March 1 - Isaiah Introduction

Saturday, February 28, 2009

March 1 - Isaiah Introduction

"The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah." (Isaiah 1:1)

Warren Wiersbe says that Isaiah lived in momentous days. Those words are hardly enough to express what was happening during this time.

In Isaiah 6:1, we find that Isaiah was commissioned in the year that King Uzziah died. Historians know that this date is 739 bc. He prophesied during the next 3 kings of Judah: Jotham, his son Ahaz and then Hezekiah. While Isaiah was in the southern kingdom of Judah, the prophets Hosea and Amos were speaking to the northern kingdom of Israel.

Israel became divided just after the death of Solomon (1 Kings 12:1-33). The ten northern tribes formed the kingdom of Israel with Samaria as their capital city while the tribes of Benjamin and Judah united to form the kingdom of Judah with Jerusalem as their capital city. With this split, the priesthood and the throne of David remained with Judah.

During this period of time, Assyria and Egypt were fighting to gain power over the region. Israel and Judah were physically between these two powerful countries. They could not ally with each other, so they had to choose to become allies with either Assyria or Egypt. Israel fell to Assyria in 722 bc. They were exiled and Samaria was resettled with people from all over the region (2 Kings 15). These tribes became known as the Ten Lost Tribes. They disappeared from the Biblical account after this.

Judah avoided this because there were a few kings at this critical juncture that chose to listen to God and allow Him to guide them.

We don't know a lot about Isaiah, but there is information scattered throughout scripture. We find that he is the son of Amoz. This information is repeated several times, there were many Isaiahs living during this time. Amoz is not the same person as the prophet Amos. He was married to a woman known as "the prophetess" (Isaiah 8:3) and they had two sons. These young men were named Shear-jashub (a remnant shall return) and Maher-shalal (quick to plunder, swift to the spoil).

Isaiah's name means "salvation of the Lord." He ministered in Judah, probably spending most of his time in Jerusalem for over 50 years. He mentions Sennecharib's death (an Assyrian king) of 681 bc in Isaiah 37:38. Tradition holds that he was martyred by Manasseh, Hezekiah's son.

Isaiah is the most quoted Old Testament book in the New Testament. Paul quotes from this book at least 80 times in his letters and in at least three of his sermons in Acts. Jesus quoted from Isaiah to Paul on the Damascus road.

Some interesting things about Isaiah. Isaiah has 66 chapters - the Bible has 66 books. Isaiah is broken into two sections, the first section has 39 chapters and is a history of the sinfulness of Israel. The Old Testament (the first section of the Bible) has 39 books and is a history of the sinfulness of Israel. The second section of Isaiah has 27 chapters and deals with the person and ministry of the Messiah. The New Testament (the second section of the Bible) has 27 books and deals with the person and ministry of the Messiah. Both Isaiah and the Bible end with descriptions of the new heaven and new earth. (Willmington's Bible Handbook)

This book is about salvation, redemption, deliverance. Isaiah called out to a nation that was in the middle of incredible upheaval. Judah was being attacked from every side and the people of Judah were sinful. God denounced their sin, but offered hope of eternal life in His kingdom.

The beauty of Isaiah's words can't cover up the power that God speaks through them.

"Hear, O heavens! Listen O earth! For the Lord has spoken ..." (Isaiah 1:2a)

February 28 - Jesus & His Bride

February 28 - Jesus & His Bride

One of the great images in the Old Testament that is used to describe God's relationship to Israel is that of the bride and groom.

In Jeremiah 2:2, we find the words that God asked Jeremiah to proclaim to Jerusalem, "I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the desert, through a land not sown." Further on, in Jeremiah 3:6-9, the Lord tells Jeremiah that Israel has been faithless and by going after other gods she has become nothing more than a prostitute and an adulteress.

Ezekiel 16 uses very explicit words to speak of Israel's desertion, calling her a harlot and a whore. Hosea experienced God's pain with a faithless wife, but was given a vision of the future when Israel would return to the Lord.

By the time we get to the New Testament, Christ becomes the image of the bridegroom. Paul uses the relationship of Christ and his church in his discussion of a marriage in Ephesians 5:22-33 and in 2 Cor. 11:2-3, Paul says that he promised the church "to one husband - to Christ, so that he might present the church as a pure virgin to him."

John the Baptist spoke of Jesus as the bridegroom in John 3:27-30. He saw himself as the best man to Jesus' groom. He was there to make the wedding arrangements, but the Messiah would come to claim His Bride.

Before we get to the actual wedding, I want you to think about the best wedding you have ever attended. It might be your own. There was giddy anticipation. Preparations had been going on for months, sometimes years, in advance of this day. (I'll be honest - mine was less than a month ... oh well ... we were still pretty excited!) The bride is terrified that something will go wrong or that she might have forgotten something. The groom, by this point, probably just wants it to be over with so that he can get on with the marriage, but he's fooling no one ... he's just as excited to be marrying the woman of his dreams as she is!

The woman of his dreams - his bride. As she walks down the aisle, all he can see is her beauty. Everything that he has waited for is coming closer to him, dressed in white ... the scene is glorious!

Do you think that Jesus is any less excited about the wedding supper and the anticipation of His Bride coming into sight before Him?

Everything that has happened in history points to that moment. Revelation 21:1-4. "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.'"

The mansion has been constructed, the home is prepared. She is clothed in beauty and the bridegroom has gone to great lengths to ensure her safety. At the moment that she comes forth, the marriage is set into place. All of the past is gone away, the covenant between God and his people culminates in this glorious event.

"The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' And let him who ears say, 'Come!' Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life." (Rev. 22:17)

Come! Behold the Bridegroom - the Lamb.

"Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear."

"Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper fo the Lamb! ... These are the true words of God." (Revelation 19:6b-9)

February 27 - Paul & Timothy

Friday, February 27, 2009

February 27 - Paul & Timothy

Paul had just been through an argument with Barnabas. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, Paul took Silas and headed through Syria and Cilicia.

Isn't it wonderful how the Lord brings people together? Paul and Silas ended up in Lystra where they met a young disciple named Timothy. Because his father was Greek, he had not yet been circumcised. But Paul saw something in this young man and after getting the business dealt with (circumcision - ouch!), Timothy joined him on his journey. Other members of the church spoke highly of Timothy as well, thus began an amazing relationship (Acts 16:1-3).

Timothy learned a lot at the side of his mentor. This relationship had to have been incredibly amazing. They experienced the things of God in wonderful ways. Paul laid hands on Timothy (2 Timothy 1:6). He reminded Timothy of this in his second letter which goes on to say, "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." (2 Tim. 1:7).

Whether or not it happened at that point, prophecies were spoken of Timothy. 1 Timothy 1:18 says "Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience."

In 1 Timothy 4:14, Paul is encouraging Timothy in his ministry and says, "Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you."

I know from experience that a relationship which includes moments and experiences like these is held together in a powerful way.

By the time Paul is facing the end of his life, he writes a last letter to Timothy. He calls him his 'dear' son (2 Timothy 1:2). The first few verses of this letter are so filled with love, it's heartwrenching. Though this letter is filled with instruction and teaching, Paul also reflects a personal side. 2 Timothy 4:9-13, "Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments." And then, in 2 Tim. 4:21, "Do your best to get here before winter."

Timothy relied on Paul to teach him how to lead God's people. Paul relied on Timothy as a helper.

Who can be a Timothy in your life? Who will you mentor in the way that Paul taught this young man? This relationship is a perfect example of a mentoring relationship. Paul prayed for Timothy, bringing him into a full relationship with Jesus. Timothy was able to turn around and use all of the things that he had been taught in leading the churches he spent time with. In the end, who will look at you and honor you for bringing them to the fullness of a relationship with Jesus?

February 26 - Priscilla & Aquila

Thursday, February 26, 2009

February 26 - Priscilla & Aquila

This couple is always mentioned together. We don't read about Priscilla or Aquila, they are a single unit.

When Paul was in Corinth, he ended up staying with them for awhile. They had come to Corinth from Rome after Claudius had issued the edict in 49AD that all Jews were to leave Rome. Since they were tentmakers, as was Paul, it seemed only natural that he would work with them. (Acts 18:1-3)

They went with Paul as far as Ephesus when it came time for him to leave Corinth. (Acts 18:18) In 1 Corinthians 16:19, Paul mentions the church that meets in their home. They had established a house church in Ephesus and after Paul left Ephesus and began traveling through Galatia and Phrygia, they came into contact with Apollos. He was a learned man and knew the way of Jesus. When he began preaching in the synagogue, there were obviously some errors because Luke tells us in Acts 18:24-26, that Priscilla and Aquila took him into their home and taught him more about the way of God.

