How Can I Trust God?

How can I trust God_final (1)

(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

The front of a woman’s red station wagon was crushed when an elephant at a circus sat on it.  The owners of the animal apologized, explaining that the animal, for some reason, simply liked to sit on red cars.

In spite of the damage, the woman’s car could still be driven.  On the way to the garage she was stopped short by an accident involving two other cars just ahead of her. When the ambulance arrived a few minutes later the attendants took one look at her car, then ran over to assist her. “Oh, I wasn’t involved in this accident,” she explained. “An elephant sat on my car.”

The ambulance attendants quickly bundled her off to the hospital for possible shock and head injuries, despite the lady’s vehement protests.

(Bits and Pieces, October, 1991, retrieved from https://www.sermonsearch.com/sermon-illustrations/6805/elephant-sat-on-my-car/)

Sometimes you don’t know who to believe!  Or whom to trust.  Good news – our God is trustworthy!

Trust in God is founded in faith and deepened with experience.

  1. We need faith to trust God (Proverbs 3:5-6).

CONTEXT: Proverbs three is a chapter that extols the benefits and value of wisdom.  There is a pattern in 3:1-12: the odd-numbered verses express the obligations of the person seeking wisdom and the even-numbered verses promise a reward for keeping those obligations.  We will focus on verses five and six explain the role of TRUST in our search for wisdom.

COMMENTS:

The word TRUST meant to rely on someone for security.  It is a confidence based on who God is, not on who you are.  TRUST IN THE LORD requires three things of the faithful wisdom-seeker.

First, TRUST…WITH ALL YOUR HEART (5).  The key word here is ALL.  Trust is not indicated in partial commitments, withholding some for self.

Second, LEAN NOT ON YOUR OWN UNDERSTANDING (5).  There is certainly a practical side to wisdom, but that is not an aspect of the spiritual.  Truly wise people are not limited to the things they know because of training and experience, they know other things because God has revealed them.  God reveals wisdom in His word and by the Holy Spirit, working outside “common sense.”  If there is ever a conflict between worldly wisdom and divine wisdom, we must choose God’s wisdom.

Third, IN ALL YOUR WAYS ACKNOWLEDGE HIM (6).  Biblically, the word “way” can be equivalent to our word “lifestyle.”  It is the direction our choices take us.  The words WAYS and PATHS in this verse both refer to the character our decisions have created within us.  We encounter the word ALL again in v. 6.  We need to acknowledge God’s ownership of our bank accounts, home, family – everything.  If Jesus is not Lord over all, He’s not Lord at all.

The benefit of trusting God promised here in Proverbs 3:5+6 is HE WILL MAKE YOUR PATHS STRAIGHT.  As anyone who’s driven down a long straight prairie highway can tell you, it’s easier to stay on the road.  The promise of a “straight path” is a promise of a life that’s easier to live.  By way of contrast, Proverbs 2:15 + 9:18 uses the image of a crooked path as a sinful way through life.  These verses warn that crooked paths lead to death.

  1. We deepen our trust as we experience reliance on Him (Malachi 3:9-12).

CONTEXT: Malachi 3 warns that the Day of Judgment is coming and it will not go well for the Israelites because they have stolen from God by being unfaithful in their tithes and offerings.

COMMENTS:

Verse nine states the WHOLE NATION is UNDER A CURSE because they dared to rob God.  The Hebrew word used here for NATION typically referred to the pagan nations, not Israel.  This is a clue how upset God is with His people at this point.  Their failure to be obedient in the command to tithe is cast in the worst possible light: it is robbery, stealing from God! The penalty for robbing God is being CURSED by God.

Verses ten to twelve move away from the threat of curses to the promise of blessings if they would only obey God.  These verses emphasize the value of personal experience as a means of deepening our trust in God.  “TEST ME IN THIS” the LORD declared.

God called upon His people to do the right thing; to bring in THE WHOLE TITHE.  Upon the condition of their obedience  He promised to THROW OPEN THE GATES OF HEAVEN AND POUR OUT SO MUCH  BLESSING THAT YOU WILL NOT HAVE ROOM ENOUGH FOR IT.  He promised to prevent negative things like loss of crops.  He promised positive things like respect and success. The promise is that many blessings – material and personal – will be poured out from heaven to the degree that even the pagan NATIONS have to acknowledge Israel was BLESSED.

The word DELIGHTFUL makes a great promise sweeter still.  In Isaiah 62:4 God called Israel “Hepzibah,” which meant “my delight is in her.”

These verses affirm the reality that only those who take faith-based risks will ever know how trustworthy God truly is.  To put it another way, “If all you ever do is what you can do by yourself, you will never know how trustworthy God is.”

Trust in God is founded in faith and deepened with experience.

          A little boy was walking down the beach, and as he did, he spied an elderly woman sitting on the sand. He asked, “Are you a Christian?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“Do you read your Bible every day?”

“Yes.”

“Do you pray often?”

Again she answered, “Yes.”

With that the little boy asked his final question, “Will you hold my quarter while I go swimming?”

What do you need to give to God as you head back out into the waters of life? I invite you to establish your trust in Jesus.

(Author unknown, retrieved from https://www.family-times.net/illustration/Trust/202753/)

Let’s stop for a moment.  If you ask a room full of church people “Do you trust God?” 99.9% of them are going to answer in the affirmative.  If you ask them, “With what do you trust God?” be wary of the one who too quickly answers “Everything.”

The truth is likely to be something less than everything.  Trust in God is a matter of sacrifice.  To trust God means we sacrifice things most dear to us, putting them entirely under His control.  To trust God requires us to love God more than self, people, possessions, and church COMBINED!  People who trust in God may buy insurance, but they don’t rely on it to “take care of them.”  People who trust in God may set money aside as a sound financial strategy but they don’t believe that savings will prevent calamity nor will it console them when trials come.  People who trust in God will not manipulate others or wield legalisms because no one can stand in for you on Judgment Day.  People who trust in God have their eyes set on heaven: not just as a place they’ll end up “someday,” but also as a reality we are trying to recreate in our daily experience.

