Day 182: My Brother’s Keeper (Obadiah)

10 Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob,
    shame shall cover you,
    and you shall be cut off forever.
11 On the day that you stood aloof,
    on the day that strangers carried off his wealth
and foreigners entered his gates
    and cast lots for Jerusalem,
    you were like one of them. (Obadiah 1:10-11)

Through the Bible: Obadiah 1, Psalm 82-83

First things first: I do think that this reading of Obadiah is in the wrong place in our reading plan. I think the “violence done to your brother Jacob… on the day strangers carried off his wealth, and foreigners entered his gates” (verses 10-11) probably refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC, an event which we won’t get to for another two hundred years or so of Judah’s history.

That being said, I love where it is placed in our reading plan for two reasons, which I’ll get to in a minute.

But before we get to that, let’s review the relationship between Edom and Jacob, the brothers; and Edom and Israel, the nations.

Edom was the nickname of Esau, the firstborn of Isaac’s sons. He was favored by his Isaac, while Jacob was a mama’s boy, the favorite of Rebekah. There was bad blood between them from the start, as Jacob tricked Esau out of his birthright and then his father’s blessing.

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As a result of this ancient sibling rivalry, the nation of Edom and the nation of Israel had always had a contentious relationship at best, if not outright hostility. The people of Edom were not slaves in Egypt. We know this because when Moses was leading the people of Israel to the Promised Land, the king of Edom refused their passage (Numbers 20:14-21).

One of the reasons I personally believe Obadiah was written after the destruction of Jerusalem is because of how closely Obadiah’s description of Edom “standing aloof” while foreigners entered the gates of Jerusalem tracks with Psalm 137’s description of Edom cheering at the sacking of Jerusalem:

Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
    the day of Jerusalem,
how they said, “Lay it bare, lay it bare,
    down to its foundations!” (Psalm 137:7)

On the other hand, God commanded that the people of Israel live in peace with the Edomites:

7 “You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother. You shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you were a sojourner in his land. Deuteronomy 23:7

So the judgment against Edom in Obadiah was because they did not come to the aid of their kinsman when Israel was threatened by a foreign enemy. God expected more of them. Regardless of their history; regardless of their differences, they were kinsmen, and they had more in common with each other than they did with enemy nations.

And this is what brings me to the two reasons I love that Obadiah falls here in our reading plan:

  1. It could explain Jehoshaphat.

We talked in yesterday’s reading about how Jehoshaphat was rebuked for giving aid to the evil king Ahab in his battle with the Syrians (see 2 Chronicles 19:1-3); and how, even after that rebuke, he did the same thing near the end of his reign when he made an alliance with another wicked king of Israel, Amaziah (2 Chtonicles 20:35-37). The text doesn’t say why he made the alliances. But we know he was a good king who instituted a lot of reforms. It’s possible that he saw Israel as his brother, and believed that the enemy of his brother was his enemy as well. Remember what he said to Ahab when he asked for help?

3 Ahab king of Israel asked Jehoshaphat king of Judah, “Will you go with me against Ramoth Gilead?”

Jehoshaphat replied, “I am as you are, and my people as your people; we will join you in the war.” (2 Chronicles 18:3-4)

It might have been wrongheaded to come alongside such a wicked king, but maybe Jehoshaphat’s heart was in the right place in seeking to build a bridge between the two halves of what was once a united kingdom. Which leads me to the second reason I’m glad we read Obadiah today.

2. It totally explains our country right now.

Today is the start of the July 4th weekend. And as I write this, I don’t know if our country has ever been more divided. At least, not since last year. Or the year before. Come to think of it, we’ve been bitterly divided for awhile now. We absolutely do not think the best of our fellow Americans. Especially those who vote differently than we do. I don’t know that we have been more bitter and hostile to one another, at least not in my lifetime.

This was the kind of bitter division that grieved the heart of God, as expressed in Obadiah. Edom had more shared DNA with the people of Judah than with the armies of Babylon. Yet when Jerusalem fell, the Edomites joined in the taunts against the captured exiles.

