17. 1 Kings

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 17.  1 Kings

1 Kings 3:12   I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.

1 Kings 11:1 King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter–Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites.

When it comes to 1 Kings, one verse is not enough for one verse alone would paint a distorted picture and two verses apart would take up unnecessary space, so I pull together these two verses even though they come years apart.

The first verse and all that comes both before and after it is quite remarkable. King David is dying and Solomon is brought to the throne though clever strategies (see 1 Kings 1 & 2.)  To cut a long story short Solomon has a dream in which the Lord comes to him and says He will give him great wisdom to enable him to rule his kingdom. The extent of the Lord’s promises is worth noting: I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for–both riches and honor–so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” (1 Kings 3:12-14) First the promise was of great wisdom and a discerning heart. Second the promise was of great riches and honour. All the Lord required was for Solomon to obey His laws.

Now again, to cut a long story short, these promises were fulfilled in abundance. The kings wisdom and discernment was shortly seen in a wise judicial decision (1 Kings 3:16-27) with the result that, “all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice.” (v.28) We read of his rule, “The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy. And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. These countries brought tribute and were Solomon’s subjects all his life,” (1 Kings 4:20,21) and “God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the men of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt.” (v.29,30) He also built the first temple and, “When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the LORD. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled his temple.” (1 Kings 8:10,11) Sometime later the Lord appeared to him in a second dream with a call and a warning to ensure he kept to all the Lord’s commands and did not worship foreign gods (1 Kings 9:1-9). It was a very clear warning.

The extent of his blessing is perhaps nowhere seen so clearly as in the visit of the Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10:1-13) and her testimony of how incredible it all was. If you have never read it, pause now, look it up and read it. The rest of the chapter 10 extols all the greatness of what he was doing. Thus our first highlight verse showed the reason for what followed in chapters 3 to 11. Amazing!

Which brings us to our second verse and I suggest it is a highlight verse because it highlights the human folly that resides in each one of us (oh yes, don’t kid yourself that you are different from the rest of the human race!). “King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter–Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love.” (11:1,2)  Moses had prophesied about Israel’s future and their desire to have a king and warned about him, “He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray.” (Deut 17:17) but worse than that, the Law warned again and again against taking foreign wives (see Ex 34:16; Deut 7:1-3; Josh 23:12-13; Ezr 9:2; 10:2-3; Ne 13:23-27) but Solomon ignored that.

And there was his downfall!  As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done.” (11:4-6) In response to this the Lord declared (11:9-13) he would split the kingdom and leave only one other tribe with his son’s tribe after he had gone. The practical reason for the split is not given but possibly the Lord knew that his son was foolish and rather than let him lead the whole of Israel astray He limited his reign to just two tribes that we refer to as the southern kingdom. What is tragic is that every single king of the northern kingdom tolerated idols at a national level and every king was a poor king. Did the Lord think that ruling just two tribes would be easier, we don’t know but that was the future.

Our area where I live is visited every summer by a circus, not always the same one. Often the circus tent is of the sort supported by two main poles with a horizontal ridge between them. In silhouette at dusk there is this sloping roof and you can imagine a figure scaling the slope on one side up to the first pole, then along the ridge to the second pole and sliding down to the slope on the other side, shooting off the eaves and dropping eight feet to the ground. That is how I see these two highlight sets of verses. After David, the Lord offers Solomon greatness and it will come through the first verse – through great wisdom. Solomon will operate at that level for much of the earlier part of his reign but as he gets older, he reaches the second verse and from there it is all downhill until he dies and the kingdom crashes to the ground in two pieces.

It is a terrible picture of the folly of mankind or, if you like, of the terrible power of sin which, if you give way to it, leads to calamitous outworkings. Here was Solomon who is handed the throne that had been well established by his father who, mot of the time presented a good example of a heart following God. David’s lack of wisdom came through having a number of wives and even though he was not swayed by them (Deut 17:17 warning) the many children fought. Solomon had not learned from that.

And us? beware the temptations to think that God doesn’t know best! Beware making excuses about teaching you don’t like and becoming disobedient. Even the most blessed of us, and with the most powerful ministries are vulnerable to the outworkings of Sin. The call is to always we alert to these things and resist them.

14, Teach Young Women

Meditations in Titus: 14:  Teach younger women

Titus 2:4,5   Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

We now come to the third group who need specific teaching in the local church, the younger women, but there is a difference here. It is not Titus who should be teaching them but the older women. Why not Titus? Because he’s not a woman, not a wife and not a mother. The best he could hope to do would be to speak theory, but the older ladies come with a wealth of knowledge and experience from having been homemakers, from having been wives, and from having been mothers, and having gone through the trials and tribulations that such roles entail. I am saddened whenever I come across a couple who have chosen not to have children because they will come to the end of their lives having missed out on so much, and so much of that will be the things that change and sanctify us.

