Hezekiah’s Distress and Comfort

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This is a tunnel to the pool of Siloam that Hezekiah had built so that the city of Jerusalem could withstand a siege.  Amazingly, people can still go and walk through this tunnel today!

2Kings 19:34 I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and the sake of David my servant.

Read 2Kings 18:17, 33, 19:1, 14-19 King Sennacherib of Assyria threatens Jerusalem and says that he has an army and that it isn’t good to trust in God because no other city’s god helped them resist his onslaught, that they should surrender, Hezekiah, King of Judah, receives message and tears his clothes and put on sackcloth, and prayed and God told him not worry.  Then Hezekiah received the threat in writing, and took it to the Temple where God was residing and laid it out before God and prayed humbly for protection.

Read 2Kings 19:32-37 God tells Hezekiah that he hears him, and that he is not to worry about the King of Assyria, that no arrow would be shot, no shields will come against the city, that there would be no entrance into the city, and no siege either, that the King of Assyria would go back the way he came, and be killed in his own land.

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A bit of background on Hezekiah and what was going on around him during this time.  Hezekiah was 25 years old when he became King, and he was the son of King Ahaz who did a lot of idol worship.  King Ahaz was not someone after God’s own heart at all.  He is not to be confused with King Ahab who was the one mixed up with Jezebel.  King Ahab was a King of the Northern Kingdom of Israel after the split of the Kingdom of Israel into the two Kingdoms: Northern Kingdom of Israel, and the Southern Kingdom which included Judah and Benjamin.  King Ahab was even worse than King Ahaz, but I will get into that another time.  Anyway, apparently, Hezekiah whose mother was Abijah (daughter of Zechariah the prophet) must have been taught very well about the Lord from his mother and his Grandfather, as he was considered to be “good King Hezekiah”.

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I once did a study with some teenagers on the books of 1st and 2nd Kings and 1st and 2nd Chronicles, by way of making a list of the Kings of Israel and Judah and writing beside the names either the word “good king” or “bad king”  it was really interesting.  There were definitely in both cases far more bad than good.  Those that were “good” had one common trait…they all followed the Lord.  Now being Christians we would expect to define a good leader that way, but this is the Bible telling us that they were either “good or bad” not us deciding it for ourselves.

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Well that was just a short aside for you…now back to Hezekiah.

Hezekiah is talked about at length in both 2Kings starting in chapter 18, and 2Chronicles starting in chapter 29 in the case that you really want to know more about him on your own. The Book of Isaiah chapters 36-39 also speak of Hezekiah.

I really like Hezekiah, and knowing how he really full relied on God when he had an insurmountable problem really helped me to realize just how “big” the God of Hezekiah (who is also my own God) really is.  The Kingdom of Judah was already a vassal of the Assyrian Empire when Hezekiah took the throne.  Well, Hezekiah decided that he was not going to have his Kingdom pay tithes to Assyria anymore, he tore down the asherah poles and removed all the idols from the high places.  He also broke Moses bronze staff of a snake into pieces because people had been worshipping it.  He did all of this pretty much right away when he became King.

In the fourteenth year of the reign of Hezekiah the Assyrians attacked some of the fortified cities of Judah.   Hezekiah attempted to make peace and get them to back off by paying the Assyrian’s off (or in essence paying the fees that they were expecting from Judah whom they still considered their vassal).  Sennecherib of Assyria took the gold, but then didn’t back off.  He was on the war path, literally.  King Sennecherib sent some messengers to Judah to tell not only Hezekiah, but all the common people also that he was coming to take their city by siege and that they shouldn’t bother to trust their God because after all, the gods of all the other kingdoms and cities around them hadn’t been able to stop Sennecherib.  Sennecherib said that if Hezekiah said that God could help them that he was a liar.

Now in all fairness, Sennecherib really had a reason to think this was true.  He had his own god, but it was a man-made god of wood and stone.   Hezekiah believed in the one true God, and believed in his power to save.  All of Hezekiah’s people did not answer Sennecherib’s messengers because they trusted their leader when he told them not to answer.  They trusted that Hezekiah had God on his side, and that everything would be all right.  Hezekiah led his people with God constantly in his mind.

