Avoiding Temptation with Prayer

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Luke 22:40 …Pray that you will not fall into temptation.

Be in prayer so that you can resist temptation. When you are not praying the door is open to the devil.

Read Psalm 141 This is a prayer for God’s protection against doing wrong, or having wrong done to them.  This is a Psalm of David.

Read Psalm 23, 91, 142, 143 These are also prayers of protection.

When in danger, or in a dangerous place, or in temptation, pray to God to keep you from falling to temptation, or being hurt or destroyed in danger.  This is a good prayer to use with soldiers, or missionaries.

Read 1Samuel 24:  This is the story of David hiding in the caves and Saul coming into the same cave to relieve himself and David being tempted by his men to take advantage of Saul’s vulnerability and kill Saul. 

Remember that at this point David has been anointed to be the next King of the people of Israel.  He knows this.  He is being chased by King Saul (the present King) and his men and hunted.  He is hiding in the caves with his men, in fear for his and their lives.

It isn’t much of a mental leap to believe that David, who is described in the Bible as a “mighty man”, a very strong warrior, who has already killed many men in battle would be tempted to go ahead and kill King Saul and take the throne.  He could have even justified it to himself that this was the opportunity that God had given him to do just that.  That is what his men do, that is how they saw the situation.  David did step up for a few seconds and feel tempted…he actually went so far as to sneak up on the King while he was at what most people would consider an extremely vulnerable moment and cut a corner off of his robe.  Then God pricked his conscious about doing anything bad to someone who was anointed by God.

King Saul was after all, such a person.  He was the first anointed King of the People of Israel.

David explains to his men, that it doesn’t go well for anyone who stands up against the one that God has anointed…even if it is another anointed one doing it.  Now that makes for an interesting thought doesn’t it, since Saul is also going up against one who is anointed by God…David, himself.

However, King Saul, by virtue of already being the King was sovereign over David.  David recognized this….King Saul was his master.  David actually loved King Saul and looked up to him.  We see this a bit when we read the story of David and Goliath through David’s interaction with King Saul over the offered use of the King’s armor.  (1Samuel 17)

David also loved King Saul’s son, Jonathon.  He was his best friend.  Imagine how hard it would be to be in David’s position of going up against the father of his best friend.  So, in the end David waits with the scrap of cloth in his hand for King Saul to finish doing his business and leave the cave.

Then he comes out of the cave, and bows before his King and announces, “I could have killed you, but look I didn’t…here is the proof of how close I was to you.”  “Why are you listening to those men who say that I am trying to kill you?”

This was a magnificent gesture of love and bravery on the part of David.  If it were not for the intervention of God this could have turned out disastrously.  King Saul was touched by David’s sincerity toward him, and repented of his desire to kill David.  He accepted a pledge of loyalty from David and they both went on their way.  Now there is a lot more to the story of David and King Saul, but the important thing for this lesson is that David recognized God and left God’s plan to God, himself.  David did not get caught up in the temptation to “make” God’s plan happen in his own way.  It is a very human thing to fall into that temptation…the thing is that there is the way that God wants it done and there is the wrong way.

Whenever we are tempted to take matters into our own hands we should always pray that God will open our eyes and hearts to see the way that he wishes for things to go, and to have the patience to follow that way…no matter how long it takes.  We should pray that God will keep us from temptation.  Just as we are told that Jesus taught us to pray:

Matthew 6:9-13

9“Pray, then, in this way:
            ‘Our Father who is in heaven,
            Hallowed be Your name.

      10‘Your kingdom come.
            Your will be done,
            On earth as it is in heaven.

      11‘Give us this day our daily bread.

      12‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

      13‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’]

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Morning Prayer by Jean-Baptiste Greuze in 1780
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Respect for God’s House

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Matthew 21:13 It is written, he said to them, My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.

God’s house is a house of prayer, and needs to be treated as a Holy place.  Nothing ungodly should be taking place there.

Read Mark 11:15-19 Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the temple, and stated that His house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations, and that they had turned it into a den of thieves.

Read Acts chapter 3 One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts.When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

11 While the man held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. 12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.

17 “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. 21 Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. 22 For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. 23 Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from their people.’[a]

24 “Indeed, beginning with Samuel, all the prophets who have spoken have foretold these days. 25 And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.’[b] 26 When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”

Footnotes:

  1. Acts 3:23 Deut. 18:15,18,19
  2. Acts 3:25 Gen. 22:18; 26:4

The disciples John and Peter go to temple to pray during the time of prayer.  Although you are to pray without ceasing, this is more that you should be mindful of God during the course of your day.   There are times when you should spend time only thinking of God and talking to God through prayer, without doing anything else at the same time.  Life can get in the way of our prayer time if we let it.  We can become guilty of treating our prayer time with God as an after thought…you know, something you do in a half minded kind of way…just putting it right in there while you are multi-tasking and never giving him the personal one on one attention that we need to really be fully in God’s presence.  

When I was growing up a lot of attention was paid to not “setting anything on the Bible.”  This was an act of respect in my parents eyes for the fact that the Bible is the living word of God…that it is Holy scripture.  I don’t find anything wrong with this stand on things, but for me I feel that the ultimate respect that you can pay God’s word is to read it and learn it and have it written on your heart.  All the other treatments of God’s word become empty things if you don’t have a relationship and have it in your heart.

