If My People

2 Chronicles 7

March 21

Today we are continuing along in Chronicles, jumping into the second book, II Chronicles 7. This one is a pretty packed-full chapter starting out with God showing up in a consuming fire, His glory filling the newly dedicated temple, and ending with a stern warning to Israel regarding rejection of Him and the resultant consequences.

Pausing, at verse 14, I’ll tell you that I have had a song stuck in my head ever since reading this one.

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land”

If you can’t guess the song, I am assuming you have not heard the song  “If My People”, and would encourage you to check it out if you are not familiar. While it stresses the old vocal cords (at least the version in the trusty brown hymnal) unless you are a canary, it is beautiful both in music and message in my opinion.  Though at times I think this verse is misused and tossed around out of context with various patriotic images, it provides such beautiful reminders taken in context. We are called by God. Called to humility, prayer, and seeking of His will and ways. Called to repentance when we fall and returning to our Father when we’ve strayed. We can always repent, call on His name, turn back to Him, and we are given Israel as an example time and time again.

This chapter also reminds us of the very important covenant God made with David. A ruler in Israel. A royal throne to be continued. And despite the years of mistakes and consequences to come after God’s reminders to Solomon, He did not forget his covenant. And this is what makes the Old Testament so essential to understand the way God works and the New Testament stories. Jesus didn’t just show up one day and claim he was God’s son.  Years of history, promises, and prophecies such as the ones in this chapter lead up to the gift of the Messiah and the promise of an eternal kingdom without pain, sin, or tears.

“As for you, if you walk before Me as your father David walked, to do according to everything that I have commanded you, and keep My statutes and My ordinances, then I will establish your royal throne as I covenanted with your father David, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to be ruler in Israel.” (2 Chronicles 7:17-18)

-Jennifer Hall

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What four attitudes and actions are God’s people to do for God to hear, forgive and heal their land? (2 Chronicles 7:14). Why each of the four? What grade would you receive in each of the four? How can you improve in each?
  2. And on the flip side, what options are available for the people (verse 19)? If the people act in this way, what will God do (verses 20-22)? Those were rather specific consequences, which indeed came to pass centuries later. What consequences might God consider for these actions in our day?
  3. How would you describe true repentance? When have you experienced this in the past? Is there anything you currently need to repent of? If you aren’t sure, ask God to show you, then repent.
  4. How can you help the people of God remember the important lessons of this chapter?

Keep These Desires

1 Chronicles 29

March 20

Our reading today of 1 Chronicles 29 is from a book in the Bible that I realize I have often overlooked and not fully appreciated for its historical significance. Because of where it falls in our Bible, if I am reading through the OT when I run into it, I find myself thinking, “didn’t I just read that?”  because of its retelling of some stories from 1 and 2 Samuel and I and 2 Kings.

Since I like history and context in what I’m reading, I thought I’d dig around for a little information to help me understand more as we jump into this last chapter of 1 Chronicles. While 1 Chronicles falls mid-way in our Old Testaments, in most Hebrew Bibles it forms the conclusion as the last book. 1 Chronicles was originally combined with II Chronicles when written in the 5th century BC , and it was written ~ 600 years after the stories it tells.  Time wise, that would be like me writing about what happened in the Middle Ages today. During that long period of time, some major things had changed in the world. The fall of Israel, the exile of the Jews, the growth of the Roman Empire and emerging development of the Greeks, and the eventual return of Ezra (believed by many to be the author of Chronicles) and some exiled Jews to rebuild the temple centuries later.

As Chapter 29 starts with verse 1, we are reminded that GOD does not choose people to serve Him as the world chooses, and the tasks He calls us to are great because He is worthy.

“Then King David said to the whole assembly: “My son Solomon, the one whom God has chosen, is young and inexperienced. The task is great, because this palatial structure is not for man but for the Lord God.”

As the chapter goes along, we get some of the details of the temple reviewed which are pretty noteworthy. Like umm….100 metric tons of gold! It makes me think a little more about what the kingdom will be like given what His earthly temple included.

Verses 10-19 are such a beautiful prayer of David in his later years, and we hear fatherly wisdom and child-like humility all at once.  In his prayer for his son, he understands what to ask for. Not health, happiness, security, peace, or victories, but what he knows matters most,

v. 19  “And give my son Solomon the wholehearted devotion to keep your commands, statutes and decrees. . .”

The chapter ends retelling the stories of Solomon being made king and his unprecedented level of splendor, and ends with David dying, to sleep with his fathers until the return of Jesus.

I am glad these parts were some of the ones chosen to be retold, and I can see why they were worth the reminder for the Israelites at that time. Despite everything else changing around them, God was sovereign. With or without a temple, God was sovereign. With or without a king, God was sovereign and had a plan to continue King David’s line forever through the coming Messiah. Thousands of years later, David’s prayer and hope is still applicable for all of us.

