26. Job

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 26.  Job

Job 2:3    Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.”

We are getting near the half-way mark in the 39 books of the Old Testament, Job being the 18th and I have pondered why exactly am I writing this particular series? (apart from the fact that I prayed and this seemed to be what the Lord was putting on my heart.) What am I trying to do, what do I feel is the aim of each study? Well perhaps as far as each study goes it is to lift up for inspection some of the gems found in every book of the Bible. As far as the entire Bible is concerned it is to see that although books vary in what we might call weight or significance, every book is part of the canon which the apostle Paul said was seriously useful for bringing us up, (2 Tim 3:16,17) and every book has gems within it worthy of our reflection and meditation.

Job is a book that for many is hard going. I did a series of meditations on it years ago and it is heavy stuff. If we are honest, I think many people think of Job as a valley covered with mist, so difficult is it. Now if that is an accurate analogy, then I would say as I come to it now, I come as if standing on a mountain looking down on this mist-covered valley and as I look various rockets burst up through the mist and explode in the clear air above producing a beautiful display. These rockets or highlights come at various places in the book and they bring light or clarity to the whole. The problem we struggle with is that the book largely comprises arguments between Job and his three friends about the reasons for Job’s state and, and here is the difficult part, so much of the time these three friends get it wrong, either partially or completely! That’s what makes it hazy or misty. So, all I intend to do is highlight these ‘rocket verses’ and make the briefest of comments.

1:1 In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” The start of this story is to describe Job as blameless and upright etc. Hold on to that when you read the book.

1:8  “Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” We are shown into heaven where the angels (and Satan is a fallen angel but is included here) parade before the Lord and it is the Lord who initiates discussion about Job. All that happens is because the Lord initiates it.

1:12 “everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Satan challenges whether Job will be so righteous if he is put under pressure and so the Lord allows that in a limited way. And then later (2:3) we get our verse above where the Lord points out that Job had NOT failed despite being under awful pressures.

2:10 “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.” With all that Satan brings about, the record is clear: Job had not sinned.

Now those are the key starting ‘rockets’ that reveal what the whole book is about. Job is put under the most severe of physical and mental trials but has not sinned. For the next 29 chapters we have the debate between Job and his three ‘friends’. In the midst of these confusing pages, Job makes a most remarkable declaration:

19:25,26 “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.” As this is thought to be one of the earliest books in the Bible with so little revelation existing beforehand, this is a most remarkable declaration.

In chapters 32 to 37, a young man, Elihu, presents a further viewpoint. Then in chapter 38 the Lord speaks:

38:1-4  “Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.”  Ooops!  Job you may have been right about being blameless before all this, but when you start declaring about God you are on tricky ground! In the chapters that follow (38-41) the Lord demonstrates His knowledge and His power. When the Bible describes God as ‘holy’ it means He is utterly different from anything else we know, and the lesson God brings Job is that when it comes to talking about God we need to guard our lips sometimes.

42:1-6 “Then Job replied to the LORD: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted….. Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know….. My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job is humbled by his encounter with the Lord.

42:7 “After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” That is a remarkable affirmation of Job. Not only has he not sinned but he hasn’t spoken wrongly about God. It appears that if God has a problem with Job (as He previously chided him) it was simply that he had not maintained a humble spirit when he talked about the Lord. That needed remedying.

42:10,12  “After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before…. The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.”  The Lord didn’t just leave him but totally restored him and blessed him twice over.

There it is. Rocket after rocket being fired up out of the mist that shed light. It is both a strange and amazing book. The lessons are incredibly challenging. First, the enemy does NOTHING without the permission of God first. Second, God is thus supreme over all. Third, the Lord looks for faithfulness to Himself and to themselves, in each of His people. Remain true to God and be true to who He has made you and don’t let other people try to tell you that you are something else! Fourth, because the Lord has given us free will, He knows that in this ‘Fallen Post-Genesis 3 World’ things will go wrong and He will be working to ultimately put them right. There may be a variety of reasons for those things and they do NOT necessarily mean we got it wrong. Some things are down to our own folly, some to that of others and some to the works of the enemy, and sometimes, just sometimes, the Lord allows or even provokes those things to come about simply to discipline us for our good, but it is ALWAYS for our good. Rest in that and rejoice.

