Thursday, August 31, 2017

Letting The Spirit Guide

As we have looked at the various kings over the past few weeks, one mistake has come out repeatedly, and it is the same problem we saw with the college students in the previous post.   They became proud of what they could do and acted without consideration of the overall plan, resulting in problems later.  We need to find out exactly what the plan is so that we do not cause trouble in the future.    

In working construction, it is essential to study the blueprints and specifications carefully.  Unfortunately, even the best plans and blueprints cannot explain every detail, with the result that we need to coordinate certain details with the general contractor to find out what is the best approach.  The better relationship one has with the general contractor, the easier such problems are to resolve. 

In our Christian life, it is necessary to study the scriptures just as a builder studies the blueprints and specifications.  II Timothy 2:15 commands, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”  This is critical, because as II Timothy 3:16-17 tells us, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”  By taking the time to study the scriptures, we can learn what we need to do to fulfill God’s plan for our lives. 

In working as a plumber, I learned that some plumbers focus strictly on mechanically following the blueprint exactly as drawn.  Unfortunately blueprints do not always show possible problems, so if anything gets in the way they simply chop it out and leave it for someone else to fix, costing the contractor both time and money and creating bad feelings between the plumber and other workers.   In many cases the entire problem could have been avoided by consulting with the builder to see how he would prefer things to be done.  If one has established a good relationship with the builder, he may suggest minor changes that eliminate the problem, such as offsetting a pipe or moving a fixture a couple of inches to eliminate the problem.

 Some Christians take the same approach of doing everything exactly as they interpret the scriptures, making no allowance for the fact that human words do not always convey the spiritual meaning.  As a result, they simply plow ahead with no thought of what the impact of their actions.  Christians who really want to please God take the trouble to find out how he wants them to handle these situations.  This requires developing a proper relationship with Him, and that starts again with a study of the scriptures, as John 5:39 states.  “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.”

Because human logic and human language are limited in their ability to convey spiritual truths, we cannot fully understand God and his plans without help.  Fortunately, God had addressed that problem by giving us the Holy Spirit to enable us to remember and understand spiritual things, as John 14:26 explains.  “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”   John 16:13-15 makes it clear he will go beyond just the words of the scriptures, guiding us into all truth.  “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come.  He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you.  All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you.” 

Any changes to the original plumbing blueprint still have to meet the building code and the owner’s approval.  Similarly, any changes the Holy Spirit directs will remain in compliance with the word of God and his plan.   He will not authorize us to go against what God has commanded.   Any contradiction of the scriptures clearly cannot be the result of the Holy Spirit’s leadership, and is unacceptable.  I Corinthians 14:36-8 makes the clear point that we should not think we have some special authority beyond what his word says.  “What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?   If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.  But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.”  If a person is truly spiritual, they will understand that God’s rules are always true.  A person who doesn’t recognize that is ignorant of spiritual matters.  

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Putting God First

Before Dad went into the ministry, we had a small farm near Campo, Colorado.  In order to make enough to support the family, it was also necessary for him to do various other things on the side, including remodeling homes and doing electrical work.  One of my biggest pleasures as a child was to get to go to work with him.  Sometimes he would let me help him hold aboard while he sawed it or nail sheetrock to the studs as high as I could reach.  When he was doing electrical work, I could keep the Romex wires from tangling, or measure out the water for mixing concrete.   While it made me feel really important, the best part was just being there with my dad.  Years later, I began to realize that Dad didn’t really need my help.  A lot of times, it probably would have been easier to have done the Job without me in the way, but he took me along because he loved me.   

God is our heavenly father.  He created the entire universe by himself, and he doesn’t need any help from us to accomplish his plan.    Acts 17:24 tells us, “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.”  Like my dad, because he loves us, God allows us to “help” him so he can spend time with us, even though it would be easier without us in the way. 

When I was eleven, Dad was in charge of a group of volunteers building a church in Willard, Missouri.   He made some patterns and built a jig, assigning a group of college students to assemble the roof trusses, while he and some more experienced carpenters laid out and framed the walls.  One of the college students convinced the others that it would be easier if they did things a little differently than Dad had instructed.   When I tried to tell them that Dad said it had to be the way he said, they laughed at me and went ahead doing it the way they decided.  After all, they were much older and smarter than a little eleven year old.

When Dad came over and saw how they were building the trusses, he had to make them take them apart, and redo them the proper way.  Only part of the material was able to be reused.   It took several days to disassemble what they had built, obtain additional materials, and build new trussed because they had decided to do things their own way. 

Because I had developed a close relationship with my dad, I understood that for everything to work properly, things had to be done the way Dad told us to do them.   The college students had been more interested in doing things the easiest way possible, rather than in in doing them the proper way, and what they produced was unacceptable, simply because they didn’t bother to follow instructions. 

Today, many Christians are like those college students, too busy trying to get the Lord’s work done as fast and easily as possible to take the time to find out how God wants things done.  They are not willing to take the time to develop a proper relationship or understand why he wants things a certain way.  Their efforts actually hinder rather than help God’s work.   When we develop a proper relationship with God, we will be more concerned with what he wants than with what we are doing.  As a result, our efforts will not be hindering his plans. 

When we get caught up in what we are doing, we may neglect the Lord and become like a wife who is so busy keeping the house perfect that her husband feels unwelcome in his own home.   A farmer’s wife was so caught up in keeping her home clean that when he was injured in and accident she wouldn’t even allow them to bring him in the house while they waited for an ambulance to arrive because e they might make a mess.  Though she was supposedly doing it “for him,” apparently a clean floor was more important than his life was.     Christians can get so caught up in “the Lord’s work” that God himself doesn’t matter. 

For either a marriage, or a Christian life to be satisfactory, the relationship must take priority over activities.  Just as Dad was able to do the job without my help, or a husband can clean and cook for himself, God is able to do what needs done without our help.   We are his children, not his slaves, and he wants to spend the time with us, not to see how much work he can get out of us.  We need to put him ahead of our “ministry.”  Far too often people make the ministry their god.  

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

What is needed for Salvation?

In Mark 10:17-22 we have the story of a man who came to Jesus seeking eternal life.  Jesus’ response teaches some very important things about salvation.   “And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?

And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.  Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.

And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.

Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.  And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.”

The man came clearly seeking salvation.   Jesus immediately made the point that if he was to be saved, the man needed to acknowledge that Jesus is God.  In John 14: 9, Jseus said,”…he that hath seen me hath seen the Father…”  John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” 

The second thing Jesus made a point of is that Holiness is essential.  Hebrews 12:14 advises, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.”  Unfortunately, the man made the mistake many others make, as Paul describes in Romans 10:2-4.  “For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.  For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.  For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”   The man was counting on his own goodness, rather than on God’s forgiveness and justification.  After all, he had kept all those things his entire life. 

He didn’t understand that his works could not save him.  Ephesians 2: 9 tells us salvation is “Not of works, lest any man should boast.”   Galatians 2:16 is equally clear.  “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” 

Jesus recognized that while the man wanted salvation, he wanted it on his terms, as a result of his efforts.  Jesus told him that he still couldn’t be saved until he put Christ ahead of everything else.  As long as he was clinging yo his personal belongings, he would never be saved.  The man was unwilling to put God ahead of his possessions and plans, so he walked away unsaved.  In Mark 10:23-25, Jesus explained that our focus on things of the world makes salvation nearly impossible.  “And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!  And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”

In Luke 14:26-27, Jesus saic essentially the same thing to his disciples.   “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.  And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.”  Just as a marriage demands a commitment to one’s mate to the exclusion of other things, being saved demands a commitment to Christ. 

