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Archive for the ‘1 & 2 Kings’ Category

Part 1

Part 2

Now let’s engage some actual Bible passages:

Let us consider the following:
1. In the beginning God created the Earth and gave it to one couple Adam and Eve. They were the sole owners of the planet Earth. Think about it! Given to them by God! That was before the fall of man! That is too much wealth.
2. Then God called Abraham and Sarah and blessed them “…The Lord had blessed Abraham in all things” Genesis 24:1 Abraham had so much material wealth that he had to part ways with his nephew Lot because the pasture could not feed all their animals together. Abraham had over four hundred men working in his ranch, with their families. That is employment. When Sodom and Gomorrah were attacked and Lot captured. Abraham got the news, he took his four hundred servants and pursued the enemy defeated them and recovered all and restored to the kings what they had lost. On his way back he met Melchizedek the priest of God and gave to him tithes of all. The first tither in the Bible.
3. David was blessed materially no wonder he could provide materials to build God such a magnificent house but Solomon is the one who built it .
Then Solomon offered 120,000 sheep and 22,000 oxen in dedicating the Temple. Does this sound like poverty to you?
4. In Jesus ministry there were no offices and office bearers, but there was a treasurer…. Judas! Why? Could it be that Jesus was teaching us something about money in ministry? Yes he was. Money is the mode of exchange in this world….ignore it to your own destruction. Let us rightly divide the word of truth. Money if not put in its proper place can ruin your life…. for lack of it or much of it. So be realistic. Judas misappropriated ministry money. He also said what a woman spent on Jesus was a waste. He sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, then committed suicide. Think about it! One of the twelve disciples of Jesus committed suicide!
On the other hand when Jesus was crucified and died on the cross, the disciples ran away. It took two men who had both affluence and influence to reach Pilate and demand for the body of Jesus and give him a descent burial. That was Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus. Where were those poor believers at Jesus greatest hour of need when he could not do anything for himself but needed someone’s help!

Taking our brother’s points in turn:

  1. Adam and Eve were given dominion over the living things of the earth (Gen. 1:26-28), given free reign to eat from any plant or tree (Gen. 1:29; 2:16) and given the job of working the garden (Gen. 2:15) but I can’t see anywhere that they were given the earth. The LORD’s making of the earth (and all who dwell in it) means that it is all his (Ps. 24:1-2). If there was an original giving of the earth it was a giving of the earth to the Son. All things were created for him (Col. 1:16). He walked around the garden as the owner. Adam was the priest who’s job it was to be a faithful servant in God’s house, to guard the garden tabernacle, but he was not the owner or builder of the house (cf. Heb. 3:3-6). Adam was indeed appointed king of the world but the biblical idea of a king (in great contrast to the pagan view then and now) was not that the king owned the land and people but that he was a steward, an under-shepherd, serving God’s people in God’s land. A key point in servant leadership there.
  2. Certainly Abraham was wealthy and God’s blessing of him included his wealth. It shows that God is not anti-wealth and it is possible (like Job) to be wealthy and a believer. But in applying all this to those of us who are by faith children of Abraham we need to go through Galatians 3 and see our real blessing there. On the question of tithing and whether Abraham sets a precedent in Gen. 14 see the article by Kostenberger page 3-5.
  3. Solomon is not a great positive example of wealth. Though his wealth was in the first place God-given (1 Kings 3:13), the writer of Kings is subtly but clearly making the point in 1 Kings 10 that what Solomon was doing in terms of accumulating vast amounts of gold and horses is in direct contravention of the Kingship code of Deut. 17. It could even be that the famous number of the beast (Rev. 13:18) alludes to the amount of gold Solomon received (1 Kings 10:14). And then you look at Ecclesiastes. Certainly money is very useful (Eccl. 10:19) – no-one is denying that – but at the end of it all Solomon found all his wealth meaningless and unsatisfying (Eccl. 2).
  4. Our brother makes lots of good points from Jesus’ ministry on the importance of money and using it well for gospel purposes and with proper accountability being aware of the temptations. As we’ve said several times now, we are not against money or using money in life and ministry. There were obviously wealthy believers and those with financial means who supported Jesus in his ministry and who in the early church made their homes available for the church to meet in or supported the mission of the apostles and evangelists. Jesus talked repeatedly about money and we don’t want to avoid the subject. In fact if God moves you to support the ministry of  iServe Africa please do that right now – in Kenya or from overseas. It would be great to be in partnership!

