OT: 2 Chron. 14:1-16:14
Abijah dies, and Asa takes over. He has some great military victories that are from God. A prophet named Azariah tells him to stick with God. Asa does a capital, but not complete, job of getting rid of the country's idols. All the people gather to sacrifice idols to the Lord. Asa makes a treaty with Ben-Hadad (Yay! The smack talker is back.) God is not pleased. Asa appears to have a total change of heart and dies from a foot disease.
I don't have too much commentary today, but I did find a few lines that I liked/thought were interesting:
"The Lord is with you when you are with him" (15:2). I really liked Azariah's words here. They are kind of a shorthand description of God's covenant relationship with Israel. And yes, I know that God is always "with" them in that He is present and He is not going to give up on His people. However, I think this "with" means, not against. God's hand has definitely been known to turn against His people sometimes. Anyhow, I like it more without all the analysis. It is just a cool sentence.
"Although he did not remove the high places from Israel, Asa's heart was fully committed to the Lord all his life" (17). Okay, reading that again, I see that it is even more confusing than I initially thought. The author clearly knows that Asa was not committed to the Lord his whole life; he is about to tell us about his rebellion from God. This seems like another one of those weird Hebrew sentences that seem to state a truth with really big, really obvious exceptions. Like that verse that said, "And no one escaped, except 400 men on horseback" or whatever. It's one of those times when the author quickly and obviously contradicts his own fact, and yet seems totally aware of and cool with it. Again, I guess it was just a different style of writing?
Anyway, that's not what struck me about that verse initially. What struck me was how Asa's heart could be fully committed to God, despite the fact that he didn't do everything he was supposed to. At first, that seemed like a contradiction also. But then I realized that people are not perfect. And as such, I do believe that our hearts can be fully committed to something even when we don't show that commitment perfectly. I believe I am fully committed to God, and yet I still fall short of His standards on a daily basis. Likewise, I am fully committed to Greg and to my children, and yet I definitely don't treat them perfectly. So I can see how Asa could be fully committed to God and yet not do everything he was supposed to do. And besides, that was a sin of omission, and they are soooo much easier to commit.
Later in the reading, Asa has a sin of commission, and that appears to be a reflection that his heart is not fully committed to God any longer. And as we read, it all goes downhill from there.
NT: Romans 9:1-21
Uh-oh. We are now entering into the hardest part of Romans, and really, the hardest part of the NT, if you ask me. Paul starts to address the idea of predestination in not-fun ways. He ventures into this territory, it seems, almost as a way to explain to himself why his Jewish brethren aren't buying the Messiah thing. It kills him, just kills him, that his people might not be saved. In fact, it appears that he would rather forfeit his own salvation than have his brothers lose theirs: "For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race" (3). Apparently, Paul is also struggling with the many promises of God to never forsake his people. I guess he is wondering (and is seeking to explain) how those promises can square with the masses of Jews who do not believe in God's Messiah.
His explanation is less than comforting.
First, he has to affirm that God's word did not fail (6). Then, he explains that apparently not all of physical Israel were included in the promise. But is that fair, he seems to wonder. (I'm beginning to think that Paul thinks like I do, in question and answer format, which is why he is explaining things this way.) Well, he reasons, we know from Scripture that God picks and chooses who will be His people. He picked Jacob, after all, and excluded Esau.
Hmmm. He has to stop and evaluate that for a minute. He then asks the natural question, "What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion" (14-15). Thus, Paul questions, and then once again turns to his knowledge of Scripture for answers. And Moses puts him on another trail: Didn't God also harden Pharoah's heart? Come to think of it, God has a track record of this kind of thing!
Again, Paul sees that this trail isn't leading to a happy place, and he anticipates other objections: "One of you will say to me: 'Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" (19). Those are good questions, aren't they? And honestly, I don't think that Paul has been given the answer. Like I have had to do on so many occasions, he has to fall back on the idea that God is God, and we are not: "But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? 'Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?" (20-21).
Depending on your view of God, this response could be an epic cop-out, or an affirmation of faith. For me, it is an affirmation of faith. Sooner or later, every Christian has to ask why God lets things be so unequal in this world, so "unfair." Why are some people born with every advantage, and others born into suffering? If God is God, couldn't He do something about that if He wanted to? And if we believe in an omniscient, all-powerful God, we have to acknowledge that God knew how these people would be born, and to an omnipotent being, doesn't knowledge equal choice? I think that's what Paul thinks, which is why he is defending God's choice. Like me, he has to admit that he doesn't understand why God does what He does. But if God is good, if He is all-powerful and all-knowing, then He has the right to do what He wants, and our role is to accept that we are just too limited in our knowledge and our perspective to understand.
After such a troubling reading, I was grateful to have this wonderful psalm. We were driving home over the big bridge this evening, and had the blessing of seeing a magnificent sunset. It was so peaceful to marvel at God's beauty. And that's the thing about creation: it is soooo beautiful. It seems crazy to think of such beauty as an accident. I kept asking myself, Why would it be so beautiful to us? Why would it give us such peace and comfort to look at? To me, of course, it is so beautiful and so comforting because God designed it that way.
I also love, love, love verse 14: "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer." This verse has been one of my pet verses ever since I read and journaled through the psalms a few years back.
An anti-alcohol proverb. Or perhaps an anti-drunk proverb, depending on your view of alcohol:).