Elijah: A Man Like Us (Part Two)

1 Kings 19:1-11a

There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by” (19:9b-11a NIV).

We continue to look at the great contrast in Elijah as recorded 1 Kings 18 and 19. In chapter 18, we read of Elijah standing boldly before hostile false prophets, a wicked king and people that had walked away from the Lord to worship false gods; in chapter 19 he flees from a threat of one woman, Jezebel. What caused this? We can discern four reasons. The first was that he gave way to fear, and the second was physical and spiritual fatigue. He was worn out from the events. Now, let’s think on two other reasons.

Elijah had a false view of himself, an aggravated sense of importance (19:9b-10). He justified himself. “I have been very zealous….” Do we really know ourselves well enough to ever say this? We need the evaluation of the Spirit of God. Search me, God, and know my heart;     test me and know my concerns (Psalm 139:23 CSB). Who can measure up to all that God requires? Luke 17:7-10. For example, remember the rich young man (Mark 10:20).

With a high view of himself, Elijah blamed others. “The Israelites have….” These two actions usually go together. When we think too highly of ourselves, we look down on others. Let us not imagine ourselves better than Elijah.  There are various ways we can do this. “If only brother ________ or sister ________ would _________.” “If only the pastor would ___________.” And even pastors say, “If only the people would ________.” And so Elijah exalted himself rather than humbled himself. He assumed that he was the only one left to stand for God. It is easy to fall into the trap of imagining that we are indispensable to God. The Lord corrected Elijah on this point later.

Elijah failed to work out his theology personally and practically (19:11). This was his basic problem. Too often we concentrate on the effects and not the cause. Too many incompetent doctors treat the symptoms instead of the disease. (At this point, we could talk about how to talk with your physician, but that is another subject.) Sadly, Christians do the same thing when they talk with one another or evaluate themselves. For example, we might talk with somebody battling depression or discontentment. A quick answer fails to solve the problem, such as saying, “Get more involved” or “Come (to church) expecting a blessing”. I’ve heard such shallow “cures” offered to people. We need to ask questions and seek Biblical answers. We are too impatient and too lazy. Or think of those struggling with a lack of assurance of salvation. Some want a quick answer, such as “read the verses on assurance and believe them” or “pull out your decision card”. But we should examine ourselves. Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5 NASB).

This is where God begins to correct Elijah. Sometimes we need to return to square one. Remember how God corrected Job in his trials (Job 38:1ff). We need to remember what we are: “the best of people are but people at their best.” No one is invulnerable, including those who are most in prayer.

It is easy to get four “F’s” on your spiritual report card. Exercise fear instead of faith; overexert your body; become puffed up, and put your theology on the shelf. However, it is better to trust, to take care of our bodies, to see ourselves in the light of God’s word, and to realize that sound teaching produces healthy living. What can you learn from Elijah today?

Grace and peace, David

A Proper Response to Correction from the Lord

img_39452 Chronicles 19:4-11

People usually do not respond well to correction. This failure stems from our self-will, pride, and laziness, as well as other sources. A child might be intent on doing the same wrong action, even when mom and dad strive to set them on a proper path. Who of us as teenagers did not think that we knew more or understood our life better than our parents and teachers. We all can be very lazy, especially when it comes to reading the word. I try to encourage people to read the word together. For example, this week our assignment is to read Galatians three times. In the Bible in front of me, Galatians is only eight pages long. Eight pages times three equals 24 pages. Yet this can seem like climbing Mt. Everest to those that are, to put it bluntly, spiritually lazy and self-indulgent. All right, perhaps that bordered on being rough, but we all need some encouragement to become spiritually active, and not only in reading God’s word.

Jehoshaphat did respond well to the correction he received from the Lord through the prophet. Let’s look at two core components of his response. Jehoshaphat response flowed from God’s corrective encouragement to him.

  • He turned from helping the wicked to restraining them through building up an effective legal system. To put this in biblical counseling lingo, Jehoshaphat did his homework. God gave him an idea, and he worked it out in his way of life.
  • The values he built into them agreed with those of his heart that sought the Lord. Observe how he told the judges that they “are not judging for man but for the Lord” (19:6). He wanted the fear of the Lord to be on them (19:7), and he wanted them to “serve faithfully and wholeheartedly in the fear of the Lord” (19:9). Here was a good desire of Jehoshaphat: to reproduce godly values in his people. He wisely began with the leaders of the people, who in turn would be able to more directly influence the people. Most people are not convinced by broad public statements, but through private discussions with people committed to the right values.

