Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The LORD saved

Likewise, when all the men of Israel who had hidden themselves in the hill country of Ephraim heard that the Philistines were fleeing, they too followed hard after them in the battle. So the LORD saved Israel that day. And the battle passed beyond Beth-aven.
1 Samuel 14:22-23

This is an interesting account. God used one man to run off an entire army and to rally God's people to action. That man was Saul's son, Jonathan. This was a case where one man's faith was rewarded by God. Jonathan is tired of the state of Israel. At the beginning of chapter 14, all of Israel, including king Saul have taken to hiding in caves from the threats of the Philistines. And it appears that the Philistines have taken the high ground in battle.

Jonathan decides, with his armor-bearer, in trust to God, to take one the Philistines single-handedly. He climbs up the rocks to get to the high ground and when the Philistines taunt him as he climbs, he takes it as a sign from God that victory is assured! When he reaches them, he strikes them just as God sends an earthquake. The Philistine ranks are thrown into such confusion that in the haste to escape, they begin fighting off one another. Israel sees what is going on, and Saul hastily rallies his troops to drive off the confused pagans. The result is a great victory for the nation.

The key to understanding what happened is to know that the Lord saved Israel. He used one valiant man to get it going. He moved His people to follow in the wake of what God was doing. And in that day, God was glorified by providing the means for Israel to be established. The Philistines fled to their own territory and once again God brought peace.

This moment also served to help establish Saul's leadership, even though the text is clear to point out that Saul's leadership was spotty at best. He was not a strong leader. 1) He did not start the battle, his son did. Saul was quick to take advantage, but not a great one to start something daring. 2) Saul was also a rash leader. In the heart of the battle he forbade Israel from taking food. His hungry troops thus did not fight as fiercely as they could have done. 3) He rashly threatens to kill his own son, Jonathan, the true leader of the battle because he did eat some honey, even though he did not hear the command from his father. 4) He lets the people over rule his order to execute Jonathan, showing himself to be the populist that he was. 5) At the end of the battle, Saul's strategy was to surround himself with men he perceived as brave or valiant, perhaps to enhance his appearance as a leader.

What Saul missed was the little insight in the middle of the story: The Lord saved Israel. Saul could have been a fine instrument of God's choosing. instead, he tried to make something of himself that he was not, and the result would be more disappointment in his story.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Thursday, May 26, 2011

taking matters in my own hands

And Samuel said to Saul, "You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the LORD your God, with which he commanded you. For then the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever."
1 Samuel 13:13

Society may admire self sufficiency. But that is not the kind of thing that brings spiritual strength. In fact, as evidenced by Saul, it is highly destructive. Saul got impatient. He wanted to do the right thing (offer a sacrifice to the LORD before a major military engagement), but he did it in a wrong way (not waiting for God's priest, Samuel, to arrive to properly offer the sacrifice). The result was this foolish act. The king himself performed the sacrifice.

God saw this for the sin it was, and Samuel quickly reprimanded Saul for his hasty disobedience. It cost him the future of the kingdom. It is true that Saul continued to reign for some time, but after this foolish act, God decreed that his kingdom would not last. There would be no dynasty from Saul's line. His was a dead-end future, because of his haste to take spiritual matters into his own hands.

The lesson here is that waiting on God is a good thing. And we can sin by being impulsive... even impulsive in a "good thing". It was good to want to honor God by sacrifice. But ultimately, it was disrespectful to do so in a manner that showed no regard for His Law. We cannot take just the parts of a relationship with God that we want. We have to take all the obedience God demands of us. This is why Christians are warned against things like neglecting to assemble together with other believers, making light of the significance of the Lord's Table, and not paying attention to the careful teaching, and learning, from God's Word.

