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

The Road to Damascus / Saul’s Conversion: June 14th 2021

2 Samuel 22:1-23:7

David sang a magnificent song of praise to the Lord after he had been delivered from all his enemies.

God is also our rock, fortress, deliverer, stronghold, refuge and Saviour (2 Sam.22:2-3). He is our shield. God rescues us from our worthless sinful lives and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, transforms us into his powerful, holy ambassadors on earth. We are made in God’s image, we are made as God’s image. Our rescue is made complete when he grants us our desire for eternal life with him.

Our Lord is worthy of praise. He will hear us when we call out in our distress, draw us out of deep waters and rescue us from powerful foes.

The Lord will deal with us according to our righteousness. Jesus has made us righteous through his death on the cross but, if we sin after our baptism, we need to be quick to confess it and ask forgiveness. ‘According to the cleanness’ of our hands will God reward us (2 Sam.22:21).

Even though David had committed adultery and murder, he had never forgotten God. He repented and renounced his sins. He was thus able to say that he was blameless before him and he had not turned away from God’s decrees (2 Sam.22:22-24).

God’s eyes are on the haughty to bring them low. He loves the humble. If we are faithful, blameless and pure, God will show us theses same attributes.

Jesus is the living light of the world (2 Sam.22:29).

God’s ways are perfect and his word is flawless. God arms us with strength for battle. He makes our feet sure so we can stand on the heights.

God delivered David from the attacks of his own people time and again and preserved him as the head of nations. God avenges us and sets us free from our enemies. He gives us great victories and shows us unfailing kindness. We are all anointed as his priests, prophets, kings and adopted children through our baptism.

We must praise and exalt God.

The Spirit of the Lord spoke through King David in beautiful psalms. Our Queen, Elizabeth II, has always had a strong faith and is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning (2 Sam.23:4). The Spirit of God speaks through us when we pray and sing in tongues bringing strength, healing and deliverance.

David knew that God had made an everlasting covenant with him. It was arranged and secured in every part. God will bring to fruition our salvation if we are baptized and believe in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and invite him into our lives as our personal saviour.

Acts 9:1-31

Saul, breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples, asked to go to Damascus to capture Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem.

Saul had a life-changing encounter with Jesus as he neared Damascus (Acts 9:4). Jesus asked Saul from heaven why Saul was persecuting him and by ‘him’, Jesus meant the men and women making up his living body, the newly formed church.

Saul went blind for three days and did not eat or drink anything (Acts 9:9).

The Lord called a disciple in Damascus, Ananias, to visit Saul and place his hands on him to restore his sight. Ananias was reluctant to go because he knew how much harm Saul had done to the disciples but the Lord said that he had great plans for him. Saul would carry Jesus’ name both before the Gentiles and the people of Israel (Acts 9:15).

When Ananias prayed over Saul, something like scales fell from his eyes and he could see again. Saul got up and was baptised, took some food and regained his strength (Acts 9:19). I wonder who put the scales over Saul’s eyes. Scales are significant in the Bible. The giant Goliath wore ‘scale armour’ ‘when he confronted the people of God and was defeated by David (1 Sam.17:5). Serpents have scales and so Goliath may have represented the Philistine’s deity, Dagon, or the devil himself. Saul had been inspired to persecute and murder Christians and this desire may have come from demonic oppression. Therefore, I think it may have been the devil that blinded Saul so that he would not have been able to see Jesus on the road to Damascus. The devil had given Saul both religious and physical blindness. However, Jesus’ words along were sufficient to convert this murderous zealot. Saul was healed by the faithful prayer of Ananias. The devil was foiled in the end because not only did Paul become one of the most productive apostles of all time he was also not able to see Jesus during the Damascus Christophany and so was able to write: ‘We live by faith and not by sight’ (2 Cor.5:7).

Shortly after I became a confirmed Christian, I was struck down by the devil and felt like I was dying. A local deliverance priest prayed for me and restored my health. I needed someone with strong faith and spiritual authority to banish the oppression from my body. Many new Christians need an Ananias in our lives too help strengthen and deliver us.

