The Timid Warrior

             I.      Introduction

Let’s open our bibles to the book of Gideon.  Or if you don’t have a book of Gideon, let’s open our Gideon bibles.

We’re going to look today at a warrior named Gideon in the book of Judges chapter 6, so let’s turn there.  Your bible should have a book of Judges.  It’s just after the book of jury selection.

The year is probably between 1045 and 1000 BC, and the book of Judges does not name the author, though the prophet Samuel is the likely author.  The book begins with the Israelites defeating the Canaanites and ends with the Israelites defeating the Philistines and the death of Samson.  We can summarize the entire book of Judges with these three verses,

Judges 2:16-17,

Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders.  Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. They quickly turned from the ways of their ancestors, who had been obedient to the Lord’s commands.

Judges 10:15,

But the Israelites said to the Lord, “We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.”

And Judges 21:25,

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.

The Lord has never failed to rescue His people when the repent of their ways, but Israel has fallen into a destructive pattern.  Obedience led to disobedience.  Disobedience led to destruction.  Destruction led to repentance.  Repentance led to rescue.  Rescue led to obedience. slide4

But enough about Israel.  Let’s talk about us.  Well, actually, maybe I already am talking about us.  We want to be good Christians, but when the Lord cares for us, it’s easy to get complacent and take the Lord’s blessings for granted.  We fool ourselves into thinking that a little misbehaving is ok, but then our misbehaving leads to trouble that we get ourselves into.  Then we cry out to the Lord, please save me, I’m in trouble.  And this time I’ll promise I’ll be good.

          II.      Gideon’s Condition

There’s got to be a better way than falling in the steps of the Israelites.  We’re going to focus on Gideon in Judges chapter 6, and this is what the land of Israel was like in those days, Judges 6:1-6,

The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites.  Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds.  Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country.  They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys.  They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count them or their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it.  Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.

The Midianites had oppressed the Israelites, and that doesn’t really describe how bad things are.  The people of Israel were vastly outnumbered, forced to live in caves, and anytime the enemy showed up, the enemy killed the Israelite’s sheep and cattle and donkeys.

When it appeared that life in Israel was completely hopeless, then Israel turned to the Lord.  Not as their first response, but only after they had tried everything else and lost.  Not that we would ever do such a thing, take things into our own hands until we’ve made a complete and utter mess of things, and then finally turn to the Lord and say, “Lord, where are you?”  No, of course we would never do that.

When we are discouraged or in pain, of course we cry out to the Lord for help.  And God in His great mercy and love for us often helps us, but we have to acknowledge that sometimes we create the problem ourselves, and the solution begins with obedience, finding the path the Lord has set before us and walking that path.  God does not appear like a magic genie and pluck us out of our difficulties; our spiritual growth and discipline comes first and then the relief comes later.

And it’s not enough for Israel to be sad and upset with their condition.  But if the only thing Israel is sorry for is that they are living in caves, then they do not yet understand what the problem is.  If we spend all our money on clothing or boats or travel or eating out and the credit card collectors begin harassing us, can we go to God and ask for financial blessings to rescue us?  Are we sorry we are broke, or are we sorry we were not good stewards of God’s blessings?

2 Corinthians 7:10 puts it this way,

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

God’s response to Israel was to send a prophet and clarify to Israel what the problem was, Judges 6:7-10,

When the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian, he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you their land.  I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.”

God has rescued them before and will rescue them again, but God again asks Israel to repent of their ungodly ways.

       III.      Gideon’s Complaint

So the Lord sent a message to Gideon who was hiding in a basement somewhere so the Midianites couldn’t find him.  Verse 11-12,

The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites.  When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

Usually wheat or corn is threshed on a threshing floor to remove the husks and straw, a flat surface is best.  Slide9.JPGBut Gideon was hiding from the Midianites in a winepress, a hole or a pit.Slide10.JPG  So when the angel of the Lord calls Gideon “mighty warrior,” Gideon probably looked around to see who the angel was talking to.  And it didn’t take very long to look around, because, well, Gideon is in a hole in the ground.

Gideon’s response to the Angel of the Lord is to complain, Judges 6:13,

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

So we know the answer to Gideon’s question – Israel is in this mess because they turned their backs on the Lord and worshipped false idols and other gods.  Gideon though is questioning the Lord – if the Lord is really with us, why do all these bad things keep happening?  Seriously, Lord, I’m in a hole in the ground trying to thresh wheat, so where are you?

But you know, it’s ok to bring our complaints to the Lord.  If we are in prayer with the Lord, we should be as honest with the Lord as we possibly can.  We do not need to feel we have to pray a certain way or pray only how we think the Lord wants us to pray.  We don’t need to be phony and pray the way we think Christians should pray.  Scripture is consistent that the Lord wants us to approach Him in pray with honesty, open our hearts completely, even if it is a complaint.

Remember David, a man after God’s own heart?  Here is his Psalm 10,

Why, Lord, do you stand far off?

Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

Be honest with the Lord.  If you have a complaint, bring it to the Lord.  Question the Lord and see if He will answer.  That’s what Job did – Job lost his health and his family and his friends and his livestock.  It must have been a mystery to him since he was a righteous man, and he took his complaint to God.  Job told God he wished he had never been born, that he has no peace and no rest and he has unending troubles.  And the Lord answered Job.

God has rescued them before and will rescue them again, but God again asks Israel to repent of their ungodly ways.

          IV.      Gideon’s Reluctance

In answer to Gideon, the Lord didn’t bother to recap Israel History 101.  The Lord tells Gideon in verse 14,

The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

If we have a single scripture to remember today, it’s this verse from Judges 6:14, “Go in the strength you have.”  Gideon was a timid man, hiding in that hole in the ground so his enemies wouldn’t find him, and the angel of the Lord called him, “mighty warrior.”  Gideon’s response shows that Gideon didn’t feel he was the right man for this job.  Verse 15,

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

Gideon feels inadequate because he is the runt of the litter.  Gideon’s error is that Gideon seems to think he has something to do with the Lord’s victory.  The Lord doesn’t need our help, but He desires our heart, our willingness, our obedience.  God wants us to step out on His behalf, to be His ambassador, but the victory is the Lord’s, not ours.  The Lord’s response in verse 16,

The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”

God calls us to lead a godly life of repentance, obedience, love and joy and peace and sometimes it seems like it’s just too hard to do everything we are supposed to do.  It’s just too much.  It’s too stressful, I can’t be sure I’m doing it right, I don’t see it working, we find a myriad of excuses.  Gideon’s excuse is that he was too little.   He’s little enough to hide in a hole.  He’s the runt of the litter.  He’s the smallest of the small.  Other people are better suited.

But that completely misses the point of what God is asking of us.  He’s not asking us to be victorious, he’s asking us to be obedient and then God will be victorious.  Go in the strength you have.

Remember when God asked Moses to lead His people out of Egypt?  In Exodus 3, God appears to Moses as a burning bush and says to Moses, “Go, I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”  Moses’ first response is, “Who am I to do these things you ask?”  And God says, “Just go.”  And Moses says, “What if they don’t listen to me?”  And God says, “Just go.”  And then in Exodus 4:10-13,

Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”

The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord?  Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”

One thing I know about each and every believer: God has a plan for each one of us, a plan to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us hope and a future.  And I cannot fulfill the plan God has for you, and you cannot fulfill the plan God has for me.  The plan God has for you can only be fulfilled by the one person God created to fulfill that plan.  Moses finally recognized that God had a plan for him and became obedient.  When Moses finally appeared to Pharaoh and began to lead the Lord’s people out of Egypt, there was quite a few obstacles, including that inconvenient Red Sea obstacle.  But when it came time to overcome that obstacle, who parted the waters?  Was it Moses?  Or was it God?

When Peter walked on water, was He enabled by Jesus, or did he walk on water on his own power?

God doesn’t ask us to be victorious, He doesn’t ask us to move mountains, He doesn’t ask us to perform miracles.  He just asks us to be obedient.  Use the mouth the Lord gave you to speak and do not be concerned whether you speak well.  Use what the good Lord gave you, and that’s more than enough.  The Lord has already equipped you for the work He has given you.  It’s not about us, it’s about the Lord, and the victory is already His.

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In the next chapter of Judges, Gideon finds out he is massively outnumbered before the battle with the Midianites.  Gideon has 32,000 men, the Midianites have 135,000 men.  The Midianites outnumbered him four to one.  And the Lord says to Gideon, “You have too many men,” and Gideon’s army was reduced to only 10,000, or 13:1.  And the Lord says, “You still have too many men.”  And Gideon’s army was reduced to 300 men.  He’s now outnumbered 450 to 1.

Why does God drastically reduce the size of Gideon’s army?   If Gideon is outnumbered 4:1 or even 13:1, Israel might boast of their victory.  But when they are outnumbered 450:1… Israel would not boast.   It is apparent that with such overwhelming odds there was no way Israel could win.  The victory belonged to the Lord.  It could only have been victorious because of the Lord.

That’s why it doesn’t matter what you think about your abilities.  If you speak well, or you’re unable to speak.  If you can lift 1000 pounds or 10 pounds.  God created you for the task He gave you and you are already perfectly equipped to fulfil that task.  Just be obedient to the call you hear.

Ephesians 2:8-10 puts it like this to the body of Christ.  You do not save yourselves, there is nothing you can add to or take away from your salvation, it is a gift and all of the glory belongs to the Lord.

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.

             V.      Conclusion

I’ve got a snippet of a video that sort of illustrates this point, and I hope you’ll bear with me.  It’s not exactly the best illustration of today’s lesson, but I baked my brain in the sun this week and I was a little incoherent.  But I went with the strength I had and the victory belongs to the Lord. Here’s the setup:

When Barney sings under his own power, the result is, shall we say, acoustically challenged. Andy comes up with a plan but it requires Barney getting out of the way:

So the day of the performance arrives, and here’s the result:

God wants us to open our mouths, then get out of the way and let Him sing through us.

Judges 6:14 –

Go in the strength you have.

And the victory belongs to the Lord.

To God be the glory. Amen.

Ark of the Covenant

I.      Introduction

Our lesson today studies the Ark of the Covenant, so I would like to back up a long, long way in scripture.  I’m never sure how far I should go back to provide the right historical context, and it seems like every time I study this I want to go all the way back to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning.”  But I suppose I don’t have to rewind that far back every time.  So where do I start in a study of the Ark of the Covenant?

Click here: Raider of the Lost Ark

II.      History of the Ark

Ok, so let’s turn to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning…” I’m just kidding.  We’ll start the famous crossing of the Red Sea, after Moses has led the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt, and heads for Mt. Sinai.  Three months after crossing the sea, the people of Israel are camped at the bottom of Mt, Sanai, and Moses goes up into the mountains where God etches the Ten Commandments on stone tablets for Moses to bring to the Israel people.