25. Esther

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 25.  Esther

Esther 4:13,14   Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

A highlight verse? It certainly seems a verse with a distinctly threatening tone to it, but it is nevertheless, as we shall see, a highly significant verse on which much turns in this book. Just in case you are not familiar with Esther, we had better pick up the key things that have happened so far in the book. In some ways it is almost like a stage play with key characters.

It starts with Xerxes, the king, (1:1), son of Darius who we read about in Daniel. He rules over the mighty Persian empire, and Susa (1:2) is one of the four ‘capitals’ of the Persian kings. He is very powerful and therefore somewhat arrogant. He holds a feast for his male friends (1:3) and during the course of it calls for Vashti, his queen, to show her off to his men friends (1:11). She is affronted by this and refuses to come (1:12). He is equally affronted and after consultation she is banished from the royal court (1:19)

He therefore needs a new queen and so a search is made for beautiful young women to be brought into the royal palace. (2:1-4) In what follows, we are introduced to a Jew called Mordecai who had been caught up in Nebuchadnezzar’s deportation and exile of Israel and who still lives in Susa (2:5,6). He has a cousin who he cares for and who lives with him, called Esther (2:7). Esther is caught up in the sweep for young women and ends up in the palace winning favour and becomes queen (2:9-18 Long story, cut short!) Mordecai keeps in touch with what is going on (2:10,11,19,20).  In a small aside, there is a plot to kill the king, which somehow Mordecai hears about and the king is warned and a record is made including reference to Mordecai. (2:21-23  End of aside).

We are then introduced to another character who appears on this stage, an Agagite named Haman, whose ancestry possibly goes back to Agag, the king executed by Samuel (1 Sam 15), and who would have been an enemy of the Jews. If it was a stage production, Haman would clearly be the villain! To cut a long story short, Haman is honoured by the king making him next in honour to the king himself. All were supposed to bow before him, but Mordecai would not! (3:1,2) Haman finds out that Mordecai is a Jew and so plots to kill ALL the Jews in the kingdom (which included Israel) and sends out edicts throughout the kingdom that on a certain date all the Jews in the land are to be executed (3:5-15)

When Mordecai hears of this he prays and fasts and sits outside the palace in sackcloth and ashes. The word gets back to Esther who tries to persuade him to desist. He clearly wants her to approach the king and appeal for mercy but she explains that unless she is called in by the king it is against court protocol for her to do this. (4:1-11) It is at this point that our verses above occur: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

Look, Mordecai is saying, if all the Jews are killed, that will include you. Don’t think you will be safe just because you are queen. If you don’t act, I’m sure God will save us by some other means but you may not get saved. But then comes the highlight: “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” i.e. is it just possible that God has allowed you to be in this place so that you can be the means of our salvation? There it is! What a challenge of belief. Now we won’t follow the story through, you can read it in your own time. Suffice it to say, she plots how to approach the king and get him on her side and eventually the Jews are saved and Haman killed.

So what have we got here? Genocide planned and Satan’s plot to wipe out the Jews and thwart God’s promises to Abram to bless the world through him and through his family. If Haman succeeds, there will be no nation into which the Son of God can come and display the works, the love and the goodness of God. The whole of God’s plan of salvation for the world is under threat. That is the magnitude of this threat. And there is one little Jewish girl forcibly taken into exile, forcibly taken from her family into the royal court and forcibly given to the king. It is NOT a happy set of circumstances! But she is all that stands between the destruction of God’s people and the plan of salvation for the world. She would not have realised or known the significance of all this, but that is what this is all about.

