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Archive for the ‘Biblical Stories’ Category

Ahab Defeats Syria

The story of Elijah is a familiar one to many Christians, mostly because of the incident where he takes on the prophets of Baal. However, we usually don’t spend much time on Ahab, the wicked king who opposed Elijah. God worked in Isreal despite their wicked king – a king that the text calls more wicked than any of his predecessors.

Our story today takes place in 1 Kings 20, where Ahab is caught up in a war against Syria. God still defeats the superior army of Syria, but does so for the sake of his glory. I find the narrative of the second battle particularly interesting:

23 And the servants of the king of Syria said to him, “Their gods are gods of the hills, and so they were stronger than we. But let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they. 24 And do this: remove the kings, each from his post, and put commanders in their places, 25 and muster an army like the army that you have lost, horse for horse, and chariot for chariot. Then we will fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they.” And he listened to their voice and did so.

Ahab Defeats Ben-hadad Again

26 In the spring, Ben-hadad mustered the Syrians and went up to Aphek to fight against Israel. 27 And the people of Israel were mustered and were provisioned and went against them. The people of Israel encamped before them like two little flocks of goats, but the Syrians filled the country. 28 And a man of God came near and said to the king of Israel, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The Lord is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord.’” 29 And they encamped opposite one another seven days. Then on the seventh day the battle was joined. And the people of Israel struck down of the Syrians 100,000 foot soldiers in one day. 30 And the rest fled into the city of Aphek, and the wall fell upon 27,000 men who were left.

God is jealous for his name in the world, and at times he is willing to use sinful, rebellious people if it results in glorifying his name. The Syrians thought after their first battle that God was only a “god of the hills”, and because of this, God defended his name in the plains. God will do whatever it takes to defend his glory, which is both comforting and sobering.

This truth is comforting because we know that God will defend his glory and his people the church. Indeed, God will never let his church fail, because that would profane his glory in the way that Syria defeating Israel would have. However, this should sober us as well, because God does not fail to defend his glory. In the next chapter, God pronounces judgement on Ahab’s house. He promises to kill Queen Jezebel and Ahab in disgrace, and to cut off Ahab’s line from the earth – judgments that he indeed carries out. If we are not furthering God’s glory, God will discipline us – because again, he will not allow his glory to be profaned.

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As I continue through the book of Judges, I have finally gotten to the story of Sampson. Sampson defines the phrase “interesting character”. He is chosen before birth as a Judge for Israel, and his parents raise him as a Nazarite – one set apart by God. However, he quickly proves to be an ungrateful cad – he marries a woman who is a part of the very nation God wants to get the Israelites out from, he touches dead bodies, a clear violation of the vows that God had instructed him to take, and he is recorded as having sexual interest with three different women, and having sex out of wedlock with two of them.

Now, we all know what happens when he meets the third woman, Delilah. Delilah, in the pay of Samson’s enemies, keeps trying to get his secret out of him. He lies to her three times, and each time, the weakness he suggests is tried on him. Now I know that at this point, I would walk away and have nothing more to do with this woman – everything that I’ve told her has ended up in the hands of my enemies!

However, Samson incredibly TELLS her his secret, and then allows himself to fall asleep in her house. You keep yelling at the text, saying “Samson how STUPID are you, anyway?!”

After thinking about it, though, I think that Samson wasn’t stupid. No, he had a far worse problem, one that all of us face. Samson was arrogant.

Samson never gave the source of his power, God, much thought at all. From Judges 16:

When Delilah saw that he had told her all his heart, she sent and called the lords of the Philistines, saying, “Come up again, for he has told me all his heart.” Then the lords of the Philistines came up to her and brought the money in their hands. She made him sleep on her knees. And she called a man and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. Then she began to torment him, and his strength left him. And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him. And the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes and brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles. And he ground at the mill in the prison. But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.

Samson wasn’t naive. He knew his information was getting into the hands of his enemies. He’s been judging Israel for 20 years – this likely puts him somewhere between 35-40 years old. He wasn’t the smartest person in Israel, but he wasn’t stupid. He knew that Delilah was selling him out, and yet he tells her. Why?

1. Sex. Samson wants to keep having sex with her, and she’s going to dump him if he doesn’t tell her. Sexual desire can make you do strange things.

2. Arrogance. Samson had ALWAYS defeated his enemies. He has torn gates off of cities. He has defeated 2000 Philistines at once. His strength had never left him. So, he begins to take it for granted. He assumes that this is his own power, not God’s gift, and he never counts on God taking it away. Remember – it wasn’t that that hair had magical power – it was the fact that the hair was the most visible symbol of his dedication to God. His cutting it off was a signal that he was forsaking God – he was no longer identifying with the God who had given him everything, he was assuming that he would have his strength no matter what.

Samson identified cutting off his hair as a weakness, and he revealed it last. However, there is no indication in the text that he or his parents had ever been told that shaving off his hair would cripple his strength – only that he was to be a Nazarite, and that he was to obey God’s commands for Nazarites, which included keeping his hair long, not drinking wine, and not touching dead bodies. After a prolonged period of arrogant disobedience of God’s commands, including portions of his Nazarite vows, God decides to judge him. While Samson knew this was something in him that made him special, he did NOT think that disobeying God in this way would bring God’s judgement.

Notice Samson’s words: “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” His assumption is that everything is fine. He doesn’t think that cutting his hair off will weaken him. He surely knows that it has been cut off, because every other time he told Delilah a bogus weakness, it was tried, and he broke free. He knows that if he has a secret, this is it. However, he doesn’t think that God will leave him over this. God proves Samson wrong here, though, and leaves Samson – leaving him to judgement at the hands of his enemies.

This gives me pause. Everything I have received is from God. I know this to be true, but I have arrogantly done things in my own strength on many occasions. This is a sobering reminder that God may leave us if we begin to think that the things he has given us are coming from our own talents and efforts.

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Joshua 9 starts out as follows:

As soon as all the kings who were beyond the Jordan in the hill country and in the lowland all along the coast of the Great Sea toward Lebanon, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, heard of this, they gathered together as one to fight against Joshua and Israel.

But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, they on their part acted with cunning and went and made ready provisions and took worn-out sacks for their donkeys, and wineskins, worn-out and torn and mended, with worn-out, patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes.

Notice the contrast here: the kings of the Canaanites don’t think to sue for peace, even though the book of Joshua has established that they are afraid of these people. Everyone in Canaan is afraid of the Israelites, and of their God. However, only the Gibeonites approached Israel in a meek fashion, seeking peace from them. All the other nations responded in a hardness of heart: Gibeon responded by immediately placing themselves under Israel. They deceived them, yes, and that was judged. However, Gibeon grasped something the other nations did not – this God could not be overcome by force. They had a proper fear of God, and even in their deception, they respected God enough to not try to conquer his people, but to approach them and put themselves at their feet. Interestingly enough, had they approached God in humility, they may well have been spared without being forced to be servants. God even looks out for them later – in making sure justice was brought for them when Saul had committed injustice against them years later. Also, notice how they take their punishment – they accept it as just, and are grateful to have been spared from destruction at the Israelites’ hands.

The other kings, however, hardened their hearts before God, and fought against him – and they were utterly destroyed in battle. God gave them over to the Israelites, and their peoples were no more.

Let us approach God with humility, and not a hardened heart. If God rewarded a deceitful people who had at least recognized that he was a God worthy of our fear and contrition, how much more will he reward us, if we approach him with humility without deceit. I hope to never approach God with a hardened heart: may I never again approach him as someone I can successfully oppose – someone I can force MY will on. No, God’s will is supreme – it will be fulfilled no matter what. The best reaction I can have is to voluntarily follow God in everything, rather than opposing him in favor of what I think is best – a course of action that will ultimately lead to destruction.

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Moses as Mediator Part 2

This morning, I read Numbers 14, in which Moses yet again intercedes for God’s people after they have greatly sinned:

11 And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? 12 I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.”

Moses Intercedes for the People
13 But Moses said to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for you brought up this people in your might from among them, 14 and they will tell the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that you, O Lord, are in the midst of this people. For you, O Lord, are seen face to face, and your cloud stands over them and you go before them, in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. 15 Now if you kill this people as one man, then the nations who have heard your fame will say, 16 ‘It is because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to give to them that he has killed them in the wilderness.’ 17 And now, please let the power of the Lord be great as you have promised, saying, 18 ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ 19 Please pardon the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have forgiven this people, from Egypt until now.”

God Promises Judgment
20 Then the Lord said, “I have pardoned, according to your word. 21 But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, 22 none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, 23 shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it. 24 But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it.

Once again, God brings his justice to the attention of Moses – this people fully deserves to die. And once again, Moses pleads God’s glory. However, he also reminds God of his mercy here. He reminds God that he is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. In this passage, even more than the last one, Moses is in the role of Christ – not only giving up his glory for the sake of God’s people, but also pleading the mercy of God before the people. God relents, though not without punishing Isreal: none of the rebellious people will see the Promised Land – a harsh sentence indeed. Our own sin has consequences, even if it is forgiven.

In Numbers 12, Moses again intercedes – this time for his sister, who has just been judged by God. The amazing part here is that Miriam and Aaron had been complaining against Moses. Moses had been personally affronted, and seen God judge the sin of those who had done this. He does not accept this judgement as final, though – he instead asks God for mercy, which he grants after carrying out a week long judgement. Jesus took this to a further extreme when he forgave those who killed him.

