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 asks for Wisdom / Peter’s Miraculous Escape from Prison: June 17th 2021

Kings 2:13-3:15

David’s son, Adonijah, had been outmanoeuvred in his attempt to become king of Israel. David had ensured that his younger son, Solomon, would succeed him.

Solomon would only let his elder brother live if he proved himself to be a worthy man (1 Kings 1:52) and so Adonijah should have led a quiet, respectable life. However, lust was his undoing as it had been for his father.

Adonijah went to Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba, and asked a favour. He wanted her to ask her son, King Solomon, if he could take the deceased King David’s beautiful, virgin, bedwarmer (Abishag) as his wife.

This was a terrible mistake. Solomon was infuriated by this disrespectful request. He probably also had his eye on Abishag. Adonijah was one of his elder brothers and so had a valid claim on the throne. If Solomon gave him a woman whom David had spent most of this time with during his dotage, this would make him even more of a threat (1 Kings 2:22).

Solomon had inherited Benaiah as captain of his bodyguards and he ordered him to kill Adonijah. It was then time to deal with the rest of Adonijah’s allies. Solomon sent Abiathar the priest back to his fields, removing him from the priesthood. Solomon told him that he deserved to die for conspiring against him but Abiathar had been loyal to King David and ‘shared all my father’s hardships’ (1 Kings 2:26).

Solomon then had to deal with Joab, the ruthless commander of the army. Joab had fled to the tent of the Lord, after hearing about Adonijah and Abiathar, and was beside the altar seeking sanctuary. Solomon did not grant him mercy and ordered him to be killed there for his crimes (the murders of Abner, Amasa and his conspiracy to oust David from the throne during his last days). Joab had also disobediently killed David’s other rebelling son, Absalom, despite explicit instructions from David that he shouldn’t be harmed. On the other hand, Joab had fought valiantly for David on many occasions as chief of the army. He could have been retired to somewhere harmless for his generally loyal support to David but he was an extremely dangerous man and Solomon wanted to secure his throne.

Solomon did give the disrespectful Shimei a chance. He told him to stay in Jerusalem or he would be executed. Three years later, Shimei left the city briefly to retrieve two runaway slaves. This was the excuse Solomon needed to have him killed and his kingdom was now firmly established (1 Kings 2:46).

There are some interesting principles at work here. When Adonijah desired Abishag, he asked Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba, to intercede for him on the grounds that he would not refuse her. She even instructed her son the king not to refuse her (1 Kings 2:20). Christians in the Mother Church pray today to the Blessed Virgin Mary asking her to intercede for them, for her to talk to her son, Jesus Christ, in order to get their prayer requests to the top of the queue. They want her to use her influence over her son. This can be extremely effective. However, it has got to be a godly request that fully complies with all principles in the Bible. Solomon refused the request from his brother even though it had been mediated through his mother because it put his own rule at risk. God gives us what we need not necessarily what we desire – particularly if those desires are harmful.

Solomon had tidied up all the unfinished business of King David and had extended mercy to Abiathar the priest and Shimei. However, he was not going to put up with disobedience and so Shimei eventually provoked his own execution. I feel slightly sorry for Joab, who had fought valiantly for his uncle David. Two of Joab’s killings (Abner and Absalom) had tidied up problems for David. However, Joab was a dangerous individual prone to disobedience. Solomon wanted no responsibility for the murders that Joab had committed (1 Kings 2:33). If we live by the sword, we die by the sword. Just as Joab had been the hatchet man for King David, Solomon now had Benaiah to do his dirty work for him.

Solomon started to make political alliances. He married an Egyptian princess. Because a temple had not yet been built, the Israelites were still sacrificing at the high places. The Israelites had been instructed to destroy all the high places where the Canaanites had worshipped their gods (Num.33:52 and Deut.12:2-6). The Israelites at the start of Solomon’s reign seemed to be blending religions by using the traditional Canaanite worship sites for the worship of our one true God. ‘The Lord’ appeared to Solomon in a dream, where he had travelled to offer sacrifices at the most important high place and said: ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you’ (1 Kings 3:5). As no-one can see the face of God and live, this must have been Jesus appearing to Solomon and conversing with him – yet another Christophany.

Solomon was already wise for a young man but he asked for even more wisdom in order to be a just leader (1 Kings 3:9). Jesus was delighted that Solomon had not asked for long life, wealth or the death of his enemies and so he gave him the wisest and most discerning heart of any man ever and also gave him riches and honour. If he walked in God’s ways and obeyed his statutes and commands, he would also have a long life (1 King 3:12-14).

Solomon realised that his dream had been life changing. He now had the confidence to stand in front of the ark of the covenant and make sacrifices to God. He then gave a feast for all his court. When we know that God has broken into our lives and spoken to our hearts, we can’t help but celebrate.