After several days with the disciples in Damascus, Saul preached in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. Thanks to his first-class education and knowledge of the scriptures, he was able to prove to all audiences that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 9:22).

Saul was such an effective teacher that the Jews conspired to kill him. He was secretly lowered in a basket from the city walls so that he could return to Jerusalem. The disciples there were still afraid of him but he was accepted after Barnabas spoke on his behalf. It is great to have fellow Christians who know our personal journeys with the Lord and can provide references for us. Paul then spoke boldly in the name of the Lord. The Grecian Jews tired to kill him but his new Christian friends rescued him, sending him first to Caesarea and then to Tarsus. It must have been frustrating for Paul to have been sent away but he wouldn’t have lasted long if everywhere he went, people tried to kill him. He needed to spend some time refining his ministry before he would be called on to evangelise all the Gentiles.

Then the church enjoyed a time of peace and growth, strengthened and encouraged by the Holy Spirit.

Many ‘born again’ Christians can remember the exact day and location that they gave their life to Jesus. We all have our ‘Road to Damascus’ moment when we are rescued and turn to the Lord. Mine was on holiday in Rome when I cast my eyes upon Michelangelo’s painting ‘The Last Judgment’, the massive fresco that covers the entire altar wall in the Sistine Chapel. It depicts the Second Coming of Christ and the final and eternal judgment by God of all humanity. I realised that I needed to fully accept Jesus into my life in order to have hope for salvation.

Psalm 73:15-28

In Michelangelo’s magnificent painting ‘The Last Judgement‘ the damned descend to hell on the left side of Jesus (Psalm 73:18-19). Those who are far from God and unfaithful to him will perish (Psalm 73:27).

We want to be with the saved ascending to heaven on his right.

As a teenager I did what I wanted to do. I thought I wasn’t too bad relative to other people but ‘I was senseless and ignorant‘ (Psalm 73:22). I was on a gradual slippery slope to hell. However, Jesus rescued me and the Holy Spirit convicted me of my disgraceful sins and changed me for the better when I was too weak to do it myself

The Holy Spirit now permanently lives within me and will speak through me when I allow him to. He guides me with his counsel and afterwards will take me into glory. It is good to be a living tabernacle for God.

All our possessions and relationships on earth are nothing compared to our love for God. He is the strength of our hearts.

I have made God my refuge and will tell all of his deeds.

Image: By Peter Paul Rubens – Art UK, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=91917906

The Gibeonites avenged / Simon the Sorcerer / Philip and the Ethiopian: June 13th 2021

2 Samuel 20:1-21:22

Another rebellion started. The fickle men of Israel deserted David again. This time, to follow Sheba, son of Bicri. The men of Judah stayed loyal to King David.

King David returned to his palace in Jerusalem. He took the ten concubines, whom Absalom had slept with in his absence, and confined them as widows for the rest of their lives. This was not the best day for women’s rights in the Old Testament. However, David obviously felt a duty of care towards these women. Concubines were often slaves, who had been selected to provide powerful men with pleasure and additional heirs but they did not have the same rights as official wives. It wasn’t until the 14th and 15th centuries that the Christian church outlawed concubinage throughout its territories.

The King told his new army commander, Amasa, to leave and assemble the men of Judah and return within three days. Amasa took longer than this. They couldn’t wait and so sent out David’s personal troops to chase Sheba the rebel before he escaped. Joab, who had recently been replaced as military commander, met Amasa at the great rock in Gibeon. Joab greeted him in a deceptively friendly matter before murdering him with a dagger. Joab was determined to get his old job back.

All the troops then followed Joab in the pursuit of Sheba. They besieged the fugitive in the city of Abel Beth Maacah and started to batter the city wall to bring it down. A wise woman negotiated with Job and persuaded the citizens to cut off Sheba’s head and threw it down to Joab. Another threat to David’s reign was dead. Joab withdrew his troops from the city and they dispersed and went home. Joab went back to king David as commander over Israel’s entire army. I wonder what he told David in regards to Amasa’s death: ‘He slipped and fell on his own dagger’.