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The second day of the Lweza fellowship started before breakfast with Piers preaching – 1 Kings 18:20-40 Will the real God please stand up? We saw that false religion involves:

  • A god who is impersonal and silent
  • Ritual words and mantras
  • Ritual procedures and customs
  • Zeal and enthusiasm but without knowledge

It’s powerful because it’s permissive, pluralist and man-centred. A couple of other details in the passage that I’d never noticed before:

  1. Elijah wanted the people to ‘come near’ (v30) – presumably because he wanted them to see there was no magic, no hocus pocus going on here (in contrast to the mystery of false religion).
  2. Elijah is a man like us. It’s never hit me properly before but Elijah really was an ordinary man just praying ordinary prayers. No fireworks. No secret righteous energy. No special power in him at all. The great miracle of the fire is entirely by God’s sovereign power. Top down. The great miracle of the rain is entirely Yahweh fulfilling his Word.
  3. God is interested in our hearts. Their hearts are divided (v21) and God’s great desire is to turn them back to desire him (v37).

After breakfast I led a session on Preaching the Gospel from Matthew. Is Matthew’s Gospel really about the gospel? I’ve become very excited over the last month or two as I see more and more that it really is!

Then Chris Yikii led us through the first step in getting from text to sermon – studying the ‘flesh’ of the passage – working hard, ‘burning candles’, reading, reading and reading again the passage to see what is actually there. It’s not rocket science but time-consuming and easily missed:

  1. What does the passage say? Pay close attention to the details, things like tense and whether the pronouns are singular or plural. And don’t run to the dictionary – Bible words have Bible meanings.
  2. Why does it say it here? We had an interesting discussion of context. Why is it that in life normally, we are understanding things in context all the time – reading emails and SMSs we don’t read a line out of context; turning on the TV we understand that we are joining a programme half way through and we try to make sense of what sort of programme it is, where we are in it and what’s being said. So why don’t we do that when it comes to the Bible? We seem to a) suspend normal rules of language; b) spiritualise and look for direct words to me; c) seek what we can use as a pre-text for what we want to do or say. When we ignore context there is no longer any control over meaning and the text can mean almost anything.
  3. How does it say it? What is the tone, the feel, the emotion. I love this in the Psalms where you get an ‘unnecessary’ “Oh” which just expresses pure desire or longing or amazement.

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After lunch, Loots Lambrechts (Preach the Word) took us through a great session looking for the structure of the passage – how does it all fit together? The big thing I got from this – which has really changed the way I look at a passage to preach it – was his insistence on finding the logic of the passage, or, as he put it another way, finding the route down the hillside. This is so helpful. It’s very easy to be like a dragonfly, skimming over the surface of the stream picking out two or three nice truths. A lot of old style evangelical preaching in the UK did that. It’s not exactly wrong but it doesn’t get the flow and force of a passage. It doesn’t see the vital connections, the dynamic, the ‘line through’ and harness that energy. We want to be not dragonflies but fish that get right into the stream and go with the flow of the passage.

Sammy (iServe Africa) finished off the day with an exposition of Matthew 22:15-22. He showed us that the issue was not really taxes to Caesar at all.

  1. The conspiracy to silence Jesus
  2. The conspiracy is about the Kingdom – Sammy very helpfully put the passage in its wider context in Matthew. The parables preceding the passage (22:28-22:14) are all about the Pharisees resisting and rejecting the kingdom of grace.
  3. The conspirators are silenced – guilty as charged – They haven’t given to God what is God’s (cf. 21:34-36), they are seeking to kill God (cf. 22:38), they are left speechless (22:22) and set up for the great condemnation in chapter 23.

