11. Historical & Geographical Context

PART TWO: POST DAVID AND SOLOMON

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 11. Historical & Geographical Context

1 Kings 12:20  When all the Israelites heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. Only the tribe of Judah remained loyal to the house of David.

Health Warning:  I think as we progress with this series I need to give a health warning – it is not for the faint-hearted. I have the feeling that this is possibly the most intense series – in terms of the amount of information and biblical quotes included – that I have ever written. It may be that you might find it more helpful to copy and paste the material (if you are reading it on something capable of doing that) in order to use this material as a future resource. I don’t think the church is usually very good at teaching of the history of the Old Testament and my hope is that this series may in a small measure remedy that or at least provide material to do that.

Recap: We have noted David’s successes and his failure and the consequences, and then Solomon’s success and then failure and further noted the Lord’s word to Solomon about dividing the kingdom. We now need to see how this works out and how the outcomes ‘fit’ our overall goal of examining the struggles of this nation. To do this we will have to now follow two streams, that of the north and that of the south. We will start with the northern kingdom as they lasted for roughly 135 years less than the south.

As we move on we are going to find a string of names of the various kings and I will endeavor to clarify them by printing them in bold. I will also seek to pick out their enemies similarly.  2 Chronicles describes the activities of the southern kingdom and 1 & 2 Kings mostly follows the northern kingdom (although there are some descriptions of the things of the south). For this reason, in the next part where we cover the northern activities, our resources will come from 1 & then later 2 Kings.

Warning: Now I am aware that as you read through this particular study, as I indicated above you may feel overwhelmed by ‘information’ which may leave you feeling that this is purely an academic study. In no way do I suggest you will remember all this detail but it may be in the subsequent studies you may wish to return here to put everything that follows into the historical and geographic context that I hope to provide here. I will make further comment at the end of this study.

Context:  Earlier on in the series, in Study No.7, we identified the various tribal nations that occupied Canaan when Israel went in to clear it out. Now many years later we will keep finding reference to other nations who the Lord used as a thorn in Israel’s side. It will be helpful therefore if we focus in this study  on the various nations interacting with Israel, and we gave a mini-description of each of these:

In study no.7 and into no.8, we covered the Philistines and saw them throughout David’s story. After that they ceased to be seen much and perhaps because of their geography (coastal plain in the south) they did not feature with the northern kingdom.

When Israel were transiting up the east side of the Dead Sea before entering the Land by crossing the Jordan, we identified the various nations to the south and east of the Dead Sea as follows: to the south is Edom, north of them is Moab and north of them Ammon, west of which dwelt the Amorites at the city of Heshbon, and then further north still, Bashan. Let’s pick up on some of these who also appear later in Israel’s history:

Edom: Edom was another name for Esau (Gen 36:1) and so the Edomites were descendants of Esau, who had clearly migrated there very early on (Gen 32:3, 36:1-8), absorbing the Horites who already lived there (Gen 14:6). Seir, which is often mentioned, was first a mountain in that area and then was the land in that area that became better known as Edom. Saul had fought against them when he came to rule (1 Sam 14:47), David subsequently conquered them (2 Sam 8:13,14). Later in Jehoshaphat’s time they joined with the Moabites and Ammonites to fight against the southern kingdom. In the reign of Jehoram in the south they rebelled (2 Kings 8:20-22). They were thus an opposition in the south mostly against the southern kingdom. They helped the north on one occasion (2 Kings 3:9)

Moab: Moab was the son of Lot (Gen 19:37) whose descendants settled the land that was to the east of the southern half of the Dead Sea, north of Edom. As we saw in the third study, they were protected by the Lord when Israel passed by on their way to enter the land further north. (Deut 2:9) Saul later fought with them (1 Sam 14:47) and David later subdued them (2 Sam 8:2). After Ahab died they rebelled (2 Kings 1:1, 3:5) against Joram but were routed by Joram, Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom (2 Kings 3:24). Later they simply took to raiding Israel every Spring (2 Kings 13:20). They were later subdued by Assyria until their power waned.

