Hosea: God’s Love for Israel / Paul: Praying in Tongues: 24th July 2021

Hosea 10:1-11:11

Israel was described as a ‘spreading vine’. As the country prospered, the people bult more altars to their demonic deities and ‘adorned their sacred stones’ (Hosea 10:1). They had deceitful hearts and now must bear their guilt.

They litigated against each other as they took false oaths and broke secular agreements. Lawsuits are described as ‘poisonous weeds in a ploughed field’ (Hosea 10:4). Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a land where we didn’t need a legal system, where everyone acted lawfully and honourably.

The golden calf idol would be taken into exile into Assyria. The people and the idolatrous priests would mourn for it. The pagan high places and altars would be destroyed and become overgrown.

The Israelites had been committed sinners since the terrible crime of Gibeah in Judges 19. God had arranged the war against the Benjamites to punish them for their sexual misdeeds and he would punish the whole of Israel when it pleased him (Hosea 10:10). So it is hardly surprising that our countries get involved in so much conflict and strife when our people commit similar crimes against God.

We should sow righteousness and ‘reap the fruit of unfailing love’. We have hard unploughed ground in our hearts that the Holy Spirit can break open to reveal a loving heart of flesh. When Jesus died for us on the cross, he showered righteousness on us (Hosea 10:12).   

The Israelites had planted wickedness and reaped evil having ‘eaten the fruit of deception’. They had made the mistake of relying on their own strength and their own warriors rather than relying on the Lord. (Hosea 10:13). This is why God was so upset with King David taking a census of his fighting men (1 Chronicles 21:1).

God planned to devastate the fortresses of Israel and destroy the king of Israel.

God loved the nation of Israel when it was just a fledgling nation and he called it out of from slavery in Egypt. He lifted the yoke from their necks, led them with kindness and fed them. However, the more God called, the further the Israelites went from him.

God would never give up his people entirely, despite their unfaithfulness. God would have compassion for them and show them his forgiveness. When he roared like a lion, the fugitives from Egypt and the people that had been exiled in Assyria would come trembling back to their land and God would resettle them in their homes (Hosea 11:11).

Romans 8:18-39

The whole of creation ‘has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth’ due to its bondage to decay (Rom.8:22). Ever since Eden, the state of the world has been on a steady downwards slide. Humans have become weaker. Our immune systems are breaking down. Allergies are becoming more common. Animals and plants have become extinct, ecosystems have been destroyed and the climate has become less stable. Unbelievers are frantic to reverse this as the earth is all they have but the best we can do is to slow down the process. Christians groan inwardly waiting for eternal life. We know this dying planet will not last forever and is destined to be replaced with a new glorified version. However, we are called to be good stewards of God’s wonderful creation in the meantime. We can all do our bit to lessen our impact on the planet: I drive an electric car, recycle, have installed solar panels and am planning to eat tofu for lunch.  

The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. When we do not know what we should pray for, if we have been given the gift of praying in tongues we can hand over our vocal chords, tongue and lips to God and he prays the perfect prayer for us and those around us (Rom.8:26). The Holy Spirit intercedes for us ‘in accordance with God’s will’ (Rom.8:27) and his prayers will be answered.

We now have the classic verse: ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (Rom.8:28). When we are Christians and bad events / challenges happen in our lives, we can be secure in the knowledge that God is working behind the scenes to bring good out of them.

God knew from before we were conceived, whether we would love him and believe in his son. God doesn’t see time in the linear way we do, he knows everything we are going to do in the future. That doesn’t mean we didn’t exercise our free will to turn to him but because God knew we would choose to be one of his children, he gave us grace and called us from when we were born. Everyone, even the most devout atheist has been given enough grace to respond to God should they chose to do so.

God foreknew all who would choose to be Christians. We were predestined to make our freewill choice having been given the gift of saving grace. We were called and we responded. Through Jesus’s death we are justified. We are glorified through Christ Jesus (Rom.8:29-30).

The greatest example of predestination (apart from Jesus) was that of the Virgin Mary. God knew that when she was a teenager she would agree to be the mother of Jesus, becoming the mother of God. Jesus couldn’t be conceived by a sinner and so God made Mary ‘full of grace’ from the time of her conception.

God created and rules the entire universe and so ‘if God is for us, who can be against us?’ (Rom.8:31). He does not condemn us and did not spare his own son to rescue and redeem us. He will  ‘graciously give us all things’ (Rom.8:32).

Jesus is at the right hand of God and is interceding for all Christians. We can shrug off unjust accusations and charges against us. We only care what God thinks about us and have no fear of other people’s opinions. We conquer all through him who loves us.

Nothing in the whole of creation can separate us from ‘the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom.8:39). This phrase gives us everlasting comfort.

Praise be to God.

Psalm 89:1-8

Let us all sing of the Lord’s great love and faithfulness for ever (Ps.89:1).

His love for us stands firm for ever (Ps.89:2).

This psalm also hints at the existence of a heavenly council of minor ‘gods’ that God created and rules over (Ps.89:7). It mentions ‘the assembly of the holy ones’ (Ps.89:5) and ‘who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings?’ (Ps.89:6). The heavenly beings could equally be angels with Saint Michael the archangel’s name meaning ‘Who is like God?’

As assembly of lesser heavenly beings is a tempting theology as it explains many ancient religions and the Greek and Roman pantheon but these beings, if they even existed, are irrelevant now as God judged and confined them, after they failed to live up to his standards. Our modern-day theology is confined to the Holy Trinity, angels and demons.

We join in with the heavens in praising your wonders, O Lord (Ps.89:5).

Image: bobosh_t, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Amos Calls Israel to Repentance / Paul suggests Abraham was Justified by Faith: July 17th 2021

Amos 5:1-27

Amos lamented over Israel and called the people to repentance. They would no longer win their battles. If the Israelites in a city marched out to war, only ten per cent would survive. The people should seek the Lord and live rather than travel to their idol-worshipping shrines (Amos 5:4). Their main shrine, Bethel, would be reduced to nothing.

