The Prophet Who Did His Job

In the Old Testament, there are stories of kings, queens, judges, priests, and then, there are prophets. There were a number of prophets with some of them having long, hard to spell names like Malachi, Zechariah, and Habakkuk (Google does come in handy for spelling). Their main job duty was relaying God’s message to one or more people. Sometimes they had good news, but it often was a warning instead such as “if you don’t repent and change your ways…”.

I would imagine the job of a prophet could be a thankless one since their message didn’t always tickle the ears of the receiver.  It could be a dangerous one too such as Elijah having to flee from King Ahab who didn’t think much of Elijah and thought less of the God Elijah served. It could be a lonely one. Jeremiah was called the “weeping prophet” who served during the reign of five different kings and wrote a lot about repentance. They lived fascinating lives such as Samuel who was a miracle child, anointed the first two Israelite kings, and was the only ghost we meet in the Bible (read all about it in I Samuel 28).

Nathan was the prophet who was around when David was King.  Unlike Elijah and King Ahab, Nathan and David had a good relationship. Nathan was a member of David’s royal court and one of his closest advisors. There are a few stories in the Bible featuring Nathan that occurred during some of the darkest and most emotional times in David’s turbulent life.

Nathan was around when David decided to build God a house. David thought it wrong that while he lived in a beautiful palace, the Ark of the Covenant was housed in a lowly tent. David shared his plans with Nathan. The prophet, so to speak, gave him the high five. But Nathan spoke too soon! God visited Nathan in a vision and told him to go back to David with an entirely opposite message. God did not want David to build him a house; rather, David’s descendant would be the one to build God’s house (2 Samuel 7:4–17).

Nathan goes back to David with God’s answer.  Instead of being stubborn about it and going ahead with his plans, or throwing a tantrum and taking it out on the messenger, David accept’s God’s will. That’s a good lesson in itself. Not all my prayer requests have turned out as I had originally hoped.  Sometimes I have to go through the process of accepting God’s answer, reminding myself that my Father knows best.  If I could see what would have happened if my request had turned out the way I wanted, I have no doubt I’d be on my knees thanking the Lord for sparing me from what I originally hoped.

The most famous encounter between David and Nathan came later.  It was after David committed adultery with Bathsheba.  When she informed David she was pregnant with his child, he was so desperate to cover it up that he brought about the death of her husband, Uriah, who was a loyal soldier in David’s army.  David married Bathsheba and life went on … or so David thought. Nathan shows up and it was a climactic moment, to say the least.  If it wasn’t one of the worst moments in David’s life, it surely came close to being.

Nathan began with telling David about a rich man and a poor man. The rich man had company and needed to prepare a feast. He sees the poor man’s only possession, a little lamb, the poor man loved like a member of his family. The selfish rich man takes the lamb to feed his guest instead of feeding his guest with one of his own lambs from his flocks. David’s reaction to this story was an absolute rage. Perhaps the story took David back to when he was a shepherd boy tending his father’s flock. David declared the rich man had no pity and deserved to die.

This is the climax! I dare say one could have heard a pin drop when Nathan pointed to David and said, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7).

Perhaps at that moment, David felt like an arrow of guilt had hit his heart. It couldn’t have been easy for Nathan to reveal David’s sin, but he was the prophet and it was his job. David did confess to Nathan his sin. At least, David didn’t deny it or try to blame someone else. Nathan had good and bad news. The good news was the Lord had forgiven his sin and that David would not be punished by his own death. The bad news was David and Bathsheba’s child would die. It was devastating news but David didn’t argue with or blame the messenger who was just doing his job.

After the death of David’s child, his wife Bathsheba became pregnant again, this time with a son whom they named Solomon. The Lord sent Nathan to David again but this time with wonderful news that the Lord loved his son Solomon. They named their son, Solomon “Jedidiah,” a name that means “beloved of the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:24–25). Solomon would grow up to later build God’s house, the temple, and became an ancestor of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Another mention of Nathan is an encounter he had with Bathsheba. David was near death at the time and one of David’s sons, Adonijah, had his eyes on his father’s throne. Nathan knew Bathsheba well enough to speak to her about Adonijah attempting to take David’s throne from her son, Solomon (1 Kings 1:11). Nathan enlisted her help in bringing the matter to David’s attention before David’s death. After Bathsheba told David what was going on, Nathan came in and backed her up. Thus, there was no King Adonijah.

There is evidence that David and Bathsheba appreciated Nathan for his faithfulness, friendship, and even his “tough” love. First Chronicles 3:5 reveals they named one of their sons “Nathan”. A fine thing to be named after a prophet who did his job.