Just as some people today have a hard time understanding how one can commit to a lifelong marriage to one mate, the disciples had a hard time understanding how one could commit to the Lord and turn their back on the things the world offers.  Jesus explained that human efforts could never accomplish this, in Mark 10:26-27.  “And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved?  And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.” 

No amount of psychology or self-motivation or self-sacrifice will ever enable us to completely give up the things of the world.  John 6:44 tells us, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.”  As Ephesians 2:8 said, even the faith to believe is from God. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.”   Only God the Holy Spirit can produce such a commitment in a person.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Partial Obedience

As we have seen, “spiritual pride can show up in many forms, whether it was Solomon’s attitude that because he Had been blessed of God, he could do whatever he wanted, or Hezekiah’s Simple pride in what God had given him that resulted in his showing off everything he had, Or Josiah’s efforts to force the Egyptians to turn to God.  Proverbs 16:5 states, “Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD: though hand join in hand, he shall not be unpunished.”  Pride leads us to act without considering God or what he wants, inevitably leading to problems. 

“Spritiual pride is especially dangerous when it results in partial obedience.  Israel’s first king, Saul provides an excellent example of this kind of pride.  In I Samuel 15:1-3, God gave Saul specific instructions.  “Samuel also said unto Saul, The LORD sent me to anoint thee to be king over his people, over Israel: now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of the LORD.  Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt.  Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”

Because of the Amalekites efforts to destroy Israel, God directed Saul to annihilate them, destroying every thing they had including their livestock.  Nothing was to be saved.  Saul set out to do what God had commanded, as described in I Samuel 15:4-7.  “And Saul gathered the people together, and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand footmen, and ten thousand men of Judah.  And Saul came to a city of Amalek, and laid wait in the valley.  And Saul said unto the Kenites, Go, depart, get you down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them: for ye showed kindness to all the children of Israel, when they came up out of Egypt. So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites.  And Saul smote the Amalekites from Havilah until thou comest to Shur, that is over against Egypt.”

Saul had no problem destroying their enemies, but there were some really fine breeding stock that would help to improve Israel’s herds.   They decided to save some of them, according to I Samuel 15:8-9.  “And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword.  But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but every thing that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly.”  After all, the livestock had had nothing to do with the efforts to destroy Israel, and it surely wouldn’t hurt to improve their herds as much as possible, and keeping The Amalekite king as a slave could only enhance Saul’s reputation as a ruler to be respected. 

God was not pleased by their disobedience, as I Samuel 15:10-11 tells us.  “Then came the word of the LORD unto Samuel, saying,  It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments. And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the LORD all night.”

Samuel went out to confront Saul about his sin, in I Samuel 15:12-15.  “ And when Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning, it was told Samuel, saying, Saul came to Carmel, and, behold, he set him up a place, and is gone about, and passed on, and gone down to Gilgal.  And Samuel came to Saul: and Saul said unto him, Blessed be thou of the LORD: I have performed the commandment of the LORD.

And Samuel said, What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?

And Saul said, They have brought them from the Amalekites: for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.” 

Saul was very proud that they had destroyed the Amalekites, when he met Samuel, stating that they had cone as God commanded.  When Samuel pointed out that they were also to kill all the livestock, Saul blamed the people and attempted to excuse it because they were going to use them for a sacrifice to God.  Samuel pointed out that partial obedience was still disobedience in I Samuel 15:16-19. 

“Then Samuel said unto Saul, Stay, and I will tell thee what the LORD hath said to me this night.

And he said unto him, Say on.

And Samuel said, When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the LORD anointed thee king over Israel?  And the LORD sent thee on a journey, and said, Go and utterly destroy the sinners the Amalekites, and fight against them until they be consumed. Wherefore then didst thou not obey the voice of the LORD, but didst fly upon the spoil, and didst evil in the sight of the LORD?” 

Even then, Saul’s pride would not allow him to admit he had sinned.  He insisted he had obeyed God and it was the people’s fault that sin had been committed,   I Samuel 15:20-21 describes this.  “And Saul said unto Samuel, Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the LORD, and have gone the way which the LORD sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites.  But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God in Gilgal.”  After all, God would get the glory from their sacrifices. 

As Samuel explained, God wanted their obedience rather than their religious activities.  Their refusal to obey was really no different than practicing witchcraft or worshipping other gods, because they were putting something else ahead of what God said, in effect making it more important than God, as I Samuel 15:22-23 states.  “And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.  For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.”   

Unfortunately, like Saul, many people justify disobeying some of the things God has commanded on the grounds that they are doing it for the Lord and he will get the glory, and after all, they have obeyed him in other areas.  Surely that should be good enough.    God rejected Saul as king of Israel taking away the rewards he could have had.  Matthew 5:19 warns, “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”  It is our responsibility to obey God completely, even in areas that seem irrelevant or unimportant.  Failure to do so may cost us any rewards or blessings we may have received otherwise.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Spiritual Pride Strikes Again

Spiritual pride is such a common trap that many devoted Christians fall into it, and Josiah was no exception, as II Chronicles 35:20-25 describes.  “After all this, when Josiah had prepared the temple, Necho king of Egypt came up to fight against Charchemish by Euphrates: and Josiah went out against him.  But he sent ambassadors to him, saying, What have I to do with thee, thou king of Judah? I come not against thee this day, but against the house wherewith I have war: for God commanded me to make haste: forbear thee from meddling with God, who is with me, that he destroy thee not.  Nevertheless Josiah would not turn his face from him, but disguised himself, that he might fight with him, and hearkened not unto the words of Necho from the mouth of God, and came to fight in the valley of Megiddo.

And the archers shot at king Josiah; and the king said to his servants, Have me away; for I am sore wounded.  His servants therefore took him out of that chariot, and put him in the second chariot that he had; and they brought him to Jerusalem, and he died, and was buried in one of the sepulchres of his fathers. And all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah.  And Jeremiah lamented for Josiah: and all the singing men and the singing women spake of Josiah in their lamentations to this day, and made them an ordinance in Israel: and, behold, they are written in the lamentations.”

Pharaoh Necho had no quarrel with Josiah or Judah.  His only interest was in preventing the Assyrians from invading Egypt.  In his zeal to destroy all the false religions around them, Josiah attacked the Egyptians.  Though the Egyptians did not follow the Jewish religion, it was not Josiah’s place to try to force them to change, and God spoke through Necho to warn him not to interfere.  Josiah did not listen and as a result was fatally wounded. 

While Josiah had a responsibility as king of Judah to teach the Jews to serve God, he had not been given the job of converting other countries.  Far too often, our success in the field God has given us tempts us to try to expand our ministry.  In Romans 11:13-14, Paul said, “For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.”  Instead of trying to expand his ministry, he was talking about making sure he fulfilled every part of his ministry, almost as if he was using a magnifying glass to make sure he didn’t miss anything God expected him to do.   His goal was to get those he reached to take a similar approach, to emulate him, with the result some Gentiles might be saved. 