Faith is humble submission. It is that simple... and that difficult. Any time I take control, humble submission does not mark my life. It is hard not to want to take things in my own hands. But the consequences of doing so are severe, painful, and warn me to watch my own heart.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

For His great name's sake

For the LORD will not forsake his people, for his great name's sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself.
1 Samuel 12:22

I think I direct the outcome of my life
I am Invictus
I am the master of my fate

Nothing could be a bigger destructive lie
than autonomy
that walks through broad gate

In truth God is in control even of the cast of the die
I may experience
benefit... loss... early or late

From the moment of death until I will die
For His glory
my life is lived for His great name's sake

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

where credit is due

But Saul said, "Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the LORD has worked salvation in Israel."
1 Samuel 11:13

Saul's first military engagement as king of Israel is a roaring success as it is blessed by God. When the Ammonites threaten the citizens of Jabesh-gilead, Saul sends a request for troops throughout the land and 330,000 men respond to the call. Saul devises a military strategy to fight Ammon and God blesses the efforts. The Ammonites are defeated, and Saul's prestige among the people begins to take root. His kingdom really is established in the victory of this battle.

After the battle, Saul's victorious army wants to punish those who ever doubted Saul's ability to lead. But this is not a time to vindicate a man. It is a time to celebrate what God had done. And Saul wisely lets God get the glory for the deliverance on that day. Had he chosen to use this chance to go after his political naysayers, he would have began his reign in tyranny. Instead, Saul focuses on God. And this worship of God after the battle kept Israel focused on the better spiritual results of the kingdom.

It is refreshing to see Saul give God the credit that is due Him. He knew the Lord had won the battle. He is really humble early in his story. When news of the Ammonite threat reaches him, Saul is not sitting in a tent or a kingly palace. He is out plowing a field with a yoke of oxen! He was the farm boy king. His first response was to surrender this situation to God. He immediately takes the very oxen he was plowing with to an altar and sacrifices them. He knows that God must be in this endeavor. God certainly blessed that devotion. That is why Saul could not take credit for what God had done in him.

I want to live a life that points toward God. My self wants recognition, achievement, and credit. And the church can be a subtly sinister place of selfishness with its leaders. I see it with pastors and teachers who put more emphasis on the size of the church in their resume, than the service to the church that God requires of them. It is all about books they write, and then it might be books about them. It out to be about the Book they are humbly preaching. It is a shift towards taking some of the credit. That will lead toward a false focus. Then it is about Christian celebrity. But that is not the leadership example left by Saul in this passage. It would do me good to remember than when I start thinking of my life in terms of achievement or self-promotion. God gets the worship and the credit and the praise!

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Monday, May 23, 2011

getting what you want

And Samuel said to all the people, "Do you see him whom the LORD has chosen? There is none like him among all the people." And all the people shouted, "Long live the king!"
1 Samuel 10:24

Although this was a new and joyous celebration in Israel, it was not necessarily a good thing. Israel has rejected God in favor of a human king to govern them (1 Samuel 10:18-19). God makes it clear through Samuel that this new king, Saul, though God's "choice" would be less than an ideal leader. Part of me wonders if these words made Saul so shy about the kingship. When his name is chosen in the convocation, he is so reluctant to come forward that they find him hiding "among the baggage" (1 Samuel 10:22).

The early account of Saul is interesting. He has a strong commitment to family when he meets Samuel and is anointed king. Once anointed by the priest/prophet, he does not tell anyone. He even hides the fact from his own family. And once he is brought before the nation, he is again quite shy. He is received enthusiastically, yet even at the end of the chapter, we are aware that there is already a coalition of "worthless fellows" who doubt his ability to lead the nation.

I believe the story told here is so full of contrast because of the warning that God gave to the nation. He told them that a king would be a burden to them, as well as a leader. He told them that the establishment of a monarchy at this time was a direct rejection of God as their true King. And yet the people persisted. Eventually God would give them what they wanted, and Saul, the ambivalent Benjamite would be their king. Getting what we want is not always a great thing, as evidenced in this story.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Thursday, May 19, 2011

beginning well

As they were going down to the outskirts of the city, Samuel said to Saul, "Tell the servant to pass on before us, and when he has passed on, stop here yourself for a while, that I may make known to you the word of God."
1 Samuel 9:27

The relationship between Saul and Samuel is unusual in the Old Testament. It marks a unique transition. Samuel is the last of the judges. Samuel is a priest. Samuel is a prophet. Saul is the first of the kings. We see a transition taking place. The emphasis was still vital that God's Word guide the direction of Israel. And Samuel begins there with Saul. He wants to make known to him the Word of God.

