The Well: November 3-7

 

November 3: Judges 6, 7

 

Judges 6-8 present the first extended description of a judge and his activity among the tribes of Israel. The people had done evil in God’s sight, and he had given them into the hands of a coalition led by the Midianites, a nomadic people who would regularly invade to take or trample all their crops.

 

The angel of the Lord came to Gideon, who by his own admission was the least in his house, and part of the weakest tribe. Yet, God intended to show his power through this young man. Gideon was unsure, but the after a sign of burning fire he came to understand that his commission was from the Lord himself.

 

It appears the Gideon’s father was a sort of representative of Baal, for he had the community altar used in worship the idol. God instructed Gideon to tear it down, and sacrifice the sacred bulls of the pagans on a new altar dedicated to Almighty God. This caused the men of the city to demand Gideon’s life be given over to them. In a quick thinking move, his father saved him by declaring that Baal was strong enough to handle his own battles. Yet, Gideon emerged from the incident with fear and doubt that he could accomplish what God had called him to do.

 

The story of Gideon and the fleece is well-known, but largely misunderstood. God had already told him he would “defeat Midian as one man” (vs. 16). Gideon’s fleece experiment was never intended to discern God’s leading. Rather, it was an attempt to gain the confidence that God was really going to be with him in the fight. The fleece was God’s way of confirming what Gideon already had been told: God would be with Gideon, and the battle would be won as though the enemy were only one man.

 

Gideon had sent messengers to three of the northern tribes of Israel. Together with his tribe of Manasseh, the men of Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali responded to Gideon’s call to arms.

 

Chapter 7 presents us with a strange story, but one that aligns with God’s declaration regarding victory over an enemy as though there were only one man. When the armies of the northern tribes arrived they numbered 33,000 in all.  In 8:10 we learn that the Midian army originally numbered 135,000 men. Imagine Gideon’s surprise when God tells him that 33,000 vs. 135,000 just isn’t a fair fight and he needs to send some guys home! But imagine his greater surprise when God finally whittles the number down to just 300 men!

 

The whole aim of the story is to show that, if Israel will simply trust God, and obey his law, he will supply their every need, and protect them from all harm. In the end the battle isn’t even close, for God is on the side of his people.

 

Prayer: O Father, too often I see life through the lens of this world, thinking I need more than you supply. Lord, increase my understanding of your love, your power, your grace that surrounds me every minute of every day, that I might live up to the calling you have on my life, through Jesus Christ, my Lord, Amen.

November 4: Judges 8, 9

 

The aftermath of the great battle is described in chapter 8, as well as the downfall of Gideon. The Lord had granted Gideon and his army a great victory. The mighty Midianite alliance had been routed, and once again Israel would live in safety now that the leaders of the marauding clans had been killed.

 

As the troops returned from their battlefield success they looked to Gideon and saw that the Lord was with him. For the first time we hear of their desire for a king. For generations God had been their king, and had provided for, and protected them. Yet, the chaos of the period of the Judges had gotten the people to thinking about a king. They longed for one to lead them, to bring order out of chaos, and mostly, to fight their battles and bring some security to the nation.

 

Gideon smartly reminds the people that the Lord is their king, and they are best served by submitting to his rule. And if he had only stopped there, everything would have been good. But he didn’t. Perhaps he remembered the power and wealth his father enjoyed as the man representing Baal. Whatever the motivation, Gideon asked for gold from each of the men, and from the gold fashioned a ceremonial vest – a ephod – that he would use as the representative of God. In this way, Gideon put an idolatrous idea before the people, and they once again fell into the error of pagan practices. The text

describes it carefully saying “all Israel whored after it there.” That is, they substituted worship through Gideon and the ephod for the sacrificial system put forth in the Law of Moses.

 

Chapter 9 shows further stirrings of Israel’s desire for a king. After Gideon’s death, his son Abimelech started a campaign to become king, at least in his region. He first got the support of his own clan, and then killed all but one of his brothers in an attempt to eliminate any competitors to the position Gideon had gained. The one brother that remained alive – Jotham – began to spread a story in which all of the “good trees” refused to become king, while the bramble gladly accepted the crown. This story was meant to shame Abimelech both for assuming the crown, and for murdering all his brothers.

 

Abimelech did exert a kingly rule for three years, at least over the region of Shechem. He was not a judge officially for God had not appointed him. And technically, he was not king over Israel, but rather a clan leader who dominated a certain region. The chapter unfolds a dreadful story of lies and murder and wars between the clans of the region until at last God brought justice upon Abimelech and upon the evil men of Schechem.

 

The whole point here is to showcase just how wicked God’s people were becoming. There was no king, and they no longer served and obeyed their God. Everyone was doing what they thought was right, and the nation was in severe danger of fading away into chaos.

 

Prayer: Father, the stories of Gideon and Abimelech remind me just how strong greed and the desire for power and fame can be. O Lord, make it may passion to deepen my life and understanding, and leave it to you to broaden my influence as you see fit, through Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, Amen.

November 5: Judges 10, 11

 

Chapter 10 introduces us to two more judges about whom almost nothing is written. Tola and Jair judged Israel for 23 and 22 years respectively.

 

The greater portion of the chapter continues to chronicle the desperate and downward spiral of God’s people. Once again the familiar cycle is narrated.

 

As the nation enjoyed peace and prosperity under Tola and Jair, their comfort meant they no longer needed to cry out to God for his provision and protections every day. Soon, comfort became complacency and complacency became compromise. They turned to worship and serve the pagan idols of the surrounding nations. This angered the Lord, and brought various nations down on them in judgment.

 

The text tells us Israel was “severely distressed”, and they only had their own sinful rebellion against God to blame. But God, being rich in mercy and faithful to his promises raised up a man from the region of Gilead who would go on to be a great warrior, but a foolish father.

