1 Kings 20:1-21:29
Ben-Hadad, King of Aram, besieged Samaria, where Omri the king the Israel had built his capital city. Israel was currently ruled by the evil Ahab, who had succeeded Omri.
At first Ahab simply agreed to Ben-Hadad’s claim on the city. Ahab could not fight against such a massive force but Ben-Hadad became even more demanding and Ahab finally made a stand and insulted him (1 Kings 20:11).
A prophet came to Ahab and said that the Lord was reaching out to him. The Lord would defeat Ben-Hadid’s vast army to prove who the Lord was (1 Kings 20:13). Ahab sent out young army officers with seven thousand men. Ben-Hadad was busy getting drunk and was dismissive of the threat they presented (1 Kings 20:18). However, the Israelites successfully struck down their opponents and the rest of the Aramean army fled.
The prophet warned Ahab to strengthen his position because he would be attacked again next spring.
The Arameans analysed their defeat. They came to the conclusion that the Israelite ‘gods’ were gods of the hills and so they needed to fight them down on the plain. The next spring, the vast army of the Arameans advanced again. The camp of the Israelite army was tiny in comparison (1 Kings 20:27). Of course, God was not going to accept the insult of being considered just a ‘god of the hills’, he was God of everywhere and would prove it (1 Kings 20:28).
The Israelites killed a hundred thousand Aramean foot soldiers in one day. The rest escaped to the city of Aphek, where the wall collapsed killing another twenty-seven thousand. Ben-Hadad and his officials begged for their lives. Ahab spared him and made a treaty with him.
However, God had wanted Ben-Hadad dead. A prophet was sent to Ahab to tell him he would die in Ben-Hadad’s place for disobeying God (1 Kings 20:42).
Ahab wanted to buy a vineyard close to his palace to use as a vegetable garden. The owner of the vineyard, Naboth, upset Ahab by refusing to sell it. This made Ahab sullen and angry. However, his evil wife Jezebel simply arranged for Naboth to be stoned to death on false charges so that Ahab could seize the vineyard.
God told Elijah to go to Ahab and accuse him of his crimes (1 Kings 21:19). God was going to wield justice on Ahab, bring disaster on him and all his male descendants and ensure Jezebel’s death. Ahab and Jezebel were the worst royal couple in the history of Israel (1 Kings 21:25-26).
Ahab listened to this prophesy and did something about it. He tore his clothes, put on sackcloth, fasted and went around meekly. God noted Ahab’s new-found humility and relented. The disaster that God had promised would not arrive until the days of Ahab’s son.
God had tried to reach out to Ahab by giving him victory against the Arameans. Ahab had tried to buy his desired vineyard from Naboth honestly before Jezebel got involved. However, he would not give up worshipping idols egged on by his evil wife. Ahab was prepared to humble himself when convicted by Elijah, which postponed disaster. If Ahab had married a righteous woman, his whole reign might have ended differently.
God spoke to Paul, while he was in Corinth, and reassured him that he should keep on speaking. God was with him. No-one was going to attack or harm him. God had many people in the city. Paul stayed there for eighteen months.
The Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him to court. However, Gallo the proconsul of the region refused to judge on religious matters and threw them all out. The Jews beat up the ruler of the synagogue in frustration.
After his stay in Corinth, Paul left the other disciples and sailed for Syria along with his fellow tent-makes Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off ‘because of a vow he had taken’ (Acts 18:18). This implies that Paul had made a temporary Nazirite vow to the Lord – the completion of which was marked by cutting off his hair which had been allowed to grow long during the period he had especially dedicated himself to the Lord (Num.6:18). Even though Paul was now a Christian and not bound by the full Jewish law, he was still performing some of their historical spiritual practices.
