2 Kings 6
Elisha has an apparent roughness with the Almighty that could only surely come from his knowing that God fully viewed and knew his inner feelings. “Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?” (2 Kings 6:33 RV) expresses his exasperation, in words which are quite shocking to read- until we realize that our own hearts have probably harboured such basic feelings, even though never verbalized. The intimacy of other prophets with God is reflected in the roughness and familiarity which they sometimes use- take Ps. 44:23,24: "Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, Lord? Awake! Do not cast us off for ever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?".
Jeremiah’s bowels were turned for his people, because he felt that he had shared in their sin. The arrows of God entered into his “reins”, his kidneys, and this is why he so cried out (Lam. 3:13). But God’s arrows were against a sinful Judah (Lam. 2:4). Yet Jeremiah so identified with them that he felt they had entered him; and this is why he could cry out in the way he did. Even though he hadn’t rebelled, he felt that because they had, so had he, as he was so identified with them. He reached such a level of grief through identifying himself so closely with those for whom he grieved. Time and again, the descriptions of his personal suffering and grief are expressed in the terms of the very sufferings which he had prophesied as coming upon a sinful Israel. And so with us, if we feel and show a willful solidarity with the people of this world, with our brethren, then we will grieve for them. If we maintain the selfish, 21st century detachedness from them, then we will never have a heart that bleeds for them. Jeremiah could so easily have shrugged his shoulders and reasoned that Judah had had their chance; and it wasn’t on his head. But he didn’t. His attitude was that he had to seek the sheep until he found it.
1 Cor. 15
Paul rejoiced daily in the fact the Corinthians had been baptized (1 Cor. 15:31). Many a photo taken at baptism reflects this same joy amongst us today. Sower and reaper rejoice together (Jn. 4:36). To hold on to the Truth was described as holding on to the rejoicing of the hope unto the end (Heb. 3:6). But if we lose joy, we have lost our faith. It was the same with OT Israel. “The vine [of Israel] is withered…for joy is withered”; the people of God were to be a people of joy, and when their joy was no more, they were no longer God’s people; for “joy and gladness” were cut off from the house of God (Joel 1:12,16). The experience of joy is the litmus test for a community of God’s people. This thought gives rise to some sober self-examination, especially for those who may have come to feel that ‘holding the faith’ is a matter of glumly trudging onwards through this evil world, grimly gripping hold of our statement of faith as we bemoan the state of those around us. If we are not a community based around reaching out into the world, there will be no joy for us. Those individuals and ecclesias who have effectively given up preaching are markedly lacking in the joy that should characterise the true life in Christ. Joy and praise are not merely emotions of little worth; they are legitimate and powerful motivators to concrete action. For the Macedonians “the abundance of their joy… abounded unto the riches of their liberality” (2 Cor. 8:2). Their joy for what the Lord had done for them, for the “abundance” [s.w.] of His grace and giving to them (Rom. 5:17), led to their giving to the poor.
2 Kings 7
The Lord used the record of how the desperate, starving lepers found great treasure and went and hid it (2 Kings 7:8) as the basis for His parable about the man who finds the Gospel, as the treasure in a field, and hides it. But surely He intended us to think of what those men did afterwards. “They said one to another, We do not well: this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace”. They even felt that woe would be unto them if they did not share the good news of what they had found. The same joyful urgency must be ours.
Paul described himself as the offscouring of all things- using the very language of condemned Israel (Lam. 3:45). He so wanted to see their salvation that he identified with them to this extent. By doing so he was reflecting in essence the way the Lord Jesus so identified Himself with us sinners, as our representative, " made sin" [whatever precisely this means] for the sake of saving us from that sin (2 Cor. 5:21). and what of our identification with the lost today, in order to save them?
1 Cor. 16
Paul reminded the Corinthians that submission should be shown to elders who have addicted themselves to serving others (1 Cor. 16:15,16)- i.e. submission arises out of our perception of an elders’ spirituality, not from his mere holding of an office. Sadly, Corinth didn’t stay with this advice. At the end of the first century, the first letter of Clement to Corinth ordered them to accept bishops as having a perpetual right to their office, and that the church must respect that right. And not so long after that, Cyprian was telling them that “whoever has the office receives the spiritual grace requisite for its fulfillment”- the very opposite of the idea of being spiritually qualified for a job in church! ‘We give you the job, and God will give you the spiritual qualifications for it’. That was how quickly the live, dynamic early church became institutionalized; that’s how strong is our desire for structure and offices, rather than the more risky way of allowing the spirit of Christ free course. We need to identify those whom we respect in the ecclesia, and follow their example- even if they are despised by others.
2 Kings 8
The word / Gospel will inevitably have a result, and yet it is also limited by the attitudes of men. Take an example: the widow woman was told to borrow pots in which to place the oil which would be miraculously provided. The extent of the miracle was limited by the number and size of the pots she borrowed in faith. Or take 2 Kings 8:10: “Thou mayest certainly recover: howbeit the Lord hath shewed me that he shall surely die”. Ben-Hadad could recover, it was possible in prospect, but God knew he would not fulfil certain preconditions, and therefore he would not.
In the Lord's death we see the heart that bleeds, bared before our eyes in the cross. It is written of Him in His time of dying that He " poured out his soul unto death" (Is. 53:12). The Hebrew translated " poured out" means to make naked- it is rendered as " make thyself naked" in Lam. 4:21 (see too Lev. 20:18,19; Is. 3:17). The Lord' sensitivity was what led Him to His death- He made His soul naked, bare and sensitive, until the stress almost killed Him quite apart from the physical torture. To be sensitive to others makes us open and at risk ourselves. A heart that bleeds really bleeds and hurts within itself. And this was the essence of the cross. It seems to me that the Lord was crucified naked- hence those who turn away put Him to “an open [Gk. ‘naked’] shame”. In being sensitive to others, we make ourselves naked. The heart that bleeds is itself in great risk of hurt and pain. We have all doubtless felt a little of this when those we have done much for act unreasonably towards us, or betray us. But in the cross, this feature of human experience was taken to its utmost. The Son of God bared His soul in the naked shame of crucifixion. All that He was and stood for was displayed so openly. His mental pain was openly revealed, pain that came as a result of risking and opening up so much to us, to our humanity. And the tragedy of it all was that at the time, virtually nobody perceived it. As we share in His cross, as share in it we must, we can only expect to pass through those feelings of disappointment at others’ ingratitude…they shouldn’t lead us to give up on the work of the ecclesia, or effort with other people, or our children… but rather make us know that if we are so sharing in His suffering, we will likewise reign with Him.
2 Cor. 1, 2
The spiritual man within us in this life is still recognized by God after our death, and in the Kingdom this spiritual man will be given a glorified bodily form. Of course it is evident that we personally are not conscious after death. It is God who is conscious of us, not the other way round. In this same sense 1 Tim. 6:19 speaks of our good works being stored up until the judgment day. It was a spiritually discerning hymn writer who penned: " Those characters shall firm remain / their everlasting trust...when (all other things) have mouldered into dust" . Because of this, the fact we have the spiritual man within us now is a sure guarantee that we will be in the Kingdom (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5). It is the spiritual aspect of our characters which will continue to know and relate to each other in the Kingdom age. The spiritual aspects of our friendships within the ecclesia are eternal. No wonder there is such joy of fellowship possible for us now! The closeness of spirit after a moving Bible study or exhortation, the intense unity of fervent collective prayer, these are expressions of that interlocking of spiritual character which will continue eternally. By contrast, if our relationships are based around human similarity, these will " perish" along with the outward man. The same is true of marital and family relationships.
2 Kings 9
Elisha weeps tears over Hazael, knowing how much damage he is going to do to Israel in response to Elijah's prayer (2 Kings 8:12). Yet significantly, Elijah doesn't actually do what he is told; he doesn't annoint Jehu nor Hazael to destroy Israel (2 Kings 9:3). It's hard to decide whether this was disobedience or rather an awkward realization that he had been praying with too harsh a spirit for something that would have been best left to God. It's such a warning.
Jeremiah’s prophecies of gracious restoration were known by the exiles; but many passages in Isaiah, the Psalms (e.g. Ps. 137:7-9) and Lamentations (Lam. 5:20,21) indicate that the exiles had little conviction they would be fulfilled, considering Judah as “utterly rejected” by God, and just getting on with their lives in Babylon without any real hope in God’s salvation. Considering the prosperity of their lives there, this was an all too convenient conclusion for them to draw. Once again we see that false interpretation of Scripture invariably has a moral subtext to it. Is material prosperity today related to a lack of faith in the Kingdom promises?