This is really evident from Hezekiah’s reaction to Sennecherib.  He took the message that was given to him by his men and took it to the temple.  I can just see him in great distress, wearing sackcloth and ashes on his head, and literally laying out the papers in front of God in the temple and saying to God, “What are you going to do about this, Lord?  I have paid Sennecherib, but he isn’t backing off.  This guy says that you are not great enough to hold him off.  That’s insulting.  But Lord, I trust you.  You are the most powerful God.  Tell me what you want me to do about this situation…I am absolutely helpless.  I have done what I can do, but we really need your help now.”

The prophet Isaiah sends word to Hezekiah that God says, “Don’t worry about a thing.  You won’t even have to fire an arrow off, but Sennecherib will go on back home and he will be killed in his own temple by his family members.” (This is paraphrased, of course!)

So the next morning we are told that when Hezekiah got up the Angel of the Lord had hit Sennecherib’s army very hard, it had killed off 185,000 men in one night, and Sennecherib had broken camp and run home.  Later we read that Sennecherib was killed by his sons while worshipping in the temple of his god.

Now, I call Hezekiah’s God a God of power.  He is a big God!  A God who can handle a problem of that magnitude can certainly handle any problems I encounter in my life, right?!!  That is really something to lean upon for all of us as we walk our Christian walk in relationship with God.

Hezekiah’s faith and his method of praying to God…he literally laid his problem down on paper (scrolls I’m sure) and then spoke to God about it.  Now he could have just gone in there without the problem in writing, but he took the problem in the form that it arrived and took it straight to God.  He didn’t wait or hesitate.  The scrolls gave him something to focus his prayer on, but it wasn’t necessary.  Hezekiah treated God like someone he was close to, didn’t he?!!  He humbled himself so we know that Hezekiah recognize God’s sovereignty over him, but he still felt comfortable going right to God and figuratively, sitting down on the steps next to God’s throne as a child would next to their parent when asking for help. 

James 1:2-8 says  2Count it all joy, my brothers,when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (ESV)

King Hezekiah did ask in complete faith and expectation that God would take care of his problem.  We can approach God humbly with our problems.  This is what God wants us to do, take our problems directly to him as soon as we know that we have a problem.  That is the best time and it is the best way to grow our faith through answered prayer.  We have to ask for help, or we often won’t recognize who is giving us our help and may give the credit to someone other than God.  God loves us and loves to help us with our problems.  So approach his throne with confidence!

Hebrews 4:16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

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Hezekiah spread it out before the Lord. 
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Faithfulness and Integrity of Heart-God’s response to Solomon

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Read 1Kings 9:3-9: The Lord said to him:“I have heard the prayer and plea you have made before me; I have consecrated this temple, which you have built, by putting my Name there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.“As for you, if you walk before me faithfully with integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did, and do all I command and observe my decrees and laws, I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father when I said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’“But if you or your descendants turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. Israel will then become a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples. This temple will become a heap of rubble. All who pass by will be appalled and will scoff and say, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this temple?’ People will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the Lord their God, who brought their ancestors out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshiping and serving them—that is why the Lord brought all this disaster on them.’” (NIV)

This is God’s answer to Solomon’s Prayer of Dedication. The guidelines that God gave to Solomon are pretty simple aren’t they?  God tells Solomon in these verses to have “integrity of the heart and uprightness” like his father David did.  What do you think God means by integrity of the heart?  I mean we know that David was someone who sinned….he was an adulterer, and a murderer he had Bathsheba’s husband killed by ordering him placed at the front of the battle and having the troupes than back away from him…in order to hide his adultery because Bathsheba came up pregnant and he couldn’t get Uriah to sleep with his wife after he ordered him home from the battle.  When I think of David, I certainly it certainly doesn’t seem like he had integrity of the heart and uprightness.  He was a sinner plain and simple…but in God’s eyes after David had passed away and the throne of David was given to his son, Solomon, God still saw David as someone who had integrity of the heart and uprightness.  How can this be?

In Acts 13:22 we are told that God had found David, a man after God’s own heart to replace Saul as King.  So how can a person who is a sinner be someone who is after God’s own heart.  Someone who is an adulterer and a murderer be someone who has “integrity of the heart and uprightness?”

David did not recognize his own sinfulness.  He fell into the trap of thinking that because he was King he was above everyone who recognized him as their King.

After all, it isn’t like Bathsheba had a choice in the matter…she was taking a bath, and David saw her, and wanted her.  So, as her King, he sent for her, and probably pretty much took what he wanted from her, or coerced her in some way.  It is highly unlikely that she was allowed to say no to him.  Women in David’s time did not have a lot of rights, and a woman who was called for by the King would have even less rights than usual.

