Discontentment is dangerous. The anthem of our age is self-determination. You can be whoever or whatever you determine!
The deep root of this is often nothing less than discontentment with the way God’s created you (sex, shape, temperament, etc.), gifted you and where God’s placed you.
But the story of Scripture is filled with God’s glorious and detailed design for people’s lives. Right from Adam and Eve, Moses, Aaron & Miriam, all those filled with a spirit of skill (Exodus 28:3) the different tribes of Israel with various assignments and roles and the family of Aaron the priests. We could go on through Scripture, finding the same pattern repeated.
However, it is hard to find anyone in Scripture who is on a personal journey of self-determination or self-discovery. But, Scripture records countless people discovering who they are in God and finding their purpose within His purposes for them.
In Numbers 16, God had chosen Moses & Aaron and given them leadership over His people (Exodus 3-4). God had also chosen Korah (part of the Levites set apart to minister in the tabernacle see Numbers 1:47-54) for a specific role.
But Korah was discontented. Possibly even jealous of Moses & Aaron’s role. His discontent festered to the point that he shared it, spread it and raised a rebellious rabble against Moses and Aaron (Numbers 16:1-3).
Discontentment is hardly ever a private thing. Discontentment often fixates on one thing emphasising it at the expense of other things that are also true. Korah effectively said we are all equal; “all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them” (Numbers 16:3). And that was true, God’s people were all equally set-apart for God, and yet God had assigned specific roles to individuals, including Moses and Aaron.
Korah accused Moses and Aaron of appointing and exalting themselves as leaders over God’s people. But was Korah not present when God’s people similarly moaned at Moses in Numbers 14 and wanted to appoint their own leader to take them back to Egypt & God? When God then appeared and killed the ten spies? Was Korah not aware of when Aaron & Miriam had opposed Moses? And God had spoken to them saying; “Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” (Numbers 12:8) and Miriam became leprous? Discontentment blinds us to what we know.
Discontentment robs us of joy and empties of us of thanks to God. Korah was part of the Levitical tribe appointed to serve in the ministry of the tabernacle – they had a significant role to play in helping the whole people of God to worship. But his discontentment had blinded him to this honoured special role and robbed his joy, making him ambitious and jealous.
And Moses said to Korah, “Hear now, you sons of Levi: is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the Lord and to stand before the congregation to minister to them, and that he has brought you near him, and all your brothers the sons of Levi with you? And would you seek the priesthood also? Therefore it is against the Lord that you and all your company have gathered together. What is Aaron that you grumble against him?” (Numbers 16:8-11)
Discontentment closes our ears to reason. Moses reminds Korah of the special place and role God had assigned to them and pointed out that their discontentment is actually directed at God, not Moses or Aaron!
But Korah would not relent and assembled his rabble against Moses the next day by the tent of meeting (vs19). And then…
What happened next is like a Sci-Fi movie which is hard to get one’s head around. God appears in His glory (vs19) and then warns others to step back from these rebellious ones (vs23-26). And then the earth opens up and swallows them all alive and fire comes down from heaven and consumes the 250 offering their incense (vs31-36)!
Discontentment is dangerous.
In what ways are you prone to being discontent? What do you grumble about regarding who you are, what you’re good at?
Psalm 139:14 declares that we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ by God and Ephesians 2:10 says that we are God’s workmanship! God has perfectly formed us for an assigned purpose/role; “for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Note that it is God who made us, it is God who shaped us perfectly for His own God-assigned roles in life that are good. We do not self-determine according to Scripture.
So, may we learn the secret of contentment! Discontentment is dangerous, but godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Timothy 6:6).
Take to God any discontentment you have harboured and repent of it.
If you have imbibed the poisonous modern thoughts of self-determination then repent of those.
Ask God to help you accept how He has made you and the roles in life He has assigned to you. Ask God to help you find joy and contentment in these so that you will know great joy and God will be glorified.
In Numbers 9, the people of God have been out of Egypt for just over a year camped at the base of Mount Sinai. At this moment, just before they set out into the Wilderness on their journey to the Promised Land, God establishes a rhythm of worship and God provides an observable fulfilment of His promise to Moses.
Exodus 33:15-16 records how God promised that His presence would always be with His people, and how Moses implored God to make His manifest presence always known amongst His people;
And he said to him, “”If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”” (Exodus 33:15-16)
Accordingly, God’s people were then neatly arranged in an orderly fashion. They had assigned roles & responsibilities. God had given specific instructions on the details of worship centred around the tabernacle, and in Numbers 9, we read of two pillars that were God’s answer to Moses’ request recorded in Exodus 33:15.
The pillars of cloud and fire hovering over the tabernacle signified God’s presence in the midst of His people. God’s presence was right there at the centre of the elaborate arrangement of the twelve tribes, the focal point. God was quite literally at the centre of their lives! Worship of God was central to their lives, God’s presence being with them was central, it was paramount to them.