2 Cor. 3, 4
As cotton wool clouds drift lazily across the sky and life goes on in its petty routines, it is easy to miss the point that we are a planet tearing through space at a huge speed. And likewise it is difficult to appreciate the astonishing brevity of our human experience. God has existed from eternity, and the future Kingdom will exist eternally. The 6,000 years of humanity is an absolute pin prick in the spectrum of eternity. And our seventy years is even less significant. It is almost beyond belief that for the sake of our brief experience here, we have the hope of eternal existence. Our few millimetres of time here gives us the entrance to absolute eternity- if we use our brief time here aright. This is what " Redeeming the time" is all about. The relationship between infinite time and our few years of existence now is absolutely disproportionate. Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works out an eternal weight of glory for us (2 Cor. 4:17). It follows from this that every moment of our lives is being intensely used by God to prepare us for the eternity ahead. It is incredible that our probations here are so short- just forty years or so after our baptisms. It would seem more appropriate if we suffered for say one million years in order to prepare us for the infinite time we will one day enjoy, in which one million years will be as a moment. The point is, a tremendous amount of spiritual development and preparation is packed in to a very very small space of time. And from this a crucial conclusion follows: we must allow God to use every moment of our present lives as intensively as possible, to the end we might be prepared for His eternal Kingdom.
2 Kings 10
Time and again we are brought to realize that the same external action can be judged by God quite differently, according to our motives. Uzziah was condemned for acting as a priest; when David did the same, he was reflecting his spirituality. God commanded Jehu to perform the massacre of Ahab's family at Jezreel, and blessed him for it (2 Kings 10:10,29,30); and yet Hos. 1:4 condemns the house of Jehu for doing that. Why? Presumably because their later attitude to that act of obedience was wrong, and the act therefore became judged as God as something which brought just punishment on the house of Jehu many years later. Why? Because even an outward act of obedience, when perceived through wrong motives and feelings, becomes an act of sin and a basis even for condemnation. All our works need careful analysis once we grasp this point.
“God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). Thus man is made in the image and likeness of God, as manifested through the angels. James 3:9 speaks of “...men, which are made in the similitude of God.” Our creation in the image of God surely means that we can infer something about the real object of which we are but an image. Thus God, whom we reflect, is not something nebulous of which we cannot conceive. Ezekiel saw God enthroned above the cherubim, with the silhouette of “the likeness of a man” (Ez.
2 Cor. 5-7
Sin has a kind of anesthesia accompanying it; the very act of sinning makes us less sensitive to sin. If we can really pray, on our knees, for forgiveness of what may appear to others (and sometimes ourselves) to be surface sins, just the inevitable outworkings of being human... then we will have a 'new life' experience. We will die to that sin, and in that death find life. We must wash ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit even after baptism (2 Cor. 7:1); by doing so, we as it were go through the death-and-resurrection process of baptism again; we live it all once again. We must even after baptism " put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof" (Rom. 13:14; Eph. 4:14; Col. 3:12,14; 1 Thess. 5:8), even though at baptism we put on the Lord Jesus (Gal. 3:27; Col. 3:10) and in prospect the flesh was co-crucified with Christ's flesh (Rom. 6:6,18). By putting off the things of the flesh and putting on the things of the Lord in our lives, we live out the baptism principle again; and thereby we are " renewed in the spirit of your mind" (Eph. 4:22-24). This newness of thinking, therefore, is a result of serious self-analysis and confession. No matter what your disillusion with Christians and even yourself, whatever your sense of boredom in spiritual life: to rise up from your knees having confessed even your 'smallest' failure, really believing you are forgiven, all revved up with determination to do better... this will impart a verve and newness to life which little else can.
2 Kings 11, 12
The house of Baal was broken down in 2 Kings 10:27. But soon afterwards, it was rebuilt and had to be destroyed yet again (2 Kings 11:18). There are examples galore of purges and re-purges in the record of the Kings. God knows that we have this terrible capacity to lose spiritual intensity. His most faithful servants have been afflicted with this problem.
Ezekiel was shown “what the house of Israel is doing in the dark” (Ez. 8:12). To pass through human life with this level of sensitivity must’ve been so hard. Psychologically and nervously, the stress would’ve been awful. It seems to me that the prophets had to be somehow psychologically strengthened by God to endure living that sensitively in this crass and unfeeling world- hence God made Ezekiel and Jeremiah as a wall and “iron pillar” to Israel, hardened their faces, so that they wouldn’t be “dismayed at [the] looks” of those who watched them with anger and consternation (Jer. 1:18; 15:20; Ez. 2:4-6; 3:8,9,27). This psychological strengthening was not aimed at making them insensitive, but rather in strengthening them to live sensitively to sin in a sinful world without cracking up. And He will do the same for us, too. This psychological strengthening was absolutely necessary- for no human being can live in a constant state of inspiration without breaking. The composer Tchaikovsky commented: “If that condition of mind and soul, which we call inspiration, lasted long without intermission, no artist could survive it. The strings would break and the instruments be shattered into fragments”. The whole tremendous experience of having God’s mind in them, sharing His perspective, seeing the world through His eyes, made the prophets appear crazy to others. There’s a marked emphasis upon the fact that they were perceived as madmen (e.g. Jer. 29:24,26; Hos. 9:7; 2 Kings 9:11). For us to walk down a street for even ten minutes, feeling and perceiving and knowing the sin of every person in those rooms and houses and yards, feeling the weeping of God over each of them… would send us crazy. And yet God strengthened the prophets, and there’s no reason to think that He will not as it were strengthen us in our sensitivity too.
2 Cor. 8, 9
Paul’s focus upon the positive is really tremendous, especially coming from a man so far spiritually ahead of the weak Corinthians. He commends their “readiness” to donate, whilst pointing out they are more talk than action; and later speaks to others of “our readiness”, identifying himself with the Corinthian brethren whose lack of actual action had got him into so many problems in fulfilling what he had confidently promised on their behalf (2 Cor. 8:11,12,19). He even gloried to others of their “readiness” (2 Cor. 9:2), whilst clearly not turning a blind eye to their failure to actually produce anything concrete.
2 Kings 13
Elisha told Joash: “Thou shalt smite the Syrians… till thou hast consumed them”. But Elisha then went on to lament that Joash’s lack of spiritual vision would mean that he could have consumed them, but actually he would only win three victories over them (2 Kings 13:17-19). So the prophetic statement that Joash would “consume” the Syrians was only true potentially. And God has set up so many potentials for us today!
We may reason that if we fail to upbuild a brother, or preach, then God will somehow do it anyway. But this doesn’t seem to be the spirit of Ez. 3:18: “When...thou givest him not warning...he shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thy hand”. Quite clearly, our efforts of on behalf of others can affect the eternal destiny of a third party.
2 Cor. 10, 11
Paul's letters reveal the care of all the churches weighing down his soul daily, coming upon him as he woke up each morning (2 Cor. 11:28); the Paul who repeatedly encourages the weak, treating weak and strong as all the same in many ways, until he eventually attains a level of selfless devotion to his weak brethren that is only surpassed by the Lord Himself. Paul endured one of the most traumatic lives ever lived- beaten with rods, shipwrecked, sleepless, cold, naked, betrayed, robbed, beaten, and so much of this isn’t recorded (e.g. the three shipwrecks and two of the beatings with rods he speaks of in 2 Cor. 11 aren’t mentioned in Acts). And yet he implies that even more than all that, he felt the pressure of care for his brethren in the churches. His heart so bled for them…
2 Kings 14
There is a common phrase in the record of the Kings of Judah which I admit to being unable to conclusively interpret: " He did that which was right in the sight of the Lord" . Many of the men of whom this was said were not very righteous, and some (e.g. Uzziah, 2 Kings 14:3) were punished for their later apostasy. Possible explanations are that they repented at the end, although unrecorded; or that they were initially righteous; or that God counted them as righteous although they did wrong things. I find problems with each of these alternatives. So I am left with the possibility that a man can do (and perhaps this is the word that needs emphasis) what is right in God's eyes, but still ultimately be condemned because his heart is far from God; which is the teaching of 1 Cor. 13; Mk. 7:6-9 and the other Scriptures considered above. Uzziah " did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, yet not like (i.e. he didn't do his works like) David his father" (2 Kings 14:3) must be paralleled with 2 Chron. 25:2: " he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, but not with a perfect heart" . Working for God as David did, therefore involved doing the works with a perfect heart, the open conscience which David so often displayed in the Psalms. But Amaziah was deceived by the fact he was doing good works, and the real essence of his relationship with God was thereby overlooked. And we too can project a shadow-self to others, an image of spirituality, which eventually we come to believe ourselves; when our heart is far from God. This feature of human nature explains why a man or woman can reach such heights of devotion and then turn round and walk away from it all, out into the darkness of the world.