Paul travelled to Ephesus, where the Jews wanted to hear more from him and then to Caesarea and Antioch. Priscilla and Aquila had heard a learned man, Apollos, speaking with great fervour about Jesus in Ephesus. His teaching was many accurate but he only knew the baptism of John (Acts 18:25). Priscilla and Aquila invited him to the home and gently explained the full gospel message. We all need good Christian mentors, who can correct misunderstandings and fill in gaps in our knowledge. Married Christian couples radiate their love of Christ to the world and also their holy commitment to each other. They are less intimidating as mentors than ordained ministers and can combine family hospitality with the gospel message. Married partners always have a Christian on hand to back up their prayers making their combined ministry highly effective (Matt.18:19-20)
Apollos wanted to be a missionary and the brothers encouraged him. They wrote to the disciples in Achaia to ensure a welcome for him there. He was a great help to believers in vigorously refuting the Jews in public debates. He proved ‘from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ’ (Acts 18:28). So many passages in the Old Testament show that Jesus was our anointed saviour such as Isaiah 53:1-12.
Paul started to find disciples who had not heard of the Holy Spirit. They had only received John’s baptism for the repentance of sins. Paul re-baptised them in the name of Jesus and when he placed his hands on them, ‘the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied’ (Acts 19:6). This process needs to happen to the majority of modern Christians. They may have been baptized in the name of the Trinity, possible decades ago as an infant, but they then sit around passively with a tiny flickering pilot light of the Holy Spirit within them and have never asked for the unlimited power of God within them to be fanned into a roaring flame. As adults, we have to ask Jesus to come into our lives as our personal saviour and also ask the Holy Spirit to enkindle within us the full power of his gifts.
It is encouraging to us that even Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, was not able to convert everyone. Even though he argued persuasively, some of his audience became obstinate and refused to believe (Acts 19:9). Paul did not stay, he simply started daily discussions in a lecture hall. After two years, all the Jews and Greeks in Asia had heard the word of the Lord.
When handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched Paul were taken to the sick, miraculous cures and deliverances happened (Acts 19:12). Jesus had cured a woman with the hem of his garment (Luke 8:44). Peter’s shadow appeared to cure people (Acts 5:15). A dead man thrown into the prophet Elisha’s tomb came back to life when the body touched Elisha’s bones (2 Kings 13:21). In each of these instances God brought about healing using an object. The cause of the healing was always God. The pieces of material, the shadow and the bones were a means through which He acted. Objects such as these are not magic. They do not contain a power that is their own; the power comes from God. God worked through Paul’s handkerchiefs in order to draw attention to the message that Paul was faithfully proclaiming. God wanted people to recognise Paul as a model and an intercessor. As the Bible says, ‘God did extraordinary miracles through Paul’ (Acts 19:11).
The Mother Church still venerates such relics today. There are three classes of sacred relics. The first-class is a part of the saints body such as the bones of Elisha (it is this type, which was traditionally placed in an altar stone.) The second-class is a piece of the saints clothing or something used by the saint such as Paul’s handkerchief, while the third-class is an object which has been touched to a first-class relic. I carry a cross on a keyring that has been touched to half a dozen first class relics.
Prior to Jesus’s incarnation, there had been Jewish exorcists. Every culture had been given prayers / incantations / ceremonies to deliver people from demons, presumably having been taught by angels or the Holy Spirit. Without these, whole cultures would have probably ceased to exist. The exorcism prayers and techniques were passed on in books of prayers or ‘magic’ books. Solomon allegedly collated several volumes of these incantations for his son Rehoboam. There was no guarantee that these ancient prayers would be effective and the people who used them probably charged for their services. Jesus exorcised people with a simple command and faithful people can deliver others ‘in the name of Jesus’. Some Jewish exorcists started to use the command: ‘In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out’ (Acts 19:13. However, they weren’t professing their own faith in Jesus and faith is very important in deliverance work. We will review the success of their approach tomorrow.
In spite of all God’s wonders, the Israelites kept on sinning and did not believe.
God is always merciful and forgiving. He knows that our flesh can be weak but, through the power of the Holy Spirit, he intends to make our spirit powerful, strong and ready for eternal life.
Image: I, Davezelenka, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons