Day 151: Ask What I Shall Give You (1 Kings 3-4)

5 At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” . . .
. . . 9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” (1 Kings 3:5,9)

The Bible demands and rewards careful reading. It’s tempting to approach Scripture with what you think you already know about it. It’s the “I’ve heard this story a million times” syndrome. Today was one of those days when I was surprised by something that isn’t in the text that I had always thought was there. See if you noticed it too.

At Gibeon, God spoke to Solomon in a dream. As a side note, did you know that Solomon is the only king of Israel God ever spoke to in a dream? There is a definite connection between worship and hearing from God. When believers participate in worship, they put themselves in a position to more readily hear from God.

God appears to Solomon and says to him, “Ask what I shall give you.”

And in the Hebrew, that is all God says. Notice that the text doesn’t say God promised to give Solomon whatever he asked for. Unfortunately, there are several English translations that have added that phrase. I know I gave a shout out to The Living Bible a few days ago in a blog post just a few days ago, (See A Mom Who Taught Me to Love God’s Word), but here, the Living Bible paraphrase is just bad:

The Lord appeared to him in a dream that night and told him to ask for anything he wanted, and it would be given to him!

No He didn’t! And bless your heart, Living Bible, but the exclamation point at the end somehow makes it worse. It’s like the paraphrase is saying, Can you believe it? You’ve found the greatest vending machine in the Universe! You just put your coin in, pull the knob, and it will be given you!

No. A thousand times no.

There’s actually two assumptions to deal with here. Not only did God not promise to give Solomon what he requested, but He also did not invite Solomon to ask for whatever Solomon wanted. Look at what the verse says, and not what we wished it said:

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.”

God was inviting Solomon to express what he needed most as a king. There is a huge difference between “What do you want?” and “What do you need?”

Rather than begin with a wish list, Solomon replied by praising God for His great and faithful love—first to his father David and then to Solomon himself. Solomon then acknowledged his own shortcomings and inadequacy (v. 7); followed by the overwhelming nature of the task. Only then did he make his request:

9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”

Solomon concluded his request by once again acknowledging his own inability to accomplish such a great task on his own.

We should never see this passage—or anything else in Scripture—as a formula for getting what you ask for in prayer. However, verses 6-9 do serve as a great pattern for us to follow as we make our own requests to God.

  • Begin with praise for God’s character and His love toward you.
  • Humbly admit your need and agree with God that you are powerless to meet that need on your own.
  • And make sure what you are asking for is aligned with what God has already expressed to be His sovereign will.

Look at verse 10:

 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this.

Can you imagine what a joy it would be to know that God was pleased by what you requested in prayer? We can experience that joy on a regular basis when our requests are in accordance with God’s will. In this case, God desired for His people to be led by a wise and discerning king, so He delighted in doing what Solomon had asked.

God doesn’t merely delight in giving good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:11); God delights in His children! God so delighted in Solomon that He even gave him what he didn’t ask for: riches and honor (v 13); and a long life (v 14). This is a great example of the truth of Ephesians 3:20-21; that God is able to give us even more than we ask or think!

Day 150: The Magnificent Obsession (Psalm 119)

9 How can a young man keep his way pure?
    By guarding it according to your word.
10 With my whole heart I seek you;
    let me not wander from your commandments!
11 I have stored up your word in my heart,
    that I might not sin against you.
12 Blessed are you, O Lord;
    teach me your statutes!
13 With my lips I declare
    all the rules[c] of your mouth.
14 In the way of your testimonies I delight
    as much as in all riches.
15 I will meditate on your precepts
    and fix my eyes on your ways.
16 I will delight in your statutes;
    I will not forget your word. 
(Psalm 119:9-16)

Have you ever spent time with someone who has a singular obsession? Maybe there’s a Beatlemaniac in your life. Or someone who eats, sleeps, and breathes fishing. Or maybe you can remember your first crush when you were fifteen years old. You couldn’t stop thinking about him or her. You could have filled a dozen Trapper Keeper notebooks with bad poetry about their hair, their eyes, their smile. I’m remembering some of my own awful poetry from those days.

Psalm 119 is like that about God’s Word. Only instead of being cringeworthy sophomore poetry, it is divinely inspired, sublimely magnificent, and utterly awe-inducing.

