God Sends Plague / Peter Resuscitates Tabitha: June 15th 2021

2 Samuel 23:8-24:25

David was an incredible fighter. He also had three ‘mighty men’ in his army who were renowned for their fighting prowess. One of them, Josheb-Basshebeth, had killed eight hundred men with a spear in one battle. They were prepared to stand their ground and fight hordes of the enemy even when their fellow comrades had fled in fear

Kings have to be careful what they say in the earshot of particularly loyal subjects. David once rashly said during a war with the Philistines: ‘Oh that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!’ (2 Sam.23:15). The three mighty men fought their way through Philistine battle lines to fetch it for him. David was horrified at the risks they had taken and wouldn’t drink it. This reminds me of when David wept for his dead son Absalom, disgracing his army who had risked their lives to defend his sovereignty. I personally think he should have been grateful for their efforts, drank the water and vowed not to be so irresponsible in the future. It’s probably not a good idea to disrespect men who can kill hundreds of soldiers in one battle.

Abishai, the brother of the army commander Joab, was chief of the three mighty men and had killed three hundred men in one skirmish. Both he and Joab were nephews of King David. Benaiah son of Jehoiada was a valiant fighter and and as famous as the three mighty men. He was put in charge of David’s bodyguard due to his great exploits. There were another thirty men in David’s personal army who were also renowned for their skill in battle and bravery.

In every thriving church there are usually two or three mighty men or women who greatly assist the pastor / priest in running the parish. We shouldn’t just take from our church community, we should seek to give and to donate our time, money and talents. Even if we don’t have time to be one of the three most renowned mighty men or women in our church we can loyally strive to be in the top thirty and hope for promotion to more responsibility.

God incited David to take a census of Israel and Judah and he entrusted this task to Joab (2 Sam.24:2). However, later in the Bible it said that Satan incited David to do this (1 Chron.21:1). However, Satan is not allowed to do anything without God’s mysterious permission and so they might have discussed putting David through a trial of his faith just as God permitted Satan to persecute Job (Job 1:12).

David’s army commander, Joab, was reluctant to conduct the census. Joab was cunning and ruthless and he could see that this would result in trouble, However, David over-ruled him. The census took nine months and twenty days. The count showed that Israel had many more fighting men than Judah (2 Sam.24:9).

David was then conscience stricken and realised he had done a very foolish thing. He confessed to God and asked for his guilt to be removed (2 Sam.24:10). He should have said to God: ‘I don’t need to count my soldiers because I rely on you for victory. You will win the battle for me no matter how great the opposition’. By counting the troops, it appeared that he intended to rely on his own military might rather than trust in God to deliver him.

God spoke to David through the prophet Gad and said there were three options as to how God should punish him for his lack of trust: three years of famine, three months of fleeing from his enemies or three days of plague. David left it up to the mercy of God as long as he did not ‘fall into the hands of men’ (2 Sam.24:14).

The Lord chose to send plague on Israel from that very morning and seventy thousand people died. When the angel striking down the people with plague was just about to strike Jerusalem, God stopped him. ‘God was grieved because of the calamity’ (2 Sam.24:16). David could actually see the plague angel at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite and said to God that he personally should be punished, rather than his subjects who were but sheep. David showed himself to be a good shepherd, prepared to die for his flock.

The prophet Gad told David to build an altar where the plague angel had stopped. David insisted on buying the threshing floor and oxen from Araunah, even though they were offered to him for free. David built the altar and sacrificed to the Lord, who then answered prayer on behalf of the land. The plague in Israel was stopped.

This is a very strange story. God was very angry at Israel for an undefined reason. He incited David to take a census or got Satan to do it and then offered a choice of three different punishments when the census was eventually completed. The only person who had immediately spotted this would not turn out well was David’s cunning and murderous army commander nephew, Joab.

If David had chosen to be pursued around the country for three months – which was one of the punishment options offered by God – that would probably have saved a lot of lives. However, in the end, David came out well offering him (and his family) as a sacrifice in place of his subjects. David proved himself to be a good shepherd offering himself up for his sheep.