 

RESOURCES:

Proverbs, Tremper Longman III

Message #772

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

#5 – Proverbs – Allen P. Ross

#7 – Malachi – Robert L. Alden

 

 

Hardhearted and Tightfisted

generosity

Please read Deuteronomy 15:1-11 in your Bible.

A highly successful businessman was once asked to make a substantial donation toward an urgent charity appeal. The businessman listened to the case presented then said, “I can understand why you approached me. Yes I do have a lot of money, and yours is an important cause. But are you aware that I have a lot of calls upon my money? Did you know my mother needs 24 hour nursing care?”

“No we didn’t” came the reply.

“Did you know my sister is struggling to raise a family of eight on her own?”

“No we didn’t” came the reply.

“Did you know I have one son in a drug rehab clinic and another doing voluntary work overseas?”

“No we didn’t”

“Well, if I don’t give them a cent, what makes you think I’ll give it to you?!”

CONTEXT = The book of Deuteronomy is Moses reviewing the law with the Israelites prior to their campaign to occupy the Promised Land.  It is a collection of teachings in no obvious order, so context is not as important as it is for other parts of the Bible.  However, this section joins with 14:27-29, which identifies the needy persons requiring support: the Levites (assistants to the priests), aliens, fatherless, and widows.

Prosperity is given to empower & reward generosity.

  1. God attached a promise of prosperity to the 7 year cycle of debt forgiveness.

This command is one aspect of God’s commands to observe a “Sabbath Year” every seventh year.  Other aspects of a Sabbath Year include the release of slaves and allowing the land to rest (planting crops was forbidden; only what grew “volunteer” was to be gleaned for food).

Here in Deuteronomy 15, God commanded debt forgiveness of loans made to fellow Israelites (1-3).  Throughout the Old Testament law, God’s people were to give one another special treatment.  The language is a little ambiguous whether this was a permanent forgiveness of debt or a temporary one, just for the duration of the year.  Either way, it was to be a demonstration of faith in God and generous love to needy countrymen.

God’s gracious gift of prosperity was given to empower their gracious generosity.  Verse four states God gave them the LAND AS AN INHERITANCE.  Combine this with the promise of prosperity in v. 6 and we see their prosperity as a gift from God to be shared, not a personal achievement to be hoarded.

On the surface it appears verse 4 contradict verses seven and eleven. Verse four states, THERE SHOULD BE NO POOR AMONG YOU while in verse seven we read, IF THERE IS A POOR MAN AMONG YOUR BROTHERS and verse eleven says THERE WILL ALWAYS BE POOR AMONG YOU.

The way I see it, verse four is a promise: if this statute is observed, poverty would be eliminated.  It is a conditional statement: this effect would be achieved by a combination of the people’s obedience and generosity and by the Lord’s blessing.

On the other hand, verses seven and eleven are a prediction that the Israelites would NOT observe the statute and so poverty would continue.   Verse four reflects optimism, verses seven and eleven show pessimism or realism.  We see both these perspectives in other statements Moses made, so it is not at all out of character to see both of them here.  It is worth noting that in the Gospels Jesus agreed with the realistic tone of verses seven and eleven when He said, “THE POOR YOU WILL ALWAYS HAVE WITH YOU.”  The situation had changed so much that an observance of Sabbath years was impossible and the cure for poverty unavailable.

Had this system been followed, it would have limited the centralization of wealth in the hands of the few.  The cancellation or suspension of debts would have put money back into the economy and eased the oppressive burdens of indebtedness.  As God promised it would work, I have no doubt it would have eventually eliminated poverty from Israel.  To observe the Sabbath Year as it was commanded would have been an act of trust in God and a huge faith-building experience.

Verses five and six develop God’s promise of future prosperity.  This is Moses assuring the people that if they follow these rules even though they appear to have no business sense, they do not need to fear poverty.  They can count on God to reward their faithfulness with fruitfulness.

Verse five conveys in two phrases the condition that predicated the fulfillment.  Firstly, IF ONLY YOU FULLY OBEY. In the Hebrew language, this is an “infinitive absolute construction indicating intensity” which is a fancy way of saying the original language stresses the condition of obedience more than we can in English.  Secondly, IF ONLY YOU…ARE CAREFUL TO FOLLOW ALL THESE COMMANDS, especially the Sabbath year laws of this section.  The Old Testament  law teaches us that God blesses complete obedience, not grudging obedience or faked obedience or partial obedience.  In order to do right by God we must obey completely, which includes body and soul.

Verse six is a promise of prosperity and security = THE LORD WILL BLESS YOU AS HE PROMISED.  Prosperity is promised in this phrase: YOU WILL LEND TO MANY NATIONS BUT WILL BORROW FROM NONE.  National prosperity would be one of the means God would use to end poverty in Israel.  Security is promised in the words, YOU WILL RULE OVER MANY NATIONS BUT NONE WILL RULE OVER YOU.  Economic prosperity would certainly be part of how this promise would be realized, but that does not exclude military or political means.

These promises came to their greatest fulfillment during the reign of King Solomon.  Israel enjoyed fantastic wealth and held the preeminent place among the nations of the world. However, as they did not keep this command and observe the Sabbath years, the wealth stayed in the hands of the minority and poverty remained.  We know from history that God clearly kept His part of the covenant but Israel did not keep her part.  As a consequence, Solomon’s sons divided the kingdom and the fortunes of both nations fell over several generations, ending in both nations being conquered by foreigners.

  1. God commanded generosity to the poor.

God condemned having a bad attitude toward the poor.  Verse seven forbade being HARDHEARTED and TIGHTFISTED.  Note this is a condemnation of both attitude and action that results in a person who could help refusing to help.

Verse nine goes a bit further, condemning WICKED THOUGHTS about abusing the Law and the poor.  After all, a businessman might, in year six, decide that he does not want to wait twelve months or more for repayment to start, and refuse to make a loan.  God appealed to the spiritual side of His people and condemned this selfish attitude as a sin.  There is a word of deterrent here in verse nine; help the poor lest they appeal in prayer and God declares the miser guilty of sin.  This is the only place a warning of this type is found in the Bible.  In the Old Testament, a miser is depicted as a sad and lonely figure while a generous person is shown as happy and social.

