Isaiah 37-39 & Psalm 76

I will defend this city and rescue it because of Me and because of My servant David._

In Isaiah 36-37, we read more about the good king Hezekiah. Like we learned last week, Hezekiah worked hard to take down the idols in the land and point the people back to God. In Isaiah 36, Judah came under attack from the neighboring nation of Assyria. Hezekiah then undergoes a battle for the minds of the people as he argues against King Sennacherib and the people of the court. In these two chapters, the Rabshakeh, a high-ranking military officer, tries to convince the people to forsake their kingdom and God. In his three speeches, we may see some similarities between what he says and the way that we are tempted today. At the heart of all of his speeches is a desire to turn Judah away from trusting solely in God. 

In the Rabshakeh’s first speech, he points out one of Israel’s insecurities. He says in Is. 36:4-6, ‘What are you relying on? Your strategy and military preparedness are mere words. Look, you are trusting in Egypt, that splintered reed of a staff that will enter and pierce the hand of anyone who leans on it.’ Israel and Judah had both sought protection and manpower from Egypt as we read about in Is. 31. Now the Rabshakeh was pointing out that weakness and mocking them for it! We’ve all experienced a time when we have had our insecurities pointed out. I’m a terrible volleyball player. When I would have to play volleyball in gym class, I remember one of the cute guys at my school saying to me ‘You just have to hit the ball like this. It’s not hard!’ You can imagine that in that moment – when a shortcoming of mine was pointed out – all I wanted to do was for someone to take that problem away from me quickly! In my gym class that meant sitting out the next game, but the Judeans didn’t have that option. The Assyrians gave them the option instead to give him 2,000 horses if they could supply riders for them (v. 8). Again, this pointed out the lack of manpower and ability for the Israelites to protect themselves. 

At this point, we would probably say, ‘Well, that’s fine! Israel doesn’t need to protect themselves – they should trust in God!’ The Rabshakeh thought of that too. In verse 7, he says, ““Suppose you say to me, ‘We trust in the LORD our God.’ Isn’t he the One whose high places and altars Hezekiah removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, ‘You are to worship at this altar’?” The Rabshakeh twisted the actions of Hezekiah to make it seem like he had done something against God rather than something that God wanted. He even goes so far as to say in v. 10, “Have I attacked this land to destroy it without the LORD’s approval? The LORD said to me, ‘Attack this land and destroy it!’ In his second speech, the Rabshakeh describes how he had destroyed the gods of the surrounding nations, which would just show that God himself wouldn’t deliver the people either (v. 18-20). 

This is some powerful psychological warfare! We know the Judeans had trust issues to begin with. Now, someone is coming and laying out all of their insecurities for the world to see (right before they try to march in and destroy their kingdom)! The heart of all of the Rabshakeh’s temptation can be summed up with what he said in Is. 37:10, “Don’t let your God, whom you trust, deceive you by promising that Jerusalem won’t be handed over to the king of Assyria.” He basically says ‘Did God really say that he would save you?’ which may sound eerily reminiscent of another ancient tempter (Gen. 3:1). At this point, if someone had tried to break our trust in God in this way, we may have caved and believed them. However, Hezekiah does what we all should do when we have people who try to break our trust in God. He prays and then reminds himself of God’s unchanging character. 

God hears his prayer and we read about the victory that God brings in Isaiah 37:36-38 when an angel of the LORD strikes down the Assyrian army and the king is killed in the temple of his god, Nisroch.

When we face temptations and challenges that try to break our trust in God, we need to be reminded that he is who he says he is and will do what he says he will do. We can trust in what the Bible says. We can trust in the promises of God. 

~ Cayce Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway – Isaiah 37-39 & Psalm 76.