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The post on Micaiah ben Imlah and the Diet of Worms received this comment (which starts by quoting the question raised in the post by the antics of Zedekiah ben Kenaanah (2 Chr. 18:10)):

Are we more concerned for passion or for truth?

Here’s The Turth,

http://www.youtube.com/****************

what da ya FEEL about that?

I decided not to accept the comment, partly because of the rather aggressive tone, partly because the atheist video to which it linked is not particularly edifying (or good), and partly because I didn’t want the blog to be hijacked by an atheist-theist debate which could distract from our focus and was unlikely to get anyone anywhere (but see here on an atheist converted through online witness).

But then, as I thought about it a bit more and watched the video, I felt there are a few points that might be worth interacting with.

  1. Finding Truth – At least we’re in agreement with our atheist friend about the importance of truth over emotion. Not that there should not be passion – there must be – but it must flow from truth rather than ignore truth. I fear that sometimes we’ve not particularly interested in whether the Bible is true so long as it works. Which means that the force of John 20:30-31 (for example) is lost on us. The whole point of John’s Gospel is to provide testimony, bring forward witnesses in the law court, to prove the case that Jesus really is the Christ, the Son of God. Atheists are right – it really does matter whether or not Jesus historically existed, historically performed miracles, historically died and rose from the dead. We don’t follow cleverly invented stories but eye-witness testimony (2 Pet. 1:16). If you just want a motivational boost or tips for business then an invented story will do. If you want Jesus you need to turn from lies to face the Truth.
  2. Finding Jesus – The video to which the comment linked is a parody of George Harrison’s ‘Awaiting on You All’. It mocks two main claims of Harrison’s song and the first is that the route to peace is to “open up your heart”. Harrison sings, “If you open up your heart, You’ll see [Jesus is] right there, Always was and will be, He’ll relieve your cares”. It’s close to the Quaker belief in a divine inner light that everyone has and just needs to look within and rekindle. The video parody points out, rather crudely, that “If you open up your heart, Blood will gush right out”. There’s some truth there. There is nothing in our hearts but blood to gush out, nothing in our natural selves but filth to gush out. There is an opening of the heart that has to happen (Acts 16:14) but it is God’s sovereign action (“the Lord opened her heart”) and it is an opening not to find something good inside but to receive something/someone good from outside.
  3. Finding Salvation – The second big thing that the video mocks is the way in which believers in different religions think that if they chant the name of their god they will be free/saved. Harrison’s original song had the chorus, “By chanting the names of the lord and you’ll be free, The lord is awaiting on you all to awaken and see”. The video lampoons this idea of a god who passively sits there waiting for people to chant his name (or names): “They’re equally worthless to help you, That’s for sure.” Interestingly, as we saw in 1 Kings 18, the Bible mocks those who chant to passive gods as viciously as the most militant atheist. The difference is only that the Bible also introduces us to the true Lord God, who doesn’t need hours of chanting, who doesn’t sit there “awaiting on you all” but comes down to save, to be the sacrifice for his people, to accomplish a unilateral and complete victory, to raise the dead, to clean the dirty, to lift us up into his divine life to enjoy him for eternity.

I’m still going to click ‘Trash’ to his comment but I’m grateful to our atheist friend for a reminder that it’s not about what works for me, it’s not about looking inside me, it’s not about my prayers, my repentance, my feelings – it’s about Jesus, the saviour who comes from outside, who came in history, to set us free. How do you feel about that?