Aram: Otherwise known as Syria, the history is murky and complex but the name becomes associated with a people of the north and east of Israel, a land that stretched eastwards including northwest Mesopotamia, who are clearly established in the time of the Judges (see Jud 10:6). Absalom married a daughter of the king of Geshur and later fled there (see 2 Sam 3:5, 14:23, 15:8 – Geshur being identified as being in Aram).  David defeated a king from there (2 Sam 8:3) – Zobar is to the north-west of Damascus. Ben-Hadad king of Aram, attacked Samaria in the days of Ahab but was repulsed (1 Kings 20:1,29,30). It was the Arameans that Elisha spared at Dothan (2 Kings 6:8-23). Nevertheless Ben-Hadad again laid siege to Samaria but had ending up fleeing (2 Kings 6:24, 7:6,7). After Hazael killed him (2 Kings 8:15) the Lord used Hazael to subdue Israel (2 Kings 10:32) continuing into the reign of Jehoahaz (2 Kings 13:7,22)

The Kings of Aram we come across in the text are:

  • Ben-Hadad (there may have been a first and second) in days of Ahab (2 Kings 6:24, 8:7-15)
  • Hazael (843BC-) in later days of Ahab and into reign of Jehoahaz (2 Kings 8:7-15, 9:14, 10:32, 13:3-6,22
  • Ben-Hadad (the third possibly, 796BC-) in days of Rehoboam II (2 Kings 15:20)
  • Rezin – (pos. 750BC-) fought against the southern kingdom in the reign of Ahaz, but later killed by the king of Assyria (2 Kings 15,16, Isa 7:1)

Assyria: focused on the Tigris and upper Mesopotamia, in the period of our studies. Went through many phases through ancient history, and was strong and starting to expand about 900BC, lasting until the fall of Nineveh at the hands of the Medes/Persians and Babylonians, Chaldeans in 609 BC.

The Kings of Assyria mentioned in the text are:

  • Tiglath-Pileser III: (745BC-) built the empire and came and deported some of Israel in Pekah’s reign (2 Kings 15:19, 29)
  • Shalmaneser V: (727-) came against Hoshea, overcame Samaria (722BC) and deported the rest of Israel (2 Kings 17:3,5, also 2 Kings 18:9-11))
  • Sargon II:  (722-) came and took Ashdod in the south (Isa 20:1)
  • Sennacherib: (705-) came against the southern kingdom (after the fall of the north) later in Hezekiah’s reign (2 Kings 18 & 19 & Isa 36,37) but was withstood, and then later assassinated by his sons.
  • Esarhaddon: (681-) Sennacherib’s son reigned after his death (2 Kings 19:37)

Babylonia: In Babylon, which had earlier been part of Assyria, the rise of the city state under Nabopolasser (625-605) meant the end of Assyria in 609 and the ascension of Babylonia under Nebuchadnezzar (605-562) and subsequent kings, until the fall of Babylon in 539BC to the Persian, Cyrus, (539-530) who eventually sent the remnant of Israel back (538) to start to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem (537). For the fall of Jerusalem and what followed see 2 Chron 36 etc. (All dates from The New Bible Dictionary)

And So: As I said at the beginning, lots of information and while we may not hold all of it in our memories, I hope that it may enlarge our perspective to see that Israel were just one small nation in a world of change, a world where nations grew and declined, grew and declined. It is for this reason that different nations appear at different times. The nations immediately to the east and south such as Moab and Edom, come and go as irritants in the life of Israel, but the bigger ‘empires’ such as Aram, the Assyrians and later the Babylonians became giants of influence over that area of the Middle East, as we now call it.

As we start to see the geography and see that these latter three empires all come from the north and north-east, we can understand why Isaiah prophesied about Galilee in the north, “In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honour Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan— The people walking in darkness  have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned,” (Isa 9:1,2) when he prophesied about the coming of Jesus. The north of the country had taken the brunt of the big powers from the north and north-east and in many ways had become a place of ‘darkness’.

And Us? From an intellectual point of view, may we be those with hearts open to learn. From a spiritual point of view may we catch something of the greatness of the working of the nations and, as the Bible shows it, the activities of the Lord as He interacts into all that is going on. In the studies as we progress, may we see this more and more and worship Him.

14. God of Variety (1)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  14. God of Variety (1)

Psa 22:1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? (Psalm of David – prophetic poetry)

Jn 20:30,31  About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)  (Prophetic Aramaic fulfillment cry of Jesus Christ on the cross – historical narrative)

Continuation:  I am aware we have been through some challenging areas in the recent days and it seems right to step back with a lighter overview for a moment to give some readers some breathing space perhaps. I did wonder about putting this study much earlier in the series but it feels right to use it here to step back and catch a wider view of the Bible rather than the specific message, although that will almost certainly come through.