Yet, she could have been stoned for being an adulterer and so could King David.  How desperate might she have become when she found she was pregnant and her husband had not been around in time to get her that way.  I am not saying that Bathsheba was innocent, just that her choice to say no might have been a hard one to make.  She might have considered that if she had said no, then her outcome would have been bad that way also.  I don’t believe that fairy tale that we are told as kids in the sanitized children’s version of the story of this great love….after all, David did have other wives besides Bathsheba…around 8 of them at least that are named, and he had children with most of them.  (2Samuel 3:1-5, 1Chronicles 3:1-3, 2Samuel 5:13, 1Samuel 18-19:24, 1Samuel 25)  

At any rate, the fact that David sinned is well documented in the story of him and Bathsheba.  In fact, we are made aware of how far David had fallen from grace in that instead of allowing Bathsheba’s pregnancy to wake him up to his sin, he just committed more sins to try and hide it.

He had so far forgotten that his role as a King was to serve his people and he reversed it that they were there to serve him…that God had to send him a reprimand in the form of Nathan the prophet.  2Samuel 12:1-13 tells us that Nathan delivered a parable to David which made David wake up to his own sins.   God dictated the penalty of David’s actions, which were dire indeed.

Finally, David repented. Then God forgave.  God is faithful to forgive.  I think that what it means to have “integrity of the heart” is that even while he was in sin, and separated from God by that sin, David was still very aware of who God was, and it was not his desire to ever be separated from God.    David still had faith in God, and understood that God was the supreme King of his own life.  So the minute that he was confronted with the reality that God knew what his sin was and that he might be able to hide it from people, but never from God…he repented…because his faith and his relationship with God was the most important thing in his life.

This is also the reason that God calls David a man after his own heart.  David loved God with all his being and he was truly committed to following God and doing what God wanted him to do.  There were still repercussions for David’s act of sin, that is the thing about sin, it hurts us and it hurts those around us, so there is always fall out from it.  God forgives us but we still have consequences with the people and society we live in.

We know that God’s forgiveness was complete because when he responded to Solomon’s prayer of dedication, God told Solomon to be like his father, and describes David in verse 4 as “walking faithfully before Him with integrity of heart and uprightness.”  God doesn’t want us to fall into sin. If we belong to him and we do so, then he will continually try to get our attention through various means to make us to understand what our sin is and get us to choose to repent of it, and put our eyes back on him.  David fell into sin when he took his eyes off of God for just long enough to stare at a bathing Bathsheba. Yet, David had the integrity and humbleness to apologize to God and ask for forgiveness for straying so far from what God deemed was upright.  God is looking for people who love him with all their hearts, minds and souls and will keep their eyes on Him for eternity.  God isn’t looking for perfect people, but willing, loving and faithful people who are humble enough to recognize that God is sovereign over them and that God knows what is right and best for us.

That is what we can learn from God’s response to Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple and from the story of David and Bathsheba.

Prayer for the People

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Read 1Kings8: Solomon’s Prayer at the dedication of the temple.  Solomon prays that God will be with his people as long as they are humble before God, and turning away from their sins by asking for forgiveness, and attempting to be obedient to God.

This is really a beautiful prayer, and it is notable that Solomon recognized within the prayer that the reason God had chosen them to be his people was so that they could show the world what a loving and faithful God that the God of Israel was.  Solomon’s God is a God who keeps his promises, and is loving enough to forgive wrong doing when people sin and ask for forgiveness.  Solomon even includes foreigners who were not of the people of Israel in his prayer.  He says, if someone comes from a far away land in order to talk to God that he prays that God will listen to them if they are in the temple or facing the direction of the temple. Amazing! This shows us that Solomon knew that God was there for others also.

This is the same God that we Christians worship today, God has not changed at all.  We all recognize that God is loving and faithful and just to forgive us when we ask with a sincerely sorry heart. God is there for anyone who approaches him, and he wants us to pray and be concerned for those who don’t know him yet, also.

Anyone reading Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple can see that he truly knows who God is, and he really trusts God.  He really desires that God be with his household and with his people no matter where they are and what they are doing.  He wants God to be with them in their everyday life.