Acts 11:19-12:19a

Disciples, other than Peter, had also started to convert Gentiles. Some disciples had travelled to Antioch, where Greeks then became believers and turned to the Lord.

The disciples sent Barnabas to encourage the new believers to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts (Acts 11:23). Barnabas went to fetch Saul from Tarsus and brought him to Antioch, where they both preached for a year. This is where believers first became known as ‘Christians’.

A Christian prophet stated there would be a severe famine over the entire Roman world. The disciples were happy to send monetary assistance to their brothers living in Judea. To a Christian, excess money is best used to help other people.

The wicked King Herod put James, the brother of John, to death. As this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter too. As Peter was detained in the Jerusalem prison, the church ‘earnestly’ prayed for him. Even through Peter was under close guard, he was rescued by an angel in the night (Acts 12:7). Peter had to get up and follow the angels’ instructions to escape.

It must have strengthened Peter’s faith to know that God supported his mission (Acts 12:11). If we as a church really want something to happen we have to put effort into our praying. God answered the fledgling church’s earnest prayers.

Peter fled to the house of John Mark’s mother. This John Mark was the Mark who wrote the second gospel.

A servant girl heard Peter’s voice outside the door but other people in the house did not believe her. It seemed impossible for Peter to escape and they said, ‘It must be his angel’ (Acts 12:15). The Jews held the same tradition as Christians that each one of us is assigned a Guardian Angel at the time we are conceived. However, the Jews also believed that a Guardian angel looked identical to the person they were protecting and evidently also sounded the same.

The disciples eventually opened the door and were astonished to see the real Peter. Peter asked them to pass his story onto James and the other brothers and then left to hide from Herod in a less obvious location.

Herod could not find Peter in the morning. He was not lenient on the guards who had failed to retain him (Acts 12:19). This story shows how much of a threat Herod thought Peter was. Herod had no intention of allowing Peter to be rescued. Peter had been chained and made to sleep between two soldiers with sentries on guard at the entrance. Some pastors say that God does not intervene directly after Jesus died and relies on human beings to do his work for us. The disciples did earnestly pray for Peter’s release but it was no human who came to his rescue. God had demonstrated he was willing to deploy angelic assistance to save the apostles when there was no other alternative.

Proverbs 15:1-10

Our tongue is the most powerful organ in our body. We can protect ourselves with our tongue (Prov.15:1). We can praise, spread knowledge and bring healing with our tongue.

A wicked tongue stirs up anger and gushes folly. A deceitful one crushes the spirit.

God is pleased with the prayers of the upright. He loves those who pursue righteousness (Prov.15:9) and will fill their house with great treasure. He detests the ways and sacrifices of the wicked. Their income will bring them trouble.

We should prudently listen to valid criticism as it may keep us alive. We cannot escape from God; he is everywhere and in everything. His eyes are everywhere. No sin is ever secret. He keeps watch on the wicked and the good (Prov.15:3).

Image: By Bartolomé Esteban Murillo – http://www.hermitagemuseum.org/tmplobs/T0W0Q86QNMP6XMQX2.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9639644

Death of King David / Peter Baptizes Cornelius: June 16th 2021

1 Kings 1:1-2:12

King David was now old and so his servants found a beautiful virgin girl, Abishag, to wait on him and keep him warm in bed. The king did not have sexual relations with her.

Adonijah, another one of David’s wayward, handsome sons started to set himself up as the next king. He gained the support of Joab, which is unusual as Joab was usually very politically astute. Abiathar the priest also supported Adonijah.

Adonijah invited the royal officials and all the other sons of the king, apart from Solomon, to a gathering where he made sacrifices intending to be appointed as king.

Nathan the prophet went to warn Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, that both her and Solomon’s lives were in danger if she did not act fast. Adonijah was likely to execute threats to his throne if he succeeded in taking over.

Bathsheba and Nathan informed King David that Adonijah was in the process of setting himself up as king.

King David confirmed his solemn oath to Bathsheba that Solomon would become king.

David promptly abdicated telling Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet to anoint Solomon as king over both Israel and Judah and set him on his throne.

Adonijah was terrified at this news. His guests rose in alarm and dispersed and Adonijah sought sanctuary by holding onto the horns of the altar. Solomon allowed him to live and go home as long as he proved himself to be a worthy man (1 Kings 1:52).

David instructed Solomon on how to be a good king. He should be ‘strong, show yourself a man and observe what the Lord your God requires’ (1 Kings 2:2-3).

It was vital that Solomon should keep all the requirements in the Law of Moses so that he would prosper and his descendants would always retain the throne.

David told Solomon the crimes of Joab and Shimei and advised him to deal with them according to his wisdom. He asked Solomon to respect the loyalty that the sons of Barzillai of Gilead had shown him.