Finally, a point of clarification. In my last post on this subject, I mentioned that the offer of Moses becoming his own nation must have been tempting to him. I had not meant to say that God was tempting Moses – at least, not in the sense that this was a temptation for Moses to sin. In fact, looking at the texts, I think Moses would have been perfectly just in saying yes to the offer. After all, the God of the universe is offering you this chance to be a great nation because his people were sinning against him. However, I think Moses understood something (and God knew this – he did this to show Moses as a mediator for a sinful people, not because he wasn’t sure what Moses would say to the offers). Moses understood that God’s glory was at stake here, and he also understood how sinful humanity is. Moses knew that a nation that came from him would face that same problems, and that God had promised to be merciful to his people. Thus, he felt right in asking God to show mercy to the Israelites, despite their sin. If only we took this approach to the unbelievers in our lives. Rather than judging them, why not intercede before God for them? Let us ask God to have mercy on them, revealing himself to them as a saving God, so that he is glorified in their lives. Moses prayed for a sinful Israel to be led by God despite their sin – let us pray that people in our lives be saved from their sin, that they be made holy before God.

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Moses as Mediator

Last week, I was studying the book of Exodus, and came across the story of the Golden Calf. Here’s another one we think we know, right? Israelites royally mess up, Moses smashes the 10 Commandments, Israelites get yelled at again, and the moral is “don’t worship stupid idols like calves”.

As we skim through that passage, though, we miss something important: Moses’ role in the story. Here’s the killer bit, from Exodus 32:7-13:

7 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. 8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” 9 And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. 10 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”

11 But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’”

Here we have Moses pleading for God’s people. He reminds God of his promise to the people of Israel. However, I find it fascinating that Moses pleads on the basis of God’s glory, and that he does this at the expensive of his own glory. Look at this again: God offers Moses glory – he offers to turn Moses into a great nation. This offer had to be tempting – here is the God of the universe, offering Moses an opportunity to become a great nation himself. However, Moses’ thoughts are not on himself and his glory, but on God and HIS glory. Moses knows how this will be perceived by the nations – as God being powerless to deliver his people to the land that he promised them. “Sure, he got them out of Egypt, but he couldn’t finish what he started.” (Of course, its not like God didn’t know this, but this offer is there to show us the kind of mediator Moses was.)

Moses became a mediator on behalf of the Israelites. He became a go-between between them and God. You see this throughout the Pentateuch. Moses is the one who speaks with God. He speaks on the people’s behalf – pleads for them at times, other times, he receives instruction for them – but he is a go between. Sound like another Biblical character yet?

Moses points us, like the rest Bible does, to Christ. Moses mediates on behalf of God’s people, giving up his own glory for God’s greater glory. Christ does this as well – Philipians 2:5-7 states:

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, [1] 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, [2] being born in the likeness of men.

Christ also gave up glory to become our mediator – the difference being that Christ gave up more glory, and ultimately died a horrible, shameful death in order to speak on our behalf. He gave up his glory for the greater glory of the Father, and this should amaze us more than Moses giving up temporal glory.

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Cain – Favored Son?

We all know the story of Cain and Abel, right? You know, the one where Abel is clearly better than Cain, makes a better offering, and Cain is pretty much a vengeful character throughout? Yeah,
I did too.

However, I listened to something recently that changed my perspective on the story. I was listening to a sermon by Michael Lawrence (he’s the OTHER pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church – the assistant to Mark Dever). First off, I discovered Lawrence by chance – when looking into Capitol Hill’s podcast site to see if any interesting Dever messages were there, I saw a series on Biblical Theology, and as I was studying this topic at the time, decided to download the messages. While doing so, I also saw two messages out of the “Great Lives” series, which addresses Old Testament figures. After getting hooked on Lawrence, I decided to give these a listen, and I am amazed at how gospel centered he is, even with these old passages.

Anyway, Lawrence’s sermon on Abel was very interesting, in that he pointed out how favored Cain was. Even the little text we have in Genesis suggests this – it mentions Cain’s name, what it meant, and how his mother reacted to his birth. Also, Cain was the firstborn, which made him very important to his parents to begin with – there is no reason to suspect that Cain wouldn’t have received the rights of the firstborn. It also seems that Eve may have thought that Cain was the chosen Seed spoken of in Genesis 3: chances are good that they at least thought that the Seed would come through Cain’s line. Abel, on the other hand, was an afterthought to the text. After describing his brother’s birth in great detail, the text simply says something to the effect of “then was born his brother, Abel.” His name means “vapor”, where Cain’s means “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord”.

However, despite this favored status, Cain falls, and despite his lower status, Abel is honored in Hebrews as a great example. Why is this? Well, Lawrence talks about how Cain felt he deserved more than he got. He did not feel entitled to give God his best, but felt that he simply deserved acceptance by God because of who he was. Because God disagreed with this, he became angry, and let that anger consume him. I had to admit that I see a lot of myself in Cain. I, too, feel I deserve recognition for my service to God, even if I don’t give God my best. There are so many times where I feel that because I’ve grown up in church, I deserve to have a wife now, or I deserve to have an easy life, or so many other things. This message reminds me that this attitude leads to an sense of entitlement, like one can see in Cain. I feel that I should get what I “deserve”, when, if I think about it, what I really deserve is punishment for my sin. Thank God that his righteousness atones for my utter lack of it.

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