There was a famine for three years and David asked God why this was occurring. The Lord replied that it was because of Saul putting the Gibeonites to death. David was not personally responsible but the country was suffering for this historical treachery. During the Exodus, the Israelites had promised to spare the Gibeonites, who were survivors of the Amorites, but Saul had tried to annihilate them. It was up to the present king to make amends.

David asked the Gibeonites how Israel could make amends: (2 Sam.21:4). The Gibeonites asked for seven of Saul’s male descendants to be handed over to them to be killed. The king spared Saul’s grandson Mephibosheth because of his vow to take care of him but handed over seven other sons of Saul. The Gibeonites killed them, and exposed their bodies on a hill. David brought the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from Jabesh Gilead to be buried in the tomb of Saul’s father and gathered up the bones of the other sons of the Saul who had recently been killed. After that, God started to answer prayer again that was offered to him on behalf of the nation.

This shows the importance of world leaders making reparations for past crimes / genocides and other atrocities. God remembers historical offenses against him and can block communication with countries many years later until they apologise and make amends. Our UK leaders will eventually have to apologise for the six million unborn children killed in this county since the 1967 Abortion act.

David went to war against the Philistines again. David was getting on in years and became exhausted by the battle. He was therefore in no fit state to fight another giant. David had defeated the enormous Goliath in his youth. Goliath had been nine feet nine inches tall and had worn scale armour that weighed 125 pounds. Goliath’s spearhead had weighed a massive 15-16 pounds. Now David faced another giant, Ishbi-benob, who was probably smaller than Goliath as his spear head was half the weight. David had to be rescued by Abishai who struck down the giant and killed him. The giants, who had allied themselves with the Philistines, were descended from the mysterious Nephilim / Anakim. David had been so close to losing his life that his army banned him from fighting with them again (2 Sam.21:17).

https://knowingscripture.com/articles/giants-in-the-land-a-biblical-theology-of-the-nephilim-anakim-rephaim-and-goliath

The Israelites killed another three giants in battles with the Philistines at Gog and Gatha (2 Sam.21:22). The Israelites were gradually completing the extermination of the giants that Joshua had started but had failed to complete. The race of giants may have been formed by an unholy union between fallen angels and human woman and so they needed to be eliminated. I think this was more like IVF / genetical manipulation as I don’t believe demons can create eggs or sperm of their own. However, the genes from the Nephilim / Anakim descendants had infected much of humanity. Another reason why God might have wanted Canaanite tribes to be completely wiped out rather than be allowed to breed with Israelites.

Acts 8:4-40

The persecution of the early Christians resulted in them scattering throughout the known world. They preached the gospel wherever they went and so the church grew exponentially. Philip found himself in Samaria and there was great joy there because people were healed and evil spirits came out of many. Because Philip demonstrated the truth of the word through the powerful healings that accompanied him people paid close attention to what he said (Acts 8:6-7).

Simon the Sorcerer had made himself famous in Samaria through his demonic magic. He believed in Philip’s teaching and was baptized. He followed Philip everywhere (Acts 8:13).

Peter and John were sent to Samaria as well when they heard about the success of Philip’s missionary work. They found that even though Samaritans had been baptized ‘in the name of the Lord Jesus’, the Holy Spirit had not yet come down upon any of them (Acts 8:15-16). Peter and John placed their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17). This is fascinating because the Mother Church teaches that everyone baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit receives the Holy Spirit and becomes a child of God. However, the great majority of Christians show no outward signs that the Holy Spirit is within them. He might just exist within them as a tiny seed, a little flickering pilot light that is never ignited. We only see evidence of the Holy Spirit when these baptized people fully accept Jesus into their lives, become obedient to God and ask the Holy Spirit to enkindle in them his fire and his gifts. Then people start to become fully alive in Christ and start to show evidence of supernatural gifts such as praying in the Spirit.

