Saturday, August 01, 2015

Lessons from Ahithophel

Absalom, Ahithophel, and Hushai (Artist unknown)
Absalom, Ahithophel, and Hushai (Artist unknown)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Samuel 16:15-17:13

TO CHEW ON:
"Now the advice of Ahithophel, which he gave in those days, was as if one had inquired at the oracle of God. So was all the advice of Ahithophel, both with David and Absalom - 2 Samuel 16:23

Ahithophel is an interesting character:
- His name means "brother of folly."

- In contradiction to his name, however,  he is known for his unusual wisdom.  He was King David's chief counselor (1 Chronicles 27:33), and in our reading he is also a counselor to Absalom. The commentary All the Men of the Bible says of him: "There was no one who could hold a candle to Ahithophel in his day as an able and famous politician. … Such counsel was a proverb in Israel and David's time" (accessed through Biblegateway.com).

- He is also the grandfather of Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:3 names Eliab as Bathsheba's father; 2 Samuel 23:34 names Ahithophel as Eliab's father). So there may be a personal reason why he does what he does when Absalom comes calling.

  • As Absalom schemes for power, at some point he secretly sends for Ahithophel, who comes over to his side - 1 Samuel 15:12.
  • David first discovers Ahithophel's defection from "someone" as he's fleeing from Jerusalem. David's prays, "O Lord, I pray, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness" - 2 Samuel 15:31.
  • Ahithophel is with Absalom when he gets to Jerusalem to take it over (2 Samuel 16:15).
  • He is the one who gives the advice that Absalom sleep with his father's concubines (who have been left in Jerusalem to take care of the palace).
- This is a sign of contempt.
- This action fulfills the judgment on David announced by Nathan the prophet (2 Samuel 12:11-12).
- This is also a motive-revealing move on Absalom's  part. The Reformation Study Bible says about this action: "To remove any thought in Absalom's followers of reconciliation with David, Ahithophel counsels Absalom to lie with David's concubines who have been left behind. This would make clear Absalom's desire for the throne. Whatever the motivation, such behavior was detestable to God (Leviticus 18)" - accessed through Biblegateway.com (emphasis added).
  • Ahithophel then gives good advice about how to capture David, which Hushai (David's friend who is pretending to be on Absalom's side) contradicts (2 Samuel 17:1-13). Absalom ends up taking Hushai's advice.
  • But the competition between Ahithophel and Hushai is an uneven match from the start, because God is against Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:14). As we carry on past today's reading we discover Ahithophel's fate. He is so distraught when Absalom doesn't take his advice that he goes home and commits suicide - 2 Samuel 17:23.

We can learn from Ahithophel and his story that even the most worldly wise may be foolish in some departments.

1.Though Ahithophel possesses military wisdom, he lacks loyalty and thinks only of himself: "Ahithophel, the wise and trusted counsellor, however, was found unfaithful because he also thought of himself and not of David" - All the Men of the Bible.

2. Unlike David, who spares God's anointed, Ahithophel has no such principles. He proves this when he joins Absalom, who is intent on harming God's anointed (David). He is on the opposite side of the One who whose opinion really matters (2 Samuel 17:14). And so God causes Absalom to favor the less-wise advice of Hushai.

Still today no person or scheme can thwart God and His plans. Let's take comfort from this as we pray for our nations, and our national, provincial (or state), and civic leaders, especially in times of decision. (Here in Canada our next federal election is only months away, in October 2015.)


PRAYER:
Dear God, thank You that no "wisdom" from people can mess up your plans and defeat the people You have in place to accomplish Your purposes. Amen.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Friday, July 31, 2015

"Let Him do to me as seems good to Him."

David flees Jerusalem - Artist unknown
David flees Jerusalem - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Samuel 15:13-37

TO CHEW ON: Then the king said to Zadok, “Carry the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the eyes of the Lord, He will bring me back and show me both it and His dwelling place.  But if He says thus: ‘I have no delight in you,’ here I am, let Him do to me as seems good to Him.”

If you follow North American politics, you will recognize the predicament in which David finds himself here. The tide of public opinion has turned against him as a leader and someone else is now on the upswing. In David's case his rival, son Absalom, has been secretly cultivating public approval for a while (2 Samuel 15:5,6).

When David gets word that Absalom is about to make a play for the throne, he seems to accept it without question or resistance.
- He and his supporters leave town  (2 Samuel 13:14).
- He tries to send his mercenary officer Ittai and men to join Absalom (though they don't go - 2 Samuel 13:19-20).
- He sends the priest Zadok and the Levites, who are carrying the ark, back to the city. He doesn't presume that God's favor is with him and it appears he doesn't want to get this religious icon tangled up in an uncertain battle.

