Day 105: 2 Kings 1-3; Elisha Succeeds Elijah

English: Ahaziah of Israel was king of Israel ...

English: Ahaziah of Israel was king of Israel and the son of Ahab and Jezebel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We open the book of 2nd Kings right where we left off in 1st Kings.  These books, as you can imagine, are completely linked.  Really, it is just the book of Kings, yet they are divided up into two volumes.  2 Kings opens just after the death of Ahab, which we read about yesterday.  Ahaziah takes the throne after his father and we read that he is apparently clumsy or something and fell through the “lattice” and probably injured himself somehow.  In any case, rather than going to God with his concern about his injury, he decides to go to one of the gods of the philistines, Baal-zebub (interestingly sounding a lot like “Beelzebub”).  Elijah meets the messengers on the road and delivers the message that God has given him.  Ahaziah will die from his injury because he did not seek the Lord.  I wonder what would have happened if he had sought the Lord…

This act and the the narrative surrounding it brings forth one of the primary issues that plagues both Israel and Judah in this book, and really during most of the time of the kings: Idolatry and a lack of spiritual center.  The people of Israel, both the Northern and the Southern Kingdoms are children of the Covenant, living with the promise that God as made.  God is very present among them and has revealed Himself in a very special way to these people.  Yet it seems that whenever there is trouble, the people of Israel go off looking to other gods for help.  Israel was meant to be the light of God to the nations.  They were THE nation through which all nations would be blessed.  Yet, instead of turning to their light in times of need, they look to the gods of the nations that surround them.  Ahaziah is a prime example of this.

The other narrative that we read about today has to do with the succession of Elisha as the Prophet of God.  There are many things that we can glean from this narrative.  Elisha is persistent and loyal, never refusing to leave his master’s side, even after being commanded three times.  I suppose there could be an interesting correlation to Peter’s Denial of Jesus here.  Elijah asks his faithful protegee what he can do for him before he leaves and Elisha’s request is bold!  “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me” he says.  What a request!  And it is granted by his seeing Elijah being taken away, or so Elijah says.  Isn’t it interesting that it takes two strikes for Elisha before the waters part for him.  I think it is important to see here that when he strikes the first time he doesn’t just give up, but he questions the Lord, asking where He is and why he hasn’t yet granted the request.  He is given no sign, no message that he had the power of the Spirit, but he strikes again in faith and the waters part.

Speaking of water, as we close for today, it was suggested the other day by a professor or mine that at any time in the Bible that we talk about water, especially when we talk about going through the water, our minds should move toward the idea of baptism.  We touched on this when we talked about Israel crossing the Red Sea and again when Israel crossed the Jordan River.  Baptism, a washing and cleansing with water, a foreshadowing of Christ’s baptism and His atoning death on the cross, a dying to the old self and rising in the new self, a fundamental re-identification of the person.  This motif, this idea of identity and baptism persists throughout the Bible.  When Israel Crosses the Red Sea they enter as a group of slaves and emerge as a chosen, rescued people of God.  When they cross the Jordan they go down as a Nomadic group of wanderers and emerge as a the nation of God.  Elijah passes through the waters and is taken away and Elisha does the same and takes on the role of his now departed master.  All these events happen though because of the power and will of God alone.  It is God’s might that holds back the sea, it is God’s will, call, and promise that makes someone His… and it will be God’s grace and love which bring Jesus to the cross as atonement for our sins and ultimately the way to be found truly in Him as members of His body.

Day 104: 1 Kings 21-22; Naboth's Vineyard and the Death of Ahab

I feel like today’s reading has called into question some things that I would otherwise have taken for granted about God.  However, before we get to that, let’s talk for a moment about Naboth’s Vineyard and what happens when Ahab takes it.

English: Jezabel and Ahab Meeting Elijah in Na...

English: Jezabel and Ahab Meeting Elijah in Naboth’s Vineyard Giclee. Print by Sir Frank Dicksee. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We read that there is a Vineyard that King Ahab wants.  Naboth owns it and won’t give it to him because it is part of his “inheritance.”  What he means by this is that, likely, this was the plot of land that was given to him when the people of Israel entered and conquered the land of Canaan.  Remember that every tribe was given a plot of land and every family was given land within that land to call their own.  There are a great deal of laws that have to do with the possession of the land including things like the Year of Jubilee and laws that governed the sale/transfer of ownership of the land.  This land was very important to the people.  It was given to them by God as part of the Covenant promise that God made with Israel and therefore was to be kept in the families.  As I understand it, even when someone had to sell their land or had lost it somehow, it was to be returned to them after a period of time.  This is spelled out fairly specifically in Leviticus 25.  So it doesn’t come as a surprise then that Naboth is unwilling to sell his Vineyard as it is part of (or perhaps all of) his inheritance.  The land was sacred to him, given to him by God, and he didn’t want to give it up.  Likely it is that he knew the King wouldn’t honor the codes of the Law in returning it to him in the Year of Jubilee.

The other part of today’s reading had to do with the nature of King Ahab’s death.  Returning to my original statement, this narrative is a bit confusing.  We read a of a vision that the prophet Micaiah speaks to Ahab and Jehoshaphat prior to the conflict with Aram.  He talks about a decieving spirit sent directly from God to disceive the prophets that Ahab had so that he would wrongfully attack Aram.  In doing so, we read, God is ensuring that Ahab would end up dead.  This can be confusing because it seems to be out of character from God.  We don’t equate the word “decieving” with God often.  We belive the Lord God is the essence of truth.  Being decitful is considered to be sinful in most situations, so seeing God sending someone or something to decieve seems completely out of character.  Yet I think that we can understand that there is a bit more going on here than simply God lying to someone in order to get him killed.

