Day 225: Here, There, and Everywhere (Jeremiah 23:23-24)

““Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord.”
‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭23:23-24‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Through the Bible: Jeremiah 23-25

Immanence and Transcendence. Two big words; neither of which actually appear in the Bible, but nevertheless describe two opposite traits of God that are somehow both true.

First, God’s immanence. Immanence means presence. It is God’s “at hand-ness” to use the phrase from Jeremiah 23. Throughout Scripture, God’s nearness is highlighted. His Word is immanent in Deuteronomy 30:

““For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.
‭‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭30:11-14,ESV‬

God’s presence is also immanent. In Isaiah 43:2, He is the God who is with us when we pass through the waters. In Daniel 3, He is the fourth man in the fire with Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego.

Of course, nowhere is God’s immanence more apparent than in the Incarnation of Jesus. Although, like I said, the word “immanence” isn’t in Scripture, it almost is:

““Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭1:23‬ ‭ESV‬‬

As much as every page of Scripture resonates with God’s nearness, though; God’s transcendence is just as apparent. He is high and exalted in Isaiah 7. He dwells in unapproachable light in 1 Timothy 6:

“who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.”
‭‭1 Timothy‬ ‭6:16‬ ‭ESV‬‬

God’s attributes are also transcendent. He does not share His omniscience, omnipotence, or omnipresence with anyone else. He tells Isaiah—remember him? The same prophet who revealed that Messiah would be called Immanuel—he told Isaiah,

“I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’”
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭46:9-10‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Finally, God’s character is transcendent. While He is with us, he is altogether not like us. Numbers 23:19 tells us that “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?”

And in Psalm 50, God gives this stunning word of rebuke to a people that had apparently become too familiar with Him:

“These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.”
‭‭Psalm‬ ‭50:21‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This, apparently, was how the lying prophets viewed God in Jeremiah’s day. They thought nothing of “committing adultery and walking in lies” (Jer. 23:14). They had gotten so comfortable with speaking on God’s behalf that they were telling lies about him. So through Jeremiah, God reminded them that he wasn’t just immanent. He was also transcendent.

“But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds. “Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away?”
‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭23:22-23‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Praise God that He is with us. But fear God because He is not like us. We have to keep both these truths in tension. Focus too much on God’s transcendence, and you will never approach Him. Focus too much on God’s immanence, and you will recast Him in your own image.

A Year Without a Shooting: Prayer for the new School Year

God, bless children, parents, teachers, administrators, bus drivers, guidance counselors, lunch ladies, coaches, custodians, academic advisors, and youth ministers, as another school year begins.

Bless kids that are driving for the first time. Keep them safe.

Bless kids that are going to their first parties and their first dates. Keep them safe, too.

And God, I beg You; let this be a year without a school shooting. Make yourself real and present for any kid that would consider hurting himself or others. Overcome hate and darkness, anger and loneliness, bullying and prejudice and desperation. Replace them with love and light and peace and community and friendship and understanding and hope.

Let this year be the year that anonymous small towns stay anonymous. I wish to God I had never heard of Uvalde. Or Parkland. Or Columbine. So Lord, I beg You: put a friend in the life a a kid in a town somewhere that I’ve never heard of, so that at the end of this school year, I still will have never heard of it.

I know you can do it Lord. These thoughts and prayers are going out before the tragedy. Before the makeshift memorials. Before the news helicopters. Because the thoughts and prayers that go out after feel hollow. So Lord, let this be an unusual year, simply because it’s normal.

Amen.

Day 221: On Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (Jeremiah 8:20)

The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved. (Jeremiah 8:20, ESV)

Through the Bible: Jeremiah 7-9

Preachers can be the worst at making a point and then cherry picking a Bible verse that seems to support their point. I can say this because I’m a preacher, and I’ve definitely been guilty of the same thing.

Years ago, when I was working for a Christian publisher, a prominent pastor was the guest preacher for our employee chapel service. This particular pastor had developed a very effective evangelism strategy, and had partnered with our company to publish and distribute the strategy.

In his sermon he was passionate and convicting, and his heart for the lost was evident. But he used Jeremiah 8:20 to paint a picture of all our lost friends and neighbors wondering why we haven’t shared the gospel with them. “They’re all looking at us and pleading,” he said, his voice trembling. “‘The harvest has passed. The summer has ended. And still, we are not saved.’”