A few decades ago I pray for something with a heavy heart.  In my prayer, I had a sob story and thought that what I wanted to do about the situation had the Lord’s blessing.  Just as I was almost about to carry it out, I ran into someone.  I shared my sob story with the person who generously gave me a hug and advice.  Her advice wasn’t what I wanted to hear but I listened.  It occurred to me a short time later that her advice was the Lord’s answer.  I can’t prove it but to this day I don’t believe it was a coincidence I ran into this person when I did.

In a way, she was the prophet delivering the Lord’s message to me.  At least, I can say that time I accepted it and if I had to live it over again, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.  By the way, I never held a grudge against her.  She was just doing her job.

 

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Joshua, Caleb, and the Fearful Ten

When I think of the word “courage”, the pictures that pop up in my mind are of soldiers on a battlefield, police officers on a call where weapons are drawn, or firefighters responding to a raging fire with people inside. Courage isn’t limited to those situations. It can be displayed at any time or place.  It isn’t limited to those wearing a uniform and it doesn’t have to be a matter of life and death.  Courage is when one does what the Lord would have them do, often taking the difficult instead of the easy road, even though they are scared silly.

The Bible provides many stories having the ingredient of courage. One of them is the story of Joshua and Caleb. It is a dramatic and powerful tale of two who did the right thing surrounded by those who chose to give in to fear and doubt.

The Israelites led by Moses had fled Egypt to their destination of the promised land of Canaan initially promised by God to their forefather Abraham. Joshua and Caleb’s story begins where the Israelites were at the threshold of this Promised Land.

Moses sent Joshua, Caleb, and ten other spies into the Promised Land to check out who the enemy was and report back what they saw.  The spies returned after scouting the land for 40 days. All twelve agreed that Canaan did flow with milk and honey and it possessed bountiful fruit. They all reported the inhabitants were powerful, their cities fortified, and they even saw descendants of Anak there. (The Israelites felt like grasshoppers in the presence of the sons of Anak who were endowed with height). The people focused more on the strength of the enemy than the milk, honey, and fruit.

There was not full agreement among the spies on what to do about it. The majority believed the enemy was a mountain too high to climb. Joshua and Caleb were of the opinion that the land was conquerable because they had the Lord on their side and the Canaanites did not. That made all the difference. They stated:

“‘The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.’” (Numbers 14:6–9).

Although Caleb and Joshua were outnumbered, they didn’t change their minds to appease the majority. Their belief in going forward to battle wasn’t based on what they saw, but on what they couldn’t see.  It’s called living one’s faith.

The people didn’t listen to the courageous two, but to the fearful ten. They even turned on their leader, Moses, and complained about being led out to the wilderness to come this far only to die. It was a bad day for Moses. It seemed that sometimes the hardest part of Moses’s job was not dealing with the enemy or the physical challenges of traveling a multitude of people, but the “people” themselves who may have kept Moses up many a night with their complaining.

God threw up His hands so to speak. The punishment of the people’s lack of faith was making them wait forty years to enter the land (a year for every day the spies were spying out the land). He also promised that every person 20 years old or older would die in the wilderness.  Think about that!  All those 20 and above knew they had no more than 40 years to live and would never leave the wilderness alive.  If one was 20, one knew they wouldn’t live past 60 and would only see the land flowing with milk and honey in their dreams.

There were two exceptions.  Numbers 14:38, “Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.”

After the death of Moses 40 years later, Joshua led the people across the Jordan River into the Promised Land. He won every battle and thus possessed the land that God had initially promised Joshua’s forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Oh, and Caleb? Well, he received an inheritance in the Promised Land in his ripe old age (Joshua 14).

Courage isn’t limited to adults.   I can think of another place where I have personally witnessed courage while on my job as a substitute teacher’s aide. A child is alone amidst a host of classmates on a playground. The child is perceived by the other children to be different.  Maybe it’s the child’s different skin color, or a brace on their leg, or doesn’t speak or talks too much, flaps his hands, spins in circles, or their legs are useless to them.  One of their classmates joins the child.  He or she is pointed at and snickered for giving attention to the “different” one. But the one who stands alone pays their snickering classmates no mind. That child who is putting into practice Jesus’s command to love one’s neighbor as thyself is displaying courage. Just as Joshua and Caleb did when they stood alone amidst the fearful ten.

 

The Prophet Who Did Not Drown

Habakkuk was one of the Old Testament (OT) prophets and author of the OT book named after him. His name is a lot easier for me to say than to spell. He is somewhat a mystery because of the 66 books of the Bible, his name only appears in his book twice – in the first verse and first verse in the third chapter. There’s no mention of his hometown or parents or tribe. He doesn’t say where he resided but some Bible scholars concluded he lived in Jersalem at the time he wrote his book. He does provide his title “the prophet”.