It’s a troublesome passage because I have heard Pastors say that God never brings disease – that’s the work of the devil. This text clearly shows that God brought this plague and an angel (not a demon) actively inflicted it. However, even when the devil does bring a disease (or incite someone to carry out an illicit census), God has allowed him to do it which is the same as doing it himself. Nothing happens in heaven or earth without God’s permission. He is all powerful. It’s all very mysterious but as God owns everything, has positive reasons for everything that happens and has good long-term plans, we just have to trust in his justice, wisdom and mercy. He is our refuge and our strength and will answer if we cry out to him.

Acts 9:32-10:23a

Peter prayed for a paralytic to be healed: ‘Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and tidy up your mat’. This can be a model for our healing prayers. Jesus has the power and authority to heal, not us, and so we pray in his name. Peter’s command showed total faith in Jesus. The paralytic man had to choose to move in faith to grab his chance of being healed. He chose to get up immediately. This healing echoed Jesus healing a long-time invalid with a direct command (John 5:8).

Peter then went to bring a disciple named Tabitha back to life. He sent all the crying widows, who Tabitha had helped in her lifetime, out of her room and got down on his knees to pray before commanding her to get up. Jesus had resurrected a little girl with the words ‘Talitha koum!’ (Which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up!)’ (Mark 5:41-42). Before Jesus did this he had put all the people who were weeping and wailing out of the room. We should also pray in an atmosphere of peace, not surrounded by distress, despair and unbelief.

A Roman centurion, Cornelius, then sent for Peter. Even though he was not a Jew, Cornelius (and his family) had a wonderful reputation for being devout, God-fearing and charitable (Acts 10:2). Cornelius had seen a vision of an angel about three in the afternoon. Three o’clock in the afternoon is a great time for a vision as it is the holy time when Jesus died. Conversely, three o’clock in the morning isn’t a holy time of day. If we wake up with a nightmare at three o’clock in the morning, the thoughts in our mind are likely to have come from the demonic dark side and we should pray until we regain peace. Even though Cornelius was a Roman Gentile the angel gave him fascinating news: ‘Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God’ (Acts 10:4). This shows that people’s good needs and prayers can eventually attract God’s attention even before they are Christians.

Meanwhile, Peter had a vision in which God had said: ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean’ (Acts 10:15). As he was wondering about the meaning of this vision, the men sent by Cornelius to fetch him arrived and the Holy Spirit told him to go with them: ‘For I have sent them’ (Acts 10:20).

The Holy Spirit was orchestrating Peter’s daily ministry. The Spirit had been with Cornelius for years until he now inspired him to send for Peter who would lead him, and his family to salvation. Cornelius would demonstrate to the disciples that you didn’t have to become a Jew first before you became a Christian. The Spirit also worked on Peter to ensure he would answer the call. Jesus said it was for our own good that he was going away because then the Holy Spirit would come to us. The Holy Spirit can work on everyone at the same time. When Jesus was incarnate, he could only be in one place at the same time (John 16:7). As born-again baptized Christians, we have the Holy Spirit living within us leading us to the truth and transforming us into the likeness of Christ.

Psalm 74:1-9

The Psalmist called on God to remember his people. They were living in ruins and their enemies had destroyed God’s sanctuaries. No-one knew who long their agony would last as no prophets were left (Psalm 74:9).

We know that God continued to send leaders and prophets to rescue Israel but they were rejected and persecuted.

The great John the Baptist straddled the divide between the Old and New Testament and prophesied the arrival of our Saviour.

When we can’t feel God’s presence and guidance in our lives, we need to continue to pray. Praying in the Spirit is the ultimate reassurance that God is with us, working within us and through us and will never leave us.

God offered the ultimate gift to all who have faith and belief. He offered to the entire world eternal salvation through the sacrifice of his beloved son, Jesus Christ.

Image: Jules & Jenny from Lincoln, UK, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Absalom Returns / Peter Heals with his Shadow: June 9th 2021

2 Samuel 14:1-15:12

King David’s heart longed for his estranged son, Absalom, just as God hopes and contrives for banished people to come back to him from exile (2 Sam.14:14).

Joab hired a wise woman to persuade King David to invite Absalom back from exile. David wisely saw he was being manipulated by Joab but gave in to the suggestion (2 Sam.14:21).

