Again and again

Today’s Reading: 2 Kings 17:1-18:12, Acts 20:1-38, Psalm 148:1-14, Proverbs 18:6-7

Israel is conquered and deported to Assyria in today’s reading. The kings and people of Israel ignored the warnings of the prophets, turned away from God, disobeyed His instructions and worshiped other gods, as recorded in 2 Kings 17:7, 13.

This disaster came upon the people of Israel because they worshiped other gods. They sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them safely out of Egypt and had rescued them from the power of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt.

13 Again and again the Lord had sent his prophets and seers to warn both Israel and Judah: “Turn from all your evil ways. Obey my commands and decrees—the entire law that I commanded your ancestors to obey, and that I gave you through my servants the prophets.”

The king of Assyria sent people from other nations to occupy Israel so that the land would not be overrun. Initially they were killed by lions, until they learned to worship the true God, having been instructed by a priest from Israel, but even then, these newcomers did not worship God alone, as recorded in 2 Kings 17:34.

34 And this is still going on today. They continue to follow their former practices instead of truly worshiping the Lord and obeying the decrees, regulations, instructions, and commands he gave the descendants of Jacob, whose name he changed to Israel.

In contrast, Hezekiah, king of Judah, was fully devoted to God, moreso than any other king in the history of Israel.

Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before or after his time. He remained faithful to the Lord in everything, and he carefully obeyed all the commands the Lord had given Moses.

The distinction is very clear. God wanted Israel and Judah (and us) to follow Him and Him alone.

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But they continued to sin…

Today’s Reading: 2 Kings 13:1-14:29, Acts 18:23-19:12, Psalm 146:1-10, Proverbs 18:2-3

Throughout 1 and 2 Kings, there is a pattern of rebellion against God, worshiping other gods, losing wars to other nations and kings, repenting, experiencing some level of restoration in relationship with God and as a nation, followed by rebellion, etc. This stands in contrast to the pattern of believing, obeying God’s command and following God. The northern kingdom (Israel) consistently followed the first pattern (rebellion, etc.), while the southern kingdom (Judah) sometimes followed the second pattern.

In 2 Kings 13, we see the rebellion pattern again. It is said of King Jehoahaz,

But he did what was evil in the Lord’s sight. He followed the example of Jeroboam son of Nebat, continuing the sins that Jeroboam had led Israel to commit. So the Lord was very angry with Israel, and he allowed King Hazael of Aram and his son Ben-hadad to defeat them repeatedly.

He cried out to God for help in 1 Kings 13:4. God heard him and delivered his nation, but in 1 Kings 13:6, there is a terrible statement, “But they continued to sin,” in following the way of Jereboam (worshiping the golden calves) and also in worshiping Asherah, the local fertility goddess. And they continued to struggle as a nation.

I think this applies directly to our lives. God will hear our cries for help and rescue us, but if we don’t repent and break out of our patterns of sin as individuals, groups, congregations or nations, the relief will be short-lived.

The story in Judah at the same time was a little better.

Amaziah did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, but not like his ancestor David. Instead, he followed the example of his father, Joash.Amaziah did not destroy the pagan shrines, and the people still offered sacrifices and burned incense there.

In contrast to King Jehoahaz of Israel, who did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, King Amaziah pleased God. However, he was not “all in,” fully committed, as Caleb and other heroes of the Hebrew Bible were. He still allowed the people to sacrifice and burn incense at pagan shrines.

This is a parable for me personally about partial obedience. The story in my mind goes something like this, as I am speaking to God in prayer. “I have followed you and done as you have asked. I have turned away from the things of this world. I have given to the poor and have invested my time for your kingdom work as well. Isn’t that enough? What more do you want from me?” I am jealous of my time and seek to hold back from God, sometimes by being busy, sometimes by telling myself that I’ve done enough.

Notice that King Amaziah pleased the Lord, but not as his ancestor David had. What was the difference? We know that David was a murderer and an adulterer; there is no record of King Amaziah committing those particular sins. Perhaps the difference was that David fully repented. He figuratively and literally removed the pagan shrines in his country and in his heart. I’ve been thinking lately about the Psalms where David proclaimed his innocence before God. Either he was forgetful or delusional about the wrongs he had done, or he fully embraced God’s mercy and believed with all his heart that God had forgiven his sins and made him pure and righteous again.

To fully experience cleansing following repentance (as David did), we must be fully committed to following God, embracing the cycle of “believe, obey, and follow.”

The Lord is merciful and compassionate

Today’s Reading: 2 Kings 10:32-12:21, Acts 18:1-22, Psalm 145:1-21, Proverbs 18:1

As I study the Bible, I like to focus on themes that run throughout both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. One of these themes appears in Psalm 145.

The Lord is merciful and compassionate,
    slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
The Lord is good to everyone.
    He showers compassion on all his creation.
10 All of your works will thank you, Lord,
    and your faithful followers will praise you.
11 They will speak of the glory of your kingdom;
    they will give examples of your power.
12 They will tell about your mighty deeds
    and about the majesty and glory of your reign.
13 For your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom.
    You rule throughout all generations.

This is a reminder of God’s goodness to all of His creation, with mentions of His followers (in June I have been looking to see if believe, obey, follow is a pattern), His kingdom, and His glorious majesty. The opening phrase appears in Psalm 103:8, Joel 2:13, and Jonah 4:2. Similar phrases begin to appear as early as Exodus 34 and continue throughout the Bible.

Then the Lord came down in a cloud and stood there with him; and he called out his own name, Yahweh. The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out,
“Yahweh! The Lord!
    The God of compassion and mercy!
I am slow to anger
    and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.
I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations.
    I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.
But I do not excuse the guilty.
    I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren;
the entire family is affected—
   even children in the third and fourth generations.”

This is what God is like!

Miracles and Elisha

Today’s Reading: 2 Kings 6:1-7:20, Acts 15:36-16:15, Psalm 142:1-7, Proverbs 17:24-25

I have always loved the miracle stories in the Bible. Several of the miracles done through Elisha point back to the Exodus and some point forward to Christ. II Kings 6-7 contains the miracle of the floating axe head, the trapping of an entire army, followed by a remarkable story of rescue from a siege.

In the siege story, I really admire the reasoning of the lepers who discovered the abandoned camp:

Now there were four men with leprosy sitting at the entrance of the city gates. “Why should we sit here waiting to die?” they asked each other. “We will starve if we stay here, but with the famine in the city, we will starve if we go back there. So we might as well go out and surrender to the Aramean army. If they let us live, so much the better. But if they kill us, we would have died anyway.”

They clearly understood that something good could happen (they could eat and live) and that the worst thing that could happen was their deaths, which were going to happen shortly anyway if they did nothing.

How often do I face a “nothing left to lose” scenario and still not take action?

God’s heart for widows

Today’s Reading: 2 Kings 3:1-4:17, Acts 14:8-28, Psalm 140:1-13, Proverbs 17:22

One of the recurring themes throughout the Bible, especially in the Hebrew Bible, is God’s concern for widows and orphans. This is clearly on display in today’s reading in II Kings 4.

One day the widow of a member of the group of prophets came to Elisha and cried out, “My husband who served you is dead, and you know how he feared the Lord. But now a creditor has come, threatening to take my two sons as slaves.”

“What can I do to help you?” Elisha asked. “Tell me, what do you have in the house?”

A widow of one of the prophets who served Elisha was facing slavery for her two sons because of her debts. She asked Elisha, and God worked a miracle through him, producing jar after jar of olive oil from a single small container. This enabled her to pay her debts, with enough left over to live on.

She was in a hopeless situation, but she still acted in faith. Elisha told her to collect jars from her neighbors to hold olive oil. Her action is striking in verse 5:

So she did what she was told.

She responded with faith that was demonstrated in her actions and God rewarded her. How often do I know what God wants me to do, but hesitate because it does not quite make sense to me right now?