Weird Bible Stories, Part 2

The book of Revelation is one weird book, especially if you don’t understand it. And plenty of Christians don’t. Many preachers don’t understand it either, and they say it’s a waste of time to even bother with it, and they’ll tell you so. That’s really bad advice, however. Reading and trying to understand what Revelation has to say comes with a promised blessing. No other book of the Bible comes with that promise; only Revelation.

Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. (Revelation 1:3 | NIV84)

If you haven’t made an attempt to read Revelation and understand it, you’re robbing yourself of a tremendous blessing. So, because I want you to be blessed, I’ll give you a very brief thumbnail sketch of what Revelation is all about, but chapter 12 will be put under the microscope.

Simple outline

There are two very simple things you need to know if you want to grasp Revelation. First, there’s this:

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw–that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Revelation 1:1-2 | NIV84)

Some people call this book The Revelation of St. John, but verse one says it’s Jesus’ revelation, not John’s. Throughout the book, Jesus is showing John His revelation; the Son is showing the apostle what the Father has shown Him regarding the future. You may wonder why God the Father needed to show His Son the future. Here’s why:

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Mark 13:32 | NIV84)

In the first 31 verses of Mark 13, our Lord was teaching His disciples about the future, and they wanted to know when the events He was talking about would be taking place. His answer was simply that nobody knows except the Father. That was Jesus before His death, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven. Once back in Heaven, Mark 13:32 became obsolete. The revelation Jesus Christ shared with John was what He didn’t know back in Mark 13. God the Father revealed to the Son His plan for man, and the book of Revelation is simply a record of that plan written out by the apostle John.

In fact, the book of Revelation, as we call it, isn’t really a book at all! It’s a letter – a very long letter written to churches John knew needed to know this information.

John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne…. (Revelation 1:4 | NIV84)

In the first three chapters, John deals specifically with issues confronting these churches. All these churches were struggling with various things. Some were suffering, others were losing their grip on sound doctrine. John offers words of encouragement, warning, and admonition to these churches. So, the first three chapters of Revelation cover things happening in John’s day. Almost nobody has anything controversial to say about anything John wrote to these churches in these chapters.

With chapter four, everything changes. The scene changes from Earth to Heaven; from John’s day on Patmos and the things happening to the churches of his day, to Heaven and Jesus’ revelation of what the future holds for the world.

After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. (Revelation 4:1-2 | NIV84)

That phrase, “after this” has a two-fold meaning. First, the obvious one: After what John did in the first three chapters – after he saw the short vision of Jesus and after he addressed the churches. The second meaning is: After the churches. In other words, the events of what John is about see in Heaven – the revelation of Jesus Christ concerning the future – will take place after the church age on Earth. We are living in “the church age,” or some people call it “the age of grace.” Whatever you call it, it will come to an end. It started with the birth of the Church in Acts and will end when the Tribulation begins. The Tribulation is “what must take place” after the churches.

Once “the church age,” or the “age of grace” is over, God’s pent-up wrath will be poured out over large swaths of the Earth. God’s wrath at the moment is being stayed or held back by the Church, but that’s going to come to an end, and this time of wrath is what we call “the Tribulation,” and it will last for seven years. It begins like this:

I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest. (Revelation 6:1-2 | NIV84)

You’ve probably heard of the infamous “four horsemen of the apocalypse,” well, this is the first one. All they represent are various aspects of God’s wrath: a political conqueror, war and violence, famine and hyperinflation, and finally death. All these things are symbolized by colored horses. The horses aren’t real. They’re symbolic. What they symbolize, however, will be real. And that goes for all the symbols found in Revelation. They symbolize real things or people or events to come. The symbols, like the horsemen, are figures that stand for something literal.  So this period of tribulation will be characterized by the conditions and people represented by the horses and their riders.

The Tribulation drags on for seven years, occupying the bulk of the chapters of Revelation. By chapter 19, the whole mess comes to an end with the armies of the Heaven led by Jesus Christ coming to subdue the Antichrist and the armies of man. It’s called Armageddon, but it’s really a non-event:

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. (Revelation 19:11-14 | NIV84)

Then, after some judgments, the Millennial kingdom begins in Revelation 20. It lasts one thousand years, then when it’s over, Satan, who will be bound during the Millennium, will be released and finally judged:

And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. (Revelation 20:10 | NIV84)

When that’s over, the dead – all the dead from the beginning of time – will be raised and will stand before the throne of God.

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. (Revelation 20:12 | NIV84)

This is the great separation – the separation of the sheep and goats. Those who are born again will enter into their eternal state, and those who never accepted Christ during their lives will be judged according to how they lived, and then sentenced. They have no chance for heaven. Theirs will be an eternity separated from all that is good and righteous.

Then in chapter 21, we read about the New Jerusalem and we get the smallest glimpse into the eternal state, and then finally, with the last chapter, we read a kind of summary and some encouraging words to John, the man who saw what Jesus saw:

Then he told me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near.” (Revelation 22:10 | NIV84)

Chapter 12

So how does chapter 12 fit into all this? By the time we get to chapter 12, John has seen what will be happening during the first part of the Tribulation. That’s a lot for a human being to digest, so chapter 12 is a kind of pause; a break in the action. Yet, it’s a little more than that. It’s an explanation of some of the things John saw in the preceding chapters and it’s a way to remind him of certain things. Everything we see in this chapter is symbolic of something, or someone, else. The easiest way to break down what’s happening in chapter 12 is to identify the various symbols.

A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. (Revelation 12:1-2 | NIV84)

The identification of the woman is essential if you want to get this right. Key in understanding who this woman represents is knowing what the 12 stars symbolize, and Genesis 37:9, 10 gives us this information:

Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” (Genesis 37:9-10 | NIV84)

So the stars represent Rachel, Jacob, and Joseph’s brothers (the 12 tribes of Israel). The woman is just a symbol, remember, and the symbol is seen giving birth to a child. It would help if you knew Isaiah 9:6 in connection with this symbol:

For to us a child is born,to us a son is given,and the government will be on his shoulders.And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6 | NIV84)

The “us” of Isaiah is the “woman” of the sign and she represents the nation of Israel. Israel gave birth to a son, Jesus Christ. So what John is witnessing in Heaven is a very brief moment of historical fact: The Messiah came from Israel.

Why did John need to be reminded of this fact? It’s because of the rest of what he saw in this vision filled with symbols.

Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. (Revelation 12:3-4 | NIV84)

The red dragon is, as you might have guessed, Satan. Verse 9 says as much:

The great dragon was hurled down–that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. (Revelation 12:9 | NIV84)

John is witnessing, in symbolic fashion, a little more history. He is being reminded of where Satan came from and how powerful he is. He has always stood in opposition to Jesus Christ, from the moment of His birth. He’s been on the earth for thousands of years, and he’ll be on the earth during the Tribulation, leading the whole world astray, and he has the help of the fallen angels.

She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. (Revelation 12:5 | NIV84)

A little more history for John to be reminded of. This verse speaks of what will happen when Christ returns: He will rule the nations. John probably needed to be reminded of this; Jesus had told His apostles He would but with all John had been witnessing, he needed to be reminded. The second sentence refers to our Lord’s ascension. So in spite of the fact that Satan hounded Christ while He was alive on earth, the Heavenly Father took Him back home after His earthly ministry was accomplished.