Amos convicted the Israelites of their lack of justice and righteousness. They despised those who told the truth and reproved them in court. They oppressed the poor and took their grain and so would not be allowed to enjoy their mansions and lush vineyards.

The prudent man was being forced to keep silent during these evil times as there was no justice in the courts. The righteous were oppressed and bribery was common.

The Israelites should ‘seek good, not evil’ (Amos 5:14) and ‘hate evil, love good’ (Amos 5:15). They should maintain justice in the courts. People are blessed when they live in a society with a relatively just legal system. In our country, justice often prevails and there are also ways to appeal. Justice at lower levels such as magistrates court can easily become warped by secret fraternal societies, letting their members off lightly. However, these people will face justice in the end as members of such societies are automatically excommunicated from the Christian church and so will bitterly repent of their actions for eternity as they remain separated from God.

There would be wailing throughout the land as the Lord passed through their midst. People longing for the day of the Lord would not enjoy it when it arrived. They would be judged in pitch-black darkness not light.

God despised their religious feasts and refused to accept their offerings. He would not listen to their music, God demanded justice and righteousness (Amos 5:24). Because of their idol worship, which included child sacrifice, God would send them into exile ‘beyond Damascus’ (Amos 5:27). The Israelites would soon be conquered by the Assyrians (722 BC) and deported in accordance with this prophecy.

We need to be careful not to feel satisfied with our worship – particularly the lukewarm washed-out worship offered by many churches. God wants us to worship him from our hearts, not as a reluctant religious gathering devoid of love and power.     

Romans 4:1-15

We have a conflict in our theology today. Paul quotes Genesis that ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness’ (Rom.4:1-15). Some pastors explain this using a credit and debit card analogy. They say that believers were all made righteous with God through the death of Jesus on the cross. Abraham lived before Jesus but he was made righteous through his faith by borrowing against the death of Jesus, gaining eternal life on credit. Jesus would eventually pay off Abraham’s credit-card bill by his blood. As we live after the death of Jesus, we can draw on Jesus’ death using a holy debit card. The righteousness is in the bank and we can draw on it,

This is the big debate about whether we can get to heaven based solely on faith or whether we need to both have faith and also live a good life demonstrating love and charity. James wrote clearly that faith alone is not enough to save us, it has to be backed up by deeds (James 2:14). Faith without deeds is useless. Many people don’t understand that time is perceived differently by God. He sees the past, present and future all at the same time. Abraham was considered righteous by offering his son Isaac on the altar. His faith and deeds worked together and his faith was made complete by what he did (James 2:21-22). We have to make our faith complete by what we do. So when Abraham first spoke to God, he was indeed credited with righteousness but only up to the point where he almost sacrificed his son (James 2:23-24). James clearly states that ‘a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone’ (James 2:24). Faith is a channel through which justification comes. Faith is also an unearned gift from God.

The necessity for both faith and deeds has always been the belief of the Mother Church for 1,500 years until the Reformation at which time the Protestant Reformers cut seven books out of the Bible (the Apocrypha). This conveniently removed some of the key texts about doctrines they did not agree with such as praying for the dead and purgatory (2 Maccabees 12:41-46).

By eliminating the Apocrypha, a further reference to the necessity for both faith and deeds was removed: “Was not Abraham tested and found faithful, was that not considered as justifying him?” (1 Maccabees 2:52) (NJB 1985).   

If anyone tells us it is not in the Bible to pray for the dead, that there is no purgatory and that we can gain salvation without good deeds, we can simply point out that their Bible is not big enough. They are missing seven books.

It is the sin of presumption to assume we are saved and will go to heaven. The church does not know who will go to heaven, that is down to the judgement of Jesus and his righteous justice. When we die we have to trust in his mercy. The faith and deeds debate shouldn’t really be an issue as ‘born again’ Christians brimming full of faith tend to do good deeds anyway. However, if we are lukewarm Christians plodding along in a self-centred life, with minimum thought or love for God, we need to fire ourselves up and do some of the acts of charity that Jesus instructed us to do. The ones that will stop us being sent off into the eternal fire (Matt.25:41). We have to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, show hospitality, clothe the naked, visit the sick and visit those in prison (Matt.25:34-36).

To be perfect, we have to sell everything we own, give the money to the poor and follow Jesus (Matt.19:21).

Jesus clearly said we need deeds to inherit eternal life, such as following the commandments (Matt.19:17) and so we should aim for both faith and deeds (Matt.25:46).

We can never be sure we have done enough charitable deeds in this life to warrant eternal life and so we have hope in the merciful judgement of Jesus, whom we love. Through our faith in him, we hope he will forgive the shortcomings of our deeds. ‘In his name the nations will put their hope’ (Matt.12:21).

‘And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us’ (Rom.5:5).

Psalm 86:1-10

I often call out to God, guard my life and those of my relatives because ‘I am devoted to you’ (Ps.86:2). He will save his servants who trust in him and lift up their souls to him. He will bring us peace and joy.

When we die, we can call out to Jesus: ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord’ (Ps.86:3).

Jesus is forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to him (Ps.86:5).

Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord’ (Ps.86:8). An interesting phrase as it implies there are other gods with a small ‘g’. Michael Heiser (2015) lists many of the Bible references that imply there may have been a ‘heavenly council’ of created beings that helped God rule the world. This is a tempting theory as it explains much of the mythology from around the world. However, these ‘gods’ don’t seem to be around anymore – having theoretically been judged and confined – and so we shouldn’t let this concern us too much. They may all have been just imaginary. Whatever powers small ‘g’ gods may have had ‘no deeds can compare’ to those of the one true God.