In II Corinthians 10:14-16, Paul talks about not reaching beyond what God has given us to do or taking credit for what someone else has done.  2co 10:13 But we will not boast of things without our measure, but according to the measure of the rule which God hath distributed to us, a measure to reach even unto you.  For we stretch not ourselves beyond our measure, as though we reached not unto you: for we are come as far as to you also in preaching the gospel of Christ: Not boasting of things without our measure, that is, of other men's labours; but having hope, when your faith is increased, that we shall be enlarged by you according to our rule abundantly, To preach the gospel in the regions beyond you, and not to boast in another man's line of things made ready to our hand.  But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” 

As he points out we are not to take pride in our accomplishments, but to give God the glory.  After all, any accomplishments are his, not ours.   In our day, there is a great deal of talk about winning souls, but as John 6:44 states, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.”  We don’t win them, we just lift up Christ so that they can see him and as he said in John 12:32, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” 

It is not even about our skilled presentation of the gospel, as Paul makes clear in I Corinthians 2:1-5.  “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.   For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.  And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.  And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”  When we focus on our or some evangelist’s skill, we may actually hinder people from actually getting saved, despite our good intentions.   God may find it necessary to stop us in order to accomplish his will, just as he did Josiah.     

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Josiah Celebrates The Passover

Josiah even went beyond David in his efforts to serve God, according to II Kings 23:25.  “And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the LORD with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him.”    He had taken the trouble to learn what God’s commandments were and to obey them.  He clearly loved God, and as John 14:21 states, “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.”  Because he had demonstrated his love, God manifested his love toward Josiah, promising him peace in his country. 

One of Israel’s biggest problems was a failure to appreciate what God had done for them.  In Psalm 106, David described how they had repeatedly experienced his blessings but as Psalm 106:13 states, “They soon forgat his works; they waited not for his counsel:”  The Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread were intended to remind Israel of how God had delivered them from Egypt and destroyed their enemies at the Red Sea.  Unfortunately many times it was celebrated as just another holiday, with no real thought as to what it meant.  As a result, it was not taken seriously, and many times was not celebrated at all.  Loving God as he did, Josiah took celebrating the Passover very seriously, as II Chronicles 35:1-6 tells us. 

“Moreover Josiah kept a passover unto the LORD in Jerusalem: and they killed the passover on the fourteenth day of the first month.  And he set the priests in their charges, and encouraged them to the service of the house of the LORD, And said unto the Levites that taught all Israel, which were holy unto the LORD, Put the holy ark in the house which Solomon the son of David king of Israel did build; it shall not be a burden upon your shoulders: serve now the LORD your God, and his people Israel, And prepare yourselves by the houses of your fathers, after your courses, according to the writing of David king of Israel, and according to the writing of Solomon his son.  And stand in the holy place according to the divisions of the families of the fathers of your brethren the people, and after the division of the families of the Levites.  So kill the passover, and sanctify yourselves, and prepare your brethren, that they may do according to the word of the LORD by the hand of Moses.”

Josiah made a special point of the priests and Levites following the instructions God had given about the Passover.  Because they had been serving the Lord throughout his reign, he did not have to delay the Passover until the next month as they had done in Hezekiah’s day, to allow the priests to sanctify themselves.  II Chronicles 35:7-17 describes the celebration. 

“And Josiah gave to the people, of the flock, lambs and kids, all for the passover offerings, for all that were present, to the number of thirty thousand, and three thousand bullocks: these were of the king's substance.  And his princes gave willingly unto the people, to the priests, and to the Levites: Hilkiah and Zechariah and Jehiel, rulers of the house of God, gave unto the priests for the passover offerings two thousand and six hundred small cattle, and three hundred oxen.  Conaniah also, and Shemaiah and Nethaneel, his brethren, and Hashabiah and Jeiel and Jozabad, chief of the Levites, gave unto the Levites for passover offerings five thousand small cattle, and five hundred oxen.

So the service was prepared, and the priests stood in their place, and the Levites in their courses, according to the king's commandment.  And they killed the passover, and the priests sprinkled the blood from their hands, and the Levites flayed them.  And they removed the burnt offerings, that they might give according to the divisions of the families of the people, to offer unto the LORD, as it is written in the book of Moses. And so did they with the oxen.  And they roasted the passover with fire according to the ordinance: but the other holy offerings sod they in pots, and in caldrons, and in pans, and divided them speedily among all the people.  And afterward they made ready for themselves, and for the priests: because the priests the sons of Aaron were busied in offering of burnt offerings and the fat until night; therefore the Levites prepared for themselves, and for the priests the sons of Aaron.

And the singers the sons of Asaph were in their place, according to the commandment of David, and Asaph, and Heman, and Jeduthun the king's seer; and the porters waited at every gate; they might not depart from their service; for their brethren the Levites prepared for them.  So all the service of the LORD was prepared the same day, to keep the passover, and to offer burnt offerings upon the altar of the LORD, according to the commandment of king Josiah.  And the children of Israel that were present kept the passover at that time, and the feast of unleavened bread seven days.”

Josiah set the example, giving thirty thousand of his own sheep and three thousand young bulls for the sacrifices.  Others followed his example, giving another seven thousand sheep and eight hundred oxen for sacrifices for the people, and the priests made sure the people were satisfied before fixing their own.  The Passover had not been celebrated with such meaning and excitement since Samuel’s time, nhearly five hundred years before, according to II Chronicles 35:18-19. 

“And there was no passover like to that kept in Israel from the days of Samuel the prophet; neither did all the kings of Israel keep such a passover as Josiah kept, and the priests, and the Levites, and all Judah and Israel that were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.  In the eighteenth year of the reign of Josiah was this passover kept.”

Josiah had been raised by a wicked father, who died when he was only eight.  Despite that, he went on to serve God more than any king before or after him, and as a result, Israel served God during his reign more than they ever had in almost a thousand years of their history.    Every one of the other kings had had the same opportunity.  Today we have the same opportunity, and it it is our choice whether we serve God or not. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Josiah Follows God’s Word

In the process of cleaning out and rebuilding the Temple, the priests found a copy of the covenant between God and Israel.  Knowing how dedicated Josiah was to God, the high priest sent it to the king as described in II Chronicles 34:14-18.  “And when they brought out the money that was brought into the house of the LORD, Hilkiah the priest found a book of the law of the LORD given by Moses.  And Hilkiah answered and said to Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the LORD. And Hilkiah delivered the book to Shaphan.

And Shaphan carried the book to the king, and brought the king word back again, saying, All that was committed to thy servants, they do it.  And they have gathered together the money that was found in the house of the LORD, and have delivered it into the hand of the overseers, and to the hand of the workmen.  Then Shaphan the scribe told the king, saying, Hilkiah the priest hath given me a book. And Shaphan read it before the king.”

Josiah had been doing his best to serve God for year, following what the priests had told him they were supposed to do, but this was the first time he had actually heard the scriptures of himself.  Josiah was shocked to realize how much difference there was between their traditions and God’s word.  He sent the priests and scribes to Huldah, the prophetess to find out what the consequences of not keeping God’s word would be, according to II Chronicles 34:19-22.

“And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the law, that he rent his clothes.  And the king commanded Hilkiah, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Abdon the son of Micah, and Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah a servant of the king's, saying,  Go, inquire of the LORD for me, and for them that are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the book that is found: for great is the wrath of the LORD that is poured out upon us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the LORD, to do after all that is written in this book.  And Hilkiah, and they that the king had appointed, went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvath, the son of Hasrah, keeper of the wardrobe; (now she dwelt in Jerusalem in the college:) and they spake to her to that effect.”

Even when they were trying to serve God, Judah had not been concerned enough to study God’s word in detail to see what he commanded, but had just followed the Jewish traditions.  Huldah told them that there would be serious consequences for their failure to keep God’s word, in II Chronicles 34:23-25.   “And she answered them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Tell ye the man that sent you to me, Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the curses that are written in the book which they have read before the king of Judah: Because they have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their hands; therefore my wrath shall be poured out upon this place, and shall not be quenched.”

Though they were sincerely following the Jewish traditions, Judah was not obeying God.  Many of the things he had commanded were not being done, and those that were done were done according to man’s ideas rather than God’s command.  Isaiah 29:13 describes the attitude of the people.  “Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men.”  Sadly, many Christians today are in the same position, following the traditions of their church, rather than God’s commands.  If they are to receive God’s richest blessings, they will need to be like Josiah.

In II Chronicles 34:26-28, God promised to reward Josiah for his efforts to do what God said, not just what their tradition said.  “And as for the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the LORD, so shall ye say unto him, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel concerning the words which thou hast heard; Because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, when thou heardest his words against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, and humbledst thyself before me, and didst rend thy clothes, and weep before me; I have even heard thee also, saith the LORD.  Behold, I will gather thee to thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered to thy grave in peace, neither shall thine eyes see all the evil that I will bring upon this place, and upon the inhabitants of the same. So they brought the king word again.”

 Knowing What God actually said, Josiah was able to do far more to please God than any of the kings before him, including Hezekiah.  II Chronicles 34:29-33 describes some of the things he did.  “Then the king sent and gathered together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem.  And the king went up into the house of the LORD, and all the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and the priests, and the Levites, and all the people, great and small: and he read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant that was found in the house of the LORD.

And the king stood in his place, and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD, and to keep his commandments, and his testimonies, and his statutes, with all his heart, and with all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant which are written in this book.  And he caused all that were present in Jerusalem and Benjamin to stand to it. And the inhabitants of Jerusalem did according to the covenant of God, the God of their fathers.  And Josiah took away all the abominations out of all the countries that pertained to the children of Israel, and made all that were present in Israel to serve, even to serve the LORD their God. And all his days they departed not from following the LORD, the God of their fathers.”

Josiah insisted they keep God’s commands, not just the traditional ones.  II Kings 23:24-25 tells us, “Moreover the workers with familiar spirits, and the wizards, and the images, and the idols, and all the abominations that were spied in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, did Josiah put away, that he might perform the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the LORD.  And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the LORD with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him.”  

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Josiah Chooses To Serve God

Like his great grandfather Hezekiah, Josiah decided not to follow his father’s lifestyle.  He was just eight when he began to reign, and was only sixteen when he turned to God.  II Chronicles 34:1-7 describes his efforts to restore the worship of God.  “Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned in Jerusalem one and thirty years.  And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in the ways of David his father, and declined neither to the right hand, nor to the left.  For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet young, he began to seek after the God of David his father: and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images.

And they brake down the altars of Baalim in his presence; and the images, that were on high above them, he cut down; and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images, he brake in pieces, and made dust of them, and strowed it upon the graves of them that had sacrificed unto them.  And he burnt the bones of the priests upon their altars, and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem.  And so did he in the cities of Manasseh, and Ephraim, and Simeon, even unto Naphtali, with their mattocks round about.  And when he had broken down the altars and the groves, and had beaten the graven images into powder, and cut down all the idols throughout all the land of Israel, he returned to Jerusalem.”

Like Hezekiah, Josiah removed the idols and places of worship, from the surrounding area, going even beyond what Hezekiah had done.  They even went into parts of Israel that were Assyrian possessions, destroying the idols and places of worship.  In the process, he fulfilled the prophecy of the prophet to jeroboam three hundred fifty years before, in I Kings 13:2.  “And he cried against the altar in the word of the LORD, and said, O altar, altar, thus saith the LORD; Behold, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name; and upon thee shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men's bones shall be burnt upon thee.”

In his efforts to please God, Josiah set about rebuilding the Temple, as II Chronicles 34:8-13.  “Now in the eighteenth year of his reign, when he had purged the land, and the house, he sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, and Maaseiah the governor of the city, and Joah the son of Joahaz the recorder, to repair the house of the LORD his God.

And when they came to Hilkiah the high priest, they delivered the money that was brought into the house of God, which the Levites that kept the doors had gathered of the hand of Manasseh and Ephraim, and of all the remnant of Israel, and of all Judah and Benjamin; and they returned to Jerusalem.  And they put it in the hand of the workmen that had the oversight of the house of the LORD, and they gave it to the workmen that wrought in the house of the LORD, to repair and amend the house:  Even to the artificers and builders gave they it, to buy hewn stone, and timber for couplings, and to floor the houses which the kings of Judah had destroyed.

And the men did the work faithfully: and the overseers of them were Jahath and Obadiah, the Levites, of the sons of Merari; and Zechariah and Meshullam, of the sons of the Kohathites, to set it forward; and other of the Levites, all that could skill of instruments of music.  Also they were over the bearers of burdens, and were overseers of all that wrought the work in any manner of service: and of the Levites there were scribes, and officers, and porters.”

Though the most of the Kings of Judah worshipped God, it had been kind of half-hearted, with only a few truly devoted to him.  As a result, they had allowed the Temple to gradually deteriorate, along with their teaching of God’s law.   Like Jehoram and Hezekiah, Josiah wanted to demonstrate his love for God by fixing up the Temple.   Those who truly love God tend to want to fix the place of worship up for his sake. 

The Scripture is very clear that each person will have to give an account of their own choices and actions.  As we have seen, sons of very godly kings have chosen not to serve God, while sons of wicked kings have made the choice to serve Him.  While family exercises considerable influence, each individual ultimately decides what they are going to do.   Our own decisions largely determine what our life will be like.  

Friday, August 18, 2017

Manasseh’s Choice

Every individual has to decide for themselves whether they are Going to serve God or not.  Hezekiah’s father had been a wicked king who closed up the temple and promoted idolatry.  Hezekiah was exactly the opposite, doing his best to serve God in every case.  His son Manasseh chose to emulate his Grandfather, Ahaz, Rather than his father, as II Chronicles 33:1-9 explains. 

“Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty and five years in Jerusalem: But did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, like unto the abominations of the heathen, whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel.  For he built again the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down, and he reared up altars for Baalim, and made groves, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them.  Also he built altars in the house of the LORD, whereof the LORD had said, In Jerusalem shall my name be for ever.  And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD.  And he caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom: also he observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he wrought much evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.

 And he set a carved image, the idol which he had made, in the house of God, of which God had said to David and to Solomon his son, In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen before all the tribes of Israel, will I put my name for ever:  Neither will I any more remove the foot of Israel from out of the land which I have appointed for your fathers; so that they will take heed to do all that I have commanded them, according to the whole law and the statutes and the ordinances by the hand of Moses.  So Manasseh made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to err, and to do worse than the heathen, whom the LORD had destroyed before the children of Israel.”

Manasseh out did even his grandfather, chasing false religions.   The more outlandish and weirid they were the more involved he became, rebuilding all the altars and places of worship had set up.   Instead of closing up the Temple, he set up altars to other gods in the courtyards, and set up an inside, in the place God had reserved for himself.  He even went so far as to sacrifice some of his children in th fire to Molech and followed the horoscope, the almanac, and different astrologers.  Under his leadership, Judah and Jerusalem were even more ungodly than the heathen they had replaced.   

God intervened to get Manasseh’s attention, as II Chronicles 33:10-13.  “And the LORD spake to Manasseh, and to his people: but they would not hearken.  Wherefore the LORD brought upon them the captains of the host of the king of Assyria, which took Manasseh among the thorns, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon.  And when he was in affliction, he besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, And prayed unto him: and he was entreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD he was God.” 