But then a little spark of resistance bursts into flame. He asks Zadok and the Levites to be his eyes and ears in the city and send him word about what's happening (2 Samuel 13:27-28). When he  meets his wise counselor Hushai, who has come to join the refugees, more kingly craftiness kicks in (or maybe these are divine "aha" moments). He suggests to Hushai that instead of joining them, he play the part of a turncoat and try to counteract the wisdom of Ahithophel, who is genuinely on Absalom's side (2 Samuel 13: 33-37). Will it work? We'll find out in the next couple of days.

What strikes me about this part of the story is how David expresses complete faith in God. He interprets even Absalom's treachery in terms of God working, showing disapproval or approval of his kingship.  

I think we would do well to view our circumstances more consistently through the lens of God in control of them, like David does here, instead of blaming ourselves, other people, or even chance for what's happening to us.

PRAYER: Dear God, it's hard to tease apart my actions and their consequences from Your will. Help me to consistently view the happenings in my life (whether I feel I or someone else caused them or not) as filtered through Your wisdom about me and Your love for me. Amen.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Three relationship lessons from David and Absalom

Absalom - James Tissot
Absalom - James Tissot
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Samuel 14:25-15:12

TO CHEW ON: And Absalom answered Joab, "Look, I sent to you, saying, 'Come here, so that I may send you to the king, to say, "Why have I come from Geshur? It would be better for me to be there still." ' Now therefore, let me see the king's face; but if there is iniquity in me, let him execute me." 2 Samuel 14:32


Our passage today is full of relationship game-playing.

It starts with David and two of his sons—half brothers Amnon and Absalom. When Amnon rapes Absalom's sister Tamar, David doesn't do anything about it even though there is a specific law against and punishment prescribed for incest (death) (2 Samuel 13:1-22; Leviticus 20:17). So Absalom takes revenge for the sin against his sister, kills Amnon, and flees to Geshur (2 Samuel 13:23-37). David us understandably heartbroken, and upset with Absalom.

Three years pass. When Joab, captain of David's army, sees that David is pining for Absalom, he devises a scheme whereby David's conversation with a wise woman gets him to recall Absalom to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 14:1-24).

That brings us to our today's reading where, after two years of David and Absalom living in the same town, David still hasn't called Absalom to see him or given him any indication that he's forgiven. When Absalom requests Joab come to him, Joab ignores him too. Absalom, in desperation, lights Joab's field on fire and that finally brings them face to face.

The result is a clear request for a meeting from Absalom to David (via Joab). When they meet, Absalom bows before his father, gets his dad's kiss (forgiveness) and things are good between them again… well, not quite.

For somehow, all this relationship drama has nurtured the thought in Absalom that he is more fit to be king than David is. And so we leave him conspiring to take over the throne.

I see in this story some relationship mistakes. They show us some things we can learn and apply as we interact within our families and communities:

1. David is lax in the way he handles Amnon's incest. This causes Absalom to distrust his father, who no longer appears to be acting righteously and justly.

David's failure here underlines the need for justice and integrity in us as parents and leaders—in front of our children and everyone who watches us.

2. Joab and David send mixed messages to Absalom. David calls him back to Jerusalem but then they never get together. Joab is instrumental in getting Absalom to return but then he ignores Absalom's request for an audience. Absalom is justifiably confused. Why has he been recalled? Has David forgiven him, or is he planning to kill him in revenge for Amnon's death?

We too need to give clear messages with our words and actions: " 'Let your yes be yes and your no, no' " Jesus says in Matthew 5:37.

3. Finally, Absalom lets his hurt and confusion fester into a plan to hurt his father back. If David is remiss in delaying his expression of forgiveness, Absalom is wrong in cultivating bitterness toward his dad.

When we've been wronged, we too need to forgive—completely and without secret plans to retaliate.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to live out these relationship qualities of justice transparency and forgiveness. Amen.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The bread of God

"I am the bread of life"
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 6:22-35

TO CHEW ON:
" ' For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.' … and Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.' " John 6:33,35

The crowd is determined to not let this wonder-working rabbi get away—this man who can turn a meager five loaves and two fish into a meal for five thousand. The following morning when His boat is empty, they hunt him down eventually finding Him across the lake near Capernaum.

A discussion follows about how God sent daily manna to their forefathers, and how can they do the work of God? Jesus answers that they do the work of God by believing in Him.

When they further press Him to name a work He will do to impress them even more, He makes the startling claim: " 'I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst' " - John 6:35. He is pretty much saying, I am that miracle, that greater work. Come to Me, believe in Me and you'll experience something that's even better than wilderness manna.