Our Father is great and does marvellous things. He alone is the big ‘G’ God (Ps.86:10).

Image: Lorenzo Monaco, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hezekiah, King of Judah, threatened by Assyria / Paul shipwrecked. July 9th 2021

2 Kings 18:1-19:13

The Northern Kingdom (Israel) had been exiled to Assyria due to their unrepentant, evil ways. ‘They neither listened to the commands (of God) nor carried them out‘ (2 Kings 18:12).

The kings of Judah (the Southern Kingdom) had annoyed God less. The most God-fearing Judean kings had enjoyed relatively long reigns. God had so far preserved Judah from being conquered by hostile powers.

Hezekiah now became king of Judah and he was particularly righteous. He actually took down the high places – which none of the other respectable kings had done. He eliminated idol worship from the land and even broke into pieces the bronze snake that Moses had made. About time too, because the Israelites had named it and had been burning incense to it. Hezekiah received the ultimate biblical accolade for a king – he did what was right ‘just as his father David had done’ (2 Kings 18:3-4).

Hezekiah trusted in the Lord and there was no-one like him among the kings of Judah – either before or after him (2 Kings 18:5). He kept the Lord’s commands and the Lord was with him. Hezekiah successfully rebelled against the king of Assyria (for four years) and he defeated the Philistines.

Eventually, the formidable king of Assyria, Sennacherib, attacked the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. Hezekiah had to pay him three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold.

Sennacherib then sent a large army to threaten Jerusalem. His commander shouted at the men on the wall of Jerusalem and Hezekiah’s officials that they should not let Hezekiah deceive them by persuading them to trust in the Lord for their deliverance. He said that no God of any nation had ever delivered his land from the king of Assyria (2 Kings 18:33). He advised the people of Jerusalem to make peace and choose life not death. He unwisely blasphemed and slandered God by doubting his ability to deliver Jerusalem.

Hezekiah tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the Lord. He sent officials wearing sackcloth to the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah told them that the Lord had heard the blasphemies against him and that the commander would return to his own country and be cut down with a sword.

This happened as prophesied. The Assyrian army commander heard that the king of Assyria had left his capital, Lachish, and so withdrew from Jerusalem. The king had started an alternative military campaign against Libnah.

Sennacherib sent Hezekiah threatening messages again blaspheming God’s ability to save Jerusalem. It would not be long before God responded and showed His power to deliver those who are faithful to Him.

Acts 27:13-44

The sailors, taking Paul to Rome, were tempted out of harbour by a gentle south wind only to be caught out in a hurricane force wind along the shore of Crete. I went on holiday to Crete in 2019 in September and the weather was terrible. There was a North-East gale blowing all week and the main beach was a death trap. My advice – if you are contemplating a holiday in Crete – is to go to Rhodes instead.

Paul’s ship took such a violent battering from the storm that they began to throw the cargo overhead. Neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the sailors had given up hope of being saved. However, Paul was confident that God would spare them. Paul lecturered the ship’s company that they should have listened to him, which might not have gone down well after a long time without food. However, he prophesied that they would all be saved. Only the ship would be destroyed. An angel had appeared to him and told him not to be afraid, that he must stand trial before Caesar. As mentioned yesterday, this storm was probably demonic in origin. Satan was attempting to prevent the gospel arriving in Rome. Paul declare his faith that they would be delivered just as the angel had told him and that they would run aground ‘on some island’ (Acts 27:26).

After two weeks the sailors sensed they were approaching land. The sailors were going to escape in a lifeboat but Paul advised the soldiers that they would not be saved unless the sailors stayed. The soldiers cut the ropes and let the lifeboat fall away.

Paul urged them to eat some food. Taking bread, giving thanks, breaking it and eating it in front of them, he encouraged them to eat. When all 276 people on board had eaten, they threw the remaining grain into the sea. Now, they had no lifeboat and no food. They were completely dependent on God in the midst of the storm.

When daylight came, they saw a sandy beach but the boat became stuck on a sandbar and was broken to pieces. The centurion stopped the soldiers from killing Paul and the other prisoners. Everyone reached the land in safety either by swimming or floating on planks. God was protecting Paul and everyone he travelled with from the devil’s wrath. Paul had shown himself to be full of faith in God no matter how bad the circumstances were. Despite being a prisoner, his shining faith made him the leader that everyone looked to when danger threatened.

Psalm 82:1-8

This is a particularly interesting Psalm which could set us off down an intriguing rabbit hole of myth and legend.

As Michael Heiser (2015) points out, the same Hebrew word for God is used the first two lines so we have ‘God {elohim} stands in the great assembly; he administers judgement in the midst of the gods {elohim}’ (Psalm 82:1).   

Many people have postulated that in addition to making the angels, a third of whom fell and became demons, God also made a heavenly council of lesser ‘gods’ to help him rule the earth. It’s an intriguing theory because it explains many strange verses in the Bible such as Genesis 6:1-4 which refers to the ‘sons of God’ or Job 38:4-7 when the ‘sons of God’ shouted for joy when God laid the cornerstone of the earth. This theory would also explain the entire mythology of the Egyptian, Greek and Roman pantheon in that the ‘gods’ these ancient people worshipped actually existed and were rogue members of the divine assembly / ‘sons of god’ who started to impregnate human females and run riot on the earth before God judged them and imprisoned them.

Were the Canaanite deities, that the Israelites were seduced into worshipping, part of this heavenly council or demons? Modern-day exorcists such as Stephen Rossetti find that entities such as Baal still possess people today. As they react to prayers of exorcism we can safely categorise them as demons. The last of the giants, slain by David’s men in 2 Samuel 21:15-22 may have been the last few ‘superhumans’, who had been formed by liaisons between the heavenly council and human females – before God stopped this from occurring.    