Variety: When we look at the world and we look at the Bible and we look towards God, if He is the Creator of all this – and the alternative is, in the words of one leading atheist, a meaningless mess – our conclusion has to be that He is a God who loves variety. I always remember, many years ago hearing someone say, “Did you know there are over 1200 sorts of edible bean in the world?” Since then I’ve heard so much more in science that says this world is a showcase of variety, no more so than when you look at people and cultures, and also no more so than when you look in the Bible.

Variety & the Bible: Every now and then I hear some smart character pontificating about the failures of the Bible and the moment you hear them using and deriding the word ‘literal’ you know they are speaking out of a weak limited area of knowledge and understanding. Hopefully, if you have been a Christian for any length of time, you will have sat in on a sermon or study where you will know that the word ‘literal’ is dismissed. “Is it literally true?” says this smart character trying to make a smart point. Whatever do you mean? Do you understand the variety of writing that is here in this book? Let’s consider some of the variety of genres or styles or writing we find in the Bible.

i) Historical Narrative: There is history, narrative if you like, and yes we can say that is literally true, it did happen in time-space history. The evidence is there, the writings so often supported by archaeology or other history sources. This isn’t always so but there has been an interesting phenomena over the past hundred and fifty years. Critics said, “Oh there is no archaeological evidence for those accounts in ….” and they name some passage, and lo and behold twenty years later the remains are unearthed. Absence does not mean it did not happen. Just be patient!

ii) Teaching: There is much straight forward teaching in the Bible. Let’s take that classic book, ‘Proverbs’ and let’s take one example from early on, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov 1:7) Time and space forbids us meditating on that, but is it literal? What does that mean? Is it literally true? Well, yes. Or consider Jesus teaching his disciples, to take a random example, many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” (Lk 10:24) To ask is it literal is meaningless without explanation. Yes it is literally true what he said. Look at Jesus’ parables and you find teaching within a story. Is the story literally true? Don’t be daft, it is a story! Watch out for similes, metaphors and personification and if you don’t know what they are, classes on Literature 101 are needed.

iii) Prophecy: There are big chunks of prophecy in the Bible, the biggest probably being the book of Revelation at the end. In the Old Testament, the big books are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel (and there are a number of what are called ‘The Minor Prophets’).  Each of those big four contain some narrative as well as prophecies. Is it literal? Well the narrative is but look at prophecy and you find that it is a complete mix of exhortation, teaching and picture language and the picture language (e.g. personification) is clearly not meant to be taken literally but simply conveys meaning. Is this allegory literal? Don’t be daft, it’s an allegory!!!

iv) Poetry: You will know that it is in poetic form because of the way it will be laid out in your Bible. If you ask a poet, is your poetry literal, they will look at you, seeing one who has not got a clue about the style and goal of poetry (this is not the place to do that – do your own research). Poems convey meaning, poems express emotions, poems come from and touch the heart. Read the Psalms and see this.

The Problem with Scripture: There is a problem from our point of time in history, in fact there are at least four problems.

i) The first is historical: The book is spread over a two thousand year period and covers a vast range of changes in history. An excellent example of historical data is that found in Luke’s Gospel (who we have referred to in an earlier study): In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” (Lk 3:1,2) Note 7 historical figures (if you don’t count John) and five geographical locations and three historical ‘job descriptions’.

 ii) The second is cultural: So often we see behaviour that was common in a particular culture and at first sight, without explanation, it may appear strange to us. We need to learn about the culture. (I will not give examples of these because they each will require too much explanation.)

iii) The third is linguistic: Some of the word patterns or uses of language appear strange to us, but it was the way they spoke back then. Again I hesitate to give examples for the sake of time and space but when you see phrases or sayings that seem strange, look them up on the Internet.

 iv) The fourth is geographical: The action of the Bible takes place over an area from Egypt to modern-day Iraq.  It therefore includes many countries (some of which don’t exist today), and many towns and cities (some of which either don’t exist today or have changed their names).  It also includes geographical features such as rivers, lakes, seas and mountains, that are clearly located.

Each of these things requires an intelligent reading and that will take time and effort.

And So: Our key point within this study is to highlight

a) the variety of styles of writing found in the Bible, each of which needs identifying if we are not to make wrong assumptions about it,

b) the indirect forms of speech that are often used, requiring us to identify them and not jump to false conclusions about what is being said, and

c) the various difficulties or gaps in understanding that may appear because of the Bible recording the ways and culture of people who lived two to four thousand years ago, in a different part of the world from that with which we are familiar.