Also in Numbers 9-10 we read about a rhythm of worship and remembrance (Passover and other feasts like the Day of Atonement) all established by God. These rhythms continuously reminded God’s people of their need of Him, of how God had delivered them & provided a way for them to be forgiven.
Now, we don’t live in tents arranged around a tabernacle in a desert, and we don’t have pillars of cloud and fire. However, just as they were arranged with God at the centre of everything. Just as their lives had a rhythm that God established, ensuring that He was not just physically but mentally at the centre of their lives. We too are wise, when we arrange our lives around God. We are wise when we arrange our lives around regular corporate rhythms of worship. Gathering together as the people of God (the church), drawing near to Him together, in repentance forgiveness and worship.
We live in an age of impossible busyness, where the habit and the rhythm of gathering on a Sunday every week is being pushed out to the periphery for many! In South Africa, small towns used to have church buildings at the centre. Church buildings are right there on the main street or in the centre square of the town. The assembly of God’s people for worship was central to the rhythm of life, and this centrality even had a physical manifestation. Today, the church building has been replaced by the mall, the soccer stadium, the TV…
Moses’ plea that God be at the centre, that His presence never leaves us – seems forgotten. It is commonplace for people to treat gathering as a church for worship on a Sunday as an occasional thing.
For many believers, if their lives were a camp, the tabernacle/Sunday worship would no longer be at the centre! Gathering for church on a Sunday is just no longer central to their lives, their thinking or their regular rhythms! Corporate worship as God’s people has slipped on the list of priorities for many so that it is now lower on the list of priorities than family, recreation, rest…
But this is not how God meant it to be! This is not what Moses pleaded for in Exodus 33. God is meant to be at the centre of our personal lives, our families, and gathering for corporate worship as a whole church is God’s way and wisdom.
The writer to the Hebrews urges us as believers to not give up the habit, the rhythm of meeting together as the church, because that rhythm puts God at the centre of our lives, it demonstrates what we believe (Hebrews 10:24-25).
I urge you to consider your life, your choices, your regular rhythms & your priorities. If your life were a camp, would it be obvious that God & the gathering with His people for worship was the centre of your life? Is your life arranged around the gathering of the saints or is Sunday worship or Small Group something you occasionally do when there isn’t anything else more pressing? We can not replace the gathering of the saints for corporate worship, the word of God & fellowship with private times of worship and PODCAST or VODCAST sermons.
God’s people have always for millennia arranged their lives around the rhythm of their gathering for worship together, God’s presence has always been central to the life of the believer – is it yours?
Don’t do this because you feel you HAVE TO, but because YOU WANT TO, or if you can’t say at present you want to make it your regular rhythm to gather with the church for worship then at least acknowledge that it is the WISDOM OF GOD and a command of Scripture (Hebrews 10:25) and so re-prioritise your life, your weeks and weekends and put God at the centre again and your heart will be melted in His presence so that in time it will once again become what you want to do.
Unjust accusations. Who hasn’t felt the powerlessness of allegations made or words spoken that are not true? What a horrible feeling to not be able to clear one’s name or to alter people’s ill-formed impression of you.
Lingering doubts, on the other hand, can gnaw away at us. We might want to trust the person in question but we can’t ignore our suspicions even though we know they are not verified with proof.
These are the types of situations God’s gracious but foreign and strange command to Moses covers in this passage.
Imagine your husband has suspicions regarding you that you can’t disprove. Imagine you have doubts about your spouse that gnaw away at you and are damaging your relationship.
This strange Old Testament practice of the ‘test for adultery’ made a way for the husband to either remove doubts and suspicions or to have the truth revealed. Yet, it also made a way for their spouse to be cleared of suspicion or to face the consequences of their sin.
In this process, we see God’s protection for both the husband and the wife. If she is not guilty she will be vindicated; shame will be cleared, suspicion gone. If she was guilty but had been deceptive, the guilt will be exposed, which then protects the husband.
Sin is always hurtful; it damages relationships. He will be hurting her if he continues to suspect her falsely, hurting her by not trusting her. She would be hurting him if she had sinned and been deceptive. This process instituted by God sought to provide a way of dealing with sin, with accusation or with the doubts due to sin or potential sin.
It is worth noting that both men and women caught in adultery would have both been guilty! It is not just the woman but both who would have been sentenced to death for their serious sin. (Deuteronomy 22:22)
Adultery, as with all sexual sin, is very serious in God’s eyes. So, we ought not to set our moral thermostat by the culture of our day but let it be re-sensitised by the Word of God. From this, we also learn that there are no secrets before God; God knows the secret sins that no one else knows about. God, who sees all will ultimately judge all.