Throughout the Bible, Satan is shown to be a liar, a deceiver and a murderer, out to thwart the plans of God (but we’ll see the reality of that when we get to Job) by using sinful mankind for his own ends. It is amazing that God should trust His plans to a single Jewish girl. (Single? What about that other young Jewish girl named Mary?) What is amazing is that God uses the weak and the vulnerable and yet in both the instances we have just referred to, they have free will and can refuse! But they don’t!  In the book of Ruth we saw a young foreign girl who gave herself over to join the plans of God (without realizing it). Now we have another young girl being challenged to see herself as a similar player in the plans of God.

Stop there! Neither Ruth nor Esther saw themselves as part of God’s plan for His people and for the salvation that would come about involving them. Isn’t that how it is with most of us? How many of us are sharply aware that we are key players, significant characters on the stage of God’s production? The world around us teaches us to be self-centred, self-concerned, seeing the world as revolving around us but the story of Esther (yes, and of Ruth) challenges us to see that there is a very much bigger picture and we are part of it. We never know the significance of our actions.

I can never forget the story of a man who had a lorry that he used to pick up young people, to take them to the church young people’s group, week in week out. One young man wasn’t particularly interested, so the story goes I believe, but went along and got saved at the church, but if the man with his lorry hadn’t persisted and been a servant for the kids, that young man wouldn’t have been saved. And that young man? Billy Graham, who went on to be God’s instrument as the greatest evangelist in history! Did that man with his lorry understand what he was doing and what would follow? Almost certainly not. We have small parts to play but they may have massive significance. They may be difficult parts to play but God’s grace and protection is always there.

24. Nehemiah

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 24.  Nehemiah

Neh 1:4-6   When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Then I said: “O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying.

Nehemiah is the counterpart book to Ezra except, while Ezra focuses on rebuilding the temple of Jerusalem, Nehemiah is about the rebuilding of the walls of the city, re-establishing it as a city.  We could have just cited verse 4 but it makes more sense to include the three verses for they really explain all that follows. The explanation for these verses comes in the one before it: Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.” (v.3) This is it in a nutshell: Nehemiah hears of the terrible physical state of Jerusalem and he is so moved by it that he can only pray and fast and mourn. It is because Nehemiah was so moved that the rest follows.

If we were to follow the same analogy as we used with Ezra, it is not filled with so many ‘fireworks’ as Ezra although the pattern is similar. Chapter 1 is about Nehemiah’s reaction to the news about Jerusalem and getting the king’s permission to return, and chapter 2 is about his journey back and secret inspection of the walls as he desires to make plans but without yet making it public. At the end of that chapter we get the first inkling of opposition that is going to arise against his plans: “But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. “What is this you are doing?” they asked. “Are you rebelling against the king?” (Neh 2:19) Mockery and suggestion of treason are the first shots fired.

Chapter 3 lists off the sections of the wall being rebuilt and who is involved in each section but no sooner has that been done than the threats against them really start in earnest in chapter 4. In  verse 1 to 3 mockery is again employed and we see Nehemiah turn to prayer yet again: “Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face ofA the builders,” (4:4,5) and we then read, “So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.” (v.6) No prophecy, just prayer. And so the conflict carries on: the opposition plot an attack (4:7,8) Prayer was the response yet again (v.9).  Yet problems with the work and the possible enemy attack continue (v.10-23) but with obvious wisdom they overcame.

In chapter 5 the next problem Nehemiah had to overcome was an internal one, involving complaints by those who were poor (v.1-5), canceling debts against them (v.5-13), and Nehemiah’s good example (v.14-19). Chapter 6 sees the opposition seeking to distract and possibly kill Nehemiah (6:1,2) but he refused to be drawn away (v.3,4). When this ploy had failed four times, the enemy sent him a letter claiming a plot by those in Jerusalem to make Nehemiah king and to rebel against the king and demanding that they meet together (v.5-8), but Nehemiah resisted and prayed again (v.8,9). He then had to resist false prophecy (v.10-13) and prays yet again (v.14) with the result that the wall rebuilding was completed (v.15). So, although the book has 13 chapters, it is only the first 6 that are given over to the subject of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.

