Together, we serve
to know Christ
and to make Christ known
for the glory of God

21 October 2019

2 Kings 25

So in the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon marched against Jerusalem with his whole army. He camped outside the city and built siege works all around it. The city was kept under siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah.
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. Then the city wall was broken through, and the whole army fled at night through the gate between the two walls near the king’s garden, though the Babylonians were surrounding the city. They fled towards the Arabah, but the Babylonian army pursued the king and overtook him in the plains of Jericho. All his soldiers were separated from him and scattered, and he was captured.
He was taken to the king of Babylon at Riblah, where sentence was pronounced on him. They killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes. Then they put out his eyes, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon.
On the seventh day of the fifth month, in the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard, an official of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. He set fire to the temple of the Lord, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem. Every important building he burned down. 10 The whole Babylonian army under the commander of the imperial guard broke down the walls around Jerusalem. 11 Nebuzaradan the commander of the guard carried into exile the people who remained in the city, along with the rest of the populace and those who had deserted to the king of Babylon. 12 But the commander left behind some of the poorest people of the land to work the vineyards and fields.
13 The Babylonians broke up the bronze pillars, the movable stands and the bronze Sea that were at the temple of the Lord and they carried the bronze to Babylon. 14 They also took away the pots, shovels, wick trimmers, dishes and all the bronze articles used in the temple service. 15 The commander of the imperial guard took away the censers and sprinkling bowls – all that were made of pure gold or silver.
16 The bronze from the two pillars, the Sea and the movable stands, which Solomon had made for the temple of the Lord, was more than could be weighed. 17 Each pillar was eighteen cubits high. The bronze capital on top of one pillar was three cubits high and was decorated with a network and pomegranates of bronze all around. The other pillar, with its network, was similar.
18 The commander of the guard took as prisoners Seraiah the chief priest, Zephaniah the priest next in rank and the three doorkeepers. 19 Of those still in the city, he took the officer in charge of the fighting men, and five royal advisors. He also took the secretary who was chief officer in charge of conscripting the people of the land and sixty of the conscripts who were found in the city. 20 Nebuzaradan the commander took them all and brought them to the king of Babylon at Riblah. 21 There at Riblah, in the land of Hamath, the king had them executed.
So Judah went into captivity, away from her land.
22 Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon appointed Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, to be over the people he had left behind in Judah. 23 When all the army officers and their men heard that the king of Babylon had appointed Gedaliah as governor, they came to Gedaliah at Mizpah – Ishmael son of Nethaniah, Johanan son of Kareah, Seraiah son of Tanhumeth the Netophathite, Jaazaniah the son of the Maakathite, and their men. 24 Gedaliah took an oath to reassure them and their men. ‘Do not be afraid of the Babylonian officials,’ he said. ‘Settle down in the land and serve the king of Babylon, and it will go well with you.’
25 In the seventh month, however, Ishmael son of Nethaniah, the son of Elishama, who was of royal blood, came with ten men and assassinated Gedaliah and also the men of Judah and the Babylonians who were with him at Mizpah. 26 At this, all the people from the least to the greatest, together with the army officers, fled to Egypt for fear of the Babylonians.


Jehoiachin released
27 In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the year Awel-Marduk became king of Babylon, he released Jehoiachin king of Judah from prison. He did this on the twenty-seventh day of the twelfth month. 28 He spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat of honour higher than those of the other kings who were with him in Babylon. 29 So Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes and for the rest of his life ate regularly at the king’s table. 30 Day by day the king gave Jehoiachin a regular allowance as long as he lived.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, You are the God of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness. Even as we read the long history of the disobedience of the Kings of Judah and Israel, we see Your gracious hand at work, redeeming what seems to be hopelessly lost. As the book ends, and the captive king Jehoiachin is released from prison and given a seat at the table of the king of Babylon, we see a glimmer of hope. Oh Lord, thank You that finally You sent a different kind of King, one who would build a kingdom that would last forever, whose yoke would be easy, and whose burden would be light; a King who didn’t come to be served, but to serve, one not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters.

Lord Jesus, we worship You as our King forever, the King who showed us the real meaning of love, laying down Your life for us. Help us Lord, to continue in You, so that when You appear we may be confident and not ashamed. Help us to remember and obey Your words, and help us by Your spirit to love each other the way You have loved us. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

19 October 2019

Deuteronomy 13:1-11

]If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, ‘Let us follow other gods’ (gods you have not known) ‘and let us worship them,’ you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. That prophet or dreamer must be put to death for inciting rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. That prophet or dreamer tried to turn you from the way the Lord your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you.
If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, ‘Let us go and worship other gods’ (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people. 10 Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 11 Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again.

Prayer: Lord, give Your people grace to withstand the temptations of this world, the flesh, and the devil, and with pure hearts and minds to follow You the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

18 October 2019

Hebrews 12

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.


God disciplines his children
In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,
‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
    and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.’
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined – and everyone undergoes discipline – then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 ‘Make level paths for your feet,’ so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.


Warning and encouragement
14 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. 16 See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. 17 Afterwards, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.
The mountain of fear and the mountain of joy
18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.’ 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, ‘I am trembling with fear.’
22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ 27 The words ‘once more’ indicate the removing of what can be shaken – that is, created things – so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You that we can call You Father. Thank You that You are a Father who loves us and disciplines us. Help us to see Your immeasurable love in Your discipline, and keep us from becoming bitter due to hardship in our lives. May hardship remind us that You love us as children, and that You use hardship as discipline to produce righteousness and peace for us. Give us strength today to face hardship with joy knowing that You are with us and love us. Amen.

17 October 2019

Hebrews 11

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.
By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.
By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: ‘He could not be found, because God had taken him away.’ For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ 19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.
20 By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.
21 By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshipped as he leaned on the top of his staff.
22 By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones.
23 By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.
24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to be ill-treated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.
29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.
30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched round them for seven days.
31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.
32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawn in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and ill-treated – 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.
39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

This is the famous chapter on the ‘Hall of Faith’. Here we read of the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ (Hebrews 12:1) who have gone before us and who have had faith in God and His promises. Their faith is described for us in order to encourage us in our own faith. The last verse of the preceding chapter reminds us that we are those who ‘have faith and are saved’ (Hebrews 10:39). Faith is a crucial aspect to our Christianity.

Verse 6 makes it very clear that ‘without faith, it is impossible to please God’ (Hebrews 11:6). But what is faith? Well, verse 1 provides a clear answer: ‘confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see’ (Hebrews 11:1). This reminds me of what Jesus said to doubting Thomas: ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’ (John 20:29).

Although our faith in Jesus Christ has a rational aspect and can be supported by historical facts and archaeology, there are also aspects of our faith that no scientific method can verify. Those who come to God must believe that He exists (Hebrews 11:6). How did you come to know that God exists? We have God’s Word which proclaims His existence, proclaims His handiwork in creation, His many mighty deeds which He has performed with His mighty hand, and most preciously for us, it proclaims His greatest act of love and reconciliation which He made known to us on a cruel cross at Calvary about 2000 years ago. And yet, if we read God’s Word without faith, then these stories remain mere fairy tales. Faith is crucial – without it we cannot please God.

Most of these examples given to us in Hebrews 11 of men and women of faith, are those who acted upon and trusted in what God had revealed to them in some way. They believed that what God had said to them is true and reliable, and they believed Him and trusted Him. All the way to their deaths they trusted God even though they did not receive what was promised (Hebrews 11:13, 39). Some believed even through torture and persecution (Hebrews 11:35-38). They believed that God’s Word is true and trustworthy. God’s promises to them are ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 11:40 cf. 12:2).

Let these examples encourage you today. Don’t allow trials and opposition to confuse you or to deter you from your faith in God and in His promises given in His Word. God’s Word and His promises are reliable and true.

‘We [belong to] those who have faith and are saved’ (Hebrews 10:39).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You that You have given us the gift of faith. Thank You that we can know with confidence and assurance that You do exist and that You have indeed loved us with an everlasting love. Thank You for loving us enough to die for us on the cross so that we can be reconciled to You. Help us today to increase our faith and love for You. Amen.

16 October 2019

2 Kings 24

During Jehoiakim’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon invaded the land, and Jehoiakim became his vassal for three years. But then he turned against Nebuchadnezzar and rebelled. The Lord sent Babylonian, Aramean, Moabite and Ammonite raiders against him to destroy Judah, in accordance with the word of the Lord proclaimed by his servants the prophets. Surely these things happened to Judah according to the Lord’s command, in order to remove them from his presence because of the sins of Manasseh and all he had done, including the shedding of innocent blood. For he had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the Lord was not willing to forgive.
As for the other events of Jehoiakim’s reign, and all he did, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah? Jehoiakim rested with his ancestors. And Jehoiachin his son succeeded him as king.
The king of Egypt did not march out from his own country again, because the king of Babylon had taken all his territory, from the Wadi of Egypt to the River Euphrates.


Jehoiachin king of Judah
Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem for three months. His mother’s name was Nehushta daughter of Elnathan; she was from Jerusalem. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father had done.
10 At that time the officers of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon advanced on Jerusalem and laid siege to it, 11 and Nebuchadnezzar himself came up to the city while his officers were besieging it. 12 Jehoiachin king of Judah, his mother, his attendants, his nobles and his officials all surrendered to him.
In the eighth year of the reign of the king of Babylon, he took Jehoiachin prisoner. 13 As the Lord had declared, Nebuchadnezzar removed the treasures from the temple of the Lord and from the royal palace, and cut up the gold articles that Solomon king of Israel had made for the temple of the Lord. 14 He carried all Jerusalem into exile: all the officers and fighting men, and all the skilled workers and artisans – a total of ten thousand. Only the poorest people of the land were left.
15 Nebuchadnezzar took Jehoiachin captive to Babylon. He also took from Jerusalem to Babylon the king’s mother, his wives, his officials and the prominent people of the land. 16 The king of Babylon also deported to Babylon the entire force of seven thousand fighting men, strong and fit for war, and a thousand skilled workers and artisans. 17 He made Mattaniah, Jehoiachin’s uncle, king in his place and changed his name to Zedekiah.


Zedekiah king of Judah
18 Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem for eleven years. His mother’s name was Hamutal daughter of Jeremiah; she was from Libnah. 19 He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, just as Jehoiakim had done. 20 It was because of the Lord’s anger that all this happened to Jerusalem and Judah, and in the end he thrust them from his presence.


The fall of Jerusalem
Now Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we are truly grateful for what You have accomplished on the cross for us through Your Son Jesus. Thank You for Your promise that You will never leave us nor forsake us and that nothing can separate us from Your love which is in Christ Jesus. Oh, how terrible it must have been for Your people to have been thrust away from Your presence because of Your fierce anger. They did not have Jesus, but we do. Thank You that we can enjoy Your presence today and always because of our faith in Jesus. Amen.

15 October 2019

2 Kings 23

Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. He went up to the temple of the Lord with the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests and the prophets – all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the Lord. The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord – to follow the Lord and keep his commands, statutes and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant.
The king ordered Hilkiah the high priest, the priests next in rank and the doorkeepers to remove from the temple of the Lord all the articles made for Baal and Asherah and all the starry hosts. He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron Valley and took the ashes to Bethel. He did away with the idolatrous priests appointed by the kings of Judah to burn incense on the high places of the towns of Judah and on those around Jerusalem – those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and moon, to the constellations and to all the starry hosts. He took the Asherah pole from the temple of the Lord to the Kidron Valley outside Jerusalem and burned it there. He ground it to powder and scattered the dust over the graves of the common people. He also tore down the quarters of the male shrine-prostitutes that were in the temple of the Lord, the quarters where women did weaving for Asherah.
Josiah brought all the priests from the towns of Judah and desecrated the high places, from Geba to Beersheba, where the priests had burned incense. He broke down the gateway at the entrance of the Gate of Joshua, the city governor, which was on the left of the city gate. Although the priests of the high places did not serve at the altar of the Lord in Jerusalem, they ate unleavened bread with their fellow priests.
10 He desecrated Topheth, which was in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, so no one could use it to sacrifice their son or daughter in the fire to Molek. 11 He removed from the entrance to the temple of the Lord the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun. They were in the court near the room of an official named Nathan-Melek. Josiah then burned the chariots dedicated to the sun.
12 He pulled down the altars the kings of Judah had erected on the roof near the upper room of Ahaz, and the altars Manasseh had built in the two courts of the temple of the Lord. He removed them from there, smashed them to pieces and threw the rubble into the Kidron Valley. 13 The king also desecrated the high places that were east of Jerusalem on the south of the Hill of Corruption – the ones Solomon king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the vile goddess of the Sidonians, for Chemosh the vile god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the people of Ammon. 14 Josiah smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles and covered the sites with human bones.
15 Even the altar at Bethel, the high place made by Jeroboam son of Nebat, who had caused Israel to sin – even that altar and high place he demolished. He burned the high place and ground it to powder, and burned the Asherah pole also. 16 Then Josiah looked around, and when he saw the tombs that were there on the hillside, he had the bones removed from them and burned on the altar to defile it, in accordance with the word of the Lord proclaimed by the man of God who foretold these things.
17 The king asked, ‘What is that tombstone I see?’
The people of the city said, ‘It marks the tomb of the man of God who came from Judah and pronounced against the altar of Bethel the very things you have done to it.’
18 ‘Leave it alone,’ he said. ‘Don’t let anyone disturb his bones.’ So they spared his bones and those of the prophet who had come from Samaria.
19 Just as he had done at Bethel, Josiah removed all the shrines at the high places that the kings of Israel had built in the towns of Samaria and that had aroused the Lord’s anger. 20 Josiah slaughtered all the priests of those high places on the altars and burned human bones on them. Then he went back to Jerusalem.
21 The king gave this order to all the people: ‘Celebrate the Passover to the Lord your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.’ 22 Neither in the days of the judges who led Israel nor in the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah had any such Passover been observed. 23 But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, this Passover was celebrated to the Lord in Jerusalem.
24 Furthermore, Josiah got rid of the mediums and spiritists, the household gods, the idols and all the other detestable things seen in Judah and Jerusalem. This he did to fulfil the requirements of the law written in the book that Hilkiah the priest had discovered in the temple of the Lord. 25 Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did – with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.
26 Nevertheless, the Lord did not turn away from the heat of his fierce anger, which burned against Judah because of all that Manasseh had done to arouse his anger. 27 So the Lord said, ‘I will remove Judah also from my presence as I removed Israel, and I will reject Jerusalem, the city I chose, and this temple, about which I said, “My Name shall be there.”’
28 As for the other events of Josiah’s reign, and all he did, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah?
29 While Josiah was king, Pharaoh Necho king of Egypt went up to the River Euphrates to help the king of Assyria. King Josiah marched out to meet him in battle, but Necho faced him and killed him at Megiddo. 30 Josiah’s servants brought his body in a chariot from Megiddo to Jerusalem and buried him in his own tomb. And the people of the land took Jehoahaz son of Josiah and anointed him and made him king in place of his father.


Jehoahaz king of Judah
31 Jehoahaz was twenty-three years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem for three months. His mother’s name was Hamutal daughter of Jeremiah; she was from Libnah. 32 He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, just as his predecessors had done. 33 Pharaoh Necho put him in chains at Riblah in the land of Hamath so that he might not reign in Jerusalem, and he imposed on Judah a levy of a hundred talents of silver and a talent of gold. 34 Pharaoh Necho made Eliakim son of Josiah king in place of his father Josiah and changed Eliakim’s name to Jehoiakim. But he took Jehoahaz and carried him off to Egypt, and there he died. 35 Jehoiakim paid Pharaoh Necho the silver and gold he demanded. In order to do so, he taxed the land and exacted the silver and gold from the people of the land according to their assessments.


Jehoiakim king of Judah
36 Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem for eleven years. His mother’s name was Zebidah daughter of Pedaiah; she was from Rumah. 37 And he did evil in the eyes of the Lord, just as his predecessors had done.

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, we realize that when we neglect Your Word, we are in danger of straying far from Your ways. Oh, the depths of depravity to which Your people fell when they neglected Your Word! Your temple was desecrated with idols and false gods. Help us, Lord, not to neglect Your Word, so that we do not stray from Your paths. May we rather be like Josiah who used his position in society and his discovery of Your Word to bring about reform. Give us strength and courage that we may stand up for what we know is right. We are not kings like Josiah was, but You have given us influence in our families, in our church, and among our peers. We know that ultimate reform only comes through Your Son, Jesus Christ. Help us to introduce those around us to Jesus who has been made known to us in Your Word, and who brings about true and lasting reform in our hearts and in the world. Amen.