And in my most cynical and fearful, I wonder if we are coming to the point in our own country where we check the politics of a city or a state before we lift up our prayers for them.

A hurricane strikes the coast. Well, is it a red state or a blue state?

There’s a mass shooting in a city. Do they have a mayor that’s spoken out against gun rights, or for defunding the police? Then maybe they deserve it.

There are wildfires out west. Do we argue about climate change, or do we grab a water bucket?

Oh God, on this weekend when we celebrate who we are as Americans, help us remember who we are as Americans. For just a few hours, can we eat a hot dog and spit watermelon seeds and enjoy fireworks with our neighbors without worrying about who they are going to vote for in the midterms?

Can we remember that we really are our brother’s keeper, and that before we are Republicans or Democrats, we are Americans?

Or even better: before we are Americans, we are Christians.

Day 180: Tickling Itching Ears (1 Kings 22, 2 Chronicles 18)

8 And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the Lord, Micaiah the son of Imlah, but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil.” (1 Kings 22:8)

...preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.  (2 Timothy 4:2-4)

In a rare story of cooperation between the two kingdoms, Ahab and Jehoshaphat form an alliance in order to reclaim land for Israel that had been lost to Syria. But good king Jehoshaphat requests first that they inquire of the Lord (1 Kings 22:5). So Ahab gathers four hundred prophets together, and to a man they all say, “Go! You’ve got this!”

At which point Jehoshaphat asks an extremely revealing question:

7 But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there not here another prophet of the Lord of whom we may inquire?” (1 Kings 22:7)

Something about these 400 prophets raised a red flag for the King of Judah. Maybe he wasn’t convinced these were actually God’s prophets. Given Ahab’s track record of persecuting God’s prophets and listening to the prophets of Ba’al and Asherah, I would have had my doubts, too (see 1 Kings 18 and Day 178: Showdown on Mount Carmel). Or maybe it was an understanding of human nature–that when a king summons you, you tend to tell him what he wants to hear.

So Jehoshaphat wants to know if there are any credible prophets of God that will give a second opinion. Ahab responds like a whiny little boy:

“There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the Lord, Micaiah the son of Imlah; but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but always evil.” (2 Chronicles 18:7)

You know the rest of the story. Micaiah speaks the truth, gets thrown in jail for it; Ahab and Jehoshaphat go out to battle anyway, and Ahab gets killed by a random archer, and the Israelite army scatters, exactly as Micaiah said they would. The End.

Except, it’s not the end. The story gets repeated in Jeremiah 38, when the prophet gets thrown into a cistern because he speaks the truth to the people.

It’s repeated in the ministry of Jesus, when the religious leaders are so threatened by Jesus’ message that they put Him to death.

It’s repeated in the martyrdom of Stephen and the imprisonment of Paul. And it is repeated every time anyone in history has tried to speak truth to power. Power resists truth. Power suppresses truth. But truth doesn’t change.

Which is why Paul’s final message to his protege Timothy is so poignant. In 2 Timothy, Paul knows he is at the end of his ministry. He tells him in 1 Tim 4:6 that “the time of [his] departure has come.”

And Paul knows firsthand that the church is full of people who won’t endure sound doctrine, and are not interested in truth. Long before there were social media algorithms that would populate your feed only with people who believed all the same things you did; and long before there were entire news networks dedicated to reinforcing whatever worldview their audience already had; Paul knew there would come a day in which people would be as eager as Ahab was to surround themselves with pastors and pundits who would tickle their itching ears.

They would tell them what they wanted to hear. They would confirm all their biases, reinforce all their prejudices, and coddle them in all their opinions, no matter how wrong they were.

So what does he tell Timothy about speaking truth to people that don’t want to hear it?

“Proceed with caution?” Nope.

“Pick your battles?” Uh-uh.