Psalm 119 is an epic, 22 stanza, one hundred seventy-six verse love poem in which the Psalmist, like a master jeweler, carefully examines every facet of the priceless gem that is God’s Word.

I’ve been immersed in 119 for almost fifteen years now, ever since the youth ministry I helped with spent a year memorizing it. I try to meditate on one stanza a day for the first 22 days of the month, then read the whole thing on the 31st of every month. It’s been a huge part of my devotional life.

(By the way, what has helped me with my memorizing is the work of a musician named Charles Ciepiel, who has set the entire Psalm to music. Check out his work on this YouTube playlist:

What I loved about today’s Recap was that Tara-Leigh didn’t just talk about the magnificence of God’s Word, but about the glory of God as He’s revealed in His Word. Yes, there are words for the Word that are repeated 20, 30, even 40 times each throughout 119.

But there are also words that describe God Himself: His righteousness, His faithfulness, His unchangableness. I pray that my obsession would not just be with the perfection of God’s Word, but with the perfect character revealed in the Word. Because that’s when I can move from simply knowing about fishing to loving the lake.

And it’s why the Psalmist has so many different words for God’s Word. It is his ultimate preoccupation, his magnificent obsession, his singular fixation. Of the 176 verses of Psalm 119, only 6 do not contain any synonym for God’s Word.

There’s eight words for the word that are repeated over and over in 119.  There are nuances of meaning between them, Here’s a handy-dandy guide:

דֶּרֶךְ

  • “Ways” – This is the Hebrew word derek and can be found in 13 verses. It is a course of life, or a mode of action. It’s a method of doing things. Fun fact: it was one of the easiest words for me to memorize when I was taking Baby Hebrew in seminary: When you hear derek, think “direction.”

עֵדָה

  • Testimonies” – This is the Hebrew word edah and can be found in 23 verses. It is a word often used synonymously with the 10 Commandments. It is a word meaning “to bear witness. For example, Israel was told to place the Law next to the Ark so it would be a witness against them (Deuteronomy 31:26). His testimony is equal to His will for each individual of all mankind.

חֹק

  • Statute” – This is the Hebrew word chok and can be found in 22 verses: vs. 5, 8, 12, 16, 23, 26, 33, 48, 54, 64, 68, 71, 80, 83, 112, 117-118, 124, 135, 145, 155, 171. Its base meaning is “to inscribe, to cut.” It seems to speak of the permanence of Scripture as it is engraved on our hearts (Isaiah 30:8). His statute is something that He permanently holds all of mankind to.

דָּבָר

  • Word” – This is the Hebrew word dabar. You might remember that Mephibosheth was living in Lo-Debar when David sent for him in 2 Samuel 9 (see Day 129: Living in Lo-Debar). It is the most general of the 8 titles and refers simply to anything that comes from God’s mouth. Anything that comes from His holy, perfect mouth is His “word” for mankind. It shows up 23 times in 119.

מִשְׁפָּט

  • Rules/Judgments” – This is the Hebrew word mishpatim and can be found in 24 verses: vs. 7, 13, 20, 29-30, 39, 43, 52, 62, 75, 84, 91, 102, 106, 108, 120-121, 132, 137, 149, 156, 160, 164, 175. It means “what the Divine Judge has ruled to be right” or “ordinances” It refers to any divine legal issues. It looks at the judicial side of God’s Word; it sees truth as something that is legally binding upon mankind.

מִצְוָה

  • Commandments” – This is the Hebrew word mitzvah and can be found in 24 verses: vs. 6, 10, 19, 21, 32, 35, 47-48, 60, 66, 73, 86, 96, 98, 115, 127, 131, 143, 151, 158, 166, 172-173, 176. Its root refers to teaching. The title means “what God has taught us to observe.” A commandment refers to truth as something taught to mankind. This is another easy one to remember. When a Jewish boy turns 12, he has his Bar Mitzvah ceremony, which means “Son of the Covenant”

פִּקּוּדִים

  • Precepts” – This is the Hebrew word piqqudim and can be found in 21 verses: vs. 4, 15, 27, 40, 45, 56, 63, 69, 78, 87, 93-94, 100, 104, 110, 128, 134, 141, 159, 168, 173. It means “what God has appointed to be done, like a covenant.” It is synonymous with covenants. A precept is that aspect of truth that refers to anything God has covenanted with mankind over.