English: The Death of Ahab (1Kings 22:29-40) Р...

English: The Death of Ahab (1Kings 22:29-40) Русский: Смерть Ахава (3Цар. 22:29-40) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In fact, here we see very clearly that God is being true to Himself and His own words.  A couple times now there have been prophecies, which are words from the Lord, that have to do with the death of Ahab and his evil wife Jezebel.  In this action, God is ensuring that His word comes true, which happens despite Ahab’s attempts to hide himself.  We read that a random arrow strikes Ahab, likely a 1 in a million shot being that the king’s armor was much better than the normal soldier’s armor, and King Ahab dies exactly in the manner which God says… dogs and all.

So what do we do with things like this?  They do make us question things that we think we know about God.  Yet I think it is important for us to know that, as much as anyone tries to explain away the actions of God, we have to know that God is God and He is abundantly higher and greater than we ever are or will be.  “Who can know the mind of the Lord?” the Psalmist writes,  “Your ways are higher than our ways.”  We may not know or understand how or why God is working in the ways that he does, but we know that He is always true to Himself.  God cannot act outside the nature of God, and we know that the nature of God is first and foremost a God of love and faithfulness.  God is true to His own being always, and in all things will indeed be faithful to His people.

Day 103: 1 Kings 19-20; Elijah and Ahab

Today’s reading continues the narrative of the prophet Elijah and his work for the Lord in Israel.  Yesterday we saw the awesome power of God in the face of the gods that the people of the Northern Kingdom had turned to.  However, today, even after that amazing power is displayed before King Ahab and all the people of Israel, we find Elijah running for his life because of death threats from the king.  When I read this, I don’t necessarily know what to think of it.  God’s power is displayed before all the people, the prophets of Baal and their gods have been defeated and put to death, and yet Elijah runs from the threats of the Queen.  Does this display a lack of trust?  Or does it model, in some way, the life of Israel before God.

Prophet Elijah, Russian Orthodox icon from fir...

Prophet Elijah, Russian Orthodox icon from first quarter of 18-th cen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In many ways, the prophets, as well as speaking for God, also model in many ways the life of Israel to the people of Israel.  There are many correlations between Elijah’s running away and any number of instances in Israel’s past in which they complained, wept, or were in fear just after witnessing the power of God in their lives.  However, unlike Israel, Elijah actually runs to the mountain of God, seeking the will of God instead of running to the “power” or other gods.  We see that in his journey he is miraculously provided for and journeys for 40 days and 40 nights, numbers that are always significant.

While at Mount Horeb, God speaks to Him.  Here we see and interesting contrast in the way that God reveals Himself to His people.  We had just witnessed a God that provides for His prophet, a God than is more powerful than any other god, and now a God that speaks in that still small voice.  It is so awesome to see the many ways in which God reveals Himself.  God almighty, the creator of the universe can face down any challenge with omnipotence that He possesses, and yet meets Elijah in his time of struggle, fear, and perhaps even questioning/doubt in the “still small voice” that speaks to Elijah’s heart and calms his mind.

On another note, there are some folks that are named here today that we should keep in mind.  They were have prominent roles in the chapters to come, especially in 2 Kings.  Ben-Hadad is the “King of Aram (Syria) and attacks Ahab and the Northern Kingdom.  Ultimately this attack fails because God provides for His people again, even in their sinful nature.  We are also introduced to Hazael.  He is Ben-Hadad’s second in command, trusted adviser, and the anointed king of Aram.  We never actually read that Elijah makes good on this anointing, but it is clear that God has chosen him for some purpose in the future.  Jehu is also someone that we meet today.  He will be king over Israel soon as well.  All of these people have been hand picked by God for some purpose, most of which is described by God to Elijah.

The other important person that we hear mentioned today is that of Elisha who will be the successor to Elijah as prophet.  We don’t hear much about these folks today apart from some of the story about what they are doing (primarily Ahab and Ben-Hadad), but what we learn here is that God is at work in people, all sorts of people, both local and abroad to bring about His will in the world and with His people.  Interestingly, God is showing here, once again, His power to work in the lives of people all over the place to both bring about His will and to show once again His faithfulness to the covenant that has been made with His people.

Day 102: 1 Kings 16-18; Enter Elijah

English: Ahab was king of Israel and the son a...

English: Ahab was king of Israel and the son and successor of Omri (1 Kings 16:29-34). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All the Kings of Israel are Evil.  One after another, the do worse and worse things.  Scripture even says that some of these kings did so much worse that all the others before them.  Today we come to Ahab, who fits that profile and then some.  He “did evil in the sight of the Lord,more than all who were before him. 31 And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam.”  Israel has walked away from God continually from the time of the Northern Kingdom’s inception.  Now they are worshiping the Baals as well as Asherah, following in the ways of the nations around them, just as Moses warned before they entered into the promised land.

Interjected into the story of Ahab becoming king and ruling is the little known story of Hiel, the man that rebuild the city of Jericho.  Scripture tells us this story in 1 quick verse:

“In his days Hiel of Bethel built Jericho. He laid its foundation at the cost of Abiram his firstborn, and set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke by Joshua the son of Nun.”  1 Kings 16:34

The word of the Lord to which this verse refers is back in Joshua 6:26, when Joshua say the very words which come true for Hiel:

“At the cost of his firstborn shall he
    lay its foundation,
and at the cost of his youngest son
    shall he set up its gates.”