So what is significant about all this? Various things come to mind. First walls delineate boundaries of a city. Until the walls were rebuilt the occupants of the city would be vulnerable to intruders. The fact of broken down walls spoke of the years of shame and they were best put behind them. God had brought them back, it was a new day! Walls enabled the city to be identified as a distinct city.  Second, this is a story of a spiritually sensitive man. Nehemiah recognized the significance of the broken down walls in this new day and he recognized that this had been God’s city and now it is a shame. It was his heart anguish that provoked action. Third, this is a story of a man of prayer. I have underlined above the word ‘prayer’ and you will see it occurs again and again. Whenever something went wrong, whenever the enemy rose up against them, he prayed. What an example!  Fourth, it is a story that involves opposition, those who took it on themselves to mock and deride the people of God and even plot to come against them and then schemed to bring about their downfall. (Yet, it is interesting that in reality it is all talk and physical opposition never occurred!)

Now what does this say to us today? First, are we aware today of the state of the Church, when it is often almost impossible to distinguish between people inside the church and those outside it?  The ‘walls’ are the things that should mark out the Church as different from the world around it, in a good way – holiness, righteousness, honesty, integrity, love, compassion, obedience to the word of God.

Second, are they clearly visible and if not, are we moved by that? The challenge is there to ask whether we have hearts that are moved by the honour or disgrace of the Lord’s name as expressed by the church in our land today. It was in that period that the prophet Haggai asked, “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” (Hag 1:4) i.e. you have spent much time on your own homes, but what about the house of God? Yes, that was about the temple but no doubt the same could have been said about the walls and therefore we might ask about the state of the Church today. We are called ‘the temple of the Lord’ so what state is the temple in and are we moved by it?

Third, are we people of prayer for whom it is automatic to turn to the Lord whenever any difficulty arises, any opposition occurs to the outworking of the kingdom of God? Is our prayer life a demonstration of our reliance upon the Lord? Is it the natural direction for us to turn, not only in times of need, but also in times of plenty when we should be grateful?

Fourth, are we aware of the opposition of the enemy, aware that we are in a spiritual battle that will only be won by those who hearts are knit with His, who seek Him regularly and are open and obedient to His leading. Are we aware of the strategies of the enemy – temptation, deception and outright attack – that need countering by faith. These, I believe, are some of the challenges that arise here, challenges that are equally pertinent today as in Nehemiah’s day.

23. Ezra

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 23.  Ezra

Ezra 1:1   In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing:

I find the book of Ezra is like a firework display, not one of these amazing modern displays you see at New Year in capitals of the world, but the more amateurish ones with a rocket going up, darkness, a blaze of light and colour, darkness, more startling colour and light, darkness, and so on.  Our starting verse is the reason for all that follows. It is the launch firework and it brings a continuation, being a repeat of the closing verses of 2 Chron, the amazing move of God on king Cyrus that released Israel to return to their land to rebuild the Temple (that is what Ezra is all about) and then rebuild the city and its walls (that is what Nehemiah that follows on is all about). After the darkness of forty years silence while Israel remain in exile, suddenly these two rockets, Ezra and Nehemiah blaze out and then after the accompaniment of some of the minor prophets, darkness falls again for over four hundred years until John the Baptist appears on the scene.

So Cyrus makes provision for people to return, with wealth to help them (Ch.1), and lists are provided of those who returned (Ch.2) some 50,000 people all together. And so the work of restoration begins (Ch.3) and the next amazing firework bursts upwards: With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the LORD: “He is good; his love to Israel endures forever.” And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.” (3:11-13) A time of immense celebration that evokes different responses according to generation. Understandable.

But then darkness falls. The enemies of Israel come (4:1) and offer to help build, but they are aliens who were imported into the Land long back, and Israel decline their offer. But the darkness continues: “Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building.” (4:4) And so it continued: “At the beginning of the reign of Xerxes, they lodged an accusation against the people of Judah and Jerusalem…and .. wrote a letter to Artaxerxes,” (4:6,7) and the king replied, “Now issue an order to these men to stop work, so that this city will not be rebuilt until I so order,” (4:21) and so, “Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.” (4:24) Thus chapter 4 is a chapter of darkness as far as the rebuilding is concerned.