Preach the word. Preach the word, in season and out. Reprove, rebuke. Exhort. Be patient. Be sober minded. Endure suffering. Do the work of an evangelist.

Fulfill your ministry.

Pastors: are you ticking itching ears with your sermons? Or are you proclaiming prophetic truth? We don’t have to look forward to a coming day when people surround themselves with teachers who suit their own passions. That time is now. Fulfill your ministry.

Day 179: God is On the Move (1 Kings 20-21)

28 And a man of God came near and said to the king of Israel, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The Lord is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord.’” (1 Kings  20:28)

In a previous post, I talked about Solomon’s faulty reasoning that he could keep his foreign wives away from the Temple and still be good with God. Solomon mistakenly drew a dividing line between the sacred (Jerusalem) and the secular (everywhere else).

In today’s reading, we see Syria’s Ben-Hadad making the same mistake. He had gone out to battle once against Ahab, king of Israel, and had been routed. In the after-action report, Ben-Hadad and his generals misdiagnosed the reason for their defeat:

23 And the servants of the king of Syria said to him, “Their gods are gods of the hills, and so they were stronger than we. But let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they. (1 Kings 20:23)

Ben-Hadad perhaps believed that the Syrian chariots were his greatest advantage, and that they would be more effective on the plain than on the hills. What he didn’t count on was that Israel’s greatest advantage was that Yahweh is not confined to the mountains, or the plains, or the sea, or the sky. He was defeated worse the second time than he was the first time, proving once again that there is nowhere God isn’t.

What is the lesson for today? It’s this: the Spirit of God knows no limits. No boundaries, no barriers, no limitations. He goes where He wants; He works where He wills, and wherever He works, He wins.

I heard a missiologist point out one time that of all the world’s religions, Christianity is the only one whose geographic center has shifted over time. Think about it: When you think about Judaism, you connect it to Israel. When you think about Hinduism, you think about India. Buddhism, Japan. Islam, the Middle East.

But Christianity is not bound by geography. At first, the center of Christianity was Jerusalem. But it quickly shifted to Europe, and for the first thousand years of its existence, Christianity was identified with Europe.

But where are we now? According to a 2022 LifeWay research report,

In 1900, twice as many Christians lived in Europe than in the rest of the world combined. Today, more Christians live in Africa than any other continent. By 2050, Africa will be home to almost 1.3 billion Christians, while Latin America (686 million) and Asia (560 million) will both have more than Europe (497 million) and North America (276 million).

Watch this amazing video to track the spread of Christianity from the first century to the present:

Ben-Hadad learned the hard way that the One True God is not bound by geography. God continues to demonstrate that every single day. He is the God of the city. He is the God of the country. He is the God of the Northern Hemisphere; He is the God of the Global South. There is truly nowhere God isn’t.

There are no godforsaken places on earth, but there are some church neglected ones.

Which means, if we truly want to join God in what He is doing in the world, it may be time to renew your passport.

Day 178: Showdown on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:25-39)

Read through the Bible Plan: 1 Kings 17-19                                                          

36 And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. 37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” 38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.” (1 Kings 18:36-39)

One of the most dramatic stories in the whole Bible is Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18. Ahab is king, and although Israel didn’t have a  single good king, Ahab was the worst. He and his wife Jezebel were just horrible people. 1 Kings 16:29-33 gives us an overview of how evil they were.

As punishment, God sent a devastating drought to Israel, which lasted three years. At the end of this period of drought, God sent the prophet Elijah to Ahab, where he proposed an epic challenge: Ahab was to assemble the prophets of Baal to meet him on the top of Mount Carmel. They would build an altar and prepare a sacrifice for their false god. Elijah would build an altar to Yahweh. Whoever answered by fire would prove himself to be the true God.

On the appointed day, the prophets of Baal build their altar and pray their prayers and dance their dances, and nothing happens. Elijah mocks them, suggesting that their god is thinking it over, on the road, asleep, or even “wandered away” (a phrase many scholars take as a euphemism for relieving oneself). By the end of the day, the prophets of Baal have even resorted to cutting themselves, to no avail. “No one answered, no one paid attention” (verse 29).

