ELIJAH PART 2 (March 9, 2019)

Among the many other benefits of studying the history of Israel is that we are confronted again and again with the great mercy of God since His “longsuffering is everlasting”. (Psalm 136:1 thru 26, check it out). Jeroboam and the nation, Israel, have deliberately turned their backs on God who through His prophets continues to woo them. 
During the first decades of Israel God continued to speak to them through Elijah and his successor Elisha. Later He spoke to them and also to Judah through the writing prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Also involved were the prophets referred to as “minor” because their written messages were brief. 
Before Elijah’s confrontation with the prophets of Baal (already mentioned earlier) God was caring for him. His personal needs were met in various ways. At one point God had instructed ravens to cater his meals. I suppose the ravens could have been cultivating grain in a little garden. But it is more likely that God bypassed the laws of nature, like sowing seed, reaping a harvest, milling and perhaps even cooking and furnishing Elijah with the end product. This also occurred at least twice in Jesus’ ministry, furnishing food for multitudes. 
God’s mercy doesn’t dry up even though the brook does. God has already lined up a widow to prepare Elijah’s next meal and many meals for him and for the widow and her son. God’s mercy was so great it resulted in raising the widow's son from death. God again sped up the laws of nature in continuously filling the widow’s flour bowls and oil jugs. God’s mercy toward Elijah spread out on many of those he came in contact with. Sounds like the New Testament exhortations and encouragements for believers to be faithful witnesses to those God brings into our lives. Are we? 
There are many other short stories that are part of the long story that began in Eden and will continue to unfold before we arrive in the New Jerusalem. Many of these are recorded in the early chapters of II Kings. In Chapter 5 we find the very interesting story of Naaman. Naaman was commander of the army of Syria and a favorite of the king. Also a very interesting part of the story was a little Israelite girl. Her name is not given to us but she is so much a part of the story I will give her a name. Lets call her Sarah, after her great, g, g. (etc.) grandmother. 
Syria was in almost continuous conflict with Israel. On one of the raids against Israel, as was the custom in those days, captives were taken. Sarah was among these captives and ended up in Naaman’s home, as a helper for Mrs. Naaman. I would guess her to be in her early teens. And she was obviously well aware that Naaman had leprosy.  
One would have thought that in view of having been torn from her family and made to work for the Syrians, she would be bitter toward them. and would have been happy for Naaman’s misfortune.  She had obviously been taught the commandments of the Mosaic Covenant and she had responded positively. Perhaps her parents had been among the 7,000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal (see I Kings 19:18). But she had regard for the condition of the “enemy” and was concerned for Naaman’s welfare. In addition to her concern for the leper, perhaps she also viewed this as an opportunity for God to display His glory to a heathen nation. 
So Sarah informed Naaman’s wife of a prophet in Samaria who could heal lepers. Now we have no recorded incident of Elisha healing anyone of leprosy. But Sarah had understood the Mosaic covenant and also the history of God’s dealings with people and she recognized that her God was omnipotent and therefore could heal leprosy.  Naaman responded by informing his king who wrote a letter to the king of Israel requesting that he heal Naaman. He sent Naaman with the letter and numerous costly gifts to Israel’s king. 
When he arrived in Samaria the king was distraught. Amazing that the king of Israel needed to be reminded, by Elisha, that there was a god who was able to do things, like heal lepers, and suggested Naaman be sent to him. Naaman was greatly offended when the prophet failed to appear but only left a note with the instruction to be followed for healing. Only Naaman’s servant could convince him to obey Elisha’s instructions and experience healing. He was then greatly appreciative and returned to Elisha with thanks and with gifts Elisha would not accept. More about that next Blog.  
A little later we have recorded the story of the recovered axe head. It is very interesting to consider the incidents that are recorded in Scripture. Were they all to be in the record the Bible would be hundreds of times longer. So it is profitable to attempt to understand why each incident recorded has its own peculiar reason to be included. 
There are, for example, many things this story of Sarah and Naaman can teach us. Not the least of which is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:310). Jesus taught His disciples that our neighbor is the person who is near us and that is quite inclusive. The author of Hebrews encouraged being hospitable to strangers because the stranger could possibly turn out to be an angel. (13:2) And there is an interesting passage in Mathew (25:31-40) where Jesus informs His disciples that how we treat others is an indication of how we relate to Him. Some years ago along I-81 I noticed a car and several people that seemed to have some problem. I rarely respond since there is so much danger along the highways. But for some reason I exited and came around to the parked vehicle. I was told by the driver that they were on the way to a funeral in New England and had run out of money and gas. I helped him get his tank filled and gave him all the cash I carried, which was not very much. I have often thought about that incident and wondered who I had actually helped.  
“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Gal. 6:10) 

ELIJAH (February 25, 2019)

After the division of Israel into two nations, the northern kingdom became known as Israel. They were ruled by 20 kings (or thereabout) and several different dynasties. Without exception their kings were evil and idolatrous. The climax probably came with king number 7, Ahab. He "did evil more than all who were before him” (I Ki. 16:30). His infamous wife was Jezebel, the daughter of a pagan king. This pair was in a continuous battle with the prophet Elijah. Elijah constantly called attention to their many sins and called on them to repent, which never happened.  

