Snapshots: Day 148

Snapshots: Day 148

The Snapshot: “So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.” (Ruth 1:1) We don’t often see the coming of a start of a story of anguish, for they tend to creep up on us quietly. Even more, the causes for such stories of anguish often elude us, or we just don’t realize what we are doing and find ourselves in circumstances that we would have preferred to avoid. This man, Elimelek, was an Israelite and his home was the land of Israel, and that’s where he should have stayed. Did he not know the story of Abram, who got into deep water trying to avoid a famine? (Gen 12:10) ‘Famines’ are best sat out as difficult as they may be. The alternatives are often worse. Cry to God for help sounds tough talk but it is the answer (1 Kings 17:1-6,16, 2 Kings 4:5)

Further Consideration: The circumstances of life sometimes seem to press on us and seem to require us to go down paths which, on a better day, we know are unwise. Famines occur a number of times in the Bible – before the days of refrigeration, and mass storage – as events that either naturally occurred or sometimes occurred as the disciplinary judgment of God. In one sense it doesn’t matter what the cause was, the big issue is how will we respond to it?

It doesn’t have to be a famine; it can be any trial or tribulation that appears on our horizon. It can be a multitude of different things but the common feature is that there is a threat to our future. How will we handle it, how will we act in the face of it?

It almost seems trite in such difficult times to quote scripture but the truth is there: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6,7) Whatever the trial, whatever the pressure, whatever the mishap, the answer is the same – take it to the Lord. Hold on, cries the skeptic, I don’t just want, peace, I want answers, I want this situation changed! Yes, of course you do but IF you have prayed and the peace comes, it comes because as you prayed the awareness also came that you are in God’s hands and, as one who loves the Lord, you can know that “in all things God works for the good,” (Rom 8:28) your good!

Let’s not mutter about trite verses, these are the truth. We either learn to see they are the truth, or we will abandon our ‘land’ and end up in a foreign, hostile land where it goes even more wrong.  Stay where you are, seek God, receive His provision for your present circumstances and still be in the right place when the trial has passed. No, it’s not always easy, but it is right, until He tells you to move.

Snapshots: Day 30

Snapshots: Day 30

The Snapshot: “seven years of famine began.” Living in a Fallen World is often confusing. Israel has lost his favourite son, and now famine threatens to wipe them out. It feels a hard world – but that is without understanding what God is doing. The ‘dead son’ will be raised to life and be their savior, but that is still the future. Sometimes the sun shines brightest before the storm that brings life to the desert. When Jesus entered Jerusalem they shouted, “Hosanna!”, Lord save us. A week later, others cried out, “Crucify him.” It was a confusing time, a terrible time, and it seems no one could see the glory of the future behind the black thunder clouds.  But God has a plan so rest in that truth, and it’s always a plan for good, our good. How incredible.

Further Consideration: Whether we like it or not – and I know some people who think it is a cop out – the world we live in is broken, dysfunctional or as we usually put it – fallen. It is not as it was when God first made it. When sin came in, God stepped back and said the equivalent of, “OK, you want to run it you way, I’ll let you do that.” The result was that sin prevailed, and the world went wrong. Sickness accompanied sin, and that included sickness in the plant life and in nature at large, which included the weather and the way the planet works generally.

Thus sometimes there were (and are) famines because rain doesn’t fall, seeds don’t germinate and so on. If we blame God for famines, we must blame Him for giving us free will, not that He made us do wrong, but allowed us the opportunity, and everything else followed. So that’s the world we live in – where it goes wrong – but the amazing thing is that God didn’t step right of the equation, He is still there when we turn to Him and He is available to help. That doesn’t mean He will immediately jump in and do what we want and reverse the working of the fallen world, but it does mean that there are times when He sees that that is possible without upsetting the balance of our free will.

But sometimes He holds back because He sees that allowing the brokenness to continue means He can use it for a greater purpose. Now when it comes to the seven years of famine above, God has seen (and told Abram about it) that this can be just one link in a chain that results in Israel ending up in Egypt. There, because they do not leave when they could early in the day, they settle, end up slaves and need that most incredible event, the Exodus, which brings judgment on sin, reveals the power of the Lord and the uniqueness of Israel. This famine is just one link in that chain, but Jacob didn’t see that yet, and so often we don’t see the fact of present difficulties being a link that will lead to something amazing. Patience and grace needed.