Later on, it is probable that they returned to Rome. In Paul's letter to the Romans (Romans 16:3-5), he again refers to Priscilla and Aquila and the church that meets in their home. In this passage, he says that they risked their lives for him and that all of the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.

Many years later, in Paul's letter to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:19), he asks Timothy to greet them along with the household of Onesiphorus. They are obviously back in Ephesus by this time.

Priscilla and Aquila were not without means. They had the ability to travel freely and owned property throughout the region. Their graciousness and generosity enabled Paul and many others to do the work that God had called them to do. This couple established themselves within the communities they were called to and mentored young men (Paul and Apollos) as well as opened their home to Christians for worship, prayer and teaching.

It's difficult to come up with couples that are truly a team. To have their names lifted up together so many different times tells me that they were something special. They worked together to bring Jesus to the Gentiles.

February 25 - Jairus & his family

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

February 25 - Jairus & his family

Just after Jesus has healed a demon-possessed man, he returned by boat and a man comes up to him, falls at his feet and begins pleading with Jesus to come to his house. I am certain that Jesus would have recognized Jairus. He was a ruler of the synagogue. He knew who Jesus was, I can't imagine that there were too many religious leaders in the region that wouldn't know about a man who was performing miracles, healing people and casting out demons, all while claiming to be the Son of God.

His daughter was sick, so sick that she was dying. Consider the conversation that Jairus and his wife had before he left that morning to go to the synagogue. Imagine the nights that they were spending awake by the child's bedside. They would have been praying, laying cool cloths on her forehead while trying to reduce her fever, hoping that the tide would turn and she would be ok. It was bad enough that everyone knew what was happening in their home. Matthew tells us that by the time Jesus got there, a musician was playing the flute and there was a noisy crowd that had gathered! (Matthew 9:23) Luke tells us that people were gathered around wailing and mourning by the time he arrived.

This child's sickness was a big deal to the community. And a very big deal to Jairus and his wife.

Once he asked Jesus to come to his daughter's bedside, Jesus began walking with him to the home. Crowds were pressing against them. Luke 8:42 says that the crowds almost crushed him. Here was a man (Jairus) desperate to get the healer home to his twelve-year-old daughter who was dying. He knew that his wife would be frantic, because he himself was at the point of begging for Jesus' help.

They were interrupted by a woman who was a hemophiliac. Jesus stopped to deal with her, yet Jairus had to know that by now, every moment counted. And sure enough, while Jesus was still speaking to the crowd and to the woman, someone came from Jairus' house to tell him not to bother, the child was dead (Luke 8:49).

Can you see this poor man's shoulders slump? He would be crushed. This person told Jairus not to bother the teacher any longer. The pain and agony in Jairus' face would be replaced with resignation. No, it wouldn't do any good to bother Jesus any longer. I imagine that he shook his head, turned away as if to return to his home alone.

Jesus spoke, "Don't be afraid; just believe." (Mark 5:36) Matthew says that the flautist and all of the others were put out of the house, Mark and Luke tell us that only Peter, James, John and Jairus & his wife were asked to join Jesus. The crowd scoffed when Jesus told them that the child was only asleep. Jesus ignored them. The six entered the girl's room. He took her hand and spoke "Talitha Koum!" (which means "Little girl, I say to you, get up.") (Mark 5:41)

Not only did she get right up from her bed, but she stood and began walking! Jesus told her parents to feed her (Luke 8:55). They were astonished and Jesus asked them not to tell anyone what had happened.

Now, I'm not sure how that was going to work - there was an immense crowd gathered and they would have known the difference between a girl lying on her deathbed or walking around ... but, something happened in that room and Jesus was not ready for the general public to be made aware of his incredible power ... not just yet.

A family that was restored. Who knows how long this illness had hovered over their lives. But, His touch removed the power of death and brought life.

February 24 - Jesus, James, John, Peter

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

February 24 - Jesus, James, John, Peter

The three musketeers and D'Artagnon. Well, maybe not exactly. But, these three were part of the inner circle of disciples. We see them over and over again as they witness the incredible events of Jesus' ministry.

James and John were partners in the fishing industry with Peter (Luke 5:10). It stands to reason that they knew and trusted each other. It's also pretty awesome that these close friends were together in ministry. And since they already had a strong bond, when they became disciples of Jesus Christ, rather than try to sever that bond, He made it stronger.

In Mark 5:35-37, we find that Jesus wouldn't let anyone else but these three follow him to Jairus' house, and we also find that these three were with him at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1, Mark 9:2)

These three young men were each rebuked in various ways as they tried to comprehend the message that Jesus brought to the world. When the Samaritans refused to receive Jesus in Luke 9:51-56, James and John wanted to call down fire from heaven to consume them. Jesus rebuked them. Then they (or their mother, depending on the gospel) asked Jesus to grant them the authority to sit on his left and his right hand in heaven. HAH. He taught a lesson on that to the entire group of disciples.

Peter had his own run-ins with Christ. He had the audacity to try to shut Jesus down when Jesus was speaking of His death (Mark 8:31-33). That didn't go so well for him. Peter cut of Malchus' ear in the Garden of Gethsemane and Jesus had to fix that as well. But, notice that there were three men asked to stay close to Jesus during the period of time that he spent in the Garden. Mark 14:32-34 tells us that he asked them to go with him and then he showed them a little bit of his pain when he says, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death."

Can you imagine hearing that from a friend? Those are words that rip right to the core of your soul. And yet, they couldn't stay awake to do what he asked of them.

At some point, not long after Jesus was crucified, James was taken by King Herod and beheaded (Acts 12:2). John and Peter stayed together after the resurrection and we see them working in tandem in the early chapters of the book of Acts. Peter went on to Rome to work with the church and John became the Bishop of Ephesus.

Three great men who started out as friends and because of their relationship with Jesus Christ, not only was their friendship strengthened but they were all transformed into men whom Christ could use to begin the task of telling the world the Good News!

February 23 - Mary & Joseph

Monday, February 23, 2009

February 23 - Mary & Joseph

When you become a parent, you take on an enormous responsibility. When you take on the responsibility of parenting the Lord, what kind of decision have you made?

Both Joseph and Mary were made aware of what they were getting into before it actually happened to them and though Joseph was tentative at the beginning, as soon as God's plan was explained to him, he moved forward in confidence.

There is absolutely no scripture foundation for the thought that Joseph was an older man. It is an assumption based on the fact that he was no longer a part of the family by the time that Jesus began his active ministry. This information is based on the passage at the end of John where Jesus asks John to care for his mother (John 19:26-27) and the point in Matthew, Mark & Luke where we find Mary and Jesus' brothers in the crowd. (Matthew 12:46, Mark 3:31, Luke 8:19)

There is no record of what happened to Joseph to eliminate him from the scene, but from his activities in the early part of Jesus' life, we are certain that if he had been alive, he would have been involved in Jesus' ministry.

Joseph and Mary entered their marriage together with a lot of stressors. There was no time for them to get to know each other and set up a household. They had a child. Not only did they have a child, but for the first two years of their lives together, they had to travel ... to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Egypt and then back to Nazareth.

Joseph would have at least been in the middle of preparing their home when they had to leave for Bethlehem. He might have had it finished, depending on how long they had been betrothed before all of the excitement came up. Did his family finish it for them, were they ready to welcome this little family home to Nazareth?

Think about the family and friends they left in Nazareth. Would they have worried over Mary and her impending birth? Were the wedding gifts waiting in their home for them ... dusty after 2 years? Were Mary and Joseph able to let them know from Egypt that they were finally returning home.?

It was probably a relief for everyone when the turmoil of those beginning years was complete and they could begin living a normal life. Joseph began his carpentry business. Mary set about making the house a home. In the evenings as they prepared for the next day, how they must have marveled at the reality of their lives. Two normal young people, raising the Son of God.

Can you see them sitting on a porch in the cool of the evening, in chairs that Joseph fashioned, looking up into the sky and then at each other, amazed at what their life had become.