 

In chapter 11 we read about Jephthah. Being the son of a prostitute, he was soon ostracized from his family and driven into exile. Yet, his prowess as a soldier led the leaders of Gilead to enlist him as commander of their fighting men in the battle against Ammonites.

 

Vs. 14-21 give a fascinating history of Israel’s initial entrance into the region on their flight from Egypt. Jephthah rightly recounted how God had given Israel victory then, and would do so again.

 

As Jephthah led his army into battle, he made a very foolish vow, to sacrifice whatever came out of his house first upon his return from battle, if God would make him victorious.

 

This vow has been a challenge to bible students and scholars for many years. Surely Jephthah knew that human sacrifice was forbidden by God, and perhaps he never considered that he would be confronted with such an activity to fulfill his vow. It is clear that his vow demonstrated a lack of faith in God’s power in that it appears he was trying to leverage God rather than merely trust him.

 

After a stirring victory Jephthah was confronted with the reality of his vow, and the obligation to sacrifice his daughter. The yearly commemoration of this courageous young woman makes sense only if she did meet her death at the hands of her father.

 

Again, it is imperative to understand this story as yet another demonstration of just how corrupt and wicked Israel had become during this time. Even those through whom God worked were depraved in most areas of their lives. Without a devotion to God and his ways, his own people were in a free-fall toward abject paganism and all of its horrible consequences.

 

Prayer: O Lord, it is clear that when a people wander from you, and no longer honor you, they become prisoners of the depravity of the sinful heart. Father, thank you for drawing me to Jesus, for giving me a new heart and new mind, and for granting me the privilege of your Word, your people, and your mission through the Gospel. Help me to walk worthy of the calling you have on my life, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.

 

November 6: Judges 12, 13

 

Chapter 12 gives us the last mention of Jephthah, and once again it is intended to show just how wicked the tribes of Israel were becoming. The story of the tribe of Ephraim coming to battle Gilead is simply the story of a civil war between brothers and cousins that arose out of proud hearts.

 

The last half of the chapter describes the times of three more judges whose careers merited very little mention.

 

Again, this whole book is intended to chronicle the way Israel drifted away from God and became almost unrecognizable as God’s chosen people. The Law of Moses is almost never mentioned, and the festivals, sacrificial system, and the Sabbath worship seem to have become non-existent during these years.

 

Chapter 13 introduces to another extended description of a judge and his activity in rescuing Israel. Samson comes on the scene when he is born into the tribe of Dan. At this time in their history, the Danites were dwelling in their original setting next to the Phillistines. Later, in chapter 18 we will see that they relocated up north.

 

With the birth of Samson we are introduced to the concept of a Nazirite. The word literally means “dedicated” and refers to one that is dedicated to the Lord. According to Numvers 6:1-12 the Nazirite vow was voluntarily taken for a limited time. However, God intended Samson to be a Nazirite for his whole life. That is, he would be different from others, would live differently, and would be wholly dedicated to God.

 

In chapter 13 we see that, once again, Israel has become intentional in doing evil in God’s sight. Their judgment came at the hands of the neighboring Philistines. As in the case of Sarah and Rebekah before her, Samson’s mother was barren. This highlights the fact that deliverance for Israel will come from God, and not through purely human means.

 

Samson’s parents evidently were God-fearers for they recognized that the Lord had granted them the privilege of bearing and raising a special son, one that would be dedicated to God, and used by God in mighty ways.

 

Prayer: Father, it is strange to think of being “dedicated” to you, but Lord, that is what I want to be. Forgive me Lord, for allowing the things of this world to have so great a hold on my heart, on my affections, and on my time and energy. Father, it is you that is my life; help me to live up to my standing as your child, by your grace and for your glory, Amen.

 

 

November 7: Judges 14, 15

 

Early on in the story of Samson we realize that, while he has been “dedicated to God”, his heart is actually far from God. We see this in chapter 14 when he falls in love with a foreign girl. Even though vs. 4 reminds us that God would use this as an opportunity to smite the Philistines, we are right to suspect that marriage to a foreigner will ultimately be his undoing.

 

From the beginning of their coming together as a nation, Israel had been warned against intermarriage with the neighboring nations. Whenever they took foreign wives they also took in foreign gods. Over and over and over intermarriage became a snare to the nation.

 

This chapter presents several stories depicting Samson’s great strength. The purpose here is to understand that, ultimately, it is the strength of God working through Samson that is bringing deliverance to Israel. Of course, this becomes evident later in the story when Samson’s strength leaves him.

 

Samson’s Philistine wife provided not only an opportunity for him to harass the Philistines, but also became a great snare to him. The episode concerning the riddle is merely a preview of how love for a woman will be Samson’s undoing. In this case, he ends up losing her to one of his best friends.

 

Chapter 15 showcases Samson at his strongest and also at his weakest. His strength becomes real only when the Spirit of God comes upon him. Samson’s anger against the Philistines led him to do them great harm with the help of many foxes. Yet, his own cousins, the tribe of Judah, realized that inciting the Philistines would mean danger for the whole nation. They came and intended to hand him over to the enemy in order to save the nation. But once again the Spirit of God came upon Samson and he slew 1000 of the Philistine army.

 

God was working through Samson, as well as providing for him. Yet, the way the story unfolds we understand that God is not the focus of Samson’s heart. The nation is in disarray. There is no fear of God among Israel. Yet God is being faithful to his children despite their wickedness. His promises to them are not being derailed, even by their disobedience and utter barbarism.

 

Prayer: Lord, as I read these horrible stories of what took place during the time of the judges I am reminded of the privilege I have of being your child, and having your Spirit alive in me. Father, increase the joy of my salvation, and work through me for your good pleasure, even as you hold me fast in your love, for Jesus’ sake, Amen. 

The Well: Nov. 10-14

 

Nov. 10: Judges 16, 17

 

The story of Samson is known because of his great feats of strength through which he helped deliver Israel from the constant marauding of the Philistines. Yet, as we read the various episodes that make up his life we are actually more taken with his weaknesses.