11. Action Parts 2 & 3

Meditations from Ezekiel: 11.  Action Parts 2 & 3

Ezek 4:9    “Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself. You are to eat it during the 390 days you lie on your side.

Recap: So we have seen this new prophet being instructed to go to his home and make a picture-model of Jerusalem under siege and he is to lie on his side prophesying against it for a little over twelve months before lying on his other side and doing the same for a little over a month.  The message will be quite clear and the other exiles round about will hear and the word will spread – most likely back to Jerusalem. But that was only Part 1 of the big picture of what will happen.

Part 2 – Famine: Then come instructions of what he is to eat and drink during this time: Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself. You are to eat it during the 390 days you lie on your side. Weigh out twenty shekels of food to eat each day and eat it at set times. Also measure out a sixth of a hin of water and drink it at set times. Eat the food as you would a barley cake; bake it in the sight of the people, using human excrement for fuel.” (v.9-12) Put very simply, these are bare existence rations and the Lord then explains, “The LORD said, “In this way the people of Israel will eat defiled food among the nations where I will drive them.” (v.13)

This is a challenge to all they have known in the past and Ezekiel revolts against the idea: “Then I said, “Not so, Sovereign LORD! I have never defiled myself. From my youth until now I have never eaten anything found dead or torn by wild animals. No unclean meat has ever entered my mouth.” “Very well,” he said, “I will let you bake your bread over cow manure instead of human excrement.” (v.14,15) The Lord relents and allows a marginally better situation. “He then said to me: “Son of man, I will cut off the supply of food in Jerusalem. The people will eat rationed food in anxiety and drink rationed water in despair, for food and water will be scarce. They will be appalled at the sight of each other and will waste away because of their sin.” (v.16,17) What we have been reading is warning of famine conditions that will come to Jerusalem when it is under siege. The warning is very clear.

Part 3 – Destruction: There is yet a third part of all this to be conveyed to the exiles via Ezekiel’s acted out pictures. “Now, son of man, take a sharp sword and use it as a barber’s razor to shave your head and your beard. Then take a set of scales and divide up the hair.” (5:1) This, we will soon see comes at the end of the siege. He is to cut his hair and use it in various ways to demonstrate what will happen to the people. His hair represents the people of Jerusalem. “When the days of your siege come to an end, burn a third of the hair with fire inside the city. Take a third and strike it with the sword all around the city. And scatter a third to the wind. For I will pursue them with drawn sword.” (v.2) A third of it is to be burnt on the tablet portraying Jerusalem, and a third is to be struck with a sword and a third scattered to the wind. Again there will be a few strands to be saved and tucked in the fold of his garment and yet even of those a few will be burned up. “But take a few strands of hair and tuck them away in the folds of your garment. Again, take a few of these and throw them into the fire and burn them up. A fire will spread from there to the whole house of Israel.” (v.3,4)

Fulfillment: At the latter part of the book of Jeremiah we see Jeremiah and a small remnant being saved (see Jer 39:11-40:6) Yet there was still upset among the survivors and more died (Jer 41) and some fled while others stayed with Jeremiah in the surroundings of the city but still they rejected God’s word through Jeremiah and decided to leave for Egypt but Jeremiah prophesied their destruction there by Nebuchadnezzar still. (see Jer 43,44). In the final part of Jeremiah, in the historical section, we find record of the two year siege of Jerusalem (Jer 52:4,5) and we read, “By the ninth day of the fourth month the famine in the city had become so severe that there was no food for the people to eat.” (Jer 52:6) and thus the word about famine was fulfilled. In the accounts that followed we see those who fled the city, the fire that destroyed the city and those who died there, and those who were carried away into exile.

Explanation: Then comes the first real ‘word’ that comes from the Lord that explains why all this will happen: “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: This is Jerusalem, which I have set in the center of the nations, with countries all around her. Yet in her wickedness she has rebelled against my laws and decrees more than the nations and countries around her. She has rejected my laws and has not followed my decrees. “Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: You have been more unruly than the nations around you and have not followed my decrees or kept my laws. You have not even conformed to the standards of the nations around you.” (Ezek 5:5-7) Observe.

First note, “Jerusalem, which I have set in the center of the nations, with countries all around her.” (v.5) In Isaiah’s words, the Lord had made Jerusalem to be a light to the nations, revealing Him and His plans for the earth.