Exodus 24 says that God Himself engraved the stone tablets with His own finger, verse 12,

The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.”

The Lord God promises to dwell among the people, and the Ten Commandments are to be stored in the Ark.

So make yourself an Ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out.  This is how you are to build it: The Ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high.  Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around.  Put a door in the side of the Ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish.

Sorry, that’s the wrong Ark.  That was Noah’s Ark in Genesis 6, let me try again from Exodus 25, where we first read about the Ark, and God’s precise description of it to Moses:

“Have them make an Ark of acacia wood—two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high.  Overlay it with pure gold, both inside and out, and make a gold molding around it.  Cast four gold rings for it and fasten them to its four feet, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other.  Then make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold.  Insert the poles into the rings on the sides of the Ark to carry it.  The poles are to remain in the rings of this Ark; they are not to be removed.  Then put in the Ark the tablets of the covenant law, which I will give you.

“Make an atonement cover of pure gold—two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide.  And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover.  Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends.  The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the cover.  Place the cover on top of the Ark and put in the Ark the tablets of the covenant law that I will give you.  There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the Ark of the Covenant law, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.

Here is what it looks like:

Slide9

Click here: Raider of the Lost Ark

Actually, this is a pretty good representation of the Ark of the Covenant, and many parts of this movie got it right.  Let’s take a look –

Some were exaggerations, like Brody saying it “leveled mountains.”  That’s probably a reference to Joshua at the Battle of Jericho.  Blowing horns and carrying the Ark, the Israelites circled the city, and the walls of Jericho came tumbling down.  And remember the scene where Indiana tells Miriam, “Don’t Look!”?  The Ark was considered holy and dangerous, and only those specified by the Lord could touch it or look in it, and then only after they had been purified.  Coming into direct contact with the holiness of God was instant death.  In Leviticus 10, Nadav and Avihu, sons of Aaron, brought a foreign flame to offer a sacrifice in the Tabernacle, they were devoured by flames from the Lord.  In 2 Samuel 6 while moving the Ark, the oxen stumbled.  A Levite named Uzzah steadied the Ark, and Uzzah was struck dead instantly.

The Ten Commandments were placed inside and sealed with the cover.  The Ark was then placed inside the Holy of Holies inside the tabernacle and later the Temple of Jerusalem, and when the Levitical priest made his annual sacrifice for the people of Israel, he shed the blood of an innocent, unblemished lamb and sprinkled it on the top of the Ark, which call the Mercy Seat.  The shekinah of God rested on this holy seat.  This was the most important piece of furniture in the Tabernacle.  It is where God sat when He dwelled among His people.

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The location of the Ark today is unknown.  Centuries later, when the Babylonians sacked Israel, led by Nebuchadnezzar, they hauled off a great deal of religious artifacts from the Temple and made detailed lists of what was taken, but the Ark was not listed among them items.  One of the final kings, Josiah, may have buried it beneath the temple mount, beneath the Holy of Holies, and sealed it in stone.  One Jewish archaeologist, Leen Ritmeyer, has identified a section of bedrock below the Temple Mount cut out in the dimensions of the Ark.  It is unlikely any excavation will ever be allowed by either Muslims or Israelis.

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III.      The Ark is Taken

So it is within this history that we examine a time where the Israelites, in battle with the Philistines, gain a new understanding of the power and holiness of God.  Approximately 300 years after the battle of Jericho, in 1 Samuel 4, the Israelites went to battle against the Philistines.  The Philistines are mentioned as far back as the days of Abraham in Genesis 21, and they’re mentioned in the books of Samuel over 150 times.  These were originally a seafaring people from the Aegen Sea who sought to control the land we know as Palestine.  The word Palestine is derived from Philistine, and this conflict over territory continues to this day.

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Scripture says that at this battle, 4000 Israeli soldiers were killed.

The Israelis must have been perplexed.  Wasn’t this land given to them by the Lord?  Then why were the idol-worshipping Philistines defeating them?  When the remaining Israeli soldiers returned to camp, the Israeli elders conclude that the reason Israel lost is because they didn’t carry the Ark of the Covenant into battle like they did at Jericho.  If the elders had read their scripture, though, they would have read in Deuteronomy 28:25 and Leviticus 26:39 that their defeat was not caused by the Ark, or the lack of the Ark, but by their disobedience to the Lord.

So instead of searching their hearts and confessing their sins first, they decided to imitate Moses and Joshua and take the Ark into battle before them.  Rather than seek the will of the Lord, the people of Israel attempted to use the Lord to fight their battle.  In 1 Samuel 4 the people of Israel brought the Ark out of the Tabernacle and let out a mighty roar, so loud the ground shook.  The Philistines were afraid, look at verses 6-8 –

Hearing the uproar, the Philistines asked, “What’s all this shouting in the Hebrew camp?”

When they learned that the Ark of the Lord had come into the camp, the Philistines were afraid. “A god has come into the camp,” they said. “Oh no! Nothing like this has happened before.  We’re doomed! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness.

The battle began, but the battle did not end as expected.  The Israelites were slaughtered, this time 30,000 Israeli soldiers died, and the Ark of God was captured by the Philistines.  Israel was crushed, and the Philistines rejoiced.  The spiritual leader of Israel, Eli, mentor of Samuel, was so distraught by the capture of the Ark that he falls out of his chair and breaks his neck and dies.

These are dark times indeed for Israel.  It appears to the Israelites that God has been taken hostage by the Philistines.  They’ve lost their battle, their soldiers, their land, their spiritual leader, and worst of all, they’ve lost the Ark of the Covenant.  But we will see in today’s lesson that there is far more at play here.  God is not an idol.  God does not need for men to carry Him about.  God is the One who carries Israel.  They have forgotten who their God is.  In fact, the terms of their covenant with God was that God would sit on the mercy seat when the people were obedient and submitted to God’s will.

The Philistines took the captured Ark with them to Ashdod, one of 5 major cities the Philistines controlled.  In Ashdod, the Philistines worshipped their god Dagon, and they take the captured Ark of the Covenant and lay it prostrate into Dagon’s temple in a position of submission.  Rejoicing, no doubt that the God of Israel has been captured and forced to bow before Dagon.  But the next morning, they were astonished to see the roles reversed.

1 Samuel 5:1-3,

After the Philistines had captured the Ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod.  Then they carried the Ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon.  When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the Ark of the Lord! They took Dagon and put him back in his place.

They put their god Dagon back in his place.  Dagon is an idol that does have to be carried by man.  The next morning is even worse – not only is Dagon back on the floor in submission, but his hands and head had been broken off, with only the body remaining.

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Is Dagon in the hands of an angry God?  Dagon is prostrated before the Ark of God, but Ark of the Covenant is not a god.  It is not an idol like Dagon.  The Ark is a symbol of God’s presence among His people.  It has great symbolic value, but it is not an idol.  Dagan, the man-made God, has to be picked up, glued back together, sent to the shop for repairs.

Verse 6 says the Lord’s hand was heavy against the Philistines and brought affliction and tumors.  The people of Ashdod want nothing more to do with this captured Ark, so they send it to the next Philistine city, Gath.  In Gath, immediately the same tumors and afflictions affected all the people.  So the people of Gath decide to send it to a 3rd Philistine city, Ekron.  And the people of Ekron see the Ark arriving and they cry out, “They brought the God of Israel to kill us!  Send it away!”

I find it incredible how the Philistines don’t get it.  Earlier before battle, they heard the Israeli roar so loud the earth shook, and the Philistines were afraid of the God who brought the plagues upon Egypt.  Now, their idol God Dagon is hacked to pieces and lies prostrate before the Ark.  And the Philistines are dying of some sort of plague with tumors as long as they keep the Ark.  Their man-made god is powerless against the Almighty, but they still choose to worship their idol.

Send it back.  Send it back, they say.  With the presence of the one true living God in their midst, they want to send it away.  It is too hot to handle.  Send it away.

IV.      The Ark is Returned

For seven months, the Philistines hold on to the Ark and are plagued with tumors.  They know they have to get rid of it.  At first, it was a political problem as they passed it from one city to another, but now it’s a religious problem.  The want to return the Ark to Israel, but they don’t want offend Israel’s angry God.

1 Samuel 6:1-3,

When the Ark of the Lord had been in Philistine territory seven months, the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the Ark of the Lord? Tell us how we should send it back to its place.”

They answered, “If you return the Ark of the god of Israel, do not send it back to him without a gift; by all means send a guilt offering to him. Then you will be healed, and you will know why his hand has not been lifted from you.”

The Philistine priests come up with a guilt offering, a really weird one.  They make five gold tumors.  Yes, tumors, modeled after the tumors that afflicted their bodies.  They make 5 gold tumors, and also make 5 gold rats for carrying this plague.  Look how well the Philistine priests understand the Jehovah God in verse 4-6 –

The Philistines asked, “What guilt offering should we send to him?”

They replied, “Five gold tumors and five gold rats, according to the number of the Philistine rulers, because the same plague has struck both you and your rulers.  Make models of the tumors and of the rats that are destroying the country, and give glory to Israel’s god. Perhaps he will lift his hand from you and your gods and your land.  Why do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did? When Israel’s god dealt harshly with them, did they not send the Israelites out so they could go on their way?

Again, it’s interesting that they know the power of God but they refuse to worship Him.  Instead, they continue to worship their idol Dagan who, as I understand it, doesn’t have any hands anymore.  Or a head.

They Philistine priests devise a plan in verse 7 to see if the Ark is really the source of their problems, and if the Lord will be appeased if the Ark is returned.

“Now then, get a new cart ready, with two cows that have calved and have never been yoked. Hitch the cows to the cart, but take their calves away and pen them up.  Take the Ark of the Lord and put it on the cart, and in a chest beside it put the gold objects you are sending back to him as a guilt offering. Send it on its way, but keep watching it.  If it goes up to its own territory, toward Beth Shemesh, then the Lord has brought this great disaster on us. But if it does not, then we will know that it was not his hand that struck us but that it happened to us by chance.”

So they take 2 cows that have never been yoked, pen up their calves, and load the Ark on the cart.  Their thinking is that the natural inclination of the cows is to return to their young, but if the Lord is in control, He will guide the calves back to the Israelites.

Which is exactly what happened; the cows didn’t even look to the right or the left.  The Philistines followed the cows and the Ark to the end of the town of Beth Shemesh where the Israelites were harvesting their wheat.