It was powerful and convicting. Unfortunately, it wasn’t faithful to the text. Jeremiah was mourning for God’s people who, because of their idolatry, were in exile. They had bought into false prophets such as Hananiah who had promised the exile would only last two years (see Jeremiah 28:3).

I know the guy meant well. And I know that the point he was making is valid. People really are desperate for the Gospel.

But we aren’t serving the Gospel if we twist and manipulate its very words. The end doesn’t justify the means.

That’s why what you are doing in this reading challenge is so very important. You are learning to “rightly handle the word of truth” (1 Timothy 2:15). Stay with it! And no matter how charismatic or engaging a Bible teacher or preacher is, don’t just take his or her word about what the Bible says. Do the hard work of studying it for yourself.

Day 219: Who’s Your Daddy, Jeremiah? (Jeremiah 1)

The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, one of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, (Jeremiah 1:1)

Through the Bible: Jeremiah 1-3

The prophet Jeremiah is one of the towering figures of the Old Testament. His ministry spanned the reigns of four kings. He was an eyewitness to the Babylonian captivity. He was responsible for two books of the Bible–Jeremiah and Lamentations. When it comes to the major prophets, only Isaiah was major-er.

But what gets missed by a lot of people, especially if they have never done a chronological read through of the Bible, is that Jeremiah was the son of Hilkiah, “one of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin” (Jeremiah 1:1). We know that Jeremiah began his prophetic ministry in the thirteenth year of the reign of King Josiah.

Here’s where it gets interesting. In 2 Kings 22, we read that in the eighteenth year of his reign, King Josiah commissioned the repair of the temple. And who did Josiah put in charge of making sure the workers got paid? The high priest, Hilkiah.

4 “Go up to Hilkiah the high priest and have him get ready the money that has been brought into the temple of the Lord, which the doorkeepers have collected from the people. 5 Have them entrust it to the men appointed to supervise the work on the temple. And have these men pay the workers who repair the temple of the Lord— 6 the carpenters, the builders and the masons. Also have them purchase timber and dressed stone to repair the temple. (2 Kings 22:4-7).

It gets better. A few verses later, Hilkiah finds the Book of the Law in the temple. He and his secretary Shaphan bring it to Josiah, and read it to the king. When Josiah hears the words of the law, he weeps, tears his clothes, and begins an incredible period of reform–tearing down high places, desecrating pagan altars, and reinstating the Passover (see 2 Kings 22:8-23:28).

It is not universally accepted that Hilkiah, Jeremiah’s father is the same Hilkiah that oversaw the repair of the temple, found the book of the Law, and presented it to Josiah. Matthew Henry, for example, says definitively that they were not the same person. Tremper Longman, another Old Testament scholar, is not quite as definitive as Matthew Henry, but still argues against it:

It is not impossible that this high priest was Jeremiah’s father, but if this Hilkiah were meant, it is likely that would have been specified. In addition, that Jeremiah was from Anathoth and not Jerusalem also mitigates against the identification of the Jeremiah’s father with the high priest.

“Remember Jeremiah’s Father,” sermon by Franklin L. Kirskey, at www.pastorlife.com

Even though we can’t know for sure, I love the possibility that it was the same Hilkiah. We know from Jeremiah 1:1 that Jeremiah’s father was a priest, then he was a man who was okay with his son not going into the “family business,” choosing a career as a prophet instead of a priest. He was also apparently okay with his son criticizing the priesthood (see Jeremiah 23:11-32).

But if it was the same Hilkiah who was the high priest during Josiah’s reign, then we can draw some conclusions about the impact of a godly father’s example on his children. Jeremiah saw his father act with integrity toward the contractors in the temple. What’s more, he saw his father speak truth to power when he presented the book of the law to Josiah. Both of these would have had a profound effect on the man who would speak truth to the kings that followed Josiah.

Dads, your children may not pursue the same life calling that you did. And we need to be okay with that. Let’s just make sure that we are following Jesus, and modeling that for our kids. That way, even if they don’t follow in our footsteps, they will follow in His.

For a compelling argument that Jeremiah was the son of Hilkiah the High Priest, check out this article.

Day 217: Too Little, Too Late (2 Kings 23)

25 Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him.

26 Still the Lord did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him. 27 And the Lord said, “I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there.”