Second, the people of Jerusalem had again and against forsaken the Lord: “she has rebelled against my laws and decrees.”  It will be because of that that they will be answerable to the Lord and everything here follows.

But, even worse, third, they had been worse than the pagan nations around them!  “more than the nations and countries around her…. You have not even conformed to the standards of the nations around you.” Such is the effect of Sin in the world. Because of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, they could never say they had not known.

Historical Context: As we come to the end of these verses, can we hold on to the big picture that is here. The Lord has spoken to Israel and to the leaders in Jerusalem again and again and again through the prophetic word and they have not heeded Him but continued deeper and deeper into idolatry. The Lord watches and sees there is no turning their hearts. Some three or four years back from this point, Nebuchadnezzar had come against Jerusalem a second time (the first being in 605BC when Daniel and his friends were taken into exile) and we are now somewhere about the middle of Zedekiah’s ten year reign in Jerusalem. Zedekiah is there courtesy of Nebuchadnezzar but he is foolish and thinks he can rebel against him and get away with it. The writing, as we say, was on the wall, quite plainly, but still Israel’s sin persists. The fact is that we are part of this foolish human race and although we may be redeemed we can still get it wrong. May these accounts of this period of history make us even more determined to not let ourselves drift away from the Lord in any way.

12. Problems in the Land

Meditations in the life of Abraham : 12. Problems in the Land

Gen 12:9,10  Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev. Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe.

Now the main thing I want us to remember is that Abram has only an embryonic faith. He knows very little of the Lord. He is on a major learning curve with the Lord for the rest of his life. So far, back at home, he had come to an awareness of the Lord speaking to him and telling him to go to Canaan where he would have a family and become a great nation. He had followed that guidance and come to the Land and when he reached the centre of it, the Lord had spoken to him again and declared that this land would belong to his descendants. So far, so good! Perhaps to spy out the whole land he continued on south. Then it happens!

Food in the land starts to run out. Now he has flocks and herds but life doesn’t comprise only meat. We aren’t told what caused this food shortage. All we are told was that there was a famine and it was severe. Now at this point Abram might have been forgiven for feeling slightly peeved: I’ve been brought all this way to this land and as soon as I get here they run out of food! So much for God’s guidance! That’s how embryonic faith might respond.  Don’t be all super-spiritual and deny it; it’s just how most of us respond. If you deny that, you really don’t know yourself – at least when you were a young Christian, and maybe still today.

Be honest with yourself, it IS how young faith responds, and even some of us who have been around a while! Things go wrong and we wonder where God is. Why didn’t He protect me and stop this happening? Perhaps when we first came to Christ we thought everything would be wonderful from then on.  If you have been around in the kingdom of God for a longer time you will know that things often go wrong in the world but the Lord is always there for us. Why is it like this?

Abram’s situation demonstrates that things go wrong in this Fallen World. That is the reason it is like it is; the world is fallen. It is no longer perfect as it was when God first made it; it is now broken by Sin and that means things go wrong, all of which can eventually be traced back to the Sin of mankind. Does God step in and stop these things? No, we know that He doesn’t. He is always there to be called upon and He will always help when asked, but He allows us the freedom to live in a world that works like it does because of our actions, our Sin. More than that, He uses such ‘breakdowns’ to test or train us. How do we respond when things don’t go right? Do we cope gracefully or act like spoilt children and throw a temper tantrum?  I know my ‘natural’ tendency is to feel all miffed by things going wrong. I am a work in progress.

So a famine comes to the land. What should Abram’s response have been? Well probably with the little knowledge that he has, to do what he does, to go south toEgyptwhere they appear to have food. It might be smart to say he should have asked the Lord but one wonders what sort of answer the Lord would have given. It might well have been to say go down to Egypt, but it would probably have come with a reassurance that the Lord was with him which might have given him more confidence in the light of what was to follow. But he doesn’t because he is only a new believer and new believers haven’t learnt to refer every problem to the Lord and listen for an answer. If we see what follows as failure, remember the Lord doesn’t cast him off and doesn’t withdraw His promises of blessing. The Lord has a plan for this man and his descendants and that plan allows for the fact that he is a very human man and will get things wrong.