Leadership provides direction, but it requires direction, perhaps a better word might be "directives". True leaders have guiding principles and philosophies that dictate their leadership. Samuel wanted to be clear with Israel's first king that the Word of God must be that directive. And Saul begins very well in this sovereign encounter.

I have always found this story a bit amusing. Saul is on a quest for lost donkeys. He did not focus his life anything beyond that goal at this time. And in the middle of searching for these lost beasts, God interrupts this farm boy with a bigger calling. It had to come as a shock. He had been unprepared for it. But the text makes it clear that Saul was God's choice. Sovereign leadings of God will bring all events together for His glory.

I am impressed that the story of Saul begins so well. It is encouraging to see him spending time with the man of God, listening to the Word of God. The world would be a better place if more leaders did so.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

saying "No!" to God

But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, "No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles."
1 Samuel 8:19-20

The Israeli monarchy began with the nation in rebellion against God. Samuel attempted to create his own "dynasty" by appointing his sons as judges. His sons, however, did not share his character and commitments and defaulted to bribery and self-satisfaction with their offices. The people immediately turned to Samuel with a simple solution: Appoint a king over all of Israel.

Samuel knew that the motivation behind the request was not in conformance with the will of God. He went to the Lord, and God told him to give in to the request, but first with a prophetic warning about what the monarchy would do to the people. They heard Samuel's words and yet still chose to continue in their request for a king. It is clear that this is more than just dissatisfaction with Samuel or his sons. This is a desire to have something that everyone else has. It is driven by a desire to be like the rest of the nations. It would be cool to have a king.

The ESV translation is emphatic. The people "refused to obey" Samuel's warning. The first word in answer to him is: "No!" The exclamation point strongly punctuates their refusal to heed the warning from God. They don't care about the potential consequence. They are driven by want for something, and this desire does not consider the spiritual consequences. They were ultimately saying "No" to God.

This story stands as a warning to me. I need to consider that really, any time that I am driven by my own strong personal desire, I am saying "No" just as strongly. The Christian life is one of submission and surrender to the Lordship of Christ. It allows God's thoughts to direct my every choice. It analyzes the culture around me in the light of God's Word. It says "Yes" to God's warnings and direction and "No" to anything that does not align with that. It is foolish for me to live any other way.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

with all your heart

And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, "If you are returning to the LORD with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines." So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the LORD only.
1 Samuel 7:3-4

The call to renewal that is issued by Samuel gets to the root problem with the people of Israel. They were not wholeheartedly interested in worshiping the Lord. They had hedged their bets, spiritually speaking, by mixing in elements of pagan worship in their lives. Samuel's call is a call to a pure worship of Yahweh again. Their worship and service to God would be rewarded by the covenant blessings if they would remove foreign gods from among them.

The ministry of Samuel was unique in Israel's history. He is the last of the real "judges" of Israel (see the end of the this chapter, 1 Samuel 7:15-17, where his leadership is described). He is also a priest and spiritual leader for the nation. As such, he stands in a unique place to call Israel toward repentance and to a return to following the dictates of the Law. He is perspective of just how the spiritual malaise had hurt the nation. And his ministry was effective.

The people repented of their worship of idols. They put away the outside spiritual culture they had absorbed from the Philistines. When they quit worshiping the gods of the Philistines, God delivered them from the domination of the Philistines. The false idols were dominating their lives and bringing their misery. That is the sad outcome of idolatry. It destroys us by what we think will make us happy.

God still rewards wholehearted devotion to Him. The questions becomes this: Am I willing to let Him call me away from the worship of what is an idol, so that in my wholehearted worship of God I can know His blessing? That is always the challenge, but it is also the lifestyle of more reward than I can begin to describe.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Monday, May 16, 2011

losers into winners

The cart came into the field of Joshua of Beth-shemesh and stopped there. A great stone was there. And they split up the wood of the cart and offered the cows as a burnt offering to the LORD. And the Levites took down the ark of the LORD and the box that was beside it, in which were the golden figures, and set them upon the great stone. And the men of Beth-shemesh offered burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices on that day to the LORD.
1 Samuel 6:14-15

The worship celebration is in order because God has brought the ark back to His people. Seven months have gone by since its capture (1 Samuel 6:1). Israel went on with daily activity and farming. The Philistine cities suffered numerous casualties over this time. Five Philistine cities were affected with tumors and a rodent infestation during the time that the ark was in their possession. When they finally devise a way to return the ark to Israel, they can't be more happy to be rid of it!