Personally, I do set things on my Bible as I am usually carrying a lot of things in my arms when I am coming and going from my home with the Bible to church and back.  It is really hard to not have anything on top of it…it doesn’t really bother me much because I do have it written on my heart and I am using that Word.  When you use something it usually gets a bit of wear on it.  You can tell folks who really use their Bibles because unless they just bought a new one..it is usually full of stuff that is falling out of it, and quite worn looking.  I think God would rather it look that way than to keep it crisp and new and sitting on your coffee table.  Now I am not saying that everyone “must” memorize chapter and verse and be able to recite scripture and include where it is located in the recitation.  The idea of writing it on your heart is more like knowing it so that if you are in a situation where you are tempted or don’t know how you should handle things…then you can have a scripture pop into your head…the Holy Spirit can remind you of it and help you to know what to do and how to act in any given situation and remain in a Godly position.

Jesus did this when he was being tempted in the desert…Satan would say something to tempt Jesus, and Jesus responded to Satan using scripture to refute what Satan was saying.  If you don’t read it then you cannot truly have it written on your heart…you cannot truly be a doer of the Word as well as a hearer of the Word.  (James 1:22-25)

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Now if we go back to the stories above of Jesus over turning the money changer’s tables in the temple courts and the contrasting story of the newly healed lame man who entered the temple courts “walking and jumping and praising God” some people would be very upset at the idea of the man jumping around in the temple courts and say it was disrespectful.  I don’t believe that God would see it that way at all….this man was so grateful for his healing that he could not contain his joy!  It was flowing out of him with childish excitement.  It was so pronounced that it attracted attention…this caused people to come running to see what was going on there.

Peter looked at them, and took the opportunity to remind them of who God was, and that they should not be surprised at God’s ability to heal….and that the healing came through the promised Messiah that they had rejected.  Peter acknowledged that their rejection was done in ignorance of who they were rejecting and he told them that they should change their hearts and turn away from that ignorance and embrace who Jesus truly was…that Jesus was the author of life and that in their ignorance they had “killed the author of life”…now if someone is the author of life, then certainly they would be able to heal would they not?  It would be a little thing to them to do so.  Peter was quick to give the credit to God and not to take it for himself.  That is so important when you are doing something that God has given you to do…be sure to give God the glory and honor for using you to do that deed just as Peter did in this situation.  Knowing God, acknowledging him, obeying him and giving him the glory for all the blessings in your life is the ultimate paying of love and respect to God.  At least that is my thinking…because the word says that if you love God then you will obey his word, and God will come to make his “home” with you….essentially when I read this I understand it to be that you become the “house of God”  in a much more literal and important way than a building will ever be.

John 14:23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.

1 Corinthians 6:19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;

Shouldn’t the “house of God” have the “Word of God” inside of it? Isn’t that just respectful?

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As for the money changers…they didn’t understand this concept at all because if they had understood then they would have known that God wanted us to love each other, not cheat each other. Jesus was walking among them in living flesh and they still didn’t get it!

Prayer in Action

golden-wheat-field-1354390133xga2Samuel 24:24 No, I insist on paying for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing….

Read 2Samuel 24  and 1Chronicles 21 This is the story of David taking a Census of his men against God’s wishes and the penalty of doing so.  This chapter is a good story to demonstrate that when you pray, you must listen to God’s answer, and that sometimes, there is some action you must take for the answer to take place.  Note:  There is confusion in these two verses, but when you realize that in 2Samuel God is angry against Israel then you can see that what is described in 1Chronicles 21 as Satan inciting David to take a census and in 2Sam 24 as God inciting David to go and take a census is simply two ways of saying that God is sovereign and everything that happens is at his control/command…God does have control of Satan also and when God’s wrath burned against the people of Israel he used Satan to tempt David to sin by taking a census of his people.  David always had the option to not yield to temptation, which also would have lessened God’s wrath.  However he chose to go ahead and sin.  Then he had to pray to God for forgiveness to lessen God’s wrath.  God gave him a task to do to show his sincerity of repentance.  Let me be clear…the task is not what gained him the forgiveness…it was simply a demonstration of his sincerity and an obedience to God.  God does not “need” us to do anything, but does sometimes require us to do things…not for the sake of repentance (beyond accepting Christ), but for our own sake so that we can “feel” (for lack of a better word, though faith is a decision that you make, not a feeling that you have) that we have repented or that we have connected closely with God and rebuilt our faith in God.  Everything that God does or asks us to do has one goal….to bring us closer to him…to help us understand him better, and to bring others closer to him and to help them understand him better through us.  God does these things out of his extreme love for us.  After all, he is God why else would he bother with us, if he didn’t love us?!!

For example:  There is a story (not in the Bible) of a man who was living in a place where a flood was coming.  He was warned by the news, but he told his friends and neighbors who were packing up their cars to evacuate that he was going to wait for God to answer his prayer.  He was praying about it and that God would make everything all right.  After a while, the police came by and told him that he must evacuate that the water was rising quickly and he was losing time.  He assured the police that he was praying and that God would take care of the situation.  (I know that sometimes the police will force an evacuation…but this is an illustration.)   More time went by and the water had risen to the point where the man was having to go to his upstairs room.  Someone came by with a boat and offered to let him join them in the boat and get him safely away.  The man answered that he was waiting on the Lord that the Lord would rescue him as he had been praying about this situation.  The man in the boat left.  A couple hours later the man was forced to move up to his roof.  A helicopter came by, and dropped a rope for him, and told him to climb up.  The man repeated that he had been praying and was waiting on the Lord to answer him.  He refused to climb up.  You can probably guess the fate of the man, right?!!  He drowned.  Then he is standing in front of the Lord, and he asked, “Lord, I prayed to you and you did not answer me.  Why not?  Why didn’t you listen to me?”

