Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The wise woman of Abel

Last time we left off with Joab and his army, marching up to the walls of the town of Abel, or Abel Beth Macaah. Their goal: to ferret out the rebel Sheba, son of Bikri, and stamp out the rebellion against King David.

Joab is going to meet the woman that the Bible does not specifically name -- she is simply referred to as the "wise woman of Abel." My studies showed that scholars think the "wise woman" role was one that was not uncommon in the days of the judges and in early monarchies. These were women who were known for wise judgment, quick thinking, rhetorical skills, and skillful negotiating. Several chapters earlier (II Samuel 14), Joab had consulted with the wise woman of Tekoa, so it was something that he was familiar with already. Since he was aware of the women's traditional role, he had no problem pausing when he heard her tell him to "listen" and it may be why he didn't hesitate when approaching a walled city that was under siege -- he realized that she had the authority to negotiate.

But he hasn't met her yet! I'm getting ahead of myself!

Joab and his captains instruct the soldiers to begin their standard assault, or siege, of the city. The fact that the wise woman refers to the city in their conversation as a "mother of Israel" might refer to the fact that Abel Beth Macaah was a capital in the region. So, it probably had more (and better) walls and gates than some cities would have. They began to "cast up a bank" against the city; in other words, they threw great earthworks against the walls so that they could more easily climb and gain entrance into the city. When they got closer, or they were almost at the top of the walls, they could begin to batter them down. So, as they were working so hard to batter down the walls, a female voice rings out, "Hear, hear!" In our language, she would perhaps have said, "Listen!"
             a wise woman called from the city, “Listen! Listen! Tell Joab to come here so I can speak to him.” 17 He went toward her, and she asked, “Are you Joab?”“I am,” he answered.She said, “Listen to what your servant has to say.”“I’m listening,” he said.18 She continued, “Long ago they used to say, ‘Get your answer at Abel,’ and that settled it. 19 We are the peaceful and faithful in Israel. You are trying to destroy a city that is a mother in Israel. Why do you want to swallow up theLord’s inheritance?”
In these verses, we can see a couple of things. First, she knew who was battering down the walls of the city. Joab's reputation would have preceded him, so to speak, as a ruthless and skilled fighter. He was a leader to be reckoned with, and word would have spread out in front of his oncoming army. So, she knew with whom she was dealing.

Secondly (and this is more important), she didn't care with whom she was dealing! She wasn't scared of him. She was much more driven by her reverence for, and reliance upon God.

Here is how we know that: she was reproaching him.  Seriously.

She was telling him to remember the rules of warfare. Yep, there were rules. Look with me in Deuteronomy:
               When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. 11 If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. 12 If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. 
          (Deuteronomy 20:10)

This wise woman was questioning his failure to follow the rules! She feared God more than she feared Joab, and she feared God's law more than the leader of the king's army.

Now she has Joab in a position that is very unfamiliar to him -- the position of having to explain his conduct to someone! He just goes and does and doesn't ask. He's a leader. He's accustomed to doing what he wants, when he wants to, and to whom he wants to do it!  But he now is being required to explain why he is laying siege to her city . . .  he tells her about the rebel that they followed there.

The ball is in her court now, and he is probably not comfortable with that. But she tells him that they will find the rebel, and throw his head over the wall to the army, and then they will expect them to withdraw. (Somehow I would hope they might remove some of the earthworks, but maybe that wasn't part of the bargain.)

It doesn't take too long. The rebel is found, and killed, and then to prove it, they throw his head over the wall. Gruesome. Yucky. But we can learn from this wise woman of Abel.

Several people in our story were presented with opportunities. Joab had an opportunity to advance himself, and claim the leadership of the army. Amasa had an opportunity for greatness as the army's leader, but he didn't take advantage of it. The wise woman found an opportunity to spare many innocent lives, and also to avert a war. Let's look at some of her qualities that we might admire.

First, she was indeed wise. Today, if you and I want to learn about wisdom, we turn to the Word, and many of us will turn first to Proverbs. Let's look at chapter three:
Blessed are those who find wisdom,
    those who gain understanding,
14 for she is more profitable than silver
    and yields better returns than gold.
15 She is more precious than rubies;
    nothing you desire can compare with her.
16 Long life is in her right hand;
    in her left hand are riches and honor.
17 Her ways are pleasant ways,
    and all her paths are peace.
18 She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her;
    those who hold her fast will be blessed.
Wisdom is not the same as how smart we are on a test, or how much education we have had. It's a gift to us from God. And it's not the proud or the conceited who receive it -- it's the humble people who ask Him for it. Another verse in Proverbs says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of that wisdom, right? Well, if we fear the Lord, we are going to truly respect His word; that is what the wise woman of Abel did. She paid close attention to His word, and reminded Joab of what it said!

If we want to have the wisdom that the wise woman of Abel had, and that Solomon had, we must acquaint ourselves with the word of God. We need to meditate in it. We need to memorize it. (I am so preaching to myself here, too.)  And of course, we need to ask Him for it.
 'Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding'. (Proverbs 2:3, KJV)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Prayer requests

Many of us who join here in blogland to study each day have had examples of answered prayer in our lives.