Now when you start looking in detail at this teaching from Paul, he says the older women should ‘train’ the younger women. That is not merely passing on information, it is being alongside to bring about change in behaviour. When you ‘train’ someone you teach them to do something practically and you cannot be any more practical than when you are raising a family. There are six things these younger women are to be trained to do.

  1. To love their husbands and children. The basis of a marriage is love and we may think that is natural but why is it that we have so many divorces today? The answer has got to be because the couple allowed love to grow cold. To hold a marriage together and to create an environment in which to raise children requires effort to maintain love because love has a sacrificial element to it and also a practical element to it. When children are having a tantrum it is the mother’s love that hangs in there and sees past it and is still just there for them. In older people if someone threw a tantrum you would walk away and leave them to it and possibly the relationship might end, but when you are committed to someone, as the mother is, as the wife has said she will be, then you hang in there and are not deterred by glitches along the way.
  1. To be self-controlled. The mother carries all the daily pressures of the marriage and of bringing up the children. Traditionally the man was the breadwinner and she was the homemaker. He could escape the drudgery of being there with the children all the time, being up in the night with the latest baby, and so on, by going out to work. She is there performing what can be the most fulfilling vocation in the world – but which can at times be hard and stressful. Self wants to rise up and scream out, ‘”Let me out of here!” but if she is to be there for them all, then she needs self-control to hang in there and be a rock for her young family. How tragic many modern families are who have not learned this.
  1. And (to be) pure. We have already said that the wife-mother is the creator of the home environment to which the husband returns at the end of the day and the children live in. It is an environment where they should experience love and feel secure, where they are cared for and provided for. Observe the difference in two people, one who has had a loving family life and the other who had either a hostile family life or none at all. They are different people and so much of the difference is because of their experience of life in (or out of) a family. We often think purity is only in respect of sexual matters but I suggest that it should include anything that might pollute life, bad attitudes, poor moral standards, playing with the occult, so many things that can pollute the little minds she cares for and disturbs the environment she is creating.
  1. To be busy at home. I suspect that many of these words must be alien to many modern young women who have been deceived into believing that fulfilment can only come through a career. No wonder we have so many shallow or fragmented family situations. Our materialism has lead us to believe we can only live off two incomes. Perhaps the greatest picture of an industrious women is that amazing chapter 31 of Proverbs (or at least verses 10-31) This woman makes most career women look mere beginners when it comes to achievement. She is amazing! And her family is blessed – because of her! The call to be busy challenges idleness. We may think we have labour saving devices and need to do less but that misses the point. She is industrious and she is fulfilled and her family is blessed. How many children just get the dregs or leftovers of their tired mother’s life today?
  1. To be kind. Look ‘kind’ up in a dictionary and you find such words as ‘sympathetic, friendly, gentle, tenderhearted, generous, cordial, loving; affectionate.’ It’s not a word we use much today but it covers who whole spectrum of good attitudes and good behaviour and speaks of the nature of the wife-mother and of the environment at home that she creates.
  1. Subject to their husbands. Don’t confuse this with being servile. I have encountered wives in Jewish culture and in Indian culture, wives who are indeed subject to their husbands but who rule their home. They are the power house of the home and although they respect and honour the husband and give him pride of place in the family (which builds and changes him for good), they all know who is the power in the home! The woman of wisdom recognizes her husband’s need of esteem and recognizes she can be the prime provider of that for him but her wisdom also makes her a queen in this place.

But then Paul finishes with a reason for all this: “so that no one will malign the word of God.”   In the community the family is so often identified through the wife. She (traditionally at least) is the one who is around and she is the one the other wives, and therefore other members of the community, will speak about. She is the one who so often, in the eyes of the community at least, conveys the integrity of the family. The way she lives, the way she is a wife, and the way she is a mother will either add to her testimony as a believer or detract from it. Paul says these things so that she will not detract from her testimony.

As I have said, I have a feeling that of any meditation, this particular one will feel alien to the modern young women, which is sad because it indicates that we have lost something of the wonder of God’s design for families, in the name of freedom and fulfilment. We are realising more and more that so called freedom in respect of sex is destroying the realities of having real relationships and experiencing real love. One of these days we will wake up to the poverty of modern family life in comparison to the possibilities of God’s design for it. We have often said in respect of Christian leaders that the order needs to be God, first, family second and the ministry third. For wives we might slightly change that to God first, family second and career third. To abandon that order means poverty of ‘life’. Please ponder on that.