The passage ends affirming that the one who asked his wife to consent to the ‘test for adultery’ will be innocent of any wrongdoing for being jealous and needing confirmation or alleviation of his doubts, whereas the guilty one would then bear the consequences of that sin.
A strange yet gracious and no longer relevant practice instituted by God to remove suspicions & to clear the innocent with God as the witness but also to deal with sin.
What can we learn, what ought we to do?
God cares for relationships. God wants clarity in relationships, clear air, suspicions removed. So talk openly and honestly with each other. God defends the innocent and vindicates them. Sin is damaging to relationships! The covenant of marriage really matters. God punishes sin, so repent of sin and be forgiven and set free to sin no more, to hurt no more but to please God.
Reading Numbers 1-4, it is clear that God is specific and detailed. The camp was set up in an evident ordered pattern with the Tabernacle, the symbol of God’s presence in the middle of it all.
Numbers 4 details the roles of various of the Levite clans who served beside the priests in the Tabernacle. God was specific and detailed; individuals and groups had specifically designated roles.
Eleazar (Aaron’s son) had a specific role concerning the oil and incense and other items used in the worship in the Tabernacle. God chose him specifically. Aaron and his sons were to “appoint them each to his task and to his burden” (Numbers 4:19), “according to the commandment of the LORD through Moses they were listed, each one with his task of serving or carrying.” (Numbers 4:49)
So what! I hear you say. How does this have any impact in my life? We can always ask of any passage the following questions;
1. What can I/we learn about God?
2. What can I/we learn about people or faith?
3. What can I/we learn about myself?
4. And what is God asking me TO DO as a result?
What can I/we learn about God?
God is specific and ordered. God cares about details. We see this in the intricate design of creation and the human body. We also learn that God is holy, and the worship of him must be filled with reverence and awe, the sons of Kohath needed to work with special care to not touch the ‘holy things’ lest they die!
What can I/we learn about people or faith?
God gifts people, equips people uniquely and diversely for a myriad of specific God-given roles. We live in an age which esteems ‘freedom’ as the notion that one can choose to do and be whatever one wants to, self-determination is enshrined. But God as our creator, is purposeful in how He has made us in all our diversity of race, gender, personality & gifting. Ephesians 2:10 declares; “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Specificity, God-ordained purpose! Maybe freedom is more about discovering through Scripture and by the leading of the Holy Spirit what God has intended for us than it is about us self-determining who we are!
What can I learn about myself?
A prayer… “Lord, you commanded all these people with specific roles in ministering to You. How can I best live for Your glory and not my fulfilment? How can I better know Your design for me and the ‘good-works’ You have planned for me? Lead me, Lord, speak to me and help me to humbly embrace Your design as my loving LORD, Father & Creator.”
And what is God asking me TO DO as a result?
Spend time thinking about this prayerfully and then responding in whatever way God directs.
There were many instances in the Old Testament when the prophet of God spoke in harsh words of God’s righteous judgement against a foreign nation or king for their rejection of God or injustices.
Many times, the subject of the prophecy wasn’t in fact in earshot of the words of God, but God’s people were. And because of the way God’s word works and always accomplishes that which God intended it to (Isaiah 55:8-11), it didn’t even matter if King Cyrus or Nebuchadnezzar or Pharoah could hear God’s word of judgement. Nothing could stop what God had proclaimed against them (Isaiah 43:13).
When God spoke through the prophet against the wickedness of a foreign king, within the earshot of God’s people, they had the opportunity to hear who God is, what God is like & what He will not leave unpunished. And so when they overheard God’s judgements of foreigners, they had an opportunity to reform their ways, adjust their lives & thinking to God’s revealed will.
But what does that have to do with James 5:1-6 though I hear you ask?
Well James is a little like an Old Testament prophet at times, he speaks the truth in agitated and urgent ways, his words cut to the heart, not to hurt but expose our hearts to reform them.
And just like the Old Testament prophets sometimes spoke in terms of judgement towards those, not in the room. Similarly, James here is writing to Christians speaking in judgement to unsaved people who will face the wrath of God for their wicked ways.
I say this because we who are Christ Followers will not face the wrath of God for our sin because Jesus paid for our sin. The believer has no fear of punishment to come – we will regret that we did not respond more wholeheartedly in this life to God’s gift to us but ought not to have any fear of condemnation – Romans 8:1.
But as we listen in to James scathing pronouncement of the judgement of God on those who have not put their faith in Jesus – we can learn about God, we can be sensitised to the things that please and displease our Father in Heaven (Ephesians 5:10). And because we listened in, we can repent if any of these things are still resident in us so that we can change to be more pleasing to God our Father.
So what can we listen in on, to find out what pleases & displeases our Father in James 5:1-6?
1. Humility (vs1) – wealth tends to pride (1 Timothy 6:17). Trust in self. Here James calls for humble contrition & reflection. May we be humble, contrite & thinking about today in light of eternity!
2. Temporary vs eternal, hoarding vs investing (vs2-3) – the things of this life are passing away, are not eternal. Thinking short and not long is foolishness in the extreme. Jesus advised us to store up for ourselves riches in heaven where moth and rust can’t destroy them (Matthew 6:19-24). We are not to hoard wealth for ourselves here on earth; we are not to functionally be putting our trust in our wealth, which is so uncertain but to be ‘rich in good works’, ‘generous & ready to share’ thus investing for ourselves treasure for eternity! (see 1 Timothy 6:17-19).
3. Injustice (vs4&6) – God hates injustice. God always sides with; God will defend the marginalised, the abused & the downtrodden. Wealth = power in this present life and the rich use their power to control people, use their power to use people to enrich themselves further. Here James warns us strongly about such injustices as not paying proper wages to those who work for us – the Lord of hosts hears the cries of injustice from the poor and the righteous (vs6), and He will act on their behalf. So, how are you treating anyone who works for you? The Lord of hosts is watching, sees everything. Does anything need to change?
4. Self-indulgent Comfort (vs5) – the god of this age is comfort. So much of our technology serves our god of comfort and convenience. We live in an age where food is no longer primarily about nutrition but has been turned into art & recreation & entertainment we watch! Jesus’ parable in Luke 16:19-31 warns us about living self-indulgently while ignoring the plight of those around us.
In South Africa, these verses are even more relevant than in some other contexts. We have a dark, sad history of injustice and oppression of disempowered people and the lingering legacy of that corrupt system of Apartheid. And we have a continuing story of injustice and corruption with the widespread abuse of power for personal gain at the expense of the poor, that we have witnessed since 1995.
If you are a believer, have you truly repented of the sins of our nation and have you acknowledged how you might have benefitted from that injustice and still benefit today? Do not the cries of the poor in our nation with its excessive levels of inequality come before the Lord of hosts?
Are you using whatever wealth or possessions you might have in such a way that results in much good to others, are you rich in good works, are you generous and ready to share? (1 Timothy 6:18)
If you are, you are godly & you are thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life (1 Timothy 6:19).
May I urge you to listen in, to James’ scathing rebuke of rich ungodly wicked people, and in so doing may you and I know more about what matters to our Father who is in heaven, and may we live to please Him in these things.
The things we say to one another have a way of exposing the underlying operating system of our hearts (Matthew 12:34). So, what matters is not just the words we say but why we say them.
Taking James 4:13-17 too literally would lead to one prefacing everything or ending everything you say with “if the Lord wills…” To do so misses the whole point – it’s not about what you say so much as why you say what you say. It’s about the attitude of the heart that is the reason you think and speak as you do.
James 4:13-17 is all about us, setting the dials of our lives on humility, not arrogance. Living with a certain humility that comes from knowing who we are and how temporal and not in control, we are.
Who hasn’t spoken words similar to those in vs13?
- Next year I’m going to study at…
- Next month I’m moving to…
- I’m going to have three children…
- When I am married…
We don’t typically intend to be boastful when we speak like this, and yet if we are not careful these sorts of statements about the future and our future plans are devoid of a sense of;
- Reverence for God (Proverbs 9:10)
- Laying our lives & plans down in submission to God’s will (2 Cor 5:14)
- An awareness of our frailty & our transience (vs14)
- And our inability to control very much of what happens in our lives (vs14)
Jesus taught us to pray; ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done’ (Matthew 6:9-10). This is how to set your life-dial on humility. To pray like this, think like this, live like this. To live surrendered to God, wanting to do His will not boastfully thinking and speaking about the future as if you’re in charge of your life but living your life in reverent worship of Him who is Lord of all.
So, set your life-dial on humility – don’t invite God into your plans for your life, but humbly, daily ask Him to show you His plans for your life.
In vs11-12, James comes back to the topic of the tongue and the way we speak to one another. Here James summarises; “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers & sisters.”
The church is a family, filled with real relationships; fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters in Christ. Those who come to faith in Jesus Christ get enfolded into a set of family relationships – is the language of the New Testament.
As a father of four children, and having been raised in a family of four siblings I know that siblings and families don’t always speak to one another according to the instruction of Ephesians 4:29! But we ought to. We ought to build one another up in love not speak evil destructive words over those God has put in closest proximity to us.
We didn’t choose our earthly siblings, but we are joined together for life. Similarly, we don’t choose our heavenly, but we are joined together for eternity. And our Father, much like any parent, desires that we use our tongues to build one another up and not tear one another down.
God’s Word in the OT denounced things like slander & gossip (see Leviticus 19:16; Psalm 50:20 & Jeremiah 6:28), and such instructions are repeated for the believer in the NT (Romans 1:30; 2 Corinthians 12:20 & 1 Peter 2:1).