14 October 2019

2 Kings 22

Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem for thirty-one years. His mother’s name was Jedidah daughter of Adaiah; she was from Bozkath. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and followed completely the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left.
In the eighteenth year of his reign, King Josiah sent the secretary, Shaphan son of Azaliah, the son of Meshullam, to the temple of the Lord. He said: ‘Go up to Hilkiah the high priest and make him get ready the money that has been brought into the temple of the Lord, which the doorkeepers have collected from the people. Make them entrust it to the men appointed to supervise the work on the temple. And make these men pay the workers who repair the temple of the Lord – the carpenters, the builders and the masons. Also make them purchase timber and dressed stone to repair the temple. But they need not account for the money entrusted to them, because they are honest in their dealings.’
Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, ‘I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord.’ He gave it to Shaphan, who read it. Then Shaphan the secretary went to the king and reported to him: ‘Your officials have paid out the money that was in the temple of the Lord and have entrusted it to the workers and supervisors at the temple.’ 10 Then Shaphan the secretary informed the king, ‘Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.’ And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king.
11 When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes. 12 He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Akbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant: 13 ‘Go and enquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.’
14 Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Akbor, Shaphan and Asaiah went to speak to the prophet Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the New Quarter.
15 She said to them, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: tell the man who sent you to me, 16 “This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people, according to everything written in the book the king of Judah has read. 17 Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and aroused my anger by all the idols their hands have made, my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched.” 18 Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to enquire of the Lord, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: 19 because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people – that they would become a curse and be laid waste – and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord. 20 Therefore I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.”’
So they took her answer back to the king.

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word. Thank You that we have found Your Word and Your message of how to be saved from Your wrath against our sinfulness. Thank You that we have come to know You through Your Word. As Josiah responded in repentance and remorse over his sins and the sins of his people, help us too that we may respond to Your Word with repentance. Help us today to put your Word into practice. Furthermore, we ask that You help us to be like the priest Hilkiah who gave Josiah Your Word, help us to share Your Word with those we meet today who are ignorant of Your wonderful message of salvation. Amen.

 

12 October 2019

Deuteronomy 12:1-19

These are the decrees and laws you must be careful to follow in the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has given you to possess – as long as you live in the land. Destroy completely all the places on the high mountains, on the hills and under every spreading tree, where the nations you are dispossessing worship their gods. Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire; cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places.
You must not worship the Lord your God in their way. But you are to seek the place the Lord your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go; there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, what you have vowed to give and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. There, in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the Lord your God has blessed you.
You are not to do as we do here today, everyone doing as they see fit, since you have not yet reached the resting place and the inheritance the Lord your God is giving you. 10 But you will cross the Jordan and settle in the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and he will give you rest from all your enemies around you so that you will live in safety. 11 Then to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name – there you are to bring everything I command you: your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, and all the choice possessions you have vowed to the Lord. 12 And there rejoice before the Lord your God – you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites from your towns who have no land allotted to them or any inheritance of their own. 13 Be careful not to sacrifice your burnt offerings anywhere you please. 14 Offer them only at the place the Lord will choose in one of your tribes, and there observe everything I command you.
15 Nevertheless, you may slaughter your animals in any of your towns and eat as much of the meat as you want, as if it were gazelle or deer, according to the blessing the Lord your God gives you. Both the ceremonially unclean and the clean may eat it. 16 But you must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water. 17 You must not eat in your own towns the tithe of your corn and new wine and olive oil, or the firstborn of your herds and flocks, or whatever you have vowed to give, or your freewill offerings or special gifts. 18 Instead, you are to eat them in the presence of the Lord your God at the place the Lord your God will choose – you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites from your towns – and you are to rejoice before the Lord your God in everything you put your hand to. 19 Be careful not to neglect the Levites as long as you live in your land.

Prayer: Lord we pray that Your grace may always go before and follow us, and make us continually to be given to all good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

11 October 2019

Hebrews 10

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming – not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshippers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:
‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
    but a body you prepared for me;
with burnt offerings and sin offerings
    you were not pleased.
Then I said, “Here I am – it is written about me in the scroll –
    I have come to do your will, my God.”’
First he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them’– though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, ‘Here I am, I have come to do your will.’ He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy.
15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:
16 ‘This is the covenant I will make with them
    after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
    and I will write them on their minds.’
17 Then he adds:
‘Their sins and lawless acts
    I will remember no more.’
18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.


A call to persevere in faith
19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. 33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. 35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.
36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37 For,
‘In just a little while,
    he who is coming will come
    and will not delay.’
38 And,
‘But my righteous one will live by faith.
    And I take no pleasure
    in the one who shrinks back.’
39 But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.

The rubber hits the road in this chapter where verses 1–18 recap doctrinally, expanding on Chapter 9, after which the author gets up close and personal. 

‘Terrible suffering…public ridicule…beaten…thrown into gaol…all you owned was taken from you… you accepted it with joy.’ 

He’s saying: “You’re surely not going to quit now? Don’t turn back!”  

Wow! They’re under pressure. So this is why he’s writing to them, and urging ‘confident trust in the Lord’, ‘patient endurance’, ‘continue to do God’s will’. Look back and see what you came through. Look forward to ‘the great reward’. 

This is all so far beyond what we call our ‘comfort zone’ that it’s out of sight. And that’s why we’re going to stop to pray now for those who are in the middle of imprisonment, beatings, false accusation and execution. Isis is not over, and if it’s not them, there will be others. Prisoners and martyrs give their testimonies beyond the book of Acts and Revelation. The story of salvation hasn’t ended yet.

Prayer: Lord, we think that life throws us some googlies, but we have it so soft compared with many who live a costly discipleship, with their families and lives at threat, some members of their faith communities arrested and on trial. We ask for Your special presence with them and Your encouragement for their fears. Help us to keep things in perspective when we feel that the going is getting tough. Amen.

 

10 October 2019

Hebrews 9

Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand and the table with its consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now.
When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still functioning. This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshipper. 10 They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings – external regulations applying until the time of the new order.


The blood of Christ
11 But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, so obtaining eternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance – now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.
16 In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, 17 because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. 18 This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. 19 When Moses had proclaimed every command of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. 20 He said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.’ 21 In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. 22 In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
23 It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25 Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

The story line is in the Gospels—the Last Supper with the cup full of blood, symbolised by wine. This chapter makes the contrast between what’s over and what’s new. Bloodshed is the connecting thread. New covenant is the difference. Jesus is at the centre of it all. He encompasses and surpasses priests, mediators, sacrificial animals, sacred spaces like the Holy of holies in the Tabernacle, and access into God’s presence.

We take this for granted. Many of us have grown up with this reality. But for Jewish people who maybe hadn’t met Jesus face to face, seen His miracles, listened to His teaching, witnessed His resurrection and ascension? This replacement proclamation is radically new. Everything they knew about coming to Jerusalem for Passover and buying a lamb to slaughter for the meal… is … gone. Over, done with, superseded, finished, completed, fulfilled.

The present is forgiveness, Jesus as our representative with the Father, peace with God in new covenant relationship, Gentiles included. The future is: ‘He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him’.

We no longer live on the other side of Eden, but on the other side of Gethsemane. There’s more than a promised land that needs a lot of hard work to harvest and to defend from enemies. There’s ‘the eternal inheritance God has promised’ where we won’t need to pray for rain and face day zero.

Prayer: Lord, it was Your life for our life. That’s what it took, that’s what we needed. So now we rejoice in this freedom of forgiveness and this future with You that you are offering us as a gift of Your grace. Thank You.

Help us with the ‘eagerly waiting’ bit ’cos we often get immersed and overwhelmed by what’s trivia in comparison. Amen. 

 

9 October 2019

2 Kings 20

In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, ‘This is what the Lord says: put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.’
Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, ‘Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.’ And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: ‘Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people, “This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the Lord. I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.”’
Then Isaiah said, ‘Prepare a poultice of figs.’ They did so and applied it to the boil, and he recovered.
Hezekiah had asked Isaiah, ‘What will be the sign that the Lord will heal me and that I will go up to the temple of the Lord on the third day from now?’
Isaiah answered, ‘This is the Lord’s sign to you that the Lord will do what he has promised: shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or shall it go back ten steps?’
10 ‘It is a simple matter for the shadow to go forward ten steps,’ said Hezekiah. ‘Rather, let it go back ten steps.’
11 Then the prophet Isaiah called on the Lord, and the Lord made the shadow go back the ten steps it had gone down on the stairway of Ahaz.
Envoys from Babylon
12 At that time Marduk-Baladan son of Baladan king of Babylon sent Hezekiah letters and a gift, because he had heard of Hezekiah’s illness. 13 Hezekiah received the envoys and showed them all that was in his storehouses – the silver, the gold, the spices and the fine oil – his armoury and everything found among his treasures. There was nothing in his palace or in all his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them.
14 Then Isaiah the prophet went to King Hezekiah and asked, ‘What did those men say, and where did they come from?’
‘From a distant land,’ Hezekiah replied. ‘They came from Babylon.’
15 The prophet asked, ‘What did they see in your palace?’
‘They saw everything in my palace,’ Hezekiah said. ‘There is nothing among my treasures that I did not show them.’
16 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, ‘Hear the word of the Lord: 17 the time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your predecessors have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord. 18 And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.’
19 ‘The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,’ Hezekiah replied. For he thought, ‘Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?’
20 As for the other events of Hezekiah’s reign, all his achievements and how he made the pool and the tunnel by which he brought water into the city, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah? 21 Hezekiah rested with his ancestors. And Manasseh his son succeeded him as king.