There is little point dwelling on this matter because even if there used to be supernatural members of the ‘heavenly council’ interfering in human affairs, they don’t seem to be around anymore. If they existed, they have been judged and restrained by God. The Church is silent on this matter but they would hardly want to validate ancient worship traditions. The safest position is to agree with someone like John MacArthur (2021) and assume that the gods referred to in Psalm 82:1 are ‘earthly leaders, to whom He (God) has delegated authority, and (is) condemning their injustices’.  

Modern day humans are overlooked by the Holy Trinity, angels (and their fallen brethren, demons) and the communion of saints.

In fact, Jesus does confirm this more mundane explanation by quoting Psalm 82 in John 10:34-35 ‘Jesus answered then, ‘Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are ‘gods’’. God is in ultimate control of everything both in heaven and on earth, he sits in judgement over all and calls everything in his creation to account.

We all need to defend the cause of widow and orphans and maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. As ambassadors of God on this earth, it is our job to rescue the weak and needy and to deliver them from the hands of the wicked (Ps.82:4).

We must pray that the leaders of our country will not become arrogant and realise that they are not immortal. They will die like every other person and face judgement. We don’t want them to know nothing / to understand nothing and walk around in darkness.

We pray for all leaders, that they will walk around in light filled with wisdom by the Holy Spirit. They must defend the weak, promote justice and not show partiality to the wicked.

Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/paullew/6851736927

Israel Exiled Because of Sin / Paul sails for Rome: July 8th 2021

2 Kings 16:1-17:41

Ahaz became king of Judah. After a recent run of good Judean kings, Ahaz turned to the dark side. He walked in the ways of the evil kings of Israel. He worshipped the Canaanite demonic deities and even performed child sacrifice (2 Kings 16:3).

Ahaz’s capital city, Jerusalem, was besieged by the Arameans and the Israelites. Ahaz sent silver and gold to the king of Assyria and asked to be rescued. The king of Assyria responded and attacked the Aramean capital, Damascus. He captured it, killed the king of Aram and deported its inhabitants.

King Ahaz went to meet his saviour Tiglath-Pileser, king of Assyria, in Damascus and decided he wanted to build a replicate altar to one he saw there. He sent a sketch and detailed plans to Uriah the priest, who had it built before Ahaz returned. This is despite the Lord having told the Israelites not to imitate the nations around them (2 Kings 17:15). Ahaz would use the new altar for sacrifices but would still use the old bronze altar for ‘seeking guidance’ (2 Kings 16:15). He would be lucky to receive any guidance from God with his attitude.

Hoshea became the last king of Israel. For a while, Hoshea paid tribute to the king of Assyria, Shalmaneser, but he traitorously sent envoys to the king of Egypt and stopped paying. Shalmaneser imprisoned Hoshea, invaded the whole of Israel, captured its capital Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria. Even since the Israelites had made Jeroboam king, they had irritated the Lord. Jeroboam had ‘enticed Israel away from following the Lord and caused them to commit a great sin (2 Kings 17:21). They had ignored God’s prophets and so God afflicted them, ‘gave them into the hands of plunderers’ and ‘thrust them from his presence’ (2 Kings 17:20).   

The historian writing 2 Kings summarized that these events ‘all took place because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God’ (2 Kings 17:7). In contrast, the Southern kingdom, Judah, had been fortunate to have many kings that were not as evil as the Israelite kings. God preserved the integrity of Judah thanks to its more positive attitude towards Him, far longer than He protected Israel.

The Israelites had worshipped other gods, most commonly the demonic Canaanite fertility deities Baal and Ashtoreth. They had set up sacred stones and Asherah poles and burned incense in the high places. They worshipped worthless idols making themselves become worthless (2 Kings 17:15). The Israelites had rejected God’s decrees, statutes and covenant. They had carried out child sacrifice, practiced divination and sought omens. They had ignored the warnings from God’s prophets and so God in his righteous anger removed them from his presence.

We now live in such a multi-faith culture that many people syncretize other religions as the Israelites attempted to do. We can attempt to amalgamate and reconcile differing religious beliefs and cultural elements. State run schools are no longer solely Christian focused and will celebrate other faith’s festivals as well as Christmas and Easter. People in the United States feel pressurized to wish each other ‘Happy Holidays’ rather than ‘Happy Christmas’ to feel more inclusive of other faiths. Mohr states that ‘the person most likely to insist on “Merry Christmas” would be a Republican man over 60 who lives in the Midwest; the archetypal “Happy Holidays” proponent is a young (18 to 29) female Democrat living in the Northeast’  https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/using-merry-christmas-or-happy-holidays-no-longer-about-putting-ncna1106181.

Many people today still worship false idols such as celebrity and wealth rather than God. Jesus said ‘you cannot serve both God and Money’ (Matt.6:24). People do not trust God to provide all their basic needs and end up stressed and requiring counselling. They worry about their futures. Jesus said that we should not worry about our lives or what we should eat and drink. We should seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness and ‘all these things will be given to you as well’ (Matt. 6:33).

The Israelites had practiced child sacrifice with even the king, Ahaz, sacrificing his son ‘in the fire’ (2 Kings 16:3). Child sacrifice has become endemic in Western Societies since the 1960’s through the state-sponsored practice of abortion. Over 200,000 unwanted children are killed before birth in the United Kingdom every year for many different reasons including: economic pressures (due to the greed of the rest of society), worship of material possessions and career, lack of desire to be a servant to one’s family and pressure from oppressive / abusive partners who want sex without accepting responsibility for the consequences.

Jesus ‘did not come to be served, but to serve’ (Matt.20:28). In Mark 10:19 he reiterated the commandment: ‘you shall not murder’ and had a particular love for small children ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them’ (Matt.19:14).