Pentecostals typically baptize adults – who have fully accepted Jesus into their lives by earnestly saying ‘The Sinner’s Prayer’. They often exhibit the gifts of the Holy Spirit from the moment they are baptized. Some people have the gift of praying for others to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The evangelist Ros Powell once prayed for a group of people including me at a conference to receive an additional supernatural prayer language. As soon as she prayed and touched us on the forehead, we each started to speak in a new language. Simon the sorcerer wanted this power and offered the apostle’s money so that he could lay hands on people to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:18-19). Simon might have had good motives but he also may have seen this as a money-making opportunity. Even today, religious people still make money selling blessed articles or holy objects which is a grave sin known as ‘Simony’ after Simon the Sorcerer. As Christians, we have been given blessings and power as free gifts and we have to freely pass these onto others. It is fine for churches to sell manmade statues or medals or other mementoes but as soon as they have been officially blessed by a priest or deacon and become imbued with holy power, they can never be sold again. We should stay away from anyone who wants to charge for religious services.

Peter rebuked Simon severely (Acts 8:20-23) and told him to repent. Simon asked Peter to pray for him.

Peter and John returned to Jerusalem after testifying and proclaiming the word of God.

Philip was told by an angel to go South where he met an Ethiopian eunuch. The Holy Spirit instructed Philip to go to the eunuch’s chariot and stay near it. Philip offered to explain the passage in Isaiah that the eunuch was reading which was all about Jesus (Acts 8:32). This scripture reading provided the perfect opening for Philip to tell the Ethiopian the good news about Jesus.

The Ethiopian saw some water and seized the opportunity to be baptized. This is how we should be with every spiritual gift. If someone is offering us the chance to receive a special prayer or a blessing at the altar we should seize it. I met a senior freemason the other day. He was shuffling his way in agony across the car park outside a doctor’s surgery. Satan had riddled his body so badly with arthritis that he could barely move. Every step was agony. I offered to pray for him but he rejected my offer! He said he didn’t have enough time, even though I could have followed behind him and prayed a dozen times before he finished his tortuous journey to the car. Some people are so damaged, they require our prayers just to give them the desire to be prayed for.

Philip baptized the eunuch who went away rejoicing to spread the gospel throughout Ethiopia. Philip was then mysteriously transported by the Holy Spirit to the city of Azotus. The Holy Spirit wanted the gospel to spread so fast that he was in effect teleporting an apostle around the region. Thanks to the blessings of the internet today, our evangelism can be spread throughout the world at the speed of light.

Proverbs 14:25-25

Our respect for our awesome God will give us a secure fortress and is our fountain of life.

‘Envy rots the bones’ – we should try to have a heart at peace (Prov.14:30) that does not lust after our neighbour’s belongings.

The Holy Spirit will give us patience, wisdom and understanding. As Christians we stand up for the truth and a truthful witness can save lives through their testimony.

Jesus made us righteous through his death on the cross and so we have an everlasting refuge in God (Prov.14:32).

Image: Uoaei1, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

David Mourns for his Son / The Stoning of Stephen: June 12th 2021

2 Samuel 18:19-19:43

Ahiamaaz, son of Zadok, was keen to take the news of Absalom’s death to King David. However, Joab, the commander of David’s army, who had organised the killing of David’s son knew this would not be well received. He asked a dispensable Cushite to deliver the news instead. Joab knew that David had executed bearers of similar news on previous occasions and so it wasn’t a desirable task (2 Sam.18:22).

Ahiamaaz outran the Cushite but didn’t plainly tell David about Absalom’s death. The Cushite caught up and told David about his son’s fate. As Joab had predicted. David did not take the news well but at least he didn’t kill the messengers (2 Sam.18:33).

David wept and mourned for his son – the same son who had betrayed him and wanted him dead. Even though they had won a great victory, his army felt ashamed of their actions. Joab was furious and told David that he had humiliated his men: ‘You love those who hate you and hate those who love you’ (2 Sam.19:6-7). He told David to go and encourage his loyal men or there would be terrible consequences for his rule. To his credit, David accepted this valid criticism and realised his ingratitude. His men had loyally risked their lives for him and he sat down in front of his men (2 Sam.19:8).

It had been a very strange attempted coup. Both sides had been quite civil to each other. King David was generally liked as a monarch and there wasn’t an urgent need to replace him apart from his son having better hair and being slightly more popular. King David didn’t want his son harmed even though he had almost lost his throne to him. The whole affair had left the citizens of Israel and Judah very confused and in conflict with each other.

