The Well: December 1-5

 

December 1: 2 Corinthians 1, 2

 

2nd Corinthians is one of 13 letters from the Apostle Paul in the New Testament. The events that prompted Paul to write this letter can be pieced together from statements in the epistle itself. Apparently, some false teachers had infiltrated the church in Corinth, bringing sharp criticism on Paul and his validity as a teacher. They had questioned Paul's personal integrity as well as the truthfulness of his doctrine in regards to the keeping of the Law. A number of the Christ-followers had been carried away with these charges, and news of their heart change toward Paul reached him. Paul had quickly sent a letter, which even he considered harsh (7:8). It had addressed these issues and, apparently, had brought the Corinthians to a place where they regretted the ways in which they had acted toward Paul. News of their repentance came to Paul when Titus returned to him (7:5). Yet, there remained some in the church who were still in doubt concerning Paul. Hadn't he promised to come to Corinth, and then not done so (1:15)? Paul takes this as an occasion to write yet another letter, explaining his change of travel plans (2:1), and as well to address a number of other issues including his lack of letters (3:1), his New Covenant teaching (3:4ff), the question of believers who die (5:1ff), the necessity of generosity in the gathering of support for the Church in Jerusalem (8,9) and lastly, the true nature of false teachers, and their certain judgment (10-13).

 

Chapter 1 is all about comfort. God, the Father of all comfort, has comforted his people in Jesus Christ. Now it is their privilege to minister to others who are in need of the comfort found only in understanding and loving God. Paul certainly knew what it felt like to be in trying circumstances. Yet, in every case he found rest and refuge in the God upon whom he had set his hope.

 

Chapter 2 finds Paul speaking directly to a question that had been posed by the Corinthian church. What should they be doing with a man who, apparently, had wandered from the faith, caused Paul and the church much pain, had been disciplined by the church, and now had repented and returned? Paul’s advice is clear: Discipline is for the purpose of restoration, not annihilation! Turn and love this man knowing that anyone the church forgives, Paul also forgives.

 

The chapter ends with Paul’s description of the disruption of his travel plans. He had penned a letter to the Corinthians, sending it by way of Titus. Apparently, he had made plans to meet Titus in Troas to hear just how the church had received the rather direct statements Paul had made in the letter. When he arrived in Troas, he began preaching while waiting for Titus, and God greatly blessed the word, and many were believing. Yet, Paul was concerned for Corinth and so moved on to Macedonia and Corinth.

 

But, Paul is quick to state that, while wondering about where and when to go in his travel plans, he is secure in knowing that wherever he is, God intends to be made known through his life and message. Paul says believers are “the fragrance of the knowledge of (Christ) in every place.” What a privilege we have!

 

Prayer: Father, today please help me to live out the “fragrance of Christ” in all I do and say. Strengthen my desire to make my Christianity obvious, and open up opportunities to share my worldview with others in whom your Spirit may be working. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

 

 

December 2: 2 Corinthians 3, 4

 

Paul’s credentials and authority as an Apostle had come under scrutiny among some of those in the Corinthian church. He recognizes that his declarations in chapter 2 may sound as though he is “commending” himself, but such is not the case. Paul doesn’t need “letters” of reference or introduction! Rather, the transformed lives of the Corinthians themselves are all the proof needed to validate Paul and the message of the Gospel.

 

He reminds his readers that the message of Moses and the Law was a glorious message, and in its day, it was crowned with glory and honor. Yet, it was never able to bring life but only existed to condemn the soul, and demonstrate the need for a new Covenant in Christ.

 

But if that message, set in letters of stone, had value, how much more the New Covenant written on the hearts of those whose lives have been transformed through faith in Christ?

 

Paul insists that he is a minister of this New Covenant, and that it is through the Gospel of Jesus Christ that the “veil” can be removed from the eyes of the heart and genuine faith and repentance be granted.

 

Chapter 4 finds Paul declaring that, as a minister of the Gospel, his faith in the power of God through the Gospel keeps him from losing heart, despite the challenges and obstacles.  He isn’t a peddler or manipulator like others who travelled around spreading their philosophies and theories. Rather, Paul declares Jesus Christ, knowing that only God can bring light out of darkness, and he does so through the Gospel.

 

Paul goes further to declare that the “treasure” is the Gospel, and not the “clay pot” that may carry it around. Notice how Paul gives all the glory to God, and all the power to the Gospel, and keeps none of it for himself. He likens himself to a clay pot, which was neither strong nor special. His point was always to magnify the power of God and marvel at the way it could be demonstrated through the frailty of the human messengers who heralded the Good News.

 

It is this perspective that buoys Paul’s spirit, even in the dark days. He does not lose heart when obstacles arise for his knows the success of his mission isn’t dependent upon him, but upon his God. In fact, he recognizes the trials and disappointments of his life as “momentary” and “light” compared to the eternal weight of glory that awaits all those who have entrusted their eternal destiny to the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Prayer: Father, reading about the way Paul viewed the Gospel reminds me of the “goodness” of the Good News. Thank you for opening my eyes to my sin, and then to the love of Jesus Christ. Thank you for drawing me to Christ, granting me a repentant heart, and welling up faith in me so that my life could be transformed by your saving grace. Use me Lord, as you see fit, until all your sheep are gathered in, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.

 

 

December 3: 2 Corinthians 5, 6

 

Paul finished chapter 4 reminding the readers that this world is transient, and passing away, but our hope is set on that which is eternal. He stays with that theme in chapter 5.

 

Perhaps the Corinthians were concerned about death and dying. Paul reminds them that, though their physical bodies were eroding and dying, their spiritual identity was being renewed every day. The Christ-follower, though acknowledging the aches and pains of growing older, is not identified with this world, but with the next.

 

Having broached the subject of death, Paul now reminds his readers that death will put them face-to-face with the Judge of all the Universe, Jesus Christ. He declares that every life will be reviewed, and the proper verdict given.

 

This is a fearsome thing for Paul, to know that one day every sin will be uncovered, every life adjudicated, and every person declared either righteous or headed for eternal punishment. And because he fears God, Paul is passionate about bringing the message of reconciliation to those in his world.

 

It is important to understand that unbelievers don’t need just to be better people. What they need is to be reconciled to God! In the second half of this chapter Paul gives one of the most important teachings on the fact that reconciliation with God changes everything. It means that those reconciled are no longer identified as they are in the flesh, but now only as they are in Christ. And, they are in Christ only because God has accepted Christ’s death and righteousness as though it were theirs. It is the power of these truths that compels Paul to represent Christ as an ambassador, armed with the message of the Gospel.

 

Chapter 6 finds Paul appealing to the Corinthians not to waste the grace of God that has come to them. He means that they must not turn away from Christ simply because of the false rumors being spread about him by Paul’s enemies. Painstakingly Paul rehearses the ways in which he and the other apostles and evangelists have ministered for Christ without arrogance, or deceit. Rather, they have demonstrated the very power of the Spirit in their truthfulness, knowledge, patience, and purity, even in the most dire of circumstances.