The reality for each of our lives is that we will get things wrong – many times, but as long as they are not purposeful rebellion against the Lord, He will still be there for us and will pick us up and take us on. It is part of the faith learning process that we get things wrong. It is part of the learning process that we learn to confess our sins and our failures and say sorry. That is all part of growing up in the Faith. It may take us a long time to learn some of these lessons, but the Lord is not in a rush. In the meantime He will allow us to be confronted by things going wrong in the world so that we will have further opportunities to learn to overcome.

Check out your present circumstances. Are there things that concern you, things that are not going right, things that are stressful, things that are indications of the world not working right or people not working right?  Rejoice that here is yet a further learning exercise! Hallelujah!

Unusual Provision

WALKING WITH GOD. No.37

1 Kings 17:6 The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.

The subject of the provision of God is both varied and exciting, and it takes us away from the gloom of the kings as we look in these next four days at the walk with God as it comes to us through incidents in Elijah’s life. Elijah was a prophet who had dealings with the very ungodly and unrighteous king, Ahab (1 Kings 17:1). He has just pronounced a three year drought for Israel and the Lord has told him to leave the area and go to a place east of the Jordan. This was not a day of social security and so the question of food or drink was a very real one, especially when you are in desert areas.

Now the first thing to note is that Elijah had clearly had a word from the Lord about the drought, and he had now clearly had a word from the Lord about where he should go. He is clearly, therefore, serving the Lord and being obedient to the Lord. He is in a good place with the Lord and so, even though the geographical location and climate are inhospitable, he can still trust the Lord to look after him. In this he is quite different from a number of other Biblical examples who ‘ran for the hills’ of a foreign country when a famine came, instead of seeking the Lord (e.g. Abram – Gen 12:10, Isaac – Gen 26:1, and Elimelech – Ruth 1:1,2).

The fact that he goes to this ravine, miles from anywhere in a time of famine, would appear humanly at least to be simply foolish. It will be the last place to get food, but it is the place where the Lord has said to go and therefore he trusts the Lord to provide for him there, especially as he has been told by the Lord that He will provide for him in that place. In our walk with the Lord we are called to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor 5:7) and so there will be times when the word of the Lord will come to us to lead us into circumstances that leave us wondering about how we will cope. Don’t worry, He will.

The second thing to consider is the way of God’s provision. There have been some who have suggested that ‘ravens’ is a nickname for a certain group of nomadic Arabs, but whether it is that or literally the birds of that name, it is still a strange and most unusual form of provision that you could not have planned or guaranteed beforehand. In that these scavenging birds dropped him food morning and evening on a regular basis, sufficient to keep him alive, is a small miracle. However we normally tend to use the word ‘miracle’ to apply to something that is completely contrary to nature. Ravens doing this is fairly common to them and so we would prefer here to refer to this as a remarkably unusual provision of food for Elijah, rather than a miracle that we will see tomorrow. Why are we making this distinction? Because God does use natural but unusual means of providing for His people. Let’s consider this question of provision more widely.

Why should we need God’s provision? Well usually it is when all other provision has run out. There is a sense that ALL our food and drink is God’s provision, but having accepted that normal daily life provision is part of God’s design, there are times when that provision seems lacking, for example when there is a famine. Now a famine, in Israel’s case (and possibly in a wider world sense), is an indication of the blessing of God being withheld because of the sin of the nation (see Deut 28:15-19), but although the nation will be suffering this story tells us that God can still provide for His faithful people even in the midst of a famine.

So famines come and God will provide for His faithful people, but if you try and think how that provision will come, you won’t be able to do it, because the Lord does it through a means that you will probably have never thought of. It happens in a variety of ways. One of the famous stories of provision is the story of the Schaeffer family who established L’Abri in Switzerland . They trusted the Lord and again and again and again, He prompted people to send them money, sufficient to meet the needs of the hour. The Lord obviously doesn’t do this for everyone, simply those He has called into a position where they will need such provision. Many Christians through the years have been able testify that as they came to the end of their resources as they served the Lord, suddenly there was unusual provision, provision that came through a natural source, but a very unusual and completely unexpected source. Miracles? Yes, in as far as they are things prompted by God so that where there were no resources there are now resources, but these are ways of provision that come through natural means.