The King of Assyria resettled Israel with foreigners, deported from other countries. These people did not know how to worship the Lord, so God sent lions to kill them. The King of Assyria then sent one of the Israelite priests back to Samaria to teach the people how to worship the Lord. However, each national group still set up their own shrines to their national gods. They worshipped the Lord in addition to worshipping their own demonic deities, serving their man-made idols and performing child sacrifice.

Israel was now full of people who did not worship the Lord exclusively, nor did they adhere to the decrees, ordinances, laws and commands that the Lord had given to the Israelites. The country was at a very low spiritual ebb. Many people call themselves Christians in our country but in addition to giving lukewarm occasional worship to God, they also worship other man-made gods and their own desires. It is tempting to follow secular rules and laws rather than God’s commandments. We all need to assess our lives and behaviours to see if we have adopted the attitudes and idols of the non-Christians around us. Are we listening to God and only following him?

Acts 26:24-27:12

Festus shouted at Paul and accused him of being insane (Acts 26:24). Many people think Christians are crazy today but they haven’t actually worked out in their own minds who they think Jesus is. They would rather not think about him at all. There is no denying he is a historical figure – secular historians have confirmed this. Looking at the miracles and wonders he performed, it is true and reasonable to conclude he was the Son of God. He proved this beyond doubt by his resurrection. People who don’t follow Christianity are the ones not living in reality. They deny documented history and will not listen to the truth.

Paul did not lose his cool. He was adamant he was truthful and reasonable. He asked King Agrippa whether he believed the prophets. King Agrippa realised that Paul was attempting to convert him (Acts 26:28). Paul prayed for him and everyone who listens to his words that we will become what he was.

The senior Romans left the room and all agreed that Paul should not even have been imprisoned. He could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar. It seems crazy that they would persist in sending Paul to Rome when they had agreed he was innocent, but God wanted Paul in Rome and they were unwittingly carrying out His will.

Paul was handed over to a centurion called Julius, who would supervise him on the gruelling boat journey to Rome. Luke – the author of Acts – travelled with Paul along with Aristarchus, a Macedonian. Paul was still given a great deal of kindness and freedom during the voyage. Julius allowed him to go to his friends when they stopped in Sidon.

The ships they boarded made slow headway against the wind. It was getting late in the year and Paul prophesied that the trip was going to be disastrous (Acts 27:10). However, the centurion ignored Paul’s advice. They hoped to reach the port of Phoenix in Crete and overwinter there. Just as the devil had tried to sink Jesus’ boat as he crossed the lake to exorcise the Gerasene demoniac, the devil was orchestrating the wind and sea against Paul.

Satan wanted to prevent Paul from reaching Rome as from there his teaching would reach the whole world.

Psalm 81:8-16

Israel would not listen to God so he left them to their own devices (Psalm 81:12). Billions of people do not listen to God today; they follow their own gods and desires – worshipping the false idols of money, career and self.

Our fellow citizens wonder why the world is ravaged by wars, famines, natural disasters and a pandemic. If we would all follow God’s ways, he would quickly subdue our enemies and turn his hand against our foes (Ps.81:14).

The demons have chosen to rebel against the Lord for ever – they and their followers will receive punishment that will last forever (Ps.81:15).

When we repent and turn to God, inviting Jesus into our lives as our personal saviour we will be fed with the finest produce of the land (Ps.81:16)

Image: Alberto Fernandez Fernandez, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

Asa King of Judah / Paul and Silas in Prison: June June 25th 2021

1 Kings 14:21-16:7

The book of 1 Kings now starts alternating between the successive kings of the Northern part of the divided country (the region called ‘Israel’) and the successive kings of the South (the region called ‘Judah’), where Jerusalem was situated. It is mainly a story of abject failure to follow God’s laws.

Rehoboam, son of Solomon, was king of Judah. He was crowned at the age of forty-one and reigned for seventeen years. His mother was an Ammonite. The Ammonites were descended from Ben-Ammi, who was the son of Lot’s youngest daughter. After Lot and his two daughters had escaped from Sodom, his daughters got their father, Lot, drunk every night and had sex with him until they both fell pregnant. The oldest daughter gave birth to Moab, from whom the Moabites were descended. Both the Ammonites and Moabites had been conceived by incest (Gen.19:36-38).

Under Rehoboam’s rule, the country committed evil and angered God even more than it had done under Solomon. The Judeans set up heathen worship sites and had sex with prostitutes in the religious shrines. Their culture had been completely contaminated by the remnants of the indigenous tribes they had failed to exterminate from the promised land (1 Kings 14:24).

In the fifth year of Rehoboam’s rule, the king of Egypt attacked Jerusalem. He ransacked the temple and the palace, carrying off all the gold and treasures. Solomon had wisely protected his kingdom by marrying Pharaoh’s daughter. Without political alliances, Israel and Judah were threatened by powerful neighbours. Instead of the gold shields that Solomon’s guard had used, they now had to use bronze shields. The kingdom was going downhill with continual warfare against the Northern kingdom (Israel) ruled by the evil Jeroboam.

Abijah became king of Judah after Rehoboam. He only reigned for three years. He committed all the same sins as his father Rehoboam. God was after a king whose heart was fully devoted to him, as the heart of David had been. David had not failed to keep the Lord’s commands all the days of his life – apart from his adulterous affair with the wife of Uriah the Hittite, whom David had murdered (1 Kings 15:5).

After Abijah came Asa. He reigned for forty-one years. He was a breath of fresh air as he obeyed the Lord (1 Kings 15:11). He expelled the shrine-prostitutes and got rid of his father’s idols. He even deposed the evil queen mother, his grandmother, because of her worship of a Canaanite fertility deity. Even though he didn’t manage to remove the high places, Asa’s heart was fully committed to God (1 Kings 15:14).

Asa’s Southern kingdom of Judah was still at war with the North (Israel) now ruled by King Baasha. Asa wisely bought a tactical alliance with the powerful king of Damascus, Ben-Hadad, using all his remaining treasure. Ben-Hadad captured enemy towns in Israel forcing King Baasha to withdraw from threatening Judah’s borders.