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A big cry of joy from the Israelites when they see the Ark being returned on the cart of two cows.  So excited they were, they took the Ark down, chopped up the cart for firewood, and sacrificed the cows as a burnt offering.  The Israelites of Beth Shemesh lined up to look inside the Ark – some manuscripts say 70, others say 50,070.   Was the Lord pleased?  God responded by striking the Israelites dead.

The Israelites were ecstatic to have the Ark returned; now they are shocked that the Lord God would strike down so many worshipping Israelites.  The Israelites cry out, “Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this Holy God?”

Israel, in its exuberance, did not follow the law, and the punishment is death.  The book of Numbers, chapter 4, specifically says that those that look inside at the holy things inside the arc will die.  And the burnt offering of cows?  Leviticus 1:10 says that all burnt offerings shall be male.  In their exuberance, the Israelites disobeyed and were killed.

  V.      Conclusion

So what can we learn from today’s lesson?  We begin with Israel’s first battle with the Philistines, which Israel loses 4000 men and is defeated.  The priests of Israel are Eli’s sons at this time are corrupt and practicing evil.  1 Samuel 2:17 says the sin of the young priests was very great in the Lord’s sight.  And the Israelites decide to take their lucky rabbit’s foot, the Ark, into battle, for the Lord is undefeated.  Instead, their defeat is far, far greater, and 30,000 die and the Ark is taken.

When the Ark is returned, the Israelites celebrate the return of their lucky rabbit’s foot.  They celebrate the return but disobey the Lord’s instructions, and even more Israelites die.

As for the Philistines, they know about the power of the Lord and the plagues against Egypt.  After capturing it, they too mistake the Ark for the Lord God of Israel.  They try to place the Ark in a position of submission to another pagan idol god, not understanding that it’s not the Ark that has the power, but the Lord God Himself.

Before coming to Christ, at some point in our lives, we are like the Philistines.  We see the power of God all around us, we understand He is in control.  But we hold on to our pride, our lives of greed and gluttony, because seeing the power of God is not the same as following and trusting the power of God.  We think God, like the Ark, is too hot to handle, and we just want to move the Ark along to the next person or town.  We want to keep worshipping at the feet of the world, our reality tv, our social media, our idol god Dagon.  It’s comfortable, and our idol expects nothing from us except to occasionally glue him back together when he breaks.

In Mark chapter 5 we see the response of people who are uncomfortable with the power of God in their midst.  Jesus arrives by boat in Garasenes and a deranged man comes running out of the tombs at him.  The deranged man had been terrifying the local town, and chains and irons couldn’t hold him.  Jesus commands the demons to leave the man and go into a herd of pigs, and the man is able to sit there in his right mind and have a conversation with Jesus.  How do the people who witness this react?  They ask Jesus to leave.  The power of God is just too great to have in their midst.  They’d rather live among the demons.

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But sometime during our walk in the spirit, we become more like the Israelites.  But maybe we don’t fully understand what living by faith is all about.  We believe that we just have to give up smoking and drinking and start going to church more often, and our lives will be blessed.  We hold up our church attendance like the Ark in front of us and go into battle, like somehow our church attendance is a lucky rabbits foot.

Our God is not a god to be carried in front of us to win our earthly battles.  God is not a lucky rabbit’s foot.  If we expect nothing will ever go wrong when we hold out our crosses or rosaries or holy water in front of us, then we do not understand the battle or what God is doing with us.  God is less concerned about the challenge than He is with our response to that challenge.  Our battle has already been won for us by our Savior, Jesus Christ.

God doesn’t live in an Ark to be used for our personal gain.  God lives inside of us so that we may be used by Him.  We are the Ark of the New Covenant.  On our own, we have no power, but with the power of the Holy Spirit living inside us, the faith of a mustard seed will crumble mountains.

Slide23

To God be the glory.

Act on Revealed Truth

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Introduction

Last week, Michelle taught from Isaiah 6. This week, the lesson covers Isaiah 7-23. When I first started studying, I though, whoa, we’re supposed to cover 16 chapters?

I spoke to Fred about this last Saturday; he said there was no problem covering all 16 chapters, he would enjoy a thorough lesson. So I thought we’d cover chapters 7-10 first, then break for lunch. Come back and read chapters 11-20 and then break for dinner. That would leave us plenty of time to cover 21-23 this evening.

Actually, I’ve noticed that the bible is an amazing book in that the closer or further away you get, there are different lessons. Isaiah 7-23 has many, many lessons for us. Isaiah 7-12 is a warning to political leaders; chapter 7 talks about hope, chapter 8 is a warning of judgment, 9 is a promise of mercy, and so on. Chapters 13-23 are prophecy and fulfilled prophecy, showing that the Lord is in control. Yet we can also focus on a single sentence and get a life-changing lesson from it, the Word of God is that powerful.

We’re just going to focus on Chapter 7 this morning. In Chapter 7, Isaiah reminds us that we are to trust in God in times of stress. We are God’s people, and we are to do things God way. God’s will be done; we can participate, or God will do His will without us. Yet, stubborn as we are, we often choose to be controlled by our circumstances rather than listen to the Lord. And that’s the lesson from the Lord today – to have faith in Him and not things of the world.

It’s time to make a decision. You can go one way, or you can go another. You can ask for help, you can go it alone. You can help a friend, but it means breaking a confidence. You can accept a new job, but it means moving away from church. What are some difficult decisions we face today, as a nation, as a church, as a class, or as a family?

Here’s a story from Los Angeles City College. In a class teaching public speaking, students were given an open assignment in public speaking. Here’s an excerpt from the news article –

On Nov. 24, 2008, Los Angeles City College speech professor John Matteson reportedly interrupted and ended Jonathan Lopez’s presentation mid-speech and called the student a derogatory name in front of the class for speaking about his faith, which included reading the dictionary definition of marriage and reciting two Bible verses.
Instead of allowing Lopez to finish, Matteson reportedly told the other students they could leave if they were offended. When no one left, Matteson dismissed the class. Refusing to grade the assigned speech, Matteson wrote on Lopez’s evaluation, “Ask God what your grade is.”

One week later, after seeing Lopez talking to the college’s dean of academic affairs, Matteson told Lopez that he would make sure he’d be expelled from school.

What are Mr. Lopez’s options? How would you respond?

Obviously anti-Christian, the teacher inadvertently asked a very appropriate question. “Ask God what your grade is.”

In Isaiah 7, King Ahaz is faced with a similar dilemma. He’s faced with a threat and has to make a decision. David’s kingdom had long since split in two after the death of Solomon. Israel to the north had routinely strayed from the lord. Judah to the south, sometimes followed the Lord and sometimes they didn’t, depending on the king at the time. Northeast of Israel was the nation of Aram (also called Syria), and north of that was the rising Assyrian Empire.

Under King Uzziah, Judah flourished. Aram and Israel had wanted to form an alliance with Judah, but Uzziah had resisted. Isaiah preached that the Lord would save, and Judah should remain neutral. Uzziah was dealing with raids from the Philistines from the west and the Edomites to the south, and if Uzziah moved troops to face the Assyrians, the southern attacks would succeed. Uzziah stayed neutral, and under King Uzziah, Judah flourished.

Uzziah died, and his son Jotham took over. Jotham was also a strong leader and kept Judah neutral, but died young. And Ahaz, 20 years old, took over. It’s now about 735 B.C.

Isaiah also spoke to Ahaz about relying on the Lord to save, but Ahaz didn’t listen. Ahaz was not a righteous king; in 2 Kings 16:2-3 we’re told Ahaz offered sacrifices to Baal and pagan idols. As a weak king, Israel and Aram gave up on the alliance idea and decided to attack Judah. Their goal was turn Judah into a puppet kingdom and become large enough to defend themselves against the Assyrians. Isaiah brings Ahaz a message to depend on the Lord and remain neutral. Isaiah tells Ahaz that Israel and Aram are too weak to be a threat, and that the Lord will protect Judah. Instead, 2 Kings 16:8 says Ahaz gave away treasure from the temple of the Lord to the Assyrians as a bribe to protect him from Aram and Israel.

Instead of listening to Isaiah’s word from the Lord, Ahaz tried to appease evil. How well did this work out? Assyria used the treasure to finance the war to conquer Aram and Israel, and then in 2 Chronicles 28 we’re told the Assyrians continued their march and conquered Judah, too, with the help of the Edomites from the south.

Isaiah told Ahaz to trust in the Lord. As Christians, we’re also taught to trust in the Lord. Like Ahaz, though, we attempt to resolve problems using our own human strength. Ahaz made several mistakes we can learn from.

I. Misplaced Focus

Let’s look at Isaiah 7:1-2.

When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it.

Now the house of David was told, “Aram has allied itself with Ephraim”; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.

Ephraim was the largest of the ten northern kingdom, and is used here to represent all of Israel being united. Ahaz gets word that Israel and Aram have become allies, and Ahaz is scared, shaken by the wind. Ahaz has been given the word of the Lord, but he fears men. He has misplaced focus.

Oswald Chamber wrote, “The remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God you fear everything else.” We face many fears in a world of sin and uncertainty. Finances, disease, natural disasters. We may face danger. We may face fear that someone we love will be hurt. Something may challenge our emotional or spiritual strength. We are tempted to give in to fear, to find a worldly solution.

Our focus should be on the Lord. What would the Lord have me do in this situation? How do I obey His commands in this time of trouble? When we turn to the Lord, fear of the world is replaced by faith in a faithful God. Our God is a powerful God. Why should we fear anything else? In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus teaches us to remember that the Lord knows our needs, that He will take care of us. Do not worry about what we eat or drink, or what we should wear. Put the Lord first, and He will provide what we need.

What was Ahaz’s fear? Was his fear justified? Have you ever been in a circumstance where you were afraid? Have you ever asked for someone’s advice and wish you hadn’t? At what point did you turn from your fears and turn toward the Lord for strength?

II. Misplaced Confidence

Isaiah 7:3-9 –

Then the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman’s Field. Say to him, ‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood — because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah. Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah’s son have plotted your ruin, saying, “Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it.” Yet this is what the Sovereign LORD says:

“‘It will not take place,
it will not happen,

for the head of Aram is Damascus,
and the head of Damascus is only Rezin.
Within sixty-five years
Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people.

The head of Ephraim is Samaria,
and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah’s son.
If you do not stand firm in your faith,
you will not stand at all.'”

The Lord says to Ahaz that the attack from the north will be unsuccessful. The leaders of those countries are only men, and He is the Lord God. The Lord knows the plans of evil men, and the Lord tells Ahaz that He is in control. The Lord says that these two countries are like sticks that have burned up, and there’s nothing left of them. Their flame may have once been bright, but now they’re dying. Both kings would be dead within two years.