Isaiah son of Amoz has bad news to deliver to Hezekiah. It’s intensely personal. Will the king listen? ‘When he heard this, he turned his face to the wall’. A boil isn’t a scan result for terminal cancer, but the outcome is the same: ‘you will die… you will not recover from this illness’.

What has the wall to do with it? Perhaps he was turning away from what he couldn’t face. But he prays. What does Hezekiah say? Now this is true to life—he argues his merits, pleads, begs and grovels, then he breaks down and weeps. Yes, all too human. When our spirituality is tested, our humanity surfaces.

Isaiah meanwhile has walked out, leaving the king looking at the wall. He’s on his way home to his wife, the prophetess, and his son Maher-shalal-hash-baz when he’s interrupted by an in-coming message ‘before he had left the middle courtyard…’. The Lord has heard Hezekiah’s prayer! Our prayers are not always so swiftly answered.

But does Hezekiah does accept God’s promises at face value? ‘What sign will the Lord give to prove…?’ We get the feeling that he’s really pushing it with the Lord. Is this faith? It doesn’t sound much like it.

Isaiah is not done with this royal but odd adherent to the Lord yet. He follows the politics, and turns up asking awkward and penetrating questions. They expose Hezekiah’s folly. ‘I showed them everything I own—all my royal treasures.’ What’s next will be the Babylonians on the doorstep where the Assyrians left off. But Hezekiah is an optimist: ‘The message you have given me from the Lord is good’. Good?! ‘Not in my lifetime,’ he’s saying to himself—perhaps like the old men in power with their take on climate change?

Prayer: Lord, we’re likely more fervent in despair than praise when we’re praying. When nothing happens, it’s worse. We know we can’t twist Your arm, so help us to deepen our trust in You whatever, and to give thanks for Your steadfast love for us. Amen.

8 October 2019

2 Kings 18

In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, Hezekiah son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem for twenty-nine years. His mother’s name was Abijah daughter of Zechariah. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done. He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.)
Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him. From watch-tower to fortified city, he defeated the Philistines, as far as Gaza and its territory.
In King Hezekiah’s fourth year, which was the seventh year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, Shalmaneser king of Assyria marched against Samaria and laid siege to it. 10 At the end of three years the Assyrians took it. So Samaria was captured in Hezekiah’s sixth year, which was the ninth year of Hoshea king of Israel. 11 The king of Assyria deported Israel to Assyria and settled them in Halah, in Gozan on the River Habor and in towns of the Medes. 12 This happened because they had not obeyed the Lord their God, but had violated his covenant – all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded. They neither listened to the commands nor carried them out.
13 In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah’s reign, Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. 14 So Hezekiah king of Judah sent this message to the king of Assyria at Lachish: ‘I have done wrong. Withdraw from me, and I will pay whatever you demand of me.’ The king of Assyria exacted from Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. 15 So Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the temple of the Lord and in the treasuries of the royal palace.
16 At this time Hezekiah king of Judah stripped off the gold with which he had covered the doors and doorposts of the temple of the Lord, and gave it to the king of Assyria.


Sennacherib threatens Jerusalem
17 The king of Assyria sent his supreme commander, his chief officer and his field commander with a large army, from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem. They came up to Jerusalem and stopped at the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman’s Field. 18 They called for the king; and Eliakim son of Hilkiah the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary, and Joah son of Asaph the recorder went out to them.
19 The field commander said to them, ‘Tell Hezekiah:
‘“This is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says: on what are you basing this confidence of yours? 20 You say you have the counsel and the might for war – but you speak only empty words. On whom are you depending, that you rebel against me? 21 Look, I know you are depending on Egypt, that splintered reed of a staff, which pierces the hand of anyone who leans on it! Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who depend on him. 22 But if you say to me, ‘We are depending on the Lord our God’– isn’t he the one whose high places and altars Hezekiah removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, ‘You must worship before this altar in Jerusalem’?
23 ‘“Come now, make a bargain with my master, the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses – if you can put riders on them! 24 How can you repulse one officer of the least of my master’s officials, even though you are depending on Egypt for chariots and horsemen? 25 Furthermore, have I come to attack and destroy this place without word from the Lord? The Lord himself told me to march against this country and destroy it.”’
26 Then Eliakim son of Hilkiah, and Shebna and Joah said to the field commander, ‘Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, since we understand it. Don’t speak to us in Hebrew in the hearing of the people on the wall.’
27 But the commander replied, ‘Was it only to your master and you that my master sent me to say these things, and not to the people sitting on the wall – who, like you, will have to eat their own excrement and drink their own urine?’
28 Then the commander stood and called out in Hebrew, ‘Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria! 29 This is what the king says: do not let Hezekiah deceive you. He cannot deliver you from my hand. 30 Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the Lord when he says, “The Lord will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.”
31 ‘Do not listen to Hezekiah. This is what the king of Assyria says: make peace with me and come out to me. Then each of you will eat fruit from your own vine and fig-tree and drink water from your own cistern, 32 until I come and take you to a land like your own – a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey. Choose life and not death!
‘Do not listen to Hezekiah, for he is misleading you when he says, “The Lord will deliver us.” 33 Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? 34 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah? Have they rescued Samaria from my hand? 35 Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand?’
36 But the people remained silent and said nothing in reply, because the king had commanded, ‘Do not answer him.’
37 Then Eliakim son of Hilkiah the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary, and Joah son of Asaph the recorder went to Hezekiah, with their clothes torn, and told him what the field commander had said.

This chapter gets off to a great start with king Hezekiah’s reform. He smashes things up, including the sacred relic, that bronze snake. He gives the finger to the Assyrians, Judah’s political overlords. This seemed like a good idea at the time, and was quite a money saver given the amount of tribute they demanded annually, but…

Sennacherib wasn’t going to sit back and see his empire disappear that easily. Next thing he’s camping outside Lachish which is one of Judah’s major fortified cities. You can see the outcome in the British Museum. They don’t have a video of it, but they do have some amazing wall displays in Assyrian relief stonework showing Judeans being led off into captivity. If you’re not squeamish you can check out some captives pegged out for skinning alive, and leaders impaled on stakes outside the city walls. It’s all there, just Google ‘siege of Lachish’ as you read 2 Kings 18:13ff.

To raise eleven tons of silver and a ton of gold, Hezekiah raids his treasury and loots the Temple silver and gold to buy off the enemy: ‘he gave it all to the king of Assyria’. That ploy was not enough. The Assyrian army is now surrounding Jerusalem and we hear the masterful oratory of their chief of staff urging total surrender with the closing jibe: ‘So what makes you think that the LORD can rescue Jerusalem from me?’

It’s a rip off—of the top cabinet ministers’ robes: ‘they tore their robes in despair’.

What happens next? Here’s a spoiler alert. Sennacherib gets murdered by his sons. Is the Bible boring? I don’t think so.

7 October 2019

2 Kings 17

In the twelfth year of Ahaz king of Judah, Hoshea son of Elah became king of Israel in Samaria, and he reigned for nine years. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, but not like the kings of Israel who preceded him.
Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up to attack Hoshea, who had been Shalmaneser’s vassal and had paid him tribute. But the king of Assyria discovered that Hoshea was a traitor, for he had sent envoys to So king of Egypt, and he no longer paid tribute to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year. Therefore Shalmaneser seized him and put him in prison. The king of Assyria invaded the entire land, marched against Samaria and laid siege to it for three years. In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria. He settled them in Halah, in Gozan on the River Habor and in the towns of the Medes.


Israel exiled because of sin
All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They worshipped other gods and followed the practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before them, as well as the practices that the kings of Israel had introduced. The Israelites secretly did things against the Lord their God that were not right. From watch-tower to fortified city they built themselves high places in all their towns. 10 They set up sacred stones and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every spreading tree. 11 At every high place they burned incense, as the nations whom the Lord had driven out before them had done. They did wicked things that aroused the Lord’s anger. 12 They worshipped idols, though the Lord had said, ‘You shall not do this.’ 13 The Lord warned Israel and Judah through all his prophets and seers: ‘Turn from your evil ways. Observe my commands and decrees, in accordance with the entire Law that I commanded your ancestors to obey and that I delivered to you through my servants the prophets.’
14 But they would not listen and were as stiff-necked as their ancestors, who did not trust in the Lord their God. 15 They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their ancestors and the statutes he had warned them to keep. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the Lord had ordered them, ‘Do not do as they do.’
16 They forsook all the commands of the Lord their God and made for themselves two idols cast in the shape of calves, and an Asherah pole. They bowed down to all the starry hosts, and they worshipped Baal. 17 They sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire. They practised divination and sought omens and sold themselves to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger.
18 So the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them from his presence. Only the tribe of Judah was left, 19 and even Judah did not keep the commands of the Lord their God. They followed the practices Israel had introduced. 20 Therefore the Lord rejected all the people of Israel; he afflicted them and gave them into the hands of plunderers, until he thrust them from his presence.
21 When he tore Israel away from the house of David, they made Jeroboam son of Nebat their king. Jeroboam enticed Israel away from following the Lord and caused them to commit a great sin. 22 The Israelites persisted in all the sins of Jeroboam and did not turn away from them 23 until the Lord removed them from his presence, as he had warned through all his servants the prophets. So the people of Israel were taken from their homeland into exile in Assyria, and they are still there.