-Jennifer Hall

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What changes have you seen in your lifetime? What has changed in the past 2000 years? How do you see a sovereign God over all history?
  2. David and the people gave generously a great amount of gold, silver, bronze, iron and precious stones for the building of the temple. David said, “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.” What has God blessed you with? How will you use it to honor Him?
  3. David prayed, “Keep these desires and thoughts in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you.” What desires and thoughts was he referring to? Are these desires and thoughts in your heart today? Is your heart loyal to God? Are there areas you want to be more loyal to God? How?
  4. What do you most look forward to in God’s Coming Kingdom?

Tell Me Again

1 Chronicles 22

March 19

My daughter loves Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. She loves watching each new version that comes out – and then rewatching the old classic again, too. Each new director has a slightly different angle on Austen’s original work of art so watching multiple versions helps the viewer appreciate Austen’s storytelling abilities and intent.

Similarly, God created the nation of Israel (and Judah) and gave them a deep and meaningful history – the story of God at work through His people. Since then, there have been various written (and inspired) versions to capture God’s work of art story of these people and their triumphs and failings. And each version shows a slightly different angle of the same characters, events, and the God who was over them all. And so we have 1st & 2nd Samuel and 1st & 2nd Kings written to tell of the history of Israel from the time they clambered for a king, through the kings of United Israel: Saul, David and Solomon and then the many kings of the Divided Kingdoms of Northern Israel and Southern Judah, leading up to the exile, first to Assyria for unfaithful Israel, and then years later to Babylon for Judah. The story was well-told. It emphasized the fact that the troubles that came upon Israel were because of their unfaithfulness to God and their disobedience to Him. They could have chosen a better way that would not have ended in exile, but instead they gave up God’s offered blessings to follow the pagan neighbors in idolatry and disobedience. It was important for God’s people in exile to see that connection.

Fast forward many years – Babylon has been overtaken by Persia and the Persian king (prompted by God no doubt) allows Jews to start returning to what had been their Promised Land so many years before. This is a new generation that grew up exiled from their homeland, surrounded by foreign people, customs, gods, and culture. God was calling them back again to be a holy people in a holy land devoted to Him. Their time-out was over. But, they needed to know the story of where they came from and the God who was over all.

It was time to tell the story again. It was time for 1st & 2nd Chronicles to be written. About 50% of what is written here was already told before in other books of the Old Testament, but this time the writer was coming from a slightly different angle.

They needed to show the returning Israelites they were God’s people – not Babylon’s or Persia’s. So 1st Chronicles begins with about 9 chapters of genealogies and lists of family names and positions. Imagine the thrill of finding your family name and tracing it all the way back to Adam. This is your family. You are a part of God’s chosen family. He has a plan that includes you and your family.

They needed to show the people how to worship the One True God, again. So, 1st & 2nd Chronicles includes many chapters detailing the roles and names of the Levites, priests, the worship singers and musicians, and gatekeepers, as well as David’s plans for the building of the first magnificent temple, the supplies he collected, the gifts given for the temple, and then Solomon’s final preparations, the temple furnishings, the ark of the covenant and the dedication of the first temple. The returning Israelites would be setting all this up once again – it was important for them to know and understand the history and glory and excitement the first temple designers, builders, priests and participants experienced. They needed to convey the joy and awe that comes with the awesome responsibility of worshiping the Lord God.

They needed to show the victories and triumphs that can be had when one truly seeks the Lord. The Chronicler chose to focus more on the positive examples through the history of Israel. 29 chapters include the good things about the reigns of David and Solomon when Israel was enjoying God’s richest blessings. And when he writes of the Divided Kingdom, he primarily writes about Judah – the country that had some good kings and continued the line of David.

It was a great time to remember the heroes of their faith as they now had a second golden opportunity to create a holy people in a holy land. In 1 Chronicles 22, we, too, can be encouraged and energized by David’s example. We can be encouraged to give generously, to work hard, to follow God’s plans not our own, to pass on the work of the Lord to our children, to teach them well to strive for understanding and discretion, being careful to obey the Lord for that brings success. Just as in the time of David, and the time of the return from exile, so today is a day to remember all these things.

“Then you will have success if you are careful to observe the decrees and laws that the Lord gave Moses for Israel. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged.” – 1 Chronicles 22:13

“Now devote your heart and soul to seeking the Lord your God.” – 1 Chronicles 22:19a

-Marcia Railton

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. If you were writing a history of the nation of Israel during Old Testament times, what would you make sure you include and what are the overall themes you would want your readers to know?
  2. Who in your life has been a positive godly role model for you? What have you learned from them? How can that help you when you begin a new endeavor or challenge in life?
  3. Can you point to any victories in your life when you were seeking the Lord? What about any exiles or punishments for falling away from the Lord? What can be gained from each experience? How can you use your experiences to help others?