Habakkuk must have chosen not to write about himself. There’s nothing wrong with that. His focus wasn’t on himself, but on what he saw and the “why” of it. He saw famine. He saw injustice. Something was eating at him and it was what he saw as God’s uninvolvement in the world. He wanted to see God at work, particularly in the area of justice for those who did evil. Habakkuk lamented but who can’t relate to that. If one is a stranger to lament, then one is a rare bird!

I haven’t figured out, don’t expect I ever will, of how much control I have of what happens to me or around me. But I do have a say in how I respond to it. Instead of throwing tantrums, blaming God, Habakkuk prayed. His book is mostly a conversation between him and God. These conversations led to something amazing for the prophet. Judging from Habakkuk 3:17-19, he was able to praise even in the middle of a drought.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

17 Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:

18 Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

3:19 The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. To the chief singer on my stringed instruments.

One would think there’s no joy in famine, but Habakkuk found something to rejoice about. God hadn’t left him. Because of God, the prophet had hope there was an end to the famine. He had hoped the sweet would come. Verse 19 speaks of the deer who is known for being fast on its feet and ability to jump over any obstacle. We all have a race and it’s called life and it sure has its obstacles!  Don’t we all know it!

Decades ago, I recall watching a TV episode from the show, “The Walton’s”. If you remember watching the original episodes, you are probably a baby boomer. For those of you who aren’t boomers or have no idea what I’m referring to, the show was about a family living through the Great Depression. The Depression was “real” and one of the worse famines this country had ever faced. Some members of the Walton family were gathered around the front porch awaiting word of the fate of a loved one who was in some sort of danger. It was one of those terrifying moments of hoping for the best while fearing the worst. Grandma Walton told them that they should all pray. One of the grandchildren asked Grandma, “How can you still keep believing in God?” Grandma said, “Who else do I have to believe in?”

Although it was a TV show, I kept the words of the grandmother in my memory. I thought she made a good point with her question. Who else? Well, there’s me, but I don’t think so. I have weaknesses. I have limitations. God has none.

There’s an old saying that one’s life can change in the twinkling of an eye. That is true. A whole host of calamities can happen in seconds. But there’s the flip side of the coin. A whole host of wonderful can too.

Just as there is sour, there is sweet. On any given day, there are folks leaving this earth and grieving loved ones behind; however, there are babies coming into it being welcomed by eager adults, some of whom are carrying “It’s a …” balloons and/or a box of cigars. There are evil acts committed around the clock, but there’s also many acts of kindness by those responding to the Lord’s conviction on their hearts.

A quote comes to my mind: Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning how to dance in the storm.  Habakkuk knew how.  He lamented but he didn’t drown in it.

He Who Has No Limits

One of the things God blessed mankind with is the ability to laugh. Along with the ability to cry.  Sometimes we need to have a good laugh or a good cry.  Both can be a release in good and bad times.  It’s just one can get in trouble laughing or crying at the wrong times.  Such as laughing when a grandparent is showing off school pictures of their adoring grandchildren.

There’s a Bible story in the book of Genesis where one laughed at the wrong time for the wrong reason. She never lived that story down either. There are multiple stories about Sarah in the Bible, but she is mostly remembered for the one where she laughed.

The story is told in Genesis 18:1-15.  Sarah’s husband, Abraham, received a visit from the Lord as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day.  When he looked up, he saw three men.  It appears he knew they were from heaven because when Abraham saw them, he ran to meet them and bowed himself toward the ground. I doubt that was how Abraham normally greeted visitors.

Abraham, in fact, addressed one as “Lord”. Abraham asked the Lord if he had found favor in His sight, would they please stay so he could provide water for them to wash their feet and give them food to eat. The three accepted Abraham’s invitation.  He didn’t waste any time in going into his tent and telling Sarah to hurry and make a meal. He then fetched a tender calf and gave it to a young male servant who quickly prepared it for the meal. Abraham brought the three men some butter, milk, and the calf and stood by them under the tree as the three visitors ate.

They asked him where his wife Sarah was and Abraham said in the tent. Abraham was then given shocking news for a 100-year-old man. The Lord said He would return for another visit and when He did, Sarah will have had a baby by then. The scripture doesn’t say how Abraham reacted but it does Sarah who overheard the conversation. She wasn’t much younger than Abraham and was well beyond her child-bearing years. So it was understandable that when Sarah heard she and her 100-year-old husband were going to be having a baby, she laughed to herself.  She said, “After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”

Unknown to Sarah, the Lord knew she laughed, knowing her innermost thoughts. The Lord told Abraham that his wife had laughed and questioned her bearing a child at her ripe old age. The Lord asked Abraham, “Is any thing too hard for the Lord?” He again stated that upon His return visit Sarah will have given birth to a son.