Joab brought Absalom back to Jerusalem but he was not allowed to see his father King David.

Absalom was very good looking, with not a single blemish, with thick luxuriant hair. He had three sons and a daughter and named his daughter Tamar after his sister.

Absalom did not see the king for two years. Joab refused to come to him until Absalom took the drastic step of setting Joab’s field on fire. Absalom demanded to see the king as he was living in limbo. He wanted to face up to any punishment. Then the king summoned his son, who bowed down before him, and the king welcomed him with a kiss (2 Sam. 14:33). We can live in a similar king of non-living limbo when we have not confessed our sins to God and received forgiveness. We might think our sins are too severe to forgive but God is always calling us to him and he will forgive us with a warm embrace.

Even though Absalom had been welcomed home, he started to conspire against his father the king. He woke up early and stood by the road leading to the city gate. He would intercept people travelling to consult the king, tell him that no-one would be available to listen and boast that he would do much better and give them justice if only he were to be appointed judge. He was very charming and approachable. If someone came to bow down before him, Absalom would take hold of him and kiss him. He disloyally stole the hearts of the Israelites through slander and flattery. He did this for years.

He asked permission from his father, the king, to go to worship in Hebron and David blessed him. He invited two hundred guests to accompany him, to make it look like he was assembling an army and he sent messengers throughout the tribes of Israel to say: ‘Absalom is king in Hebron’. He started to steal David’s officials away from him starting with David’s counsellor. Day by day, Absalom gradually weakened David’s grip on power as his following kept increasing.

David was showing himself to be a complacent ruler. He hadn’t dealt with his son Amnon’s crime and now he was letting the kingdom slip away from him.

Acts 5:12-42

The apostles carried on performing miracles (Acts 5:12). More and more people believed in the Lord and joined them. All the believers used to meet together. We need to meet as the body of Christ to praise and worship God and to teach and encourage each other.

Sick people we laid in the street so that Peter’s shadow might fall on them (Acts 5:15). We need to pray for this level of faith, so that just our presence or our shadow can heal the sick and deliver people from evil spirits. Crowds gathered and everyone was healed (Acts 5:16). Jesus had predicted that the apostles would do even greater things than he. Jesus prayed for healing on an individual basis. Peter was now healing people on an industrial scale.

The religious professionals were filled with jealousy and threw the apostles into jail. An angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail in the night and brought them out. He told them to stand in the temple courts and ‘tell the people the full message of this new life’ (Acts 5:20). Everyday, we should publicly tell people that they can lead a wonderful new life in Jesus Christ.

The full assembly of the elders of Israel (the Sanhedrin) gathered to interrogate the apostles but they were not be found in the jail. Eventually, they found them freely teaching in the temple courts and went to collect them. They didn’t use force against them as the crowds would have defended them.

The Sanhedrin reminded the apostles they had been ordered not to teach in Jesus’ name. Peter reminded them that the apostles must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). They, and the Holy Spirit, were witnesses to Jesus’ death and resurrection. God had exalted Jesus to his right hand as Prince and Saviour ‘that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel’ (Acts 5:31).

It is wonderful to pray in tongues as it confirms the Holy Spirit is living in us because we obey God. The Holy Spirit lives in people who believe and obey God (Acts 5:32).

The Sanhedrin became infuriated and wanted to put all the apostles to death but a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a brilliant teacher of the law who educated Saint Paul, wisely told them to leave the men alone. If they were working for God, they could not be stopped and the Sanhedrin would find themselves fighting against God (Acts 5:38-39).

The Sanhedrin ordered the disciples to be flogged and not to speak in the name of Jesus and then let them go. The apostles left rejoicing because ‘they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name’ (Acts 5:41-42). In public and going from house to house, they never stopped ‘teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ’ (Acts 5:42). In this county, it is only the Jehovah’s Witnesses who bother going door-to-door telling people about Jesus. Maybe, we should all be inspired by the early church and start with all the houses in our own roads. Knock on their doors, tell them about Jesus and ask if anyone needs to be healed or delivered so we can pray for them. If people won’t go to church, the church will have to go to them.

