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?

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?

Who Gets the House?

2 Samuel 7

March 9

I love David’s heart to serve and honor the Lord. He decides it is time to build an impressive temple for God to replace the tabernacle tent which had been the symbol of God’s dwelling since the time of Moses. He tells Nathan the prophet his thoughts and Nathan gives him the go-ahead. It truly sounds like a generous and highly appropriate way to honor God. Both the king and the prophet agree – it’s time for God to get a house!

However, that night God revealed to Nathan that, no, that was not what God needed, wanted or had planned. Rather than David providing a house for the Lord God, God said “the Lord himself will establish a house for you (David):  When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom.  He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands.  But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you.  Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” (2 Samuel 7:11b-16 NIV).

That’s an unexpected twist.

God doesn’t want David to build him a house. David could be disappointed or even a bit offended at God rejecting his offer and plan. Except that, God revealed a bigger and better plan. David’s son would build the house for God, but even greater, the house, kingdom and throne of David, passed down to his son would endure – forever! This was big news! A king certainly has dreams of creating an impressive dynasty – but none of them expect it to last forever. Not too many years ago David had been a shepherd boy, the youngest and least of his family line. And now he was being told he and his descendent would have a kingdom and throne that would endure forever. That’s a plan of God you don’t argue with. David gets the house.

And the really great news is that this forever house and kingdom and throne wouldn’t just benefit David and his son – but all generations could be blessed by this, including you and I and our children. For this promise for David (often referred to as the Davidic Covenant), was pointing to the coming of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God and the Son of David. His coming was prophesied as fulfilling this covenant (Isaiah 9:6,7). The virgin Mary was told, “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,  and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:31-33). Born in the line of David (Matthew 1:6), Jesus was worshiped as a king by the wise men (Matthew 2:2, 11). He taught of a kingdom, and he was crucified as the King of the Jews. But that is not where the story ends. Forever is still coming.

Before his death, Jesus said – “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.” (Matthew 25:31). The disciples were looking forward to this time and after his resurrection, just before his ascension, they asked him if that was when the kingdom would be restored. Jesus replied that the time was not for them to know – but that in the meantime they were to be his witnesses. Then Jesus ascended to heaven in the clouds, and the angels promised he would return in the same way. (Acts 1:6-11)

We are still waiting for the return of the Son of David/Son of Man who is also the Son of God. At Jesus’ spectacular return to earth, all the final steps will be set into motion – resurrection of the dead, judgment, the defeat of the Evil One, and the beginning of the perfect kingdom prepared for the resurrected, faithful children of God which will last forever. Can you imagine the smile on resurrected David’s face and the joy in his heart when that day comes? God’s plan and timing is always better than man’s. No – David didn’t build a house for God as he wanted. But, God is building a house through David’s family line, through Jesus Christ. Will you have a place in this house, in this kingdom that will last forever?

-Marcia Railton

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Can you think of any time (past or present) where you were wanting to honor God, but perhaps it wasn’t the way He wanted you to be serving Him at that time? How do we avoid serving God the way WE want to serve Him, rather than the way HE wants us to serve Him?
  2. Do a little Bible research on the kingdom that will last forever. Where will it be? When? Who is reigning? Who is included? Who is not included? (If you want some specific verses to start your research, leave a note in the comments.)
  3. As we wait for Jesus’ return, how will you be a witness? Who else needs to hear about the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant?

What is Right?

2 Samuel 6

March 9

Sometimes we have a hard time distinguishing – what is right? But God doesn’t. God is right.

In 2 Samuel 6, David was excitedly bringing the ark of the covenant, which was a physical symbol of God’s throne and sovereignty, to the royal city of Jerusalem. He wanted to honor God and set an example for the Israelites by showing the proper respect, worship and awe of God and he wanted to bring God’s presence into his holy city. This was a very good and right plan. God likes to be honored.

However, the Levites were supposed to be responsible for moving the ark of the covenant by following the law given by God as to HOW to move the sacred ark. God had earlier given rather specific directions on how it was to be moved. It was not to be touched. Covered with layers of curtain, sea cow hides, and a blue cloth, the ark was to be carried on poles stretched across the shoulders of the Levites. Generations before, God had specifically said, “They must not touch the holy things or they will die.” (Numbers 4:15). But, those rules and consequences had been given so long ago…

Rather than following God’s rules, they were doing things the way they had seen others do. They were following what had been advised and done by the pagan Philistines who had earlier captured the ark of God, been greatly afflicted because of it, and returned it to Israel on a new cart. (That is also a great account about the ark of the covenant found in 1 Samuel 5 & 6. )

So now the Israelites were moving the ark of God on a new cart, just as they had seen others do before. The oxen stumbled and the cart jerked and the ark shifted and well-meaning, but wrong, Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the ark. He died immediately for touching the holy things that God had said to not touch.

It is so much easier getting into trouble because we don’t do things the right way when we dumbly follow the example of the ungodly rather than the law of God. And it’s not just the Israelites of David’s day, it is a common problem with Christians today as well. What are things that God has said are wrong that society says are fine? And way too many of God’s people are following in the ways of the world instead of remaining firmly rooted in God’s directions for holy living? We aren’t supposed to do things the way we see others do them: lying, cheating, gossiping, divorce and remarriage, addictions, abortion, living together before marriage, one night stands, disrespecting our parents and leaders, homosexuality, course joking, hurting others, touching the ark of the covenant. There are reasons for God’s rules and they are right. He is a righteous God and there are and will be consequences for disregarding God’s right way.

At Uzzah’s sudden death, David was angry and afraid of the Lord. It seemed God was harsh and cruel. This is often what happens when a righteous God does what He says He will do when people who are wrong fail to follow God’s right way and heed His warnings.

Luckily, David doesn’t stay in this mindset. After leaving the ark behind for three months, they try again. THIS time David makes sure they do it the right way. The Levites are ready to do the job the way God had designed and instructed. There is no cart and no touching the ark. The story is also retold in 1 Chronicles 15 and there it specifically records David as saying to the Levites, “‘It was because you, the Levites, did not bring it up the first time that the Lord our God broke out in anger against us. We did not inquire of him about how to do it in the prescribed way.’  So the priests and Levites consecrated themselves in order to bring up the ark of the Lord, the God of Israel. 15 And the Levites carried the ark of God with the poles on their shoulders, as Moses had commanded in accordance with the word of the Lord.”(1 Chronicles 15:13-15 NIV)

Rather than continuing to be angry with God, David searched to see what was right. How could they fix the mistake they had made? How could they try again to do it right in the eyes of God? And God was pleased as they entered Jerusalem with the ark upon the shoulders of the Levites.

-Marcia Railton

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. In what way(s) have you followed what you have seen others do, rather than what God has directed? Have you already seen any negative consequences? How can you try again to fix the mistake and do it God’s right way instead? In nothing comes to mind, pray about it.
  2. What would be wise to do when we find we are angry with God?
  3. When David’s wife Michal saw David worshiping and praising God with dance (in his linen ephod – a sleeveless hip-length garment worn by those in service to God) she despised him. Why? What did God think of her reaction? Are you ever guilty of being more concerned about appearing proper and dignified and “royal” than lowering yourself to give God the praise He deserves? How are you willing to be humiliated in your own eyes (2 Samuel 6:22) in order to worship God?

Battle Plans

2 Samuel 5

March 8

I hate war, but I’ve always been a sucker for a good war story. When I was a child, despite my mom’s protests, my dad would sometimes tuck me in at night with a long, drawn out retelling of a World War II battle. They were my favorite, so much better than those boring fairy tales. I still love the courage and suspense, sacrifice and schemes that make up a good battle plan. The Old Testament is chock full of great war stories. And I believe studying these ancient battle plans can actually better prepare us for the battles that we each face every day. Today’s reading of 2 Samuel 5 includes one of my favorite war stories, with some great lessons as well.

David is no longer a shepherd boy slaying giants. At the age of 30 he became King of Judah and 7 years and 6 months later he now reigned over all Judah and Israel in the newly captured capital city of Jerusalem. He has led many successful military campaigns against those who had not been conquered or driven out when Joshua first led the Israelites into the Promised Land. But the strong Philistines (those from Goliath’s tribes) were not giving up. When they heard David was made king of Israel they sought David and revenge. They were camped out in the valley below. What would David do?

David inquired of the Lord – is this even a battle you want me to fight? Is it the right time? Am I the right person? Is this what you want me to do? And he didn’t ask just once – it was a repeated question before making battle plans (2 Samuel 5:19 & 23). David knew it was useless entering a battle if it’s not a battle God wanted him in at that time.

And then he listened for the answer. God didn’t reply, “I’ve got this covered for you – you just stay home or hide or play a few more video games, watch a few more shows, put your feet up and relax.” God said GO! David went. And there was a great victory.

Before the next potential battle, David inquired again. The enemy was back, camped out in the valley, again. Sometimes the enemy doesn’t stay away too long. We are still celebrating one victory against the evil one when we find him camped out in our backyard again. Will there be another battle? If so, when? Where? What does God want us to do this time?

It was good that David asked again, because this time the answer was a little different. Yes, David was to attack – but not the same way as before. We can fall into the trap of assuming that because God gave us victory before, that is the same way we should continue to attack. Sometimes God might want us to change our approach. This time when David inquired, God said, “Do not go straight up, but circle around behind them and attack them in front of the poplar trees.” (2 Samuel 5:23 – different versions call them different types of trees – balsam or mulberry or poplar. Perhaps the ancient Hebrew language was a little blurry on tree identification. But the type of tree doesn’t matter, what God did with those trees does.) God’s new plan for this battle was going to take additional time and effort. David could have disregarded it and blazed straight into the valley. But he would have missed the chance to hear and see the way God was going to lead them and provide for them. If he would have attacked as before perhaps the Philistines would have had his head at the end of the day. But David listened. And more directions followed.

“As soon as you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the poplar trees, move quickly, because that will mean the Lord has gone out in front of you to strike the Philistine army.” (2 Samuel 5:24)

Wait – what’s that? I’ve heard lots of war stories and never-before-done daring battle plans – but none with the sound of marching in the tree tops! We don’t see an army in the tree tops. Who could be up there making all that noise? Oh, could it be God’s Angel Army? Pretty creative, God! And extremely reassuring as well! Thank you for sending us the sound of marching in the tree tops. Thank you for going out before us.

We are in a war today – the enemy is camped out in the backyard waiting to see how God’s people will react. There is a lot we don’t see with our eyes. Just doing it the way we’ve done it before (since it worked well once) could lead to a dismal defeat. Inquire of the Lord. Ask Him if this is where and when he wants you to fight? Ask him how He wants you to fight – with truth and love and boldness. Listen for the sound of marching in the tree tops. Then move quickly. And do as God commanded. Thank you for showing us that even when we can’t see you, you lead the way – when we do it YOUR way. Your battle plan is always best, God.

-Marcia Railton

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What is the difference between asking God to bless what we do or being blessed for following God where and how He leads? Can you think of an example from each in your own life, or in other Bible stories? What was the result?
  2. How can we tune in better to God’s battle plans – to hear his instruction and receive the reassuring sound of God’s angel army leading the way? How might God want us to change our approach, in order to follow Him better?
  3. Why did God want the Israelites to rid the land of the godless back then? (2 Samuel 5:21 gives a clue – and a little more detail is found in 1 Chronicles 14:12 where this same story is repeated for the benefit of the Israelites returning to Israel years later after being punished for disobedience.) What evidence do you see of being in a war against godlessness today? (Ephesians 6:10-20) How would God have us fight this war? What specific battle is He calling you to?

Don’t Miss an Opportunity

for Victory!

1 Samuel 17

March 7

I know the Kingdom of God which will be set up at the return of Jesus will be greater than anything I can imagine. I am really looking forward to a time when all tears will be wiped away and God will dwell with men (Revelation 21:1-4). At that time, I would really love to see God whip out his favorite home videos to show his resurrected and faithful family some of the highlights of how He worked through the ages. VeggieTales are great, but can you imagine watching these ancient recordings, with the Bible heroes at your side commenting on their exploits! Don’t tell me it can’t be done – I know my God can do anything. And if He wants it to be so – it will be. And, if He doesn’t, then He has a better plan than mine (that’s surely happened a time or two before!)

If you and I are there at His feet watching – I can only imagine that one of the favorite reels will be of the young shepherd David boldly and faithfully fighting the godless giant Goliath. Picture this: “As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him.  Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.” (1 Samuel 17:48 & 49). And the white robed crowd of overcomers watching the ancient playback erupts in cheers, patting David on the back and giving high-fives and fist bumps. Victory is a beautiful thing to watch!

But, sometimes the victory never happens because God’s people miss the opportunity. They are scared into silence and submission by the boisterous repeated taunts of the wicked who are defying God and shaming His people. They listen to the family member or friend (like David’s older brother Eliab) who is full of negativity and says you don’t belong and you aren’t useful and you should just go back home to do what you’ve always done. They give up when the leadership says you aren’t experienced enough yet, wait until you are older to be bold, speak up and step into a ministry. They get flustered when they try on the safe armor and find it isn’t a good fit, maybe they weren’t meant for this after all. They fail to prepare for the battle by packing their pouch with the surprising items needed for a successful fight against evil. And, perhaps most of all, they lack the faith that the great big awesome God of the universe can use them to do His work, to beat back evil and advance His Kingdom.