It would be funny if it weren’t so familiar. But the fact is, people today go to similar extremes chasing after false gods that can never satisfy. We need look no further than the effects of drug addiction and sexual promiscuity to see the self-destruction false gods can bring.

Preparation (1 Kings 18:30-35)

Notice verse 30 says that Elijah “repaired” the Lord’s altar. He didn’t build one from scratch. Revival often starts with rebuilding a foundation that has already been laid. What Elijah does next is especially remarkable given how precious water would have been after a three year drought. After stacking the wood and laying the sacrifice on the altar, Elijah commands his servants to drench the altar with water. Not once, not twice, but three times, until water filled up the trench around the water. Talk about putting yourself out there! Had God not responded, Elijah would have been seen as wasting the most valuable resource of the day—water. But for the sacrifice to be consumed by fire, God would need to show up in a big way. 

Response (1 Kings 18:36-39)

Compared to the prophets of Baal, Elijjah’s prayer was simple and understated. No shouting. No dancing. No cutting himself with knives. Elijah didn’t even actually pray for fire to come down. He simply said, “Lord, let it be known that you are God.”

And how the fire fell! Verse 38 says it didn’t just consume the sacrifice and the wood. It evaporated the water in the trench, and even consumed the stones of the altar! Science tells us wood burns at 1,112 degrees Fahrenheit. To melt rock, temperatures have to be in excess of 2,400 degrees!

God is able to do “exceeding abundantly, beyond all we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20-21). He certainly proved this on Mount Carmel. As a result, all the people fell facedown and proclaimed that He is God.

Day 177: Who’s Who, Where’s Where, and Who’s Where? (1 Kings 16; 2 Chronicles 17)

23 In the thirty-first year of Asa king of Judah, Omri began to reign over Israel, and he reigned for twelve years; six years he reigned in Tirzah. . . .

25 Omri did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did more evil than all who were before him. 26 For he walked in all the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and in the sins that he made Israel to sin, provoking the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger by their idols. 
1 Kings 16:23, 25-26

As you probably figured out yesterday, we are getting into a section of Scripture (1 Kings / 2 Chronicles) that can get you really lost as you try to flip back and forth between the two books and keep track of who’s over which kingdom. I’ve learned a few things over the years of both reading and teaching through these passages that might help you keep track. I hope this helps:

WALK: Whose ways did he walk in? If he walked in the ways of his father David, he was good. If he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, he was bad.

OBEY: Did he obey God?

RESTORE/RENEW/REMOVE: Did he restore the temple, renew the covenant, remove the high places? If so, good. If not, bad.

KEEP: Did the king keep the covenant? Did he lead the people to?

Again, I hope this helps. There’s lots of lessons in this part of the journey. Hang in there!

Day 176: When a Good King Does a Bad Thing (1 Kings 15; 2 Chronicles 13-16)

11 And Asa did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as David his father had done. (1 Kings 15:11)

9 For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.” (2 Chron. 16:9)

God was faithful to the promise He made to David that there would always be a son of David on the throne in Jerusalem (see 2 Samuel 7:12-16). But that doesn’t mean that the sons of David were always faithful to God. In the 345 years that passed between the death of Solomon in 931 BC and the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC, the Southern Kingdom of Judah had twenty kings, in a straight-line succession of father to son. Only eight of them “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” One of them was Asa, Solomon’s great-grandson. Asa enjoyed a long reign—42 years; in contrast to his father, who reigned only three years, and his grandfather who reigned 17. This establishes the pattern we will see throughout 1 and 2 Kings. With the exception of Manesseh, who ruled for 55 years (see 2 Kings 21:1-18), evil kings had short reigns. The shortest reign for a good king was Jotham, who nevertheless ruled for 16 years (2 Kings 15:33).