God Over All the Kingdoms of the Earth

2 Kings 19

March 18

A good leader, a bad leader, a boasting field commander, mourning, praying for those left, searching for a word from the Lord, reports of fighting here and there, a large impressive bully nation, a pleading king. It’s almost enough to make me look for a time and date stamp to check what century I am reading of. Am I reading the headlines of the newspaper today, or from 2 Kings 19, an account of when the small country of Judah and her king Hezekiah were being bullied and intimidated by Sennacherib the king of Assyria?

For a better understanding, we might need to back up a couple hundred years from where we are reading in 2 Kings. It is tricky fitting the whole wealth of Old Testament history and beauty and lessons into 105 days, as our Bible reading schedule this year dictates, but let’s catch up on a couple hundred years here. The end of last week we were reading of the son of King David, King Solomon – the third king of Israel. His reign over Israel was blessed by God and Israel prospered. However, after King Solomon the kingdom divides into the 10 northern tribes of Israel (which rejected the rule of the line of David and created their own system of worship since they no longer held Jerusalem, the home of God’s temple) and the 2 southern tribes then called the nation of Judah.

Israel would have one bad king after another. But still God was active and at work in their nation, as we saw with the powerful ministries of the prophets Elijah and Elisha in our readings earlier this week. But it wasn’t enough to turn the tide of the nation that had chosen to reject God. Israel would be overtaken by the bully nation Assyria (see 2 Kings 17). This was God’s judgment on a country that had rebelled against Him.

And now, Assyria was coming after the nation of Judah. Hezekiah, the 12th king of Judah and from the line of David, had been king 6 years when Israel had fallen to Assyria, within the next 8 years Assyria had attacked and captured all of the fortified cities of Judah, except the capital city of Jerusalem. Scared Hezekiah, feeling desperate to save his nation, had even tried paying tribute to Sennacherib king of Assyria – striping the temple and palace of all its gold and silver. But still, Assyria advanced and now they were at the gates of Jerusalem. Sennacherib’s field commander, had just delivered an intimidating speech to the occupants of Jerusalem – promising protection and life if they surrendered and destruction and death if they did not. He tried convincing the people saying, “Do not listen to Hezekiah, for he is misleading you when he says, ‘The Lord will deliver us.’  Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria?” (2 Kings 18:32b-33). And, that is where we are when we read 2 Kings 19.

The king, the leaders and the people are scared. Assyria has already conquered so many, including Israel and the fortified cities of Judah. It seems perhaps this will be the end of Jerusalem and all Judah as well. Hezekiah sends his advisers to the prophet Isaiah asking for prayer for the people. Isaiah replies – Don’t be afraid. God heard the boasting blasphemous words of the field commander – and God is preparing a surprise for them.

Sennacherib sends a written intimidating message to Hezekiah. I love what Hezekiah does with the letter. He takes it to the temple, spreads it out before the Lord and prays:

“Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 16 Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.

17 “It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. 18 They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. 19 Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God.”

(2 Kings 19:15-19)

What a beautiful prayer that lays it all out before God. First, acknowledging God for who He is and what He has done – no small matters. Go back and read it again to hear the awe and reverence in Hezekiah’s voice. He knew he was speaking to the creator of heaven and earth! How awesome is that? Then, bringing before God what was on his heart. What do we want Him to look upon, and listen to? Yes, God already has heard it and seen it all. Hezekiah wasn’t surprising God or giving Him new information. But He was asking God to act on what Hezekiah was seeing and hearing, what was important to Him. And, believing that God could do it, he asked for deliverance, not just to save their own hides – but “so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God.” (2 Kings 19:19).

God did answer this prayer in such a way that all those kingdoms knew that He alone with God. That night, the angel of the Lord visited the Assyrian camp and killed 185,000. Sennacherib and the rest went running home. Sennacherib survived, for a short time, only to be assassinated by two of his sons. Hezekiah lives to have more prayers answered in the next chapter.

But here we are today, surrounded by more conflict, and more bully leaders, and more scared leaders and still One TRUE God over them all. Perhaps now is a good time for more heartfelt prayers to God. We know more righteous judgment from God is on its way – both now and ultimately at the end of this age when His son Jesus returns to earth. We so look forward to a time when the faithful from all nations and kingdoms are gathered before the throne – no longer waving national flags, if now their allegiance is to the Lamb of God.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Hezekiah’s strongest weapon was not his armies or alliances or his gold and silver – but his heartfelt prayer to God. How can we better use prayer in our own time of desperate need? How can we better use prayer for the nations in conflict today? What do you want to make sure God hears and sees? Tell Him about it, even though He already knows.
  2. Hezekiah praised God for His creation. I wonder if, or how much, Mr Darwin and the theory of evolution has blocked the prayers of “believers”. What do we truly believe in today? When we strip God of His power and His creation, do we also strip Him of His power or desire to act on our behalf? What are other ways we fail to recognize God’s greatness and power? What do you believe God can do and will do and has done?
  3. Do a little word study on nations or kingdoms – how do they show up in Scripture? What about in Revelation?