Manasseh ignored God’s warnings, so He sent the Assyrians against him.  They carried him away to Babylon in chains.  At the time Babylon was just a minor province of the Assyrian Empire.  Being a hostage and slave shook Manasseh up, and he began to seek the Lord, asking forgiveness for his sin.  God is a forgiving God, and forgave him, freeing him to return to Jerusalem. 

Manasseh’s repentance was sincere as II Chronicles 33:14-17 makes very clear.  “Now after this he built a wall without the city of David, on the west side of Gihon, in the valley, even to the entering in at the fish gate, and compassed about Ophel, and raised it up a very great height, and put captains of war in all the fenced cities of Judah.  And he took away the strange gods, and the idol out of the house of the LORD, and all the altars that he had built in the mount of the house of the LORD, and in Jerusalem, and cast them out of the city.  And he repaired the altar of the LORD, and sacrificed thereon peace offerings and thank offerings, and commanded Judah to serve the LORD God of Israel.  Nevertheless the people did sacrifice still in the high places, yet unto the LORD their God only.”

After his conversion, Manasseh did everything he could to undo the evil he had done, destroying the altars he had rebuilt, and removing the altars and the idol from the Temple.   He banned the other religions, and re-established the worship of God according to God’s commands.  Unfortunately, he was never able to completely eliminate the false doctrines.  Though they were worshipping God, the people did not always do it according to God’s command, going to the high places and groves, rather than to the Temple as God had commanded. 

God is a forgiving God, able to forgive and bless even those who have deliberately rejected him.  Manasseh was blessed with a fifty five year reign.  Unfortunately, forgiveness doesn’t eliminate all the consequences of sin, and while the people turned to God, they clung to some aspects of the false religions, worshipping God in ways he had forbidden.   His son Amon never turned to God, as II Chronicles 33:20-25 shows. 

“So Manasseh slept with his fathers, and they buried him in his own house: and Amon his son reigned in his stead.  Amon was two and twenty years old when he began to reign, and reigned two years in Jerusalem.  But he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, as did Manasseh his father: for Amon sacrificed unto all the carved images which Manasseh his father had made, and served them; And humbled not himself before the LORD, as Manasseh his father had humbled himself; but Amon trespassed more and more.  And his servants conspired against him, and slew him in his own house.  But the people of the land slew all them that had conspired against king Amon; and the people of the land made Josiah his son king in his stead.”

Amon learned Manasseh’s ways as a child, and unlike the rest of Judah, he clung to the example his father had originally set.  Many times those who have been closest to us, our children are the hardest to reach because they have learned to copy us too well.  They may choose to continue to follow the path we set for them.  The consequences of our choices can have serious effects on those we love.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Spiritual Pride

Hezekiah had done everything in his power to please God, and had trusted God to deliver him from the Assyrians.  When he got sick he had prayed and God healed him, promising him fifteen more years of life.  He was able to improve great many things in the land, and because he had been so richly blessed, Hezekiah became spiritually proud of what they had accomplished, as II Chronicles 32:25-tells us.  “But Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him; for his heart was lifted up: therefore there was wrath upon him, and upon Judah and Jerusalem.  Notwithstanding Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the LORD came not upon them in the days of Hezekiah.”  Instead of giving God the glory, they began to take credit for what had happened because they were so spiritual.   

A common mistake Christians make is getting proud of what we are doing for God and how spiritual we are, forgetting that the accomplishments are not the result of our goodness.  Isaiah 64:6 tells us, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags…”  We did not earn his blessings, he blessed us because he loved us.  We need to repent and Give God all the glory.  Hezekiah and Judah did repented, but god sent a test so that Hezekiah might realize how easily such pride can cause us problems, as II Chronicles 32:31 tells us.  “Howbeit in the business of the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, who sent unto him to inquire of the wonder that was done in the land, God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart.”   

II Kings 20:12-13 describes what happened.  “At that time Berodachbaladan, the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present unto Hezekiah: for he had heard that Hezekiah had been sick.  And Hezekiah hearkened unto them, and showed them all the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious ointment, and all the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah showed them not.”

It was a mark of respect for the King of Babylon to send gifts and enquire about Hezekiah’s health. Hezekiah responded by showing everything God had given him and what they had accomplished, because he was proud of them.  After all, Babylon was six hundred miles away, and was not a very important city, posing little threat at the time.   What use could they make of what he showed them?

“Then came Isaiah the prophet unto king Hezekiah, and said unto him, What said these men? and from whence came they unto thee?

And Hezekiah said, They are come from a far country, even from Babylon.

And he said, What have they seen in thine house?

And Hezekiah answered, All the things that are in mine house have they seen: there is nothing among my treasures that I have not showed them.

And Isaiah said unto Hezekiah, Hear the word of the LORD.  Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store unto this day, shall be carried into Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the LORD.  And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” (II Kings 20:14-18)

While Babylon posed little threat at the time, Isaiah warned that in the future, they would conquer Judah, making slaves of Hezekiah’s descendants.  Hezekiah had just shown them all the riches they could obtain when they did come.  As we know from history Babylon destroyed Jerusalem just about a hundred thirty years later, fulfilling the prophecy.  Hezekiah had just given away all the secrets and given additional reasons for attacking Judah.  Fortunately, the Babylonians could not use the information right away. 

Hezekiah was relieved that the attack would not come in his day as II Kings 20:19 states.   Then said Hezekiah unto Isaiah, Good is the word of the LORD which thou hast spoken. And he said, Is it not good, if peace and truth be in my days?” 

Fat too often our spiritual pride leads us to do foolish things that may have serious repercussions.  For example, we may get the idea we can do things ourselves, and end up going against God’s word, allowing false teachers into the church so that in the future they can destroy it.   We also may unintentionally cause others to feel inferior by bragging about how God has blessed us or take the glory for ourselves, encouraging others to follow us, rather than God.   While we think the pride is spiritual, it is in fact sin.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Sun Backed Up

Hezekiah had set out to serve God, and God had blessed him.  When the Assyrians threatened, he had trusted God and seen the Assyrians wiped out.  This was not the end of his problems however.  II Kings 20:1 describes another challenge to his faith.  “In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.” 

After all his efforts to please God, it Had to be a shock to be told that he was just going to die.   Worse yet, the message came directly from God through his prophet so there was no possibility the doctor was mistaken.   II Kings 20:2-3 describes Hezekiah’s response.  “Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto the LORD, saying, I beseech thee, O LORD, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore.”  Hezekiah asked God to take into account how he had served him for all those years, weeping that his life was to end so soon. 

“And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the LORD came to him, saying, Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the LORD.  And I will add unto thy days fifteen years; and I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake.” (II Kings 20:4-6)

Many times we feel that God is going to do what he has planned and that our prayers will not have much influence,  but James 5:16 tells us, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”  While it is true that our prayers will not change his overall plan, God will frequently adjust the details to fit the desires of his children.   When Hezekiah prayed, God changed his plan, promising Hezekiah fifteen more years of life. 

“And Isaiah said, Take a lump of figs. And they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered.

And Hezekiah said unto Isaiah, What shall be the sign that the LORD will heal me, and that I shall go up into the house of the LORD the third day?

And Isaiah said, This sign shalt thou have of the LORD, that the LORD will do the thing that he hath spoken: shall the shadow go forward ten degrees, or go back ten degrees? Hezekiah answered, It is a light thing for the shadow to go down ten degrees: nay, but let the shadow return backward ten degrees.

