|Series Theme: Highlights of the Old Testament|
Contents: Part 1: Genesis to 2 Kings
Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 1. Genesis (1)
Gen 12:1,2 The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
I need to be honest. I have come to another of those points in life where I need to feed on God and on His word. I have written studies or meditations for well over thirty years on a daily basis. It is how I feed, but with the awareness that others listen or watch (because I save the studies) the temptation is to become too aware of others. As I have prayed I have a picture of browsing in different fields and each field is a book of the Old Testament (we may do the new later). I don't know the verses yet but my intent it to take one or two verses from one or (maximum) two places in each book of the Old Testament so it's going to be a fairly long series. I don't intend to be academic but just chew over God's word and feed. Starting with Genesis two sets of verses stand out to me and so, taking the first of those two sets, our starting place is Abraham who stands out like a beacon.
Look at these verses above. How bizarre they are! The book of Genesis has not been written and indeed it will be at least four centuries before it is written down by Moses. Any knowledge of God, the Creator of all things, has come down through hazy history, through word of mouth, and it is vague at the very least. It will only be brought into focus as Moses spends hours, days, weeks, months and years in the Lord's presence, that the word of mouth history will be brought into sharp and distinctive history.
But for now there is this wanderer from the north from somewhere up in the area known in history as the ‘cradle of civilisation', Mesopotamia . He is going to become known as a ‘Hebrew' (Gen 14:13), thought by some to mean ‘ one from across the Euphrates River' who becomes a family who become a tribe who become a nation, so that nation watchers would eventually describe Hebrews as “ any member of a group of Semitic peoples tracing their descent from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” who become Israelites or, in modern terms, Jews”. But for the moment it's just one man and his family. His family? Well he has a wife who is barren (Gen 11:30) which must have been a cause of anguish for him. When he had started his travels from the north and journeyed towards Canaan , he had been accompanied by his father, but he had died along the way (Gen 11:32), another cause of sorrow.
And why is he here in this foreign land full of random tribes of pagan worshippers? Because our verses above start, “The LORD had said to Abram….” Somehow, and we don't know how, this man had ‘heard God' and so clear was it that he stopped doing whatever it was that he did back there in his home country, and left to go to a land of promise. But it is so vague and he's so unsure of himself that he only half obeys what he hears. He's told to leave his father's household but instead they come with him. So his father dies along the way and it's just him. Not quite, his nephew Lot has come along and he's going to be the source of problems in the days to come.
What was it that got him moving? Was it the fact that part of this ‘word' was, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.” Now I am sure he didn't have half an understanding of all that but it spoke of something better than he had at the moment. This is particularly so when at that moment his wife appeared barren and years had passed so that it seemed a ‘set-in-concrete' type of situation. This word offered an answer to his anguish from childlessness. So having painted the scene (which was necessary, rather like setting a meal down in front of us) what does it say to us? What is there for us to chew on? Some very obvious and maybe some not so obvious things.
First it brings God right into the arena of the world which is where mankind operate. This is God speaking to a particular man, a God who communicates and implies that He can operate in this man's life to bring amazing changes. The impossible (childbearing) need not remain impossible. Second God puts this into a particular historical and geographical context. For reasons that will not become obvious for a little while, He wants Abram in this particular land. This is the place He has chosen to focus His attention in the millennia to follow; it's going to be a demonstration place to answer the big questions of life, it will reveal Him and His ways to the world, and it will reveal to mankind what we are like. Abram knows nothing of this but that is what history eventually reveals. Third , God knowingly takes a man who is far from perfect through whom He will start to reveal to mankind so much about Himself. The nation of Israel that will eventually be formed will look back on Abram, or Abraham as he becomes, as their father (see Jn 8:39). That is why these verses stand out like a beacon in Genesis, if not in the whole Bible because they say, God has a plan and it involves a man!
But scripture must be grounded in my everyday life, otherwise it remains merely academic words, so what does it say to me? First , it says to me that God is there but He doesn't want to remain at a distance, that He is a communicator and wants to speak to me. But what about? He has a plan for my life. Nine tenths of the time I don't understand most of it, but He has a plan and He reveals bits of it to me, bit by bit. I probably won't understand most of it until I get to heaven but my life has a purpose – His plan.
Second, it also says to me, encouragingly, that He knows I am far from perfect but that won't exclude me from it. As long as I seek to be as obedient as my faltering faith that is often unclear, allows me, that is sufficient. But there's something more, if this story of Abram is to mean anything, and it is that, whatever God has for me, and maybe others through me, it is for my good, my blessing, probably far more than I can hope or believe.
Third, if I hold on to the story of Abram, I need to remind myself that with God nothing is impossible. Abraham was childless but the promise was of a great nation. I may feel weak and inadequate but I need to remind myself that the outcome is down to Him. All I can do is seek to be as available as possible, thereafter it is what HE will achieve, and there are not limits to that!
But fourth, when he died that ‘great nation' comprised one son, Isaac, but that was enough for the plan to be fulfilled. Huh? That says I am not to worry about the outworking, God will do as much or as little as He wants with my availability; I am only a part of His plan, but an important part, big or small! Hallelujah! Those four things are simple but profound and I need to hold on to them and live by them. Amen!
Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 2. Genesis (2)
Gen 50:20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
In the first meditation of this new series I said I hoped to take one or two verses from each book of the Bible, sometimes perhaps two sets of verses, depending on the book. Well here above we have a second verse from Genesis that stands out like the light from a lighthouse. As with all such verses we need to understand the context, the story from which it flows, to understand the significance of it, and once we see that then we can chew on the truths there.
These are the words spoken by the Joseph of the Old Testament (there is, of course, a Joseph in the New Testament – Jesus' human father). Joseph had been the spoilt brat, youngest-but-one son of a big family and so, as a result, his brothers had despised him. Then he had started getting prophetic pictures which seemed to suggest that the rest of the family would end up bowing down to him. That really annoyed them and so when, a little while later, the opportunity arose, the brothers sold him off to passing slave traders without, of course, telling his father what they had done.
To cut a long story short, after about fourteen years, we find Joseph in a prison in Egypt , where God is still giving him prophetic pictures for some of the other inmates. One of them is released and when the Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, starts having strange dreams, this man eventually suggests seeing if Joseph can help. When Joseph is brought before Pharaoh and hears the dreams, he explains that God will be bringing seven years of plenty in the land but that will be followed by seven years of famine, and the obvious thing to do, therefore, is put food aside during those seven years to see them through the years of famine. Pharaoh is so impressed by Joseph that he makes him second-in-command in his nation and gives him the job of bringing it about.
When the seven years of famine strike, they seem to affect all the lands of what we might call the Middle East, including Canaan, where his family still live. The word gets out that Egypt has food and so eventually Joseph's father, old man Jacob (or Israel ), sends the brothers to buy food in Egypt . Again, to cut a long story short, the family eventually settle in Egypt under Joseph's protection but years later when the old man dies, the brothers fear that Joseph will now wreak vengeance on them for what they had done all those years before. This is the context for the words above.
This insight of Joseph's is amazing. First of all it shows revelation. The spoilt brat has grown into a man of wisdom and insight, and that insight means understanding the purposes of God. Put most simply, it was that God intervenes in the affairs of mankind and speaks to us when we need it, and He has a plan. There it is again, what we saw in the first meditation. He has a plan! Second, this shows that the Lord has managed to work grace, mercy and forgiveness into Joseph for he has no desire to harm his brothers. To the contrary, he wants them to understand that this was the working of God.
Now those two things were in respect of Joseph but there are two breathtaking things about God here. First, as we've already noted, God has a plan and it is a plan to save His chosen family, but when we trek on four hundred years we see that this plan involves setting the scene for what will become one of the two biggest events in the history of Israel , the Exodus. (the other is the Exile). That is going to be monumental and God had already spoken of it to Abram (Gen 15:13,14).
Now if that isn't big enough, the second thing is even greater. The clear implication of these words of Joseph now, is that God took the wrong motives and wrong actions of the brothers and used them for His own purposes which was to get Joseph, as His mouthpiece, to Egypt so he could save Egypt and consequently his own family. This is God who uses sinful men for His own purposes. We see it in the Old Testament in the way, centuries later, He would take and use Nebuchadnezzar to discipline Israel and destroy Jerusalem and bring about the Exile. We see it in the New Testament in what happened to Jesus. The apostle Peter explains it under the anointing of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost: “This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23) This doesn't say that God made the Jews act like they did to crucify Jesus, but He knew given a certain set of circumstances, that is how sinful men would react.
Now if I try and apply these two things to my life today, it becomes mind-blowing. Not only does God have a plan for my life, but He will take and use the things of this Fallen World for my ultimate blessing. Those ‘things' may include my own foolishness, they may include Satan's activities and they may include the sinful intention and words and deeds of others. Yes, the incredible truth is that God will use all these things for my good. The apostle Paul caught this when he wrote, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose .” (Rom 8:28) Some modern versions change that to take the emphasis off God: “ we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose,” (EST) or “we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose,” (NKJV) but the implication is the same, God is bringing good into our lives, using WHATEVER is happening and whoever is involved. That brings an immense sense of reassurance to my life, a new confidence in which to live out today. World, you can do what you will, but my God is working in your mess for my good!
That, ultimately was what Joseph got to. Yes, he had been sold into slavery (Gen 37:26-28) where he was sold on in Egypt (Gen 37:36), where he was falsely accused and imprisoned (Gen 39:14-20), yet wherever he was the Lord gave him favour with his captors (Gen 39:2-6, 20-23). In the midst of his trials God blessed him. Can we expect that today? Surely with Jesus seated at his Father's right hand, ruling in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1,2), and with his Holy Spirit within us, the answer must be, yes! Still the Lord has a plan, still He uses the affairs of this broken world to bring His blessing to His children. Hallelujah!
Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 3. Exodus (1)
Ex 3:7-10 The LORD said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt . I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them ….So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt ."
On into Exodus the episode at the burning bush has to be a highlight that surpasses most but the danger will be that we focus on Moses, for chapters 3 and 4 are all about him arguing with God, but it is the bigger context that is all-important in respect of our verses above. As we noted in the previous meditation Israel , the family, had ended up in Egypt and we suggested the handiwork of God behind this, preparing for the Exodus, but it is even bigger than this. Was it a coincidence or an accident that Israel were in Egypt ? Definitely not; not either of those two things. All of this had been spoken about by the Lord to Abram over four hundred years before (Gen 15:13,14), as we saw before, but that previous warning had been as much about the land they would find themselves in, as the Exodus itself.
The fact was that Egypt had become a blot on the world's landscape, the world God had created as perfect, a world where people would be at peace, relating to one another in peace and harmony, and similarly with God. What do we find in Egypt ? A land full of idols, a people who see ‘gods' at every turn, a people who turn to occult powers and who even sacrifice children to their gods and the powers, a people utterly self-absorbed and a people who are utterly godless. One of the problems of such a nation is that so often they become dominant and start invading and overtaking other nations and taking their pagan worship further and further afield. In other words they are like a contagious disease that keeps on spreading. God, in His wisdom, knows that such things can only be tolerated for so long.