We must seek constantly to build core biblical values into the spiritual DNA of everyone in our local gatherings of believers in Christ. Then when you leave your gathering, you should seek to reproduce those core biblical values in other people. Therefore, go out every week with the gospel, living it, telling it, and building groups or networks of people through the gospel. Picture your local body of Christ meeting on Sunday morning. At the end of the meeting, your gathering “sneezes”. We all go out carrying the message of the gospel to see it reproduced in the lives of others.

What attitudes and actions did Jehoshaphat desire to see develop in his people? He acted to build some core values into their spiritual DNA.

  • He wanted them to judge carefully (19:6-7). Now a cynic might say, “How dare Jehoshaphat even say this, because of his careless alliance with Ahab? How dare he talk about judging carefully?” My friends, by God’s grace people can repent; that is, they can change their minds and then live in conformity with God’s truth. Jehoshaphat’s correction by the Lord provided him with a renewed perspective on life.
  • He wanted them to serve as judges “for the Lord” (19:6). He desired them to think of God as their boss and final authority. This is essential for the way we live on our mission in the world (Colossians 3:17, 23). Whatever your job, you are Christ’s ambassador. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20 ESV).
  • He wanted them to judge in conformity with God’s holy character (19:7). To do so is to be godly, or to use another New Testament idea, Christ-like. We go into the world to show the glory or surpassing worth of God. By not being unjust, partial, and by avoiding bribes, those judges would be godly; they would be acting like God.
  • He wanted them to sense their accountability to God (19:7-10). They must serve in the fear of the Lord. Jehoshaphat had learned that God corrects those he loves. He wanted his officials to be mindful of this reality. God does correct, and we will give an account to him one day (Romans 14:11-12; 2 Corinthians 5:9-10). The Lord intends for the reality of judgment to spur us on in godly attitudes and actions.
  • He wanted them to act with courage (19:11). Here Jehoshaphat drew on a rich stream of biblical exhortation (Deuteronomy 31:6; Joshua 1:6-9; 1 Chronicles 28:20). Boldness is essential in serving the Lord (Acts 4:29, 31; cf. Ephesians 6:19-20; Philippians 1:20).

Here are five biblical values to build into your spiritual DNA and so see them reproduced in others. As you live a gospel-focused life, serve the Lord wisely, as an ambassador, godly, as one who must give account to God, and boldly.

What clashing desires are ripping you apart? Please take action today to come clean before the Lord. Be “your own Jehu” and write down what you know about yourself as you sit quietly in the presence of God. Though you have clashing desires and need to get them resolved in a godly way, where can you serve the Lord? You see, we really believe that we all have some messes in our lives, and that it is people in need of change that God uses to help people in need of change.

Grace and peace, David

An Example of Discipline

img_39352 Chronicles 19:1-11

“This is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you.” Yes, I heard those words too many times from my dad when I was a boy. I would think, “Yeah, right. I’m the one who is getting spanked!” I also thought that teachers received some special pleasure from putting red marks on my papers. But now through long experience I know this: One of the tough parts of being a parent or teacher is the need to correct one’s children or students. Yet we must do it out of love. This is the reason that God disciplines his dearly loved children. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son” (Hebrews 12:5-6 NIV). Let’s think together about the substance of the correction that the Lord gave to Jehoshaphat.

But first, here is a brief analysis of his sin. Notice the parallel structure in the prophet’s charge. Jehoshaphat had helped the wicked, meaning his multi-level alliance with Ahab. Perhaps the term “wicked” would expose the evil of his action to Jehoshaphat. But in typical Hebrew communication pattern, Jehu restates the matter to bring out what Jehoshaphat had done. He had loved those who hated the Lord. Consider the words of Jesus (Matthew 6:24). The Lord expects the full devotion of our love; his holy jealousy is aroused when we give it to others. Now was Jehoshaphat completely “gone” at this point? Far from it, as the next statement by Jehu the prophet makes clear (19:3). Jehoshaphat had yielded to clashing desires that wreaked havoc on his life. Yes, he loved the Lord, but his heart was on a wild chase to fulfill other desires, and he had to face up to how this was ripping him apart.

The prophet announced corrective action by the Lord. Jehu did not give details, but as we see from the next chapter, a vast army would come against him. Jehoshaphat had been fighting the wrong battle, and so now he would have to fight a battle he didn’t want. The fact that the Lord mercifully bails you out of some consequences does not mean that he will get you out of all consequences. God disciplines the children he loves (Hebrews 12:4-11).

The prophet acknowledged what Jehoshaphat had been doing well (19:3). The Lord knew that Jehoshaphat would need encouragement, especially as he went through discipline. It is amazing to me that evangelical Christians have not been very good at showing mercy, though they claim to love mercy. If someone sins or fails, we have been too quick to write them off, instead of working with them through their struggles. However, the Lord commended him though he had seriously sinned. He encouraged his faltering child about two good things he had done.

  • He had rid the land of Judah of Asherah poles. In doing this Jehoshaphat was keeping the first and second commands of the law covenant (Deuteronomy 5:7-10). He had done right actions.
  • He had set his heart on seeking the Lord. In doing this, he was living in conformity with the first great commandment (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). He had shown right attitudes.

Point: The Lord used the good in Jehoshaphat in order to restore him and to build better things into his life. The course of our lives should be on a trajectory toward the better. To help do this, plug Psalm 27:8 into your way of life. My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek (NIV).

The Lord is the God who delights in mercy (Micah 7:18). You may experience God’s mercy in Jesus Christ. He died and rose from the dead in order to be very merciful to sinners like you and me. Right where you are at this moment, you may forsake the wrong desire that has been wreaking havoc in your life and return to the Lord. Do not delay.

Grace and peace, David

No Replay Button

img_19782 Chronicles 19:1-11

As you might know, I am a pro football fan, especially of the Eagles. I also root for the Browns, since I grew up near Cleveland. I like to watch the games, but I rarely have time or opportunity to watch a whole game, especially live. NFL Network has a handy program series in which they replay the best games of the previous week sometimes with all the extraneous stuff cut out. But I have noticed an utterly amazing fact. Regardless of how many times they replay the games, the team that won on Sunday still wins throughout the week! Every touchdown or fumble recurs in the same way with the same result. So, though it is being replayed, the game always ends with the same score.

In life, there is no replay. You live, and you can’t go back and relive the same experience, and you surely can’t change the past. It’s just there, frozen in history. Yet its effects continue. This can be either a cause for sorrow or joy. Although the past can never change, God is able in Christ to make changes in us for his glory and our good. Though I don’t know what sorrows and regrets you might be carrying around today, I do know that the Lord’s power and love can rebuild your life, to make it shine brightly for his praise. Let’s learn about this from Jehoshaphat, as we continue to consider the subject of “When Desires Clash”. He couldn’t hit the replay button, so that he could make better choices. But God was able to give him something different.

So, Jehoshaphat received correction (19:1-3). That does not sound very dramatic. It doesn’t sound like exciting stuff for the Christian media to trumpet. But the correction of his people is important to the Lord God. God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness (Hebrews 12:10b NIV). It came after he had returned safely from the battle, in which God rescued him from death (cf. 18:30-32). Jehoshaphat had escaped from human hands, but he was still in God’s hands. The dangerous events of life can strip away the illusion of being in control. Now God will confront Jehoshaphat about his control over his life. Let us stop and think about what the Lord is doing in our lives.

The correction came through a seer or prophet, Jehu the son of Hanani. We first read of Jehu the prophet in 1 Kings 16:1-7, when God spoke to Baasha, king of Israel, about 886 BC. This incident occurs during 853 BC, about thirty-one years later. In other words, Jehu was an older man at this point. When Elijah complained to the Lord, “I’m the only one left,” he forgot about other good men like Jehu. The Lord sent Jehu into a doubtful situation, from a human point of view. Jehoshaphat had days before failed to listen to Micaiah, another of the Lord’s prophets, and his father Asa had put this same Jehu into prison, because Asa had not liked the message from the Lord that Jehu had delivered (16:7-10).

My friends, Jehu was just as much the Lord’s prophet as Elijah and Micaiah, but Jehu and Micaiah both spent time in prison for their faithfulness to the Lord, while the Lord delivered Elijah in amazing ways. All three lived at the same time in history, and served the same Lord. Not everyone gets to stop rain from falling or to call fire down heaven. Jehu was faithful to the Lord over a long time period, yet, unlike Elijah, we don’t sing, “These are the days of old Jehu, declaring the word of the Lord.” Jehu declared God’s word, and we don’t sing about him. Your service for the Lord might go unnoticed and be very plain. Remember that you are serving the Lord, as he wills.

Let us build our theology properly. Some read the life of Elijah and decide to rewrite their systematic theology to include something about “power ministries” or whatever words they use. But exegetical and biblical theology must inform and develop our systematic theology to keep it from going astray. Based on our time period, it would be just as plausible to over-concentrate on Jehu and Micaiah and write about “suffering ministries”. We have too many trashy books following that kind of selective methodology today.

Listening to the message of the Bible can require hard work. We must know the meaning of words and the context of verses in the Biblical narrative. However, this effort yields spiritual benefits when the Holy Spirit applies what we have learned to our hearts. For example, we can accept joyfully our place in God’s mission in Christ. This gives us new, godly desires to serve God and others, instead of the old desires of wondering “how can I have a happy life now.” God does not raise up many to serve like Elijah. Most of the time he will use people like Micaiah and Jehu, invisible to the watching world, but very precious to God and loved by him.

Grace and peace, David

Wrong Desires Wreak Havoc

dscn33802 Chronicles 18:2-7

Wrong desires do not always bear their evil fruit immediately. They might require time to corrupt a person’s character, but they are present, slowly working to make it easy for a very bad choice to occur. Jehoshaphat gradually walked deeper into the mire. Notice that the events of this chapter happened “some years later”. But the wrong desire was at last given an opportunity to express itself. It came when wicked King Ahab decided to take advantage of his “most favored nation” status with Jehoshaphat.

Ahab wined and dined Jehoshaphat at a great party (18:2-4). Can you picture Ahab schmoozing everyone at the big state dinner? Ahab had his own agenda. We know from secular history that Ahab had just been in a military alliance with Aram (who owned Ramoth Gilead) and others against Assyria, and in battle had held Assyria to a draw. But Ahab sensed that Aram had been weakened in that struggle, and in cutthroat fashion he desired to pick off Ramoth Gilead, which sat on a lucrative trade route. Yes, money may not be the most important thing in the world, but it’s way ahead of whatever is in second place.

Jehoshaphat yielded to Ahab’s persuasions and agreed to a joint military operation. (Hello, Jehoshaphat? Are you aware of how Ahab had just knifed one of his former partners in the back? Sometimes we do stupid things!) But suddenly, Jehoshaphat had second thoughts and added a condition. “First seek the counsel of the Lord.” My friends, this was doing things backwards. Jehoshaphat should have sought the Lord before he made any promises. Now, it will be difficult to get out of the trap, and in fact he didn’t.

Parents, please listen to this. Don’t quickly agree to your children’s requests. Invest some time in thinking and praying about their requests before the Lord. This will help you accomplish two things. First, it will save you empty regrets from giving permission when you should not have. Second, it will teach your children patience, a quality sadly lacking in our day.

Next, it seems that Jehoshaphat desired correction, since he had asked for the Lord’s counsel. Actually, he walked deeper into spiritual compromise (18:5-7). Many people do this by seeking counsel from people they know will agree with them. They really are not interested to hear the undiluted message of the Scriptures. They look for those who will talk spiritual, use some Bible verses, and mix in a large dose of worldly wisdom that will agree with what they sense in their hearts is wrong.

Ahab gathered four hundred prophets to give Jehoshaphat the message from the Lord that he wanted. Many times when people seek counseling, they don’t really want to change. They merely want to vent or to hear someone say they understand or that they’re doing the right thing. To seek correction is humbling, because you have to admit that you’re wrong and you don’t have all the answers. So most won’t even seek counsel, but vaguely ask for prayer. “Oh, about what do you want me to pray with you?” And the answer comes, “I’m going through some tough times; just pray.” And then the person can whitewash their conscience, because someone has “prayed for them”.

The prophets are not identified, but they are probably not prophets of Baal, since Jehoshaphat had asked for the counsel of the Lord. They are probably prophets associated with the false worship of the Lord invented by Jeroboam I, king of Israel (cf. 1 Kings 12:26-33). So, Jehoshaphat was forced into listening to prophets pretend to be giving a message from the Lord. He could tell that they were not speaking the Lord’s message. You would think he would have pulled out of the promised alliance immediately. But he didn’t; he desired to hear a message that would confirm his unwise decision to get involved with Ahab. Plus, he had made his promises to Ahab! He couldn’t just walk away now, could he? He could have, if he had desired.

Many times we complicate our lives needlessly by failing to take the exit ramp the Holy Spirit creates (1 Corinthians 10:13). Don’t pretend that you can’t get out when the truth is you don’t want to get out. Face the evils of your own heart and repent. By the way, let’s stop playing around with “easily entangling sins” (cf. Hebrews 12:1-2). One reason they easily entangle is because we fondle them.

So Jehoshaphat, who still loved the Lord in his heart, ran through one roadblock and asked for a real prophet of the Lord. “Yeah,” Ahab said, “there is, but the dude scares me. He always says that God is going to get me, and I don’t like him!” So now, Jehoshaphat decided to leave, right? No way, he ran through another roadblock and gave a namby-pamby response. “Oh dear, you shouldn’t say that about one of the Lord’s prophets.” What he should have said is, “I’m outta here!”

It is too easy to see our failures here, isn’t it? But that is insufficient. We must see them and cry out for God’s grace to change! Wrong desires can wreak havoc in our decision making process.

Grace and peace, David