This is a story and a concept that appears to be only for certain special people, but in our walk with God, I wonder if, in respect of our money, we have an attitude that means we are open to the Lord leading us to give money away to bless others? Are we open to be the ‘unusual resource’ that the Lord will use to provide for another person? This is as much a faith action as being on the end as the receiver of the unusual gift. Some of us might then worry, but I haven’t much money so what would happen if the Lord asked me to give to another? You suddenly move from the role of giver to receiver, you become an Elijah where you trust that if the Lord has prompted you to give, He will provide for you afterwards. Fun isn’t it, this life of faith!

Walk into Oblivion

WALKING WITH GOD. No.14

Ruth 1:2 The man’s name was Elimelech, his wife’s name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.

This is the start of a disastrous story and a glorious story, and as such it tells us many things about walking with God. The story starts with a famine in Israel, which suggests a time of low spirituality (in the Law God promises blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience [which includes famine] – Deut 28). The times of the judges had been a time when the nation drifted from God and had to be rescued by Him in the form of those judges. But there is something else about the times of famines, they are times of testing and times of opportunity. Abram hadn’t done very well when a famine occurred in his new country (Gen 12:10 -). Isaac fell into the same trap for the same reason; only the Lord intervened and stopped him going to Egypt (Gen 26:1-6).

So, there was a famine in Israel and an Israelite from Bethlehem takes his family to Moab. Historically Moab was to become an enemy of Israel, a frequent thorn in their side. Instead of seeking God, this man rationalises the situation and moves into the world to cope. How many of us get into difficulties and seek the world’s way out instead of the Lord. This walk from Bethlehem (which means ‘house of bread’) to Moab (which means ‘child of its father’ – and Moab‘s father was Lot who drifted right into the world – Sodom) is a walk of flight into the world.

In Moab the man dies and later on after they have married two Moabite women, their two sons also die. The only person left of the original family is Naomi, the wife. Then Naomi sets out on the walk of restoration back to Israel. At Naomi’s urging one daughter-in-law returns home but the other one will not be put off and so goes to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law. For her, this is a walk into a new life and was to become a walk into the history books. For this family, the walk to Moab was a walk of death, and in what follows we might consider the walk back a walk of resurrection. God is going to do something very significant through this family. To cut a long story short, Naomi returns home with Ruth her daughter-in-law, and Ruth eventually marries Boaz and becomes part of the messianic family line (see Mt 1:5 for the place of honour that Ruth is given, being the mother of King David’s grandfather.)

So what again have we seen here? A man from Israel goes with the low spiritual level of the nation and when a famine comes, flees the land and goes to Moab. A poor response – a walk of unbelief. Then he and his sons die. It has turned out to be a walk into oblivion for this man, yet from it, Ruth is drawn into the nation of Israel and joins the family tree of King David, the family tree of the Messiah. There seems nothing spectacular about this story; it is the story of normal, if tragic, family events, yet somehow at the end of it we see how the family was used to draw a foreigner into God’s plans.

So what does it say? First of all, it warns us to hold firm to our faith in the face of difficult circumstances. In fact, the circumstances may indicate a low level of spirituality and the call is to rise up and return to God. Instead of fleeing into the world in a walk of unbelief, we are to stay where we are and seek the Lord.

Second, it shows us that the often invisible hand of God can yet bring about good, and He will take and use even those from the most unlikely backgrounds who will allow their hearts to be stirred by the Lord, to become part of His plans.

Perhaps we might consider are we an Elimelech, a Naomi or a Ruth? Elimelech baulked in the face of difficult circumstances and failed to seek God for provision. Are you in such a place? Seek Him. Naomi was faithful to her husband and was led into a bad place, but as soon as she had the chance, she returned to a place of blessing. Do you need to take steps to get back to the place of blessing? And then there was Ruth, an outsider who allowed her heart to be touched so that she joined the people of God and entered into God’s purposes. Are you someone who has been touched by what you have read, and something in you tells you that you want to have a sense of destiny, of being part of God’s plans?

A disastrous walk into oblivion, or walk of restoration, or a walk of destiny? Those are so often the options before us in our walk through life. The good news is that as long as we are alive, it doesn’t have to end as a walk into oblivion. The only trouble is that we don’t know how long we will live. If we have the courage to face the failure, it can turn into a walk into restoration and that so often becomes a walk into destiny. Make sure you make the right choice.