Saturday, April 29, 2017

Saturday – 2nd Kings 14 - Be Careful with Whom You Pick a Fight

Let's begin this chapter by listing the kings who stood on the stage during the time that this chapter covers. In the north, Israel was ruled successively by Joash, Jeroboam II and Zachariah. In the south, Judah was under Amaziah... followed by his son, Azariah.  And apparently Jonah, Hosea Joel and Amos were all prophesying during those days (II Kings 14:25).

Now, Amaziah was a good king... not as good as his ancestor David, but good nonetheless (II Kings 14:3). Amaziah had some success on the battle field. He fought against Edom and won (II Kings 14:7). That was good. But, on the heels of that victory he got a big head and went to pick a fight with his brethren to the north. However, it was a military mismatch and evidently not part of God's plan for him. Joash, then king of Israel, tried to avoid the conflict. He justly warned Amaziah not to come against him in battle, but Amaziah wouldn't listen. As a result, Jerusalem ended up with a gap in its wall as wide as the length of 2 football fields. Not only that, the temple and the palace were also stripped of their treasures. We should all consult God at every step. Evidently, Amaziah didn't do that. He must have had many other problems too because his own people ended up conspiring against him and killing him to end his reign (II Kings 14:19).

Friday, April 28, 2017

Friday – 2nd Kings 13 - The End of Elisha's Ministry

Let's Review. At the period of time which this chapter covers, the northern kingdom of Israel had been ruled by 12 kings: Jeroboam, Nadab, Baasa, Elah, (Zimri for a week), Omri, Ahab, Ahaziah, Jehoram, Jehu, Jehoahaz, Jehoash and Jeroboam 11... coving approximately 1 ½ centuries. There were 3 royal families that dominated Israel: Jeroboam's, Omri's and Jehu's. During the last half of that era the dominant prophets were Elijah and Elisha... but that blessing was drawing to a close. Elisha was on his deathbed.

Remember that Jehu started out well, but ended poorly. According to this chapter, Jehu's son (Jehoahaz) and grandson (Joash) were both bad kings (II Kings 13:2 & 11). However, Jehoahaz did successfully  seek for God's mercy and deliverance from the oppression of Syria (II Kings 13:4). And, Joash had enough presence of mind and respect for Elisha to pay him a visit on his deathbed. Still, they both fell short of God's standard.

Now, Elisha had 2 remaining "tasks" to accomplish... one of them posthumously. Both of them are recorded here. First, Elisha prophesied about the future success of Israel in their throwing off the oppression of Syria (II Kings 13:14-19). And, secondly, after Elisha's death, a man was resurrected from the dead when his carcass happened to touch Elisha's bones.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Thursday – 2nd Kings 12 - Joash of Judah

The companion text to this chapter is II Chronicles 24:1 - 27.  There are several details  added there which shed a great deal of light on some of the events of this chapter.   Incidentally, just like there were 2 kings named Joram (or Jehoram) who ruled simultaneously in Israel and Judah (II Kings 8:16), there were also 2 kings named Joash (or Jehoash) who also ruled concurrently in Israel and Judah (II Kings 13:10). However, Joash of Judah was nearly through with his life and reign when Joash of Samaria (Israel) began to rule.

Joash reigned for 40 years in Jerusalem. At first, he did well. But, when Jehoiada the priest died, then Joash foolishly turned away from God. As can be seen more clearly in II Chronicles 24, Joash's backsliding cost him greatly. In the end he approved of idolatry, ordered the execution of one of Jehoiada's sons, lost a battle to a significantly smaller army of Syrians, used the temple treasure to buy peace from Hazael, became deathly sick at the end of his life, was murdered by his own servants because he had become so wicked and was not even buried in the graveyard with his own royal ancestors. It was not a legacy of which to be proud. Thankfully his son Amaziah was slightly better that Joash was (II Chronicles 25:2).

There are a few positive things that can be said about Joash. One, he was NOT Ahab's grandson (II Kings 12:1). Ahab was his great uncle, but despite the fact that Joash's father had married Ahab's daughter, Joash was not a product of that union. Ahaziah had also been married to one Zibiah (also translated Tabitha or Dorcas, depending on the language and era - see Acts 9:36)... this lady was Joash's mother.