But then up goes a rocket which bursts into great light: “Now Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the prophet, a descendant of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them,” (5:1) and the light that came with the word of God, released faith so that, “Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Jeshua son of Jozadak set to work to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. And the prophets of God were with them, helping them.” (5:2)

But then comes a moment of darkness: “At that time Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and their associates went to them and asked, “Who authorized you to rebuild this temple and restore this structure?” (5:3) and they send a letter, a very honest and complete letter (see 5:6-17),  to king Darius asking that this be checked out. Meanwhile a Catherine Wheel of light continues to splay out light: “But the eye of their God was watching over the elders of the Jews, and they were not stopped until a report could go to Darius and his written reply be received.” (5:5)

Eventually the king investigates and confirms that the word had been authorized by Cyrus. Suddenly another great display bursts into the darkness that had been hanging there: “Do not interfere with the work on this temple of God. Let the governor of the Jews and the Jewish elders rebuild this house of God on its site. Moreover, I hereby decree what you are to do for these elders of the Jews in the construction of this house of God: The expenses of these men are to be fully paid out of the royal treasury, from the revenues of Trans-Euphrates, so that the work will not stop.” (6:1-8) and further reinforces this initial order with instructions that severe punishment will be meted out on anyone who disregards it. (see 6:9-12) It is awesome!

There is a moment’s pause and then one very bright rocket bursts upwards: “The temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.” (6:15) It is almost exactly seventy years since the Temple was destroyed and it has taken three and a half years to rebuild. There then follows an enormous and varied display as there are great celebrations at the dedication of the Temple (6:16-18) and they then celebrate the Passover (6:19-22).

After a pause a new firework bursts into the sky. It is the arrival of Ezra, a great, great, great etc. grandson of Aaron. (7:1-6) It is quite amazing that throughout the period of their exile, people like Ezra had managed to keep to their priestly role and learn the Law so they could pass it on to future generations. There are more bursts of light: “He was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the LORD, the God of Israel, had given. The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him… Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.” (v.6,10)

But then sky is filled with light as the present king, Artaxerxes, sends a letter of commission which is truly amazing. (Read it in 7:11-22) and the chapter finishes with a peon of praise from Ezra himself for what the Lord has done (7:27,28). The remaining chapters, if we may conclude our picture language is one long burst of light as we observe Ezra’s administration and then his reforms that bring a great public affirmation that they are indeed still the Lord’s people!

What is the big lesson from this book? It is that although the Lord may provide great vision and release great faith for us to achieve His purposes, the enemy will seek to rise up again and again but, as the ministries of the (now) body of Christ operate and the word and faith are released, the obstacles and hindrances and attacks will be overcome. This calls for us to hold to the vision of the kingdom of God and the body of Christ, and to remain faithful to Him, to seek Him and listen to Him, be empowered and directed by Him, and as we are obedient to His leading, triumph!  Hallelujah! (PS. Sorry, the one verse highlight turned into a book highlight!)

22. 2 Chronicles

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 22.  2 Chronicles

2 Chron 36:15,16   The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place / But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets / until the wrath of the LORD was aroused against his people and there was no remedy.

I choose these two verses from 2 Chronicles as the highlights of this book as they summarize everything else that had gone on, and explain how the book concludes in the way it does. There are three parts to it, I suggest, and I have put dividers in the above verses to show those divisions.

It starts with God. Now we might expect that a book on history, which is what 2 Chronicles basically is, should start with a focus on people because usually history is all about how people have acted in different periods of ‘history’. However, the Bible is all about God and the revelation of His purposes for the earth and specifically, as He sought to use Israel to reveal Himself and His plans and purposes to the rest of the world. So it starts out with God’s activity.