45. Sacrificial Love

Ephesians Meditations No.45

Eph  5:25-28 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

‘Love’ has a variety of meanings. In modern life it has acquired a strong link with sexual relationship but that is not the love that is referred to in the Bible. In the New Testament, there are two words used for love. One of them refers to brotherly love, the other, the main one, refers to a commitment; this is ‘agape’ love and it is the love of God and the love between Father and the Son, and it is the Son’s love for is. It is not about warm fuzzy emotional feelings, it is about commitment. Modern love goes through sexual relationship to friendship to commitment, but that is not the way God has designed us to work best and the numbers of cohabiting partnerships or even marriages based on this approach but which break up, are a testimony to this. God’s order is friendship first, then commitment, then sex as the outworking of that commitment. Real love, as the Bible sees it, goes through the phase of getting to know a person well and then, despite what you know (!) you come to a place of commitment. Yes feelings do have a part in it all but the feelings of love have content, first of all knowing about the person and then committing to that person.

Now what is interesting is that Paul in these verses in Ephesians, chapter 5, doesn’t ask the woman to ‘love’ the man, but to submit to him. Now that isn’t a cultural or simply historical reason, I suggest; it is to do with the fact that the woman, with her child-bearing capabilities, lives very much more on the basis of emotions, and of course emotions go up and down. So, implied Paul in the verses we considered previously, let the man take the responsibility before God for your lives together. Now when it comes to the man, the command is quite different: Husbands, love your wives,” and love here means be totally committed to your wife.

Now I have to suggest that some of our ideas about why ‘submit’ and why ‘love’ are purely speculation for Paul doesn’t really tell us why the distinction. It may be something quite different from what I have suggested above. It may be that Paul knows that the woman’s tendency (sinfully) is to seek to dominate her husband by words, and thus his call to submit, puts that tendency to death. It may be that Paul knows that men are far more open to be driven or motivated purely by sex and vulnerable to illicit relationships, and therefore to counteract that tendency, he calls for total commitment which gives no leeway for that to happen.

In case there is any question in the mind of the man reading Paul’s words, he makes it quite clear: “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” In other words, men, if you want to know what Paul is calling you to, it is to a life that a) lays down self for the other, and b) is totally committed to working to bless the other to bring them into being the very best person they can be.

Observe, first of all, the first of those two things.  This love is sacrificial. It means that you will lay down your life for the wellbeing of your wife. That is the starting attitude that is required. This means that you lay down your own personal desires and preferences to bless your partner. But then I suggested that the second part, looking at what Christ IS doing for the church, means that your life is committed to be working to bless your wife so much that she is changed for the better. This is not you trying to get her to conform to your ideas of what makes a perfect wife, but you simply express your love for her so much that she is changed by the love.

Se how Paul finishes it off: “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” Perhaps Paul has in mind here the oneness that is found in Genesis: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24). Paul knows that we ‘love’ our own bodies, we care for them, protect them and look after them, so he instructs us men to love our wives in the same way as we love ourselves and because in marriage there is this oneness, when we love our wife like this, we love ourselves.

44. Submission

Ephesians Meditations No.44

Eph  5:21-24 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Paul, in this chapter, has been covering aspects of the Christian life. He’s moved on from what God has done to what we must now do. He started with a call for us to imitate God (v.1,2), and followed it by a continuation of things that must not appear in the Christian life (v.3-7). He then went on to explain why, using the analogy of light and darkness (v.8-14), followed by a call to be wise as to how we live and to live a Spirit-filled life (v.15-20). Earlier on he had spoken about unity (4:3) because there is just one body (4:4).

This present paragraph is difficult because of what is viewed today as its contentious nature, as he speaks about husband and wife relationships. However, we should see it in the context of the unity of the body (which crops up within it) and it is clear that Paul has this in his mind when he writes. He starts out with a general call to all the church: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” We have commented in the past about the fruit of ‘gentleness’ which, when it is there, produces a pleasing, conciliatory approach to others. Submission has the same feeling behind it.

Taking the negative approach first, when you submit to another, there is no room for pride or arrogance and no room for you to push your will to the detriment of others. Now to be positive, when you submit to someone you make yourself open to them, to listen to them, to receive them and what they have to say. Submission is a practical outworking of love.

Paul had the same idea in mind when he said, “Honour one another above yourselves.” (Rom 12:10) and “in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Phil 2:3). Peter had the same idea when he said, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Pet 5:5) Submission and humility go hand in hand. Those who object to the concept of submission fail to realise that it is a call to humility.

We should note in passing that it is a call to “submit to one another,” i.e. it is mutual submission. This is a clever strategy for it does not mean, ‘be a doormat to all others’ because it is mutual submission and so NO ONE becomes dominant!  I have never heard this spoken about and so I conclude that it is something that is rarely realised. We are ALL to be servants of one another and therefore there is NO room whatsoever for anyone to dominate or domineer over another. The kingdom of God has only one master – Jesus! The rest of us are servants.