Joash led a mini-revival of sorts while he was young. He ordered an offering and decreed that the temple should be repaired where it had fallen into decay and disarray during the reign of Athaliah.  In fact, her Baal worshipping ways had brought about the willful plunder of the temple. True, it took much longer for the repairs to begin than Joash had originally intended, but the repairs were eventually completed. This too was a good. It was actually a brief time of holiness and righteousness in Jerusalem (II Kings 12:2 & 15).

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Tuesday – 2nd Kings 11 - Queen Athaliah

Athaliah was Ahab's sister, Jezebel's sister-in-law, Ahaziah's mother, Ahaziah's wife's aunt, Omri's daughter, Joash's grandmother and God's enemy (II Kings 8:26). My point in naming all those connections is to emphasize just how deep Omri and Ahab's influence had spread throughout Judaism. And, Athaliah was every bit as wicked as Jezebel had been. When she knew that Ahaziah (her son) was dead (killed by Jehu, the new king of Israel), she murdered every potential heir she could find. They were ALL her family members... most of them, her grandsons. The only survivors were her daughter Jehosheba and one of her grandsons, Joash... the infant son of the deceased king (II  Kings 11:2).

When Joash was 7 years old, Jehoiada the priest carefully crowned him king over Judah. I say "carefully" because he did it in Solomon's Temple and under heavily armed security. When Athaliah heard the commotion, she came to see what was up. Upon discovering what was going on, she cried, "Treason," and fled for her life. The captains and officers knew what needed to be done to her and were willing to do it. They executed the murderous queen and thereby ended her influence in Judah. Not only that, the influence of Baalism in Jerusalem was also put down at that same time.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Monday – 2nd Kings 10 - A-tisket A-tasket, 70 Heads in a Basket

In this chapter we are smothered with the grisly details of the rest of Jehu's work. It was the work of God... but, whoa! Perhaps a more thorough title for this devotion would be, "A was for Ahab; B was for Baal." Jehu had already killed Jehoram, Ahaziah and Jezebel. He continued his assignment of exterminating the rest of Ahab's relatives, but he didn't stop there.  He followed that up with a major campaign against Baal's clergy.

Let’s review some of the details of this chapter.  Jehu called for the execution of Ahab's 70 surviving sons. They WERE killed and their heads were sent to Jehu in baskets. He had them piled in 2 piles as striking monuments to the fulfilled prophecies of Elijah  (II Kings 10:10). Elijah had proclaimed that Ahab's descendants would be wiped out. Yet, there were many from the family of Ahab who were yet to be eradicated. Jehu successfully went after them all (II Kings 10:11).

After Jehu had dealt with those in Israel who were descendants of Ahab, he "happened" to run into 42 of Ahaziah's brothers (male relatives). Remember, Ahaziah had married into Ahab's family. So, Jehu had them killed too. Then he went into Samaria to deal with the problem of Baal worship.  Every priest of Baal came to the temple of Baal (II Kings 10:21), and, after a mock sacrifice, Jehu and 80 of his men killed every last one of Baal's prophets and even destroyed the temple itself with the idols of Baal too.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Saturday - II Kings 9 - A Wild Driver & A Painted Woman

Elisha sent a young prophet to anoint a man named Jehu to become the next king over Israel and to instruct Jehu to execute the whole family of Omri - more specifically, of his son, Ahab (I Kings 16:28). And, wow, did Jehu ever take his job seriously! He went to find the kings of Israel and Judah first (Joram the son and Ahaziah the son-in-law, of Ahab). This is where we find that Jehu could have been a wild west cowboy or a modern-day racecar driver. As he approached Jezreel where the royal family was, the watchmen described his approach thusly, "the driving is like the driving of Jehu... for He drives furiously" (II Kings 9:20). Interesting!

Before that day was over, he had shot Jehoram in back (II Kings 9:24) and had chased Ahaziah to his death too. But, he wasn't done. The main target was the old witch, Queen Jezebel (II Kings 9:22). Here we find our painted woman (II Kings 9:30). Jezebel knew that Jehu was coming, so, she got ready for it. She painted her face, fixed her hair and watched for him through the window. There is no telling what she thought would happen, but I'm guessing she didn't anticipate the kind of demise which was her destiny. At Jehu's command, some of the "men" who were with Jezebel literally threw her out the window and to her death.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday - II Kings 8 - God Governs

Frankly, it's difficult to pick out any clear thematic continuity in this chapter. The role of Elisha is obvious. The downfall of Benhadad in Syria, and the need for a downfall of the royal family of Ahab in Israel is also rather apparent.  Yet, perhaps most significant of all is the way that God was governing even in a time when hardly any of the main characters in the narrative were interested in God's plan.

Of course, there was one character who was in tune with God: Elisha. II Kings 8:1-6 reveals that God was more than willing to vouch for Elisha's prophetic validity.  Not that he required or demanded such validation. II Kings 8:7-15 shows how much respect that even the gentiles had for Elisha in his day. Benhadad inquired from Elisha concerning his future health.  And, when Hazael (Benhadad's replacement) came to Elisha personally, he treated the prophet with great reverence.

Now, at this juncture in the history of the Hebrews, both Israel and Judah were patterning their ways after their wicked mentor, Ahab. There were 2 different men, both named Joram (or Jehoram), who ruled in the North and in the South. And, in fact, Jehoram king of Judah had married Ahab's daughter and had thereby forged a familial league with Israel. When he died, then Jehoram of Judah was replaced by his son Ahaziah. It didn't matter much though... other than a change of names. They were both evil kings.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Thursday - II Kings 7 - Windows in Heaven

The king of Israel thought that Elisha was the source of his problems, when Elisha was the messenger who had good news for Samaria. The city where donkey brains and dove dung was expensive one day was going to enjoy fine flour on the cheap the very next day.

Here is how it happened. Samaria, the capitol city of the northern kingdom of Israel, had been under siege by Syrians for a long enough period that the populous inside the city was literally starving to death. But, God had a miraculous deliverance prepared for them.  Despite the wayward ways of Israel, God was mercifully watching out for them. II Kings 7:6 & 7 says that God caused the Syrians to hear the sound of chariots, horses and infantry. The sound was obviously so intense and persuasive that they fled for their lives without taking anything with them. In fact they even dropped many of the things they had happened to have on them when they departed from the camp in fear... things like clothes and canteens (II Kings 7:15).

So, a few Jewish lepers... outcasts... went to the Syrian camp hoping to either receive mercy and food or to be killed. To them, either option was better than starving to death.  However, what they found was more food and supplies than they could have ever collected or used. So, they shared the news with rest of the city.

One of the king’s closest court companions basically mocked Elisha cynically, "Elisha, if God made windows in heaven and poured out food on us, even then we wouldn't have the abundance of food that you are describing" (see Malachi 3:10).  Not only did Elisha's prophecy  about the food come true, but Elisha added another word condemning the unbelieving aristocrat... which also proved true.  Because of his unbelief, the unnamed lord of Samaria was trampled to death without even getting a chance to fill his hungry belly with the dainties which flowed in freely from the spoilage of the Syrians.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Tuesday - II Kings 6 - 4 More Miracles

In this chapter we find the record of 4 more of Elisha's miracles.
 1.  An iron axe head floats in water.
 2.  Elisha shares military secrets with Israel.
 3.  Elisha and his servant are saved from the Syrians.
 4.  The hostile intentions of Jehoram are revealed.

What are we to learn from this amalgamation of brief stories?  Well, one thing is for sure... God's power in the life of His servant is not reserved only for big and earth shattering matters. The same God who rescued a nation through supernatural espionage, rescued a young prophet from the price of an axe head.   Likewise, twice God exerted His strength for the preservation of the life of Elisha when the kings of Syria and Israel (separately) had it in for him.