This is how we should be praying for others when we pray.  We want to pray that they have all of the blessings of the presence of God in their lives.  Sometimes when we pray for people we are very specific about their health, or the finances, or their emotional situation.  These prayers are okay too, but we also want to remember that we should be praying that God’s will for them will be carried out, not our will for them. (Matthew 6:9-13)

Sometimes our will or what we want for people is different from God’s will.  We need to remember that the Bible tells us that  according to Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

God’s will always works out for the best even if in the short run it doesn’t appear like it is.  You are probably thinking….about making lemonade from lemons about now.  Well, that is the attitude of trust that we all need to have toward God…we need to realize that when something is hard to go through, then there is a purpose for it even if we don’t immediately know what it is.  We need to trust God that the purpose is there and hang on to our faith as we go through it, or as we pray others through their situations.

That is one of the main things about praying for others, our love and trust in the Lord can bolster a person who is going through a difficult time and help them to get through it a bit more easily. Philippians 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

The other thing that we notice about Solomon’s Prayer is that he constantly states that when the people are praying, (if they are not in the temple where God resides)then they must be facing the direction of the temple even if they are in a foreign land. (Now this bit is similar to the Muslim idea of facing Mecca or the Holy Land).  Well, back in Solomon’s Day it was the accepted belief that God was actually residing in the temple in the Holy of Holies.  Now if you notice, Solomon despite believing this, also acknowledged clearly that God was too big to be contained inside the smallness of the temple.  So then, you must be thinking, why did he think it was necessary to face the temple when praying?

That’s because this is the place that God said he would reside and be available to them when they went to make sacrifices and pray.  Back in Solomon’s time if someone needed to really talk to God they  went to the temple, made a sacrifice and the priest went before God on their behalf. 1Kings 8 tells us that Solomon made a great number of offerings at the dedication of the temple…in fact he had a feast that lasted for so many days with the whole of Israel that the number of offerings is actually pretty mind numbing until you know that they were eating these sacrifices at the feast. (Leviticus 17)

What is the difference for us Christians today?  Well, we don’t need to look toward a certain place when we pray, because God is living within us in the form of the Holy Spirit. God does not care if you are standing on your head when you are praying.  It is about your humbleness of spirit, not about the position of your body.

The other very important thing that Solomon did after praying in supplication to God for all of Israel was to praise God for all that He had already done for Israel!  We need to remember to praise and thank God as a matter of course even when we are praying for someone or something.  We need to thank God for the answer that he is going to give to us for our prayers even if we don’t yet know what that answer is to be.  That is an act of faith on our part, that we are acknowledging that we trust God to answer our prayer.

Just like when you ask someone to do something for you and you thank them while you are handing them the instructions…example someone watches your home or pets while you are on vacation.  You don’t generally wait to thank them until you get back from vacation.  You start thanking them right away because you appreciate them so much!  Then we thank them again when vacation is over and you come back and your pets and home are safe, right?  We should appreciate God at least as much as we appreciate the acts of other people, right?  After all, God does so much more for us each day than any one person, and God is the one who put those lovely people into our lives in the first place.

Always make it a point to be thankful, even while waiting in prayer.

Prayer – A Conversation with God

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Vintage image of the Lord’s prayer found on Pinterest  I thought it looked pretty interesting.

1Timothy 2:1  “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.”

Prayer Defined: Prayer is a conversation with God.  We can pray about anything, joy, fear, anger, any situation or thought we have, whether it is angry or joyful we can take it to God.  God is ultimately the only person we can vent to that already knows the situation and can take the best action, if any is needed.  God understands that life is unfair.

We can also pray for anything, but we shouldn’t expect to always get the answer in exactly the way we are wanting it.  God answers, but sometimes the answer is maybe, sometimes it is no.  Most of the time it will be yes, but the person praying has to be looking for the answer also.  Many times the answer will be wait….wait…wait.  We must always remember that God has a different time standard than we do.  We may have to wait for years, even our whole lives, and we may never see the answer come to fruition.  That doesn’t mean that God has not answered.

For example:  You may pray for someone to come to know God, and die before they ever do, but in heaven you will know that they came to know God.  I have met many people who were anti-God their whole lives, and people prayed for them for years.  Many of these people didn’t come to know  God until something happened in their lives to get their attention, and with others it is a gradual building of relationship, until they discover their belief.  Either way, God does answer prayer, always. 

The great thing about God, is that no matter how often you mess up, or turn away from him, he will always forgive you when you ask (with a sincere repentant heart) and greet you with open arms as though you never left.  That is grace! 

