Reflections From 2 KINGS 1-5: “ELIJAH & ELISHA—MIGHTY PROPHETS”

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In the ministry of these two prophets the word of the LORD performs signs and wonders.  Chapter one for example shows Elijah calling down fire from heaven in the classic account of Yahweh against the prophets of Baal.  As a result of king Ahaziah’s idolatry, Elijah twice prophesied his death (1:1-18).  In this instance, nothing the king attempted even imploring the LORD would stay the swiftness of God’s word through the prophet for he, “died according to the word of the LORD which Elijah had spoken”(1:17).

Chapter two recounts Elisha asking for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit to come onto him (2:9) and in response after Elijah is taken up by a whirlwind (2:11) the prophet’s spirit comes upon Elisha where he parts the Jordan’s water (2:14), purifies bad water (2:21), he curses mocking youths and two female nears tear-up forty-two of them (2:24)

Chapter three Elisha is called upon by Jehoshaphat to inquire of the LORD for direction before going into battle against Moab.  The prophet oddly calls for a minstrel and when he played the hand of the LORD came upon Elisha so that he spoke and delivered the battle strategy for Israel and assuring success (3:14-27).

In chapter four there’s the account of the widows oil which Elisha multiplied so she could care for her household and thus pay off her debts (4:1-7); then there’s the barren prominent Shunammite woman who gives birth to a son (4:8-17).  This son eventually dies but Elisha raises him from the dead (4:28-37).  Again, the text reveals Elisha healing the poisonous stew so that the hungry may eat and live during a famine (4:38-44).

In chapter five Elisha heals Naaman’s leprosy and Gehazi’s leprosy is brought upon by his greed.  Especially moving to me is Elisha’s word to his servant Gehazi before the leprosy manifested:

“Did not my heart go with you, when the man turned from his chariot to meet you? Is it a time to receive money and to receive clothes and olive groves and vineyards and sheep and oxen and male and female servants?” (5:26)             

These rhetorical questions demonstrate something very moving and grave—be careful not to use God’s gifts as a means to dishonest gain, for freely we have receive and freely we are to give. How different is Elisha’s attitude toward money compared to many American televangelists?  I wonder how many today would receive leprosy for their shameless pedaling of God’s word for gain.  Is not the LORD our portion in this life and did he not always promise to care for us?

Paul said it well that godliness with contentment is great gain!  Gehazi’s can be mine also, that’s why I need the LORD to keep me from such scandalous transgression.

Back to the prophet’s exploits.  Of the many things that stand out to me is the certainty of God’s word that can be trusted.  While this very word was vilified and spurned in the Garden of Eden by our first parents, and continues to be denigrated unto this day, it nevertheless remains God’s faithful word of power which in its due time, always comes to pass.  How weighty God’s eternal word is that brings both life and death to creatures.

(SDG)

Reflections From 1 KINGS 19: “FEAR CAN CRIPPLE EVEN MIGHTY ELIJAH”

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            The prophet Elijah is one of the most significant memorable Biblical characters especially because of the signs and wonders he through God’s power.  He predicts the drought that ravaged Israel for three years (17:1).  By Gods command he’s fed by the ravens (17:6); he’s also fed by the widow at God’s direction (17:9-16); he’s the man of God who raised the dead widows’ son (17:21-24) and he’s the prophet who on Mount Carmel demonstrated God’s power vengeance (18:1-40).  He showed God’s power as the sacrifice was consumed from heaven and the LORD’s vengeance as he slew the false prophets of Baal, all of which was in keeping with God’s law.

Moreover, after the land was cleansed from idolatry, the drought ends (18:41-46) and the prophet outruns the chariot of Ahab to Jezreel.  Something perturbing however occurs when Jezebel hears of the events at Mount Carmel: she threatens to take Elijah’s life and the prophet flees in fear (19:1-4).  Why?  The queen is a mere mortal but Elijah is God’s man as previously noted, so why is he afraid of her threats?

God in the wilderness entreats the prophet, “…what are you doing here Elijah?” (19:9), as if God had changed His power and favor toward the prophet.  God asks the Elijah the same question and he gives the same answer essentially, “I’m sold out for You and Your ways, but Your enemies want to kill me” (19:14).  Puzzled by the prophet’s behavior, I consulted a commentary [Expositors Bible Commentary, Vol.4, pg.148] and several explanations were offered.

First, Elijah could have fled because Jezebel was no mere woman, but a cold hearted fierce, unrepentant queen and because this movement of revolution she knew could not succeed without a leader, Elijah knew he was the target.  But the prophet had come to see himself as too important as a result of his God-given success and now pride arose in him [pg.148].  Why did he go from such glorious heights to the depths of despair?  Perhaps because Elijah was basking in the glory of the spectacular…but God does not always move in the realm of the extraordinary.  To live seeking one spiritual high after another is to have a misdirected zeal for most of life is lived in the valley, in the quiet humble routines of obedience to God’s will [Ibid., pg.148].  Jezebel’s unrepentant heart after said events seemed to have disheartened Elijah.

Another view rests on the use of a vowel in the MT.  According to Allen, “and he was afraid” is not a correct translation but rather, “and he saw” is the proper rendering of the term in line with the MT vowel system.  The point is that Elijah fled not for fear but because of a broken heart over the queens unrepentant soul (Ibid., Pg.149) and paganism’s continuing power over the nation.

Third, perhaps Elijah knew that he was no better than his fathers (19:4) and so he desired to die.  This extreme request sees the prophet going into the wilderness for 40 days and nights to Horeb.  This experience is similar to Moses’; both waited for 40 days without food on Horeb, both experienced Gods presence in a new way—Moses with the tablets of stone and glory that shone on him, Elijah found God in a sound that gently blew (19:12).  This is not an animistic reference to God where he is the gentle blowing wind, but shows that God acts through the most insignificant ways of which often we are unaware.

Thus far, a faithful man of God emerges who is burdened with a nation (Israel) that truly does not love nor worship the one true “God”.  The LORD is despised by Israel seen through their idolatry where the worship of the creature trumps worshipping the creator.  God however is gentle with his prophet and patient with wayward Israel.

Reflections From 1 KINGS 16-18: “DARK TIMES REQUIRE SWIFT MEASURES”

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To provoke the LORD God to anger, to do evil in the sight of the LORD, is to lead people into idolatry—the worship of other gods that don’t exist; it’s to embrace and value the creature over the Creator; it’s the snubbing of our nose to God by embracing acts of worship that deny His name—Elohim, Yahweh (16).

Kings like Baasha, Zimri, Omri, Ahab Omris’ son caused Israel to sin (16:19, 26) by worshipping the imaginary “gods” of the surrounding nations.  All the while, God is faithful to bring His word through the prophets in season.  Elijah comes on the seen as God’s mouth piece and says:

“Now Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the settlers of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”  (17:1)

These words come from one greater than the king, they are sourced in Yahweh, in God who owns Israel and everything on earth.  At a time when idolatry was at an all-time high, God is faithful to bring His word, He does not leave himself without a witness—from a word man.

The colorful and dramatic unfolding of Elijah’s story is fascinating.  First, God provides food through a raven (a bird) and a widow (weak woman) to demonstrate to Elijah that God’s sovereignty over all creation includes Him feeding His own in famine.  Here we see that “lack” plus “God” equals “I shall not want” (consider Psalm 23).

Second, idolaters despise God’s heralded word.  The truth of God’s word to the non-believer is an abomination to them (18:17) but Elijah pushes back with whose really the abomination; “you [King Ahab] have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and you have followed the Baals.”  (18:18).

Third, worship that’s acceptable to God is specifically revealed by Him.  God will not be approached cavalierly through the whims of the creature revealing both God’s holy character and skill for design (18:22-46).  That is, because God is creator of everything, by divine right he says what worship is and how it is to be done.   To rebel against Him is to embrace death, and each one of us will give a personal account to Him who is!

(SDG)

Reflections From ROMANS 11:1-12 “THE REMNANT IS ACCORDING TO GOD’S CHOICE, NOT OURS”

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            In this section of Romans we see here that God reveals how people become His precious possession.  Paul writes:

I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed Your prophets, they have torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.” But what is the divine response to him? “I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice.”

             Paul here basis his view of God not rejecting His people whom He foreknew first by: pointing to himself, his nation, and his tribe.   Paul’s life is evidence that Jews were, are and will be saved.  They will be loved, not abandoned.  Secondly, Paul points to Elijah’s presupposition and uncloaks its’ deceptiveness.   The reality is that there’s way more children of God than we can fathom.  The main agent in this turn of events is not Elijah or any creature but God.  Finally, Paul assures his readers that this remnant like the former one is according to Gods’ gracious choice, implying not the choice of the creature.

Thus, Gods gracious choice is the centerpiece here, not the false notion that God forsakes His people.  So thus far according to the previous chapters salvation comes to both Jew and Gentile alike, through embracing the proclaimed word of God.  This word is not received by all which is evidenced by Israel’s rejection of it.  Lastly, this rescue results from God’s gracious choice, not ours.

I know this is a tough knot to untie or a hard will to swallow, but I can’t exegetically come to any other conclusion that it is God’s gracious choice by means of the preached word embraced, we come into God’s fold made of Jew and Gentile alike.  Specifically speaking of Israel, God has never removed His love toward them—which seems to be evidenced through the existence of the remnant contextually.  Thus, God has not rejected His people.

Paul continues explaining Israel’s state and says: But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.  Here I take Paul to affirm what he’s previously argued (chapters 5-8) that becoming acceptable (righteous) before God never entailed doing works of the law.  Instead, righteousness comes only through grace which is through the 2nd Adam Christ Jesus.  Remove God’s gracious choice of rescue from the Messiah, and the result will be death.   Paul ensues:

What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; just as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, Eyes to see not and ears to hear not, Down to this very day.”  And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, And a stumbling block and a retribution to them.  10 “Let their eyes be darkened to see not, And bend their backs forever.”     

The text seems to be saying that those who cared about knowing God, did not come to know Him (recall they rejected His word chapter 10), but rather those chosen obtained this knowledge of God which results in salvation.  The reason the former (Israel) did not obtain salvation is because God hardened them, and reason the latter did obtain it is because He chose them.  This reality is difficult to bear (and we must nevertheless remember that there’s no injustice with God), but I can’t make sense out of the passage in any other way.

God however is always working out the counsel of His will and Paul is thus going to explain the reason for why God hardened Israel:

11 I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous.

             It seems that God’s end in Israel’s stumbling had the purpose of bringing salvation to the Gentile world and as a result would cause Israel to become jealous: jealous of what?  Jealous that now outsiders, foreigners, aliens and those once estranged from Israel’s common wealth are now partakers of it.  That wealth, that treasure is nothing less than being part of God’s redeemed family.  There’s nothing more precious here than to be God’s child, God’s friend.  Paul continues:

12 Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be”  

             Paul seems to be transitioning into a deeper thought concerning Israel and Gentile believers, the goal of which is going from degree of glory to the next level of glory.  I think Paul is arguing that if Israel’s sin is the means through which the riches of heaven have come to earth (i.e., salvation to non-Jews), then Israel’s salvation after their own transgression will be ever more glorious (11:25-27).  The drama of redemption truly is the greatest story ever told.  (SDG)