David then died after forty years on the throne and was buried in ‘The City of David’ (1 Kings 2:10). There is no clear consensus in modern times as to where David’s tomb is. Some think it is in Jerusalem but this would have been stated clearly. To me, ‘The City of David’ is Bethlehem (Luke 2:4). One 4th century traveller found a vault in Bethlehem reputed to contain the tombs of David, Ezekiel, Jesse, Solomon, Job and Asaph with these names carved into the tomb walls (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David%27s_Tomb). 1 Kings 3:1 clearly shows that the ‘City of David’ is not Jerusalem.

Not many people have led a life as extraordinary as David’s. Plucked from obscurity, an overlooked youngest child tending the sheep, he was anointed as the successor to the first King of Israel. As a young boy he defeated a formidable giant dressed in scale armour, showing how he would stand up for God’s people against the forces of evil. He was an amazingly brave and a ferocious fighter who won and retained the loyalty of the nation of Judah.

David showed himself to be a strong man, rather too strong in his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband. David had serious faults but he was quick to apologise to God. He loved truth, loyalty and integrity. He refused to kill Saul, the Lord’s anointed king. He was quick to forgive and didn’t want his son Absalom harmed even when he had almost usurped David as king. He longed to build a permanent temple for God but he had soiled his hands with too much blood. Above all, God communicated with him and David listened making him one of the foremost prophets and author of so many awesome psalms. Above all, David was a man after God’s own heart and that is what we should try to emulate (Acts 13:22).

Like David, we should do everything that God wants us to do.

Acts 10:32b-11:18

Peter travelled to see Cornelius, the Roman Centurion who had called for him. Peter took backup with him, some of the brothers from Joppa. Cornelius had gathered together his relatives and close friends to meet them. It is wonderful to read about such excitement and anticipation. We should feel this whenever we go to church and pastors / priests should be working to promote this by allowing the Holy Spirit to work freely and unpredictably in any church gatherings.

Cornelius fell at Peter’s feet in reverence but Peter made him get up (Acts 10:26). It is only God that we worship. Everyone else, including angels, are fellow servants of God and we should treat them like friends and comrades, not masters (Revelation 22:8-9).

It was against the law for Peter to associate with or visit any Gentile but God in a vision had showed him not to call any man impure or unclean (Acts 10:28). God’s laws trump human and religious laws.

Peter had realised that God does not show favouritism for one nation over another. God ‘accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right’ (Acts 10:35). Peter preached about Jesus’ ministry (Acts 10:38). Peter declared he was a witness of everything that Jesus did.

Mankind had been at war with God because of our disobedience and sin but, through Jesus, those who believe now have peace with our heavenly father (Acts 10:36).

As Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit came upon all who heard the gospel message and they started speaking in tongues and praising God. This astonished the Jews who had travelled with Peter (Acts 10:45-46). The unbaptized, Gentile believers had been given the Holy Spirit. This flies in the face of modern theology, which states that people always receive the Holy Spirit when they are baptized. Many people just receive a tiny mustard seed of the Holy Spirit and never do anything with it so it doesn’t fully grow / develop / burst into flames of faith. However, the Holy Spirit cannot be confined to rules and doctrines. He is God and can do what he wants, when he wants. In this particular circumstance, the coming of the Holy Spirit was the catalyst that pushed Peter into baptising these converts. Peter might not have had the confidence to do this, if the evidence of speaking in tongues had not confirmed that they obeyed God and believed in him (Acts 10:47-48).

Peter ordered that Cornelius and his household should be baptized and they then asked Peter to remain with them for a few days. How wonderful it must have been for them to have the head of the new church, the first pope, the keeper of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, to stay with them and tell them his extraordinary testimony.

This amazing event opened up Christianity to non-Jews around the globe. I am a Christian thanks to Cornelius inviting Peter to visit him.

Peter then had to explain his actions to the rest of the church. He told the circumcised believers about his vision and how the Spirit had instructed him to visit, after Cornelius had been visited by an angel. The Holy Spirit had promised that Peter would bring him ‘a message through which you and all your household will be saved’ (Acts 10:14). All Christians are now commissioned to bring this same message to other people.

This is a good example of predestination. God had looked into the future and seen Cornelius becoming a Christian when he heard Peter’s message and so he gave sufficient grace to Cornelius earlier in his life to be a Godly person with a desire to seek salvation. God knew he would respond to the angel’s instruction to call for Peter.

Peter described how the Holy Spirit had come on the Gentiles as he had begun to speak ‘as he had come on us at the beginning’ (Acts 11:15). ‘The beginning’ must mean the day of Pentecost, the beginning of the Christian church.

God had baptised these believers with the Holy Spirit ahead of them being baptized with water (Acts 11:16).

The other apostles in Jerusalem accepted Peter’s testimony and praised God.

Peter’s perfect logic was ‘So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God’ (Acts 11:17). It is wonderful that the apostles were not jealous in any way of the new believers, unlike the Pharisees and the Chief Priests who had persecuted Jesus because they had wanted to retain power and status.