God commended generosity.  Verses eight and eleven command being OPENHANDED in order to meet needs.  Righteous and happy people are generous people.  While they exercise caution and give in an orderly fashion, they are nonetheless gracious in their giving.  Be aware of God’s grace and generosity to you and then follow His example.

In verse ten, Moses commanded the people to GIVE GENEROUSLY…AND WITHOUT A GRUDGING HEART.  Thoughtful and careful use of one’s resources is a part of wisdom, but that is not an endorsement of miserliness.  Hoarding and withholding from the needy is condemned as a sin.  A generous heart is indicated by the habit of thinking of the needs of others ahead of your own.

Prosperity is given to empower & reward generosity.

          I suppose economists would look on this regulation with horror.  So much of our economy is based on credit and loans earning interest, debt forgiveness would seem to them like rewarding slackers and creating poverty.

It’s possible the ancient Israelites shared this perspective on the Sabbath year laws.  We have no evidence these laws were ever observed.  Sadly, people with money and power are unwilling to release it and apparently their will triumphed.  Which is too bad for a host of reasons not least among them is that it would have been wonderful to see this economic system demonstrated and an actual end to poverty achieved.

In his 1964 State of the Union address, President Lyndon Johnson declared “war” on poverty.  His methods of war predictably involved expanding the federal bureaucracy.  The four pillars of this effort included an expansion of Social Security, food stamps, job agencies, and educational programs. We’ve been at this war for just over 55 years.  Are any closer to winning?  What’s really needed is what God’s law decreed in Deuteronomy 15; a heart of generosity and grace toward persons less fortunate than one’s self.

RESOURCES:

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (#3), Earl S. Kalland.

The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Deuteronomy), Peter C. Craigie.

https://storiesforpreaching.com/category/sermonillustrations/generosity/

 

Idol Smashers (Part Two)

“Idol Smashers” is a work of fiction set in the biblical era of the Judges.  Apart from persons mentioned in the Bible, it is entirely fiction and presented here in serial form strictly for the entertainment of my readers.  “Idol Smashers” is an original work, copyright Brett Best, 2011.

token

Day  One – Shiloh

Previously: The ceremony of Yom Hakkipurim was mysteriously delayed by the Judge Deborah to select seven champions for an as-yet-undisclosed mission.

Jezreel and the six other men were hurriedly ushered into the tent beneath the banner of the palm tree.  This was the sign of Tomer Deborah, the place where Deborah has judged Israel for thirty-seven years.  With the Blessing, they had been years of peace and prosperity following the defeat and death of the Canaanite King, Jabin.

The faces of the six other men bore signs of concern mixed with lingering surprise.  Silently, Jezreel took his place in a council of eight, with Deborah herself standing at the head of the circle.  The honor of sitting at her right was not one that Jezreel sought for himself, but watched as she gestured for another of the seven to occupy that spot.  Surely Deborah knew best which of them was most worthy of the honorific.  The rest shuffled into place, the deciding of order being made silently and selflessly, not the usual way of men who are strangers to one another.  Jezreel felt this was a good sign.

Deborah bowed, and gestured for all to sit.  Remaining on her feet, she greeted each of the seven by name, then gestured for her servants to bring bowls for washing.

Amid those moments of hospitality, Jezreel looked about the circle.  Noticeably absent are any tribal elders.  Each of these men were younger, like himself.  Wondering at this unusual circumstance and why the LORD willed such a thing, Jezreel took in Deborah herself.  She looked burdened and tired.  There was little joy in her face, more so the kind of weariness that is truly known by those in leadership.

An uneasy silence shrouded the room as Deborah’s servants washed the men’s feet and anointed their heads with aromatic oil.  These typical acts of hospitality generally comforted travelers, but today they did not cut the apprehension of the room.  The familiar contrasted too strikingly with the unfamiliarity of this morning’s events.  Food and drink were served, all in the austere style that rumor said to be typical of Deborah.

After these acts of hospitality had been offered, Deborah conferred briefly with her chief servant.  Waving all the other servants and bodyguards from the tent, he carefully backed out himself.  The dismissal of the servants was also surprising, for Jezreel had never heard of councils taking place in such secrecy.

Deborah waited for the bustle to subside.  The seven men looked to one another, each face betraying bewilderment, seeking an explanation.  Jezreel certainly had none to offer.  His experiences as a shepherd in his father’s house and as a psalmist’s apprentice at Kodash had not included political intrigue.  Meetings of the council were secret to most Israelites, a reality that rarely affected their daily lives.  Authorities figures better known to the common Israelite were the heads of his family and clan.  Tribal elders were the highest level of authority, except for the times during which the LORD raised up judges.  Though the heathen nations around them had strong central governments, the people of God enjoyed decentralized authority.  The system worked because it was what the LORD had decreed and it kept Him as the sole King of Israel.

Finally, Deborah spoke, “Men of Israel.  I have summoned you to council wearing a robe of secrecy that I must ask you to don as well.  There must be no words taken from this tent until the matter is resolved.  I will now have your word on this.”

Again the seven look to one another.  Then Ammihud, the oldest-looking member of the group and the man at her right hand, said, “I so swear.”  Others around the circle give their oaths and Jezreel offered his.  Deborah looked upon each of them intently, as if she were able to peer into their hearts and judge their sincerity.  It was rumored that a prophetess had such an ability.  Deborah was recognized as a prophetess of the LORD and her God-given insight had no doubt aided her in the commission of her office as judge over all Israel.

She looked at the man to her right.  “Ammihud ben Elishama, man of Shuthelah and Ephraim.  You served Barak on occasion.  Your prophetic insight has aided our people.”  Ehud’s round face bore a look of great pleasure.  His eyes revealed intelligence and power within his short, stout frame.

“Maaz ben Zophar, man of Beker and Ephraim.  Your iron-shod goad,” she pointed to the staff-like weapon he had leaned against the wall of the tent behind him, “has served other judges over Israel. Adonai has shown his wisdom in choosing you.”

Gesturing to the man to Maaz’s left, Deborah asked, “Micah ben Shema, I understand you are something of a brewer and vintner.  Is this wine to your liking?”