Enter Elijah, the most famous prophet without a book to call his own.  Elijah enters this scene in much the same way that Moses enters the scene over 400 years earlier.  Israel was enslaved by Egypt then and is enslaved by foreign gods and sin now.  Once Elijah says his piece to Ahab he goes out into the wilderness where God provides for him bread and meat, much like the mana and quail from Israel’s wilderness experience.  After this wilderness experience, like that of Israel and of King David (and later Jesus as well), Elijah emerges and begins to do the work of the Lord in a land permeated by evil.

The Prophets of Baal Defeated Photo Credit:

The Prophets of Baal Defeated
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The story of the challenge between Elijah and the prophets of Baal is probably a familiar one to those who attended Sunday School as a child.  It can also be a popular story to preach from in churches, but I think that this story, when read in the context in which we find it in today’s reading helps to bring out a great deal more of the depth of meaning that is taking place here.  In the land of Israel, there really hasn’t been any sort of following of God over the course of the last 50+ years or so.  We can look as far back as Solomon’s reign to see that the kings have turned away from the Lord and are following after idols.  By this point the grip of idolatry is very strong on this nation.  Yet even here, God does not abandon His people and leave them in their apostasy.  God sends his prophet and challenges the evil that is present.  Again, as we talk about pretty much every day, God remains faithful even when the people clearly are not.  Yesterday it was covenant faithfulness with the kings of Judah, today God will not simply surrender His people to the Baals or Asherah goddesses or any other idols.

God does not shrink away when we sin.  He is not threatened when we turn away or doubt.  God is not put off by our questions.  He does not turn away when we do not live for Him.  No, God challenges the status quo and the idols that we may have.  God doesn’t let the things of this world take His people away while just idly standing by helplessly.  Today we read that through Elijah, God takes on the gods of Baal in front of all, inviting it to show its power for all to see.  Obviously Baal doesn’t show up because it has no real power.  But God shows up in a very real way, sending an all consuming fire that eats up the sacrifice, the water, and even the rocks on which it is placed.  God’s power is almighty; nothing can stand before Him.

Do not live in the fear that you may have angered the Lord.  Do not live in the lie that you have walked away too far or that you have done something that is unforgivable.  God did not abandon the people of Israel and He will not abandon you ether.  God is faithful.  He is Loving.  He is Jealous for His people.  He is quick to forgive.  If you are wandering, listen for His voice… He IS calling you back and He IS ready to fight for you.

Day 101: 1 Kings 13-15; Jeroboam and Rehoboam

And so the story of the divided kings begins.  Today’s reading is the beginning of the Kings Cycle, the stories of Israel and Judah as they progress down the line of Kings.  There are many notable differences between the stories of Israel, the Northern Kingdom, and the stories of Judah, the Southern Kingdom.  Sadly however, there are also marked similarities as well.  It would be really nice to say that the Kingdom of Judah did what was right in the sight of the Lord while the evil Northern Kingdom headed by the usurper to the house of David, only did evil.  Unfortunately, that is only partially true.  As we read through the stories of the Kings of Israel, you will notice that not a single one of them does what is right in God’s eyes.  They are all evil, every single one of them.  While the depth of their evil deeds may vary a bit, not a single one of them is said to have done what is even remotely right in God’s eyes.  Israel is dead-set on a path to destruction, which is prophesied about here in today’s reading.

English: Jeroboam was the first king of the no...

English: Jeroboam was the first king of the northern Israelite Kingdom of Israel after the revolt of the ten northern Israelite tribes against Rehoboam that put an end to the United Monarchy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Jeroboam’s wife goes to the prophet Ahijah to inquire about the fate of his son, a grim prophecy is made.  Not only will his son die, but his entire family will be cut off from the kingly line of Israel.  Further more, because of the sins of Jeroboam, because he did not walk in the way of the Lord after God gave him the throne which he took away from Solomon, “the Lord will strike Israel as a reed is shaken in the water, and root up Israel out of this good land that he gave to their fathers and scatter them beyond the Euphrates, because they have made their Asherim, provoking the Lord to anger.  And he will give Israel up because of the sins of Jeroboam, which he sinned and made Israel to sin.”  This is a direct prophecy of the coming total destruction of the Northern Kingdom.  This will happen much later, but this is where we see the prophecy is made that the Northern Kingdom will go into Exile… and never return.

The Kings of Israel and Judah Photo Credit:

The Kings of Israel and Judah
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Rehoboam, I would love to say, was exactly the opposite of Jeroboam.  However, that is not the case.  He did evil and his son did evil too, as we read.  Yet Scripture tells us that “Nevertheless, for David’s sake the Lord his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem, setting up his son after him, and establishing Jerusalem,  because David did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and did not turn aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.”  I think that this is an amazing show of faithfulness by God to the Covenant He made with David.  The promise was to David’s family forever, that His throne would be established forever; and to this promise God remains faithful.  Really, this has the overtones of Election written into it once again.  Clearly God has chosen this people to be His people… and here it is clear that it is not because of any merit that they had, have, or will have.  These people sin constantly, they are no better than any of those around them, yet God continues to be faithful to them, even when they refuse to obey or follow the Law.