Romans 8:38-39  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Now back to the idea of Prayer being a conversation with God.  The thing about conversation is that it requires interaction between two people.  Conversation is back and forth, it is not all one sided.  Many times people treat prayer as if it is a magic wishing well…toss a prayer out and watch the magic happen.

Prayer is not a wishing well, it is not a toss a coin at God and he will spring forth with whatever you want in return.  If what you are praying for is something that goes against the character of God, then don’t bother because the answer to those will always be a resounding “NO!”  (Not because God doesn’t love you, but because he does love you.)

In case I am being a bit vague here, I will give an example of something that it is probably a good bet that God won’t be saying yes to if someone were to pray for it….Let’s say that someone is cheating with someone else’s spouse and they start praying that the person will leave their spouse and marry them instead!  Well I think most of us would agree that this would not get a positive answer from God, right?!!  Why? First of all because the person is not in a right relationship with God if they are in that position in the first place. Secondly, God considers adultery to be a sin, and God does not reward sin.  God’s objective is to get us all away from sinfulness, and back into a right relationship with him.  Does this mean that God didn’t hear them?  No, God heard them, but he said, “No!”

Sometimes, we forget that God has things to say to us too.  In order for prayers to be the most effective we have to be in a close relationship with God.  James 5:16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth (avails) much. (KJV)

That way we can hear what God has to say to us, and what he wants us to be doing in our lives to serve him.  We can also hear and understand the answers to our prayers.  God is not stingy with information, as he wants us to understand how much he loves us, and is willing in many cases to show us the reason for an answer of “No” or “wait” or “yes, but not the way you thought it would happen…”  Sometimes, there are occasions (especially when the answer is not what we want) that we refuse to see the answer, or refuse to see the value of the answer we received.  This is especially true when we pray for someone’s physical healing and it does not take place the way we want it to.

There is a Bible verse to explain this also Isaiah 57:1  Good people pass away; the godly often die before their time. But no one seems to care or wonder why. No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evil to come. (NLT)

We don’t always like the answers God gives to our prayers, but he does always answer us.  If we are in a close relationship with God and are in regular conversation with him through prayer we often understand what we should be praying about, and how to pray. This increases the number of “yes” answers we are receiving to our prayers.  As Jesus instructed us in the Lord’s Prayer it is “for your (God’s) will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Matthew 6:9–13 (ESV) “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.'”

Basic Types of Prayer:  Intercessory, Healing Prayer, Lamentations, Praise/Worship, Blessing, and the most common would be supplication.  There are many different variations of each of these, and some people call them differently because they put them in subcategories, but these are the basics. I will go into explaining these different types of prayer in future blogs.

 

A Star of Jacob – Blessed are those who obey

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The Prophet Balaam and the Ass, by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1626.

Ephesians 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved through faith – and this is not from yourselves it is a gift of God.

Read Ephesians 1:6-7, 2:5-9 We are accepted through God’s grace.  You are saved through grace and not by any work that you may do.  If you were saved by something that you did, then you could boast about it, and would not be glorifying God.  So God used his grace as the only means of your being saved, so that you would recognize who your savior is, and give God the glory.

Read Numbers Chapter 22 thru Chapter 24 The story of Balaam.  Take note of the fact that Balaam is not an Israelite/Hebrew.  Balaam is a Sorcerer/Enchanter/Diviner who acknowledges that all of his gifts come from God, and tries to serve God, but doesn’t have a complete knowledge of God.  He completely doesn’t understand God’s grace.

When Balak, King of the Moabites saw the Israelites who came out of the Egypt camping near his borders he felt panicked, and decided to call on the local Sorcerer (Balaam) to come and put a curse on the Israelites. 

The first time Balak sends a group of men to get Balaam, Balaam sends them home after consulting with God. He tells them to tell Balak that  he could only say what God would have him say, even if Balak offered his house full of silver. 

Balak doesn’t take no for answer, and sends a more impressive group to see Balaam with an offer of great honor if he will just come and curse the Israelites.  God tells Balaam he can go with this group to see Balak, but he must ONLY SAY WHAT GOD SAYS FOR HIM TO SAY AND NOTHING ELSE, so they sleep on it.

