Fire from Heaven (Part One)

2 Kings 1:1-18

Ahaziah had fallen through the latticed window of his upstairs room in Samaria and was injured. So he sent messengers, instructing them, “Go inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I will recover from this injury” (1:2 CSB).

In order to understand this chapter, it is necessary to have a Biblical view of God. To have such a view in the culture of our time is rare, even among those who regularly attend a church that preaches God’s word. Why is this so? The Biblical view of God requires an acceptance of both the goodness and grace of God and the holiness and justice of God, even when we don’t grasp how they can be reconciled. The apostle Paul sums it up well. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off (Romans 11:22 NIV).

The setting of the chapter is two years after the death of the wicked king Ahab. He tried to escape the doom prophesied for him by Elijah, but while in battle, someone shot an arrow at random, but God directed its flight, and it struck Ahab between the joints of his armor, and he bled to death. Then dogs licked up his blood just as Elijah had prophesied. Now Ahab’s wicked son Ahaziah ruled over the northern kingdom of Israel. He walked in the ways of his evil parents.

Think for a moment of the power of sin over the human heart. You might assume that Ahaziah would have learned from the death of his father, which happened just as God had said. But no, something more than a terrible judgment is needed to change a sinner’s heart. Ahaziah dares God to carry out judgment on him. When he falls and seriously injures himself, he brazenly sends messengers to the false god Baal-Zebub to find out if he will recover. Will Ahaziah succeed in mocking God?

All that happens in this chapter is a demonstration of the kindness and severity of God. The Lord was kind toward Elijah and protected him, but acted severely against all who provoked him to anger. In this chapter, we must not blame Elijah for what happened. He was no more able in himself to bring down fire from heaven than you and I are. Instead, let us think of something else. The living God demands that his people honor him as the only true God.

The issue at stake was the honor of the God of the covenant (1:3, 6, 16). Remember the demand of the law covenant. Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, “Israel, listen to the statutes and ordinances I am proclaiming as you hear them today. Learn and follow them carefully. The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. He did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with all of us who are alive here today. The Lord spoke to you face to face from the fire on the mountain. At that time I was standing between the Lord and you to report the word of the Lord to you, because you were afraid of the fire and did not go up the mountain. And he said: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. Do not have other gods besides me (Deuteronomy 5:1-7 CSB). The living God spoke plainly to his people, Israel. Notice three matters about this word.

  • Human responsibility was clearly stressed.
  • The God of the covenant was clearly identified.
  • A transgression was clearly prohibited.

Though the law covenant has been fulfilled and set aside, this command is still in force today. We’ll consider this in another post.

The first commandment of the law covenant was clearly transgressed (1:1). This was not an isolated incident in Ahaziah’s life (cf. 1 Kings 22:51-53). Ahaziah did not learn from the mistakes of others. His act was similar to what Saul had done when he consulted the medium at Endor (cf. 1 Samuel 28). What happens to Ahaziah and his men is an example of the consequences of daring to challenge the true and living God.

Grace and peace, David

Mercy After Judgment

1 Kings 18:41-46

Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful (Luke 6:36 CSB).

God’s prophet Elijah acted boldly for the cause of God and truth, in the face of strong opposition. Hundreds of false prophets had opposed him. Yet the Lord vindicated Elijah’s stand for him and that he was a true prophet. Then Elijah led the people to carry out the doom of the law covenant upon the teachers of error (1 Kings 18:40; cf. Deuteronomy 13). Was it time for the Lord to pour out judgment on the people who had also worshiped false gods?

God had the right, the authority, and the power to do that. Yes, the people deserved wrath. But God is also merciful. Sometimes we hear of people asking God to judge his enemies in our time, like the disciples wanted Jesus to judge the Samaritan village (Luke 9:51-56). Anger and hatred reside in the human heart, and their preferred objects are people that cause us problems. This makes us forget the character of God. The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made (Psalm 145:8-9 NIV).

The mercy of God is seen in the sending of rain for the good of his people. What caused the rain to come?

It was not due to a change of direction in Israel’s leadership. There wasn’t any positive change. We read no record of repentance, thanksgiving or prayer on Ahab’s part. As we will see, Ahab was not softened by wrath or mercy. He steadily became worse. The evil king’s chief concern was for eating and drinking (18:42). Ahab was a materially-minded man, like those Paul later described. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things (Philippians 3:19 ESV). Elijah grants him liberty to pursue his pleasures. To be given material benefits without spiritual blessings is slippery ground (cf. Psalm 73:18). History is filled with many examples of this preference for partying over praying. Consider Belshazzar (Daniel 5); or those in London during World War II who partied during the air raids.

Sending rain was an act of the kindness of God. The covenant Lord had taken the initiative (18:1) in this entire event. It pleased him to do this. God is in control of the weather (Psalm 148:8; Matthew 5:45). He had withheld rain for three years and six months, and then he chose to send it. Yet at the same time, rain came because of the prayers of Elijah. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit (James 5:18 ESV). The God who ordered the end also ordered the means to that end. Prayer is part of God’s plan.

How did Elijah pray?

  • With a posture of humility (18:42). Though Elijah had experienced great blessings from the Lord, he did not lose a high regard for God’s majesty.
  • With persistence (18:43-44. cf. Luke 18:1-8). Notice the difference in the length of this prayer with his prayer in 18:36-37. God does not always answer when we expect. Even Elijah did not always receive an immediate answer to prayer.
  • With faith. (James 5:15-18). By faith Elijah heard the sound of heavy rain (18:41). Faith looks at things future, at things not yet seen, and reasons that God will bring them to be, and so acts as if they already were.
  • With fervency (James 5:17).
  • With a definite request (James 5:17-18). For example, every follower of Christ should always pray for the salvation of five people. Your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers form a fine place to start your list.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to pray as Elijah did. Let us have faith in God. With him all things are possible! Read Jeremiah 32:17, 26-27; 33:3.

Grace and peace, David

Psalm 70 (Part Two)

But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who long for your saving help always say, “The Lord is great!” (70:4 NIV)

We continue our study in Psalm Seventy. David next prays against his enemies three times. There was nothing wrong in David doing this, since he was asking for justice. The apostle Paul makes a similar statement in 2 Timothy 4:14. However, there is a different perspective that we learn in the new covenant. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:43-45 NIV). The Lord Jesus wants us to be merciful people.

Verses two through four do show the character of the ungodly, especially in their attitude to the people of God. They want to kill and to ruin and to abuse those who love the Lord. See Romans 1:29-31. They are filled with all unrighteousness, evil, greed, and wickedness. They are full of envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, senseless, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful (CSB; cf. Romans 3:13-16).

David provides an insight about their end. Yes, they appear to be winning now, and they think that they are! But their end will be shame and confusion and disgrace. For all eternity they will be disgraced while God’s now disgraced people will be exalted (1 Corinthians 1:26-31). The ungodly may rejoice now and say, “Aha! Aha!” But their glory will be turned into shame. They settle for far too little.

David turns the psalm in another direction and offers two requests for the godly. First, let us notice two characteristics of the godly.

  • They seek the Lord. Notice the contrast with the malicious quest of the wicked (70:2). All God’s people know the Lord—all know the Shepherd’s voice and come boldly and personally to the Holy One as Father. But it is also true that we are on a lifelong spiritual adventure of knowing Him who is gloriously infinite. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death (Philippians 3:10 NIV).
  • They love God’s salvation. There are three senses in which this is true. They love it in the sense of delighting in it. The wicked do not share this delight. They love the way of salvation—that it is a way of grace, not works. They love the Savior (Isaiah 62:11; Luke 2:25-32; 1 Peter 1:10-11).

In David’s requests for the godly we can see the essence of a true relationship with God. It is to exalt God’s name. It is to rejoice and be glad in the Lord (Philippians 3:1; 4:4; Romans 14:17-18). Why do we rejoice in the Lord? We do because he is the greatest good. To know him is to know true happiness.

  • God is the universal A person may have a number of excellent qualities, but God has all excellent qualities.
  • God is unmixed Every earthly pleasure has some gall mixed with the honey, but God is perfect.
  • God is satisfying Fresh joys come from him constantly (John 7:37f).
  • God is delicious “There is a certain sweetness about God’s person which delights, nay, rather, ravishes the soul.” 1 Pt 1:8
  • God is superlative There is none like him. Is 40:18,25
  • God is eternal He lasts forever with no change.

David speaks of the saint’s lack of merit as a reason that God should answer. “Poverty and necessity are very good pleas in prayer to a God of infinite mercy…” (Henry). We should remember that when we are weak, they we are strong (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Here is the proper perspective of Romans 8:37. Yes, we are “more than conquerors”, but it is “through him”.

Compare the first and the last verses with Psalm 139:1, 23-24, where the perspectives are reversed. Prayer in both places is based on what we know of God’s character, whether as Omniscient or as Helper.

Grace and peace, David

Prayer in a Broken World

img_1175Psalm 10:12-18

David began the twin psalms (nine and ten) with praise as he thought about God’s rule over a broken world. We have seen that in psalm ten, he focused more on human hardships in a broken world than on God’s rule. The Spirit led David to sing about both aspects of reality. This perspective is beneficial for us to have. It makes our worship times real. We do not have to suppose that all of life is beautiful and happy in order to worship the Lord God. This realism guides us to pray.

When we read today’s text, it is important to remember the covenant under which David lived and worshiped. He lived under the law or old covenant. It was a ministry of death and condemnation (2 Corinthians 3:6-9). The law, though graciously given to provide Israel with access to the true God, did not and could not provide grace for the disobedient. So then, as David wrote about the wicked and the evil that they brought on others, he prayed for God to exercise justice on the wicked (10:15). We do not live under the law covenant, but we are in Christ. We have a better covenant and a mission that includes prayer for the salvation of the wicked. With that in mind, let’s consider the other requests that David presents to the Lord.