 

Paul next moves to exhort the Corinthian believers not to become entangled with those who have no allegiance to Christ. Believers have become the very dwelling of God the Spirit, and as such, will always view life through the lens of the Christian worldview. Binding alliances with those who see things differently can only bring heartache and great trial.

 

Prayer: Gracious Lord, I thank you for the death of Jesus Christ, whereby my sin was accounted as his, and his righteousness accounted as mine. What an magnificent transaction: my sin for his righteousness! Father, forgive me for arrogantly thinking that I could ever merit your love, and then forgive me for ever thinking too little of that love! I Help me today to be a good ambassador for you, in all I say and do, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.

 

December 4: 2 Corinthians 7, 8

 

Chapter 7 finds Paul writing boldly, confronting some of the information that has been spread about him. He admits he made them grieve with his previous letter, but exhorts them that it was that grief that led to their profitable repentance.

 

He exhorts them on the benefits of godly grief which brings about a beneficial self-appraisal, and where necessary, true repentance.

 

It is interesting that too often we are hesitant to repent of our sins. We hate to admit our shortcomings. But in God’s eyes, repentance is a demonstration that we know and understand his great mercy and forgiving grace. Repentance also is part of the package from God that also contains forgiveness.

 

In chapter 8 Paul begins a new topic. It seems there was a devastating famine and drought in and around Jerusalem, and the church there was facing great trial. Paul had sent word throughout the Gentile world asking the various Gentile churches to take up a collection to help their Jewish brethren. Imagine! Jews and Gentiles who for generations has been mortal enemies, now were brothers and sisters in Christ, and anxious to help one another.

 

Paul details how the churches in Macedonia gave above and beyond their ability, and even begged to be included in the project. He does not say this to manipulate the Corinthians, but only to grant them the privilege of joining in the project. He reminds them that Jesus became poor, that through his poverty they might become spiritually rich. Again, the motive here was not manipulation but rather solid teaching on the benefits of trusting God and doing the right thing despite how we may view it temporally.

 

Apparently, the Corinthian church had begun collecting funds, and now Paul encourages them to complete what they had started. They should not let selfishness or laziness keep them from finishing the task, to the glory of God.

 

Paul ends the chapter by introducing them to an additional traveler who will be coming with Titus. While not named, this man apparently is known for being a godly preacher of the Gospel. It will be his task to collect whatever money the churches have gathered, and bring it to Jerusalem. This was Paul’s way of showing that any rumors of the collection project being a thinly disguised fundraising venture for Paul personally were illegitimate.

 

Prayer: Lord, when I read how the Macedonians “first gave themselves to God” and then to the matter of generous giving I am reminded that all I am and have is really yours. Thank you for taking such good care of me, and Lord, build in me a generous spirit, so that I may not be selfish, but eager to partner fully in the mission of Christ, through the church, to the world. By your grace and for your glory, Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

December 5: 2 Corinthians 9, 10

 

In chapter 9 Paul continues speaking to the Corinthian church about the matter of generous giving. He reminds them of a proverb, that those who don’t plant many seeds will not harvest much of a crop.

 

In the matter of giving, however, there is not to be an indecent compulsion. Each should give as they have decided in their own hearts, looking at their own resources, and determining what they believe God would want from them. Above all, giving should be from a cheerful heart … a heart that first understands the privilege of partnering with Jesus Christ in the greatest rescue mission ever.

 

And for those who doubt they will have enough if they are generous in their giving, Paul has a strong reminder: God is able to surround you with all good things! You can trust the God who loves you, and has made you his child. He is an excellent father!

 

Chapter 10 finds Paul once again defending his apostolic ministry. Apparently, some were remarking that Paul was strong in his letters, but rather meek and unimpressive in person. His response is that he does not wield the “weapons” that many of the travelling teachers had. Paul did not use the techniques the peddlers used. Rather, he trusted in the power of the message itself, brought through the Spirit of God, to accomplish God’s work in the lives of the people.

 

Paul’s weapons are not of the flesh, but of the truth. He is out, not to defeat people, but those arrogant arguments that some were lifting up against the truth of God. It is clear that any in Corinth were trying to undermine Paul’s ministry. They criticized him for boasting too much, and also too little; for being too bold, and then for not being strong and bold enough.

 

Finally, Paul brings the argument to an end by declaring the real proof and validity of any message or worldview is the lives of the people who adhere to it. His hope is fixed on the fact that the truth of God, in the hands of the Spirit of God, will do the work of God in the people of God. His hope is that, as they mature in the faith, they will come to see more and more the need to join Paul in the mission of bringing the Gospel to lands beyond their borders.

 

Paul ends the whole discussion of boasting and prowess with a quote loosely taken from Jeremiah 9:23, 24: and Psalm 34:2: “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” And that is good advice for today as well.

 

Prayer: Lord, in this world there are so many ideas and theories and viewpoints that vie for my attention and allegiance. Father, hold me fast to the truth of Christ, and may your Spirit use your Word to do your work in my life, so that my boast will only and always be in you, and you alone, because of your great love for me in Christ Jesus, my Lord, Amen

The Well: December 8 – 12

 

December 8: 2 Corinthians 11, 12

 

Chapter 11 finds Paul once again having to defend his apostolic office and activity. He wishes the Corinthians would engage with him in a little “foolishness.” This means he wants them to know that he knows what he is about to say could be widely misconstrued, and is very much wanting them to understand his heart.

 

Paul’s concern stems from the Corinthians’ willingness to accept false teachers and their error while seeming to think less of Paul because of his humble appearance and ministry. He ministers for free from a heart of love, and this has caused his audience to think less of him.

 

Nevertheless, Paul insists he will continue loving the Corinthian people, and bringing them the truth, regardless of their opinions. It is here that he lapses into the “foolishness” as he begins to “boast” of his apostolic pedigree. Are others servants of Christ? Paul is more so. Have they suffered? Paul has suffered much more. But what is obvious is that Paul’s “boasting” is not in things that show his prowess but in ways that bring out the reality of his weakness.

 

Chapter 12 continues the “boasting” and brings Paul’s grand vision of heaven into the argument. Though from the start Paul describes the vision of “a man I know”, in reality we easily understand this to be autobiographical.

 

Paul was caught up to the third heaven. In Jewish thought, the first heaven was what we would call the sky, and the second heaven would be what we know as space. The third heaven was the abode of God, and it is to this sphere of existence that Paul’s vision takes him. In this vision, Paul heard things that cannot be told or uttered, yet were of such a grand nature that, but for the hand of God on him, Paul’s pride would have swollen enormously. To keep this from happening, God sent him the famous “thorn in the flesh” whom he terms a “messenger from Satan.” Theories abound as to the specific identity of the thorn, but it is insightful that the term “messenger” is most often used of a person. Perhaps it was a person in Paul’s life that was used to afflict him, and cause him to understand his great weakness.