The southern kingdom became “Judah”. They also had their share of wicked kings but intertwined were “good” kings whom God used to bring repentance and restoration, thus preserving the nation from whom Messiah would one day appear. The kingdom of Israel was conquered by Assyria in about 722 BC and the people were scattered around the world. Judah survived an additional 136 years but Jerusalem was plundered and the people sent into exile by Babylon in about 586 BC. 

It seems to me that God continued to deal with Judah as a nation. But His dealings with the southern kingdom were more with individuals. There is a great deal of space given to the prophet Elijah and his ministry primarily with Israel. After his great victory over the 450 prophets of Baal he fled from the one woman, Jezebel, who threatened to have him killed. God then provided him with food and protection to prepare him for his long journey to Mount Horeb. 

At Horeb he found shelter in a cave. He was then exposed to a storm with winds so stong rocks were being split. But, we are told “The Lord was not in the wind.” (I Ki. 19:11) After the wind there was an earthquake “but the Lord was not in the earthquake” and then there was fire “but the Lord was not in the fire” (19:12. After the fire (God seemed to have gotten Elijah’s attention) there was “the sound of a low whisper” (I Ki. 19:12).  

It seems like there is a very important lesson to be learned here. In order to hear God’s voice we need to shut out some of the din that surrounds us. I suppose that God has to shout at us at times to get our attention. But in order to hear His word to us we need to eliminate the wind and fire and the many distractions that divert our attention so we can hear “the low whisper”. Betty, my wife was a kindergarten teacher. When the class got a little noisy, she would lower her voice so the noise would diminish so they could hear her. I think the most intimate of conversations we have with God are in low whispers. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psa. 46:10) 

It took a while for God to get Job’s attention. God let him talk to his “friends’ and continue to complain about the difficulties that surrounded his life. Job finally said “Behold I am of small account; what shall I answer you, I lay my hand on my mouth.”  (emphasis mine) When Job stopped talking and started listening God did the talking and revealed Himself to Job.. Job could then affirm “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you”.  (Job 42:5) When God does the talking we learn. 

Perhaps that’s enough information to give us a longing to hear God speak. And for us to hear him we need to remove the plethora of distractions that hinder our listening. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to empty our minds so God’s Words can find lodging. Perhaps if we concentrate on some Scripture, like “the sound of a low whisper”, or “Be still my soul”, or “now my eye sees you” or many other appropriate verses we will hear Him speak to us. 

Let’s do it!! 

BACK TO THE STORY (February 13, 2019)

In this series I have been trying to retell the story of Scripture in a way that helps us focus on it and derive some benefit from it for our own stories. The Scriptual story is a l-o-o-n-g story made up of many short stories, of which, yours (and mine) are a part. And in the part of Scripture we are now considering (the kingdom(s) from the judges to the final Babylonian captivity), there are many short stories that teach us a great deal about how God deals with us.  

Solomon was succeeded by his evil son Rehoboam who was followed by his son abijah who followed In his father’s footsteps. The first good king of Judah was Asa, the great, great, great grandson of David. He was followed by his son Jehoshaphat. Together, they instituted some reforms of worship in the temple. Jehoram, son of Jehoshaphat, “walked in the ways of the kings of Israel” as did his son Ahaziah.  
Ahaziah reigned for only one year and was killed while battling Jehu, king of Israel. His mother was Athaliah, a daughter of one of Israel’s wicked kings, Omri. She was successful in killing all but one of Ahaziah’s son. The sole survivor was Joash who was only a year old. The king’s sister had snatched up this son of Ahaziah and had secreted him in the temple (I think) where he was cared for until he became 7 years of age. 
During this time Athaliah had usurped the throne and was ruling in Jerusalem.  
One of the caregivers of Joash was the priest Jehoida. He was obviously a godly man concerned for the welfare of his nation. He was a follower of the law of Moses and was familiar with the Psalms. He obviously agreed with Asaph, the author of Psalm 78, “things that we have heard and known, that out fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.” Psa. 78    The child Joash was certainly instructed during those years in the Law of Moses. Perhaps the first Good News Club (Child Evangelism Fellowship) was held in the temple in Jerusalem. And we parents would do well to evangelize our children before they are exposed to the distractions and temptations that will come all too soon. 
When Joash turned 7, Jehoida decided it was time to introduce him as the King of Judah. Thorough preparations had been made to minimize the disruptions that would arise. Athaliah’s wicked rule ended with her execution.  
Joash would be the king of Judah for forty years. I am quite certain that his early years were supervised by Jehoidah the priest. His reign was described as good, and he instituted reforms in Judah, including a renewal of the temple and its worship. With Joash, as with Solomon and many of his descendants, he began well but ended badly. One of his final acts was to command the slaying of Zechariah, the son of Jehoida. The king was wounded when the Syrian army attacked and was assassinated by his servants. He was succeeded by his son, Amaziah who also started well and ended badly. 
Not only did this seem to be the besetting sin of the kings of Judah but Scripture indicates that this is an ageless problem. Jesus and all the apostles stressed the importance of perseverance in the life of believers. “The one who endures to the end, he shall be saved” (Jesus, Ma. 24:13). Paul in instructing the Ephesians on the use of the armor of God exhorted them to remain on the alert with all perseverance. We do this by maintaining our constant focus on Jesus. “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Eph. 6:18). And that demands a deliberate act of the will.