Both Mary and Joseph experienced the call of God on their lives. For them, it included a few visits by an angel and the responsibility of caring for God's Son. It changed the focus and plan that they had set into place on their own. But they heahrd God's call and allowed the Lord to guide them. They did this together. That's a wonderful way to start the story.

February 22 - Zechariah & Elizabeth

Sunday, February 22, 2009

February 22 - Zechariah & Elizabeth

The Gospel of Luke (or "ΤΟ ΑΓΙΟΝ ΕΥΑΓΓΕΛΙΟΝ ΤΟ ΚΑΤΑ ΛΟΥΚΑΝ" - "Τhe holy good news (gospel) according to Luke" - yes, believe it or not, this was at the end of my first chapter in the Greek textbook) opens with the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah.

Have you noticed an interesting pattern in the couples that God has chosen to lift up in scripture? There is a lot of barrenness among them. Wow. Anyway ...

Both Elizabeth and Zechariah were descendants of Aaron, Moses' brother. This was probably quite an honor for them, because it meant that they were both from the tribe of Levites - the priestly tribe.

Luke 1:6 tells us that both of them were godly people, observing all of the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly. There was no punishment from God, no reason for Elizabeth to remain childless and yet, she was.

When Gabriel appeared to Zechariah in the temple to announce the coming birth of his son, there were a few things that he said to the father-to-be and I wonder if these were transmitted to Elizabeth. "Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and a delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth." (Luke 1:13-14)

Now, Zechariah spent a long time in the temple because of this conversation with Gabriel, in fact he was in there so long that people became concerned. Then, when he emerged, he couldn't speak to them. He also couldn't go home until his time of service was complete. There were no cell phones (he couldn't talk anyway, right?) and the postal system was awful, so he had no way of telling his wife about the exciting things that had happened to him. But, not long after he returned home (Luke 1:24), Elizabeth became pregnant.

And goodness, but she was relieved! All of her shame was removed with this pregnancy.

When it came time to give birth, she named the boy John. No one would believe that was correct! It was tradition to name the child after the father. I wonder if people believed that she and Zechariah wouldn't have talked about this prior to the day of naming? As soon as he confirmed it, he was able to speak again. And speak he did - praising God.

This couple lived lives that honored God and they were given the gift of a child that would prepare the way of the Lord! Their lives were filled with joy of a boy in the household and the knowledge that he was going to mean so much to the world! What a lifetime together they had.

February 21 - Hosea & Gomer

Saturday, February 21, 2009

February 21 - Hosea and Gomer

You know, I am fully confident that God brought Max and me together, but Hosea was commanded to marry this woman so that he could draw a correlation between their marriage and God's relationship with the nation of Israel. That's a bit more than I could probably handle.

Hosea was a prophet during the time of Isaiah. If you read Hosea 1:1, you see that the Lord spoke to him during the reign of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah and during the reign of Jeroboam son of Jehoash king of Israel. He was a prophet to the northern kingdom - Israel.

At the very beginning of the story, the Lord speaks to him and tells him to take an adulterous wife. I have no idea how he found her, but Gomer, daughter of Diblaim, became his wife and immediately bore him a son. This son was named Jezreel because the Lord was going to punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel. This story is told in 2 Kings 9:15-37; 10:11. She conceived again and gave birth to a daughter which the Lord named Lo-Ruhamah, which means 'not loved.' The third child, a son, was named Lo-Ammi which means 'not my people.'

God is really mad at his people. He is upset with Israel for a lot of reasons, but mostly he feels like his people have been having affairs with everyone else on earth and have been avoiding the most true intimacy they've ever known in their relationship with Him. I'm not sure if I would want my marriage to emulate the trouble that God is having with his people, but Hosea's marriage certainly painted this picture.

Hosea 2:1-13 is quite descriptive in the punishment that God will bring to His people, but if you read it, you will find His heart continuing to reach out. By the time you read Hosea 2:14-23, you see God wooing her back. Hosea 2:19-20 is absolutely beautiful, "I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord."

In God's hands, even an adulterous people can be made righteous. God also sent Hosea after Gomer again. He bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and some barley. He told her that she would live with him and must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man. (Hosea 3:1-3)

This is the end of the story of Hosea and Gomer. It's just three short chapters. The rest of Hosea's book is prophecy regarding Israel.

This really is a marriage made in heaven! Can you imagine? It's nothing that we would expect, but it's everything that God asked of Hosea and Gomer. Our plans are not His plans, we can not understand what He will do. But, His will and His commands are all that we need. I wonder if we could really live with that!!

February 20 - Xerxes & Esther

Friday, February 20, 2009

February 20 – Xerxes & Esther

Xerxes was the son of Darius and grandson of Cyrus the great, who conquered the Babylonians. It was actually Xerxes who removed the golden idol Bel from the Babylonians and had it melted down. That led to him being quite unpopular with the Babylonians, but increased his popularity among the Jews. The story of Esther becoming his queen also gave him a lot of mileage among the Jews.

The story of Esther and Xerxes is actually quite well known. She was a young Jewish woman named Hadassah, the cousin of Mordecai. After Xerxes banished his wife, Queen Vashti from his sight, he went looking for a new queen. She had to be a virgin and very beautiful. Esther became one of the many young women who were taken to the palace to begin the long drawn-out process of becoming qualified to be queen. Think of it as an ancient American Idol contest. She went through beauty treatments – an entire year of them.

Then came the fateful night – it was her final audition. The night spent with the King. She won his favor and approval and he made her his queen.

One of the most poignant parts of this process is that the young women were allowed to take anything with them to the King’s chamber from the harem. I’m certain that some took beautiful combs with which to adorn themselves, others may have taken a musical instrument so as to entertain him, others maybe took perfumes and scents to enhance the atmosphere. Esther made no obvious plays for his attention. She asked the eunuch who was in charge of the harem what she should take with her. We don’t know what it was that he suggested, but by doing that, she won the favor of everyone.

It came time for Esther to deal with the fact that evil Haman was trying to murder her people. She knew that she had the King’s ear, but she also knew that she had to play the game. He did not know that she was Jewish. Without the proper preparation, this could be a catastrophe!

What was it that she needed as she prepared for these encounters? Prayer. In Esther 4:15, Esther requested that Mordecai gather all the Jews who are in Susa and fast for her. Three days of nothing to drink or eat. She and her handmaidens would also fast.

The story of Esther is one that is filled with hope and celebration. Evil is vanquished and God’s people are lifted up.

She used the gifts that God had given her to help her people. She was put into a position so that she could offer herself as a bridge between the King and those in need. The love and honor that she had for Mordecai expanded into a desire to create justice. Xerxes recognized the goodness and love of this woman and has gone down in history as a just king.

February 19 - Elijah & Elisha

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

February 19 – Elijah & Elisha - 1 Kings 19:14-21, 2 Kings 2:1-18

Elijah faced one of his most amazing moments with the Lord in 1 Kings 19:9-14. He looked for the Lord in the wind and the earthquake and the fire, but the Lord was not there. He found the Lord in a gentle whisper. This is one of my favorite passages in the Old Testament.

Again, we find that we stop much too early sometimes in our reading. The Lord spoke to Elijah, telling him that he needed to get on with the business at hand. But, for our study today, we find the Lord telling Elijah to go to the Desert of Damascus. There he would anoint Hazael king over Aram, Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel and Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed him as prophet.

This is amazing stuff! The Lord goes on, “Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel – all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:15b-18)

The next scene is that of Elijah passing his mantle to Elisha. He did it literally by placing his cloak around the young man. Elisha is given leave to say goodbye to his family, he ends his tenure as a plowman by slaughtering the oxen under his yoke and burning the equipment. Then, he set out to follow Elijah and became his attendant. (1 Kings 19:21)

The NIV version doesn’t do this verse any favors. The true meaning of Elisha becoming Elijah’s attendant is much deeper. The Hebrew word ‘sharath’ means to serve or minister to. He took care of Elijah’s needs in many ways. He entered into a relationship whereby he would learn everything that he could while caring for Elijah. This relationship went on for nearly 10 years.