The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1 ,260 days. (Revelation 12:6 | NIV84)

Here’s a verse of explanation for John. He’s been witnessing the future and it will get very bleak for Israel. This verse explains that no matter what Satan and the antichrist have in store for Israel, and no matter how powerful Satan may be, Israel will be supernaturally protected During the worst part – the second half – of the Tribulation. This was meant to comfort the apostle.

Not only will there be great distress on earth for seven years, things will get a bit rowdy in Heaven, too. Satan and his angels will once and forever be expelled from Heaven. A lot of people find it hard to believe that Satan is in Heaven. The book of Job makes it clear that Satan has no choice but to report to God, and to submit to Him. But at some point during the Tribulation on earth, Satan and his angels will be completely cut off from God and hurled from Heaven.

When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. (Revelation 12:13 | NIV84)

Angered by his treatment, Satan will strike out even more vehemently at Israel. No wonder she will be supernaturally protected! But because he can’t have his way with Israel, Satan will turn his attention to all believers.

Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring–those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 12:17 | NIV84)

In extremely brief fashion, this is the essence of what chapter 12 of Revelation is all about. It’s not about signs in the heavens for us today, rather it’s all about what the Lord showed John in heaven, to remind of him of his own nation’s history and to comfort him about its future.  When dealing with Bible prophecy, it’s best to let it interpret itself.  They Bible is not a mystery, full of hidden messages and codes.  It was written for every person to understand, with the help of the Holy Spirit.  When you read crazy things about Bible prophecy being fulfilled by planetary alignments or bad weather, you’d best keep your wits about you and remember these verses:

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things.  For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.  (2 Peter 1:20, 21 | TNIV)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Weird Bible Stories, Part 1

You probably saw this on your Facebook news feed a few weeks ago. Britain’s “Daily Mail” loves to hype things like this. But could it be true? Let’s find out.

The Bible is a marvelous book full of inspiring and life changing stories. It also has its share of odd, weird stories. Like the one about the talking snake. And the other one about the talking donkey. Some Bible stories read like a Netflix Original, a show full of liars and cheaters, spies and political intrigue, and even murderers.

The last book of the Bible, Revelation, is a book that is one complete weird story. It is also the most misunderstood, misinterpreted, and abused book of the Bible, so its inherent weirdness is compounded by all the dopey ideas floating around the Internet.

On September 23, 2017, there will be an astronomical event that some people think will be a fulfillment of Revelation 12. That chapter is a fascinating chapter in and of itself, and we’ll take a very close look at it over the next two studies. But to answer the question of whether or not it will be fulfilled on September 23, 2017, the short answer is: “definitely not.”  And here’s why.

There is a persistent desire – a need, really – among Christians to feel vindicated.  Vindication of our faith is a Biblical promise.  Our faith will become sight when our Lord returns, but we want it now. We desperately want our faith, especially in the Bible, to be proven true. We want to be able to say to unbelievers and skeptics, “See? I told you so.” And because of this, we are very quick to latch onto any teaching having to do with Bible prophecy as it relates to the end times.

God’s prophecies come true, man’s do not

Since the beginning, man has been looking for the “signs” of God’s involvement with His creation and of His personal interest in we who take our relationship with Him seriously.  We can think of “putting out a fleece” to discover God’s will. And how many of us have used traffic lights to interpret God’s direction? If it turns red before I get there, it’s a sign that I should do such-and-such a thing. That’s how some Christians use made-up signs on the micro scale. On the macro scale, many Christians through out the 20th and now the 21st centuries have tried to tie certain earth changes – like earthquakes, tidal waves, droughts, etc. – and astronomical events – like the infamous Blood Moons, eclipses, etc. – to the Second Coming and of the end of time. Without exception, all those attempts haven’t worked out well and, in fact, have served to raise the level of skepticism among unbelievers. A very large segment of the evangelical church has an interest in Bible prophecies not yet fulfilled and has a tendency to make certain events happening now fit the prophecies written thousands of years ago. For example, nobody ever saw an atomic bomb in the Bible until after one was used. Nobody saw an airplane in Scripture until one was invented. While we should applaud their Biblical worldview, at the same time, we should all be discouraged from taking “secular liberties” with the Bible.

The truth is, there are many verses in the Bible that speak of “signs” God will use in the last days to get mankind’s attention. God has used all kinds of signs throughout the history of mankind, and they are all over the Old Testament. But the signs pointing to winding up history will be a little different. They will be so obvious; so extreme, that there will be no question.

There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. (Luke 21:25 – 28 | TNIV)

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. (Genesis 9:12, 13 | TNIV)

These two examples refer to signs involving the sun, moon and stars and a rainbow, the first time it is mentioned in human history. But what we need to remember is that there were no telescopes or any other kind of visual aid to magnify the sun, moon and stars when Jesus spoke of signs in the sky.  There was virtually no light pollution to block the heavens from view, so when looking up at the night sky, a star gazer could see all kinds of stars and heavenly bodies.  Similarly, a rainbow could be easily seen with the naked eye.  These signs, one from the ancient past and fulfilled and one from the future yet to take place, will be seen by anybody on earth without any gadgets or gizmos.

Astronomers and scientists tell us there will be a unique planetary alignment on September 23 of this year. There is even a web page that keeps you abreast of the countdown. This event is so unprecedented (we are told), that Bible prophecy and end time watchers are convinced that it will be a fulfillment of the signs given in Revelation 12.

A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. (Revelation 12:1 | TNIV)

There are basically two reasons why the astronomical event of September 23rd can’t have anything to do with the Bible. First, those claiming it does, resort to using astrology, not astronomy, to make it fit what John wrote in Revelation 12:1. The problem is, God absolutely forbids using astrology for anything.

When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. (Deuteronomy 18:9 – 12 | TNIV)

The Hebrew behind “interprets omens” is obscure but important to know. It means “observer of clouds” or “gatherer of clouds.” It pictures a person who looks to the sky – not to God – for direction or guidance. When the Bible speaks of God using the sun and planets as signs for His people, it’s not referring to astrological signs!

Second, if the planetary alignment of September 23rd is a sign from God, who would see it on earth? When Revelation 12:1 was written, there were no telescopes and a sign from God was meant to be seen! Something happening out yonder in the universe that can’t be seen by man on earth can’t be sign be a sign from God. It can be an interesting event, but it has nothing to do with Bible prophecy.

What Revelation is about

So just what is Revelation 12 about? Let’s re-read the first verse again very closely:

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. (Revelation 12:1 | TNIV)

John wrote “a great sign appeared in heaven.” He did not write “in the heavens,” but “in heaven.” As John saw this sign, he saw it in heaven because he was in heaven. He wasn’t dead, but God transported John to heaven to see certain things that would take place on earth in the future.  Here’s the verse that tells us that:

After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. (Revelation 4:1, 2 | TNIV)

I told you the book of Revelation was weird! But John wasn’t the only person in the Bible transported to heaven to be shown things.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. (Isaiah 6:1, 2 | TNIV)

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. (2 Corinthians 12:2 – 4 | TNIV)

The prophet Isaiah was allowed a short peak into the Lord’s throne room.  This vision took place “in the year that King Uzziah died.”  It was an incredible thing that Isaiah saw, and it changed his life.

The apostle Paul also had an experience in heaven, and he was nothing if not honest as he recounted it. He’s humble so he refered to himself as “a man” or “this man,” but he made it clear he’s not sure how it happened. Was he in heaven boldly or not? He doesn’t know, but he does know he was in heaven. God allowed him to see things and hear things that, unlike John, he was not allowed to talk about.

So John wasn’t the first person to see into heaven. But he did tell people what he saw. And what he saw was stunning: Before his eyes, the apostle John saw the panorama of history unfold. I say “history” because even though John was given a glimpse into his and our futures, history is what prophecy really is: history written backwards; history written before it happens. God can do that, by the way. Man can’t possibly foretell his or anybody’s future, but God can because He exists far, far, beyond the confines of space and time. That’s what he told John before He gave John the visions that make up the bulk of Revelation:

I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8 | TNIV)

God is like the alphabet. He is the A and the Z – His existence bookends the stream of time from beginning to end. Think of the alphabet as time. He existed before the letter “B” and He will outlive the letter “Y.”  He was around before time began and will be around long after it comes to an end.  And because he is the A and the Z, God is able to travel along the stream of time; He is able to see it as it happened and as it happens and as it will happen. To Him, the future is past and the past is present. That’s why we read verses like these:

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4 – 7 | TNIV)

Fascinating, isn’t it? God sees you and me – right now, today – already seated with Christ in “the heavenly realms.” But we haven’t even lived our lives yet! We’re not in heaven, yet God sees us there. He sees the future. And He sees us in heaven, where we belong. Think about that the next time you get down and discouraged. Think about that the next time you think God has forgotten about you. He hasn’t. He sees you as you will be, and where you will be. Today you’re stuck on earth, fighting the temptation to sin, struggling with doubts, just trying to keep your head above water, and God sees you in heaven. You just have to hang on and get from “here” to “there.”

Next time, we’ll put Revelation 12 under the microscope to discover what’s really going on in this weird and remarkable vision John saw in heaven.

 

 

 

 

David and Solomon, Part 7

From the 1950 film version of the classic novel. It’s the best, as far as I’m concerned.

Solomon’s wisdom and riches are the things legends are made of. The secular world has long been enamored with King Solomon, and H.Rider Haggard’s classic adventure novel was all about Allan Quartermaine’s quest for King Solomon’s Mines. It’s been called the greatest adventure novel ever written, and it certainly is better than the film versions of it. In the novel, Quartermaine is part adventurer and part philosopher, and he makes an interesting observation that Solomon himself could have made. And did, as a matter of fact.

Truly wealth, which men spend all their lives in acquiring, is a valueless thing at the last.

Quartermaine knew it. Solomon knew it. And most people, after a lifetime of chasing it, find out the truth of that statement. Wealth, in the end, means nothing. Something else Quartermaine said was this:

for women bring trouble as surely as night follows day…

I’ll leave that one alone, except to say that was something else Solomon found out. Too late, as it happens.

But wealth and wisdom aren’t bad things. God can and does use those things for His glory and for the good of His people. The Lord gave Solomon a great, united Kingdom in fulfillment of the promise He made to David. But the Lord gave Solomon even more wealth and even more wisdom, as He promised at Gibeon:

“…therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, riches and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.” (2 Chronicles 1:12 | NIV84)

Let’s take a look at the legend of King Solomon.

Godly wisdom is attractive, 2 Chronicles 9:1 – 8

When the queen of Sheba heard of Solomon’s fame, she came to Jerusalem to test him with hard questions. Arriving with a very great caravan–with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones–she came to Solomon and talked with him about all she had on her mind. (2 Chronicles 9:1 | NIV84)

The visit of the Queen of Sheba is one of the most well-known stories in the Old Testament. Scholars think that Sheba is today’s Ethiopia. It’s repeated almost word-for-word in 1 Kings 10, so it’s an important event in the history of Israel. It serves to demonstrate not only the extent of Solomon’s wealth and great wisdom, but of God’s ability to keep His word and bless His people beyond their wildest imaginings.

When the Queen of Sheba arrived to see if everything she heard about Solomon and his kingdom were true, and said this:

But I did not believe what they said until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half the greatness of your wisdom was told me; you have far exceeded the report I heard.” (2 Chronicles 9:6 | NIV84)

Yet Solomon isn’t the only one who was blessed beyond belief. That would be each of us. If you and I take the time to look back over the years of our lives, we’d notice how many times the Lord stepped into the flow of our personal history to alter our future for our benefit, for the benefit those close to us, but ultimately for God’s own glory.

This brief portrait of Solomon’s fame with Sheba and others coming to visit to hear him speak and bearing gifts, is also a portrait of the messianic hope Israel has, especially that of Ezra the Chronicler and of the Haggai the prophet:

I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. (Haggai 2:7 | NIV84)

Isaiah, another prophet, writing much earlier than Haggai, expressed a similar thought:

Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,to the house of the God of Jacob.He will teach us his ways,so that we may walk in his paths.”The law will go out from Zion,the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. (Isaiah 2:3 | NIV84)

Nations will come to your light,and kings to the brightness of your dawn. (Isaiah 60:3 | NIV84)

As Biblical historians are wont to say, “the future is like the past.”

Godly wisdom is practical, Proverbs 1:1 – 23

The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel… (Proverbs 1:1 | NIV84)

Solomon didn’t personally write all the proverbs, but he did write many of them. The first group of them, Proverbs 1 – 9, describes some of the attributes of a Godly man: He is the one who fears God and behaves like a godly man should behave.

for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to the simple,knowledge and discretion to the young–let the wise listen and add to their learning,and let the discerning get guidance–for understanding proverbs and parables,the sayings and riddles of the wise. (Proverbs 1:2-6 | NIV84)

Those verses aren’t so much a sentence as they are a long (very long) subtitle to this collection of wisdom. Proverbs – godly wisdom – is what you need to become a wise person, a discerning person, and a morally upright citizen.

The key verse of the whole book of Provers is 1:7, a verse that is repeated several times throughout the whole book:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. (Proverbs 1:7 | NIV84)

The idea of “the fear of the Lord” as it is expressed in the Bible has nothing to do with being afraid or startled or of being tormented by God, but rather it refers to the fear of reverence and awe. The Amplified Bible correctly offers this translation:

The reverent and worshipful fear of the Lord is the beginning and the principal and choice part of knowledge [its starting point and its essence]; but fools despise skillful and godly Wisdom, instruction, and discipline. (Proverbs 1:7 | AMP)

You may wonder why this “fear of the Lord” is the “beginning of wisdom.” It makes perfect sense. He holds the future destiny of you, of all people, and of the world in His hands. No wonder you should revere Him! Your future depends on Him!

The very starting point – “the beginning” – of wisdom is God. That’s an interesting way to put it. The wise person is the one who makes God the very center of his life and the Word of God the foundation upon which he builds it. The idea here is that the wise person is the one who always defers to God’s opinion on any matter.

Does that mean that only Christians are wise? That’s a good question. The verse goes on to say that a fool is one who despises “godly wisdom, instruction, and discipline.” It is possible for a person to hold the teachings of Scripture in very high regard but not confess Christ as Lord and Savior. It is possible for a person live a Bible-centered life, but not a Christ-centered one. And God honors those who honor His Word; He will bless their endeavors.