It isn’t until King Asa, Rehoboam’s grandson that things get put relatively back on track.  Scripture says that “the heart of Asa was wholly true to the Lord all his days” dispite the things that he didn’t do to right the path of Judah.  This is another part of the Kings Cycle that we will see.  With Israel it is all bad all the time.  However, with Judah things go up and down, back and forth.  Unfortunately the trend is still downward.  Yet God remains faithful, often times only for the sake of the Covenant He made with David…

Spiritual State and the Kings of IsraelPhoto Credit:

Spiritual State and the Kings of Israel
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Day 100: 1 Kings 10-12 Solomon's Downfall and the Divided Kingdom

Today marks 100 days into this journey through the Bible.  I can honestly say that I have never made it this far in a “1 year Bible reading plan” before.  It is usually about the middle to end of March that I would start falling away.  Warm weather is here (perhaps not this year, but sometimes) and the desire to be outside or the busyness of school work always seemed to take over.  That is, as I know, an excuse, but I am excited to say that we are at 100 days and still going strong!

Today is also a day of transition in the continuing narrative of God’s people.  Solomon, as we have seen over the past few days, was made king over Israel in his father’s footsteps and grated abundant wisdom.  Under his rule, all of Israel continues to prosper  growing from the successes of his father David and increases in wealth and influence.  We read that all of the nations of the world wanted to be in the presence of Solomon because of his great wisdom.  One person in particular, the Queen of Sheba, comes to visit Solomon and verify for herself exactly who Solomon is and if the stories about his were true.  She comes with great with, which she gives to Solomon after finding out about him, approximately 1/6 of his total income for that year.  We read that Solomon’s total income in one year was 666 talents (a rather ominous number).  To put this in perspective, roughly according to the price of gold today, Solomon himself was making over 1 Billion dollars a year!!  This was apart from what “came from the explorers and from the business of the merchants, and from all the kings of the west and from the governors of the land.”  One year.  Solomon was easily generating more income than many of the big companies in America right now.  Talk about prosperity.

Visit from the Queen of ShebaPhoto Credit:

Visit from the Queen of Sheba
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Yet all is not champagne and rose pedals for Solomon… or perhaps it is, and that actually is the problem.  A couple times now we’ve talked about Solomon’s infringement on the rules for the kings of Israel in Deuteronomy 17.  The king was not to collect large amounts of money or have many wives.  Solomon is clearly doing exactly the opposite, having  700 wives and another 300 concubines.  And we read that what happens is exactly what the Law said would happen, Solomon’s heart turns from the Lord and he begins to worship the gods of this wives: Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the Ammonites.  This angers the Lord, and rightly so I think.  God Himself appeared to Solomon not once (which should be more than enough), but TWICE, and yet Solomon still turns away.  Because of this, the Lord says, the Kingdom will be ripped away from Solomon… well Solomon’s son… but not the whole Kingdom either.  As I listen to God’s judgment on Solomon I kind of feel like its the punishment of an unresolved parent.  “You’re grounded.  For a day.  And you can still have your friends over.”  Yet this isn’t what God is saying at all.  The judgment happens this way “for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem that I have chosen,” God states.  This shows an incredible amount of faithfulness on the part of God to the covenant He has made with David and his house, one that extends forever.

And this is indeed what happens.  Solomon’s son Rehoboam rises to the throne after the death of Solomon and quickly makes a mistake.  Clearly the wisdom of Solomon is not a genetically passed down trait and the ability to recognize such wisdom is not one that Rehoboam excels at.  As we had seen, Jeroboam has been given the kingship of the Northern Kingdom, what we will now know as “Israel” where as Rehoboam rules over the Southern Kingdom, what we will now know as “Judah.”

The Kingdom DividedPhoto Credit:

The Kingdom Divided
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As we enter into this time of transition, remember the words of the Lord to Jeroboam as he is given kingship over the Israel.  God says through the prophet Ahijah, “…and if you will listen to all that I command you, and will walk in my ways, and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did, I will be with you and will build you a sure house, as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you.”  Jeroboam has been given a promise from God that his rule will be blessed if he follows God and as soon as he has the throne he turns from God, not trusting in Him.  He builds 2 Golden Calves and places them in the Kingdom of Israel so that his people won’t go to Jerusalem to worship God where they should be worshiping.  This turn proves to be the beginning of the end for Israel.  No king from this point on ever turns their face back to God.

Day 99: 1 Kings 8-9; Dedication of the Temple

When Solomon had finished building the Temple of the Lord he held a great celebration as they brought the Ark of the Covenant up into the Temple.  Notice some differences here between how Solomon brought the Ark where it needed to go and how David did the first time.  David had it brought in a cart which led to the death of one of the men going with them up to Jerusalem.  This time however, Solomon makes sure that it is done right.  The priests carry the Ark of the Covenant up to the Temple and place it in the Most Holy place, also know as the Holy of Holies.  This room existed in the Tabernacle as well.  In fact, the Temple area was an exact representation of the Tabernacle, only it was larger and a bit more permanent.

English: The Ark of the Covenant Brought into ...

English: The Ark of the Covenant Brought into the Temple (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like the dedication of the Tabernacle in Exodus 40, when the Temple is finished and the Ark of the Covenant, the mercy seat and throne of God is placed in the Tabernacle, we read that the glory of God descends down upon the Temple.  It comes down in the form of a cloud so think and (I imagine) so dark that the priests are unable to do their priestly duties.  As we have spoken about before, the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy of Holies represents the place at which heaven and earth meet, where God’s presence is concentrated, the center of the Hebrew universe.  When everything is finished, God inhabits this place in all His glorious splendor, which is physically manifested in a dark cloud.  This too is a sign that it is indeed God that is present.  Remember all the way back to God’s covenant with Abraham.  The first time we read about this was on Day 4 of our journey through the Bible.  The vision that Abraham had involved a great deal of darkness, which represents the glory and presence of God.

