Wednesday, June 23, 2010

June 23

OT: 2 Kings 4:18-5:27

Several of the miracles today seemed like forerunners of what was to come in the NT. First of all, Elisha's raising of the Shunnammite boy from the dead (4:18-37) seemed to be a direct forerunner of Paul healing Eutychus from the dead by laying on him in Acts 20. More generally, though, it is a forerunner of Jesus raising Jairus' daughter, the widow's son, and Lazarus from the dead. On a sidenote, I am loving Elisha's continued compassion for the Shunnammite woman. He truly is fulfilling the Law quite well with the love and compassion he has continually shown to this woman. And I also love how she has reciprocated by making him a room and all that. This really is a cool relationship.

I'm not sure how the cleansing of the stew is a forerunner for Jesus, but you know I could make something up (4:38-41). I could compare what Elisha did to the stew with what Jesus did for the Law, or even more pertinently, for our hearts. I will resist, though. The truth is, I don't see a big corollary.

I do, of course, see a corollary in the multiplication of the barley (4:42-44). In the OT miracle, Elisha gives his servant twenty loaves of barley bread to feed a hundred people. The servant balks at the possibility of the food being enough, and Elisha assures him that there will be leftovers. And that's exactly what happens. Now, that is pretty impressive, but it's not nearly impressive as feeding 5,000 men, plus women and children, with five loaves and two fishes.

Lastly, of course, Naaman's dipping in the Jordan river to be cleansed from leprosy foreshadows our dipping in the water to be cleansed from our sins. Beyond the foreshadowing, though, I find this story so interesting because of Naaman's reaction. First of all, that he even listened to his servant girl was pretty impressive--or desperate! After all, Aram and Israel were enemies. I guess I always knew that Naaman's people were Israel's adversaries, but actually reading through Kings shows me just how full of enmity the two were for each other. I have to admit, when I saw that Naaman was from Aram, I was like, Really? It was very surprising to me, with the way they've been fighting lately. So it is interesting that not only Naaman, but Naaman's king, agree to send Naaman to be healed. And of course, the king of Israel interprets the gesture pretty logically, thinking that the king of Aram is just trying to pick a fight with him. After all, remember how the king of Aram taunted him and picked at him in chapter 20? This honestly sounds like something Aram would do. They were the type to use the king's refusal to heal their man as a pretense for war.

Anyway, Naaman is sent to Elisha's house, and the following scene is so fascinating. Picture this famous warrior arriving "with his horses and chariots" at Elisha's door, and Elisha not even coming out to meet him. Naaman has come all this way. He has humbled himself by listening to a servant girl, and beseeching his enemies for help, and now he comes in person to this prophet's house, and the prophet does not even bother to come to the door. Instead, he sends a messenger telling him (essentially) to go jump into a river. Man. If I were Naaman, I would be peeved, too! Naaman's pride is hurt, and he starts thinking that this whole thing is ridiculous. In his own words, "I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn't I wash in them and be cleansed?" (11-12). In other words, "This guy didn't even bother to come out and greet me? Does he think he is too good to heal me personally? This is not what I was picturing at all. This is the dumbest thing I have ever done; I can't believe I took this chance. I am bitterly disappointed. What kind of game is he playing with me?"

Thankfully, his servants talk him into at least giving the instructions a try, and sure enough, they work. Of course, Naaman is thrilled and properly grateful and reverent. He goes on his way, and everything would have been hunky-dory, had Gehazi not sold his soul (and his health, as it turned out) to make a buck. It's amazing how humans can taint anything from God. Because of Gehazi's greed, what should have been a wonderful triumph ends up as a bittersweet cautionary tale.

NT: Acts 15:1-35

Wow, the council at Jerusalem gave us some fascinating insight into the early church. I gleaned so much from these events. For one thing, it gave a window into a serious doctrinal disagreement among the brethren. Some men were preaching that Gentiles had to be circumcised, and others (most notably Paul and Barnabas) were vehemently opposed to such teaching. As a result, the church leadership got together and had a council. First, Peter gave a little speech, and I loved what he had to say. I thought his strongest point came in verses 9-10, when he said, "He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?" As Greg would say, "That'll preach." (Apparently, "that'll preach," is Appalachian for, "Wow, what a powerful point. That would make a good sermon.") After Peter spoke, Paul and Barnabas gave their testimony, and you could have heard a pin drop in that place (12). Next, James (son of Alphaeus, I assume. The other is dead) brought it all together by quoting some scripture and proposing a solution. And the solution was this:

"It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals, and from blood" (19-20).

I find this response (and its implementation) noteworthy for the following reasons: 1) It showed gentleness and compassion to the Gentile converts, 2) It demonstrated a hierarchy of church leadership that the churches of Christ do not emulate, 3) The decision represented an honest yet incomplete understanding of the gospel, and 4) Paul disagreed with it.

Perhaps point 3 sounds really presumptuous of me to say, and maybe it is. After all, I am totally aware that I have no authority to pass judgment on the decisions of the early church leaders. In fact, I get point 3 almost entirely from point 4, which is that Paul disagreed. In Romans 14, Paul elaborates at length on how it is not wrong to eat meat sacrificed to idols. However, in that chapter, he made it clear that our chief obligation is to do what is good for the church as a whole, which is undoubtedly why Paul went along with the decision in this chapter. Now, Paul can be pretty outspoken and disputatious (just ask Peter), so his humility in accepting and following church teaching with which he disagreed is pretty remarkable. I think it is definitely a good example for us today.

Psalm 141:1-10

To me, the high point of this plea of David is definitely found in today's highlighted verses: "Set a guard over my mouth,O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil, to take part in wicked deeds, with men who are evildoers; let me not eat of their delicacies" (3-4). That is beautiful.

Proverbs 17:23

More about the wickedness of bribes.

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