12. Uncertainties of Provision (2)

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 12. Uncertainties of Provision (2) 

2 Kings 2:9   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.

And So: As I suggested in the previous study, I suspect virtually all of us in the West take for granted the ease with which we can get hold of food, drink, etc. and I went on to examine some of the ways the Bible shows God supplied for some of His saints in the Old Testament period. However, and I don’t know if it came out clearly enough in that study, provision is directly tied to need and need invariably involves uncertainty, as we are finding out today. (I stood in a queue for ten minutes recently waiting to do my usual weekly shop while security guards let people out to let people in!) Yet there is another side to this which we will shortly move on to consider in the next study after we have first picked up on that other amazing prophet, Elisha, who followed on from Elijah, and in a similar fashion observe how need and provision go together.

Elisha’s Provision: Let’s first note how God provided for him:

– he asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit (2 Kings 2:9) and apparently got it.

– he was enabled to cleanse a polluted spring (2 Kings 2:19-22)

– he receives God’s protection of his reputation via two bears! (2 Kings 2:23-25)

– he brings reassurance to Jehoshaphat and Joram against Moab (2 Kings 3:14-19)

– he guided a widow into a miracle of provision of oil to cover her debts (2 Kings 4:1-7)

– he was given hospitality in Shumen (near the Jezreel valley, south of Nazareth) (2 Kings 4:8-10)

– he promised a son for the woman there, which she had (2 Kings 4:11-17)

– he raised up her sick (?dead) son (2 Kings 4:18-37)

– he cleansed some poisoned cooking (2 Kings 4:38-41)

– he fed a hundred men with only twenty loaves (2 Kings 4:42-44)

– he brought about Naaman’s healing (2 Kings 5:1-19)

– he retrieved a lost axe-head (2 Kings 6:1-7)

– he blinded the Aramean army at Dothan (2 Kings 6:8-23)

– he foresaw and withstood arrest (2 Kings 6:30-33) and prophesied provision (2 Kings 7:1-20)

– he prophesied a seven-year famine and protected a woman (2 Kings 8:1-6)

– he prophesied over Hazael his future as leader over Aram (2 Kings 8:7-15)

– he instructed prophetic anointing of Jehu to be next king (2 Kings 9:1-13)

– on his deathbed he prophesied over Jehoash limited victory (2 Kings 13:14-20)

An Aside: When we compare Elijah and Elisha, it almost seems that Elijah’s reputation is eclipsed by that of Elisha, for Elisha was clearly a miracle-working prophet in a way that Elijah had not been. Nevertheless Elijah’s reputation stands having been the one who had stood in the face of Ahab’s wickedness and the presence of the prophets of Baal and is clearly honored by the Lord as he is taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire. Yet his ministry seemed to slide away after his apparent breakdown after the Carmel victory and we saw the Lord provided a successor for him in the form of Elisha, and only used him a further three times (items 10 to 13 in the list in the previous study). There seems to almost hang over him an element of failure that restricted his ongoing use. Now what is beautiful is that on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus, we see that it was Moses and Elijah (summing up the Law and the Prophets?) who were seen with Jesus planning his departure (Lk 9:31). Was it that because there had been an element of failure hanging over both men (Moses having blown it with the water out of the rock) that the Lord in his grace has both men seen in this honored role, as if to say, ’These are my honoured servants, even if they didn’t always get it perfectly right’ – an act of amazing grace?

Times of Need: Now we have said that miracles happen in the face of need and need is so often about uncertainty. Put the other way around times of uncertainty reveal a need and a need is an opportunity for God’s glory to be seen. Now let’s go back over those instances of provision in Elisha’s ministry and now observe the uncertainty and the need that provoked the provision:

– Elijah is going, Elisha is uncertain as to how to proceed, he needs reassurance.  (2 Kings 2:9)

– a spring is polluted and unusable (2 Kings 2:19-22)

– his reputation is at stake (2 Kings 2:23-25)

– the two kings need guidance (2 Kings 3:14-19)

– a widow is in financial need (2 Kings 4:1-7)

– he needs a base, somewhere to stay (2 Kings 4:8-10)

– the woman is childless (2 Kings 4:11-17)

– the son has apparently died (2 Kings 4:18-37)

– the cooking has been poisoned (2 Kings 4:38-41)

– there are a lot of hungry followers with no provisions (2 Kings 4:42-44)

– Naaman has leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-19)

– an axe-head has been lost (2 Kings 6:1-7)

– the Aramean army at Dothan threatens him (2 Kings 6:8-23)

– he is likely to be arrested and killed (2 Kings 6:30-33) there is shortage(2 Kings 7:1-20)

– a seven-year famine is coming and the woman will be affected (2 Kings 8:1-6)

– the remaining ones were all about knowing the uncertain future (2 Kings 8:7-15, 9:1-13, 13:14-20)

Go back over this list and catch a sense of the uncertainty that would be prevailing in each and every case. These things range from providing food and finances, finding lost articles, bringing guidance, bringing childlessness to an end, bringing new life to the dead, making food or drink usable, dealing with enemy threats, and making the future clearer. It is perhaps one of the most remarkable periods of Old Testament history that reveals the Lord who is a provider. The New Testament equivalent with some remarkable similarities is, of course, the ministry of Jesus in the Gospels.