Micah was obviously pleased to receive this kind of attention from Deborah.  “Well, ma’am,” he began, “I find it to be a little dry.  I wonder if the grapes were picked a bit before their maturity.  You see…”

Beside Micah, Maaz cleared his throat.  Interrupted, Micah fell silent.  Shrugging his shoulders a bit, he said “It’s fine.”

At this, Deborah laughed aloud.  “Micah, you allow your brother-in-law to lead you thus?  It is a man of true humility who follows a worthy man.  You are of the clan of Beker as well, are you not?”

Micah merely nodded his assent to this question and took another sip of wine.  It appeared that on subjects other than vine-dressing, he was a man of few words.

Deborah looked further down the circle.  “Barak ben Caleb.  You have come to us from Hanoch.  You are a man of stature in the tribe of Reuben.”  At this, there was muted laughter, for Barak was a giant of a man, over four cubits in height.

“I am honored to be chosen,” he said simply and bowed his head in salutation.

Deborah’s gaze turned to Jezreel next.  “This man is apprenticed to a musician.  Jezreel ben Abraham is studying to be a psalmist.  I have heard one of your compositions.  It is good you left the fields.  Adonai bless you.”

“I am told that Joseph ben Joseph, of Carmi in Simeon has emerged from the desert to demonstrate his own gift of prophecy.  Speaking with the voice of God is a great responsibility.  You must take this responsibility very seriously to still be unmarried at your age,” Deborah said with a wry grin.

Joseph did not take the bait.  He appeared to be one who had secrets and kept them.  He said tersely, “I am ready to serve.  The LORD is with us.”

“Blessed be the name of the LORD,” Deborah replied.

Finally, Deborah’s gaze fell on the man to her immediate left.

“I am Caleb ben Jeremiah, clan of Beker and tribe of Ephraim,” he blurted out.

Deborah’s smile helped to allay some of his tension.  “Yes, I know.  All of you had been revealed to me in a dream.  Although you,” she said pointing at Jezreel, “gave me a bit of a start when you at first refused to draw a token from the basket.”

“Um…” Jezreel began.

But Deborah waved away any further comment.  “Say no more, please.  Each of you has been chosen by our LORD.  Yet each of you must in turn choose to stay and hear His will.  Your courage and faith will be sufficient for this task, but you must choose it.”

Jezreel considered each face in the circle, mentally joining them to the names he’d heard spoken.  He observed the cross-section of tribes.  The nation was well represented in this group, though Ephraim had been favored, for some reason known to God alone.

Come back again for the next installment in this serial.

When Family Fails

Sons of Noah

CONTEXT = We generally have a high opinion of Noah.  This opinion is well-founded, as the Bible testifies to Noah’s standing in the eyes of the Lord.  Here are some examples of biblical testimony about Noah.

Genesis 6:8-9 = BUT NOAH FOUND FAVOR IN THE EYES OF THE LORD.  THIS IS THE ACCOUNT OF NOAH.  NOAH WAS A RIGHTEOUS MAN, BLAMELESS AMONG THE PEOPLE OF HIS TIME, AND HE WALKED WITH GOD.

Genesis 7:1 = THE LORD THEN SAID TO NOAH, “GO INTO THE ARK, YOU AND YOUR WHOLE FAMILY, BECAUSE I HAVE FOUND YOU RIGHTEOUS IN THIS GENERATION.”

Genesis 9:1 = THEN GOD BLESSED NOAH AND HIS SONS, SAYING TO THEM, “BE FRUITFUL AND INCREASE IN NUMBER AND FILL THE EARTH.”

Noah is mentioned in the “Faith Hall of Fame in Hebrews 11:7, where it is written, BY FAITH NOAH, WHEN WARNED ABOUT THINGS NOT YET SEEN, IN HOLY FEAR BUILT AN ARK TO SAVE HIS FAMILY.  BY HIS FAITH HE CONDEMNED THE WORLD AND BECAME HEIR OF THE RIGHTEOUSNESS THAT COMES BY FAITH.

And so we find today’s passage a little shocking and disconcerting.

Please read Genesis 9:18-29.

          Now be careful.  There’s good information here even if it comes from a cracked pot.

One proof that the Bible is true is that it is completely honest about its heroes.  They are not paragons of perfection, but are fallible human beings.  They sin and are forgiven again and again, just like we are.  This fact alone should make them more accessible to us, more relatable as people.

More good news – God forgave Noah and blessed Noah just as He’d promised He would. We all mess up.  We fall into sin, have errors of judgment, and often inflict our worst behavior on our family members.  God is not done with you, so get over yourself, get forgiven, and get moving forward!

When we fail at being family, there must be room for forgiveness and restoration that causes our relationships to improve.  Today we look at a negative example, people who failed as family.  May we learn from their mistakes and not repeat them in our own family!

Our family deserves our best behavior.

  1. Noah got “three sheets to the wind,” minus the sheets! (18-21)

In vs. 18-19 we are re-introduced to Noah’s three sons (first mention: 7:13).  The author takes pains to point out two important facts.  One, Ham was the father of Canaan.  (This fact may be a reason this account is included in the Bible.)  These three sons are the “fathers” of all the people who were – in ch. 11 – SCATTERED OVER THE EARTH.  There are elaborate theories about the dispersion of the peoples across the earth – suffice it to say everyone alive is a descendant of one of the three sons of Noah.

Noah is described as A MAN OF THE SOIL in v. 20.  This is new information.  Previously, we’ve only seen his carpentry skills.  This item is offered to explain why he planted a vineyard in the first place.

Apparently some time passed between verses 20 and 21.  According to an article on Inc.com, it takes two years for vines to bear fruit and four years before the first bottle of fermented wine is available.  This is not a spur-of-the-moment decision by Noah, it was something into which he poured a lot of time and effort.  I mention this only because it puts the full weight of responsibility on Noah.  This was not a reaction to the stress of the whole ark incident.  It was a genuine, full-fledged mistake.  No excuses.

After four years of toil and waiting, Noah finally got to enjoy the fruit of his labors and enjoyed it too much (21).  First sin: HE BECAME DRUNK.  Drinking wine is not a sin.  For example, Psalm 104:14-15 says that God gave wine to gladden the hearts of men.  But drunkenness is a sin.  Ephesians 5:18 condemns drunkenness as it lead to all other kinds of sin.  Proverbs 20:1 calls wine a MOCKER.