I do feel for Sarah in this story. She was already on the record for laughing at something the Lord had promised. She made matters worse by going out and denying her laughter to the three visitors and Abraham. Her lying only made the hole she was already in even bigger. The Lord rebutted her and said, “Nay; but thou didst laugh”.

I’m not one who can be hard on Sarah. If I had been in Sarah’s shoes, I probably would have laughed too. Probably more than a snicker but a roll on the floor laughing with the thought, “Who me? A baby? At my age? This is a joke, right?”

This story is a reminder for me not to the put the Lord in a box. Mankind is the one limited; not the Lord. I shouldn’t confine my prayer requests to what I think the Lord can handle and refrain from bringing up what I assume is a hopeless case. It’s not always easy to pray about something with full confidence that the Lord can change things around when what we I see looks like a dark hole with no light at the end of it. Before abandoning hope in a dark tunnel, I need to ask: “Is any thing too hard for the Lord?”  I have limits, but He has none.

 

No Doubt About It

I asked my home assistant device, Echo Show, for the definition of skepticism. I knew what the word meant but I like to give Echo commands just to see if Echo will do it or ignore me. Another reason I put her to work is she didn’t come cheap. Echo’s response was skepticism is having doubt about the truth of something. Such as being skeptical about what you hear a politician says. There’s a lot of that going around.

Jesus was familiar with skeptics. Folks who were doubtful of whom Jesus claimed He was crossed His path plenty of times.  Such as Pharisees, Sadducees, chief priests, scribes, elders, and folks who had no title. But there were instances recorded in the Gospels of when His path crossed with those who took Him at his word that He was the promised one, the Son of God.  Such as Mary, Martha, and Lazarus whom the Lord counted as dear friends.  There was also a time when Jesus encountered such a strong faith of one individual that Jesus Himself stood amazed.

This occasion took place in a town called Capernaum. One of the town’s residents was a centurion. (My Echo assistant told me that a centurion was a commander of one hundred soldiers in ancient Rome). One of the centurion’s servant was so ill that he was ready to die. According to Luke 7:2, the servant was “dear” to the centurion. I take that to mean the servant was more than hired help, but a friend as well. This to me speaks volumes of the kind of person this centurion was. I doubt that there were many commanders in ancient Rome, or in any other civilizations, who cared as deeply for their servant as this centurion did.

When the centurion heard that Jesus was in town, he sent the elders of the Jews to asked Jesus to come and heal his servant. The commander of one hundred must have heard about Jesus and given credence to what he heard. The Jewish elders did as the centurion asked because they thought so highly of the centurion. Again, this was another example of the centurion’s kindness towards those who were outside of his Roman circle.

When the Jewish elders found Jesus, they pleaded on behalf of the centurion to heal the servant. They spoke to Jesus of the centurion’s love for the Jewish nation and how the centurion had demonstrated that love by having built them a synagogue.

Jesus accompanied the elders to the centurion’s home where the servant lay dying. When Jesus was almost to the house, the centurion sent friends to greet the Lord with the below message:

“Lord, trouble not thyself: for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof: Wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed.
For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.” (Luke 6: 7-8)

The centurion did not consider himself worthy that Jesus should enter his house or worthy to come to Him. This man was truly one of a kind. A commander with a healthy instead of a fat ego.

Jesus was amazed! It is one of the few times in the Gospels where Jesus was such. According to the scripture, Jesus marveled at the centurion’s statement of belief in Him. This was a rare occurrence where Jesus was impressed by belief instead of unbelief. Jesus turned to those around him and said to them that He had not found such great faith, no, not in Israel.

The centurion’s friends returned to the house. What they saw may have marveled them. They found the servant who had been on his death bed to be completely well.

It’s one thing to pray and ask the Heavenly Father for something that’s in our hearts. It’s another to do so with a heap of faith instead of a tad of skepticism. Faith sufficient enough to leave that request in the Father’s hands and not give it a worry minutes, hours, days, etc. later until the answer comes. The answer may be what one had hoped for, but if it isn’t, it’s still okay. Why? Our Father knows best. No doubt about it!

The Multiplication of One

The Gospel of John ends with stating “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.”  (John 21:25)  I can’t help but wonder what the “other things” were, but I accept that what is recorded is sufficient for us to know.  One can’t help but notice in reading all the four Gospels in the Bible’s New Testament that Jesus took the time to perform many a miracle. He had compassion for the blind, deaf, lame, and the leper. Such as he healed the blind beggar on the side of a road, the demon-possessed man living in a graveyard, and the woman with a bleeding illness who touched his cloak in a crowded place.

Word of his miracles spread throughout the region like wildfire.  Crowds would gather when hearing that Jesus was coming to their neck of the woods.  Such as in the story told in Matthew 14:13-21 where 5000 men, plus women and children, showed up traveling on foot to see the miracle worker for themselves.

As evening drew near, the disciples told Jesus that since they were in a remote place, they should send the crowds away so they could go to their villages and get something to eat.  Instead of agreeing, Jesus told the disciples instead that they give the crowds something to eat.  I wonder what the disciples were thinking at this point. They never imagined feeding that many people in one sitting.  Besides, the only food they had on hand was a mere five loaves of bread and two fish provided by a boy according to the version of the story told in the Gospel of John. It doesn’t take much math to figure out that wouldn’t satisfy a hundred, much less five thousand.

Jesus told them to bring the food to Him and directed the people to have a seat on the grass. He took the bread and fish and looked up to heaven, gave thanks, and broke the loaves. Then He had the disciples hand out the food. The disciples and the crowd saw something amazing happen. Something they couldn’t have imagined in their wildest dreams.  The fish and loaves multiplied before their very eyes!

The crowd had plenty to eat and no one, so to speak, left the table hungry. After dinner was over (or supper as folks in the south call it), the disciples had leftovers to pick up.

Years ago, I heard a minister preach about this story. He had an interesting perspective that up until then, I had not given on this miraculous feeding. The Lord is in the business of multiplying. In this story, it was food. But it isn’t just food the Lord can multiply.

There are countless stories where the Lord has taken what a child of His does, such as an act of kindness or a display of one’s God-given talent, and multiply it many times over. After the minister finished his sermon, he then invited his daughter to sing a hymn. I don’t remember the hymn, but I do remember she had a lovely voice and her talent left an impression on me. It’s been over a decade and I still remember the minister’s lesson and the minister’s daughter putting the lesson into practice.

My own heart has been touched multiple times from observing a special talent possessed by a child with Autism.  For example, a boy around ten whose drawings is stunning for one who has yet to say his first word.  It does my heart good to hear a lovely girl sing who can’t yet hold a conversation.  She can sing words of a song with her beautiful voice accompanied by an angelic glow on her face.  I’m told she sings in the church choir.  Only the Lord knows how many hearts that child has touched from the choir loft.

The Lord can take what we do, no matter how small the action may be, and have it touch multiple lives for the better. Many testimonies have been given by those whose lives were changed by an act of kindness from a fellow human being. There are testimonies of those who came to know the Lord through the witness of one person and then that one goes on to share the gospel to multitudes of people.

It so often starts with “ONE” and multiplies many times over just as the loaves and fishes so long ago.

A Royal Extension of Time

I am intrigued with tales of kings, queens, and royal intrigue.  In particular, the royal family of England.  They don’t bore me whatsoever.  I follow news of them than other monarchs since their country is named after my family.  HA!

I have spent considerable Bible study time in the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles in the Bible.  These books cover multiple reigns that have the ingredients of drama, adventure, and romance.

One of them who had a longer list than most kings of accomplishments that met God’s approval was Hezekiah.  He purified and repaired the Temple, purged its idols, and reformed the priesthood.  He destroyed the high places which became objects of idolatrous worship.  With that list of accomplishments, no wonder it states in the scripture that Hezekiah was a great and good king.

In chapter 20 of II Kings, Hezekiah was so ill he was near death.  It was a boil to be exact that had caused the King such misery.  I’ve never had a boil myself but it sounds terribly painful.  Isaiah, the prophet, came to see the King and had the worst news.  The boil was terminal.  The prophet advised Hezekiah to get his house in order because his time on earth was about up.  

Hezekiah was not ready to leave Earth.  I can understand that.  I am eager to go to Heaven, myself, but I can’t say I’m eager to go right this minute.  There’s that instinct to wanna hang on a while longer.  

Hezekiah took the Prophet’s grim news so hard.  The grown-up king cried his heart out.  To his credit, he prayed to God.  He asked for an extension of time.  He presented his case to the Lord as if he was his own attorney pleading his case. Hezekiah brought up that list of accomplishments.  He asked the Lord to remember how he had walked before Him faithfully and with his full devotion from his heart.  As he prayed, he continued to weep bitterly.   

Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the Lord gave the prophet a message for Hezekiah.  This time the news was much better.  The King would have fifteen more birthdays.  The Lord had heard his prayer and seen his tears.  I take comfort in this part of the story.   This is an example of God hearing a prayer coming from a desperate man with a heavy heart.  God didn’t dismiss the King’s pleas and tears.  I believe He doesn’t mine either.

