OT: 2 Kings 1:1-2:25
So it seems like the prophets are being awfully cavalier with human life, doesn't it? In today's reading, Elijah calls down fire from God to consume fifty of the king's men...twice! You know that phrase, "Don't shoot the messenger?" Well, it seems that Elijah is doing just that. Only he is shooting a hundred of them. Thankfully, the third captain had learned enough to spare the lives of his men. Then later, Elisha calls a curse on "some youths" who were antagonizing him, and then bears came out and mauled 42 of them! (Full disclosure: my brother and I found this story hilarious growing up. I know that that has something to do with us being bad people, but it is just so comical-sounding.) The bottom line, though, is that I would kind of like the prophets to chill with the mass killings, especially when they are doing it simply to prove a point. It does make me wonder about the power of God's Spirit. I wonder if, even though the prophets are clearly empowered by God, they have some leeway on how to use that power. I've also wondered that while reading Acts. I don't get the impression, for example, that God is whispering in Peter's ear, saying, "Hey, heal that guy." It seems more like Peter sees the lame man, decides he should walk, and just goes for it. He knows he has God's power, and so he has faith that what he says will happen. Same with Paul and Bar-Jesus. I don't know that Paul was directly told by God to blind Bar-Jesus. I kind of think he might have decided on his own, "Hey, this guy is a snare, and I think it would go a long way with Sergius Paulus if I temporarily blinded him." And so he speaks and then has faith that God will come through.
If that is the case (and I have no idea whether it is), I wonder if killing the hundred men and 42 youths were more of Elijah's and Elisha's calls, respectively. I'm not just theorizing this to try and justify their deaths, or to distance God from their execution. God has already killed enough people for reasons I can't explain, for me to get hung up on 142 more. Rather, I am interested in possible applications to us today. When you think of free will v. God's will, I think it is interesting to mull the possible leeway we as Christians have with the power that God has given us. I know that a lot of people think of their lives as a path, with one direction, and one right choice at each intersection. I have typed before about how I don't really buy that, and I tend to believe that there generally are multiple ways for us to glorify God at a given time. If we are like the OT prophets and NT Christians, then perhaps we, too, have freedom in how to use the power that God gives us.
And hopefully we won't use that power to kill scores of people.
One last thing about Kings. You may have noticed the repeated references to "the book of the annals of the kings" of Israel and Judah. These books are mentioned whenever a king dies, and it clearly seems like these books are much more comprehensive histories of the reigns of the kings. So here is my question: If there are already exhaustive histories in place, why write these scatter-shot ones? Why feel the need to give your own review of what are clearly hand-picked (and yet often inexplicably chosen) incidents? In short, why write I-II Kings? What was the author trying to tell us? Why did he choose the stories that he did? Perhaps on one level, I-II Kings represents an attempt to tell the stories of both kindoms together, to interweave them. Perhaps he also chose the stories that clearly had divine intervention. Perhaps he was writing God's history more than he was writing the history of the kings. After all, God features prominently in almost every story. A few days ago, Greg and I were talking about how history is written by the winners. And it occurred to me that God was the "winner" in the Bible. And for Him to be the winner, often the Israelites had to be the "losers." The Bible is, of course, clearly written from that perspective. So perhaps I-II Kings was an attempt to take the histories from the books of the annals of the kings, and to write them in a way that God was the central figure. Which is, of course, why I-II Kings is in the Bible and the annals are not (thank the Lord). Since the Bible as a whole is the history of God's relationship with man, it would make sense that I-II Kings fits in nicely with that purpose.
Good lands, that was a lot of typing...and I never even recapped what happened today! Oh, but I must note for future reference that it appears that the kings of Israel have moved their headquarters to Samaria. That will probably be important.
NT: Acts 13:42-14:7
I will recap the NT, though: in today's reading, Paul and Barnabas follow the pattern of preaching and fleeing. They go into a town (Pisidian Antioch, Iconium) and preach, with great success. Their success then arouses envy among the religious leadership, who incites violence against them. Paul and Barnabas then flee to another town, and repeat.
Also, today, Paul got fed up with the Jewish opposition and announced he was taking his message to the Gentiles. This announcement, of course, has huge implications for the future of the church.
My favorite verse, however, came before that announcement. It was verse 13:43, which said, "When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God." I love that last phrase. I love the idea that these earnest souls, though they weren't yet Christians, were walking in the grace of God. And Paul and Barnabas weren't trying to get them to turn around, but to continue in that same direction. Because, see, they were already walking toward God. They were already seeking Him. And when people seek Him with all their heart, they find Him.
Psalm 139: 1-24
Man, I don't think I've ever fully appreciated how awesome this psalm is, and I mean that word literally. There is soooo much here, so many themes that are near and dear to my heart. For example, David uses this psalm to explore God's omniscience and how He already knows everything that we are going to do. Like me, David finds the image of an all-knowing God to be comforting rather than frightening. He doesn't feel that it is a limitation of free will just because "you hem me in--behind and before" (5). On the contrary, he seems to see that more as protection. I truly do love every verse of this psalm, and I would love to explore it at length, but this blog is already running way long. I will simply close my thoughts on this psalm by quoting verse 6, which articulates what I am coming to understand so much more fully these days: "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain."
My favorite verse of this trio is verse 19: "He who loves a quarrel loves sin; he who builds a high gate invites destruction." I think proverbs that don't sting are always more appealing, and since I genuinely hate quarrels, I feel safely on the "good side" of this one:). The ones about pride or impatience are much more unpleasant.