Month: May 2021

Courageous but Challenging – Gideon

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Gideon, who lived approximately 1175-1100 BC, abruptly appears on the pages of Scripture when secretly he was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianite enemies. Looking up, Gideon sees the angel of the Lord sitting under an Oak tree (Judges 6:11). Israel had been worshiping idols for many years while being under God’s discipline for it through the Midianite armies who raided their lands regularly. The angel of the Lord gets straight to the point, the LORD is with you, O mighty man of valour… go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian (Judges 6:12-14).

Courageous but Challenging - Gideon
Confronted with this incredible heavenly assignment, Gideon stands and argues as to why it has taken the Lord so long to come to the aide of idolatrous Israel. Furthermore, following his arguments of being an insignificant man, yet understanding who it was that was instructing him, Gideon says, if now I have found favour in your eyes, then show me a sign (Judges 6:17). Gideon promptly prepared a meal of Goat for he and the angel to enjoy. But the angel of the LORD reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes. And fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes. And the angel of the LORD vanished from his sight (Judges 6:21). That was convincing enough for Gideon.

Gideon immediately begins his campaign against Israel’s Midianite enemies with astounding success. However, Gideon never overcame his desire to see signs as evidence of God’s authenticity. Judges 6:33-7:40 records his double challenge for God to prove Himself by wetting and drying a woollen fleece unnaturally, to which the Lord obliged. Having his faith emboldened by this, and enabled by the Lord’s divine military interventions, Gideon led Israel into great victories over their enemies.

However, their remained hidden heart issues within Gideon which He never allowed the Lord to have victory over. One such issue was the matter of unforgiveness which led to revenge. When the leaders of Succoth and Penuel (Judges 8:5-8, 16-17) would not feed Gideon’s hungry army he threatens them and later returned to fulfil his violent threats.

The men of Israel later asked Gideon, rule over us?… since …you have saved us from the hand of Midian. But Gideon wisely responded, I will not rule over you…  the LORD will rule over you (Judges 8:22-23). This was Gideon’s most righteous decision; he had learned his place under the sovereign rule of God.

Sadly, Gideon did not end the race of life well. Apart from having many wives, 70 sons, and a concubine (Jdg 8:29-31), he did not remain completely faithful to the Lord. Following his decline to national rulership, Gideon collected gold that his soldiers had gathered from the dead Midianites. From that gold he formed an “ephod.” This was some type of breastplate or mask used in idol worship (Jdg 8:24-26). He placed the ephod in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family (Judges 8:27 NIV).

We learn from Gideon that God’s presence is never based upon our worthiness but upon God’s gracious will. Gideon was a mixed bag. He had some great qualities of faith, and some equally shameful ones. Fortunately for Gideon, as for us, God was consistently gracious in all His dealings with him, as with us. Therefore, Hebrews 11:32 finds Gideon recorded amongst the great leaders of faith.

Water-like character – Reuben

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A key person in Old Testament history is Reuben, whose name means “behold, a son.” Reuben was the first son born to Jacob and Leah and lived approximately 1775-1675 BC.

Despite growing up in a family with great tension between his mother and Aunty Rebecca, who shared both the same house and husband, Reuben turned out to be one of the more honourable sons of Jacob. His first courageous step showing strong character is recorded in Genesis chapter 37. Reuben’s younger brother Joseph had become Dad’s favourite. Now Jacob loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colours. 4 But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him (Genesis 37:3-4).

Water-like character – Reuben
However, Reuben did not give into petty brotherly jealousy. When the other brothers conspired against Joseph to kill him… (Genesis 37:18-20), Reuben rescued Joseph out of their hands saying, “Let us not take his life… shed no blood …do not lay a hand on him,” hoping he could return Joseph to their father alive (Genesis 37:21-22). Reuben was courageous in his protective love for his younger brother, courageous enough to risk being mistreated or killed himself.

As we know, through a long and painful series of shocking events orchestrated by God, Joseph ended up becoming the ruler over all Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. But where was Reuben? He was back in the family homeland living amongst ongoing domestic hostility.

Sadly, the conviction Reuben had showed with Joseph did not always dominate his character. Reuben’s tragic fall from his father’s grace came when he slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah (Genesis 35:22). This crime was punishable by death and revealed a terrible downgrading of his earlier integrity. Even though Reuben demonstrated compassion for his aging father when he offered his own two sons as a guarantee for the safety of brother Benjamin (Genesis 42:37), he lacked longevity of strong character.

Much later, when Jacob was dispensing his end-of-life blessings, he administered an alarming yet accurate summary of Reuben’s life. Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, and the firstfruits of my strength, preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power. 4 Unstable as water, you shall not have preeminence, because you went up to your father’s bed; then you defiled it (Genesis 49:3-4).

In the amazing grace of God, Reuben was not written off as a total waste of space by the Lord. Like us, the guilt of Reuben’s sin outweighed any redeeming qualities he may have possessed. But the Lord acted upon Reuben’s life with mercy, even assigning him to be father of the tribe of Reuben in Israel. Sadly, the tribe eventually lost its high position of dignity, with no prominent judge, prophet, or ruler coming from it. The tribe of Reuben fades into silent history, with only one New Testament mention in Revelation 7:5. Incredibly, in the tribulation times which lay ahead, when the 144,000 Jewish evangelists shall reap a great harvest of souls for Christ, 12,000 of those evangelists shall be descendants of Reuben.

God’s grace outdoes our sin (Rom 5:20). While our failings, stumblings, and disappointing actions qualify us for discipline or worse, God treats us with grace. Through Christ we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:2). God’s grace saves, His grace keeps, and His grace shall deliver us into His presence. Like Reuben, the Lord’s grace covers our lives and our futures, regardless of our water-like characters.