So, to ignore God’s revealed will by speaking slander to one another is to rubbish God’s law (vs11) or to place oneself over and above the law setting yourself up as the judge of what is right and wrong.
And that’s not wise, James says; since there is only ‘one lawgiver and judge’ (vs12). So to speak evil/slander against brothers and sisters & or to judge others (Matthew 7:1–5) break’s both God’s law and shows contempt for God who is the only judge.
We are the family of God. Our Father’s will is clear – that we love one another, with our words and our actions. May we all remain vigilant to build one another up and not speak evil against each other, knowing that in the church, the other person is a beloved child of our Father who is in heaven too.
- Do an audit of your week and your conversations – how are you doing?
- Is there anything you need to repent of, make right?
- How can you be more vigilant going forward?
James who earlier urged us to ask God for wisdom here in these two verses takes some time to describe the wisdom
Is Pure: to be clean, innocent. It is essential when in conflict to remain innocent in your thoughts and conduct.
Is Peaceable: to be peace-loving (NLT&NIV) one who contends for peace and harmony always.
Is Gentle: to be mild, kind & considerate of others. To be calm in one’s reaction to circumstances and people.
Is Open to Reason: to be willing to listen and to discuss other opinions and ready to be won over, to be willing to yield to others when there are different valid perspectives.
Is Full of Mercy: to have a considerable measure of grace for people, not treating them as they deserve but as they don’t deserve.
Is Full of good fruits: wisdom sows seeds that bear good fruit in the end and wisdom is to obey the Holy Spirit so that the fruit of the Spirit emerges more and more (Galatians 5:16-26).
Is Impartial: to show no favouritism and so being fair to all people.
Is Sincere: to be one-faced not two-faced, honest & full of integrity and without any double standard or hypocrisy.
Produces a Harvest of Righteousness: heaven’s wisdom will be seen in the long run by its fruit. Those who walk in this type of wisdom will sow seeds of righteousness that will ripen and bless in the future.
Lord, may I, may we be filled more and more with Your wisdom in our lives. For your glory’s sake, for your kingdom’s sake, for other people’s sake and our good. Amen.
I love the sense of realism in James. In vs2-4 James challenged and urged us to consider trials “all joy” because we know that the testing of our faith would produce good things in us like steadfastness and growth in godliness.
James knows that the sound advice he has just given is challenging and so in vs5 he encourages the reader to pray to God for wisdom. Such a prayer is humility on display and humility is a vital attitude to hold on to for the Christ Follower.
I like to begin prayer with the simple acknowledgement that my very act of praying is declaring something both to myself and to God – that I need God. After all, if I did not need God, if I had it all covered myself, then I would not be praying. Prayer and humility go hand in hand, and God is drawn to humility (James 4:6) while prayerlessness, on the other hand, is a warning sign of residual pride.
The humble praying person ought to simultaneously have a robust confidence James declares because God is the giving God. God’s nature is to give, and so James states with certainty that God will respond gleefully to any request by you or me for wisdom.
God won’t scold us for hassling Him by asking, God won’t begrudgingly give us as little as possible of the wisdom we need. No, we can pray with confidence because we know that God is the generous giving God and we as His children can, therefore, ask for wisdom in any and every situation with confidence knowing God will provide us with what we need.
Similarly, Jesus promised He would give His disciples the very words and wisdom at the moment we need them (Luke 21:12-15). You and I can have confidence knowing that when we cry out in prayer, God is ever present and eager to answer our humble prayer.
So pray, because you’re realistic about your limitations. Pray because you’re humble, but pray with confidence knowing whom you’re praying to!
Don’t pray hoping God will answer, but pray because you know whom you’re praying to. Your Father who is in heaven, the One who loves you with an everlasting incredible love (1 John 3:1).
It’s common to hear people say things like; “seeing is believing” and yet in this encounter with Jesus and the two men on the Emmaus road we see that believing leads to seeing.
So often, we want to see and then we will believe but in the Kingdom of God, on the journey of faith with Jesus, it is in fact the opposite way around. Faith is what opens our eyes to see the realities of the King and His kingdom.
The disciples on the road were not seeing Jesus. They were not recognising Him being right there with them, they were not understanding the events in Jerusalem and even the events from that morning with the empty tomb and Mary’s testimony – that they were telling the unknown traveller about… Oh how similar I and we are to them!
Jesus gently rebukes them calling them “foolish ones”, ones who can’t understand who haven’t seen and then Jesus gives the reason they didn’t see or understand;
“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25)
Believing leads to seeing. Hebrews 11:3 says; “By faith we understand…” Note the order there. Faith leads to understanding in God’s kingdom.
How often aren’t there circumstances in our lives which are hard to understand or make sense of, circumstances that undermine our faith, and yet it is faith that is needed to help us to understand in those moments.