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For a church under attack 2 Kings 6:8-23 is a great passage. It doesn’t get much worse than verse 15: “behold, an army with horses and chariots was all round the city.” How does the church react to threats and grenades? Certainly an outpouring of grief and of compassion for those who have been bereaved or wounded. Understandably anger, fear and confusion. Two other common responses are a) ramp up the military/security option, guards on the doors, police sweeps, KDF surge; and b) spiritual warfare, by which we mean offensive and defensive prayer, hedging believers and binding demonic forces, praying frustration and confusion on enemies.  Surely these is a place for all this. Once we have grieved with and comforted the afflicted we do need to take sensible measures to protect ourselves, seek justice and the rule of law at home and abroad, and we do need to pray offensively and defensively. But 2 Kings 6 brings us something deeper about the living God and points us to another way. It’s a chapter all about seeing…

  1. See the knowledge of God (v8-14) – Here is an all-seeing God. No terrorist attack takes him by surprise. He knows every plan being whispered in a bunker deep in Somalia or Yemen. In contrast to sovereign omniscience, the sovereign of Syria is a ridiculous picture of foolishness and blindness. You can hear the laughter of heaven as the king demands to know the double agent (v11), is told that his bedroom talk might as well be broadcast on Al Jazeera (v12), and bizarrely sends forces to capture the one who knows all his plans – and to arrest him for that very reason (v13)!! His foolishness is that he thinks that Yahweh is a limited, weak god like the gods he knows. “Sure, he knows a lot but maybe this time I can outwit him.” Do we really believe God knows absolutely everything or do we sometimes slip into Syrian theology? And the king of Israel is also foolish in a more subtle way. If you look at the surrounding chapters (if it’s the same king) he’s not a great example of godliness but here he is receiving the undeserved blessing of early warnings of enemy attack (v9). He’s not convinced of God’s Word until he checks it out himself but at least he does heed it and is saved (v10). The great sadness and irony is that, while he is very happy to have early warnings of physical threats in the very near future, he is at the same time, like almost all the kings of Israel, ignoring the threats of God’s judgment on the idolatry and violence of his kingdom (e.g. Deut. 28:15-68; 1 Kings 14:15-16; 2 Chron. 21:12-15). Which are we more keen to hear and heed, a contemporary prophetic early warning of a terrorist attack or the longer term warnings from the Scriptures of eternal judment?
  2. See the power of God (v15-17) – Here is a passage often turned to in relation to spiritual warfare. But what exactly happens here? There is Word (v16) and Prayer (v17). What the trembling servant needs first is the Word of God – the assurance from God’s mouth (Elisha is God’s mouth as the Scriptures are for us) that, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave himself up for us all” (Rom. 8:31-32). The besieged church needs the Word of God preached – that’s where we find comfort, courage, Christ. And the besieged church also needs Prayer (v17). But what sort of prayer? For fire to fall on our enemies? Verse 17: “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” Open eyes to see the reality of the Word that has just been preached – the word that those who are with us are more than those who are with them, that if God is for us, who can be against us. Compare that with Paul’s letter to the Ephesians – another classic place to turn when we’re thinking about spiritual warfare. And what do we find in Paul’s model prayers-in-the-Spirit? “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,and his incomparably great power for us who believe” (Eph. 1:18-19). There’s a similar thrust to Paul’s prayer in the third chapter – that the Ephesians would grasp, know, see, experience the love of Christ that has been preached to them. That they would see what they already have in Christ. What our country needs, surely, is not just prayer against demonic strongholds but God’s Word preached (cf. Eph. 6:18-19), and God simultaneously, mercifully, miraculously opening eyes to see the reality of those things.
  3. See the grace of God (v18-23) – What a fantastic twist to the story? What a massive surprise? We expect the fiery horses and chariots of the Lord of Hosts to descend on the Syrian army and burn them up. But that doesn’t happen. Interestingly the Greater Elisha didn’t call down the angelic defence force when he was under attack either (Matt. 26:53). Instead the enemy army is blinded (they’re spiritually blind already) and led like sheep (again there is laughter in heaven) into the capital city of their enemy, the lions’ den and then (massive surprise) they’re not devoured but fed (v22)!  In fact they get “a great feast” (v23). What a fantastic picture of sovereign grace, of how we have experienced grace? Did the soldiers make a decision to come to the banquet? No they were chosen, drawn, led there like dumb animals. They were enemies (and we were all born enemies of God) taken captive by the Lord. They were blind people whose eyes were opened (v20). It’s pure grace and they go away changed, humbled (v23). The enemies of God’s people are defeated by grace. Won by grace. Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons [i.e. ‘like’] your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:44). He then does that very thing on the Cross and his executioner is won – “Truly this was the Son of God” (Matt 27:54). I know a Pakistani man who wandered into a church and heard those verses and realised there was nothing like that in his religion in which you love your brothers but hate your enemies, where you have a God who hates his enemies. He was won and we will feast with him at the banquet table of grace for eternity. I have heard stories of amazing forgiveness and peace coming out of the church in Garissa after the terrible atrocity there. Surely that is the most impressive and powerful spiritual warfare of all.