Asa demonstrated his wholehearted devotion to God by getting rid of the male prostitutes that were associated with cultic worship practices. He also destroyed all the idols his fathers had made. And, in perhaps his boldest move, he stripped his own mother of her queen mother title because she had made an Asherah image.

Can you imagine the pressure of being the first godly king in four generations? If you were blessed with godly parents, thank God for them! But if not, you can understand what it takes to override family history and follow God.

Verses 16-19 highlight two truths. The first is that even when you are following God wholeheartedly, you may still face opposition and hardship. This was true for good king Asa. For 24 years of his 41 year reign, he was at war with the Northern Kingdom of Israel and its evil king, Baasha (see 1 Kings 15:33-34). Baasha fortified the city of Ramah, creating a blockade that cut off goods and personnel coming in and out of Judah.

The second truth is this: even godly people make poor choices sometimes. Asa feared the alliance between Israel and Syria. So he gathered the silver and gold in the temple treasury and offered it to Ben-hadad, the king of Syria, in exchange for Ben-hadad breaking his covenant with Baasha and forming an alliance with Asa instead.

Ben-hadad did indeed break his treaty with Baasha and allied Syria with Judah instead. But Asa was rebuked by God’s prophet Hanani for his failure to trust God. In 2 Chronicles 16:9, Hanani told him, “You have been foolish in this matter. Therefore, you will have wars from now on.”

Asa’s gift to Ben-hadad got the results Asa was hoping for. Ben-hadad turned and attacked his former ally, forcing Baasha to abandon the building of his blockade in Ramah. In turn, Asa took the building materials Baasha left behind and used them to build two cities in Judah’s territory. But while this could be seen as a short-term gain, ultimately it was a long-term loss. In the parallel account of Asa’s reign in 2 Chronicles 16, things got worse for Asa after this. He put Hanani the seer in prison, began to mistreat his subjects, and developed a disease in his feet that got worse and worse over time. The last word about the reign of this good king is that “even in his disease he didn’t seek the Lord but only the physicians” (2 Chron. 16:10-12).

It strikes me that there’s a spiritual truth in Asa’s diseased feet. Your feet are your foundation. When your feet are strong, you stand firm. Without strong feet, you fall. The text makes a point that it was late in life that Asa developed this disease in his feet. His once-strong foundation was eroding.

As I get older, I become more aware of how easy it is for my foundation to weaken. I don’t always have the zeal I once had, and I certainly don’t have the energy. I can rationalize that I’ve been walking with God for a long time, and a little compromise, a little indulgence won’t hurt anyone, and no one will notice. Or, like Asa, I can forget God’s deliverance and put more trust in human solutions.

My spiritual feet are not holding me up the way they used to.

God is seeking people with a firm foundation. He gives support to those who are “wholeheartedly devoted to him” (2 Chron. 16:9).

Oh feet, don’t fail me now!

Day 175: The Clash of Experience and Arrogance (2 Chronicles 10-12)

8 But he abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him. (2 Chronicles 10:8)

In an old cartoon, a twenty-something marvels, “You know, old people these days are so much smarter than they were when I was a teenager!” And the point isn’t that the boy’s elders necessarily got any smarter; it’s that he only realized how wise they had been all along as he got older.

How different the history of Israel might have been if Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, had realized that! Rehoboam started off well. He asked the men who had advised his father to advise him. They told him to ease up on the demands he put on the people. This was sound advice. After a generation of building projects—seven years on the temple and thirteen years on Solomon’s palace (see 1 Kings 6:38-7:1), the people were in need of a break. Building projects were not only labor intensive, they were also cost intensive, and Solomon had likely taxed them heavily over the past twenty years.

So the advice of the elders was sensible. Rehoboam would win the hearts of the people if he gave them a break from the harsh demands of work and taxation. Moreover, if Rehoboam demonstrated that he would be a servant leader to the people of Israel, they would follow him forever.

How do you make decisions? Do you seek wise counsel from multiple perspectives, or only from those you know will tell you what you want to hear? Wise leaders seek the counsel of experienced advisors.