The identity of “the fool” is important because the Biblical food isn’t a simpleton:

Fools mock at making amends for sin… (Proverbs 14:9a | NIV84)

The “fool” is simply one who is spiritually stubborn and rebellious. He the kind of person with no regard for God; he’s indifferent to the teachings of Scripture and other godly counsel. Our Lord had something to say about “the fool”:

But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:26, 27 | NIV84)

This single verse is profound and it’s like a seed; it’s not a big verse, but when it’s used – when it’s planted in your heart – it will grow and take over your life. In this single verse are God’s requirements for living “the good life.” Here they are: If you want to live “the good life,” there must be:

• A healthy relationship with God – “the fear of the Lord.”
• An ongoing discipleship – “the beginning of knowledge.”
• A respect for divine guidance – “Fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

Godly wisdom seeks eternity, Ecclesiastes 12:8 – 14

The book of Ecclesiastes opens like this:

The words of the Teacher, a son of David, king in Jerusalem… (Ecclesiastes 1:1 | NIV84)

He’s “the Teacher” or “the Preacher,” which is the Hebrew word, koheleth. That word comes from a root which means, “to assemble,” so the author was one who called people to come and listen to his words, like a teacher or a preacher. Koheleth was King Solomon according to tradition, but there are good arguments against it. Regardless of whether or not Solomon wrote it (I think he did), the life lessons in the book are stark and reflect what a lot of us have found out: when you put God first, you’ll succeed, but if you leave God out your life, you’re opening yourself up to a world of hurt.

At the end of the book, after a lifetime spent chasing riches and worldly acclaim and running from God, the Teacher comes to his senses and to the right conclusion:

Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. A “Everything is meaningless!” (Ecclesiastes 12:8 | NIV84)

The Teacher wants his son, and his readers, to “do as I say, not as I did.” And for that, he should be commended.

Not only was the Teacher wise, but also he imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs. The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true. (Ecclesiastes 12:9, 10 |NIV84)

The Teacher was wise. There is no doubt about that. And he shared his wisdom with others. Not only that, the Teacher was able to discern wisdom in others. Assuming Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes, he sought out the wisdom of others. The book of Proverbs is a collection of smart sayings that Solomon himself wrote, but it’s also a collection of smart things other people said.

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13, 14 | NIV84)

Solomon’s conclusion is nothing if not deeply profound and moving. After a lifetime of chasing the wind and trying to satisfy his every desire with anything and everything except God, Solomon came to the conclusion that anything and everything are meaningless without God. He came to the conclusion that there is a God in heaven that every man will have to answer to. That same God has given people the rules for living a good life and the kind of life He desires for us to live and it is the duty of every man simply follow those rules. It couldn’t be simpler than that!

But even more than that, God is a holy God and He is concerned about holiness in people – so much so that every act and thought of man will be judged and determined by God to either good or evil.

Solomon imparted a lot of wisdom in his writings, but Jesus, in a single sentence, gave the best piece of advice ever:

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33 | NIV84)

 

 

David and Solomon, Part 6

Solomon’s reign as King started off so well, thanks to this:

Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (1 Kings 3:7-9 | NIV84)

That’s a marvelous prayer that leaders of men ought to pray every day. And God’s answer is equally marvelous:

The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for–both riches and honor–so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” (1 Kings 3:10-14 | NIV84)

Solomon had it made. But as his father King David made clear: Success hinged on his son’s wholehearted obedience to the Word of the Lord. History tells us that in less than twenty years, King Solomon went from a devout, God-fearing, God-glorifying man to a man who served idols. 1 Kings 3:15 takes on a whole different meaning when we know Solomon’s history:

Then Solomon awoke–and he realized it had been a dream. (1 Kings 3:15a | NIV84)

And maybe that’s how he took it – just a dream.

The importance of the Temple

Solomon’s one big accomplishment was the building of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Solomon gave orders to build a temple for the Name of the Lord and a royal palace for himself. (2 Chronicles 2:1 | NIV84)

Why was building the Temple such a big deal for Solomon (and his father, David, for that matter)? First, remember when Chronicles was written. Ezra wrote it just after the Babylonian exile ended. The exiles who had returned to Jerusalem found most of it ruins and the Temple was razed to the ground. Their return to their homeland was predicated on rebuilding that Temple. But some Israelites had no interest in doing that, according to the Biblical literature of that time, Haggai, Zechariah, and Ezra. Many of these former exiles were disheartened with the state of Jerusalem. Some were intimidated by other nations that didn’t want them to rebuild their Temple. Ezra, in an effort to encourage his people, used history. He drew on David and Solomon as examples to follow. If the people of that generation could do it, then so could they.

Another reason for Ezra’s interest in the Temple and his stressing the King’s involvement in its construction was in the Messianic hope. Many of the OT prophets saw that the hope of Israel was in the coming of a promised King, a Messiah, who would subdue their enemies and bring peace to the world. We see this hope in God’s promises made to David and Solomon. Especially in David, we see the characteristics of God’s Messiah, but he was not that King. And David’s kingdom, and later his son’s, prefigured to some degree the kind of kingdom that was to come.

Solomon worships God

By any standards, Solomon was a great King. Actually, it was a perfect storm of circumstances that allowed Solomon to be as great as he was. David had built and established a very large and stable kingdom. When Solomon took the throne, there was relative peace throughout the ancient Near East, as the major players at that time were also at peace for a variety of reasons. In the main, Israel and Judah were left pretty much alone by outside forces. It was left to Solomon to organize and build on what David had built. Part of that was the Temple.

But who is able to build a temple for him, since the heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain him? Who then am I to build a temple for him, except as a place to burn sacrifices before him? (2 Chronicles 2:6 | NIV84)

It wasn’t just duty alone that moved the young king to build the Temple. His letter to Hiram makes that clear. The magnitude of the project weighed heavily on the King’s heart. He, unlike David, saw the Temple not as a place to contain the God of the universe, but as a place where he and the people could gather to enjoy and celebrate His presence.

Hiram’s reply to Solomon is, to say the least, surprising.

Hiram king of Tyre replied by letter to Solomon: “Because the Lord loves his people, he has made you their king.” And Hiram added: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who made heaven and earth! He has given King David a wise son, endowed with intelligence and discernment, who will build a temple for the Lord and a palace for himself. (2 Chronicles 2:11, 12 | NIV84)

Even in Solomon’s day, there were Gentiles who recognized the God of Israel as the Creator and the Sustainer of all things. This was something Ezra’s dispirited people, centuries later, needed to remember. And it also serves to foreshadow what it will be like during the Millennial Kingdom and the reign of the final Son of David:

And many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord Almighty and to entreat him.” This is what the Lord Almighty says: “In those days ten men from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’” (Zechariah 8:22-23 | NIV84)

When the Temple was finally built and dedicated, the Lord showed His acceptance of Solomon’s project by taking possession of His House.

…and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God. (2 Chronicles 5:14 | NIV84)

God’s presence in the Temple was positively overwhelming. This verse tells us something very significant about God. This was the day when God condescended to appear as a cloud that filled a space built for Him by man. God, the Almighty ruler of the universe, showed how much He cared for His people by allowing Himself to display His limitless glory in such a way as man could look upon it. And here we are, also His people, able to enjoy that exact same presence, as the Lord fills us, not a building, with His Himself.

In Solomon’s words of dedication, he reminded the congregation of everything that had been accomplished – the existence of Israel and the building of the Temple – was by God’s choice. Verses 5 and 6 seem to at least hint that sometimes God does new things in the midst of His people:

Since the day I brought my people out of Egypt, I have not chosen a city in any tribe of Israel to have a temple built for my Name to be there, nor have I chosen anyone to be the leader over my people Israel. 6 But now I have chosen Jerusalem for my Name to be there, and I have chosen David to rule my people Israel.’ (2 Chronicles 6:5-6 | NIV84)

Solomon’s prayer drives home the point that God is present among His people and He hears them when they pray and call out on His Name.