 

Nevertheless, it is the result rather than the identity of the thorn that concerns Paul. Through the ministry of the thorn he came to embrace his weakness rather than the pride that could have enveloped him due to the grandeur of the vision. Thus, he comes to boast in the weakness for it is here that the power of God is perfected.

 

The chapter ends with Paul admitting how much he has hated having to commend himself. They should have been commending him for the way God had worked through the gospel he brought. But, Paul insists he will still come to Corinth, and when he does he fears that too many in the church will be found in sin and not the blessings of repentance.

 

Prayer: Gracious Lord and Savior, too often I am proud of my strength when in reality, it is just your strength through my weakness. Help me to be realistic about myself, about both my weaknesses and the strengths you have given me. Help me live beyond myself, throwing off the selfishness and pride that too often keep me from fully trusting you, and loving you as I ought! Help me Lord, for the sake of the Gospel, Amen.

 

 

December 9: 2 Corinthians 13; 1 Kings 11

 

Chapter 13 is Paul’s stern warning for the Corinthians to put their houses in order ahead of the Apostle’s visit. The reports coming from Corinth are not good. The church is being eroded by sensuality and sin. Paul is on his way to set things to rights.

 

His advice is key: Examine yourselves! Here he calls those who profess to follow Jesus Christ to take a good, honest look at their own hearts and actions. They should test themselves by holding themselves up to the standard of God’s Word. Are they conspicuous as authentic followers of the Savior? Do their lives bear witness to his transforming grace? Is there growth in grace and knowledge? Are they being built up in true Christian character? Are their passions for truth and love growing and evident?

 

Paul hopes they will not fail the test, but also that any deficiencies found will be remedied prior to his coming. Then his time with them will be celebratory, and he will not have to exert apostolic discipline on them.

 

Paul ends the letter with his customary love and prayers for their comfort in the grace of Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

 

1 Kings 11 is a vitally important chapter in that it details the sin of Solomon that led to the division of the Kingdom into North (Israel) and South (Judah). The news is stark. To seal the alliances necessary for Solomon to hold onto the kingdom David has passed on to him he had to enter into hundreds of marriages with the daughters of the surrounding nations, cities, and clans. And, as God has always warned, his wives turned his heart away from God to idols.

 

The result was drastic. The king with the divided heart now becomes the reason for the divided kingdom. But God determines to wait until Solomon dies, out of deference for his father David.

 

The chapter chronicles the various enemies God raised up against Solomon that, in the end, brought about the divided kingdom. The northern kingdom, called Israel, formed under Jereboam while the southern kingdom, called Judah recognized Rheoboam as their king. The united monarchy of Israel, begun in 1051 bc under Saul, was now over, as the nation was divided into two, in 931 bc.

 

The northern kingdom of Israel was reckless and wicked throughout its history. 9 different royal dynasties came to the throne, and not one of their kings honored God. They set up alternative worship sites in Bethel and Samaria to keep their people from traveling south to the Temple in Jerusalem. Finally, God brought their wickedness to an end in 722 bc when Assyrian destroyed them as a nation.

 

The southern kingdom of Judah continued with Jerusalem as their capital. Throughout their history they had but one dynasty – the house of David as God had promised (2 Samuel 7).

 

Prayer: Father, the story of Solomon’s divided heart reminds me that my affections often fly off toward those things that either are meaningless, or even harmful. Lord, create in me a desire to love you most, to discipline myself for the purposes of godliness, so that your grace and glory may flow through me to help those in my world, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.

 

 

 

December 10: 1 Kings 12, 13

 

King Rehoboam had a chance to preserve the kingdom, at least it appeared so. His wise advisors counseled him to love the people, and serve their best interests. But his foolish decision to increase the burden on the people only furthered the division between the tribes.

 

Vs. 15 makes it clear that, while Rehoboam was acting of his own volition, making his own decisions, nevertheless it was God’s will that was being worked out. Here we see once again just how the sovereignty of God meshes mystically with the free will attitudes and acts of mankind. We can’t explain it fully, but then again, the biblical writers do not take any time to explain it either. They just accept it as part of what it means to love and honor our great God.

 

When the people saw just how brutal Rehoboam intended to be, they turned to Jerboan who led the rebellion against the house of David and formed the northern kingdom of Israel.

 

From the beginning we see the wickedness of Jeroboam and Israel. The incident of the Golden Calves demonstrates this. Fearful that the people would continue traveling to the Temple in Jerusalem, and then would continue their loyalty to the house of David. Jeroboam constructed counterfeit worship centers in Dan and Bethel, complete with golden idols claiming to be the gods that led the people out of Egypt. In essence, Jeroboah was saying “it is the same god as before, but how you can have a visual picture of him.” But this idolatry was never God’s plan, and the nation would never escape its hold.

 

1 Kings 13 is one of the most enigmatic chapters in the Bible. The moral of the story is simple: Never give up what you know for sure to believe what you can never know for sure.

 

In this weird story, God sends a young prophet up north to confront Jeroboam for his wicked leadership in promoting idolatry. When the king offers the prophet a job, he rejects the offer based on God’s command. This command is repeated 3 times in the whole story: God said don’t stay, don’t eat, don’t drink, and don’t come home the same way you went!

 

But an old prophet lies to the young prophet, brings him home and feeds him. Then, he tells him that his disobedience will cost him his life.

 

We read this and think it is unfair, even unjust. What is God thinking? But in the context of this section of 1 Kings the message is clear: The people of the north are giving up what they now for sure (worship of God in the Temple) for what they can never know for sure (worship of God as a golden calf, and other idolatrous practices that are being offered to them by a lying king!).

 

Prayer: Father, this story is unsettling in that it shows me just how much you hate false worship. Lord, deepen my understanding of your Word, and your heart that I might worship you well. And show me that worship is an every moment event as I see this world and all you’ve blessed me with through the eyes of a thankful heart, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

 

 

December 11: 1 Kings 14, 15

 

Chapter 14 describes the judgment of God on the house of Jeroboam. Though God had given him the northern kingdom, nevertheless he had not followed God. Now, his reign would come to an end.

 

Even more astounding is the prophecy of vs. 14-17 speak powerfully and specifically to the future day when Israel would be rooted up from the land God had given them, to be scattered beyond the Euphrates. This looks forward to the destruction of the nation at the hand of Assyria in 722 bc. After this time, the northern kingdom was never re-established. Vs. 16 is significant, and links well with Jeremiah 3:6-8 where the prophet is reminded that God did, in fact “give Israel up” and actually “divorced” the northern kingdom.

 

It is clear that both the northern and southern kingdoms were wicked following the death of Solomon. Solomon may have been the wisest man to ever live, but his great wisdom could not keep him from the pride that drove him to use ungodly means to maintain his kingdom and power. His legacy was a divided nation ensconced in idolatry, and very far from God

 

In Chaper 15 we read that both Jeroboam and Rehoboam die, and their sons take their thrones after them. Neither of their sons were godly men, and the story passes quickly to Asa, the grandson of Rehoboam who became king in the south (Judah).