תּוֹרָה

  • Law” – This is the Hebrew word torah and can be found in 25 verses: vs. 1, 18, 29, 34, 44, 51, 53, 55, 61, 70, 72, 77, 85, 92, 97, 109, 113, 126, 136, 142, 150, 153, 163, 165, 174. This is the most common title for God’s Word in the O.T. Its root meaning is “instruction.” It refers to the totality of everything God teaches mankind.

Day 149: Anointed to Reign, Anointed to Die (1 Kings 1; John 12)

Solomon anointed king by Luca Giordano (1634-1705, Italy)
38 So Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, Benaiah son of Jehoiada, the Kerethites and the Pelethites went down and had Solomon mount King David’s mule, and they escorted him to Gihon. 39 Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the sacred tent and anointed Solomon. Then they sounded the trumpet and all the people shouted, “Long live King Solomon!” 40 And all the people went up after him, playing pipes and rejoicing greatly, so that the ground shook with the sound. (1 Kings 1:38-40)

Through the Bible Reading: 1 Kings 1-2; Psalm 37, 71, 94

I’m fascinated by 1 Kings 1 because of how it is echoed in Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. If you have ever wondered why Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey (as opposed to a war horse, the way a Roman conquering a city would have), here is one of your answers. It wasn’t just to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9. It was to remind His disciples of the first time a son of David rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.

The comparison between Solomon and Jesus becomes even more clear when we look at John’s account of the anointing of Jesus. Unlike Matthew and Mark, which have Jesus being anointed after His entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:1-9), John has Jesus being anointed before.

Why the difference?

There are three reasons to anoint someone in Scripture. The first was to set them apart for ministry. This was why priests were anointed (See Ear, Thumb, and Big Toe (Exodus 29:19-20).

The second was in the coronation ceremony for a king. This is what you see in 1 Kings 1. Solomon is anointed by Nathan the prophet before he enters Jerusalem on a mule. The same thing happened with Saul (1 Samuel 10:1); David (1 Samuel 16:12-13); and Absalom (2 Samuel 19:10).

The third reason to anoint someone was for burial. You see this clearly in Matthew and Mark’s account of Jesus’ anointing.

12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.  (Matthew 26:12)

8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. (Mark 14:8)

In these two verses, the Greek is pretty straightforward: aorist active indicative (“she has done it”); aorist active infinitive (“she has anointed”)

But in John’s account, the Greek is weird. The verb is subjunctive, which means “The action described may or may not occur, depending upon circumstances.”

 You can see for yourself all the different ways translators have dealt with John 12:7:

KJ21 Then Jesus said, “Let her alone; against the day of My burying hath she kept this.

ASVJesus therefore said, Suffer her to keep it against the day of my burying.

AMP So Jesus said, “Let her alone, so that she may keep [the rest of] it for the day of My burial.

AMPC But Jesus said, Let her alone. It was [intended] that she should keep it for the time of My preparation for burial. [She has kept it that she might have it for the time of My embalming.]

CSB Jesus answered, “Leave her alone; she has kept it for the day of my burial.

CEB Then Jesus said, “Leave her alone. This perfume was to be used in preparation for my burial, and this is how she has used it.

It’s like the translators don’t know what to do with the fact that Mary intended to use the perfume for the day of Jesus’ burial, but she’s using it now.

This is my opinion, so don’t go making a whole doctrine out of it or anything. But I think that because John places the anointing before the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, it shifts the meaning of the anointing from preparing a body for burial to preparing a king to reign. Mary reminds us that the anointed king of kings will also be the embalmed passover lamb.

Day 148: Everywhere, All the Time, Praise (Psalm 113)

“From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised!” Psalm‬ ‭113:3‬ ‭ESV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‭‭‭‭‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Through the Bible Reading: Psalm 111-118

Psalm 113:3 is another verse that rewards taking the time to do a translation comparison. Most translations seem to emphasize the time of day. That every hour of the day, sunrise to sunset, the name is the Lord is to be praised.

But there are a couple of outliers. The New International version reads, “From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the LORD is to be praised.”

The New English translation says, “From east to west the LORD’s name is deserving of praise.”

These emphases aren’t in conflict with each other at all. They are both true. One makes it personal: Praise God at all times. One makes it missional: Praise God in all places.

When I was searching for an image to go with this post, I googled “Time Lapse of sun going across the sky.” And I found something fascinating. If someone sets up a camera to do multiple exposures, and takes a picture of the sky at the exact same time at the exact same angle, you’ll see the sun in a slightly different position each day. And over time. It will describe a graceful figure right across the heavens. Scientists and mathematicians have adopted this as the symbol for infinity.

From the rising of the sun to its setting, praise God at all times.

From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, praise God in all places.

And Father, as you have inscribed infinity across the sky in the arc of the sunrise; remind me that the name of the Lord is to be praised for all eternity.

Day 146: Nap Time (Psalm 131)

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
    my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvelous for me.

2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord
    from this time forth and forevermore.

Psalm 131:1-3

Through the Bible reading: Psalm 131, 138, 139, 143, 144, 145

God’s Word overwhelmingly chooses masculine imagery and pronouns for God. But every once in awhile, it surprises you with a tender, nurturing, feminine metaphor for the Almighty. When it does, take note, because there’s something God wants to teach you in the tenderness.

David describes the ultimate rest and quiet for his soul like nap time with his mother. Today, I am especially thankful for this. I’m still reflecting on my mom’s passing, a year ago yesterday. Yesterday, I wrote about nap time with my mom, and all I learned from her on those precious afternoons.

And, God, in God’s tenderness, orchestrated our chronological reading plan so that this Psalm would be the first Psalm I read on this day. Like a mother, God always knows what we need to hear at exactly the right time.

So, I wonder when David wrote this. We are probably more familiar with the arc of David’s life than any other figure in Scripture. There was David the shepherd boy. David the Giant Killer. David the King. David the Fugitive. So at what point did David write this description of his soul as quiet as a weaned child in his mother’s lap?

Was it when he was young, and wrestling with life’s big questions? Who will I marry? What will I do with my life? Does God have a plan for me?

When there are so many questions your brain hurts, remember nap time with your mother.

Was it in midlife? Was this giant killer; this slayer of tens of thousands; this leader of thirty mighty men beginning to get full of himself?

When your eyes become proud and your heart becomes haughty, remember nap time with your mother.

Was it late in life, when he was perhaps consumed by his mistakes? Was this adulterer and murderer, who became a refugee from his own capital city when his son turned against him; and who was so overcome with grief that the army he led nearly turned against him, longing for the time before it all went wrong?

When it feels like your world is beyond fixing, remember nap time with your mother.

In my mother’s lap, I never had to worry. The world’s problems were both far away and fixable. I could rest knowing that my input wasn’t required. And oh, how often I long for that kind of rest today.

A Mom Who Taught Me to Love God’s Word

Today May 25, 2022, marks the one year anniversary of my mother’s homegoing. As I’ve thought about her today, I’ve gone through my files and found Facebook posts, text messages, and voicemails where I talked to my mom and about my mom. I also found my notes for the eulogy I gave at her funeral. Here’s what I said.

I was born in 1966, and there are two things that happened around that time that radically shaped the person I am today. First, Sesame Street debuted in 1969, so it was finding its footing at about the same time I was learning to read. Some of my earliest memories are watching Sesame Street with my mom. Watching her laugh at “The Count” (I think he was her favorite character) made me delight in learning.

Then, in 1971, the Living Bible was published. They published the adult version, the teen version (“The Way”) and The Children’s Living Bible at the same time. My mom bought the Living Bible for herself and Dad; “The Way” for each of my siblings, and The Children’s Living Bible for me. All three versions shared the same, avocado-green art direction. It was the Seventies.

I had no idea that before that the Bible was seen as stuffy and hard to understand. I never knew that most people thought the Bible was just a book full of thee’s and thou’s and sayests and doests and verily verily’s. When my mom read to me, it made sense.

I know people are critical of the Living Bible because of some of the liberties it took with its paraphrase. But when my mom read it to me, I thought it was beautiful. My mom and I would read The Children’s Living Bible every day.

So there was Sesame Street, Dr. Seuss, and crossword puzzles every day before nap time. Mom would ask for my “help” with clues even when she knew the answer. Through this, I developed a love for reading, language, and word games. But there was also the Children’s Living Bible. I truly believe it was the one-two punch of Sesame Street and God’s Word that has fundamentally shaped who I became: an English major who studied children’s ministry in seminary; who became a pastor; who has at least one bad pun in almost every sermon.

This year, I’m on my 25th read through of the Bible. And it started with my mom reading to me.

Moms, I can’t say it enough: your love for God’s Word will shape your children. And I am so grateful to my mom, for every book, every verse, every episode of Sesame Street, and every crossword puzzle clue. 

Day 145: Follow Your Bliss, or Fulfill Your Calling? (1 Chronicles 23-25)

“For their duty was to assist the sons of Aaron for the service of the house of the Lord, having the care of the courts and the chambers, the cleansing of all that is holy, and any work for the service of the house of God. Their duty was also to assist with the showbread, the flour for the grain offering, the wafers of unleavened bread, the baked offering, the offering mixed with oil, and all measures of quantity or size. And they were to stand every morning, thanking and praising the Lord, and likewise at evening, and whenever burnt offerings were offered to the Lord on Sabbaths, new moons, and feast days, according to the number required of them, regularly before the Lord. Thus they were to keep charge of the tent of meeting and the sanctuary, and to attend the sons of Aaron, their brothers, for the service of the house of the Lord.” 1 Chronicles‬ ‭23:28-32‬ ‭ESV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Today’s reading challenges our modern understanding of calling and vocation. It’s all about the divisions of the Levites and priests for service in the Temple, once it was built. It continues the theme that was introduced way back in Exodus, when the Lord set aside one tribe out of the twelve and said, “You guys are going to be my priests throughout all generations.”

So today, I started thinking, what if there was a descendant of Aaron who said, “But I don’t wanna be a priest”? What if there was a son of Asaph who said, “I don’t like music. Can’t I be—I dunno—a stone mason instead?” I’m sure there were some teenaged Levites in every generation that said, “How come our family doesn’t have land, like Isaachar’s kids do?” Or looked at 1 Chronicles 23:30 and said, “How come we have to ‘stand every morning, thanking and praising the Lord’? Just once, can’t we sleep in, like the Reubenites?”

And I can imagine a father gently saying, “No, my son. We are Levites. It’s who we are. It’s not what we have to do; it’s what we get to do.”

It reminded me of the conversation I had with a rabbi I shared an elevator with when I was in Israel. When I asked him how old he was when he felt called to be a rabbi, it was almost like he didn’t understand the question. He was a fourth generation rabbi. It was just what his family did. (See Day 055: “My Father Was a Rabbi, and His Father Before Him…” (Numbers 3-4))

A lot of English surnames are based on the family trade. Carters made carts. Chandlers made candles. Boatwrights repaired boats. You get the idea. But these days, there aren’t too many occupations that get passed down from father to son. We are much more about teaching our kids to follow their passion. We tell them they can be whatever they want to be. Even a member of the British monarchy can say “You know what, I don’t really want to be a royal. It’s too much responsibility.”

In our generation, following your bliss and living out your truth is more important than fulfilling your destiny.

But the Levitical priesthood reminds me that as a believer, I have a calling and a consecration that was picked out for me before I was born. Matthew 25:34 says that I am going to inherit a kingdom that was prepared for me from the foundation of the world. And the apostle Peter went on to describe believers as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a people for His own possession,” with a very specific task: “that we may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9).

So we are a lot like the Levites. And yes, there are days that I wonder what it would be like to not have serving Jesus be the primary occupation and preoccupation of my life. There are days when I think it would be nice to pursue the things of the world without stopping to consider any spiritual obligations. As a pastor, there’s days when I think I’d rather be a plumber.

But then I feel the hand of my Father gently rest on my shoulder, and I hear His voice, full of love, saying, “No, my son. I chose you to follow Jesus. It’s who you are. It’s not what you have to do; it’s what you get to do.”

Day 143: Dealing With the Discrepancies (2 Samuel 24; 1 Chronicles 21-22; Psalm 30)

13 So Gad came to David and told him, and said to him, “Shall three[f] years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days' pestilence in your land? Now consider, and decide what answer I shall return to him who sent me.” 14 Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.” (2 Samuel 24:13-14)

Tara-Leigh says that this is one of her favorite days of the Bible reading plan. If I am being completely honest, I have to confess that it is one of my least favorites. I’m bothered by the apparent contradictions between the 2 Samuel account and the 1 Chronicles account.

My faith tradition holds to the doctrine that the Bible is God’s infallible, inerrant, inspired word of God. That within its pages is truth without any mixture of error. And we don’t entertain the possibility that there are contradictions in the Bible.

So I will be honest. Days like this are a challenge for someone who holds to that doctrine. I almost didn’t write this post, for fear that someone will think it’s inappropriate for a pastor to express this kind of doubt. But I know that people outside the church are asking these questions. And if we pretend that they don’t even bother us, then I think we disrespect the honest skeptic. So I’d rather acknowledge the discrepancies, admit that I don’t know how to reconcile them, and trust that what I don’t understand is because of my own limitations, and not any limitations of God’s Word.

First, there’s the major discrepancy we get to right off the bat about who incited David to order the census in the first place: God or Satan?

Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” (2 Samuel 24:1)

 Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.  (1 Chronicles 21:1)

Then, there’s the discrepancy between how many people there were:

9 And Joab gave the sum of the numbering of the people to the king: in Israel there were 800,000 valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were 500,000. (2 Samuel 24:9)

5 And Joab gave the sum of the numbering of the people to David. In all Israel there were 1,100,000 men who drew the sword, and in Judah 470,000 who drew the sword. 6 But he did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, for the king's command was abhorrent to Joab. (1 Chronicles 21:5-6)

David builds an altar to the Lord on someone’s threshing floor. Whose threshing floor was it?

18 And Gad came that day to David and said to him, “Go up, raise an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” (2 Samuel 24:18)

18 Now the angel of the Lord had commanded Gad to say to David that David should go up and raise an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. (1 Chronicles 21:18)

How much did David pay for the threshing floor?

 So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels[g] of silver.  (2 Samuel 24:24)

25 So David paid Ornan 600 shekels[a] of gold by weight for the site.  (1 Chronicles 21:25)

I am thankful that none of these discrepancies affect the point of the account. And the point is this: When God got to Jerusalem, He stayed His hand.

16 And when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord relented from the calamity and said to the angel who was working destruction among the people, “It is enough; now stay your hand.”  (2 Samuel 24:16)

14 So the Lord sent a pestilence on Israel, and 70,000 men of Israel fell. 15 And God sent the angel to Jerusalem to destroy it, but as he was about to destroy it, the Lord saw, and he relented from the calamity. And he said to the angel who was working destruction, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” (1 Chronicles 21:14-16)

This story is not about who owned the threshing floor, or how much David paid for it, or how many people lived in Israel, or even why David felt the need to count them. The point of the story is that God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor does he keep His anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sin, nor repay us according to our iniquity (Psalm 103).

B.H. Carroll, the founder of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, put it this way:

When I was a boy I thought I had found a thousand contradictions in the Bible… I do not see them now; they are not there. There are perhaps a half dozen in the Bible that I cannot explain satisfactorily to myself. … Since I have seen nine hundred and ninety-four out of the thousand coalesce and harmonize like two streams mingling, I am disposed to think that if I had more sense I could harmonize the other six.

B.H. Carroll (1843-1914), The Inspiration of the Bible

Whatever else I don’t understand or doesn’t add up, the two accounts are in absolute agreement about the mercy of God. And I praise Him for His longsuffering and compassion.

Day 144: I am Prayer (Psalm 109:4)

Through the Bible Reading: Psalm 108-110


109 Be not silent, O God of my praise!
2 For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me,
    speaking against me with lying tongues.
3 They encircle me with words of hate,
    and attack me without cause.
4 In return for my love they accuse me,
    but I give myself to prayer.

Psalm 109:1-4

In Psalm 109:4, David writes “I give myself to prayer.” The ESV points out that in Hebrew, it says, “But I am prayer.” Wow.

People ask you all the time, “How are you?” What is your answer?

  • I’m good.
  • I’m fine.
  • I’m okay.
  • I’m busy.
  • I’m stressed.
  • I’m tired.
  • I’m worried.

And the list goes on. On any given day, we are happy, stressed, anxious, exhausted, confident, quiet, sad, lonely, depressed, discouraged, hopeful, excited, optimistic, pessimistic, half-empty, half-full. And it changes throughout the day. Our answer is the mercury in the thermometer.

Of course, most people don’t say any of those. The standard answer is the superficial one: How are you? Fine. Everything is fine.

How many people would you freak out today if, when they asked you, “How are you?” you had the same answer the Psalmist had:

I am prayer.

It sounds weird, doesn’t it? That someone asks you for an emotion, or an attitude, or a state of mind, and you respond with an action. But the truth is, we define ourselves by what we do all the time: I’m a parent. I’m a teacher. I’m an accountant. I’m a pastor.

So why not, “I am prayer”? God, how I’d love to be defined by that one thing!

Imagine that each day was a blank page with “I am _____________” at the top of the page, and “I was ______________.”  What if, at the beginning of the day, I filled in the blank with what I hoped to be defined by for that day?

I am prayer.

And what If, at the end of each day, I filled in the blank with one action that defined me for that day? I’m afraid “prayer” wouldn’t  complete the sentence very often. “I was pride” would be there pretty often.  So would “I was anxiety.”

Lord, I begin today with a desire to be defined by prayer. Please reduce me to only those actions that bring glory to you. And if, at the end of today, the blank gets filled in by something else, thank you that tomorrow is a new journal page.

Day 142: Light is Sown, and Light Dawns (Psalm 97:11)

Read the Bible Through: Psalm 95, 97-99

Light is sown for the righteous,
    and joy for the upright in heart. Psalm 97:11, ESV

Light dawns for the righteous,
gladness for the upright in heart. Psalm 97:11, CSB

The majority of English translations render the Hebrew verb zarah in Psalm 97:11 as sown, and they make it passive– Light is sown.

זָרַע

The Christian Standard Bible (CSB) is the lone outlier, translating “Light dawns for the righteous.” The Hebrew word here is zarach.

זָרַח

As you can see, there is only one letter difference between the two words. The text footnote in the ESV tells us that just one Hebrew manuscript has zarach, along with the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) and Jerome’s translation into Latin.

It’s possible that Jerome mistranslated the similar word. It’s also possible that he had Psalm 112:4 in mind, which is very similar:

Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; he is gracious, merciful, and righteous. (Psalm 112:4)

Here, the word is zarach– light dawns.

I’m thankful to have both, because they are both true.

I love the image that light and joy are things that are sown by God–the sower–into our lives. I love that it doesn’t say “The righteous sow light and joy,” or that light and joy is sown by the righteous. We can’t make ourselves be joyful. We can try, but the results will be superficial and fake. Like a ficus tree. No, joy has to be sown into our lives. And the promise of Psalm 97 is that it is. God is constantly sowing joy into our lives. Planting seeds isn’t something that is done once for most plants. Seeds are sown consistently and seasonally.

Seeds are also sown extravagantly. Remember Jesus’ parable of the seeds in Matthew 13? Every seed of light and joy God sows brings a harvest 30, 60, or a hundredfold.

Now, you know that a gardener has to be patient. Not all light and joy will be seen in this season. If you are in a time of darkness or sadness, it could be that the light and joy just hasn’t bloomed yet. Springtime is coming. The winter doesn’t last forever.

And that’s why I love the translation choice of the CSB. “Light dawns” instead of “light is sown.” You see, I’m not a great gardener. For me, if I plant something, it’s a coin toss as to whether I will ever see anything grow from the seeds I sow. On the other hand, I am 100% sure that the sun will come up tomorrow. Lamentations 3:21-23 is one of the great promises of Scripture:

21 But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

Beloved, trust that God is a much better gardener than you and I could ever be. Trust that what He sows, He also reaps. And consistently, seasonally, extravagantly, and patiently, He is sowing light and joy in your life.

But if you need a little extra boost of faith today, or if your own experiences with gardening make the whole “sowing seeds” image a little harder to accept, then you have the CSB to lean on: Light and joy will dawn in your life.

As sure as the sun rises.

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