The next day Balaam sets out with the group.  God knows what is in Balaam’s mind, that the Israelites will be cursed so he sends an angel to stop him from going.  That is when Balaam beats his donkey three times, because the donkey keeps moving away as it sees an angel and Balaam doesn’t see it.  The angel eventually shows up to where Balaam can see him. He tells Balaam that his donkey saved his life, that if the donkey had not turned aside, then he would have slain Balaam.  So Balaam offers to go back home because he still doesn’t understand what he did wrong (which was to plan for what to say, as opposed to waiting for God’s words.) 

The angel then warns Balaam to continue, but that he is only to say the words that God gives him to say.  (Now this is where this story really starts to get pretty humorous as if it wasn’t enough to have the situation with the donkey.) 

So Balaam meets Balak, and they sacrifice 7 Bullocks and Rams on 7 fires.  Then Balaam consults with God, and returns to stand by Balak, then proceeds to attempt to curse Israel, but God changes the words into blessings for Israel. 

Balak is mad of course, and says lets go someplace else and try this again.  The 7 sacrifices happen two more times in two different places, and each time Balaam utters blessings as God tells him.  Balak is extremely angry and tells Balaam that he blew it, that God took away the honors he was going to give him because he wouldn’t curse Israel.  Balaam reminded Balak that he had told him he couldn’t say anything that God didn’t put in his mouth, even for a house full of silver.  Then Balak told Balaam to go home.  

Can’t you just picture the frustration of Balak?  I can picture him stomping around and saying, “Wait just a minute!  Why did you bless them!  I’m going to go and get 7 more bulls and rams, and set up 7 more altars and this time you better get it right!!!”  He was probably jumping up and down wanting to run Balaam through with the sword by the time he had done that the 3rd time!  Balaam is totally between a rock and a hard place…his trust is in God because he knows that God will definitely kill him if he doesn’t say what God gives him to say, and he knows that Balak may decide to do kill him too.  Ultimately Balaam recognizes God’s higher authority (being a seer) and subconsciously trusts that God will not let him be hurt by Balak.

There are several noteworthy things about this story: 

1) Balaam was not Hebrew, he was a sorcerer/diviner/enchanter who acknowledged God for his gifts, and tried to serve God, but was doing so without understanding.

2)  God used Balaam to bless Israel even though he was a heathen, and also used Balaam to prophesy the coming of Jesus in the phrase “A Star will come out of Jacob, a sceptre will rise out of Israel, he will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the sons of Sheth….”

3)  Balaam did not understand God’s grace even though it was active in his own life.  He thought that he when God gave him permission to go to Balak that he was going to do as Balak asked.  He was expecting that God would curse Israel.  However, he received a lesson in God’s grace with his donkey and the angel, and again with the blessing of Israel. 

4) Balaam acknowledged that God was supreme over any enchantment or divination that he himself could do. God was his acknowledged supreme power of the universe.

5) Balaam does not have a good end, despite having had this opportunity to draw closer to God he later chose to go up against God in a sneaky way.  You can read about him being killed because he thought to circumvent God by trying to make God take his blessing away from Israel by sending Moabite women in to tempt the Hebrew men into fornication and idolatry. (Numbers 31:16 and Joshua 13:22 and Revelation 2:14)  This teaches us about trying to go in through the back door to accomplish a goal that God has told you not to do.  Balaam was clearly made to understand that God was blessing Israel, but he decided that maybe he could make God “unbless” Israel if he could just tempt them to do ungodly things! That was his downfall.

God promised Abram (Abraham) in Genesis 12:3 that he would bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him.  That was part of God’s covenant with Abraham about him and his descendants.  We as Christians are adopted in to this same blessing.  That is what it means to be grafted onto the Vine.  The Vine being Israel, and us Gentiles are those who are grafted. (Romans 11:11-31)

To put it more simply Luke 11:28 says: But He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Balaam heard directly from God and did not in the end obey.

The Traditions of Man

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This is a pretty church in Santorini Greece.  

Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

2Timothy 4:2-4  Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

 Read Mark chapter 7

Many traditions are just man made traditions and not anything to do with a requirement of God or living as a grace covered Christian.  Now to the Jews circumcision was part of a covenant that they are still keeping, and that is certainly the right thing for them; however, under the covenant of Jesus’ blood,  Gentiles are not required to fulfill that circumcision requirement.  In the old testament before the coming of Christ you had to be circumcised to join the Jews, I imagine that is still the case if you male and are to become Jewish.  However, it is not a requirement under Christianity, it is a choice each person can make.