Naaman’s Ailment

2 Kings 5

March 17

I have a similar ailment to Naaman’s. No, not leprosy, but a pride that makes me want to be right, even sometimes to the point of thinking God (or the man of God) is doing it wrong if He/they aren’t following the step by step plans I designed. And, sometimes a pride like that leads to a bit of anger when our best laid plans are contradicted by an all-knowing and pretty creative God who also likes to witness our obedience.

So, here we have Naaman – the proud, leprous army commander of the country of Aram at the door of Elisha’s house. He had already humbled himself to listen to the captured Israelite servant girl who was sure Naaman could be healed of his dangerous skin disease if he got to the prophet of God in Samaria (capital city of Israel, Aram’s enemy). He had already secured from the king of Aram a very impressive payment (including 750 pounds of silver and 150 pounds of gold and 10 sets of clothing) for the one who could heal Naaman. He had already travelled by horse and chariot over 100 miles – first to the king of Israel (who was absolutely no help and was scared this was an enemy trap) – and now to the door of the prophet Elisha’s house.

Naaman has rehearsed in his mind how this is all going to go down. His life is about to be changed and the dreaded leprosy will be gone forever. So, he is completely caught off guard when Elisha instead of waving his magic wand (or hand) sends a servant out to him to tell him to go wash 7 times in the Jordan River which is another 30 miles down the road. 2 Kings 5:11 says, “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. ‘” He went away angry because God’s plans didn’t match up with his. He had envisioned instant and easy healing – the wave of a holy man’s hand. He had faith it could be so – that was good. But he also had prideful arrogance that he should be the one to choose how God worked. And when his plans and God’s plans didn’t match up – then God must be wrong. God desired faith and simple obedience. Naaman had faith and a big helping of pride, arrogance and anger. Faith without obedience (deeds) is dead. He would rather live with his deadly leprosy than humble himself to obey and do it God’s way. And he walked away from the healing God had prepared for him.

Some stories tragically end this way. How devastating if Naaman’s story also ended with him angrily turning his back on the blessings God wanted to pour out on him in the dirty Jordan River. Luckily for Naaman, he had some bold and wise servants who calmly reasoned with him and convinced him to try it God’s way. And, when he had faith and obedience, he received the blessing and new life that he was searching for – because he humbled himself and did it God’s way.

God, please heal me of my pride. I don’t want my stubborn pride to get in the way of receiving your blessings. Help me to faithfully obey you, even if I had a different plan. I don’t have to be right – You are. Always.

-Marcia Railton

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Has there been a time your plans and expectations didn’t match up with God’s? How did you handle it?
  2. Why do you think people tend to get mad at God when they don’t understand or abide by His plan? Have you seen some angrily walk away from God and the blessings He wanted to give? What wise and bold counsel would you offer?
  3. How do you rate your own faith and obedience? How can you improve both your faith and your obedience?
  4. Later in this chapter Gehazi gets into trouble because of his covetousness. Explain what happens to him and why? What other sins did he commit? Has wanting what others have ever gotten you into trouble? How do we avoid the great dangers of covetousness?

The Size of Her Miracle

2 Kings 4

March 16

In Steve Mattison’s devotion this past Sunday on 1 Kings 17 he pointed out the difference between God providing for the needs of those who love and serve Him compared to God providing an easy life to those who love and serve Him. One can be counted on, but not the other. We can always count on God to provide what we need, but that is not the same as never being in need. In fact, it is during the more difficult times in our lives that we have the opportunity to put all our faith – and our deeds – into His hands to see how He will provide once again. Those difficult times are faith building opportunities.

2 Kings 4 includes two women with impressive stories of how God provided for them in their time of need through the prophet Elisha.

The first account is of a God-fearing widow with two sons and demanding bill-collectors. She has already lost her husband but now if she can’t pay her debts the bill collectors will take her sons to pay off her debts. Her life has been far from easy. But I love how God would show Himself faithful – working with her and her generous community. God could have just supplied all the coins she needed in the mouth of a fish or something – guess He was saving that “trick” for later. When God provides, it doesn’t mean we just sit and watch, often there is a job for us to do to get things rolling. Sometimes it might mean going out to catch the fish with the coin in its mouth (Matthew 17:24-27). For the widow, Elisha asked her what she DID have. God can use the little bit we are thankful for and recognize we DO have to then multiply our blessings.