King David won the hearts of all the men of Judah again and they asked him and his men to return. They met him at the ford over the Jordan to welcome him home. Even Shimei, who had previously shouted curses at David, came to apologise. One of David’s retinue, Abishai, wanted to put Shimei to death for his sins but David rebuked him (2 Sam:19:22) in a similar way to Jesus rebuking James and John for wanting to call down fire from heaven on a Samaritan village (Luke 9:54-55). David graciously pardoned Shimei.

Saul’s grandson, Mephibosheth, also came to meet David. He explained that he had wanted to travel with David but had been betrayed by Ziba, his servant. David had earlier given Ziba all of Mephibosheth’s fields but on hearing this version of events ordered that they should be split equally. Mephibosheth said he didn’t want any land. He was just happy to see David home safely.

David wanted to repay his ally, Barzillai, for his support but he wouldn’t allow this. David blessed him instead and allowed him to return home. When David crossed over the Jordan, he was accompanied by all the men of Judah but just half the troops of Israel. This caused a large argument between Judah and Israel over who had more of a claim on David.

David was back in charge over a divided kingdom with the two major divisions bickering with each other. David had shown love for those who cursed and attacked him (Absalom and Shimei), he had demonstrated forgiveness of his enemies (the troops of Israel) and taken on board valid criticism (Joab). David had patiently listened to people’s apologies and excuses (Mephibosheth and Shimei) and he had blessed his friends (Barzillai and Kimham). However, he had punished those who had not followed his instructions. He had appointed the leader of the rebel army, Amasa, as commander of his army in place of Job (2 Sam.19:13). Job had stopped the civil war by killing David’s son but this was in defiance of David’s explicit instructions.

Just as God had punished Saul for not quite following his instructions, David was prepared to remove people who did not show complete obedience. David was a master politician and had managed to negotiate a return to his kingdom but he still had much work to do to reunite the nation.

Acts 7:44-8:3

Stephen finished his history of the Jewish nation with the devastating conclusion: ‘However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men’ (Acts 7:48). God was not confined just to the Jewish temple, with just the religious elite allowed to communicate with him once a year. Ezekiel had demonstrated in earlier scripture that when the Israelites had been exiled by the Babylonians, God had travelled with them. God is everywhere and in everything (Acts 7:50) and now, through the Holy Spirit, he is powerfully active within every individual Christian.

Stephen suddenly launched a verbal assault on the Sanhedrin. He even disowned them, calling their ancestors ‘your fathers’ rather than ‘our forefathers’ as he had done earlier. Their ancestors had persecuted all the prophets and had now betrayed and murdered the Righteous One (Acts 7:52). They had not obeyed the law and so, according to their own laws, should die. They would do so if they carried on being stiff-necked, resisting the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ invitation to eternal life through baptism and belief in him.

The Sanhedrin were furious. Truth is often unpopular. Stephen wasn’t bothered. He was full of the Holy Spirit. God was actually now living in him but his persecutors did not recognise God right in front of their furious faces. Stephen was consoled by a wonderful vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Stephen was soon to join Jesus in heaven as he was stoned to death and became the first Christian martyr. Stephen prayed that their sin should not be held against them (Acts 7:60) just as Jesus prayed ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23:34).

A young man, Saul, approved of Stephen’s death. He wanted to persecute and murder all Christians. He would shortly undergo one of the most dramatic transformations in the history of Christianity.

Persecution broke out and all, except the apostles, were scattered (Acts 8:1). Wherever the disciples fled, they preached the gospel and converted many.

God frustrates the plans of evil people. They had hoped to eliminate the church through persecution but their efforts forced the disciples to travel and evangelise; this made the church grow much faster than if they had been left in peace. It must have been distressing for the early Christians to flee from their homes but the miracles, signs, wonders and fruitfulness that the Holy Spirit worked through them brought consolation. ‘We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

Psalm 73:1-14

If we are not careful, we can start to ask ourselves why we bother to be Christians. Why do we suffer the abuse, hassle and pain of being ignored? Is it all in vain?