So that is the basis of the Exodus, the land where Israel find themselves, and here is the terrible thing: they could have left at any time but they didn't. When they entered the land originally they came with the prestige of being the family of the Prime Minister of the land, Joseph. As shepherds they were despised (Gen 46:34) but Joseph had given them the area of Goshen, (Gen 45:10) which was considered the best of the land (Gen 45:18) and ideal for raising sheep. There they had prospered and grown and over the next four hundred years, some suggest they had grown in excess of two million people. As such they had become a threat to the current Pharaoh (Ex 1:9,10) who made them slaves. However during that four hundred years, it would appear they settled and became like the Egyptians and there are historic and prophetic indications they even took on board some of the idols of Egypt, or at least took some of them with them when they left Egypt (see Josh 24:14 & Ezek 20:7-9).
The exodus was to become a threefold strategy. First it was to deliver Israel out of this land to go to a new land, Canaan . Second , it was to judge Egypt for the things we've noted above and, third , it was to judge Canaan for these same things. That is the background and that is the bigger strategy for all we find here.
Now let's step down and look away from the big picture to what takes place here. The Lord catches Moses' attention by the burning bush and then speaks to him. Observe the number of things the Lord says:
Part 1: The things He has done and the end result:
"I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt .
I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers,
and I am concerned about their suffering. (v.7) The end result
Part 2: What HE intends to do and what He wants MOSES to do:
So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians
and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land (v.8)
So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt ." (v.10)
What are we seeing here? First, yet again, we see God with a plan. Second, we see that He has a plan because He watches over the earth and, in particular, over the people He has chosen, He understands their need, and He is moved by it. Third and, from our point of view, the most significant thing, He wants to use Moses to achieve their deliverance.
Now why is that so significant? Because He could so easily have brought a devastating plague judgment (or simply wiped them out with a word – He IS God!) that would have dealt with the sins of Egypt and then the sins of Canaan , but He decides against doing that. Instead we have the long record (chapters 5 to 12) in Exodus of how He dealt with Egypt and an even longer record (Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua and Judges) in dealing with Canaan . So why adopt this method? Pure suggestions.
First that the record will be there, in detail, that lays out the sins, the warnings, and the methods involved that enabled those on the receiving end to repent at any point along the way. Second, through this record, it will reveal the goodness, grace and mercy of God as against the sinfulness, pride and arrogance and stupidity of fallen mankind. Third, in using people, they will be changed and their relationship with the Lord deepened. Moses was a transformed man. Israel were a transformed people. Summarizing these three things, it is all about revelation and transformation.
And that's where it comes to us. In all His dealings with us, the Lord wishes to reveal more and more of Himself to us. He wants us to know who it is that we are related to in the heavenly realms. That is the revelation side. On the other side He wants to deliver us from being the self-centred godless people we were before we encountered Him, that produced wrong thoughts, wrong words and wrong actions that were harmful to ourselves and harmful to others. We were a damaged people, and so the work of salvation is about transforming us, healing us up, changing us so we are something completely different, a people characterized by love and goodness, peace and harmony, and who reveal Him to others around us. That, I believe, is what we find in these verses.
Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 4. Exodus (2)
Ex 33:13,18 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people…. Then Moses said, "Now show me your glory."
In these two verses there are two requests, one fairly obvious and the other quite mysterious, but both of them stand out as revealing the depth of the relationship that had formed between the Lord and Moses. Perhaps we need to observe what had been going on to catch the reasoning behind these two requests.
Moses, we saw in the last meditation, had encountered the Lord at the burning bush on what was in fact Mount Sinai , while looking after his sheep (which he had been doing for forty years there in the wilderness of Midian and into the Sinai Peninsular). There he had received his calling to lead Israel out of Egypt . This had all happened and as they left Egypt , the Lord had provided a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to guide them. He had guided them across the south of the Sinai Peninsular to Mount Sinai where He had revealed His presence in the cloud on the mountain and entered into covenant with Israel , giving them the Ten Commandments and other laws by which to guide their community life. The promise was still there that He would yet lead them into the Promised Land, Canaan.
While at the mountain Moses, Aaron, Aaron's sons, and seventy elders had been called up the mountain to meet with the Lord and we read, amazingly, “ Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel . Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.” (Ex 24:9-11) You may think that that was so amazing, it should be the focus of our meditation, but I simply mention it because it is just another of the many encounters with the Lord that Israel had. Moses gets called up on the mountain alone again and while he is there Israel become restive and the awful events involving a golden calf occur (Ex 32) which results in Moses having to intercede for the people. Nevertheless, those involved are put to death and the Lord sends plague on the people, perhaps killing off the guilty ones who had been missed in the executions.
Now following all this, and it is all very significant in respect of our two verses, the Lord tells Moses to lead the people to Canaan (Ex 33:1) but He would not come with them lest He destroyed them – implied, for their sinfulness – and it is in the light of this that Moses makes the first of his two requests, “teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.” (33:13) i.e. if I am to lead this people by myself, I want to know that I am doing it in the way you will approve. I need to know ‘your ways', the ways you think and work. If I am to be your servant and get this right, I need to know what you would do in each circumstance.
Now this puts me in mind of the bracelets that were fashionable a while back with WWJD on them – “What would Jesus DO?” They would be a reminder of the way Jesus worked, and I believe there was even a book that followed this idea through. It is an idea which appears to have merit. We know something of Jesus' character in the Gospels and so we can imagine how Jesus might act – full of love and goodness – in the circumstances we find ourselves in. The only problem with that, is that it virtually recreates the Law and is godless! I mean we can live without reference to the Lord.
Look at the answer the Lord gave Moses to his first request: “The LORD replied, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (v.14) Note the Lord doesn't give Moses instruction as to His ways; He simply says My presence will be with you. Now this is monumental! Moses catches something of this: “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (v.15,16) i.e. I recognize that your presence with us is what will make us different from any other people, because you will be God and do what you do, and I can rely on that. It is as if Moses' pleading has brought a change of mind between verses 3 and 14. The Lord will go with them; how else will they be a holy people?
Now what is the parallel today? It surely must be the fact of the indwelling Holy Spirit in each of us. His presence goes with us. Do we have a set of rules to guide us? Well yes, we have the teaching of the whole of the New Testament, but when it comes to specific, individual situations where the way is not clear, we need Him to inspire us, guide us and teach us, and He is there within us to do that. That is how significant His present-day presence is.
But Moses isn't content with a sense of a far-off presence of the Lord, he needed something more. Yes, he's been through the exodus, he's led the people to Sinai, he's had amazing encounter after amazing encounter with the Lord there, and even apparently ‘seen' the Lord (Ex 24:10) but presumably that was a vision, for they had all lived and as wonderful as that had been, Moses needs reassuring. I want to see you! Really see you!
Essentially in what follows the Lord says, “I'll let you see a tiny part of me, but not full on.” The impression of Scripture is that if you see the ‘face' of God it is so full of light, splendour and power (all of that is His glory) that you could not cope with it but would die on the spot. What is amazing is that Moses had the temerity to ask this. What is more incredible is the Lord's gentle dealing with him. He does not scold him or tell him off. It is almost as if He is pleased with Moses asking this, even though He knows he cannot grant it if Moses is to live.
What am I left with here? My call is to ‘follow' Jesus, that means go as his Spirit calls me and guides me and directs me, and if along the way I ask presumptuous things, he will put up with me and just take me on. He delights in me stretching out in faith, even if sometimes it verges on presumption. When you have little children, you don't expect them to always get it right, do you? You understand their enthusiasm, even when it is misjudged. You know they will grow up and mature, and that is how it is with us and the Lord. Hallelujah!
Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 5. Leviticus (1)
Lev 4:2,3 Say to the Israelites: 'When anyone sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD's commands …. he must bring to the LORD a … sin offering for the sin he has committed.
For many people the book of Leviticus is a no-go area, a book of strange practices, practices that verge on horrible things, at least according to the modern mind, Thus we write the book off or shy away from it and certainly don't expect to find any ‘highlights' in it. However our two verses above present us with something that we, as Christians, may take for granted, and the unbelieving world fail to see as of any relevance, but for those with a mind to use, a necessity.
It is all about failure and restoration. Do you see the starting point: “When anyone sins.” Now of course the modern world denies there is such a thing as sin and denies the existence of God, but that is more to allow them freedom to do whatever they like than for any intellectual reason. My definition of ‘Sin' is “self-centred godlessness that leads to unrighteous thoughts, words or deeds”, and there is a lot of that in our world!
But this goes to the root of the entire teaching of the Bible. Summing it up as a big picture, if you like, we might say, there is a God who created all things and made them perfect, including the first human beings. However when He gave them free will they used it to express their self-centred desire that was godless in its outlook (they pretended God was not there and would not mind, that is what is behind their thinking in Gen 3, at least for a few seconds). That was sin and human beings (every single human being) has been doing that ever since.
But here's the thing: God holds each and every person accountable for what they think, say or do. He respects our personal individuality that enables us to choose the sort of person we will be and what we will do. Yet, He says of everything that is contrary to His original design, that is Sin. You weren't made to be like that. Now a long study that I have made over several years suggests that, contrary to popular belief, God is not so much concerned about punishing sinful acts (although justice demands that wrongs be punished and dealt with) as delivering us or changing us so we stop living like that and are able to return to the original design which involves being at peace with ourselves, and with one another, and with Him, as we live out love and goodness.
If we take the Ten Commandments (Ex 20) as a starting place, we see a certain set of rules for living that can apply to all of mankind. The Ten Commandments are so general that they can apply to any person on earth. The first commands are about relationship with God but if we go to the second half we find such simple commands as don't murder, don't steal, don't commit adultery etc., rules or laws which any person in their right mind would say are wisdom for a peaceful and harmonious society which, we would all aspire to on a good day. But following those ten commandments, come a series of other laws (in the following few chapters of Exodus) that put more detail to living out life in an agricultural and somewhat basic society, under God – that of Israel – with many more ‘guide-lines' to be followed to achieve that peaceful and harmonious society that we just referred to. (And remember that that is the basic purpose of God's rules, the Laws of Moses).
But then comes this amazing understanding on the Lord's part, “'When anyone sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD's commands.” The Lord knows we are prone to failure but He doesn't get all upset about it, He simply provides a way for human beings who do get it wrong, to get back into a good place with Him. The assumption was clearly that He expected His people, who had entered into covenant with Him, to not want to break the laws but live by them to create that peaceful and harmonious society, and yet we all of us stumble and trip over our feet, so to speak, and get it wrong from time to time – and the Lord understands that! It is what we think and feel when we come to our senses and realise we have done wrong is what He is concerned about. He assumes repentance, a change of heart and mind, and a desire to put things right, but how could they do that in respect of God.
The incredibly simple answer is the law of sacrifices that we find in the early chapters of Leviticus. Now we all like to ‘make up' by doing something after we have sinned. Some of us try to make up to God by going to church, or by doing charitable service or a whole variety of other things, all designed to get on God's good side. But we are still expressing our self-centred outlook when we do that.
The Lord says, simply come the way I have provided, it is so much easier! For the Israelites it was simply to bring an animal to be sacrificed, i.e. put to death and presented to God. That action would certainly have added a serious dimension to this act, it was no mere casual performance. Often you, the offender, had to put the creature to death in front of the priest and as you saw it die you would have realised it was your sin that deprived this creature of its life and that would help you determine never to fail in that way again.