There is rejoicing in Beth-Shemesh. That border town was the place that received God's blessing back into the possession of God's people. They offered immediate sacrifice to God for the blessing of having the ark back. They left the work in the fields to worship the God Who miraculously restored the ark, and the symbol of their relationship with Him.

There is a humbling moment though. Apparently the celebrations degenerated into disrespect by some people. God solemnizing reminded them of His holy power by striking down a group of men who treated the time with disrespect (1 Samuel 6:19). So even in the midst of this rejoicing, the power of God was reaffirmed. Israel still has to learn that God is to be worshipped and not treated with either superstitious or lack of respect. There is a difference. Superstitious treatment of God is what lost them the ark to begin with. Now a disrespect or casual treatment of it resulted in judgment as well. God wants them to rejoice in His saving grace. That was the purpose of the ark... to celebrate that God took slaves and made them a nation. It celebrated that His sacred word was their great possession. It taught them that relationship with God turned losers into winners.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Thursday, May 12, 2011

meeting the God of the ark

They sent therefore and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines and said, "Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it return to its own place, that it may not kill us and our people." For there was a deathly panic throughout the whole city. The hand of God was very heavy there.
1 Samuel 5:11

In chapter 4, the Israelites learn to not worship the ark of God. They had drifted into superstitious worship, and the result was a tragedy on the battlefield with defeat by the Philistine army. There was also spiritual tragedy with the death of Eli and resulting national malaise that swept through the nation at news of the ark's capture by their enemies. In a way, this was a chance for Israel to refocus on the God of the ark, rather than the ark of God.

The Philistines also get this lesson. When they take the ark into the temple of Dagon as a spoil of war in pagan worship, they get a rude awakening. First, the idol of Dagon falls from its perch. The next morning they reset their idol in its place only to find it fallen again the very next day. This time it is broken with its head and hands strewn in front of the threshold of the temple. Clearly something supernatural is going on!

The leaders of the Philistines wind up housing the ark of the covenant of God in three different cities. In each city (Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron), a mob panic breaks out as the men of the city are afflicted with tumors. It is not a pretty site. The irony of the whole thing is that by the end of their ordeal, the Philistines were focusing on the God of Israel as He got their attention in the afflictions that came to them in the wake of this ordeal. They still had a superstitious awe of the ark, but they knew that the circumstances came from some other source: the God of Israel.

So once again I am reminded that God will get the worship He deserves. He will not be content with letting me ever put any object or practice in place of Him. He may even use the object of my misplaced values to get my attention focused back upon Him. That is the lesson of Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

God as superstition

And when the troops came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, "Why has the LORD defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies."
1 Samuel 4:3

This sets up one of the classic defeats in the history of Israel. Of course, God is working a much broader sovereign plan, but in the course of it, the spiritual condition of the leaders of Israel is revealed. The Israelite army is engaged in battle with the Philistine army at Aphek. The initial skirmish results in a thousand dead in the Israeli army. The elders of Israel respond to this news superstitiously. They knew God was in control of the outcome of the battle, yet they propose bringing the ark of the covenant from Shiloh into the camp so that "it" can "save us from the power of our enemies". It is very clear that they are putting their trust in an object, and not in the God of Israel.

The ark has become a kind of an idol at this point. That is the insidious outcome of superstition. We place more faith in a practice or a process than we do in the person of God. And it can be subtle form of idolatry. Sometimes the superstition can revolve around something associated with God, as it did in this passage. We need to be very careful to not fall into this trap.

I wonder if we don't occasionally do the same thing with disciplines and practices. If we do, we are in danger of both superstitious spirituality and thinking in terms of works righteousness (that the things that I do will save me in the end). It is often said that "prayer changes things". That looks great on a bumper sticker, but it is close to superstitious. The reality is that God changes things... prayer is just the means of communicating our heart to Him. It is not the prayer that is active to change. It is the person of God. The same line of thinking might accompany other Christian commitments. Do we worship the Bible, rather than the God of scripture? If we make it all about our knowledge alone, or in the practice of reading the "good book" daily, we may become dangerously superstitious.