The Bible tells us that the prayer of one righteous person is powerful and effective.

It also tells us that something extraordinary happens when two or more agree together in prayer.

In Matthew 18:19, Jesus said, "If any two of you agree touching any matter on this earth, it shall be done."

Let's first ask forgiveness of our sins . .  .

                     If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.
                     (Psalm 66:18)

   --  and then cast all doubt from our minds . . .

                     But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who
                     doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 
                     (James 1:6)

  --  and then faithfully wait upon Him . . .

                    For you have need of patience, that, after you have done the will of
                    God, you might receive the promise. (Hebrews 10:36)

Several of our long-time companions in study have voiced prayer requests lately. Marla has asked for prayer for her husband's health, and for blessings in finding the right doctor for him. Cathy has told us of her son's job search, and asked us to join her in prayer that he'll find just the right job.  Belinda has been dealing with some very stressful situations, and we need to bear her up in prayer, and ask for the blessings of strength and compassion on her.

Please leave a comment here with a request for prayer warriors to join you in agreeing together on a matter.

Also, leave us a comment if you have an answered prayer to report - that's so encouraging to us all!

Monday, September 28, 2015

The wise woman of Abel

Our passage this week is another unusual one. It may not be familiar to us, but there's a lot here to learn! Let's look at II Samuel 20:15-22.

All the troops with Joab came and besieged Sheba in Abel Beth Maakah.They built a siege ramp up to the city, and it stood against the outer fortifications. While they were battering the wall to bring it down, 16 a wise woman called from the city, “Listen! Listen! Tell Joab to come here so I can speak to him.” 17 He went toward her, and she asked, “Are you Joab?”“I am,” he answered.She said, “Listen to what your servant has to say.”“I’m listening,” he said.18 She continued, “Long ago they used to say, ‘Get your answer at Abel,’ and that settled it. 19 We are the peaceful and faithful in Israel. You are trying to destroy a city that is a mother in Israel. Why do you want to swallow up theLord’s inheritance?”
20 “Far be it from me!” Joab replied, “Far be it from me to swallow up or destroy! 21 That is not the case. A man named Sheba son of Bikri, from the hill country of Ephraim, has lifted up his hand against the king, against David. Hand over this one man, and I’ll withdraw from the city.”The woman said to Joab, “His head will be thrown to you from the wall.”22 Then the woman went to all the people with her wise advice, and they cut off the head of Sheba son of Bikri and threw it to Joab. So he sounded the trumpet, and his men dispersed from the city, each returning to his home. And Joab went back to the king in Jerusalem.

To get the background for our story, we need to know all of what had happened in this chapter. After the rebellion led by his son, Absalom, David mourned his death and then was brought up short by his mighty man, Joab. Joab told him that he needed to "straighten up and fly right" or he would not have any mighty men, soldiers, or loyal citizens! Things were in a mess.

So, David freshened up his face, put on his royal robes, and began to rule again. He touched base with priests and leaders, and inspired confidence in many of them that things were going to be OK.

However, there was a troublemaker named Sheba -- a rebel -- who tried to turn the hearts of many of the men of Israel away from King David. (The men of Judah were confident in David.) David tasked his nephew, Amasa, with convincing the men of Judah to come to Jerusalem, in order to pursue the rebel, Sheba of Bikri. He gave Amasa a promotion to commander of the army, and gave him three days to complete the task, but three days went by and Amasa had not returned. (Now, this was probably not a happy thing for Joab....Amasa had been Absalom's commander, and by doing this, David was passing over Joab. Joab probably felt like he'd been disrespected by not getting the promotion, I'm sure. We'll see how this plays out next.)

Since it seemed that Amasa was dragging his feet, David sent Abishai and Joab to help out. It looked like if they didn't get something done fast, they would have a bigger rebellion than Absalom's on their hands . . . if Sheba, son of Bikri, was holed up in one of the fortified cities, they'd have a difficult time quelling the rebellion, and this time of political instability would continue.

So, we see Joab and Abishai walking toward a large stone marker, and Amasa coming from the other direction to meet them. It was the custom at the time to give a kiss in greeting, and many times, they would grasp each other's beard to do so. (Sounds a little strange to us, now, but this gives Joab an opportunity for mischief of the worst kind.) Just before reaching Amasa, Joab's short sword just happens to fall from the scabbard tied into his cloth belt  . . . oops, how did that happen? Joab comes up with it, and as he greets the unsuspecting Amasa with one hand on his beard, the other is thrusting the sword into Amasa's mid-section. Have we noted that Joab is not the nicest guy in the bunch? Oy. (By the way, Amasa was his cousin.)

