May 1, 2017 Bible Study — The Danger Of Friendship With The Wicked

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on 2 Kings 8-9.

    Jehoshaphat, who ruled Judah according to God’s will, allowed, or possibly even arranged for, his son and heir to marry Ahab’s daughter. The result was that Jehoram, Jehoshaphat’s son, and Ahaziah, Jehoshaphat’s grandson, were wicked kings who did what was evil in God’s sight. As a result, Ahaziah was killed in the revolt which overthrew Ahab’s dynasty in the Northern Kingdom. Or another way to look at this, Jehoshaphat’s alliance with Ahab, a wicked king, resulted in his son failing to follow in his footsteps as a king who did what was right in the eyes of God. Jehoshaphat’s failure to “judge” Ahab led to his son, and his grandson, committing the same sins as Ahab. In the same way, we must watch how our friendship with non-Christians may influence the generations which come after us. I want to be careful in what I say here because I do believe that we need to be friends with non-Christians. Nevertheless we need to be clear that we do not condone their sins.

April 30, 2017 Bible Study — Doing The Lord’s Will, Not For Gain, Nor For Glory

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on 2 Kings 5-7.

    Today’s passage begins with the story of the healing of Naaman. As I read it today I was reminded of the story I saw yesterday regarding the IRS raiding the offices of Benny Hinn Ministries. For those who do not know, Benny Hinn is a televangelist famous for his healing ministry. Benny Hinn has used his “healing ministry” to become fabulously wealthy. Benny Hinn’s behavior contrasts with what happened to Elisha’s servant when he went after Namaan to obtain those gifts…or perhaps it doesn’t. I am always suspicious of those whose only source of income is what they claim to be God’s ministry but live a life of luxury. All too many of the requests for money from televangelists and other professional ministries sound an awful lot like the story which Gehazi gave Namaan, “my master has sent me to tell you that two young prophets from the hill country of Ephraim have just arrived. He would like 75 pounds of silver and two sets of clothing to give to them.” On the other hand, there are times when those who serve the Lord need to ask for money to continue their ministry.

    Having written all of that, I want to go back and look at the primary point of this story. First, Namaan expected Elisha to treat him special because he was a man of importance. Further Namaan was upset that the task he was set to be healed was so pedestrian. He was willing to do something difficult and challenging, but he viewed washing in the Jordan River as demeaning. All too often we are the same way. We want God to call us to some grand and glorious ministry and view the one to which we are called as beneath us, or, perhaps, just not as a ministry. The lessons for us here are clear, God’s will for us is not about gain, nor is it about glory for us. Sometimes we will acquire wealth and sometimes glory from doing God’s will, but only when that also furthers God’s will upon this earth. If our reason for doing God’s will is gain or glory, we have missed the point.
    I really hope that you will read the entire passage because there is much to be learned from the parts I did not write about, but I have run out oftime.

April 29, 2017 Bible Study — Examples Of How God Works Through Us

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on 2 Kings 3-4.

    When Joram succeeded his father Ahab as king of Israel, he moved away from Baal worship, but continued to worship at the golden calves which Jeroboam had erected. During his invasion of Moab things went badly. So, he had Elisha called before him (it is interesting to note that Elisha was among the soldiers in King Joram’s army). Elisha asked Joram why he was not consulting the gods of his parents. The point being made here is that King Joram could not be bothered to call on God until he found himself in trouble of his own making. It was Joram who chose the route which the army marched. A route which had insufficient water for the armies he was leading. How often do we do something similar? We march out on a path of our own choosing without seeking God first. Then, when things go badly wrong, we call out to God to rescue us from our bad decisions. The key is that we should call on God before we undertake the campaign, not just after things go wrong.

    The rest of the stories are a series of vignettes about Elisha. They each have a “moral to the story”, a lesson we can learn from how God worked in each case. The first story is about a widow of one of Elisha’s fellow prophets. She desperately needed money. Elisha did not provide her directly with money. Instead he directed her to use a resource which she had and asked her to apply some effort. God then multiplied that resource so that she could use it to obtain the money she needed to survive. The amount of aid she received was limited by the amount of effort she put into the project. This is how God generally meets our needs, we will need to expend the effort to get started, but God will expand the results of our efforts beyond what we could have possibly accomplished on our own.

April 28, 2017 Bible Study — Seeking God, Accepting His Authority

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on 2 Kings 1-2.