Dedication of the TemplePhoto Credit:

Dedication of the Temple
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Solomon’s benediction prayer is a beautiful conclusion this whole celebration!  It is, in itself, an occasion of covenant renewal.  He has just finished a prayer to the Lord to remember the people and be merciful to them when the sin.  He continues on with this benediction:

“Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he promised. Not one word has failed of all his good promise, which he spoke by Moses his servant.  The Lord our God be with us, as he was with our fathers. May he not leave us or forsake us,  that he may incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his rules, which he commanded our fathers. Let these words of mine, with which I have pleaded before the Lord, be near to the Lord our God day and night, and may he maintain the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel, as each day requires,  that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no other.  Let your heart therefore be wholly true to the Lord our God, walking in his statutes and keeping his commandments, as at this day.”

What an amazing testament to all that the Lord has done.  Not one word has failed of all his good promise. He refers to both the blessings and the curses.  God has been faithful to them all and continue to be faithful even to the present day.

Day 98: 1 Kings 6-7; The Temple of the Lord

The Temple of the Lord (often referred to as Solomon’s Temple).  I don’t know that words necessarily do it justice.  I doubt that any sort of artist’s rendering would either, but if a picture is worth a thousand words, we’ll take a look at a few to gain some perspective.

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Solomon’s Temple
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If we think back to the building of the tabernacle, much of the descriptions here are similar.  While the dimensions are much greater for the Temple, there is still a great deal of precision that is described here and a great deal of care that is taken to not only preserve these descriptions, but also to craft each piece.  I think its amazing that everything that went into this temple building was made off-site “so that neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron was heard in the house while it was being built.”  Every single one of these stones, much like the building of the great pyramids of Egypt, were hauled in from elsewhere.  Simply amazing, and what a marvelous feat for these people to accomplish.

Floor Plan of Solomon's TemplePhoto Credit:

Floor Plan of Solomon’s Temple
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As we talked about so long ago with the building of the Tabernacle, we see here, and in yesterday’s reading, that God once again works through people with certain gifts which He has given them.  1 Kings refers specifically to Hiram of Tyre, yet we read that there are literally thousands of people at work doing various things to help in the construction of the Temple.  God has gifted each and every one of these people for this work at this time.

Looking at this floor plan, I think it is interesting to see the full layout of the Temple building and the surrounding court.  Anything strike you as interesting?  A Cross… with the Holy of Holies at the exact center.  Interestingly, this is also the shape of a many, if not most, of Christian Cathedrals as well.  The Temple building itself is a rectangle, yes, but this whole area including the Temple courts was designated for worship!  Even back then, this symbol of faith is prominently displayed for all to see!

Solomon's TemplePhoto Credit:

Solomon’s Temple
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Day 97: 1 Kings 3-5; Solomon the Wise King

As we read today, I found it interesting how the writer of 1 Kings juxtaposes Solomon’s amazing wisdom amid the glaring violations of the Law of Moses that he makes.  What is more interesting, in my opinion, is how all of these seem to float right by, especially because they all seem so logical and make so much sense.

King Solomon, Russian icon from first quarter ...

King Solomon, Russian icon from first quarter of 18th cen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Scripture starts off with a glaring error from Solomon… the wife he took from Egypt as a marriage alliance.  You might think, “alliances are a good thing, why is this bad?”  Deuteronomy 17 talks about the laws for Israel’s future kings, one of which is very clear about returning to Egypt for anything.  Egypt was to be a place that they were to never return for anything.  For Israel, Egypt will always be the place of slavery, a symbol of both the bondage that they were in and the freedom that they were given by the power of God.  Using them as an ally then, would mean Israel’s binding of themselves to their slave masters once again.

Yet in the midst of this, God comes to Solomon with an inconceivable offer… ANYTHING Solomon wants.  And the young king chooses well: “an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil.”  This request pleases God too.  I dare say that if anyone of us would be offered anything we want, wisdom is the last thing that we would choose.  God’s response makes it clear that He was pleased with Solomon’s choice:

“Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right,  behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you.  I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days.  And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.”

The following passages though, are a bit confusing for me.  God promises Solomon all of these things, the riches and honor, but He doesn’t promise Solomon the great increase in military might which also comes with the abundance of tributes and other riches that King Solomon is receiving, much due to the conquests of his father David.  This military build up is also expressly spoken against in Deuteronomy 17, siting the propensity for the heart of the King (and thus the people) to turn away from God.  Perhaps, and by perhaps I mean absolutely, God knew that the strong tend to trust in their own power, while the weaker one tends to put their trust in God.  It is not for the people of God to put their trust in princes, kings, or military might, but they are to trust in God and to love Him with their Heart, Soul, and Might!

However, it seems as though, at least for now, the Lord is blessing Solomon just as He said He would.  And Solomon is following after God, keeping to the charge that David gave Solomon before he died.  And he will continue to as he makes preparations to build the Temple of God… which we will talk about tomorrow!

Day 96: 1 Kings 1-2; The Death of King David

The Anointing of Solomon by Cornelis de Vos. A...