Therefore, in these 66 books, written by over 40 writers, we find a rich variety of amazing literature, and once we overcome the obstacles I have referred to above, we find a rich vein of history that sheds light on who we are, why we are and where we are going. Oh, yes, this is not merely academic literature that we read for mundane interest, this is a book that reveals to us what life is all about and the One who brought it all into being. In the next study we will compare and highlight some of this ‘literature’ more fully so we can see the wonder of it.

3. The Right Time

Meditations on the Reality of Christmas: 3.  The Right Time

Gal 4:4    when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman,

There are indicators in the New Testament, that God’s timing for the coming of His Son was precise, there was no mistake about it.  The Message version has our verse above as, “when the time arrived that was set by God the Father, God sent his Son,” and the Living Bible puts it, “when the right time came, the time God decided on, he sent his Son,” and the same thought comes through – there was no mistake about God’s timing. There are other indicators around the New Testament.

Pastor, teacher and evangelist, Michael Green, in his book, “Evangelism in the Early Church” suggests there were a number of very specific and very practical reasons why Jesus and the start of the Christian faith came at this specific time in history.  This, in itself, is a contributory factor in being able to say that this was no made up, fairy story; these were events in time-space history, events that perfectly fitted in the records of history that we have subsequent to that time. Luke pounds us with this historical foundation in his Gospel: In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)” (Lk 2:1,2) and then a bit later: In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar–when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene.” (Lk 3:1) Historical events, historical people.

Now all this is very well from an intellectual point of view but if your names were Mary and Joseph you might not be quite so happy with this, because as we’ve seen before, “Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.” (Lk 2:4,5) Mary is expecting but she and Joseph now have to travel many miles to register their names in his family’s town, Bethlehem, purely at the whim of an emperor who had nothing better to do that show what a great empire he had. Forget the individuals, forget the discomfort and upset he may be causing many of his subjects.

So, as far as the big picture is concerned, it is just the right time; as far as Mary and Joseph are concerned, it is definitely not!  Now here’s the point I would like to make here: we may have relegated the Nativity to the realms of fairy story, folk-lore, or children’s play level, but the details of the story include many profound lessons. In what we have seen here, the main lesson is that God is never casual about timing and does things exactly so they fit the overall big plan. The secondary lesson is that when we look at our own individual personal circumstances we may not see how the circumstances are right for they may appear thoroughly inconvenient to us.

When we look at the Christmas story as it appears in both Matthew and Luke’s Gospels, it is the story of God but a story that involves people and from their perspective things ‘just happen’ apparently without rhyme or reason. That is so often how it appears at the moment. So this is very real ‘where the rubber hits the road’ of practical reality. It is like it is because God who knows everything doesn’t share that ‘everything’ with us because we probably wouldn’t understand it or even believe it if He did. The underlying message of this story is that we “live by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7) So often we have to trust God with only partial understanding and we’ll have a look at that faith part a bit more in the next study. In the meantime, can we pray, “Lord open my eyes to understand the times and until I do, help me to simply trust you with what comes along.”

12. Nothing Like This

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 12 :  Nothing Like This!

(Focus: Deut 4:32-40)

Deut 4:32 Ask now about the former days, long before your time, from the day God created man on the earth; ask from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything so great as this ever happened, or has anything like it ever been heard of?

It is essential, in these studies within Deuteronomy, to constantly remind ourselves of the context. At the beginning of chapter 4 we saw: Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.” (Deut 4:1,2)  It looked like Moses was about to launch into a reminder of the various decrees or laws that God has imparted to them but his long warning to keep those laws reverted into yet another reminder of what God had done for them back at Sinai and how He had forbidden Moses to enter the land. He then went on prophetically to warn about the future apostasy and the Exile, but concluding that even there, if they sought the Lord He would be there for them. Under-girding it all are historical references. You cannot study the Law without seeing its historical context.

But now, for yet further encouragement towards obedience, he take a broad sweep of history asking if they know anywhere in history have they heard of any such a thing happening to a people? He becomes more specific, detailing why what had happened to Israel is unique: “Has any other people heard the voice of God speaking out of fire, as you have, and lived?” (v.33) The Sinai experience was unique in history. “Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by miraculous signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?” (v.34) i.e. in all the world religions and miscellaneous religious beliefs, have you ever encountered a God who has done what the Lord has done for us?

He then moves on to give explanation for what has happened: “You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other.” (v.35)  No, the only answer to all this is that God IS and He wants you to know Him – and there is no other like Him!  He speaks again of Sinai: “From heaven he made you hear his voice to discipline you. On earth he showed you his great fire, and you heard his words from out of the fire.” (v.36)  You’ve heard Him, not just heard about Him!