And Isaiah the prophet cried unto the LORD: and he brought the shadow ten degrees backward, by which it had gone down in the dial of Ahaz.” (II Kings 20:7-11)

As proof that Hezekiah would live fifteen more years, God caused the sun to go backward by forty minutes on the sundial of Ahaz, making the day an extra forty minutes longer because Hezekiah asked him to.  Imagine the consternation this would cause astronomers and timekeepers everywhere.  It was something that had never happened before, yet God caused it to show Hezekiah he was answering his prayers.   

We may not know the impact our prayers had until we get to heaven.  

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Hezekiah’s Victory Over The Assyrians

Hezekiah had turned his heart wholly to serve the Lord and had led Judah and many in Israel to serve the Lord as well, and God caused everything he did to prosper.  Right in the middle of this, II Chronicles 32:1 tells us, “After these things, and the establishment thereof, Sennacherib king of Assyria came, and entered into Judah, and encamped against the fenced cities, and thought to win them for himself.”  The Assyrians had begun their big push to take over the Known world under Sennacherib, even going so far as to attack Egypt and pre4sent day Turkey.  Under Hezekiah, Judah was a very prosperous country, and Sennacherib decided to take it for himself.   It would be far more valuable than Israel or western Jordan, because God was blessing Hezekiah.    

“And when Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib was come, and that he was purposed to fight against Jerusalem, He took counsel with his princes and his mighty men to stop the waters of the fountains which were without the city: and they did help him.  So there was gathered much people together, who stopped all the fountains, and the brook that ran through the midst of the land, saying, Why should the kings of Assyria come, and find much water?  Also he strengthened himself, and built up all the wall that was broken, and raised it up to the towers, and another wall without, and repaired Millo in the city of David, and made darts and shields in abundance.

And he set captains of war over the people, and gathered them together to him in the street of the gate of the city, and spake comfortably to them, saying, Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him: With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the LORD our God to help us, and to fight our battles. And the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah king of Judah.” (II Chronicles 32:2-8)

At the time, Assyria had one of the world’s biggest armies.  Hezekiah blocked off the springs of water and diverted the rivers so that there would not be enough water to support the Assyrian army.  He also strengthened the city’s defenses, repairing the walls and preparing ammunition.   He spent time training his troops and preparing the people mentally, reminding them that God had promised to defend tham against the attacks.  Because they had served the Lord for several years and had developed a strong faith in God, the people trusted Hezekiah’s assurances. 

Looking for an easy victory, Sennacherib sent a small force to intimidate the Jews, warning them that if they didn’t surrender, he would destroy them like he had the countries around them.  Knowing the Jews trust in God he reminded them that none of the other countries Gods had been able to save them, and Hezekiah had gotten rid of all those gods, so that they would have even less help.  They better not believe Hezekiah when he said God would help them.  II Chronicles 32:9-19 describes the Assyrian efforts to intimidate them. 

“After this did Sennacherib king of Assyria send his servants to Jerusalem, (but he himself laid siege against Lachish, and all his power with him,) unto Hezekiah king of Judah, and unto all Judah that were at Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith Sennacherib king of Assyria, Whereon do ye trust, that ye abide in the siege in Jerusalem?  Doth not Hezekiah persuade you to give over yourselves to die by famine and by thirst, saying, The LORD our God shall deliver us out of the hand of the king of Assyria?  Hath not the same Hezekiah taken away his high places and his altars, and commanded Judah and Jerusalem, saying, Ye shall worship before one altar, and burn incense upon it?

Know ye not what I and my fathers have done unto all the people of other lands? were the gods of the nations of those lands any ways able to deliver their lands out of mine hand?  Who was there among all the gods of those nations that my fathers utterly destroyed, that could deliver his people out of mine hand, that your God should be able to deliver you out of mine hand?  Now therefore let not Hezekiah deceive you, nor persuade you on this manner, neither yet believe him: for no god of any nation or kingdom was able to deliver his people out of mine hand, and out of the hand of my fathers: how much less shall your God deliver you out of mine hand?  And his servants spake yet more against the LORD God, and against his servant Hezekiah.

He wrote also letters to rail on the LORD God of Israel, and to speak against him, saying, As the gods of the nations of other lands have not delivered their people out of mine hand, so shall not the God of Hezekiah deliver his people out of mine hand.  Then they cried with a loud voice in the Jews' speech unto the people of Jerusalem that were on the wall, to affright them, and to trouble them; that they might take the city.  And they spake against the God of Jerusalem, as against the gods of the people of the earth, which were the work of the hands of man.” 

There was nothing Judah could do to protect themselves against such a powerful force, and everyone was scared.  II Chronicles 32:20-23 tells us that Hezekiah and Isaiah the prophet prayed and God intervened.  “And for this cause Hezekiah the king, and the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz, prayed and cried to heaven.  And the LORD sent an angel, which cut off all the mighty men of valour, and the leaders and captains in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned with shame of face to his own land. And when he was come into the house of his god, they that came forth of his own bowels slew him there with the sword.  Thus the LORD saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib the king of Assyria, and from the hand of all other, and guided them on every side.  And many brought gifts unto the LORD to Jerusalem, and presents to Hezekiah king of Judah: so that he was magnified in the sight of all nations from thenceforth.” II Kings 18-20 and Isaiah 36-37 give more detailed accounts of the story, but ultimately, God wiped out the Assyrian forces and Sennacherib was killed in a miraculous manner.  Other countries sought Judah and Hezekiah’s support after the Assyrians were defeated.    

Just as God allowed Hezekiah and Judah to be attacked by an overpowering force, He allows those who serve him whole heartedly today to deal with problems far larger than they can bear.  Many times, modern Christians Quote the first part of I Corinthians 10:13, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able…”  When problems come they are horrified that the problems are so much bigger than they can  deal with, and many give up, convinced God has broken his promise.  They don’t understand that the promise was nto that God would never allow them to face anything to big for them to handle, but that he would always provide victory in the problems.  The whole verse says, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”

Judah could not deal with the Assyrians, but when they trusted God and obeyed him, he did.   We may not be able to handle our struggles, but when we trust God and obey him, he will take care of them.   We do not need to fear what will happen, although like Hezekiah we may have some trepidation at times.    Knowing this is true, we ought not turn to the world for help in gaining the victory.  I Corinthians 10:14 tells us, “Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.”  God doesn’t need any help.  It really wasn’t Hezekiah’s victory, it was God’s, and it really isn’t our victory, but God’s.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Hezekiah’s Leadership

Hezekiah had chosen to go in the opposite direction of that taken by his father.  Where Ahaz had tried to discourage the people from serving god, closing the Temple and scattering the priests, Hezekiah reopened the Temple, cleaning it out and putting the priests back to work.  He chose to celebrate the Passover as God had commanded, and led the people to get right with God.  Israel and Judah had not celebrated God’s blessings in such a way since Solomon’s time.  They did not stop with the Passover, however, as II Chronicles 31:1-3 tells us. 

“Now when all this was finished, all Israel that were present went out to the cities of Judah, and brake the images in pieces, and cut down the groves, and threw down the high places and the altars out of all Judah and Benjamin, in Ephraim also and Manasseh, until they had utterly destroyed them all. Then all the children of Israel returned, every man to his possession, into their own cities.