In this case, the widow was also to ask her neighbors for help – she needed their empty jars. Her community had the opportunity to play a part in supporting her. They weren’t going to be the ones paying the debt for her, but they were providing part of what she needed in order for her to faithfully fulfill her role so God could pour out the blessings like only He can do. Elisha told her, “Don’t ask for just a few (jars).” (2 Kings 4:3). If she would have had a bad attitude and said, “This is stupid, I don’t want to ask my neighbors for jars, I don’t like relying on others, how is this going to help? I will just get a handful of jars” then she would have just experienced a tiny miracle and she wouldn’t have had enough to pay off the full debt. God doesn’t need to bless the bad attitudes. Watch your attitude. When the man of God says, “Don’t ask for just a few”, then go out and ask for a lot! The size of her miracle was going to depend on how faithful she was, and how big her view of God was. If she thought God could only help a little, only a few jars would be collected and only that much oil would have poured from her little jar of oil. Thankfully, it appears she collected quite a few, so that so much oil poured from her little jar she would be able to not only sell the new full jars to pay off the debt but then also live off of the rest. God supplied even more than what she needed at that time – because she was faithful to do her part and had a big view of what God could do – and so she listened to and obeyed the man of God.

The second woman in 2 Kings 4 is a well-off woman with a husband but no sons. She recognizes Elisha as a man of God and practices hospitality (first inviting him several times for supper, and then even creating an addition on their house – a small room on their roof – so he could stay overnight.) Their town of Shunem was about half-way between Elisha’s hometown and Mount Carmel, which Elisha still visited regularly, so Elisha would come and go – and was always well provided for when he was with them. So, Elisha promises her a son, a miracle from God as her husband is old and she had resigned herself to a life without children.

The baby is indeed born, but a few years later he dies in her arms, struck with some sudden severe ailment. She carries her dead son to Elisha’s room and lays him on the bed, and then tells her husband in the field that she will need a servant and donkey as she is going to travel to find Elisha. A commentary suggested she didn’t tell her husband of the death of their son for fear that he would have him buried right away as it was hot harvest season. Instead, her faith spurs her on to action. She needs to speak to the man of God. It’s a great story that I can’t tell as well as the writer of 2 Kings – so make sure you read it to see how the story ends…

God provides. He doesn’t just hand out the easy life. Be prepared for difficulties. They don’t mean God is not there, or He doesn’t care. Even in the trials, God provides. He calls you (sometimes through the men and women of God) to step out in faith – still believing even when you are in pain. When you feel at a loss, keep your big view of God and all He can do. God provides.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. How have you seen God provide for you? What might He have asked of you in order to receive the blessings He wanted to give to you? How did others play a part?
  2. How can you help those in your community who are in the midst of difficult times?
  3. How would you rate your hospitality? What blessings have you (or might you) receive from welcoming others? How can you show hospitality this month?
  4. Why did God allow the death of the Shunammite’s son? Look ahead to 2 Kings 8:1-6 for even more insight. How does God provide even when the dead are not raised – right away?

Passing on the Mantle

2 Kings 2

March 15

Today’s reading starts out, “When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind…” And to think, some people say reading the Bible is too boring.  Sorry, I can’t agree.

Elijah and Elisha did a lot of walking that day.  They started at Gilgal, walked to Bethel, then to Jericho, then to the Jordan River.  Each time they moved on, Elijah asked Elisha to stay behind, but Elisha would not be separated.  When he promised to follow Elijah, in 1 Kings 19:20, he meant to follow him to the end, and he was going to.  Elisha was dedicated.

They walked through areas of spiritual significance.  It had been at Gilgal that the Israelites first camped when they had entered the promised land, and it was there they were circumcised, and officially became “sons of the covenant” (Joshua 4:2-9).  Bethel had been the place Jacob had a dream with a stairway to heaven, with angels going up and down; and where God had promised to be with him wherever he went (Genesis 28:11-19).  Jericho had been the site of Joshua’s amazing victory as a result of just obeying God by walking around the city – no matter how ridiculous that seemed (Joshua 5-6).  And the Jordan River was where the river parted before Joshua and the Isrealites on their way into the promised land.  Elijah and Elisha walked down memory lane together.

In their travels, they visited two schools of the prophets (Bible Colleges), where the students told Elisha that Elijah was going to be taken away from him that day.  It seemed like everybody knew what was about to happen, and it broke Elisha’s heart.  

When they got to the Jordan River, Elijah hit the water with his cloak, the water divided, and they walked across on dry land.  It was then that Elijah asked Elisha if there was a parting gift Elijah could leave to Elisha.  Elisha replied, “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.”  Interesting.  The thing Elisha wanted most in this world was to be closer to God than even Elijah had been.  Elisha had his priorities right.

Elijah told Elisha that if he saw Elijah being taken away, he would receive his wish.

2 Kings 2:11-12 then says, “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.  Elisha saw this and cried out …” 

Now Elisha couldn’t rely on Elijah’s help anymore.  He was alone…  or was he?  God was still on His throne.