I am tempted to produce a long list of references showing how God spoke into the life of Israel and its kings from the period of the reign of Solomon to the Exile but instead I will simply recommend you read the book and make the list yourself. The truth is that God spoke again and again into the lives of these people and, says the recorder, it was because He had pity on His people.  Now that is quite remarkable for I have to confess if it had been me overseeing Israel’s history I would have been first of all frustrated, then annoyed and finally angry with Israel, and all that quite quickly – but God held back again and again and again.

As I have studied the judgments of God in detail, the thing that amazed me most of all is that during the period of the kings of the two kingdoms, was the Lord’s restraint. I have concluded that there must be various reasons why this was so, but ultimately the thing that stands out most, in the apostle Peter’s words,  is that He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 pet 3:9) or, to apply that to the period of the Kings, He was giving them opportunity after opportunity to learn from past mistakes and eventually get it right.

However, that is where one of my favourite quotes kicks in: “The one thing that history teaches us is that history teaches us nothing.” i.e. we fail to learn from the past! This takes us into the second part of these verses and we see here the folly of Israel as the recorder observes, “But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets”.  And we might add – and kept on doing it!

That is the tragedy of the Old Testament historical record – that Israel failed to learn and, instead of rising to greatness with the wonder of all the things that God had done for them, especially in their early days,  they mocked the prophets, they despised what they were saying and generally made fun of them. These were men (and the occasional woman) who sought to get Israel back into a good place with God, but again and again and again the folly of Sin broke through and they continued to worship idols and pick up on other nations’ false religions.

For those who have never thought about these things, the last part may come as a shock: “until the wrath of the LORD was aroused against his people and there was no remedy.” Anger, or wrath, is a signpost within our consciousness that things around us are going wrong and are contrary to what we feel is right or just or fair. It is, in fact, right to become angry in the presence of such things, but what we do with our anger is another matter. Bear in mind that we are talking about God tolerating Israel’s folly for centuries, and we see that God’s anger is not hasty! Now in assessing the judgments of God throughout the Bible, as I have noted before in these studies, ‘terminal judgments’ are those which involve death and destruction (as against ‘disciplinary judgments’ which are designed to change people’s minds) and in the light of how long it takes for God to bring a terminal judgment, I have also named them as “judgments of the last resort”, i.e. God only brings them when He sees there is no hope of getting the people to change. “There was no remedy” or there was no other way to stop what was going on.

That is why in the last chapter of 2 Chronicles we have the record of King Nebuchadnezzar coming and destroying Jerusalem and taking most of its inhabitants into exile. The book was either compiled much later than the events recorded, or there was a postscript added for the book concludes with the record of King Cyrus, decades later, under the inspiration and direction of God, sending back the Jews to rebuild, first the temple and then the walls of Jerusalem. There are two major events in the life of Israel: the Exodus and the Exile.

The Exodus had brought them out of Egypt, taken them to Mount Sinai to become a nation before God, and then on into the Promised Land forty years later. The Exile was the ‘last resort’ action of God to take Israel out of the Land to be purged of their idolatry while in Babylon until they could be brought back forty years later. It would appear that the presence of God was absent from Jerusalem for a unique period, since the reign of David who captured Jerusalem and made it his capital, a period of seventy years, as prophesied by Jeremiah, from the destruction of the Temple until its rebuilding completion.

These are enormous sweeps of history and they reveal the wonder of the plans and purposes of God stretching over centuries and millennia. Living with our slow day by day lives, it is difficult to comprehend such long periods and the things that went on in them, which is why the last chapter of 2 Chronicles is such a remarkable record. We may not be able to see much significance as we look back over our lives, and find it difficult to think about the years yet ahead, but both are still within the ambit of the plans of God. Someone once wrote, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origins and culture is like a tree without roots.” The book of 2 Chronicles provides that history and God-culture for Israel and provides endless learning resources that we can apply into our lives today as part of the Church.

Perhaps these notes will challenge us to also become more knowledgeable about the beginnings and history of the Church so that we may see ourselves in a greater perspective. In one of his books, author Terry Pratchett wrote, “If you don’t turn your life into a story, you just become part of someone else’s story.” Your story with God is your testimony. Like Israel’s, it probably has highs and lows, but if it reveals the love and goodness of God, we have indeed had our eyes opened to reality, and that is worth sharing.

