Friday, June 18, 2010

June 18

OT: I Kings 19: 1-21

I loved this story. Though it is familiar, it is always so refreshing and relatable. Elijah had been on a high from his great victory at Mt. Carmel. He was so triumphant and excited about the sacrifice and the rain coming, and we last saw him running victoriously back to Jezreel ahead of Ahab's chariot.

In today's reading, we find that his jubilation was very short lived, as he was greeted by Jezebel with a very strongly-worded death threat. This sudden reversal proves too much for Elijah, and he runs away in despair. Oddly, I can relate to the tenor of his words to God in verse 4: "I have had enough, Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors." And then he lays down and goes to sleep. Though I can't remember any specific times that I've wanted to die, I have definitely been at the end of my rope. There have been many times where I want to say, "And...cut!!" to stop my life from going in a particular direction. And it is always disappointing when the real Director chooses to keep the cameras rolling instead of alleviating my disappointment and sorrow. What's cool, though, is that, even though he didn't let Elijah check out of a disappointing life, He did give him the strength to keep going. He did that quite literally, by twice waking him up to eat the food that God had provided. And then God strengthened Elijah's soul by revealing Himself to him.

And I love how God revealed Himself to Elijah. I tend to want and to expect God to reveal Himself in big ways. Having been raised on Bible stories like the parting of the Red Sea, the miraculously-won Israelite battles, and even the showdown on Mt. Carmel, I forget how relatively rare such miracles are in the grand scope of Israel's history. It is much more common for God to reveal Himself in a gentle whisper than in mighty winds, earthquakes, and fires. And I have heard that gentle whisper in the times I have needed it most.

I also love the practical side to God's revelation to Elijah. He comforted him with the gentle whisper, and then he gave him two other wonderful gifts: guidance and support. He guided Elijah by telling him what to do next. Even though He didn't give the whole game plan (He never does), He did reveal the next step. And knowing the next step is a very comforting feeling. It gives you purpose and confidence. It gives you a direction to take. Secondly, God realized that Elijah needed a friend. Thus, he sent him to anoint Elisha as his successor. I'm sure that that provision brought double comfort to Elijah: it gave him a supporter, and it gave him a vision of the end of his tenure as prophet. For someone as world-weary as Elijah was, it must have been a comfort to know that he had a successor ready to take over.

I did have a couple questions about the whole interchange. Why did Elijah get to anoint the king of another country (15)? Why would the country of Aram allow Israel's prophet, the prophet of a God they don't worship, to anoint their king? And secondly, what was up with the talk of killing? I don't understand why Hazael would kill so many people, and why Jehu would then kill the people he missed, and especially why Elisha would then kill the people he missed. Yet, even typing it, I begin to understand. I think God is saying that He is appointing Hazael to be His instrument of punishment to Israel (though I don't know why, b/c didn't Israel turn back to God on Mt. Carmel?). And Jehu will probably be bad, so in his subsequent persecution of his own people, God will continue His punishment? And after that, God will have Elisha finish the job? That's my read on it right now.

Anyway, moving on. I also liked Elisha. I don't know how he already knew Elijah, but it seems that he did. I thought it was interesting that he asked Elijah to let him go back and kiss his parents goodbye. It reminded me of Jesus' negative response to the guy who wanted to go back and bury his father, and it also reminded my of Jesus' statement that, "anyone who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for service in the kingdom" (paraphrase). So anyway, I kind of expected Elijah to get mad at that request, but instead, he was cool with it. I will say that Elisha then did a pretty good job of expressing how hard core he was by killing his oxen and sacrificing them on his burning plowing equipment. That was a pretty intense gesture (though I still don't understand how it didn't break the Law. Remember, you can only sacrifice in the places appointed by God).

NT: Acts 12:1-23

In the early verses of today's reading, the apostle, James, is killed by Herod. That must have been quite a blow to the church. I'm pretty sure that he was the first martyr of the Twelve. I'm sure that everyone was pretty shaken by it. That must have made it all the more disturbing when Herod seized Peter next. I've heard lessons on how little faith the early church had that they were surprised that God answered their prayer. Whenever I hear that, I have to think, "Well, didn't they pray for James, too? And look what happened to him!" I've got to give the early church a break on this one.

It's funny how God often takes similar situations and works in completely different ways. It's the same today. One child with cancer lives. Another with the same cancer dies. People prayed for both children, and there were different outcomes. In one troubled marriage, the spouse stays. In one, he leaves. People prayed for both marriages, but different things happened. Regardless of the outcome, however, God is still God, and He is still good. He was a good God when James died, and He was a good God when He saved Peter. The early church understood that, which is how they maintained their faith, even in the face of harsh persecution.

Another example of God working differently than you would think is in His killing of Herod. According to verse 23, Herod was struck down by an angel of the Lord because he did not give praise to God when people were calling him a god. Um, did God want such a man to publicly link himself to Him? And if God was going to kill Herod, why not kill him for murdering James? That was all kind of weird to me.

Psalm 136:1-26

A corporate praise psalm. I think I've actually done this one in church before, with the leader reading the main lines, and the church saying, "His love endures forever."

Proverbs 17:4-5

I like verse 4: "Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out." I think that is an interesting proverb. We definitely need to be able to "drop" things more quickly than we often do...but there really are times when issues need to be addressed. Still, though, I think that you can address things without letting it lead to a quarrel.

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