The Anointing of Solomon by Cornelis de Vos. According to 1 Kings 1:39, Solomon was anointed by Zadok. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

96 Days into the Bible now, and we find ourselves entering the book of 1 Kings.  Really, this is the continuation of 2 Samuel without interruption.  The books of 1 and 2 Samuel deal largely with Samuel, the “last judge of Israel” and the two kings that he anoints.  However, we could go ahead and call those two books 1 and 2 Kings in which case this book would be 3 Kings and the next 4 Kings.  Yet the naming is what it is.  What is important is that we understand that this isn’t a new narrative, but rather the continuation of all that has been happening following now from David to Solomon, David’s son.

After some brief family squabbling over the crown, and some interesting internal family politics, the it becomes very clear who it is that the Lord has chosen to be King.  There is some reasoning behind Adonijah’s attempt at the throne, being that he was the second oldest after his deceased brother Absalom.  As we have seen in examples of Monarchy throughout history, the oldest child is often the one to assume the throne after the father dies.  However, this is not historically true for Israel, as we have seen.  Ironically, Saul comes from the tribe of Benjamin, the youngest son of Jacob (and smallest tribe of Israel.  David is also the youngest of Jesse’s sons.  Being 0/2 in traditional throne succession, I guess perhaps Adonijah shouldn’t have just assumed anything.

If you are wondering about David’s saying that “Solomon will be king” to Bathsheba, don’t worry… you didn’t miss it.  There is a single reference that “the Lord loved Solomon” in 2 Samuel 12, but apparently this conversation took place off the record of Scripture.

What I found to be of great importance in this passage is David’s charge to Solomon.  There are some things about the people that Solomon is going to need to remove to solidify his reign, and people that he was to protect.  These would have been fairly customary for the day when power was passed within a family.  The important part, as I read it, was the thing David tells Solomon first and foremost:

David's charge to solomon“Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn, that the Lord may establish his word that he spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’”

True to Character, even in his final breath, David encourages his Son, the next king to first and foremost “keep the charge of the Lord your God.”  There is no duty for the king greater than this.  There is no duty for the people of Israel greater than this.  It is the first commandment.  It is the purpose of the Shema.  For the people of God, they are to “keep the charge of the Lord your God.”

This is the essence of the Law and the Covenant and David knew it.  He had seen the success and blessing that had come with following the Lord.  He had also seen the destruction and horror of disobedience.  David impresses on his son these words, that Solomon would not lose his way.  He might as well have been repeating the words of Moses saying, “Hear, O Solomon, the Lord your God, the Lord is One.  You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your might…”

Day 95: 2 Samuel 23-24; David's Waning Years

English: King David, second king of Israel

English: King David, second king of Israel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Continuing from yesterday, the “final words” of King David are yet another song to the Lord:

“The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me;
his word is on my tongue.
The God of Israel has spoken;
the Rock of Israel has said to me:
When one rules justly over men,
ruling in the fear of God,
he dawns on them like the morning light,
like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning,
like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth.

“For does not my house stand so with God?
    For he has made with me an everlasting covenant,
    ordered in all things and secure.
For will he not cause to prosper
    all my help and my desire?
But worthless men are all like thorns that are thrown away,
    for they cannot be taken with the hand;
but the man who touches them
    arms himself with iron and the shaft of a spear,
    and they are utterly consumed with fire.”

This really is the summary of David’s rule isn’t it?  David really proclaims the true Character of God here.  “When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, He dawns on them like morning.”  What beautiful imagery of God blessings toward David.  David doesn’t neglect to mention what happens on the other end of the stick either though, what happens to those that are “worthless.”  He has experienced this as well and see those he loves taken by the sword, “utterly consumed with fire.”  How sad the valleys of David’s life has been, and yet he still proclaims the greatness of the Lord.  And we see it in the verses that follow as well, as God continues to work through the people of Israel, raising up leaders that defend and protect the nation midst the twilight years of David’s reign.

2 Samuel ends on an interesting discord of a note, setting up the anger and judgment of God next to God’s incomparable mercy.  We read that the anger of the Lord is once again kindled against Israel, yet we are not informed as to why exactly this has happened.  We can probably assume that the people of Israel have once again turned away from God, as has been their nature since the beginning, yet the Bible doesn’t tell us exactly why.  What we learn though is that David is led to take a census which winds up getting him into trouble.  I’m not entirely sure why this happens, but it might have something to do with the Law regarding the taking of a census in Exodus 30.  In any case, David is charged with a decision as to how the Lord is going to punish the people of Israel (a rough choice to be sure).

As the judgment is being carried out though, we see David cry out to the Lord, who hears his plea and brings an end to the pestilence that has killed 70,000 people.  When David cries out, admits his sin, and builds an altar to the Lord, the plague is averted.  Once again we are placed in a position in which we see both the righteous anger of God against Israel and David for the sin that is committed, and also the compassion and mercy that God shows in the face of sin.  I find the words of David interesting here, as he is attempting to purchase the area where he will make a sacrifice to God,

“No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.”

It makes me wonder… how often does our repentance, our offering to the Lord cost us little or nothing?  Are we willing to give something to God that incurs a cost to us?

Day 94: 2 Samuel 21-22; David's Song of Deliverance

If the whole of David’s life were to be summed up into a single phrase, it would arguably be “God is always Faithful.”  Therefore, if we could sum up David’s song 2 Samuel 22, it would be something akin to “God is Great.  God is always Faithful.  Thanks be to God for His Faithfulness.”  Neither of these summaries do justice to the incredible story that is the story of King David’s life, nor the abundant providential faithfulness that God shows time and again throughout David’s years.  They also don’t do justice to the beautiful song that David has written here.  I hope that these two summaries can give us a starting place for thinking about today’s reading and reflecting on David’s life as he enters into is waning years.