2 Kings 23:25-26

Through the Bible: 2 Kings 22-23; 2 Chronicles 34-35

Many years ago, I was the camp pastor for a youth camp where they had an “ask the camp pastor” session. This was an opportunity for the kids to ask me any question they wanted to from the Bible. These were sharp kids. During the junior high session, one of the kids asked, “Will there be animals in heaven, and if not, where does the white horse Jesus comes back on come from?”

I will never forget the question a high school student asked me, though. He had been studying today’s passage about Josiah, and he stood up and asked me, “So, 2 Kings 23 talks about what a good king Josiah was–how he destroyed the idols and repaired the temple and reinstituted the Passover. 2 Kings 23:25 says there was never a king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart.”

“But the very next verse says that none of this was enough to turn away God’s wrath from the people of Judah because of all the terrible things Josiah’s father Manasseh did.”

“So, I guess my question is, what’s fair about that?”

That question has haunted me ever since. I don’t remember what my answer was. I just remember the pain of the question. What’s fair about a God who punishes one generation for the sins of the previous generation, no matter how earnestly that generation turns to the Lord?

One answer, which I admit is not a very “feel good” answer, is that God is faithful to all His promises, not just the ones we benefit from. Back in 2 Kings 21, God pronounced judgment on Manasseh:

11 “Because Manasseh king of Judah has committed these abominations and has done things more evil than all that the Amorites did, who were before him, and has made Judah also to sin with his idols, 12 therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing upon Jerusalem and Judah such disaster that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. 13 And I will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria, and the plumb line of the house of Ahab, and I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. 14 And I will forsake the remnant of my heritage and give them into the hand of their enemies, and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies, 15 because they have done what is evil in my sight and have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came out of Egypt, even to this day.” (2 Kings 21:11-15)

We might think it is unfair that God would still punish Judah even after Josiah’s reforms, but the fact is, it was God’s mercy that preserved the kingdom for five more generations after Manasseh. God stayed His hand long enough for Manasseh to repent. He was followed by Amon, who was just as wicked as his father, but unlike Manasseh did not repent. Then came Josiah, the last good king of Judah. Through Josiah, God allowed one more generation to seek the Lord, to find the Book of the Law, and to reinstate the Passover. After Josiah came three evil kings in a row, and then the end.

So, to answer the young man’s question in as biblically faithful a way as I could, I guess I should have said that God’s judgment after Josiah’s reforms wasn’t fair. But neither was God’s mercy for five generations after Manasseh. Grace and mercy are never about what’s fair. That’s what makes grace so amazing.

Day 212: The Bridegroom, Like a Priest (Isaiah 61)

“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” Isaiah 61:10 ESV

Through the Bible: Isaiah 59-63

One of the most beautiful moments in a Jewish wedding is when the groom takes his tallit— the prayer shawl, and holds it over his bride’s head, symbolizing that she is “covered” by his prayers.

The only two English translations that use the phrase “like a priest” are the ESV and the NIV. I would love to understand more about Hebrew to know what the translation team saw in this verse. But it reminded me that, even as a pastor, my first responsibility is to be a priest to my family. I am to intercede for my wife and children. I lead them. I serve them. I represent them to the Father. I make sacrifices on their behalf. It’s part of the deal when you enter into a Christian marriage.

Which means that as a priest I dare not come into God’s presence with unclean hands. If I am to intercede for my family, I have to guard my thought life and flee from willful sin.

If you are a man reading this, then please understand your biblical responsibility to pastor your family. I see a lot of men who passively relinquish this role, letting their wife handle all the “churchy stuff.” I also see a lot of men who go to the opposite extreme, using the “spiritual head of the household” as their trump card to win every argument or their battering ram to dominate their wives and children. Both are wrong. The former is just lazy. The latter is abusive. You lead your family by serving them and by praying for them. My first responsibility to the church I pastor is not to be their ultimate authority on what the Bible says. It is to serve them, pray for them, and represent them to the Father through the ministry of intercession.

If you are a married woman reading this, pray for your husband to lead well. It is so hard for me to know how to lovingly lead my wife and children. My wife is such a godly student of the word, and there are lots of times I think, “Who am I to lead her?” But the answer from God’s word is so simple, but so convicting: “You’re her husband. That’s who.” Your husband may feel the same way. I see the insights many of you post in this group, and you may very well be the more spiritually mature spouse in your marriage. But that doesn’t mean your husband isn’t called to be the “priest” in your home. It’s ok if he doesn’t know as much of the Bible as you do. He can still pastor you and your family by interceding for you. That’s what he is called to do. And the best thing you can do for your husband if he tends toward the “passive” side of this is to affirm and encourage every attempt, however clumsy, to be the spiritual leader in your home.