What about our practice of constantly "listening" to a favorite preacher or Christian recording artist? We may exalt the person above the God that they are calling us to worship. And we may be disillusioned if we find a problem in that person. We neglect to realize that it is God they should draw us to and not man.

The way that God broke Israel of this spiritual laziness was to take away the object of their superstition. He allowed the ark of the covenant to be captured for a while so that Israel might focus on Him. And it worked. He will not give His glory to another, even if we falsely and inadvertently do so. He will do what it takes to get us focused on Him.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Monday, May 9, 2011

the voice of the prophet

And Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the LORD.
1 Samuel 3:19-20

Samuel humbly begins the ministry of a prophet while quietly serving in the priestly training and service at the tabernacle of God in Shiloh. Now as a young man, the word of the LORD comes to him. God gives him disturbing revelation: the house of Eli will be wiped out. God is about to judge the wickedness of Eli's sons. But God is also in the process of raising up a new voice and new prophetic ministry in Samuel.

We know that a new era of prophetic vision is breaking out at this point in the story. The text says that the voice of the prophet was a rare thing (1 Samuel 3:1). So Samuel was chosen to kick off a new ministry of communication from God. It was a job that he took quite seriously, especially since such a difficult revelation became the first "message" that he had to deliver (1 Samuel 3:15). Samuel's ministry seems to be attended with large doses of humility and trust. He believes God and delivers God's word, even when his task is not the most pleasant.

This message was just the first of many in the life of Samuel that would be controversial. He informed Eli of God's rejection of his household as priests. He was called to anoint Saul as king, even though Samuel served as the de facto leader of Israel. He was later called to confront Saul and inform him that God had rejected him as king. He anointed David while he was still a boy, watching God pick the son that seemed the least likely to lead. But most striking in the life of Samuel was his prophetic confrontation with King Saul. It seems that Samuel very seldom had a good thing to share with Saul. Yet God kept the voice of His prophet alive. God used Samuel's humble heart and blessed him with a brave voice in hard times where God was doing new things.

God will use the unusual person in a controversial way if He so chooses! Samuel had a desire to serve God, and once he was taught to understand the voice of God, was receptive to what God would use him to say to His people. God chose to use a mere boy (pre-teen perhaps) to deliver the hard news to the nation that the priesthood was corrupt and would be replaced. God would continue to use Samuel in this way because Samuel was yielded to being available to proclaim the truth that God spoke.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Faithfulness among the crooked

Samuel was ministering before the LORD, a boy clothed with a linen ephod.
And his mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice.
1 Samuel 2:18-19

Samuel's upbringing among Eli and his sons must have been quite an experience in contrast. Eli was a faithful priest, but he was getting really old and his influence with his family was waning. His sons, Hophni and Phineas were prototypical religious abusers. They used their service in the tabernacle as a means to personal gain. And all the while young Samuel just served faithfully, a boy who ministered to the LORD while men around him failed to acknowledge God's Law.

Eli seemed powerless to stop his sons from their dangerous plunge into apostasy. He confronted them when he found out they were sleeping with the women who served at the tabernacle gates. But they would not listen to their dad (see 1 Samuel 2:22-26). But for whatever reasons, even after confronting his sons, Eli would not take the steps necessary to remove them from office. This made him complicit in a cover-up. The tragedy is thus generational.

But a new generation is quietly serving the LORD. Young Samuel is ministering in the tabernacle, and I believe that God is so pleased with this boy's ministry, that He times his judgment for such a day as Samuel can serve as a young man. Samuel's service was so great and so refreshing that God could suspend some of His wrath against the nation.

Samuel's mother, Hannah, would arrive at Shiloh every year with a new robe for her son. And every year she would remember her commitment to God. The blessing of God continued on her as five more children were born to her.The blessings of obedience kept coming to her humble home, even as a storm began brewing in the household of Eli.