It’s worth noting that, according to verse 8, Rehoboam had already rejected the elders’ advice before he ever even heard an alternate perspective. So of course the young men told him what he wanted to hear!

Twice (verse 8 and verse 10), the text emphasizes that the next group Rehoboam sought for advice were the young men who had grown up with him. Verse 8 adds the additional detail that these men had “attended him.” Likely, these young men knew Rehoboam would be the next king of Israel, so they were well practiced in sucking up to power. In all probability they also reasoned that if they appealed to the king’s ego, they were more likely to gain favorable status in the new administration. Politics truly hasn’t changed all that much in four thousand years!

The young men advised Rehoboam to power up on the people, essentially telling them, “If you thought my father was harsh, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” He promised to increase their workload and to make their punishments more severe. Like many tyrants and dictators throughout history, Rehoboam and his young friends seemed to think that oppression was strength and compassion was weakness.

Most of us will probably never be high ranking government officials. But if you manage people on any level, or even if you are simply a parent leading your own children, ask yourself which of these two leadership styles reflects the way you lead people in your sphere of influence?

Day 174: Sacrificing At the Altar of Dan (1 Kings 12-14)

Site of Jeroboam’s Altar, at Tel Dan Archaeological Site
25 Then Jeroboam built Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim and lived there. And 26 And Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will turn back to the house of David. 27 If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the temple of the Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn again to their lord, to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.” 28 So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” 29 And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan.  (1 Kings 12:25-26)

On our last trip to Israel, in February, 2022, we visited the Tel Dan archaeological site in the Golan Heights, at the far northern tip of Israel. This area is about 80 miles or so from Jerusalem, and sits in the middle of what was the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

We journeyed on rocky, uneven ground from the city gate, about a quarter mile or so uphill. Then we came to a clearing , surrounded by ancient stone walls. In the center of the clearing was an aluminum frame, showing the outline of the altar described in today’s reading.

Talk about history coming alive! There was a plaque at the entrance to the clearing, helping us understand what we were looking at.

So let’s talk about why this matters. Jeroboam made a shrewd move politically. He understood that when the united kingdom split north and south, the tribes that allied with him were still deeply religious Jews. But there was a problem. God’s law mandated several trips each year to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices, and Jerusalem was in the Southern kingdom.

What’s the king of a splinter kingdom to do? Build his own altars, of course! Not just one, but two. I guess if you are going to disobey God, you might as well go big. Then, in an eerie echo of the golden calf episode of Exodus, he said to the people, “Behold your gods, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (1 Kings 12:28). Then, in a further nose-thumbing to God’s law, he installed his own (presumably non-Levitical) priests, and came up with a feast day which he “devised from his own heart” (v. 33).

All of these were astute, politically expedient decisions. It would help him hang on to his people, rather than risking defections to the Southern Kingdom with every Passover, Pentecost, and Feast of Tabernacles. And Jerusalem really was a long and dangerous journey in the best of times, let alone when there was a civil war going on. So Jeroboam may have actually thought he was protecting his people by creating a safer and more convenient place to worship. And if the people were truly just there for the party, then it wouldn’t matter if Jeroboam made up his own feasts, just as long as the people were able to celebrate something.

Oh, beloved, guard against civil religion! Guard against making decisions based on convenience. There are lots of little compromises that we can make that over time will make our Christian convictions unrecognizable. Everything from voting for a corrupt politician because you believe he or she will fight for your priorities, to neglecting the command to “not give up meeting together” in Hebrews 10:24-25 because it is just easier to stay at home and watch church on YouTube, we can all find ourselves offering sacrifices at the altar of Dan. And we may never notice that, in God’s eyes, this thing becomes a sin (1 Kings 12:30).