How was Jesus the bread of life for them? How is He this for us? He explains it in the rest of John 6:
  • He is the source and means of our eternal life, accomplished through His death:
" ' And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life' " - John 6:33.

and

" 'I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever, and the bread that I shall give is My flesh which I shall give for the world' " - John 6:51.
  • This is a spiritual eating and drinking, enabled and available by the Holy Spirit even after Jesus returns bodily to heaven:
" ' What then if you should see the son of Man ascend where He was before?
It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words I speak to you are spirit and they are life'
" - John 6:62-63.


How do we eat this bead in our daily lives? A sidebar article in my Bible states:

"Feed on Jesus the Bread of Life. Do this practically through regularly celebrating communion and reading the Word of God" - Leslyn Musch, Truth-In-Action-Through John - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1483 (emphasis added).

As we do these things—regularly read the Bible and remember Jesus' death as we eat the bread and drink the wine of the Lord's Supper—we will discover that like the physical manna, this spiritual food:

- Is there for us as we make room in our lives to gather it.

- Still needs to be gathered regularly. Just like we don't do well if we eat irregularly, so we don't flourish spiritually with hit-and-miss feedings.


PRAYER:
Dear Jesus, please sharpen my appetite for You, the bread of God. Amen.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Food from God's kitchen

Gathering Manna - Artist unknown
Gathering Manna - Artist unknown

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 16:17-36

TO CHEW ON: "So when they measured it by omers, he who gathered much had nothing left over and he who gathered little had no lack." Exodus 16:18

Manna was the daily food for the Israelites that came straight from God's kitchen. It was first delivered one morning a month and a half after they left Egypt and continued for 40 years until they were on the doorstep of Canaan (Exodus 16:1, 35).

In today's reading we're given some lovely details about this food:
- It was on the ground every morning (except for the Sabbath day).
- It was small, round, as fine as frost (Exodus 16:14).
- It tasted like coriander and honey (Exodus 16:31).
- It melted in the heat (Exodus 16:21).
- It could be prepared in various ways. Our passage mentions baking and boiling (Exodus 16:23).
- It was called "manna" (literally "what?" Exodus 16:31) , referred to as "bread (Exodus 16:15, 22, 29), and compared to "wafers (Exodus 16:31).
- There was always enough for everyone.
- It normally spoiled overnight, smelled bad, and bred worms if saved (Exodus 16:20).
- But the manna gathered on the sixth day for use on the Sabbath kept just fine (Exodus 16:23-24).
- Even more strange, the omer of manna collected as a memorial lasted for years (Exodus 16:33-34).
- Moses and God took obedience to the details of its gathering and use on the Sabbath very seriously (Exodus 16:19-20; 28-29).

Manna is often viewed by scholars and Bible teachers as a symbol of the way God provides for us. My Bible's study notes refer to it this way:
"The food supply comes morning by morning in God's time, according to God's plan. The supply cannot be stored up for future use, except for the Sabbath. It is to be used only as God has specified (vs. 20) a miraculous demonstration of His provision to meet the needs of His people" J. C. Tollett,  New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 98.

It's a great metaphor for God's  provision in so many ways.
  • Like manna, God's provision for us so often comes at the time we need it. (Jesus prayed: "… give us this day our daily bread" - Matthew 6:11).
  • His provision is also often just enough for our need. I've heard many stories of people getting money in the mail or as a gift in the precise amount needed.
  • But it is also under His command. Like the manna didn't keep the rules of spoilage on the sixth day, God can override the laws of time and space when He wants to, stretching oil and meal (1 Kings 17:8-16), multiplying loaves and fishes (John 6:5-13), adapting the manna He sends to our specific need.
  • How we handle God's provision for us may also be a test—as we've seen several times this month. Just to review Moses' explanation of this to the Israelites: "And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not" - Deuteronomy 8:2.

- But perhaps the most beautiful comparison of manna as provision comes as we reflect on Jesus and how He is spiritual manna (bread) to us.
  •  He is the bread of life (John 6:35,48). He enacted  this when He broke bread with the disciples, telling them:
"Take, eat this is My body" - Mark 14:22.  
He explained what this meant: "I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world”  John 6:48-51.
  • There's even a memorial component. As the manna was kept in remembrance, we too remember and celebrate Jesus, the bread of life, every time we take part in the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:24).


PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for Your manna provision for me, materially and spiritually. Amen.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Testing, testing...