He said: “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven or on earth–you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way. (2 Chronicles 6:14 | NIV84)

We can learn about God by reading Solomon’s exquisite prayer in this chapter. For example, consider the words of verse 20, because they are very significant:

May your eyes be open toward this temple day and night, this place of which you said you would put your Name there. May you hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. (2 Chronicles 6:20 | NIV84)

God’s Name, said Solomon resided in the Temple. What that means is found back in verse 18:

“But will God really dwell on earth with men? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! (2 Chronicles 6:18 | NIV84)

In spite of verse 20, Solomon knew full well that God could not be contained in a building; that He didn’t dwell in the Temple the way we live in a house. God was indeed present in the Temple – that cannot be disputed. But the whole universe couldn’t contain Him – that is also indisputable. In this prayer, Solomon reveals two big attributes of God. First, He is transcendent; nothing in the world can limit Him in any way. He is not bound by the laws that govern our existence. The laws of time and space don’t apply to God. And yet, at the same time, God is also here! He is present among His people. To the people of Solomon’s day, God was truly present among them and especially accessible at the Temple, because His “Name” was there. When Biblical writers refer to “His Name,” they are referring to the tangible, genuine presence of God; in other words, if you wanted to pray to Him and feel His attentive presence, you could do that at the Temple.

No wonder we think of Solomon as wise! He knew, or rather God revealed to Him, that God dwells in heaven, hears the prayers of His people offered at the Temple because His Name dwells there (verse 21). God’s presence is seen as such a reality that even when His people prayed merely facing the Temple from a distant land, God would hear from heaven”at the Temple.”

…and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul in the land of their captivity where they were taken, and pray toward the land you gave their fathers, toward the city you have chosen and toward the temple I have built for your Name; then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their pleas, and uphold their cause. And forgive your people, who have sinned against you. (2 Chronicles 6:38-39 | NIV84)

Talk about prophetic insight. We don’t know if Solomon knew the full extent of his words, but they certainly and unfortunately did come to pass. By the way, Daniel did exactly what Solomon prayed: He opened his windows toward Jerusalem when he prayed from his home in Babylon. By his time, of course, Solomon’s Temple was but a memory. Still, as Solomon promised, Daniel’s prayer was heard from heaven.

The Temple of God in Jerusalem was Solomon’s greatest ever achievement. It was a visible representation of God’s presence among His people. But it was also a sort of missionary endeavor. The Temple was only for Israel – the whole world was to take notice and come to Jerusalem. A stranger could come and meet God there.

You and I don’t have a physical temple in which we meet God. God dwells within each of His people today – His presence is the promised Holy Spirit. You and I pray today, in Christ’s Name, because He has made a way for us to be in God’s presence continually. He has made peace between us and God by shedding His blood, and God meets us today right where we are.

 

 

 

David and Solomon, Part 5

David, a great leader but deeply flawed man, loved God with his whole heart. That was David’s saving grace. Had he not been devoted to his God, and had he not lived in a state of continuous repentance, history wouldn’t have been nearly as kind to him. For all his faults and failings, King David did get this right:

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. (Psalms 51:10c-12 | NIV84)

That’s what David prayed after his great sin involving Bathsheba had been found out. He was a weak, but he knew God wasn’t. We could probably say that David knew God better than most people. Because of that, we, like Solomon, should pay attention to what David said to his son:

“I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, show yourself a man, and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go…” (1 Kings 2:2-3 | NIV84)

David knew his words were true because he experienced them firsthand. When he played by God’s rules, things went well for him and Israel. But when David strayed, things turned bad fast.

His son, Solomon, was about 20 years old when King David gave him this fatherly advice. He was confident that his son would take what he had accomplished and go even further with God’s help. Israel was at peace and Israel was prosperous and it would be up to Solomon to build on that enviable foundation.

Godly legacy

King David wasn’t long for this world when he spoke these words to the people:

Then King David said to the whole assembly: “My son Solomon, the one whom God has chosen, is young and inexperienced. The task is great, because this palatial structure is not for man but for the Lord God. (1 Chronicles 29:1 | NIV84)

Not once, not twice, but three times in Chronicles, Ezra the Chronicler makes it clear to the reader that God had made specific promises to David: that one of his descendants would rule Israel and build a House for the Lord.

The first time the promise is given, it is given to David himself in 1 Chronicles 17. That same promise is given to Solomon in 1 Chronicles 22. And here in 1 Chronicles 29, David is telling all Israel what God had told him. Solomon would be king because he was David’s son, and he will build a House for God because, unlike his father, Solomon would be a man of peace.

David said to Solomon: “My son, I had it in my heart to build a house for the Name of the Lord my God. But this word of the Lord came to me: ‘You have shed much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight. But you will have a son who will be a man of peace and rest, and I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side. His name will be Solomon, and I will grant Israel peace and quiet during his reign. (1 Chronicles 22:7-9 | NIV84)

From the perspective of David, the promises made to him by God were about to be fulfilled by Solomon. In fact, this was said this of his son’s kingdom:

I will establish his kingdom forever if he is unswerving in carrying out my commands and laws, as is being done at this time. (1 Chronicles 28:7 | NIV84)

David firmly believed that obedience was linked to success; it would be the qualifying factor in Solomon’s kingdom enduring “forever.” But the Chronicler, unlike David, didn’t have the same confidence in Solomon as David did. Solomon certainly was a son of David and he did build a temple, but he was not the promised Son of David, and the Chronicler understood that a future temple would be built.

This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: “ ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you—may the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up.’ ” (2 Chronicles 36:23 | NIV84)

David clung to God’s promises so much so that he believed they would be fulfilled in his day, by his own son. But things wouldn’t work out that way. David’s hope should characterize believers of every generation, and we ought to be on the lookout for the appearing of the final Son of David. He did, after all, say this:

If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ ” (Mark 13:36, 37 | NIV84)

Obedience, David understood, was essential. But not just any kind of obedience; it had to be whole hearted obedience:

And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever. (1 Chronicles 28:9 | NIV84)

It’s one thing to outwardly proclaim your support of God’s will and fidelity to it, but it’s another thing to be inwardly sincere. Truth is, this very thing was not only Solomon’s downfall but caused Israel’s covenant relationship with God to fall apart:

The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.” (Isaiah 29:13 | NIV84)

Public worship is vitally important for the people of God, but that can never take the place of a genuine, wholehearted relationship with God.

Building of the Temple

Even though God would not allow David to build His temple, God did give David the plans for it:

All this,” David said, “I have in writing from the hand of the LORD upon me, and he gave me understanding in all the details of the plan.” (1 Chronicles 28:19 | NIV84)

Ezra made sure that the readers of his Chronicles knew that even though David didn’t build the temple, David did play an important role. He received the plans from God and he encouraged and admonished his son Solomon to get to work on this expansive project. In fact, when you read what David said to Solomon and all the people, his words sounded much like the words of Haggai, the prophet after the exile, as he encouraged and admonished the hearts of the people and leaders to rebuild the temple that had lain in ruins for two generations.

But now be strong, O Zerubbabel,’ declares the LORD. ‘Be strong, O Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’ (Haggai 2:4, 5 | NIV)

In David’s day, a massive freewill offering was offered by king and people:

With all my resources I have provided for the temple of my God—gold for the gold work, silver for the silver, bronze for the bronze, iron for the iron and wood for the wood, as well as onyx for the settings, turquoise, a stones of various colors, and all kinds of fine stone and marble—all of these in large quantities. (1 Chronicles 29:2 – 9, vs. 2 cited | NIV84)

The king led by example and the people followed suit. God’s House would serve as a visible representation of God’s glory and majesty and so no expense would be spared. It would also serve as a sign of the riches that come from Him:

Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name. “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. (1 Chronicles 29:11 – 14 | NIV84)

There’s a lesson here for the modern believer. As God has given generously to us, so we should give generously to Him. All too often we are stingy with our resources, yet God is never stingy with His. What does it say about us when we hold back from giving to our church? This was something that loomed large on Paul’s horizon:

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:6 – 8 | NIV)

The word Paul used is “whoever,” meaning rich or poor should give generously to the work of the Lord, and in the context of 2 Corinthians 9, that means giving to the local church. “God loves a cheerful giver,” not a wealthy one or a poor one. Generous giving is relative to how the Lord has blessed the individual.

David and the people rejoiced at the offering that had been given, but Haggai, writing centuries later under similar but slightly different circumstances, expected something even greater:

This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the LORD Almighty.” (Haggai 2:6 – 9 | NIV84)

Both David and Ezra, living centuries apart, had similar expectations as far as the temple was concerned. But Haggai, prophesying during the rebuilding of the temple in his day, understood that as glorious as “the former temple” was, the splendor and glory of the new temple built by the final Son of David would be greater. It would be quite unimaginable. As Ezra wrote about the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of Solomon’s temple, he wrote the about tragic end with a tinge of hope.

He carried to Babylon all the articles from the temple of God, both large and small, and the treasures of the LORD’s temple and the treasures of the king and his officials. 19They set fire to God’s temple and broke down the wall of Jerusalem; they burned all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there. He carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his sons until the kingdom of Persia came to power. The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah. (2 Chronicles 36:18 – 21 | NIV84)

God moved on the heart of Cyrus of Persia, so that he sent out a royal decree:

This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: “ ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all
the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you—may the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up.’ ” (2 Chronicles 36:23 | NIV)

This is the same hope David had for Solomon’s temple, the same hope Ezra and Haggai had for the second temple, and you and I as believers in Christ’s eventual return to earth as the King of Kings, should have the same hope. Neither Cyrus’ temple nor Harod’s temple would be the final temple in Jerusalem. A new and magnificent Temple lies just ahead, and it will be built just as Haggai predicted so long ago:

This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD Almighty.’ (Haggai 2:6, 7 | NIV84)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David and Solomon, Part 4

 

David was a true Renaissance man.  He was a shepherd, a skilled warrior and military leader, a quick change artist, a king, a writer, a poet, a worship leader, and song writer.  He could do almost anything except raise his children.  As a father and husband, King David was an utter disaster.  But there’s no denying the man had a heart  that beat after his God.  Just reading the psalms he wrote confirms this.  He wrote almost half of the 150 psalms in the Old Testament.

We’ll take a look at three of the hymns David wrote.  These hymns are interesting because they were written at different points in his life and they reveal aspects of his character.

2 Samuel 22, God our Rock

2 Samuel 22 is entirely devoted to David’s song of praise.

David sang to the Lord the words of this song when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.  (2 Samuel 22:1 | NIV84)

The incident that occasioned this hymn took place shortly after he was established on the throne of Israel.  If 2 Samuel 22 sounds familiar that’s because it is also part of Psalm 8, almost verbatim.  The historical event is found in 1 Samuel 23:24 – 28, and even though it’s a mere five verses long, it obviously meant something to David.

Even though these verses constitute a hymn of praise and deliverance, it is also a theological commentary on the life of David.  Through praise, we learn that David’s victories and successes were due to God’s intervention and enablement.  “Praise” essentially means “confess” – to give public acknowledgement of God’s character and His work.  In David’s writings, there are essentially two categories of praise:  descriptive praise and declarative praise.

Descriptive praise focuses on what God is like.  It focuses on the Person of God – His character and His attributes.

Declarative praise stresses what God has done.  It remembers all the things God did; how He answered prayers; how He intervened in your life.

The song here in 2 Samuel 22 is a the latter.  In it, David declares what God had accomplished in his life.  If you read the hymn carefully, you’ll notice that it’s not about David; it’s about what God did for him.  David was the delivered, but the stress of the song is on the Deliverer.

Verses 1 – 7 teach “God’s Manifold Care.”  David uses a series of stunning metaphors and comparisons.  God is our:  Rock (vs. 2, 3); Fortress (vs. 2); Shield (vs. 3); Horn of salvation (vs. 3); High tower (vs. 3); Savior ( vs. 3); Supreme Object of prayer and praise (vs. 4 – 7).

The “horn of salvation” is a figure borrowed from the concept of animal horns, which were used for both protection and defense.

I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise,and I am saved from my enemies.  (2 Samuel 22:4 | NIV84)

This verse is like a summary; this was how David viewed God and how David viewed deliverance.  God was his deliverer and that deliverance kicked in when David began to praise God.

Verses 8 – 19 picture in vivid fashion “God’s deliverance.”  The majesty and power of the Omnipotent God were brought to bear on David’s behalf.

“The earth trembled and quaked,the foundations of the heavens shook;they trembled because he was angry.  Smoke rose from his nostrils;consuming fire came from his mouth,burning coals blazed out of it.”  (2 Samuel 22:8-9 | NIV84)

David rightly recognized that God used even the forces of nature to accomplish His will for His child.  Some scholars believe these verses refer to the storm that broke out during a battle with the Syrians, but it seems more likely they refer to all God did for David during his years as a fugitive.  Often the presence of God is related to bad weather and storms (see Exodus 19:16 – 18; 1 Kings 19:11, 12; Job 38:1; Joel 2:10, 11; Nahum 1:3 – 6; Acts 2:2).

Verses 20 – 25 are a contrast between David’s present state with his previous bouts with insecurity.

He brought me out into a spacious place;he rescued me because he delighted in me.  “The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me.  For I have kept the ways of the Lord;I have not done evil by turning from my God.   (2 Samuel 22:20c-22 | NIV84)

What’s interesting here is that as far as David could tell, as he “kept the ways of the Lord,” and as he attempted to live a righteous life, God acted on his behalf.  No matter how badly the modern Christian wishes otherwise, the key to receiving God’s blessing is obedience.

Verses 26 – 30 form a direct hymn of praise to God, and we learn a key piece of information regarding God’s dealing with man.  How God deals with man is conditioned on their response and their attitude toward Him.

To the faithful you show yourself faithful,to the blameless you show yourself blameless, to the pure you show yourself pure,but to the crooked you show yourself shrewd.  You save the humble,but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them low.  (2 Samuel 22:26c-28 | NIV84)

Psalm 17, God our Vindicator

Hear, O Lord, my righteous plea;listen to my cry. Give ear to my prayer–it does not rise from deceitful lips. May my vindication come from you;may your eyes see what is right.  (Psalms 17:1-2 | NIV84)

Vindication was a big deal for David, and it probably is to you, too.  No matter how much faith we have; no matter how much we love God, we long to be proven right in front of other people.  We want those who mock and deride us to see that we were right and they were wrong.  This is one of those psalms that we could pray ourselves during times of stress and anxiety or even danger.

Verses 1 – 5 stress David’s desire for both vindication and justice in view of the threats against his life.  The phrase, “my righteous plea” is a shrill, loud, piercing cry from David’s heart. Here was a man who found no justice at the hands of Saul, but he is confident that God’s eyes “see what is right.”

David was in the right, and he knew it.  His heart was right before God and man and God’s Word was what guided him:

My steps have held to your paths;my feet have not slipped.   (Psalms 17:5 | NIV84)

Verses 6  12 describe the danger that threatened David and his companions.

I call on you, O God, for you will answer me;give ear to me and hear my prayer.  (Psalms 17:6 | NIV84)

Talk about a prayer of faith!  There was absolutely no doubt in David’s mind that God would hear his prayer and answer it.  David had confidence because he knew God intimately.  Delitzsch translated this verse like this:

As such an one I call upon thee, and thou headrest me.

David just knew he was heard.

Show the wonder of your great love,you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes.  Keep me as the apple of your eye;hide me in the shadow of your wings… (Psalms 17:7-8 | NIV84)

Years before this, God used a similar expression when He spoke to Israel:

You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.  (Exodus 19:4 | NIV84)

This is the safest place to be:  in the shadow of His wings.  Of course, God really doesn’t have wings. It’s His presence we’re talking about.  In God’s presence there is peace and safety.  That phrase, “the apple of your eye” also speaks of safety and protection.  The “apple of the eye” is the pupil, and we try to keep our eyes safe at all costs.  We wear sunglasses, we wear protective eye wear when we do certain things that might cause damage to the apple of our eyes.

And David needed protection – he was surrounded by the enemy!

(Keep me) from the wicked who assail me, from my mortal enemies who surround me. (Psalms 17:9 | NIV84)

It’s amazing that David could pray with such confidence.  But he didn’t let his circumstances dictate his faith.  Regardless of what he saw with his eyes, he knew God was there and ready to come and deliver him.  Warren Wiersbe remarks:

If you take care of yourself and walk with integrity, you may be confident that God will deal with those who sin against you. Above all, don’t give birth to sin yourself; rather, pray…

That’s just what David did.

Verses 13 and 14 speak of God’s deliverance:

Rise up, O Lord, confront them, bring them down;rescue me from the wicked by your sword. O Lord, by your hand save me from such men,from men of this world whose reward is in this life.  (Psalms 17:13c-14a | NIV84)

This is still a prayer, but it’s a prayer infused with hope.  But it’s also full of theology.  “Men of this world,” non-believers, are not entitled to divine help for their “reward is in this life.”  David, though, was not a “man of this world.”

Verse 15 serves as a triumphant conclusion to this prayer of faith.

And I–in righteousness I will see your face;when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.  (Psalms 17:15 | NIV84)

Pestered believes David is thinking of his future here – a future in God’s presence in heaven:

This speaks of the beginnings of the apprehension of a full life hereafter.

David walked in God’s presence on earth and he would live eternally in God’s presence in Heaven.

Psalm 19, Our glorious God

Psalm 19 is one of the greatest psalms in the Psalter.  Of this hymn, C.S. Lewis wrote,

I take this to be the greatest poem in the Bible and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.

Verses 1 – 6 speak of the glory of God’s works.

The heavens declare the glory of God;the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech;night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.  (Psalms 19:1-3a | NIV84)

Nature testifies to God’s glory; all man has to do is look around to see God’s glory.  The Bible never tries to prove the existence of God from the existence of the universe, but it does point to the universe as proof of God’s glory, majesty and wisdom.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.  (Romans 1:20 | NIV84)

Verse three is a tricky verse to understand.  It could mean that the witness of creation is as extensive as the human race or that creation is a silent witness that needs no words to communicate the truth of God’s glory.  Either interpretation points to one inescapable conclusion that Paul nailed:  Man is without excuse.

Verses 7 – 14 are all about God’s Word.  God’s works are great, but God’s Word is greater.  Revealed religion is superior to natural religion.  In all, there are seven statements about God’s Word:

It is perfect:  The law of the Lord is perfect,reviving the soul.  (Psalms 19:7A | NIV84)

The teachings of the God’s Word (the law of the Lord) are perfect in every respect – able to convert the soul and restore the soul.  Only through the Word do we become children of God and through that same Word we are sanctified (1 Peter 1:23; John 17:17).

It is trustworthy:  The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,making wise the simple.  (Psalms 19:7b | NIV84)

That word “trustworthy” means things like, “definite” “decided,” and “certain.”  The teachings of Scripture make people wise – the Word gives the best spiritual, moral, and ethical guidance possible.

It is right:  The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.  (Psalms 19:8a | NIV84)

“Right” is another way of saying the Word of God is an exact expression of God’s nature and will.  God’s Word is “right” in that its requirements of man are in harmony with His character.  And living according to the teachings of Scripture gives us joy.

It’s pure:  The commands of the Lord are radiant,giving light to the eyes.  (Psalms 19:8b | NIV84)

The NIV84’s “radiant” also means “pure” or “undiluted.”  God’s Word is pure and it puts purity in the soul.

It’s pure:  The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever.(Psalms 19:9a | NIV84)

This means the Word is “clean,” it’s not tyrannical or harsh or unreasonable.  It’s wholesome and it “endures.”  In other words, the teachings of Scripture are not passing fads or transient impulses.  They don’t change with time or culture.

It’s sure and righteous:  The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous.  (Psalms 19:9b | NIV84)

The teachings of the Bible are the very foundation of life; they can be depended upon and they are righteous.  The Word of God does far more than teach in the abstract.  As we read it, we are compelled to live right.

It is of infinite value:  They are more precious than gold,than much pure gold;they are sweeter than honey,than honey from the comb. By them is your servant warned;in keeping them there is great reward.  (Psalms 19:10c-11 | NIV84)

What the Word is and what it does is beyond value.  You can’t put a price on the Bible; you can’t put a value on how it changes a life.

God is glorious and that glory is revealed in the pages of the His Word.  Billy Graham was spot on when he said this:

Become grounded in the Bible.  As Christians, we have only one authority, one compass:  the Word of God.

 

David and Solomon, Part 3

Just a cursory glance at David’s life confirms these New Testament verses:

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Corinthians 1:27 – 29 | NIV84)

It’s God habit do things the way we wouldn’t; to choose people we would never think of choosing. David and how he became the king of Israel are classic examples of this. The son of an average Jewish family, David was a shepherd, he was probably shorter than average, and after he was anointed king by Samuel, he spent years continuing to shepherd his father’s sheep, dodging the slings and arrows of crazy king Saul, and running for his life with his army, which was made up of skilled fighters who were bigger losers than David himself.

All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their leader. About four hundred men were with him. (1 Samuel 22:2 | NIV84)

David had several opportunities to kill Saul but instead he chose to wait for God’s time. Reading those accounts of David’s fugitive years can be frustrating; Saul was such a murderous thug, so who could blame David for putting him out of Israel’s misery? But he didn’t.

At last, king Saul was severely wounded in battle with the Philistines and rather than be captured by the enemy, he chose to fall on his sword, taking his own life. Nobody was broken up by this, but in the same battle, Saul’s son and David’s good friend, Jonathan, was killed.

After waiting so long for the crown to be his, David waited a little longer. Instead of stepping up and taking the throne, he wrote a beautiful tribute to the house of Saul that may have been slightly more sentimental than factual.

Saul and Jonathan—in life they were loved and gracious, and in death they were not parted. They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. (2 Samuel 1:23 | NIV84)

But what was David’s next move? What Israelite had ever been in this position before? There had only ever been one king – Saul – and there was no protocol to follow yet. David did exactly what a man of God should have done: he sought the Lord.

In the course of time, David inquired of the LORD. “Shall I go up to one of the towns of Judah?” he asked. The LORD said, “Go up.” David asked, “Where shall I go?” “To Hebron,” the LORD answered. (2 Samuel 2:1 | NIV84)

The Lord told David to take command of the tribe of Judah, setting up his government in Hebron – a large city some twenty mile south of Jerusalem.

Then the men of Judah came to Hebron and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah. (2 Samuel 2:4 | NIV84)

King of Judah

With the death of king Saul and the stunning defeat of Israel at Gilboa, the Philistines now controlled all of Canaan west of the Jordan. Saul had left a mess and Israel’s continued existence was not guaranteed. There wasn’t even a serious resistance movement anywhere in the land.

Of course there was David, but right now he was just a man of the tribe of Judah who had been anointed by the national prophet some years earlier and who had been leading a covert guerrilla war against Saul and, as perceived by patriotic Israelites, was against the kingdom of Israel itself. He was not the people’s choice to be king to be sure, and on top of the perception of the people, at the time of Saul’s death, David was actually a Philistine vassal!

But that’s not how David viewed himself. He knew God had called him and he knew that he would be king over a united Israel. For now, though, David was king of Judah, and he reigned from Hebron from 1013 to 1006. Why did David choose Hebron to be his seat of power? The Philistines viewed David as a “safe king,” a puppet ruler of a small kingdom that posed no real threat to them. They considered his kingship to be a distraction to the much larger Israel, whom they wanted to conquer. But in choosing Hebron for his capital, he had selected a well-fortified town in a thoroughly defensible hill area in the very center of Judah. He couldn’t be easily attacked or dislodged if it came to war between himself and the Philistines.

To prepare himself for a war David felt inevitable, he set about winning over the followers of the dead king Saul and those who wished to see a united kingdom, not a divided one, as it was now. It was David’s aspiration to be king of all the tribes, not just of Judah.

Saul had four sons, and the three eldest had been killed at the battle of Gilboa, along with their father:

The Philistines pressed hard after Saul and his sons, and they killed his sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-Shua. (1 Samuel 31:2 | NIV84)

The fourth son, Ish-bosheth, fled with Abner, Saul’s general, to safety across the Jordan.

Meanwhile, Abner son of Ner, the commander of Saul’s army, had taken Ish-Bosheth son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim. He made him king over Gilead, Ashuri and Jezreel, and also over Ephraim, Benjamin and all Israel. (2 Samuel 2:8, 9 | NIV84)

Michal

David opened up difficult negotiations with Abner in an attempt to unite the kingdom. But David’s chief general, Joab, was a war hawk who felt that the only way to unite the kingdom was through outright conquest. He forced a war in which the Israelite army was defeated.

The kingdom of Israel was weakening fast under Ish-bosheth, but it held out against David. David, though, had God’s Word in his heart and he did not want to rule by right of conquest. He wanted the throne of a united Israel but he wanted it in peace.

God works in mysterious ways. Abner and Ish-bosheth began butting heads and Abner, going behind Ish-bosheth’s back, began to dicker with David. King David, sensing things were breaking his way, set his price. In return for peace and for a high post for Abner in the new united kingdom, David said:

“Good,” said David. “I will make an agreement with you. But I demand one thing of you: Do not come into my presence unless you bring Michal daughter of Saul when you come to see me.” Then David sent messengers to Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, demanding, “Give me my wife Michal, whom I betrothed to myself for the price of a hundred Philistine foreskins.” (2 Samuel 3:13, 14 | NIV84)

Michal, daughter of Saul, was given to David in marriage when David was serving as Saul’s greatest military leader. After David fled the court, she had been given in marriage to another. However, his marriage to Michal still stood – he was still son-in-law to the dead Saul. David’s intent here is clear: He would gain the throne by legal right of succession.

In due time, Michal was delivered to Daved by a weakened and humbled Ish-bosheth. But Joab, determined to do things his own way, sought out and killed Abner even as he and David were forging their alliance.

Joab then left David and sent messengers after Abner, and they brought him back from the well of Sirah. But David did not know it. Now when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into the gateway, as though to speak with him privately. And there, to avenge the blood of his brother Asahel, Joab stabbed him in the stomach, and he died. (2 Samuel 3:26, 27 | NIV84)

This act of violence could have ruined everything. Abner was highly regarded by the Israelites and David avoided disaster only by an act of contrition.

All the people took note and were pleased; indeed, everything the king did pleased them. So on that day all the people and all Israel knew that the king had no part in the murder of Abner son of Ner. (2 Samuel 3:36, 37 | NIV84)

Once again we see how God used a potentially terrible incident and turned it around to make his man, David, look even better than he was.

Saul’s son, Ish-bosheth, didn’t fare nearly as well, however. Some in his court could see the handwriting on the wall and two of his military leaders assassinated him and brought his head to David.

David answered Recab and his brother Baanah, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, “As surely as the LORD lives, who has delivered me out of all trouble, when a man told me, ‘Saul is dead,’ and thought he was bringing good news, I seized him and put him to death in Ziklag. That was the reward I gave him for his news! How much more—when wicked men have killed an innocent man in his own house and on his own bed—should I not now demand his blood from your hand and rid the earth of you!” (2 Samuel 4:9 – 11 | NIV84)

And that was the end of Recab and his brother Baanah, sons of Rimmon the Beerothite. The Lord used this incident, too, and now there no sons left of Saul to inherit the throne. By hook or by crook, God’s word through Samuel came to pass. God had rejected Saul as king and not a single descendant of his family would be alive to take the throne.

The united kingdom over which David came to rule over became known as Israel. It was united in 1006 BC, but in a very real sense it was never really a single nation. The two halves of the nation were never really a single unit. Israel, the amalgamation of southern tribes, was very aware of its greater wealth, prosperity, and sophistication compared to the smaller, more rustic Judah.

Jerusalem

David was now king of both Judah and Israel and in order to establish his throne over all the tribes, his capital needed to move. He couldn’t remain in Judah and moving into the palace once occupied by Saul was out of the question. Where could the new king establish his capital so as not to offend anybody in any of the tribes? The answer lay in a piece of property between Judah and Israel, a kind of no-man’s land belonging to nobody. In the middle of this Biblical neutral zone was Jerusalem. If he could make Jerusalem his capital, he could satisfy both sides of the strange dual monarchy.

Not only that, Jerusalem was still occupied by the Jebusites!

The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites, who lived there. The Jebusites said to David, “You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off.” They thought, “David cannot get in here.” Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion, the City of David. (2 Samuel 5:6, 7 | NIV84)

That foreign wedge needed to be removed from the land. Both of David’s objectives, taking Jerusalem and making it his capital and getting rid of the Jebusites was easily accomplished.

Zion was the fortified mountain (about 2400 feet high) within the city limits. When Zion was taken, Jerusalem was taken. When King David built his palace on mount Zion, the whole area became known as “the city of David.” Years later, King Solomon, David’s son, built the Temple atop Mount Zion, so that the hill in the middle of Jerusalem became the military, political, and religious center of Israel.

And so God’s man, a shepherd from an obscure part of the country, finally became king over a united kingdom, Israel.

The epilogue to the story is mentioned in 2 Samuel 5:13, and it’s chilling:

After he left Hebron, David took more concubines and wives in Jerusalem, and more sons and daughters were born to him.

Now, we know that many of David’s marriages were really just ways to ratify treaties and things like that. That’s often cited as an excuse for David’s blatant disobedience to this:

He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. (Deuteronomy 17:17 | NIV84)

But there is no such exception mentioned. David had no business taking all those wives and concubines and that disobedience caused a lifetime trouble for this otherwise godly man.

 


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