With Amasa dead, or dying, command fell to Joab. (Ahh, there is his motivation, eh?) Just a side note, here, but have you wondered why King David never disciplined Joab? Think about it -- this guy's only redeeming quality seems to be his fierce loyalty to his king -- but in the mean time, he has killed Abner, killed David's son Absalom, and now he has killed Amasa. Recall our story of Bathsheba? Remember who the army captain was, that was told to put Bathsheba's hubby into the heat of battle and then withdraw and leave him to die? Yep. That same Joab. Reckon he knew too much about David for the king to do much with him . . .

Anyway, let's get back to our story. (Grin)  Joab and Abishai gather the men and begin to march. Whoa. Wait a minute. The soldiers aren't following them. How come?

The body of Amasa, in a pool of blood, really spooked them. Nowadays, we'd say they were freaked out. It wasn't until the body was dragged off the road, into a field, and covered with a blanket that the men would march.

And they headed toward the town of Abel. They had heard that the rebel Sheba, son of Bikri, had headed there.

We'll continue our story next time.
Hope you'll join us!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Anna - God's not done with me

(Opening eyes) "Self, let's get up. There are things to be done today."

(Self, groaning) "Oh, no, let's just lie here a little longer. The knees are still aching from working with the toddlers at church yesterday."

(Determinedly) "No, self, moving around will help the knees. We promised that we would do some things today, and first we need to get a good start on the day. Now, get out of bed and let's kneel and pray."

(Self, resigned now to obey) "Oh, alright. But let's take some aspirin first?"

I know that some who study with us are energetic, bouncy, and young. I also know that some of our readers will truly identify with that "conversation" above. (Grin)

Let's finish our study of Anna by looking at some important things to guide our own lives, OK? Young or old, I think these will apply!

We only have three verses that tell us about Anna, but those three pack a lot of power. We can see from her life, how to become a much more effective messenger for Jesus Christ.
The first thing we see is that Anna was a person of great purity. The verses tell us that not only was she a prophetess, but that she fasted and prayed and was almost always in the temple. I like to look at other translations as we study, and compare the NIV and KJV, etc.  The King James says, "She lived with her husband seven years from her virginity." For that to have been an important detail for us to read, this many years later, I wonder if the Spirit was trying to impress upon us the fact that she had lived a pure, holy life both before and after her marriage and widowhood.

Many Christians wonder why they are not as effective in witnessing as they would like. Perhaps they are living lives that are bordered with ungodliness. They know that their hypocrisy limits their credibility with unbelievers; sometimes they are ashamed and are simply silent. They feel they are not worthy to speak up for God. The unsaved hope to hear a message from us of hope and deliverance; we must not allow sin to silence our witness.

The verses also reveal that she was a prayer warrior; she was in communication with God both night and day. We can imagine that through her prayers she gained insights that many did not have. She was probably well aware of Jeremiah's speaking for God:

                         Call upon me, and I will show you great and mighty things that
                         you do not know. (Jeremiah 33:3)

The Bible tells us that we gain wisdom through prayer (James 1:5). It also says that evil strongholds are torn down by prayer (II Corinthians 10:4-5).  Anna prayed, and God was able to use her to tell others about Christ. Her faith was a magnificent and strong faith, a faith that God could use.
Remember when the four men brought their friend to Jesus, when he was teaching inside the house? They climbed on the roof, made an opening, and lowered him down to Jesus.  It's really interesting to see what the Bible says next: it says that Jesus first saw the faith of the friends who lowered him, not the one they lowered. He reached out to the sick man because of the faith of his friends.
We might not be able to convince a lost acquaintance to come to church with us, or to read the Bible with us, but we can surely lift that person into the presence of Jesus Christ by praying for them! If we are inspired to have faith like those friends, and faith like Anna's, we can move mountains!

It's important, too, to be bold. The verses say that she spoke to others who were looking for redemption. She was not too timid to initiate a conversation, if she felt that person needed to know her God. If we are prayer warriors, we can also pray for faith to step out of our comfort zone, and share the good news of Jesus. Being bold will keep us from getting discouraged; it will keep us ready to share with others, no matter the darkness, or the mocking we may hear.

Lastly, look at the emphasis on her age. She was a widow, and she probably struggled with poverty, loneliness, and sadness, but she gives us a wonderful example to never, ever give up. God's timing is perfect, and Anna waited faithfully and was rewarded.  She also makes her greatest contribution when she is the weakest, and perhaps most vulnerable. We can persevere by doing what we can, where we are, and with what we have. Oh, to be like Mary of Bethany -- Jesus said "she has done what she could."

Not just age, but let's not let any barrier stop us from making a contribution to our Lord's kingdom. God uses young and old, rich and poor, women and men . . . we all play roles in His plan. Anna challenges us to stop making excuses . . . God's not done with us.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Anna - God's not done with me

Welcome back to our study of Anna!
We saw last time that her life was blessed by the grace of God, especially with a long life; now we want to focus on what she did with that long life He blessed her with!

                           .....she did not depart from the temple, but served God with
                           fastings and prayers night and day.   (Luke 2:37b)

Anna was similar to Simeon, in that she served God fervently in the temple. This verse says she didn't even depart from the temple, but that means that she went to the temple and remained there as much as possible, Scholars tell us that nobody, not even the priests lived in the temple. The High Priest had chambers there, but even he didn't live there.