 

Asa followed the pattern of his great-grandfather David, and brought down the centers of idolatry in Judah. In Israel, Jeroboam was followed by his son Nadab who did evil in God’s eyes, and was the last of the short-lived Jeroboam dynasty. Baasha killed him, and ushered in the 2nd dynasty in Israel.

 

Baasha acted in customary fashion in those days, and after killing the king, dispatched all of his family to insure there would be no other contenders to the throne. This fulfilled the promise God had made in 14:14.

 

It is evident that, following David and Solomon, the nation of Israel, now divided into north and south, was desperately wicked. We see that, despite the presence of the king they had cried out for, the people were in no better shape than they were during the time of the judges.

 

What we learn here is simple: Nothing can make up for the absence of a godly heart in those called upon to lead. Good leaders are first good people, and good people are those people whose eyes are fixed on God and whose roots are driven deeply down into his Word.

 

Prayer: Gracious Lord, it is awful to see just how quickly a good people can become a bad people when your Word and your ways are left behind in a push to satisfy selfish passions. Father, help me to liberate myself from my sinful desires that I might pursue life on your terms rather than mine, for the sake of my Lord and the Gospel, Amen.

 

 

December 12: 1 Kings 16, 17

 

The chaos of the northern kingdom continues to be chronicled in chapter 16. Baasha’s wickedness is brought to an end by God, according to the prophetic word he gave through the prophet Jehu.

 

Baasha’s dynasty is quite short. His son Elah reigns after him but soon is assassinated by Zimri who himself ascends to the throne of Israel. Following the custom of his predecessor, he also killed all of Elah’s family to eliminate any other claims to the throne. But his reign was for only 7 days, as the nation turned to Omri, who killed Elah. But some of the people followed Tibni, and so there was chaos upon chaos in the north.

 

Omri eventually defeated Tibni and ushered in yet another royal dynasty. More important than Omri was his son Ahab who succeeded him as king of Israel (the northern kingdom).

 

Ahab became the most wicked king to date when he decided to rebuild Jericho. In Joshua 6:26, 27 we read how God declared that whoever rebuilt Jericho would be cursed. This curse is fulfilled in Ahab, whose sons died in the rebuilding effort. The story of Jericho’s rebuilding is given here to show just how wicked and rebellious against God Ahab was.

 

In chapter 17 the great prophet Elijah is suddenly brought into the story. Nothing much is known of him except that he was of the house of Tish. God sent Elijah to Ahab declaring that judgment was coming in the form of severe drought. Following his confrontation with Ahab Elijah travelled east of the Jordan so that Ahab could not find him. There God provided everything he needed.

 

Soon God sent him to the Gentile village of Zarephath (see: Luke 4:26) where a widow was prepared by God to feed and house the prophet.

 

We learn about Elijah in this chapter, that he was endowed with miracle working power by God. He multiplied the widow’s oil, and raised her son from the dead. What is remarkable about these miracles is that we have not seen any miracles since the days of Moses.

 

There are only three eras when God has granted miracle-working power to men: The times of Moses, the times of Elijah/Elisha, and the times of Jesus and the Apostles. In each of these eras the miracles were used by God to authenticate the men as his appointed spokesmen during a particularly dark time in Israel’s history.

 

The miracles recounted in chapter 17 set Elijah apart from previous prophets we have met and read about in 1 Kings. Certainly this is to prepare us for the great showdown with the prophets of Baal in the next chapter.

 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, today I am so grateful for your provision in my life. Thank you for granting me an interest in Jesus, and for showering me with his love and saving grace. Grant me a tender heart today Lord, that I might be a means of blessing to someone who needs a fresh vision of your love and mercy, for Jesus’ sake, Amen. 

The Well: December 15-19

 

December 15: 1 Kings 18, 19

 

Chapter 18 presents one of the most epic battles between God and the idolatrous peoples of the northern kingdom. They had sold themselves into the worship of Baal, and now were pitting themselves against the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

 

Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest. The God that answered with fire would be proven to be the God of the region. The followers of Baal were quite confident given that they believed their god was the source of fire, wind, rain, and other natural elements.

 

In the end however, it was Israel’s God that heard and answered. The prayer of Elijah in vss. 36,37 is instructive. He reminds the listeners that his God is also the God of Israel, and that he is merely the servant. His only desire is for God’s glory to once again turn the hearts of the people away from idols and back to their God.

 

Following the challenge on Mt. Carmel, God keeps his promise and the rain falls ending the severe drought. It all looked good! Elijah certainly also thought that the people would renounce Ahab as king, along with his counterfeit worship, and once again the nation would be united. He had demonstrated this hope in building an altar of 12 stones, representing a unified kingdom.

 

But chapter 19 shows that the hearts of Ahab and his wicked queen Jezebel were unmoved. After having won his challenge with the prophets, Elijah is now sent running for his life as word from Jezebel reaches him. She promises to find and kill him.

 

Elijah ran to the far south, taking his rest in the wilderness near Beersheba. He was disillusioned and despondent. When God came to him, he expressed his frustrations. “I am no better than my fathers.” Thinking he had accomplished what was necessary to reunite the 12 tribes, he now realized that nothing had changed. Ahab and Jezebel were still in power, and the northern kingdom was still bound fast in the bonds of idolatry.

 

But God still had a plan for Elijah. He took the prophet to the mountain where Moses had received the law. There, by means of a series of meteorological occurrences, Elijah came to understand that it was the daily and ordinary that normally provided the vehicle for God’s ongoing work. The extraordinary may happen at times, but it is the daily faithfulness of God’s people that provides the means by which his sovereign plans are accomplished.

 

Prayer: Father, I confess I have often felt like Elijah … somewhat discouraged that you have not made things go the way I had hoped and even prayed for. And like Elijah, I even have tried to run away from you, but now I see that your love never left me, and your compassion never failed me, even as you brought me back to the place where I once again ran to you. Lord, be my refuge, and my strength, and bend my will to yours, that my life might be a beacon of your truth and love, for the Gospel’s sake, Amen.

 

 

December 16: 1 Kings 20, 21

 

Following the defeat of his god on Mt. Carmel, Ahab must have seemed weak to the kings that lived in the surrounding lands. They banded together, under the king of Syria, and made war against Israel.

 

Interestingly, God had an interest in keeping a pagan army from destroying his people, even though his people had forsaken him. Over and over God was longsuffering and patient with his disobedient people. Yet, this was not to last forever.

 

Over the course of a year, God delivered the Syrian army along with those who were with him, into the hands of Ahab. In two decisive victories, God demonstrated his reality to Ahab by allowing him to win even with inferior numbers of soldiers.

 

Yet, despite evident demonstrations of God’s presence and power, Ahab refused to walk obediently. Instead of ridding the land of Ben-hadad, he entered into a covenant with this pagan king, in violation of many long-standing commands of God. Israel was to rely on their God and never on alliances made with the idolatrous people living around them.

 

In chapter 21 the character of Ahab and Jezebel is graphically displayed. The king’s desire to own Naboth’s vineyard is rebuffed. The man refuses to sell his family’s inheritance. This was in keeping with the law of God that prohibited the sale of land to those outside the family. It could be leased, but every 50th year the land would return to the original owner. In this situation, the king wanted it forever.

 

When Jezebel heard of Ahab’s inability to buy the land, she put her own diabolical plan into motion. In a scene starkly like the betrayal of Jesus much later, an innocent man was condemned on the testimony of false witnesses, and stoned to death. Like David before him, who took possession of Bathsheba upon the death of Uriah, so too Ahab took possession of Naboth’s vineyard as soon as news of his death reached him.

 

Also like David, Ahab thought he got away with the crime. But God watches the activity of mankind, and especially those who rule as king over his people. The Lord sent Elijah the prophet to Ahab once again, bringing a word of condemnation and judgment. Elijah’s words are insightful. The king who could not buy the vineyard had “sold himself” to do what was evil.

 

As a result, God promised to bring both Ahab and Jezebel to an awful death, and also to bring disaster to the house of Ahab after his death.

 

Prayer: Lord God of heaven, in your sovereignty you see everything, record everything, and will one day call us to account for all that we are, say, think, and do. Lord, this is frightening, and it would be incapacitating were it not for the fact that, in Christ, you have become my Savior and my refuge. Yet, even though I am safe and secure in your love, it pains me that my sin and spiritual laziness are like arrows of rebellion aimed at your loving heart. Help me, Father, to prefer righteousness today, and to walk in a manner that is worthy of the love and grace by which your have saved me, Amen.

 

December 17: 1 Kings 22, Micah 1

 

As the book of 1 Kings ends, we see the downfall of Ahab, as God has promised. In a rare occurrence, the two kingdoms of God’s people – Israel and Judah – unite to take back the land of Ramoth-gilead.

 

Before heading to battle with Syria, the kings seek the counsel of the prophets. Their word is encouraging, and yet there remains one prophet who is known to always speak the truth.

 

Micaiah the prophet is summoned, and at first agrees with the majority that the battle will go Israel’s way. But Ahab realizes it is simply a ruse. When commanded to tell the truth, Micaiah contradicts the message of all the other prophets, and delivers the message he had received from God himself.

 

But Ahab’s anger keeps him from hearing that God will not give Israel the victory. He demands Micaiah’s imprisonment, promising to return in peace as proof that the prophecy as incorrect.

 

Intending to insure that he would not be a glowing target for the other side, Ahab went into the battle dressed as a commoner. Nevertheless, a “randon arrow found its way to the narrow opening between pieces of Ahab’s armor, and though surviving for most of the day, eventually died on the battlefield.

 

The prophet Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah and Amos, and prophesied during the 8th century bc at a time when both Israel and Judah were at their height economically, but near the bottom spiritually. His words are directed primarily at Samaria and Jerusalem, the capitol cities of the two Israelite kingdoms.

 

Chapter 1 is a dreadful declaration of impending judgment from God on his people. They have turned away from him and given themselves over to the idolatrous practices of the pagan people surrounding them. Though God is longsuffering, it is not wise for his people to presume on his patience. Micah is his messenger, commissioned to bring the bad news to God’s people.

 

Micah is greatly moved by the predicament of his people. His greatest sadness is reserved for the fact that their “wound is incurable.” The time for repentance and mercy is past. Only judgment awaits them. The surrounding cities and people should not weep for them, for they are only receiving the just reward for their rebellion against their God and his law.

 

Prayer: Lord, once again your hatred of sin takes center stage. Father, forgive me for thinking too little of my sin, and thereby, thinking too little of your greatness, your majesty, and the death of Jesus on the cross. Give me, Lord, a deeper sense of my own pride, and my selfishness, and my ability to rationalize away my own sinful desires and deeds. Give me a soft heart that understands the depth of my own sin, and then lead me back to the forgiveness you give in your son, Jesus Christ, who is my savior, forever, Amen.

 

December 18: Micah 2, 3

 

Chapter two finds Micah directing his denunciation toward the corrupt practices of the rich and influential people of the day. They see what they want and take it by force. But God will not stand by and allow this abuse of power. He sees all, and though he has been patient, the time for judgment has come.

 

God has not changed. He continues to do good to those who walk according to the righteousness of his commands.

 

The plight of the people is in some ways tied to the lack of good spiritual leadership. The “preachers” no longer deliver God’s word, or call the people back to obedience. Rather, they preach what the people want to hear. They preach wine and strong drink, which is just another way of speaking about a lifestyle that is driven by passion rather than devotion to God.

 

As the chapter ends, there is a nuanced word of hope. Though God will judge, he will not forsake his people. On day he will gather the righteous remnant together, and set them in a protective place under his watchful eye.

 

Chapter 3 presents Micah’s second oracle. Like the first, it directs the people attention to the fact that God is bringing judgment upon them. This time Micah speaks to those in power and those whose job it is to deliver God’s word to the people.

 

Those who are granted positions of power are supposed to know and execute justice. But such is not the case in Samaria and Jerusalem. Rather than help the people, they are the ones responsible for making their lives miserable, and even taking their lives. The description in vs. 3 is both graphic and sobering.

 

The prophets also come under Micah’s condemnation. They are proclaiming a message of peace when paid well for it, but for those without money, they have only condemnation. God will take away their positions, making it known that they do not have a word from God.

 

But this is not true for Micah. In a very rare occurrence of such a phenomena in the Old Testament, Micah insists he is “filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord.” The ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament is always in the background. While he must have been the agent of conviction and regeneration then as now, his presence with his people was much different than the indwelling Christ-followers enjoy today.

 

Micah is empowered by the Spirit of God to bring the message of God to the people. He brings word of God’s justice and might, of Israel’s sin, and of the destruction that God is bringing as a result.

 

Prayer: Father, I am so thankful that the Holy Spirit now lives in me. But, Lord, I too often quench his power and guidance through my unwillingness to surrender my will to yours! Lord, open my eyes to the truth that what you have for me through obedience is always my best option, that I might please you in all I do today, through Jesus, Amen.

 

December 19: Micah 4, 5

 

As Micah continues his message from chapter 3, the mood changes from judgment to glory. “It shall come to pass” he says, that the city of God – Jerusalem – will be re-established as the very dwelling of God.

 

One day all peoples will recognize the glory of God, and come to the “house of Jacob” to be taught the wonderful ways of Almighty God. Vs 3 seems to indicate a time of world-wide peace in which war will be forever replaced with peace and safety. Additionally, those who have been cast away will be gathered and will be precious to the Lord, and the whole earth will once again be under the righteous rule of God.

 

Vs. 8 contains an important clue as to the place where Messiah would come. The phrase “tower of the flock” is literally migdol eder, and refers to a tower that was well-known just outside Bethlehem (see: 5:2). To this region in the future “the former dominion will come”, a seeming reference to the fact that one day, Messiah would come to that place to inaugurate the redemption of Israel, and of the whole earth.

 

Vs. 9, 10 foretell the demise of Jerusalam and the captivity in Babylon. Yet, this will not be the end of God’s people. In a reprise of the message of vs. 1-7, the prophet paints a picture of a future time when all the earth will belong to the Lord.

 

Chapter 5 continues the contrast of Jerusalem’s present distress and their future glory. Seemingly out of nowhere comes the powerful announcement that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem. This village, too small to have been included in the list of villages and cities granted to Judah when Joshua divided up the land, this berg will be the birthplace of the one destined to be God’s King in Israel. Until he come, God will give his people up to their ways. But, when Messiah comes he will be the promised shepherd (Ezekiel 32), and as well will be the king that finally brings about peace.

 

The scene shifts back and forth between the near-term judgment, and the far-term glory Israel will experience under the rule of Messiah. Though there will be judgment, and captivity, and a long season of trial, yet Micah directs the people’s gaze to the day when God will fulfill all his promises, and set all things to rights. The faithful remnant – those who have lived in obedience to God – will be lifted up even as God judges the sorcerers and idolaters among his people.

 

Over and over we have the same message ringing out from the prophets: One day God will return, and when he does he will rescue and reward the righteous while dealing out justice and judgment to those who have turned away from him to live life on their own terms. It will happen, and the only good option is to fear God and obey his Word.

 

Prayer:  Great God of Glory, your majestic rule over all things, over all peoples, and especially over my heart makes me glad to be your child. Father, continue to grant me a fuller vision of your heart for the world, so that I may live in a way that transmits your truth to those in my life. I understand that, ultimately, everyone who rejects Jesus Christ will face your fury, and I desperately want to see as many as I can come to love you as I do. Father, use me to that end, whatever it takes, for the glory of Jesus Christ, Amen.

 

The Well: December 22-26

 

December 22: Micah 6, 7

 

Chapter 6 is set as a court case. The legal controversy is between God and his people. The mountains are called as witnesses. God has acted faithfully. He has delivered them from Egypt with a mighty arm, redeeming them from slavery and bringing them into the land he had promised them. Micah reminds the people of God’s protection and deliverance, citing the events surround Balak and Balaam as evidence.

 

Vs. 6 finds Micah now testifying, and speaking as though he were one of the people. What is God asking of them? How can they be accepted before the Lord? Is it burnt offerings, or year-old calves? What if one could bring thousands of rams or even ten thousand rivers of oil? Would this massive outpouring of offering be enough to please God into accepting the giver? What about someone willing to sacrifice his firstborn?

 

The poetic flow of vs. 6,7 is beautiful. Yet, the sentiment there is hideous, as though the favor of God could ever be purchased. Vs. 8 brings the necessary correction. “You don’t need to ask what God wants because he has told you over and over again. It isn’t your stuff, but your heart that he demands. He is pleased with those who pursue the good, who prefer justice and love kindness, and walk humbly in joyful dependence on their God.”

 

The rest of the chapter depicts God as the judge who has decided the case in favor of righteousness and justice. Justice demands that sin be punished, and God promises to be faithful to the justice his nature demands.

 

The book finishes with the cry of the prophet who understands that judgment is coming. He has looked around and, in despair, concludes that the godly have perished from the earth. He sees no fellowship of righteousness for all are evil and lie in wait for one another.

 

Israel had become a dangerous land. The best people were still like briers and thorny hedges. They were dangerous to themselves and others because they had left the ways of the Lord to walk as the nations walked. Neighbors could not be trusted, and neither could fathers..

 

In the midst of a horrible situation seemingly without remedy, Micah declares that his hope is in the Lord. He trust in the Lord, and will wait patiently for the Lord to hear and deliver him.

 

Consequently, Micah admonishes his enemies not to rejoice just yet. God will deliver the faithful, for there is no god like Micah’s God. He will again rescue his people for he will not be angry forever. One day he will gather together the house of Jacob, and they will recognize his faithfulness, and own him as their God and king.

 

Prayer: Father, thank you for the faithfulness of Micah, and all the prophets who had the courage to speak your truth and walk in your ways even when it meant going against the current of their culture. Give me a heart to love you well, and to make my love for you obvious in the way I live and work, so that in all things, you will be glorified through me, for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Amen.

 

 

 

December 23: Psalms 65, 66

 

Psalm 65 is a song meant to be sung as part of corporate worship, as vs. 4 makes clear. The song announces that God is worthy of praise for at least two reasons. First, he is the one to whom we pray, and second, he is the one who atones for our transgressions.

 

As a result, our God is called the “God of our salvation” both in the moment, and over time. In times of distress he hears us and responds with his sovereign care. But overall, it is his grace that removes our guilt, covering us with his righteousness, and fitting us to live with him forever.

 

From vs. 5 the psalm chronicles the mighty works of God by which our lives are maintained and benefited. He has established the seas and rules over them. He causes the morning to come and the evening to leave. He waters the earth, provides the grain, and takes care to see that all creation continues, season after season, year after year. He is the God in whose hands time and all things reside. And, most importantly, he is our God, and we are his people.

 

Psalm 66 continues the theme of God’s mighty acts as a reason for his people to praise and honor him with their joyful worship. The psalmist invites the reader to “come and see what God has done!” Of first note is the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea by which the people were saved from their Egyptian pursuers (vs. 6). The story continues with reminiscences of the wilderness wanderings in vs. 10-12.

 

From vs. 13 the psalmist models personal response to the greatness of God. The acts of God, along with their intended message of his power and love, must move us from mere acknowledgment to heart-felt adoration and worship. These must, as well, be followed by consistent obedience, both in proper worship and in all of life.

 

The psalmist insists that the proper offering of the sacrifices demanded by the Law constitutes obedient worship. In our day, we no longer offer these physical sacrifices because in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, the entire sacrificial system of Israel has been forever fulfilled. Yet, the principle of obedience still remains. God no longer demands we bring oil or lambs, but he demands that we bring our hearts to him, recognizing that our life comes from him, and must now be lived for him.

 

Prayer: Gracious Lord, you are so wonderful to me, so worthy of my praise, and certainly deserving of my obedience. Help me to see that obeying your Word and walking in your ways is the stuff of real joy and satisfaction. Mold my heart around your purposes Father, that I may more and more delight in the mission of Christ, through the church, to the world, through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 24: Matthew 1, Luke 1

 

On this Christmas Eve we circle back to two chapters we’ve already covered in The Well simply because it will do our hearts good to be reminded of the way Matthew and Luke describe the birth of our Savior.

 

In Matthew 1 we come to feel the tension Joseph must have felt as he learned that the woman he loved was no with child. In his day, the religious Jews would have expected him to separate himself from a woman who obviously had been promiscuous. Yet, Joseph loved Mary, and in spite of the situation, wanted to save her from humiliation. He had two choices. He could denounce her publicly before the religions leaders, or he could come to them privately. Being a righteous man, he determined to end his engagement privately.

 

But Joseph was acting without all the necessary information. When the angel explained the situation, Joseph was quick to devote himself to Mary as her husband. While we often think of Mary bearing public shame for being pregnant before marriage, certainly Joseph would have been the object of contempt on the part of some who considered his allegiance to such a woman as sinful in itself. Nevertheless, both Joseph and Mary had the courage to believe God, even in the most unlikely of circumstances. As a result, they were privileged to raise God’s son as their own.

 

Luke records several episodes that flow together to give us the ethos surrounding the birth of Jesus. First, an angelic messenger announced to Zecharias that his wife would bear a son whose task it would be to announce the coming of Messiah. Later, the angel Gabriel visited Mary in Nazareth with news that was even more astounding. This young woman, still a virgin, would conceive and bear a child through the agency of the Holy Spirit.

 

The beautiful song of Mary, known as The Magnificat, testifies to the godly heart of this woman. Placed in the most awkward of circumstances, Mary nevertheless magnifies the glory of God for having been chosen to bear Messiah. She sees this as yet another display of God’s grace by which, through the preceding ages, he has chosen the humble over the proud, and filled the hungry with good things.

 

As we celebrate Christmas Eve, may our hearts be filled with the knowledge that God – our God! – has faithfully superintended the great promise of the Savior. On that night, long ago in the sheep fields outside Bethlehem, he brought forth of a woman a baby named Jesus who was destined to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

 

Prayer: Father on this Christmas Eve, fill my heart with gratitude for your faithfulness in fulfilling the promise to right the wrongs of sin in our world. Open my eyes of faith still wider, and deepen my sense of your glory that I might see past the world’s temporal trappings to once again delight in the birth of Jesus, my Savior and Lord, Amen.

 

 

 

 

December 25: Luke 2

 

Today we have only one chapter to read, and it is the great story of the birth of Jesus. It is always amazing to remember how God used the civil authorities to bring about his plan for Messiah to be born in Bethlehem, just as Micah had prophesied (see Micah 5:2).

 

Imagine Mary, in the last weeks of her pregnancy. How could Joseph have convinced her to make the arduous trip south to Bethlehem in such a condition? One wonders! But when God moved the hand of the Roman rulers to demand everyone return to their home town to be counted, there was no other choice.

 

And so Mary and Joseph made their way to Bethlehem. But, when they arrived there was no room for them in the usual lodging places. The text says they found lodging in a place where there was a manger. In those days this would have been a cave, and most probably a cave used by the Levitical shepherds to safeguard the Passover lambs being born during that season. Only lambs born within a few miles of the Temple would be acceptable, according to policies passed by the high priests of the day.

 

The Levitical shepherds, specially trained to help in the birthing of these valuable lambs, would have stayed out all night to make sure they were there when the birthing process began. After the lambs were born, they would have been carefully wrapped in special cloths which were already prepared and stored in the birthing caves.

 

When the angelic choir exhorted the shepherds to go and find the new born Messiah, the only two clues they gave as to the whereabouts of the child were these: 1) he is wrapped in special cloths, and 2) he is lying in a feeding trough for animals. Without these two clues the shepherds might have searched throughout the whole village and not been able to discern which baby was God’s son. But, with these clues they knew right where to go … and go they did!

 

And when they found Joseph and Mary and Jesus, the affirmed what the angels had sung. God was to be glorified, for he had fulfilled his promise to send the “He” of Genesis 3:15, the “Son” of Isaiah 9, and the great Shepherd of Ezekiel 34. He had sent his Son into the Word, that through him the world might be saved!

 

Prayer: Wonderful Heavenly Father, on this Christmas Day my heart is filled with gratitude and joy for the wonderful gift you have given me! Thank you for this day, filled with laughter and the love of family and friends. And my the joy we feel today remain in us throughout the coming year as we walk each day with you, by your grace and for your glory, Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 26: Psalms 67, 68

 

Psalm 67 is often cited as the “missionary psalm” of the Old Testament. Here we have the reason God blesses his people. It is as the people of God are obedient to him, and are blessed by him that others recognize the superiority of our God.

 

The theme of this short Psalm is simple: God blesses us to that the earth may see his glory.  But too often we consider the blessing of God to us as ours to bottle up and enjoy. Here is an important question: Are we to be the end-users of God’s blessings? The good things God gives us, and the spiritual joy and satisfaction he bestows on us … are we to use it only for ourselves? When God deepens our knowledge of him, and grants us the wisdom for living righteous … is it only for our benefit?

 

The simple answer is “No!” It is as the blessings of God flow through us to the watching world that they come to see the magnificence of our God. Rather than be a container, we are to be channels.

 

In the Old Testament time, if someone wanted to get to God it was necessary for them to come to Israel, place themselves under the Law, and dwell among God’s people. Interestingly, there are no commands in the OT for the people to go be evangelistic in the surrounding nations. In fact, God warned them against fraternizing with the idolatrous clans that lived nearby for fear of becoming like them.

 

But, with the death and resurrection of Christ, everything changed. Jesus, in Matthew 28:18, announced that “all power has been given to me in heaven and earth.” It was on this basis that he said “Therefore, go into all the world and make disciples!” Psalm 67 continues to call the church to live beyond itself, to display the blessings of God to the nations so that many more can be added to the family of God before Christ returns.

 

Psalm 68 is a song of David that calls us to remember God as the great King whose power overwhelms his enemies but whose love cares for the widow and the fatherless. The theme rolls through the Psalm that God will always seek out and defeat his enemies while being eternally faithful to his own.

 

In the middle we find the key verse: “Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation” (vs. 19). Let this be our verse for today, and for the coming year. In all things may our hearts find refuge in our great God whose faithfulness is undeniable, whose love is unfailing, and whose grace is always sufficient.

 

Prayer: Lord, you are my God, and I want to praise you and trust in you more consistently. I know that circumstances weigh too heavily on my heart and too often grab my focus. Father, help me to remember you are my God and I belong to you. And help me to live in light of the fact that you are on my side, and are calling me to the best life there is, down the path of obedience, for your Name sake, Amen.

December 29: Numbers 1,2

 

The book of Numbers was written by Moses, and takes its name from the numbering of the people described in chapter 1. As Exodus ended, the people had obeyed God and build the Tabernacle. In Leviticus, God spoke to his people from their midst, symbolically recognized in that Tabernacle. Now, in Numbers God continues to direct the behavior of his people even as he readies them to begin their trek to Canaan.