The apostles summarised this latest revelation: ‘So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life’ (Acts 11:18). The phrase ‘even the Gentiles’ shows how revolutionary this message was. From this event we can see some keys principles of accepting the gift of eternal life. We have to repent. We have to accept the message about Jesus Christ and believe in him so that we will be given the gift of the Holy Spirit. We have to be baptized.

Speaking in Tongues is a great way of bringing different people groups and denominations together. It proves we obey God and believe in Christ. Nicky Gumbel (p.350) saw that he could not withhold the Protestant Alpha course from Catholics, when at the first Catholic Alpha course he witnessed all the Catholics praying in tongues, the same supernatural gift that had been given to his Protestant converts. Similarly, I visited my local Pentecostal church as a Charismatic Catholic and witnessed my new Protestant friends exhibiting the same gifts I had. The gifts of the Holy Spirit make us realise we are all one big church family and we should work together and love each other for the glory of God.

Psalm 74:10-17

The Psalmist still did not understand why God was holding back his hand but God always has very good reasons for any delays. He will eventually bring justice to those who have mocked and reviled him.

God brings salvation upon the earth ultimately through Jesus Christ’s death once and for all on the cross.

God is all powerful. He owns the day and the night and established the sun and the moon. He made both summer and winter. Winter has its own beauty but the harsher aspects of it help us appreciate the summer periods of our lives.

God can split open the sea, crush the heads of seas monsters and dry up ever-flowing rivers. Praise the Lord that we have been reconciled to him and received the everlasting gift of peace with our awesome Father through Jesus’ death on the cross.

Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ideacreamanuela2/5585080402

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

Amnon and Tamar / Ananias and Sapphira: June 8th 2021

2 Samuel 13:1-39

Amnon, the eldest son of King David, fell in love with one of his half-sisters: Tamar. They both had different mothers.

Amnon desired Tamar even though sexual relations between half-siblings was strictly banned under Jewish law (Lev.18:9).

Following the advice of his cunning uncle / friend, Jonadab, Amnon pretended to be sick and asked King David if Tamar could make him some food and feed it to him. David instructed her to do this. Tamar made Amnon bread but he did not eat it, he forcibly raped her. Once this had happened, Amnon’s love changed to hate and he kicked Tamar out. She put ashes on her head and tore her ornamental robe (2 Sam.13:19). She went to live with her brother Absalom as ‘a desolate woman’. King David was furious but did not discipline Amnon. Absalom said nothing but hated Amnon because of what he had done to his sister. Yesterday, we read about David’s adulterous affair that resulted in murder. Sexual sin and violence were running in the family.

King David should have ensured that justice was served. Rulers cannot afford to let serious crimes go unpunished.

Two years later, Absalom invited King David and his officials to a party. David blessed him and sent all of his sons instead. Absalom ordered his men to kill the rapist, Amnon. All of the other king’s sons fled. David received a false news report that all of his sons had been murdered by Absalom, not just Amnon. David did not take this news well (2 Sam.13:31).

Absalom fled and stayed in Geshur for three years. King David mourned for Amnon everyday but still missed Absalom (2 Sam.13:37). If David had acted justly at the time of Amnon’s crime he might not have lost two sons. Rulers cannot neglect discipline even when the guilty person is their own child.

God had disciplined David for his adulterous affair with Bathsheba. David had not disciplined his own son for a different sexual crime and was now suffering for his weak leadership.

Acts 4:23-5:11

Peter and John went back to their fellow disciples and reported how they had been treated by the chief priests and elders. The disciples raised their voices in prayer, praising God for his creation. Many people get their minds tangled up by the theory of evolution thinking that creatures made themselves over billions of years, yet the disciples stated the evident truth: ‘Sovereign Lord, you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them’ (Acts 4:24).

It amazed the disciples as to why people try to combat God. Why do people rage / plot in vain and gather together against God? Why bother. He is all powerful, loves us and has our best interests at heart. Why not worship him and be happy? It’s because people have self-will and a rebellious, selfish streak inside them. It is still amazing that people today still worship and work for demons – an evil, totally defeated army that can only ultimately offer eternal death to their followers (Acts 4:25-26).

The disciples prayed that miraculous healing, signs and wonders would be carried out through the name of Jesus. The place where their meeting was held was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, who enabled them to speak the word of God boldly (Acts 4:31).

‘All the believers were one in heart and mind’ (Acts 4:32). This is God’s vision for the church. That we all act in total unity, not fracture into different denominations. We should always mix with as many different congregations as we can to promote unity, friendship and peace. The disciples shared all their belongings and sold land or houses, bringing the money to the apostles so that it could be distributed for people’s needs (Acts 4:35). Modern economists preach that there is a shortage of resources in the world resulting in haves and have-nots. However, there is just a lack of fair distribution due to selfish greed. It is engrained in us to hand down property and finances to our own family, rather than share with our church family, trusting God that when we need things, they will be provided.

A couple called Ananias and Sapphira were inspired to sell their property by other believers such as Barnabas (the Son of Encouragement) to donate money to the fledgling church. However, they were only lukewarm about it. They kept back some of the money. Compared to many modern Christians – who may only give a bare minimum donation – they were extremely generous but they must have boasted and lied about giving all the money from the sale of their to the church. Peter, through a supernatural word of knowledge from the Holy Spirit, told Ananias that he had kept back some of the money. Ananias heard this, fell down and died. Later, his wife also lied to the disciples that they had given all the money from selling the land to the church and she fell down dead too. Then, ‘great fear seized the whole church’ (Acts 5:11).

If we promise our Pastor a certain sum of money or the proceeds from a certain transaction we should never be dishonest about it. God doesn’t want us to be lukewarm towards the church (Revelation 3:15-16). We should never swindle the church due to our love of money. The best way to cure ourselves from a love of money is to be generous. We should start by tithing at least ten percent of our income to the church. That is the bare minimum, after that will come gifts to charities. How else will we build a thriving community for worship and evangelisation if no-one provides adequate financial resources? We shouldn’t ask ourselves what we can get from the church, we should consider what we can give in terms of time, talent and resources.

Psalm 71:9-18

We should always have hope in God no matter how old and grey we are (Psalm 71:18).

As we look back on a long life, we will be able to proclaim God’s righteousness and the marvellous, mighty deeds he has done in our lives.

God will always come quickly to help us particularly when our enemies think we are past it and our strength is gone. He will renew our strength like that of an eagle.

God will always be our rock and our salvation. With Jesus and the Holy Spirit inside us, we are never away from his awesome presence.

Image: By Raphael – Victoria and Albert Museum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1718099

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

David fights the Arameans / Peter and John Heal a Man Crippled from Birth: June 6th 2021

2 Samuel 9:1-10:19

David tracked down his deceased friend Jonathan’s disabled son. David was determined to show kindness to someone from the house of Saul for Jonathan’s sake.

Jonathan’s son was called Mephibosheth and David restored to him the land of his grandfather, Saul, and allowed him to always eat at his table.

It is wonderful to spend time considering if there is someone we can help out / be kind to and get on and do it.

The king of the Ammonites died and David sent a delegation to express his sympathy to his son. The Ammonite nobles accused the visiting Israelites of being spies and assaulted them disrespectfully (2 Sam.10:4). The Ammonites realised this had angered David and they hired mercenaries to bolster their army. David sent Joab and his entire army of fighting men against them.

The hired men, Arameans, fled in front of the Israelite army. They eventually regrouped and engaged Israel in battle. David’s army killed a huge number of them (2 Sam.10:18) including the commander of their army. This made smaller nations make peace with the Israelites out of respect for them and the Arameans were too afraid to help the Ammonites any more.

Acts 3:1-26

A man crippled from birth asked Peter and John for money. He didn’t even look at them. He didn’t realise that they, out of all the people passing him by, were now adopted sons of God with the power to heal him. Peter commanded the man to look at them (Acts 3:4). The man finally gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.

Peter said he didn’t have any money ‘but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk’ (Acts 3:6-7). Peter helped the man up and instantly his feet and ankles became strong. The man had never walked for his whole life but was now able to walk, jump and praise God. It was an outstanding miracle and shows that we, as baptized spirit-filled disciples, can also pray powerfully for healing ‘in the name of Jesus’. A crown of onlookers acknowledged the man’s healing and were filled with wonder and amazement.

The place where the healing took place was a temple gate called ‘Beautiful’. Peter and John had seen the beauty in a man created by God, even though he needed healing. The crowd saw the beauty of Jesus’ healing power changing someone’s life for ever. We can encounter someone that needs healing wherever we may travel. The Holy Spirit might whisper to us that we should walk up a different street than usual or go somewhere at a certain time in order to meet someone we can help. Let us boldly seize the chance and not walk on by. A friend of mine specialised in healing strangers in supermarkets. He marched up to a lady one day in the vegetable aisle and said: ‘I can see you have a problem with your leg. I am a Christian, may I pray for you.’ Most people are very grateful for the offer. Everyone likes attention. The lady replied: ‘I didn’t know that I had any problem with my leg but please go ahead anyway’.

Peter asked the crowd why this miracle surprised them. It was not the disciples’ own power or godliness that had healed the man but the authority of Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him (Acts 3:16). Peter reminded the crowd that they had disowned the Holy and Righteous One and killed the author of life (Acts 3: 14-15). So many people in our society today still disown Jesus and allow a murderer, the devil, free access to take up residence within them. The crowd in Jerusalem had acted out of ignorance but modern people are far more guilty. Most are not ignorant of the gospel, they just ignore it and refuse to believe in active rebellion against God.