We come to 2 Kings 2. The two men are walking together one day. Both are fully aware that this is Elijah’s last day on earth. I suspect he wants to protect his friend from the end of his life, so he asks him to remain while he goes on to Bethel. Elijah’s words are priceless, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” (2 Kings 2:2b)

They traveled to Bethel and the company of prophets came out and asked if Elisha knew that the Lord was taking Elijah that day. Well, of course he knew! But he didn’t want to talk about it. Elijah asked him to remain again while he went on to Jericho. Elisha repeated his promise. So, they went to Jericho and another company of prophets repeated the question to Elisha, with the same response. At Jericho, Elijah tried to make him stop a third time and Elisha repeated his response. So, they walked on. (2 Kings 2:3-6)

Upon coming to the Jordan river, they had about 50 prophets following them. Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up, struck the water and it divided. They walked to the other side. Then Elijah asked Elisha what he could do for him before he was taken from him. Elisha’s response would thrill any mentor. “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.” He didn’t want this for the power or the glory. He just wanted to be a servant of God in the way of his mentor.

As they walked along and were talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them and Elijah went up in a whirlwind. Elisha saw this anc cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more.

Elisha went on to have about 50 years of prophetic ministry. The Spirit of the Lord was poured out upon him in double measure. Ten years of traveling with and serving Elijah. The two men were close friends. When it came time for them to part, Elijah would have given him anything possible, yet his Elisha’s desire was to have a double portion of the Spirit that resided in his mentor. What an amazing inheritance!

February 18 - David & Bathsheba

February 18 - David & Bathsheba - 2 Samuel 11:1-12:25

The greatest love story ever? The most foolish mistake a man has ever made? A King loses his head over a woman?

The story of David and Bathsheba is like the proverbial train wreck. You see it happening and you can't look away. Can this man who is a 'man after God's own heart' really be this stupid? Is he really going to be ruled by his baser instincts? Oh my goodness ... ... YES!

You can tell that the story teller knows how to draw in an audience. Look at how the story begins! 2 Samuel 11:1, "In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war ..." The audience knows full well what this looks like, they have experienced it year after year. But, the story teller has a little different twist. You see, this year, David sent Joab out with the army and he remained in Jerusalem. The plot is set, trouble is coming, the King made his first mistake.

Now, a king that should be in battle but isn't, probably has some extra time on his hands. What better thing to do than walk around on the roof of the palace?! And of course, the thing to do when you peer into another man's home and see a beautiful woman bathing is to send someone to find out about her. Then, as if playing the peeping tom isn't bad enough, he sends for her and sleeps with her. When she got pregnant, David attempted the great coverup and sent for her husband. Maybe, just maybe, the man would be so happy to see his beautiful wife that he might sleep with her and then think the child was his.

What David didn't grasp was Uriah's devotion to him, his men and Israel. It was much greater than his devotion to his wife. How could he possibly relax in his comfortable home when everyone else was at war? Good heavens, David even tried to get the man drunk, but he still wouldn't return home. Well, if you aren't going to sleep with your own beautiful wife, the next best choice is obviously ... kill you!

And that's just what happened. David had Joab (his general) place Uriah on the front lines of the battle which pretty much guaranteed a quick death. Whew! It's all over.

Not so much. What David forgot to take into account was the fact that God sees everything.

So far, David & Bathsheba aren't doing very well. A night of illicit passion leaves a rather messy cleanup. Nathan, the prophet, starts hearing from God about this. God was not happy with David's choices. It took a little doing, but Nathan finally got to the point in the story where David realized that he had been caught and needed to feel shame. He felt great shame. One of the most beautiful Psalms was written as he attempted to patch things up with God (Psalm 51:1-19).

The child from that night of passion died. But, Bathsheba and David had another son, Solomon. This son would become the most famous King of Israel, would build the temple that David could only dream about and when offered any gift from God, asked for wisdom.

1 Chronicles 3:1-9 lists the 17 sons of David and his seven wives. Bathsheba gave birth to four of them.

Passion? Lust? Love? Her name will never be forgotten. Every woman dreams of being courted by the king. But, I wonder if she was ever truly happy with the choice that she made that fateful night.

February 17 - David, Nabal & Abigail

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

February 17 - David, Nabal & Abigail - 1 Samuel 25:1-44

During the period of time that David was in exile and Saul had handed his daughter off to another man (Paltiel of Gallim - 1 Samuel 25:44), David was keeping busy with battles and staying out of Saul's clutches.

1 Samuel 25 opens with the death of Samuel and David moving to the Desert of Maon. We enter into the story after there has obviously already been some activity. It is the period of hospitality and at some point in the past, David's troops had protected Nabal, his shepherds and his sheep. David sent some men to this man to ask for his hospitality during the festival. (1 Samuel 25:4-8)

Nabal, whose name means 'folly,' decided that he did not need to offer hospitality to David and in fact, insulted him. (1 Samuel 25:9-11) His response to David's servants was, "Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? Why should I take my bread and water and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers and give it to men coming from who knows where?"

Needless to say, this angered David, who decided that he was just going to destroy this stupid man.

Fortunately for all involved, there was a beautiful and intelligent woman named Abigail (1 Samuel 25:3) married to Nabal. One of Nabal's servants rushed to her to tell her of the stupidity of her husband and what David had originally done for them (1 Samuel 25:14-17).

She rushed to gather bread, wine, sheep, grain, raisins, fig cakes and loaded them on donkeys. She sent the servants with the donkeys and road out to meet David, but did not tell her husband what she was doing. She managed to meet up with David just as he and his men were descending the mountain. David was prepared to kill every last man that belonged to Nabal. She saw David, got off her donkey, bowed down, fell at his feet and pleaded with him to pay no attention to 'that wicked man Nabal.' She took the blame for not knowing what was happening and begged for David's anger to be deflected to her and then to forgive her. (1 Samuel 25:25-31)

You can practically hear the relief in David's words, "Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands. Otherwise, as surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak." (1 Samuel 25:32-34)

He accepted her gifts and sent her home with his blessing. However, when she got home, she discovered Nabal holding a banquet like that of a king. He was in high spirits and quite drunk. Like any intelligent spouse, she waited until he was sober to tell him what she had done. In the morning, when she relayed her story, his heart became like a stone and ten days later, the Lord struck him and he died. (1 Samuel 25:36-38)

When David heard about his death, he rejoiced because the Lord had stopped David from doing wrong, yet his enemy had been dealt with. He then sent word to Abigail, asking her to become his wife. She was more than willing and went to him with her five maids. 1 Samuel 25:43 says that David had also married Ahinoam of Jezreel and they were both his wives.

Abigail was beautiful and intelligent. She protected everything that surrounded her, even her stupid husband because she was willing to face down an infuriated commander with petitions and an offering. She loved her people and she became the wife of a future king!

February 16 - David & Michal

Monday, February 16, 2009

February 16 - David & Michal

Michal was Saul's youngest daughter. After David's triumph over Goliath, Jonathan wasn't the only one that saw how amazing this young man was. She fell completely in love with him. however, there was a lot of intrigue happening in the King's court. Saul was afraid of David by this point. He knew that the Lord has left and was now with David. (1 Samuel 18:12)

Saul intended to do away with David by sending him out into battle. The problem was that since the Lord was with David, he was successful in everything that he attempted. This made Saul even more afraid. In his twisted mind, he had to come up with something that would eliminate David from his life. He offered his older daughter, Merab as David's wife on the condition that David fight battles. But, David admittedly didn't believe that he was suited for the daughter of the king and the marriage didn't happen.

Michal, on the other hand, spoke up to her father and told him that she was in love with David. Saul discovered another opportunity to be rid of David. He hoped that Michal would be a snare to David and the Philistines would be against him (1 Samuel 18:20-21). David tried to refuse, saying that he was just a poor man and not very well known.

The plan was set into place. Saul demanded that David pay the price for his bride of one hundred Philistine foreskins. Saul could not imagine that David would live through that task. But before the alloted time elapsed, David brought Saul the foreskins and Michal was given to David as his wife. When Saul realized that not only was the Lord with David, but Michal loved him he became even more afraid. (1 Samuel 18:28-29)

In the middle of Saul's first blatant attempt to do away with David, Michal helped him escape. She warned him and then let him down through a window. She took an idol, laid it on the bed, covered it with a cloak and put some goats' hair at the head. When Saul sent men to capture David, Michal said, "He is ill." Then Saul sent them to return and they discovered the idol. Saul couldn't believe that his daughter had deceived him. He didn't understand what a woman would do for love! (1 Samuel 19:8-17)

When David was in exile, Michal was married off to Paltiel, from Gallim. In 2 Samuel 3:12-16, we find that David insists on her return following Saul's death. Though Paltiel followed her weeping behind her all the way to Bahurim, he is forced to return home without her and she returns to her husband.