When Paul comes to the marriage situation, he realises that the sinfulness of mankind is given fertile ground in which to flourish. If these verses have been seen as contentious, it is simply because sin is lurking, waiting to rise up and make claims on behalf of ‘self’. Now we really do need to see this before we carry on, otherwise, depending on whether you are a man or a woman, you may take particular ‘sides’ and so generate or egg on what the world calls ‘the battle of the sexes’. This should NOT exist in the Christian world, and it is this very thing which works against unity in the body and works against harmony in relationships.

Now because we can only take a certain amount each day, we will only be touching on the woman’s side today, but any men reading this should realise that their part is coming soon and it speaks death to ‘self’ even more, so there is no grounds whatsoever for men to be able to take these words and use them as ammunition in the ‘battle of the sexes.’ You have been warned!

Paul continues: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” Ladies this is not to make you a grovelling heap, for the reasons we have given above – he is to submit to you as well! However, if you consider what we said initially about submission above, it does mean that “when you submit to someone you make yourself open to them, to listen to them, to receive them and what they have to say,” and “there is no room for pride or arrogance and no room for you to push your will,” and “Submission is a practical outworking of love.” (The same is going to apply to him so don’t get all defensive!).

In case you think this is just Paul, remember the apostle Peter has the same ideas: Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.” (1 Pet 3:1,2). Notice the ‘without words’ – which means no nagging. Modern science suggests you are more capable with words but therein is a danger that you try to browbeat your partner with words – and that does nothing for harmony and unity. (Prayer does a lot more!)

Then Paul gives his reasoning: For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” The buck has to stop with someone he is saying. God looks to husbands to carry the can for what happens in the family.  That’s all that this ‘head’ language means. It’s all about responsibility. Women are often wiser than men, I believe, simply because they often also work on emotions, care, concern, and intuition, but each of those things also makes them vulnerable. Paul is trying to protect them at their most vulnerable point but sadly that is the opposite of how so many see it today (and yes, men have so often neglected their side – see the following meditations – and given cause). You may need a lot of grace to work through to the truth as God sees it, in the light of the pressures of ‘the world’ today, but there is something better than we’ve had in the past or that we’ve got today. There is God’s way.

13. One Good Guy

ADVENT MEDITATIONS No.13

13. The Challenge of One Good Guy

Matt 1:18 -19 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

In our world, in the West in particular, we have many problems in society, but one of the worst it seems, is that of husbands abandoning their wives and their children, to go and live with someone else. In one prophetic place in the Bible, a prophet speaks for God saying, “I hate divorce” (Mal 2:16). The context was a spiritual one but the explanation is clear: God hates covenant breaking, and a marriage is a covenant between two people to live together for life. Jesus reiterates the Law of Moses when he said that the only ground for divorce was marital unfaithfulness (Mt 19:9), and that only when couples were so stubborn they could not receive counsel and help (Mt 19:8).

Now we come to something strange: our verses above say that Joseph was a righteous man. Let’s think about this. To have that description means he was a good man who sought to obey God’s laws and to please God. So, here he is, engaged to Mary and she tells him she is pregnant and it’s God’s fault. He now has a serious problem! Everything he knows about God doesn’t include God making young girls pregnant. This has got to be a lie! The girl he is about to marry is carrying someone else’s baby – it’s certainly not mine! – and to make it worse she’s making up fairy tales to cover her infidelity.

For a righteous man, the only answer is to flee the sin. If she is unfaithful before the marriage, she is likely to be unfaithful afterwards, so there is no hope for this relationship, so the best thing is to end it quickly. Moses’ Law permits that, so that’s what I’ll do. We’ll break the engagement but I’ll do it quietly; there’s no need to expose her more than I have to. There is in this last part, a distinct air of compassion and care in this man. He is a good man – it’s just that he hasn’t got the whole picture – yet! (He will soon – you’ll see that in tomorrow’s meditation).

Consider what we’ve said so far: Joseph is a good man, a righteous man who desires to do what is right, and doing right means quietly breaking off the engagement – but he hasn’t yet got the whole picture. When he does get it, he may think differently.

Here is one good guy, and he presents us with a challenge. Goodness isn’t enough. Knowing the whole counsel of God is what is needed and that only comes from a close encounter with God. So many people say foolish things about God because they have never bothered to think through the issues or seek Him for answers. Are there things about God and your life that you don’t understand? That’s not a cause to walk away and ignore Him. Only you lose from that. The right response is to seek Him for answers. We can be sure that we’re right in our assessment of life, but still be missing something – before we become a Christian and after we become a Christian. The danger is that our righteousness becomes ‘self-righteousness’ and that is bad news! Becoming aware of my need of God to bring me understanding is the first stage to really moving into God’s purpose for my life!