 

Samson’s pride was surely an area of weakness. Nowhere do we find him having a heart for God. He did not exhibit faith, or reliance, or any sense of dependence upon the God of Israel until the very end.

 

Samson also clearly had a weakness for women. Like Solomon after him, Samson was drawn to foreign women. The author of Judges draws a clear contrast between the strength he exhibited toward the men of Philistia, and the weakness he had when in the presence of a woman. This would be his downfall.

 

Chapter 16 chronicles the final three episodes in Samson’s life, and they are a fitting summary of his time as a judge.

 

His dalliance with a Philistine prostitute, and the subsequent escape from an assassination plot via his great strength represent the true course of his life. He lived as he pleased, and used the strength God had given him to escape the consequences.

 

Yet, in Deliah he had met his match. His weakness for her became her strength, and that of his Philistine enemies. In divulging his status as a Nazirite, Samson put his life in her hands rather than remain dedicated to God. Even though he had never exhibited any true reliance on God, this event makes clear what we have always thought: Samson lived for self, and used God’s gifts for selfish purposes.

 

In the end, no longer strong or free, Samson finally turns to God in dependence and is used – in his death – to protect his people from further Philistine oppression. Samson stands as the primary exhibit of the treachery that ruled during the time of the Judges. Though not a good man or a God-fearer, he became a vehicle for God’s purposes.

 

The last four chapters of Judges, beginning with chapter 17 present some of the most bizarre episodes in the Bible. Taken together, they are meant to display the utter wickedness and societal decay into which Israel had fallen. They were now a pagan people, given over to the barbarism of the nations surrounding them. These chapters unpack what 17:6 and the final verse in the book (21:25)declare: There was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in their own eyes.

 

Chapter 17 and 18 tell the story of a thieving son turned idolater who hires a Levite to bring respectability to his pagan temple. The end of the story is even more bizarre and serves to show just how far Israel had wandered from God.

 

Prayer: Father, reading the story of Samson makes me shudder to think of my own pride, and the weaknesses I have for the things of this world. Lord, help me to consider spiritual strength, and dependence on you to be more important in my life, so that I may concentrate on the right things, avoid the hurtful things, and be a vessel fit for you use, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.

 

Nov. 11: Judges 18, 19

 

The story of Micah continues in chapter 18. He had turned a silver idol into an important shrine, complete with a Levitical priest, and travelers through Ephraim in the north would stop and offer monetary sacrifices to the idol, making his business profitable.

 

The tribe of Dan had originally settled near Gaza in the south, and were continually being harassed by the Philistines. So, they decided to send out scouts and locate a better place for their clan to settle. Passing by the shrine of Micah, they decided to steal the idols by force, and talked the Levite into becoming their “father and priest.”

 

Eventually they invaded the city of Laish, overpowering the gentle inhabitants, and effectively took over the city, renaming it Dan. This story graphically details the depth to which Israel had fallen. They no longer had any knowledge of their God, his law, or the prescribed ways they were to honor and worship him. They had become pragmatic, and idolatrous. As well, they had become murderous and barbaric, as the final story of the book describes.

 

The story of Micah, the Levite, and the tribe of Dan focus on the northern regions of Israel. The last three chapters of the book focus on the south, and particularly the tribes of Judah and Benjamin and show that idolatry, violence and barbarism had overtaken the entire nation.

 

Chapter 19 once again reminds the reader that Israel was in societal chaos. There was no king. The story begins up north, in Ephraim, but moves south to Bethlehem where the Levite’s concubine had gone to see her family. As they traveled back to their home, they decided to rest in the Benjamite city of Gibeah thinking it safer than the Jebusite city of Jebus. But, in a story reminiscent of Lot’s plight in Sodom, the men of Gibeah come wanting to have their way with the Levite and his servant. Instead, the concubine was given to them and by morning she had been cruelly treated and killed.

 

The Levite’s reaction was to make the crime known throughout the land, calling attention to the atrocity perpetrated on the woman by the men of Benjamin.

 

The last verse in chapter 19 is meant to show us that never before had Israel fallen into such sinfulness. This story presses on our minds just how vile and wicked God’s people had become. It appears there was no one with a heart for God.

 

Prayer: Lord, it is truly shocking to see just how far your people could wander from your love, from your majesty, from your truth. Yet, I know that today your people are greatly tempted to live like the unbelievers around us, becoming more and more comfortable with their sinful pleasures, and less and less able to be satisfied walking the paths of righteousness. O Father, preserve your church! And strengthen my faith in you, and my love for you, so that I will always know that obeying you is my very best option, through the Spirit you have made to dwell in me, Amen.

 

 

Nov. 12: Judges 20, 21

 

As word spread about the Benjamites wickedness toward the Levite’s concubine, the other tribes rose up in anger against their brothers. The battle of Gibeah is the final chapter in the book, and it is meant to give the reader the assurance that, even though Israel has intentionally turned from God to follow the gods of the surrounding nations, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has not forsaken his promise to be their God and claim them as his people.

 

The battle of Gibeah commences only after the Benjamites refuse to bring the perpetrators of the crime to justice. And it is in this battle we begin to see the people of Israel turn back to God.

 

The warriors advanced on Gibeah only to be beaten badly the first two times. This astounds us as readers because the numbers certainly seem to be in Israel’s favor. Yet, as we say in the story of Gideon, the only variable that really matters is God.

 

God allows Israel to suffer defeat two times before finally giving the battle into their hands. Each time they are moved to entreat God, once again understanding their dependence on him. The whole army went to Bethel, the place where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, to fast, pray, and offer sacrifices to YHWH. The heart of God is seen in that, despite their protracted years of rebellion against him, he remains faithful to his promises.

 

At the end of the chapter we find that only 600 men of Benjamin are left alive, while their whole city is burned, and every on in it killed. But this presents a huge problem, as we will see in the final chapter.