Michal, however, destroyed a part of her marriage to David on the day that he celebrated the return of the Ark to Jerusalem. In 2 Samuel 6:16-23 we find David dancing unrestrainedly before the Lord. Michal watched this happen and the scriptures says that she despised him in her heart. Then, in 2 Samuel 6:20, she took him to task. He had embarrassed her!

His words to her endear him to us, but alas, finished their relationship.

David said to Michal, "It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord's people Israel - I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by those slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor." (2 Samuel 6:21-22)

The end of this chapter describes the final blow to Michal, "And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death." (2 Samuel 6:23) The lines of Saul and David would never be blended. David's love for the Lord was so much greater than the amazing love he felt for his wife. No one will come between a man (or a woman) and the Lord!

February 15 - David and Jonathan

Sunday, February 15, 2009

February 15 - David and Jonathan

Just after David slew Goliath (slew is such a great word), Saul decided that David was going to stay with him (1 Samuel 18:1-2). Now remember, Saul has been rejected by the Lord at this point, though he remains King, and Samuel has anointed David. Things are a bit out of whack in the kingdom.

Saul insists that David not return home to his father and at this point, something in David stirred something else in Jonathan's heart. He recognized what an incredible young man this was. 1 Samuel 18:1-4 tells us that Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself.

The tide had turned by 1 Samuel 19. Saul is out to kill David because he recognized that the Lord who was once with him was no longer, but was now with David. He told Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David, but Jonathan warned him to go into hiding. He then spoke to his father and waited until Saul took an oath, "As surely as the Lord lives, David will not be put to death." (1 Samuel 19:6) David returned to Saul's favor.

It didn't last long. David runs from Saul to hide. He finally found Jonathan and asked "What have I done?" (1 Samuel 20:1) At first Jonathan can't believe that his father would do something so heinous, especially without telling him first. But David convinces him that his father knows the two are close friends and would probably lie to Jonathan. So, they devise a plan to prove whether or not Saul wants to destroy David.

The plan worked too well. Jonathan not only discerned that Saul was prepared to kill David for no good reason, but that Saul was prepared to kill him as well. Saul hurled his spear at Jonathan during a meal. Scripture tells us that he didn't eat because he was so grieved at his father's shameful treatment of David (1 Samuel 20:34).

He met with David and they wept together. Jonathan told him that he should leave and reiterated their sworn friendship. David left and Jonathan returned to his father.

There are two expeditions that Saul leads against David and in both of these David spares his life, while Saul pleads for mercy and forgiveness. We don't see Jonathan in either of these. The next time we see him is at the end of 1 Samuel. The Philistines continued to war against the Israelites. On Mount Gilboa, they killed Jonathan and Saul's other 2 sons, Abinadab and Malki-Shua. When Saul was wounded, he begged his armor bearer to kill him, but when the man was too terrified to do so, Saul fell on his own sword. (1 Samuel 31:1-13)

2 Samuel opens with the news of Saul and Jonathan's death reaching David. The man who wrote the beautiful Psalms sings a lament. He ordered that the men of Judah be taught this lament of the bow (2 Samuel 1:18).

He gave honor to the man who had pursued him and spoke of Jonathan with the love of a man for his brother. "I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women."

It was a love that could not be matched.

February 14 - Solomon & his Song of Songs

Saturday, February 14, 2009

February 14 - Solomon and his Song of Songs

I've skipped ahead a bit in my schedule to find something a little more appropriate to Valentine's Day. I'll get back into sync tomorrow.

Solomon was well known to have had many wives and hundreds of concubines during his reign as King of Israel. I suppose that makes him uniquely qualified to write this poem. It is believed, however, that this was written in the early days of his reign, so he would not have yet built up the immense harem that he ended up with during his later years.

The title of the book is actually the Song of Songs taken from the Hebrew "Shı̂r hash-shı̂rı̂m." When a word was doubled in that manner in Hebrew, it signifies something greater than the singular. So, this is the best or the greatest of songs! 1 Kings 4:32 tells us that Solomon wrote over 1000 songs. This was the greatest of them.

I probably read this once while I was in Junior High or High School. It seemed a bit illicit and of course, since it was in the Bible, who could tell me no! I would be interested to know, though, how many have actually sat down to read this. I'm betting that not very many of you would respond in the positive. The only time I see it spoken of is during marriage seminars where people want to ensure that we all know sex is good and that God approves of it.

But, there is so much more to this than simply a love story filled with Biblical erotica. Yes, it is true that Jewish young men were actually not allowed to read it until they were 35 years old (during the Old Testament and New Testament periods). But, it describes so much more.

The Jews saw it as an Allegory of the story of God's love for His people. It is a Drama - telling the story of Solomon falling for a young Shulamite girl and bringing her to his palace. It is also looked at as the love story of Christ and his church. It is also simply a story of what human love can look like.

Because we still have a bit of restraint in our hearts regarding sex, the Song of Songs will remain an under-read book in the Bible. It is a book that means to tell us that within the bounds of marriage, freedom is greater than puritanical ideas and that God views sex as a gift. Love is meant to excite the heart and bring two people together in a marriage that God blesses.

So, read the love story with great joy. Whether you see it as the love story of Solomon and his wife or Christ and his church, it remains a beautiful song of love. It is the Song of Songs.

February 13 - Elkanah & Hannah

Friday, February 13, 2009

Remember to vote on the blog for what you would like to read during the month of March! Or just email me and let me know. 1 & 2 Corinthians, 1st half of Isaiah or 31 more Psalms!

February 13 - Elkanah & Hannah - 1 Samuel 1:1-28

The story of this couple is often overshadowed by the story of Hannah's gift from God and her subsequent return of that gift in her son, Samuel. But, this is such a sweet, sweet story of Elkanah's love for Hannah, it's something you shouldn't skip.

Elkanah, an Ehraimite (from the tribe of Ephraim, one of Joseph's sons) had two wives, Peninnah and Hannah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none. Whenever Elkanah went to sacrifice, he gave portions of his meat to Peninnah and her children, "But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb." (1 Sam. 1:5)

Scripture tells us that Peninnah irritated Hannah regularly because she had no children. Whenever Hannah went to the house of the Lord, it got worse. Read these sweet words from Elkanah in 1 Samuel 1:8: "Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don't you eat? Why are you so downhearted? Don't I mean more to you than ten sons?" He was trying so hard and he loved her so much.

One day, Eli, the priest, saw her praying. After a conversation with her, he blessed her. When she and Elkanah returned home, she conceived and gave birth to a son, who she named Samuel, which sounds like the Hebrew for 'heard of God' because God heard her prayer.

When she had weaned the child, she had no problem giving him back to the Lord, which is what she had promised to do. Elkanah's response was simply, "Do what seems best to you."

Each year, Hannah made a robe to take to Samuel when the family went to offer the annual sacrifice. Each year Eli blessed them, saying "May the Lord give you children to take the place of the one she prayed for and gave to the Lord." Then they went home.

The Bible tells us that the Lord was gracious to Hannah. She had three more sons and two daughters.

I love the honor of Hannah. She prayed for a son and promised to return him to the Lord if she could just bear this child. She followed through on her promise. But even more than this, I love the dedication of Elkanah. He adored his wife. He believed in her, he cared for her, and did all that he could to make her happy. What a beautiful story of love.

February 12 - Job & his wife

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I'm doing a little poll. What would you like me to study in March? Click a button in the poll to the left of the blog. Let me know what you'd like to read!

February 12 - Job & his wife

Imagine, if you will, being married to a very wealthy person. Together you have seven sons and three daughters, thousands of head of livestock and a large number of servants. Your family is the greatest among all of the people in the land.

Your children hold immense feasts and party like crazy, but you and your spouse know how to deal with this. Your spouse sacrifices for them regularly to ensure that just in case they sinned, they are purified.

Everything is right in your world. Your spouse shuns evil and is blameless. A good, good person.

Out of the blue, messengers come in and tell you that two of the major types of animals are now all gone and servants have been killed. The next comes in to tell you that the sheep and servants have been burned up, then another comes in to say that the camels and servants are gone. Yet another comes in and all of your children have been killed.

These messengers were speaking to Job practically on top of each other. In the matter of an hour, devastation had occurred.