Proverbs 14:15-24

We should not believe everything we are told and assess it in light of Biblical teaching. However, we do not want to become so distrusting that we give a Spirit of Unbelief a right to attach to us. I believe most things in news reports unless they are completely against the Word of God. We have to be careful in this country because our foremost channel has such an evil, woke, liberal agenda. They even infect their drama programmes with unchristian influences including pro-abortion propaganda. Once we have our eyes opened to how biased a media channel is, it can be quite entertaining to watch just to spot the recurrent toxic anti-Christians themes but we should try to shun such evil (Prov.14:16).

However, when the news has scientists on it who tell me that it a good idea to have a Covid vaccine to stop the deadly pandemic that has devastated the global economy, I believe them. There is clear clinical evidence that it helps and, as we should love our neighbour as ourselves, we should be vaccinated to protect other people. I have lost respect for the leaders of several smaller Christian denominations who haven’t given clear leadership on this matter and put their congregations at risk. The leaders of the mainstream denominations, the Anglicans and the Catholics, have clearly told Christians that they should be vaccinated and, as we are meant to be people of obedience, this should be good enough for us. If we don’t have a vaccine we are putting God to the test, which Jesus reiterated to the devil that we should not do (Matt. 4:7).

We should wisely weigh up the evidence not entertaining all the crazy conspiracy theories that a simple person might believe (Prov.14:15). The prudent are crowned with knowledge and wisdom. Foolishly rejecting a lifesaving vaccine is folly and will yield foolish deaths. God works through people these days. He will have inspired the scientists to make the vaccine in order to save our society.

It isn’t a holy blessing to be poor and to be shunned by people (Prov.14:20). God likes us to prosper through our hard work and his guidance. If we prosper, we can be even kinder to the needy and God will bless us even more.

Image: Masaccio, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

David and Bathsheba / Peter and John before the Sanhedrin: June 7th 2021

David’s army, led by Joab, destroyed the Ammonites. David stayed in Jerusalem and got up to serious mischief. Like many famous rulers / politicians he gave in to illicit sexual temptation. It would have been better if he had gone to fight with his army as the devil found sinful work for his idle hands to do.

He spotted from the roof of his palace a very beautiful woman, Bathsheba, bathing. However, she was already married to Uriah the Hittite. David sent for her and adulterously made her pregnant even though he had lots of wives and concubines of his own. Polygamy didn’t seem to work in the Old Testament. It often caused bitter rivalry between spouses. David showed that even when men had several wives and many concubines, they still weren’t satisfied. They still lusted adulterously after other women.

David sent for Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, and he dutifully returned from the war. David sent him home imagining he would have sex with Bathsheba and so cover up that she had been made pregnant by David. However, Uriah was too righteous. He refused to enjoy himself while both the ark of the Covenant and his fellow soldiers were in tents (2 Sam. 11:11). The next night, David plotted to get Uriah drunk but he still refused to see his wife.

David then decided to murder Uriah and made him take a letter back to Joab, instructing Joab to put Uriah in the front line of the battle against the fiercest enemy soldiers and abandon him to fight alone. This plan resulted in Uriah being killed in battle along with some other Israelites. David was now guilty of both adultery and murder – both grave sins, either of which cut us off from God forever in hell if we do not repent.

David wasn’t concerned about the loss of the other men and sent an encouraging message to Joab (2 Sam.11:25).

Bathsheba heard that her husband had died in battle but, after a period of mourning, she became yet another one of David’s wives and bore him a son. God was not pleased with David’s behaviour.

Nathan, the prophet, rebuked David by telling him a story of a rich man who refused to sacrifice any of his many sheep and cattle for a visitor but instead sacrificed the only lamb of a poor man that was ‘like a daughter to him’. David was furious at the man’s behaviour but the man in the story was David (2 Sam.12:7). God had given David so much but he had still carried out evil. Through Nathan the prophet, God told David that his wives would be taken away and slept with by someone close to him in broad daylight before all Israel. David’s sinful behaviour had brought calamity down upon him.

David instantly confessed his guilt. Nathan replied that ‘the Lord has taken away your sin’ (2 Sam.12:13-14) but David still had to bear consequences. His new son would die.