 

Throughout Israel’s history the census will become an important element, both for good and bad. Whenever God ordered the numbering of the people it was a good thing. But when the kings decided to number the people for their own sense of security, the Lord looked on it with indignation.

 

Here God’s command to number the people was for the purpose of giving Moses a good sense of his fighting force. All the men 20 years and older were numbered. Only the tribe of Levi was exempted from this numbering, and consequently, from military service.

 

The Levites were given a different job, and to them fell the care, transport, and guarding of the Tabernacle. As it was the “dwelling of God” among his people, there were severe consequences for coming too close or in any way profaning this sacred tent. The Levites alone were allowed to dwell near the Tabernacle, and they were ordered to camp around it providing a buffer zone to protect the other tribes.

 

Chapter two describes God’s plan for the Israelite encampment. The Tabernacle was to be in the middle signifying the presence of God in the midst of his people. The presence of their God was the primary identifying mark of Israel as a people. God had chosen them from among all the nations to be his people, and he had committed himself to be their God.

 

In addition, chapter 2 gave God’s design for the nation’s movement. It is interesting that Judah is set apart to lead the march, followed by Issachar and Zebulun. There is a nuanced sense here of Judah’s coming prominence in the nation as the tribe from which David, and eventually Messiah, would come.

 

In these chapter we also see the transition in the tribe of Joseph (see: 1:32). The tribe of Joseph is divided into two tribes with each deriving Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh. This explains why, in the future of the people, you never hear of the tribe of Joseph.

 

Prayer: Father, even as I read about how you ordered and directed your people it is clear to me that you are a God who cares for his people, and has a plan for their wellbeing. Lord, help me to walk in the ways you have laid out for me today, pursuing holiness, love, grace, and truth in the midst of a world that loves the pleasures of sin. Be in the middle of my life, Father, even as you called the people of Israel to recognize your primacy in them. I ask all these things of you because you are my Father, because of Jesus Christ, Amen.

December 30: Numbers 3,4

 

As the Lord readied the people of Israel to set out from Mt. Sinai, he laid out specific plans for caring for the Tabernacle. God had chosen the tribe of Levi to be dedicated unto him, and in chapter 3 we see his plan for them.

 

Moses is commanded to bring the tribe of Levi to him and begin to number their males. This tribe was given the task of guarding the Tabernacle, along with all of its valuable furnishings.

 

God makes a point of saying that the Levites belong to him. In fact, the Levites are to be seen as “substitutes” for all the first-born of Israel who, according to the Law, were to be given to the Lord. But God declares that, instead of his taking all the firstborn, he has taken the tribe of Levi as his own. Here we have one of the first examples of “substitutionary redemption.” Those who were to be sacrificed to God by law are, instead, “redeemed back” by means of a substitute. God took the Levites, and the rest of the firstborn were allowed to remain in their clans.

 

Of special note in this chapter is the division of the Levites according to the three sons of Levi: Kohath, Gershon, and Merari. To Kohath was given the essential task of caring for the items that were housed in the holiest place in the Tabernacle.

 

Chapter 4 continues God’s directions for the sons of Levi. Each of the 3 clans was given a specific task in regard to guarding and transporting the Tabernacle.

 

It may seem weird to us today that such specific instructions were given for guarding and transporting what was, in essence, a big tent. But we must remember that this tent was the dwelling of God Almighty. The Tabernacle was God’s way of reminding the people that they belonged to him, and he had condescended to come live with them. Yet, their sin made the presence of God among the dangerous. So, God, although an omnipresent, spiritual being, allowed himself to be experienced as materially present among his people by means of the visible “dwelling” place that was the Tabernacle. To care for the Tabernacle was to minister to God himself.

 

When it came time for Israel to begin their journey to Canaan, someone would have to prepare the various parts of the Tabernacle, along with the sacred furniture, for travel. As well, someone would have to carry them, and those who did these tasks had better do them correctly or they risked profaning them and paying for it with their lives.

 

To the Kohathites went the enormous task of caring for and transporting the most sacred things of the Tabernacle while the clan of Gershon were responsible for the curtains and the other coverings of the tent. Lastly, the clan of Merari was given responsibility for the pillars and foundations pieces, along with all the other accessories necessary to the construction and stability of the Tabernacle.

 

Prayer: Father, at first it seems as though these chapters are just filled with minutia. But when I stop to think about it, you gave each of the clans of Levi a specific task to complete in service to you, and no task was too mundane to be considered service to God. Thank you Lord, for calling me to serve you today. And Father, help me not to consider any good work to be too insignificant as a means of worship to you, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.

 

 

December 31: Numbers 5,6

 

Chapter 5 at first may seem to be one of the strangest chapters in the Bible. But upon closer inspection we find some amazing things in it.

 

First, it presents a remedy for situations in which jealousy arises in a marriage apart from clear facts proving infidelity. In this case, a husband has some reason to believe his wife has been unfaithful, but has not caught her in the act. What does he do?

 

In simplest terms, the verdict is left to the sovereign God of Israel. Marriage is a sacred, covenantal relationship entered into before the very face of God and so it is only right to allow God himself to judge in this matter.

 

To underscore the serious nature of marital faithfulness, any instance of suspected infidelity becomes a spiritual matter demanding the intervention of a priest. He takes some holy dust from the Tabernacle and mixes it with water. The woman suspected of infidelity is asked to drink the water, and the question is left to God. If she swells and gets sick then it means she has been unfaithful, and the language seems to indicate that she will lose child-bearing ability.

 

If, on the other hand, she is not harmed by the dusty water it is a sign that there has been no wrongdoing on her part.

 

At bottom, this chapter demonstrates the extent to which God asked his people to trust him in every situation, but especially in those where solutions lay beyond human comprehension.

 

Chapter 6 lays out the specification of the Nazirite vow. Interestingly, the text plainly states that such a vow could be entered into by both men and women. The word “special” here is actually better understood as “hard and difficult” suggesting that this vow would be very hard to live up to because of its austere demands.

 

Accoring to vs. 4, the vow was not necessarily for a lifetime but could be done for a particular “time of separation.” This would have consisted of a certain number of days or weeks or even months during which time the person taking the vow would be so focused on God that the other things of life would have no pull on him.

 

Interestingly, the three basic requirements of the Nazirite vow were abstaining from wine and strong drink and all grape products, from shaving or cutting hair, and from every touching a dead body. It is clear then, that all of these things were permissible for those not under the vow.

 

The chapter ends with what has come to be know as the Aaronic blessing, used still today in many churches to end a service by conveying God’s blessing, or “putting God’s name upon” the assembled worshippers.

 

Prayer: Lord, it is both interesting and humbling to learn that there is benefit is foregoing some things in order to focus more fully on you and your demands on my life. Father, I recognize that there are things in my life – time wasters, frivolous pursuits, silly desires – that too often consume my attention, and keep me from desiring you as I ought. Help me Lord, to liberate myself from desires that hinder a deeper appreciation of, and devotion to the mission you have for me, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.