What would your response be? Honestly?

I have read about too many murder/suicides lately because of the loss of jobs. Wives leave their husbands, families fall apart at the slightest sign of pressure. I'll give Job's wife credit. She didn't leave him that first day.

Another day happens. Poor Job is sitting in the ashes and all of a sudden he is afflicted with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. I'll bet it wasn't even comfortable to sit. So, he had nothing else to do but to scrape himself with a piece of broken pottery.

She finally had it. Job 2:9 says "Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!"

But, Job would have none of that, "You are talking like a foolish woman (the word foolish actually implies moral deficiency). Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. (Job 2:10)

This woman endured as much loss as Job did and she said what would come naturally to most of us. How much easier is it to just die than to continue to endure the loss of everything that we have ever known. She had gone from the wealthiest woman, the wife of the most respected man in the land to a woman who couldn't be around her husband because his breath was so offensive (Job 19:17).

In Job 31:10, Job says that if his heart has been enticed by a woman, then may his wife grind another man's grain and may other men sleep with her. This implies that she did stick with him through all of it.

While we read that she was morally deficient in her outcry against the suffering, as humans we can hardly blame her. When Job was called upon to suffer for God, she was collateral damage.

Fortunately, the story of Job and his wife doesn't end with the intense suffering, it begins that way. The Epilogue in Job 42 finishes the story with an increase in blessings for Job and his wife. She gives birth to three new daughters that were more beautiful than any in the land and sons that also filled their lives. After the painful tribulation, Job was given 140 more years to live a full life with his family and his blessings.

Fury and frustration with the situation, frustration with your spouse. Will it end there? It doesn't have to. Job and his wife taught us that.

February 11 - Ruth & Boaz

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

February 11 - Ruth & Boaz

The one thing we become aware of immediately regarding Boaz is his generosity. He saw her gleaning in the barley fields and asked about her. When he discovered who she was (Naomi's daughter-in-law), he gave her quite a bit of protection. The author of this book was telling a story, but some of his words are almost poetic.

"May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge." (Ruth 2:12)

Isn't that beautiful? He offered her gratitude for the sacrifices she had made for his kinswoman (he was a relative of Elimilech, Naomi's husband - Ruth 2:1). He then asked his workers to leave stalks for her to pick up which allows her to gather quite a bit and after the meal that he invited her to share with him, she had some leftovers that she could take back to Naomi.

Naomi discovers who the man is and tells Ruth that he is one of their kinsman-redeemers. We find in Deuteronomy 25:5-10 the responsibilities of the family when a husband dies. The closest relative is to take the wife into his home. He also purchases the land and in this way redeems it so that it does not leave the family.

In Ruth 4, we find that there is actually another man who would be a closer relative than Boaz. In a smooth political move, he brings the matter to a council of elders and invites the other relative to redeem the land from Naomi. Then, he lets this poor man know that not only will he be redeeming the land, but getting the dead man's widow - in this case, Ruth, who is of marrying age.

That scared the relative, who did not need to place his own estate in danger. I suspect there was a wife back home who didn't want the competition. Boaz knew exactly what he was doing and created a situation by which he legally redeemed the land, kept Naomi's (and Elimilech, as well) name on it and was able to marry Ruth.

Part of this redemption process meant that their first-born son would be pledged to Ruth's dead husband's family. In many cases, this was a difficult thing for the redeemer-kinsman to accept. Which is why in Ruth 4:17, the women bring Ruth's first child to Naomi and say "Naomi has a son."

But, because of his generosity and his love for his new wife and her mother-in-law, Boaz' name goes down in history as the father of Obed, whose son Jesse would father the greatest King of Israel, David.

February 10 - Naomi & Ruth

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

February 10 - Naomi & Ruth

Once upon a time in a land far away ...
It was a dark and stormy night ...

If you look at the beginning of the book of Ruth, it is a classic story-teller's line that opens the story. This is absolutely beautiful!

"In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab." (Ruth 1:1)

That's just perfect!

Naomi and her husband Elimelech avoid the famine by living in Moab. After he died, their two sons married Moabite women - Orpah & Ruth. Ten years later, the two sons died. Naomi heard that the Lord was providing for the Hebrews in Judah through the famine and decided to return to her homeland. Orpah and Ruth traveled with her until she told them to return to their mother's home. They argued with her and wept profusely, but she had very good reasons for them to return home and remarry. As for her, she was much too old for that.

She must have been an amazing woman because we read that Ruth clung to her as Orpah left. And some of the most beautiful words of love are spoken, "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me." (Ruth 1:16-17)

They did make it to Bethlehem and Naomi's bitterness showed up as she greeted her people. She asked them to call her Mara, which means bitter (remember when the water was bitter during the Exodus? Marah). Naomi means pleasant. She was finished with being pleasant.

The story of Ruth and Boaz comes next, but I'm saving that for tomorrow. Today is all about the relationship of these two women. However, we have to peek in a little bit on their lives. Naomi knew the traditions of her people and sent Ruth to lay down at the feet of Boaz. After many machinations, the two were married. Ruth conceived and gave birth to a son.

If you turn to the end of the book, you see the glory that the two women have because of their friendship. When Ruth gave birth, the women surrounding them said, "He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to than seven sons, has given him birth. (Ruth 4:15)

"Then Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him. The women living there said, "Naomi has a son." And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David." (Ruth 4:16-17)

Ruth loved her mother-in-law more than anything. She did not want to be separated from her. And when their fortunes finally turned around, Ruth deflected all of it to Naomi. She gave her a grandson ... a son. And in the end, the love of this Moabite woman for her mother-in-law gave us a Redeemer! For it is from her that the line of Jesse leads to Jesus Christ.

February 9 - Manoah and his wife

Monday, February 9, 2009

February 9 - Manoah and his wife - Judges 13:2-25

What do you do when the Lord shows up to your wife? Well, if you're Manoah, you ask God to come again. No wonder God was able to use Samson, his parents were obedient to the Lord, even when it was difficult for them to understand what He was asking of them.

This is another of those lesser-known stories found in the book of Judges. In fact, if anything is read here, it is generally the story of Samson and Delilah. But, Manoah and his wife showed faithfulness, boldness and finally obedience when it came to speaking with and hearing what the angel of the Lord had to say to them.

Manoah had come from a long line of Danites (the tribe of Dan). His poor wife suffered the same fate as many of the famous wives before her. She was sterile and remained childless. But, one day, guess who showed up? Ok. Obviously, it was the angel of the Lord.

She was told that she would conceive and have a child, but she had a few things that she needed to do. She couldn't drink wine or other fermented drinks. She couldn't eat anything unclean. She was to set apart her son as a Nazirite, so no razor could be used on his head. With these instructions came the promise that her son would begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.

She went to her husband and told him what had happened. Her description of the angel in the NIV is less than powerful. They use the word 'awesome.' But, the Hebrew word 'yare' (pronounced yaw-ray) means terrible, fearful, dreadful, and the adjective 'very' gives more emphasis than our English does. It means exceedingly or greatly. In other words, this angel was more than anything she had to compare it to and it frightened her. She knew that it was from God.

God answered Manoah's request to show up again and one day when she was in the field, the angel showed up. She hurried to get her husband and he followed her back to the field. The question he posed to the angel of the Lord after ensuring it was the same one that had spoken to his wife earlier, was, "When your words are fulfilled, what is to be the rule for the boy's life and work." (Judges 13:12)

The angel repeated the earlier instructions that had been given to Manoah's wife, then Manoah asked it to stay for a meal. The Bible says that Manoah did not realize this was an angel of the Lord. (Judges 13:16) He went on and asked the angel for his name. As I read this, I honestly held my breath, even though I knew that no angel except Michael and Gabriel had ever named themselves in scripture. I can always hope!

The angel responded by telling Manoah that his name was beyond understanding. Oh, glory! I can't wait for the day that I can actually understand these names! Anyway ...

Manoah sacrificed the young goat to the Lord at the angel's request. The scriptures read, "And the Lord did an amazing thing while Manoah and his wife watched: As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame. Seeing this, Manoah and his wife fell with their faces to the ground. When the angel of the Lord did not show himself again to Manoah and his wife, Manoah realized that it was the angel of the Lord." (Judge 13:19b-21)

She gave birth to a son and named him Samson. He grew and the Lord blessed him.

Manoah wasn't a Levite, so he was probably uneducated. He and his wife worked the fields. They had no children to help them. They were simple, honest people. When the Lord showed up, He changed everything in their lives. They were given a son. They were given a chance to see amazing miracles. Their lives would never be the same. Because together, they trusted the Lord.

February 8 - Moses & Zipporah

Sunday, February 8, 2009

February 8 - Moses & Zipporah

You know, as I was growing up and learning the stories of the Bible, it just never occurred to me that Moses had a wife! I was in my 30s at least when I read that passage. I was floored. How did this man find time to have a wife?

Then, it hit me. He had time because they became man and wife BEFORE God met him at the burning bush. Let's see how this played out.

Moses grew up in the Pharoah's home. One day while he was out wandering around, he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. He murdered the Egyptian and thought he had gotten away with it, because he HAD checked to ensure no one was watching. Wrong. And word got out. Just goes to show, evil deeds can't be hidden forever. Pharoah wanted to kill him, so Moses ran to Midian. He sat down by a well. Again, Moses intervened in a situation that seemed unfair to him.

Jethro, the priest, had 7 daughters. They went to the well to draw water for their father's flock, but shepherds drove them away. Moses came to their rescue and also watered their flock. Zipporah was given to Moses in marriage when he decided to stay with the family. They had a child named Gershon. Moses was tending his father-in-law's flock the day that the angel of the Lord appeared in that burning bush. (Exodus 2:11-3:1)

Now, for some reason ... maybe because Zipporah was a Midianite priest's daughter, Moses did not insist that his son, Gershon be circumcised. That came back and bit him. Moses wants to return to Egypt and his wife and sons were going with him.

One night, at a lodging place (hotels during the time of Moses? really?) the Lord met Moses and was about to kill him. But, Zipporah took a flint knife and circumcised Gershon with it. Then, she touched Moses feet with the foreskin and he was safe from the Lord's wrath.

This gets to be a bit confusing, but in the verses just prior to this action, the Lord had spoken to Moses regarding Pharoah. (Exodus 4:22-23) This was the point where the Lord threatened the life of the Pharoah's first-born son if he didn't let Israel leave Egypt. Now, how would it look if Moses went in there threatening Pharoah's first-born in the name of the Lord of Israel and his own son was not committed to the covenant of circumcision? (Genesis 17:11-14)

Zipporah understood and fixed it between Moses and his Lord. She returned to her people in Midian while Moses was busy getting his people out of Egypt. We next see her in Exodus 18. Jethro brings her back to Moses with their two sons before the Israelites enter the desert.

This is the last we know of her. Moses made an impression on Jethro's daughters at the well that day. We don't know if Zipporah fell in love with him or how it was that Jethro decided she was to be Moses' wife, but she cared for him, even to the point of circumcising their son, an action which would not have been normal in her culture. When it was time for Moses to deal with business, she returned to her father, only to come back to Moses when he faced an arduous journey. Sometimes love is a deep, understanding relationship that offers support when it is needed.

February 7 - Amram & Jochobed

Saturday, February 7, 2009

February 7 - Amram & Jochobed

When we first meet this couple, we have no idea what their names are. The scripture reads: "Now a man of the house of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son." (Exodus 2:1-2)

The next thing we know we are in the middle of the story of Moses. Pharoah had ordered that all of the Hebrew boys were to be thrown into the river.

Moses' story goes on in Exodus 2:2. "When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months."

Even though I don't know much about having children around, I do know that it is going to be fairly easy to hide a boy child for the first few months of his life. After that, though things are going to be difficult. So, she put him in a basket and floated him down the Nile river where he was gathered up by the Pharoah's daughter. His sister had watched the entire episode and offered to find a wetnurse for the infant, who just happened to be his mother.

The story tells us that his mother nursed him until he grew old enough to live in the Pharoah's household when she gave him up to the Pharoah's daughter who raised him as a son. Moses was the name she gave to him, which means "draw out" because she drew him from the water.

We discover the names of Moses' parents in Exodus 6:20 in the middle of the family records of Aaron. We also discover that Amram was the son of Kohath and the grandson of Levi. This probably means that he was a descendant - remember, 400 years had passed between the time of Joseph and the time of Moses. We're not sure, though. Remember, also that these people had very long liftimes. Amram lived for 137 years. In later passages (1 Chronicles 6:23), the tribe is actually named after him (the Amramites) telling us that he was the head of one of the priestly branches. His name means 'kindred of the Most High.'

These two people took an awful chance by hiding their son and then turning him over to the household of the Pharaoh. What was it that possessed them and gave them confidence that their son would live? What kind of conversations occurred in their home as Jochobed made preparations to put her infant into the river? Aaron and Miriam, their other two children, who were obviously much older also managed to stay close to Moses as he grew up, close enough to be able to stand with him as he brought God's people out of Egypt.

I think that this family's faith in the God who guided them had to have been incredible. What a time to be a parent of a son who would be called by the Lord Most High! Was Amram still alive to see it happen? Was Jochobed? There's no way of knowing, but I see them standing together as Moses called for the people to sacrifice a lamb and mark the door sill. She smiled a knowing smile at her husband, as if to say, "I always knew he would be important to our people. God has blessed our family this day."

February 6 - Jacob & Rachel ... or Leah

Friday, February 6, 2009

February 6 - Jacob & Rachel ... or Leah

I think that the author of Genesis sets out to make us feel sorry for Jacob for being tricked by his uncle Laban. After working for 7 years to gain Rachel's hand in marriage, he wakes up after his wedding night to discover that it is her older sister, Leah with whom he shared the marriage bed. Now, the Bible says that this poor woman had weak eyes ... huh ... I wonder why that was such a terrible thing? Maybe it's no longer politically correct to shy away from someone because their eyes tend to cross and in those days it was just fine.

This poor older sister couldn't find a husband and her father didn't want to be saddled with her for the rest of his life, so as custom would have it, the older sister was to be married first. Think about the crimp that was putting in Rachel's social life!

But, Jacob had loved Rachel from the moment he met her (Genesis 29:11, 17-18). He managed to finish out the bridal week with Leah and Rachel became his second wife. He loved her more than Leah, so God opened Leah's womb and she started having sons. Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah.

No, this didn't go over very well at all. Rachel threw a fit and said, "Give me children, or I'll die!" (Gen. 30:1). Ultimatums don't go over well with a man who is successfully having children with another woman. He got mad. But, he also got another woman to 'lay with.' Her servant, Bilhah bore Dan, then Napthali.

Now, it was Leah's turn to freak out. She was no longer having children, so Jacob got to 'lay with' her servant, Zilpah. She gave him 2 sons, Gad and Asher.

Rachel sold her husband's sexual prowess to Leah for mandrakes? Why yes she did (Gen. 30:15). And I love it. In Gen. 30:16 she says to Jacob, "You must sleep with me. I have hired you." So he slept with her that night.

Who feels sorry for Jacob now? The man is having some good years!

She gave birth to Issachar. Jacob slept with her again and she gave birth to Zebulun and then to a daughter, Dinah.

Finally after 10 sons and a daughter, the Lord opened her womb and she conceived and gave birth to Joseph.

Jacob took his family and all that he owned to leave Laban. You'd think that a man with that much experience with women would be smarter than most. But, no. He ran away in secret.

He makes it back to Bethel (after several chapters of wild activities) and Rachel has conceived again. As she gives birth to Benjamin, she dies on the way to Bethlehem. Jacob made it back to his father, Isaac, in time to see him before he died.

What a man won't do for love. What a father won't do for the daughters he loves. What a wife won't do to give her husband the one thing she believes he desires.

It's a good that God makes the choices regarding whom He will use to change His world. So far, I would never have chosen these men to be the foundation of a nation belonging to God. But, the Creator knows the hearts of His people. Jacob loved his wife and children. Jacob loved his God.

February 5 - Isaac & Rebekah

Thursday, February 5, 2009

February 5 - Isaac and Rebekah

I find it interesting that Isaac doesn't meet his wife until after his mother died. Isn't that every mother's dream, that her son will be true to her forever? Ok, maybe not ... maybe it was just my mother-in-law. And it was a good thing, too because when the first place that Isaac took Rebekah to was his mother's tent (Genesis 24:67). Yes, that means exactly what it says. Mama would definitely have had something to say about that! But Isaac was 40 years old when he married Rebekah (Genesis 25:20). I suspect he was tired of waiting.