Before we get more into the song though, there are some other things that should be mentioned here.  Our reading starts with a famine in the land due to Saul’s unfaithfulness to a long standing covenant with the Gibeonites.  This agreement goes all the way back to Joshua 9 when Joshua is deceived by a group of people pretending to be from a distant land.  This happened during Joshua’s southern campaign, but this is the first and only time we hear about Saul’s actions.  What is interesting about this, I think, is the direct impact this breach of the covenant has on the land, literally the land of Israel.  David seeks after God and the Lord reveals to him the atrocity that has taken place here.  Sometimes I think that we don’t put much stock in agreements that we make anymore.  We have politicians that promise us the world and deliver next to nothing.  Large companies promise great things while delivering shoddy workmanship.  Everything comes with small print…  I wonder what this world would be like if we saw the outwardly direct impact that these breaches have on the world by way of famine, disease, war, etc?  I certainly wouldn’t wish this on us… but it might get a few people’s attention.

We see some of the signs of David’s aging and frailty in chapter 21.  David is in battle and he grows weary?  This isn’t the mighty warrior that we remember from our readings over the last 2 weeks.  David is aging, yet the Lord remains faithful to him in his twilight years.  Other great warriors rise up to defend Israel against what seems like a whole army of giants that come out of the philistines.  There’s even another one named Goliath.  You’d think they’d of avoided that name after what happened to the last one.  However, no matter what their names or what their size, they are no match for the God of Israel.  We once again see God’s faithfulness in action providing for and defending the people of Israel at every turn.

Finally, let us turn our attention once again to the song of David.  As a worship leader, I often struggle to listen to music, especially Christian music, without wanting to hear the lyrics.  I often focus on things like who is this song about, or who are we singing to, or what are the theological overtones of this song.  I think a lot about music, especially worship music, because of the incredible impact that it can have on our lives and on our beliefs as well.  Sadly, there are many “worship songs” out there that really have much more to do with us, the supposed worshiper, than on God who should be the one who is worshiped.  While this could probably be debated a great deal (and I would love to talk about it more), I want to direct our attention back to that of the song of David here in 2 Samuel 22.

David starts out the song with 11 attributes of God right in a row, praising God for who God is.  He then spends the equivalent of 2 lines talking about his own calling out to the Lord and 4 lines referring to why he called out to the Lord, followed by 34 lines of song about the Lord’s answer.  The song continues much in this fashion, focusing more on who God is and the work of God than on the actions of himself.  For David, whether it be safety from Saul or defeat of his enemies, all these things are works of the Lord, faithfulness of God almighty.  For David, everything begins and ends with God.  There is no middle ground here.  We’ll see this more in the Psalms when we get there.  However, for David, as we see here in the twilight of his life, the Lord’s anointed one is giving all honor, all glory, all praise, and all credit to the only one due it: The God of Israel; the God of His fathers, the Holy One and only True God.  May it be so in our lives as we reflect each day on God’s faithfulness to us as well.

Day 93: 2 Samuel 19-20; The Return of the King

Not surprisingly, the victory of David’s men is overshadowed by the mourning of the King for his son.  Ever have one of those things happen where the right outcome is achieved but perhaps by the wrong means?  Perhaps you were trying to communicate something to someone but in the process ended up hurting another?  Maybe you have someone you know that is like that, someone who can always cast a negative light on a good success?  I don’t know if this relates fully here, but it seems similar.  Sometimes I think I can be that person who casts the negativity… or perhaps sarcasm… on good situations.  Here we see Joab rebuke David for doing just that pointing out the shame and disgrace he places on all those who have fought for him because of his own negativity.  Even though it is the death of his son, there are people that risked their lives to save David, and all he can do is focus on the negative.  Joab swears that every single person that was for David would desert him in one night if he kept it up.  While I’m sure that not many of us have lost our kids in order to retain the throne, I’m sure there have been situations in which disappointment has overshadowed success.  I wouldn’t want to boil this down to a simple moralistic teaching, but Joab does point out the importance of praising those who help, even in the midst of personal sadness or disappointment.

One of the most important points about today’s reading has to be the motif of forgiveness.  David has been usurped, thrown out of his own house and city, forced to live in the wilderness on the edges of his country (the country that he made great mind you), and then attacked by his own people.  He pretty much has every rite in the world to be angry.  Yet at this very pivotal point in the story, David doesn’t sent his victorious men out to find and kill every one of the traitors, which would have been customary to do at that time, but instead forgives… everyone.  This is an interesting way to exact judgment, to consolidate power, and to insure that something like this never happens again.  However, it is totally in character for David.  He has done this to the family of Saul who it would have been customary for him to kill as well.  What’s more, its totally in character for God.  This is what God does, He forgives.  David is, once again, expressing his heart for the Lord, seeking to honor God with his actions.  The only way to bring about peace is not through more bloodshed.  David has shown time and again what it means to follow God, and to keep the Law and the Covenant.  Good leaders lead by example, and that is exactly what David does here.  In the end, most of the people follow him, and those that don’t aren’t put to death by David, or even David’s army, but by their own people.

Joab pursues Sheba to the city of Abel.