Since Jesus gave his life on the Cross, as a one-off sacrifice for our sins, we do not have to make such sacrifices, but perhaps the sacrifice we have to present is that self-centred desire to make ourselves good. No we cannot make ourselves good, only He can do that. All we can do is believe that Jesus died for us, died for my Sin (to set me free from that inherent tendency to be self-centred and godless) and for my individual sins, all those myriads of times when I have thought, said or done wrong. Justice has been satisfied and I must lay down ‘self' that wants to still DO something to appease God. No, He has been appeased by Jesus' death. He just wants my belief in that – and of course when we do, all other things follow – our thoughts, our words and our deeds; we are transformed, and this is His desire for us, that we may be blessed by these new lives we live.
No, these verses in Leviticus are indeed highlights; they reveal a God of understanding, a God of compassion and care, a God who wants our restoration more than anything else. Isn't that incredible!
Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 6. Leviticus (2)
Lev 18:1-5 The LORD said to Moses, "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'I am the LORD your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt , where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan , where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the LORD your God. Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD.
As we said in the previous meditation this book does not show up as favourite for most Christians and you may be surprised that we do a second one from it and yet these verses above, which have echoes all over the later four books of the Pentateuch, are indeed verses I would put into the category of ‘highlight verses'.
They may appear obvious but let's think about them. See how they start, God telling Moses to speak to Israel as His mouthpiece. OK, fine. But see what he says: “I am the LORD your God.” Two things there. When our Bibles show ‘LORD' in capital letters, that is shorthand for Yahweh, or Jehovah, or “THE I AM”, the name given by God of Himself to Moses at the burning bush (see Ex 3:14,15). It is a bit of an overwhelming name meaning, ”I am and I always will be” or “I am the Eternal One,” but it was also a personal name that Moses and his people were to use of God.
But that was a name told to no other people on the planet and that makes their relationship with Him unique, hence the later part of that verse, “I am the LORD your God .” i.e. you are to be a people unique on this world because to you alone has been given this privilege of having such an intimate relationship with the Almighty.
Now this people who, at Mount Sinai have been constituted a nation in covenant relationship with the Lord God Almighty, have really only had experience so far of one nation and are about to experience another one, Egypt and Canaan respectively, and their temptation would be to be ‘like other people' and so follow their ways. We all like to be liked by others and a way to stop that is by being different, so the temptation is always to conform to the people around us. But that would deny the very existence of Israel .
The whole point of Israel's existence was to reveal to the rest of the world an alternative, an alternative that shows the possibility of a relationship with the living God, and thus reveal Him to the rest of the world. Now there are two things about that. First they cannot do that if they are just like every other pagan, idol-worshipping nation and, second, if they are like that they will not be showing the alternative possibility.
I am aware that I have used this example many times over the years but it is the best one in the Old Testament to show how this worked out at its best, and it is seen in the reign of King Solomon, while he is still in a good place with God and before he fell off the rails, so to speak. It is shown by the words of the Queen of Sheba who came to visit him: “ When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relation to the name of the LORD , she came to test him with hard questions.” (1 Kings 10:1) Israel had done what they were intended to do – reveal God. Listen to her words after she has first acknowledged how good life in Israel was : “Praise be to the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel . Because of the LORD's eternal love for Israel , he has made you king, to maintain justice and righteousness.” (1 Kings 10:9) That was Israel at their peak, doing what they were called to do.
That's why these verses above are so important. Note: “Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees.” (v.3,4) First a negative – don't live like they do in Egypt or Canaan – and second a positive – live as I have shown you. When they did that then we get a ‘Solomon and Queen of Sheba' effect but, tragically, so often Israel didn't do that and my conclusion of their long-term recorded history is that ultimately, even with God with them, they simply revealed their sinful nature which showed a need for some other form of salvation; keeping the Law was inadequate – but it did show the world what we are all like and the need we all have.
Now Jesus has come he has made us into a new people comprising both Jew and Gentile, whoever will believe, described by the apostle Peter as “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Pet 2:9,10) We are what we are today for two reasons. First because of the death of Jesus on the Cross to take our sins, our punishment and our guilt and shame and, second, because God's Holy Spirit hunted us down, convicted us of sin so we came to a place of repentance and belief in Jesus, and then indwelt us to empower us. Across the world, we the believers in Jesus, are a people called to be light to the world, called to bring God's love and goodness to the world so that others might see, turn and believe and be added to this amazing body.
But just like Israel , we are called to be different from the world around us and that for two reasons: first that we might demonstrate an alternative way to live and, second, so that God's heart of love be satisfied as we reach out to more and more people around us with His love, and they respond to that. Where the church is diminishing, is it because we have not been this people as He has designed us to be ? Our calling is not to follow rules, but the person of Jesus who is reigning at his Father's right hand in heaven and administering His kingdom through the power and provision of his own Holy Spirit within each one of us. Let's learn to listen to him and do what his Spirit guides us to do – and then expect the blessing of God!
Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 7. Numbers (1)
Num 9:8 Moses answered them, "Wait until I find out what the LORD commands concerning you."
Consider first the context for these words of Moses. The Lord has told Moses to get the people to observe the Feast of the Passover while they are in the desert at Mount Sinai (Num 9:2). They have received the bulk of the law and parts of it are about keeping the Feasts and parts of it are about cleanliness. Certain states or touching certain things rendered a person temporarily ritually unclean. This was not to do with physically being dirty, but was an expression to highlight a point, often to do with death and often to highlight the concept that Israel were to be a holy and sanctified (set apart to God) people. The variety of these laws is about to clash. Observe.
First comes the instruction from the Lord to celebrate Passover on the 14 th of the first month of their year (9:3). But then comes the problem: “But some of them could not celebrate the Passover on that day because they were ceremonially unclean on account of a dead body.” (9:6) So they go to Moses and Aaron and point this out and ask what they should do (9:7) because earlier ( Num 5:2) touching a dead body rendered one ceremonially unclean, and while they were like that, did it mean they could not take part in the celebration? Excellent! (Dead bodies? Either a person or animal has died) Which brings us to our verse above. So we have two parts of ‘the Law' that seem to clash and this is the first time since leaving Egypt that it has cropped up. So how do you deal with part of God's word that you don't understand? “find out what the LORD commands.” (v.8) How do you do that? Talk to the Lord, listen to what He has to say.
Now it is pretty obvious that I am going to try to apply this to our modern circumstances but here we encounter a problem. I have conducted a number of mini schools of prophecy or of listening to God and invariably I will ask a group to be honest and let me know, first of all, “How many of you regularly ‘hear' from the Lord?” and the way I get them to demonstrate that is it suggest an imaginary line across the floor of the room and at one end the score is zero and at the other end is ten. Zero indicates I have never ever heard from the Lord. Ten indicates I hear from Him every day. I ask them to then get up an go and stand on this imaginary line where they think their experience suggests.
Most people will put themselves somewhere between say 2 and 5 and a few faith filled optimists between five and nine. When we go on to explain the various ways we are likely to ‘hear' God – through studying His word, in prayer, in worship, through prophecy given, through the quiet inner witness of the Spirit, through another believer sharing wisdom for us – people start realizing that ‘hearing from God' is a more common thing than they had originally thought and a second go on the ‘line of experience' usually results in them putting themselves from 1 to 3 points higher.
If I teach listening to God in prayer meetings, I will usually suggest we spend the first quarter of an hour or so before we move into prayer-proper, tuning our spirits. This involves quietening our hearts and handing over to the Lord any worries or personal concerns, then focusing on him in either reflective meditation exercises or worship. Only then do I suggest we listen to the Lord to catch the sense of direction or purpose that He might have for our time of praying together. I adopt the adage, ‘Focus on God, unfocus on answers', because so often we come into prayer times looking for answers and even bringing our own preconceived ideas about what the answers should be, which is not a good way to objectively seek God's will.
These words of Moses are magnificent in that they clash with so much of our desires to ‘do', to work out, to reason through what we think should be the answer, especially in a day when we are better educated than any previous generation before us. We know how to get answers! Well, yes, but they may not be the right ones. So Moses basically says, “I don't know what the answer to this clash is, but I'll find out, I'll ask the Lord.”
What an example to any and every generation. Ask the Lord. For the record, the Lord's answer is, yes, they may celebrate it but a month later (v.9-11). You aren't excluded from the celebration but you can still uphold the laws of cleanliness. There are those who maintain that the inspired word of God, the Bible, is applicable for any and every situation (to which I would initially agree) except there is the problem of interpretation and of application. The fact that we have so many modern Bible versions says to us that working out of the original languages – Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek – is not always as straight forward as we might like it to be, and then once we have it in our own language, it still often needs interpretation.
I came across such an example in my earlier pre-meditation readings and prayer times this morning. I will not elaborate on it, but the word is like that, often needing us to just go back to the Lord, saying, “I will find out” and asking Him perhaps, “Father will you grant me understanding of this please. Lord Jesus, will you tell me what you think about this, Holy Spirit, will you teach me.” And then listen. The challenge is when the problem occurs, when a difficulty arises, when circumstances appear to go down hill and we are left perplexed, will I follow Moses' beautiful example, “I will find out” and turn to the Lord? It's very simple isn't it!
Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 8. Numbers (2)
Num 23:8 How can I curse those whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce those whom the LORD has not denounced?
I am not a fan of Numbers but when we come to the story of Balaam and Balak I am reminded of sitting in a Planetarium as it goes dark and you look up and stars or planets appear in the blackness. This story that fills chapters 22 to 24 is indeed a story of darkness. There is the darkness of Balak who is king of Moab (22:4) who wants a curse put on Israel who have encamped on the Plains of Moab (22:1) before entering the Land. He really hasn't anything to worry about because they are more concerned with going into the Land than with him or his land, but fear makes him look for a seer who might put a curse on them, and he chooses Balaam and promises him riches if he will do this. The darkness of Balaam is that it is apparent that behind his spiritual façade he would like to take the riches. It is a murky story because it appears that most of the time Balaam resorts to occult magic to conjure up a word for Balak. ( “ when Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel , he did not resort to sorcery as at other times .” 24:1) Nevertheless there are a number of highlights, bright lights shining in the midst of this darkness, each declaring a lesson for us.
The first amazing thing about this story is that the Lord keeps on turning up. In the early part we read, “God came to Balaam” (22:9,20) Then He sends an angel to rebuke Balaam (22:21-35) Then we have “God met with him” (23:4) and “The Lord met with Balaam” (23:16) and later we find, “ the Spirit of God came upon him” (24:2) Lesson No.1 – the Lord is in this story, He is a communicator, even with those of dubious origins and questionable motives.
The second amazing thing about this story is that Balaam, with his mixed motives, keeps on making very good declarations:
“I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the LORD my God.” (22:18)
Then, “I must speak only what God puts in my mouth," (22:28)
and, “How can I curse those whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce those whom the LORD has not denounced?” (23:8)
and “Must I not speak what the LORD puts in my mouth?” (23:12)
and “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (23:19)
and “Did I not tell you I must do whatever the LORD says?” (23:26)
and “I must say only what the LORD says'?” (24:13)
Amazing declarations of the truth! Lesson No.2 – only bring as ‘a word' what you are sure the Lord has given you, and always check for the truth.
