lessons for modern Christianity there!







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Meditation No. 11

Meditation Title: To David (3)


2 Sam 7:3-5 Nathan replied to the king, "Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the LORD is with you." That night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, saying: "Go and tell my servant David, `This is what the LORD says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in?


As we saw in the previous meditation, having good intentions is not always sufficient. In fact the world is full of good intentions. At the beginning of the year we have lots of good intentions – we call them New Year resolutions. We may not keep them for very long, but at least we have good intentions, we had wanted there to be good changes. Jane Austin's heroine, Emma, was full of good intentions, to get various people coupled off until she eventually realised her intentions had all been wrong. Sometimes we look at people or circumstances and we just have a nice feeling and from that we formulate ‘what seems right' and there it is, we have a good intention!

That's really what is at the heart of this little episode that we are now going to examine. David has brought the ark up to Jerusalem and everything is going well: After the king was settled in his palace and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him.” (v.1) David is well and truly settled as king in his palace and he has dealt with all his enemies and so he is at peace. In fact now he hasn't got those worries on his mind, he now has time to think. His mind wanders to the ark that he's recently brought to Jerusalem and he feels bad about it: “he said to Nathan the prophet, "Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.” (v.2) Yes, I'm living in luxury and God is having to put up with a tent! So he mentions it to Nathan his prophet. Nathan reflects on it. Well, yes, that's right. The Lord seems to be with you and has blessed you with peace. OK, do whatever you feel is right.

And so the two of them part for the night. And then the Lord turns up! Suddenly Nathan is aware of the Lord speaking to him. It's a big long prophecy. First of all comes a gentle challenge, have I told David I'm not happy with the situation? (v.5-7). Reassure David that I am with him and will bless his house and his future (v.8-16). So Nathan goes back to David and tells him all this and David is blessed.

Now there seem to be two things that particularly stand out in all this. First there is the thing we've already spoken about, about not going with what just seems a good intention.

In a small way David blew it here, for he hadn't thought to enquire of the Lord to see if this was what God wanted. Well yes, it was only a very small way because after all he had consulted Nathan who was God's mouthpiece but both of them had been satisfied with ‘what seems right'. What seems right isn't always God's will. God may have other plans, as became obvious here. Nathan was a bit slow as well. He could have said, “Yes, it seems a good idea but I'll go away and check it with the Lord,” but that didn't seem to happen. So it was up to the Lord to just step up and tap Nathan on the shoulder, so to speak, and correct him. It wasn't a big issue, but it's one worth noting.

The second thing seems to be David's motivation which only becomes clearer in the light of what the Lord said to him through Nathan. From what we saw in verse 2 David was making a simple comparison between his palace and where God's ark was staying. He somehow felt that God's abode was not worthy of Him and that somehow he was selling God short. When the Lord speaks through Nathan He points out that He's been quite happy having His ark travel around in the Tabernacle and that He'd never asked for a building of cedar. So far, so good. But then the instructions from the Lord turn to David, his family and his future. It's as if the Lord says, “David, I see your heart and I see your concerns. You don't have to do anything to get me on your side. You don't have to do me any favours like building me a house. Look, I'm going to bless your ongoing family. It's all right.

See how the Lord concludes this prophecy about his son ruling in the future: “But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” (v.15,16) That is major reassurance! But surely the Lord will only say such a thing when He sees that we need to hear that sort of thing?

So, two lessons: first, don't work on good intentions; check it out with the Lord. Second, you don't have to impress the Lord. He is for you already! Rest in that; no, rejoice in that!






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Meditation No. 12

Meditation Title: To Solomon


1 Kings 3:5 At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, "Ask for whatever you want me to give you."


I sometimes think we have such shallow understanding of Scripture. We read and even study Scripture but it is only when we meditate on it that some of the deeper meaning comes out. I think I have this feeling about this famous incident in the Bible, involving Solomon. He has recently become king of Israel after David died, and is now established. He's ninety per cent of the way to being a good guy (see v.3). There's a little bit of clearing up in his life to do yet, he's not perfect. He goes to Gibeon to offer sacrifices to the Lord – lots of them. While he is there, he has this dream where the Lord comes (‘turns up') and makes this amazing offer.