God rewarded the faithfulness of a broken woman. God honored the service of a sincere boy. It was enough to hold back judgment against the nation for allowing crooked religion to thrive. It was enough to rebuild the worship of God through the ministry of that one boy. Faithfulness to God's truth makes a difference. It always will.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

prayer child

"For this child I prayed, and the LORD has granted me my petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the LORD. As long as he lives, he is lent to the LORD." And he worshiped the LORD there.
1 Samuel 1:27-28

Samuel was a special answer to prayer. His mother, Hannah, wanted a child more than anything. She got to such a point in her difficult wanting that she made an entire day of prayer at the tabernacle at Shiloh just about this one petition. God heard her.

The thing I notice in this story is that God hears our prayers. In Hannah's case He intervened with a healing that allowed her to conceive a son that she had already devoted to the Lord in prayer. That devotion made it easy for her to turn her toddler over to the care of the priests at Shiloh. She knew that God had given her a gift that she would gladly give back to Him. And the story that grew from there led to one of the most unique biblical characters we can get to know.

Samuel was part priest, part prophet, and the last of the "judges" of Israel. He had a unique role. He bridged the transition into the first real monarchies of Saul and then of David. And his dedication to the LORD even before His birth was a moving part of his story. In many ways, his story reminds me of that of Samson, but with a stronger and happier outcome.

As I read the first chapter, I am struck by the dedication of Hannah. Her vivid need is expressed to God in unfailing, earnest prayer. And God touched her life in a big way. Her request was huge. Her anxiety was deep. Her relief at an answer to that prayer was joyful. Her vows were serious and strongly committed. Her character was a key factor in Samuel's early upbringing. She shows the meaning of sacrifice and service in her willingness to acknowledge that her son belonged to God first.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

pity for plants but not for people

And the LORD said, "You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?"
Jonah 4:10-11

The irony is dripping from God's words as He has the last say-so with Jonah. The book ends with a theological question. It forces the reader to think about the driving grace of God toward all humanity. Jonah, in his religious pride and anger is upset that God has chosen to be gracious to the repentant Ninevites. He spends a couple of days sulking outside the city. God has a little fun with his pouting prophet.

First God brings on a fierce, hot east wind. In the desert heat Jonah despairs of life. He is really quite an emotional guy. God then raises up a fast-growing shade plant (must have used "miracle grow") to provide relief. Jonah is thankful for the shade. Then, overnight, God appoints a little worm to eat through the plant, withering it. Jonah is furious... upset at the loss of the plant and his comfort. It is at that time that God begins to confront His reluctant, pride-filled prophet.

The ending question is telling for the heart of Jonah. He was more upset about the loss of the plant than the potential loss of a large city of people! God pushes His prophet to consider the moral outrage if his own twisted sense of justice. God was concerned for a lost city of people who as soon as they heard about Him, repented in hopes of finding God's favor. They were morally lost (the Hebraism "do not know their right hand from their left indicates lack of moral education or an inability to know right from wrong). God had compassion on them and sent Jonah to correct them. The sarcasm enters in with the last little bit... "an also much cattle". Could Jonah at least be upset about the waste of livestock if God leveled the city? God is using these comparisons with plants and animals to subtly teach Jonah the difference between his "right and left hand", because Jonah is showing himself to be morally destitute at this point as well!

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Monday, May 2, 2011

when pagans repent

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.
Jonah 3:10

God hears the honest heart. In response to Jonah's obedient (but maybe not passionate) preaching, the city of Ninevah from the top down falls into a metropolitan repentance. It is clear that the message was heard. And the king himself issues the decree that public repentance be shown. This was the real deal at that time, and God saw it.

The real story in Jonah is God's heart responding to human hearts. God loved the huge city of Ninevah, sinful as it was. He sent His prophet to proclaim a message of repentance. The message was about God's wrath, but the city repented of sin and God responded in grace. So preaching God's justice can result in His grace. It happens all over the biblical text, specifically in this book most dramatically.

But in all this, Jonah's heart was the real tragedy. He held his self-righteous thoughts so tightly that he could not rejoice at this great moment when a pagan nation turned to God. The one unrepentant heart in the whole story is the heart of Jonah. And he points out to us all the dangers of finger-pointing, self-righteous pride. It can be a barrier to living out God's concern for the world. God wants all people everywhere to repent. Do we?

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13