But there is a third thing, that needs to be included in the lessons here, is what is not written down here. Behind all of his actions and his words, Balaam seems a rather hesitant witness to the Lord, he appears almost reticent to bring these things, it's almost like he blames the Lord for them. What is seriously bad news in all this is that Balaam is credited with eventually giving Balak advice to let his women mingle with the Israelite men and undermine their faith (Num 31:16) Lesson No.3 – people can speak (correct) prophetic words but still remain ‘off the rails' as far as their heart to the Lord is concerned. Prophecy is not a sign of sanctification!
The fourth thing that stands out as ‘lesson fodder' here involves the ways of the Lord (remember, that Moses asked about – Ex 33:13). To see this observe His instructions to Balaam. First of all it was in respect of Balak's messengers, “Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed.” (22:12) Now in that He is expressing His will. i.e. there's no point in you going because he is only going to ask you to curse Israel but they are blessed and nothing you can say will change that. End of story – or at least it should be, but the Lord reads Balaam's heart. When the messengers come again He says, “go with them, but do only what I tell you.” Now this is followed by the fiasco with the donkey and the angel eventually says, “I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me.” (22:32) i.e. when I said go, I hoped you would catch my heart that I have already expressed and not go, but I said it knowing what your heart wanted to do, but I wasn't happy with it! Lesson No. 4 – as Moses learnt, the Lord will often make a statement to test our hearts but the statement is not in fact His heart for the situation; He wants us to grow up to learn to discern His heart and will, and particularly when He lays a path before us because He sees it is the (wrong) determined yearning of our heart.
The fifth thing to be seen in this story is the wonderful blessings spoken by the Lord about Israel : “No misfortune is seen in Jacob, no misery observed in Israel . The LORD their God is with them; the shout of the King is among them. God brought them out of Egypt ; they have the strength of a wild ox.” (23:21,22) and "How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel !” (24:5) and “May those who bless you be blessed and those who curse you be cursed!” (24:9) and “A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel . He will crush the foreheads of Moab,” (24:17) The first one declares the strategy and sovereign purposes of God being worked out in Israel, the second one accepts they are blessed by Him, the third one has echoes of Abram's blessing, and the last one has echoes either of a distant Messiah, or maybe of the reign of David yet to come. Despite having gone through forty years of judgment in the desert, the present Israel are blessed of God and still very much part of His sovereign plans and purposes. Lesson No. 5 – the blessing of God rests on His people for whom He has plans and purposes for their blessing and for the blessing of the world. Hallelujah!
Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 9. Deuteronomy (1)
Deut 6:3 Hear, O Israel , and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you.
There are two verses here in Deut 6 that go together and are of such significance that we will have to take them one at a time in order to reflect adequately on each of them, Our verse above is the first of the two, but really to catch it's full import we need to see it in the light of the two preceding verses: “ These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life.” (Deut 6:1,2) These two verses lay the foundation. Here on the Plains of Moab, before Israel cross the Jordan to enter the Land, and before Moses goes up on Mount Nebo to die, he reminds the people that God had given them, back at Sinai forty years previously, ‘the Law' – commands (orders), decrees, (verdicts) and laws (rules & regulations).
Although given back then they are now to be followed in the new land they are about to enter so that (and here's the thing to note) when they obey all of this ‘Law' given by the Lord to Moses, there will be three ‘spin-offs' seen in verses 2 & 3. First we will note them and then consider them more generally.
First, if they obey all of this ‘Law' they will live long lives (v.2), i.e. they will do nothing to cause God to terminate their lives early and the way they live will produce health and wellbeing that will bring about long life.
Second, (now in v.3) it may go well with them. Now this sounds such a general thing that we could pass it by without noticing, but when you study the subsequent history of Israel from the time they entered the Land until the time of the Exile, you can see plenty of times when it clearly didn't go well, and there was either internal upheaval or attack from outside. Almost invariably (but not entirely) such times were linked with poor behaviour by the king and/or his people, i.e. they were disregarding God and His laws. Now we might suggest that such things come about quite naturally when the nation disregarded God and His laws, then they were left purely working out their self-centred, godless lives which so often produced internal turmoil (assassinations, revolts etc.)
However there is cause to believe that, observing these things so many times in the life of Israel (whether that meant the single nation or Judah and Israel after the division after Solomon), these things were not so much accidental coincidences but the specific outworking of God lifting off His hand of protection and restraint AND not bringing His blessing to bear on the life of the nation, when they were disobeying Him. There are illustrations (David, Solomon in the early part of his reign, and a small number of the kings of Judah after the division) of times when the Lord and His Law were put first and in those times there was peace and harmony, both within the Land and in respect of its neighbours. But the emphasis at this point of time, here in Deuteronomy, is that obedience will bring blessing – it will go well with them.
The third outworking will be that they will increase greatly in the Land. Now again we may assume that such thing will be automatic but failure to follow the Law will mean that God will lift off His hand of protection and restraint so that things occur that could reduce their numbers, e.g. plagues internally, invading armies externally.
We do take for granted, I believe, what I have now referred to twice, God's hand of protection and restraint. It is clear from observing Biblical history that both things are very real and when removed they make the nation vulnerable. When the Lord does lift off His hand of protection and restraint, it is always for disciplinary purposes, to bring about correction and change, i.e. to draw Israel back into relationship of blessing with the Lord.
But I suspect we also take for granted or ignore the reality of God's ‘blessing'. When God blesses something He decrees good for it, i.e. good WILL follow. We see these in Deut 28:2-14, instances of where the Lord will bring about good, and they all follow obedience. Those are followed by so-called ‘curses', God's decrees of bad that WILL follow disobedience. Again we emphasise these are always for disciplinary purposes to bring Israel to their senses and back to the Lord, and the book of Judges is full of such examples of this working out in practice.
Now a final general comment. I have suggested that verses 2 and 3 are highlight verses, verses that stand out as beacons, and the reason I have done that is that they reveal the overall plans and purposes of God – to bless His people Israel by giving them the Law to follow. When they do that, life will be good. It will go well for them, they will multiply in numbers and they will live long lives. That is His intent for this community of people, and in as far as they are to be an example to the rest of the world, they are to demonstrate God's intent for the whole world.
Ezekiel prophesied how this would be after the Exile, with overtones that suggest that will be how it will be for His people worldwide after the Messiah has come: “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.” (Ezek 11:19,20) The new people of God, born again of the Spirit of God, have pliable obedient hearts.
Jeremiah explained it further: “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Jer 31:33) The new, born-again child of God does not have to constantly refer to the ‘rules' for the very indwelling Spirit of God lives in total harmony with the will of God and as we flow with Him, so will we live in total harmony with God. If we are uncertain, we may turn to the teaching of the New Testament, but otherwise we rely on His leading, and it is ALWAYS to bring us into a place of blessing. Isn't that wonderful! Hallelujah!
Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 10. Deuteronomy (2)
Deut 6:4,5 Hear, O Israel : The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength
Six times in Deuteronomy Moses uses this formula, “Hear O Israel” (4:1, 5:1, 6:3, 6:4, 9:1, 20:3) as a special call to take note of what he is saying. In it's first usage when he turns from reminding them of their history since leaving Mount Sinai nearly forty years before, he used “Hear now O Israel ,” as a pivotal point calling them to now heed his teaching there on the Plains of Moab. He is going to remind them of the Law that has been imparted to them, and then there are going to be multiple but varied calls to faithfulness. In some ways Deuteronomy is the most compact and dense book in the Bible and it is Moses discharging his role as their leader before he leaves them to die on Mount Nebo .
It would appear that Moses spoke before the nation several times there. The second, “Hear O Israel ” appears in 5:1 at what appears to be the start of his second talk to Israel: “Moses summoned all Israel and said….” Now in chapter six w e observed the third “Hear O Israel ” in the previous meditation noting it was a refocusing on the blessings that would follow their complete obedience.
Now as we arrive at this fourth usage we observe it goes to the very heart of their existence, a relationship based upon love. Now of course we find Jesus referring to this command: “Jesus replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Mt 22:37,38) Thus we now find ourselves meditating upon a command that Jesus considered the greatest of all commands and, when linked with the command to love your neighbour as yourself (see Mt 22:39), he declared that all the law and the prophets hung on these two commands, essentially meaning that they sum up all other laws. That is how important this verse is that we have before us.
I suspect that to many, if not most of us, this is a very well-known command, one that perhaps we almost take for granted, but I want us to step into the shoes of the Israelites who are listening to Moses. What would they think about that command? How do you love a God you cannot see? In fact I think that many Christians have this deep down worry, “How do I love God? Do I really love God?”
Let's be absolutely basic. What is love? In the past when I have looked in a dictionary I have found, “ warm affection, attachment, liking, benevolence or strong benign feelings” which, if you translate that in respect of all that we know of God, then in respect of Him it means, “selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards us .” Do either of those sets of definitions suggest what we can feel about God? Let's stick with the Law for the moment, trying to apply definitions to our thoughts, feelings and behaviour. I'm struggling. The first definition, I think I can go along with but then I think, there seems a difference between the two sets; the first seem to be about emotions and the second seem to be more about will.
Let's think about what I have learned about love from my marriage. It started out very emotional but there were times, over the years, when for a variety of reasons (tiredness probably being the main one) I couldn't conjure up the same emotional buzz that I had for my wife when we first went out together. But then I ponder on what our love is about today after well over forty years of married life. On a good day I am absolutely sure I love my wife more now than I ever did in the past. If you like, I appreciate her more and am amazed at her love for me which constantly blesses me. On a tired day when emotions are all over the place, I declare my love, if for no other reason than loyalty. She has stuck with me over forty years and that's amazing! I will stick with her accordingly.
So yes, love seems to vary between being an emotional thing and an act of the will. So what was Moses call? To love God with all your heart, soul and strength, that last one changed to ‘mind' in the New Testament. So what do those three things mean? Heart has to do with acts of the will. Pharaoh was hard hearted in Exodus and set his heart against God. It was an act of will. Soul is all about feelings (ever heard ‘soul music'?) and mind is about intellect and reason. (Strength is about energy and direction).
So let's take them in reverse order. Intellect & Reason: When you know about someone you have reason to appreciate them. Israel had been through the Exodus and all that that meant and so their ‘faith' is built on the testimony of God, what He had done, what He had revealed to them. For us, our knowledge of God through His Son, Jesus Christ has had the content of the Gospels added to it.
Feelings/Emotions: When God had blessed them, like the psalmist they could rejoice and praise Him. When we find ourselves forgiven and adopted as His children and are then indwelt by His Spirit and even filled with His Spirit, we too find ourselves overflowing with gratefulness, thankfulness, praise and worship, all of which involve our emotions.
Will: And whether it is a good day or a bad day we resolve we will remain faithful. That was the call to Israel and to us, and it has nothing to do with how we ‘feel'. It is a pure act of will.
Now as I ponder this, three conclusion rise in my consciousness. The first is that my ‘loving God' can include emotions but in the absence of emotions then all that is required as my expression of my love for Him is my faithful obedience. ( “ This is love for God: to obey his commands.” 1 Jn 5:3).
The second is that without His grace (the presence of his Holy Spirit within) I am doomed to remain a self-centred, godless being. It is His grace than enables me to love my neighbour etc. Grace is more and more available the more and more we draw near to Him and experience His presence.