Non-believers can appear to be more prosperous, more confident, carefree and proud about their healthy and strong bodies.

However, envy is a major sin. We need to count the priceless blessings that God has given us throughout our lives. Our treasure is an everlasting treasure in heaven (Matt.6:19-20).

We should not become like the wicked who scoff and speak with malice (Ps.73:8). ‘From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits’ (Ps.73:7).

Our destinies will be completely different. The wicked are on slippery ground and will suddenly be destroyed (Ps.73:18-19). In contrast, we will enter the sanctuary of God.

No matter how poorly we seem to be faring relative to the secular values of the consumerist world, when the Holy Spirit lives within us we have eternal joy in our hearts which can never be shaken: (Galatians 5:22). We should share with the world our testimony of his glorious deeds.

God will eternally be our refuge and our strength.

Image: ChristianeB, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Absalom’s death / Stephen’s Speech to the Sanhedrin: June 11th 2021

2 Samuel 16:15-18:18

David had sent his friend, Hushai, to give poor advice to Absalom (David’s treacherous son who was intent on taking over the country). Absalom suspected Hushai’s motives as he knew he was a good friend of David’s (2 Sam.16:17).

Absalom first of all asked the renowned wise man Ahithophel how to progress his coup. Ahithophel told him to publicly lie with all of David’s ten concubines. This would declare to the whole of Israel that he had formerly set himself against his father. Absalom did this because Ahithophel had a great reputation for giving wise advice (2 Sam.16:23).

Ahithophel then wisely recommended that Absalom should assassinate his father David and bring all the other Israelites back to him. Absalom would have gained the throne if he had done this but God had made him resistant to good advice.

This gave Hushai the chance to propose an alternative strategy. Hushai recommended gathering an enormous army and killing not only David but also all his supporters. He managed to get Absalom to sign up to this plan (2 Sam.17:14). Hushai then sent David a secret message telling him to cross the river Jordan to get away from Absalom’s army.

Aphithophel was so upset that his wise advice had been ignored that he went and hanged himself (2 Sam.17:23). It would have been better for him to stay loyal to King David and to have left Jerusalem with him.

David had travelled to Mahanaim and was treated hospitably by people in the region. They brought him and his army bedding and food.

David mustered his men for battle and wanted to fight with them but they would not allow it. He was too valuable. He stood at the gate of the city in support but begged his soldiers to be gentle with his disloyal son (2 Sam.18:5). It is incredible that David should still want to protect someone who had disrespected his reign and was leading a massive army to kill him.

In the ensuing battle, David’s army killed twenty thousand Israelite soldiers. They probably had far more motivation in that they were fighting for their lives whereas the Israelites were just trying to swap one satisfactory king with another. There is the intriguing statement: ‘the forest claimed more lives that day than the sword’ (2 Sam.18:8), which implies that God was fighting for David in unusual ways. Perhaps the enemy troops ran into the forest in panic and fell into concealed ravines / large pits. They might have been attacked by wild animals or God may even have mobilised the trees to entangle the troops and drop branches on them. I suspect this verse was the inspiration for Tolkien’s Fangorn forest in ‘The Lord of the Rings’.

Absalom himself fell victim to one of the trees in the forest. His head got caught in the branches of a large oak as he was trying to ride under it and he was left swinging there. One of David’s soldiers saw his predicament but did nothing because of David’s command to be gentle with him. Joab, David’s army commander, thought this was nonsense and he and his men went and executed Absalom as if he were a piñata. Joab buried him in a large pit in the forest.

Absalom had earlier vainly set up a stone pillar as a monument to himself in the King’s Valley (see photo). It is difficult what to make of Absalom’s life. He had stood up for justice by avenging the rape of his sister Tamar but he had been extremely disrespectful and disloyal to his father, King David – possibly out of frustration that David hadn’t disciplined his rapist son, Amnon. David had welcomed Absalom back from exile and still wanted to protect him even after he had slept with his women and assembled a massive army to hunt him down. Absalom was a victim of his own good looks, charisma and vanity, lusting for power and thinking that he could do better than his father, who was loved by God. Absalom would have done better to emulate David’s patience, tolerance, love and humility.

Acts 7:20-43

Stephen continued to give the seventy one members of the Sanhedrin a potted history of the Jewish nation. At first glance, this would appear to be like me narrating the Nativity story to the Pope. I am sure they intimately knew the Old Testament storylines already but they had missed the vital point. All the Jewish Old Testament scriptures pointed to Jesus. Even today, many Jews aren’t taught the whole of Isaiah as it so obviously prophesies all about the life of Jesus (Isaiah 53:4-5).

However, Stephen would skilfully be building his later statements on the firm foundations of the Old Testament. Our faith in Jesus Christ is rooted upon the prophesies of the Old Testament. Jesus is referred to throughout the Old Testament and he often personally appeared and interacted with key characters, this is known as a Christophany,

Stephen reminded the Jewish elders that Moses had told the Israelites: ‘God will send you a prophet like me from your own people’ (Acts 7:37). This ‘prophet’ was Jesus, whom they had just killed. In fact, the Jews had killed virtually all of God’s messengers that had been sent to them. Jesus’ life had multiple similarities to that of Moses but Jesus was far greater. Moses delivered his people from oppression and slavery and led them to freedom. Jesus rescued the whole world from the oppression of the devil and the slavery of sin and death.

Stephen repeatedly demonstrated that God throughout history did not just dwell in the Jewish temple. God met people wherever they travelled from the burning bush in the desert, in Gentile territory, to the wonders he performed in Egypt. The Jewish religious elite did not accept that God had become incarnate in the form of Jesus and had performed miracles outside the temple. Many Christians these days tick off their religious obligations by monotonously attending a fixed-format service in a certain church each Sunday as if Jesus is confined to the four walls of that building. However, we carry God inside each one of us. He is fully portable. He is God of the whole world, there is nowhere we can hide from him, and we should be taking him with us each day to meet the needs of suffering people throughout the secular world.

Stephen would became the first Christian martyr and his evangelistic speech is a powerful example for all of us to follow. Stephen’s name mean ‘victor’s crown’ and, even though he was stoned to death, he delivered a timeless ‘victory speech’.

This event would be the official Jewish rejection of the renewed offer of the kingdom, paving the way for salvation to be eventually offered to all the Gentiles.

It would have intimidated an average person to give witness in front of 71 members of the Sanhedrin but Stephen was empowered by the Holy Spirit. He was meant to be defending himself but he went on the attack and prosecuted the Jewish elders. Stephen was innocent, yet he would be punished. The Sanhedrin were guilty yet would escape punishment until God meted out his eternal justice.

Religious leaders have a history of rejecting God’s truth and his messengers. The Israelites had rejected God in the desert and so God turned away from them (Acts 7:42). The Jewish leaders were now rejecting God again with their beloved temple now becoming a worthless idol following the death of Christ.

Psalm 71:1-20

We should pray for our rulers to be people of justice and righteousness.

Queen Elizabeth II has had a spectacularly long reign because we all pray for her when we sing the National Anthem: ‘God save our gracious Queen. Long live our noble Queen’. Prayers really do work.

Our politicians should deliver the needy who cry out and the afflicted who have no-one to help, particularly our most vulnerable citizens, unborn children (Psalm 72:12). They should take pity on the weak and the needy, to save them from death.

We lose over 200,000 unborn children a year in the UK because we no not rescue them from oppression and violence. Their blood is precious in God’s sights (Psalm 72:14).

God alone does marvellous needs and we should praise his glorious name for ever.

Jesus created the world and he will be with us until the end of time. He will endure for ever and his words will feed us and water us so that we flourish (Psalm 72:5-7).

Image: Absalom’s monument: Alien is, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

King David flees / Stephen Seized: June 10th 2021

2 Samuel 15:13-16:14

David was informed that his son, Absalom, had treacherously stolen the hearts of the men of Israel.

David decided to flee from Jerusalem, along with all his officials. The king left ten concubines behind to ‘take care of the palace’ (2 Sam.15:16). What could possibly go wrong with this plan seeing that Nathan had prophesied: ‘I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight’ (2 Sam.12:11)?