And Hezekiah appointed the courses of the priests and the Levites after their courses, every man according to his service, the priests and Levites for burnt offerings and for peace offerings, to minister, and to give thanks, and to praise in the gates of the tents of the LORD.  He appointed also the king's portion of his substance for the burnt offerings, to wit, for the morning and evening burnt offerings, and the burnt offerings for the sabbaths, and for the new moons, and for the set feasts, as it is written in the law of the LORD.” 

Hezekiah had set the example by cleaning out the Temple and th people followed by cleaning out the idols and places of false worship throughout the land.  Hezekiah continued to develop qualified men to take the different positions in the Temple and worship service.  Still leading by example, he took responsibility for seeing that the needed sacrifices for the daily offerings, the special Sabbath offerings, the special offerings on the first of the month and those for special events were provided from his own wealth.  Only after he had done his share did he ask others to give as well, as II Chronicles 31:4-5 explains. 

“Moreover he commanded the people that dwelt in Jerusalem to give the portion of the priests and the Levites, that they might be encouraged in the law of the LORD.  And as soon as the commandment came abroad, the children of Israel brought in abundance the firstfruits of corn, wine, and oil, and honey, and of all the increase of the field; and the tithe of all things brought they in abundantly.” 

While Hezekiah was covering the costs of the day to day ministry, he asked the people to pay the priest’s wages.  He recognized the importance of the people paying their pastor’s wages, because it encourages the people who give, making them understand they play a an important role in the ministry, while encouraging the pastors that the people appreciate the work they do.  As a result, the people grew spiritually, and also gave abundantly.  They could understand that the priests and Levites needed to be paid for their work.  Even people who had not been requested to give began to give, according to II Chronicles 31:5-10.

“And concerning the children of Israel and Judah, that dwelt in the cities of Judah, they also brought in the tithe of oxen and sheep, and the tithe of holy things which were consecrated unto the LORD their God, and laid them by heaps.  In the third month they began to lay the foundation of the heaps, and finished them in the seventh month.

And when Hezekiah and the princes came and saw the heaps, they blessed the LORD, and his people Israel.  Then Hezekiah questioned with the priests and the Levites concerning the heaps.  And Azariah the chief priest of the house of Zadok answered him, and said, Since the people began to bring the offerings into the house of the LORD, we have had enough to eat, and have left plenty: for the LORD hath blessed his people; and that which is left is this great store.” 

When people feel something is worthwhile, and that their efforts to help are appreciated and valuable, they have no qualms about getting involved in the work or contributing.  They tend to devote themselves to whatever cause is involved.  If they begin to feel that their input and efforts are not of much importance however, or fail to see the value of the cause itself, they have little incentive to become more involved, either in learning and participation, or in giving to support the cause.  These principles apply whether one is talking about building a church, or some other kind of organization. 

Whether or not the application of these principles will result in spiritual growth depends largely on the attitudes of the leaders.  A leader who is focused on developing a closer relationship with the Lord can use these principles to help his people draw closer to the Lord, while one who is focused on enhancing his reputation by building a larger organization will focus attention on the organization rather than the spiritual walk.   Superficially, the two may appear almost the same, but closer examination shows they are very different. 

Hezekiah was focused on pleasing his God, in every area, as we see in II Chronicles 31:20-21.  “And thus did Hezekiah throughout all Judah, and wrought that which was good and right and truth before the LORD his God.  And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, and in the law, and in the commandments, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart, and prospered.”  Other kings had devoted their efforts to expanding the kingdom, or destroying their enemies, but Hezekiah focused on doing what God wanted with his whole heart.  As a result, God blessed him, so that he prospered in everything he did.   

Friday, August 11, 2017

Hezekiah’s Obedience

Hezekiah chose to do exactly the opposite of what his father had done, following God to a degree none of the other Kings of Judah since David had done.  Exodus 12 described the institution of the Passover and feast of unleavened bread.  As Exodus 12:14-15 tells us, the Jews were to celebrate it every year.   “And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever.   Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; even the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel.”  Anyone who refused to partake of it was to be cut off from Israel, literally to lose their citizenship.  For many years, Judah had not bothered to keep the Passover.  Hezekiah determined to keep the Passover, as II Chronicles 30:1-3 describes.

“And Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah, and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, to keep the passover unto the LORD God of Israel.  For the king had taken counsel, and his princes, and all the congregation in Jerusalem, to keep the passover in the second month.  For they could not keep it at that time, because the priests had not sanctified themselves sufficiently, neither had the people gathered themselves together to Jerusalem.  And the thing pleased the king and all the congregation.

Leviticus 23:5 was very specific about the date of the Passover.  “In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the Lord's passover.”  Fortunately, God had made on exception to this date, as Numbers 9:9-11 tells us.  “And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If any man of you or of your posterity shall be unclean by reason of a dead body, or be in a journey afar off, yet he shall keep the passover unto the LORD.  The fourteenth day of the second month at even they shall keep it, and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.”  If a person had come into contact with a dead body, or was otherwise unclean and unfit to take the Passover on the proper date, he could take it a month later.  Because the temple had been closed during Ahaz’s reign, neither the priest, nor the people had kept the necessary sacrifices to be clean according to the law.  Hezekiah and the priests decided they should all spend the extra month making sure everyone was clean and celebrate the Passover on that alternate date.   Hezekiah sent out notices to that effect throughout all Israel and Judah, as II Chronicles 30:5-9 tells us. 

“So they established a decree to make proclamation throughout all Israel, from Beersheba even to Dan, that they should come to keep the passover unto the LORD God of Israel at Jerusalem: for they had not done it of a long time in such sort as it was written.  So the posts went with the letters from the king and his princes throughout all Israel and Judah, and according to the commandment of the king, saying, Ye children of Israel, turn again unto the LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and he will return to the remnant of you, that are escaped out of the hand of the kings of Assyria.  And be not ye like your fathers, and like your brethren, which trespassed against the LORD God of their fathers, who therefore gave them up to desolation, as ye see.  

Now be ye not stiffnecked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves unto the LORD, and enter into his sanctuary, which he hath sanctified for ever: and serve the LORD your God, that the fierceness of his wrath may turn away from you.  For if ye turn again unto the LORD, your brethren and your children shall find compassion before them that lead them captive, so that they shall come again into this land: for the LORD your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if ye return unto him.” 

Hezekiah encouraged everyone in both Israel and Judah to keep the Passover so they could receive the blessings God had promised.  Most of the people in Israel blew them off, clinging to Jeroboam’s teachings but a few listened to Hezekiah’s warning.   The people of Judah got behind the idea and committed to serve God as II Chronicles 30:10-12 tells us.  “So the posts passed from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh even unto Zebulun: but they laughed them to scorn, and mocked them.  Nevertheless divers of Asher and Manasseh and of Zebulun humbled themselves, and came to Jerusalem.  Also in Judah the hand of God was to give them one heart to do the commandment of the king and of the princes, by the word of the LORD.”

As a result of Hezekiah’s choice to follow God completely huge numbers turned to God, according to II Chronicles 30:13-20.  “And there assembled at Jerusalem much people to keep the feast of unleavened bread in the second month, a very great congregation.  And they arose and took away the altars that were in Jerusalem, and all the altars for incense took they away, and cast them into the brook Kidron.  Then they killed the passover on the fourteenth day of the second month: and the priests and the Levites were ashamed, and sanctified themselves, and brought in the burnt offerings into the house of the LORD.