Peter urged the crowd to repent and turn to God so that their sins would be wiped out (Acts 3:19). When we finally turn to God and become ‘born again’ our whole body and spirit will be refreshed.

Jesus will physically remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything (Acts 3:21) but he spiritually lives in the hearts of all born-again Christians.

Moses had prophesied that Jesus would be raised up from the Jews. All the prophets, from Samuel on, had foretold the appearance of Christ (Acts 3:24). Jesus wants to turn all of us from our wicked ways through the power and encouragement of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is descended from the original patriarch, Abraham, because God had promised him: ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed’ (Acts 3:25).

Psalm 70:1-5

We can pray for God to hasten to save us. He is our help and our deliverer (Ps.70:5).

Jesus taught us to pray for our enemies (Romans 12:14) in contrast to King David who often wanted his enemies to be shamed / confused and disgraced. However, God will make sure that justice is delivered (Romans 12:19-21).

King David prayed that all who seek God will rejoice and be glad in him.

I love the kind salvation that God has given me and so I proclaim, with David, ‘Let God be exalted!’ (Ps.70:4).

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_apostles_Peter_and_John_heal_the_lame_man._Photomechanic_Wellcome_V0034960.jpg

God makes a Promise to David / Save Yourself from this Corrupt Generation: June 5th 2021

2 Samuel 7:1-8:18

David often reflected on his life and circumstances. He was now settled in his palace and he had been given rest from his enemies but he still couldn’t relax about the ark of the Covenant (2 Sam.7:2).

God spoke to Nathan the prophet. God had taken David from shepherding a flock of sheep to be ruler over his people, Israel. God promised to make David’s name great (2 Sam.7:9). The nation of Israel would have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. The Lord said that David’s offspring would be the one to build a house for the ark of the Covenant (2 Sam.7:13). David’s house, kingdom and throne would be established for ever, eventually via Jesus (2 Sam.7:16).

David prayed to God and marvelled at how well God treated him: ‘Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O Sovereign Lord? (2 Sam.7:19). There is no God like him and, at the time, no chosen people like Israel (2 Sam.7:23-24). David knew that God was trustworthy and had promised him good things (2 Sam.7:29).

David called himself God’s servant, yet was promised wonderful things for both him and his descendants. As baptized Christians, we are no longer servants; we are God’s adopted children, co-heirs with Christ. How much more will he give his children if we are people, like David, after his own heart.

David’s prayer is a great model for us to follow. He praised God for his greatness and for the awesome wonders he had performed to rescue the Israelites from Egypt. He reminded him that he had become the God of Israel. He asked God to keep his promises so that his name would be great (hallowed) for ever and, only then, dared to ask God to bless him and his family. Then, he proclaimed faithfully that his prayer had been instantly answered.

This shows that we shouldn’t just start our prayers with saying what we want. There should be praise, a reminder of God’s wonders and a reminder of his promises in scripture first.

David enjoyed great success in battle defeating the Philistines, the Arameans, the Edomites and the Moabites. He brutally reduced the numbers of Moabites by two-thirds and the survivors became subject to him. He collected plunder from his wars: chariots, silver, bronze and gold shields. King David dedicated these articles to the Lord (2 Sam. 8:11). The Lord gave David victory wherever he went and he ruled his people justly. It was a great start to his reign. If only he had kept on like this without soon succumbing to serious sin.

Acts 2:22-47

Peter continued to dynamically preach to the crowd now that he had been fired up by the Holy Spirit. Peter explained that God had confirmed Jesus was his son through miracles, wonders and signs.

It was God’s plan that Jesus should be handed over and nailed to the cross. God raised him from the dead ‘because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him’ (Acts 2:23-24). Jesus is always with us and so we should not be shaken. Even when we mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep, our hearts are always glad and our tongues are always ready to rejoice because he will not abandon us to the grave (Acts 2:26-27).

King David was a prophet and knew that God would place one of his descendants, Jesus, on the throne forever. David had prophesied that Jesus would not be allowed to see decay. Jesus makes known to us the paths of life and fills us with joy in his presence (Acts 2:28).

Peter told the assembled crowd that the apostles were witnesses to the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead. They were honest people and they had nothing to gain from misleading people. They would suffer horrible deaths holding to the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We should never reject their eye-witness accounts due to our own pride, stubbornness or being misled by the evil spirit of unbelief, that is so prevalent in the world right now.

All Israel needs to be assured that God had made Jesus, who they had crucified, both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).

The people were ‘cut to the heart‘ when they realised their crime and asked what they should do. Jesus died because of our past, present and future sins. Our own personal sins carried out today made it necessary for Jesus to die.

Peter told them the remedy for their guilt. They should ‘repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins’. At our baptism, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter was adamant that this would happen not only to the crowd who were present, but also to their children and all those who God would call in the future (Acts 2:38-39).