Day 210: Beautifully Ugly Feet (Isaiah 52:7)

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns."
Isaiah 52:7, ESV

“God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places. "
Habakuk 3:19

Through the Bible: Isaiah 49-53

I have very ugly feet. I thought about including a picture, but if I did, this would be the first blog I’ve written that would include a parental advisory label. Seriously, they are that ugly.

But they aren’t just ugly. They are weak. When I was at kids camp last week at the University of West Alabama, I walked an average of nine miles every day. And, oh, how my feet hurt at the end of that week. I was reminded that I am no longer a 20 year old college kid/summer staffer. I’m an old guy with ugly, tired feet.

So I love the Scriptures like Isaiah 52:7 that tell me I have beautiful feet. Or Habakkuk 3:19, which assures me that the Sovereign Lord can give me feet like a deer. Strong. Able to stand on the heights.

The key to beautiful feet is not a pedicure. Beautiful feet, from God’s perspective, come from where you let your feet take you. When you use your feet to bring good news to the world, God will pronounce even the jankiest, fungi-est, smelliest, bunioniest feet beautiful.

The key to strong feet is not Cross Fit. Strong feet, from God’s perspective, are the result of letting God, the Lord, be your strength. We don’t get strong by trying harder. We get strong by letting God lead us.

And he will lead us to hard places. This week, I read the story of Jackie Pullinger, a missionary who has spent over fifty years working with prostitutes, heroin addicts and gang members in a section of Hong Kong known as the Walled City. She writes that in 1966, as a twenty-one-year-old music college graduate, she bought a ticket on the cheapest ship she could find, calling at the greatest number of countries, and prayed to know where to disembark. When she saw the Walled City, a high-rise slum in Hong Kong, she felt the Lord saying she had come home. She wrote:

‘It was almost as if I could already see another city in its place and that city was ablaze with light. It was my dream. There was no more crying, no more death or pain. The sick were healed, addicts set free, the hungry filled. There were families for orphans, homes for the homeless, and new dignity for those who had lived in shame. I had no idea of how to bring this about but with “visionary zeal” imagined introducing the Walled City people to the one who could change it all: Jesus.’

The quote that stuck out to me the most was when Jackie wrote,

God wants us to have soft hearts and hard feet. The trouble with so many of us is that we have hard hearts and soft feet.

Beloved, may we have soft hearts that lead us to hard places! Those hard places may be right in your own hometown! Lord, give us a vision for how we can reach the “Walled City” within our own community.

Day 206: Trash Talk (Isaiah 35-36)

18 Beware lest Hezekiah mislead you by saying, “The Lord will deliver us.” Has any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? 19 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? 20 Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’”(Isaiah 36:18-20)

Here in Alabama, we take our sports rivalries seriously, and trash talking is something of an art form. We’ve all been on the receiving end of taunts from fans of the other team. But if that “other team” has a long tradition of dominance of their sport (and you know who you are); then their taunts are more than just trash talk. You’ve seen that team crush every other team in the conference, and now they are coming for you. And deep down inside, you dread game day.  You might talk big at the tailgate, but you tremble at the ticket booth!

This was the reality facing Judah’s King Hezekiah. The Assyrian empire was the dominant and ruthless power of the known world at that time. Hezekiah had been king for four years when Assyria laid siege to Samaria, capital of Israel. And now a decade later, King Sennacherib was coming for Judah (see 2 Kings 18:9-13).

Sennacherib mocked Hezekiah’s reliance on God. His emissaries warned the people of Judah not to let Hezekiah convince them to trust in the Lord (2 Kings 18:30). And from Sennacherib’s perspective, his confidence was borne out of experience: every other nation that had called upon their God for deliverance had fallen to Assyria. Furthermore, Sennacherib believed that the high places Hezekiah removed (18:22) were altars to the one True God, instead of the pagan altars they actually were. So Sennacherib mistakenly believed Hezekiah had insulted his God, when actually he was honoring and obeying him. That was his first mistake.

