Monthly Archives: April 2014

Nehemiah 1-4

[1.11]

“Now I beseech You, O Lord, let Your ear now be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and the prayer of Your servants who desire to revere Your name; prosper Your servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man” (for I was the cupbearer to the king).

 

[2.8]

And the king granted me, according the good hand of my God upon me.

 

In this post-exilic time when the scattered remnant of God’s people are being called back to rebuild the temple, one Jew who works in the home of the king tells his side of the story. He is a taster for the king, and therefore has close access to him. His job, literally, is to die for the king, should someone decide to poison him. But because of his close access, he can also gain the ear of the king. And so it is in this context that Nehemiah the cupbearer prays to God, asking Him for favor in the sight of the king. He prays that God will hear his prayer, and the prayer of all who desire to revere His name. He asks that God prosper his mission, and that is exactly what happens. Nehemiah had no power within himself to bring about success; circumstances in which he found himself were actually impossible to manipulate in his favor. But God turned those circumstances into an ally; He gave Nehemiah favor. Moreover, Nehemiah recognized this as “God’s good hand” that was upon him.

 

God is good. He is not Zeus, waiting to toss a lightning bolt in your direction. He wants what is good for you. He desires to grant you mercy and give you favor. Your task is simple: revere His name and trust Him. Let the whole world see you trusting Him. He will bring you out into a spacious place, and He will give you favor and mercy in your circumstances. He delights in taking care of you; trust Him. Just as God took care of Nehemiah and His children through the actions of “this man” (the king), who was technically their enemy, so He will take care of you. Your circumstances are no hindrance to Him.

 

The good hand of God is upon you.

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Ezra 6-10

[7.10]

For Ezra had prepared his heart to study the law of the LORD and to do it, and to teach its statutes and judgments in Israel.

 

King Darius has given the green light for God’s children to rebuild the temple, and he has thrown the full weight of the throne behind the effort. In this way, God has blessed His children and is paving their way. They are led by Ezra, a scribe who has been single-minded in his devotion to the cause of God’s word. He has prepared his heart to study God’s word, live by it, and teach it to the nation. Ultimately, it leads to many of them having to put away their foreign wives as it was commanded in the Law—in order that His children may be separate from the wicked ways of the pagans around them. This revival of the Lord’s chosen takes place through the teachings of one obedient man and others who had prepared their hearts to receive His word.

 

How often do we prepare our hearts to understand and learn His word? In fact, we evangelicals—who originally burst upon the scene in the late 19th century as the last remaining Christian movement who took His word seriously—nowadays have a much lower view of scripture than we think. Many evangelicals have never read the Bible, rarely read from it at home, and in fact possess an anti-intellectual bent toward it. Most evangelicals read portions of scripture that make them feel comfortable or peaceful, but rarely devour the Bible as though it were the word of God. A large percentage of evangelicals look askance at theologians and exegetes who diligently study the Word and teach it; one friend of mine once told me that my type of background meant that I was suited for a college classroom, not a pulpit. Little wonder our people don’t have the high view of scripture that is necessary for profound spiritual growth; we’ve stopped preparing our hearts to study His word properly.

 

Is your heart prepared to learn what He is saying to you? Your first step is to acknowledge, by faith, that the Bible is God’s word. Then you need to read it. Then you need to understand it. Prepare your heart, then your mind….we need more Ezras in this troubled time.

Ezra 1-5

The time is now post-exile; the inhabitants of Judah, including the capital city of Jerusalem, have been carried off by the invading Nebuchadnezzar. The temple has been destroyed, and the people are desolate. They have brought this fate upon themselves, having rebelled against the Lord their God, Who had brought them out of Egypt. They have preferred the cultures of the pagans to their own God-given culture, and now they are slaves again. In a sense, over the course of history, they had demonstrated that they have preferred slavery to the freedom that God has given them. But now, while in exile, just as God promised through Jeremiah (1.1), they are being given another chance. The Medo-Persian invasion of Babylon has already happened, and now Cyrus is king of Persia (modern-day Iran). He recognizes YHWH as God, apparently, and issues a decree to rebuild the house of God. And so work begins on the rebuilding of the holy city and the temple. It is a difficult mission, but one ordained by God. In the meantime, they had adversaries (4). These adversaries conspired to halt the work and keep the people of God from obeying their destiny. But God’s people, led by Haggai and Zechariah (5.1), encourage them to continue. The help they need comes from above: God has put it in the hearts of those in charge of the kingdom to give God’s children a fair hearing. Even in the midst of the darkness, God’s people have been given a hope.

 

On this side of eternity, we stumble around in the darkness ourselves. We endure setbacks and adversaries that stand in the way of our progress. We get one step forward and have to stumble two steps back. It is deflating and discouraging, and the entire experience is a reminder to us that we need supernatural help. The children of Judah could not have reinstituted the worship of YHWH without some divine assistance (and motivation), and neither can you or I. Our strength comes from the Lord, with Whom we commune in our daily devotionals. Our encouragement is sent by Him through His word and His community, the Church.

 

It may feel like you’re in exile today, but your God is watching. He is with you. He has commissioned you, and sent you, and empowered you. No one can stand against you. Take heart and have faith in the God Who saves you. No matter the circumstances—or the pagans in charge—His will is being done.

2 Chronicles 28-36

[32.7-8]

 

“Be strong and courageous, and do not fear or be dismayed before the king of Assyria, nor for the multitude that is with him; there be more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh, but the LORD our God is with us, to help us and to fight our battles.” Then the people rested in the words of Hezekiah the king of Judah.

 

Once again, a fierce and numerous enemy has surrounded God’s people—just like with Asa and Jehoshaphat in the previous two days’ readings. Once again, there seems no hope to make it out of the predicament in which they find themselves. Once again, a righteous leader stands in the gap and cries out to God for help, trusting Him to fight the battle for Judah. Once again, he models true faith in the face of adversity and crisis. And once again, God delivers on His word—fighting for His people and helping them overcome the long odds of “reality.”

 

It should be evident by now that, in the rhythm and pace of our march through the Bible, God is speaking to us. A consistent message is existent in the daily devotionals: God will fight for you. The circumstances you face are not as dire as they seem. Trust in Him, for those circumstances are only functions of “the flesh,” while the One Who delivers you is the Lord Sabaoth—the Lord of Hosts Who fights for you.

 

Be still and know that He is God today. It is the only knowledge worth having.

 

2 Chronicles 19-27

 

[20.15-17]

 

Then he said, “Listen, all Judah, and those who dwell in Jerusalem, and you, O King Jehoshaphat: thus says the LORD to you: ‘Do not fear; neither be dismayed by reason of this great multitude, because the battle is not yours but God’s. Tomorrow, you go down to them; behold! They come up by the cliff of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the brook before the wilderness of Jeruel. You will not need to fight this battle. Set yourselves; stand still and see the salvation of the LORD Who is with you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow, go out before them and the LORD will be with you.’”

 

It was a dire time for Judah. Like the episode with Asa in yesterday’s readings, Jehoshaphat is now faced with an exceedingly numerous enemy: the Ammonites and Moabites have come to destroy God’s people (20.10). Judah faces an immense task, and as Jehoshaphat indicates, it is an impossible one—absent divine help. The king stands up in front of the entire congregation and cried out to God, however, humbling himself and modeling true worship (20.5-12). God responds to his cry of desperation through the prophet Jahaziel: “Don’t be afraid of this enemy, just because there’s a lot of them. This battle that is about to happen isn’t your fight; it’s God’s. You go out and meet them tomorrow, but you won’t have to fight. Just set up, stand still, and watch the deliverance of the Lord Who is with you.” Again, the circumstances are worrisome and frightening to God’s people; and again, God says “trust Me.” Then, as always, He delivers.

 

Enemies come in all shapes and forms. They can be frightening whether they are small or large. When your eyes are on your circumstances, they seem more insurmountable. But just like Jehoshaphat didn’t stare in wondrous fear at the great army gathered against him, but rather cried out to his God in humility and trust, so must we. When impossible circumstances conspire against us, it is a golden opportunity for God to demonstrate His awesome power.

 

Trust Him today. He’s got this. The fight isn’t about you anyhow, but about Him and His mighty delivering power. You just go about your business and watch what God does for you. Trust Him; He always delivers.

 

2 Chronicles 10-18

Sometimes, circumstances converge that are beyond our control, and threaten us in their frighteningly coincidental array. These are moments that underscore our powerlessness and helplessness, and frequently cause us to question who really is in charge. But such moments are also moments that are ripe for hope; the scripture tells us Who really is in charge, after all.

 

[14.9-12]

 

Then there came out against them Zerah the Ethiopian, with a host of a million men and 300 chariots, and they came to Mareshah. And Asa came out before him, and they set the lines of battle in the valley of Zephathah in Mareshah. Then Asa cried out to the LORD his God, and said, “O LORD, there is none like You to help, whether with many or with those who have no power. Help us, O LORD our God, for it is in You that we rest, and in Your name that we go out against this multitude. You are the LORD our God: let not man prevail against You.” Then the LORD struck the Ethiopians before Asa and Judah, and the Ethiopians fled.

 

The primary focus of the Chronicler is to give the history of the kings of Judah; the northern kingdom history appears incidentally where it pertains to Judah (as opposed to the writer of 1 and 2 Kings, who was presenting both kingdoms as pivotal). This particular storyteller gives us this gem: an Ethiopian military commander named Zerah who approaches Judah with an army of a million (in Hebrew, “a thousand thousands”). That is a ridiculous number, even for today. One million men! Asa, who follows after the Lord, doesn’t stand a chance. He still shows up for the battle, though, and lines up in the valley of Zephathah, looking out across the endless line of enemy soldiers. It must have been the single most despairing moment of his life, right before the most hopeful. Immediately after drawing up the battles lines, the text tells us that Asa cried out to God. This makes sense: what else was he going to do? All the rest of his options had been removed. Verse eleven tells us his prayer, which contains four key elements:

 

(1) There is none like You. No other God exists, and no other hope can stand before the God Whom Asa worships.

 

(2) Help us, O LORD our God. Asa was out of options, and didn’t mind crying out in his helplessness. There was not a hint of pride in his humble cry.

 

(3) We go out against this enemy in Your name. What Asa and his army are doing, they are doing for Him. They find their rest in Him, and they stand against the enemy in His name.

 

(4) Don’t let man prevail. This is about more than simple self-preservation; it is about Your reputation. Asa doesn’t care how many people are standing before him; he knows that they cannot prevail against God. God answers Asa, of course, and rids the valley of the Ethiopians, who flee before Asa.

 

There isn’t a day that goes by that you and I aren’t also ridiculously outnumbered. We don’t stand a chance on our own against rising inflation, mounting bills, car troubles, marital issues, family splits, sexual sin, medical diagnoses, and addictions. The size and power of the enemy who lines up opposite us is simply ludicrous. The only option we have left is to cry out to our God. We line up and face what is before us anyway, knowing that our God is bigger. We acknowledge that there is none like Him. We cry out for Him to help us. We acknowledge that He is the Author of our destiny, and therefore our lives and the struggles that accompany them are thematically centered on Him. The enemy cannot prevail against the living God, Who fights for us.

 

God will come to your aid. God will scatter the enemy before you. God is bigger than a thousand thousands, and He does not ignore you. Cry out to Him today, and trust that He will put the enemy to flight. I trust Him in my battles; do you?

2 Chronicles 1-9

I got my new seminary bill yesterday, the first one for the Ph.D. program. It’s evident that we will need another miracle to do this. I am still working in a non-ministry field, earning a wage so low that it was considered “low” seven years ago when I was making it. Though qualified to teach in the Theology department at our local Bible college, I remain (seemingly) nonexistent to them. I confess that it is easy to get distracted by these worries. It’s not that I am a man driven by pecuniary desires or stresses; but these are very real distractions. I truly need Him to get through this.

 

[1.7-12]

That night, God appeared to Solomon and said to him, “Ask what I will give you.” Then Solomon said to God, “You showed to David my father great covenant loyalty [loyal love], and caused me to reign in his place. Now, O LORD God, let Your word to David my father be established, for you have made me king of a people as numerous as the dust of the earth. Now give to me wisdom and knowledge, that I may go out and come in before this people, and may judge this Your people, who are great.” Then God said to Solomon, “Because this was in your heart, and you did not ask for riches or wealth or honor or the life of your enemies, nor yet asked for long life, but have asked for wisdom and knowledge that you may judge My people over whom I have made you king, wisdom and knowledge are given to you—and riches, and wealth, and honor I give to you, such as had none of the kings who have come before you; neither any after you will have the like.”

 

As Solomon prepares to reign over God’s people, it is telling that he doesn’t consider them “his.” He acknowledges that they are God’s, and is humbled by the great responsibility he has. His prayer to God is focused entirely on being granted the ability to do the job that he has been destined to do—rather than the distractions that most of the rest of us would want. It is ironic that he displays such wisdom PRIOR to receiving an astounding amount of it from God—and all while he is quite young. He will have to get older and more experienced before he compromises his faith to the God of his fathers. Note, also, that he acknowledges the “great love” shown to his father David by YHWH. The Hebrew word is חָ֫סֶד (hesed), and is a type of “loyal love” or “covenant loyalty.” We will see it repeatedly throughout the Old Testament, one of the most notable places being in the book of Hosea when God demonstrates חָ֫סֶד to an unfaithful spouse, Israel. Sometimes, our tendency is to think of God as the One Who is waiting to punish us, or the One Who is brutally testing us. But God is a God of חָ֫סֶד, and He keeps His word to us. He loves us and acts for our good. Occasionally, we need reminding of this fact. Finally, it is worth noting that God “overblesses” Solomon in this passage. Solomon famously didn’t ask for riches, wealth, or honor—and so God gave them to him anyhow. Rather than see this episode as some sort of formula by which one can get money, we should rather recognize that God blesses more than we ask or imagine. That’s His way.

 

God is still in the חָ֫סֶד business. He still overblesses us. He still wants what’s best for us, and is a good God Who means to bring us into a spacious place. If we trust Him to take care of those things that are above our pay grade, and simply focus on what we’ve been given to do at the moment, then He’ll take care of the rest. Solomon’s job was to rule and judge God’s people, and his prayer request indicated that he was entirely focused on that. If we do the same thing, God will take care of our needs—and then some. He is a God who loves us and is good.

 

I will not worry about my new seminary bill. I was in the same boat when we moved here in 2009, and in 2010 God provided a job and a scholarship that rectified all of that for the next four years. I will not worry about the housing market; in 2009, God helped us sell our house in a terrible market and make enough to get another one where He wanted us to live. Nor will I worry about my ability to save money or my career path at the moment; I will simply do what I’ve been given to do, and I will trust that God has the rest in His capable hands. He always has before, and He hasn’t changed.