Adults who repent and are baptized today save themselves from this current corrupt generation through choosing to accept God’s priceless and timeless gifts.

Three thousand new believers were added that day and they lived in unselfish fellowship, with glad and sincere hearts, sharing everything in common and giving to anyone who had need. Many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. There was an atmosphere of awe and praise. They devoted themselves to learning more about God, breaking bread with each other and praying. The believers had glad and sincere hearts. Their new lifestyle was a remarkable contrast to those around them and its joy and exuberance attracted new people each day.

The new believers enjoyed the favour of all people, which is very different to how the church is generally perceived these days. Jewish law and society had given people a baseline of morality and Christianity enhanced this. These days, many people aren’t brought up under a religious code and so they build their lives with no moral foundation. People pick and chose their own morality and modern Christianity with eternal values clashes with a ‘I can do whatever I like as long as it doesn’t hurt someone’ attitude. However, no sin is ever private. God sees whatever we do, wherever we do it. Society rises and falls together based on everyone’s collective actions.

The early church seems idyllic but would soon face persecution. Persecution scattered the new Christian church but God brings good out of every crisis. Scattering led to the growth of the church and the gospel being spread to all known nations.

Proverbs 14:5-14

We should always be truthful witnesses (Prov.14:5). The apostles were truthful witnesses to the death and resurrection of Jesus while their persecutors poured out lies.

Mocking people don’t recognise wisdom even when it is right in front of them. When discerning people reflect on the word of God, knowledge comes easily.

I know rebellious people who have decided in their hearts that there is no God. Yet, I sometimes read their posts on Facebook. The Bible says that I should not bother (Prov.14:7).

As prudent people, we should honestly appraise our lives and the decisions we make and quickly apologise to God for the sins we have committed, making amends to anyone we have hurt. We should have goodwill towards all people. Foolish people deceive themselves that they don’t need to say sorry to a higher power and that they are ‘good people’ relative to some others.

Rebellious people are swayed by today’s society to do things that are lawful but contrary to the intentions of God (Prov.14:12).

When we die, we will be rewarded by God for the good we have done in this life. He will reveal to us what his plans were for us (he prepared good works in advance for us to do) and how much we achieved in relation to them. This could be a very sobering conversation and most of us will rely on the blood of Christ to cover our enormous shortfalls (Prov.14:14).

If we live an upright life, we will flourish both in this life and in our life everlasting (Prov.14:11).

Image: Saint Peter at Pentecost. Public Domain.

The Ark Brought to Jerusalem / The Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost: June 4th 2021

2 Samuel 5:6-6:23

David attacked the Jebusites and captured Jerusalem. He took up residence there and called it ‘the city of David’ (2 Sam. 5:9).

David built up the area around Jerusalem and became more and more powerful because ‘the Lord God Almighty’ was with him (2 Sam. 5:10). Hiram, king of Tyre, sent craftspeople to build a palace for David. David felt secure in his reign (2 Sam. 5:12).

The Philistines came to attack David and he enquired of the Lord whether they would be handed over to him (2 Sam.5:19). David defeated them with the help of God: (2 Sam 5:20). The Philistines abandoned their useless idols and David and his men carried them off – hopefully to be safely disposed of.

The Philistines came for war again and this time the Lord gave David a battle strategy (2 Sam. 5:23). The Lord sent what presumably were legions of angels marching in the tops of the balsam trees to strike the Philistine army ahead of David’s troops. Due to David’s obeying God’s plan, he was successful (2 Sam. 5:25).

David set out to retrieve the ark of the Covenant (2 Sam. 6:2). It was still a dangerous object, to be treated with reverence. One man reached out to steady it when the oxen pulling it on a cart stumbled and he was struck down dead (2 Sam. 6:6-7). David was then too frightened to take the ark to Jerusalem and so stored it for three months in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. His house was so blessed by the ark’s presence that David tried again to move it (2 Sam. 6:12).

As the ark travelled, David danced before it with all his might (2 Sam. 6:14-15). His first wife, Michal daughter of Saul, despised David in her heart for dancing in such a vulgar and undignified way (2 Sam. 6:20). There is always a family member ready to put a damper on any celebration. David was unrepentant and vowed to be even more undignified in the future. He knew that God had chosen him rather than Michal’s father, Saul, to be king (2 Sam. 6:21-22). God liked the way that David behaved. Michal had no children all her life to ensure that none of Saul’s descendants would gain the throne.

David sacrificed to the Lord and generously gave food to all the Israelites (2 Sam. 6:19). When we rejoice and celebrate out of our love of God, it gives us the desire to be generous and hospitable.

Acts 1:23-2:21

The disciples prayed, cast lots and chose Matthias to be added to the eleven disciples. There had to be twelve apostles at the birth of the church as there were twelve tribes of Israel.