One more thing: our human heart is tempted to interrogate God as to why He would allow His people to be reduced to eating donkey brains, bird poop and human babies (II Kings 6:25, 28 & 29). But we would do well to expend our energies examining the human element of causation in such situations and leaving God's sovereign ways alone. The flaws are never to be found in Him; always in us. Explore God's thoughts and actions? Sure! He reveals them to us, explore; but, always with reverence, fear and faith. Never delude self into imagining that we might be able to somehow improve God.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Monday - II Kings 5 - Expensive Garments

A gentile captain named Naaman was diagnosed with leprosy. It was an absolutely devastating physical disease in those days. Amazingly, there was a little Jewish girl in his house who felt compassion for this man. She expressed her wish that Naaman could go visit Elisha... believing that Elisha could heal him.

Perhaps it was Hazael of Syria who mistakenly sent Naaman to king Jehoram of Israel for healing. And, when the king of Israel reacted publically to what he considered to be an asinine proposal, Elisha volunteered his services.

When Naaman came to Elisha's house, Elisha didn't even come out to meet him. He sent him to the Jordan River to baptize himself 7 times.  This bothered Naaman.  Being a man of influence and power, he expected some kind of bombastic display. But, in the end, he set aside his pride and did wash in the Jordan to be healed.

When he returned to pay Elisha for his services, Elisha refused. However, Elisha's personal servant, Gehazi) was overcome with greed and coveted Naaman's wealth, particularly a couple of suits of clothing (II Kings 5:22 - 23). Gehazi's greed was strong enough that he lied to obtain a little wardrobe enhancement. But, while the healing of Naaman was free, the lust of Gehazi was not. He was cursed with the leprosy of Naaman because he had sought for a reward that wasn't rightfully his.  It was a high price to pay.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Saturday - II Kings 4 - Elisha, the Miracle Man

There are 5 different miracles recorded for us in this chapter.  Here is a list of them:
1.         Elisha helps a poor woman by multiplying her oil supply.
2.         Elisha helps a barren friend by granting to her a child.
3.         Elisha resurrects the aforementioned child from the dead.
4.         Elisha heals a pot of poison stew which had been polluted.
5.         Elisha multiplies a limited supply of bread.

Obviously, in every case, it wasn't really Elisha that did anything, it was God at work. Here is what I wonder about from these stories: don't you think Elisha must have deeply enjoyed the effects of his ministry?  When he told the poor widow woman to borrow many vessels to fill with oil from her one pot of oil, surely, he must have been smiling. When he told the barren woman (who had shown him charity) that she would no longer be childless, perhaps he chuckled at her response. When the boy who had been dead sneezed 7 times and opened his eyes, don't you think Elisha probably shook his head in awe? Did he eat of the miracle stew after it was healed or of the barley loves after they were cloned?

It's difficult for me to imagine all these things happening at the word of a crotchety old man wearing a hard frown and who had furrows on his brow. He was indeed holy and pious, but he was also a man of amazing spiritual power. And, let us not forget that the first 2 effects of the Spirit in the life of one of God's children are love and joy (Galatians 5:22). What a joy it must have been to be a special channel of God's blessings... as Elisha obviously was.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Friday - II Kings 3 - Elisha Blesses the Battle

In this chapter, we read about a war that was waged between Moab and a trilateral coalition comprised of Israel, Judah and Edom. Fortunately, Jehoshaphat was wise enough (again) to seek for a word from the Lord.  This time, that word came from Elisha.

Now, the 3 kings were in a desperate situation. Their 3 armies had no water. And, speaking of good fortune, or (to be more accurate with our words) speaking of God's blessings, the kings of Edom and Israel should have been very grateful that Jehoshaphat was with them, because Elisha made it very clear that if Jehoshaphat hadn't been there, he would in no way have been willing to help the other 2 kings.

Now, if you love finding fresh and unusual things in the Bible, you won't be disappointed in reading II Kings 3:15. Elisha asked for music to be played before he prophesied. The verse literally says that "when the minstrel played, that the hand of the LORD came upon him." That is, the music affected the movement of the Spirit.

How unexpected God's creative ways are. Case and point: the message for the kings was truly unusual. Elisha commanded them to fill the valley (where they were camped out) with ditches. God had 2 ideas for those ditches. First, He filled them with water so that all the soldiers and all the animals had something to drink. Second, God caused all the water to look like blood in the eyes of the Moabites as they looked down on the camp of their enemies. As such, the Moabites walked in calmly expecting to find the whole host dead. But, they were terribly surprised when the 3 nations arose immediately and fought against them viciously.

By the way, if you are wondering if the Moabites deserved that kind of harsh treatment, read in II Kings 3:26 & 27 how the king of Moab turned his eldest son into a human sacrifice... hoping to earn help from his god. Looks like they well deserved the defeat that God brought upon them, eh?

Incidentally, according to Elisha, all that God did for Israel, Judah and Edom on that day was a "light thing" for God to do. This seems a little odd. For God every job is a small job, right? Yet, if we take the Bible literally, we will find that when Joshua called for the sun to stand still, that miracle was described as a supreme superlative that had no precedent, nor was it ever repeated... but, comparatively, the defeat of Moab here was a SMALL matter. Not that it was particularly hard for God to stop the sun, nothing is too hard for Him (Genesis 18:14, Jeremiah 32:17 & 27).

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Thursday - II Kings 2 - The Departure of Elijah

II Kings 2:1 postulates a strange reality. Elijah and others knew that it was his day to leave this world...  not by common death, but by means of a tornado!?!?!  Elijah tried several times to go off by himself, realizing evidently that he needed to be alone at his translation... or rapture, if you will.  However, Elisha would have nothing to do with that. In fact, it took intervention from God to separate Elisha from his great mentor. God used fiery horses and chariots to separate the 2 before he removed Elijah from our dimension.

The amazing story of Elijah bypassing the door of death is not the only spectacular event recorded in this chapter though. In fact, the chapter is packed with miracles. Both Elijah and Elisha parted the Jordan River... prior to Elijah being caught away and then following the event. Then, Elisha was blessed with Elijah's literal and spiritual mantle. Elisha cured the bitter waters of Jericho with a little salt. And, on a much stranger note, Elisha cursed 42 irreverent young people who were then immediately killed by two bears.

It was a time of an unusual manifestation of God's power and presence in Palestine. Perhaps this was because God was trying to call His wayward people back to Himself. Israel was getting stuck in a fairly deep rut with their wicked kings and wholesale idolatry. Surely our merciful God wanted to do much to give them reasons to return to Him. In both positive and negative ways, he gave them excuses... through Elijah and Elisha... to believe His words and to follow His ways. Sadly, it was largely to no avail.

This chapter ends with a very brief mention of where Elisha went first after it was confirmed that Elijah was gone for good (although Elisha himself already knew that fact). II Kings 2:25 says that Elisha took a trip to Mount Carmel. Carmel was where Elijah had called the nation to repentance and had shown the powerlessness of Baal. Perhaps Elisha went there to meditate, to get perspective, to prepare his self for the continuation of what he knew was a truly great ministry.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Saturday - II Kings 1 - A Mismatch

Ahaziah, Ahab's son, fell and injured himself. And, when he became deathly ill, he foolishly sent messengers to ask for a prognostication from Baalzebub - obviously, a false god. The king wanted to know if he was going to recover or not. And, he could have and would have recovered if he hadn't sought for an answer from the Devil. But, because he was walking down the same road that his father had taken, God sent Elijah to intercept Ahaziah's messengers. Elijah gave them an answer to their question... an answer with which they returned to their master. It wasn't the answer that he wanted, but it was the correct answer. Ahaziah was doomed.

Now, if he had humbled himself under the condemning prophecy of Elijah (like his father had done), then perhaps he could have still received some mercy.  But, instead, he stubbornly sent 51 military men to arrest Elijah. Big mistake! Perhaps Elijah looked like a harmless, albeit eccentric old man as they found him sitting on top of a hill with his long hair, leather girdle and lonely disposition. But no, he was anything but harmless. 102 barbequed soldiers later, a 3'd set of 51 of the kings finest came to the lone prophet with their leader bowed down low as he implored Elijah for mercy. And, while the captain did receive mercy, the king did not. Ahaziah died and was replaced by his brother, Jehoram (not the same Jehoram who was simultaneously coregent with Jehoshaphat in Judah - compare II Kings 1:17 & 3:1). 

Friday, April 7, 2017

Friday - I Kings 22 - The End of Ahab

Yet again Ahab went to fight against Syria. Whatever happened to the brotherhood which he had forged with Benhadad (I Kings 20:34 & 22:31)? Well, it had lasted for only 3 years (I Kings 22:1). Anyway, this time Ahab invited Judah to fight with him in a bilateral military effort. The king of Judah at this point was good king Jehoshaphat, son of good king Asa. But, even God's faithful children aren't perfect, and Jehoshaphat was no exception. As such, he made a league with wicked Ahab (I Kings 22:4).

Now, Jehoshaphat wisely asked his host (king Ahab) to seek for the Lord's guidance before they went to battle. I'm not sure why, because even when Jehoshaphat had God's word in this instance, he didn't change his plans. The ridiculous proceedings which ensued after Jehoshaphat's request indicate just how wicked Ahab still was (despite his recent lesson from the vineyard of Naboth). Ahab listened to his false prophets (all 400 of them) and specifically to one Zedekiah from among those false prophets.  These all told him what they knew he wanted to hear, that is, that he most surely would win.

However, upon the insistence of Jehoshaphat, they brought a true prophet of God, one Micaiah.  After at first complying with Ahab's wishes (evidently for emphasis - see I Kings 22:15), he revealed the truth about the destiny of Ahab.  He did this in 2 ways.   First, he told them that they should all just go home and forget the whole idea. And, when Ahab complained about that, he added a very revealing account of the scene in heaven which had led to the false prophecies of Ahab's ministers, and proceeded to condemn Ahab.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Thursday - I Kings 21 - Ahab Humble?

I don't know if we can overemphasize the value of contrition in the eyes of God. Psalm 34:18 says, "The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saves such as be of a contrite spirit." And, that obviously included Ahab. Even Ahab received mercy from God when he humbled himself in repentance. But, let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Among his many faults, Ahab had a problem with covetousness. More simply, he coveted his neighbor's vineyard. Wanting it and being willing to buy it may have been harmless enough (I Kings 21:2), but when his neighbor Naboth refused to sell it, the wicked heart of Ahab was revealed. He couldn't take "no" for an answer. And, if Ahab's sinful heart was manifested, how much more was his evil wife's debauchery revealed?  She had Naboth killed so that Ahab could have the vineyard which he desired.

Now, while Ahab was walking through his newly acquired vineyard, God sent Elijah to preach a sermon of rebuke and condemnation to him. The most amazing thing here is the quick swing of Ahab's attitude from a smug and victorious villain calling Elijah his enemy to a remorseful penitent in sackcloth. Did it work? Yes, this man who had allowed his evil wife to instigate unprecedented sin in Israel was shown mercy from the Almighty.  Why?  Because of his sincere fear and repentance (I Kings 21:29).

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Tuesday - I Kings 20 - Bad vs. Worse

Neither Israel nor Syria were led by God-fearing statesmen. However, Israel had experienced a recent revival under the zeal of Elijah. So, when a conflict between the 2 nations arose, although neither side behaved commendably, God chose to mightily stand for his people over their Gentile enemies.

As he was picking a fight with him, Benhadad (king of Syria) demanded far too much from Ahab. And, at first Ahab took a cowardly “diplomatic” route by agreeing to the severely unjust demands of Benhadad. But, when Benhadad immediately returned with even harsher demands, Ahab realized with incredulity what was going on, and he refused to comply (despite the fact that Benhadad had created quite a confederation of kings... 32 of them in all [I Kings 20:1] and was leading no small army).

Ahab’s message (in response to Benhadad's second threats) was a good one (1 Kings 20:11). We might say, "Don't count you chickens before they hatch." Ahab was right. Israel soundly defeated the Syrians.  However, the prophet came to Ahab again informing him that there would be yet another battle the next year.  And, The odds were not good in either conflict (I Kings 20:27). In this case God told Ahab that the whole reason behind His willingness to defend him and his people lay in the brazen unbelief and disrespect toward Jehovah that had oozed from Benhadad (I Kings 20:28).

Sadly, after Ahab had routed them a second time, he made a peace treaty with Benhadad and treated him like a friend and brother. This upset God so much that God sent word to Ahab informing him that because of that miscarriage of opportunity, Ahab would die in Benhadad's place (I Kings 20:42).