Ittai the Gittite showed far more loyalty to King David than his own son. Ittai promised that he and his men would stay with David (2 Sam.15:21). The whole countryside wept as the king passed by accompanied by Zadok, the priest, and the Levites carrying the ark of the covenant.

David told the priests Zadok and Abiathar to take the ark back to Jerusalem. David had total confidence in the Lord’s righteous judgement as to whether he saw it again: ‘Let him do to me whatever seems good to him’ (2 Sam.15:25).

David went up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went. He was barefoot and had covered his head. David prayed that his son Absalom would receive foolish advice and sent one of his friends back to Jerusalem as a spy.

Ziba, the steward of Saul’s grandson Mephibosheth, met David and provided him with donkeys and a copious supply of provisions. However, he slandered his master to King David, who believed him and gave him all Mephibosheth’s land and possessions.

A man called Shimei, from the same clan as Saul, came out and cursed David, throwing stones at him. One of David’s men offered to cut off Shimei’s head but David would not allow this. He knew that there was truth in Shimei’s accusation that he was ‘a man of blood’ (2 Sam.16:8). David told his men to let Shimei curse him as the Lord might see his distress and repay him with good (2 Sam.16:12). David and his men arrived at their destination exhausted but he then refreshed himself.

David had suffered a hard, difficult day but he had seen loyalty from his faithful friends and allies and he had shown patience, long-suffering and restraint. He had wept, walked barefoot and exhausted himself but at the end of the day, he had been refreshed by the provenance of God.

Acts 6:1-7:19

The apostles wisely decided that they could not do all the work themselves and so asked the disciples to choose seven men to help them. These were the first deacons of the church. They had to be ‘full of the Spirit and wisdom’ (Acts 6:3). The disciples were very pleased with this proposal. They chose seven men, including Stephen, and presented them to the apostles, who then prayed and laid their hands on them.

It is a sign of a healthy church community when as many people as possible get involved in running it. We all have gifts and talents we can use to lighten the load and invigorate our worship. I have been to churches that are dying because the priest keeps most jobs to himself, refuses to delegate and only grudgingly allows a few people in a tiny clique to assist. If you are never asked to do anything at your church, move to where you can be fruitful, grow and be appreciated.

The number of disciples in Jerusalem grew at an exponential rate as the word of God spread and a large number of Jewish priests came over to the faith.

Stephen, one of the seven new deacons, performed great wonders and miraculous signs (Acts 6:8). However, people began to argue with him and their pride was dented because he could never be defeated in an argument (Acts 6:10). They stirred up false witnesses to testify against him. Like all the best lies, there was an element of truth to some of their statements: the new Christian community would permanently ‘change the customs Moses (had) handed down’ (Acts 6:14).

Stephen, with a face of an angel, delivered an impressive speech to the Sanhedrin giving them the whole history of the Jewish race starting with their patriarch, Abraham. Stephen proved that he was very knowledgeable of the scriptures and the Holy Spirit made him eloquent.

We never have to worry what to say if we are dragged in front of the authorities and persecuted for our Christian faith. The Holy Spirit will give us wisdom and the right words to say.

Psalm 71:19-24

The Psalmist asks: ‘Who, O God, is like you?’ (Psalm 71:19). His righteousness reaches to the skies.

Saint Michael is the commander of God’s angel army. Michael means ‘Who is like God?’ in tribute to the awesomeness of his creator.

During our lives we will see many bitter troubles but God will always restore us. We should not lose heart when God rebukes us because he disciplines the people he loves (Hebrews 12:5-6).

God will increase our honour, comfort us again (Psalm 71:21) and the discipline we suffer will produce a harvest of righteousness and peace (Hebrews 12:11).

God is faithful and worthy of our praise. Praising God vigorously gives us joy, comfort and peace. When we are born again, we want to give everyone our testimony, telling everyone of God’s righteous acts.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_stoning_of_St_Stephen._Oil_painting_attributed_to_Orazio_Wellcome_V0017355.jpg

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

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