Samaria resettled
24 The king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Kuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim and settled them in the towns of Samaria to replace the Israelites. They took over Samaria and lived in its towns. 25 When they first lived there, they did not worship the Lord; so he sent lions among them and they killed some of the people. 26 It was reported to the king of Assyria: ‘The people you deported and resettled in the towns of Samaria do not know what the god of that country requires. He has sent lions among them, which are killing them off, because the people do not know what he requires.’
27 Then the king of Assyria gave this order: ‘Make one of the priests you took captive from Samaria go back to live there and teach the people what the god of the land requires.’ 28 So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria came to live in Bethel and taught them how to worship the Lord.
29 Nevertheless, each national group made its own gods in the several towns where they settled, and set them up in the shrines the people of Samaria had made at the high places. 30 The people from Babylon made Sukkoth Benoth, those from Kuthah made Nergal, and those from Hamath made Ashima; 31 the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak, and the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire as sacrifices to Adrammelek and Anammelek, the gods of Sepharvaim. 32 They worshipped the Lord, but they also appointed all sorts of their own people to officiate for them as priests in the shrines at the high places. 33 They worshipped the Lord, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.
34 To this day they persist in their former practices. They neither worship the Lord nor adhere to the decrees and regulations, the laws and commands that the Lord gave the descendants of Jacob, whom he named Israel. 35 When the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites, he commanded them: ‘Do not worship any other gods or bow down to them, serve them or sacrifice to them. 36 But the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt with mighty power and outstretched arm, is the one you must worship. To him you shall bow down and to him offer sacrifices. 37 You must always be careful to keep the decrees and regulations, the laws and commands he wrote for you. Do not worship other gods. 38 Do not forget the covenant I have made with you, and do not worship other gods. 39 Rather, worship the Lord your God; it is he who will deliver you from the hand of all your enemies.’
40 They would not listen, however, but persisted in their former practices. 41 Even while these people were worshipping the Lord, they were serving their idols. To this day their children and grandchildren continue to do as their ancestors did.

This is the sorry tale of broken covenant.

 The only cheerful thing to say about this chapter is that it goes well with the sermons on Deuteronomy. In fact, it’s the negative side, the flip side of all the covenant blessings laid out there for ‘walking in the way of the Lord’. It’s about the consequences of broken promises and especially of the 10 Commandments 101—’You shall have no other gods than me’, but also includes child sacrifice and the consulting of fortune tellers. 

The rot had set in early with Solomon building temples for the worship of pagan deities by his foreign wives. Israel split in two, and now the northern tribes based in the capital Samaria are subjugated under the yoke of the mighty Assyrians. ‘Again and again the Lord had sent his prophets and visionaries to warn both [north] Israel and [southern] Judah’.

The failure to listen to ‘my servants the prophets’ comes to its climax at Easter in Jerusalem. Jesus knew it. He’d read the Scriptures. He retold Israel’s the story in his parable of the murderous tenants (Mark 12) where only one emissary of the king remains—‘his son, whom he loved dearly’.

And so God speaks, through Israel’s history and Jesus’ stories. Who’s listening?

Are we?

Prayer: There’s no fooling You Lord, as though we could hide it when we block our ears and do what we want to do without regard for others or for You Yourself. Your mercy and grace is astounding. Please go on holding onto us—especially when we’re drawn to all that’s forbidden, false and damaging to us and to others. Amen.

5 October 2019

Deuteronomy 10:12-22

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?
14 To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. 15 Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations – as it is today. 16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. 20 Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. 21 He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. 22 Your ancestors who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.

Prayer: Lord, let Your continual pity cleanse and defend Your church, and because it cannot continue in safety without Your aid, keep it evermore by Your help and goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

4 October 2019

Hebrews 8

Now the main point of what we are saying is this: we do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being.
Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: ‘See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.’ But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.
For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said:
‘The days are coming, declares the Lord,
    when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
    and I turned away from them,
declares the Lord.
10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
    after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
    and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
11 No longer will they teach their neighbours,
    or say to one another, “Know the Lord,”
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.’
13 By calling this covenant ‘new’, he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.

The Covenant keeping God.

Prayer: Almighty Father, thank You that You want to know us and have a relationship with us. We praise You for bringing about a new covenant with us through the blood of Your Son, Jesus the Messiah. You have instituted a covenant that does not depend on our strength and work, but on Yours. You have achieved for us a great salvation on the cross that satisfies your justice and righteousness and transfers this to us when we trust in Jesus. 

God, you promise, ‘I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.’ 

You are truly marvellous Lord! Thank You for Your love and mercy! And most of all, thank You for giving Your Son for us. Amen.

3 October 2019

Hebrews 7

This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means ‘king of righteousness’; then also, ‘king of Salem’ means ‘king of peace’. Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest for ever.
Just think how great he was: even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people – that is, from their fellow Israelites – even though they also are descended from Abraham. This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. And without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater. In the one case, the tenth is collected by people who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, 10 because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.


Jesus like Melchizedek
11 If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood – and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood – why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? 12 For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also. 13 He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. 15 And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, 16 one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is declared:
‘You are a priest for ever,
    in the order of Melchizedek.’
18 The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless 19 (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.
20 And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, 21 but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him:
‘The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind:
    “You are a priest for ever.”’
22 Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.
23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives for ever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
26 Such a high priest truly meets our need – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect for ever.

May our lives declare: “Jesus is better!!”

Jesus is better. He is better than the angels. He’s better than the prophets. He’s better than Moses. His priesthood is better than Aaron’s. His new covenant is better than the old covenant Israel could never fulfil. His blood is better than the blood of bulls and goats. In every way and at every turn, Jesus is better.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are the perfect and great High Priest. ‘Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.’ 

Jesus You are one of a kind. Who can we compare You to? You are the sinless Priest who intercedes for us with God the Father and You are the atoning sacrifice for all our sins. We praise you Jesus! You are worthy of all honour and all our trust forever. Amen.

2 October 2019

2 Kings 10

Now there were in Samaria seventy sons of the house of Ahab. So Jehu wrote letters and sent them to Samaria: to the officials of Jezreel, to the elders and to the guardians of Ahab’s children. He said, ‘You have your master’s sons with you and you have chariots and horses, a fortified city and weapons. Now as soon as this letter reaches you, choose the best and most worthy of your master’s sons and set him on his father’s throne. Then fight for your master’s house.’
But they were terrified and said, ‘If two kings could not resist him, how can we?’
So the palace administrator, the city governor, the elders and the guardians sent this message to Jehu: ‘We are your servants and we will do anything you say. We will not appoint anyone as king; you do whatever you think best.’
Then Jehu wrote them a second letter, saying, ‘If you are on my side and will obey me, take the heads of your master’s sons and come to me in Jezreel by this time tomorrow.’
Now the royal princes, seventy of them, were with the leading men of the city, who were bringing them up. When the letter arrived, these men took the princes and slaughtered all seventy of them. They put their heads in baskets and sent them to Jehu in Jezreel. When the messenger arrived, he told Jehu, ‘They have brought the heads of the princes.’
Then Jehu ordered, ‘Put them in two piles at the entrance of the city gate until morning.’
The next morning Jehu went out. He stood before all the people and said, ‘You are innocent. It was I who conspired against my master and killed him, but who killed all these? 10 Know, then, that not a word the Lord has spoken against the house of Ahab will fail. The Lord has done what he announced through his servant Elijah.’ 11 So Jehu killed everyone in Jezreel who remained of the house of Ahab, as well as all his chief men, his close friends and his priests, leaving him no survivor.
12 Jehu then set out and went towards Samaria. At Beth Eked of the Shepherds, 13 he met some relatives of Ahaziah king of Judah and asked, ‘Who are you?’
They said, ‘We are relatives of Ahaziah, and we have come down to greet the families of the king and of the queen mother.’
14 ‘Take them alive!’ he ordered. So they took them alive and slaughtered them by the well of Beth Eked – forty-two of them. He left no survivor.
15 After he left there, he came upon Jehonadab son of Rekab, who was on his way to meet him. Jehu greeted him and said, ‘Are you in accord with me, as I am with you?’
‘I am,’ Jehonadab answered.
‘If so,’ said Jehu, ‘give me your hand.’ So he did, and Jehu helped him up into the chariot. 16 Jehu said, ‘Come with me and see my zeal for the Lord.’ Then he made him ride in his chariot.
17 When Jehu came to Samaria, he killed all who were left there of Ahab’s family; he destroyed them, according to the word of the Lord spoken to Elijah.