Day 173: Living in the Sweet Spot (Proverbs 30:7-9)

7 Two things I ask of you;
    deny them not to me before I die:
8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
    give me neither poverty nor riches;
    feed me with the food that is needful for me,
9 lest I be full and deny you
    and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
    and profane the name of my God. (Proverbs 30:7-9)

This is an excerpt from a sermon I preached a few years ago, based on the book The Prayer of Agur by Jay Payleitner. If you’d like to watch to the whole sermon, you can watch it here.

Proverbs 30 is written by a guy that is easily overlooked. His name is Agur.  This is the only time he’s mentioned in the entire Bible. His prayer is the only prayer in Proverbs.

The buried treasure in Proverbs 30 is the three-verse prayer that delivers a shocking formula for trusting God, discovering his will for our life.

Four Principles from The Prayer of Agur:

  1. Be simple with your prayers.

Jesus warned us about long, drawn out, complicated prayers. In the Sermon on the Mount, he told His disciples:

7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:7-8)

Why is this such a good strategy for prayer? Well, it has to do with attention span. I’m not saying God has a short attention span. You could give God a list of a hundred million requests, and he would remember every single one. God’s attention span is limitless!

But ours isn’t. And if we have a personal prayer list that it would take hours to pray all the way through, we’re going to have a hard time tracking God’s response. But I think Agur’s example is an approach to prayer worth remembering.

Any time you can boil your prayer requests down to a small number of specific heartfelt desires you’re going to find yourself more aware of God working in you and through you to deliver answers.

What two things does Agur ask for? He has identified his top two personal weaknesses. The two things he struggles with most: Discerning truth and owning stuff. Let’s tackle one at a time. This brings us to our second lesson from Agur’s Prayer:

2. Be a stickler for the truth.

Agur prays, “Keep falsehoods and lies far from me.” You can almost hear Agur’s thought process as if he’s saying, I know the world is filled with lies, and they trip me up way too often. Father in heaven, please protect my ears from hearing lies that might lead me down the wrong path. And keep my lips from lying so that I might not deceive others.

And can I jump ahead a little bit to make an important point about this? The next part of Agur’s prayer is about moderation and balance—give me neither poverty or riches—I don’t need to live in a mansion, but I don’t want to live in a carboard box, either. But when it comes to discerning truth, Agur isn’t asking for moderation. He’s not saying, “give me a little truth, and a little shadiness. Help me to be mostly honest.” No. He says, “keep falsehoods and lying FAR from me.”

Beloved, we do not have to throw our hands up in the air and pretend we don’t know what to believe and who is telling the truth. We have the mind of Christ, and Christ has come into the world to bear witness to the truth.

So when we pray the prayer of Agur—keep falsehood and lies far from me, realize that is a two way street. We pray for

Agur recognizes God is the source of virtue and integrity. He wants to be on the winning team. That comes from hearing truth, discerning truth, and speaking truth.

3 Be satisfied with your stuff.

The first half of Agur’s prayer is universal. After all, everyone wants to know what’s really true. Even crooks and liars. They may ignore the truth, but they want to know it.

However, Agur’s next request is a stunner. He dares to pray for a life of moderation: “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.”

Moderation? That’s not on anyone’s checklist. Especially in the twenty-first century. We are living in an age of extremes.

Did you know that in 2018, there were over 60,000 self-storage facilities in the united States? There are more self storage facilities than McDonald’s, Wendy’s Starbucks, and Dunkin Donuts COMBINED! We spent almost $5 billion in the construction of new facilities so that people would have a place to store all the stuff they didn’t have room for in their houses! This is a 344% increase since 2008.

On the flipside is another extreme. There’s an entire subculture choosing to live as minimalists. Maybe you know someone cutting up credit cards and clearing out clutter. They don’t want the latest gadgets. Their entire wardrobe fits in one knapsack or cardboard box. They live in micro apartments and tiny homes. They use Apple products. Marie Kondo is their prophet—if it doesn’t spark joy, throw it out!

Now, you are probably never going to hear a prosperity gospel preacher quoting Proverbs 30:8. They might agree with the first part—”don’t give me poverty” but not the second part—“don’t give me riches.” And the minimalist crowd would agree with the second half, but not the first half.