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Part 1

Part 2

A few more important themes running all through the book of Kings – all brought out by Sammy in his exposition of 1 Kings 18 and all speaking very clearly into our church context:

  • Who is the true God?  “If Yahweh is God follow him; but if Baal then follow him” (18:21). The question is not “Do you believe in God?” Everyone’s religious. Everyone believes in God (certainly here in Africa). The question is “Who is this ‘God’ you believe in? What is he like? Tell me about him.” Is he a deity who needs you to march round an altar shouting and cutting yourself for him to listen or is he the God of top-down grace and revelation and power?
  • The Word of God.  “…there shall be no dew or rain these years, except by my Word” (17:1). The word is life. Again and again things happen “…according to the word of the Lord”. Prophets keep popping up all over the place. The book becomes a complex web of overlapping prophecies and fulfilments. In some ways the whole narrative is a fulfilment of Deuteronomy 28. The key questions are: (a) What is the true word of the Lord (1 Kings 22)? (Answer: 2 Kings 17:13 – the one that brings you back to the covenant); and (b) Are you going to listen and live?
  • The patience of God.  The obvious lesson from Kings is that idolatry leads to destruction but the less obvious lesson is that God (the true God) is very very slow to anger.  One of the big surprises is that there are 47 chapters of Kings rather than 12. Why does it take hundreds of years to get to the Exile? Why does Yahweh send prophet after prophet and give second and third and umpteenth chances? Why does he break the drought after three years when he knows the king and the people won’t repent? Why is he faithful to unfaithful people?
  • The faithful remnant. “…seven thousand who have not bowed to Baal” (19:18) There’s faithful Obadiah and his hidden prophets, lonely Elijah, the Shunammite woman, the sons of the prophets suffering in the famine and looking for a lost axe head…  As the apostle Paul noticed – this is a really important moment in the history of Israel (Rom. 10:1-6). We’re finding that not all Israel are true Israel (Rom. 9:6, 27). Sure, there had always been a pattern of election and rejection (Rom. 9:7-13) but in the time of Elijah and Elisha it becomes clear that within Israel itself there are many unbelievers and that the great promises given to the nation of Israel only apply to the faithful remnant, by grace through faith (Rom. 11:6, 20). The church might look a mile wide but likely there is a faithful remnant bowing to the Christ-like God and many worshipping a Baal-like version of God.

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We’re still working through 1 Kings in our staff morning devotions. Here are some more thoughts..

2 Kings 17:7-23 is a good way into the book(s) of Kings. It drives home the author’s big theme – why Israel got vomited out of the land – and it gives us a good steer on how to preach Kings (and Old Testament narrative in general):

  • History with a point. “All this occurred because…”  (2 Kings 17:7). There is a point – a lesson to learn. Greg Prior was really helpful on this at Raising the Bar back in February – “This history is prophetic history… this is a prophet preaching to us: turn to God and obey him!” In particular, Greg showed us, the author/preacher/prophet is giving God’s answer to two questions: (1) “Why did God allow his people to go into Exile?” (2) “What future is there for God’s people now?”
  • Them not us. “All this occurred because the people of Israel…”  (2 Kings 17:7). Yes there are strong connections between us as the church and the children of Israel but first we need to hear this as the real history of people who are not us, who are not living in Nairobi in the 21st century. One of the great paradoxes is that it’s as we take ourselves out of the picture and make the effort to travel back in time to Samaria that we will hear God speaking powerfully to us right here and now.
  • Idolatry. “…the people of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God…”  (2 Kings 17:7). That’s the heart of the problem. Leaving the fountain of living waters and digging out pathetic, cracked, putrid cisterns. Israel forsakes her husband, flings herself at tawdry suitors and arouses the Lord’s jealous anger. He seeks to woo his beloved back but “They would not listen” (2 Kings 17:14). As we prepare to preach on Kings it would be the greatest irony if we fall foul of the same idolatry that is all over the book. We must beware the idolatry of putting ourselves at the centre of everything, beware the common idols of preachers and above all listen to the voice of the true and living God from the text. Rather than use God’s Word as a pagan priest would perform divination (2 Kings 17:17) as a means to my own end, we are to submit to His message and let him speak.
  • Part of a bigger story. “…their God who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh…” (2 Kings 17:7). It’s crying out, “Put me in a Bible overview!”  We need to ask, ‘How are the promises going?’  ‘Where is the story headed?’  ‘Who is it all about?

Part 3

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Back to 1 Kings 18…

Point 1: Yahweh preserves His servants in the midst of opposition

Point 2: Yahweh is the Real God

Point 3: The Word of Yahweh the real God must be fulfilled

(vv41-46) The battle at Mt Carmel has been won, but drought is still a problem.  The word of the Lord has to be spoken for it to rain again. Elijah tells Ahab go eat and drink for there is the sound of a rainstorm.  Elijah the man of faith goes to the summit of the mountain bows himself to ground (cf. 1 Kings 17:21) with his face between his knees. Is he doing some aerobics or what? His position suggests that he is praying.  James 5:17-18: “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours; yet he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land. Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruits.”

The Bible says the fervent prayer of a righteous man available much (James 5:16). Why? Because it is praying for what God has promised (cf. Daniel 9). Elijah is praying in line with God’s will. He is confident that Yahweh will fulfil his Word and he’s eager to see it. He sends his servant seven times to see if there is any sign of rain. The seventh time the servant reports, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” It is said that seven is the number of perfection.   Ahab is told to hurry back to the city of Jezreel before the heavy rains brought flooding and made roads impassable: “Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.” For sure it does rain. Yahweh’s word has been fulfilled. In 17:1 “…there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my Word.”

The power of Yahweh was with Elijah, he did not need a Chariot, because of God’s power he was able to run faster than Ahab and his chariot.  That day the media houses had enough to report about: “The Real God Stands up: Rain After Years of Drought as Yahweh Speaks.”

Conclusion

Friends, Yahweh the creator of the universe is the Real God. The first commandment: You shall have no other god but Yahweh, the sovereign God. There is no one like Him. He whose fire fell and consumed the burnt offering, wood and everything on the altar is the same Yesterday today and forever more. He is the same one who was crucified on the Cross and conquered the devil. Through Christ we have victory over the devil and all his works. It’s Christ that we should follow, He is the real God.

Who loves his word? His word that gives life to all who believe in Him.  In these times of great apostasy, let God’s people step forward, in the name of the LORD, for God’s kingdom and His Truth and His Word.

But always remember that we cannot do all this apart from walking in the Grace of God. Recall Elijah’s prayer – he prayed that Israel would also “know… that You (Yahweh) have turned their hearts back to You again.” Notice he didn’t ask God that the people would turn back to Him, but that they would “know” that the Lord Himself had already “turned their hearts.”  It’s only by the grace of God through Christ that our hearts can turn back to God. May this be our prayer – that God will turn our hearts back to Him?

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