Now I wonder how most of us might respond to such an offer? Please give me promotion at work? Please bring peace to my family? Please bless my children? Well, yes, they are possibly all good things but they are small things. Solomon has just become king after his father David and David was a hard act to follow. Like many young people Solomon doesn't feel very secure in himself – but that is a good thing if it is directed in the right direction, towards the Lord! His biggest challenge in life is how to be a good king to follow David. If he can crack that, everything else follows. So what does he really need to achieve that? Wisdom! O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?" (v.7-9). Within this there is humility – and wisdom!

His answer clearly pleases the Lord: “The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, "Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for--both riches and honor--so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life." (v.10-14) What an amazing bunch of promises – wisdom, fame, riches, long life! Only the last thing was conditional; the rest were unconditional promises, won by the wise and humble request.

So what does this say? It says that Solomon already had wisdom although perhaps he didn't recognise it. All that is going to happen is that the Lord is going to multiply it greatly. What did Jesus say? “Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance.” (Mt 13:12) Solomon had some wisdom and more was given to him. Is it that the Lord made this incredible offer to him because He knew that with the wisdom Solomon already had, he would ask rightly?

That poses a challenge. Would the Lord be able to put such an offer on the table infront of us? Does He see in me a person who already has sufficient of His character, sufficient of His Spirit, that He can make such an offer? But where, we might ask, does it start within us. Why did Solomon have wisdom to start with? Where do I get the grace to start from? Is it something to do with that mysterious element of our lives that the Bible refers to when it speaks about ‘the heart'? It certainly doesn't mean that the muscle that pumps blood around within us is the thing that determines how we will act and feel and think? No ‘heart' seems to refer, as a dictionary puts it, to the hidden springs of personal life, the motivation of our mental and moral activity, rational and emotional.

And at this point we come up against a brick wall of mystery. What is it that makes one person easily open to the Lord and another fiercely resistant? Solomon's father had been described as a ‘ man after God's own heart' .(1 Sam 13:14 ). Why was David like that? Was it genetic? Was it upbringing? Was it encounters with God? Possibly all or none of those things! In the Proverbs, Solomon was to write, “My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart.” (Prov 3:1) and yet watching his leading son after he died, it is clear that this son did not follow in his wisdom. It isn't something that is inherited. It seems to be more something we seek. Somewhere Solomon had picked up some wisdom in his early years. Suddenly the Lord turns up to test it, and check it out. Is it as it seems? Yes, so he can have some more so that the nation can be blessed and the world can be seen. James encourages us to ask for wisdom (Jas 1:5) and the promise is clearly that God will give it. Perhaps the starting place, as with Solomon, is to see our need of it.







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Meditation No. 13

Meditation Title: To Solomon (2)


1 Kings 8:10 ,11 When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place , the cloud filled the temple of the LORD. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled his temple


After lots of reading the Bible I conclude that I, probably along with most of us, have a terrible habit of skimming over amazing truths without taking in the wonder of them. Probably this is very true of the way we read about Jesus in the Gospels. This must have been THE most amazing period in human history, as God in human form expressed His love and transformed thousands of lives, on a daily basis! Indeed every Christmas we read the nativity story in which angels turn up a number of times. The nativity story is full of the miraculous and we almost take it for granted.

So here we are following Solomon's life and we come to the point where he had just finished building the Temple in Jerusalem . The priests have just brought in the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of God's presence, to the innermost place, they leave that place and suddenly from nowhere a cloud fills the temple, a cloud that is so incredibly bright no one can do anything in the Temple . God has turned up!

Now of course Israel knew about the glory of the Lord from their history. It first turned up when they were in the desert on their way from Egypt to Sinai: While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the LORD appearing in the cloud.” (Ex 16:10 ) Then it appeared on Sinai itself: “When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai …. To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.” (Ex 24:15-17).