I have another Christian tradition that I have been struggling with that my own church and most churches deal with, that of Communion.  I decided to read up on this issue in the Bible and have come to the following conclusions.  There are many traditions that are man made about it.  Some believe that it is the literal body and blood of Christ, others believe that it is not, but is a Holy Sacrament and must be blessed by a Priest or Minister, others don’t believe it needs to be blessed or consecrated, but each person can simply take it in communion with others with an attitude of worship, and a recognition what it represents; still others believe that only those of a certain age or only of the like denomination can partake of it.

However,  in the Bible all it says is that Jesus, while sitting at a passover table with his disciples told them while lifting the passover cup that it was his blood, and that breaking the bread it was his body (Matthew 26:26), and 1Corinthians 11 talks about it extensively from the view point of Paul the Apostle.  He talks about it strictly from the stand point of the attitude of the person who is partaking of communion.  Paul says that the people who are partaking of the Lord’s cup and bread should be taking it with an acknowledgement of Jesus’ sacrifice for us as one of his (Christian) sheep.  He also says that they should not be helping themselves and treating it as a party for just those wealthy enough to afford it.  He tells us that if it is being used that way, they can eat or drink at home..it is to be taken with a proper attitude and in community with all who are present who are belonging to Christ.  It is up to the person who is taking it to decide whether they are worthy (aka belonging to Christ) to take it or not.

The setting for Jesus’ meal with his disciples was a Passover meal.  If we look at the requirements for passover the priest did not necessarily have to kill the passover lamb, but was required to catch the blood from the lamb and sprinkle it on the altar. That was the only requirement for a priest during passover.  The rest of the meal was performed in the individual homes not at the temple.  Here is an interesting site that explains the Passover practices of the Jews…though you can also read it in the Bible in Exodus 12

http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11934-passover-sacrifice

Another fact about Jesus’ death, is that with his death the veil between the Holy of Holy’s and the rest of the Temple was torn.  The Holy of Holy’s was the place that only the High Priest could go into as it was the “place of the presence of God.” He was only allowed to go in there on the day of Atonement which was once a year.  With the tearing of the veil by Jesus death there became no need for any Jew or Gentile Christian or anyone to have to go to a Priest in order to be in God’s presence.  We were allowed through the death Jesus Christ to go straight to God ourselves…Jesus is the only mediator between God and Man. (1Timothy 2:5).  That is why when we pray to God, we pray asking in Jesus’ name.  The Holy Spirit lives in us, as Christians, therefore we are not in need of an earthly priest for anything.  Not even for the blessing of the elements of communion.  It is enough for Christians to pray over the elements and ask God’s presence and blessing for their act of Communion and remembrance, honoring of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.

The idea behind communion that Jesus gave his disciples is a remembrance of his sacrifice.  It is a reminder to us, that we are sinful and that we needed this selfless sacrifice to redeem us, and reunite us with God.  A reminder that Jesus willingly sacrificed himself for us.  Just as the Passover was a reminder to the Jews that God had “passed over” their houses in Egypt and spared the lives of their first born.  God told them to celebrate passover in “remembrance” of that event in Egypt.

Different denominations have many different beliefs about Communion, Baptism and many other issues….what to wear, how to wear your hair if you are man or woman, etc.  A lot of those beliefs are traditions of the denominations, and not necessarily Biblical.  Many times, those beliefs have grown from someone taking one statement out of context, or out of misunderstanding of the circumstances and/or group to whom the speaker was speaking or what was going in that society.  Many traditions are used by Satan to separate the people of God and cause them to fight amongst themselves instead of being unified through our Savior.  While we can enjoy traditions we need to be aware of what is traditional and what is Biblical and not allow man’s traditions to separate us from our fellow believers.

For instance, if someone were on their death bed and had just accepted Christ, and you were the only Christian around and they wanted Communion or Baptism…would you deny them and say, “Let me go find a minister or a priest, I’m not qualified?”