These disciples were in the midst of mind-bogglingly tough days. Jesus their hope, the One they were following and the One they were increasingly feeling was in fact the Messiah was captured. Jesus was tried and crucified! Some then saying He had risen again?
What these disciples needed was to have faith, to believe all that the Old Testament had foretold about Jesus and all that Jesus Himself had told them about what would happen to Him and what He had come to do. Because of their lack of faith, they were perplexed, unseeing, unable to recognise what was happening and who in fact was right there with them through it all.
And yet, Jesus is so gracious and kind. He opens their minds and their eyes and shows to them who He is, gives them the sight they were lacking and helps them to see who He was that was walking with them and how all of the Old Testament foretold these events!
May we remember in those life moments when we can’t see or can’t understand that faith is the key to seeing. Our faith in who God is, our faith in what Scripture says, that faith is the key to seeing and understanding or even experiencing God’s presence right there with us in the midst of it all.
May you seek to grow in your faith so that you might see life and circumstances through the eyes of faith, and may you call on Jesus who is so willing to gracious help you in your faith!
If you think about it, this is quite an introduction we have to the blind man who cries out to Jesus in Mark 10. As Jesus is leaving Jericho with a large crowd and His disciples in toe, Jesus encounters a man who is introduced in Mark’s gospel as; ‘Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus’ (vs46).
A little digging reveals that this is not a flattering introduction at all. This man’s name means ‘son of the unclean or foul one’! What’s the story behind that name? Now this extended family was seemingly not into uplifting names as Bartimaeus’ dad’s name means ‘foul or impure’. And if that’s not enough Mark’s gospel records that this man who is son of ‘the unclean one’ is also tagged as a blind beggar! He is disabled in his body, and due presumably to his condition he is one who makes a living by begging from others.
How terrible to have names such as these, tags such as these attached to a person’s identity! How damaging must that have been to him, how degrading, to feel like all you can do is to sit on the side of the road and call out to people you hear walking past, asking daily for their mercy and alms.
What’s your name? Do you have a derogatory name or nick name, or a name that tells a sad story that has somehow become your story?
Well for this man, that day recorded for us in Mark 10 is going to be no ordinary day. That day Jesus the son of God was going to pass by Bartimaeus. He couldn’t see Jesus but he could hear the commotion, and when Bartimaeus was told who it was passing him by Bartimaeus began to cry out; “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (vs48)
We know from Jesus’ own assessment (see vs52) that this cry of Bartimaeus was a cry of faith in Jesus. Faith is “believing God”, and Bartimaeus believed that Jesus in that moment was worth risking calling out to. There were crowds with Jesus, self-important scribes and Pharisees. According to those around Jesus, Bartimaeus did not warrant Jesus’ attention, he was not worthy of bothering Jesus. But Bartimaeus believed that it was worth pushing through the opinions of others, if it meant he could get Jesus’ attention. And so Bartimaeus reaches out to Jesus, believing that Jesus can transform his situation and believing that Jesus maybe saw him differently to all the others who could not get past his name, his upbringing, his disability or his way of scrapping a living…
Sometimes we have to overcome obstacles in our heads to get to really encounter Jesus. When you are in a meeting and you feel like you want to respond for prayer during the worship or after the preached word, you face something milder but similar to what Bartimaeus faced. “What will other people say or think?” or “I am embarrassed, and I don’t want anyone looking at me.” And so often it is possible to feel Jesus’ presence in the room in the moment and to feel like you want to encounter Jesus but you hold back for fear of others and what they will say.
But not Bartimaeus! Those people who were trying to shut him down and keep him quiet only served to make him louder, insistent and more urgent; “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (vs48) And because Bartimaeus pushed through, Bartimaeus stopped the Son of God, got Jesus’ attention (vs49) and had Jesus ask him; “What do you want me to do for you?” (vs51)
Bartimaeus was healed because he did not allow the thoughts of others to dissuade him. Bartimaeus was more interested in encountering Jesus than bothered about caring what other people thought of him.
Resolve today to be like Bartimaeus, to press through the thoughts of others or even just your perception of the thoughts of others – don’t let anything stop you from encountering Jesus, calling out to Him, for He loves to stop for those who seek Him out like Bartimaeus did. And next time you have an opportunity to be prayed for – take it, take it with both hands, encounter Jesus and have your life transformed like Bartimaeus did.
What do you want said at your funeral or written as an epitaph in your memory? How about; “there was none like him among all…!”
Hezekiah stands out in stark contrast to the many who went before and those who came after him the rest of verse 5 tells us. And what was the secret to this glowing description of Hezekiah’s life and reign as king of Judah?