So, it means that she was there as much as possible. And the verse says that while she was there, she served God by fasting and praying night and day. What a blessing that was (and is today) to pour out upon the church and upon God's people.  Researchers today tell us that older people sometimes don't need as much food and sleep as they did when they were younger. So some of our older Christian friends take the opportunity to become real prayer warriors for God. They may or may not fast; but they pray during the night, and during the day.

There are many factors that help churches and people have a healthy and fruitful ministry. One is to follow the example of Anna, and be in church worshiping God, serving Him, encouraging other Christians, and learning the Word of God. The other is to spend as much time as possible praying. I've heard it said that prayer is the lifeblood of the church -- but prayer is also a force for good in our own lives. Prayer keeps us in communication with God, and holds back the spiritual forces of darkness. Prayer is how we support one another and bolster each other in the ongoing fights of life.

Anna knew this. She was a prayer warrior. Not only did she pray, but she went the extra mile and fasted and prayed. And she did it night and day. Oh, may God strengthen us to be prayer warriors, too!

Anna also spoke of Jesus -- another way that she blessed God and others with her long life. (In case you haven't noticed, I'm preaching to the choir, here. As I get older, I need to be reminded of the things that I, myself, can do to bless others, as God blesses me with more days!)
Anna first gave thanks to God for sending the Messiah, and then -- she didn't stop there -- she went out and spoke to everyone in Jerusalem who was looking for redemption. She went about telling people that their Savior, the long-hoped-for Redeemer, had come!

We can learn a lot from Anna. She would definitely be considered elderly by today's standards. In today's world, the elderly are often discounted, even neglected, passed over. But Anna didn't think that being old meant that God was done with her! Younger folks often think that those who are older have nothing to teach; the sad part is that often the elderly folks believe it. And then there are those who are older, and they know they have a lot to teach the younger ones, but they'd rather spend their days fishing, golfing, or playing bridge. Now, that's not to say that those activities are wrong -- in fact, they have a lot of positives to them. But if our time is spent exclusively on those, and no time is left for helping the younger Christians, then something is out of whack, no?

We find some verses in Titus 2 that should help us with this balancing act. We read there that older women should teach, train, and disciple younger women on how to be good mothers and wives. It says that older men can pass on great skills and truths to younger men.  Those who are older have priceless lessons and years of wisdom that they can pass on to those who are younger -- and it's not just about cooking and gardening and parenting, although those are wonderful lessons to pass along -- but we need to pass on truths from the Bible, too. Gentle words spoken that encourage prayer, teach how to resist temptation, and keep the light burning faithfully are so, so important for the younger Christians to hear.

We have a lot to look forward to, in "retirement." We are released from our working responsibilities so that we can devote more time and effort to a ministry, or to mentoring younger Christians. Perhaps instead of calling it "retirement" we should call it "transition." We can transition from working at a job, to working for God -- wherever! Our years spent working in the world can actually be super preparation for what God wants us to do in our later years!

What life-skills and lessons have we learned that we can pass along? Can we minister to the needs of others?  Anna was still serving God; it was as if she thought, "God's not done with me." Whether we are young and active, and busy in the world, or if we are older and able to serve God with more of our time, let's use the time, abilities, and talents that God has given us.

I can assure you -- God will bless us as we serve Him!

We'll conclude our study of Anna tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What are we listening to?

Did you know that music is so influential and powerful that it is used as therapy? Consider this excerpt from the American Music Therapy Association at
Music Therapy is an established healthcare profession that uses music to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals of all ages.  Music therapy improves the quality of life for persons who are well and meets the needs of children and adults with disabilities or illnesses.  Music therapy interventions can be designed to:
  • promote wellness
  • manage stress
  • alleviate pain
  • express feelings
  • enhance memory
  • improve communication
  • Promote physical rehabilitation.
Did you know that music could do all of that?

Music can assist us in entering the presence of the Lord. It can prepare us for prayer and meditation. It can help us to praise Him.
We can be encouraged, joyful, and worshipful!
What are you listening to, today?

Monday, September 21, 2015

Anna - God's not done with me

We're studying a familiar lady this week; we've heard the story of Anna before. Let's see what we learn from her this week.

                           Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of
                           Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and
                           had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and
                           this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years. She did
                           not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and
                           prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave
                           thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked
                           for redemption in Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38)

If you recall this portion of Luke's gospel details the account of Mary and Joseph bringing baby Jesus to the temple for the required purification ceremony and sacrifice.
This passage also tells us about Simeon, an elderly man who was devoted to his faith and to the temple, and who had prayed for many years to see the Messiah. The Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die before he had seen the consolation of Israel. When he held the infant in his arms, he exclaimed:

                         Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss
                         your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation . . .
                         (Luke 2:29-30)

As Joseph and Mary marveled, Simeon told them:

                         This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many
                         in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that 
                         the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. . . (Luke 2:34-35a)

Anna heard his words, and joined the little group "in that instant," according to Luke's gospel. She thanked the Lord and then spoke of Him to all those who were looking for redemption. What a wonderful testimony!

There is much here to inspire us . . . let's dive in!

The first thing we learn about Anna is just that -- her name. Her name comes from the Hebrew word for "grace."  And we see in these verses that the grace of God was definitely on her. First of all, she was a prophetess.
There are several women in the Bible who are called prophetess -- it was a privilege and a real distinction. Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah were Old Testament women with that title, and in the New Testament, Philip's daughters are named. The work of a prophetess was to speak the Word of God, and to share what she knew about Him, with anyone and everyone who would listen.

The next evidence of God's grace in her life was her heritage. She was of the tribe of Asher. Asher was one of the northern tribes of Israel that rebelled against God in earlier days, and they were carried away into captivity by the Assyrians. But here she is in Israel, so although her ancestors had rebelled and been whisked off into slavery, God had somehow made it possible for her family to make it back. She was here at the right time to be a witness to the coming of the Messiah.

One more sign of God's grace upon her life: her age. We learn in these verses that she was married for seven years, and then had been a widow for eighty-four years. She would have to be over one hundred years of age now . . . That's being a widow for a long, long time.

Imagine being married for seven years -- young, vibrant, beautiful (the women of the tribe of Asher were known for their beauty), perhaps terribly in love with the husband your father had chosen for you . . . and then tragedy. Suddenly a widow. Sorrow can make you hard, and bitter, and resentful. It can make you rebel against God.  Or it can make you softer, and kinder. It can make you more sympathetic, and deeper in your faith. It seems that Anna chose to reveal the grace of God in her life. And that is one reason why God gave her a long life.

What did she do with her long life? She served God with it. We'll learn more about Anna in our next study, later this week.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Friday slowdown

We've seen an example this week of real courage. And we know that it takes courage in our day to stand up for God. Surely Jehosheba's example can inspire us to stand up for Him!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Jehosheba - conclusion

This week we have studied part of the story of Jehosheba; it's really the beginning of the story of Joash, a king of Judah. Are you wondering what happened after the six years that they kept the boy king hidden away in the temple? (If you have read our passage, II Kings 11, in yesterday's study, then you already know!)

Jehosheba's husband, Jehoiada, was the high priest, and he called together the commanders of the different guards and military units. He showed them Joash, and explained that he was the rightful heir to the throne. Then he gave them instructions for the Sabbath: some were to guard the palace entrance; some were to guard a city gate, and some were to keep watch at the temple's rear gate. The rest were to be inside the temple, situated around Joash and Jehoiada.

Jehoiada planned to crown Joash king, and he knew that Athaliah would hear of it, and come running!  So he instructed the soldiers to kill anyone who came too close to the boy. He gave them the shields and swords that King David had made many years earlier. (You knew then that there was something special happening, right?)  Once the soldiers were in place, Jehoiada, clad in his finest robes, presented Joash to the people; he gave him a copy of the covenant of God, and then placed the crown on his head.

The people laughed, and clapped, and shouted for joy. When he was anointed, they cried out "Long live the king!"

Cue the ominous music here. Athaliah heard all the commotion, and when she realized what was happening, she ran to the temple. She saw Joash, the new king, standing by the pillar, and she heard the people shouting and blowing trumpets and celebrating. She tore her outer clothes and shouted, "Treason, treason!" Jehoiada told the soldiers not to harm her within the temple walls . . . I imagine that when she saw the soldiers advancing to capture her, she ran. The Bible tells us that they executed her outside the temple.

Jehoiada took this opportunity to chide the people for wandering so far from God, and he instructed them on how to be the Lord's people. He made covenants between the king and the people and the Lord.
The people were so ready to make things right that they went straight to the grove and altars of Baal and tore them down. After they had destroyed all of them, they killed the priest of Baal, too.

Our passage notes that Judah was peaceful for a while after that. Joash began his reign, advised by Jehoiada, and the people were content.

Some people think that the Old Testament is not relevant for today. Some are put off by the bloody killings and the sacrifices. It does seem that much of the history of the people of Israel is written in blood; but there is much for us to learn here.
Is there anything familiar in the story of Athaliah trying her best to wipe out an entire family, and put an end to God's plan for redemption?  Does it sound familiar when we read about the priests of Baal leading others to worship idols instead of the true God?
The negative forces in today's culture make us wonder where we are headed as a people, and as a world. We can count on our fingers the leaders who show integrity and morality. Dishonesty is overlooked in the workplace, and in the political arena. We may look around us and think that kindness is truly the exception, and not the rule.

But this is not a battle that God will lose. He will prevail. He will triumph in the end!

                       Many are the plans in a human heart, but it is the Lord's purpose
                       that prevails. (Proverbs 19:21)

                       But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal 
                       procession in Christ. (II Corinthians 2:14)

What specifically can we learn from courageous Jehosheba?

                      But Jehosheba, the daughter of King Jehoram, took Joash son of
                      Ahaziah and stole him away from among the royal princes who
                      were about to be murdered and put him and his nurse in a bed-
                      room. Because Jehosheba . . . hid the child from Athaliah so she
                      could not kill him. (II Chronicles 22:11)

Imagine what it must have been like for Jehosheba . . . for six years she defied a powerful and ruthless queen. Did she pray each day for God to remain faithful; did she remind herself that God always does what He says He will? We can see that she did not allow difficult circumstances to weaken her faith. She had courage to act on behalf of an innocent boy.

Let's ask God to speak to us through the story of Jehosheba. Ask Him to give us grace to be like her; ask for courage to cherish, protect, and nurture life, and those who need our intervention.

Let's allow her story to encourage us to do what's right -- no matter what risks are involved.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Jehosheba - uncommon courage

We are studying a very courageous lady this week . . . Jehosheba was a princess, and was also the wife of the high priest. Now, I don't suppose it was nearly as powerful or authoritative an office as it was in other times, to be the high priest, but Jehoiada took his job very seriously, none the less.
I expect that it was painful to him to see the queen lead the people in Baal worship, and in worshiping other idols.

I wonder if Jehosheba told her high priest husband of her plans? Or if it was a spur of the moment act? Did she come running into their home, breathless, with the precious bundle in her arms? Did she blurt out the story to his disbelieving ears, and then both of them looked down at the babe lying there? Perhaps they remembered the promise of God, that a Messiah would be born from King David's line; they knew that this child must live!

How smart Jehosheba and Jehoiada were! To hide the child in the one place that Athaliah would probably never set foot! In the temple of God . . . there were times in the history of the people of Israel that they desecrated God's temple with idol worship. But most of the time, especially for the worship of Baal, we read of groves being utilized as places of worship. It was common for them to cut the branches from groups of trees, leave them standing, and carve images into them. God even warned his people to avoid this practice of cult worship:

                      Do not set up any wooden Asherah pole beside the altar you build
                      to the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 16:21)

We see groves in other stories of Baal worship:

                     And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord above
                    all that were before him. And it came to pass, as if it had been a light
                    thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he
                   took to wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians, 
                   and went and served Baal, and worshiped him. And he reared up an 
                   altar for Baal in the house of Baal which he had built in Samaria. And
                   Ahab made a grove; and Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of
                   Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him.
                   (I Kings 16:10-33)

So, we can see that Athaliah would not come into the temple and look around. Joash would not be seen. They hid the heir to the throne in the same temple that Solomon built in Jerusalem, beginning in the fourth year of his reign. Stone was cut and dressed at quarries and then brought to the site. The stones were covered with cedar wood, carved with palms and flowers, and adorned with gold.

The temple of God was home to the ancestor of God's son, Jesus, our Messiah. Through the brave actions of Jehosheba, and the courageous help of her husband, the lineage of David was preserved and our salvation was assured.

We'll conclude our story tomorrow -- it has a happy ending!


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Verses that inspire

This week's study is about courage . . . we can find many verses about courage in the Word:

                  Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move
                  you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you 
                  know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (I Corinthians 15:58)

                 Do not fear, for I am with you: do not be dismayed, for I am your
                 God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my
                 righteous right hand. All who rage against you will surely be
                 ashamed and disgraced; those who oppose you will be as nothing
                 and perish. Though you search for your enemies, you will not 
                 find them. Those who wage war against you will be as nothing 
                 at all. For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right
                 hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. (Isaiah 41:10-13)

                 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of
                 them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you
                 nor forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Has a verse inspired you recently?
Leave a comment and tell us; your verse may be just what someone else needs to read!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Jehosheba - uncommon courage

When you were younger, did tales of wicked queens scare you? Did you feel a chill when you heard of their terrible deeds?

Did you think that all of them probably looked like the wicked queens in the animated movies? (Raises hand) I did. (Grin)

Today, our story begins with a queen far more wicked than any of those in the animated stories . . .

Athaliah is her name, and it means "the Lord is great" or "the Lord is exalted." But she sure didn't live up to her name. Her heritage was full of idolatrous people: her granddad was Omri, one of Israel's most evil and idolatrous kings. Ahab was her dad, and her mom was probably Jezebal (we'll study her later this year). Whoa. With a family like that, I guess it's no surprise that she turned out like she did.

Oh, I hear you now.
You want to know what this has to do with Jehosheba.
Hold your horses! We'll get to that!

Ahab and Jezebel are well known for promoting the worship of Baal in the northern kingdom of Israel. Well, while they were doing that, Athaliah was doing the same, but in the southern kingdom of Judah. How did she do that? Well, marriages at the time were often for convenience or for political alliances, and she had married the king of Judah. He died and Athaliah's son assumed the throne. Jehu, a mighty man trying to restore the worship of Yahweh, the Almighty God, killed her son. The cleansing that he performed on the nation of Judah was a very bloody one. (II Kings 10)

Scholars read the 11th chapter of II Kings and theorize that because of her husband and son being killed, her paranoia and lust for power must have kicked into hyperdrive. Why else would she have killed everyone else in the royal line?

Seriously. She killed her grandkids in order to secure Judah's throne for herself. She was so caught up in the worship of Baal that she may even have gloated about snuffing out the heirs that would have made it possible for God's promise to be fulfilled . . . that promise of a future Messiah from the line of David.

She ruled for a few years. She led her people further and further away from Yahweh.

But there was something she didn't know. Right under her nose, in fact, in the old, un-used, neglected temple of God, her one remaining grandchild was being raised by a courageous woman who sneaked him out when the killing began.

Jehosheba had hidden the boy, Joash, before he could be murdered. She was married to the high priest, and she had risked her own life to whisk Joash away and keep him hidden for six years.

I hope you will read the tenth and eleventh chapters in II Kings in preparation for our study this week.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Friday slowdown

There's no one like Jesus!

Another youtube video that is a lot of fun, is this one, expressing the same thoughts:

Enjoy! Give Him the gift of your praise today!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The queen of Sheba - conclusion

This has been an interesting story to look at. This woman was a leader, a ruler of a country, and she heard of Solomon's wealth and wisdom. She traveled thousands of miles to visit him. She brought him gifts.

Let's look at those gifts. The caravan is noted in our verses (I Kings 10) as being very "great" or large. It also says she gave him one hundred and twenty talents of gold. That converts to 9,000 pounds of gold . . . . anybody recall what an ounce of gold sells for these days? (Grin)  Pretty amazing, no?
If we look at the weight of cargo that a camel could comfortably carry, it looks like it was also a very LONG caravan -- she would have needed about twenty-two camels just for the gold! But she also brought him large quantities of spices, and precious stones, in addition to the gold. And she would have had lots of folks with her, so it was a really long caravan. But I digress.

After she gave him her gifts, and riddled him her riddles, she exclaimed:

               The report I heard in my own country about your 
           achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not 
           believe these things until I came and saw with my own 
           eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and 
           wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard. How 
           happy your people must be! How happy your officials, who 
           continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! Praise 
           be to the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and 
           placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the Lord’s 
           eternal love for Israel, he has made you king to maintain 
           justice and righteousness. (I Kings 10:6-9)

The next thing you know, she is getting her people and her camels prepared for the long journey home. And Solomon is giving her some parting gifts to take home with her.

Our passage says that he gave her "all that she wanted or asked for, besides what he had given her out of his royal bounty." So he probably had a "standard gift" that he gave to visiting rulers and potentates, and then he gave her some extras!

Most of the time, when you were part of a personal meeting in ancient cultures, you expected to give and receive gifts. If you were visiting someone in their home, you were expected to bring a gift for the host or hostess. Sometimes gift-giving was a mark of submission to someone's position or authority; sometimes it was used to curry favor with someone, similar to a bribe.

The gifts that Solomon and the queen exchanged are staggering - even in our times, the amount and value of these gifts is phenomenal! But it seems it was par for the course, for silver was "as common in Jerusalem as stones" according to I Kings 10.  In the New Testament, the focus changes. The writers note the gifts that we give, but not to each other -- to God. We've seen that no gift, no matter how tiny, is insignificant. In fact, it is pleasing to God when it is given with a cheerful and generous spirit.

Even more wonderful than any gifts we can offer to God are those He gives so freely to us. Solomon was surrounded by splendor, yet he noted that a good and simple life was a gift from God -- peaceful rest in the night, work to do in the day, some happiness and contentment . . . but the greatest gift is that One that God so lovingly gave us: eternal life through His Son.

                      Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (II Corinthians 9:15)

Yes, the queen of Sheba lavished gifts upon Solomon, and she was acknowledging his greatness. We have One who is greater than Solomon . . . what gifts can we lavish upon Him? We can be generous with our praise; we can tell Him all the things that we love about Him, and how grateful we are to Him. We can be generous with our time -- oh, that's a hard one, sometimes. But we can; we can go out of our way to help someone in need. We can be generous with our money, as we learned last week from the widow who gave all. And we can be generous with our trust.

What do I mean by that?
Generous with our trust . . . let me explain. We can act and pray in ways that show our confidence in God's goodness and His power. I've mentioned before, that when we have reached the end of our rope, it delights Him when we simply say, "I can't do anything more, here, Lord. I've tried and I can't solve this problem. I need to put this in your hands, and I will give you the glory when you solve it, as I know you will." Pray a verse to Him, that bolsters your confidence that He will be faithful for you. I am a living, breathing example that this is the kind of faith God loves and honors. I don't deserve the blessings that He has given me; but when I have sincerely told Him these things, and trusted in Him, He has reached down into my life and moved obstacles.
I've told others about this, and I always cry because I don't deserve His blessings, but He keeps right on sending them!