Third, and finally, because I am less than a perfect (yes, I am in His sight, but we are talking about daily experience!) my love (reason, feelings and actions) may fall short and therefore, ultimately, I rely upon the Cross. The truth is that Moses' command was ‘the Law' and we all fall short when it comes to law-keeping and therefore I must rely on the Cross for my salvation in this area as much as in any other area.
Yes, I will use my intellect to build my intellectual knowledge of Him. Yes, I will worship and pray and praise to build my emotional experience of Him and, yes, I will seek at all times to be obedient, but while I do this, I will turn to Him and seek both His grace as the provision I need, and His forgiveness through the Cross to cover my failures and my inadequacies. When I declare, “Lord, I love you,” He knows the reality of that, my seeking to obey His leading and His word, my yearning to feel more about Him, and my desire to be found faithful when He returns. Yes, Lord, I love you, you know I love you, you know all things (Jn 21:15-17).
Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 11. Joshua (1)
Josh 1:5-9 I will never leave you nor forsake you…. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."
It would almost do a disservice to Joshua to take just one verse. In these verses three times Joshua is told by the Lord to be strong and courageous, twice he is told to carefully hold on to the Law that came through Moses, twice he is told he will be successful if he does these things, and twice the Lord has declared He will be with him and will never leave him, wherever he goes. These verses are a package of reassurance for Joshua and they follow another highlight, “I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.” (v.3)
Moses, on the Plains of Moab before he departed had declared, “If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow--to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways and to hold fast to him-- then the LORD will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and stronger than you. Every place where you set your foot will be yours.” (Deut 11:22-24) There were some of those same components – holding fast to the Law will mean God will be with them to drive out their enemies before them. From right back at the burning bush, nearly forty years before, the Lord had promised Moses this land: “I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey--the home of the Canaanites.” (Ex 3:8) This had been repeated in Ex 3:17, 6:4,8, 12:25, 13:5,11, 20:12, 23:23,28-31, 32:13, 33:1,2, 34:11,12,15,24. Oh yes, the promise of the Land had been constantly there.
But how would obeying the Law help Joshua and his army as they entered the land and drove the inhabitants out? Many of the laws were surely about living out community and that had not yet been established? The answer, I suggest, is that Joshua meditating daily upon the laws meant that his heart would be turned to the Lord the whole time he advanced into the land. He would be encouraged to do this as he was made aware of two things: first, that the Lord was with him the whole time, and second, doing this would ensure success in the whole enterprise.
Why have I suggested that these are ‘highlight verses'? It is because they show a threefold strategy that is there for bringing about success. First, they have been reminded that they are fulfilling a goal that the Lord has spoken about and promised many times over the past forty years. This activity this founded on the Lord's promises. Second it is a strategy that is guaranteed because the Lord Himself was there in the midst of it. He had previously promised a number of times that He would drive out the inhabitants (but that was largely predicated on the corresponding activity of Israel ). Third, there is a human part to be played and that requires three things: i) a firm faithfulness, holding to the Law and to the Lord, ii) a requirement to be courageous, and that involves an act of will and iii) their activity as warriors going in to clear the Land.
So how do these things impact our lives today? How are they relevant for the way we live out our lives, day by day? Well, following the order above,
first , we have the confidence to be who we are and do what we do because we have the promises of God in His word, especially in the New Testament, and we can rely on those promises, e.g. that we are forgiven, we are redeemed, we are adopted as children of God, we now come under His protection and receive His provision. These are all promises of His word,
second , He is with us and indwells us by His own Holy Spirit. Wherever we go we have that same assurance that Joshua had which has been carried into the New Testament, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Heb 13:3),
third , as we play our part so we will observe fruitfulness, things coming about as a result of His blessing on our lives and activity.
This last part, again following what we said above, has three parts. We have three things to do as we play our part:
i) We hold firmly to His word : we need to be strengthened as we read His word, study His word, meditate upon His word, being encouraged by His testimony of what He and Jesus have done, and learning the principles by which He works and the teaching He lays before us for us to follow. i.e. we constantly seek His will.
ii) we determine to remain courageous , and that will involve an act of will that says, ‘I will remain faithful and true, I will persevere in the face of adversity and I will receive from Him His grace to overcome on a daily basis.
iii) we see ourselves as warriors in a spiritual battle so we resist lies and doubts and temptations from the enemy, and we fight with the weapons of truth, of righteousness, of worship and of prayer, being led at all times by the Spirit.
In these ways we walk parallel to Joshua and his army. He had a physical land to overcome, we have a spiritual ‘land' – our lives. He had to drive out physical enemies, we have to deny spiritual enemies their hold on our lives – doubts, dismay, dejection, pride, arrogance, self-conceit, anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, the list is long and is there in the New Testament. Physical or spiritual, the strategy was essentially the same. Do read through again the things in the above paragraphs that you may be clear on the issues, clear on the goals, clear on the methods and set your compass accordingly. Be blessed warriors of God!
Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 12. Joshua (2)
Josh 24:15 if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."
Nearing the end of the book of Joshua there is this famous declaration. In chapter 24 we find, “Then Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned the elders, leaders, judges and officials of Israel , and they presented themselves before God.” (Josh 24:1) This is a nationwide ‘presentation' or at least to all the leaders of the nation. Quite remarkably he is aware that the day of his death is not far off (Josh 23:14) and so, rather like his master, Moses, he does what he can to leave the people in a good place before the Lord. Having gathered the leaders together he reminds them of their history, going right back to Abraham and then right up to the present (24:2-13), reminding them of all that the Lord had done for them.
Having presented them with their history, he then brings the challenge for the present and the future: “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness.” (v.14a) i.e. always maintain a right attitude of respect towards the Lord and ensure in everything you do, you remain true to Him and to His Law. Now he next makes a very specific way that they can do this: “Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt , and serve the LORD.” (v.14b) This is quite remarkable really, that after all they had all been through with the Lord, they were still holding on to idols they first picked up in Egypt .
This is the second generation, forty years on, so they must be holding on to the things their parents brought out. The Lord speaking through Ezekiel centuries later challenged them on their behaviour in Egypt : “And I said to them, "Each of you, get rid of the vile images you have set your eyes on, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt . I am the LORD your God." `But they rebelled against me and would not listen to me; they did not get rid of the vile images they had set their eyes on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt.” (Ezek 20:7,8) They had never completely set themselves free of bondage to idols.
What is it about idols that Joshua has to speak as he does now and Ezekiel had to centuries later? Possibly it is the desire to have something visible to worship. Was it the same sort of feeling that was behind the people's demand of Samuel: “appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have”? (1 Sam 8:5). Is it the same sort of thing that has caused certain parts of the Christian Church to use icons, fancy robes and extol great buildings? Was it that, in the attitude of the disciples when, leaving the Temple , Jesus' disciples drew “his attention to the buildings” (Mt 24:1). Herod had built up the old temple to be something quite spectacular. People like the visible, like creating great buildings, ostensibly to honour God, people like putting on great pomp and ceremony, and yet so often it is utterly empty of reality.
This is at the heart of Joshua's words that follow, that are so critical to the life of Israel: “But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living.” (v.15a) We often focus on the latter part of this verse that we'll come to shortly but the first part of it is vital. He is saying, ‘Think about the alternatives. If you are unhappy with serving the invisible God, consider the alternatives – the gods your forefathers had in the past or the gods of the pagans who are still in this land. That is your option – wooden idols that are lifeless. Be quite clear on that.'
Then comes his own declaration of faithfulness: “But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (v.15b) i.e. whatever you do, me and my family will stick with the Lord. Now in more general terms what do these verses teach us?
First, they remind us of spiritual reality. There is a living God, the Creator of all things. If you reject Him you are left pretending there are ‘other gods' (and the Romans and Greeks didn't do very well in this field). We all have a propensity to worship something, to acknowledge our smallness and the greatness of something else. We may worship fame or wealth and they can become ‘gods' just as much as anything else. Whatever becomes more important to us than God, becomes a god, something we rely upon other than Him. That is the reality of existence.
Second, there is a challenge to face this reality and choose which reality you will live by. Many people will say they believe in a God but their lives show they live by other things. You either worship whole-heartedly the One True God, or you half-heartedly give token allegiance to Him while sharing it with other things, or you reject any concept of Him and make your own things that will dominate your life.
Third, I believe there is a challenge in the things we have been considering to counter the tendency to want to ‘see' or touch something solid when it comes to God. We are a Spirit people and we need to reject methods, ideals or activities that put ‘visible religion' on the pedestal of our spiritual lives. In this materialistic world in which we live, I believe this is possibly the most important issue here for the Church today. Our God is invisible but real and we need to fully accept that and live within it. Only then will we truly operate in faith and only then will we see the Lord moving in our midst.
For these reasons, Joshua's call to Israel was vital. He challenged them with their history, reminding them of the works of God in their midst, but also of the failings of the past generations. There was the opportunity for the present generation to put this all right and establish a good foundation to move into the future. Sadly, although they affirmed his call at the present and the record declares, “Israel served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the LORD had done for Israel,” (Josh 24:31 & Judg 2:7) it wasn't long before we read, “After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals. They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt . They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them.” (Jud 2:10-12).
We might therefore add, fourth, the best we can do is call the present generation to faith, prepare the next generation the best we can, and then leave the future in the Lord's hands.
Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 13. Judges
Judges 2:16 Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders.
Perhaps to call the above verse a ‘highlight' is a misnomer, for the truth is that it comes at the end of a paragraph that explains the whole of the book of Judges, and indeed explains one of the main ways that God deals with people and nations. Having studied the judgments of God in depth for several years, I conclude that here in this book we have example after example of what I have come to call ‘disciplinary judgments' because their prime goal is to bring change of behaviour, as against what I have come to call ‘terminal judgments' or ‘judgments of the last resort' because they result in death because the Lord sees that nothing else will save the situation.
Scripture is clear that the Lord wishes to avoid death. We see that in his many declarations that He would drive out the inhabitants of Canaan and their death would only occur in the last resort if they stayed and fought Israel . It is also declared prophetically three times in Ezek 18:23,32 & 33:11 and in the New Testament in 2 Pet 3:9. We find in the book of Judges a process that takes place again and again and is summarised in these verses in chapter 2. Observe the stages:
Stage 1: Israel turn from the Lord: “ After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel . Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals. They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt . They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them.” (2:10-12a) Israel demonstrate the tendency seen in the whole of mankind, a tendency to turn away from God, hence my definition of Sin that we are all infected by – self-centred godlessness. There is no other way to explain the folly that is seen in Israel whereby they completely forget all that they have heard or seen of the Lord within the last forty or so years.
It is the thing called ‘Sin', this inherent propensity to turn away from God that we all have. The Lord may have given the wonder of His word, His salvation through His Son, and His Spirit, but still there is always a war against Sin within us. This is what the apostle Paul dealt with in his letter to the Romans and why he tells us, “ do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires,” (Rom 6:12) and confesses his own struggles, “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out,” (Rom 7:18) and concludes, “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 7:24,25) and “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit.” (Rom 8:9) We are only freed from the power of Sin as we let Jesus, by his Spirit, work in us.
Stage 2: The Lord responds: “They provoked the LORD to anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. In his anger against Israel the LORD handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the LORD was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them.” (2:12-15a) It is important to see that this is a specific act of disciplinary judgment by the Lord. He either lifts off His hand of protection from Israel and His hand of restraint from their enemies, or He specifically gives permission to their enemies to rise against Israel . It is intended to put Israel under pressure and it always does.
Stage 3: Israel anguish and cry to the Lord for help: “They were in great distress .” (v.15b) in this first instance they do not appear to cry for help but in most other instances throughout this book, they do, even though sometimes it may take many years for them to come to their senses.
Stage 4: The Lord brings a saviour and delivers them: “Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders.” (v.16) In this respect, this verse 16 is indeed a highlight. It shows the Lord who, again and again, desires to bring His people to repentance.
Perhaps to make the point we need to quote those three sets of verses from Ezekiel that perhaps underscores all that takes place in this book:
Ezek 18:23 “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” and
Ezek 18:31,32 “Rid yourselves of all the offences you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel ? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” and
Ezek 33;11 “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel ?”
What is true of Israel , is true of us. Does He discipline us? Yes, because He loves us (Heb 12:5-11) and knows that sometimes this is the only way we will change. Do our occasional failures annul our salvation? Definitely not. He will continue to work in us to bring us back to Him. It is only when someone has so clearly set their heart to turn away from Him, there is doubt. The fruits of salvation for the present may be lost but that does not mean the Lord will not continue to work to bring His lost sheep home again. Hallelujah!
Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 14. Ruth
Ruth 1:16,17 But Ruth replied, "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me."
These words spoken by Ruth to her mother-in-law, Naomi, are perhaps some of the greatest declarations of loyalty and faithfulness spoken in the Bible. In the Gospels, at one point, the apostle Peter said to Jesus when all others were abandoning him, “ Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (Jn 6:68,69) He had heard Jesus and recognized something special in Jesus and that was in no one else, so he was not going to leave it. But what was it that made Ruth reply as she had. Let's note their circumstances.
Naomi and her husband had fled Israel when a famine struck. They went looking for food elsewhere and found it in Moab , a people who lived to the east of the Dead Sea . The record has it that they were descendants of one of Lot's daughters (Gen 19:37).It had been the Moabites who hired Balaam to curse Israel, and for that reason Moses banned them for ten generations from entering ‘the assembly of the Lord' (Deut 23:3,4).
Now there hangs the question mark. It doesn't appear to prohibit marriage to a Moabite but if one did, then you would be excluded from participating in the rites and ceremonies of Israel , at least for ten generations after Moses. It would appear they are still in that period of prohibition which adds more to the significance of some of the things that happened. While living in Moab , where they appear to have settled, first Naomi's husband dies, then Naomi's two sons marry two Moabite women. Tragedy strikes the family and the two sons die. Is this judgment on the unfaithfulness of these three Israelite men for having abandoned Israel ? We aren't told, but Naomi is left with two daughters-in-law. When she hears that the famine is over in Israel she prepares to return to her homeland and tries to get the two daughters-in-law to remain in their own land. Perhaps she has in mind the probation we have already referred two. The first daughter agrees and remains, but the other, Ruth, makes this amazing declaration of loyalty.
Again we ask, what was it that made Ruth make such a declaration? A similar declaration was later made by Ittai the Gittite to king David when Absalom revolted and David had to flee. When David encouraged him to remain behind Ittai replied, “As surely as the LORD lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be.” (2 Sam 15:21) It is the same loyalty. Indeed David's words, that provoked this response, show an even greater similarity to this present situation: “Why should you come along with us? Go back and stay with King Absalom. You are a foreigner, an exile from your homeland . You came only yesterday. And today shall I make you wander about with us, when I do not know where I am going? Go back, and take your countrymen. May kindness and faithfulness be with you.” (2 Sam 15:19,20) The previous verses shows that the Gittites were a contingent from the Philistines who had collaborated with David (v.18). The Philistines had long had dealings with David and I believe it is fair to suggest that Ittai recognized greatness in David, hence his declaration.
So back to Ruth, what was it that made her make this declaration? Now there is something strange about the book of Ruth and, although it explains how Ruth came to be part of the Messianic line (see Matt 1:5) and become the great grandmother of King David, there is no mention of God's activity in Ruth and yet the multiple activities that bring this about, we have to say, are a demonstration of what theologians call the Providence of God (the behind-the-scenes working of God). What we don't know because it is not said, and perhaps because Ruth the Moabitess probably would not recognize it anyway, is if the Lord spoke directly to Ruth to prompt her to feel as she did. It is a possibility, but we just don't know.
Another possibility comes to the fore when we note her actual words: “ Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me." Your God, my God? Using the covenant name, LORD, Yahweh, the I AM? All this suggests that Naomi had talked about her home life, or at the very least the reputation of Israel was well known in Moab . Either way, Israel appeared to be doing what they were designed to do and attract the world. Clearly, in our above examples, Jesus attracted Peter and David attracted the foreigner, Ittai. It is just possible that that something about Naomi attracted Ruth's heart, for it is very much a heart declaration.
Yet a further possibility is that Ruth felt concern for Naomi, who had lost her husband and then her two sons in an alien environment. If that is so it suggests she is a young woman of compassion. Again, whatever it was, the Lord used it to draw her together with Boaz (later in the book) and become part of the Messianic blood line. Everything about this story says that Ruth is a woman of immense grace who finds a husband in Israel who is equally full of grace. From our vantage point in history, what is so incredible about this is that the Lord happily takes Ruth into the life of Israel and highlights her presence by a record in Matthew's genealogy.
Perhaps this should not be so surprising when, in that same genealogy, we read immediately before, “ Boaz, whose mother was Rahab.” Rahab of course was, at the best an innkeeper and, at the worst, a prostitute, and whichever, a Canaanite! She is another illustration of someone outside the chosen people who was drawn into them and is given a special place in the Messianic family tree. Perhaps that made it easier for Boaz to act as he did in wooing Ruth. Over both ‘transactions' hangs the grace of God who has a chosen people but also a heart for the whole world. He will receive whoever will come to Him.
If the Pharisees of Jesus' day had been around at both those times they would no doubt have rejected both Rahab and Ruth, and as for the thought that both these being foreign women, women from nations that practiced idol worship and did not know Yahweh…. well! But God's grace is bigger. If we look down on people who are obviously outside the kingdom (at the moment), “remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” (Eph 2:12,13). I like the way the Message version puts it: “ It was only yesterday that you outsiders to God's ways had no idea of any of this, didn't know the first thing about the way God works, hadn't the faintest idea of Christ. You knew nothing of that rich history of God's covenants and promises in Israel, hadn't a clue about what God was doing in the world at large. Now because of Christ—dying that death, shedding that blood—you who were once out of it altogether are in on everything. Excellent! So be careful how you think of others!
In your own life, don't be surprised if God uses the irreligious around you, people who do not seem to conform to your expectations. It may be they have a stronger heart for the Lord than you and me. The ‘Wise Men' or Magi (Mt 2:1) fit into that category. Definitely not ‘proper' people to be involved in the nativity story and as for being led by astrology and a star…well! But God is bigger than us. Rejoice in the wonder of that grace and pray that your may be enlarged to see His hand at work in those around you and the general affairs of the world.
Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 15. 1 Samuel
1 Sam 16:7 the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."
This is all about spiritual realities and as we look into it, we will see various other verses that appear, I believe, as highlight verses in this book, but they all go together. It is about spiritual vision, about what you see with your eyes and understand in your heart.
Let's observe the context first of all. This is the first illustration of at least five that we will look at in this book. Saul is king and has failed at the job so God is going to appoint a new king and he sends Samuel, the prophet, down to Bethlehem to the family of Jesse because He has chosen one of his sons to be the new king. The story that follows is quite hilarious. Samuel gets the sons lined up, starting with the eldest who looks big and strong. This must be the one, thinks Samuel, but then the Lord speaks the verse above. No, don't go on looks. This is not the one. So he works his way along the line and at each of the seven sons before him, he gets a “No!” from heaven. You can imagine him at the last one thinking, “Lord, I've run out of sons. What do I do?” Ask if there are any more, is the answer, and David is revealed, the eighth son out on the hillside looking after sheep for his father. He's the one!
But the principle has been laid down and it's one that has already been seen earlier in the book. The second illustration comes before Samuel was born, his mother-to-be is crying out to the Lord because she seems unable to conceive. She is in the tabernacle praying, but not out loud. Old man Eli is the chief priest and he sees her lips moving. He jumps to a wrong conclusion: “ Eli thought she was drink”. (1 Sam 1:13). No, Eli, she is praying her heart out! Don't judge by outward appearances.
A third illustration perhaps, as an extension of this, can be seen in some of the most spiritually poignant words which are found in 1 Sam 3: “The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions. One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was.” (v.1-3) Spiritual reality? Prophetic words were rare and there were few visions from God. Physical outworking, if you like? Eli could barely see and was lying down. The physical reality reflected the spiritual reality. The lamp of God had not yet gone out – physical reality in the tabernacle, but reflected the spiritual reality; God has the next carrier of His light also in there, Samuel, who is also lying down at the moment. He'll get up and into action as soon as he learns to hear God's voice, so God's light will shine brightly in Israel again.
The fourth illustration comes many years later, when Israel decide they want a king instead of the judges they have had, “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” (8:19,20) i.e. we can't see God; we want someone we can see who will go before us to fight, just like the other nations have. But you're not like the other nations, you're better off, you have the Lord! But they persist and so the Lord allows them to have just what they want, a big, tough looking guy to be their king, a guy who was head and shoulders (as some older versions put it) above all others (10:23). That was exactly what Israel wanted except he didn't live up to the job. Possibly the most memorable Bible Week series of teaching I have ever heard was called, I believe, ‘The King and his army', given by an elderly Canadian, Pentecostal preacher, called Ern Baxter, back in 1975, who spoke of the transition from the head and shoulders man (head referring to human intellect and shoulders referring to human strength) to the heart man, David (a man after God's own heart – 1 Sam 13:14, Acts 13:22) Israel wanted a big tough man, but human wisdom and human strength aren't up to the job; it needed a heart man! It's not looks, it's the heart!
A fifth illustration that comes to mind, revealing this same principle, is that involving a giant Philistine named Goliath who came with the Philistine army to attack Israel and challenged Israel to put up their best man to fight him, and the winner would designate the victorious nation. This petrified Israel who were cowed into inaction. What always surprises me about this was that Saul didn't refuse the challenge and send ten of his best men to bring this threat down. But size seemed to hypnotize Saul and his people and so for forty days the two armies just faced each other while Goliath came out and roared out his challenge – the Philistines as an army couldn't have been feeling too sure of themselves. (see 1 Sam 17:4-16). David turns up and is surprised that size is the criteria that brings Israel to a standstill. As far as he is concerned it is all about relationship: “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (v.26) We're the people of God, this guy isn't! He knows God has helped him in the past (see v.34-37) and so He will do so in the present. It's nothing to do with how big the problem looks ! It's all about relationship with the Lord.
And there is the same lesson, five times over in this book. Will we be a people who look and see only material things, or will we open our hearts to discern the spiritual realities of the world in which we live. Will we look at people's appearances and write them off, or will we look with Jesus' eyes and see the spiritually hungry and thirsty and be open to bring his love to them (Zacchaeus was a good example of this – Luke 19). The lovely thing about the New Testament gift of prophecy is that it looks past the outward appearance and sees the inner reality and the future potential. Dare we be a people who give up on ‘outward appearance Christianity', and cry to the Lord to become heart and Spirit people who discern true spiritual realities?
Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 16. 2 Samuel
2 Sam 12:7 Then Nathan said to David, "You are the man!
A highlight? Well, yes, because these few words record a terrible happening that looks backwards and then forwards in this book and which provide vital lessons for us. They are in many ways pivotal words. First of all, looking back. David, this man we referred to in the previous meditation as a ‘heart man', a man after God's own heart, has blown it. Even great men of God can get it wrong. There is not one of us who is totally secure from failure, and if you think you are, and you find yourself saying, “I could never do that,” or “I could never be like that,” as you watch the failure of another person, you just don't know the depths of your own depravity. Between now and the time I go to heaven I would wish that I never had a wrong thought, never said a wrong word, and never did a wrong thing, that is my earnest desire, but I am a human being, redeemed yes, but still a vulnerable being so that the sharp minded apostle John would write, “ I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1) He knew the reality.
So David has blown it. In the season when kings go to war to defend their borders, he stayed at home. First mistake; he should have been out there leading his men. Being in the wrong place, he just happened to watch a young women bathing on the roof top a few buildings away from the rooftop of his palace where he was – and he liked what he saw and took steps to get her, including arranging for the death of her husband (see 2 Sam 11). As we all do, he thought he had got away with it – but God saw, God knew, and Nathan is God's prophet! Nathan comes with a story of a rich man who stole from a poor man and David was righteously indignant: “ As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die!” (v.5) It is then that Nathan pronounces this damning verdict – YOU are the man, you are this guilty person who deserved to die.
So, second, looking to the future, is David going to die? No, but he is going to be severely disciplined. Why? Because, “the Lord disciplines those he loves,” (Heb 12:6) Listen to the Lord's verdict: “the sword will never depart from your house,” (v.10) and “Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight.” (v.11) i.e. there is going to be family upset and your family is going to be riven by revolt.
Chapter 13 is a record of how Ammon, David's firstborn son, many years later, raped Tamar, a daughter of David and sister of Absalom, son of another of David's wives. (David had been unwise enough to follow the ancient practice of kings to have more than one wife – see 2 Sam 3:2-5). After this had happened, Absalom killed Amnon in revenge. The account appears to indicate that at various stages, David knew what was happening but took no action. Absalom fled the land for three years.
Chapter 14 is a record of how Absalom was brought back and allowed to live in the land, and chapter 15 tells of how Absalom schemed to take power so David and his close followers had to flee Jerusalem . In chapter 18 David fights back and contrary to David's wishes Absalom is killed.
Now what is peculiar about all this exact fulfillment of Nathan's word from God, is that essentially it all comes about because David is careless about the way he looks after his family and so one thing follows another because he did not act. Now I have observed over the years that so often we fall short in some particular way in life and the Lord allows it. It is like He allows it until the thing rises up and bites us, if I may put it like that. In my own case as a leader I tolerated wrong attitudes of criticism around me never challenged them, until one day it blew up and we had the most painful upset, division, and anguish in the church. I repented that I had failed in my leadership role by not correcting the situation long before, but not before the damage was done. If we allow unrighteous situations to prevail, they will eventually explode or backfire on us. It is as if the Lord lifts off His hand of restraint or protection so it happens and we are disciplined.
We expect God to come and bring big judgments, but so often His disciplinary judgments come simply by Him standing back and letting our folly come to fruition until it bites us. Then we repent. You might have thought this choice of a highlight a strange one but it reveals the amazing way God works. Be clear on the following points:
God loves us and continues to love us
He allows us free will and the freedom to choose what we will do.
If we have not crucified every area of our lives, then there will be pockets of unrighteousness that will remain, fester, grow and bear painful fruit.
The Lord will no doubt speak to us a number of times about such things but if our blindness allows us to continue without dealing with them, the Lord will allow them to come to painful fruition to discipline us.
Why? Because He loves us and wants us to change, this aside of heaven.
This meditation may actually be a means that the Lord is using to prick your conscience to seek to get you to face one such issue. If that is so, first, be honest and face the truth about what you are allowing to continue in your life. Second, seek the lord for wisdom and grace to know how to proceed with it. If you are involved with an illicit relationship, stop it right now. It's not too late. If you are tolerating some unrighteousness in yourself, seek Him for His grace to deal with it – now. If you have a leadership role and observe unrighteousness in those you are responsible for, then seek Him for wisdom and grace to come with gentle but firm love to confront and deal with it.
Remember, if you are aware of tolerating wrong in your life, Nathan's words come to you: “YOU are the man/woman!” They come to encourage you to deal with the issue before they blow up under you. There is a simple adage: repentance is easier the earlier it comes. The longer you leave it, the harder it becomes, and if you don't do it, watch out, life will get very uncomfortable. We are called to be a holy people by a holy God and He loves us so much that He will give us only so much space then He will act to correct.
Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 17. 1 Kings
1 Kings 3:12 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.
1 Kings 11:1 King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh's daughter--Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites.
When it comes to 1 Kings, one verse is not enough for one verse alone would paint a distorted picture and two verses apart would take up unnecessary space, so I pull together these two verses even though they come years apart.
The first verse and all that comes both before and after it is quite remarkable. King David is dying and Solomon is brought to the throne though clever strategies (see 1 Kings 1 & 2.) To cut a long story short Solomon has a dream in which the Lord comes to him and says He will give him great wisdom to enable him to rule his kingdom. The extent of the Lord's promises is worth noting: “ 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.” (1 Kings 3:12-14) First the promise was of great wisdom and a discerning heart. Second the promise was of great riches and honour. All the Lord required was for Solomon to obey His laws.
Now again, to cut a long story short, these promises were fulfilled in abundance. The kings wisdom and discernment was shortly seen in a wise judicial decision (1 Kings 3:16-27) with the result that, “all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice.” (v.28) We read of his rule, “The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy. And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt . These countries brought tribute and were Solomon's subjects all his life,” (1 Kings 4:20,21) and “God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. Solomon's wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the men of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt .” (v.29,30) He also built the first temple and, “ 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.” (1 Kings 8:10,11) Sometime later the Lord appeared to him in a second dream with a call and a warning to ensure he kept to all the Lord's commands and did not worship foreign gods (1 Kings 9:1-9). It was a very clear warning.
The extent of his blessing is perhaps nowhere seen so clearly as in the visit of the Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10:1-13) and her testimony of how incredible it all was. If you have never read it, pause now, look it up and read it. The rest of the chapter 10 extols all the greatness of what he was doing. Thus our first highlight verse showed the reason for what followed in chapters 3 to 11. Amazing!
Which brings us to our second verse and I suggest it is a highlight verse because it highlights the human folly that resides in each one of us (oh yes, don't kid yourself that you are different from the rest of the human race!). “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.” (11:1,2) Moses had prophesied about Israel 's future and their desire to have a king and warned about him, “He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray.” (Deut 17:17) but worse than that, the Law warned again and again against taking foreign wives (see Ex 34:16; Deut 7:1-3; Josh 23:12-13; Ezr 9:2; 10:2-3; Ne 13:23-27) but Solomon ignored that.
And there was his downfall! “ 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.” (11:4-6) In response to this the Lord declared (11:9-13) he would split the kingdom and leave only one other tribe with his son's tribe after he had gone. The practical reason for the split is not given but possibly the Lord knew that his son was foolish and rather than let him lead the whole of Israel astray He limited his reign to just two tribes that we refer to as the southern kingdom. What is tragic is that every single king of the northern kingdom tolerated idols at a national level and every king was a poor king. Did the Lord think that ruling just two tribes would be easier, we don't know but that was the future.
Our area where I live is visited every summer by a circus, not always the same one. Often the circus tent is of the sort supported by two main poles with a horizontal ridge between them. In silhouette at dusk there is this sloping roof and you can imagine a figure scaling the slope on one side up to the first pole, then along the ridge to the second pole and sliding down to the slope on the other side, shooting off the eaves and dropping eight feet to the ground. That is how I see these two highlight sets of verses. After David, the Lord offers Solomon greatness and it will come through the first verse – through great wisdom. Solomon will operate at that level for much of the earlier part of his reign but as he gets older, he reaches the second verse and from there it is all downhill until he dies and the kingdom crashes to the ground in two pieces.
It is a terrible picture of the folly of mankind or, if you like, of the terrible power of sin which, if you give way to it, leads to calamitous outworkings. Here was Solomon who is handed the throne that had been well established by his father who, mot of the time presented a good example of a heart following God. David's lack of wisdom came through having a number of wives and even though he was not swayed by them ( Deut 17:17 warning) the many children fought. Solomon had not learned from that.
And us? beware the temptations to think that God doesn't know best! Beware making excuses about teaching you don't like and becoming disobedient. Even the most blessed of us, and with the most powerful ministries are vulnerable to the outworkings of Sin. The call is to always we alert to these things and resist them.
Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 18. 1 Kings (2)
1 Kings 18:21 Elijah went before the people and said, "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him."
OK I cheated! Yes, I made it sound in the previous meditation that I would take the two highlight verses of the book together and then we would move on. Yes, I know, that was the implication, but as I went to move on to 2 Kings I realised that one of the greatest prophetic action highlights of the Old Testament was still there later in 1 Kings, and it involves Elijah, and so we must not miss him!
The action of Elijah on Mount Carmel must be one of the greatest showmanship examples of the whole Old Testament. Elijah seems to appear from nowhere in 1Kings 17 with his first recorded prophetic announcement: “Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, "As the LORD, the God of Israel , lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” (1 Kings 17:1) He is clearly a prophet who comes from somewhere east of the Jordan . Ahab was a bad king, a very bad king, king of the northern kingdom with his palace in Samaria, so presumably Elijah first contacted him somewhere in that region. A three year drought follows and the story tells of how Elijah survived it (1 Kings 17). After three years the Lord tells him to go and confront Ahab again (18:1,2). Now he clearly has a divine strategy in mind because when he meets Ahab he tells him to get all the false prophets and turn up at Mount Carmel – which was over on the coast (18:18,19).
Thus we find this amazing confrontation. The drought and subsequent famine still continue so perhaps Ahab goes along with this and instructs all the prophets of Baal and Asherah to turn up at Carmel . Elijah has also instructed that people from all over Israel should be called there and so there is this mighty national gathering with a king, lots of ‘prophets' and lots of people – and Elijah.
Before he does anything else Elijah challenges the entire ‘congregation' with this challenge found in our verse above: “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” (v.21) i.e. half these prophets say Baal is the deity to follow but this is Israel , a nation called into being by Yahweh. Choose who you will acknowledge is the true God. He then goes on to set up this exercise to prove who is the true, real, living, existing and powerful God. Let's get two bulls, he says, and slaughter them. You prophets of Baal go first and offer one of them to your god and call on him to send fire to burn up your offering. I'll do the same thing and the God who answers by fire is truly God. Off you go, you go first.
And so they set up their altar with one of the bulls on it and spend the whole day calling on Baal, but to no effect. Elijah makes fun of them but then takes over and sets up his own altar with a bull on and, as if to make a point, has lots of water poured all over it, and then stands back. Fire comes from heaven and Elijah wins and the prophets of Baal lose and are shown to be charlatans and are killed (see 1 Kings 18:22-40).
Now the canny modern scientist might say, “Ah, a high point , lots of water that would possibly attract lightning. Obviously a natural phenomena!” Possibly. But that does not deny Elijah getting wisdom from God of how to go about it. The only other problem is that in what follows, there is obviously a clear sky and a storm does NOT come for some time (see v.41-46). No, sorry, act of God!
And that's where the challenge comes from this amazing story. Act of God or natural phenomena? That's not the challenge. The challenge is why do we so often try and explain away the miraculous works of God? Why is the world scared silly of attributing miracles to God? Well if you have ready these meditations for any length of time, you will know that I define Sin as ‘self-centred godlessness that is inherent within us, which leads to unrighteous thoughts, words and actions'. Because we are all tainted with this propensity we all still have this tendency to be self-centred and godless because we want to be the ones who determine our destiny. Thus we question God's existence and His actions.
It is only when His own Holy Spirit piles up the evidence before us and we become convicted of our self-centred godlessness and of the truth about God, that we surrender our lives and accept the saving work of Jesus Christ and are born again. But, as we have noted recently, we are still tainted with this thing called Sin but now have the resources to overcome it. But beware, it is still lurking there in the background and you become aware of it when you start recognising such thoughts as, “Was this a natural phenomena or was this God?” and you recognize you are trying to erase Him from the story.
But there is also a second challenge to this story. Elijah thought he was the only prophet of God left (v.22) yet the Lord was later to point out to him that there were yet seven thousand in Israel who were NOT Baal followers (19:18), but that did not stop him standing out with this amazing act of faith to confront what he saw as the whole of the rest of the population from king down. The fact that he believed he was utterly alone makes this even more incredible. So here is the challenge, regardless of whether we are alone or there are other believers in our vicinity, will we remain faithful to the Lord and obedient to His leading. It is unlikely that the Lord will call any of us to such dramatic action until we have walked with Him some time and had our faith built up. That had happened with Elijah as the previous chapter showed.
Today, of course, we know we do not stand alone for we are part of the body of Christ, the Church, and within that body there are mature leaders and mixed ministries, all there to support and encourage us in our personal calling.
The question we might ask is, if we believe we have heard from the Lord with a new task, perhaps a new mission, do I have people around me to whom I can submit this for checking? Beware the ‘lone wolf' syndrome. As I have testified in others of these meditations, I have been privileged to step out in relatively minor escapades, as some might see them, but even more importantly been part of the checking process for some fairly large and dramatic ‘Elijah-type' evangelistic activities. If we cannot submit our calling to others, we need to question why that is. I do know of those who have ‘freaky lives' but they are freaky not so much because of the weird things they do, but more because they are lone wolves who refuse to submit to others. (Check out 1 Cor 16:15,16, Eph 5:21, Heb 13:7) Resist this lone-wolf mentality, get the support, encouragement and wisdom of others and then step out into the acts of faith to which God calls you.
Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 19. 2 Kings (1)
2 Kings 2:9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?" "Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit," Elisha replied.
We chose yesterday's meditation because we said we could not leave 1 Kings without mention of Elijah. Coming into 2 Kings we cannot move through it without first mentioning Elisha who appears, first as Elijah's young protégé, and then as a prophet in his own right. We have chosen this verse above for its shear audacity. So often in Christian circles there is a humility – at least I hope that is what it is – that is loath to claim anything great for oneself. To actually say of any great leader, “I want double of what they've got,” appears pretentious in such a modern climate. Indeed, in many, there is a reticence to ask for anything of any greatness.
I am always bemused by those who tear 1 Cor 14 out of their Bibles, so to speak, because, if they could be honest, they struggle with Paul's instruction (no less an apostolic instruction than any other in the New Testament) to, “ Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy,” (1 Cor 14:1) and then even more down to earth, a bit later, “Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.” (v.12) We are perhaps more comfortable with, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled,” (Mt 5:6) perhaps because we think righteousness is worthy of being higher up the scale of things we yearn for. Suppose the Lord appeared to us in a dream like He did to Solomon and said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you,” (1 Kings 3:5) I wonder what we would have the temerity to ask for? The wisdom that Solomon already had recognized that asking for more wisdom to be able to govern his people well, would be appropriate and the Lord's response, if we could put it in modern terms, might be, “because you didn't ask for fame and fortune, a big house and a flashy car, I'll give them to you as well as what you've asked for.”
In the New Testament again, there is also Paul's declaration: “Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.” (1 Tim 3:1) Wow! I wonder how many Christians, sitting in the pews Sunday by Sunday “set their heart” on becoming a church leader? It is false humility that denies God could ever make us one. But then I would suggest that leadership is a gift from God (Rom 12:8) so if you do have such yearning it is possibly the Spirit of God preparing you – but remember leading is also all about serving. Remember it's also an up-side-down kingdom so, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” (Mk 10:43,44) but, says Paul, you ascribe to a noble task!
I like how the JBP version puts Col 3:14 – “ I leave the past behind and with hands outstretched to whatever lies ahead I go straight for the goal—my reward the honour of being called by God in Christ.” Yeah, there is glory ahead and surely that is worth reaching out for! If I may be little light-hearted for a moment, I like the film Jungle Book and I like the ape singing, “I've reached the top and had to stop and that's what's botherin' me. I wanna be a mancub…. I wanna be like you, I wanna walk like you, talk like you too.” Lord, I want to be like you, walk like you, talk like you too. I remember the days of the Toronto Blessing, now often brought into the prayer ministry times in those churches that move in the Spirit, the prayer, “More Lord, more Lord.” Isn't that a good thing to yearn for – more of His presence, more of His power? It is false humility and perhaps low self-esteem that shies away from such talk. Paul instructed Timothy, “ Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed.” (2 Tim 2:15) Doing your best means reaching out to God for more grace, more power and more wisdom. In fact the apostle James instructed us to ask for wisdom (Jas 1:5) When we acknowledge that our calling is to be like Jesus in both character and in service, we cannot help but cry out, Lord resource me, help me be up to this!
The fact was that Elisha felt so secure in his calling to follow the Lord and follow Elijah, that when it came to Elijah talking about leaving, he felt like he needed more than he saw Elijah had and was not afraid to ask for it. Was he already aware that actually the Lord had given Elijah various tasks and he hadn't managed all of them? Or did he perhaps feel he himself was a pygmy in comparison to Elijah and therefore he needed twice as much to even get up to Elijah's level and carry on his ministry?
We see that same temerity in Elisha, after Elijah has been taken up to heaven and Elisha only has his cloak that was left behind, and we read, “Then he took the cloak that had fallen from him and struck the water with it. "Where now is the LORD, the God of Elijah?" he asked.” (v.14a) Wow! Be careful if you follow that. I know of a leader who cried that out to God, and the Lord replied, “Where are the Elijahs?” Challenge! But the Lord was obviously blessed with Elisha because, “When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.” (v.14b) Power and authority. OK, Elisha, you have what you asked for!
Do we not see that the Lord wants to give us more of His presence, His power and His authority that we may continue to do the works of Jesus (Jn 14:12), and He is, in fact, looking for people who will call out to Him for more than they have at the present. Throw off mediocrity and ask for big things, and then do them as He enables! Hallelujah! If this isn't a highlight verse, I don't know what is!
Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 20. 2 Kings (2)
2 Kings 19:1,2 When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the LORD. He sent Eliakim the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary and the leading priests, all wearing sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz.
The book of 2 Kings is a completely mixed bag. After leaving the various accounts of the activities of Elisha (and 2 Kings 6:17 would be my third choice of a highlight verse if I was extending to three studies – but I'm not) we return to the accounts of kings which is a combination of good news and bad, mainly the latter. Hezekiah looks to be a classic example but does come out with some favourable points.
It is a particularly depressing and worrying time. When Hezekiah came to the throne, in the north Hoshea had been reigning for three years. Six years later the north was invaded by the present king of Assyria who deported all the people of the north and replaced them with foreigners from Babylon etc. (see 2 Kings 17). Hezekiah did well and trusted the Lord and cleared the land of signs of past idol worship (see 18:1-4) but it was in his sixth year that the north was overcome by Assyria (18:9,10).
Having started well, Hezekiah did not do so well as time passed. Eight years later the king of Assyria attacked Judah's northern fortified cities and Hezekiah paid him a ransom to back off, including silver from the temple and treasures from the royal palace, as well as gold from the doors of the temple. There is no sign of him having sought the Lord for help. But all of this did not deter the king of Assyria who simply sent his chief commanders to Jerusalem . There the field commander stands outside and shouts threats to the people watching on the walls of the city. (see 18:19-25,28-36). It is scary stuff and meant to create fear and weakness.
It is at this point, at long last, that Hezekiah seeks the Lord. He first went into the temple (19:1) and then he sent his senior staff to go and find Isaiah the prophet and tell him what is going on – as if he didn't know! Now before we move on, let's consider why I have called this a highlight verse. Much of the lives of the kings were just them bumbling along and so often making a mess of things. Every now and then the Lord is involved and this is one of those times, a particularly spectacular time as we'll see, but it challenges us with some very basic issues, the primary one of which is, do we wait until it is really a major crisis before we seek the Lord? Unless you do a survey it is difficult to know the habits of God's people, but my impression is that in many at least today, the practice of the morning ‘quiet' time is a thing largely unknown. Spending time in God's presence, seeking Him in prayer, reading and studying His word on our own, these seem things of some scarcity in the modern church of the West. I may be wrong and I hope I am, but that is how it so often seems when I listen to God's people.
Indeed one might pursue this further and ask how stressful will it have to get before God's children get into the habit of regularly seeking His presence and help, strength and wisdom. When things start to go wrong, is our first response to take a tablet, seek a doctor, reason how to overcome, strive and struggle on through, or do we from the outset, seek Him?
Of course the story of Hezekiah and Isaiah presumes that this prophet hears God and can come up with an answer, and many of us are not so sure about ‘hearing God'. Indeed Isaiah has heard from the Lord and the message is very simply that the king of Assyria will hear a report that makes him return home and there he will be killed. (19:7)
In fact the reality turns out to be that the field commander hears from the king who has left Lachish (in the north) and was fighting against Libnah (a little further north) and so returns to him, lifting the pressure off Hezekiah. The King of Assyria hears that the king of Egypt is coming to attack him and sends Hezekiah a threatening letter that basically says, ‘Don't you think you will get away from me because of this, I'll be back' (see 19:9-13). Hezekiah now responds well. He takes the letter and spreads it before the Lord and prays for His help (see v.14-19). The Lord sends Isaiah to him with a message of assurance. That night in the Assyrian camp 185,000 men died! The king of Assyria packed up and returned home and a short while later his sons assassinated him. (see v.35-37) Isaiah's words were exactly fulfilled and Jerusalem and Hezekiah were saved.
The lesson of this story is all about Hezekiah learning to rely on the Lord. It is that simple. It is not the end of Hezekiah's story which has yet to have some bumps in it, but it is a highlight in his life and in this part of scripture. The message to us comes again, loud and strong, do we have to wait for a real crisis before we will learn to enter into the reality of a relationship with the Lord on a regular, daily basis?