Second sin: Noah passed out and LAY UNCOVERED INSIDE HIS TENT.  Recall that just six chapters earlier (2:25) Adam and Eve were both NAKED in the garden but they FELT NO SHAME.  Then they disobeyed God (3:7) and those days of innocence were replaced with shame over their nakedness. The two situations are parallel; Noah, as were our original parents, in a garden paradise.  They both sinned against God and were ashamed by their exposure.  Biblically, to get drunk and be exposed in this way was a disgrace (see Habakkuk 2:15 and Lamentations 4:21).  The grammar of the Hebrew makes it clear that Noah uncovered himself before passing out.  This was no accident; for whatever reason, Noah chose be naked.  That’s what makes this a sin, not an accident.

The three brothers reacted to the news in different ways.  We start with Ham, the troublemaker.   The Hebrew implies there was more to Ham’s reaction than mere amazement at seeing his father lying naked in his tent.  It implies Ham was somehow happy to see his father uncovered.  Medieval Jewish scholars theorized that Ham mutilated Noah or committed a homosexual act with him.  It could be Ham thought the whole episode was funny.

However you explain it, Ham went and told the “whole world” what Noah had done (22).  This is the only explanation the text supports: Ham was guilty of the sins of gossip and of disrespecting his father.  Had he simply not said a thing, this whole event would have passed peaceably.

Shem and Japheth had a more respectful attitude and devised a means to cover up their father without embarrassing him further (23).  That’s why they got the blessing and Ham got the bane.

  1. Noah got up angry and cursed Ham. (24-29).

In verses 24-25 Noah launched into a curse.  Given the usual state of a hangover, we can understand a certain amount of crankiness.  What’s not understandable is why he named Canaan, not Ham, as the object of the curse.  This is odd because the text does not name Canaan as having had anything at all to do with disrespecting Noah.

This discrepancy can be a clue into the purpose of including this account in the Bible.  The name “Canaan” should sound familiar to Bible readers.  Canaan was the set of people nations who settled on the east side of the Mediterranean Sea.  They would were a people of great wickedness.

Obviously, they are descendants of Noah’s grandson Canaan, the person Noah cursed.  Canaan was the region God gave to the Hebrews as their Promised Land.  It was the Canaanite people whom God commanded be utterly destroyed.  Therefore, a purpose of this event is to explain why God made that choice; why he took the newly-founded nation of Israel to take the Canaanites land and their lives.  Not only were they a wicked people (their sexual deviance has been revealed many times over by the archaeologist’s shovel), but they were also descended from the son Noah had cursed.

We need to look at the context to see another explanation for this discrepancy.  In verse one of this chapter it is written, THEN GOD BLESSED NOAH AND HIS SONS, SAYING TO THEM, “BE FRUITFUL AND INCREASE IN NUMBER AND FILL THE EARTH.”  Noah was aware of this blessing and knew it was folly to curse Ham when God had already blessed him.  Canaan had not enjoyed God’s blessing and could be cursed.

Verses 26-29 deal Noah’s blessing of his other sons and the end of his days. He blessed Shem.  One of Shem’s descendants was Abram, the man whom God called into the territory of the Canaanites.  He would become known as Abraham.  The offspring of Shem have come to be known as “Semites,” a name we use as synonymous with Jews.

As later chapters in Genesis will testify, God promised Abraham all the territory occupied by the Canaanites.  In the books of Exodus, Joshua, and Judges, we read how, after 400 years of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites got that land.  Incredibly, the sons of Shem were to triumph over and enslave the sons of Canaan, bringing Noah’s curse into being.

Noah also blessed Japheth, but under the blessing of Shem: “MAY JAPHETH LIVE IN THE TENTS OF SHEM.”  In the curse and blessings Noah spoke predictively; foreshadowing world changing events that started with a disrespectful son.  It’s a shame that after having cleansed the world with a flood, humanity immediately returned to its sinful ways.

In spite of all the family drama, Noah lived a supernaturally long life (28-29).  This would be a good place to clarify; just because Noah’s curse and blessings came to pass throughout the course of history, it would be a mistake to say Noah “caused” all this.  Each person and each generation makes their own choices.  Neither God nor Noah’s offspring were in any way “fated” because of Noah’s words.  Noah’s blessing and curse were as much prophecy as they were disciplinary.

This passage may seem like a poor choice of texts for Father’s Day; a sad chapter of biblical history best forgotten.  However, this text has historically been misused to justify some horrible things by making them seem biblical.

This text was used to justify African slavery.  Without any biblical reason to do so, people said that Ham and his sons were dark-skinned; therefore the curse of slavery was applied to the Negro race by Noah and was therefore legitimate.

If that sounds superficial, unbiblical, and just plain stupid, it should.  Especially on Father’s Day, I’m ashamed to say it was someone who shared my family name that first popularized this so-called “Curse of Ham.”  In 1578 a sailing captain named George Best published an account of his travels in the southern hemisphere and attempted to justify his work as a slave trader.  In that book he set forth this false teaching.

I mention this so you understand why this goofy little passage everyone overlooks needs to be scrutinized and understood.  It’s also important for us to see that choices have consequences.  Sometimes the consequences are temporary and personal; sometimes they are inter-generational and universal.

Noah sinned by getting drunk and being uncovered.  Ham sinned by gossiping and disrespecting his father.  The immediate consequence was Canaan being cursed.  The long-term consequence was all of Canaan’s descendants being enslaved by the descendants of Shem.

We tend to trivialize things, especially when we are the guilty party.  We say things like, “It was a little white lie.  Why are you making a big deal over it?”  This passage should impress us with the seriousness of all sin and the deadly consequences it can have even generations after us.

Look at it another way.  Consider something a parent or some other adult you trusted did or said that hurt you.  Forgiveness may have been offered and received, but the words are not forgotten.  Whether you repeat them or not, they affect your behavior and your behavior is repeated or avoided in the next generations.  Families are serious business!