Sennacherib’s second mistake was that he had not figured Hezekiah’s repentance into his game day play book. Unlike Israel; which did not repent and therefore fell easily to Assyria (see 2 Kings 17:7-19), Hezekiah put on sackcloth and sought the Lord from the moment he heard the threat from Sennacherib (19:1). He sought the advice of God’s prophet Isaiah, who assured Hezekiah that God had heard his prayer and would give him victory (19:6-7).  And then he drew up the most powerful play anyone can ever run: he went to the temple, spread out the threat from Sennacherib’s messengers before the Lord, and begged God for deliverance.

15 And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord and said: “O Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 16 Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 17 Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands 18 and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men's hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 19 So now, O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.” (2 Kings 19:15-19)

This is such a good lesson for us in the church today! Your pastor might give you encouragement as you face a problem. You might have your entire Sunday school class praying for a crisis your family is dealing with. But none of that can take the place of you making your own heart’s cry to the Lord. God hears the prayers of all His people; not just His priests and prophets.

God delivered His answer to Hezekiah through His prophet Isaiah. His promise to the King was that not only would Sennacherib not defeat Judah, he wouldn’t even shoot an arrow in Jerusalem! There were horror stories of Assyria’s prolonged sieges against other cities, but Isaiah promised there wouldn’t even be a siege ramp built against Jerusalem (19:32). True to His word, God struck down 185,000 Assyrian soldiers that very night, causing Sennacherib to beat a hasty retreat back to Nineveh the next morning (19:35-36).

It’s worth asking the question, why? Hezekiah was a good king, and he humbly repented before God. But as 2 Kings 18:19 reminds us, Judah’s track record of obedience to God was only marginally better than Israel’s. So why was Judah spared from the same defeat Israel experienced? Verse 34 gives the answer. God preserved Jerusalem for the sake of His own name and because of the promise He had made to His servant David.

God is still zealous to defend His name today! How have you seen God defend His name and His people?

Day 202: They Made Kings, But Not Through Me (Hosea 8:3-7)

To me they cry,
    “My God, we—Israel—know you.”
3 Israel has spurned the good;
    the enemy shall pursue him.

4 They made kings, but not through me.
    They set up princes, but I knew it not.
With their silver and gold they made idols
    for their own destruction.

Hosea 8:3-4

Through the Bible reading: Hosea 8-14)

Are we to submit to a king the Lord didn’t appoint?

Paul was clear in Romans 13 that Christians are to submit to the governing authorities, because “there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1).

The prophet Daniel is the poster child for submitting to a pagan king. He was one of the exiles from Jerusalem that was deported to Babylon, and over the course of his seventy years in captivity, he served four different kings. When he was called on to interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2, he provided the standard Old Testament rationale for why we are to submit to a king’s authority, even if he is a pagan:

May the name of God
be praised forever and ever,
for wisdom and power belong to him.

21 He changes the times and seasons;
he removes kings and establishes kings.
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those
who have understanding.

Daniel 2:20-21

Both Daniel and Paul argue that no king has ever ruled apart from God’s sovereign purpose. Jesus Himself said the same thing to Pilate. Pilate was amazed that Jesus didn’t try to defend Himself before Pilate, so he said, “Don’t you realize I have authority to release you or to crucify you?” Jesus replied, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” (John 19:9-11).

So with all that, what are we to do with Hosea? In Hosea 8, God Himself; speaking through Hosea, says that the people “made kings, but not through me. They set up princes, but I knew it not” (Hosea 8:4, emphasis mine).

Hold up: the people set up a prince, and God didn’t know about it? They established a king, but they did it out from under God’s sovereignty? Doesn’t this contradict Daniel, Paul, and Jesus Himself?

It does not. Just because the people did not consult God or seek Him, that does not mean God wasn’t in absolute control over who was on the throne. If we have learned anything through our chronological journey through the Bible, it is that God is constantly working through the actions of ungodly kings, and even the rulers of other nations, in order to accomplish His divine purposes. Look back to how God was glorified through the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart (see Day 032: Who Hardens the Heart?). Look forward to Jesus’ crucifixion at the hands of the Romans.

The irony of Hosea is that the people were still claiming to know God, even as they refused to seek His face when it came time to crown a king. Look again at verses 2-3:

2 To me they cry,
    “My God, we—Israel—know you.”
3 Israel has spurned the good;
    the enemy shall pursue him.
Hosea 8:2-3

Interestingly, questions about submitting to the ruling authorities only seem to come up when we are talking about rulers we don’t choose for ourselves. Daniel prayed his prayer at the beginning of the Babylonian captivity. Jesus spoke before the Roman governor.Paul wrote to Jewish Christians living in the Roman Empire.

This was not the case for the people to whom Hosea was writing. We typically don’t have any problem submitting to the authorities we choose for ourselves. Even today, Romans 13 is most often quoted whenever a Christian claims that whoever is in the Oval Office at the time is “not my President, because I didn’t vote for him.”

So the question in Hosea isn’t really about whether or not we will submit to whomever is on the throne. The question is whether those who claim to know God will seek Him before putting a king on the throne in the first place.

Because when we don’t, we reap the whirlwind (Hosea 8:7).

Day 184: A Day of Gospel (2 Kings 5-8)

Permission to use expressed on artist’s blog. Thanks, Mr. Biblehead!
Then they said to one another, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news. If we are silent and wait until the morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come; let us go and tell the king’s household." 2 Kings 7:9, ESV

By the way, the image above comes from a blog called mrbiblehead. If you teach or work with children, you should check it out.

This is another of those Old Testament stories that practically shouts the Gospel. Actually, let me rephrase: the story of the four lepers in the Assyrian camp LITERALLY shouts the Gospel. Check this out.

Desperation: There is a famine in the city. They are surrounded. Samaria cannot save itself. This is the reality of who we are without Christ. 2 Kings 6 describes in gruesome detail just how desperate the situation was:

24 Afterward Ben-hadad king of Syria mustered his entire army and went up and besieged Samaria. 25 And there was a great famine in Samaria, as they besieged it, until a donkey's head was sold for eighty shekels of silver, and the fourth part of a kab of dove's dung for five shekels of silver. 26 Now as the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried out to him, saying, “Help, my lord, O king!” 27 And he said, “If the Lord will not help you, how shall I help you? From the threshing floor, or from the winepress?” 28 And the king asked her, “What is your trouble?” She answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.’ 29 So we boiled my son and ate him. And on the next day I said to her, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him.’ But she has hidden her son.” 30 When the king heard the words of the woman, he tore his clothes—now he was passing by on the wall—and the people looked, and behold, he had sackcloth beneath on his body— 31 and he said, “May God do so to me and more also, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat remains on his shoulders today.”

For reference, a shekel was about .4 ounces of silver. This means that, at today’s exchange rate, a donkey’s head (NOT a delicacy) was selling for 32 ounces of silver, or $640. And a cup of dove’s dung (also not a delicacy) was going for $40. Things were so desperate in the city that two prostitutes flipped a coin to see which of their children they would eat first.

Salvation: God accomplishes the victory. 2 Kings 7:5-6 makes it clear that it’s the Lord who causes the Assyrians to flee. And the Israelites never even fire a shot:

5 So the diseased men got up at twilight to go to the Arameans’ camp. When they came to the camp’s edge, they discovered that no one was there, 6 for the Lord[e] had caused the Aramean camp to hear the sound of chariots, horses, and a large army. 

Celebration: the four lepers come o the point of surrender. Whatever they have been doing isn’t working. So they decide to give themselves to the Assyrians, saying “What have we got to lose? If they kill us, we shall but die” (2 Kings 7:3). So they go, expecting to lose their lives. And in so doing, they find them. They pass from death to life, and experience a greater abundance than they could ever imagine!

8 And when these lepers came to the edge of the camp, they went into a tent and ate and drank, and they carried off silver and gold and clothing and went and hid them. Then they came back and entered another tent and carried off things from it and went and hid them. (2 Kings 7:8)

Obligation: At some point, they remember there are people in the city that are still starving. They say to each other, “This is a day of good news, and we can’t keep it to ourselves.”

In the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew scripture, the word for good news is euangellion. It’s where we get our word evangelism. It’s the word the New Testament translates as Gospel.

So the lepers return to the city, proclaiming the good news that the war is over, the siege is lifted, that God alone accomplished it, and that salvation and abundance are available for all who believe the message.

It’s all there! And dear Lord, how often I have found the good news and hid it–kept it to myself without sharing it with anyone. Let the light dawn for me and my friends. Bring us to the realization that we are not doing right. And that if we don’t share the good news, disaster will overtake us. Our churches will die. The gospel will become irrelevant because we have kept it to ourselves instead of sharing it with those who are starving for it within the city.

Lord, let me follow the lepers’ example. This good news is too good to keep to myself. Let me proclaim salvation to those who have not yet heard that the war is over.

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