Meanwhile, in Israel, Nadab became king after Jeroboam but only reigned for two years before being assassinated by Baasha. Baasha fulfilled the word of the prophet Ahijah (1 Kings 14:10-11) by killing Jeroboam’s entire family. This was because of the sins Jeroboam had personally committed and had also caused Israel, the country under his rule, to commit.

Baasha continued to commit the same sins as Jeroboam had done and so a prophet, Jehu, prophesied that he and his family would meet the same disastrous end (1 Kings 16:3). He had lived by the sword and would die by the sword.

Throughout the book of Kings, the rulers of both Israel and Judah were judged by God on their actions and the attitudes of their hearts. God was always comparing them to David, a man after God’s own heart. Only Asa, king of Judah, has measured up to this ideal so far, which is why God allowed him to rule for forty-one years. Evil rulers had far shorter reigns.

Acts 16:16-40

A slave girl who was possessed by an evil fortune-telling spirit kept following Paul and the rest of the disciples. She made a great deal of money for her owners. Evil spirits can’t actually tell you the future. Only God knows the future. However, because demons are immensely clever, they can generally predict the future, working it out from knowledge of people’s behaviour and habits. They also have access to hidden knowledge / lists of people’s sins and can make events happen in the future to match their predictions. If a fortune teller predicts that someone will have a car crash next week, they could send a demon to cause the crash. Christians are not allowed to consult fortune tellers but if one forced a negative prediction on us like that, we should pray to God that he will send his holy angels to prevent it from happening. The fortune telling girl following the disciples simply identified who the disciples were and what they were doing. This was common knowledge amongst all the local evil spirits working together in an evil hierarchy (Acts 16:17)

Paul became so troubled by the slave girl that he ordered the spirit to come out of her (Acts 16:18). The spirit obeyed. For a successful exorcism, the person being prayed for usually has to want to be freed and so we can assume the slave girl kept following the disciples because she wanted liberation.

The owners of the slave girl were furious to have lost their income and so had the magistrates strip and beat Paul and Silas and throw them into prison. They were put in the inner cell with their feet in stocks. Paul and Silas were irrepressible and were praying and singing to God at midnight when there was a violent earthquake. All the prison doors flew open and everybody’s chains came loose. The other prisoners had been listening to Paul and Silas all evening and so their spiritual shackles may well have come loose too.

The jailer was going to kill himself thinking all his prisoners had escaped but Paul reassured him (Acts 16:28). He asked the apostles what he must do to be saved. Paul replied: ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and all your household’ (Acts 16:31). They told him and his family the gospel message, The jailer washed their wounds and he and his family were baptized. They seized the chance while the apostles were there. They recognised the chance for salvation and the whole family were filled with joy, because they had come to believe in God. The jailer had been in spiritual jail because of sin. The blood of Jesus washed him and family clean and gave them eternal freedom and life.

The magistrates ordered Paul and Silas to be released in the morning but they refused to go. They had a surprise for the corrupt magistrates, they were Roman citizens and should not have been treated so disrespectfully. The magistrates had to come personally to appease them and escort them from the prison. They ‘requested’ that they should leave the city rather than demanded it.

Paul and Silas went back to Lydia’s house and encouraged the other believers with their incredible testimony before leaving.

God brought some good out of the disciples being thrown into jail. Not only did the fellow inmates hear from the apostles, but also an entire family was saved. The jailer would then have been able to talk about Jesus to all future prisoners. Prison can be a place of wonderful spiritual renewal where people at their lowest ebb can finally find God. We might get a chance to visit a prison one day and think that we will be bringing Jesus in with us. However, we will find that Jesus is already there.

Proverbs 15:21-30

Unlike the foolish king Rehoboam, we should listen to many wise counsellors and actually act on their advice (Prov.15:22). When we are wise, we will stick to the straight path of life that leads upwards.

The Lord tears down the proud man’s house. He doesn’t like greed and He detests the thoughts of wicked people. He is far from them.

Jesus Christ made us righteous with God through his death on the cross and so God will hear our prayers (Prov.15:29).

We should weigh our answers and delight in a holy, timely and apt reply.

We should remain cheerful at all times, just as Paul and Silas did when sitting sit-by-side in stocks in the prison (Prov.15:30). Their cheerful songs and looks brought joy to the heart of other prisoners. The good news of the Gospel brought everlasting life to their jailer and his family.

Image: Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

The Queen of Sheba visits Solomon / The Council at Jerusalem: June 22nd 2021

1 Kings 9:10-11:13

It had taken twenty years for Solomon to build both the temple of the Lord and his royal palace. His ally, Hiram king of Tyre, had supplied him with materials all this time and so, in return, Solomon gave him twenty towns. However, Hiram was not impressed with the quality of them. He called them the ‘Land of Cabul’ (1 Kings 9:13) which means ‘good for nothing’. Meanwhile, Solomon had rebuilt and built-up selected cities throughout his territory.

Solomon created a huge slave labour force from the remnants of the indigenous Canaanite tribes that the Israelites had not managed to exterminate. Solomon kept to the prescribed schedule for offerings to the Lord. He also built ships, manned by Hiram’s sailors, that travelled to Ophir to bring back gold.

The queen of Sheba heard about Solomon’s fame and came to test him with hard questions. Nothing was too hard for him to explain to her. She was overwhelmed at the opulence of Solomon’s court.  She gave the king gold, precious stones and a huge quantity of spices. She praised God for having placed Solomon on the throne (1 Kings 10:9).

