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

A Dangerous Encounter

IMG_2088Ruth 3:1-9

In the Bible we read of many actions of believing men and women that we are not to imitate, though we are to learn from them. Some of these are easy to discern. For example, Moses and the people of Israel sacrificed a lamb at Passover and sprinkled the blood on the doorposts of their houses. Clearly, we are not obligated to do that, because Jesus Christ is the better and final Passover Lamb. Many actions are controlled by the covenant under which they occur. Circumcision was mandatory under the old covenant, but now it is nothing (Galatians 5:2-6). Other matters were plainly for one event, like walking around the city of Jericho to have its walls fall down. As tempting as it might sound to some, God is not calling you to walk around Congress in session until the walls come down.

On the other hand, the Holy Spirit does want us to see what faith in the living God can accomplish (cf. Hebrews 11; Romans 15:4; cf. 1 Corinthians 10:11). For this reason, we must read the Bible wisely, especially the narrative portions. When you read of someone doing something, pay attention to the historical and covenantal setting. The Lord may simply want you to learn from their faith or their failure to walk in God’s ways.

In our text we read of a dangerous encounter. It was planned by Naomi for the good of her daughter-in-law Ruth. I think that both acted in faith at this point. However, the plan was very risky for many reasons, which we will consider. If parts of the Bible were rated like movies are, this passage would have an “R” rating for language and adult situations. Such accounts do not embarrass God, since he created us as sexual beings, and these are matters that he wants us to think about. So then, let us listen to God’s word.

Naomi came up with a risky plan (3:1-4). To see the risk, we need to understand the historical setting. In that culture, parents were responsible for the marriage of their children (cf. Judges 14:1-3). Ruth, as a widowed daughter-in-law, had put herself under Naomi’s authority. For this reason, Naomi wanted to “find rest” for Ruth; that is, a husband for her. At this point it is reasonable to ask why Naomi simply didn’t approach Boaz directly about marrying Ruth. The Bible provides no answer. Given Israel’s history with Moabite women (Numbers 25: 1-3), some suggest that Boaz might have been reluctant to get involved with Ruth, but then we ask, how would a midnight rendezvous at a threshing floor have improved the situation? We must say that we simply don’t know.

In addition, Naomi seemed to approach this marriage proposal under the concept of a kinsman-redeemer (not levirate marriage, which concerned the responsibility of a brother-in-law toward his deceased brother’s wife, Deuteronomy 25:5-10.) Naomi was not asking Ruth to act like a hussy and throw herself at the first man she meets in a bar. No, Ruth acted as a woman in need of redemption. She sought the liberation of herself and the land inheritance of her deceased father-in-law and deceased husband.

Yet Naomi used a daring method to bring Ruth and Boaz together. Clearly, Naomi had been doing some feminine thinking about this first date! She knew where Boaz would be and that he would be happy from celebrating the threshing of grain, which to him meant a full stomach and a full bank account! This was a perfect time to approach a man! Naomi advised Ruth to make herself attractive, which is a good idea for any young woman who is thinking about marriage. Men usually aren’t that attracted to a woman who is dressed like construction worker in a blue jeans commercial. Appearing clean, feminine and sweet smelling is a better way to attract men. A woman needs to dress for the kind of man she wants to attract. It is possible that Naomi might have been telling Ruth to dress like a bride (cf. Esther 2:12; Ezekiel 16:6-14). However, Naomi sent Ruth into a dangerous situation. She had already spoken to Ruth of the danger of being out alone (2:22), but here she sent Ruth out alone at night to a threshing floor, which was a place of sexual encounter in that culture. (Think a cheap motel for current images in our culture.)

People tend to make plans that have a mixture of good and evil and of wisdom and folly. This is the reason we need counsel continually from God’s word and godly people. So then, what are you currently reading in the Scriptures? Are you part of a small group? Read the Bible together as a small group. I encourage people to do this constantly, because it gives not only mutual accountability but also a basis for shared spiritual knowledge. We need to learn together who we are and what we have in Jesus Christ, so that our way of life would show forth his glory.

Grace and peace, David