    Elijah’s confrontation contains two elements. Ahaziah sent messengers to the temple of Baal in Ekron to find out if he would recover (and probably to seek divine intervention in his disability). What is interesting about this is that we know that there were prophets of Baal in Israel. Ahaziah’s father, Ahab, had supported at least 400 of them. It seems probable that Ahaziah continued this practice. So, Ahaziah did not seek a consultation with the prophets of Baal for whom he was paying support, nor did he seek out Elijah, or another prophet of God. Instead, he sought out assistance from the foreign and slightly exotic priests of Baal in Ekron. We see this sort of thing today in many ways. People reject Christianity as too mundane and ordinary, so they seek exotic “foreign” religions. Some of this is our fault as Christians for allowing our faith to appear humdrum and mundane, but some of it is human nature. We see the same thing in medicine. People will seek out exotic treatments with no evidence to support their effectiveness while rejecting more mundane treatments because those mundane treatments are not as effective as they would like. Let us not reject God’s message for us because it is not “sexy” enough.

    In the same story, Ahaziah sends three army captains with a troop of men to arrest Elijah. The first two God strikes down with fire from heaven. The third he does not.So, the question is, what did the first two do wrong? In the first two cases, the captain and his men acknowledged that Elijah was a man of God, but they nevertheless thought that the authority the king had delegated to them gave them authority over Elijah. They thought that they could compel the man of God with their threat of force (the 50 armed men accompanying them). The third captain recognized that he had no ability to compel Elijah to take any action. When that third captain acknowledged that he had no way to compel Elijah, God instructed Elijah to accompany him. Hopefully, we do not need the lesson which the third captain learned. We need to learn the lesson that when we are doing God’s will no one can compel us to act differently unless we let them. When someone shows up with 50 armed men and demands that we accompany them, we need to remember that fire coming down from heaven and striking them is within the realm of possibilities. If it is not God’s will for us to accompany them, He will not allow them to compel us to accompany them.

April 27, 2017 Bible Study — It Ends Badly When We Go Against God

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on 1 Kings 20-22.

    The story of Ben-hadad is a perfect example of the dangers of overreach. Ahab was willing to meet his initial demands of tribute to give up his siege of Samaria. When he heard this, Ben-hadad increased his demand. Perhaps because he felt that if Ahab capitulated that easily he would be willing to give up more, or perhaps because he never expected Ahab to meet his first demand and wanted an excuse to attack. In either case, he had overplayed his hand. The whole story reflects the dangers of hubris. Having lost the battle this first time, Ben-hadad decided that he had only lost because God was a god of the hills. This was taking hubris even further. Not only did Ben-hadad underestimate his human opponents, he dismissed God’s ability to act where and when He wanted.

    Later, Ahab wanted to retake a town he had lost to Ben-hadad in these wars. When he asked Jehoshaphat to join him in this war, Jehoshaphat asked that they find out what God had to say. In response, Ahab summoned his 400 prophets. The similarity of this number to the number at the contest with Elijah on Mt Carmel suggests that these were prophets of Baal. Jehoshaphat certainly thinks something along that line because he asks for a prophet of God.* Ahab does not want to summon the prophet because Ahab never wants to abide by what he prophesies. Jehoshaphat tells Ahab that such a response is not how a king should act. After all of this, despite the prophet of God prophesying that Ahab would die if he went to this war, Ahab and Jehoshaphat go. Ahab thinks he knows how to “beat” God’s prophecy by going into battle dressed as a common soldier. By doing so, he avoids the attacks targeted for him as king, but falls victim to a random shot taken at the troops.
    When I started the above paragraph I really meant for it to connect to the story of Ben-hadad from the first paragraph, but it just did not work out that way. My point was that in both stories, the king, Ben-hadad and then Ahab, thought he could go against God and win.

    Now I want to go back and look at the middle of today’s passage. When Elijah confronted Ahab about what Jezebel had done to Naboth in Ahab’s name, which Ahab had been happy to take advantage of to get what he wanted, Ahab called Elijah his enemy. Previously, Ahab had called Elijah a troublemaker. In both cases this is an example of “blaming the messenger”. It was Ahab who had sinned and Elijah was delivering God’s message. Despite his initial dismissive reaction to Elijah, Ahab was repentant and humble upon hearing Elijah’s message. It was a start, but being sorry and mourning for having done wrong is not sufficient. Ahab refused to change his ways and turn from his idolatry. How often do we behave similarly?

*I want to note that every time I can think of when God sends a message through a prophet that prophet appears as a single individual, not as part of a group of prophets.

April 26, 2017 Bible Study — Even Men Of Faith Sometimes Suffer Depression

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on 1 Kings 18-19.

    This is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. It contains Elijah’s confrontation with the prophets of Baal and his encounter with the still, small whisper of God’s voice. However, there is some things in this passage which I rarely receive any attention. Obadiah hid 100 prophets of God from Jezebel’s pogrom, a fact of which he reminds Elijah. Not much later, Elijah claims that he is the only prophet of God left, all of the rest have been killed. This is important because Elijah went from the high of defeating the prophets of Baal to the low of thinking he was the last prophet of God left. Elijah allowed his depression to overwhelm what he knew to be true. Despite being a great man of God, Elijah suffered from bouts of depression (or, at least, he suffered from this bout of depression).

    It is worth noting that Elijah’s bout of depression came immediately after he had what has to have been a mountaintop moment.

There he was before government officials and the people of all Israel, whom the prophets of Baal had worked into a frenzy. Yet the prophets of Baal had failed to deliver. In that moment, he called upon God and God answered in an awesome display of power. Such power that the people of Israel executed the false prophets right there in front of the powerful government officials who had sponsored them. Then to cap it off, he prayed for the drought to end and the rains came. Yet, here he was alone in the wilderness with the Queen swearing she would see him dead.

Seeing this episode in the wilderness as a bout of depression gives me a new understanding of God’s still, small voice here. In the midst of his depression, Elijah was not responsive to the power and majesty of God. In this circumstance, Elijah needed to hear God’s gentle and calm voice. Elijah needed God’s comfort and love at this moment in his life. But there is more to this than just God comforting Elijah. In that same still small voice God sent Elijah back to do His work. That work involved anointing two men to overthrow their respective governments and a successor for Elijah, belying Elijah’s complaint that he was the only prophet of God left. Then, as a capstone, God told Elijah that not only was he not alone, God had, and would continue to, preserved 7,000 faithful Israelites who had refused to worship Baal in even a superficial way.

April 25, 2017 Bible Study — Lessons In Faith

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on 1 Kings 15-17.

    Rehoboam’s son was no improvement over his father and did not rule long. However, Rehoboam’s grandson was a different matter. He did what was pleasing in God’s sight. He got rid of the shrine prostitutes and destroyed the idols which Solomon, Rehoboam, and his own father had built. One thing which is unfortunate is that we do not know how Asa, Rehoboam’s grandson, was influenced to become a godly man. Clearly there were some godly people among those who raised Asa. Asa was clearly a man of some courage. He deposed his grandmother from her role as Queen Mother because of her idolatry. He clearly led a revival in the land of Judah. And he raised a son who followed in his footsteps.

    During the time Asa ruled over Judah, the Northern Kingdom had seven kings, none of them good. When Ahab became king, God sent Elijah to prophesy against him. Elijah told King Ahab that it would not rain in Israel until further notice. Then, at God’s direction, he ran away and hid. Elijah first went to a remote stream, where God caused ravens to bring him food. Think about that> Elijah spent some period of time eating food left for him by birds. Considering our many modern food phobias I wonder how many of us would eat food brought to us by ravens.
“Is that bread gluten free?”
“Are you sure that meat was not exposed to nuts?”
“What about food borne illness?”
Elijah’s willingness to survive in this manner indicates his level of faith. Then when the brook finally dried up, God sent Elijah to a widow living outside of the land of Israel. There we see not just Elijah’s faith, but that of the widow. When Elijah arrived and asked for food, she had just enough for one last meal for herself and her son. Yet, the woman was willing to stretch that meal to feed Elijah as well. I think it is worth noting that the widow likely fed Elijah out of her faith driven hospitality more than out of her belief that doing so would not deplete her food supply.

April 24, 2017 Bible Study–Listen To God, Not To Man

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on 1 Kings 13-14.

    In yesterday’s passage we were told that Jeroboam set up two golden calves with altars for the people of Israel to worship so that they would not go to Jerusalem to worship (and thus possibly get convinced to return the kingship to the line of David). In today’s passage a man of God prophesies against Jeroboam and his altars. Jeroboam’s initial reaction was to have the man imprisoned. However, God intervened to prevent that. At which point Jeroboam invited the man of God to the palace for a meal. The man of God declined because God had told him to eat and drink nothing while in the Northern Kingdom. Which brings us to the real point of this story.
    This man of God prophesied on God’s behalf, a prophecy which was fulfilled in every particular. Further, God demonstrated His power in protecting this man by paralyzing Jeroboam’s hand, and then healing it when the man of God prayed for that. However, this man of God allowed another man to convince him to violate the command he had received from God. We are told that an old prophet told the man of God that God had instructed him to feed the man of God. The man of God allowed another man, whom he perceived to also be a man of God, to convince him to violate the clear command of God. As a result, the man of God was attacked and killed by a lion. There is a clear lesson here. We must never allow others to convince us to do something contrary to the clear direction we have received by God, no matter how pious they may seem.

April 23, 2017 Bible Study — A True Leader Serves His Followers

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on 1 Kings 11-12.

    Solomon had many wives and many of them were from peoples whom God had commanded the Israelites not to take wives. This was in contravention of God’s commands to the people of Israel in two ways. First, the one I already mentioned and second in Deuteronomy 17:17 God commanded that the future kings of Israel not take many wives. No matter how you interpret it, seven hundred counts as “many”. Solomon married some of his many wives to maintain control over the territories his father, David, had conquered and avoid wars. Except it did not work out that way as the next part of the passage shows us. We see that even the Pharaoh, whose daughter was Solomon’s first wife, supported those who mounted rebellion against Solomon. One can debate whether it was the many wives he took which undermined Solomon’s diplomatic efforts or his worshiping their gods. However, in either case, it was Solomon’s failure to faithfully follow God’s commands which led to the rebellions against his rule.

    Despite the prophecies which predicted that the northern tribes would secede from the kingdom because of Solomon’s sins, Rehoboam had an opportunity to prevent that from happening. When Rehoboam went to Shechem to be crowned Jeroboam led the people to demand that Rehoboam reduce the tax and other demands Solomon’s government had placed upon the people. Rehoboam first asked the advice of his father’s advisers, men who had advised Solomon while he imposed the burdens the people were now asking to be lifted. Solomon’s advisers told Rehoboam something he did not want to hear, a true leader is the servant of those he leads. When a leader demonstrates that his actions are intended to serve the best interests of those who follow him, they will follow him anywhere. Rehoboam did not like their answer, so he asked his contemporaries, the friends he had grown up with, their advice was that he should tell the people that he was king and they were to serve his interests not the other way around. Rehoboam took the advice of his friends rather than that of his father’s advisers.
    Rehoboam made two mistakes here. First, he failed to recognize that the true role of a leader is to serve the interests of his followers. This resulted from the second mistake, he listened to the advice of those who told him what he wanted to hear instead of what he needed to hear. How can we tell the difference? It is not always this easy, but in this case the older, more experienced advisers told him why he should follow the course they were recommending while the younger advisers just told him to just do as he pleased. There are other clues about whose advice was better. The advice he rejected came from the older, more experienced advisers. The advice he took came from advisers who owed their position to him liking them, from being fun to be around, not from making good decisions.

April 22, 2017 Bible Study — Obeying God To Achieve Success

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on 1 Kings 9-10.

    God responded to Solomon’s prayer from yesterday’s passage. God promised that as long as the people of Israel remained faithful to Him, He would establish and protect them. But if they failed to remain faithful, He would uproot them from the land and reject the Temple. The promise which God made to Solomon is one which still stands today. If a people are faithful to God, He will establish and protect them. However, if they reject His commands and instructions He will uproot them and bring disaster upon them.

    The rest of the passage describes how Solomon became wealthy and powerful as a result of his faithfulness to God. The Queen of Sheba, who was herself apparently fabulously wealthy, came to Jerusalem to test Solomon. He demonstrated wisdom and knowledge beyond her expectations. In addition, his wealth was everything rumor had conveyed to her. Solomon used his wisdom to negotiate and trade with many other peoples and lands. The core of his success lay with his grounding in God’s commands. It will not always work out for us as it did for Solomon, but if we obey God we will achieve success in all we do. Although that success will be according to God’s definition of success, not necessarily according to our definition of success