There are a couple of interesting legends about the visit from the queen of Sheba. The first is that Solomon allegedly seduced her (1 Kings 10:13) and she later bore him a son, Menilek, who would eventually take the ark of the Covenant from Jerusalem and take it to Ethiopia ( https://www.britannica.com/place/Aksum-Ethiopia#ref42419). The second legend is that Solomon had tried to incorporate wood from the ‘tree of life’ that had come from Eden into the temple, but it had been too supple. He had used it instead to make a bridge, which the queen of Sheba refused to cross because she prophesied that the wood would bring an end to the Jews. Solomon buried the wood but from this location, the healing spring of Bethesda started and eventually a large plank of wood floated to the top of the healing pool it supplied (John 5:1-2). This wood was used to make Jesus’ cross.

The weight of all the gold that Solomon received yearly was 666 talents (1 Kings 10:14). I wonder whether this number is significant (Revelation 13:17-18). The number 666 may be associated with Solomon’s gradual fall from grace, his accumulation of horses and wealth, his abuse of power, lust for women, and his turning away from true worship of God.

The king made himself a massive throne inlaid with ivory and overlaid with fine gold (1 Kings 10:20). All of his household articles were made from gold. The whole world came to hear the wisdom that God had put into his heart and he was greater in riches than all the other kings of the world.

Solomon accumulated a vast number of chariots and horses, breaking the commandments (Deut. 17:16-17) which forbade the king from accumulating gold, horses (particularly horses from Egypt) and wives.

Solomon was also unfaithful to his wife, Pharaoh’s daughter, not only (allegedly) with the queen of Sheba but also with women from all the nations that God had banned the Israelites from intermarrying. He had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines and his foreign wives lead him astray (1 Kings 11:2-3). It is very easy to be lead astray by those we love and know best.

According to Deuteronomy, the king was meant to write down God’s law on a scroll and read it all the days of his life. Instead, Solomon started to follow heathen gods (1 Kings 11:5-6) doing evil in the eyes of the Lord. This was incredible behaviour when God himself (Jesus) had personally appeared to Solomon twice. He probably became convinced of his own brilliance and was consumed with lust for attractive women – as his father, King David, had illicitly lusted after Bathsheba.

God was justifiably furious and told Solomon that the kingdom would be torn away from him (1 Kings 11:11). For the sake of Solomon’s righteous father, David, this would not happen in Solomon’s lifetime and would leave just a single tribe for the sake of David and Jerusalem.

Hopefully, Solomon was sufficiently mortified by this judgement or did he just revel in his own brilliance, gold, fame, horses and women for the rest of his life? Judging by the book of Ecclesiastes he became clinically depressed (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Considering he was the wisest man in the world, Solomon appeared to have made a very foolish decision. He may have been led astray by his studies of the occult. Solomon was so wise and knowledgeable he studied multiple subjects including the occult. Several spell books that are alleged to have been written by him are still available today with incantations for summoning demons and getting them to do our bidding. Why did the wisest man in the world start to follow other gods and goddesses? There is a veritable list of these gods (with a small g) in 1 Kings 11:5-7. Solomon, as king, could have forced his wives just to worship the one true God but, in his wisdom, he went with their traditions. Michael Heiser in his book ‘The Unseen Realm’ offers an insight into what might have been going on. He postulates that these gods and goddesses were actually real and had been created by God to form a heavenly council before the foundation of the earth. Like the demons, they rebelled against God and ruled the earth badly, so God had to judge them and confine them. Verses that suggest the existence of this heavenly council include Psalm 82:1, Job 38:4-7, and Psalm 89:5-7. Solomon made the mistake of investigating this mythology, possibly thinking it could benefit him. However, we should not let these matters concern us. Our God is above all other ‘small g’ gods as the creator of the universes and everything within it (Exodus 15:11, Deut.3:24, 1 Kings 8:23, Psalm 97:9).   

Let us try not to make the same mistakes as Solomon. We should never let our hearts turn away from God and we should worship the Holy Trinity alone.  

Acts 15:1-21

The apostles had to counter false teaching at ‘The Council at Jerusalem’. Converts from Judah had been preaching that Gentiles had to become circumcised before they could be saved. That would have put a lot of Gentiles off from becoming Christians.

Peter stood up in the church in Jerusalem and pointed out that God had accepted Gentiles just as they were. God had given them the Holy Spirit, just as He had been given to the apostles (Acts 15:8). God knew the heart of these Gentiles and did not care if they were physically circumcised. He had purified their hearts by faith (Acts 15:9).

As the Jews had not been able to fully comply with the law, why should the Gentiles now be saddled with the same impossible task. We are all saved through grace – a free, unearned gift from God (Acts 15:11).

The assembly became silent as they listed to Barnabas and Paul testify about the signs and wonders that God had done among the Gentiles through them.

James (the Lessor) took on the leadership role in the council and made a judgment. Two of the twelve apostles were named James. This one (James the ‘Lessor’) was the Son of Alphaeus and a cousin of Jesus. The other James (‘James the ‘Great’’ – with great meaning older or taller) was the brother of John and had been previously executed by Herod in AD 44 (Acts 12:1-2). James the Great is buried in Santiago de Compostela in Spain. James the Lessor is buried along with his fellow apostle, Saint Philip, in the Basilica dei Santi Apostoli in Rome.

James wisely proclaimed that they should not make it difficult for the Gentiles to turn to God (Acts 15:19). Not only had God demonstrated that uncircumcised Gentiles could receive the Holy Spirit, but also the prophets had predicted that Gentiles would bear Jesus’ name (Acts 15:15). James judged that the Gentiles should only be banned in writing from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood (Acts 15:20). Like Solomon and David before him, millions of Gentile Christians do choose to live in sexual immorality front but God is always willing to forgive and forget if we contritely repent and renounce our sinful activities.

Psalm 77:1-9

I have cried out to God several times over the last few years. God allowed me to endure a couple of major trials to refine me and strengthen me. However, he rescued me each time and much good came out of my tribulations. I am a much better person today thanks to temporary suffering, when my spirit grew faint.