All of this to explain and motivate us to adhere to this simple truth: Our family deserves our best behavior.  I tell you this not on the authority of an expert practitioner.  I have failed my family too often.  Instead, I tell you this on the authority of the Word of God and my calling to tell you the truth, no matter how unpleasant and unpopular it may be.

I have never preached on this passage and I would venture to say most preachers go their careers without bringing it up.  It’s like one of those “skeletons” in the family “closet,” the story we know but ignore because it’s embarrassing.  However, we ignore things like this at our peril.  We need to face it, confess it, be forgiven and do better.  That’s what we do when family fails.

 

RESOURCES:

https://www.inc.com/ss/8-steps-to-owning-your-own-vineyard

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curse_of_Ham

More Hard Sayings of the Old Testament, Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.

Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 2, John H. Sailhammer.

 

More Than the Sum of Our Parts

Moses Aaron Hur at Rephidim (1)

Please read Exodus 17:8-16.

Just in time for Mother’s Day, we’ve had the birth of a royal baby in England.  I heard Prince Harry’s remarks after the blessed event, and he sounded pretty giddy about it.

As many of you have experienced, however, childbirth isn’t all cigars and flowers.  It can cause problems in family relationships.  I read an article published a year ago by Terra Marqutte, citing a study in Evolutionary Psychological Science.  The article is titled, “Study Finds Spats With Your In-Laws Increase When Children Enter The Picture.”

“What many of us have long suspected is true: Becoming a parent really does alter family dynamics, especially with in-laws. Researchers at the Academy of Finland found people with children experience more tension with their spouse’s parents than couples who have yet to enter parenthood.

“It seems that when children are added to a family, the in-laws begin to feel more of a direct kinship to the other side of the family. The ties that bind bring help to young parents, but also new conflicts.

“The biggest source of conflict comes when grandparents provide childcare, the authors say. Although very helpful, the degree of interaction involved is almost bound to lead to areas of disagreement.

“Researchers say the conflicts arise because grandparents begin to see themselves in an expanded role, sort of like investment bankers. In this case, though, the investment is in the future of the offspring.”

https://www.studyfinds.org/couples-children-in-laws-conflicts/

Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Grandparents Day are all days created to celebrate relationships.  So the Lord lead me to this passage that demonstrates in a plain way how cooperative relationships can win the day.  When we cooperate with God and compromise with one another, we will see our homes, our communities, and our nation become more peaceful and productive places.  Let’s study up on how Moses accomplished it.

Compromise and cooperation create peace.

  1. The problem: Moses’ arms got tired. (8-11)

Verse eight sets the event in its context. This is a passage that is very dependent on its context for us to understand it properly.  The freed Hebrew slaves had just got out of Egypt by miraculously crossing the Red Sea. They have not yet got to Mr. Sinai, where they’d receive the 10 Commandments.

They had been fed with manna for the first time and were miraculously given water to drink at Meribah.  However, these gracious acts had come in God’s gracious response to their sinful bellyaching.  It was providence – not coincidence – that this military emergency comes immediately after two bouts of bellyaching. The Israelites have been testing God’s patience and are now going to be tested by God’s discipline.

The Amalekites were descendents of Jacob’s brother Esau.  Their attack at Rephidim, is a large-scale family feud.  The reason for the attack is not stated in the text, so we are free to speculate.  One reason is to continue the family feud between Jacob and Esau.

Of more immediate importance, the Amalekites would have known the ancient promises that Jacob’s offspring would inhabit Canaan.  So they knew where this group was headed and that they’d go right through their territory to get there.  The Amalekites wanted no part of that.

The Israelites were still a long way south of Amalek.  There was no immediate need for a direct assault.  To go out of their way like this implies the leaders of the Amalekites were intimidated and they didn’t want to suffer the same fate as Egypt.

Finally, there are limited resources in the desert.  The Amalekites were clearly in no mood to share.

That’s on the human side.  On the divine side, why would God allow an attack to take place?  I can imagine at least two Providential purposes.  One, God sent the Amalekites to test His people.  This experience would be an opportunity to prove they were ready to trust Him in battle.  They would have to trust Him fully when they got to Canaan.

Two, the Amalekites had chosen to do evil to God’s people before they launched the attack.  Deuteronomy 25:17-19 tells us Amalekite soldiers had begun hostilities by attacking the stragglers among the Israelites.  They picked off the sick, aged, and disabled people who lagged behind the main group.

The text does not give any divine directive, so we can assume Moses came up with this unusual battle plan on his own (9+10).  Moses decided it would be a good idea to stand on a hill overlooking the battle site with his shepherd’s crook – now known as the STAFF OF GOD –  upraised.  As this is the same staff and the same gesture that preceded their miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, perhaps Moses assumed it would have a similar effect in that battle.  Also, standing with hands upraised to heaven was a typical posture of prayer for Jewish men.

Moses chose Joshua as his general and selected his brother Aaron and brother-in-law Hur (Miriam’s husband), to go up the mountain with him.  In retrospect, that part of the plan turned out to be a stroke of genius.  Moses would need both of them later.

From their vantage point on the high ground, Moses, Aaron and Hur could see the battlefront and easily tell how the tide of battle was going.  They saw that when Moses held the staff aloft, the Israelites turned back the Amalekites.  But when Moses lowered his hands for any reason, the battle went the other way.  The problem became how to keep those 80 year-old arms up in the air long enough to win the battle (11).  I suspect Moses did not foresee having to keep his hands in the air any length of time, certainly not all day.  Anyone’s arms would tire of being kept in that position.

  1. The solution: a support group. (12-13)

Moses may have bit off more than he could chew, physically speaking.  Try holding a staff over your head from sunup to sundown sometime; see how you do.  When it became clear that they would win the battle only if Moses’ arms were aloft, these three guys devised a plan where Moses was seated on a rock so Aaron and Hur – while standing – could take the burden off Moses’ arms (12).

Their plan succeeded.  As the sun set on the battlefield, the Amalekites were defeated (13).  This outcome does not prove there was something magical about Moses’ staff.  As is always the case in the Bible, the object used is merely a symbol of God’s power.

There are two clues in verse thirteen that this was Moses’ plan, not God’s. The first: JOSHUA OVERCAME THE AMALEKITE ARMY.  Normally, God got the credit for military success (for example, see Deuteronomy 20:1-4.  Here in verse thirteen, Joshua is credited.  How did Joshua do it?  WITH THE SWORD; a phrase implying this was a victory achieved by strength of arms.  There is no acknowledgement of God delivering the victory.

This will be the first time Moses would learn a lesson on the value of partners in ministry.  In the very next chapter, his father-in-law gave him sound advice about the folly of trying to lead what may have been 2-3 million people by himself.  Elders were appointed to help Moses administrate the immense group of people.

  1. The command: write this down. (14-16)

For the first time in this passage, we hear the Lord’s voice.  He commanded the event be recorded as He would otherwise blot out the memory of the treacherous Amalekites (14).  This is the first time in the Bible that there is a reference to writing things down. These things will eventually become the Bible.

History tells us the Israelites did not obey God in destroying the Amalekites, because they become a problem again during the reigns of Kings Saul and David.  Hundreds of years later, while the people of God were in exile in Babylon, an Amalekite named Haman very nearly eliminated the Jews!  (See Esther.)

Moses apparently learned his lesson (15-16).  He gave glory to God by building an altar as a memorial to the event.  He called the altar THE LORD IS MY BANNER, signifying that the LORD needed to be lifted up, not any staff.  Moses’ new motto should’ve been “The power is in God, not the rod.” (As if to underline this point, God commanded that Aaron’s staff be preserved in the Ark of the Covenant, not Moses’.)  And, as previously noted, the lifting of his hands TO THE THRONE OF GOD describes the posture of prayer.  In prayer, Moses gave all future battles with the Amalekites to the LORD.

Compromise and cooperation create peace.

          Whether Moses acted on his own initiative or not, the chief lesson of this passage is recognizing that God and His people must work together to achieve His will.  It is an interesting illustration of the power of good relationships.  The Israelites won a victory in their first battle because God, their leaders, and the people all cooperated.

This is not going to happen if we allow our sinful or selfish impulses rule our emotions and decisions.  Peace comes to our situations when we all work at it.  The work of peace is sacrifice and love; we love and obey God, we love and cooperate with each other.

Pursuant to Peace

peas

Please read Psalm 34.

Peace comes to those who pursue it.

          In days gone by, a young boy was driving a hayrack down the road when the wagon fell over.  It tipped backwards right in front of a farmer’s house. The farmer came out, saw the young boy crying and said, ”Son, don’t worry about this, we can fix it. Right now dinner’s ready: Why don’t you come in and eat and then I’ll help you put the hay back on the rack.”
The boy said, ”No, I can’t. My father is going to be angry with me.”

Trying to soothe the boy, the farmer said, ”Now don’t worry, just come in and have some lunch and you’ll feel better.”

The boy said, ”I’m just afraid my father is going to be very angry with me.”
The farmer finally convinced the boy and they went inside to eat lunch. Afterwards, as they walked outside to the hayrack, the farmer said, ”Now, son, don’t you feel better after that great meal?”
The boy said, ”Yes but I just know that my father will be very angry with me.”

The farmer said, ”Nonsense. Where is your father anyway?” The boy said, ”He’s under all that hay.”
CONTEXT = According to the heading, this was NOT a peaceful time in David’s life.  It refers to a time when he was being pursued by King Saul, who really was crazy and wanted to kill David.  In 1 Samuel 21, David pretended to be crazy so he would get kicked out of a city rather than be put in custody and fall into Saul’s hands.  The fact that David could write a song about peace during a time like that says a lot about the depth of his spiritual life.

COMMENT = Four points to be made in looking at the psalm from the peace-making perspective.

  1. Pursue peace by continuous praise. (1-3)

“Continuous Praise” is indicated in verse one.  The words ALL TIMES and ALWAYS clearly indicate worship is not limited to Sunday mornings but is meant to be a feature of daily life.  This virtue is challenging to practice; indeed, it would be impossible to do without the Holy Spirit.  Consider this: doesn’t a life of praise make sense if we are truly grateful for what God has done for us?  Wouldn’t praise come to mind more often if our focus is truly on God?

“Continuous Praise” is also indicated in the verbs in verses one to three.  There’s little difference between these words; they are synonyms.  And yet, they are all here in God’s inspired word, presumably to give us a full-featured definition of continuous praise.

EXTOL = “bless, praise, give thanks.”

PRAISE = “glorify; tell of God’s excellence; an act of worship.”

BOAST = “cheer; display positives.”

REJOICE = “be glad, delighted, happy.”

GLORIFY = “make great; honor; lift up.”

EXALT = “express pride; raise up.”

  1. Pursue peace by praying for divine deliverance. (3-7, 17, 19-22)

God answers all prayers. Note the personal pronouns in vs. 4-7; David speaks here from personal experience.  May all of us have this quality of personal experience of God.  I SOUGHT THE LORD: Jesus commended seekers in Matthew 7:7-8, promising a successful outcome to their search for God.  Deniers and evil-doers have no hope.  HE ANSWERED ME: there is no such thing as “unanswered prayer;” God always answers, even if it is “Hold please.”  THOSE WHO LOOK TO HIM: people who look to the LORD expectantly have sound reason to hope and be satisfied.  THIS POOR MAN CALLED AND THE LORD HEARD HIM: David thought of himself as a POOR MAN and even so, the LORD HEARD his prayer.  THE RIGHTEOUS CRY OUT, AND THE LORD HEARS THEM (17) = RIGHTEOUS folks have good reason to hope the LORD hears and heeds their prayers because they are His children.