He goes back a stage to remind them about the Exodus from Egypt: “Because he loved your forefathers and chose their descendants after them, he brought you out of Egypt by his Presence and his great strength.” (v.37) Yet again, there is that hint that goes right back to Abraham. But He has a specific purpose for delivering you: “to drive out before you nations greater and stronger than you and to bring you into their land to give it to you for your inheritance, as it is today.” (v.38)  Taking the Promised Land is the end product of the present stage of His plan for Israel.

Now, remember that this is a quick overview of history that says what has happened has been unique. He is saying all this, as we’ve noted a number of times, to reinforce his calls for obedience and to encourage them to take note of, hold on to and obey all the laws that the Lord has given them. As a conclusion to this last overview he instructs them: “Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other.” (v.39). That has got to be the end conclusion: there is only one God and they have encountered Him.

So why, again, is he saying this? To encourage them to “Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the LORD your God gives you for all time.” (v.40). There is a cold, progressive logic in all that Moses is saying. What is His ultimate goal? It is to get them to obey God’s laws when he is gone. How? It is by helping them see the laws in historical context. Never lose contact with the truth that they are a people promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a people miraculously delivered from Egypt, a people who encountered the Lord at Sinai and a people who have been both disciplined and blessed by Him since! These laws are not a bright idea from Moses. They are the rules for a peaceful life from the Designer of the human race Himself. Never forget it!

For us today this is not just cold academic information. It shows us the base for the nation of Israel – their testimony and their law. But it also reminds us that we too have a faith that is grounded in history. We are what we are because God came to earth in time-space history two thousand years ago in the form of His Son. All else follows from that! The experiences we have today, of the Lord Himself as expressed by His own Holy Spirit, are measured and assessed in the light of all that was said and done in that period of history as recorded in our New Testaments. Without it we are at sea, adrift in a world where anything goes. We are anchored by the word of God which is grounded in history. Hold on to that, remember it, and be assured by it.

4. Failure to Enter

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 4 :  Failure to Enter

(Focus: Deut 1:19-46)

Deut 1:19-21 Then, as the LORD our God commanded us, we set out from Horeb and went toward the hill country of the Amorites through all that vast and dreadful desert that you have seen, and so we reached Kadesh Barnea. Then I said to you, “You have reached the hill country of the Amorites, which the LORD our God is giving us. See, the LORD your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the LORD, the God of your fathers, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

The next ‘historical reminder’ we find Moses bringing to Israel, as they wait in the area to the east of the Jordan getting ready to enter the Promised Land, is in respect of their spectacular failure to enter the land forty years ago. Now you might think that Moses was trying to build their faith in preparation for entering the Land  and so it would be prudent to forget this particular episode, but instead, I suggest, Moses uses it as a blunt reminder to Israel of the consequences of not obeying the Lord.

In the chapters of this book we are going to find countless exhortations to obey the Lord.  As far as Moses is concerned, obedience is the all-important issue for the life and very existence of Israel in the years to come. We cannot emphasise that enough, for it is something that many today almost think is an optional thing.  No, in the kingdom of God obedience to God is always the all-important thing!  The other side of this particular coin, is a recognition of the consequences of disobedience – hence this passage running from verse 19 to the end of chapter 1 is vitally important. We may prefer to forget our past failures, but the Lord allows us to remember them simply as a means of helping us avoid them in the future.

The story may be summarised as follows: after travelling from Sinai, Israel reached the southern borders of the Land at Kadesh Barnea, and so Moses had instructed them to go in and take the Land. Putting together this account and that found in Numbers 13 it would appear that the people suggested sending in spies, Moses took it to the Lord, and He confirmed it as a course of action. The spies went in and when they returned came back with a mixed report: “Taking with them some of the fruit of the land, they brought it down to us and reported, “It is a good land that the LORD our God is giving us.” (v.25) That was the good news, but the bad news was that some of them reported, “The people are stronger and taller than we are; the cities are large, with walls up to the sky. We even saw the Anakites there.” (v.28)

This caused much doubt among the listeners and so Moses had sought to encourage them: “Then I said to you, “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The LORD your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the desert. There you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.” (v.29-31) but it was to no avail: “In spite of this, you did not trust in the LORD your God, who went ahead of you on your journey, in fire by night and in a cloud by day, to search out places for you to camp and to show you the way you should go.” (v.32,33)

As a consequence of this the Lord swore, “Not a man of this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your forefathers, except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land he set his feet on, because he followed the LORD wholeheartedly.” (v.35,36)  Because of that Israel felt the better course was to go into the land. Note; they did not repent – that is clear by the language: Then you replied, “We have sinned against the LORD. We will go up and fight, as the LORD our God commanded us.” So every one of you put on his weapons, thinking it easy to go up into the hill country.” (v.41)

The Lord saw that this was a self-centred response and warned them against doing it but when they continued they were severely beaten by the inhabitants of the land. The result was that they had wandered in the desert for forty years!