5 He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel…. he held fast to the Lord. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses. 7 And the Lord was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered. (2 Kings 18:5a,6-7)
Hezekiah believed God, and held on to his belief in God unswervingly. He did not get into compromise and sin but kept God’s commandments and in response to his faith and obedience God was with him always and caused him to prosper.
Don’t for a moment think that Hezekiah had an easy time following God. Hezekiah didn’t follow God or lead Judah in a time of ease or peace and security but rather did so in the presence of terrifying threats from the Assyrians! The Assyrians had recently overthrown the northern tribes of Israel and had also overtaken all the towns around Jerusalem which was surrounded.
And yet Hezekiah trusted God, held fast to his God in the midst of great trials. Hezekiah’s trust in God is expressed wonderfully in his prayer recorded in 2 Kings 19:15-19;
15 And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord and said: “O Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 16 Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 17 Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands 18 and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 19 So now, O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.”
What a prayer of faith! A prayer that’s real about the circumstances and yet more impressed with His God. And what a response from God through the prophet Isaiah;
“Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. 33 By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. 34 For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.” (2 Kings 20:32-34)
What an inspiration Hezekiah is! Don’t you want to be like him? How can you be?
5 He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel…. he held fast to the Lord. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses. (2 Kings 18:5a,6)
Let’s be like Hezekiah, let’s trust God, let’s hold fast to God when life is messy and confusing, let’s not depart from following God and keeping his commandments. And then let’s see all that God will do in and through us.
After a period of nearly 200yrs since Jeroboam’s succession from Judah, the northern tribes of Israel are eventually conquered by the Assyrians and deported into exile (2 Kings 17:6). Under the direction of the Holy Spirit, the writers of Scripture are very keen to make it plain as to why this happened.
“And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God…and had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel…” (2 Kings 17:7-8)
This was an event that came about not because of bad military or political strategy (although the passage reveals there were mis-steps made), Scripture attributes the source of the capitulation and capture of Israel by Assyria as being God Himself as the active agent.
The whole of the chapter reads like a charge sheet being read out in a court room, the list of charges against the accused, the guilty one;
- You have sinned against your God who brought you out of Egypt and into this Promised Land
- You walked in the customs of the nations whom I judged and drove out before you
- You followed wicked evil kings who lead you into sin
- You built for yourself your own places of worship, altars to false gods & served idols
- You did wicked things before me, and made sacrifices to these false gods
- You provoked me to anger (says God)
- I warned you again and again through the prophets, but you would not listen and were stubborn (vs13-14)
- You did not believe
- You despised my commands
- You even burned your sons & daughters as worship to false gods provoking me to righteous anger
And because of this the judgement comes;
18 Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight. None was left but the tribe of Judah only… 20 And the Lord rejected all the descendants of Israel and afflicted them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until he had cast them out of his sight. (2 Kings 17:18&20)
23…the Lord removed Israel out of his sight, as he had spoken by all his servants the prophets. So Israel was exiled from their own land to Assyria until this day. (2 Kings 17:23)
Yes, God is ‘slow to anger and abounding in love’ (Exodus 34:6) but that does not mean that eventually God will not say; ‘enough!’ God was patient, forbearing with Israel but eventually love for all those sinned against, all those who lost loved ones, love for all those babies sacrificed to false gods looked like God judging sin. God had appealed again and again, urged them to turn from their wickedness – but they refused to with hard stubborn hearts.
So what can we learn from this for our lives?
May we not ever trust our hearts, which are so prone to lead us astray from serving the living God. May we hold on to His words, will and ways laid out for us in Holy Scripture. May we never tamper with His Word and make our own false gods suitable to our fancies and our modern culture’s preferences. May we repent when and if we have sinned against Him, and may we worship our Holy God with holy reverence and as our loving response to all the love He has poured out to us through the gift of His precious Son, Jesus.
Over and over and over again in 1 & 2 Kings there is a type of phrase that repeats itself. It’s a phrase that always describes the life and the rule of one of the kings of Israel (the Northern tribes) in a negative way. It’s a phrase that is repeated not 3 or 4 times but is repeated 15 times in 1 & 2 Kings and three time in 2 Kings 15 alone!
It is used in 2 Kings 15:9 to describe King Zechariah;
And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, as his fathers had done. He did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin.
And then again in 2 Kings 15:18 to describe the despicable King Menahem who committed atrocious sins (vs16);
And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart all his days from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin.
And then again in 2 Kings 15:24 to describe King Pekahiah
And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin.
As we read these chapters we are reading the crescendo of evil that all started with the sin of Jeroboam back in 1 Kings 12-14, sin which continues to be referenced and is repeated 15 times over in the record of the kings of the northern tribes. As the chapters of 2 Kings progress the reigns of the kings seem to to get shorter and shorter some reigning 1 month some 6 months, there is death and evil and insurrection and calamity…
And all of this is racing towards our the next chapter 2 Kings 17. God is going to use Assyria to finally punish Israel and to stop forever the successive sinfulness of the northern kings who again and again continued in the sin of their forefather, Jeroboam son of Nebat.