Tomorrow, we continue reading about the history of Judah and Israel in Isaiah 40-43– as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

Don’t Fall for the Bait – Proverbs 7

son this is bait

Imagine the following conversation between a daddy bass and a child bass: “Now son, there are all kinds of delicious things for you to eat down here.  There are bugs and mosquitoes that float up on the surface of the water, and when it rains sometimes big, fat, juicy worms are swept from land into the lake and they are delicious for sure.  But you’ve got to be careful with those.  I’ve seen good friends latch onto a worm and then just shoot straight up through the water and disappear altogether.  One tiny little friend came back and shared the most amazing adventure.  He said he bit on the worm and felt something sharp go through his top lip.  Before he knew it, he was being dragged up faster than he could have ever swum. A huge hand grabbed him and pulled on him, he was held up in the air for a few seconds gulping for air, and then, wham, he was thrown back into the water.  Some of the fish didn’t believe his story, but I saw the scar on his lip and I believe it.  So, before you go biting into a big juicy worm, look to make sure there isn’t anything shiny poking out, and no thin little string going up out of the worm… or you might never come back to us.”

bait stop falling for it

Bait!  It’s the worm we use to trick fish to bite on a hook so we can catch, kill and eat it.  Bait!  It’s the cheese we put into the mousetrap so that a steel rod will smash their neck and do away with them.  Bait is all about predator and prey.  Bait is about seduction.  It’s about getting someone to put down their common sense and natural defenses so that we can lure them in for the kill.

In Proverbs 7, the writer provides a scenario of predator and prey.  In this case, it’s the young man and the prostitute. (I know, pretty racy stuff in the Bible).  The young man goes out onto the street in the evening, on the edge of danger.  Maybe he’s not intending anything bad, but he’s curious.  He’s heard that this is the “bad” part of town.  His parents have warned him to stay away, but maybe his friends have told stories about the fun that’s to be had there.  So he goes out to see.  And out comes the prostitute with her seductive clothing and seductive words as she seeks to lure him back into her house where she promises to show him a good time.

Her body and her words are the bait.  How will it end for the young man?  About the same as it does for the fish who bites the worm or the mouse who goes for the cheese.  It usually ends in death.  Oh, maybe not right away.  Maybe the death is slow.  Maybe it’s not the death of the body, but the death of the heart, the inner person, the death of innocence, the death of purity.  It could lead to the death of a relationship.

As I seek to apply this wisdom to our world today, I can’t help but see the comparisons to this story and pornography.  Instead of physically going to the bad part of town, one needs simply to click on a website.  In fact, there are websites that have ads that pop up on your browser trying to lure you in.  Pornography starts off by looking enticing but ends in death.  It kills purity, it kills relationships. It kills marriages.  Sometimes it kills one’s soul.

Sexual seduction comes in many forms and faces.  How many women are pulled into literary pornography (ever hear of 50 Shades of Gray?- that’s literary porn for women).  Seduction is everywhere and it’s impossible to avoid.  Even on Facebook, I get friend requests at least once a week from young women that I know I don’t know and they are usually wearing something seductive.  They are trying to pull me in.  In fact, there’s a thing now known as catfishing, which seeks to pull people in and then take advantage of them.

I once met a patient in the hospital who had been catfished.  He was in his 60’s and had lost tens of thousands of dollars, his marriage, his home and all his friends and had attempted to commit suicide.  Yet, he was still convinced that this poor little young woman from Russia was going to come and marry him if he could just send her a few thousand dollars more (than the thousands he had already sent her).

Proverbs 7:21 warns: “With persuasive words, she led him astray, she seduced him with her smooth talk.”  Of course, this is targeted at young men.  But young women can also be targets of predators, and often are.  You are never too young or too old to be the target of a predator.  Seducers can be male or female, young or old.  They lure you in with whatever bait they think you will go for.  They look for areas where you are vulnerable.

When the Bible illustrates evil and temptation from the devil (or the serpent in Genesis) it operates in the same way.  The serpent uses the forbidden fruit as the bait and seductive words to convince Eve (and Adam) that God is a liar and that they won’t die if they eat the fruit.  In the wilderness, the devil uses Jesus’ hunger and his ability to transform stones into bread as the bait.

Green Apple In Woman Hands

What can we do to protect ourselves from such seductions from evil?  Jesus used God’s word.  Every time he was tempted he used the truth of God’s word to counter the temptation.  This is where Eve missed the mark.  She didn’t have a foundation of trusting God’s word to help her resist the seductive words of the tempter.  Jesus did, and it made all the difference.  Proverbs 7 begins here: “My son, keep my words and store up my commands within you.”  When we embed the word of God deep into our hearts by reading it, studying it, meditating upon it, and living it out, we create for ourselves a foundation of truth upon which we build our lives and it will protect us in times of temptation.

Just remember, worms are delicious, but make sure they don’t have a hook hidden inside before you bite.