There are concessions to our human weakness throughout Scripture, once we look for them. Ezekiel was told to bake his food with human dung in order to show the extent of uncleanness Israel would suffer. But his Levitical background made him ask for a concession here. And the Lord gave it, in telling him to use cow's dung (Ez. 4:15). God surely makes concessions to each one of us today... and so we should do to others.
2 Cor. 12, 13
There is a fellowship of the Spirit (2 Cor. 13:14) in the sense that all who live the same spiritually-centred life will thereby be bound together in a powerful and inevitable fellowship. When, for example, two Christian mothers strike up conversation about the difficulty of raising children in this present evil world, when two brethren talk about the difficulties of living as Christ would in today’s business world…there is, right there, in those almost casual conversations, the fellowship of the spirit. It isn’t just a social connection because we belong to the same denomination.
2 Kings 15
Living out of parental expectation when it comes to our relationship with God is a major problem for Anglo Saxon believers. Christians and parental expectation so often go together in the Western world. And it was in the ecclesia of Israel before us. So often kings who were not very faithful or spiritual are described with a rubric like: " He did that which was right in the sight of the Lord: he did according to all that his father...had done" (e.g. 2 Kings 15:34). This may not mean that he did what was right in God's sight full stop. He did what was right only insofar as his father had done. And this is why over time, the spirituality of the kings of Judah decreased.
Repentance, change of mind, can be hid from God's eyes (Hos. 13:14). He says in Ez. 5:11 that He will withdraw His eye, that it will not spare- when He saw the suffering of Israel at the hands of the invaders He sent (RVmg.). The idea of things being hidden from God's eyes is surely a poetic way of saying He limits His omniscience. Likewise God did not let His eye spare in punishing His people (Ez. 5:11; 9:5), after the pattern of His telling Moses to 'let me alone' that He might destroy them. It's as if God knows that He is emotional and is capable of being influenced by those emotions. And yet, God is so torn. He wanted to destroy them. But He wanted to save them. They were His children. And, worst of all, He " often" went through this feeling (Ps. 106:45). And we are likely tearing God today by our behaviour.
At the shores of the Red Sea, it seems Moses' faith wavered, and he prayed something at best inappropriate. All we read is God's response: " Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward" (Ex. 14:15). It seems that Moses' 'cry' isn't recorded- by grace. Likewise it seems Zacharias probably said far more than " Whereby shall I know this?" when Gabriel told him he would soon have a son. It would seem the conversation went on for so long that the people outside wondered why he was staying so long. Presumably he remonstrated with the Angel with other, graciously unrecorded words, and thereby earnt the punishment of dumbness (Lk. 1:18-22). Are we likewise eager to cover transgression rather than gloat and gossip over it?
2 Kings 16
" Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord, and in the treasures of the king's house" (2 Kings 18:15) is an exact quotation from 2 Kings 16:8, concerning Ahaz of faithless Israel doing exactly the same. " Hezekiah cut off the gold (faith) from the doors...which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria (2 Kings 18:16). The apparently needless repetition of the name " Hezekiah" in this verse serves to show that we are now dealing with a different spiritual man to the previous " Hezekiah king of Judah" , typifying, as he then did, the faithful remnant.
Truly has Ez. 6:9 prophesied of the rejected: "They shall loathe themselves for their evils which they have committed in all their abominations". Jude 15 would even suggest that the purpose of judgment being executed is to convict the rejected of all their ungodly deeds and hard words. Through realising their condemnation they will realize in awful detail exactly why this had to be. Is this really our feeling about our sins? Our own self-examination now will be stimulated by realising the depth to which we deserve condemnation, even though by grace we are saved rather than condemned.
The Lord said that all those whom he finds watching will be welcomed into the marriage feast (Lk. 12:37). And 2 Tim. 4:8 is plain enough: "All them also that love his appearing" will be rewarded along with Paul. Paul's own confidence in salvation was because he knew the earnestness of his desire to be "present with the Lord" Jesus (2 Cor. 5:8), such was the closeness of his relationship with him. Is this really our attitude too? Can we feel like Simeon, that we are quite happy to die after we have just seen our Lord with our own eyes (Lk. 2:29)? Is there really much love between us and our Lord? The faithful are described as "those that seek (God)...such as love thy salvation" (Ps. 40:16). None truly seek God (Rom. 3:11- the context concerns all of us, believers and unbelievers); and yet we are those who seek Him. We must be ambitious to do the impossible. Those who truly love righteousness and the Kingdom will be rewarded with it. Likewise Paul in 1 Cor. 8:2,3 describes the faithful man as one who accepts he knows nothing as he ought to know, but truly loves God. Heb. 9:28 is clear: "Unto them that look for (Christ) shall he appear the second time...unto salvation". Those who truly look for Christ will be given salvation.
2 Kings 17
There will be a certain amount of discussion between Jesus and the responsible. It would appear that the wicked will argue back in protest against their rejection at the judgment ("When saw we thee?...Thou art an hard man"), and will desperately try to find acceptance. All this has to be reconciled with the silent dejection and grim acceptance of the 'goats'. 1 Jn. 2:28 speaks of them as being "ashamed from before him at his coming", the Greek suggesting the idea of slinking away in shame, after the pattern of Israel being carried away into captivity (2 Kings 17:6,11,23,33- Heb. 'to denude, make naked'). Another foretaste of this was in the way the condemned world of Noah’s time [the flood was a clear type of the final judgment] were to ‘pine away / languish’ (Gen. 6:17; 7:21- AV “die”). The wicked will melt away from the Lord's presence (Ps. 68:2). Rejected Israel are described as being "ashamed away" (Joel 1:12)- the same idea. This is the idea behind Heb. 12:15 RVmg: "…man that falleth back from the grace of God". What they did in this life in slinking away from the reality of pure grace will be what is worked out in their condemnation experience. Note that Jesus Himself will be likewise ashamed of His unworthy followers (Lk. 9:26); there will be a mutuality in the natural distancing between the two parties. This is the scene of Rev. 16:15- the rejected being made naked in shame. This slinking back in shame will fulfil the prophecies of Is. 1:24,29 and Jer. 2:35,36, which speak of the rejected being made ashamed, becoming ashamed, of their idols. They will be made ashamed by the judgment process.
The frequent references to Israel being removed from His sight, or eye (e.g. 2 Kings 17:23) may refer to the way that an Angel was permanently present in Israel, the land in which the Angel eyes of the Lord ran to and fro. By going into captivity, Israel were thus removed from God’s Angelic ‘eye’. This would explain how Israel were never out of God’s sight in the sense of His awareness of them. And yet language of limitation is being used here- because the Angel dwelling in Israel no longer ‘saw’ the people. This idea may be behind the references to God’s eye not sparing nor pitying Israel (Ez. 7:4)- when in fact God Himself did and does spare and pity Israel. The implication would then be that His grace and pity is even greater than that of His Angels- which is an encouraging thought to us here on earth who struggle to believe in the extent of God’s personal grace to us.
The message of Isaiah 40 is basically that we must be levelled or humbled one way or the other- either by our repentance and acceptance of the Gospel today, or through the experience of condemnation at the day of judgment. We’re calling people to humility. And we must ask whether the content and style of our preaching really does that. But when John the Baptist quoted and preached this passage, he interpreted it beyond a call to humility. He said that in order to prepare the way of the Lord, to make a level passage for Him, the man with two coats should give to him who had none, and likewise share his food (Lk. 3:11). So the ‘equality’ and levelling was to be one of practical care for others. We have to ask, how often we have shared our food, clothing or money with those who don’t have… for this is all part of preparing for the Lord’s coming. It could even be that when there is more of what Paul calls “an equality” amongst the community of believers, that then the way of the Lord will have been prepared. And He will then return.
2 Kings 18
But we are real life men and women, only too aware that although yes, we are in Christ, we are also all too human still. We still sin the sins and think the thoughts and feel the feelings of those around us. We are only who we are, born in such a town, living in such a city, doing a job, trying to provide for a family. In our minds eye we see the spotless lamb of God, moving around Galilee 2000 years ago, doing good, preaching the Gospel, healing the sick. But He was there, and we are here now, today, in all our weakness and worldly distraction. He was as He was, but we are as we are. We each have two ‘people’ as it were within us; we act both as spiritual and as fleshly people. The record of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18:16 reflects this: “At that time did Hezekiah cut off the gold from…pillars which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, because of the king of Assyria”. The Hezekiah who faithfully overlaid the pillars with gold was the same man, acting a different persona, who then cut it off faithlessly when under pressure. Likewise the Jews could be described as both Abraham’s seed (Jn. 8:37) and not Abraham’s seed (Jn. 8:39); as having Abraham as their father (Jn. 8:56), and yet also having the devil as their father (Jn. 8:39-41,44). Of course we should aim for congruence, between who we want to be and who we are, being a "united" person rather than hypocritical.
Reflect a while on two consecutive verses in Ez. 8:18; 9:1: “Though they [Israel] cry in mine ears with a loud voice [when they are under judgment for their actions, which I now ask them to repent of], yet will I not hear them. He [God] cried also in mine [Ezekiel’s] ears with a loud voice, saying…”. Do you see the connection? As we read and hear God’s word today, He is passionately crying in our ears with a loud voice. Just imagine someone literally doing this to you! If we refuse to hear it, then we will cry in His ears with a loud voice in the last and final day of condemnation. The intensity of His appeal to us now will be the intensity with which the rejected plead for Him to change His verdict upon them; and God, like them in this life, will refuse to hear. What arises from this is a simple fact: as we read and hear the pages of Scripture, as we turn the leaves in our Bibles, God is crying in our ears with a loud voice. Our response to Him is a foretaste of our acceptance or rejection at the day of judgment.
“The word was made flesh” in daily reality for Jesus. The extraordinary connection between the man Jesus and the word of God which He preached and spoke is perhaps reflected in Lk. 4:20: “He closed the book [of the words of God], and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him”. Here we have as it were an exquisite close up of Jesus, His very body movements, His handling of the scroll, and the movement of the congregations eyes. Notice that at this stage He had only read from the scroll, and not yet begun His exposition of what He had read. The impression I take from this is that there was an uncanny connection between Him and the word of His Father. The Son reading His Father’s word, with a personality totally in conformity to it, must have been quite something to behold. He was the word of God made flesh in a person, in a way no other person had or could ever be. Thus He was indeed “The word was made flesh”. The idea of words becoming flesh is a reflection of the Hebrew idea that a person's words become their actions. Thus we read of Solomon's "acts" or, RVmg., "sayings" (2 Chron. 9:5). There is no requirement for a person to exist in one form and then turn into another form. There was perfect congruence between the personality of Jesus, and the words of God which He preached. Thus the people marvelled at Him, commenting "What is this word?" (Lk. 4:36 RV). God's word was made flesh, was made personal, in Him. In this sense there was almost no need for Jesus to say specific words about Himself- His character and personality showed forth that word, that logos, that essential message. The Jews pressured Him: "If you are the Christ, tell us plainly". But He could respond: "I told you, and you believe not: the works that I do... these bear witness of me" (Jn. 10:24,25). Of course, they'd have complained that He had not told them in so many words. His comment was that His "works", His life, His being, showed plainly who He was, His personality was "the [plain] word" which they were demanding. He was the word made flesh in totality and to perfection. And the word is to be made flesh in us as it was in Him.
2 Kings 19
Hezekiah put the situation before God in prayer when he was surrounded by the Assyrians, and asked for deliverance from them. But God saw his prayer and attitude in quite a different light: " The virgin the daughter of Zion (Hezekiah and the faithful remnant in Jerusalem) hath despised thee, and laughed thee (Sennacherib) to scorn...shaken her head at thee" (2 Kings 19:21). Hezekiah's desperate plea for deliverance (" O Lord I beseech thee, save thou us out of his hand" ) was seen as a confident shaking of his head at Sennacherib. God sees our prayers very differently to how we do. Hezekiah simply put the situation before God: " Incline thine ear, O Lord, and hear [the reproach]; open thine eyes, O Lord, and see" (Is. 37:17); and yet this was understood as him praying to God against Sennacherib (Is. 37:21). Hezekiah encouraged Isaiah to pray, because “The Lord they God will hear all the words of Rabshakeh…to reproach the living God…wherefore lift up thy prayer…” (2 Kings 19:3,4). Isaiah’s words of prayer would be parallel with the words of Rabshakeh’s words; and God would surely hear Rabshakeh’s words and count them as a prayer to Him to do something. He would count the situation as the prayer, and Isaiah’s praying was to be in harmony with this. That attitudes are read as prayers is reflected in the way that Rabshakeh’s arrogance against Yahweh is described as him lifting up his eyes against God (2 Kings 19:22). By contrast, Hezekiah prayed at the same time: “Unto you do I lift up my eyes” (Ps. 123:1). ‘Lifting up eyes’ is therefore an idiom for prayer. Rabshakeh didn’t consciously pray blasphemous words to God, but his attitude was counted as a prayer. Also in a Hezekiah context, we read of how his own heart was arrogantly ‘lifted up’ to God (2 Chron. 32:25,26 cp. his repentance for having a lifted up heart in Ps. 131:1). He made the same mistake as his opponent Rabshakeh- a lifted up heart was read by God as a heart / mind / eyes lifted up against Him. He noticed the attitude of heart in a man as a ‘lifted up’ to Him prayer.
Something happens and is achieved when we preach God’s word. The same idiom occurs in Ez. 9:11 AVmg., where we read that “the man clothed with linen”- representing Ezekiel or his representative Angel- “returned the word, saying, I have done as thou hast commanded me”. The word ‘returned’ in the sense that someone, somewhere, was obedient to it even if others weren’t. The word of God will produce converts in some sense; it will not return void (Is. 55:11). The apparent dearth of response to some preaching therefore poses a challenging question. Are we preaching the word of God alone, or our own ideas? Does God withhold blessing for some reason unknown to us?
The Acts record repeatedly describes the converts as " the multitude of the disciples" (2:6; 4:32; 5:14,16; 6:2,5; 12:1,4; 15:12,30; 17:4; 19:9; 21:22), using the same word to describe the " multitude of the disciples" who followed the Lord during His ministry (Lk. 5:6; 19:37). There is no doubt that Luke intends us to see all converts as essentially continuing the witness of those men who walked around Palestine with the Lord between AD30 and AD33, stumbling and struggling through all their misunderstandings and pettiness, the ease with which they were distracted from the essential…to be workers together with Him.
2 Kings 20
" I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears" (2 Kings 20:5) parallels Hezekiah's tears with his words. God interpreted his tears as a prayer. Hezekiah has earlier requested for God to both hear and see the words of Sennacherib (19:26), as if these too were to be read as a prayer for Divine intervention.
The Lord taught His followers “first”, or ‘most of all’, to beware of hypocrisy (Lk. 12:1). For us, all the world is not to be a stage, and we are not to be merely actors upon that stage. Hypocrisy is that living out of a persona, acting, rather than being the person God created us to be. In the Lord Jesus men saw the word made flesh (Jn. 1:14). There was perfect congruence between the person He presented Himself as, and the person He essentially was. This was why He could so easily touch the true person in others. And I think this is the meaning of the otherwise enigmatic insistence that the Cherubim’s faces, their appearances, and ‘themselves’ were all one (Ez. 10:22). The Russian [Synodal] version translates this: ‘Their view, was who they themselves were’.
Either we will mourn now in repentance (Lk. 6:25; the Greek for " mourn" is often in a repentance context), or we will mourn at the judgment (Mt. 8:12 etc.). Having foretold the inevitable coming of judgment day, Yahweh Himself pleads with Israel: " Therefore also now...turn ye even to me...with weeping, and with mourning" (Joel 2:12). There's a great logic here for us to repent today.
2 Kings 21
God's Name was called upon us at baptism into the Name. This bearing of His Name means that the principles of that Name bear rule over us in our lives: " We are thine: thou never barest rule over them; thy name was not called upon them" (Is. 63:19 AV mg.). The Name is called upon us; and therefore and thereby we are Yahweh's servants, dominated by His principles and character. Because the Name was called upon the temple, therefore it was simply impossible that those who realized this could worship idols in it (2 Kings 21:4,7); whatever has God's Name called upon it, whatever bears His image, must be devoted to Him alone. The Lord pointed out that this applies to our very bodies, which being in God's image should be given over to Him.
"I will judge [condemn] you...and ye shall know that I am the LORD", Ezekiel often warned (e.g. Ez. 11:9). Men must either know Yahweh now, or they will know Him in condemnation. And Ezekiel uses the idea of 'knowing' Yahweh in the sense of the knowledge that leads to a desire for responsive action. But Ezekiel plays on this logic even further; because Israel had not "executed my judgments", therefore in their condemnation Yahweh would "execute judgments among you" (Ez. 11:9,12). We cannot escape the moral requirements of Yahweh; if now we ignore the cutting of the flesh which they demand, then in the day of condemnation those judgments we have neglected to execute will be executed in us.
He who is forgiven much, the same will love much (Lk. 7:41-50). The purpose of the Lord's mini-parable was not that the druggies, the hookers, the murderers will love Christ more than you or me. It was to teach that according to a man's perception of his sin, so he will love his Lord. All too often we serve Him because we have a conscience that we should do so; and yet the service He requires is service, even the senseless service of that forgiven woman with her precious ointment, simply because we love Him. And that overwhelming, overflowing love will only come from a true sense of our desperation. By knowing our desperation, we will know the Lord, we will know the grace and fathomless mercy which is so essentially Him: " Ye shall lothe yourselves in your own sight for all your evils that ye have committed. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have wrought with you...not according to your wicked ways" (Ez. 20:43,44).
2 Kings 22, 23
Josiah sorrowed for Israel's sins, and God interpreted this as if Josiah was praying for the deferring of God's judgments, even though Josiah fully expected the judgments to come in his time (2 Kings 22:19). Our feelings are interpretted by God as prayer- sure comfort for those times we just feel unable to pray, but feel still with the Lord.
The Hebrew word ulay, 'perhaps', is significant. "Perhaps they will understand", God says, in reflection upon Ezekiel's preaching ministry to God's people (Ez. 12:1-3). Of Jeremiah's prophetic work, God likewise comments: "It may be [Heb. ulay] they will listen" (Jer. 26:2,3; Jer. 36:3,7; Jer. 51:8; Is. 47:12). This uncertainty of God as to how His people will respond to His word reflects the degree to which He has accommodated Himself to our kind of time. It has huge implications for us, too. With what eagerness must God Almighty look upon us as we sit down to read His word daily! 'Are they going to listen? How are they going to respond?'.
There was perfect congruence between what Jesus said and what He did. Perhaps this was why He told the parents of the girl whom He resurrected “to tell no man what was done” (Lk. 8:56), even though it was so obvious; He wanted His self-evident works to speak for themselves, without the need for human words. For His works were essentially His message. Our witness in this world can likewise at times be without specific words.
2 Kings 24, 25
We can't be brethren in Christ who have no effect on the rest of the body. We all have an influence on others. Our behaviour, however passive, has a powerful effect on our brethren. We are all members of one body. Job pointed out that the words of another can assuage grief in a way that ones’ own self-talk simply cannot (Job 16:5,6). On the contrary, a whole community can be cursed for the sake of one man’s sin, even if he later repents (2 Kings 24:3,4). The fact we can be guilty of causing others to stumble means that we can limit God's gracious plan for them. By refusing to preach to the Gentiles, Peter was ‘making common’ what God had potentially cleansed (Acts 10:15 RV). We can spiritually destroy our brother, for whom Christ died (Rom. 14:15); we can undo the work of the cross for a brother who would otherwise be saved by it. We can make others sin (Ex. 23:33; 1 Sam. 2:24; 1 Kings 16:19). There is an urgent imperative here, to really watch our behaviour; e.g. to not drink alcohol in the presence of a brother whose conscience is weak.
God is so so sensitive to prayerfulness. He condemns the leaders of Israel: " You have not gone up to the breaks in the wall to repair it for the house of Israel [an idiom for interceding with God in behalf of Israel- Ez. 2:30,31] so that it will stand firm" (Ez. 13:5). If only there had been a prayerful minority, God would have changed the whole course of His dealings with Israel. But petty materialism and self-mindedness was what stopped those leaders from doing their job. God repeatedly stated that He would not spare /pity Israel in judging them (Ez. 5:11; 7:4,9; 8:18; 9:5 etc.). But Joel 2:17 exhorts the priests to beg God in prayer to “spare” [s.w.] His people during the invasion Ezekiel had prophesied. God is so sensitive to prayer that He will even change His stated purpose.
The characters in human novels / accounts / biographies are as nothing compared to the immense stature which is given to the man Jesus in the crucifixion accounts, let alone to the central role of the crucifixion in the Gospel records. Somehow those records urgently transmit to us the essence of His personality. Without effort, without self-assertion, almost without direct claim, we are left awed with the reality that this man, through his death, demands my total response. All the Gospels present the crucifixion and resurrection as the climax of their presentation of the Gospel. Luke’s record is studded with references to the Lord’s progress on that final journey up to Jerusalem; events took place “as they went in the way" (Lk. 9:57-62), as if they were incidental to the main aim of the record, which was to describe the final coming of the Lord to Jerusalem and death (Lk. 13:22). It has been observed, truly enough: “Of the biographies I have read, few devote more than ten percent of their pages to the subject’s death- including biographies of men like Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, who died violent and politically significant deaths. The Gospels, though, devote nearly a third of their length to the climactic last week of Jesus’ life". “The cross is central in the structure of all four Gospels. They have well been described as ‘Passion narratives with extended introductions’. They are not biographies. In each one the death and resurrection of Jesus take up such a disproportionate amount of space that it is quite clear that the author has no intention of giving an account of the life of our Lord. Everything is arranged to lead up to the climax- the cross". It is a quite mistaken view of the teaching of the Lord Jesus that it centred around brotherly love and the sermon on the mount. His most oft repeated image and demand was to carry His cross. Is this the place we give His cross in our thinking today?
1 Chron. 1
These records seem to stress the weakness and occasional strength of these children of God. This is one of the major lessons from Chronicles. Every now and then, the list of names is interrupted by a piece of information which indicates God's awareness of their spirituality. For example, the fact some men had more than one wife or a wife from a nation other than Israel is often recorded (1 Chron. 1:32; 2:3,26,35,48; 4:18; 5:1; 7:14; 8:8). The way these interruptions occur in the lists of names stands out. This is surely to indicate two things: that many faithful men (e.g. Abraham and Caleb, 1 Chron. 1:32; 2:46) made mistakes in this area of life, and secondly that all down the centuries God has not forgotten that they married out of the faith, or that they allowed the pressures of their surrounding world to influence them to break away from the ideal one man: one woman standard of Eden. These two facts provide us with both warning and comfort, in that although God is sensitive to failure, He is still able to justify men, to count them as if they are righteous for the sake of their covenant relationship with Him, even though (e.g.) their married life was not completely in order.
Ez. 14:14,18 imply Noah, Daniel and Job could have delivered Israel up to a certain point, but they were so hardened in sin at Ezekiel’s time that even those men wouldn’t have saved a nation which otherwise, for a lower level of sin as it were, they could otherwise have saved. If we have any grain of love in us, we will likewise dedicate ourselves to fervent prayer for our brethren, seeing it does have effect and validity within certain boundaries.
The disciples were to go on their preaching mission without pausing to greet others, such was their haste (Lk. 10:4 cp. 2 Kings 4:29). The Greek word translated ‘greet’ also carries the idea of joining together with others. People rarely travelled alone unless they were in great haste, but rather moved in caravans. But for the Lord’s messengers, there was to be no loss of time. Every minute was to be precious. In a world full of time wasting distractions, information we don’t need to know… this is all so necessary. No wonder that when those men finally came to themselves, realized their calling, and hurled themselves in joy at this world after the Lord’s ascension… they preached repentance, immediate conversion and quick baptism, right up front. We need this spirit in our witness today.
1 Chron. 2
Occasionally we learn background information which sheds new light on the historical records. For example, David several times laments the hardness of heart to be seen in " the sons of Zeruiah" . I assumed that Zeruiah was a man- until considering 1 Chron.2:16, which says that Zeruiah was a sister of David. The fact that the hardness of those three men seems to be associated with their mother would lead us to conclude that David's sister Zeruiah was an extremely hard woman. Inevitably there must have been strands of hardness in David too (consider his treatment of Uriah, his intended massacre of Nabal's encampment, torturing the Ammonites etc.); and yet more often than not, we get the impression that David was a real softy. His experience of life made him progressively more soft, whilst his sister and nephews went the other way. Truly could he comment towards the end of it all: " Thy gentleness hath made me great" . By way of exhortation we need to soberly consider the fact that we are either getting harder, or softer. There is no in between status. The softness and gentleness of the Lord Jesus, the great antitype of David, mixed as it was with that firmness of resolve and purpose (remember how He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem!) is surely something to really appreciate about Him, something to rise up to, to be truly inspired by.
Judah in Babylon were as captives in the prison cell, waiting to be released and return to their land, according to Isaiah’s images. And these pictures are picked up and applied to all who know the redemption and restoration of Christ. There in Babylon they were as the vine tree, burned up and fit for no work; and yet, still used to perform God’s work, by grace alone (Ez. 15:5). And these men were truly types of us.
Quite simply, we have to believe that prayer changes things. God can change the course of a nation's destiny, or even in a sense the whole course of the universe, because some finite, ignorant, sinful human being has the neck to fervently ask Him to. We are encouraged by the Lord to persist in prayer (Lk. 11:5-13). Elijah had to pray for rain seven times before the cloud came. Daniel prayed 21 days before an answer came. Why doesn't God answer immediately? Is it not simply because He sees it is for our good to develop this habit of knocking on Heaven's door with the same same request? And I ask: do we really persevere in prayer?
1 Chron. 3
Solomon wished to imitate his father David in every sense; his own real personality only really came out in the Ecclesiastes years, when he took to drink, materialism, women and idolatry. It took the influence of his parents many years to wear off. David had weaknesses for horses (2 Sam. 8:4) and many wives; and Solomon followed in these steps too. Note that David had six sons in seven years by six different women, including Gentiles (1 Chron. 3:3). And in addition to these, David had children by “the concubines” (1 Chron. 3:9). Doubtless Solomon reasoned, albeit deep within his psyche, that such behaviour was legitimate because David his father had done it. We have seen that David seems to have over interpreted Scripture and assumed that his interpretation was certainly correct. And Solomon did exactly the same. The weaknesses of the parents all too easily are repeated by the children to an even greater extent.
The metaphors used to describe the anger of God with Israel are pretty awful. Her children to be slain with thirst, she was to be stripped naked by her husband (Hosea 2), gang raped by her lovers, having her nose cut off and left a battered, bleeding mess in the scrubland (Ez. 16,23), to have her skirt pulled up over her head and her nakedness revealed (Jer. 13:20-27), wishing to pluck off her own breasts for shame (Ez. 23:34). Jerusalem is to be raped, violated and humiliated, according to Ezekiel. Indeed, Ezekiel’s images verge at times on what some would consider pornographic. He speaks of the woman Israel’s pubic hair, breasts, menstrual cycle (Ez. 16:7,10); the gang rape by her enemies which God would bring about, leaving her mutilated and humiliated (Ez. 16:37; 23:22-49); about the size of her lovers’ sexual organs and coital emissions, and how she let them fondle her breasts (Ez. 23:8,20). This is shocking language, which perhaps we skip over in our Bible reading from sheer embarrassment- and we are 21st century readers brutalized by exposure to this kind of stuff in the media. For early Israel, it would all have been even more shocking. It all seemed out of proportion to having ‘merely’ made a few political alliances with Egypt and Assyria. Was that really like a wife letting other men fondle her breasts and have sex with her, admiring their bodies as she did so? Did it all have to end in such brutality and vulgarity? Today, sex and violence are what attract attention. From lyrics of songs to advertising and movies, that’s clear enough. And the prophets are using the same tactics to arrest Israel’s attention, all the more so because nudity and sex were things simply not up for public discussion. There’s an anxiety which any talk about sex seems to arouse in us, and it was the prophets’ intention to make us likewise get on the edge of our seats, anxious, rapt, sensitive for the next word… realizing that really and truly, this is what human sin does to God. The outrageous sex talk was to bring out how outrageous and obscene are our sins and unfaithfulness to the covenant we cut with God in baptism.
The rejected will experience "shame and everlasting contempt" at the judgment (Dan. 12:2). Shame and contempt must be in the eyes of others- i.e. the group of 'sheep'? Likewise the words we speak about others in secret will then be spoken for all to hear; and therefore we should be open in our words now, without hypocrisy (Lk. 12:1-3). The RVmg. of Lk. 12:1 makes this warning even more urgent: "First of all beware ye of…hypocrisy". It really is a major feature of the sinful nature which should be watched out for.
1 Chron. 4
1 Chron. 4:10 gives an example of this using of previous Angelic promises and preparatory work in order to achieve an act of faith. Some of the children of Judah later requested that their border be enlarged, at the expense of driving out neighbouring Canaanite tribes. "Jabez called on the God of Israel (an Angelic term), saying, Oh that Thou wouldest bless me indeed (a reference back to the Angelic blessing of Abraham's seed with the promise of possession of the land?), and enlarge my coast, and that Thine hand (an Angelic phrase) might be with me, and that Thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me! And God granted him that which he requested. " In passing, is this the basis of "deliver us from evil... (i e.) lead us not into (spiritual) temptation" in the Lord's prayer? In that case our sins are being likened to the tribes which Jabez drove out in faith, and we should believe that our Angel has driven our sins out for us in prospect, so that we might inherit the promises.
The humility of Mary was the pattern for the Lord’s self-humiliation in the cross. Here above all we see the influence of Mary upon Jesus, an influence that would lead Him to and through the cross. Her idea of putting down the high and exalting the lowly (Lk. 1:52) is picking up Ez. 17:24: “I have brought down the high tree, have exalted the low tree, have dried up the green tree, and have made the dry tree to flourish”. And yet these very words of Ezekiel were quoted by the Lord in His time of dying. With reverence, we can follow where we are being led in our exploration and knowing of the mind of Christ. His dear mum had gone around the house singing her Magnificat. He realized that she felt the lowly who had been exalted [and perhaps in some unrecorded incident before her conception she had been recently humbled?]. And Jesus had realized her quotation of Ez. 17:24. And He had perceived His linkage and connection with her, and how she saw all that was true of Him as in some way true of her, and vice versa. And now, in His final crisis, He takes comfort from the fact that like His dear mother, He the one who was now humbled, would be exalted. How many other trains of thought have been sparked in men’s minds by the childhood instructions of their mothers…?
Lk. 13, 14
"God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another" in His mind (Ps. 75:7)- although the final putting down and setting up will be at the judgment seat (the basis for the parable of the man being asked to go up higher, Lk. 14:10). This same parable is also rooted in Prov. 25:7: "Put not forth thyself in the presence of the king, for better it is that it be said unto thee, Come up hither: than that thou shouldest be put lower in the presence of the prince". We are in the King's presence both in this life- when we chose where to sit- just as much as when He returns and re-arranges the seating. The day of the Lord is coming, but it is even now (Mic. 7:4 Heb.). We need to live today as if we stand before the judgment of God- for "we make the answer now".
1 Chron. 5
Consider the background to 'Gog' given in 1 Chron. 5- he was an apostate Jew who went away from the God of Israel, attracted by the grazing grounds to the north east of Israel, and who eventually ended up living permanently in the land of Israel's enemies, the land of the Hagarenes (sons of Hagar, i.e. the Arabs) and Assyria. By seeking material things we are led away from God and His people. The Gog of Ez. 38 may well be an apostate Jew (after the pattern of Rabshakeh) who leads an invasion of his ancient homeland. He attacks because he loves cattle (Ez. 38:11,12)- which was a characteristic of the Gog of 1 Chron. 5. Is it significant that most Russian leaders have been Jews?
"If the wicked (wicked responsible, in the Israel context) will turn from all his sins...all his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in (as a result of) his righteousness (good deeds) that he hath done he shall live (eternally)" (Ez. 18:21,22). This implies that there will be a mentioning (the Hebrew word means just that) of the man's sins to him at judgment, unless he repents. The rest of Ez. 18 and Ez. 33 show that the reverse is also true- if a man turns away from God, then all his previous good deeds which would have been mentioned to him at judgment will be 'forgotten'. In some form, it seems there will be a 'going through' of our lives at judgment day. This should influence our lives today!
The Lord Jesus purposefully inverted the common assumption that the duty of a righteous man was to condemn the sinners. When He said that there is much joy in Heaven over one sinner that repents (Lk. 15:10), the Lord was purposefully inverting the common contemporary Jewish saying that there was much joy in Heaven whenever one sinner is destroyed in judgment. His desire is to seek to save rather than to destroy. And Elijah had not attained to this spirit of Christ when he called fire down from Heaven. Do we today rejoice to show mercy, grace and kindness, rather than condemnation and criticism of others?
1 Chron. 6
The Levites were to teach Judah and to make others discern between good and evil (Ezekiel 44:23). The sons of Zadok were chosen because they had been faithful previously. They should have done this, but instead “ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi” (Mal. 2:7,8). The sons of Zadok were descendants of Eleazer and Phinehas (1 Chron. 6:3-8), and Mal. 2:5 alludes to this: “My covenant was with him of life and peace: and I gave them to him for the fear wherewith he feared me, and was afraid before my name” (cp. Ex. 32:28). But Mal. 2:6-8 go on to show that the sons of Zadok, as the descendants of Phinehas, had not lived up to their pedigree; they were making men “stumble at the law”. This shows the connection between the Ezekiel prophecies and Malachi’s commentary on their failed fulfilment in the hands of men like the sons of Zadok. Are we living up to what we are capable of...?
The judgments upon God's people in Ez. 19:12 are in fact the same judgments given to Babylon / Assyria in Jer. 12:14. This continues a theme that the wicked amongst God's people will perish with, and perhaps during, the punishment upon the world around them. If we're not separate from this world, we will perish in its' judgment.
The parable of the unjust steward must be read in the context of the preceding parables of forgiveness. The man is in debt to his Master, surely speaking of our sinfulness (Lk. 16:3,4 cp. Mt. 18:24). He has wasted his goods- which are given to us at baptism (Lk. 16:1 cp. Mt. 25:14). He could have begged, but he was too proud. Therefore in order to get forgiveness he raced round forgiving everybody else. This suggests a spiritual selfishness which surely isn't ideal. And yet " the Lord commended the unjust steward" .
1 Chron. 7
There's a big contrast between the Biblical record, and contemporary views of women. The male authors (under inspiration) record the achievements of women like Sherah, who built Beth-Horon (1 Chron. 7:24). The Bible isn't ultimately a sexist document- God takes notice of all His children, and His recorded word reflects this.
God said He would destroy Israel in Egypt (Ez.. 20:8). But He didn't. God said He would destroy Israel in Egypt (Ez.. 20:8). But He didn't. God swore that He would destroy Israel in the wilderness (Ez. 20:21). God 'withdrew His hand', He took back this promise (Ez. 20:22). These apparent contradictions show how God's love and grace towards His people defies even His own stated purpose; the love of God cannot be presented to us without the use of contradiction and paradox. We as human beings simply lack the paradigms to handle the love of God for us. Therefore there have to be Bible paradoxes.
Our experience of answered prayer becomes increasingly positive, reinforcing our faith in Him and our attention to prayerfulness. And this dovetails with our increasingly sensitive reading of His word daily. The Lord intended that we should all pray the prayer of command as Elijah did; for He taught that with faith, we should be able to tell a sycamore tree to be rooted up and planted in the sea (Lk. 17:6). He doesn’t advise that we pray to the Father that the tree, according to His will, be rooted up and transplanted. He wants us to come to so know the will of the Father that we can pray the prayer of direct command. And this is quite some challenge.
1 Chron. 8
When a passage is repeated twice, surely God wishes us to perceive something. 1 Chron. 8:30-34 is repeated in 9:36-40. The reason seems to be that the name 'Baal' was used by the leaders of Israel. Gibeon's children included Kish and Baal , Kish's son was king Saul, Saul had a son called Eshbaal as well as Jonathan, David's beloved friend; and Jonathan had a son called Meribbaal . These are not the names as recorded elsewhere; evidently the Chronicles record is highlighting the fact that there was a strand of weakness for idols in the family of Saul, including in Jonathan- who was a type of us in his friendship of David / Jesus. Surely this helps us to better relate to him; his love of David, his appreciation of David's righteousness, his belief that David would have the future Kingdom, struggled against the fact that the worldly influence of his father and great-grandfather still rubbed off upon him.
God said He would “cut off from [Jerusalem] the righteous and the wicked” (Ez. 21:3). Yet Abraham had observed that it was “far” from God to do such a thing. Surely the point of this language was to send the mind of the Biblically-aware back to Sodom, and to realize that therefore this was not what God wanted to do, and fervent prayer after the pattern of Abraham’s could save the city. How much is possible, if we pray... but doesn't happen, because we don't?
"Nevertheless", despite the fact God answers prayer, "when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith?" (Lk. 18:8). The implication is that the experience of answered prayer ought to develop faith, but such will be the spiritual perils of the last days and the lack of serious prayer, that there may well be no faith in the final generation.
1 Chron. 9
In a sense God requires not help from man; and yet in another sense He has delegated His work to us, and limits His achievements according to what we are willing to do. C.S. Lewis in The World’s Last Night observes: “He seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures. He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly what He could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye. Creation seems to be delegation through and through. I suppose this is because He is a giver”. As any employer soon learns, delegation is a risk. We have been “entrusted with the Gospel” (Tit. 1:3 RV); and therefore the world God so wants to love, the world God is appealing to, may never see Him; for He makes His appeal through us, as Paul told the Corinthians. Those who did God’s work in the Old Testament temple were similarly given a “trust”, they were entrusted with God’s work (1 Chron. 9:22 RVmg.). Frederick Buechner remarked upon this “folly of preaching”: “to choose for his holy work in the world...lamebrains and misfits and nitpickers and holier-than-thous and stuffed shirts and odd ducks and egomaniacs...”. Yet weak Israel are described as God’s “strength”, the channel through which His strength would be shown to the nations; and they failed Him (Ps. 78:61). Frequently missionary brethren lament such attitudes in the committee brethren who control their resources. But the point is, that we are all like this. And God has chosen to work through the likes of us.
God’s Word is spoken of as if it is God Himself. The devotional point to note from this is that through God’s word being in our heart, God can come so close to us. God spoke of how Israel “profaned” the command to keep the Sabbath, and then of how they profaned Him (Ez. 22:26). He is His word, and to despise His commands is to despise Him. Our attitude to His word is our attitude to Him. Thus Saul sinned “against the Lord, even against the word of the Lord, which he kept not” (1 Chron. 10:13).
According to Lk. 19:23, the Lord will shew the unworthy how they could have entered the Kingdom. This is after the pattern of rejected Adam and Eve having the way to the tree of life clearly shown to them after their rejection (Gen. 3:23,24). Again, notice how the judgment is for the education of those judged and those who witness it. He will shew them how they should have given their talent, the basic Gospel, to others, and therefore gained some interest. This has to be connected with the well known prohibition on lending money to fellow Israelites for usury; usury could only be received from Gentiles (Dt. 23:20). Surely the Lord is implying that at the least this person could have shared the Gospel with others, especially (in a Jewish context) the Gentile world. This would have at least brought some usury for the Lord. This would suggest that issues such as apathy in preaching, especially the unwillingness of the Jewish believers to share their hope with the Gentiles, will be raised by the Lord during the judgment process. Of course, the Lord hadn't told the servant (in the story) to lend the money to Gentiles; he was expected to use his initiative. The overall picture of the story is that at least the man should have done something!
1 Chron. 10
We need to realize that we have more influence upon others than we may think. It can be that an illiterate sister in a male dominated society can think that her attendance at ecclesial meetings cannot encourage anyone. It can be that the Christian stockbroker feels that it is impossible for him to influence those he works with. But we do have influence. Consider how Saul’s armour bearer would not kill him when he was mortally wounded (1 Chron. 10:4). Although he was one of Saul’s men, in the anti-David camp, yet David’s example of not killing Saul must have deeply influenced him. We do make a difference. We have become so humiliated by a shame based society that we can underestimate the value and power of our own personhood.
Ezekiel speaks of how every act of idolatry was seen by God as the fickle wife of a faithful husband deceitfully liaising with another, worthless, man. And there is a similar shocking terror associated with our infidelities to the Lord who bought us for His own. The self-hatred of repentant Israel before they accept the new covenant is described with a purposefully terrible idiom: a woman plucking off her own breasts (Ez. 23:34). These words must be seen in the context of Israel offering these parts of her body to the hands of the Gentiles (Ez. 23:3,8). And now, with her own hands, Israel would fain pluck off her breasts in realization of her degradation. This self-loathing must be part of every true repentance; for we too, in advance of Israel, ought to have repented a like repentance, and entered the very same covenant. Just reflect upon the self-loathing in repentance of Ez. 6:9; 20:43; Job 40:4; 42:6. This is how sin is serious.
God sent His Son to Israel, thinking " they will reverence him when they see him" (Lk. 20:13). But Isaiah 53 had prophesied that when Israel saw Him, they would see no beauty in Him and crucify Him. Yet God restrained that knowledge, in His love and positive hope for His people. Likewise Jesus, it seems to me limited His foreknowledge of Judas. He knew from the beginning who would betray him. One of the 12 was a traitor. Yet Judas was His own familiar friend in whom He trusted. Today in our lives, it seems God allows His omniscience to be limited in order to feel with us through each of our temptations, each possibility we have, and actively feels hurt or surprise or disappointment or joy according to our response.
1 Chron. 11
Benaiah killed a lion in order to prepare him for killing two lionlike men (1 Chron. 11:22). God gives us experiences in order to prepare us for similar ones later on, and leads us along a path of development. Today, therefore, is not wasted, God isn't ignorant of us, He is leading us, somehow, onwards.
‘The prophets’ were painted by Judaism rather like the Orthodox church paints ‘the saints’ today- white faced men of such spirituality that they are to be revered and worshipped as icons, rather than seen as real examples to us today. The Lord by contrast saw them as working models of the sort of spiritual life and walk with God which we too can just as realistically attain to. In Ez. 24:13-24, God forbad Ezekiel to carry out the mourning rituals associated with his wife’s funeral. Likewise Jeremiah was forbidden to participate in lamentation for the dead in a house of mourning (Jer. 16:5-7). And again, the man who was bidden “let the dead bury their dead” was being invited to see himself on that level, of an Ezekiel or Jeremiah, being called to this behaviour by a person who could speak directly on God’s behalf. And why were those prophets bidden do those things? It was in order to be a witness to Israel, proclaiming judgment to come. And this was exactly the same reason the Lord bid His potential follower to ‘let the dead bury the dead’- in order that the man could urgently proclaim the Gospel to Israel. Yet if we press further with the question as to why exactly God wanted Jeremiah and Ezekiel to not mourn for the dead, we find ourselves reflecting that actually, quite often God asked His prophets to engage in what some would call anti-social behaviour in order to attract attention to the message they were preaching. Remember that Jeremiah was forbidden to marry [most unusual for a Jew], go weddings etc. (Jer. 16:1-4,8). For other examples of ‘anti-social behaviour’ demanded of the prophets [e.g. walking about naked], see Ez. 4:9-15; 12:1-7; Hos. 1:2; Is. 20:1-6. When we meet the enigmatic phrase “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev. 19:10), I believe it’s a pithy summation of what we’re saying here. The Angel had made prophecies, and John felt that this was something so wonderful that it separated him from the Angel. But John like us was bearing “the testimony of Jesus” (Rev. 1:9). The same essential spirit which was in the prophets is in all those who in their spirit or attitude bear the witness of Jesus. Hence the prophesying Angel encourages John not to worship him, but rather to recognize that he is John’s “fellow servant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book”, i.e. all believers (Rev. 22:9). And again, this was radical stuff for the initial audience of the Apocalypse. They were being told that they had the prophets as their brethren, and on account of their spirit / attitude of bearing the testimony of Jesus, the same spirit which was in the prophets was in them. The very act of bearing witness to Jesus in our spirit / disposition is in fact to have the same spirit in us which was in the prophets and was the basis of their prophetic witness. This makes the prophets our “brethren”, not distant white faced ‘saints’.
Lk. 21:13 speaks of how when a believer is persecuted, “it shall turn to you for a testimony”. What does this really mean? For me, the most satisfactory explanation would be that the Angels give a positive testimony of the faithful believer in the court of Heaven. There is active discussion about us going on today in God's Angelic council in Heaven!
1 Chron. 12
The system of God's manifestation has remained constant- both through the Angels in Heaven and the organizations of men on earth. Thus 1 Chron. 12:8 describes David's ecclesia in the wilderness as having faces "like the faces of lions" (Angel-cherubim language?), being "a great host, like the host of God"- David's host became increasingly in line with God's Heavenly Hosts of Angels, the four living creatures. We too today are representing God and His heavenly Angels here on earth. He is using us.
Many are perplexed by questions such as: ‘Why does God call this man but not that woman, who seems such a nice person? Why does God allow children and animals to die, in many cases without hope, according to the Bible? Why are many good living people not called to know the Truth? Why do some people suffer so terribly? Why does God allow some to be born mentally ill, and others likewise to suffer through no fault of their own?’. To me, these must remain questions to struggle with. I see no trite answer within the limits of Biblical exposition (4). But for me, this apparently harder side of God in a way attracts me to Him. I see in these imponderables that surely there is a God above, and we are mere men, with all the arrogance of our misunderstanding. This harder side of God converts men, and will convert them at the final judgment. God judged nations [often terribly] in order that men might know Him as Yahweh (e.g. Ez. 25:11; 28:22; 30:19). Yahweh is exalted in His judging of men (Is. 5:16). His judgments make His Name / character manifest. “Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify Thy Name?...all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest" (Rev. 15:4).
For a master to serve his servants was unheard of (Lk. 12:35-38). But this of course was the wonder of what the Lord did for us, "as one who serves" (Lk. 22:27), defining for us our attitude to each other at the memorial table and in all aspects of our lives and relationships. Likewise the master makes the servants "recline at table" (Lk. 12:35-38); they are made to feel like the Master, by the Master Himself! This is what it means to be "in Christ". There's a kind of out of scale inappropriacy about the idea that if the Master comes and finds the servants awake, then He will gird Himself and serve them. Of course they ought to be awake! But it's as if He is so especially impressed by this fact. And we who live awaiting His return need to take note. And the idea of the master serving is of course the idea behind the description of the cross in Phil. 2:6,7. We should have the same awkward sense of wonder at the cross as we have when we recline at the breaking of bread. This implies that those who serve the emblems are in fact manifesting the Lord Jesus, and are actually of far greater significance than the president or the speaker.
1 Chron. 13, 14
1 Chron. 14:15 gives an incident similar to the scenario of the conquest, with the Angel physically going ahead of them and the people having to do their part in following. "When thou (David) shalt hear a sound of going (like the noise of the Angel cherubim in Ezekiel 1?) in the tops of the mulberry trees, that then shalt thou go out to battle; for God (the Angels) is gone forth before thee to smite the host of the Philistines". So once the Angels had physically moved forward and David had heard them doing this, he too could move ahead in doing the human part in bringing God's purpose about. David alludes to this as a regular experience when he speaks of God ‘going out’ with the hosts / armies of Israel (Ps. 60:10 RV). His hosts were as the hosts of God (1 Chron. 11:22)- he walked in step with the Angel Cherubim above him, as Ezekiel was to do later.
Even in the context of speaking of His marriage to Israel, God says that He will punish them "as women that break wedlock are judged" (Ez. 26:38; 23:45). And yet, He didn't. His love was too great, His passion for them too strong; and He even shamed Himself by doing what His own law forbad, the remarriage to a divorced and defiled wife. Perhaps all love involves a degree of paradox and self-contradiction; and a jealous, Almighty God in love was no different. This, to me, is why some Bible verses indicate God has forsaken Israel; and others imply He hasn’t and never will. Somehow, even right now, the Jews you meet… are loved still by their God. And he still fantasizes, in a way, over their return to Him. Imagine His utter joy when even one of them does in fact turn to Him! That alone motivates me to preach to Israel today.
Christ's perfect character is only appreciated by the believers, and therefore it is only to them that God's Name / glory / very own self is revealed by Christ's example. It was to us that God's glory was finally revealed in the death of Christ. To those who wanted to see it, there was almost a visible righteousness exuding from Christ in His time of dying. " Truly this man was the Son of God...Certainly this was a righteous man" (Mk. 15:40; Lk. 23:46) was the response of the Centurion who was " watching Jesus" ; and collating the Gospels, it seems he said this twice. " Do we today have that awe at His spiritual achievment? Or is He little more at times than a black box in our brain whom we call "Jesus"?