Now, in Genesis 24, we find the story of Abraham's servant searching for a wife for Isaac. Abraham made him promise that he wouldn't find this wife from among the Canaanites. Abraham asked him to return to his (Abraham's) family to find a suitable wife. There was a lot of praying going on and God heard it all when he brought Rebekah to the well to care for the servant of Abraham.

I love the last verse of this chapter. "...he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother's death." How sweet is that?

Rebekah faced some of the same issues her mother-in-law had faced. She, too was barren. Isaac prayed on her behalf and she became pregnant with twins. And THEN! Isaac seems to follow in his father's footsteps. He went to Abimelech because of the famine and worried that the men of the community there might kill him because Rebekah was so beautiful. What did he do? Of course he did. He told them that she was his sister. I'm beginning to wonder if the women outside of Abraham's tribe were really that ugly or were these two so stunningly beautiful they stupefied their husbands!

When Esau was forty years old, he married a woman named Judith and another woman named Basemath. Both of this women were Hittites and Genesis 26:35 says "They were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah." No wonder she was so ready to transfer the blessing of Isaac from Esau to Jacob. No woman wants nasty daughter-in-laws hanging around waiting for their inheritance! In fact, she says just that to Isaac at the end of Genesis 27. "I'm disgusted with living because of these Hittite women. If Jacob takes a wife from among the women of this land, from Hittite women like these, my life will not be worth living." (Gen. 27:46)

Jacob leaves to return to her brother, Laban. He does so to escape from Esau's fury and to take a wife. We read nothing more of Rebekah until Genesis 49:31 where we find that she and Isaac are buried with Abraham and Sarah.

Strong women change the world around their husbands sometimes. She will always be known as the mother of Jacob, who, through treachery brought him Isaac's blessing. Isaac loved her, though and had she asked, he might have given in to her request. Who knows?

February 4 - Lot & his wife

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

February 4 - Lot & his wife

You know, sometimes I look at a couple and I think to myself, "That poor woman married him and is going to have to put up with him for a very long time. Do you think she'll ever figure it out?"

Just saying those words, "Lot's wife" gives everyone an image in their mind, whether they are religious or not. "Lots' wife" equals "pillar of salt" equals disobedient and stupid. But, I wonder about her choices in life.

Lot was the son of Abraham's brother, Haran (Genesis 11:31). It doesn't say that he was married when Terah left Ur for Canaan. It also doesn't say that he had a wife when Abram left his father at the Lord's request (Genesis 12:5).

We see in Genesis 13 that Abram and Lot were traveling together and that Abram had become wealthy. Lot had some flocks and herds and tents, but not nearly as much as his uncle. When it came time to separate, Abram offered him his choice of land. Lot looked out, saw the good stuff and chose that land. It just so happened that he chose the area that was home to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Things are not going to bode well for this young man. Abram took off the other way and settled down.

Genesis 14 tells us that four kings went to war against Sodom and Gomorrah. They won. They carried away goods and food as well as Lot and all his possessions. Abram had to go rescue him. This is definitely a man that needs a good wife.

The next time we see Lot, he is back in Sodom. He is surrounded by evil and as has been quite obvious, he doesn't handle choices well. Two angels show up in town and while Lot knows that they shouldn't be abused by the wicked men in the town, he doesn't quite get it right when he offers his daughters up to them. Their betrothed husbands are in the house and it doesn't say that they put up a fight either. (Genesis 19:1-11)

And what does it say about Lot's influence when the angels insist that he gather his family and leave town because the Lord is going to wipe it out, that the son-in-laws think he is joking and refuse to leave. Then, when the angels tell Lot to hurry, the man still hesitates! They have to grab him by the hand as well as his wife and daughters and lead them to safety. This man continues to make terrible choices. (Genesis 19:12-16)

The angels tell them not to look back and to run into the mountains. Lot continues to whine. If he had been my husband, I would definitely have kicked him in the behind by now. Stupid, stupid man. He didn't want to go into the mountains because the disaster would overtake him? (Genesis 19:19) That man just didn't want to deal with living outside of a city or village - he liked his conveniences too much.

But, that stupid, stupid wife couldn't even make it to the village of Zoar. She had to turn around and look back at the destruction of Sodom. God was raining down burning sulfur which destroyed the city, everyone living there and all of the vegetation. What in the world did Lot see as she turned into a pillar of salt.

Oh, but things don't get any better for this man. He's still afraid. He can't even stay in Zoar, though the angels promised they wouldn't destroy it. He hides in a cave. The daughters think the world is ending and there won't be any more men around, so they get him drunk and sleep with him. Both get pregnant. The first son was named Moab - father of the Moabites and the second son was named Ammi - father of the Ammonites. Those two tribes became enemies of the Israelites.

I see Lot as an idiot and his wife is simply that - the wife of an idiot. But, he had one thing going for him. In 2 Peter 2:17-19, Peter tells us that Lot was a righteous man. You see, even though he made terrible choices, he believed in God. We don't know that his wife and daughters carried that belief, but Lot did. Do you realize how important that is?

February 3 - Abraham & Sarah

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

February 3 - Abraham & Sarah

We know very little of these two in their younger years. We meet them in Genesis 11:27-32 in the account of Terah. All we really know at this point is that Abram took a wife, Sarai and she was barren. Pretty sad news in those days. But, beginning in Genesis 12, God calls Abram to leave his father's household. This amazingly obedient man does exactly that. He is 75 years old when this all occurs and later in the story we find that Sarai is 9-10 years younger than he, but we also discover that she is beautiful! Hear Abram's words to her in Genesis 12:11-12, "I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'This is his wife.' Then they will kill me but will let you live." Now, while Abram was about to perpetuate a deception here, what woman among us wouldn't want to hear those words from our husbands?

The Pharoah did think she was beautiful and took her into his harem. Genesis 12:16 also says that he treated Abram well for her sake. She must have been an incredible beauty!

God set forth a covenant with Abram that he would have offspring as innumerable as the stars, but considering the fact that Sarai was still barren, I suppose he probably wondered if he needed to make this happen on his own. It was probably not much of a stretch for him to accept her maidservant Hagar. When Hagar had Ishmael, Abram was 86 years old. (Genesis 16:16)

Thirteen years later, God had another conversation with Abram and renamed him Abraham. Abram means 'exalted father' and Abraham means 'father of many.' He also renamed Sarai to Sarah which means 'princess.' During this conversation, God promised that Sarah would be blessed with a son and she would bear the child, Isaac, by the same time the next year (Genesis 17:21).

Both Abraham and Sarah laughed at the thought of her giving birth. Abraham did so in Genesis 17:17 and Sarah in Genesis 18:12. She got caught by the Lord, though and lied about it. Good heavens, early on in God's relationship with humanity, they were lying to him. History really doesn't change all that much, does it?

Abraham messed around again with the fact that Sarah was his sister when he met up with Abimelech, king of Gerar. At 90 years old, the woman was still gorgeous. And at nearly 100 years old, Abraham was still a stupid man.

When Isaac was born, Sarah remembered the laughter and so, she named him Isaac which means 'he laughs.' On the feast that was held at Isaac's weaning, Sarah, a very beautiful woman, who now had a child, could no longer stomach Hagar and Ishmael's presence. Abraham listened to his wife and sent them on their way. Fortunately for everyone involved, God stayed involved and offered them protection. Even though God's chosen people would come through Isaac's line, the blessing of the Lord would also follow Ishmael. Abraham is considered the father of nations other than the Hebrew people.

Sarah died about 35 years after Isaac was born - at the age of 127. Genesis 23:2 tells us that Abraham wept over her and insisted on purchasing property for her burial.

Abraham had known Sarah all of his life. She was gone from him, so he did take another wife - Keturah (Genesis 25:1). She bore him 6 more sons and Abraham's descendants moved from the area to the east (Genesis 25:6). He died at the age of 175 and Isaac & Ishmael together buried him with Sarah.

James 2:23 tells us that "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness and he was called God's friend."

This amazing man and his beautiful wife continue the story by adding a Covenant with God which promised offspring as numerous as the stars in the heavens. God didn't make it easy for them to believe in Him by causing Sarah to have multitudes of children or even bearing one child at an early age. They had to learn together to trust in God's Covenant for what it was - a promise from the Holy of Holies. Can I do anything less than that?