Isaiah’s specific prophecy was that within 65 years, Israel would be too shattered to be a people. In 722 BC, Assyria conquered Israel and deported the people. 2 Kings 17:24 says foreigners came into the land to replace them, and Ezra 4:10 says later even more foreigners arrived.

Ahaz had misplaced confidence. His confidence is in himself. Ahaz puts his trust in a political alliance with Assyria. God is with Judah, but only if Judah is with God. Ahaz is trusting in the strength of an enemy to save him from other enemies. Where is Ahaz’s faith in God?

If we do not place our faith in the Lord when times are tough, then we have no faith at all. That’s what the Lord says – if you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all. But God is infinitely stronger than any problem we face. He is aware of our needs, and He is aware of those that plot against us. And God will help, but we must place our faith in Him first. Our primary confidence must be in Him, not ourselves, not other people, not worldly wisdom. God allows us to be tested in order to increase our faith in Him, and we demonstrate that faith when we give Him control and do not worry.

I notice also that Isaiah the prophet is faithful to share God’s word. But I also note fulfillment of prophecy that Michelle taught last week in Isaiah 6. Isaiah’s message falls on deaf ears, and Isaiah’s vision is unintelligible to blind eyes.

III. Missing Integrity

Isaiah 7:10-12,

Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.”

In Matthew 4, Satan tempts Jesus. Satan takes Jesus to the highest point of the temple of Jerusalem and tells Jesus to throw himself off. Satan says this will prove Jesus is the Son of God because scripture says angels will protect Jesus from any harm. And Jesus answers, “It is also written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

Why is Ahaz’s response wrong, but Jesus’ response was right? Ahaz was exhibiting false religiousity. Ahaz wasn’t testing the Lord; the Lord was testing Ahaz.

Both Ahaz and Jesus quote Deuteronomy 6:13. There’s a difference though – God wants to protect Judah, and all Ahaz has to do is place his faith in the Lord. Here is the kind of man Ahaz was, from 2 Chronicle 28:1-4 –

Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD. He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and also made cast idols for worshiping the Baals. He burned sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and sacrificed his sons in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree.

The Lord commanded Ahaz to ask for a sign. Ahaz refused. Ironically, Ahaz probably had been asking for signs from Baal and other deities; the Lord God says, “ask for a sign from me.” When Ahaz said he wasn’t going to test the Lord, what he was really saying was that he wasn’t going to trust the Lord. Ahaz used scripture to keep from obeying the Lord; he had missing integrity. While calling for Isaiah’s counsel, Ahaz had no faith in the Lord. To ask for such a sign from God required a faith from Ahaz that he didn’t have. He gave the appearance of being a religious person, but he was willing to sacrifice to idols, sacrifice his sons, make political alliances with enemies, anything at all. He had no integrity.

Integrity is the opposite of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is saying you believe or feel one thing, but then do something else. You are two different people; you do not practice what you preach. Integrity is being one person. You are the same person on the outside as you are on the inside. When we are a hypocrite, we are not being honest with God. We’re not even being honest with ourselves.

IV. Misplaced Faith

Isaiah 7:13-14,

Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Through Isaiah, God challenged Ahaz to ask for a sign, but Ahaz refused. Pious, fake religiosity; Ahaz refused to test God. In truth, Ahaz didn’t want a sign from God, because then Ahaz would have to be obedient to God or expose his own hypocrisy. Ahaz had already decided to place his faith in men; Ahaz had already requested help from Assyria.

God’s answer is to the entire house of David. Notice also that Isaiah refers to “my God,” perhaps recognizing that Isaiah’s God is not Ahaz’s god. God provided a sign anyway, even though Ahaz would not ask. God’s ultimate sign of His authority will be His Son, Jesus. The Hebrew word for virgin is complex; for Isaiah’s time, it probably means, “young woman of marriageable age.” In the next chapter, Isaiah chapter 8, Isaiah is talking about his own child, Maher Shalal Hash Baz, which meant “Quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil.” Partial fulfillment of this prophecy meant that Assyria would plunder the Aram and Israel before the child was old enough to know right from wrong.

We know there’s more to the prophecy, though. There is partial immediate fulfillment, but there is eventually ultimate fulfillment. Isaiah’s wife, the prophetess, was probably a real nice lady, but she wasn’t a virgin. She and Isaiah already had one child together. Also, Isaiah’s prophecy is not given to Ahaz, but the House of David, and he uses the plural “you”. The literal and ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy is in our Lord Jesus in Bethlehem. The apostle Matthew 1:22 says that “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call his name Immanuel, which means ‘God with us.”” The Greek word used here is not ambiguous; it means virgin, a woman who has never had sexual relations.

Our faith should be in the Lord, not in people, places or things. In 2 Samuel 7:16, the house of David was assured that David’s house and kingdom would endure forever, yet Ahaz placed no faith in that promise. God teaches us through trials to trust in Him and Him alone.

God will work out His plan, whether we participate in His plan or not. Ahaz certainly didn’t; Ahaz had faith in himself and in the world, and placed no faith in the Lord. As a result, Judah eventually fell and was plundered by the Assyrians. But look at Matthew 1:9 at the genealogy of our savior. The lineage of Jesus begins with Abraham through the line of David, then through Uzziah, Jotham, and Ahaz. God provided a savior; God fulfilled prophecy. God is faithful, even when we are not.

When a crisis comes, don’t misplace your faith; learn to place your faith in God. Don’t misplace your confidence; our God is bigger than any crisis that comes. Be honest with the Lord, ourselves, and other; when we respond in faith, it pleases the Lord and encourages others when they see how the Lord responds in our lives. If we do not stand firm in our faith, we will not stand at all.

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Responding to Loss

We’ve been studying the rise of David as King of Israel. David is an interesting man, full of failures, yet David is a man after God’s own heart. What makes David different? How is David different than Saul?

As we studied in 1 Samuel, the people of Israel demanded a king and God gave them what they asked for, even though God knew it wasn’t in their best interests. Saul, as king, has actions that outwardly display his obedience to God, but we know his heart isn’t right. Saul is full of himself, and his actions are inconsistent. They do not speak of a man fully committed.

At the end of 1 Samuel, David knows he has been anointed by God as the future king of Israel, but he has to wait. Wait and wait and wait. David waits for 15 or 20 years for Saul to die so that David can be king. Who can identify with waiting on God? It’s easy to become impatient, but God’s timing is perfect; it’s our timing that gives us angst.

For these 20 years, David has to deal with everything the human heart is exposed to. Tragedy, romance, family conflict, madness, hate, betrayal. What makes David different is not his righteousness, but his faith. David made his share of mistakes, but he placed his faith in an Almighty God that was bigger than David. As a result, David becomes the king that leads God’s people through peace and prosperity in the land that God promised Abraham.

The first book of Samuel reads like a prime-time television thriller. In Chapter 22, Saul goes on a killing spree, killing off the priests of God. Chapter 23, Saul almost catches up to David to kill him, but has to veer off because of an attack by the Philistines. Chapter 24, Saul’s reliving himself in a cave when David sneaks up and cuts off a corner of Saul’s robe, scaring and humbling Saul… for a while anyway. In Chapter 25, David has a run-in with Nabal, but Nabal’s wife Abigail averts a battle. The next morning, Abigail tells Nabal what she’s done, and Nabal has a heart attack, so David marries Abigail. In Chapter 26, Saul’s trying to kill David again, but David again spares Saul’s life, and Saul again promises to stop trying to kill David. Chapter 27 is when David finally decides to remove himself from Israel so that Saul will stop trying to kill him.

David’s in an interesting spot; Saul has alternated between trying to kill David and vowing not to kill David. David has had more than one opportunity to kill Saul, but David knows that Saul has been placed as king by God, and it will be God’s actions to remove Saul from the throne, not by David’s hand. David is to respect authority and will have no part of killing Saul.

Chapter 27, David flees to the land of the Philistines. Since the Philistines are at war with the Israelites, David’s logic is that Saul won’t follow him there. David lived there for a year and four months, becoming the right hand man of the king of Philistine by day, slayer of Philistines by night. Chapter 28, Saul goes to a séance at the Witch of Endor’s place to seek advice from Samuel, who died a few chapters back. Samuel shows up and he is not happy. Samuel tells Saul that because of Saul’s disobedience to the Lord, Saul and his sons will be joining Samuel the next day.

Then, when the Philistine army gathers their forces to invade Israel, the Philistine generals don’t trust David to lead his small army against Israel, so David is dismissed from service. David uses this time in Chapters 29 through 30 to destroy the Amalekites, the people that Saul should have destroyed years earlier. While David is destroying the Amalekites, the Philistines invade Israel and destroy Saul’s army at Mount Gilboa. As the Philistines close in on Saul, in chapter 31 Saul and Jonathon fall on their swords and commit suicide to prevent the Philistines from taking them prisoner.

We’re tempted to breathe a sigh of relief at this point; the long saga of Saul’s attempts to kill David has come to an end. We might even be tempted to celebrate. Ding dong, the witch is dead, which old witch, the wicked witch. Ding dong, the wicked king is dead.

But this is not a celebration. This is a day of sadness in the history of Israel. Israel’s first king is dead.

As 2 Samuel opens, David is unaware that Saul has died. David is in Ziklag in Philistine territory after destroying the Amalekites, when a man arrives to tell David of Saul’s death. 2 Samuel 1:5-15 describes the encounter; the man says he was there at Mount Gilboa and Saul was injured. Then the man says that Saul begged the man to kill him, so he does. But we know from 1 Samuel 31 that Saul fell on his sword and killed himself. Why would this man claim to David that he had killed Saul?

The man is obviously trying to buy favors from David, but it doesn’t work out the way the man expects. He tells David he is one of the Amalekites that David has been destroying and admits to killing the Lord’s anointed ruled of Israel, so David find him guilty of murder and has him put to death. David does not reward the man for doing what David has resisted doing for the past 20 years.

David begins a period, not of celebration, but of mourning for the passing of Saul. 2 Samuel 1:11-12 says,

Then David and all the men with him took hold of their clothes and tore them. They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the army of the LORD and the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.

And 2 Samuel 1:17-27, David composes a lament in honor of Saul and Jonathan.

Society teaches us, especially men, how to react in situations of grief. We’re supposed to be stoic. We are to control our emotions. And the news provides so many examples of horror in our society, and the movies we watch provide so many examples of death and destruction, that we become numb, calloused, and uncaring.

But I don’t believe that God’s plan for us is to learn to be stoic and uncaring. The only way we can avoid the grieving process is not to become attached in the first place. God wants us to become attached and involved. After loving God, the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Scripture supports that we are to spend extra effort loving Christian brothers and sisters, family and friends. And if we get attached, then certainly we will grieve when we experience loss.