And they stood in their place after their manner, according to the law of Moses the man of God: the priests sprinkled the blood, which they received of the hand of the Levites.  For there were many in the congregation that were not sanctified: therefore the Levites had the charge of the killing of the passovers for every one that was not clean, to sanctify them unto the LORD.  For a multitude of the people, even many of Ephraim, and Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet did they eat the passover otherwise than it was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, The good LORD pardon every one That prepareth his heart to seek God, the LORD God of his fathers, though he be not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary.

 And the LORD hearkened to Hezekiah, and healed the people.   And the children of Israel that were present at Jerusalem kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with great gladness: and the Levites and the priests praised the LORD day by day, singing with loud instruments unto the LORD.  And Hezekiah spake comfortably unto all the Levites that taught the good knowledge of the LORD: and they did eat throughout the feast seven days, offering peace offerings, and making confession to the LORD God of their fathers.

And the whole assembly took counsel to keep other seven days: and they kept other seven days with gladness.  For Hezekiah king of Judah did give to the congregation a thousand bullocks and seven thousand sheep; and the princes gave to the congregation a thousand bullocks and ten thousand sheep: and a great number of priests sanctified themselves.   So there was great joy in Jerusalem: for since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel there was not the like in Jerusalem.  Then the priests the Levites arose and blessed the people: and their voice was heard, and their prayer came up to his holy dwelling place, even unto heaven.”  There had not been such a concerted effort to worship God and remember his blessings since Solomon’s dedication of the Temple, almost three hundred years before. 

Hezekiah didn’t stop with just praying and worshipping God,  He went back in the Law to find out what God had commanded and kept it because he truly loved God, as John 14:21 tells us.  “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.”   If we want to experience God’s blessings to the fullest, we will have find out what he wants and obey him fully, instead of just doing what we think is right.  

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Hezekiah Renews Judah’s Commitment to God

One of the things we learn from history is that people tend to follow the example of their parents and the culture around them, simply because it is what they are familiar with.  Jehoash’s descendants were no exception with his son, grandson, and great grandson following God’s teaching part of the time.  His great great grandson, Ahaz chose not to follow that pattern, following every false religion around, as described in II Chronicles 28:1-4.   “Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem: but he did not that which was right in the sight of the LORD, like David his father: For he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and made also molten images for Baalim. Moreover he burnt incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and burnt his children in the fire, after the abominations of the heathen whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel.  He sacrificed also and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree.” 

Fortunately children have the ability to choose whether to follow their parents example or not.  Ahaz’s son, Hezekiah was exactly the opposite of his father, according to II Chronicles 29:1-2.  “Hezekiah began to reign when he was five and twenty years old, and he reigned nine and twenty years in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Abijah, the daughter of Zechariah.  And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done.” 

Hezekiah would prove to be one of the best Kings Israel ever had, doing his best to follow God’s laws like his ancestor David.  Under his father, the temple had been closed up and allowed to deteriorate, and the worship of God had largely been forgotten.  Hezekiah reopened the temple, and reinstituted the worship of God, renewing the covenant Israel had made with God. II Chronicles 19:3-11 describes his explanation to the people. 

“He in the first year of his reign, in the first month, opened the doors of the house of the LORD, and repaired them.  And he brought in the priests and the Levites, and gathered them together into the east street, And said unto them, Hear me, ye Levites, sanctify now yourselves, and sanctify the house of the LORD God of your fathers, and carry forth the filthiness out of the holy place.  For our fathers have trespassed, and done that which was evil in the eyes of the LORD our God, and have forsaken him, and have turned away their faces from the habitation of the LORD, and turned their backs.  Also they have shut up the doors of the porch, and put out the lamps, and have not burned incense nor offered burnt offerings in the holy place unto the God of Israel.

Wherefore the wrath of the LORD was upon Judah and Jerusalem, and he hath delivered them to trouble, to astonishment, and to hissing, as ye see with your eyes.  For, lo, our fathers have fallen by the sword, and our sons and our daughters and our wives are in captivity for this.  Now it is in mine heart to make a covenant with the LORD God of Israel, that his fierce wrath may turn away from us.  My sons, be not now negligent: for the LORD hath chosen you to stand before him, to serve him, and that ye should minister unto him, and burn incense.”

The Levites and priests rallied around Hezekiah, getting right with God themselves and reestablishing the worship of God as the covenant specified.  II Chronicles 29:12-23 describes the efforts.  “Then the Levites arose, Mahath the son of Amasai, and Joel the son of Azariah, of the sons of the Kohathites: and of the sons of Merari, Kish the son of Abdi, and Azariah the son of Jehalelel: and of the Gershonites; Joah the son of Zimmah, and Eden the son of Joah: And of the sons of Elizaphan; Shimri, and Jeiel: and of the sons of Asaph; Zechariah, and Mattaniah: And of the sons of Heman; Jehiel, and Shimei: and of the sons of Jeduthun; Shemaiah, and Uzziel.

And they gathered their brethren, and sanctified themselves, and came, according to the commandment of the king, by the words of the LORD, to cleanse the house of the LORD.  And the priests went into the inner part of the house of the LORD, to cleanse it, and brought out all the uncleanness that they found in the temple of the LORD into the court of the house of the LORD. And the Levites took it, to carry it out abroad into the brook Kidron.  Now they began on the first day of the first month to sanctify, and on the eighth day of the month came they to the porch of the LORD: so they sanctified the house of the LORD in eight days; and in the sixteenth day of the first month they made an end.

Then they went in to Hezekiah the king, and said, We have cleansed all the house of the LORD, and the altar of burnt offering, with all the vessels thereof, and the showbread table, with all the vessels thereof.  Moreover all the vessels, which king Ahaz in his reign did cast away in his transgression, have we prepared and sanctified, and, behold, they are before the altar of the LORD.

Then Hezekiah the king rose early, and gathered the rulers of the city, and went up to the house of the LORD.  And they brought seven bullocks, and seven rams, and seven lambs, and seven he goats, for a sin offering for the kingdom, and for the sanctuary, and for Judah. And he commanded the priests the sons of Aaron to offer them on the altar of the LORD.  So they killed the bullocks, and the priests received the blood, and sprinkled it on the altar: likewise, when they had killed the rams, they sprinkled the blood upon the altar: they killed also the lambs, and they sprinkled the blood upon the altar.  And they brought forth the he goats for the sin offering before the king and the congregation; and they laid their hands upon them: And the priests killed them, and they made reconciliation with their blood upon the altar, to make an atonement for all Israel: for the king commanded that the burnt offering and the sin offering should be made for all Israel.

And he set the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, with psalteries, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, and of Gad the king's seer, and Nathan the prophet: for so was the commandment of the LORD by his prophets.  And the Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets.  And Hezekiah commanded to offer the burnt offering upon the altar. And when the burnt offering began, the song of the LORD began also with the trumpets, and with the instruments ordained by David king of Israel.  And all the congregation worshipped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded: and all this continued until the burnt offering was finished.

And when they had made an end of offering, the king and all that were present with him bowed themselves, and worshipped.  Moreover Hezekiah the king and the princes commanded the Levites to sing praise unto the LORD with the words of David, and of Asaph the seer. And they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed their heads and worshipped.”

Where Jehoash had half-heartedly served the Lord because Jehoiada was guiding him, Hezekiah was serving god because he wanted to.  As a result, the people turned to God fully, unlike they had done for Jehoash.  They no longer worshipped other Gods or sacrificed in the high places. 

If we are to have a serious impact on those around us for God, we will have to be like Hezekiah, devoting ourselves completely to God and his commands, and correcting the things our predecessors have done wrong, rather than just following their footsteps.  God willing, tomorrow we will look at some of the other things Hezekiah did.