Elisha picked up Elijah’s cloak.  I think this is significant in that he was picking up the mantle of Elijah’s ministry.  But now Elisha was stranded on the East side of the Jordan River.  How was he going to get across?  You guessed it. Elisha struck the river with Elijah’s cloak, the water separated, and he walked across on dry ground.  God was with Elisha!  And the 50 Bible College students that were watching knew that Elisha was now the new head prophet.

Elijah then went on to Jericho, where he healed the water and land around Jericho (which Joshua had cursed in Joshua 6:26).  

The final miracle in this chapter is a little gruesome.  Elisha went to Bethel, where a bunch of punks mocked Elisha, saying, “Go on up, you baldhead!” repeatedly.  Presumably, they were saying that Elijah had been caught up to heaven and they were rid of him, now they wanted to get rid of Elisha’s godly influence (and condemnation) too.  Elisha called a curse down on them, and two bears came out of the woods and mauled 42 of them.  We’re not told that they were killed, so I assume they were scarred and maybe disfigured for the rest of their lives as a living testimony to what may happen when someone rebels against God.

After that, Elisha went to Mount Carmel, where Elijah had initiated the “god contest” that we talked about in yesterday’s devotion.  Then, Elisha started his own ministry.

So how can we apply stories from this chapter to our own lives today?

Elisha was committed to spending as much time as possible with Elijah – to learn as much as possible from him – as long as he had the opportunity.  I think it is important for less mature Christians to learn as much as they can from more mature Christians, while they have the chance.  I also think more mature Christians need to seek out those they can mentor in the faith (2 Timothy 2:2).  And while we’re on the topic, I also have to wonder if Elijah intentionally visited those Bible Colleges to encourage those students one last time before he was taken away.  What are you doing to learn from those more mature and to share with those less mature?

Elisha was completely dedicated and followed Elijah to the end.  Are you as dedicated to following God to the end?

Elisha’s greatest desire was to be even more godly than Elijah had been.  And it was granted.  (By my count, God performed 8 miracles at Elijah’s request, and 16 at Elisha’s request.)  What is your greatest desire?

Elisha picked up the mantle when it was his turn to lead.  And he then lived by faith.  How about you?

And how often do you grumble against your preacher?  Remember those 42 mauled hoodlums. 

Elisha revisited places where he had treasured memories of Elijah, then struck out on his own to start his own ministry.  We can’t live in the past either (although I personally would prefer to).  We need to be looking forward to what God still has for us to do, and we need to take action.  How are you doing on that front?

Finally, while we can’t expect to be caught up to heaven in a whirlwind like Elijah was, we do have this promise in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, “For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air…”  But this only applies to the righteous.  When Christ returns, will you rise to meet the Lord in the air?  I hope to. I hope you do, too.

-Steve Mattison

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What are you doing to learn from those more mature in the Christian faith and to share with those less mature? Why is each important?
  2. Elisha was completely dedicated and followed Elijah to the end.  Are you as dedicated to following God to the end?
  3. What is your greatest desire? What else gets in the way? How can you be more devoted to your greatest desire?
  4. Elisha picked up the mantle when it was his turn to lead.  And he then lived by faith.  How about you? What do you think God still wants you to do for Him?
  5. Do you grumble against or put-down the leaders God has put in place?

Because He Followed God Wholeheartedly

1 Kings 18

March 14

As we mentioned yesterday, Elijah did what God told him to do, and did it when God told him to do it.  So in I Kings 18, when God told Elijah to “Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.” Elijah went to find Ahab – even though Elijah was a wanted man.  And Elijah knew that God was going to finally send rain – after a 3.5 year drought.

When they met, Elijah proposed a “God contest” to Ahab.  He told Ahab to gather at Mount Carmel the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, along with representatives from throughout all of Israel. (The 400 prophets of Asherah declined the invitation.)  Once everyone was assembled, Elijah made a speech in front of all of the representatives saying (1 Kings 18:21),  “How long will you waver between two opinions?  If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” 

Then Elijah proposed a challenge.  Give a bull to the 450 prophets of Baal, and Elijah would get a bull.  They would build an altar, and he would build an altar.  They would pray to Baal, and he would pray to Jehovah.  The god that answered by fire from heaven would be the real god.  All the people replied, “What you say is good.”

So the 450 prophets of Baal got to go first.  They chose their bull, and built their altar. They prayed from morning until noon, but nothing happened.  At noon, Elijah started taunting them, “Shout louder!  Surely he is a god.  Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling.  Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.”  So they shouted louder, and started slashing themselves with swords and spears – but there was still no response.

Then Elijah got his turn.  He rebuilt the altar of God, cut up the bull, and put it on top of his altar.  He then dug a trench around the altar, and had the people pour 12 large jars of water over the offering and the wood.  (Remember there had been a drought for 3.5 years, so water was very precious, and this had to have seemed like a huge waste of water.)  The water completely filled the trench – Elijah was giving himself a handicap.  Then Elijah prayed, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command.  Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” 

Did you notice Elijah’s reason for asking God to send fire from heaven?  Was it to make Elijah look good?  No.  It was to show the people that Jehovah is the only true God, and to show the people that Elijah obeyed God.  And ultimately, it was so the people would turn back to God.

Anyway, Elijah prayed, then *poof* fire fell from heaven and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, and even the water.  When the people saw this, they fell face-down on the ground and said, “The Lord – He is God.  The Lord – He is God.”

Once the 450 prophets of Baal were slaughtered, Elijah told Ahab to go eat and drink before the rain started.  Then Elijah knelt to the ground and prayed for rain.  He sent his servant to look out over the Mediterranean Sea to see if he saw any clouds.  There were none.  This was repeated.  After the seventh prayer, the servant said he saw a small cloud forming.  Elijah told Ahab to jump in his chariot and escape to Jezreel before the rain stopped him, so Ahab rode off.  “The power of the Lord came upon Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.”  – 17 miles.

In addition to Elijah’s obedience mentioned in yesterday’s devotion, in this story we see examples of his incredible faith.  Would you have had the guts to confront Ahab, even though Ahab had put a bounty on your head?  Elijah did.  Would you have been bold enough to challenge the pagan priests to a contest to call fire from heaven to declare which god was real?  Elijah did. Would you have been so bold as to tell Ahab to eat before the rain stopped him – even though the sky was still clear.  Elijah did.

How could Elijah have such profound faith in God?  It was because he was doing what God had told him to do.  And since he was obeying God, he had complete faith that God had things under control, even when things seemed impossible.  And then as icing on the cake, God gave him supernatural strength and endurance to outrun a horse and chariot for 17 miles to stay ahead of the rain.

The incredible faith, answers to prayer, and incredible endurance that Elijah experienced were all because he followed God wholeheartedly.  

Wouldn’t you love to have incredible faith, amazing answers to prayer, and other incredible things happen to you too?  You can – if you too choose to follow God wholeheartedly, and obey him in every way.  Or are you stuck “wavering between two opinions?”  If so, I’m reminded of Revelation 3:15-16, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

Make up your mind.  Completely commit to one side or the other.  I’m choosing Elijah’s side – God’s side.  Which will you choose?

-Steve Mattison

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Imagine you were an observer on Mount Carmel. What sights, sounds, smells, and emotions would you experience? What would you tell others about this experience?
  2. What other false gods and idols have taken the place of Baal today?
  3. Can you be on God’s side – just a little bit? What will happen?
  4. How are you doing at following God wholeheartedly? What would God suggest you change in order to follow Him better?

Elijah – the Lord Jehovah is my God

1 Kings 17

March 13

1 Kings 17 has so much in it, it’s almost impossible to cover it all in one devotion.  It starts with Elijah standing before King Ahab and declaring that there wouldn’t be rain for the next few years, except at Elijah’s command.  We need a little context for this.  King Ahab’s wife was Jezebel, a foreigner, who worshiped Baal.  Baal was the Phoenician fertility god that supposedly sent rain.  Jezebel was actively trying to cause Israel to worship Baal, and was trying to eliminate the worship of Jehovah, the one true God.

God had made promises to Moses long before in Deuteronomy 11:13-14, “If you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today – to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul – then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine, and oil.”  In Deuteronomy 28, we find the curses for turning away from God.  In verses 23-24, we find, “the sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron.  The Lord will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder; it will come down from the skies until you are destroyed.”

Remember that God always keeps his word, whether it is the promise of blessing for obedience, or of cursing for disobedience.  And in Israel, at that time, the country had already been worshiping the two calf idols that Jeroboam had made many generations before.  Now, the Israelites were increasing their rebellion by completely turning away from God, so God sent Elijah to Ahab to punish the country, and to set up a showdown three and a half years later to prove once and for all who was the real God.

Once Elijah had delivered his message, God sent him to a ravine, where ravens brought him food twice a day, and he drank from a brook – until it dried up.

Then, God sent Elijah to a poor widow in a foreign country.  Elijah asked her for some water and food.  The widow told him (1 Kings 17:12), “I don’t have any bread – only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug.  I’m gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, so that we may eat it – and die.”

Elijah told her that if she baked that bread for him, after that, she could bake some for herself and for her son – because God would cause the flour and oil not to run out until the famine was over.  If you were that widow, would you have given your last meal to a stranger?  She did, and as a result of her faith and God’s blessing, her flour and oil did not run out – just like Elijah had said.

Eventually, the widow’s son got sick and died.  Elijah prayed, “O Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!”  And in verse 22, we read, “The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived.”  Incredible!

I see several applications in this chapter to us today.  

Elijah was a godly man.  His name meant “the Lord (Jehovah) is my God”, and his name fits.  And this was at a time when virtually everyone else had forsaken God.  It’s only because Elijah was a godly man that his prayers were so powerfully answered, and that God protected him.  We too need to be godly if we want good things from God.

Elijah went where God told him to go, and when God told him to go there.  Presumably, God sent Elijah to Ahab.  We know that God sent him to the Kerith Ravine – and because of his obedience, God provided for him.  Then, after the brook dried up, Elijah didn’t go anywhere until God told him to go to Zarephath and meet up with the widow God had arranged.  Again Elijah obeyed, and God provided.  We need to be willing to do what God says, when he says it, if we expect God to provide for us.

Elijah experienced hardship, even though he was obviously doing God’s will.  He certainly didn’t have a life of ease, but God did provide for his needs.  We can expect the same.

Elijah could pray!  He prayed that there would be a drought, and it happened.  He prayed that the boy would be resurrected, and he was.  We’re told in James 5:17-18, “Elijah was a man just like us.  He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.  Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.”  Yes, these were incredible miracles, but God did the miracles, not Elijah.  Elijah was a person just like us, but he was close to God, and God answered his prayers.  If we want our prayers to be answered, we too need to be close to God.

Everything Elijah was able to do was because of his obedience to God.  How do you compare?  

-Steve Mattison

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. God has a way of creatively providing for those who obey Him. How did God provide for Elijah’s needs? How have you experienced God’s providence?
  2. What was the widow asked to do to help provide for the man of God? Why do you think she did it? How can God use you to help provide for His faithful people in hard times? What are you willing to sacrifice to be used by God in this way? What do you think would have happened to her if she had declined helping and fed herself and her son first? What would have happened to Elijah?
  3. What do you think of Elijah’s prayer life? What do you think of yours? What do you think contributed to Elijah’s prayer life? If you want to see your prayer life deepen and expand, what steps should you take? How serious are you about it?

Wise Enough to Ask for Wisdom

1 Kings 3

March 12

If an Almighty Being had just offered to grant you one wish – what would you wish for? Oh, so many great possibilities. What about that new house you’ve been dreaming of? Or, even better, a long and healthy life – not just for yourself, but for your family as well – that’s a good one – or is it more than one wish? Imagine how much you could help others if you were the richest person in the world, that could be a good wish! This is hard. Maybe you should ask for more time to decide what you would ask for. It would be a pity to throw away a great wish opportunity.

When Solomon (the second son of David and Bathsheba) became king after his father, God appeared to him in a dream and said:

 “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.

“Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.”

1 Kings 3:5-9 – NIV

Ah, good choice, Solomon. God thought so, too, as He rewarded Solomon with not only the wisdom he asked for, but also great wealth and honor. Make sure you read the whole chapter to hear the impressive story of how he displayed his God-given wisdom to administer justice, which left his subjects in awe. (Wouldn’t it be nice to feel awe at the wisdom of your nation’s leader.)

I admire Solomon’s humility in knowing that he didn’t have all the answers and could use some divine assistance in leading the nation of Israel. There are many times I still feel like a child, unsure of what is right and best in many situations or questioning how God would want me to proceed, even though I have been an adult for about 30 years now. I’ve never led a country before and probably will never need to, but when I am honest, I know I need a good amount of Godly wisdom to do the jobs He has given me to do: wife, mother, servant of God, follower of Jesus.

And, the best news is, I don’t have to wait for God to appear to me in a dream and hope I will be wise enough in that groggy moment to ask for wisdom.

In James 1 we read: “ If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” (James 1:5-8 NIV)

God loves giving His people what they ask for when they are wise enough to ask for what He wants to give them. And when we ask, it is not a wish or a hope or a “wouldn’t it be nice if…”, it is boldly believing that the Almighty will answer. Solomon had asked for a discerning heart to know right from wrong to lead God’s people well. God said He would happily deliver. But, what if in that famous case, Solomon would have heard God’s prompting to suggest cutting a baby in half, but rejected the idea because it seemed so outlandish or unpopular or unlike anything he would have said before. Solomon would have missed out on truly “receiving” and using God’s wisdom. So, pray for wisdom. Then, when God gives the promptings to act – ACT, even if it seems uncomfortable or unpopular. Ask God for wisdom. Then, when God leads you to speak – SPEAK, even if it seems a little foreign. For all of us not wise enough on our own (all creation), it will take some courage and tuning into God to truly receive and use the wisdom He is ready to give when we ask.

-Marcia Railton

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Solomon asked for a discerning heart to govern the nation well. And God provided. The nation of Israel had an exceedingly peaceful and prosperous time under his reign and the fame of his wise leadership spread. How did Solomon fail to use this wisdom in his own personal life as well?
  2. Where do you sometimes struggle in discerning between right and wrong? Is it important to know the difference between right and wrong? Why? How can you find godly answers to these questions?
  3. Are you wise enough to ask God for wisdom? Are you bold enough to ask God for wisdom? How can you increase your faith, believing that He will answer?

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