God wants us to grieve such losses. Grief is a God-given emotion, a gift to deal with the pain. God doesn’t want us to live in grief; he wants us to use grief as an appropriate tool. It’s important to realize that, whether a believer or a non-believer, we will all experience grief. The issue is not whether we experience grief, but rather how we respond when we feel these emotions. It’s important to remember that, even when we don’t get all the answers we seek, that we can seek comfort in the Lord, that He understands the grief we experience. Be honest with God and He will help you work through your crisis. He may not tell you the answers to your questions, but He will remind you of His love for you. You can find comfort in Him.

Psychologists teach that there are five stages of grief that we go through when we experience a serious loss of a loved one, of a parent, a child, a spouse or sibling. The grief cycle is –

• Denial (shock, numbness). This is a protective reaction and it’s temporary. We’re not ready to deal with it, so we don’t. “This isn’t happening to me.”
• Anger. The actual root of anger is usually hurt or fear, but it’s expressed through anger. It’s normal, part of the fight or flight response. “Why” is the common question when we’re going through the anger phase.
• Bargaining (shame, guilt, or blame). “I promise I’ll be a better person if…” We try to find answers, we try to fix blame on somebody, maybe on ourselves. Sometimes we blame God.
• Depression (sadness). “I just don’t care anymore.” This is the hardest part of grief to overcome, it’s anger, but now it’s turned inward. Professional help is often necessary.
• Acceptance (forgiveness). This is just the way things are. When our desires, our expectations, our needs and wants are not the same as reality, we go through the first four stages. To get to acceptance, we get to a realization that we’re not going to change reality, so we’re going to have to change our expectations.

I’m not a psychologist; I don’t pretend to know all there is to know about grief. As an engineer, I can plot your grief stages in a spreadsheet if that’s helpful. If that’s not helpful, then we need to find some appropriate help in a friend, a confidant, or professional help. If you’re going through this now, Second Baptist offers qualified counselors free through the Barnabas Center to help you deal with issues like this.

But what we can do today is look at David’s responses to grief as a way of working through grief. In 2 Samuel 1:11-12, David goes through the anger and sadness phase by mourning and fasting. In verse 17, we can see the depth of David’s emotions as he composes a lament in honor of Saul and David’s best friend Jonathon. It’s important to find a way to express the sorrow we feel.

Horatio Spafford was born in 1828 and became a successful lawyer in Chicago. He was a deeply spiritual man and devoted to the scriptures. He amassed a great deal of wealth by investing in real estate near Lake Michigan. In 1871, Horatio Spafford’s only son died, and while he was still grieving the loss of his son, the Great Chicago Fire burned up much of his real estate and wiped him out financially. Two years later, he and his wife and four daughters planned to assist Dwight Moody in an evangelism campaign in Great Britain. Spafford got delayed by business for a few days, so he sent his wife and daughters ahead on the S.S. Ville du Havre. On November 22, 1873, his wife’s ship was struck by an English vessel and sank in a few minutes. When the few survivors landed in Wales, Spafford’s wife telegraphed two simple words, “Saved alone.” Spafford had lost all four daughters.

When Horatio Spafford followed by ship a few days later, as the ship was passing through the area where his daughters had perished, Spafford wrote his own lament of personal grief, life’s pain and suffering, and finally, Christ’s redemptive work in his life. You’ve heard these words –

It Is Well With My Soul

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Refrain:
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trumpet shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

Horatio Spafford

Both Horatio and David went through periods of intense grief. Both expressed their grief in powerful ways that gave thanks and glory to God. Ecclesiastes 3 tells us that there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the sun, including a time to mourn. We don’t have to be embarrassed or hide the fact we are in mourning; on the contrary, it shows the deep love God wants us to have for another. But we can learn something else from David’s lament; David had many reasons to be angry with Saul, yet, David’s lament in 2 Samuel 1:19-27 mentions not one word of criticism. Saul is described with beautiful words such as “How the mighty have fallen” and “in life they were loved and gracious,” “they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.”

One thing David does not mention, however, is Saul’s godliness. David knew that Saul failed as a spiritual leader of a nation. David praised Saul for the strengths Saul had, and did not resort to embellishing his praise with lies. Saul had his strengths, and David praised those honestly. What I find most amazing is that David’s grief and lament is about a man who made David’s life miserable, a man who hunted him into exile. But David acted in a godly manner, and it didn’t matter whether Saul did. Proverbs 24:17 says,

Do not gloat when your enemy falls;
when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice

God is displeased when we rejoice in another person’s troubles. Jesus tells us to love our enemies. David loved Saul out of compassion and without malice.

Sometimes we have a love / hate relationship with someone; often I hear it’s about a father, one full of stern discipline and sometimes harsh treatment that we nonetheless respected and loved. Once they’re gone, it is not the time to remember what we disliked about them, but to celebrate the strengths and positive characteristics they possessed.

I’ll confess that I feel uniquely unqualified to teach much more about grief; the Lord had blessed me with a wonderful life with little grief, and one my life’s biggest reasons for grief, my divorce from Diane, God gave me the chance to do it over in His way. But I know there are many of us that have recently experienced grief, and some of us are expected to experience grief. I would like to give us a chance to express a lament for those we may grieve for. I’d like to open up for discussion some thoughts about the grieving process.

First, what are some of the ways that Christians can respond in times of loss that honor God?

Why is it important for people to express grief after a loss?

How does acknowledging a loss help us grieve and help us ultimately move on with our lives?

What are some of the ways a believer can acknowledge loss in a relationship that had problems?

Perhaps you’re not currently going through a season of grief, but it’s likely that somebody you know is. What can we learn from David about other’s grief? When others grieve, sometimes it’s difficult for us to know how to respond. When the Philistines captured Saul’s lifeless body, they mangled and mutilated it, and his remaining men had the grisly task of burying what was left of the body. In 2 Samuel 2:5-7, David meets with these men who buried Saul. Look at the beautiful, encouraging words from David –

The LORD bless you for showing this kindness to Saul your master by burying him. May the LORD now show you kindness and faithfulness, and I too will show you the same favor because you have done this. Now then, be strong and brave, for Saul your master is dead, and the house of Judah has anointed me king over them.”

As we go through anger, denial, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, we will all react differently. Sometimes when a difficult person passes away, we feel relief and then guilt at feeling relief. We might hide the grief with a joyful exterior. We might put ourselves to work and lose ourselves in our jobs or in service. We might shut down and withdraw. We might even use humor to ease our grief. We can be kind to others in their grief. Professional counselors can help individuals in dealing with their grief, but there is no substitute for the love and care from others to help the healing process. Our church, our bible class, is our spiritual community to do just that.

If you’ve recently been through a grieving process, what are some of the things that people have done for you that helped?

The reason God wants us to express our grief to a community of believers is because we are uniquely positioned by God to be here as support to our Christian brothers and sisters that need us. David grieved with others and shared his thoughts through prayers and service to others. It’s tempting to withdraw into ourselves and suffer alone, but that’s not God’s plan. We need to share our losses with others so they can strengthen us. I don’t know why we feel the need to suffer alone. Pride, maybe? That somehow suffering a loss or the fact that we’re hurting somehow makes us look weak? But if we share our grief, we can be encouraged by those who care for us.

Who here has recently experienced a reason to grieve or expects to experience one soon? Pray silently for just a moment, and if you feel led, tell us who you grieve for and a positive quality about their life you can share with us.

(Prayers and thoughts from the class)

Another lesson we can learn from David after his lamentations is to look at his actions in 2 Samuel 2. In verses 1-4, David seeks the Lord’s advice on how to respond. Our first priority in life must be to seek God’s guidance, whether in joy or pain. This includes big questions such as “should I take a new job” or “should I move to a new city,” but smaller questions such as “should I continue to serve on a particular church committee.” What process do you follow in making decisions?

I think David was able to deal with his grief over the death of Saul and Jonathan because he could see God working His plan for Israel. Instead of focusing on Saul’s faults, David focused on God’s sovereignty and grace. After a loss, we want to ask why. Why did she die? Why did I lose my job? Why did I get cancer? But I’m convinced God wants us, instead of asking “why,” to ask “how” or “what.” What do you want me to do in my life, Lord? How shall I respond to this loss, Lord? We know that God promises that in all things, He works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. In all things. We have to have faith that when God says all things, He means it. Even in times of grief.

So our time of grief is a season that we go through, but grief is not a place where we stay. We should express our grief to others so they may strengthen us. How long do we spend grieving? That’s up to each of us individually. 2 Samuel 2 begins with the words, “In the course of time, David.” David had a destination as king of Israel and he had to get on with his life. In the course of time, we, too, must get on with our lives. God has prepared a destination for us, too. Let us give thanks to Him.

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PBS and the Separation of Church and State

When the US Government funds anything remotely Christian in nature, all sorts of “separation of church and state” groups get upset. The ACLU files a lawsuit and the “offensive” Christian material is removed.

So why is it ok for US tax dollars to be used to oppose Christianity? Shouldn’t the same standard be used? PBS, a government funded liberal and atheist propoganda tool (not that I’m opinionated on the subject) is funded by the US government and is producing a show that attacks the underlying tenets of the bible.

Among other things, this show says –

  • Abraham, Sarah and their offspring didn’t exist.
  • There is no archaeological evidence of the Exodus.
  • Monotheism was a process that took hundreds of years.
  • The Israelites were actually Canaanites.
  • The Israelites believed that God had a wife.

For me as a Christian, it’s bad enough when free speech is exercised to attack my beliefs; my right to free speech also belongs to others to say the opposite. Will my tax dollars also be used to fund a show friendly to my beliefs? Probably not; the ACLU will sue to prevent the use of tax dollars for Christian-friendly projects. So why is the government allowed to fund an attack on Christianity?

Rededicating Lives

Read. Study. Mourn. Celebrate. Repent. Promise.

The bible is full of interesting, life-changing information. For instance, we know that Adam and Eve were created from an apple tree. Adam gave Eve a rib; Eve gave Adam an apple, then made a wonderful marinated BBQ ribs out of apple sauce. This is found in the book of Guinness.

After the book of Guiness comes the book of Exodus. The Israelites became upset with the Egyptians because the Pharaoh made them make their beds without straw. Then Moses led the Israelites to the Red Sea where they made unleavened bread, which is bread made without any ingredients. Later, Moses went up Mount Cyanide to get the Ten Amendments which were also known as manners from heaven. Sadly, Moses died before ever reaching Canada, which Joshua conquered during the battle of Geritol.

After the book of Exodus is the book of Laxatives which tells us what we can and cannot eat. Lunch today is at Thai Spice Buffett, by the way.

I know this was silly but the reason it’s silly is because, at least in these examples, we know what the bible really says. But the bible is a big book. Do you know what it really says?