21. 1 Chronicles

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 21.  1 Chronicles

1 Chron 17:16,17   Then King David went in and sat before the LORD, and he said: “Who am I, O LORD God, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, O God, you have spoken about the future of the house of your servant. You have looked on me as though I were the most exalted of men, O LORD God.

Verses can stand out for different reasons. These verses stand out, I believe, because they both reveal David’s humility and God’s oversight. In going into Chronicles we backtrack on history for this part of scripture covers from a different perspective the matters covered in 2 Samuel. David has become king and is settled in Jerusalem, and the ark of the covenant has eventually been brought into Jerusalem and is located in a tent. David has it in mind to build a house for the ark and God, a temple, but Nathan the prophet brings him a word to the effect that his son will do it and not him. Now that might have been a real downer if it wasn’t for the fact that in the word that Nathan brings to him there are many encouragements about Israel’s future and that of his chosen son. Read the passage in 1 Chron 17:7-14.

Note it concludes with a promise: When your days are over and you go to be with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my love away from him, as I took it away from your predecessor. I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever.” (1 Chron 17:11-14)   Now, note within that a) the promise of an eternal throne, b) father and son intimacy with God, c) a kingdom over all others that d) will last for ever.

Now of course from our perspective today we can see that such promises apply to the coming of Jesus and his bringing the kingdom of God on earth that will last for ever. From David’s perspective it is just mind blowing and it is this which provokes his response in our starter-verses: Who am I, O LORD God, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, O God, you have spoken about the future of the house of your servant. You have looked on me as though I were the most exalted of men, O LORD God.”

Yes, the Lord has reminded him that he has been brought from looking after sheep on the hillside and been made king and if that wasn’t amazing enough the thought of him ushering in through his family, a kingdom that will be greater than any other on earth – and eternal!  – just blows him away.

Now let’s think about this some more.  First of all, David is aware of his humble background and he completely accepts that he is where he is today because of the Lord. David’s story shows very clearly that he is a man who knows the Lord and has relied upon him through thick and thin – and there have been seriously difficult times along the way!

The second thing to note is that he now struggles to accept what the Lord has said about him, and in this sense these verses stand out as examples of what so many of us struggle with. I have been privileged to bring many personal prophetic words to people and in line with the apostle Paul’s teaching I hope they have always come for “strengthening, encouragement and comfort,” (1 Cor 14:3) and so often I have watched the responses of those to whom such words come and so often they are, “Me? Who am I that you should say this?”

The third thing to note is that David cannot, from his limited view of history, comprehend the future. And neither can we. When the Lord speaks a word of encouragement about our future we cannot see from this present perspective how that will work out. We need to remind ourselves that for that end product to come about there needs to be a process, the Lord working in us, through us and around us to fulfil the things upon His heart. He knows what He wants to achieve and how He wants to do it and, more often than not, it doesn’t come with a flash of lightning, it comes over a long period of time, bringing many changes along the way. When Zechariah heard his wife was to conceive in old age, he struggled with it, basically in unbelief. When Mary heard she was to have a child without the help of a man, her response was, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.” (Lk 1:38) She didn’t know how such a thing could happen and so she just trusted God to do it as the angel had said.

Perhaps behind all this, there is a fourth thing to be noted and it is the fact that the Lord would not let David build the Temple, but had to leave it to his son. For what ever reason, the Lord knows we are not the people for some things but, on the other hand, He knows what we are good to achieve and that is why we find ourselves gifted in some ways but not in others in the body of Christ. We may marvel, like David, that God has chosen to do wonderful things in and through us, bringing about changes that years back we could never has dreamed of, and we may praise Him for what He reveals of His plans for us, and then play out part in bringing it about, but we also need to rest in who we are in the body – yes, available for greater things, but not striving with inadequacy that mourns that we are not like someone else. Be who God calls you to be and rejoice in it.

20. 2 Kings (2)

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?