The Lord responded to the man, “Son, my child…I did answer you, when you first prayed, I sent you the news that there was a need to leave because it was dangerous for you there.  Then when you did not leave, I sent you some police officers to make certain that you saw the authority in the order to leave.  You still did not listen.  So as things became more dangerous and perilous for you, I tried to rescue you once more in the form of a man with a boat, but you refused to get into the boat.  Finally, I sent some other rescuers with a helicopter and they practically begged you to cling to the ladder and be flown out of there.  Son, I made four attempts to show you my answer and provide for your safety, but you were so stubborn that you were only looking for the answer that you wanted.  You were not really looking for the answer I was providing.  I love you and it saddens me that you valued your home more than your life and more than your relationship with me.  That is why you perished.”

Sometimes, we just don’t recognize the answer that God is giving to us.  We are either too stubborn (in wanting our own way) to recognize it, or our prayer life and our relationship with God is taking a back seat to other “idols” in our life.  An idol can be anything in a person’s life which interferes with your relationship with God.  In the illustration above, the idol of the man’s life seems to be his home.

The illustration is an extreme example of someone who the Bible would describe as “stiff necked”.  Think for a minute about what it means to be stiff necked.  I have had a stiff neck at times, and it makes it really hard to look around.  A stiff necked person in spiritual terms is someone who refuses to turn back from their own agenda, and follow God.  There are many times that the people of Israel were called a “stiff necked people”.  Set in their own ways, and unable or unwilling to see the truth that God reveals for them.  Now a days we would call that person stubborn and unyielding.

Think about yourself…is there a time that you have been too stiff necked about what you wanted?  That you haven’t been able or willing to understand that God has answered your prayer perhaps because the prayer’s answer was not what you wanted it to be?  I know that I have had times in my life like that.  Then there may have been times when you take an action to make something turn out the way you wanted it…ask yourself..how did that turn out for you?  I know that for myself the answer would be that it usually didn’t turn out too well.  In the Bible it also didn’t turn out well when God promised something, and then told them to wait upon him….there are many examples of that…King Saul, Abraham and Sarah just to name a couple of examples.

Genesis 16:1-2 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

In the case of Sarai/Sarah she came to regret her decision because it caused her to have trouble in her home and she suffered from jealousy and her slave, Hagar, started looking down upon Sarah.  Sarah tried to rush the God, instead of waiting on him.

This is in contrast to David, who was told to go and make an offering to God.  David had to buy the threshing floor where he was told to make the offering.  How great the temptation must have been to accept the place for free when it was offered.  However, David sets an example to us…if we are going to make an offering to God it should be something that belongs to us, or costs us in some way.

Sometimes we simply need to do something in order for a request to be fulfilled.  If you are looking for a new home, or a new job, and you pray for God to help you with that…you cannot expect the Lord to magically beam you to the new job or the new home, right?  You still have to go out and look for that new home or new job.  God will guide you to the place that will fulfill the desires of your heart.  He actually knows better than we do what the desires of our heart really are in life.

Psalm 37:4  Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

The key thing about this verse is that you need to delight yourself in the Lord first….that way your desires will line up with the Lord’s wishes for your life and happiness.

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Follow God through Prayer

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This is a picture of a burnt log and some flowers growing next to it in Yellowstone National Park.  All through the park there was evidence of recovery.  Even in the events of our lives that cause some dreams and aspirations to die, God is with us and can bring beauty from ashes.  If only we talk to Him and follow His leading.

Psalm 37:5-7 Commit your way to the Lord, trust in Him, and He will do this, He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn.

Read 1Samuel 23:1-14 David asked the Lord if he was to go to Keilah and stand against the Philistines, God told him to go and that he would deliver the Philistines into his hands.  David did so, and God did as he said he would. God protected David and used him (even though Saul was trying to take his life) to save the people of Keilah.

Read Psalm 37:5-7 Commit your way to the Lord, trust in Him, and He will do this, He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn. The justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for Him, do not fret, when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.

This is an excellent verse to take to heart when you are praying for something, you must trust in God for the answer, even if you don’t see immediate results, be committed to knowing that God is committed to you and that He hears your prayers, and will take action on your behalf.  

God’s justice is always much more accurate and precise than anything that you and I can come up with.  Sometimes the person whom we want justice from has suffered an even greater injustice than we have, but we don’t know it.  That doesn’t excuse the injustice we suffered by them, but it may help us to understand where they were coming from and find a way to love that person despite what they have done.  

David, makes it clear through out his relationship with King Saul that he does not despise Saul and has no wish to take his throne from him before the appointed time that God will give it to him.  David continues to attempt to serve Saul to the best of his ability despite Saul’s hatred of him, and his constant attempts to take David’s life.