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Exodus 16:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day that I may test them whether they will walk in my law or not.'" Exodus 16:4

In today's reading we see that the very mundane instructions for the gathering and handling of manna were were not options or suggestions but a God-designed test. What God was testing here was whether the people took Him and His instructions seriously.

[Test - nasah  means to put to the test, prove, tempt. The basic idea is to put someone to the test to see how he will respond - Dick Mills, "Word Wealth" New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 747.]


Other places this word us used shows various ways God may test us.

"Nasah" is the word used of what God did to Abraham when He asked Him to sacrifice Isaac - Genesis 22:1.

God sent a nasah-test in the form of the ten commandments followed by fearful trumpet sounds and an electrical storm. This was to impress the people with how seriously they should take these commands and Moses' instructions about staying off Mount Sinai - Exodus 20:18-20.

Nasah is also the word used to describe what Moses accused the Israelites of doing to God at Rephidim when they demanded water as a proof of His presence - Exodus 17:1-7. Later, in his final instructions, Moses told them testing God was something they should not do - Deuteronomy 6:16.

Again in his Deuteronomy sermon, Moses reiterated how the desert wanderings were a test: "And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not" - Deuteronomy 8:2 (emphasis added).

Which brings me to the question, what things in our lives may be God's tests?

It could be an Abraham-sized test like an accident or tragedy happening to a loved one or to us as a test of whether our faith is in God or someone or something else. Or perhaps it's a little manna-sized test—an item on the grocery cart missed by the checkout lady to test honesty; a string of rainy days to test contentment; someone cutting us off in traffic to test love ("...love suffers long ... does not behave rudely ... is not provoked" - 1 Corinthians 13:4,5).

Rich Warren defines life: "The Bible offers three metaphors that teach us God's view of life: Life is a test, life is a trust, and life is a temporary assignment."

Of the test part he says:
"Character is both developed and revealed by tests, and all of life is a test. You are always being tested. God constantly watches your response to people, problems, success, conflict, illness, disappointment, and even the weather! He even watches the simplest actions such as when you open a door for others, when you pick up a piece of trash, or when you're polite toward a clerk or waitress" - Rick Warren - The Purpose Drive Life, p. 42, 43.   

PRAYER: Dear God, it sure changes the complexion of life when I view the details of my day as tests. Help me to pass today's tests. Amen.

MORE: More about life's tests
"When you understand that life is a test, you realize that nothing is insignificant in your life. Even the smallest incident has significance for your character development. Every day is an important day, and every second is a growth opportunity to deepen your character, to demonstrate love, or to depend on God. Some tests seem overwhelming, while others you don't even notice. But all of them have eternal implications" - Rick Warren, Op. cit., p. 43.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Jesus' descent

Golgotha - from The Children's Friend - Part 5

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ephesians 4:1-16

TO CHEW ON: "He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all heavens, that He might fill all things." Ephesians 4:10

Where was Jesus in the hours between His death and resurrection?

Paul suggests one possibility here as he explains a quote from Psalm 68:28, applying it to the ascended Christ:  "Now this, 'He ascended'—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? ..."(verse 9).

What that descent meant has been a source of discussion. Peter, preaching in Acts 2 from the text of Psalm 16:8-11 says:
"…he (David, the writer of the psalm) foreseeing this (the resurrection) spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption" (Acts 2:31)
Isn't Peter implying that Christ visited Hades? Was that what we call hell? It was some aspect of the underworld in any case.  Peter refers to this again in 1 Peter 3:19-20.

Another view is that Jesus' descent refers to His coming to earth from heaven. Paul describes the extent of that lowering beautifully in Philippians 2:5-11:
"… Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross..." - Philippians 2:5-8.

Still another view is that Jesus suffered in hell. Of that view the writer of my Bible's notes on Ephesians says, "… there is no biblical support for the notion that Jesus suffered in hell, only that He descended to hell to release the righteous dead into eternal glory, proclaiming the adequacy of the Atonement and validating the testimony of the prophets" - Jack W. Hayford, notes on Ephesians,  New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1650.

Surely He was enjoying Paradise, for at least part of the time. After all, He said to the believing thief on the cross, "Today you will be with Me in Paradise" - Luke 23:43.

Whatever, wherever, it was enough! No part of earth or hell has been unaffected by His death and resurrection. As Paul says it in our focus verse:
"He who descended is the [very] same as He who also has ascended high above all the heavens, that He [His presence] might fill all things—the whole universe, from the lowest to the highest" - Ephesians 3:10 (Amplified Bible).

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Jesus and Your plan for my atonement, which was enough. Amen.

MORE: It Is Finished - Gaither Vocal Band

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The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.

Amplified Bible (AMP) Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation - Used with permission.

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