  • David prayed for God’s involvement. Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted (10:12; ESV for each verse quoted). This is bold language to use the Holy God, but he understood that he could talk to the Lord of all in a personal manner. David wanted God to act in power (lift up your hand) and compassion (forget not the afflicted).
  • David expressed his frustration about the attitude of the wicked. Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”? (10:13) Since David knew the glory of the majestic God, he questioned the way the wicked thought and behaved. We, too, see the heartlessness, cruelty, and malice in the world, and we can express surprise about the cockiness of the enemies of God and his people. One of their ruling motives is their lack of sense regarding eternity and the judgment to come. They refuse to consider it; they do not wish to think on it. This means that we ought to pray, because they will not.
  • David confessed God’s great attributes. But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands; to you the helpless commits himself; you have been the helper of the fatherless (10:14). He knew that God was not far off, though he has said that earlier (10:1). The Lord God did see with purpose. He was not a mere spectator, but watching for the time and place to act. He knew that his God was worthy of his trust and the faith of those in need. We ought always to strive to confess how God’s character and abilities apply to the situations for which we are praying.
  • David worshiped the Lord for his coming victory. The Lord is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land (10:16). Although David saw the present distress, he remembered that a better day was coming. The truth that the Lord rules over all had not changed, even when God seemed to stand far away. God would act for his people against the nations invading their land. In the old covenant, the people and their land were closely connected. For this reason, this is an important expression of faith by the psalmist.
  • David reassured himself and those who listen to his song. O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more (10:17-18). He concluded his prayer in a hope-filled manner. God would act for the good of his afflicted people. Strength does rise “as we wait upon the Lord”!

One day the terror will end, the afflicted will be rescued, the fatherless will find eternal rest in the Father’s house. Until then, we must pray. “Lord, protect your people whom you love from those who act wickedly and who cause terror in this broken world.”

Grace and peace, David

A God-initiated Relationship

IMG_1006Exodus 5:22-6:12

God knows what happens in our world. He knows the joy and the sorrow of every person. God also remembers the promises he has made to people. God had made a covenant with the Patriarchs of the Hebrew people to give them the land of Canaan (6:4). He had also told Abraham that they would not gain the land for four hundred years, during which time the people would be enslaved and mistreated (Genesis 15:13-14). God told Moses that the time had arrived for the Lord to remember his covenant promise. We can only understand God’s plan when we take the position of learners and confess that his way is best because he is God. It’s not about us, but about him. When faced with hardship, this can be a very troubling truth, until we grasp that the Lord also works through our adversity for our greater good. This good purpose involves a God-initiated relationship. Here is the way that the Lord would act to make the descendants of the Patriarchs his people.

  • The Lord promised to bring them “out from under the yoke of the Egyptians” (6:6). The Egyptians were using the people of Israel like yoked oxen. God would end that oppression that had brought much suffering to them. In our time we see many of the people of God under tyrannical regimes. God will rescue them at his appointed hour, as he rescued Israel.
  • The Lord presented the method of deliverance (6:6). The method was to set them free from “being slaves to them” and to redeem them “with an outstretched arm and mighty acts of judgment.” To redeem means “to set free by the payment of a ransom”. In this case the focus is on the idea of setting the people free from slavery in Egypt. God used this act to set up a pattern that would teach us about our redemption from sin. Notice how the redemption would be accomplished. God would act with power and judgment against those who had oppressed his people. Here is the justice of God, bringing judgment on those who had done evil. God will judge all evildoers with justice at the last day (Matthew 25:31-36; Revelation 20:11-15).
  • The Lord procured the suffering slaves as his people (6:7). Though very great and majestic, God is “gentle and humble in heart”, as Jesus made known God’s character (John 14:7; Matthew 11:29). So the infinite God was willing to take the weak and lowly and the despised (1 Corinthians 1:27-28) as his own people. He did not need great people to validate him as a great God; instead, he sought out those who were assumed to be nothing, slaves, to transform them into his free people. In this way he would demonstrate his greatness, and in this way they people would “know that I am the Lord your God”.
  • The Lord pointed out the goal, which was to bring them to the land he had sworn by covenant oath to the Patriarchs (6:8). Observe how the Lord says twice that he would give them the land. It would be their gift from him. This was his grace to the old covenant people, and it is clearly shown to be by grace and not works, because of their constant rebellion against them before they went into the land.

So then, God took the initiative to make them his people and to provide for them. And Moses told them the message that the Lord had told him to tell them (6:6, 9). However, they failed to listen to God’s words, because of their discouragement and experience of cruel bondage. An assessment of Moses’ situation from a worldly perspective was bleak, as he well understood. This made the whole conversation rather dissatisfying to Moses. If a message with great promises could not convince Israel that God was soon to help them, how could a bare command to a cruel monarch persuade him to let Israel go?

This is the reason we need to have faith in God and his words, especially when everything seems to be against us. How is your faith in God? Does it fill you with hope? Or can you see no further than your present dissatisfaction with what God is doing now? Trust in God.

Grace and peace, David