Each person reading John 14:12-14 should be able to answer that.  Jesus who is our ultimate high priest everlasting told us that whoever believes in Him will be able to do whatever he does and even greater things than he.  We know that his disciples had the gifts of the Spirit, and the fruits of the Spirit and did healing, and baptism, and had communion in Jesus’ name.  Jesus was not out to create a new priesthood with the Disciples that elevated them above those whom they were bringing to Christ.  He wanted each and every one of us as Christians to be priests and serve others around us in Jesus’ name.  (1Peter 2:9)

Now I recognize that not everyone will feel comfortable with the idea of administering Baptism or Communion to another, and maybe they never will.  Traditions have a strong hold on people.  Like getting a hair cut….just be aware, that sometimes a tradition which is not correctly Biblically based can be a separator and not a unifier. Be gentle and loving and it is okay to question a tradition, but question it in the context of “what does the Bible have to say about it?  What does God’s Word have to say about it?”  Is it hurting someone or is it something that helps you to connect with God more fully?  Respect traditions, but evaluate them against the word of God and the character of God.  That is what the Disciples did!  They always went back to the word of God, and took it in the context that the words were spoken!

Living Under Grace Daily

 

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A child knows how to live under the grace of their parents all the time, they simply accept that what a parent says is true and love simply.

Galatians 5:4 You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ, you have fallen from grace. 

Read Galatians 5:4, Hebrews 12:15,Hebrews 13:9, 1Peter 1:13  You can fall away from God’s grace, if you embrace your culture too much.  We are to live a separate kind of existence than our culture, as a demonstration of God’s grace in our lives.  We are to be in the world, but not be worldly.  Don’t try to earn your way to heaven, if you do, then you are no longer under grace, you are under the law, and you are condemned.

Read Galatians 2: This is about Paul and Barnabas receiving the right hand of fellowship of James, Cephas, and John who were spreading the word of Jesus to the Jews (who were called the Circumcision in the bible), the Gentiles were the uncircumcised.  Paul condemns Peter’s action of preaching grace, but then telling the people that they must under the law be circumcised.  He tells Peter that if he is living under grace, that he cannot then require circumcision of people (the gentiles) before they come to Jesus.  That this would be a legal requirement, and that this requirement is not of grace, that they are accepted to Jesus by grace and faith, not by works.  That sin is justified by grace and not by their own work.  Otherwise if righteousness comes by law, then Christ died in vain.  

It is really funny how an issue can cause people to get into a dither, isn’t it?  I have several brothers, and in my family although we are not Jewish and as far as I know my Mother has not yet found anyone Jewish in our background through all of her mountains of research into our family genealogy, but despite what the Bible says about Gentiles not needing to be circumcised my brothers were, as were most boys born in the time period that I was born in.  I don’t believe that much consideration, if any, was given to the contrary. If any consideration was given it was probably that Christians are circumcised too.  That is a general Judeo-Christian consensus, but as you can find from reading the Bible that is not a requirement of Gentile Christians.  Now, in the generation of my children, I have heard discussion on doing that or not doing that, and some are very defensive about not circumcising if they have boy children.  They are expecting criticism from parents who chose to circumcise.

As Christians we need to know exactly what the Bible is saying about this subject, and other subjects like it, so that we can lovingly discuss it with those who are feeling very uptight about it, or any subject that is a tradition.  The Bible tells us not to trouble our children and the children not to trouble us.  (Colossians 3:21, Ephesians 6:1-4) If we don’t know what the Bible says about these things, then it does cause trouble between us and our children and between us and others who are in their Christian walk also.

Shining Grace

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This is at Yellow Stone National park.  I loved the reflection and peacefulness of it.

Proverbs 4:18 The Path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter until the full light of day.

Galatians 2:9 James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, when they recognized the grace given to me.  They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the Jews.

Note: In Galatians 2:9  When God’s grace is within you it shines through you and others can see it readily, just as James, Peter and John could see that God’s grace was within Paul and Barnabas.

Read Judges Chapter 7: This is the story of Gideon’s obedience to God, and God showing his grace to Israel by giving the Midianites over to them in battle.  God told Gideon that he needed to use only 300 men so that Israel would know that God did this for them, and that they didn’t do it themselves by their own hands.  Evidentially the Israelites must have recognized that God was with Gideon because there were 32 thousand Israelites at that time, and there were numberless Midianites so the Israelites were outnumbered with 32 thousand people, and yet they accepted that Gideon only need 300 people to take the Midianites with God’s plan.  This indicates their recognition of God being with Gideon.  So God’s grace shined through Gideon.

Just as in these two cases in the Bible of Paul and Gideon as a person’s walk with God grows closer and the Holy Spirit is more prevalent in their lives it is easier to recognize the same Holy Spirit in someone else that you meet.  It is also very thrilling to be in fellowship with that person even if they are in other ways a perfect stranger to you because you have just met.  The Holy Spirit’s presence just shines through them to you and from you to them.