~ Jeff Fletcher

Looking into the Future

Revelation 4-7

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Tuesday July 18

If you had a chance to look into the future and see what was going to happen, would you want to?  If you had a chance to get a peek at God’s throne room in Heaven, would you want to?  John is given that chance.  While he’s physically in exile on the Island of Patmos in the middle of the Mediterranean sea around 90 A.D. during a time of great persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire, he is given a vision of the throne room of God Almighty.  He is able to see God seated upon His throne, surrounded by angels.  He sees seven scrolls that have been sealed by God.  The question is, who is worthy to unseal the scrolls and reveal their contents?  The answer is: the Lamb that was slain.  Jesus is the only one worthy to unseal the royal scrolls and reveal their contents.  The scrolls reveal what is about to happen.
Notices that there are 7 scrolls just as there were 7 churches.  In the Bible, 7 is the number of completion.  It took God 7 days to finish creating the earth (including a Sabbath rest).  The number 7 will keep occurring through the book of Revelation.  It’s completion, God is finishing the new creation, bringing this creation to an end.  7 scrolls reveal God’s plan to bring this world with it’s evil to a close.
As the scrolls are opened they reveal war, famine, earthquakes and other disasters resulting in wide scale death.  God is beginning to bring His judgment upon the earth, and He is vindicating his people who have died as martyrs at the hands of the evil empire.  (it sounds a little bit like Star Wars- Empires and those who suffer at the hands of the empire).
Imagine that you are a Christian living in this time and you want to be faithful to God, but it’s hard when you see a powerful empire destroying your fellow Christians by the sword, or burning in the fire, or throwing them to the lions or the gladiators in the arena.  It might be tempting at times to give up and give in to the seemingly overwhelming force of the empire.  But then you are permitted to look into the future and see that, eventually, the empire is destroyed, and those who died the death of the martyr are brought back to life and end up the true victors.  That is what is happening here.  The Christians are given a boost of confidence by seeing the ultimate victory of God and his people.
The trials and temptations that you and I face today may be different from those of 1st century Christians in the Roman empire.  We may be tempted to turn away from our faith in order to be popular among our peers at school, or to fit in at the university.  We may be tempted to abandon our morals in order to have fun.  We might be tempted to cut corners in our jobs to get ahead.  We might be tempted to abandon our allegiance to Jesus Christ for any number of reasons.  But what if we could see into the future, what if the curtain that separates us in time and space were peeled back enough for us to see a glimpse of God, of Jesus, of the future… how everything ends, and realize that God is victorious and those who oppose God will be defeated, and that the rewards to following God and being faithful to Jesus Christ are great.  Would that help during times when we are tempted to turn away and abandon our faith?  I think they would.  And that’s the value of Revelation.  It helps us to see beyond the here and now and base our decisions not on what’s happening today, but to see the BIG picture…. the grand and glorious victory of God over evil.  Whose side do you want to be on?

-Jeff Fletcher

(Photo Credit: https://www.versaday.com/Months/05/0516.aspx)

Millstones, Specks, and Planks

Luke 17-18

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Sunday, May 21

            This chapter of Luke opens as such; with Jesus saying, “Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.” Jesus often reserved his rebukes and warnings for the Pharisees who sought to undermine him, but here he warns his own followers about not just how they conduct themselves, but warns them about how their conduct is influencing those around them.

An easy way to compare this verse to real life is when a young child behaves badly in public. Often, you’ll hear those nearby make remarks condemning the parents of the child. Well, you could simply leave it at that and go on thinking that Jesus was condemning those who directly influence young ones to behave badly. Like most of Jesus’ teachings, however, it’s not that simple. He follows this line up directly with an analogy of a man who sees a speck of wood in his brother’s eye, but does not see the “plank” in his own.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and so in keeping with the example of a misbehaving child, we should perhaps temper our own knee-jerk criticisms of people whom it is easy to scapegoat issues onto. Perhaps those commenting around the misbehaving child should ask themselves who they’re influencing, and what kind of example they’re setting when concern for someone’s child turns into gossip about their family. This seems to be Jesus’ point in relaying the analogy of the two brothers. On the one hand, he calls us to avoid setting a poor example, but on the other, he warns us against “witch-hunting” others whilst failing to examine ourselves.

-Dillon Driskill

 

(Photo Credit: https://reversingverses.com/2013/03/17/luke-171/)