Agur is not endorsing minimalism. Nor is he saying wealth and influence define success. He endorses neither fast or slow, big or small, fancy or simple.

Agur is praying for the grace to live in the sweet spot. The perfect mixture of getting what you need and needing what you get. He sums it up nicely: “give me only my daily bread.”

Agur’s prayer for only his daily bread was written down almost a thousand years before Christ. Today, we recognize that phrase from The Lord’s Prayer delivered by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount. “Give us this day our daily bread.”

The thing is, that’s not what Agur prayed. He added the word only. That introduces an entire deeper level of trust in the one who provides. It takes a bit of courage to pray, “Give me only my daily bread.”

Why, by the way, would anyone pray that way? We kind of want to say, “God, all I really NEED is my daily bread, but if you WANT to give me more— I’m not gonna say no…” Why would anyone pray that God wouldn’t give them more than just the basics?

4. Be Honest With Yourself

Agur identified his weakness. It was materialism. Stuff. He knew if he had too much, he would take the credit himself. “I don’t need God after all.”

If he had too little, he would steal and dishonor God. Agur was asking for his cash flow to be . . . just right.

To be clear, money itself was not the problem. It was Agur’s emotional attachment to money. The Bible doesn’t say “money is the root of evil.” It says, “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10).

Let’s applaud Agur’s self-awareness. He is praying, in essence, “Lord, keep me dependent on you. Having complete trust in you is the balance in which I want to live. I can’t do life without you.”

Agur’s overarching concerns were that he would neither forget God nor dishonor God. God’s glory was his first and only passion. For Agur, and for all of us, that is life in the Sweet Spot.

Day 172: Wives and Concubines (1 Kings 10-11; 2 Chronicles 9)

“He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart.” 1 Kings 11:3, ESV

A couple of years ago, my family and I were coming back from vacation. My wife and I were listening to our daily Bible reading on the car speakers. When we got to 1 Kings 11:3, my teenage son, from the backseat says, “Wait… what?”

So began an awkward conversation about why (or even how) anyone could have 700 wives. Followed by an even more awkward conversation about what a concubine was. And at one point, my son said, “I just can’t even wrap my head around this.”

And he’s right. We get to this part of the story and we can’t relate to it.

Was it all about sex and lust? Well, about a third of it was. Solomon had 300 concubines–women with a lower status than a wife, and whose only purpose was to fulfill the sexual desires of the king. According to an excellent article on the practice at christianity.com, a concubine could also function to provide a male heir if a wife was barren, and to increase the work force on a family farm. But for crying out loud, Solomon had 700 wives, so there’s no way all of them would have been unable to have children. And he wasn’t a farmer, and even if he was, 1 Kings has already gone into detail about Solomon’s program of forced labor. So the idea of needing concubines to increase the work force or produce an heir just doesn’t wash with Solomon. It was pretty much all about the sex. And since every other description of Solomon in 1 Kings 10 and 2 Chronicles 9 is over the top–more wisdom, more riches, a bigger throne, and an annual shipment of apes and peacocks (because, why not?)–then of course his libido would be over the top as well.

However, the 700 wives was not about the sex. The key is the phrase “who were princesses.” Each of these wives represented a strategic alliance with a foreign power. Each was an attempt to fortify Solomon’s earthly empire. They were 700 ways Solomon was trusting something other than God.

And that I can relate to. I make strategic alliances with dozens, maybe hundreds of little kingdoms because I think they can give me what God longs to give. We make alliances with popularity, leisure, finances, politics, technology, entertainment, alcohol, prescription drugs— the list goes on. I’ve clung to each in love. Each has turned away my heart.

In 2 Corinthians 11:2, Paul writes an agonized line to the faithless Corinthians: “I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.” 

Dear Lord, let me renew my vows to you and you alone today. Thank you for loving me jealously. I look to you as my one source for all my needs.

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