David and Bathsheba’s son did become ill. David desperately wept, fasted and pleaded with God, hoping to change his mind but his son died on the seventh day. When David heard that his son was dead, he washed, changed his clothes, worshipped the Lord and then went back to his house and started eating (2 Sam.12:20).

David’s servants were amazed that he got back to normal so soon after this devastating news but David knew he could not bring his son back again: ‘But now he is dead, why should I fast?’ (2 Sam.12:23). David had failed to change God’s mind but he was not bitter. He still loved God and worshipped him.

David and Bathsheba had a second son, Solomon, whom the Lord loved. Bathsheba isn’t named in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1. Matthew wrote: ‘David was the father of Solomon whose mother had been Uriah’s wife’ (Matt.1:6). It is nice that Uriah gets a mention in the New Testament when he was treated so appallingly.

The death of David’s first son reminds me of the doctrine of purgatory. God had forgiven David for his grave sins of murder and adultery but, for the sake of eternal justice, David still had to bear a punishment. The Mother Church teaches us that God will forgive all our sins if we repent and renounce them in confession but all sins carry a time penalty. When we die, we have to spend the period of time that our sins have totted up in a waiting room for heaven – known as ‘purgatory’. During our time in purgatory, we are fully purified and made ready to eventually go into heaven. My favourite way of imagining this is to think of heaven as the perfect garden of Eden, yet hiding under the bushes are the souls in purgatory who are peering out into the beauty of heaven but have to wait to be called out into the full sunlit presence of God. Basically, for every crime we have to do the time. This doctrine neatly explains how a serial killer on their deathbed could confess and (eventually) go to heaven. God will forgive them but for the sake of justice, they have to serve a long sentence in purgatory for their crimes. Other denominations would say that the blood of Jesus wipes away both the sin and the time penalty due for our sins. We will all find out in the end how God’s justice works.

We can all agree that whenever we sin, we should contritely confess to the Lord and hope for his graceful mercy.

Joab succeeded against the Ammonites and captured the royal citadel of Rabbah. He told David to bring the whole Israelite army to capture the rest of the city. Joab threatened to name the city after himself if he had to do all the warfare while David stayed at home (sinning). David took the crown from the Ammonite king, plundered the city and made all the Ammonite people carry out forced labour.

Acts 4:1-22

Peter and John were put in prison for ‘proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead’ (Acts 4:2). Even though they were imprisoned, the number of believers continued to grow exponentially.

The next day, the two apostles were questioned by the rulers, elders and teachers of the law in Jersualem.

Peter was still extremely bold and challenged them as to why they were being called to account for an act of kindness.

The man who had been crippled from birth had been healed by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazarene, whom they had crucified but God raised from the dead (Acts 4:10).

Jesus was described as the capstone / cornerstone on which the whole church would be built even though he had been rejected by the chief priests and the Pharisees (Psalm 118:22-24).

Jesus is our one and only Saviour, ‘there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12).

Everyone was astonished that ‘unschooled and ordinary’ men could speak with such wisdom and boldness, through the power of the Holy Spirit. The healed man – who was over forty years old and thus a reliable witness – stood with them. He was living proof of the power of Jesus’ name with a fantastic testimony. When we are healed by Jesus, we need to stand with our fellow Christians particularly when they are undergoing trials and persecutions.

The rulers and elders could not deny that the apostles had performed an outstanding miracle (Acts 4:16). They commanded Peter and John not to speak or teach at all to anyone else in Jesus’ name ‘to stop this thing spreading any further’ (Acts 4:17).

Peter and John boldly replied that they would obey God rather than man (Acts 4:19-20). They were released because no one could decide how to punish them.

All the people praised God because of this outstanding miracle.

Psalm 71:1-8

My hope is in the Lord. I have had confidence in him since my youth and this confidence has grown throughout my life as God rescued me from the miry clay time and time again. I have always relied on him and will always praise him, declaring his splendour all day long (Ps.71:8).

God brought me forth from my mother’s womb.

We can take refuge in God and rely on him. He is our hope and our saviour.

Image: http://www.obraz.org/, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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