God shows his glory in many ways, through the wonders of the heavens to the tiny miracle in a simple leaf of grass. The wonders we see tell us there is a God – but a leaf of grass cannot tell us “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” or “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” God speaks to us through his Word, God-breathed through men as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

If you don’t know the Word yourself, then you can be easily misled. Let me ask you some questions and see how you do. Let’s take a little quiz –

Question 1: House and wealth are inherited from parents, but a good wife comes from
a) patience
b) God
c) man’s labor.
(Answer: Proverbs 19:14, Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a good wife comes from the Lord.)

Question 2: Christians are persecuted but not
a) depressed
b) suffering
c) abandoned.
(Answer: 2 Corinthians 4:9, Persecuted but not abandoned).

Question 3: Which phrase originated in the bible?
a) Make hay while the sun shines
b) Eat, drink, and be merry
c) In the nick of time.
(Answer: Luke 12:19, Eat drink and be merry. Taken out of context, by the way.)

Question 4: Which expression originated in the bible?
a) fly in the ointment
b) rule of thumb
c) dyed in the wool.
(Answer: Ecclesiastes 10:1, fly in the ointment.)

Question 5: Which expression is *not* in the bible?
a) Money is the root of all evil
b) God helps those who help themselves
c) without rhyme or reason.
(A: Actually none of those are in the bible.)

If you don’t know what’s in the bible, how do you know what God says? How do you know if a preacher is telling the truth? If a preacher tells you to turn to Matthew 27:5, “Judas went and hanged himself,” then tells you to turn to Luke 10:37, “Jesus says, “Go and do likewise,” will you follow the scripture as told to you by man?

I like Dr. Young; he teaches from the bible, relies heavily on scripture. He preaches on joy, responsibility, peace, promises from God. How many of you have ever read of Fred Phelps? If you have a weak constitution, don’t google him. He, too, preaches from the bible, but a completely different message. Fred Phelps says Jesus only died for those who believe. John 3:16, “”For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” He says that “God loves everyone” is the greatest lie ever told and backs it up with scripture about they type of people God hates. He and his church of about 100 people protest at the funerals of soldiers, saying it is their duty to warn others of God’s anger. President Bush recently signed “the Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act” which prevent protest within 300 feet of cemetery from 60 minutes before to 60 minutes after a funeral because of Fred Phelps. Fred Phelps runs a website targeting homosexuals as the worthy of God’s wrath and that the world is doomed because of them. He and his church have been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Who is right, Dr. Young or Fred Phelps? And how do you know since they both quote scripture? When I first became a Christian, I read a lot of Max Lucado books. I found his books inspiring and comforting. But I realized I wasn’t relying on God’s Word – I was relying on what somebody else said God was saying. Why would I think Max is a better source for what God says than God Himself is? The only way to discern between truth and lies is to go directly to God for the answers.

In the book of Nehemiah – oh, yes, we’re studying the book of Nehemiah today. Last week Fred located our place in history – after the relocation from Babylon, after laying the foundation of the temple, and brought us up to rebuilding the walls for protection and how stressed out that made Nehemiah. And now it’s the next day.

The Israelites have had some tough times. They have repeatedly over the last few hundred years demonstrated disobedience to God, and God’s wrath brings them back to righteousness. The destruction of Jerusalem had taught them the importance of obeying God, and the struggles of rebuilding the walls of the city had reinforced this lesson. God’s people were learning the importance of God’s Word.

Now, the Old Testament was not yet complete in Nehemiah’s time. The first 5 books – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy were the only books recognized at the time as divine revelation. To the Israelites, the heart of the events in these 5 books were God’s description of Himself, such as Exodus 34:6-7, “And [God] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” God’s judgment, wrath, redemption, and laws all flow naturally from God’s own character. The Hebrew word for “law” is torah, and it comes from a verb that means “to throw or shoot.” The idea is that the torah comes from a higher authority, a memo from the boss like “Please note our business hours are from 8am to 5pm. Be at your desk and ready to work by 8:00am or you’re fired.” That sort of torah. The torah can be used for teaching, for instruction, or decisions, from raising children to how to get along with your neighbor. Some of these legal codes were very general in nature, like the Ten Commandments. They are very broad, apply to everyone, and no specific penalty or consequence is attached. Some are very specific, like jaywalking, and applied the Ten Commandments to a specific case and the penalty that goes with it.

In the eight chapter of Nehemiah, Israelites were concerned they would repeat the mistakes of their ancestors, and consequently God’s written Word had become quite important. Without knowing God’s word, they were doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over. In our time, the bible is the best selling book ever, every year. At least 20 million bibles are sold every year in the US alone. Worldwide sales of the top 8 best selling bibles sell well over 100 million bibles a year. Then add the bible distributed freely and for missions – the Gideons distribute 70 million bibles every year, and the Bible Society, biblesociety.org, distributes nearly 400 million bibles or portions of the bible every year.

But in Nehemiah’s time, there was no way to mass produce the torah. No neighborhood Kinko’s. Scripture was copied by hand onto expensive parchment scrolls and took years to produce a single copy. So how do you get the word out to all of God’s people?

Nehemiah 8:1, I almost got distracted from the lesson when I was working on Nehemiah 8:1. This book starts in the middle of a sentence. The first half of the sentence ends at the bottom of Nehemiah 7. Must be an English translation thing. Let’s read Nehemiah 8:1-3

all the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel. So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

Notice that it was the people asking Ezra to read the scripture. They had been in captivity for 70 years and public speaking of the Word was probably prohibited. They were eager to hear what God had to say. “All the people assembled as one man” shows the unity and reverence of the people for the law. This was important stuff! If you don’t want a smiting from the Lord again, better find out why the Lord has been smiting! Ezra brought the Law of Moses out to the people and conducted a great bible reading from sunup to noon, at least 5 hours straight, and all the people, those who were able to understand, listened attentively.

Can you imagine standing and listening to the bible for 5 hours straight? I could teach for 5 hours straight, I think, and the miracle is that all of you will live forever. Or at least it’ll seem that way to you.

The value of listening to the Word of God for 5 hours straight is enormous. I demonstrated earlier how scripture can be extracted piecemeal to prove almost any point you want, but when the scripture is read continuously in a long session, the biblical context is clear. We are untainted by somebody else’s vision, we hear God’s word directly, we can get a better understanding of why a particular sentence exists, and we have a better understanding of how to apply it to our lives. This is powerful. Hebrews 4:12 says the word of God is active, sharper than a two edged sword. It opens our heart and lays bare our soul before God. It exposes our sin to the Lord, it convicts us. We cannot make excuses to the Lord for a selfish sin we want to keep when we read God’s word directly into our hearts. We begin to see our own sinful actions laid bare next to God’s perfect Word. Do we justify lust to ourselves? Is it ok for us men to ogle other women, is it harmless? Is a little flirting with the opposite sex ok as long as nothing comes of it? Is it ok for a woman to explain to her husband what he’s doing wrong, to criticize him, to use her tongue as a whip, after all, she’s just trying to make her husband a better person. The answer to both of these questions is in here, the bible. We can justify it to ourselves that we’re good decent people, we cannot justify it God. He does not entertain our excuses; He judges and He convicts in His loving and perfect way.

The people gathered near the Water Gate which was on the southeastern side of Jerusalem, between the temple mount and the Gihon spring. If the reading of the Word was held in the temple, Mosaic Law limited entrance to the inner court to men. The people gathered outside so men, women, and the older children could hear and understand. Previously, worship consisted almost entirely of sacrificial worship to the Lord, but during the rebuilding of the temple, a new form of worship began that consisted of public reading and teaching of scripture. The location outside the temple emphasizes that the people needed to understand that faithful obedience in daily life was far more important than mere attendance at temple services and offering sacrifices. Sacrificial worship, of course, still took place, but the addition of reading and teaching enabled people to realize the true nature of scripture. Scripture originates with God, not man. The people referred to the first five books as the Law of Moses, but they believed God had given them to Israel. 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:20-21 says the bible is God-breathed, inspired by God, and did not come about because of man’s will. Through scripture, God speaks to humanity and reveals Himself to us. This was true in Nehemiah’s time and it’s true today.

Nehemiah 8:4-5 describes the scene and the amount of preparation they put into it. A high wooden platform was built specially for the occasion, and Ezra the scribe stood on it surrounded by 13 men. This allowed Ezra’s voice to project farther and clearer. Ezra opens the torah parchment in full view of all the people, and all the people stood up in reverence. Before reading, Ezra praises God, our Father, the Lord Almighty, and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then the people bowed down with their faces to the ground and worshipped the Lord.

In preparation for hearing the Word, the people first lifted their hands. The lifting of the hands was symbolic during prayer; in Ezra and Psalms 28:2, lifting of the hands symbolized their dependence on God to supply all their needs.

Second, the worshippers said a double “amen.” Sometimes I hear preachers use “amen” like a question. “We’re all going to attend Wednesday night service, amen?” That irritates me; “amen” has a particular meaning that the preacher is misusing. And if he’s misusing a single word, is he misusing the rest of the bible? The Greek Old Testament usually translates “amen” to mean, “So be it” or “truly.” The Jews are taught that “Amen” means “God who is trustworthy.” It’s a statement that this is perfect truth. Jesus refers to Himself in Revelation as “the Amen, the faithful and true witness.” Amen is not a word to be taken lightly. The worshippers said a double amen because they recognized they were going to hear the truth of the Lord firsthand, and they were acknowledging their responsibility to obey the Word they were about to hear.

Thirdly, they bowed down and worshipped with their face toward the ground. People bowed before rules, before kings, to show their submission to one in authority. They recognized God’s authority over them.

In verse 7 & 8, the people are ready to receive God’s Word. Ezra is up high on the platform where everybody can see. The Levitical priests are among the crowd, and as Ezra reads the Word, the priests repeat the Word, then help make the Word clear to the people. “Do you understand?” Sort of like in Acts 8 where the apostle Philip meets the Ethiopian eunuch and asks, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

After hearing the Word, let’s look at verse 9,

Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

Q: Why do you suppose the people were weeping after hearing the Law read to them?

The people, upon hearing the Word, realize that they have been disobedient to God. The light of the Word does that, it shines on our sin, revealing it. Once it is revealed, we can repent. Too often we try to do it the other way around – we try to repent first, and then come to God. But we need to see our sin as God sees our sin, not as we would like to see our own sin. We sort of scrub ourselves up a little and think we’re clean, but we can still grow potatoes behind our ears. The Word of God shines into places in our soul we can’t reach on our own.