Later, when they had constructed and erected the Tabernacle, when it was finished, we read the following: “Then Moses set up the courtyard around the tabernacle and altar and put up the curtain at the entrance to the courtyard. And so Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” (Ex 40:33-35)

The same thing had happened at the completion of the Tabernacle as happened now in the Temple . It was as if God was setting His mark of approval on the completed building by indicating His presence in it. How easy it is to read but how difficult to comprehend! Suddenly there is this tangible (almost) phenomenon, a cloud within which is this almost scary brightness with no apparent origin. It is the glory that accompanies God's presence. Did Solomon wonder if it was going to happen, thinking back to the completion of the Tabernacle? He might have done but there was no way of making God turn up. He's already had one major example of God turning up in the dream we considered previously, promising him wisdom. But then the wisdom had come with incredible results. Surely that was God turning up, giving him this ability to ‘know how'! Perhaps without him realising it, God had been there the whole time, but now there is this visible sign that He's there.

I've lived through the Charismatic movement in the latter part of the twentieth century and the Toronto blessing at the end of it. I have been in a room when angel lights seemed to flicker around the ceiling for no explicable reason. I have known the Lord ‘turn up' to convict me on occasions, and to fill me at other times. I have heard Him as He has turned up to speak to me and through me in ways that are sometimes scary.

There is one thing about these happenings when God turns up, that validates them. You could not make Him come and you could not explain His coming. He just comes and makes His presence or His word known – and it is amazing and wonderful, and when He does you just know you are out of your depth. This is not man-made or man-inspired; this is the sovereign Lord of the universe making Himself known to His people. He doesn't do it because we have earned it or deserved it. He does it because He chooses to do it for His own purposes, and when He does, we bow our hearts before Him in worship for we see He IS the Lord.

I often think that this is where the crusading atheists of the day are on a losing wicket. They come up with all their wild ideas trying to justify their position and trying to put believers down, but they just don't realise that we have encountered the living God, we've had a life changing experience which is ratified and confirmed a hundred times over as the days go by. God IS and He comes to people and makes His presence known. Yes, there are very human experiences that sometimes seem to be similar experiences but they are normally abnormal people, people with strange mental states or imposed psychological states, but the atheist cannot understand that for the vast majority of us, our experience of God is in the mundane ordinariness of life when He just turns up and makes Himself known: God in the ordinary making it extraordinary.

In Solomon's case, they haven't got around to doing the religious bit of dedicating the Temple; they had only just finished building it and have been bringing in the ark – then God arrives! After that they do the religious dedication bit, but God hasn't come because they are doing the religious stuff. He comes because they have been obedient and He obviously wants to give His approval to that. Hallelujah!







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Meditation No. 14

Meditation Title: To Solomon (3)


1 Kings 9:1,2 When Solomon had finished building the temple of the LORD and the royal palace, and had achieved all he had desired to do, the LORD appeared to him a second time, as he had appeared to him at Gibeon.


When I watch and listen to the affairs of the human race, I am sure that there will be those who, when they face God eventually in heaven, will say, “But I didn't know.” Yet I am equally convinced that their excuse will not be accepted because, as I have stated before in these mediations, I am sure the Lord speaks to every person, even though they are not aware that it is actually His voice that is speaking to them. They may grudgingly concede that they ‘wondered about it', wondered if it was their conscience speaking, but ‘another voice' suggested, ‘take no notice!' so they didn't. But they will be held accountable, and accountability comes in this life as well as the next.

Solomon is a tragic case. Earlier in life he had received a remarkable dream and a remarkable promise and abundant blessing had flowed as a result. He has built the Temple and a fine palace for himself and life seems settled – and then the Lord turns up again.

As the Lord speaks again to Solomon, He first of all affirms His acceptance of the Temple : “I have heard the prayer and plea you have made before me; I have consecrated this temple, which you have built, by putting my Name there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.” (v.3) That is really encouraging. Solomon has done the right thing. Then comes a challenge and a promise: “As for you, if you walk before me in integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did, and do all I command and observe my decrees and laws, I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father when I said, `You shall never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.” (v.4,5) There it is very clearly stated: obey God and blessing will flow.