A king like none other – Hezekiah

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Hezekiah was one of only a few righteous kings who did what was good and right and faithful before the LORD his God (2 Chronicles 31:20). 2 Kings 18:5 tells us that Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, …so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. Hezekiah was the son of wicked king Ahaz, and later fathered wicked Manasseh. Despite his wicked family, Hezekiah walked faithfully with the Lord, turning idolatrous Judah back to Jehovah. Hezekiah removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it and called it Nehushtan (2 Kings 18:4). Under his rulership, the nation shared in the overwhelming blessings of God.
A king like none other - Hezekiah

Hezekiah was one of only a few righteous kings who did what was good and right and faithful before the LORD his God (2 Chronicles 31:20). 2 Kings 18:5 tells us that Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, …so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. Hezekiah was the son of wicked king Ahaz, and later fathered wicked Manasseh. Despite his wicked family, Hezekiah walked faithfully with the Lord, turning idolatrous Judah back to Jehovah. Hezekiah removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it and called it Nehushtan (2 Kings 18:4). Under his rulership, the nation shared in the overwhelming blessings of God.

He had a soft obedient heart that lived for the glory of God. Hezekiah’s malleable heart proved its quality (2 Chronicles 32:26) by putting the Lord first, even following times of sinful failure. True faith never abandons the Lord. We may stumble and faulter in sin, but faith always returns repentantly to walk with the Lord, and Hezekiah is proof of this. During Hezekiah’s 29 year reign over Judah, the prophets Isaiah and Micah served.

Israel had been suffering a long-term military attack by Assyria, who had invaded much of the land and now wanted to capture Jerusalem. But God destroyed the Assyrian army of 185,000 soldiers using just one angel (Isa 37:36). The king of Assyria departed and returned home and lived at Nineveh (Isa 37:37-38) where two of his sons killed him while worshipping an idol.

During this time Hezekiah became sick (from a boil, Isa 38:21) and was about to die, and he prayed to the Lord (2Ch 32:24), but he did not actually ask for healing in the way we would expect (Isa 38:2-3). God responded, I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life. 6 I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria… (Isaiah 38:5-6). The Lord healed Hezekiah by telling Isaiah the prophet to have a cake of figs applied to the boil, that he may recover (Isa 38:21). They applied the fig poultice and the Lord empowered Hezekiah’s healing.

2 Chronicles 32:29 further explains that God had given him (Hezekiah) very great possessions. So, when the Babylonians came to visit, he proudly showed them everything within the kingdom that God had blessed Israel with (Isa 39:4). As a result, God left Hezekiah to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart (2 Chronicles 32:31). God wanted Hezekiah to truly know his own heart – OUCH. To understand the nature of the pride that had developed, and the deceitful way sin had manipulated his thinking and behaviour. The consequence was, God said, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord (Isaiah 39:6). This happened approximately 100 years later when evil Manasseh ruled as king, and the Babylonians took them captive.

The remaining 15 years of Hezekiah’s life were well spent in faithfully leading the nation in worship of Jehovah. Hezekiah learned well from his few stumblings. Throughout, he repeatedly centred his affections and loyalties on the Lord. He was a man of prayer who honoured the Word of the Lord. May the same be true for each of us.

Mr. and Ms. Fool

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There are few things in life as exasperating as foolishness. The attributes that combine to make a fool are distinctly human, lack wisdom, and are typically embedded with sin. To varying degrees all of humanity is guilty, and none of us can honestly claim to have escaped the clutches of foolishness.

Mr. and Ms. Fool
The zenith of foolishness is catalogued in Scripture by David, the fool says in his heart, “There is no God” (Psalm 14:1a). In the Hebrew text of which this was written, the words “There is” do not exist. The more accurate reading of Psalm 14:1 is, the fool says in his heart, “no God.” Defiance towards God marks the height of foolishness. It makes perfect sense therefore, that David continues in Psalm 14:1b, they are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good. Disobedience to God only produces more sin with increasing indifference to the Lord. As Paul explains in Romans 1:22, claiming to be wise, they became fools.

David later stretches this truth out in Psalm 92:6-7 NIV, senseless people do not know, fools do not understand, 7 that though the wicked spring up like grass and all evildoers flourish, they will be destroyed forever. This brief life eventually comes to an end, then we are engulfed in eternity. Fools who prosper according to worldly standards deceive themselves into thinking they are safe for eternity because of the luxuries enjoyed on earth while separated from God. But God says this is NOT true. Instead, they face an eternity of hellish destruction, remaining separate from God, which is how they preferred to live on earth.

When God invited Solomon to ask for anything, Solomon answered, give me an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil… (1 Kings 3:9). Solomon realised that he lacked spiritual discernment, having no ability to discriminate between good and evil. Solomon knew also that his inability to detect and correctly respond to good and evil would impact upon the nation he was leader of – Israel. God’s response to Solomon’s request was, I give you a wise and discerning mind (1 Kings 3:12).

It’s not surprising then, that Solomon begins His book on wisdom by saying, the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7). For the LORD gives wisdom (Proverbs 2:6), and like Solomon, we too are dependent upon the Lord as our source of wisdom. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil (Proverbs 3:7). Sin will seduce you through foolish decisions into disobedience and isolation from God.

In 1 Corinthians 4:10, Paul gives the ONLY acceptable case for wise foolishness. Speaking on behalf of the apostles, Paul says, we are fools for Christ’s sake. 1 Corinthians 3:18-19 NIV, do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.

Wisdom, forgiveness, peace, joy, hope, security, and eternal life wait for those willing to become obedient fools for Christ. If you have never repented, and never turned your life over to Christ as Lord, I encourage you to do that right now. Romans 10:9-10, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified (declared innocent), and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

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