And us? The challenge here is that we are shown a God who clearly delights in moving in and through His servants to meet the need of the hour and remove the sense of uncertainty that hangs over it. Dare we step into the arena of belief and confront and put to death our unbelief and ask the Lord to enlarge our faith so that we bring every area of our daily needs to Him – expectantly!  May it be so.

34. Give us

Short Meditations in John 6:   34. Give us

Jn 6:34  “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

Such a simple 8-word verse and yet highly challenging. It is a verse that seems so simple and appears to indicate that Jesus has won them over to his teaching. But stop and think about it. There has been talk about manna in the wilderness centuries before, and there is now talk of bread that can now come down from heaven. Is this a promise of new ‘manna’, a new outpouring of miraculous provision by God?

At this point I am sure that was what was in the minds of these Jews. We, the chosen people of God, are about to receive miraculous provision from the Messiah – we saw him feed five thousand with virtually nothing, so now we can expect him to call down God’s new provision. At Zarephath, the prophet Elisha had provided the means for bread to be made by a widow throughout the years of drought (1 Kings 17:7-16). That was thought by many scholars to be the sort of thing the coming Messiah would do. Surely the feeding of the five thousand was a sign that that provision is here!

There is a word in this verse that I have never noticed before – ‘always’. The Message renders this verse, “They jumped at that: “Master, give us this bread, now and forever!” We might suggest, “Enthusiastically they liked that idea and responded eagerly, ‘Great Lord, be our supplier for ever and ever, that’s the sort of king we like!’” They can foresee a rosy future, casting off the shackles of the Roman oppressors and living under the benign rule of the Messiah who will provide for their every need, bringing a new security to this questionable life that depends on the absence of drought and good harvests. Yes, we’ll have some of that!

But in this we see a major error of human thinking. It was back there in the Law: He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord,” (Deut 8:3) and Jesus quoted it to Satan (Mt 4:4) which the Living Bible paraphrases, For the Scriptures tell us that bread won’t feed men’s souls: obedience to every word of God is what we need.” We focus on physical needs but life is more than the merely physical (as important as that is).

Now here is the challenge as we think about these things: how do we balance our lives? Do we focus entirely on the material aspects of life to the detriment of the spiritual? Will we appear to have everything and yet in reality have little or nothing that counts? Lk 12:15-21 tells of a foolish materialistic farmer. The warnings (v.15,21) that go with the parable need heeding.

21. To Elisha’s Servant

“God turned up” Meditations: 21 :  To Elisha’s Servant

2 Kings 6:15,16   When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” the servant asked. “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

Every now and then it seems in Christian circles, there is a thing about angels. In all the years I’ve known the Lord, it seems there have been phases when people get interested in angels. The usefulness of these times is that during them, testimonies appear of people who have had angelic encounters. This doesn’t happen to most of us most of the time, but every now and then the Lord does appear to send His angels to help us out. The writer to the Hebrews referred to angels as ministering spirits sent to help the saints (Heb 1:14). Much of the time most of us, though, don’t give the angelic forces much thought; in fact if the truth were told many of us possibly don’t even believe in them.

That might have been the case in respect of Elisha’s servant.  I suspect that life with Elisha was a bit of a mixed bag. Sometimes you saw miracles and sometimes because of your master’s ministry you were on the run. At this particular time Elisha had been helping the king of Israel with revelation as to how to avoid the Aramean invaders: The man of God sent word to the king of Israel: “Beware of passing that place, because the Arameans are going down there.” (2 Kings 6:9)

Word of this eventually got back to the king of Aram: “This enraged the king of Aram. He summoned his officers and demanded of them, “Will you not tell me which of us is on the side of the king of Israel?” “None of us, my lord the king,” said one of his officers, “but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom.” (v.11,12) so he sent word out to get Elisha: “Go, find out where he is,” the king ordered, “so I can send men and capture him.” The report came back: “He is in Dothan.” Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city.” (v.13,14)

Which brings us to the place of crisis for Elisha’s servant: “When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” the servant asked.” (v.15) The servant gets up, goes out of the city and sees the Aramean army camped all around the city. They are in trouble!