But then a sharper warning is added: “But if you or your sons turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. Israel will then become a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples. And though this temple is now imposing, all who pass by will be appalled and will scoff and say, `Why has the LORD done such a thing to this land and to this temple?' People will answer, `Because they have forsaken the LORD their God, who brought their fathers out of Egypt , and have embraced other gods, worshiping and serving them--that is why the LORD brought all this disaster on them.” (v.6-9)

Now the one thing that Solomon will never be able to say is, “I didn't know.” The warning is very clear and it is against straying to worship ‘other gods'. If that happens in this nation, the nation will be ‘cut off from the land', they will lose their inheritance and they will lose the Temple and the whole passing world will see and know and marvel at it. A disaster will come that will be seen by everyone!

Now you can't get much clearer than that. It is a warning that there is one thing that God will not tolerate and that is apostasy in the form of idolatry – worshipping other gods or idols that are in fact no gods. If they stray from God, their ethical standards will fall and their society will fall apart and become unjust, and they will be weak so that they will not be able to withstand the approaches of neighbouring nations, and will become subservient to them. No longer will they be a nation under God. THAT is how clear it is!

To see the tragedy of Solomon we have to read the terrible detail of what happened later on. I include all of it because of the detail and the awfulness of it: King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh's daughter--Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, "You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods." Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done. On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods.” (1 King 11:1-8)

He disobeyed God, thinking his wisdom was wiser than God's, for why else would he do what God said not to do and, just as God had warned, he fell prey to their pagan religions. The monument to his jaded life in old age is the book of Ecclesiastes where he has clearly lost contact with God and the world seems meaningless. What a tragedy! He knew it but didn't do it. May that not be the epitaph on our gravestones!







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Meditation No. 15

Meditation Title: To Jeroboam


1 Kings 11:29-31 About that time Jeroboam was going out of Jerusalem , and Ahijah the prophet of Shiloh met him on the way, wearing a new cloak. The two of them were alone out in the country, and Ahijah took hold of the new cloak he was wearing and tore it into twelve pieces. Then he said to Jeroboam, "Take ten pieces for yourself, for this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: `See, I am going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon's hand and give you ten tribes.


There are times when God ‘turns up' through His representative. Sunday by Sunday, in many churches, the Lord turns up through the worship leader or the preacher (or both) or through a prophetic word, where the congregation is open to that. In our next illustration, He turns up through Ahijah the prophet who lived in Shiloh .

To put this in context, we move on from the time we considered in the previous meditation, and Solomon in old age has succumbed to the pagan religions of his many wives, and idolatry is now widely practised in the land. For this reason the Lord is now bringing disciplinary action – as He said in His previous word to Solomon – and is going to take the nation away from Solomon's son and give it to Jeroboam.

Jeroboam was one of Solomon's officials (v.26), a man of standing (v.28) who had been put in charge of the whole labour force. Apparently he was a good man who had risen in the ranks to a place of great authority under Solomon. Now the Lord comes to him and reveals His plans to him through Ahijah. First, I am going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon's hand and give you ten tribes.” (v.31) but then explains why only those tribes, “But for the sake of my servant David and the city of Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, he will have one tribe.” (v.32). Then He makes very clear why He is moving against Solomon: “I will do this because he has forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Molech the god of the Ammonites, and have not walked in my ways, nor done what is right in my eyes, nor kept my statutes and laws as David, Solomon's father, did.” (v.33)

Now we have to say that whatever happens in the future, Jeroboam has had a very clear warning. Solomon is having the kingdom taken from him because of idolatry. This must surely be something that Jeroboam should also avoid! Then He gives him a conditional promise: “If you do whatever I command you and walk in my ways and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and commands, as David my servant did, I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you.” (v.38) That is going to be the basis for Jeroboam's future. All he has to do is lead the people faithfully before the Lord and the Lord will bless him and bless his children after him. It is all very clear.

Now what is frightening about these studies is that time and again the Lord comes and makes very clear His requirements, and yet time and again the individual in question fails to live up to them, despite having heard it so clearly from the Lord. I wonder how many of us hear it so clearly on a Sunday morning through the preacher or through a prophetic word, and yet go away and let the words be snatched from us by the enemy. The parable of the Sower (see Matt 13) focuses on four sorts of ground and that surely represents fours sorts of ‘heart'. The seed is always the same; it is only the ground or the individual which is different. Are we half-hearted or even hard-hearted when we hear God's word so that it bears little fruit in us? Or are we faint-hearted so that worries overcome us and subdue God's word so we are not fruitful? This seems to be a challenge which comes again and again through these accounts.