Hezekiah wanted a sign that his life extension was for real.  He could have taken the prophet’s words for it but that’s not as easy as it may sound.  I only have to look at my own track record.  So many times the Lord has come to my rescue and saw me through a storm.  But whenever a storm pops up in my life, it is so tempting for me to worry my way through it than weather through it on faith.

It should be noted that God honored Hezekiah’s request for a sign.  Isaiah, being the go-between, told the King the Lord’s sign would be one of two, the King’s choice: to have the shadow go forward ten steps, or back ten steps?  Hezekiah using common sense said it was a simple matter for the shadow to go forward ten steps.  He requested the shadow go back ten steps.  Isaiah called on the Lord and the Lord responded with making the shadow go back ten steps it had gone down on the stairway.  I assume the sign satisfied Hezekiah that he had a 15-year life extension.

I wish I could say he spent those remaining 15 years wisely but his ego got the best of him.  A Babylonian envoy delegation paid a visit to Jerusalem and Hezekiah welcomed them with open arms.  They may have brought him a get-well gift for they had heard about his illness.  Hezekiah was keen to show off and he sure did at that!  He showed off his storehouses, his armory, and everything found among his treasures.  In fact, he went full hog and there was nothing in the King’s palace or in all his kingdom the King did not show off.  The problem was he was showing off to wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing.

When Isaiah heard about the delegation, he asked the King what the men said and where did they come from.  Hezekiah said Babylon and that alarmed Isaiah.  He asked what did the Babylonian gang see in the palace?  At least, Hezekiah was honest when he said EVERYTHING.

I can picture Isaiah nodding and scratch his head.  I wouldn’t have blamed him if he thought he had been on the job too long.  How could Hezekiah fall for those wolves?

Isaiah had bad news for the King again.  There would come a time when everything in the palace would be carted off to Babylon, much at the fault of Hezekiah.  If that wasn’t bad enough news, some of Hezekiah’s descendants would be taken away and become eunuchs in the palace of the Babylonian king.

At the end of 15 more years, Hezekiah rested with his fathers.  A takeaway of this story is having a talk with the Lord come rain or shine.  To tell him all about whatever is on my plate whether it be a blessing or a concern.  If needed, have a good cry too.  I would never tell someone who has a terminal illness or a loved one who has that if they pray and ask for an extension, it’s a guarantee they’ll get it.   There are folks walking around whose doctor have no explanation as to why that is; however, there are those who didn’t get an extension and went home to be with the Lord.

I try to always remember when praying for whatever that I say, “Not my will, but thy will be done.”  God always knows best, including the granting of extensions of time.

 

The Time the Moon Held Back

Once upon a time long ago, the Moon delayed its arrival.  The Sun worked overtime for a full day.  It was a day like no other before it and hasn’t been one since.  God brought this about and only He could since He was the creator of both heavenly bodies.

The remarkable one-of-a-kind story is told in the Bible (the 10th chapter of the book of Joshua).  The story begins after victories the Israelites led by Joshua had scored.  One of them was the well-known Bible story of the fall of the city of Jericho when its walls came tumbling down.  There was rejoicing among the Israelite camp but not among its unfriendly neighbors, the Amorites, who resided in the mountains.  They feared the Israelites were gaining too much territory and didn’t want Joshua to show up at their door next.

The inhabitants of a large city by the name of Gibeon conceded it was best to get on the good side of Joshua and made peace with Israel. This got the attention of the King of Jerusalem and it was the last straw.  The King took action on what he saw as a “Joshua” problem and sought the help of four kings who were his allies.

It says in Joshua 10:4-5:  “Come up unto me, and help me, that we may smite Gibeon: for it hath made peace with Joshua and with the children of Israel.  Therefore the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, the king of Eglon, gathered themselves together, and went up, they and all their hosts, and encamped before Gibeon, and made war against it.” 

The Gibeonites sent an SOS to Joshua for HELP!  Since he had made a treaty with the Gibeonites, he was obliged to help them out.  Most importantly, the Lord told Joshua: Fear them not: for I have delivered them into thine hand; there shall not a man of them stand before thee.”  

The battle began well for the Israelites.  The Lord sent down great hailstones from heaven and there were more who died with hailstones than the children of Israel slew with their swords.

Then Joshua did something unusual.  In the midst of these battles with these five kings of the Amorites, he asked the Lord one thing.  He did so in front of the children of Israel so they would hear his petition to God.  Joshua asked the Sun to stand still upon Gibeon and the Moon hold down until his people had victory over their enemies.

This was a bold move on Joshua’s part.  He was taking a big risk for if the Sun had set at its regular time, it would have damaged Joshua’s standing with the Israelites.  It would have discouraged his soldiers which no leader would want to happen in the midst of battle.  My thought is Joshua didn’t come up with this idea all by himself.  I believe the Lord laid it on his heart to pray for such and to do so within earshot of the Israelites.