When we cry out and groan to God in distress, he will send people to help us. They may well be active Christians – living in the Spirit – but God also uses worldly people to rescue us. He bends secular people to his will, without them realising it, to deliver salvation on His behalf.

God will not reject us forever or forget to be merciful. He will show us again his unfailing love when the time is right for both Him and us.

Praise and honour to the Lord.

Image: Jacopo Tintoretto, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Reference:

Solomon Dedicates the Temple / Paul Heals a Man Crippled from Birth: June 21st 2021

1 Kings 8:22-9:9

Solomon stood before the altar of the new temple, in front of the whole assembly of Israel and prayed.

There is no God like ours. He keeps a covenant of love ‘with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way’ (1 Kings 8:23).

Solomon prayed for his descendants that they would continue on the throne if they would faithfully walk before God as King David had done.  

Solomon asked: ‘But will God really dwell on earth?’ (1 Kings 8:27). Jesus came to dwell among us after his incarnation. God came to earth to serve and to save us. The temple would meanwhile serve as a place where God would ‘hear the prayer that your servant prays towards this place (1 Kings 8:29). Solomon prayed for God to both hear and forgive.

Solomon asked God to dispense justice, forgive the sin of Israel, teach them the right way to live and send rain on the land.

Solomon also asked God to hear the prayers of foreigners (Gentiles) so that ‘all the peoples of the earth may know your (God’s) name and fear you’ (1 Kings 8:43). He prophesied that because of Israel’s sins, ‘for there is no-one who does not sin’ (1 Kings 8:46), the Israelites would be defeated and exiled. Solomon prayed that in the future, the exiled Jews would be heard and forgiven when they turned back to God with their heart and soul in the land of their enemies.

God had singled out Israel from all the peoples of the world to be His inheritance. Solomon prayed that God’s eyes would also be open to the Israelites when they were in distress and that He would listen when they cried out to Him.

Solomon then blessed the whole assembly of Israel reminding them that not one word of God’s promises had failed. He prayed that God would never leave or forsake them and that He would help by turning their hearts towards him in order to keep his commands, decrees and regulations (1 Kings 8:57-58). Solomon told the Israelites that their hearts must be fully committed to the Lord our God.  Is our own heart fully committed to God? We should ask this question of ourselves everyday and if the answer is ‘no’ , repent and renounce our failings and pray for more faith and commitment.

The temple was then dedicated with the sacrifice of a massive number of cattle, sheep and goats (1 Kings 8:63). There was a festival that lasted 14 days before the king sent the vast assembly of people home. The people blessed King Solomon and went away joyful and glad in heart (1 Kings 8:66).

The Lord again appeared to Solomon. This must have been Jesus as no-one can see God the Father and live. Jesus said that his eyes and heart would always be at the temple. Jesus again gave a blessing and a curse. If Solomon obeyed all the decrees and laws, his kingdom would be established for ever. But if he, or his sons, turned away from God then disaster would strike. God would cut them off and reject the temple if they embraced ‘other gods, worshipping and serving them’ (1 Kings 9:9).

Israel’s future was entirely down to the behaviour and actions of its king and people. They could choose a wonderful everlasting relationship with God or disaster, if they sinned and turned from God. We know which option they chose. People are so sinful they cannot stick to the path of faith and obedience, which is why Jesus would have to return to earth, become sin and take our punishment so that eternal life became a gift rather than something we could fail to earn.

Acts 14:8-28

Paul healed a crippled man in a very similar way to both Peter (Acts 3:6) and Jesus (Mark 2:11). Paul looked directly at the man, saw that he had faith to be healed and ordered him to stand up. Even though the man had been lame from birth and had never walked, the man jumped up and began to walk (Acts 14:9-10). My wife offered to pray for a lady in the street the other day who had confessed to having a medical worry. The lady, after a little thought, asked her not to pray because she had no belief. At least a seed was sown in this lady’s mind about our God being a healing God. We should move on and find people who have the faith to be healed – whilst praying that non-believers find faith, which would enable them to be healed.

When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they wanted to offer sacrifices to the two apostles as gods. Paul and Barnabas were horrified and insisted they were human. They were bringing the crowd the Good News telling them to turn to the living God, who had created everything. They had great difficulty in stopping the crowds from worshipping them.

Jews had followed them from the cities where they had previously preached. They won the fickle crowd over, stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city ‘thinking he was dead’ (Acts 14:19). The disciples gathered around him and he got up and went back into the city. Paul had amazing stamina and the healing power of the Holy Spirit to help him.

The next day, Paul and Barnabas left for Derbe and then returned to the other cities they had already preached in, despite having faced antagonism. They were fearless and prepared to lose their lives for the gospel. They had put their trust in God but expected to face hardships along the way (Acts 14:22).

Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in every church and committed them to the Lord ‘with prayer and fasting‘ (Acts 14:23). They travelled back to Antioch to explain how God had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. They stayed a long time back with their home church. It is wonderful to have a specific congregation to go back to, to give them our testimony and share how their prayers for our missionary work have borne fruit.

Proverbs 15:11-20

The cheerful heart has a continued feast and a happy heart makes the face cheerful.

A patient man calms a quarrel. Upright people live their lives on a highway, whereas lazy people find their paths blocked (Prov.15:19).

We don’t want to be hot-headed as this will stir up dissension. If we resent being corrected and don’t like to ask wise people for advice, we may be proud and mocking. Discerning people seek knowledge (Prov.15:14).

I love sharing a fellowship meal with Christians because you can feel the love in the room. The food does not have to fancy (Prov.15:17).

If we show wisdom, we will bring our parent’s joy. A foolish man despises his mother (Prov.15:20). Jesus cared for his mother so much that he arranged a permanent place for her in John’s house while he was on the cross (John 19:26-27).

Image:  National Gallery of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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