Imagine yourself again – in the Kingdom, watching God’s home videos – and whose face appears next on the screen – yours. There you are: standing up to a godless bully, running towards the battle, representing God when others were too scared to speak up or act, believing in a great big God who saves.

You are not too small, too young, too inexperienced, too insignificant to do mighty things for God. (And, you are also not too old – but that’s a different Bible story). Step out in faith. Be courageous with God. Don’t miss the opportunity to gain a victory for God.

-Marcia Railton

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. David was confident that the Lord who saved him previously would save him again, even against a larger foe. “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1 Samuel 17:37) What has God already helped you to accomplish? How can this build your confidence? What larger project can you have faith that He will help you accomplish next?
  2. At first I am a little disappointed that David is concerned with what rewards will be given to the brave fighter who faces Goliath – it seems a bit selfish and I am tempted to question his motives. But, I too am excited about what rewards are awaiting God’s faithful – and they do make for great motivation to get in the battle. What rewards are you eagerly anticipating and what do they motivate you to do?
  3. Sometimes God’s people lose heart on account of evil and those defying (openly resisting) God. Where do you see this happening today? How can we do battle against them today? What tools/weapons would God have us use?

See What God Sees

1 Samuel 16

March 6

I am guilty. I have been known to make personal judgments based on what I see. Tattoos and body piercings can mean one belongs to the rougher crowd and I ought to be on my guard around them and probably just keep my distance. Graduates with honor cords have obviously worked very hard and likely have a greater chance of success in life. They would certainly make good friends or managers or business partners. Watch to see what a person drives – that way you can see if they have what it takes to succeed.

Judging by what one sees has been a problem for a long time now.

God’s chosen people had been saved from Egypt under Moses. Joshua had led them into the Promised Land. Then during the period of the judges (nearly 400 years) various leaders were brought up to save the people because they had slipped away from following God and their surrounding enemies were overtaking them. Then, (in 1st Samuel 8) the people clambered for a king. They wanted to be like the other nations around them – not always the best idea! Samuel tried to convince them they didn’t need a king when they had God on their side, but they wouldn’t listen because they thought they knew better than Samuel and God. So, God allowed a king and Saul was chosen. He had been regarded as, “an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites – a head taller than any of the others.” (1 Samuel 9:2). Saul did successfully drive out some of their enemies; but unfortunately, he strayed from the Lord and did not follow God’s direction, but rather what he selfishly wanted from life.

God had given Samuel the job of anointing one who would become the next king of Israel, even while Saul was still reigning. God sent Samuel to the home of Jesse of Bethlehem to find the one that God had chosen.

“When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.’

“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” (1 Samuel 16:6-7).

Samuel thought the oldest son, Eliab, must be the one God had chosen. He was likely tall, perhaps looked confident, with fair features and maybe even a striking personality. Perhaps he had honor cords and drove a big shiny SUV with all the gadgets. Okay, well that is ridiculous speculation, but you get where we are going.

God had not chosen the oldest son Eliab to be the king, even though from the outside he appeared to be a great choice for a leader. God had a much better indicator of success – look at the heart. And in the youngest son, David, God saw a heart that wanted to please God. So, it didn’t matter that he was young or inexperienced or the smallest of the bunch. If his heart was in the right place God would use him to do great things.

Dear God, help me to see past outward appearances. Help me to see the heart behind the tattoos. Help me to see the hard work and great potential and the heart that could beat for you in the young and inexperienced and the graduate without the honor cords. Help me to not make judgments based on what the world values but help me to see what you see – into the heart. Help my heart be steadfast in following you.

-Marcia Railton

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. In what ways have you found yourself judging by outward appearances? Have you ever found yourself proved wrong by a hasty judgment of someone? What is the danger in choosing friends, leaders, or business associates based on what you see on the outside?
  2. What does God see when He looks into your heart? What does He want to see? How can you work on refining your heart – or all-out heart surgery if need be – to have the heart that pleases God? What will it take to be a man – or woman – after God’s own heart?
  3. How does the world’s values differ from God’s? How can you remember to look at the heart?

%d bloggers like this: