The Keys to Happiness

I. Introduction

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Me, I wanted to fly a jet for the US Navy. Something about being at sea, landing on that aircraft carrier. Of course, if I understand it, they use a system of green lights and red lights to tell you when it’s ok to land. And I’m red/green colorblind. That would have been even more exciting.

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Doctors, lawyers, policemen. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, Business Insider ( https://www.businessinsider.com/american-kids-youtube-star-astronauts-survey-2019-7 ) did a survey of what today’s American kids want to be when they grow up. The number one answer? Youtuber.

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They want to be famous youtubers, be their own star of their own YouTube channel and be famous. Fame will make them happy. They see football sport stars, reality television stars, viral videos and think fame will make them happy.

And before we criticize them too much, we’re all guilty of seeking happiness from something worldly. Money, people, shopping, food, social media, toys. Of course we want to be happy. But these things don’t bring happiness. Even in the bible, Solomon was the richest and most famous king that Israel ever had. Solomon had wealth, fame, wisdom, his own YouTube channel… everything except happiness.

Over the years, I can’t tell you how many times somebody that’s going through difficult times has told me, “God just wants me to be happy.”   The most extreme version I’ve encountered in my life was a friend of my wife, who, 10 years ago desperately wanted a husband. And then she started dated a married man. She said, God told her it was ok because God just wants her to be happy.

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I know that God wants good things for His children, and good things make us happy. But way too often we go to God and tell Him to give us something we want that will make us happy. But that’s not how God tells His children to approach the problem of happiness.

God knows everything. He knows, better than we know, what will make us happy. God wants us to rely on Him, not on our ideas, on how to find happiness. Just ask God and He’ll tell you and me what we need for happiness.

In fact, He already did. And surprise surprise, He wrote down His instructions in the Bible for us to find. Today we are going to study the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

II.  The Beatitudes

The word “beatitude” is a weird word. It’s a kind of Englishized translation of a Latin translation of a Greek word, and it’s not even found in the bible. No wonder I don’t use it in everyday conversation. Matthew, author of our Good News today, wrote in Greek, and word he used was “makarios.” It means “divinely happy and supremely blessed,” or happiness that comes from the divine. Weirdly, the English word that is derived from this is “macro”, sort of like “I summed it all up” or “I’ve got everything.”

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Then one of the earliest bible translations from the original Greek into Latin translated this word into “beatus” which means “happy” or “blessed.”

And so Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, this first portion called The Beatitudes, are literally instructions on how to be happy. And just as we mistakenly believe happiness comes from fame or fortune, the Jews that were listening had their world upside down. They believed that Makarios, divine happiness, was based on material blessing and prosperity provided by God. They were also looking for a Messiah to rescue them from Roman occupation, physical happiness. Jesus turned everything upside down, challenging the people to reconsider their idea of blessed and happy by focusing on God’s desires. Moreover, this state of being blessed isn’t anything man can earn, but the result of a declaration from God.

III. Spiritual Bankruptcy

Matthew 5:3, Jesus begins,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

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The word poor in the original Greek is “ptochos” which means having literally nothing, totally broke. It’s a recognition that everything we have – our jobs and our house and our family and the light of the sun and the air we breathe and gravity itself are all gifts from God. The world teaches that you can do it all, have it all, and you deserve it all.   But being poor in spirit means recognizing that we bring nothing into this world and we bring nothing out except the very soul God gives us.

In Isaiah 66:1-2,

“Thus says the LORD, “Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for Me? And where is a place that I may rest? “For My hand made all these things, Thus all these things came into being,” declares the LORD. “But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.”

What do you think you have that God didn’t give you?

Who do you think you are that God didn’t make?

One of the keys to happiness is learning to stop depending on yourself, and realize God already did everything. Poverty of the spirit is the most important of the beatitudes.   It is how you compare yourself to God.   Do you look at God as a power that can assist you in your goals? Or do you look at God as sovereign ruler of all and how you can assist God in His goals?   To experience true happiness, recognize that God is greater than anything you are, anything you can do, or anything you can imagine.

IV. Comprehension of Sin

The second beatitude, Matthew 5:4,

Blessed are those who mourn,

   for they will be comforted.

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You’re probably thinking I’ve lost it.   The 2nd key to happiness is to be unhappy.

Well, that’s not exactly what this verse means. Certainly there is sorrow in this world, and Revelation says every tear will eventually be wiped away, but remember, the beatitudes are teaching us not to tell God what makes us happy, but to ask God what makes Him happy.

This verse, then, is about spiritual mourning. Maybe we don’t think of God as having emotions – except anger, maybe. And love, for God so loved the world. But God mourns when His people turn away from Him.

Do we mourn for the lost? Do we mourn when God’s will is ridiculed? A lesson I seem to be learning when, as I get older, is that we don’t live forever on this earth. I know, I just found out. But when people die, there’s a great deal of emotion around the loss.   But usually those emotions are for us – we’ve lost someone – or for others – they’ve lost someone.

When somebody dies without accepting Jesus as their savior, God has lost someone. God gives them what they’ve always wanted, a life without God, and God mourns. I think of the story of Jonah I taught earlier this year, especially at the end when Jonah was upset when God didn’t wipe out those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Ninevites . And God taught Jonah that God gave them life and nurtured them and while God agreed that they were terrible, horrible, no good, very bad people, God mourned that He would never have a relationship with them.

Sin separates us from the love of God, paid for only by the shed blood of Christ. And you know God grieved when His son paid that price for us, but today Jesus is resurrected and sits at the right hand of the Father. And we, too, mourn over the sins that separate us from God, but we will be comforted that our sins are washed away so that we have fellowship with our heavenly father in a way we can barely comprehend today.

So the 2nd key to happiness is to mourn over our own sins and failures, the sinfulness of the world, and that God is not given the glory and honor due Him.

V. Humility in Outlook

Then Matthew 5:5, beatitude #3,

Blessed are the meek,

   for they will inherit the earth.

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The Greek word used by Jesus in 5:5 is “πραΰς“ or “praus” which means ‘mild, gentle, humble, kind, forgiving’. It is an attitude toward others of compassion and gentleness. Jesus used this word in Matthew 11:29 to describe himself:

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Our daily challenge to meet this beatitude is also illustrated in Philippians 2:5 –

‘Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who … made himself nothing.’

That’s what we are – ‘nothing.’   Apart from God we are nothing.   We depend on him for our physical existence and for our spiritual life. To be ‘meek,’ to be gentle, is to live with an awareness that Christ lives within us. We want no glory for ourselves and we are therefore willing to be nothing in order to provide good for others.

“Meek” does not mean spineless or weak. Jesus, the Lord of Glory, was meek, and yet, He was tougher than nails. Being meek is deliberate, not passive, actively looking to be kind and good to others. Meek is Jesus, Almighty God, becoming man. Meek is Jesus, the King of kings, permitting the Roman soldiers to hammer the iron nails into his hands, and refusing to call down legions of angels because He loves us. The key to happiness is the gentleness of Christ being evident is everything we say and do.

VI. Need for Righteousness

Ready for beatitude #4? Matthew 5:6,

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

   for they will be filled.

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To be happy, we hunger and thirst for righteousness. There are two parts, a) hungering and thirsting, and b) righteousness.

It’s not enough to enjoy righteousness. It’s not enough to admire righteousness. To be happy, we hunger for it with a consuming passion. To be happy, we don’t seek happiness. We don’t seek fame or fortune or power or beauty or sexuality or anything else. We must understand the first 3 beatitudes of our spiritual bankruptcy, our sin nature, and letting the meekness of Christ live with us, and hunger for it. We should strive to know how far short we fall and hunger for His righteousness.

Too often, this hunger is misplaced.   We hunger for the righteousness of men.   We hunger to be accepted. We see society preaching at us to accept the immorality of the world in the name of loving our fellow man, and we want to be accepted, so we say yes. And this yearning for acceptance leads to destruction of lives and families because our hunger is for the wrong things.

Or we understand the need for righteousness, but it’s a passing thought. We have our busy lives. Who has time for righteousness when we’re looking for a new job or trying to find that perfect outfit to wear Friday night? And when there is no hunger for God’s righteousness, there’s no righteousness at all.

To be happy and blessed, we hunger and thirst for His righteousness. God knows what will make us happy, better than we know ourselves.   In Matthew 6:33, Jesus says,

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

To be happy, hunger for God.

VII. Empathy for Others

The next instruction for happiness is in the next beatitude, Matthew 5:7 –

Blessed are the merciful,

   for they will be shown mercy.

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This is not the same as the earlier beatitude of being meek and gentle toward others. This is a recognition that we live in a fallen world full of sin, in ourselves and in others, and to practice forgiveness.

Because we all sin and stumble in many ways. And when we sin, besides the separation from God, it can cause injury to others.

And when someone injures or insults us, of course there should be justice. They need to pay. They should be punished. But you know what? Not by us.   God promises to make everything right, and leave all vengeance to Him. Our job is to forgive.

When I hear about somebody offering forgiveness in an extraordinary way, it’s powerful. This week I heard it from a story in Dallas, you may have read about the trial. Officer Amber Guyger entered the wrong apartment and says she mistook it for her own.   Botham Jean was sitting on the sofa, watching tv and eating ice cream, when Officer Amber Guyger shot him and killed him, thinking he was a burglar. A jury disagreed and convicted her of murder.

But this next part is where I see Matthew 5:7 in action.

The victim’s brother, Brandt Jean, begged for permission to hug the defendant. He told Officer Guyger, “I forgive you. I love you as a person and I don’t wish anything bad on you.”   Afterwards, shocking many, the judge also hugged her, presented Officer Guyger with a bible, and the 3 of them prayed together.

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Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Because we all sin and stumble in many ways, and we all deserve punishment from God.   But thank our Lord Jesus Christ that He has mercy on us and that we do not bear the punishment for our own sins.   Jesus calls us to share that same forgiveness with everybody that sins against us, the same way He forgive us for our sins. In fact, He puts it this bluntly in Matthew 6:15 –

But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

So let it go. You’ll find that the forgiveness you give is the happiness you receive.

VIII. Align with Christ

Matthew 5:8 –

Blessed are the pure in heart,

   for they will see God.

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Who can claim to be pure in heart?   We all know that we are not pure, we have thoughts, attitudes, desires which are not pure. We may hide it from others, but we cannot hide it from ourselves or from God.

And ‘pure’ is an absolute term.   You cannot say a heart is ‘purer’.   Being pure means that it is not defiled, polluted or mixed with impurities.

There are so many impurities that we may think will make us happy, but they don’t. They are empty, dead ends, failures. But true joy and happiness is realizing this world has nothing to offer, and Jesus offers everything.

So, how can we make our hearts pure? It is beyond our ability. It is God who initiates, sanctifies and perfects the heart of man who put his trust in Him. It begins when we realize that we cannot do it on our own. Throughout our life, we go through the process of sanctification that will be perfected when we are glorified in Christ Jesus.

This sanctification is a difficult process. Gold has to go through the furnace to be perfected, to burn off the impurities.   1 Peter 1:6-7 –

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith, of greater worth than gold which perishes even though refined by fire, may be proven genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

So, how can we be pure in heart?   By constantly seeking an active fellowship with God through daily personal time with God in His words and prayer, allowing God to purify us though His Holy Spirit in us.   Philippians 1:6,

Be confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

IX. Identify with Others

Two more beatitudes to go.   Matthew 5:9,

Blessed are the peacemakers,

   for they will be called children of God.

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Jesus said that to be happy, be a peacemaker. This statement would have shocked the Jews in the crowd. Jews were looking for a military messiah to overthrow the Roman Empire and establish an earthly kingdom. But Jesus supports peace and encourages the peacemakers. Once again, Kingdom of Heaven defies the norm of earthly kingdom, which is established by power and wars.

What’s interesting about peace is that the foundation of peace is the love received from God. But what about our enemies who hate us? Jesus says in Luke 6:27-28 –

But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

It sounds counterintuitive, like many things from heaven, but to find happiness, don’t just find peace.   Create peace. Actively love our enemies.

The reward for peacemakers is very unique. “They will be called sons of God.” That would bring me happiness, to be called as one of God’s children.

X. Do What is Right

This last beatitude is the most contradictory of all the beatitudes. How can we be happy when we are going through insult, persecution, suffering, even death for doing what is right? Matthew 5:10 –

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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Jesus very clearly proclaims happiness for those who are being persecuted for the sake of righteousness. Now, two different ways we can be persecuted for “righteousness” –

[1] Gospel righteousness, by which we have ceased to trust in our own performance and depend solely on the righteousness of Christ, is offensive to both the nominal believer and the unbeliever, because people do not like to think that salvation is free. Somehow it must be earned.

Every religion of man tells them they have to, and can, earn their way to heaven. But Christianity is not a religion. It is a relationship. And it is not about man trying to earn his way into heaven, but about our incredible loving God paying for our way to heaven. Gospel righteousness is therefore a threat to both human pride and human religion.

Some people think that the Christian’s assurance of salvation is actually ‘self-righteousness’ and therefore accuse believers of either hypocrisy or pride. But it is not self-righteousness that allows me to proclaim that I am saved. It is righteousness in Jesus and the trust in His promises that allow me to proclaim that I am saved because He is Lord.

[2] The practical righteousness or goodness which Christians demonstrate in their lives is threatening to the ungodly; it accuses them and exposes their ungodliness and guilt.   This persecution because of Gospel righteousness is the evident background to several of the New Testament letters, where those who trusted solely in the righteousness of Christ were persecuted by those who wanted to base their relationship to God with their own performance of law and ritual.

We find it difficult to grasp rejoicing in suffering because we have not seen the complete picture. Even among many Christians, there is a growing tendency to focus on earthly blessings.   It is not to say that we should not desire good in this life, but Jesus and His disciples always focused on future hope and glory.

There are parts of the world, where people are being persecuted for Christ. For them, following Christ means suffering, rejection and even death. They are blessed and privileged to share in suffering with Christ.

We may not go through physical persecution or suffering, but we all feel being constantly chased after by the enemy of Christ. When we pursue righteousness, we may find being constantly running or fleeing from the spiritual forces, who are after us to knock us down.

It is not in the suffering or pain, we rejoice, but it is in the hope of God’s glory to be revealed. We Christians rejoice in suffering for righteousness, because we participate in the suffering of Christ, that we bear his name, and that we will be overjoyed when Christ’ glory will be revealed in us. It is our privilege to suffer with Christ.

XI. Conclusion

So what are the keys to happiness?   Don’t tell God what will make you happy. Let God tell you what will make you happy.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
   for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
   for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
   for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
   for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
   for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
   for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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To God be the glory.

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King of the Darkest Night

I. Introduction

We are nearly finished with the Old Testament studies for this year. The Chronological Bible has brought us from the Garden of Eden to our study of Esther today. Through it all, God’s people have continually rebelled against the Lord, but the Lord remains faithful to His people.

But the Lord has continually warned Israel that disobedience leads to captivity, and the people of Jerusalem have been in captivity, primarily in Babylon, but Chris taught us last week about Daniel’s prophecy that the Persian empire is rising. Not to free Israel, but to defeat Babylon in accordance with Daniel’s prophecy. And now the people are in captivity under Persia. But through all this, God has not forgotten His people.

II. Background History

We going to need more than our thirty minutes together to recap the book of Esther. The history, the life lessons, the imagery, the symbology in Esther is amazing. I encourage you to read this story in its entirety to see God’s faithfulness.

We have a movie today to review, full of twist and turns, love and betrayal, good versus evil. There’s a large cast of characters with many conflicting motives. Let’s talk about the book itself. The book of Esther is a historical novella, intended to teach the Jewish people of the history and significance of the feast of Purim. The book is interesting for what it does not mention. It doesn’t mention God, or the Law, or the Torah, or Jerusalem. It’s a story. A story of a simple Jewish girl and her uncle and how they live by faith in a hostile land.

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Both lived in the ancient kingdom of Persia under the king Ahasuerus, probably from 486-465 BC. Persia at this time was huge; the book of Esther, chapter 1:1, says it included 127 provinces. Modern countries which were once part of the Persian Empire include northern Greece, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine, Jordan, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Abkhazia, Chechnya, Ossetia regions, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Egypt, parts of Libya and Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, parts of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of Kyrgyzstan.

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That’s a huge swath of civilization. And somehow a simple Jewish girl in exile become the Queen of Persia and saved her people from genocide.

Well, you can’t have a soap opera without a cast of characters.
The good:

Mordecai the Jew. He’s the son of Jair, tribe of Benjamin. He lives in Susa in the center of Persia. The Talmud records his name as Mordechai Bilshan, and he’s also mentioned in Ezra 2:2 and Nehemiah 7:7 as one of the exiles who returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple under the Persian king Cyrus. We know that was in approximately 537 BC, which means Mordecai is about 64 years old. Interestingly, the Talmud also lists Mordecai as a prophet who prophesied in the second year of King Darius, and also lists Mordecai as a direct descendant of Kish who is the father of the 1st king of Israel, Saul.

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In Esther 2:7,

“And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter: for she had neither father nor mother, and the maid was fair and beautiful; whom Mordecai, when her father and mother were dead, took for his own daughter.”

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So, Esther is actually Mordecai’s cousin, though Mordecai is the much older of the two, and since he adopted Esther as his own daughter, he’s also her uncle.

We also have Esther who is called Hadassah. She’s a Jewish orphan girl. Esther is her Persian name, Hadassah is her Hebrew name. Mordecai forbids Esther to reveal her nationality and family background, so when she’s around Persians, she’s Esther. She’s described as beautiful and having a lovely figure.

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The king of Persia is Ahasuerus, which is a weird name. Ahasuerus is a Latin word which is derived from a Hebrew word. Other translations begin with a Greek word and is translated Xerxes. Both are right, but since Ahasuerus is so hard to spell and pronounce, I’m going to call him Xerxes.

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Queen Vashti. Traditional Jewish teachings about Vashti describe her as wicked and vain, the great-granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon. She’s married to Xerxes.

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Attendant-guy. He doesn’t actually have a name, unless it’s Harbona from Esther 7:9. But we need him to be an extra in our movie, but he doesn’t get his name listed when the credits roll at the end.

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III. Scene 1, Esther 1. The Old Queen is Vanquished.

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As our story of Esther opens in Esther 1:1, Ahasuerus, I mean Xerxes, is holding a massive celebration. And I mean massive. It is a celebration that last 6 months long. The sole purpose of the celebration was to demonstrate that Xerxes had a lot of money and could party for 6 months. And at the end of the 6 months of partying, Xerxes isn’t done. Xerxes then throws a banquet in an enclosed garden of his palace for his closest friends and advisors. There are wall hangings of the finest linen, couches made of gold and silver, on floors made with marble and mother-of-pearl. And it says in verse 8,

“By the king’s command each guest was allowed to drink with no restrictions, for the king instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished.”

So at the end of this week long binge, Xerxes is completely drunk. He nudges his friends, “Man, my wife is hot. You guys want to see her? Hey, attendant-guy, whatever your name is, fetch my wife Vashti. Tell her to wear her crown.”

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Vashti is in the palace. She’s been holding her own banquet next door at the same time. The attendant-guy shows up and says to Vashti, “The Great and Powerful Xerxes summons you to the enclosed garden of drunk men. PS. Wear your crown.” Vashti says, “I don’t think so.”

So attendant-guy goes back to Xerxes and says, “Vashti says no.” And the king is mad. He’s furious that Queen Vashti won’t come parade before his drunk buddies wearing her crown. He asks his drunk friends what they think he should do, and they say, She can’t tell you ‘no,’ you’re the king. If this gets out, no wife will ever appear before their husband. On demand. Wearing a crown.”

I’m thinking that week-long drinking binge isn’t the best environment for making serious decisions. It’s clear from the context that Xerxes wasn’t trying to complement his wife, but to show her off as a trophy to his drunken friends. After she refuses, king Xerxes doesn’t lash out at her but instead looks for a way to manipulate the law of the land to punish her and redeem his pride.

Pretending he’s helping all husbands in the kingdom, Xerxes banished Vashti from ever seeing Xerxes again, and her position as Queen will be given to somebody else.

Exit Vashti, stage left. End Scene I.

IV. Scene 2, Esther 2. The New Queen is Appointed.

Slide12.JPGAs we move into chapter 2, Xerxes recovering from his hangover. One his advisors suggests that Xerxes should hold the world’s first Ms. Persia contest and then Xerxes can select whoever he wants. All of the beautiful young virgins throughout the kingdom are to be brought to the palace and given spa treatments until they’re ready to see the king.
Enter Mordecai and Esther. Esther’s taken to the palace and she placed in the trust of the king’s eunuch who takes special care of her. She’s provided with beauty treatments and special food and 7 girlfriends to take care of her, while Mordecai checks on her daily. He cautions her not to reveal that she’s a Jewish orphan. After a full year of beauty treatments, she’s taken to King Xerxes, who likes what he sees. Xerxes says, “Hey, attendant-guy, whatever your name is. Get this girl a crown.”

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Esther is made Queen of Persia. A simple Jewish orphan, now in the palace with a crown on her head. An incredible turn of events for her.
You know, we’ve been talking about how God equips us today for today, and the story of the faithful Jewish orphan girl demonstrates God’s gifts. Through a series of “coincidences,” Esther was elevated to a very high status, the Queen of Persia. How did she arrive here? Through submission to her faith, submission to her cousin who was her acting father, and because of her inner and external beauty. Her beauty was a gift from God, and like all gifts, we are entrusted by God to use it wisely, for His glory alone, in obedience to Him. The old Queen Vashti, we’re told, was very beautiful on the outside. But she was not going to use her God-given beauty to further God’s purposes, so she was removed, and Esther became queen. Esther has both external and internal beauty.

And Mordecai? He’s exactly where God wants him, too. During his daily visits to see Esther, he overhears a plot to assassinate the king. He passes the news to Esther who in turn reports it to the king. Mordecai’s courageous actions are recorded in the king’s diary in the presence of the king, Mordecai is given credit for thwarting an assassination, and he’s a hero. We’re supposed to be good citizens, for all governments serve at Gods command, and Mordecai is faithful to God. But by doing the right thing, Mordecai gains some unwanted attention. Up to now he’s been happy as just a simple Jew living in exile.

V. Scene 3, Esther 3. The Dark Side.

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In Chapter 3 of Esther, the plot thickens, mwahaha. Enter the villain of our lesson, Haman. In Esther 3:1-2,

After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles.

I’ve always wondered about this. Chapter 2 ends with Mordecai foiling the assassination, and Chapter 3 begins with “After these events,” and Haman is honored. Is it because Mordecai was a Jew? Was it because Haman took credit?

This is ominous. Haman’s father was Hammedatha the Agagite, which means he was a descendant of Agag the king of the Amalekites. The Amalekites were a tribe from Canaan who have constantly been harassing the Israelites throughout history, from the Exodus out of Egypt throughout the reign of David. In Exodus 17:8-16, around 1440 B.C, just after Moses struck the rock and the water flowed, the Amalekites attacked the Israelites. Joshua led the battle against the Amalekites, and Moses stood on top of a hill with his arms raised in glory to the Lord while Aaron and Hur held his arms up. When the Amalekite army fled, Exodus 17:14-16 says,

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner. He said, “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”

 

Slide15.JPGThese are the Amalekites from whom Haman is descended. Then, 400 years later around 1040 B.C, the book of 1 Samuel chapter 15, Saul is commanded by the Lord. This is the same Saul from whom Mordecai is related. 1 Samuel 15:1-3, it says,

Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD. This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ “

God commanded Saul to put all of the Amalekites to death, but Saul gets this idea to spare King Agag of the Amalekites and keep the sheep and cattle and fat calves and lambs. The Lord was trying to protect Israel by ordering Israel to destroy the Amalekites, and the Amalekites kept coming back and attacking Israel.

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Now, another 500 years pass, and now we find Haman, an Amalekite and descendent of Agag, has been elevated to a position of power in the kingdom of Persia where the Israelites live. This is really bad news for the Jews like Mordecai and Esther living there.

King Xerxes orders all the royal officials to bow down and pay honor to Haman. Mordecai refuses to bow down. Now, it’s not against Jewish law to bow down and give respect. The Jews bowed down before their own kings in other books of the bible, like 1st and 2nd Samuel and in 1st Kings. And Mordecai also almost certainly bowed down to King Xerxes or he wouldn’t be alive.

Some scholars believe that one reason Mordecai would not bow may be that as a descendent of Agag, Haman would believe he was divine or semi-divine, a god. Mordecai would certainly not bow down before another god. Other scholars believe it was simply because Mordecai would not bow down before an enemy of God, an Amalekite who hated Jews.

Haman was enraged that this one man would not pay homage to him, and when Haman found out Mordecai was a Jew, he wasn’t satisfied with just killing Mordecai. No, Haman decided this would be his chance to destroy all the Jews. A religious, ethnic cleansing.  Verse 8-9,

Then Haman said to King Xerxes, “There is a certain people dispersed and scattered among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom whose customs are different from those of all other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will put ten thousand talents of silver into the royal treasury for the men who carry out this business.”

Haman could not come right out and tell King Xerxes he wanted to kill all the Jews. Xerxes would know that the Jews were loyal subjects; Mordecai had himself saved King Xerxes life. So Haman mixes in half-truths… a “certain” people. They’re… “different.” They don’t… “obey.” You shouldn’t have to “tolerate” them. By laying out an incomplete picture with half-truths, Haman was able to convince the King that these “certain people” should be killed, and King signs the death warrant.

Persia was a big empire, and this ethnic cleansing could not happen immediately. Haman decided the annihilation would occur in the twelfth month of Adar, about a year away. All the royal secretaries were summoned, and the decree was written in every language of Persia and then distributed to all the governors in all the provinces. The Jews have a year to live.

VI. Scene 4, Esther 4. If I Perish, I Perish.

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Mordecai is troubled. By refusing to bow down before Haman, he had set in motion the destruction of all of his people within the year. Esther 4:1 –

When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly.

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Part of this was a public display against the orders of the king, but most of it was probably genuine grief. He’s going to die. All of his loved ones are going to die. All of the people of his faith are going to die. Verse 2,

But he went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it.

Apparently they had some sort of dress code and Mordecai was not allowed inside. Verse 3,

In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.

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All of the Jewish people are scared, mourning, praying, crying. Mordecai sends a message to Esther, who’s protected inside the palace. Mordecai tells Esther to go to the king and beg for mercy for the Jews.
This is a terrifying request to Esther. As queen, Esther did not have a husband/wife relationship like we understand it today. Esther was a servant of the king, and she could only appear to him when summoned. The law was strict – if you crash the king’s party, you die. There was a possibility that the king could hold out his golden scepter and your life would be spared. But whatever relationship Esther and the king had, it was not currently in the best of conditions. Esther had not been summoned by the king for 30 days. She was certain that to appear before the king would mean her death.

How do we understand God, who created us and everything we see? Do we decide who He is, and then assume God will do our will? Or do we decide to be obedient and try to understand what God wants? Do we stay safe, keep silent, avoid taking risks? Or do we try to be obedient?

Fear not. God’s got this. God’s will be done, whether we obey or not. We can choose to participate, be a spectator, or deny Him altogether, but we cannot thwart God’s will. God sees history all at once, past, present and future. God creates us for a purpose and plants us right where we are. Your job, your family, your pretty face, your intelligent brain, your feelings, your money, your talents have all come together for this one instant, this one instant that will never occur again. In another minute, in another hour, this moment will have passed.

Mordecai knows all this. Esther is exactly where God put her. God removed Vashti and placed Esther as queen. She had every resource she needed to do God’s will. But will she do it? Will she risk everything given to her to do what God wants her to do? God had given Esther so much. God gave her external beauty, and it was her beauty that gave her and her alone access to the king. Would she put her beauty on the line and risk death? God gave her position – she was queen and had access like nobody else. Would she put her position as queen on the line and risk death? Esther also had her inner beauty and love for her people. Most important, Esther had the entire kingdom of heaven behind her. She had everything she needed, but would she risk it, or would fear hold her back?

Mordecai delivers at this point one of the most memorable lines of the bible. He tells Esther that God will accomplish His purpose, nothing she does or does not do will change that fact. If Esther will not do it, the God will save His chosen people another way. Esther’s choice is whether she is going to participate in God’s plan and realize that her entire being, her beauty and position, was orchestrated by God, and God will accomplish His will through His obedient people. Mordecai also tells her that if she’s trying to save her own skin, she’s probably going to lose that, too. She’s a Jew – if the Jews are eliminated, that includes her. She cannot save her own life. All she can do is choose to be obedient, or not.

Mordecai says in verse 13-14,

“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

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The entire purpose of Esther’s life had come to a point of decision. Her entire existence had a purpose. What was more important, being queen, or being the liberator of the Jews? God will not fail to keep His promises or fall short of His purposes, therefore, the deliverance of the Jews was certain. God had made Esther queen so that she could deliver His people. God places people exactly where they can serve Him.
And here’s how to be faithful, Esther’s response to Mordecai is equally as famous as his question in verses 15-16 –

Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

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“If I perish, I perish.” Jesus says that his follower should not store up for ourselves treasure on earth, and that includes our very lives. And Jesus also says not to fear the ones who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Jesus holds our soul in the very palm of His hand, and nobody can snatch us away. As Christians, we are free of death so that we may live, and Esther’s response to the fear of losing her life is perfect. If I perish, I perish.

VII. Scene 5, Esther 5. Rise of the Queen

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Despite the decrees of the land and the fear of death, Esther dresses in her finest royal robes and enters the inner court of the palace in front of the king’s hall. And much to Esther’s surprise, the king is glad to see her. King Xerxes holds out his golden scepter, and Queen Esther approaches. And the king says, “Are you wearing a crown? That is so cool.”

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No seriously, he is so pleased to see her, the King tells Esther to ask for anything, and the king will give it to her.

Queen Esther bats her long lashes at Xerxes – actually, that part isn’t in scripture, but it’s easy to imagine it being true. She bats her eyes at Xerxes and says, “Would you like to come over to dinner tonight? I’d like to ask my favor of you over a nice candlelight dinner. Just you and me…. And Haman?”

And the king I’m sure is like, what? Haman? Sure. Why not. Let’s have dinner tonight. Somebody fetch Haman.

Haman’s should be having a good day. Scripture says in the latter half of Esther 5 that as soon as Haman sees Mordecai at the King’s gate, still sitting in sackcloth and ashes because of that dress code, Mordecai doesn’t rise for Haman, doesn’t bow to Haman, isn’t afraid of Haman. And Haman is filled with rage. And he is still filled with rage when he gets home.

Haman’s family and friends are there and Haman gets the invitation to the queen’s banquet. And Haman starts bragging. Look at all my wealth. Look at all my power. And I am the only person invited to have dinner with the King and Queen. But while Mordecai defies me, I will never be happy.

Haman’s wife says, just ask the king to hang him. You’re buddies, he’ll do that for you, right? And Haman smiles a wicked smile.

Haman erects a huge pole outside his house. Verse 14 days it’s 75 feet tall, and that’s like twice the size of a Texas pine tree and even bigger than the egos of most politicians! I mean, it’s huuuge. And when the king tells Haman it’s ok to hang Mordecai, he’s going to hang Mordecai high on this pole outside of his own house.

VIII. Scene 6, Esther 6. A Sleepless Night.

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Scene 6 opens with the King unable to sleep. I like to think the King is excited about his upcoming dinner date with his queen, Esther. And Haman. Apparently attendant-guy or somebody like him writes down everything that happens in the king’s life. Kind of like keeping a diary, but somebody else fills in the pages for you.

Do you remember all the way back to Scene 2 where Mordecai overheard about the plot to assassinate the king? The king is reading his own diary like it’s some sort of murder mystery novel and reads about this guy who saved his life. And the king says, did we give this guy a gold medal or something for saving my life? And attendant-guy says, nope. We didn’t do diddly squat for him. Diddly squat is the ancient Hebrew.

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So the king says, I need some ideas on how to honor this guy Mordecai. Who’s hanging around in the lobby? Haman, bring him in. Hey Haman, if I wanted to give somebody some special recognition, what do you think I should do?

And Haman thinks, “Wow, the king is thinking about me.” And Haman says, “A parade! A parade with horses and a special robe and trumpets and stuff!” And the king says, “Great idea! Haman, go get a fancy robe and throw a parade for Mordecai!”

And Haman does what the king says, but you know it just rotted his socks to put a fancy robe on Mordecai and parade him around the city. And after the parade, Haman rushes home and cries, I think. But he doesn’t get to cry long, the king’s eunuchs arrive to take Haman to that fancy schmancy dinner with the King and Esther.

End Scene 6.

IX. Scene 7, Esther 7. The Dark Side Destroyed.

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Scene 7, the banquet. The king is there. The queen is there, batting her eyes. Haman is there, grumpy from the parade he had to throw for Mordecai.

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The king and queen gaze longingly into each other’s eyes. And the king says, have you thought about what sort of present you would like?
Esther says, “There is a decree that all my people will be killed. Every one of us! Please spare me!”

Then verses 5&6, I think the King had no idea that there was a decree that would kill all the Jews,

King Xerxes asked Queen Esther, “Who is he? Where is he—the man who has dared to do such a thing?”
Esther said, “An adversary and enemy! This vile Haman!”

The king immediately has Haman arrested, and then attendant-guy says, you know, there’s this huge pole, taller than two Texas pine trees, just outside of Haman’s house. Verse 9b-10,

The king said, “Impale him on it!” So they impaled Haman on the pole he had set up for Mordecai. Then the king’s fury subsided.

X. Scene 8, Esther 8-10. They All Lived Happily Ever After. The End.

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Scene 8, they all lived happily ever after. The king gave Esther everything that Haman owned, Mordecai was given a place in the palace, and Haman’s order to destroy the Jews was revoked. The feast of Purim was established to memorialize the Jews rescued from certain death and destruction.

Even though God was not mentioned in the book of Esther, God’s hand was evident in the saving of His people. Even in captivity in a foreign land, God protected His people.

We, too, are protected, though we live in a foreign land. 1 Peter 2:11 calls Christians “foreigners and exiles” as we live in our pagan society. But God has not abandoned us here. His protection surrounds us, and God asks us to trust in Him for that protection.

And there’s still a huge pole that’s been erected, taller than two Texas pine trees, that saves us and destroys the enemy. Christ hangs upon that tree, defeating death and taking on our sins so that one day we too, live in eternity, happily ever after.

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The End. Or should I say, It is Finished.

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To God be the glory.

A Kingdom Parable

 

Introduction and Background

 

We have traveled together so far this year together, studying the bible chronologically.   From the creation of man and the fall from Eden, to God’s promises to Abraham to make him a great nation.   Jacob moved his family to Egypt after a famine, then the Israelites grew to over 2 million people and then escaped from Egypt through the Red Sea to the promised land. From the first king of Israel to the many kings that led to the divided kingdom.

Through it all, God is faithful. When God brought the Israelites into the Promised Land like God promised He would, God gave warned them not to get complacent. God tells them in Deuteronomy 6:10-19 and 8:11-20 about the dangers of ingratitude and taking credit for their own prosperity. God has provided a land of milk and honey, and the Israelites are not to say, “we did this ourselves; we don’t need God.”

God’s next promises to the Israelites are conditional – if you do these good things, I will bless you. If you do those bad things, I will curse you. Through these blessings and curses, God will guide Israel. But the most dire curse God gives to the Israelites is in Deuteronomy 28:58 & 63 –

If you do not carefully follow all the words of this law, which are written in this book, and do not revere this glorious and awesome name—the Lord your God …

…Just as it pleased the Lord to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you. You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess.

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God is not to be trifled with. He provides blessings, and He is owed thanks and praise. All too often, His gifts are met with a dismissal from us – as if we don’t need God. And in every instance I could think of in the bible, God provides His blessings first, and then only removes those blessings when His people say they don’t need Him.

God’s Kingdom was supposed to consist of His covenant people, the nation of Israel, following Him as God and King. But the people of Israel basically told God they didn’t need Him, and each generation repeated the blasphemy.

In 722 BC, the Assyrians arrive in Israel and drive the Israelites out. Then a few decades later, King Hezekiah, one of the good kings of Judah, brought the people back to worship the Lord, and God rescued Judah by killing 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in 2 Kings 19:35.

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The Assyrian empire began to weaken and retreated from Jerusalem. Their strongest rival was the Babylonian empire, and King Hezekiah foolishly invited the Babylonians to come and visit, to see King Hezekiah’s weaponry and wealth in Jerusalem. Perhaps Hezekiah wanted to show off, or perhaps he was trying to gain favor with the Babylonians and make an alliance with them. Either way, God was unhappy with Hezekiah for making political alliances based on his own wisdom. God’s expectation was that a king in Israel or Judah would follow the Lord and rely on Him for protection.

1 Kings 20 tells us that God sent the prophet Isaiah to explain to Hezekiah that at some time in the future, his descendants would be taken into Babylonian exile along with all the valuable items from the temple. Years later when Jehoiakim was the king of Judah, the Babylonians forced Judah to make an alliance with Babylon, and the Babylonians took hostages from the nobility of Judah. In 598 BC, Jehoiakim tried to rebel against the Babylonians, but he was killed and his son Jehoiachin became king of Judah.

I pause here for a moment to remind all of you that pronouncing bible names isn’t easy, and Hebrew is not my native language. Here is how the name of Jehoiakim’s son is spelled:

Jehoachin

And here is how it is pronounced apparently:

https://biblespeak.org/jehoiachin-pronunciation/

I don’t get it, but I’ll pronounce it “Jeh HO ash” even if it doesn’t look like that to me.   Which is confusing, because there is a completely different king in the kingdom of Israel named Jehoash who has nothing to do with our study today.

Where was I?   Oh yes.

So Jehoiachin, “sorry Jeh HO ash”, did not listen to the prophet Jeremiah nor trust in the Lord, so he tried to make an alliance with Egypt to fight against the Babylonians.   That alliance did not work, and after three months Jehoiachin and many other people from Judah were taken into exile to Babylon along with many of the treasures of the temple. Within 10 years, the city of Jerusalem was torn down and burned, and almost all of Judah’s remaining inhabitants were taken into exile to Babylon in accordance with Isaiah’s prophecies.

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So now in our scripture for today, it’s 605 BC, and what’s left of Judah has been banished to the banks of the Kebar River in Babylon. A young priest named Ezekiel who was taken in the second wave of exiles under king Jehoiachin, “sorry Jeh HO ash”, is preaching the word.

This young priest, Ezekiel, who has obviously a much easier name to pronounce, sees a vision of God and all His glory. He sees clouds of lightning, living creatures with four faces and four wings, he sees wheels within wheels. And God called Ezekiel to be a prophet and speak the word of God.

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And so he did.   And the elders of what remained of Jerusalem found Ezekiel’s message to be religious entertainment and paid no heed.

Which brings us to today’s scriptures. The Lord God gave Ezekiel parables of actions to motivate Jerusalem to think about God’s truth. In 3 messages, Ezekiel speaks about a vine, an unfaithful wife, and a tree to convey God’s truth to those who truly wanted to understand. The people, sitting in banishment on the shores of a river in Babylon, were claiming that God had rejected His own people and God was breaking His own covenant. But through God’s parables, Ezekiel tells the people of Jerusalem how God sees them, and we’re going to focus just on the second parable, God sees Judah as God’s own adulterous wife.   Here’s our outline for today –

        • Helpless, Ezekiel 16:3-5
        • Honor, Ezekiel 16:6-14
        • Harlotry, Ezekiel 16:15-52
        • Hope, Ezekiel 16:53-63

 

Helpless, Ezekiel 16:3-5

 

In God’s eyes, He sees the people of Israel as helpless, Ezekiel 16:3-5 –

‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says to Jerusalem: Your ancestry and birth were in the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised.

(Ezekiel 16:3-5, Chronological Bible, August 19, p.1088)

Ezekiel reminds Jerusalem where they came from. Their history is ugly. Instead of being God’s pure people after the flood, Noah’s son Ham intermingled and became father of the Canaanites. Intermarrying with the Canaanites and worshiping their gods has corrupted Israel.   Israel has proved, by their immorality and idol worship, that they are no different from the Canaanites.   Nothing about Jerusalem as a city or the people that live there is attractive to God.

If I am going to be honest, nothing about me was attractive to God before I came to know Christ. I was the product of a broken home when my parents divorced when I was 17. Later, despite my good intentions, I myself went through divorce. In my college years I was maybe agnostic, thinking that if God existed he probably gave the world a spin and then sat back to watch what happened. It wasn’t until I was 40 that I realized how involved God had always been in my life.

Even before I was born, my family history isn’t pretty. I grew up as a Roman Catholic, yet I have a German last name. Germans aren’t Catholic, why was my family?   Turns out my Great Grandmother is Irish and a Roman Catholic. She married a German boy who may have been Lutheran, and I don’t know because his brother was so mad that his brother had married a Roman Catholic that he killed my Great Grandfather. So my Great Grandmother emigrated to the United States as a pregnant Irish widow and gave birth to my grandfather with the German surname.

My history is ugly.   I don’t know each and every one of you, but I’d be surprised if there weren’t sordid stories in your family.   It’s just who we are. We are helpless, and we are ugly in God’s eye.   Our umbilical cord with our family history was not cut, there was no reason to show us compassion, and if we are honest, because we were born with a sin nature that traces all the way back to Adam and Eve, on the day that we were born, we, too, were helpless and despised.

 

Honor, Ezekiel 16:6-14

 

And yet, God loved us anyway. Not because we were free of blemish, or because we were such great people, or had great potential. Not because of anything we did or anything we were. God loved us because of who He is. He loved us, despite the fact we were unlovable. God felt the same way about Jerusalem.

Jerusalem had soiled herself with disobedience, yet God loved her and put her in a position of honor. Verse 6-8 –

“‘Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!” I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew and developed and entered puberty. Your breasts had formed and your hair had grown, yet you were stark naked.

 “‘Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.’”

God chose her.   God cared for her, dressed her, adorned her, loved her. Look at all the ways God describes Jerusalem and her people in Ezekiel 16:6-14 –

      • Vs. 7, “I made you thrive like a plant of the field.”
      • Vs. 8, “Yes, I … entered into a covenant with you so that you became Mine,”
      • Vs. 9, “I washed you with water, washed off the blood from you and I anointed you with oil.”
      • Vs. 10, “I also clothed you….wrapped you….covered you….”
      • Vs. 11, “I adorned you with ornaments and jewelry.”
      • Vs. 12, “I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head,”
      • Vs. 13, “You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen.”
      • Vs. 14, “Because of the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect.”

God saw the good in Jerusalem despite her helplessness. He removed her helplessness and replaced it with honor.   Jerusalem was blessed and lacked nothing.

Ezekiel preaches that the people of Israel and Judah were completely dependent on God for their protection and provision. Every good and perfect thing that they experienced was the result of God’s generosity.

And I look at our great nation where we live in more comfort, prosperity, and wealth than any other population in the history of the world. And yet, we as a nation assume that our success and our comfort comes from our hard work, our intelligence, our character. But James 1:17 reminds us that

“every good and perfect gift is from above”

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Our very lives are dependent upon the generosity of God. We are called to live in a state of thankfulness and reverent worship toward God because He has provided us with every good thing in our lives. On top of that, every one of us was in the same situation as the baby in Ezekiel’s metaphor. We were left on the side of the road, cared for by no one, wallowing in our own blood and filth because of our sin.

And despite my family history and sordid generations, God gave me everything because He loved me. And I thought He didn’t care, I thought God was absent. Going to college, I relied on my intellect and wisdom to get a degree and a job, never once considering that God had given me the intellect in the first place. All God asked of me was to glorify Him for the gifts He had given, but I thanked myself for where I was in life.

 

Harlotry, Ezekiel 16:15-52

 

Jerusalem did no less. Wallowing on the banks of the river, taking credit for every good thing and blaming God for every bad thing, Jerusalem turned from God, despite all the beautiful ways God felt about her. Jerusalem worshipped other gods, engaged in spiritual idolatry and adultery. Look at verse 15-17, this is how Jerusalem treated God after all His goodness –

“‘But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute. You lavished your favors on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his. You took some of your garments to make gaudy high places, where you carried on your prostitution. You went to him, and he possessed your beauty. You also took the fine jewelry I gave you, the jewelry made of my gold and silver, and you made for yourself male idols and engaged in prostitution with them.

I think there are some words bible study teachers shouldn’t say in bible study class, and if there was a list of such words, I’m pretty sure “prostitute” and “whore” would be on that list. I’m double sure I’m also not supposed to use any illustrations for this PowerPoint either. But there’s no easy way to avoid these words, and they are, in fact, God’s words, so just bear with me for this section while we discuss the harlotry of Jerusalem.

God is the source of all things good. When we give credit to ourselves or to somebody else other than God, we are not acknowledging God’s provisions. Our entire purpose in life is to know God and make God known. And any credit we give to anything or anyone else but God is spiritual adultery. Here is how Jerusalem treated God after all He had done for her –

      • Vs. 15-19. She takes all that God has given to her and uses those things to make images to other gods for worship.

When I think back at the Ten Commandments with it’s “Thou shall not murder” and “Thou shall not steal,” I think it’s too easy to skip over rule number 1 from Exodus 20:1-6 –

And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. 

      • Vs. 20-22. She offers the fruit of her womb to the deities of pagan nations.

In other words, she raises her children without regard to God. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard in movies or in person from a young couple, “oh, we don’t raise him/her in any particular religion, we want them to be open-minded and to make their own choice.” I think that’s a form of child abuse, not to tell them that everything they have and everything they are comes from the Lord.

      • Vs. 23-30. She builds idols throughout her land and beckons the nations around her to enter her land.

God responds to this by describing her heart as ‘degenerate’. Jerusalem wasn’t following God’s laws, and she invited nations to bring their gods and their cultures into God’s land, and God considered this another form of adultery.

      • Vs. 31-35. Not only does she give herself away cheaply to the nations around her, but she hires them to come to her as lovers.

In Ezekiel’s metaphor, the young woman, Jerusalem, enjoyed the fame and attention that she received from the rest of the world, and she decided to make herself a prostitute to all the men who gave her attention. God had saved Israel from a life of death and prostitution, He provided for her, He made her beautiful, He chose her as His bride, but she responded by making herself a prostitute. God says that Israel prostituted herself to the Canaanites, Egyptians, Assyrians, and the Babylonians. And not only is she prostituting herself, unlike most prostitutes, Jerusalem is paying her lovers and not the other way around.

What is God talking about in this metaphor? He is talking about the worship of other gods.   God made Himself clear to the people of Israel, but they effectively prostituted themselves to the other nations of the world by worshiping their gods and asking for their approval and protection. The people of Israel showed that they were insecure, impressionable, and unfaithful by rejecting the Lord and worshiping these other gods.   They would pay lip service to the Lord, but then they would completely ignore His commandments and turn their backs on Him by indulging in the worship and recognition of false idols and gods of other nations. Ezekiel’s metaphor tells us that Israel, the dying baby rescued by the Lord, turned into a beautiful woman and then rejected her husband for the favors of much lesser men.

      • Vs. 36-41. She is abused by those whom she paid to protect her.

Jerusalem entered into agreements with other nations for protection instead of relying on the Lord.   Now those nations are abusing Jerusalem which would have never happened if Jerusalem had trusted in the Lord in the first place.

      • Vs. 42-43. She experiences the outpouring of anger from the One who had previously poured out love and blessing.

God’s love for Jerusalem has been taken for granted. Like any jealous lover, God’s patience for His adulterous wife leads to anger. God permits the Assyrians to take Israel into captivity, Judah is taken captive by the Babylonians, and still, Jerusalem participates in sexual sin, idol worship, and alliances with the nations around her. There is a limit to God’s patience and love before God’s wrath is revealed.

      • Vs. 51. The LORD reveals the root of Samaria and Sodom’s sin, and finds Jerusalem’s sin twice as bad: “Samaria did not commit half of your sins; but you have multiplied your abominations more than they.”

Ezekiel lists the sins of Samaria and Sodom illustrating that sexual sin and idol worship are symptoms of a root problem. Sodom had sexual immorality and pride and idleness, but Jerusalem piled on adultery and idol worship on top of that. The Lord God has every right to be angry. And if the Lord would destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, should He not destroy Jerusalem also?

 

Hope, Ezekiel 16:53-63

 

And that’s where all of us find ourselves.   Despite all of God’s gifts, His blessings, His love, His patience, we all turn to sin.   We all prostitute ourselves to manmade gods of our own making. John 8:44, Jesus says,

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

We oppose God, and any opposition to God is the same as worshipping the devil. Despite God’s love, we choose pride. And like Jerusalem the prostitute, God’s wrath burns against our sin.

But there is hope anyway. God, despite our failings, has plans for us, plans to give us hope and a future.   Though Jerusalem and her people broke their covenant with the Lord and were living in gross sin, sexual immorality and idol worship, God promises to make atonement for their sins. Ezekiel 16:59-60,63 –

“‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will deal with you as you deserve, because you have despised my oath by breaking the covenant. Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. …

Then, when I make atonement for you for all you have done, you will remember and be ashamed and never again open your mouth because of your humiliation, declares the Sovereign Lord.’”

God is gracious, even when we are not. It’s humbling to know how bad I have sinned against the Lord, yet there is no sin that can keep me from His love.

In spite of Judah’s prostitution and idolatry against God, and in spite of their exile into Babylon, God still promises that He will restore an everlasting covenant with His people. This covenant would help them forget their shame and pain, and it would lead them into a new era with their God.

Fortunately for the people of Judah, this exile in Babylon was temporary. In about 70 years, they would return to their homeland because of the Persian empire. While they were in exile, the people held on to the hope that if they followed God’s laws and stayed faithful to Him, that He would keep His promise and restore them to the covenant.

 

Conclusion

 

And fortunately for you and me, our exile, our relationship with our father the devil, is also only temporary, if we just accept the atonement God provided for us.   Not because we are great, but because God is.

Here’s our outline for today –

      • Helpless, Ezekiel 16:3-5
      • Honor, Ezekiel 16:6-14
      • Harlotry, Ezekiel 16:15-52
      • Hope, Ezekiel 16:53-63

But maybe we should be looking at Ezekiel’s message this way –

      • Helpless – when we are without God
      • Honor – we are made in God’s image
      • Harlotry – in our sin nature, we follow the devil
      • Hope – Christ died for us while we were still sinners

I want to finish with a message of hope for you and me. Despite my unbelief, despite by unworthy generational history, despite my sexual immorality and pride, God loves me and gave His son that I may live.   He no longer sees my adultery against Him; He sees the atonement in Jesus that He provided for me. All I have to do is accept it and believe that Jesus died for me. Ephesians 2:1-9 is probably the most beautiful message of hope for believers in Christ,

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

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It is amazing to me how much God loves us. To God be the glory.

A King Experiences Revival

Introduction

Fifty years ago seems like a very long time ago. Probably because fifty years ago is a long time ago.

Fifty years ago, I was 8 years old and had hobbies like eating green apples from our tree in the back yard in Wheaton Illinois, and collecting frogs from the nearby pond to keep in our bathroom tub because hey, I was an eight year old boy and the bathroom tub is one of the few places inside where one can start a frog farm.

I remember my father calling to me on one day to come watch television with him for a news special. Eight year old boys detest news specials, but my dad told me this one would be important and that I should remember where I was when I watched it. And I saw Neil Armstrong step on the moon.   Absolutely historical, and I do remember it. And then I remember going back to my frog farm because those frogs were quite the escape artists.

I’m certain there’s some sort of connection to our scripture today, but for the life of me I can’t remember what it is. Oh wait, here it is, 2 Chronicles 34:1-2 –

Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem.   And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in the ways of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. (Chronological Bible, pg. 960, July 29th)

No mention of frog farms in the family bathtub. So far.   At eight years old, Josiah was king of Judah.

We are nearing the end of the Divided Kingdom Era in our Chronological study of the bible, and Josiah is one of the few good kings that reigned in Judah.

Josiah became King of Judah at eight years old. He was not elected to be King, he was merely born into the bloodline of David, the bloodline of the Kingdom.

Israel had become a monarchy like all the other nations with the first three kings being Saul, David, and Solomon. Israel was united under these three kings, though with the death of Solomon, everything changed. The kingdom that was once united, became divided into the northern kingdom and the southern kingdom.

The northern kingdom retained the name Israel and had 10 of the 12 tribes of Abraham. The capital was Samaria. The southern kingdom was had the remaining 2 tribes and was called Judah, and the capital was Jerusalem.

Josiah was the King of Judah (the southern kingdom) at the age of eight years old. Judah had 20 different rulers, only eight of which were considered to be “good”. Josiah was the last of the eight “good” kings.

In looking at the summary of his life we see that Josiah was not just good, he was very special.

If you think about an eight-year-old boy becoming king and being known for doing “what was right in the sight of the Lord,” you might guess that he came from a great family background. That is not the case at all.

Josiah’s father and grandfather were some of the worst kings Judah had. Both were involved in child sacrifice as well as turning God’s people against God. His grandfather Manasseh who served as king for 55 years, did have a change of heart, but as it pertained to his influence as a king; it was too little, too late. His father, Amon served only two years before he was killed and never did have a change of heart. 2 Chronicles 33:23 –

And he (Amon) did not humble himself before the LORD, as his father Manasseh had humbled himself; but Amon trespassed more and more. Then his servants conspired against him and killed him in his own house.   (Chronological Bible, pg. 959-960, July 29th)

There was nothing about the leadership of Josiah’s father or grandfather that would have prepared Josiah to be a “good” king. Neither his father or grandfather were obedient to God; neither were humble in their role as king; neither embraced the Word and truth of God; neither led the people in worship or prayer towards God. Both were described as “evil in the sight of the Lord” in Scripture. And yet, Josiah somehow broke the cycle, even as a young boy king.

The scripture tells us of Josiah’s goodness, and his goodness came as a result of a desire to know God at a young age and by hearing the Word of God. There is power in the Word of God that should be embraced.   And one life, like yours or mine, committed to God can change a family, a neighborhood, a city and even a nation.

 

Realizing the Responsibility

The story of Josiah is a story of hope for all people of all ages. Even at a young age, Josiah realized the responsibility of being king. There was an opportunity to be different from those who had gone before him.   Even an 8-year-old boy knows the difference between right and wrong.

I’m certain that several in this this room could give testimony of what it is like to be brought up in a family that is not good or healthy or happy. Others may not have grown up in a Christ-centered family or home. And I can say almost positively without exception that each and every one of us, even well beyond the age of eight, made choices that were not in line with God’s Word and truth.

The hope of this story today is that our past does not define who we are in the present or who we will be in the future. If Josiah had let his past define him, he would have followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. If Josiah had let his past define him, he would have continued the sad tradition of leading God’s people away from God.   If Josiah had let his past define him, he would have settled for sad tradition rather than realizing the responsibility of change.

But Josiah realized the responsibility of being king. He wanted to be different from past generations. Though we don’t know much about his first several years of being king, we do know that at the age of 16 there was a radical change of direction.   2 Chronicles 34:3 –

For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young, he began to seek the God of his father David; and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the wooden images, the carved images, and the molded images. (Chronological Bible, pg. 960, July 29th)

The first part of verse 3 tells us that in his eighth year of being a king at the age of 16, Josiah did something that his father and grandfather never did.   Josiah began to seek the God of his father David. Of course, David was his great, great, great, multiple generations past grandfather.

But Josiah knew two things about David.   One, that David was a blood relative; two, David sought Yahweh, the one true God. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The God of the Covenant.

Josiah realized the responsibility as a descendant of David; the responsibility that he had as King of Judah and he broke the cycle of rebellion against God on a personal level. As a teenager, he sought God and began the process, as evidenced in the phrasing, “began to seek the God of his father David.”

Breaking the cycle did not happen overnight. Even though he was young, there was a stronghold in his family of radical rebellion against God to the point of sacrificing children and actively building altars to idols. Josiah wanted something different. He obviously had heard stories about David as King. But more importantly, he had heard stories about David’s relationship with God.

Josiah wanted a personal relationship with God, and it started with him choosing to seek God.   We do not know exactly how long that discovery process lasted or what he did in the process. More than likely the time was spent in prayer, seeking counsel from priests and from prophets of the day. We do know that four years later his relationship with God was so strong he acted very differently from his father and grandfather. He made choices as King that the people had not seen for generations.

 

Removing the Evil

2 Chronicles 34:3b –

“….and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the wooden images, the carved images, and the molded images. (Chronological Bible, pg. 960, July 29th)

At the age of 20, Josiah had been king for 12 years and his relationship with God was so strong and personal that he could no longer accept the false idols that his father and grandfather had built. He wanted to remove that which led the people away from God.

Purging Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the wooden images, the carved images, and the molded images are the first acts recorded of his kingship. Over this 12-year period there were certainly other things as well, but what is significant is that his desire to seek God at the age of 16 and the relationship that ensued led to this first true act as king. This was no easy task. The following verses go on to tell us he traveled as far north as Naphtali (North of Galilee) and as far south as Simeon and everywhere in between.     2 Chronicles 34:6-7 –

And so he did in the cities of Manasseh, Ephraim, and Simeon, as far as Naphtali and all around, with axes. When he had broken down the altars and the wooden images, had beaten the carved images into powder, and cut down all the incense altars throughout all the land of Israel, he returned to Jerusalem. (Chronological Bible, pg. 960, July 29th)

Removing the evil of his heritage was not easy, fast or popular. If you just take the leadership of his father and grandfather, you are looking at 57 years of evil in the sight of the Lord. 57 years of God’s people being led astray. Josiah felt so strongly about his relationship with God that he was willing to do whatever it took to “clean house”.

This process was intense and purposeful, going step by step to destroy each and every kind of altar regardless of what it was made of or how it was crafted.   2 Chronicles 34:4b –

“….he broke in pieces, and made dust of them and scattered it on the graves of those who had sacrificed to them.”

He broke them down to powder, making it completely impossible for anyone to put them back together. Josiah did not want to compromise at all. In modern-day terms, we would say he was “all in” with his relationship with God.

Josiah was not concerned about popularity as king, rather he was first and foremost concerned with his personal relationship with God and doing what would bring honor and glory to God. For Josiah that meant removing all evil from the land which God had entrusted to him.

Destroying the altars to the point of powder dust was a visual way of cleaning house and not leaving any sort of visual temptation to go back to the false gods and compromised leadership of his father and grandfather.   Josiah broke the chains of his past to set forth hope for his future and for the future of Israel.

His journey led him to rediscover the truth.

 

Rediscovering the Truth

2 Chronicles 34:8 –

In the eighteenth year of his reign (Josiah was 26 years old), when he had purged the land and the temple, he sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, Maaseiah the governor of the city, and Joah the son of Joahaz the recorder, to repair the house of the LORD his God. (Chronological Bible pg. 976, July 31st)

It had been 57 years since God’s people had been led by a godly leader. King Hezekiah was the last good King the southern kingdom of Judah had. The house of the Lord was in shambles. The feasts and festivals were ignored. The offerings and sacrifices were neglected. Josiah knew that it wasn’t enough to just remove the evil of the land, he knew that he had the responsibility to direct people to the Lord.   And that began with rediscovering the truth.

In the process of repairing the house of the Lord, they discovered the Book of the Law written by Moses. 2 Chronicles 34:15 –

Then Hilkiah answered and said to Shaphan the scribe, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the LORD.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan.   (Chronological Bible pg. 977, July 31st)

This was probably the Torah; the first five books of the Bible. This discovery of God’s Word was, in fact, the discovery of life-changing truth. The “book” had been completely and utterly buried beneath that which was intended to be a place of worship.

This discovery not only changed Josiah on a personal level, but it also changed a nation.   Notice what happened when Josiah heard the Word of God, 2 Chronicles 34:18 –

Then Shaphan the scribe told the king, saying, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king. Thus it happened, when the king heard the words of the Law, that he tore his clothes. (Chronological Bible pg. 977, July 31st)

The Word of God has always been a revelation of God. When King Josiah at the age of 26 heard the words of the Law he tore his clothes. In that culture tearing your clothes was a sign of humility and grieving. The King was the most powerful individual in all of Judah, but he was showing the ultimate humility by tearing his clothes.

Josiah realized what he had been missing. Josiah realized what the people of the nation had been missing. Josiah realized that in finding the Law, he had rediscovered the truth. Josiah realized that God was not only a God of mercy but also a God of justice. 2 Chronicles 34:21 –

“Go, inquire of the LORD for me, and for those who are left in Israel and Judah, concerning the words of the book that is found; for great is the wrath of the LORD that is poured out on us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the LORD, to do according to all that is written in this book.” (Chronological Bible pg. 977, July 31st)

God’s Word brings comfort but also conviction because there are consequences to choices. Josiah realized how far the nation had been led away from God’s Word. He was in a position to change what had been handed down to him. He had already broken the chains on a personal level, now it was time to break the chains of a nation, and it all began when he heard the Word of God.   Hebrews 4:12 –

For the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

The Word of God is the truth that penetrates the heart, even the heart of a king. Josiah would never be the same. This is a reminder of why we, as a church, have been challenged this year to read through the Bible chronologically; to rediscover God’s truth.

In no other time in history has the Word of God been more accessible than today, and yet we have buried it in our busyness. Biblical literacy in America is dwindling. People now prefer soundbites and snippets that can be absorbed in 10 seconds or less, but the bible cannot be understood in soundbites.

It may be hard for us to understand how the people in Josiah’s time could have lost the Law of Moses and then forgotten it in just two generations. However, written copies were scarce. Parents and the Levites conducted most biblical instruction orally. Only one generation separated the people from ignorance of God’s will. This has been true throughout history, and we see it becoming true again today.

The reading of God’s Word humbled Josiah to the point of repentance and revival. This discovery of God’s Word changed Josiah on a personal level, but it also changed a nation.

 

Reviving the People

Josiah did not want to keep the truth of God’s Word to himself.   He had a responsibility as King to share this truth with the nation.   2 Chronicles 34:29-33 –

Then the king sent and gathered all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. The king went up to the house of the LORD, with all the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem – the priests and the Levites, and all the people, great and small. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant which had been found in the house of the LORD.   Then the king stood in his place and made a covenant before the LORD, to follow the LORD, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant that were written in this book.   And he made all who were present in Jerusalem and Benjamin take a stand. So the inhabitants of Jerusalem did according to the covenant of God, the God of their fathers. Thus Josiah removed all the abominations from all the country that belonged to the children of Israel and made all who were present in Israel diligently serve the LORD their God. All his days they did not depart from following the LORD God of their fathers. (Chronological Bible pg. 980, August 1st)

Josiah led by example. Notice they were not merely following the words of an earthly king.   They were to follow the Word of God.   They were not ultimately following an earthly king. They were to “diligently serve” the LORD their God.

This revival both personally for Josiah and for the nation was not going to “just happen.”   There had to be purpose and determination. There was going to have to be sacrifices made both literally and figuratively. When Josiah became King, it had been 57 years since anyone had been challenged and led to observe a feast such as the Passover.   It had been 57 years since the Word of God had been read aloud. It had been 57 years since the people worshiped God publicly.

One man changed all of that. Josiah had been revived in his spirit by the reading of God’s Word to the point of action.   In 2 Chronicles 35:18-19 we are told of Josiah leading the nation to observe the Passover beyond what the people had ever experienced before.

There had been no Passover kept in Israel like that since the days of Samuel the prophet; and none of the kings of Israel had kept such a Passover as Josiah kept, with the priests and the Levites, all Judah and Israel who were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. In the eighteenth year of the reign of Josiah this Passover was kept. (Chronological Bible pg. 981, August 1st)

The Passover was to be kept each year by each generation. In the Book of the Law that Josiah had read, it says in Exodus 12:14 –

So this day shall be to you a memorial, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance.

The Passover had been neglected as had the Word of God, as had the temple, as had worship, prayer, offerings, and sacrifices. But Josiah reinstituted all of these things in accordance with Scripture.

Josiah led the nation of Israel into revival, starting with the reading of Scripture and continuing with putting into action what they had read, diligently serving the LORD God.

It all started when an eight-year-old boy became King. You never know how God is going to work in someone’s life.

 

Conclusion

This summer our church has seen young people make decisions to follow Christ at Beach Retreats and Vacation Bible School.

The benchmarks of Josiah’s life happened when he was 8 years old, 16 years old, 20 years old and 26 years old.

The benchmarks in the life of Moses and Abraham happened when they were 80 years old, 90 years old and 100 years old.   At any point in our life, we can either turn to God and make Him known to others, or we can spend our days doing the equivalent of wasting our time putting our metaphorical frogs in the bathtub.

Turn to God.   We are never too young or too old to trust in God, follow God, make a difference for God and lead others in doing the same.

Because of the leadership of Josiah, a nation was challenged to put God first without compromise. A nation was challenged to worship God unapologetically. A nation was challenged to diligently serve God regardless of circumstances.

God speaks through the written Word and communicates His character, man’s sin and the message of redemption and judgment. God acts to preserve the Word of God so that it is found by those who seek Him. God reveals the power of His Word to revive His People.

Whatever is in your past, whatever is in my past, don’t let it define our future. God’s Word is life-changing if we take the time to read, listen and apply the truth that is revealed. Every morning, put on the whole armor of God, and be a warrior for the Word and Truth.

To God be the glory.

Halleluiah, Praise the Lord!

Introduction

The last time I taught, it was from the Book of Jonah. I really enjoyed studying it, there is a plot, a life lesson, historical significance, miracles, and fishing lessons.

But Psalms is usually hard for me. I read today’s scripture and thought, “It’s a book about praise.  How am I going to find a complete lesson here?  There’s no plot, no life lesson, just praise.”

As usual, though, when I sit down to truly study the Word, I find out it’s not all about me.  I have to learn that lesson almost every week, and you’d think I’d catch on.  It’s never about me. It’s always about the Lord.

Today’s scripture is only 6 verses long. Not a single person is mentioned, no historical cities, no leaders or kings, no narrative, no character conflict. Let’s begin with a simple reading, and then, during our study today, we will see where we are led. Psalm 150, and let’s read it together:

1 Praise the Lord.

Praise God in his sanctuary;
   praise him in his mighty heavens.
2 Praise him for his acts of power;
   praise him for his surpassing greatness.
3 Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
   praise him with the harp and lyre,

4 praise him with timbrel and dancing,
   praise him with the strings and pipe,
5 praise him with the clash of cymbals,
   praise him with resounding cymbals.
6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.

This Psalm is the final Psalm in the book of Psalms. Psalms addresses our joys and our sorrows, our tears and our trials, our pains and our pleasures. Our life is full of difficulties that our Lord knows full well. Just like in the book of Revelation that tells us at the end of time we will all be praising the Lord, the book of Psalms ends with praise, because of and despite our joys and sorrows. Psalm 150 is the final Psalm, full of praise and hallelujahs, and inspires to mobilizes us and all of creation to praise the Lord God. It’s a crescendo, a peak, the final Psalm that implores us to give unreserved adoration, praise, gratitude, and awe.   There are no reasons given.   There are no reasons needed.

We have some luxury of time to spend in our chapter today since it’s only 6 verses, so we’re going to study each verse one by one, because I believe we have much to learn about praise from Psalm 150.

Psalm 150:1a, Praise the Lord

Let’s start with the verse 1, “Praise the Lord,” but let’s switch to Hebrew for a moment, because oddly enough we’re going to spend a lot of time just on the first word of this Psalm. The first word is “הַלְלוּ יָהּ”and I understand if you don’t recognize it at first, but you will. It’s made up of two parts –

      • הָלַל, pronounced “halal.” This is a verb which means “praise”, but it has several other meanings that illustrate what praise is. It also means to shine, to flash forth light, to be boastful, and to act madly like a fool. In other words, go all out, give it everything you have.
      • יָהּ, pronounced “Yahh.”       This is a contraction, a shortened version of “Jehovah,” the proper name of the one true God, the name revealed to Moses at the burning bush.

If we put these two words together, it means “praise the Lord,” just like we read from Psalm 150:1.   But let’s pronounce the Hebrew words and see if you recognize it. “Halal Yahh”. That’s right, the word is Halleluiah.

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Halleluiah, praise the Lord madly with all abandon, with everything we have. Halleluiah, for the Lord God is on His throne.   Halleluiah, for the Lord God reigns forever and ever. This phrase “Halleluiah” is used only 24 times in the Old Testament and they are all in the book of Psalms 104-150, and two of those Halleluiahs are in our study verses for today. And “halleluiah” is used three times in the New Testament, all in Revelation 19, and we’ll get to that in a little while. And “halleluiah” is used 145 times in Handel’s Messiah.

One of those translations of “halal” was to shine, to flash forth light. When Diane and I were first married, we took a honeymoon trip that included a day trip to an unusual place. My outfit that day was a swimsuit, hiking boots, a hardhat, an inner tube, and a flashlight. Sadly, I have no pictures of that outfit.

We put the hiking boots and flashlight in a plastic bag, then sat in the innertube and floated down a river that entered the mouth of a cave. We exited the river, put on our hiking boots, hardhat and flashlight, and hiked into the cave.

Deep in the cave, we entered a large cavern, and the guide had all of us turn our flashlights off.   I’ve never been in such pitch-black darkness. The phrase “can’t see my hand in front of my face” was literally true. There was nothing.

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Genesis 1, “And God said, ‘Let there be light’”. The guide turned on his flashlight and it was blinding. And wherever the flashlight shone, that’s where you looked, because you could not see if you looked anywhere else.

Halleluiah, shine a light on the Lord, fix our eyes on our Creator, for He alone is worthy.   Halleluiah, praise the Lord.   Even if our circumstances are pitch-black, praise the Lord and shine our light on Him. Shine a light on the One who created light. Shine a light on the One who will never leave you or forsake you. Shine a light on the One who knew you in your mother’s womb. Halleluiah, praise the Lord.

So here I am, thinking I’m going to have trouble putting together a lesson from the book of Psalms, and 10 minutes into the lesson and we’re not even past the first word.   Halleluiah, the Lord God provides according to His mercies. Let us move on to the second word because at this rate this is a 2 hour lesson.

Psalm 150:1b, Praise Him in His Sanctuary

Verse 1,

Praise God in his sanctuary;

   praise him in his mighty heavens.

After the “Halleluiah,” each verse begins with a command, an imperative, to “Praise Him” for very specific things, beginning with His sanctuary and His mighty heavens.

His sanctuary then (and now!) was a specific place of worship that people could go to praise the LORD with other people. It was a corporate place of worship. They would hear scripture read from the scrolls, they would offer sacrifices and offerings. They would sing songs and pray. They came together as a community of believers to worship and praise God, not unlike what we do today in churches around the world.

The church is a place where we shine a light on the LORD. Sometimes I hear people might complain about a church, “Oh, I didn’t get anything from that sermon,” and we’re missing the point. It’s not about us. We gather to shine our light on the Lord.

We do it through bible study classes, we do it through worship services with choirs and orchestras and praise teams leading us in songs. We do it through the preaching of the bible. We do it through the giving of tithes and offerings.   We do it through baptism. We do it through prayer. We do it through coming forward to join the church to be part of this particular community of believers at this church. Each weekend when we come to this place for worship and bible study, we are living out Psalm 150:1.

But the next verse says to Praise the LORD in “His mighty heavens.” Other translations say “mighty expanse” or “mighty firmament.”   When we started this journey this year of studying the bible chronologically, we started with Genesis 1:1,

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

God created everything we see when you look up into the sky. The sun, the moon, the stars; the vastness of the universe. God also created what you see when you look around and down at the earth. The mountains, the trees, the flowers, the plants, the animals, the oceans, the ground, the vastness of planet earth.   We are to shine a light on the LORD both in His sanctuary and in the vastness of creation.

David said it best in Psalm 8:1-3,

Lord, our Lord,
   how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
   in the heavens.

When I consider your heavens,
   the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
   which you have set in place.

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I love the ocean and the beach, it is spectacular. The vastness of the water, the unrelenting waves, the movement of ocean as it comes up to the sand on the beach and then recedes.

I also love the mountains, how they reach up to the heavens as far as I can see.

I love the plains of Texas, the flatness merging into the hill country. I love summer nights in west Texas where the sky is so black and you can see the milky way and the billions of stars and the moon and even some planets that can be seen with the naked eye. David knew this was a great opportunity for us to consider the Heavens of God, the work of His fingers that He has set in place.

Psalm 150:2, Praise Him for His Power

The first verse of Psalm 150 tells us where to Praise Him – in church and everywhere – and then the second verse tells us what to praise Him for.

Praise him for his acts of power;

   praise him for his surpassing greatness.

Praise Him for His mighty acts, which we saw over and over in the Old Testament. His mighty acts go far beyond just speaking the world into existence.

The mighty acts of God are not based on size or spectacular grandeur. The flood was definitely a mighty act. But the mighty act of the water receding and a rainbow in the sky to mark a covenant never to flood the earth again was a mighty act greater than the flood itself.

Taking a man named Abram who could not have a child with his wife Sara and making a covenant with him that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars was the beginning of a mighty act. Abram’s name was changed to Abraham and He became not only a Father of a Nation, but the Patriarch of all Patriarchs. God would forever be known as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; 3 generations that began with a mighty act of God.

The 10 plagues of the Exodus Era were mighty acts of God that even Pharaoh couldn’t deny.   The parting of the Red Sea was a mighty act. The Lord broke down the walls of Jericho, gave water from the rock through Moses, delivered Daniel from the lion’s den, brought down fire on Elijah’s sacrifice, and sent chariots of fire to protect Elisha. And God provides rain from heaven and our daily bread and even the very air we breathe.

But we know the mightiest act of all was God sending His only Son, Jesus Christ to live a perfect, sinless life on this earth as a human being. Jesus gave His life on the cross, crucified to death for our sin, buried in a tomb. And then three days later Jesus rises from the dead, conquering sin and death. And He did this so that all who believe in Him would have eternal life. The death and resurrection of Jesus was the mighty act of God based on His love for us. It is a mighty act when God takes sinful, rebellious, complacent people and saves them unto Himself.

Beyond the mighty acts of what God has done, we are to Praise Him for His “excellent greatness.”

Sometimes we can be so focused on the acts of God, we forget about the character of God.

The excellent greatness of God is unsurpassed. We Praise Him for His sovereignty, His unchanging nature, His omniscience, His omnipotence, His omnipresence, His power, His grace, His mercy, His goodness, His kindness, His holiness, His faithfulness, His justice, His wisdom, and on and on and on.

He is great because He rules as sovereign over the universe. He is so sovereign that He can give people free choices and still retain full sovereignty. He is good; in fact, He is the good of the universe.   He is wise; His wisdom is so high that no one can even grasp His thoughts. He is merciful and just, kind and loving, gracious and tender, yet at the same time holy, just, and the judge of all humanity. His “excellent greatness” deserves praise from all His creation. There is nothing and no one that compares to God’s greatness.   David summed it up this way in Psalm 40:5 –

Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders which You have done, And Your thoughts toward us; There is none to compare with You. If I would declare and speak of them, they would be too numerous to count.

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Sometimes in our lives, our prayers, our thoughts we tend to focus on what God wants us to do and what we want God to do. Psalm 150 calls us to praise Him regardless, just because of who He is.

We have looked at where to praise, what to Praise, and now let’s look at how to praise in verse 3.

Psalm 150:3-5, Praise Him with Music

Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,

   praise him with the harp and lyre,

praise him with timbrel and dancing,

   praise him with the strings and pipe,

praise him with the clash of cymbals,

   praise him with resounding cymbals.

Throughout scripture, music is an integral part of praise and worship. When Moses and the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, the first thing that they did was sing a song, Exodus 15:1-2 –

Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to the LORD, and spoke, saying: “I will sing to the LORD, For He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea! The LORD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation; He is my God, and I will praise Him; My father’s God, and I will exalt Him.

 

Slide15.JPGMany times, in the Psalms it says to sing to the Lord, though in Psalm 150 it is all about the instruments. Trumpet, lute, harp, tambourine, stringed instruments, flutes, and cymbals. I like to think the euphonium would be included.

The musical instruments listed also had historical significance and carried memories, devotion and purpose. For instance, trumpets announced sacrifices in Jerusalem. Trumpets called people to worship. Trumpets announced the entrance of a King.

The tambourine and dance were a celebration of joy. Dancing to the tambourine was a way to celebrate the freedom, joy and happiness of who the Lord is and what He has done.

The cymbals are a sign of exaltation. It is like an exclamation point. The cymbals are even listed twice in verse 5.

Ultimately, praise is not about the instruments, it is about the heart. It is an expression of what is going on in your heart, mind, soul and spirit. Some people praise the Lord through song, through instruments, through writing, through artwork, through serving others, through prayer; there are countless ways to Praise the LORD.

Psalm 150:6, Let Everyone Praise Him

So far, we have seen where to Praise, what to Praise, how to Praise and finally, now we are going to see who does the praising in verse 6.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.

If you are breathing, praise the LORD.

Regardless of circumstances, relationships, achievements, bank accounts, or anything else that would be temporary, praise the Lord.

Praise is the attribute of God’s people, but praise is the responsibility of every created being in the universe. God is seeking worshipers who will “worship Him in spirit and in truth.” God calls all nations to praise Him and to look to Him for their salvation. He is worthy of the praises of all people everywhere. When the apostle Paul defends his missionary ministry to the Gentiles in Romans 15:11, he quotes Psalm 117:1 to demonstrate that God is seeking praise from all nations.

“And again: ‘Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles Laud Him, all you peoples,’”

One motive for missionary trips is to bring praise to God from all the nations. Praise from every nation will come to pass; John’s vision in the book of the Revelation 5:9 reveals a song sung by people redeemed “out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” They join with the angels and the elders in Revelation 5:12 to sing heaven’s sweetest song:

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.”

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God created everything to bring Him praise and commands everything that has breath to praise Him. One day Balaam’s donkey will praise the LORD; one day the great fish who swallowed Jonah will praise the LORD; one day the lions who refused to eat Daniel will praise the LORD. In fact, in Revelation 5:13, John writes,

“And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: ‘Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever’.”

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Conclusion

Psalm 150 ends just as it began: “Hallelujah.” Praise the Lord. Ten times we are commanded to praise Him who sits upon the throne. Praise Him all the time and everywhere and with all we have.   God alone is worthy of this praise.

I learned a lot from Psalm 150 today. I’ve learned to embrace the beauty and the imperative of praising my Creator.   There is beauty found in this simplicity. This Psalm is absolutely timeless and a great reminder that whatever we are going through today, this Psalm comes at the right time. Whatever challenges we might have personally or with a family member, this Psalm comes at the right time. If we are having difficulty at work or perhaps finding a job, this Psalm comes at the right time. If we are one of the few where everything is going exactly right in your life on every level without a care in the world, this Psalm comes at the right time.   Halleluiah, praise the Lord.

We end today’s study in Revelation 19:6-7a, the only place in the New Testament that uses the word Halleluiah:

Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:
“Hallelujah!
   For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad
   and give him glory!

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Amen and Halleluiah, praise the Lord almighty.

To God be the glory.

The Story of Jonah

I. Introduction

The Book of Jonah is one of the most famous bible stories. Children learn it, atheists scoff at it.  The basic story is well-known – Jonah is on a ship, gets tossed overboard, then he is swallowed by a whale where Jonah lives for 3 days, then the whale spits him out. Lots of lessons can be learned from the book of Jonah, including obedience… and fishing, but after spending the week studying the book of Jonah, I came away with a different lesson I’d like to share with you.

But first, we’re going to correct whatever misconceptions you may have about Jonah and the Whale because we’re not going to study the children’s fairy tale, we’re going to study scripture.

II. Jonah

Jonah is the fifth minor prophet in our bible and the book is almost completely a narrative, a story. Jonah lived after Elijah and Elisha and we are first introduced to him in 2 Kings 14:25. King Jeraboam did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and Jonah was his prophet.

Slide2.JPGThen we get to the book of Jonah that’s unique because, even though Jonah was a prophet, there are no prophecies in the book of Jonah. Just a story. But an important story, because Lord Jesus affirms that Jonah was a prophet and spent 3 days in the belly of a great fish.

And then…

III. Jonah 1 – Running from God

Jonah 1:1-3,

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.

In Jonah chapter 1, Jonah attempts to flee from the Lord. I thought it odd that he’s physically fleeing from the Lord, as though Jehovah is only the God of Israel and not the rest of the world.

Jonah is comfortably at home when God speaks in his hometown of Gath Hepher in the region of Galilee. The LORD speaks to Jonah abruptly – the book opens with the Hebrew word for “Now” even though many translations omit it. God wants Jonah to go 550 miles to Nineveh preach “against” some of the most vicious people on earth. How vicious?

There are historical records from the kings of Nineveh that kings boasted of their atrocities – I pulled up an ancient stone relief from the British museum showing two Ninevite soldiers erecting a stake with an impaled, naked man on it. And here’s some translations from Ninevite records from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, and I’m not even going to read the worst –

“I flayed as many nobles as had rebelled against me and draped their skins over the pile of corpses; some I spread out within the pile, some I erected on stakes upon the pile … I captured soldiers alive erected them on stakes before their cities. … I flayed many right through my land and draped their skins over the walls.” … I cut off the heads of their fighters and built with them a tower before their city. I burnt their adolescent boys and girls.”

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So Nineveh was beyond nasty. It was evil. And Jonah wasn’t being asked just to go down to Nineveh and start a ministry, the Lord told Jonah to preach “against” them.

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Jonah immediately arose as the Lord commanded, but that’s about as far as his obedience went. Jonah went to the nearby town of Joppa and found a ship headed 2500 miles in the opposite direction. Jonah purchased his ticket and sailed away from the Lord’s direction.

I’m not exactly sure what Jonah was thinking here, running away from God. Certainly he was scared, but maybe he thought God lived in Israel and he could sail away. But maybe you and I have the same thoughts sometime, that maybe God won’t notice our sin. Maybe we can hide it. Maybe we can run away from it. Maybe God only sees us when we’re outside of our house or apartment. Let’s see in verses 4-6 how that worked out for Jonah –

Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.
But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.”

But God’s power is not limited to Israel’s borders. God sends Hurricane Harvey directly at the ship, terrifying the sailors. The sailors start dumping cargo to make the ship lighter and they start praying to *other* gods.

Talk about a witnessing opportunity here. A prophet on the ship full of sailors that are looking for God. But Jonah is sleeping, oblivious to the tragedy going on around him. And I cannot help but draw a parallel – we live in a world that is being torn apart by cultural storm and we, the adopted children of God, have a perfect opportunity to share the message of God’s love, but instead, so many of us are asleep while those around us are perishing.

I know my own actions this month are not enough. All month long I’ve been seeing “gay pride” advertisements, as if either sexual deviancy or lack of humility was something to be proud of. And every time I see a product that sports that deviant rainbow in blatant disregard for God’s promises from Noah, I cross another product or company off my list of places I’ll do business with. But it’s not nearly enough.

Jonah 1:7-9,

Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”
He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”

So the sailors have prayed to every god they know of, and Jonah just stands there silent. The sailors are like, “Who is responsible for all this calamity?” And Jonah just stands there. The sailors are like, “Let’s throw lots to find out who is responsible!” And Jonah just stands there. Then they all cast their lots, and it points to Jonah. And Jonah is like, “,,,, [pause] … Ok, it was me.”

The sailors discover that the LORD is not just a local god or the god of the sea or even just the God of Israel, but the God. The God who made the sea. Their fear is real; even today, many peoples of the world hold the idea that all misfortune comes from some offense to some god. Jonah tells them the truth and tells them about Jehovah God.

Verse 10-12,

This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.)
The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”
“Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”

When the sailors try to make things right, Jonah tells them to pick him up and throw him overboard. The next verses show the sailors instead try to return to land, but God whipped up the waves even more. So the sailors tossed Jonah over, the sea grew calm, and the sailors praised Jehovah God.

And Jonah? Verse 17,

Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

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If this was a made for television movie, we would break for a commercial here. Maybe for a seafood restaurant.

IV. Jonah 2 – Repenting toward God

In Jonah chapter 2, Jonah has a lot of time on his hands. Probably a lot of fish, too. Before being tossed overboard, the captain of the ship told Jonah to call on his God, but nowhere in chapter 1 does it say Jonah called on God. He acknowledged God, but didn’t pray to God. In the belly of the great fish, however, Jonah’s finally hit rock bottom. Well, not rock bottom. Ocean bottom. You know what I mean.

Jonah finally calls out to God in chapter 2 because Jonah is in trouble. When the Ninevites were in trouble, Jonah was silent. When the crew of the ship was in trouble, Jonah was silent. When Jonah’s in trouble oh man does Jonah remember to pray.

Jonah realizes how serious his condition is; he is in deep water. Physically and spiritually, and Jonah tells God that he feels far away from God. Jonah is in trouble, yet he also feels banished from God’s presence.

Jonah remembers the promise of God through Solomon in 1 Kings 8:46-49a,

“When [Your people] sin against You (for there is no one who does not sin), and You become angry with them and deliver them to the enemy, . . . and when they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul . . . and pray to You toward the land which You gave to their fathers, and the city which You have chosen and the temple which I have built for Your name; then hear.”

Slide10.JPGJonah turns toward the temple of God and prays, claiming God’s promise. In the belly of the fish, Jonah comes right up to the precipice of death, but God answers him in time, hearing his prayer and sparing his life. Why did God allow Jonah to experience the fear of death and the sensation of drowning? So that Jonah may empathize with the people of Nineveh.

Then at the end of Jonah chapter 2, Jonah realizes that God is showing him mercy and grace, Jonah promises to fulfill his calling from the LORD in verse 9 –

But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’

And the Lord’s response in verse 10 –

And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

Jonah declares that salvation is of the LORD, and God speaks to the great fish to spit Jonah up on the shore.

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Two things here – one, the Lord spoke to Jonah, and the Lord spoke to the fish. Only the fish was obedient. And second, the Lord’s will be done, despite Jonah’s disobedience. But if Jonah had been obedient, he wouldn’t smell so much like fish.

V. Jonah 3 – Revival from God

So, laying on the shore, smelling like fish, what is the command from the Lord? Jonah 3:1-2.

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”

The word of the Lord that Jonah hears in Chapter 3 is almost identical to the word Jonah heard in Chapter 1. God gives a second chance to Jonah. God often gives second chances, amen and amen. No person can ever live fully in God’s will. We all fail, we all fall down. And God provides all of us that second chance. God is not obligated to use Jonah; this second chance is a precious gift.

So Jonah finally begins his mission trip. He arrives at Nineveh and begins preaching against the city for 3 days and proclaiming the message of the LORD to every area of the city. The city of Nineveh was laid out in a great square with twelve gates that was used for town meetings. It’s likely Jonah went to each gate and proclaimed the word at each gate and each marketplace.

His message is harsh and brief:

“In forty days Nineveh will be overthrown.”

Jonah offers no grace, he promises no deliverance, he proclaims swift and impending judgment.

Slide14.JPGAnd Jonah’s message is effective. The entire city believes this message from God and repents in sackcloth and ashes. Even the king of Nineveh got up off his throne, put on sackcloth and sat down in the dust.

God has been probably preparing the city for a long time, working in the hearts of the people. God just wanted Jonah to go to Ninevah and give the final word. Some scholars believe that just prior to Jonah’s arrival were two famines plus a total solar eclipse that occurred on June 15, 763 BC.

Whatever circumstances God used, their hearts were ready to hear this message of judgment.

And while Jonah’s message promised no mercy, the king of Nineveh looked to the God of heaven for mercy in Jonah 3:9, the king said,

“Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”

And then in verse 10, God provides second chances:

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.

Nineveh is spared from destruction until the time of the prophet Nahum around 612 BC. This repentance also spares Israel, for this entire generation of Ninevites does not invade Israel again for many years.

VI. Jonah 4 – Resentment toward God

And how does Jonah feel about the city being spared? You would think Jonah would say God’s will had been done and offer thanks for saving the lives of so many people. Jonah 4:1-3,

But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

The story of Jonah closes in a surprising way. Jonah isn’t joyful. Jonah confesses to the Lord that the real reason Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh was because Jonah wanted the town to be destroyed, and he’s frustrated that God showed mercy to them.

Jonah 4:5 says Jonah had gone east of the city and sat down to wait for the fireworks to start, and then, when the Lord turned out to be a forgiving God, Jonah expresses resentment toward God.

And God then provides a lesson to Jonah. While Jonah is sitting on the hill to watch the fireworks, God provided some sort of leafy plant to grow and give Jonah shade so he’d be comfortable.

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The next day, God provided a worm to eat the plant, and then God provided a heat wave to beat down on Jonah so hard Jonah wanted to faint. Jonah was bitter and said, “Ok, God, just kill me now.” In Jonah 4 verses 9 and 10,

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”
“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”

God responds with a question to Jonah to illustrate God’s lesson. Verse 6 said Jonah was very happy about the plant. But then, when the plant was gone, Jonah says, “just kill me now.” And God exposes Jonah’s self-pity for a plant that grows up and dies in a single day, even though Jonah didn’t plant it, water it, or cared for it in any way. God asks Jonah if you can pity a plant, why can’t you pity a city of 120,000 souls in Nineveh? God used a fish to teach Jonah obedience, and God used a worm to teach Jonah compassion.

God cares about the children of Nineveh – He counts their number and He sent Jonah to bring His Word to their door. He pities the cruel people of Nineveh because all of them belong to God by virtue of creation, and He is a God of love and grace and second chances. God is slow to anger, slow to judgement, and rich in mercy.

VII. Conclusion

So today we studied a wee bit more depth the story of Jonah, and it turns out to be much more than deep sea fishing tips. There are lessons in the book of Jonah about obedience, God’s will, God’s judgment and God’s mercy.

But I think it’s more than that. Jonah learns what God wants all of His children to learn. God loves people. He knows where they live, He knows how many there are, He knows their spiritual emptiness.
God calls each and every one of us to share His message, but I think too often we’re too scared to share God’s message to those we love. We all have friends and family we love that, let’s be honest, we are not brave enough to tell them how much God loves them. And we will sleep in the bottom of the boat like Jonah did while the Day of the Lord and the Trumpet Judgements get closer every day.

And that’s for those we love. What about those we hate, and those that hate us? The Ninevites in our lives? If we don’t see God’s hand of judgement on our enemies, do we resent God for not making things right today?

So who are the Ninevites today? John 8:44, Jesus said,

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires.

You were once a Ninevite, an enemy of God. I was once a Ninevite, an enemy of God. And yet, God didn’t hate us. In fact, Romans 5:8,

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

And those that are Ninevites to us? God loves them, too. God wants nothing more than to be reconciled with His children. God is calling you and me to bring God’s message of love and forgiveness to a dying world, not just to those we love, but to those we do not like and those that hate us.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

 

Slide22.JPGTurns out the book of Jonah isn’t just about obedience or fishing.

The book of Jonah is about love.

To God be the glory.

Kingdom Wisdom

Introduction

Two weeks ago, Jim Armstrong visited our class and taught about Solomon’s wisdom.  I loved his story about his wife’s dress; when she asked if it made her look fat, his answer showed he lacked wisdom.

So you’ll excuse me if I was a little confused when I started looking into my bible study assignment for this week and realized it was about Solomon’s wisdom.  Again.  I saw Jim Armstrong in the elevator a couple of weeks back and asked to just borrow his notes and teach the same lesson again.  It would save me a lot of time.

So recently my wife bought a new dress….

No, I’m just kidding.  Jim’s lesson was excellent, but we are going to have a very different lesson on wisdom.  Whereas Jim taught us the difference between knowledge and wisdom and focused on 1 Kings 3, today we’re going to talk about how the best wisdom also depends on knowledge, how the bible provides both wisdom and knowledge, and that the wisdom in the bible provides not only spiritual wisdom, but also worldly wisdom.  As we continue our study of what makes a Godly leader, we include Godly wisdom as a key attribute of a Godly leader.  We are going to spend some time on the proverbs that Solomon wrote.

God has placed each and every one of us on this world for a purpose.  To love God with all our heart, our soul, our strength, our mind, and also to love one another.  That means we must learn to live in this world and live with one another in a way that brings glory to God, letting our light shine so others may see the truth and light that dwells within us.  But navigating this world can be hard.  While we know the source of all truth begins with God’s word, applying those truths to a fallen world or around people that have rejected God aren’t always so easy to do.  We need wisdom.

What is Wisdom?

So what is wisdom?  Is it the same as education?  I have a short educational video that examines the importance of education.

Or maybe it’s a college diploma?  Having a diploma is definitely an indicator of wisdom.

So maybe a diploma isn’t what makes somebody smart.  Nope, a godly leader exhibits wisdom, and wisdom is composed of three parts –

  • Knowledge
  • Understanding
  • Application

Knowledge

This world is a dangerous place, not just spiritually but mentally and physically and every way you can imagine.  We need wisdom to live and we need wisdom to thrive, and we need this wisdom every day and in every aspect of our life, in relationships, in finances, in sex, in work, in discipline, in parenting, and more.  Solomon wrote the book of Proverbs to give his people, and us, guidance we need for life, because our lives are complex.  Not every decision has a clear black and white answer.

Lets start be offering a definition of wisdom:

Wisdom is the ability to skillfully navigate the world God created.

And as long as we are studying definitions, let’s examine the definition of the word “Proverb.”

A proverb is a verb that has lost its amateur status.

Most of the book of Proverbs is written by King Solomon. Solomon was considered the wisest man of all time.   And when Solomon ascended to the throne of David, God offered Solomon anything he wanted.  Solomon could have asked for gold, power, fame, long life, anything at all.  The treasury of heaven was opened wide and Solomon went shopping with a credit card that had no limit.  Anything.

But Solomon did not ask for gold, or power, or fame, or long life.  Solomon knew he could not rule Israel without God.  Instead of asking for gold or power or fame, Solomon asked for the ability to skillfully navigate being the king of Israel.

In 1 Kings 3:7-9, Solomon said,

“Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David.  But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties.  Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number.  So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

In other words, Solomon asked for Wisdom.

The Lord’s response in 1 Kings 3:10-14,

The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this.  So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.  Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for – both wealth and honor – so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.  And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.”

This response reminds me of God’s promises to us.  Are we to seek fame or fortune, wealth or power?  In Matthew 6, Jesus provides a lot of information on how to live our lives – without worry, don’t brag, give to the needy, don’t store up treasures on earth – but then in Matthew 6:33, Jesus says,

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Whatever our desires are, don’t chase after our desires.  Chase after Jesus, and He will give us our desires.

So Solomon received Wisdom and all of God’s other blessings, and then Solomon with his God-given wisdom wrote down the Proverbs so that we, too, may learn to become wise.  The Proverbs are lessons and principles given to us by God to help up navigate His world successfully.  Wisdom is the foundation for successful living.  Solomon tells us in Proverbs 8:35-36,

For those who find me [wisdom] find life
and receive favor from the Lord.
But those who fail to find me harm themselves;
all who hate me love death.”

So if we want to find life and receive favor from the Lord, then we must follow God’s wisdom.  If we want to walk in pain, disappointment, and continuous frustration in life, then all we have to do is ignore God’s wisdom.

To gain wisdom, we start with a good foundation of knowledge.  Solomon wrote Proverbs to the people of Israel so that they could sail the sea of life without crashing into the rocks and sink.  Many of the young Israelites were establishing their independence, moving out of adolescence and into adulthood.  They were and age where they’d get married and begin their careers.  They needed a handbook to navigate the world.

The book of Proverbs provides many simple truths like Proverbs 12:22 –

The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy.

Simple to understand.  Thou shalt not lie, and keep your promises.

Proverbs 10:4 –

A slack hand causes poverty but the hand of the diligent makes rich.

In other words, work hard.  You cannot succeed if you don’t work.

Proverbs 12:4 –

An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones.

I’m not sure if this is advice given to the men or the women.  Let’s say it’s for both.  Men, your wife is a crown, like precious jewelry, so take care of them.  Women, you can either be a crown or you can be rotten, your choice.  Either way, I’ve met some singles over the years that are so desperate to find a spouse, they’ll marry anybody without first asking God if it’s God’s plan.  Marrying a godly spouse doesn’t eliminate marital strife, but it makes solutions to arguments so much easier.

Proverbs 18:6 –

A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating.

In other words, just watch your mouth.

And Proverbs 22:11,

He who loves purity of heart and whose speech is gracious will have the king as his friend.

None of these truths are difficult to understand.  They are not secrets to cheat at the game of life. They are simply truths, rules that God has established for us to have success in life.  Honesty is better than lying. Work is better than laziness.  Select a spouse based on their heart.  Don’t keep talking when you don’t know what you’re saying.  If you’re kind and gracious you will befriend influential people.

But knowledge alone doesn’t make us wise.  Over the years, I’ve met some very educated people that don’t seem to have a lick of common sense.  God didn’t just lay out a bunch of rules and say, “Do this and don’t do that.”  If we look at the people Jesus had the most difficulty with, it was the Pharisees who could quote all 613 mitzvots in the Torah but didn’t understand *why* God established all those mitzvots.  Knowledge without understanding is foolishness.

Understanding

What good is knowledge unless you have understanding?  Proverbs doesn’t teach us to be an engineer, a painter, or an accountant.  Proverbs teaches us to master life.

Superficial knowledge produces a shallow life and foolish living.   God’s goal in the book of Proverbs is not for us to just possess the facts, but for us to grasp the reality of what lays beneath the surface of the facts. To comprehend that below the surface of reality, God created His world with the understanding that wisdom works. Wisdom is woven into the very fabric of our reality. Life operates best when we live wisely.

Solomon writes about Wisdom in Proverbs 8:22-31,

“I [Wisdom] was there when he set the heavens in place,
when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
when he established the clouds above
and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
when he gave the sea its boundary
so the waters would not overstep his command,
and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
Then I was constantly at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
rejoicing always in his presence,
rejoicing in his whole world
and delighting in mankind.

Understanding helps us to push past the “what” and peer into the “why.” Understanding helps the information and the informed work together for good.

Choosing God’s path of wisdom means that we don’t endure the heartaches of sin now.  The person who chooses the world’s path may enjoy temporary pleasures, but these pleasures often have consequences that follow.  When a Christian chooses what is right, he has no shame, no heartache, and no fear that the consequences will catch up and overtake him, Proverbs 3:13-14 –

Blessed are those who find wisdom,
those who gain understanding,
for she is more profitable than silver
and yields better returns than gold.

Application

So the book of Proverbs has so much wisdom to teach us, but also how to apply it to our lives –

  • A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.  (Proverbs 25:28)
  • It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife.  (Proverbs 21:9)
  • The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.  (Proverbs 22:7)
  • Do not toil to acquire wealth be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven.  (Proverbs 23:4-5)
  • Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.  (Proverbs 11:28)
  • When a man walks in integrity and justice, happy are his children after him.  (Proverbs 20:7)
  • Truthful lips endure forever, the lying tongue, for only a moment.  (Proverbs 12:19)
  • A mild answer calms wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.  (Proverbs 15:1)
  • He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.  (Proverbs 14:31)
  • Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs.  (Proverbs 10:12)
  • The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.  (Proverbs 18:10)
  • Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)
  • A man who is kind benefits himself, but a cruel man hurts himself.  (Proverbs 11:17)
  • A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.  (Proverbs 14:30)
    When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan.  (Proverbs 29:2)
  • In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.  (Proverbs 3:6)
  • The whole point of Proverbs is to make us wise. Wisdom is evident in our lives when we exhibit knowledge, understanding, and application.

Tony said something last week – remember the aunt that was in heaven on her own little tiny cloud?  Tony also said he met somebody that told him, “you don’t know what the bible says, let me give you this pamphlet that will help.”  That is blatantly untrue.  The bible explains itself and provides all the wisdom anybody needs to understand the bible as well as life, love, work, finances, everything.  It’s all in there.

How Do I Get Wisdom?

1. Recognize where wisdom comes from.   Listen to Proverbs 1:7 –

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Ultimately, the fear of the Lord means that believers understand that they shall stand before the Lord Jesus one day and give an account; those who choose the way of death will be ashamed, while those who choose life will rejoice.

All throughout Proverbs we see the repeated phrase “The fear of the LORD”.

The fear of the Lord is not a terrifying fear that God is going to punish me if I disobey. The fear of the LORD that Solomon mentions throughout Proverbs is a reverence for God and a respect for His power.

Remember wisdom is the ability to skillfully navigate the world God created. We become wise when we recognize this is God’s world and His approach to life works best.  We are not naturally wise people. Wisdom comes supernaturally through our response to God.

2. Listen, Keep, and Do Not Neglect

Then, in Proverbs 8:32-33, Solomon writes –

And now, O sons, listen to me: blessed are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it.

A three step process:  Listen, Keep, and Do Not Neglect

Listen – Solomon wants us to be aware that wisdom will only come through active listening for God’s instruction.  We must study what God says about living a wise life.  Proverbs is 31 chapters long, one for every day of the month.  It’s almost as if God is telling us that we have a need for wisdom every day and an opportunity to receive wisdom every day.

Keep – Wise living only occurs when we keep His ways. The word “keep” here means to obey.  Foolish living occurs when we recognize God’s wisdom but reject it.  But those who are truly wise will keep the principles of a wise life laid out in the book of Proverbs.

Do not neglect – Wisdom is a lot like physical fitness. A lot of us start the fitness journey in the same way, we realize our current health isn’t what it used to be.  We are more winded going up the stairs, our pants don’t fit as well as they used to, and the scale keeps climbing up and up.  So, what we do is we begin to research. We look up plans to improve our fitness. We look at all the benefits of various healthy diets.  We talk to people who are in better shape than us, possibly a trainer. We get an app to track our fitness progress and goals.  We even buy a new pair of shoes.

But that isn’t enough to make us physically fit.  All the research and planning isn’t enough if we have neglect to, you know, actually work out.  We have to apply what we learned.

At any point in time in our physical fitness journey, we can become unfit.  We can neglect the gym.  We can neglect stretching.  We can neglect healthy eating.  A life of fitness can start and stop at any time.  Most of us have started a diet, broken our diet, and restarted our diet, sometimes in the same day.

A life of wisdom is a life of persistence. It takes continual discipline and hard work to build a wise life.  If we want to possess the skills, we need for navigating the complexities of life, then we can’t afford to neglect wisdom.

It comes down to our choice to put into practice that which is revealed.

Conclusion

Wisdom helps us steward our lives well and provides a life that may influence others in order to bring glory to God.

Do you want wisdom?  James 1:5,

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

So be smart.  S-M-R-T.  Ask God for His wisdom.

To God be the glory.