You know that song they sing at 11:11, “Come Just As You Are?” That’s the way God wants us to come, dirty sins and all. You can’t clean yourself up good enough to get to heaven. Bring your sins to God, confess them, and God will give you the strength and wisdom to clean you. God will do a much better job of cleaning your soul than you can do on your own.

God has a plan for each and every one of us. The plan God has for you is unique; the plan God has for me is unique. To find the unique plan God has for you, you have to read and ask your own tough questions. And when you read God’s plan for you, you cannot help but realize that you’re not quite measuring up to God’s standard. In fact, we’re downright disobedient sometimes. When questioned, we’re all quick to say, “Oh, I’m not perfect.” We’re dismissive of it, it’s no big deal. Well, ok, so how, precisely, are you imperfect? How are you being disobedient, how are you missing the mark God has planned for you? What is your sin? Don’t trivialize it. Recognize it. No matter how small the sin is, it offends God. If you’re not sure what sin you have, as Dr. Young says, just guess. You’ll probably get it right the first time.

So Nehemiah’s people are upset, crying, weeping, as they realize how far short of God’s will they had fallen. But let’s look back at verse 2 for a second. What day is this? It’s the first day of the seventh month. Let’s hop over to Leviticus 23:23-25, which describes the Feast of Trumpets:

The LORD said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts. Do no regular work, but present an offering made to the LORD by fire.’ “

First they were weeping because they were convicted of their sin; now they find out even the weeping on this particular day is a sin. Talk about opening the floodgates. This is a holy day, a Sabbath day. A day made for rest, a day made for feasting. It’s a day for celebration. Sort of like crying on Christmas, it’s just not right.

I think this is reflective of how we should live as Christians. We should read the bible to be convicted of our sin – but why should this conviction lead to misery? Why should it a bad things to discover something in ourselves that doesn’t meet God’s standards? We know already that we are not perfect, so why should imperfection make us weep?

Question: What is the value in confessing our sins? Why does God think confessing our sins is important?

Instead, it should be an opportunity. Celebrate! With the Lord’s guidance, our sin has been revealed to us. If we repent of our sin, hurray! That’s a step towards righteousness, a better person for the Lord. Instead of being upset that we’re not perfect, praise the Lord that He has revealed our iniquities. That’s just what the Israelites did – they celebrated. Look at verse 12, “Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.” So rejoice at the Word of God that shows us our imperfections. Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice.” 1 John 1:4, “And these things we write unto you, that your joy may be full.” God doesn’t want you to have a little fun, He wants you to have a whole lot of fun reading and studying His word. If you’re not having fun when you read the bible, something isn’t quite right. Ask the Lord to help. Go to Him in prayer and ask Him. Say, “Lord, I want your Word to bring joy to my life. Show me why I am not joyful, remove whatever keeps me from joy when I study your word.” God will answer that prayer when you are honestly praying to God for His will in your life.

In Nehemiah 9, two and a half weeks later, the people returned to assemble together. They spent the day fasting to help them become attuned to God speaking to them. They wore sackcloth as a sign of humility, like wearing uncomfortable burlap against your bare skin. They put dust on their heads, which was a sign of mourning, they way we wear black at funerals. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the wickedness of their fathers. They did not blame their fathers for their trouble, but acknowledging that sins are passed from one generation to another. The children duplicate the sins their fathers taught them, and it’s passed from generation to generation until either repentance or judgment comes.

The people were serious about their study. This wasn’t a half hour bible study that has to last us for a week. They read from the bible for three hours, then spent the next 3 hours confessing their sins and worshipping the Lord. “Blessed be your glorious name,” they praised Him.

Now starting in Nehemiah 9, verse 6, they recap the entire bible. You want the Cliff Notes version of the Old Testament, here it is. From creation to Abraham to the exodus out of Egypt and the miracles against the Pharoah, just read Nehemiah 9, you get all the headlines. And then to summarize, they give praise to God for His mercy and judgment. In verse 38, they make a binding agreement and put it in writing, and all the leaders signed it; they’re all listed in Nehemiah 10. I’m not going to read these names, but they’re impressive. Perhaps if you or a relative is going to have a baby, I could recommend one of these names, like Meshullam or Shebeniah. In Nehemiah 10:28, the rest of the people signed a binding agreement:

“The rest of the people—priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand- all these now join their brothers the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the LORD our Lord.”

My, all of this from reading the bible. These were God’s chosen people, but they realized how far short of the mark they had fallen.

Question: Why is rededication to God sometimes necessary?

Ponder something for a moment: what sort of covenant do you have with God? If you sat down and penned a letter to God with the promises you make to the almighty Creator, what sort of things would you promise to do? What sort of things would you promise not to do? Would you be willing to write it down on a piece of paper? “Dear Lord, I promise to… Dear Lord, I promise not to… “. And then sign your name to it? People sign up for a lot of things – a lease on their apartment, a loan on a car – and then they sign their name to it. What sort of changes do you need to make in your life to align your life with God’s will? What sort of promise are you willing to make to God?

The Israelites read the bible and were filled with the Word of God. They realized they were hypocrites, claiming to be good people while sinning against the Lord. They wept and mourned and were convinced of their sin. They rejoiced and celebrated that the Lord was with them and He was merciful to them in their sin. They praised God, they studied some more, and they made a personal promise to God to obey the Lord, all the commands and decrees. And then they signed their name to it, Amen. Consider this week doing the same. Read. Study. Mourn. Celebrate. Repent. Promise. Then, write a letter to the Lord and sign your name to it. I recommend placing this letter in your bible, right here in Nehemiah 10, where you’ll eventually read it again. See how the Lord will work in your life.

Taking Comfort in God’s Strength

I taught a lesson on “Taking Comfort in God’s Strength” and never got around to posting my notes. I have found that I tend to get lost in my notes and I tried to switch to an outline format. It actually worked out better for teaching, but it looks like a lousy format for a blog. So without further ado, here are my notes.

I. Introduction

A. Why is it that some Christians find living by faith to be a powerful positive experience and others don”t? The bible talks often about the joy of salvation, yet some Christians walk around in a funk with their own little black cloud following them every where they go.

B. The difference between Christian living in victory and a defeated Christian is refusing to let go of the world and cling to God, who offers an endless supply of strength.

II. First, let’s do the history lesson.

A. Isaiah, as a prophet of God, had a job to tell the people what God said. During this time the Israelites were sinning against God and refusing to turn from their sins, so God was in the process of punishing them. In 722 B.C, during Isaiah’s life time, the Northern Kingdom of Israel was overrun by the Assyrians and the people were either killed or taken into captivity. In 586 B.C, more than 100 years after Isaiah lived, the Southern Kingdom was overrun and its peoples carted off to Babylon.

B. Isaiah prophesied the Babylonian captivity of 586 B.C. He repeatedly warned the people that this was going to happen to them because of their sins and their refusal to get right with God. In addition to warning them of God’s impending judgment, Isaiah also spoke to the Israelites words of grace and comfort from God, telling them that their punishment and captivity would not last forever. This passage in Isaiah is all about the hope and comfort of God.

C. The Jews found these words comforting because it assured them that God was still their God, even thought they sinned, and that God would be true to His promises to them as a people. The Israelites knew that one day God would take them back to their homeland and bless them.

D. So in chapter 40 of Isaiah, Israel is complaining about their captivity and oppression by King Cyrus. They’re tired and weary and as a result, they’ve taken their focus off of God. Now they are focused on their own “woe-is-me” state of mind, and with their mind off of God they’re now relying on their own strength to see them through the tough times.

E. But Isaiah points out that just because we have lost sight of God, that’s not the same as losing God. God is still there for us, but often we are too focused on ourselves to notice.

F. Isaiah 40:1-5. The first 39 chapters of Isaiah focused on the judgment of Israel because of Judah’s sin. By the time we get to Chapter 40, God emphasizes comfort and hope.

i. v1. The word “comfort” here is not just a pat on the head or casual encouragement. It’s the type of compassion you offer someone over the loss of a loved one.
ii. v2. Israel has seen some tough times because of disobedience, but now comes a time of comfort. Her iniquity, her sin, has been pardoned. In Exodus 22:4-9, God’s law says a thief should repay twice what he stole. God is saying that Israel has stolen from God and has now received twice the punishment required.
iii. v3. This is a messianic prophecy, a declaration that Christ will come. John the Baptist cried the same thing 700 years later. Roads at the time were usually well worn paths that meandered to and fro, but when royalty announced their intention to travel, a roads would be straightened to make travel easily. And the desert implies that God will travel through an inhospitable place.
iv. v4. Talk about making straight paths. Valley will be lifted up and mountains leveled to make a smooth road for the Lord.
v. v5. And when the glory of the Lord appears, not only Israel will see Christ, but all humanity will.
vi. v6-8. The Assyrians that conquered the Israelites must have seemed overwhelming, but God is pointing out that, despite appearances, anything humanity does will fade. God’s breath is like a hot dry wind in the desert that dries up anything humans can accomplish, including the Assyrians. And after the grass is dried and the flowers gone, the Word of God still remains.
vii. v10-11. God assures us that his rule is not like human rulers that can rule by fear and intimidation. God’s rule is more like a shepherd watching over his flock because He loves us.
viii. v27-29. Israel has been saying that God isn’t listening. Israel’s way is hidden from the Lord. God’s response is that He has been there for centuries, through the Exodus, bringing Israel into Canaan, but Israel kept turning away from God to idols. People today often ask the same question – where is God – while the same people are disobedient. God hates sin and will not look upon it, so one can’t go on sinning and asking where God is.
ix. God reminds us in v. 28 that God is different from people – God is everlasting, humans are temporary. God is the Creator, people are the created. God’s strength knows no limits while people grow weary. And that’s the part that’s most interesting to me.

III. Isaiah 40:30-31:
“Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength: They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.”

A. Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired? Does work get you down? Do you have family that stresses you out? Neighbors? Housework? What sort of things make you weary?

B. We can have hope through this scripture that we can tap into God’s strength.
a. How strong is God? God is infinitely strong. He created Heaven and Earth. Genesis tells us that God clapped twice and said, “Let there be light.” He created the sun, the moon, and the stars. When did He do this? Hard to tell, because He created time, too. God is everything.

C. Isaiah 40 above tells us two things –
a. We all grow weary, and
b. As a people of faith, expectantly waiting on the Lord, we will find new strength.

IV. Growing Weary

v. 30, “Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly. . .”

A. All of us are going to grow old and weary, but sometimes young people don’t realize this. This verse is specifically for younger people like Ken, a warning that their strong energy level will fade. They think they’ll be 18 till they die, that they’ll always look vigorous and handsome, that their energy level will always be high. But those of us with a few miles behind us realize this doesn’t last forever. As the younger grow older, they’ll get weary and tired, too.