You may not be familiar with Jeroboam so you may not know what happened with him. The word was fulfilled and Jeroboam was given the ten tribes but he resorted to human reasoning which led him to do something which set the course for idolatry to remain in Israel for the rest of the existence of the northern kingdom: Jeroboam thought to himself, "The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David. If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam." After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves . He said to the people, "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt." One he set up in Bethel , and the other in Dan. And this thing became a sin; the people went even as far as Dan to worship the one there.” (1 Kings 12:26 -30)

What a terrible little phrase, he “thought to himself”. Don't think to yourself – think before the Lord and get His wisdom if you need it. What absolute folly in this man. He had everything presented to him on a plate. He was clearly warned how to live and he did exactly the opposite. How stupid! May we be warned!






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Meditation No. 16

Meditation Title: To Jonah


Jonah 1:1-3 The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me." But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish.


Jonah has always appeared a bit of a joke figure to me. I'm sorry, but that's just how he's seemed. I mean, God turns up and tells him to go somewhere and hold an evangelistic campaign, and he goes off in the opposite direction. He “ran away from the Lord.” Now it's pretty clear that Jonah never read Psalm 139 or if he did he never took in what it said: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” (Psa 139:7-10) Here's a primary lesson that is worked out in Jonah – you can't run away from God!

But perhaps the biggest question that might arise in our minds when we first come across a book like Jonah, is why did God choose Jonah when He knew he would be such an unwilling vessel. I mean the same was true of Moses! So why does God choose such characters? There may be a couple of answers.

The first one actually is very obvious. God doesn't look on the individual as they are now; He sees what they can become and what they can eventually achieve. We look at ourselves and simply work on the limited resources that we consider we have and completely forget that when God turns up and is there for us, suddenly our resources are completely unlimited! We look at ourselves and think we haven't got the strength, stamina or courage to say boo to a goose, but God looks at us and, as the psalmist said, He knows us through and through and He knows that there is more in us (and especially with His help) than we realise. The truth is that both Jonah and Moses achieved the end goal! They may have objected bitterly, but they both got there in the end.

I think a second reason might be to do with what Paul alluded to when he wrote, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (1 Cor 1:27 -29). I confess I would really like to feel strong and wise, but much of the time I feel weak and foolish. If that's how you feel, you're the sort of person God wants to take and use. We're just pitted jars of clay: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Cor 4:7) He is glorious and He delights in revealing Himself through vessels of clay!

There's something else we perhaps take for granted in this encounter with God and it is hidden within those simple opening words of this little book: “ The word of the LORD came to Jonah.” I have to suggest that Jonah already was a man who had a relationship with the Lord and who also heard from God – and knew that he heard from God. That later distinction is important because, as I've often said in these meditations, I am sure many of us hear God but don't realise it is Him speaking. No, Jonah heard the message and knew it was from God which is why Jonah upped stakes and hot-footed it in the opposite direction. He wouldn't have done that if he hadn't heard God. We much prefer to just stay where we are minding our own business. But Jonah suddenly remembered somewhere else he needed to be and so caught a boat in the opposite direction. If you have never been aware of the Lord speaking to you, it is unlikely that He is suddenly going to call you to go on some hair-raising mission for Him. He builds up to stuff usually, and He speaks again and again to encourage you. Oh yes, Jonah knew the Lord!

But there is another big issue here to be considered. It is of God who brings nasty stuff into our lives to get His way, because that is what happens in this story. On his boat on the way to Tarshish, Jonah suddenly finds they are being buffeted by a major storm that threatens to sink the ship. He knows this is God getting his attention. It's an amazing story because, grumpy little prophet he may be, he's more concerned for the ship and the crew than he is for his own life – and perhaps he knows deep down that somehow – just somehow – God will turn up again to save him. And He does in the form of a big fish! What a taxi!