 

In chapter 21 the nation of Israel realizes that the devastation they have laid on Benjamin now means one tribe will no longer exist. They had previously vowed not to give any of their daughters to Benjamin, and now that only Benjamin men are left, the tribe can have no future.

 

They remember that the clans of Jabesh-gilead had not come to the assembly, and had not taken the vow. In yet another display of barbarism, they decide to kill all but the virgins, who are then given to the Benjamite men as wives.

 

But, even this does not completely solve the problem for more wives are needed. In the final disturbing episode in the book, the tribes conceive a plan whereby the men of Benjamin can steal wives from their northern brothers, keeping them from breaking their vow since the wives were not given but stolen by force.

 

As the book ends we are once again reminded that the way of life in Israel has not been aligned with their God but with their own selfish and wicked desires. When led by their sinful hearts, even God’s people go astray.

 

Prayer: Gracious God, I am amazed as the depth of your loving kindness, and the strength of your love, and the patience you display toward your people. Father, let me never take undue advantage of your grace; help me to see your love for me as a greater motivation to live for you rather than an excuse to walk in the paths of my own selfish and wicked desires. I want to love you more, and live for you more fully, because of your great redeeming love for me, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.

 

 

Nov. 13: Psalm 51, 52

 

In Psalm 51 we read the heart of David following his sin with Bathsheba. Through the prophet Nathan, God had granted David deep and sincere repentance. He now understood the depth of his sin, and this psalm displays that repentance.

 

David intertwines the themes of his own culpability, and the steadfast mercy of God. As he admits his guilt and unworthiness he also cries out for his covenant-keeping God to wash away the guilt, and overlook his unworthiness.

 

Vs. 4 is especially poignant. Hadn’t David sinned against his wives, Bathsheba, Uriah, and the whole nation? Yes, and yet he realized that all sin is a transgression of God’s law, and as such, is aimed strictly at God’s heart.

 

Over and over David pleads for cleansing, to be purged, to have a new heart created in him along with a spirit that is right before God. But he also makes a strange request in asking that the Holy Spirit not be taken from him (vs. 11).

 

When Saul was King, God put his spirit on him only to take it away after Saul’s refusal to follow his instructions (1 Samuel 16:14). Just a short time before the Bathsheba event, God had made a covenant with David (2 Samuel 7) that the kingdom would never be taken away from his family. Yet, David understood the heinous nature of his sin, and recognized that he deserved to be set aside, and the Spirit taken from him.

 

Today, we cannot pray this prayer as Christ-followers simply because God has sealed us with the Holy Spirit, who will never be taken away from us (Eph. 1:13,14).

 

Psalm 52 is a testimony to the faithfulness of God in times of opposition. David writes of those mighty men who are attempting to find and kill him. Their words and plans are against him, yet he does not fear because God is for him.

 

He contrasts those who find their security in wealth, possessions, and power with those who find their refuge in Almighty God. David likens himself to a healthy olive tree, well-watered and cared for by God, whose steadfast love will endure for ever and ever.

 

Prayer: Lord, listening to David’s repentant heart brings me shame as I realize my own repentance is too often shallow, rushed, and more often, non-existent. Father, today make me more aware of my pride, my selfishness, my hurtful actions, and my sinful thoughts. Grant me a heart of repentance that I might more fully understand the depth of my own sin, and seeing it as it is, forsake it more forcefully, by your grace and for your glory, Amen.

 

 

Nov. 14: Psalm 53, 54

 

Psalm 53 is almost a repeat of Psalm 14. Some of the words are changed, but the theme and flow is identical except for vs. 5 that differs from 14:5,6. There is no agreed upon reason for this psalm being repeated. It seems obvious that the altered sentiment in vs. 5 indicates a change in the circumstances of the author that he wanted brought to the readers attention.

 

The psalm is a general decrying of the state of society. As David surveys the people of Israel as well as the surrounding nations it is clear to him that, for the most part, humanity has no time for God. Consequently, they do not see the harm in bringing calamity on God’s people.

 

Yet, God’s love is not deterred by the rejection of mankind. He has chosen his people, and his faithfulness will not be affected by their wickedness. The psalm extols God for terrorizing those who would terrorize his people, scattering their bones and destroying their camps.

 

The psalm ends with a common refrain declaring that Israel’s strength and help will never be found in mankind, but only in God who reigns in Zion.

 

Psalm 54 presents the thoughts, fears, and faith of a young David as he was running for his life from Saul (see: 1 Samuel 23:19; 26:1).

 

David’s psalms often follow this same pattern:

 

• A plea for salvation

• A description of the danger

• A declaration of God’s strength and faithfulness

• A praise of thanksgiving for God’s greatness

 

David’s plight is serious for some very bad men are out to kill him, and he is largely unprotected. Yet, God has made a promise to him, and he is resolute in finding both comfort and resolve in that promise. God has shown himself to be a mighty helper, a protector, and the one who daily upholds his life.

 

Therefore, in the face of great opposition and danger David is determined not to run away from his God, but rather to run to him, rest in his promises, and remember his faithfulness in the past.

 

This is a paradigm that still works today. When trials hit, run to God, rest in the promises he has made to you in Jesus Christ, and meditate on the ways he has carried you through in the past.

 

Prayer: Lord, I thank you for my life, for my family, for my friends, and for all the good things with which you have surrounded me. And Lord, when trials come my way, help me to run to you and not away; to rest in your goodness and sovereign grace, and to remember that you are my God, forever, because you love me with an everlasting love, through Jesus Christ, Amen.

The Well: November 17-21

 

Nov. 17: 1 Kings 1, 2

 

As the book opens David is in his last days. He has grown feeble, and seemingly disinterested in ruling the kingdom. At this point the reader is apprehensive knowing that in the ancient world the death of a powerful king often set off a wild and often violent competition for the throne.

 

In this case, David’s oldest surviving son – Adonijah – determined to ascend to the throne after his father’s death. He recruited Joab, who had always been loyal to David but not necessarily to David’s desires (as we will see in 2:5), and Abiathar, the only survivor of Saul’s massacre of Ahimelech, who himself served as high priest. With these two powerful allies Adonijah believed he could assert himself as king. In fact, he just about pulled it off.

 

But God had other ideas. He raised up Nathan the prophet, and together with Bathsheba reminded David of his promise that Solomon would follow him as king. What we find here is a continuance of the way God has worked throughout the Old Testament. He often chose those that we wouldn’t have chosen. Certainly Adonijah, as the oldest son, could expect to become king. But God’s plan for the Davidic dynasty was to flow through Solomon.

 

At first it appeared that Solomon and Adonijah could exist together peacefully but the next chapter sheds more light on the animosity between them.

 

Chapter 2 presents David’s final words to his son Solomon. He gave him counsel on dealing with those who had wronged David through the years, and then the great king of Israel died. After 40 years on the throne, the “man after God’s own heart” was finally with his Lord.

 

With David’s passing, Adonijah mounts another attempt to secure the throne. In what appeared to be an innocent request to take David’s nurse for his wife, there is actually a devious plan to establish a credible right to be king. In the ancient world, the harem of a king was usually passed down to his successor. In securing Abiashag, Adonijah apparently thought he could make the people believe that David had designated him as successor.

 

But Solomon sees through the request, in which his own mother was even complicit, and orders the death of Adonijah and others who had been enemies of his father and now threatened his kingdom in its infancy.

 

Prayer: Father, in David’s final words I find great wisdom for my life as well. Help me to “be strong” and “walk in your ways, keeping your Word.” Help me to walk in “faithfulness with all my heart and soul” so that you may be pleased to work in and through me, for the sake of Jesus, before a watching world. Amen.

 

 

 

Nov. 18: 1 Kings 3, 4

 

As chapter 3 begins the author gives us a clue as to what will eventually be Solomon’s undoing. He entered into an alliance with Egypt and took Pharaoh’s daughter in marriage to seal the relationship. In the end the King would solidify his kingdom, not with the sword as did his father, but through strategic alliances with clans and kingdoms, sealed with marriage. In all, Solomon would end up with 700 wives and 300 concubines, and the net effect would be to turn his heart away from God to the gods of his wives from the surrounding nations.

 

But at first, Solomon was a God-fearer who loved the Lord and obeyed his commands. In what would be the turning point of is young life, Solomon received a vision from God in which God promised him anything he desired. With every choice open to him, Solomon asked for an understanding mind with which to rule justly and righteously over God’s people. God was so pleased that he not only blessed him with great wisdom and understanding, but also the wealth and fame that would come with it.

 

The chapter ends with an example of Solomon’s wisdom, and the news that Israel stood in awe of their new king. He was beginning well!

 

Chapter 4 describes the wealth and grandeur of the Solomonic empire. The listing of his high officials shows just how large and organized Israel was, even in those days. David had enlarged the kingdom to fulfill the boundaries God had promised. It is evident that Solomon, through his strategic alliances, had expanded it even further. The holdings over which Solomon reigned were massive in scale necessitating a very large and capable governing structure.

 

But even more impressive was the wealth Solomon had amassed through his alliances. Each clan and surrounding nation owed him taxes, and the treasury of Solomon was filled to overflowing. His opulent lifestyle was a culturally accepted mark of his greatness, and could be attributed to the blessings of the God he served.

 

In addition to his wealth and power Solomon also benefited from the great wisdom God bestowed on him. He became a man of letters, of song, and a master of a wide-ranging number of subjects. Apparently, this all made him quite a tourist attraction for people from far and wide would travel to meet him and give audience to his wisdom and knowledge.

 

In all this it is noticeable that Solomon was not a man of war. He had peace on every side, and all Israel lived in safety from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south. This meant the king could focus his attention on building, which he did in grand fashion, beginning with a Temple dedicated to God.

 

Prayer: Father in heaven, thank you for giving me this day. And though I haven’t the wisdom of Solomon, thank you for giving me your Word, and your Spirit to guide me as I make decision today. Help me to walk in a manner worthy of the kingdom you’ve called me to, so that my life may be a tribute to your love and truth, through Jesus Christ, Amen.

 

Nov. 19: 1 Kings 5, 6

 

Solomon recognized that God had granted him wide-ranging peace, which meant he could concentrate his focus on building a house for his God. Since Sinai, the people of Israel had looked to the Tabernacle, that tent made of skins, as the symbolic presence of their God in the midst of them.

 

Solomon was aware that David had wanted to build the Temple but had been prevented from doing so by God. It was to be David’s son – Solomon – to whom the task of building the Temple would one day be given.

 

With lumber from Lebanon and conscripted labor from among the men of Israel, Solomon began the process of building a permanent home for God.

 

The text makes mention of the “costly stones” used in building the foundation of the Temple. Today many of those stones can still be found as the foundation stones with which the flat top of the mountain was enlarged. It is also possible to go beneath Jerusalem to what is called Zedikiah’s Cave (also Solomon’s Quarry). This 5-mile long cave was the quarry from which Solomon’s men cut the limestone used in the Temple. Some of the blocks forming the foundation of the mount today are larger than any modern crane can lift.

 

Chapter 6 sets the building of the Temple as commencing in 997/996 B.C. with Solomon’s reign believed to have begun in 971/970 B.C. and ending 931/932 B.C.

 

The Temple mount first had to be enlarged in order to present a large flat surface upon which to build the massive Temple itself.

 

As the Temple was being built God spoke to Solomon and affirmed that, if the king would lead the people in righteousness, God would make his presence dwell in the house they were building.

 

The Temple was a permanent and enlarged replica of the Tabernacle. In essence, the Temple was constructed to be understood as God’s house, complete with courtyard, a place to cook (altar), a meeting room (Holy Place), and God’s private dwelling (Most Holy Place). Be means of the Temple, God was  understood to be living among his people.

 

After seven years the Temple was at last finished. But as grand as the Temple was, it was merely a preview of the true Temple of God. When Jesus came, John described him as “tabernacling” among us in the flesh (John 1:14). And after he ascended back to glory, the Apostle Paul declared that all those who are “in Christ” comprise the “temple of God” (Eph. 2:19-22).

 

Prayer: Father, I thank you that, because of my faith in Christ, I am part of the church, the very dwelling of God on earth. May my life exude the truth and love of Christ so that all who see will be drawn to love you too, through the Gospel and the power of God the Spirit, Amen.

 

Nov. 20: 1 Kings 7, 8

 

Chapter 7 chronicles the building of the king’s palace as well as the furnishing for the Temple of God. We are given yet another clue as to the change taking place in Solomon in that his house is quite a bit larger and more opulent than the house of his God. Slowly Solomon is becoming more interested in himself and his pleasure than in humbling serving his God.

 

In the book of Ecclesiastes, written by Solomon, we read of a steady decline in his spirituality even as he gives himself to find pleasure and wisdom and meaning in life. Just when did the experiences related in the book take place? We don’t know for sure, but if we read carefully the story of Solomon’s reign we find clues here and there that his descent from faithfulness into self-promotion and pragmatism began early, and was an incremental slide throughout his reign. Apparently, however, after the damage was done, his heart did return to God, as the end of Ecclesiastes seems to indicate.

 

Solomon also commissioned the furniture for the Temple, including the golden altar, the golden table for the showbread, the various lampstands, and all of the utensils used by the priests in administering Temple worship. He also built the doors and the curtains used in the Temple.

 

Finally, all was ready for the Temple to be dedicated, and put into use.

 

Chapter 8 stands out in the Old Testament in that it includes Solomon’s massively important prayer of dedication to God. The day began with the people of Israel being called together. As they watched, the Ark of the Covenant was brought from the place where David had stored it, and established it in its proper place within the Most Holy Place.

 

In keeping with his former promise (see: 6:13), God came to dwell in the Temple, making his presence recognizable in the form of the glory cloud. As the people had followed the pillar of cloud in the wilderness, they now understood God was in their midst as the cloud, representing the glory of God, filled the Temple.

 

Solomon’s prayer presents the reader with one of the all-time great prayer offerings in the Bible. He pleads with God to be near to the people, to reward their obedience and respond to their repentance. And, as beautiful as this prayer is, it is tempting to believe that these requests and promises of God can be appropriated by our nation today. But God has not promised that he will heal our land, but only that he will work through his Word and his people to heal hearts and continue building a people for his name sake.

 

Prayer: Father, Solomon’s prayer underscores just how puny and shallow my prayers are most of the time. Forgive me for coming to your in prayer without a prepared heart, without a sober perspective on your majesty and power, and without a recognition that you don’t need my requests as much as I need to bring them to you for my peace of mind. Help me today to “pray without ceasing” in that I am mindful of your presence in my life in every situation, because of your sovereign redemptive love in Jesus, Amen.

 

 

Nov. 21: 1 Kings 9, 10

 

Chapter 9 presents God’s response to Solomon’s prayer of dedication in the Temple. A close reading shows us that God is actually renewing the covenant he had previously made with David (see: 2 Samuel 7). The requirements God has, as well as the blessings he promises, are the same. If Solomon will walk in righteousness, and keep God’s law, then God will establish his empire and give him peace. But, if Solomon turns aside from the will of God, then he would see the judgment of God come down on the people and on the house he had built.

 

Unfortunately, we have only a few chapters to wait until Solomon’s disobedience brings about a crushing judgment from God. We will see his heart become divided due to the idolatrous practices brought into his house by his wives. Further, we will see God’s judgment come in the form of a divided nation with a divided monarchy … all because Solomon did not remain faithful to the God who had always been faithful to him.

 

The remainder of the chapter extols the successes of Solomon the King. He built cities, and ships, and expanded his kingdom and his wealth. As well, his fame became wide-spread and granted him the company of the region’s most acclaimed citizens. Solomon was the man! Yet, in spite of all his successes, he was not successful in remaining humbly dependent on, and filled with praise for, his God.

 

Chapter 10 gives one example of the prestige that Solomon held in the eyes of the surrounding nations and their leading citizens.

 

The Queen of Sheba, thought to be from what is now Ethiopia, heard of Solomon’s great wisdom and determined to see and hear him for herself. She intended to test him with difficulties just to see if the reports about him were true.

 

After spending time with Solomon, hearing his answers and the wisdom they contained, and after seeing the grandeur of his kingdom, the text tells us she literally was “without breath.” He took her breath away so amazed was she at his brilliance. She admitted that all she had heard of him was not even half of what she had now come to understand. But the most important thing she says is a blessing on Solomon’s God who is understood to be the source of his wisdom, and of his great wealth and fame. Yet, as we will see, Solomon will soon add idolatrous practices to his worship of God.

 

Note: In Ethiopia today, the Ethiopian Orthodox believes the Queen of Sheba was impregnated by Solomon, and that son became Menalik the First, the first Solomonic ruler of Ethiopia. In fact, many Ethiopians claim descent from Solomon, and their national flag bears the symbol of the Lion of Judah. There is no historical evidence to back up their belief.

 

Prayer: Gracious God and heavenly Father, it is clear that you took Solomon and made him great for your own purposes, and it is sad to think that he took all you gave him and forgot you. But Lord, I confess … I too often do the same thing in my life. Help me Lord, and grow in me a greater heart of thanks for all you are and all you’ve done for me, that I may walk humbly with you, and delight to do your will, by your grace and for your glory, Amen. 

The Well: November 24-28

 

Nov. 24: Psalm 55, 56

 

Psalm 55 is a prayer to God from a heart that is feeling the pain of betrayal. David is in anguish over the fact that a trusted friend and companion has turned against him and now threatens his life.

 

If we study David’s life we find several times when those who were with him turned against him. Absalom and Ahithophel (2 Samuel 16:20ff) come immediately to mind. It also occurs to us that whoever turned against David was a preview of Judas who used his insider position to betray our Lord.

 

In this psalm we see a different side of David. In the face of true enemies he would stand and fight. Now, in the face of the treachery of a friend we see him desiring to fly away. The anguish is different, but equally devastating, and perhaps all the more as he continues to think on the fact that it is a “familiar friend” behind it all.

 

But, as is always the case with David, he comes back to the sure refuge he has in his covenant keeping God. Though his companion has violated his covenant of friendship, David’s God can be trusted through every trial and in every circumstance. He can cast his burden onto the Lord and find peace knowing the Lord will sort things out as is best.

 

Psalm 56 takes us to yet another episode in the life of David. In 1 Samuel 21 we read how David, fleeing Saul, went to the Philistine region of Gath. Apparently, the Philistines had not forgotten David’s prowess in killing Goliath and his later exploits on the field of battle. They recognize him, but before they can do him harm, David feigns insanity and wins his freedom.

 

The psalm gives us David’s inner turmoil as he recognizes he is in trouble. He alternates between despair over his personal situation, and praise to the God who has, time after time, proven to be his sure salvation.

 

In vs. 8 we encounter a rare personal admission on the part of David. He is greatly encouraged by God’s intimate care for him. God knows all of his wanderings, and has kept track of David’s tears as though collected in a bottle. The intimacy of David’s relationship with God, or rather the poignancy of his belief in God’s tender care, displays just how close David’s relationship with God was.

 

The psalm reaches it crescendo in the last verse. David’s trust in God is not blind faith. Rather, it is built on the historical reliability of God who has proven himself faithful in the past. He has delivered David from death time after time, and this time will be no different.

 

David’s life reminds us that trials and suffering are often the means whereby the goodness of God is pushed deeply down into our hearts and minds. His provision during the hard times sticks with us, and reminds us when trials hit again that our God can be trusted.

 

Prayer: Father, reading about David’s anguish over betrayal by a friend makes me consider just how good it is to have great friends, and to have a Savior who will never turn against me. I thank you for my Christian brothers and sisters, and for those family members you have given me. Lord, help me in turn, to be a good friend, to pray for those in my live, and to prize these relationships through which you are growing me to be more and more like Jesus, through the power of your Word and Spirit, Amen.

 

 

Nov. 25: Psalm 57, 58

 

Psalm 57 again gives us a glimpse of David’s heart as he was on the run from Saul. There are two occasions where David hid in a cave (1 Samuel 22 and 24) though determining precisely which event produced this psalm cannot be done with certainty.

 

As David hides in the refuge of a cave he is reminded that his true refuge from the terrors of life and death is his merciful, covenant-keeping God. Under his wings he will rest until the storm (Saul!) passes by.

 

The danger is real, and close, and David has no recourse but to wait, and be still in the knowledge that his God is for him. His enemies have set snares for his feet, but have fallen into the pit themselves. This is God’s doing. He is to be exalted above the heavens, his glory displayed over all the earth.

 

As in most of David’s psalms, the first part describes both the danger and the anguish David feels as a result. But the real story of the psalmist’s heart is found in vs. 7-10. The change of mood is start from vs. 6 to vs. 7. But the change is not accounted for by a change in circumstance. David is not now rejoicing because the danger is past. Rather, in the midst of his fear, David remembers the steadfast love of God, and his consistent faithfulness that is immeasurable. 

 

Psalm 58, like Psalms 56 and 57, is a prayer to God from David to execute justice on his enemies. In this case there has been an injustice perpetrated and David calls on God to right the wrongs and punish the offenders.

 

Vs. 1 calls out the lofty ones whose abuse of power has angered the psalmist. They have not judged rightly but instead have used their position and power to deal out violence.

 

These wicked judges apparently are unable to hear and recognize the truth, just as the deaf adder “stops his ear” so that it can’t hear the captivating song of the charmers.

 

In a seemingly uncaring outburst, David calls on God to break the teeth of those whose fangs pose a grave threat to the people. Vs. 6-8 are David’s imprecatory call to God to execute justice in a way that the watching world cannot deny. It is important to note here that David’s call for vengeance is not his, but rather he is crying out to God to vindicate the glory of his name. As God’s king, David is jealous for God’s reputation, which is being drug through the mud by unjust judges. God must intervene.

 

When God judges righteously, and the wrongs are righted, then the righteous will rejoice, and the world will once again be made aware that there is a God before whom all will one day stand and held accountable.

 

Prayer: Father, it is apparent in this psalm that David is very jealous for your holiness, for your glory to be seen on earth. His zeal for your Name is evident, and makes me consider how carelessly I consider my relationship with you at times. Father, forgive my complacency, and rekindle in me a winsome fervency to see your name magnified in all I say and do, through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.

Nov. 26: Psalm 59, 60

 

Psalm 59 continues the theme of this grouping of psalms. A righteous man is being antagonized by those want to harm him. They lie in wait for him, and stir up strife against him even though he is not deserving of such treatment.

 

This grouping of psalms speak to the fact that often, the righteous are misunderstood and mistreated in this broken world. David, as God’s king, often felt the anguish that comes when standing for God will mean opposing the ways of the world. Yet, in every situation he found comfort, not in his own strength, but in the faithfulness of God. This does not mean the situations always turned out with a happy ending. David’s trials were great in number, including the rebellion of his son Absalom. He was chased from his home and mocked by his friends. Yet, he found soul rest in the steadfast love of God. And this theme was a dominant one in his poetry.

 

In vs. 8 the story turns from the treachery of man to the faithfulness of God. In great contrast to the fear and anger the psalmist feels, God is laughing. He looks at those who afflict the righteous and holds them in contempt. David sees this as proof that the steadfast love of God will surround him even as God moves to deal with the wicked.

 

Here David is not asking for God to kill his enemies but that, by his power, he would cause them to get caught in their own pride and the lies they utter. He desires for their downfall to be an object lesson to the people so that they will understand the benefit of walking in the way of God and not imitating the proud whose lives are filled with deceit.

 

Psalm 60 describes a time in David’s life when the battle was not going his way. The king realizes that their weakness in the field is related to God’s rejection of his people. This psalm cries out for restoration of relationship, and for victory over Israel’s foes.

 

God’s covenant with Israel carried with it the promise of great blessing, but only as Israel walked in the ways of righteousness, adhering to the Law of Moses, and loving their God with heart, soul, and strength. At times (see: Joshua 7, the battle of Ai) Israel’s complacency and disobedience brought about dire consequences on the field of battle as the power of God did not go before them. Psalm 60 appears to be David’s cry to God during one of these situations.

 

David’s cry to God is for restoration of relationship, that God would repair the breaches, and draw his people back to his heart. He realizes that only with God can their battles be won. And only when they are walking with God can they shine as the people of God.

 

Prayer: Father, thank you for your protection, your provision, and your power in my life. Though I sometimes think I can stand alone, in reality I recognize that I can only live this life for you as I am abiding daily with you. Grant me today the privilege of seeing life through your eyes, that I might love you more, love my self less, and be a vehicle of your grace and truth to all in my world, through the Spirit of God who dwells in me, Amen.

 

 

 

Nov. 27: Psalm 61, 62

 

This psalm has been a favorite of God’s people for centuries, and its appeal never seems to dampen.

 

King David writes from three perspectives:

 

Vs. 1-3 are the cry of every heart that longs to live in the security and strength of almighty God. We realize that we are in over our heads trying to remain righteous, winsome, and confident against the rolling waves of this broken world. We are in need of a solid rock that will provide us high ground lest the floods overtake us. In our God we have such a rock!

 

Vs. 4, 5 speak to the precious privilege God’s people have of dwelling God. We are not strangers or foreigners, but rather beloved children called into the very presence of God as his own. As such we have a heritage, an inheritance that is eternal and reserved in heaven for us (see: 1 Peter 1:3,4).

 

Vs. 6,7 remind us that David, as God’s king, occupied a special position in God’s economy. As the king went, so went the people. David recognized the burden he carried as well as the responsibility he had been given. His great desire was to dwell within the steadfast love of Israel’s covenant-keeping God.

 

Vs. 8 brings all these perspectives to a close. No matter if you are in over your head, or basking in the privilege of God’s family, or carrying the responsibility as a leader, your daily choice is simple: Worship God in praise, and keep your promises to him as he keeps his to you.

 

Psalm 62 once again relates David’s struggle against those who would attack him, to bring him down from his place of leadership. His detractors take pleasure in false accusations, even as they outwardly bless him.

 

David’s recourse, as before, is to find shelter in the promises and steadfast love of God. Though both the poor and the rich are untrustworthy, God never changes and is always reliable. He is the rock of salvation and the great unassailable fortress against the wars of the world.

 

The last two verses bring a new ending to psalms of this type. God is a god of both power and love, and he continues to declare that, one day, all the accounts will be settled. God will render to each man according to the way he has lived his life. The wicked may prosper in this life, but they will not stand in the Day of Judgment (Psalm 1).

 

Prayer: Great God and Father, it is so comforting to know that both power and love belong to you. In this world it too often seems that wickedness and evil are winning, but your Word assures me that this is only for a season. One day you will return to set all things to rights, to reward forever those who have been faithful to you! O Father, keep me faithful to you, even as I trust fully in your faithfulness to me, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.

 

 

Nov. 28: Psalm 63, 64

 

Psalm 63 contains many verses that Christ-followers have memorized for use when their hearts grow faint. The psalm was penned by David when he fled to the wilderness of Judah to escape his enemies. This wilderness was dry and barren, and David draws a parallel between the conditions that surround him and the condition of his soul.

 

David’s physical thirst is here used as a metaphor of his spiritual thirst for God. Things are not good for David, yet memories of time in God’s sanctuary remind him that the steadfast love of the Lord is better than life, and so praise must fill his mouth.

 

David’s hunger reminds him that the “food” for his soul comes as he remembers the ways in which God has satisfied him in the past, and is guarding him presently. He finds all he needs in the shadow of God’s wings.

 

Consequently, despite the fact that some are seeking to end his life, David finds the joy of life in praise to his God. In great contrast to his physical situation – in the desert, running for his life – David is rejoicing, blessing the God who is life indeed to him.

 

Psalm 64 presents the struggle David is having with his enemies in terms of a war fought with arrows. In this case, the arrows are the bitter words being fired at him, and about him. Slanderous talk and gossip are like snares for the king, laid out by those whose purposes are evil and whose purpose is unjust.

 

But David knows what they do not know. God also has arrows, and he is there to defend his king. As God preserves the king, his enemies are brought to ruin by their own tongues as their lies and slander are turned back on them.

 

In David’s day, as in ours, the hurt and destruction caused by slander, gossip, and harsh criticism can have a disastrous effect on relationships. Many can stand up to blows but few can walk away unscathed from angry and deceitful words aimed at destroying their reputation or belittling their accomplishments.

 

Those who walk with God recognize the heinous nature of gossip, and they refrain from it. They are intentional about not engaging in slander, and are very thoughtful when offering constructive criticism. In this way relationships are protected, and even enhance.

 

David ends the psalm with an exultant exhortation. Though the words of the unscrupulous and unrighteous may bring pain, the righteous can rejoice in their Lord, who will always provide refuge from the wars of the world. He is our God, and he will fight for his people.

 

Prayer: Father, once again I am brought to realize just how powerful words can be, both for good and for ill. Help me to bridal my tongue so that I will not bring pain through gossip. And empower me to use my tongue to encourage those in my world, that the love and truth of Christ may flow from me in winsome ways, through the power of the Spirit of God within me, Amen.