B. When we get older, we realize we’ll get even older yet. A mark of maturity is recognizing life for what it is and accepting it, but sometimes we grow weary. This past Easter Sunday we visited my mom and stepdad, joined them for their church service and then went out to brunch. We had planned on going to Minute Maid, but we got worried about his health since he spent several months in ICU last year. So we’re driving around when all of a sudden his leg cramps up. He has to pull over and I offer to drive, so I get out of the back seat at swap places with him. As he’s getting in the back seat there’s a lot of groaning going on as he tries to wedge himself back there, then he warns me not to laugh because one day I’ll be older too. I told him I wasn’t about to laugh – when we’re 20, we might think old people are funny, but by the time we’re in our 40’s we’re recognizing that someday we’re going to be that old, too. It’s not as funny anymore.

C. And as we get older, we get weary and worn out, and as we get weary, we start developing problems. For instance, when we’re weary, we drop our defenses. We’re too tired. Like a wolf picking off the weakest sheep from the flock, the enemy waits for us to become weary. Then he pounces. When we are weary, we are defenseless against the enemy.
i. Deuteronomy 25:17-18, “Remember what Amalek did to you along the way when you came out from Egypt, how he met you along the way and attacked among you all the stragglers at your rear when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God.” Very powerful example the devil’s attack on weary Christians.
ii. 2 Samuel 17:1-2, “Furthermore, Ahithophel said to Absalom, ‘Please let me choose 12,000 men that I may arise and pursue David tonight. And I will come upon him while he is weary and exhausted and will terrify him so that all the people who are with him will flee. Then I will strike down the king alone.” When we become weary, we are defenseless.

D. When we are weary, we also lose our perspective. We do stupid things. Remember Esau in Genesis 25? Esau came in from the field, famished and tired, and sold his birthright for a bowl of stew. What was he thinking? He was weary, forgot what was important, and missed out on God’s blessing.

E. When we’re tired, we get sleepy. We get inactive. We can actually become a hindrance to other Christians because we become baggage that gets dragged around. They’re trying to vacuum the living room, we’re snoozing on the sofa. Every once in a while we crack open one eye and say, “Hey, not so loud.” We’re in the way.

F. When we are weary, it’s easy to get depressed. When we are weary, we want to throw our hands up and quit. We get negative, critical, and we feel like everyone is against us. Let me read this Psalm that shows our attitude when we are depressed.
Gloom, despair, and agony on me.
Deep dark depression, excessive misery.
If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.
Gloom, despair, and agony on me.
What’s the answer to this kind of darkness? Take it from me, Hee Haw reruns aren’t the answer.

V. Vitality in Waiting on the Lord

A. v. 31, “Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength: They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.”

B. Wow. Run and not get tired. What does it mean to wait for the Lord? I looked up the word “wait”, and the original Hebrew word is “qavah.” The word “qavah” does not imply sitting around, doing nothing, waiting for something to happen. It’s more than an expectation, too, it implies you are bound together with God like the braids of a rope. Inseparable, stronger together than if you were apart.

C. Qavah is a fairly common word in the bible, used 49 times in 45 verses. I’m not going to read them all unless you have time, of course, but I wanted to highlight one of them that implied something besides “wait.”
i. Genesis 1:9. “And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together (qavah) unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.” Waters gathered together. Ropes bound together. We are to be inseparable if we want to run and not get tired.

D. Can we do this without God? Do we have inexhaustible strength? The truth is that if we rely on ourselves, our own strength runs out. What we need is new strength, a renewing strength. When we wait upon the Lord and bind ourselves to Him, we exchange our weakness for His strength.

E. Then look at the impact this exchange has on our lives – we will “mount up with wings like eagles.” When we exchange our weakness for His strength, we grow spiritual wings, we learn to soar above our earthly problems, our light and momentary afflictions. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:16, “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.” As we exercise our faith in Jesus Christ, our inner man is renewed day by day. When we are bound with God, we soar with wings like eagles. Sometimes instead of soaring like eagles, or we’re flapping like wounded ducks.

F. But that’s not the whole promise. It also says, “They will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.” Sometimes we are called to run, to do something immediately for the Lord. If Jesus is setting a fast pace, He will provide the strength we need. There are times when He calls us to run. And in those times, we “will run and not get tired.” But there are other times when we just walk. In those times, we “will walk and not become weary.”

G. I just noticed it makes us no promises if we just sit there. Our daily walk with Christ is a movement, a doing something for Christ. Get up and walk, and sometimes run.

H. So if this promise of strength is for us, why don’t we always get strength?
i. Sometimes it’s because we don’t stay bound with God’s Word. Instead of being wrapped up in His Word, devoting time to prayer and meditation and study so that His Word is in our head, we treat it as a part-time hobby. I heard a story a couple of weeks ago from a man who said his family teases him about an incident years ago when he hit his thumb with a hammer. Apparently when he hit his thumb, a lot of very interesting words came out of his mouth. When he was asked, “what exactly did you say?” He responded, “I don’t remember. But I can tell you this – whatever came out of my mouth, I had been practicing to say it. It was what was in my heart and it flew out of my mouth.” So instead of staying bound with God to rely on His strength, we often abandon Him when we need Him most.
ii. Instead of being bound with God, we’re bound to our past thoughts and habits. Imagine for a moment, a young boy whose father is an alcoholic. When his father comes home drunk and mean, the boy is scared, runs and hides. The pattern is repeated over and over, the boy hiding from his father every night. When the boy grows up and somebody confronts him in an angry way, how does he respond? He runs away. It’s a habit, a stronghold in his mind to respond that way.
iii. We all have these strongholds in our minds, and they’ve come from years of practicing them. Instead of trusting in God’s strength, we learn to cope with Plan B, our own strength. These strongholds can be a sin, a missing the mark for what God has planned for us. Once you decide to follow your plan instead of God’s plan, the next time a similar situation comes up, you’ll probably choose your own plan again. Why? Because that’s what you practiced, it’s becoming a habit. If you repeat an act over and over, it becomes a habit. And once this stronghold is in your mind and actions, it becomes very difficult to change. Here’s some examples –
1. Hostility. When you are threatened, how to you respond? If you’re driving down 610 among the construction of the week and some pickup truck nearly takes off your front bumpers cutting across 3 lanes of traffic, do you get road rage? If you’re trying to convince your boss of some idea you’ve had, and he responds, “That’s stupid, it’ll never work,” do you get mad and wish you could quit? When a family member irritates you, do you sharpen the tongue and go at them? It’s a stronghold, a habit to respond that way because you’ve practiced it. God is stronger than this. If you’re bound with God, though, you know that you should love your enemy, pray for your enemy, turn the other cheek. God is stronger than hostility, but you have to be bound with Him.
2. Inferiority. I’m not good enough to do that, I can’t do that, nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I’m going to the garden and eat worms. That’s a stronghold, shrinking away from people and not wanting to get involved. You attend bible class but you don’t join the church because somehow you don’t feel like you belong, that those other people are somehow better than you. You don’t feel you pray enough or read your bible enough or share your faith enough. Pretty soon you start thinking about your failures and agreeing that you’re probably not very lovable to God. You’ve grown weary and Satan is picking the weak sheep off. God says you are a child of God, a saint who is inferior to no mortal. Bind yourself in God’s word and know that He values you above all creation.
3. Manipulation. Control freak. You feel that if it’s happening in your life that you must control the people and circumstances. You’ve developed a stronghold by practicing a pattern of control, and now it controls you. Bound yourself with God, what does He say? He says to give control of everything to Him. Give your problems to God.
4. Sexual immorality. Anorexia, bulimia. Negative thought processes that you trust more than God’s strength, and in so you become a weak sheep that the evil one wants to pick off and devour. But bind yourself with God, walk with God and you won’t become weary and disillusioned. Getting rid of the old sinful self was God’s grace, a gift through the Holy Spirit. God changed our nature, but it our responsibility to change our behavior, putting to death our fleshly desired. In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul rebukes immature Christians for their expression of jealousy, strife, and division. Why? They had old habits and were choosing self over God.

I. So now you’re saying, but what about meeeeee? What does this have to do with meeeeee?
i. First of all, no more pity parties. Don’t be like the chocolate Easter bunny that went to see a psychiatrist. The chocolate Easter bunny lies down on a psychiatrist’s couch with the psychiatrist sitting beside him taking notes. The chocolate Easter bunny was explaining his problem to the psychiatrist: “Naturally, I would like people to love for me for what’s inside. But Doc, that’s the problem. I’m hollow on the inside.” Ps 103:2-5, “Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits– who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” What are some of God’s benefits?
1. Fellowship with God, they almighty God, maker of Heaven and Earth. He’s not a spectator and watching our game of life, he wants a relationship, one on one with us. In Exodus 33:7, 9, 11a, it says, “Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it “the tent of meeting.” Anyone inquiring of the Lord would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp … As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance while the Lord spoke with Moses … the Lord would speak to Moses face to face as a man speaks with his friend.” As a man speaks with his friend. That’s the kind of relationship God wants with us. Who was here for Savior last Friday night? Fabulous musical and the opening song was a love song, a duet, between Wintley Phipps with the voice of God singing “who will appreciate this beautiful world I’ve created? Who will enjoy the waters that that are deep and clear, who will enjoy the music the birds sing? And it turned into a duet with Eddie singing as Adam. Just beautiful.
2. Fellowship with one another. Jesus said second only to loving God with all your heart, we should love one another. Every relationship with another that you have is a gift from God. Your parents, your older brother or younger sister, your next door neighbor, are all gifts. That’s a benefit. Treat them all as the gifts that they are.
3. Gift of eternal salvation. An eternity of Heaven. Hard to beat that benefit. He doesn’t owe it to us, but he gives it freely. So no more pity parties!
ii. Take command of your attitude. Ephesians 4:22-24, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” And Philippians 2:5-8, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” If you think you’re something special, more special than everyone else, or if everyone else owes you something, then you need an attitude check. If you’re always fighting for your rights, then you will always be fighting. A good attitude comes from laying down his rights for the good of others. What rights did Jesus fight for? Did He claim we owed him something? Remember, many things on earth are backwards from the way they are in heaven. If you want to be exalted, humble yourself, and let God lift you up. If you want to receive strength, you must learn to give strength to others. You have to empty yourselves so that God can fill you up.
iii. Walk with Christ. Colossians 2:6, As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him. When you’re just walking or driving or sitting, think about these words. If you’ve professed your faith in Christ, are you now walking with Him? Think about when you are relying on your own strength, and realize that someday you will be weak there, like the grasses dried by God’s breath. Think about when you are weakest, and how God’s strength is yours if you will just learn to rely on God instead of yourself. Compare each of them to what you know God wants from you. How will you do today?