If God knows it just needs a little turning of the screw to get you under way and into the right place for blessing – He's not averse to turning the screw! He's more concerned to bless you in the long-term – and others as well. He won't abandon you in it and His grace will still always be there for you, but He'll still use difficult circumstances to get you to your potential! And when you get there don't, like Jonah, grumble about it, just realise the wonder of what He has achieved.







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Series Theme: Meditations on the Theme "God turns up"

Meditation No. 17

Meditation Title: To Asa


2 Chron 15:1,2 The Spirit of God came upon Azariah son of Oded. He went out to meet Asa and said to him, "Listen to me, Asa and all Judah and Benjamin. The LORD is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.


Asa's summary at the start of the record in 2 Chronicles is good: Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the LORD his God. He removed the foreign altars and the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He commanded Judah to seek the LORD, the God of their fathers, and to obey his laws and commands” (2 Chron 14:2-4). We also see that when he went to battle he called on the Lord (2 Chron 14:11 ) placing his reliance on the Lord, and so the Lord gave him victory. It is as they return from this victory that Azariah gets stirred by the Holy Spirit to come and prophesy over him. The Lord has turned up!

Yes, the Lord had been with him previously and yes the Lord had given him victory, but now the Lord comes close, so to speak, and speaks personally to Asa. This is a new level of experience for Asa. It is a significant prophecy.

It starts out with this somewhat strange sounding word: “The LORD is with you when you are with him.” i.e. the Lord will be for you and will bless you as long as your heart is set on the Lord. It continues: “ If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.” This is both a reassurance and a warning. Seek God and you will find Him but forsake Him and He won't stay with you, i.e. your blessing from God is conditional upon you sticking with Him. It says you cannot take the Lord's blessing for granted. Blessing comes with obedience.

The prophecy then continues to speak of a past time of apostasy that had continued until Israel had sought the Lord (v.3-5). It had been a troubling time for the Lord had brought corrective troubles to turn the people back to Himself (v.6) but now is a time for Asa to take courage: “But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.” (v.7). It has effect: “When Asa heard these words and the prophecy of Azariah son of Oded the prophet, he took courage. He removed the detestable idols from the whole land of Judah and Benjamin and from the towns he had captured in the hills of Ephraim. He repaired the altar of the LORD that was in front of the portico of the LORD's temple.” (v.8). What we find here is the Lord speaking to motivate this king to move out further in his reforms.

Isn't this what prophecy is all about? Paul taught, “everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.” (1 Cor 14:3). Yes, sometimes there will be a corrective element in it, even a teaching element sometimes, but primarily it is to strengthen, encourage and comfort. The Lord knows that in this Fallen World so often we feel weak, so often we feel down and defeated, and so often we feel heartbroken, and thus He speaks to support, build and energise us.

See the effect on Asa. He gathers the people together, which includes some of the Israelites from the north (v.9,10) and they sacrifice (v.11) and enter into a covenant together to seek the Lord (v.12) and this they did (v.15). Furthermore he dealt with idolatry within the royal family (v.16) and although he didn't go up into Israel and purge that land (v.17) he was committed to God and restored the Temple (v.18). This is how prophecy should work! It should have the effect of bringing transformation and kingdom life. This prophecy had been a strong encouraging word and it had effect – for a time.

Unfortunately time passed – 36 years (2 Chron 16:1) – and Asa forgot the importance of that initial word that had set him on a good path. When Israel arose to threaten them he did not call on the Lord but on the king of Aram (2 Chron 16:2-). Thus the Lord turned up again through another of His men and rebuked him for it (v.7-9) Asa took it badly (v.10) and so when he was afflicted with a foot disease he did not call on the Lord for help (v.12) and two years later he died.

The lesson is clear: the Lord loves us and will come with words of encouragement and we are to hold on to those – and keep on holding to them. Within them there is a basic principle – blessing comes from obedience. The other side of that same coin is that we are not to take the Lord for granted and drift from Him for the blessing remains only as long as He does, for it is a Fallen World and we need the Lord in everything we are and everything we do. When we move away from Him we become vulnerable to sin and Satan and the ways of the world. The call is to hold fast to the Lord.








Front Page
Meditations Contents
Series Theme: Meditations on the Theme "God turns up"

Meditation No. 18

Meditation Title: To Jehoshaphat


2 Chron 20:14,15 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel …Levite and descendant of Asaph, as he stood in the assembly. He said: "Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem ! This is what the LORD says to you: `Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God's.


Perhaps now that we have done a number of these mediations in God ‘turning up', it is worth noting the different ways. In the earlier ones we found God coming personally to individuals and speaking directly into them. Sometimes He came in the form of an angel or some other divine figure. But then as Israel developed, more and more it came about that He ‘turned up' when His Holy Spirit came upon someone and released a prophetic word in and through them.

Jehoshaphat was a rather mixed up king. We read of him: The LORD was with Jehoshaphat because in his early years he walked in the ways his father David had followed.” (2 Chron 17:3) The crucial words are ‘early years' indicating that he started out well but became mixed up. In his early years he made sure the word of God was taught throughout Judah and the Lord blessed him, but therein came the stumbling block it seems. “Now Jehoshaphat had great wealth and honor, and he allied himself with Ahab by marriage.” (2 Chron 18:1) Now that was a bad move because Ahab was an ungodly and unrighteous king. As a result of this Jehoshaphat was drawn in to fighting alongside Ahab. A young prophet by the name of Micaiah prophesied Ahab's death in battle and Ahab tried to avoid it by making Jehoshaphat stand out and he himself would be in disguise. In desperation in the midst of the battle Jehoshaphat cried out and the Lord saved him (2 Chron 18:31 ) but a random arrow struck Ahab and he died. There are many lessons here to ponder upon.

When Jehoshaphat returned to Jerusalem he was rebuked by Jehu the seer. Jehoshaphat continued in turning Judah back to the Lord (2 Chron 19:4-11). When a large army came from Edom against Jehoshaphat he and all the people sought the Lord ( 2 Chron 20:3,4). It was after he had prayed for help publicly that the Lord turns up and the Spirit of the Lord came on Jahaziel and brings this word of strong encouragement. The word goes on to say that all they need do is turn up and the Lord will do the fighting. They respond with faith and worship and praise the Lord. In the event the enemy turned on themselves so that when Jehoshaphat's army turned up they just found dead bodies.

What is sad is that in the latter part of his reign Jehoshaphat made another alliance with Israel , this time with Ahaziah, another bad king. As a result of this a fleet of Jehoshaphat's ships were utterly destroyed. It was not a very glorious end to his reign. It seems, for whatever reason, Jehoshaphat had this tendency to make friends with bad people and incurred the displeasure of the Lord.

That perhaps, is what makes this incident that we have just considered all the more remarkable. In the middle of his reign and the end of his reign he aligned himself with bad kings of Israel . His heart had been to serve the Lord and lead Judah before the Lord, yet he seemed to have this weak point, this inability to discern wrong in the northern kings and to put his trust in them. But despite this – and the Lord knew it would happen again in the future – the Lord blessed him with His presence and His victory. This is the Lord who comes and gives us every chance to succeed. He only has to see glimmerings of a good heart in us, it seems, and He is there encouraging us.

We may feel weak and we may feel frail but all the Lord looks for is a heart that is inclined towards him. Yes, here is Jehoshaphat who has this tendency to lean upon other kings instead of the Lord, but the one time he does lean on the Lord, the Lord is there for him! If it had been us, we'd probably have been sulky about his weak friendship and tendency to make friends with those who are our enemies, and so refuse to be there for him, but that's not the Lord's way. The Lord's grace looks for any and every opportunity to draw the hearts of people to Himself. Even though we have been weak previously, and He sees we will be weak again later, as soon as He sees us turn even for a moment to Him, He's there for us! That is grace! We can never say He didn't give us every chance.

If He does give you another chance, don't squander it. Be blessed by it, learn from it, and stick with Him. Don't drift again into your old ways but instead hold fast to the Lord all the years of your remaining life. That is what the Lord longs for. Let's not disappoint Him!