The Sun, like an obedient child,  stayed up another full day over the battlefield of Gibeon and the Moon held back from taking its place in the sky.  No one had ever seen such before.  It was a sign of affirmation to all those who heard Joshua’s prayer that indeed the Lord was with them and no matter how many were left of the enemy, their days were surely numbered.

Chapter 10 ends with:  And all these kings and their land did Joshua take at one time because the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel.”

It was not a simple thing for Joshua to go forward to battle even though he had the Lord’s assurance of victory.  He was, after all, human and susceptible to temptation.  On his way to Gibeon, he may have been tempted to make a U-turn.  It might have popped up in his mind to send word to the Gibeonites:  Sorry.  You guys are on your own.  Five kings are too many.  My people and I would like to live a while longer.

It is a constant battle for me to overcome the tendency to go by what I see rather than what I don’t.  I know there’s not a storm the Lord hasn’t seen me through; however, when some storm pops up, I sometimes give in to fear and doubt.  Whenever I have managed to leave something entirely in the Lord’s hands by faith, I am so much more at peace even in a raging storm.

When I think of what faith looks like, I sometimes think of the one man who prayed for the moon to hold back and it did.

 

The Late Night Griller

I don’t like asking questions and I don’t like answering them. I have plenty of them running through my mind though, more than I want.  It’s one of my challenges of living on the Autism Spectrum.  When asked a question, even one that I should know the answer, my brain doesn’t pop up the answer in lightning speed.  My anxiety can get the best of me and give a dumb answer that I will kick myself later for.  As far as asking questions, I really have to work up my nerve to ask because of my fear of a negative or puzzled response.  Those times when I have gotten up the nerve to ask, then it was a question I probably asked out of sheer desperation.

When Jesus walked upon this Earth, He sometimes asked questions such as asking His disciples who people say He was and then who did they think He was.  He was asked questions, too, from His disciples and followers.  He also got questions from His enemies but they were seeking to discredit Him in front of the crowds.  On one occasion, he was grilled into the night by a Pharisee named Nicodemus.  An unlikely person to interview Jesus because he was a member of a group of Jews, the Pharisees, who did not care for Jesus’s teaching.  He was also a high-level official being a member of the ruling body of the Jews known as the Sanhedrin.

Nicodemus’s grilling of Jesus is told in the third chapter of John.  John reports that Nicodemus came to speak with Jesus at night.  Many speculate Nicodemus chose to meet Jesus at night because he didn’t want to be seen with Jesus in the light of day.  Perhaps he didn’t want his peers on the Sanhedrin to know he was conversing with their perceived enemy.  This may indeed be true but the Scripture only tells us it was a night visit.  It doesn’t say why.

At the start of their conversation, Jesus confronts Nicodemus with the truth that he “must be born again”.  (John 3:3). When Nicodemus seems skeptical, Jesus remarks that since he is a leader of the Jews, he should already know this (John 3:10).

It is in Nicodemus’s grilling that Jesus stated one of the most well-known and beloved verses in the Bible.  It was the verse recited to me by my pastor before I asked Jesus to save my soul decades ago.  The words in John 3:16 mean more to me than words can say:  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son.  That whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”   It sums up in a nutshell what the Gospel is all about.  I understand what a church leader of long ago, Martin Luther, meant when he referred to this verse as the “heart of the Bible, the Gospel in miniature.”

It doesn’t say in the scripture if Nicodemus went home that night a believer of Jesus or not.  My thought is Nicodemus either came around that night to believe in Jesus or he eventually did because of other times Nicodemus is mentioned by John which put Nicodemus in a good light.

The next time he is mentioned was when he was on the job on the Sanhedrin as they were considering what to do about the “Jesus” problem.  Nicodemus comes to the defense of Jesus by stating Jesus should not be dismissed or condemned until they have heard from Him personally.  (John 7:51). However, the rest of the Council didn’t take kindly to Nicodemus’s statement and rudely dismissed it.

The final mention of Nicodemus in the Bible is after Jesus’ crucifixion. Nicodemus assisted Joseph of Arimathea in Jesus’s burial.  This is another sign that Nicodemus did take to heart Jesus’s words that night.  Nicodemus brought expensive spices for use in preparing the body for burial and then assisted Joseph in wrapping the body and placing it in the tomb.

John’s Gospel leaves many questions about the one who grilled Jesus late into the night.  Was he born again? What did he do after the resurrection? The Bible is silent on these questions. Perhaps Nicodemus’s final recorded act was his declaration of faith.

Since I have trouble asking questions even from those people I know, I give Nicodemus credit for asking questions from someone his peers was opposed to.  He’s a good example to follow for all believers can and should ask Jesus questions that are in their hearts.

After all, Jesus is still open to questions, even late into the night.

The Sign Seeker

Before there were kings of Israel, there were judges.  Their stories can be found in the book of Judges in the Old Testament.  One of them was Gideon who received three chapters worth of Bible coverage (Judges 6-8).  My impression of Gideon from the scriptures was a man who wasn’t a born leader.  He wasn’t bold and energetic like King David or outspoken like Apostle Peter.  This is one of those stories where God picked the weakest instead of the strongest to do His work.  It’s a comfort to know that the Lord can use all of his children who have different personalities, strengths, and weaknesses.

Gideon lived at a dark time in Israel’s history.  The first verse of Judges states the bad state of affairs.  The children of Israel had strayed from God as they sometimes did.  As a result, He delivered them into the hand of Midian.  The Israelites had a change of heart and cried out to the Lord for mercy.  Once again, the Lord heard their cry and chose someone to lead them out of the Midianites’ hand.  This is the part in the story where Gideon comes in.

An angel of the Lord came and sat under an oak tree near where Gideon was threshing wheat by the winepress to hide it from the Midianites.  The angel spoke and told him the Lord was with him.  Gideon responded by basically asking, “Where has the Lord been?” Gideon felt forsaken.  He had been living through seven years of slavery under the Midianites and longed to be out from under their brutal hand.

The Lord’s answer was He had heard Israel’s cry and chosen a leader to deliver them out of bondage.  There was a “but” for Gideon:  he was the chosen one.  That had to come as a shock “Who ME?”

Gideon told the Lord that his family was poor as if the Lord didn’t know that.  He added that he was the least in his father’s house.  I don’t know what Gideon meant by least, but he obviously saw himself as such.  His confidence was slim, but his ego wasn’t fat.  I can relate to that since I don’t welcome new challenges with open arms.

Gideon asked for a sign of assurance he was indeed speaking with the Lord.  Maybe he thought he was daydreaming or was hearing things.  He probably never would have seen himself as a military leader in a million years.  Now one might say Gideon should have just taken the Lord’s word for it and not asked for a visible sign.  Well, maybe so, but I being opposed to immediate and drastic changes in my daily life, I give Gideon credit for not running for the hills.

A sign must have been okay with the Lord because He gave one.  Gideon was instructed to prepare a young goat and unleavened cakes of flour; to put the flesh of the goat in a basket and put the broth in a pot and place it under the oak tree.  The angel told Gideon to take the flesh and cakes and lay them all on a rock and to pour out the broth.  Then the angel put forth the end of the staff that was in his hand, touched the flesh and cakes; fire rose up from the rock consuming the goat and cakes.  Then the angel disappeared out of Gideon’s sight.

The roasting convinced  Gideon he was talking to the Lord all right.  What was wrong then?  He was frightened.  He believed that if one saw an angel face to face, it meant that one’s time on Earth was about up.  The Lord patiently assured him he wasn’t going to die; not then anyway.

This was the beginning of Gideon’s journey.  It wouldn’t be the only time Gideon would ask for a sign along the way.  The Lord was patient with him and granted Gideon a sign each time he asked for one.

For his part, Gideon followed the Lord’s instructions such as reducing the number of his soldiers.  Maybe Gideon’s weakness was in an odd way his strength.  Gideon followed God’s instructions because he sure didn’t know what to do on his own.  He relied on the Lord because he knew he couldn’t rely on his weak self.  He was well aware he could not go up against any army relying on his smarts alone. With the Lord at his side, Gideon did conquer the enemy with only three hundred men with no weapons; just a trumpet in every man’s hand, with empty pitchers, and lamps within the pitchers.

In thinking about this story, I have to admit I seek signs too.  I need, receive, and am thankful for signs that God does work in my life.  An answered prayer isn’t only about the answer, but a sign that my prayers go beyond the ceiling to the One whom I’m praying to.  That’s beyond awesome!

The 11th chapter of Hebrew is devoted to the word “faith”.  I’ve heard more than one person describe this chapter as the “Hall of Faith” because the chapter has a list of names like any hall of fame.  Each person listed in this chapter has a story of faith.  Gideon, the sign-seeker, made it on this list (Hebrews 11:32).  By faith, he believed the signs came from God.  He fulfilled his part in being part of something far bigger than himself — the conquering of the enemy and deliverance of God’s chosen people.

God calls His extroverted and introverted children.  The pessimists and the optimists.  The popular ones and the nerds.  The strongest and the weakest.  And the sign seekers.