Joab pursues Sheba to the city of Abel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Day 92: 2 Samuel 16-18; David in Exile

The narrative of today’s reading tells the story of David’s exile from the city of Jerusalem, the capital and his palace.  As we heard yesterday, Absalom has betrayed king David, as was foretold by the prophet Nathan, and now David is once again on the run from his enemies.  Fortunately for David, he has some experience with this and is in a much better position right now to be able to handle being pursued.  Before, with Saul, David didn’t really have an inside man except for Jonathan, now there are many people with in the city of Jerusalem, and even in Absalom’s own counsel that have vowed to keep David informed of the movements of his enemy.  They even “serve” Absalom and give him bad counsel.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention here as well that this is also another wilderness experience for David.  We talked about this a while back when David was running from Saul, what the imagery of the wilderness often means for the people of Israel.  Well here it is again.  David is forced out of his home and back into the wilderness of life, this time not simply to strip off his old identity, but now to strip him of this new sinful persona that he has acquired.  While this isn’t a major part of what is going on here, it is an important side note to keep in mind.

There are some less than pleasant images that come up in this narrative.  Yesterday we read that David left 10 concubines behind to tend to his house.  Today we read that on the advice of some of his “counselors,” Absalom defiled them all and thus defiled himself as well.  What’s worse, he did it in the sight of all of Israel.  I don’t know if this was a legitimate way for him to consolidate power or if this was bad counsel given to him to put him in bad standing with the Lord, but I would dare say that he accomplished the latter quite a bit more than the former.

Soon after this, Absalom goes after his father David, taking advice from his father’s informant in Absalom’s ranks.  This gives David the upper edge from a human standpoint.  However, as I read this, I couldn’t help but draw some comparisons between David’s exploits with Saul and his current predicament.  While we don’t necessarily read here that David has consulted with the Lord about his movements, the king doesn’t take any action against those that criticize him or even insult him, trusting that whatever comes is from the Lord.

And once again, the Lord is faithful to His servant David, the one with whom He has made a covenant.  All in all, it is likely that David was greatly outnumbered by the massing army of his son Absalom, and yet David’s men score a great victory, which is also a great tragedy for the people of Israel.

Absalom, in his short “reign” over Israel, if you want to call it that, does evil in the eyes of the Lord.  All that followed him were also under than evil.  Today we see first and foremost that God is faithful to the covenant that He has made, and we see both blessings and curses rolled out upon Israel.  David’s men act as an instrument of judgment against those who would seek to dethrone God’s chosen king and follow after one who takes power for himself and defiles others.

In all of this though, even after all the wickedness and difficulty caused by his son Absalom, David still weeps over the death of his son.  I was moved by David’s lament.  I can’t say that I would have lamented anyone, friend or foe, family or stranger, who had betrayed me and tried to kill me.  Yet David loves his son, so much so that even in this great calamity he weeps for his now dead son.  What an example of love this is.

I wonder sometimes if the writer here is trying to draw a parallel between David/Absalom and God/Israel. So often the people of Israel, the so-called “children of God” turn from their Father, the Lord, and betray Him for the gods of the nations around them.  They attempt to replace God’s rule and Law with that of their own, effectively doing in Absalom attempted to do with David.  Every time this happens, God sends judgment against them, often in the form of a great defeat against an enemy, eventually driving them back to God.  I wonder though, if God weeps for His children as they sin against Him and are judged accordingly, even in the midst of all the evil that they have done… I have to believe that a God who is, first and foremost, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness would weep for His children, even when they have turned from Him.

Day 91: 2 Samuel 14-15; David and Absalom

…and it was the worst of times…

As we read today, we hear again the words of the prophet Nathan, “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’  Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun.”

At the end of our reading yesterday we saw the beginning of this cycle, a ‘new reality’ for David’s household.  This whole issue begins with Amnon and Tamar, Absalom’s sister.  The situation is escalated when Absalom has Amnon killed and only gets worse as time goes on.  (An interesting side note here, when a girl named Tamar shows up in the Bible, bad things tend to happen…)

What is interesting here, I think, is how David is convinced to bring Absalom back to Jerusalem.  Yesterday, Nathan told a story to David to reveal the evil that he had done and to pronounce judgment on.  Today, we hear the words of Joab the wise woman Tekoa telling a story which ultimately leads to David’s understanding that he needs to reach out to his son.

However, instead of forgiveness, Absalom receives the cold shoulder.  I guess I can respect David’s anger and desire to not see his son after he murdered another son of his. But I guess I am wondering if that may have led to what comes next for David.  From the way I read it, David is basically ignoring and not paying attention to his son Absalom.  I’m just hypothesizing at this point, but if David had, at the very least, paid some attention to what was going on with Absalom he would have seen this whole mess coming.  Yet, it all seems to take him by surprise.  Again… just throwing something out there at this point… but it kind of makes sense.

One thing that struck me in this whole story is the correlation between the Mount of Olives, over which David passes weeping as he is exiled from his own city, and the weeping that occurs from Jesus on the night that he was betrayed.  I don’t know that there is a direct correlation here, and I might just be grasping at straws, but both David and Jesus were betrayed by people close to them, and both end up at the Mount of Olives which we read is where God is worshiped.  Perhaps its just the path that David took to get away, or perhaps it was intentional, but it seems almost to similar to not be a coincidence.

I wonder, as I think about this, if I would run to the place that God is worshiped in my distress, if a friend betrayed me or I lost a loved one.  After the death of Bathsheba’s first child and David is done mourning, he gets up and cleans himself up and worships the Lord.  This is a fairly normal move for David, echoed in the writing of many of the Psalms that David writes.  In times of trouble, David seeks God.  Even after his great sin, David still seeks after God.  I’m not so sure that I’m always so quick to go to God in those difficult times…  I know that I should… I wonder if David’s words echoed, as mine should, the words of Job:

“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”