This week, let's open our hearts and be generous. Let's think of ways that we can express our affection for our Father!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Queen of Sheba

We're studying the queen of Sheba this week . . . have you ever wondered where "Sheba" was? The scholars tell us that the land she ruled was located about 1,200 miles south of Israel. The modern day country of Yemen is the approximate location. Every day that she ruled over her subjects, she heard people share the word of the greatness of the king called Solomon. Caravans that passed through Israel on the way to her country would bring tales of the splendor and majesty of his court and his palace. He would have left an impression on those travelers, and he would have built up a reputation that the queen could not fail to hear about!

The queen would have heard of the great riches that Solomon possessed. We read in I Kings of his wealth:

                     They sailed to Ophir and brought back 420 talents of gold, which
                     they delivered to King Solomon.  (I Kings 9:28)

(I'm not right on the money, but I researched it and that is well over two billion dollars!) Another verse in I Kings 10 tells of even more talents of gold that came into the king's coffers . . . no wonder the temple was decorated in gold, the drinking vessels were gold, and silver just wasn't as important! His wealth was more than most people of that time could even imagine.

The queen would have heard of his works, too. He had built a great kingdom; he had constructed an amazing temple for his God; he had built a wonderful palace for himself.

She also heard of his wisdom. He was known for his intellect, and his ability to answer deep questions. She could not get answers to her questions from her gods. Her own wealth could not solve her problems. She came because she heard that only Solomon could help her.

The queen of Sheba had also heard of his worship. Notice in verse 1 of our passage, what was on her mind. What impressed her more than his prosperity, or his prestige, was his relationship with his God. Solomon gave the glory to God, and she wanted to know more. She wanted to know about this relationship -- she wanted to meet the God of Solomon.

Let's apply this to our own lives: there is no one else like our God! He can meet every need we have, whether it is spiritual, material, or physical. He has all power -- He can move mountains for us, quench our thirst, and even save our eternal souls. Our Father holds every answer to every one of our questions, and He can bring us into His presence when we worship Him. When unbelievers hear talk about Him, their interest in piqued -- and we should be talking about Him!

Let's fast forward to when the queen of Sheba arrived in Jerusalem, OK? When she got there, she was amazed at the greatness of Solomon's wealth. Did you see the tremendous gifts that he sent home with her? Wow. She also would have experienced the way that he provided for his people:

                   Solomon's daily provisions were thirty cors of the finest flour and sixty
                   cors of meal, ten head of stall-fed cattle, twenty of pasture-fed cattle, and
                   a hundred sheep and goats, as well as deer, gazelles, roebucks and choice
                   fowl.  (I Kings 4:22-23)

(My study notes say that is many metric tons of flour and meal.....there is enough food listed there for many, many people in his palace!) All of that for those who ate at his table daily!
I'm sure that she watched his servants; they would have watched him, listened to him, happily carried out his wishes. She was surprised to see how happy they were.  She saw him as he entered the temple of God. (He had a covered walkway from his palace to the temple.) She watched him as he worshiped.

There is application here to our lives, too: our God owns it all, and He takes care of His people. "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it..." There are no shortages in His pantry, and He shares it all with us. He has enough to give all of us, both our "daily bread" and our spiritual needs. The Lord's people love Him, and want to hear His word and do his bidding:

                He gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify to
                Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:14)

The queen of Sheba realized that all she had heard was true. It was real. Solomon's reputation, his wealth, and his wisdom were extraordinary. He was able to answer all of her deep and probing questions. All of her riddles were solved. She decided that he was even more wonderful than she had heard!

We can all echo what she said . . . our God always gives us so much more than the gifts that we bring to Him. He reveals to us the answers to the problems and riddles of life. He is far more glorious than we can know in this time. The people who know Him are a happy group -- they may have problems and worries, but there is also "joy unspeakable" and "peace which passes all understanding."

The queen went back to her country saying "there is no one like him." Isn't that what we should be telling others about our Lord?

We'll finish up our study tomorrow. Hope you will join us!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Prayer requests

There is something special about the simplicity and faith of a child's prayer . . . no wonder Jesus said

                     Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them,
                     for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." (Matthew 19:14)

And that special kind of faith is what we need, too. The simplest way to put it, is that we are having a conversation with God. That, in and of itself, is awe-inspiring! He is our Friend, our all-powerful Help, our caring Father, our compassionate Savior.

Would we ask one of our earthly friends to do something for us, with an attitude of fear, or of pridefulness? Would we demand that they take care of something for us?

King Josiah was a man who tried very hard to obey God and give Him glory. He was made king at age 8, and by the time he was 16, he was knocking down idols and destroying places of pagan worship. He set to rebuilding the temple, and then a book was found that changed everything. It was the book of the Law. Having heard it read, he tore his clothes and mourned, because he realized anew the horrible crimes against God that the people had committed before he began to cleanse the land. 

God responded to his humble heart:
Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before God when you heard what he spoke against this place and its people, and because you humbled yourself before me and tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the Lord. Now I will gather you to your ancestors,and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place and on those who live here. (II Chronicles 34:27-28)
Let us come to Him with thanksgiving, with humility, and with simple, childlike faith.

Let's pray.