Pentecost was a traditional Jewish feast, fifty days after Passover but this year it became the birthday of the Christian church. A sound like a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where the disciples had gathered. What seemed to be tongues of fire separated and came to rest on each of the disciples. All were filled with the Holy Spirit and they began to speak in other languages (Acts 2:2-4).

Speaking in other tongues / languages is a supernatural gift that all Christians can pray for today. It is the initial gift of power unlocking all the other gifts of the Spirit. It often comes when adults are baptized by Pentecostal Christians, because they are obedient to the Spirit and faithfully pray for his gifts to be unlocked. It is a marvellous gift and everyone should desire it as it brings wonderful benefits. It builds us up internally. It edifies us to be a powerful soldier for Christ. To receive this gift we have to believe, be baptized, and faithfully ask the Spirit to give us this gift. God will not refuse to give good gifts to his children. We are always in total control of this gift and can start it / stop it whenever we like. I feel that it is like a broadband prayer connection to God, instead of trying to communicate with him via a faltering dial-up connection. In my heart, I can feel the Holy Spirit broadcasting prayer to God twenty-four hours a day – to pray in tongues I just have to open my mouth and start to move my vocal chords, giving the Spirit permission to vocalise my prayers. It is extremely powerful. The more we pray in tongues, the more the Holy Spirit will be able to mould us, change us, sanctify us, through us the Holy Spirit speaks the perfect prayer to God.

The Holy Spirit also helps us pray when we don’t know what to say. He will pray the perfect prayer whatever the circumstances and, when we pray in tongues over other people, he will discern the prayer that they need and speak it through us. It is a powerful spiritual weapon used for delivering ourselves and others from evil and for healing.

The more we pray in tongues, the more other gifts will be unlocked. I love to sing in tongues as well. The Holy Spirit will give me a new praise or worship song each day, which I sing aloud as I take my dog for it’s daily walk. I love to record these on my phone and play them later on a keyboard as these are new tunes – written by God. I have never composed music before so I find it delightful that the Holy Spirit uses me to do this. The next gift we might receive is the ‘interpretation of tongues’. This allows us or the people around us to translate tongue languages into our native language. Tongue languages can be supernatural languages – used in heaven or by angels – or it could be one of the seven thousand earthly languages used around the world. My pastor prayed for a lady in Pakistan to receive the gift of tongues and she started speaking in perfect English, even though she had never been taught any.

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit gave all the ‘God-fearing ‘Jews’ who could hear the apostles in Jerusalem the gift of interpreting tongues as they were all able to understand them in their own native language. ‘We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’ (Acts 2:11-12). God loves it when we declare his wonders, particularly the wonder of how he rescued the Israelites from the Egyptians and he will bless us greatly as a result. Pentecost reversed Babel, when God made life more difficult by creating different languages (Gen. 11:1-9). Now, people could understand visitors from foreign lands making it much easier to spread the gospel.

Some people made fun of the apostles (Acts 2:13) and said they were drunk. Two thousand years later there are many people – even so-called Christians – who will make fun of this supernatural gift. Some Christians seem to regard their religion as just an academic exercise, they don’t expect to see someone demonstrate supernatural abilities or for prayers to actually achieve anything but it is they who are missing out. Without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we will never make much progress in our journey towards God.

After the Holy Spirit descended on Peter, he instantly became a powerful and persuasive preacher and quoted from the prophet Joel (Acts 2:17-21). God will pour out his Spirit on all people in the last days. He has poured it out on thousands of people from all denominations over the last few decades giving them supernatural charismatic gifts. We can thus conclude that we are now in the end times. Young men will see visions and old men will dream dreams. I pray daily that elderly members of my family who have so far been resistant to God will experience such a dramatic, intense dream that it will instantly convert them. The evangelist, Ros Powell, wrote a beautiful article about how her atheist husband was converted through a dream: https://www.rospowell.com/my-old-man-dreamed-a-dream/

Through regularly practicing the gift of Tongues, the Spirit may then give other gifts such as a the gift of prophesy, which is far more useful in public if no-one present can interpret our tongue language.

The gift of tongues enables us to call out perfectly to the Lord through the intercession of the Holy Spirit. ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’ (Acts 2:21).

Psalm 69:29-36

God loves praise and thanksgiving more than sacrifices (Psalm 69:30-31).

The Lord hears the needy and the poor. He has a special regard for prisoners. Prison can be a blessed place where people turn their lives around and can find God. Apostles, like Peter and Paul regarded prison as an opportunity to loudly praise and worship, write Godly letters that would change the world and convert other prisoners and guards. Wherever we find ourselves, we can loudly give thanks to God.

God brought the Jewish people back to their land to rebuild it (Psalm 69:35-36). He has gathered them from around the world as he will always be faithful to his covenants.

God will save us and protect us. Even we are in pain and distress, we know that ‘in all things God works for the good of those who love him’ (Romans 8:28).

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

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