It is at that point that Elisha makes this statement that should become embedded on our hearts: “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them,” (v.16) at which point I guess the servant looked around in puzzlement. So Elisha prays. “And Elisha prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (v.17) If this isn’t an angelic host, I don’t know what is! Now what is intriguing about this is that God’s ‘turning up’ in this case is simply Him coming and enabling the servant to see the unseen world. The Lord’s troops were already there; it just needed the servant to be able to see them. So the Lord turns up and gives the servant the supernatural ability to see the spirit world!

Now of course you might be tempted to think, so OK, why are all these angelic forces there? Well, we are going to have to draw a conclusion from what follows: As the enemy came down toward him, Elisha prayed to the LORD, “Strike these people with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness, as Elisha had asked.” (v.18) One has to conclude that the Lord uses the angelic host to blind the soldiers in the Aramean army. You can read the rest of the story yourself.

So the question must arise, what relevance might this have to our lives today in the twenty-first century? Exactly the same as in Elisha’s day. The apostle Paul speaks about these things to the church at Ephesus: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12) Do you think this is just airy-fairy language that has no relevance to us? If you think that you have never let the Lord open your eyes to the reality of this world that is material AND spiritual. I wonder how many times we stagger and struggle in ignorance against unseen opposition that has a spiritual dimension? I wonder how many times we feel alone and are unaware of the Lord’s angels with us? We live in a very ‘material’ world, very much aware of possessions and things and it is very easy to forget what the Bible teaches us. Maybe we need to ask the Lord to turn up for us and bring us the revelation of what is really going on in the world around us – on material AND spiritual levels.

20. To Naaman

“God turned up” Meditations: 20 :  To Naaman

2 Kings 5:9-11 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” But Naaman went away angry

Throughout this series we have been considering the times when God turned up in people’s lives as recorded in the Old Testament, but the truth is that many people would prefer God not to turn up. They are very happy to keep God at a distance, or even ignore Him altogether. Naaman was such a person. I suspect that he considered himself such a ‘big man’ that he had no need for the gods, and as for the God of the Israelites, well He didn’t seem to be doing very much for them, so why bother with him.

Yes, Naaman was a big man: “Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier.” (2 Kings 5:1) Now the Hebrew writer acknowledges that it was the Lord who had given Naaman victory, but I doubt that that was how Naaman saw it. So here was Naaman with everything going well, but then we are told, but he had leprosy.” If only it had been a cold it would have been a different story, but leprosy can’t be ignored. Now fortunately for Naaman he has a slave girl who had been taken from Israel and she says to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” (v.3). Well when you have leprosy beggars can’t be choosers!  So Naaman first goes to his king who sends him to the king of Israel who sends him to Elisha the prophet. When all else fails, people desperately resort to God. Elisha is God’s man, so go to Elisha.

So we find Naaman, the great army commander of Aram setting out to see an otherwise inconspicuous character called Elisha. Basically he wants God to turn up for him and heal him. He’s looking for a big spectacular healing. He’s a big spectacular man and he expects the spectacular from this God of Israel. “So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house.” (v.9) Note the plurals – horses and chariots. When you are commander in chief you don’t travel alone. So what happened? How did God ‘turn up’?

“Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” (v.10). That’s not very spectacular! That’s just the messenger boy (Elisha) bringing a message from the boss (God). Moreover it’s a pretty mundane message! Go and dip yourself in the Jordan seven times! Whatever is that about? Naaman obviously thought similarly: “But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.” (v.11,12). There you are, that’s what Naaman wanted – a touch of the theatrical! Come out, call on God, wave a magic wand over the leprosy and lo and behold, it’s gone!

Well that’s not actually how God wants to do it, Naaman! Fortunately he had some wise servants with him: “Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, `Wash and be cleansed’!” (v.13) They recognised he wanted the great endeavour, or the spectacular, but isn’t this easier? Naaman takes the point and goes and dips seven times in the Jordon and on the seventh time, God turned up – quietly! He just healed him!

What’s the point here? Well certainly it is that God doesn’t turn up at our beck and call. He comes when He sees the time is right and He comes in the way He sees will be the most effective. Naaman needs to be humbled and needs to acknowledge the Lord and be obedient to Him – whatever He says!

So, have we learned these lessons? The Lord isn’t our servant; we are His! We don’t tell Him what to do, He tells us!   As little children the Lord tolerates our demands but that doesn’t mean to say He will give us what we demand!  We need to learn that He knows best and if the best involves bringing a dose of humility into our lives, so be it!  If the best means teaching us patience, then so be it! If the best means teaching us perseverance, so be it! Perhaps some of the most important words we can learn to pray are, “Lord, what do you want here?”  I am always impressed by some of the prophets; they listened to God, caught His will, and then prayed it! That’s a bit of a different approach to our demanding He conforms to our hopes and expectations. The trouble is that so often those hopes and expectations are less than God’s!  Dare we listen with ears that can hear big things? Perhaps there’s a new lifestyle to be taken on board?