Now within this story are some very obvious lessons. First, as stated before, when God instructs, we are to obey. Maturity means we realise that whatever God instructs is for our good. We don’t need to question it; we can trust Him. Second, when we disobey – and realise our folly – we should not turn back and do what it was for our own benefit. That is self-centred and godless. Instead we should genuinely repent, confess our sin and declare our sorrow and our willingness to do God’s will – because it is HIS will!  Third, we need to realise that whatever the Lord calls us to do necessitates involving Him in it. Without Him we cannot do it. Jesus said to his disciples, “apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5)

These are key lessons for the Christian life as well as for the life of Israel over three thousand years ago. We should learn from their mistakes. Moses recounted that episode so that they would learn – but they so easily forgot it. May we not do the same!

An Orderly Account

Lk 1:1-4   Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.  
  
There are those who think that Christianity (and all other religions, for that matter) is simply the bright ideas of people from the past. Luke lays an axe to that idea. These first four verses of his Gospel speak first about being witnesses to historical incidents. We cannot emphasise this enough. These things were first of all “things that have been fulfilled among us.” The word ‘fulfilled’ suggests that they were things previously spoken about but which have now happened. The accounts of these things “were handed down to us.” In other words, the things that had happened were passed on by those who had been there to those who hadn’t. When you put it like that it emphasises that Luke and many others hadn’t been there at the time and had therefore missed out seeing and hearing what had gone on.  
 
This is all the language of recording things that actually happened! Indeed these things had been passed on by “those who from the first were eyewitnesses.” An eyewitness is someone who has been there and seen with their own eyes exactly what had happened. They are reporting on events which occurred. No, this is not about imaginary events or even just a lot of religious ideas. This book or Gospel is all about reporting and recording a whole series of things that happened in time-space history. The Christian faith is founded on historical events. If such a thing as a time machine were possible, if we were able to go back to that time nearly two thousand years ago, we wouldn’t find a bunch of men making up stories, but we would be witnesses to a whole series of things that were happening, and they are the things recorded in the Gospels!  
  
Another thing that is often said by those who don’t know much about these things is that the Gospel accounts can’t be relied upon. They were, after all, written at least a couple of decades after these things happened and people in those days weren’t as careful as today in recording things that happened. Again, these opening words of Luke lay the axe to this misunderstanding. Look at his language: “I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning.” Luke is obviously aware that it is easy for rumours to grow up that have no foundation and being a well educated professional man, he’s not going to be taken in by any such thing. No, he carries out a careful investigation. Look at that language. An investigation is a serious looking into events. When the government today calls for an investigation into events, it is a serious activity. The police or whatever other investigating body are given strong powers to require statements to be taken from anyone who has had anything to do with the matter. No, an investigation is a serious activity and Luke does it carefully. There is nothing casual about this man’s approach and he wants us to realise that! He finds people who had been eyewitnesses and he takes their accounts and he checks them out. He is a serious reporter!  
     
More than that, he is going to write “an orderly account.” Not only is he going to take great care in collecting all his information, he is going to present it in an orderly way (We’ll have to watch for that as we read this Gospel). Why is he going to take all this trouble? He’s approaching his task like this so that his friend, to whom he writes, will have confidence in what he is reading and “may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.He wants his friend to be quite clear in his mind that what he is reading is what Luke has thoroughly checked out and it can, therefore, be believed. Luke is quite open about why he writes. He wants to reassure his friend that the things he, as a believer, has been taught in the early church about Jesus, are right! This Gospel that he now writes, will accord perfectly with all that the church had been teaching. Now that is particularly interesting and something we so often miss: the church had been teaching all this previously and therefore Luke is simply putting into print what the church had been saying ever since Jesus had been on the earth.
    
When we approach this Gospel, therefore, we can come to it in complete confidence, knowing that what we read here is what the church had been teaching and what they were teaching was what had been passed on by those who had been with Jesus and had been eyewitnesses to all he said and did. Be confident!