Servants of Baal killed
18 Then Jehu brought all the people together and said to them, ‘Ahab served Baal a little; Jehu will serve him much. 19 Now summon all the prophets of Baal, all his servants and all his priests. See that no one is missing, because I am going to hold a great sacrifice for Baal. Anyone who fails to come will no longer live.’ But Jehu was acting deceptively in order to destroy the servants of Baal.
20 Jehu said, ‘Call an assembly in honour of Baal.’ So they proclaimed it. 21 Then he sent word throughout Israel, and all the servants of Baal came; not one stayed away. They crowded into the temple of Baal until it was full from one end to the other. 22 And Jehu said to the keeper of the wardrobe, ‘Bring robes for all the servants of Baal.’ So he brought out robes for them.
23 Then Jehu and Jehonadab son of Rekab went into the temple of Baal. Jehu said to the servants of Baal, ‘Look around and see that no one who serves the Lord is here with you – only servants of Baal.’ 24 So they went in to make sacrifices and burnt offerings. Now Jehu had posted eighty men outside with this warning: ‘If one of you lets any of the men I am placing in your hands escape, it will be your life for his life.’
25 As soon as Jehu had finished making the burnt offering, he ordered the guards and officers: ‘Go in and kill them; let no one escape.’ So they cut them down with the sword. The guards and officers threw the bodies out and then entered the inner shrine of the temple of Baal. 26 They brought the sacred stone out of the temple of Baal and burned it. 27 They demolished the sacred stone of Baal and tore down the temple of Baal, and people have used it for a latrine to this day.
28 So Jehu destroyed Baal worship in Israel. 29 However, he did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit – the worship of the golden calves at Bethel and Dan.
30 The Lord said to Jehu, ‘Because you have done well in accomplishing what is right in my eyes and have done to the house of Ahab all I had in mind to do, your descendants will sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation.’ 31 Yet Jehu was not careful to keep the law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam, which he had caused Israel to commit.
32 In those days the Lord began to reduce the size of Israel. Hazael overpowered the Israelites throughout their territory 33 east of the Jordan in all the land of Gilead (the region of Gad, Reuben and Manasseh), from Aroer by the Arnon Gorge through Gilead to Bashan.
34 As for the other events of Jehu’s reign, all he did, and all his achievements, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel?
35 Jehu rested with his ancestors and was buried in Samaria. And Jehoahaz his son succeeded him as king. 36 The time that Jehu reigned over Israel in Samaria was twenty-eight years.

Do we serve Christ with all our hearts?

Prayer: Holy God, You are a God of mercy and of judgment. You alone are God whom we must serve with all our hearts. 

Please help us to obey Your Holy Spirit and to give You all our worship and not to be like Jehu, who only gave You partial worship. He was self-deceived, thinking that his level of devotion was enough. 

God, You are a jealous God and You hate it when Your people worship other useless gods. Forgive us Father, for seeking our strength and joy in other things or people other than You. Please help us to fear You and to be devoted to Christ above all else. Amen.

1 October 2019

2 Kings 9

The prophet Elisha summoned a man from the company of the prophets and said to him, ‘Tuck your cloak into your belt, take this flask of olive oil with you and go to Ramoth Gilead. When you get there, look for Jehu son of Jehoshaphat, the son of Nimshi. Go to him, get him away from his companions and take him into an inner room. Then take the flask and pour the oil on his head and declare, “This is what the Lord says: I anoint you king over Israel.” Then open the door and run; don’t delay!’
So the young prophet went to Ramoth Gilead. When he arrived, he found the army officers sitting together. ‘I have a message for you, commander,’ he said.
‘For which of us?’ asked Jehu.
‘For you, commander,’ he replied.
Jehu got up and went into the house. Then the prophet poured the oil on Jehu’s head and declared, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: “I anoint you king over the Lord’s people Israel. You are to destroy the house of Ahab your master, and I will avenge the blood of my servants the prophets and the blood of all the Lord’s servants shed by Jezebel. The whole house of Ahab will perish. I will cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel – slave or free. I will make the house of Ahab like the house of Jeroboam son of Nebat and like the house of Baasha son of Ahijah. 10 As for Jezebel, dogs will devour her on the plot of ground at Jezreel, and no one will bury her.”’ Then he opened the door and ran.
11 When Jehu went out to his fellow officers, one of them asked him, ‘Is everything all right? Why did this maniac come to you?’
‘You know the man and the sort of things he says,’ Jehu replied.
12 ‘That’s not true!’ they said. ‘Tell us.’
Jehu said, ‘Here is what he told me: “This is what the Lord says: I anoint you king over Israel.”’
13 They quickly took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, ‘Jehu is king!’


Jehu kills Joram and Ahaziah
14 So Jehu son of Jehoshaphat, the son of Nimshi, conspired against Joram. (Now Joram and all Israel had been defending Ramoth Gilead against Hazael king of Aram, 15 but King Joram had returned to Jezreel to recover from the wounds the Arameans had inflicted on him in the battle with Hazael king of Aram.) Jehu said, ‘If you desire to make me king, don’t let anyone slip out of the city to go and tell the news in Jezreel.’ 16 Then he got into his chariot and rode to Jezreel, because Joram was resting there and Ahaziah king of Judah had gone down to see him.
17 When the lookout standing on the tower in Jezreel saw Jehu’s troops approaching, he called out, ‘I see some troops coming.’
‘Get a horseman,’ Joram ordered. ‘Send him to meet them and ask, “Do you come in peace?”’
18 The horseman rode off to meet Jehu and said, ‘This is what the king says: “Do you come in peace?”’
‘What do you have to do with peace?’ Jehu replied. ‘Fall in behind me.’
The lookout reported, ‘The messenger has reached them, but he isn’t coming back.’
19 So the king sent out a second horseman. When he came to them he said, ‘This is what the king says: “Do you come in peace?”’
Jehu replied, ‘What do you have to do with peace? Fall in behind me.’
20 The lookout reported, ‘He has reached them, but he isn’t coming back either. The driving is like that of Jehu son of Nimshi – he drives like a maniac.’
21 ‘Hitch up my chariot,’ Joram ordered. And when it was hitched up, Joram king of Israel and Ahaziah king of Judah rode out, each in his own chariot, to meet Jehu. They met him at the plot of ground that had belonged to Naboth the Jezreelite. 22 When Joram saw Jehu he asked, ‘Have you come in peace, Jehu?’
‘How can there be peace,’ Jehu replied, ‘as long as all the idolatry and witchcraft of your mother Jezebel abound?’
23 Joram turned about and fled, calling out to Ahaziah, ‘Treachery, Ahaziah!’
24 Then Jehu drew his bow and shot Joram between the shoulders. The arrow pierced his heart and he slumped down in his chariot. 25 Jehu said to Bidkar, his chariot officer, ‘Pick him up and throw him on the field that belonged to Naboth the Jezreelite. Remember how you and I were riding together in chariots behind Ahab his father when the Lord spoke this prophecy against him: 26 “Yesterday I saw the blood of Naboth and the blood of his sons, declares the Lord, and I will surely make you pay for it on this plot of ground, declares the Lord.” Now then, pick him up and throw him on that plot, in accordance with the word of the Lord.’
27 When Ahaziah king of Judah saw what had happened, he fled up the road to Beth Haggan. Jehu chased him, shouting, ‘Kill him too!’ They wounded him in his chariot on the way up to Gur near Ibleam, but he escaped to Megiddo and died there. 28 His servants took him by chariot to Jerusalem and buried him with his ancestors in his tomb in the City of David. 29 (In the eleventh year of Joram son of Ahab, Ahaziah had become king of Judah.)