I mean, Saul throws spears at David while David is entertaining Saul with his music.  Saul chases him down and tries to kill him.  When you look at some of the Psalms that David wrote, the headings on some of them tell us that they were written in caves while he was hiding for fear of his life.  That fear is because King Saul is after him.

King Saul actually admired David and promoted him to the position he was in, but after God turned from Saul and David was anointed by Samuel as the next King of Israel (the United Kingdom of Israel) Saul then started to fear David when he saw how mighty he was.  After Saul heard chanting in the street that “Saul had slain his thousands and David his ten thousands…”  (1Samuel 18:6-8) then King Saul could see that David could take his throne as he was held in higher esteem by the people of Israel than was King Saul.

As far as I can find in the Bible there isn’t any direct statement to Saul that David is the one anointed to take his place.  King Saul is just told that another will take his place as King.  King Saul went off of the deep end without a life jacket once he figured out that David was considered “mightier than he!”

However, David despite being given an opportunity of temptation to kill King Saul as he was urinating in a cave where David and his men were hiding….refuses to succumb to the temptation to go ahead and get his kingdom through assassination!  Even with his men egging him on!

1Samuel 24:1-22 After Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, “David is in the Desert of En Gedi.” So Saul took three thousand able young men from all Israel and set out to look for David and his men near the Crags of the Wild Goats.He came to the sheep pens along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave. The men said, “This is the day theLord spoke of when he said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.’” Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.

Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed,or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.” With these words David sharply rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. And Saul left the cave and went his way.

Then David went out of the cave and called out to Saul, “My lord the king!” When Saul looked behind him, David bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.He said to Saul, “Why do you listen when men say, ‘David is bent on harming you’? 10 This day you have seen with your own eyes how the Lord delivered you into my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, ‘I will not lay my hand on my lord, because he is the Lord’s anointed.’ 11 See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand! I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you. See that there is nothing in my hand to indicate that I am guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion. I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life. 12 May the Lord judge between you and me. And may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you. 13 As the old saying goes, ‘From evildoers come evil deeds,’ so my hand will not touch you.

14 “Against whom has the king of Israel come out? Who are you pursuing? A dead dog? A flea? 15 May the Lord be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand.”

16 When David finished saying this, Saul asked, “Is that your voice, David my son?” And he wept aloud. 17 “You are more righteous than I,” he said. “You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly. 18 You have just now told me about the good you did to me; the Lorddelivered me into your hands, but you did not kill me. 19 When a man finds his enemy, does he let him get away unharmed? May the Lord reward you well for the way you treated me today. 20 I know that you will surely be king and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands. 21 Now swear to me by the Lord that you will not kill off my descendants or wipe out my name from my father’s family.”

22 So David gave his oath to Saul. Then Saul returned home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold. (NIV via Biblegateway.com)

This kind of thinking and acting is why the Lord stated that David was a man after his own heart.  David loved Saul and loved Saul’s son, Jonathon who was his best friend, like a brother.  I am sure that it pained David to know that he was going to be taking the throne which would have gone to Jonathon, if Saul had remained King.  Yet, it doesn’t seem to have affected the close bond between the two men.  They looked out for each other. Jonathon tried his best to protect David from his father, King Saul.

If we try to understand King Saul’s actions they were largely out of fear…he drove himself crazy from his fear of losing his kingdom.  This tells us how deep Saul’s belief in the words of Samuel the prophet…even though he continually acted against what Samuel had told him to do.  Saul feared people more than he feared the Lord, and fear was his chief motivator.  So in essence, Saul was a person who looked good on the surface, but his actions did not bear scrutiny once you got to know him.  He wasn’t a bad person, but he was a leader and he was in charge of leading his people in the way that the Lord wished them to go.  He was catastrophically unable to do this because of his fears. He was not a Psalm 37:5-7 king.  (Though that Psalm written by David when he was King was written well after  Saul’s demise…perhaps David may have thought of and remembered Saul when he wrote it.)

David suffered a lot of injustice at the hands of Saul, we are never told why Saul acted with so much fear.  Hazarding a guess and going into Saul’s background he was simply not built for the demands of Kingship…it was a great big stress to him, but once he was there, he wanted to keep the job.  He didn’t want to be a failure.  However, he was a failure.  He was self centered instead of God centered.

Simply put, Saul failed to follow God, so God replaced him.  David, despite his faults, never forgot or let his own thoughts replace his love and respect for God.

If you are a leader that God has put in place, you are held very responsible by God for how you lead…more so than the average person who has no one they are leading.  Be a good leader if you are called to lead, pray and follow God’s leading…Wait upon the Lord in all circumstances.  Prayer is the way to “wait upon the Lord.”  If you don’t talk to him, then you won’t know what God wants from you.

 

Note: As an exercise I find it helpful to look up the different places spoken about in the Bible and see where they are on a map.  It kind of gives me a scope of how far things are from each other, and what the terrain is like.   Keilah is 8.5 miles NW of Hebron, the Desert of Ziph is 4 miles SE of Hebron.  Keilah is now satisfactorily by archaeologists as identified with Khirbet Kila.

http://www.bible-history.com/geography/ancient-israel/israel-old-testament.html

Hannah’s Son – Prayer for God’s Blessing

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This is a dress in a window display in a mall I saw on vacation it is made with the pages of books (it was a book store).  It just seems very cheerful, and it kind of gave me a mental lift of our prayers winging their way to God!