What does this mean for you and for me?
As a father, as a parent; I am freshly struck by the impact we have on not just our own children but on successive generations. We are modelling life for our children, we can’t turn it off, can’t stop it. The question is what are we modelling? What are we passing down to the next generation and the generations to come?
Jeoboam’s sin resulted in a stuck record legacy of ungodliness! In 1&2 Kings there is a contrast of sorts to this legacy and that of King David. I say this because there is another phrase that repeats over many of the kings of Judah in the south where God does not punish because of promises He made to David. Even through King David was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination (he murdered, lied, committed adultery…) the Scripture honours King David as a man who’s heart was devoted to God.
So what will be said of me, of my heart of my life rhythm when I die one day? Could it be said, will it be said that I was a wholehearted worshipper of God? No one who knew me would ever be able to say; ‘he didn’t sin, make mistakes…’ but could they say – ‘He loved God and served God all his life’?
We pass on a legacy! What legacy do you want to pass on?
There is a plethora of advice out there for us at any given stage in our lives – we need to choose wisely who we listen to!
As God promised, Israel is torn in two after Solomon’s death as judgement for his many sins and his compromised heart towards God. 1 Kings 12 is one of those places in Scripture where we see the will and actions of men and women and those actions have ‘natural’ consequences and yet simultaneously those actions and consequences are attributed by Scripture to God’s sovereign workings.
After Solomon’s death his son Rehoboam is approached by his people who ask that consider easing the heavy burden of conscripted labour and taxes that his father had placed on them (for all his building works). Rehoboam calls the old men who used to advise his father – they advise him to heed the call to lighten the burden. Rehoboam abandons (1 Kings 12:8) their counsel and goes to his young contemporaries who advise him unwisely to speak harshly to the people about making their lives even harder under his rule! This is bad advise and he takes it. And as a result the people of Israel all rebel under the leadership of Jeroboam and all the tribes except Judah succeed from Judah and become the northern tribes with their own king. Israel is divided and is never re-united.
And the king answered the people harshly, and forsaking the counsel that the old men had given him, 14 he spoke to them according to the counsel of the young men, saying, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” 15 So the king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word, which the Lord spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat. (1 Kings 12:13-15)
Rehoboam acted unwisely, was selfish, arrogant, did not listen to and was harsh with his people – it was his doing. And yet Scripture attributes this moment to God’s sovereign plan – ‘it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that He might fulfill His word…’ (vs15).
So who did this? Rehoboam or God? Well both. Rehoboam was unwise and sinful and therefore the kingdom was torn in two and yet God was at work to fulfil the judgement He had made on Solomon and the prophesy He had spoken through Ahijah to Jeroboam (see 1 Kings 11:28-40).
Now, Jeroboam (now the king of the Northern tribes of Israel – called Israel from now onwards in the book) had heard God speak to him. He had God promise to bless him and establish him as a king “IF” (there is that word again);
“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.” (1 Kings 11:38)
Jeroboam had heard God speak to him, God gave him counsel…
And yet Scripture records that Jeroboam didn’t listen to the counsel of God but rather listened to his own thoughts; ‘Jeroboam said in his heart…’ (1 Kings 12:26) & ‘He went up to the altar that he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, in the month that he had devised from his own heart.’ (1 Kings 12:33)
Jeroboam did not believe what God had promised but doubted and thought to himself – I can’t have people continually going back to Judah to worship at the temple in Jerusalem so I will build temples here in the North (in Dan and Bethel which was contrary to what God had commanded) and I will appoint my own priests for these temples (men not appointed by God) and I will make statues of golden calves for these temples (just like Aaron had done in the Exodus)! More than this Jeroboam found counsellors who agreed with his ungodly plan (1 Kings 12:28). This plan became sin for the whole nation of the north (1 Kings 12:30).
Jeroboam had God’s wisdom and advise and promise – and yet he chose to ‘follow his heart’ and found counsellors to confirm his folly! And so he set the Northern tribes on a disastrous course of idol worship which they never recovered from.
In 1 Kings 13 we read about a prophet sent by God from Judah to denounce Jeroboam’s self-styled worship. This prophet is told by God to prophesy and then go home and not eat or remain in the Northern territory – but he too doesn’t listen to God and ends up being killed by a lion sent by God.
What can we learn from this all?
I am freshly invigorated to listen for God’s counsel, to read God’s counsel in Scripture and to not depart from it come what may. I don’t want to be like Rehoboam, or Jeroboam or the prophet who had heard God and knew what God had said to him and yet departed from it to his own detriment. May I, may we be those who listen to God and obey all He tells us to do.