Jezebel killed
30 Then Jehu went to Jezreel. When Jezebel heard about it, she put on eye makeup, arranged her hair and looked out of a window. 31 As Jehu entered the gate, she asked, ‘Have you come in peace, you Zimri, you murderer of your master?’
32 He looked up at the window and called out, ‘Who is on my side? Who?’ Two or three eunuchs looked down at him. 33 ‘Throw her down!’ Jehu said. So they threw her down, and some of her blood spattered the wall and the horses as they trampled her underfoot.
34 Jehu went in and ate and drank. ‘Take care of that cursed woman,’ he said, ‘and bury her, for she was a king’s daughter.’ 35 But when they went out to bury her, they found nothing except her skull, her feet and her hands. 36 They went back and told Jehu, who said, ‘This is the word of the Lord that he spoke through his servant Elijah the Tishbite: on the plot of ground at Jezreel dogs will devour Jezebel’s flesh. 37 Jezebel’s body will be like dung on the ground in the plot at Jezreel, so that no one will be able to say, “This is Jezebel.”’

God always keeps His word.

Prayer: Almighty God, You are sovereign and You keep Your Word by working out Your eternal plan in world events. You raise up kings and bring down kings. Even when it appears that evil men prosper, the reality behind the obvious is that You are God alone. You rule forever.

Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords and has authority over all people to save them. Holy Father, Your wisdom is infinite and Your judgments are final. Please help us to fear You and to submit to You with joy. Amen.

30 September 2019

2 Kings 5

Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lordhad given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.
Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, ‘If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.’
Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. ‘By all means, go,’ the king of Aram replied. ‘I will send a letter to the king of Israel.’ So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: ‘With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.’
As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, ‘Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!’
When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: ‘Why have you torn your robes? Make the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.’ So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, ‘Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.’
11 But Naaman went away angry and said, ‘I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?’ So he turned and went off in a rage.
13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, ‘My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, “Wash and be cleansed”!’ 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.
15 Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.’
16 The prophet answered, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing.’ And even though Naaman urged him, he refused.
17 ‘If you will not,’ said Naaman, ‘please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord. 18 But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: when my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also – when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.’
19 ‘Go in peace,’ Elisha said.
After Naaman had travelled some distance, 20 Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said to himself, ‘My master was too easy on Naaman, this Aramean, by not accepting from him what he brought. As surely as the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something from him.’
21 So Gehazi hurried after Naaman. When Naaman saw him running towards him, he got down from the chariot to meet him. ‘Is everything all right?’ he asked.
22 ‘Everything is all right,’ Gehazi answered. ‘My master sent me to say, “Two young men from the company of the prophets have just come to me from the hill country of Ephraim. Please give them a talent of silver and two sets of clothing.”’
23 ‘By all means, take two talents,’ said Naaman. He urged Gehazi to accept them, and then tied up the two talents of silver in two bags, with two sets of clothing. He gave them to two of his servants, and they carried them ahead of Gehazi. 24 When Gehazi came to the hill, he took the things from the servants and put them away in the house. He sent the men away and they left.
25 When he went in and stood before his master, Elisha asked him, ‘Where have you been, Gehazi?’
‘Your servant didn’t go anywhere,’ Gehazi answered.
26 But Elisha said to him, ‘Was not my spirit with you when the man got down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to take money or to accept clothes – or olive groves and vineyards, or flocks and herds, or male and female slaves? 27 Naaman’s leprosy will cling to you and to your descendants for ever.’ Then Gehazi went from Elisha’s presence and his skin was leprous – it had become as white as snow.

This story is very relevant to us. Firstly, there is a clear contrast between the faith of the young servant girl, who knew of the God of Elisha and believed in His power; and the distress of Israel’s king, who did not even think of Elisha (or of Yaweh) and fretted over his own lack of power.

Do we think of God and call on Him when there is trouble?

Secondly, we have a contrast between the fame of Naaman and the lowliness of Elisha. Naaman came to be healed carrying rich gifts in fine chariots; Elisha had no such finery, just the power of God. Naaman’s pride was almost his undoing, too proud and stubborn to follow the prophet’s simple instructions, he almost bypassed the blessing that God had in store. We too, should humbly obey the Word of God, even when God’s way does not make sense to us.

Also, those who serve God do not do so for financial gain but out of love and simple obedience to the Lord. Elisha refused the princely gift offered to him. God is a giver, not a taker, and His gifts cannot be bought. Naaman’s healing from leprosy is a wonderful picture of our salvation from our sin – freely bestowed by the grace of God in response to faith in Christ. (Ephesians 2:8–9)

Gehazi’s greed and deception are warnings to us. The Bible warns us against ‘pursuing dishonest gain’ (Titus 1:7). We are called to be honest in all of our dealings, knowing that God sees everything and will judge accordingly. We can be sure that our sins will find us out (Numbers 32:23).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for Your grace and mercy that You give to people who don’t deserve it. You showed mercy to proud Naaman and You shower mercy on us. Naaman had leprosy and we have sinful corruption and yet You reached out to Him with a sovereign hand. Father, we desperately need Your healing of our hearts by being baptised into Christ. Please help us to respond to Your mercy with faith and love towards You. Keep us from greedy idolatry like Gehazi. We want You to receive all the glory, oh Lord. Amen.

28 September 2019

Genesis 8

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible.
After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. 10 He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. 11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. 12 He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.
13 By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. 14 By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.
15 Then God said to Noah, 16 ‘Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. 17 Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you – the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground – so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.’
18 So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. 19 All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds – everything that moves on land – came out of the ark, one kind after another.
20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21 The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: ‘Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.
22 ‘As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.’

Prayer: Keep Your Church, Lord God, with Your continual mercy, and because the frailty of man without You cannot but fall, keep us always under Your protection, and lead us to everything that makes for our salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

27 September 2019

Hebrews 5-6

Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. And no one takes this honour on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was.
In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him,
‘You are my Son;
    today I have become your Father.’
And he says in another place,
‘You are a priest for ever,
    in the order of Melchizedek.’
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him 10 and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.


Warning against falling away
11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.
It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.
Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case – the things that have to do with salvation. 10 God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. 11 We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. 12 We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.


The certainty of God’s promise
13 When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, 14 saying, ‘I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.’ 15 And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.
16 People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. 17 Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. 18 God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest for ever, in the order of Melchizedek.

Jesus was designated by God to be our High Priest forever (Hebrews 5:6,10).

He is our compassionate and gentle Great High Priest (Hebrews 5:2, 4:15).

Jesus was our humbly submissive priest. He reverently submitted Himself to His Father’s will (Hebrews 5;7-8). He was fully dependant on God, the Father (verse 7). He carried our sins to the cross and suffered great agony for us in Gethsemane (Philippians 2:8). He obeyed and served perfectly. ‘I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do’ (John 17:4). 

His priesthood was also effective (verses 9-10). Christ, by His life, death (Hebrews 2:9) and exaltation became the source of eternal salvation (cf. Raymond Brown ‘The Message of Hebrews’).

John Calvin wrote that ‘He did this for our benefit, to give us the pattern of his own submission. We must copy it’.

Prayer: Thank You, Jesus, because You are our Great High Priest, we can approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16). Thank You for this gift of prayer. Thank You for taking my sins and dying in my stead. May I always worship You with holy fear and deep gratitude all the days of my life. Amen.

26 September 2019

Hebrews 3-4

Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. Jesus has been found worthy of greater honour than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honour than the house itself. For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. ‘Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,’ bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.
Warning against unbelief
So, as the Holy Spirit says:
‘Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion,
    during the time of testing in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested and tried me,
    though for forty years they saw what I did.
10 That is why I was angry with that generation;
    I said, “Their hearts are always going astray,
    and they have not known my ways.”
11 So I declared on oath in my anger,
    “They shall never enter my rest.”’
12 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today’, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. 15 As has just been said:
‘Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts
    as you did in the rebellion.’
16 Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? 17 And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? 19 So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.


A Sabbath-rest for the people of God
Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed.Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said,
‘So I declared on oath in my anger,
    “They shall never enter my rest.”’
And yet his works have been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: ‘On the seventh day God rested from all his works.’ And again in the passage above he says, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’
Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, God again set a certain day, calling it ‘Today’. This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted:
‘Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts.’
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. 11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.
12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.


Jesus the great high priest
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

‘Brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus’ (verse 1).

Prayer: Our Lord and God, we thank You for our new family (the church) through our union with Christ Jesus. May we faithfully and joyfully serve one another and encourage each other. We thank You for our local church, TCC, and its motto: Together we serve, to know Christ and to make Christ known for God’s glory.

May we fix our hearts and thoughts on You, because You are worthy of the highest love and honour. May we put our trust in Christ, because He is faithful. May we listen to His voice and not harden our hearts. And we thank You for the rest You give us in You.

‘Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest ‘(Matthew 11:28).

Amen

25 September 2019

2 Kings 2

When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.’
But Elisha said, ‘As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.’ So they went down to Bethel.
The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, ‘Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?’
‘Yes, I know,’ Elisha replied, ‘so be quiet.’
Then Elijah said to him, ‘Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho.’
And he replied, ‘As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.’ So they went to Jericho.
The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, ‘Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?’
‘Yes, I know,’ he replied, ‘so be quiet.’
Then Elijah said to him, ‘Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.’
And he replied, ‘As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.’ So the two of them walked on.
Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?’
‘Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,’ Elisha replied.
10 ‘You have asked a difficult thing,’ Elijah said, ‘yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours – otherwise, it will not.’
11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, ‘My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!’ And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.
13 Elisha then picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it. ‘Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?’ he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.
15 The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, ‘The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.’ And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. 16 ‘Look,’ they said, ‘we your servants have fifty able men. Let them go and look for your master. Perhaps the Spirit of the Lord has picked him up and set him down on some mountain or in some valley.’
‘No,’ Elisha replied, ‘do not send them.’
17 But they persisted until he was too embarrassed to refuse. So he said, ‘Send them.’ And they sent fifty men, who searched for three days but did not find him. 18 When they returned to Elisha, who was staying in Jericho, he said to them, ‘Didn’t I tell you not to go?’
Healing of the water
19 The people of the city said to Elisha, ‘Look, our lord, this town is well situated, as you can see, but the water is bad and the land is unproductive.’
20 ‘Bring me a new bowl,’ he said, ‘and put salt in it.’ So they brought it to him.
21 Then he went out to the spring and threw the salt into it, saying, ‘This is what the Lord says: “I have healed this water. Never again will it cause death or make the land unproductive.”’ 22 And the water has remained pure to this day, according to the word Elisha had spoken.
Elisha is jeered
23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ they said. ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ 24 He turned round, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys. 25 And he went on to Mount Carmel and from there returned to Samaria.

Prayer: Our holy God, we worship and praise you for all your works, even those we do not fully comprehend. You have performed awesome miracles, and we also pray, ‘I believe, help my unbelief’. Transitions in God’s kingdom can make us apprehensive, as we dread the unknown future. Loved ones leaving us, can induce anxiety. We ask for your wisdom in these difficult situations.

But we are grateful that your power transcends time, persons and areas. You are still working out Your good purposes, saving and sanctifying Your people. Your grace is amazing and wonderful.

Forgive us when we take Your grace for granted. Your judgment should still frighten us, and may we not despise God’s representatives. We sing with John Newton ‘Amazing Grace’ and ponder especially the phrases: ‘It was grace that taught my heart to fear, but grace those fears relieved.’  Amen

24 September 2019

1 Kings 22

For three years there was no war between Aram and Israel. But in the third year Jehoshaphat king of Judah went down to see the king of Israel. The king of Israel had said to his officials, ‘Don’t you know that Ramoth Gilead belongs to us and yet we are doing nothing to retake it from the king of Aram?’
So he asked Jehoshaphat, ‘Will you go with me to fight against Ramoth Gilead?’
Jehoshaphat replied to the king of Israel, ‘I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.’ But Jehoshaphat also said to the king of Israel, ‘First seek the counsel of the Lord.’
So the king of Israel brought together the prophets – about four hundred men – and asked them, ‘Shall I go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall I refrain?’
‘Go,’ they answered, ‘for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.’
But Jehoshaphat asked, ‘Is there no longer a prophet of the Lord here whom we can enquire of?’
The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, ‘There is still one prophet through whom we can enquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.’
‘The king should not say such a thing,’ Jehoshaphat replied.
So the king of Israel called one of his officials and said, ‘Bring Micaiah son of Imlah at once.’
10 Dressed in their royal robes, the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat king of Judah were sitting on their thrones at the threshing-floor by the entrance of the gate of Samaria, with all the prophets prophesying before them. 11 Now Zedekiah son of Kenaanah had made iron horns and he declared, ‘This is what the Lord says: “With these you will gore the Arameans until they are destroyed.”’
12 All the other prophets were prophesying the same thing. ‘Attack Ramoth Gilead and be victorious,’ they said, ‘for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.’
13 The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, ‘Look, the other prophets without exception are predicting success for the king. Let your word agree with theirs, and speak favourably.’
14 But Micaiah said, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, I can tell him only what the Lordtells me.’
15 When he arrived, the king asked him, ‘Micaiah, shall we go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or not?’
‘Attack and be victorious,’ he answered, ‘for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.’
16 The king said to him, ‘How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?’
17 Then Micaiah answered, ‘I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd, and the Lord said, “These people have no master. Let each one go home in peace.”’
18 The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, ‘Didn’t I tell you that he never prophesies anything good about me, but only bad?’
19 Micaiah continued, ‘Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the multitudes of heaven standing round him on his right and on his left. 20 And the Lord said, “Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?”
‘One suggested this, and another that. 21 Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the Lord and said, “I will entice him.”
22 ‘“By what means?” the Lord asked.
‘“I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,” he said.
‘“You will succeed in enticing him,” said the Lord. “Go and do it.”
23 ‘So now the Lord has put a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The Lord has decreed disaster for you.’
24 Then Zedekiah son of Kenaanah went up and slapped Micaiah in the face. ‘Which way did the spirit from the Lord go when he went from me to speak to you?’ he asked.
25 Micaiah replied, ‘You will find out on the day you go to hide in an inner room.’
26 The king of Israel then ordered, ‘Take Micaiah and send him back to Amon the ruler of the city and to Joash the king’s son 27 and say, “This is what the king says: put this fellow in prison and give him nothing but bread and water until I return safely.”’
28 Micaiah declared, ‘If you ever return safely, the Lord has not spoken through me.’ Then he added, ‘Mark my words, all you people!’
Ahab killed at Ramoth Gilead
29 So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat king of Judah went up to Ramoth Gilead. 30 The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, ‘I will enter the battle in disguise, but you wear your royal robes.’ So the king of Israel disguised himself and went into battle.
31 Now the king of Aram had ordered his thirty-two chariot commanders, ‘Do not fight with anyone, small or great, except the king of Israel.’ 32 When the chariot commanders saw Jehoshaphat, they thought, ‘Surely this is the king of Israel.’ So they turned to attack him, but when Jehoshaphat cried out, 33 the chariot commanders saw that he was not the king of Israel and stopped pursuing him.
34 But someone drew his bow at random and hit the king of Israel between the sections of his armour. The king told his chariot driver, ‘Wheel around and get me out of the fighting. I’ve been wounded.’ 35 All day long the battle raged, and the king was propped up in his chariot facing the Arameans. The blood from his wound ran onto the floor of the chariot, and that evening he died. 36 As the sun was setting, a cry spread through the army: ‘Every man to his town. Every man to his land!’
37 So the king died and was brought to Samaria, and they buried him there. 38 They washed the chariot at a pool in Samaria (where the prostitutes bathed), and the dogs licked up his blood, as the word of the Lord had declared.
39 As for the other events of Ahab’s reign, including all he did, the palace he built and adorned with ivory, and the cities he fortified, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel? 40 Ahab rested with his ancestors. And Ahaziah his son succeeded him as king.
Jehoshaphat king of Judah
41 Jehoshaphat son of Asa became king of Judah in the fourth year of Ahab king of Israel. 42 Jehoshaphat was thirty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem for twenty-five years. His mother’s name was Azubah daughter of Shilhi. 43 In everything he followed the ways of his father Asa and did not stray from them; he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. The high places, however, were not removed, and the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there. 44 Jehoshaphat was also at peace with the king of Israel.
45 As for the other events of Jehoshaphat’s reign, the things he achieved and his military exploits, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah? 46 He rid the land of the rest of the male-shrine prostitutes who remained there even after the reign of his father Asa. 47 There was then no king in Edom; a provincial governor ruled.
48 Now Jehoshaphat built a fleet of trading ships to go to Ophir for gold, but they never set sail – they were wrecked at Ezion Geber. 49 At that time Ahaziah son of Ahab said to Jehoshaphat, ‘Let my men sail with yours,’ but Jehoshaphat refused.
50 Then Jehoshaphat rested with his ancestors and was buried with them in the city of David his father. And Jehoram his son succeeded him as king.


Ahaziah king of Israel
51 Ahaziah son of Ahab became king of Israel in Samaria in the seventeenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and he reigned over Israel for two years. 52 He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, because he followed the ways of his father and mother and of Jeroboam son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin. 53 He served and worshipped Baal and aroused the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, just as his father had done.

‘As surely as the Lord lives, I can only tell him what the Lord tells me.’ (1 Kings 22:14)

Prayer: Our heavenly Father, we ask for grace, strength and wisdom to listen and obey only the truth revealed in Your Word. We pray for discernment, and that we might not bow to popular and worldly opinions. May we speak only of what You have commanded us to share, and not what people want to hear. May we step out in trust, and not succumb to fear. Give us strength when we feel overwhelmed or anxious, and help us to trust in Your faithfulness. 

‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness’ (2 Timothy 3:16, cf. Revelation 22:18-19).

Amen.