 

Roman’s 9:15-16 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then, it does not depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.

Read 1Samuel 1:10-11 Hannah prayed for the Blessing of a son, and promised God that she would give him back to God for all the days of his life, and his hair would never be cut. God answered her prayer and Samuel was born and given to Eli the Priest at the Temple after he was weaned (1Samuel 1:22, 26-28)  God blessed Hannah with many more children after Samuel. (1Samuel 2:5)  Note that Hannah’s prayer was answered and she was blessed with more children for her faithfulness to her promise.  Hannah’s prayer included an offer of personal sacrifice of the thing wanted most.  Sometimes when a prayer is really important we can fast and sacrifice our meals or give up fun activities in order to honor the seriousness of the prayer.  We do this most often either for healing of someone or ourselves, or during the season of Lent in an effort to experience a small part of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.  Sometimes when a matter of prayer is crucial to you, you feel that just prayer alone is not enough, then it is appropriate to fast so that you can concentrate on God more.

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Read Judges 11  Here is the story of another person who wanted a blessing from God, and made a vow to God.  However, this is a case where there is a lot of controversy.  We can learn a lot from Jephthah’s wild seemingly ill considered vow.  He vows that if God will let him win a war, then he will offer to or sacrifice to God whatever first comes out of his house when he returns safely.

Have you ever made a vow or promise that you wish you had never made?  I don’t think there is a person alive who hasn’t.  I am sure that Jephthah had regrets…as his one and only child…his daughter is the one who first came out to meet him.  Now there is controversy among scholars about whether he actually burned his daughter as a sacrifice, or if she was just offered as in the case of Hannah offering Samuel to God as a servant in the temple, or maybe she was just set aside and never allowed to marry, but stayed in her father’s house.  I am going with the idea that Jephthah was known to be a man of God and knowing that God had prohibited human sacrifice he would never go against God.  (Deuteronomy 12:29-32) After all, he was chosen as a leader of his people by God.  That is why he is mentioned in Judges in the first place.

Also his daughter mourns her virginity and it tells us she never knew a man. So her mourning of her virginity in this case would be the never having a husband and children.  For a Jewish woman of her time, that was a horrible fate to have.  A woman’s worth as told to us in the story of Hannah and many other women throughout the Old Testament was based on whether she could provide sons for her husband so that his lineage could continue.  The same could be said of a Jewish man, having a son was his top obligation.  So much so that if his brother had a wife and died without a son, then he was to marry the widow and raise up a son as his brother’s child so that he would have a son to carry on his line. (Deuteronomy 25:5-6)

So when we see this story of Hannah, she was miserable and she wanted a son to validate her worth.  Jephthah had only a daughter and he, undoubtedly loved his daughter as we can see from his response to her appearance.  Jephthah was someone who had no proper family when he was growing up, and was actually rejected and ejected from his father’s house, so family was probably doubly important to him over others who were raised in a family where their Mother was respected and loved.  Saying this, it seems to me that his vow to God really was a painful burden to him.  As his daughter would not be able to provide him with a continuation of his family line, and she was his only child.

Unlike in the story of Hannah and her son, Samuel, we are not told that Jephthah suddenly started having other children.

So both of these people prayed for a blessing and tried to give something to God in return.  Hannah ended up with the greater blessing, as the scorn she received from her husband’s second wife was abated and she had many children.  The way I feel when I read Hannah’s story is that she is a woman in misery, and is praying for God with all the humbleness of her heart to remove her misery.

On the other hand, when I read of Jephthah, he seems like a person of great pride.  He is a person who is a bargainer.  When his family called him back he bargains with them to become the head of the family if he fights for them and prevails.  Then he offers God a bargain, that he will give God a sacrifice of whatever comes out of his house first if God will just let him win against his enemies.  Jephthah was not miserable in the sense that Hannah was, but he was also looked down upon by members of his family and community.  He was a “can do” type of person, his relationship with God was almost completely different from Hannah’s.  Hannah was a “can’t do anything about it” person.  She was humble and laid her problem out to God.  Jephthah on the other hand probably would have gone into battle anyway, and hoped for the best; but felt that if he offered God something that maybe God would make certain of his victory.

The thing is in both cases, God did bless these people with the desires of their hearts.  Jephthah in the end needed and desired the respect of his family after the way he had grown up.  By offering his daughter to God, he also gained more community respect.  We are told that for four days a year the Jewish girls would go into the desert to lament his daughter’s virginity.  In this case, to honor it, as well as mourn her sacrifice of having no family.  Another thing about not having a son, is that there was no one to care for her in her old age….though, as she was a “living sacrifice” to God I am sure that God made sure she was cared for.  Just as he will care for us if we make ourselves into “living sacrifices” to him. For us to be living sacrifices means that we are living our lives fully invested in following God’s plan for our lives.  We are setting aside our selfishness and our need to control things, and allowing God to work in us.

The thing is that there is nothing other than ourselves that we can offer to God…God does not do bargains.  He listens to our prayers and our repentance of our sins, and he wants to give us the desires of our hearts.  Just like any parent wants to give their children the desires of their hearts….without any bargaining!    God does not bargain…he blesses whom he will bless and he curses whom he will curse.  Generally, he blesses those who love him…maybe not the way they wish to be blessed on the surface, but he gives what the person really needs to help them grow closer to him, and to fulfill their plan.  The thing is we don’t always understand the actual blessing that God has given us when it is given to us.  Sometimes, we have to have time to see it.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:33-37 Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. (ESV)

 

 

If there are 10 Righteous Men…

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Genesis 18:32 Then he said May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only 10 can be found there?

Read Genesis 18:20-33 God tells Abraham that he will destroy Sodom and Gomorrah that their sin is too great.  Abraham prays to God that he not destroy the city of Sodom if 10 righteous men could be found in either one of them.  God agreed, but could only find 1 righteous man, Lot, and so saved Lot and his family and still destroyed  the city.  So although  the city was destroyed, God listened to Abraham, and looked for righteous people first thereby saving Lot.  Without Abraham’s intercessory prayer, God may have destroyed the entire city.  Prayer affected the outcome for Lot.

There is a bunch of history between Abraham and Lot.   Lot is Abraham’s nephew by one of his deceased brothers.  When God told Abraham to pick up and move to a new country with his wife and family, Abraham took Lot along.  He and Lot ended up having to go their separate ways after a while because their family groups were too large and their flocks were too large.  This caused a bunch of fighting between their herdsmen.  Abraham was kind enough to let Lot choose which of the new land he wanted for himself.  Lot demonstrates a bit of his character to us by choosing the best and greenest land, and leaving the desert area for Abraham. Later his area is raided and he and his family members are kidnapped…Abraham goes to the rescue with a few hundred men and gets them back.

John 3:16-21  

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” (NKJV -Biblegateway)

Now in this story we find that the town that Lot is living in (Sodom) is about to be destroyed by God.  God has found the town to be so filled with sin that he considers it irredeemable.  In our society there is a belief that everyone is going to be redeemed.  That is simply not true.  It is purely wishful thinking…however, it is good that we have that desire to see everyone redeemed.  God has the same desire, and wants us to have that desire also.  He wants us to love others to that point where we wish the best for them, and would like to help them achieve it.

2Peter 3:9  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

The promise that is spoken about in 2Peter 3:9  is the return of the Lord…he is not slow in returning because he wants us to suffer more, but because more can have time to make the decision to follow Jesus, and gain their salvation and restored relationship with God.  God leaves people here on earth who have already gained their salvation so that they can be instrumental through their knowledge of God, and through the way they live out their faith….in bringing others to the knowledge of salvation also.

Abraham always loved Lot and wanted him to be saved, but he also did not want the people of Sodom to be destroyed either…he was hoping that there would be enough people in the town of Sodom that Lot could continue to live his life there, and that God would not destroy the town.  That there were enough people still in Sodom that they could witness to those who were living in sin and thus help them to repent and return to God.  However, as we know from the Bible, Lot was the only person left in that town whom God considered to be righteous.  If you read more about Lot in the Old Testament you will find that he wasn’t really all that righteous…he had a knowledge of God, but not necessarily a very strong character.  He tried to be obedient to God, but he didn’t seem to cling to him the way he should.  It is a good thing that Abraham was around to look out for his nephew, and to pray to God for him.  God wants us to look out for others, especially for other Christians who may be new to the faith, or weaker spiritually.  We are to lift them up in prayer and bolster their faith as much as we can.

Notice that God never got mad at Abraham for how he questioned him repeatedly about his actions.  God does not get mad at us either for wondering about what his plan is and what he is doing.  God wants relationship with us, if we have a question about what God is wanting us to do, or what is happening or why…we should feel free to pray and ask God to help us to resolve these questions, and to have a closer understanding of him and his plan.  God is gracious and loving and understands us more than we understand ourselves.  Use prayer to relate to him and he will give you answers and contentment about how he is doing things.  When there isn’t prayer/communication..there isn’t understanding either.  So pray and ask God what is going on and how to proceed whenever you are in doubt…it will definitely build your faith up…beyond your dreams!

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Moses Intercedes with God

IMG_0579Exodus 32:14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

Read Exodus chapter 32:  The Israelites made a Golden Calf, and God was going to destroy them in his anger, then Moses prayed an intercessory prayer to God that he not destroy them that the world would then think that the only reason God brought the Israelites out of Egypt was to destroy them.  God listened to Moses and changed his mind about destroying the Israelites.  In this story God was angry and Moses prayed on behalf of his people that God’s anger would be calmed and that God would not be so angry.  

When I look at God’s righteous anger over the idolatry of his chosen people it tells me that God has a limit to his patience.  Here we have God who has taken this group of people out of slavery, using Moses as their leader.  Moses goes up the mountain to speak with God and because he is gone a while these people get all worried that he has abandoned them, or God has killed Moses, or something.  So they decide that they cannot worship what they cannot see, and demand that Aaron make them a new god.  This same Aaron, who was Mose’s brother and the spokesperson whom God gave to Mose’s because of his stumbling tongue, or other difficulty with words.  This Aaron who should have been large and in charge and reassuring the people tells them to get him their gold and then proceeds to give the people what they wanted…a Golden Calf to worship.

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When Moses gets back down the mountain, and finds all of Israel worshipping this Golden Calf, he asks Aaron what happened.  Aaron’s response is to deny his own responsibility!  This is a typical response we find in our own society today….”it’s not my fault…they/he/she did/wanted/said…therefore…it’s their fault that this (fill in the blank) bad thing happened!”  Most of us want to throw up our hands whenever we encounter this response from a person when we are trying to find out what happened…or how a situation came about.  It is most frustrating, isn’t it!  We should ask ourselves…why is it like this?  Well, in the case of the Israelites they had been slaves…so they were living in fear for their lives at all times.  If they did something wrong and they were at fault the circumstances could be dire either beating or death, or both.  They were not used to being allowed to take responsibility and it not end very badly.  They were literally, as far as life went, and as far as following God went…children in their level of maturity.

That being said, in God’s eyes what they had done would be the equivalent of a child running out into the road, or sticking their hand into a fire!  This situation of idol worship was not something to take lightly, it was not just a life threatening problem….it was a soul threatening problem.  God had chosen these people to teach them about who he was in order that they would worship him and only him, so that they could show the world who God truly was…that God was a loving and caring God who was worthy of worship; but also that God was a jealous God who did not allow for the worship of any other Gods besides him!

Moses had just received these rules and before he could even deliver them to the children of Israel they had already broken the first and second rules!  No wonder he threw them to the ground and broke them, they were already broken! How frustrating that these people who supposedly had Mose’s right hand man there to keep them straight couldn’t hang out and wait patiently  until Moses returned without getting into trouble.  They were led out of Egypt, but they had not really left emotionally, as the calf was one of the gods of the Egyptian people.  They were sticking with what they knew.

How many of us do that all the time…we give up a bad habit, because to do so sounds like a good idea, but then the first time we have an idle moment we fall right back into that same habit.  In my case, I have a sweet tooth, and so I decide to diet, then immediately am confronted with someone flashing a sweet in front of me, and it is “abandon all hope” of not eating it!  lol!  I do love sweets!  It takes a lot of effort to turn it down.  We all have weaknesses like this.

So we look back at Moses who grew up around these people and he knew what they were doing, but he had a bad temper and had frustration from the situation.  God tells Moses that he is just going to destroy these people as they are hopeless, and stiff necked…essentially that they cannot be taught.  God says, “Hey! Moses!  I think I will destroy them and just start over again with you…I will just use your offspring to make a great nation instead of this group!”

This might have been pretty tempting to Moses.  Don’t you think?  Maybe that was why God said it…to get Moses to take a look at himself and see if  Moses was really that fed up with the people he was leading…essentially with his own relatives!  Sometimes, when you are upset and someone says something really outrageous that is a bit further than you would ever really go with your thoughts, that can snap you right back to your senses, can’t it?!!!  I think this is what happened to Moses….Moses was upset and tossed the first set of the ten commandments tablets to the ground and God jumped in there and went right along with Mose’s thoughts and said that he was fed up himself, and that they were stiff necked and unteachable and he would just wipe them all out and start over with Moses!  How shocking…so Moses then says, “Oh, No!  You can’t do that, God!  If you do that, then the whole world will believe that you led these people out of Egypt just to kill them in the desert!  What would that say about you?  Is that the kind of God you want to be known as?  The whole world will believe that you brought them out for an evil purpose.”

Another way to look at this is that Moses was telling God that the world would be thinking that he was a God of evil and not good!  I find it wonderful how Moses was immediately looking out for God’s best interests rather than his own!  This really tells us a lot about Moses’ character, doesn’t it?!!

Now Moses, standing in front of the people tells them that whoever among them is for the Lord to come and stand next to him.  All of them, but 3000 did so, and then Moses ordered that those who had come back to the Lord kill the group who were not willing to turn away from their sin.  We are told that the penalty of sin is death…that is still true today…those who do not turn away from sin and turn toward the Lord suffer the penalty of death, and those who turn to the Lord gain everlasting life.  It is just that in Mose’s time this group suffered from a painful lesson about how real the God who led them out of Egypt was and how immediate the penalty of turning away from him.  There was no “king in the land” no “parliament” no “congress”…judgement and justice were swift and final.  Moses was their leader and he was trying to get God’s anger to subside…so that only the unrepentant were slain.

When Moses approached God again after this slaying of 3000 of his brethren, his words to God were, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”

Moses was saying that if after all of this that his brethren who were guilty were forced to slay those who were also guilty, but who were unrepentant, if after all of this, then if God would not forgive them, then to just take Moses name out of the book of life also!  Moses was saying to just blame him because he had not led them well enough.   Moses, who was with God the whole time and hadn’t done anything wrong, was telling God to just put the blame on him too!

This was Mose’s powerful intercessory prayer with God for his people….Moses is a type of savior, to his people.  He offered himself in intercessory prayer to God in the place of his people.  Interestingly, on the day that God handed the Law down to Moses 3000 people were killed, and on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was sent to live in the hearts of God’s people 3000 people were saved!

God did not kill the entire group, but said that whoever sinned against him would be blotted out of his book, and when the time comes to punish he would punish for sin.

Now, this could be taken that God was telling Moses that his method was wrong because although in Exodus 22:20 Moses had already heard the penalty of idol worship…the people of Israel had not.  After all, Moses still had a lot to learn about God’s character himself, even if he was their chosen leader.   God sent a plague on them, but it doesn’t say that any of them died from that plague.

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Sometimes a plague may just make people miserable…you know plagues of locust, plagues of boils, etc.  About 45 min. or so North of us there was the outbreak of the 17 year locust….now many of those people would call that a plague.  One of my cousins was very plagued by them, they were on her car, on and in her house…they were every where…they were a pain, but no one died from them!

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Due to Mose’s intercessory prayer and willingness to lay himself out before God on their behalf, God was willing to forgive.  It tells us that God relented…God changed his mind.  You could say that God decided to go with his original plan and being a God who comes through on his promises…he continued to follow through with the promise he made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph to make them a great nation.  We learn so much from this story of Mose’s and the Golden Calf….God is gracious to show us our own faults and to help us to recognize who he is, and to be swayed by our prayers for others….but there are also God given penalties for unrepentant people and those God given penalties will not be avoided without repentance.

There are also man made penalties for breaking the law of the land, which are separate from God given penalties. Ex. If someone steals money from another person, and asks God with a repentant heart for forgiveness God would forgive them. The same person  usually cannot avoid the legal penalty for their earthly crime against society.

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.

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.

Strengthened by Grace

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This is the archway going into the ancient Olympic Stadium in Greece  It was built around 776 BC and Samson lived hundreds of years before this during the time of the Judges from 1200-1000 BC.  

1Cor 1:8 He will keep you strong til the end so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1Cor 1:4-9 I always thank God for you because of His grace given you in Christ Jesus for in Him you have been enriched in every way.  In all your speaking and in all your knowledge because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you.  Therefore, you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for your Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.  He will keep you strong til the end so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God who has called you into fellowship with His son, Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.

Read 2Corinthians 12:9-10, Ephesians 3:7,Hebrews 4:16  This says that we are to glory in our weaknesses, because when we are weak, God’s able to use us to demonstrate his power and glory through grace, by strengthening us.  For example, if you are afraid of something, this is a weakness, and if everyone knows you are afraid, but then you face your weakness in spite of your fear, and overcome it, then everyone will know that God is with you and has strengthened you.  You are responsible to give God the  glory when this type of strengthening occurs in your life. 

Read Judges Chapter 16 The story of Samson and Delilah.  Samson is a very interesting person.  He is a bit tricky. (The full story of Samson actually starts in Chapter 13 and is certainly worth reading, as he is a very interesting person…reading the rest of the story will tell you why the Philistines hated Samson so much, but for the purpose of this lesson I focused on the part of his story about Samson and Delilah.)

Okay, so there are some things about the story of Samson and Delilah that really catch your attention.  They each treat the other as if they were a fool, and they both actually act toward the other in a foolish manner.  Delilah is relying on Samson’s infatuation with him to try and make some money on the side…that tells us that she really doesn’t love Samson at all…she is trying to make use of him.

The incredible thing about this is that Samson seems at first to realize it and plays with her by continually giving her misinformation about the source of his physical strength.  Each time she fails to guard the information he gives her and tries to use it against him in order to get the Philistine’s money….incredibly he keeps playing, then his pride makes him give in to the temptation at first to give her a little bit of the truth….he tells her that if she weaves his hair into the loom and puts a pin in it that he will lose his strength.  He is telling her that it is his hair, but not giving the whole story, and then even after she betrays him time after time he still ends up telling her the real truth  because of her nagging day after day.  The thing is that he really was very prideful, he was proud of his ability to trick her time after time, and so he gave him due to his pride, and he never actually gave God the credit for his strength.  His relationship with God was the true source of his strength, this caused God to give Samson over to his own foolish pride.

When we take a look at the Philistines after they have captured him, they also suffered from pride…and if they knew that the source of his strength was his hair they were foolish to let it grow back.  They thought that since his eyes were gouged out and he was tied up and had become their prisoner that they could just display him without a worry because he was weak. They were guilty of underestimating their enemy, Samson.

In the end, Samson is humbled after being the Philistine’s prisoner, and wants to get justice for the loss of his eyes.  Samson is a person who was vengeful and very definitely believed in meeting out his own version of justice on those who wronged him.  Looking at the other chapters about his actions we can see that.  However, in the end, when Samson is up there being displayed by the Philistines he prays to God that he can get justice on them for the injustice they perpetrated against him!  The Philistine’s pride in disregarding Samson because he was their prisoner became the source of their undoing.  When he asked to be lead to lean against the pillars that held the roof of the building someone led the poor blind man over there and then Samson said his prayer to God for strength “one last time” in humbleness, and requested to die with the Philistines.  God was gracious and granted Samson the strength to push those pillars apart and cause the roof to collapse and kill them all.

It wasn’t until Samson was too physically weak to take care of it all on his own that he became humble enough to rely on and acknowledge that his strength came from God.  At that point God was gracious to Samson and demonstrated his love for him by giving him enough physical strength to mete justice out on the Philistines.

God hates the prideful and will humble them, but loves the humble and will strengthen them.  There are over 100 verses in the Bible that mention the words Pride, Proud or Haughty and they are all mentioned in the context of it being a sin.  Pride is one of the easiest sins to fall into also because there is a fine line between being satisfied with a job well done, or a talent well used, and starting to think that you, yourself, are the author and maker of those talents.  So we have to be ever on our guard against it, because pride is a very sneaky sin…you can have it before you even realize it!  We need to always be careful to acknowledge as the song “Jesus Love Me” tells us, “We are weak, but he is strong, Yes, Jesus, Loves me!” We need to acknowledge our weakness and glory in it because God uses the weak to show his strength.