God delivers those who seek Him.  The psalm is rife with promises of deliverance.  HE DELIVERED ME FROM ALL MY FEARS (3): Worry is one of the two big opponents of peace.  Anxiety is surrendering our God-given peace without a fight.  They are RADIANT (5): what a great picture of joy!  Those who know the Lord have reason to have a certain “glow” about them.  They are unashamed (5): whether it’s true of false, guilt is also a roadblock to peace.  The righteous are SAVED from all their troubles (6+17+19): if we stop and think about it, we can all testify to God’s deliverance from something.  They are protected by God’s angels (7): Angels operate inconspicuously, so we are most often unaware of their assistance.  But many believers can recount a time when the received some kind of miraculous assistance.  None of their bones will be broken (20): in John 19:36, this promise is seen a prophecy fulfilled at Jesus’ crucifixion.  In general, it is a metaphor of God’s care for His people.  THE LORD REDEEMS HIS SERVANTS (22): to REDEEM someone was to buy them out of slavery.  This image was taken up by Paul in the New Testament as a way of explaining how Jesus saved us.  NO ONE…WHO TAKES REFUGE IN HIM…WILL BE CONDEMNED (22): looking ahead to Judgment Day and in agreement with Paul in RMS 8:1, those who trust in God will escape His wrath.

WICKED people are slain by the EVIL they practice (21).  Life in this world and the next can be understood as choices and consequences.  Justice will be done.

  1. Pursue peace by trusting God’s provision. (8-10)

God provides more than refuge for those who take refuge in Him (8+22).  The word REFUGE implies a place apart from the pressures and problems of life; a spiritual retreat from the world to rest in God and commit ourselves to Him.

God’s goodness can be tasted and His provision proven (8).  To “taste” something means to have a real and personal experience of God.  Merely agreeing with a set of Bible teachings is not the sum total of faith.  God must be known in one’s head and heart.

The LORD’S saints LACK NOTHING (9).  Hearing that, we might be tempted to list all the things we feel we’re lacking right at the moment – that’s human nature.  Truth be told, God provides all we need all our lives.

Even LIONS can get famished, but people who seek the LORD will LACK NO GOOD THING (10).  The LIONS here in verse ten are a metaphor for rich or strong people; those who have much in worldly terms but are poor in the things of God.

  1. Pursue peace by righteous living. (11-20)

Aspects of righteous living in these verses include fear of the Lord, virtuous speech, seeking peace, and having full-featured godliness (avoids evil and does good).  FEAR THE LORD (9+11): In Proverbs, fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  FEAR refers to awe and reverence, but it also includes the kind of wary respect that the all-powerful Creator of the universe deserves.  KEEP YOUR TONGUE FROM EVIL AND YOUR LIPS FROM SPEAKING LIES (13): of all kinds of sin, sins of the tongue are the most pervasive and the most overlooked.  They are the quickest way to ruin peaceful relationships.  TURN FROM EVIL AND DO GOOD (14) are the two sides of righteousness.  Some folks pride themselves on the obvious evil they don’t do and mistakenly believe they have exercised their duty to God.  However, the truth is, that’s only half of being a godly person.  When we fail to do good, that’s sin.

SEEK PEACE AND PURSUE IT (14).  This is our keynote verse on this Peace Sunday.  Peace is something God gives to those who promote it; who are peacemakers, not peace-breakers or peace-fakers. To PURSUE something indicates a deep commitment, a motive to work at it and perseverance to stick with it.

Psalm 34 promises six rewards for righteous living.  Long life (12) may not mean living to old age, for the unrighteous do that.  It more likely refers to a quality of life, a blessing of one’s days.  The LORD is sensitive to the righteous (15+17): God’s EYES and EARS are sensitive to the plight of His people.  Their suffering is not lost on Him.  The LORD is against the unrighteous (16). According to Matthew 7:23, God will turn away from all evil people, saying, “I NEVER KNEW YOU.  AWAY FROM ME, YOU EVILDOERS.”  According to verse eighteen, the LORD saves hurting people.  The words BROKENHEARTED and CRUSHED IN SPIRIT describe people who look honestly on their flaws and troubles.  They are not defeated by them, but neither are they able to find victory in their own strength.  Instead, as this psalm repeatedly says, they trust in the Lord for the strength to overcome trials and temptations.  Deliverance from all troubles (4, 17+19): the word deliverance is used a lot in this psalm.  In His grace, God lifts us out of our discouragements, giving us victory.  Physical protection (20) is a metaphor of surviving this world, being delivered whole into God’s eternal presence.

Peace comes to those who pursue it.

          Norman Vincent Peale said, ”The word ‘worry’ is derived from an Old Anglo-Saxon word meaning to strangle or to choke. How well-named the emotion – it has been demonstrated again and again in persons who have lost their effectiveness due to the stifling effect of anxiety and apprehension.
A story is told about a man who came face to face with the dangers of worry: Death was walking toward his city one morning and the man asked, ”What are you going to do?”
”I’m going to take 100 people,” Death replied.

”That’s horrible!” the man said.
”That’s the way it is,” Death said. ”That’s what I do.”
The man hurried to warn everyone he could about Death’s plan. As evening fell, he met Death again in the same spot outside the city limits.
”You told me you were going to take 100 people,” the man said. ”Why did 1,000 die?”
”I kept my word,” Death responded. ”I only took 100 people. Worry took the others.”

Our peace can be threatened and broken by others; we have no control over them.  What we can directly manage is our own inner state.  Peace is something we receive by faith because we are God’s children.  There are some things we can do to preserve and promote peace within ourselves, then encourage it in others.

  • Most importantly, forsake worry. Trust in God instead.  Anxieties occur when we don’t trust God to keep all the promises in His word.
  • Second, forsake anger. An over-emphasis on self promotes anger, so spend your days in continuous praise and your temper will improve.
  • Third, guard your tongue. Your own peace is disrupted and the peace of others threatened when your tongue is too loose in your head and you say ungodly things.
  • Fourth, pursue peace. Your devotion to peace will be measured by the things you give up to possess it.  A God-centered heart will pursue peace instead of railing about one’s rights.
  • Fifth, seek justice. Treat others right and expect right treatment from them.  Work to see justice practiced in your home and in our community.  Let love guide you.

 

RESOURCES:

The Daily Study Bible Series, George A.F. Knight

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Willem A. VanGemeren

Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance

https://www.sermonsearch.com/sermon-outlines/22695/finding-peace-in-anxious-times/

 

Prayer that Wakes the Dead

Pray-First-1

Real prayer changes things.

          A visiting farmer stopped at a city restaurant to eat lunch. When he was served his food he bowed his head and gave thanks to the Lord. Some teenagers sitting at a nearby table noticed the farmer’s prayer and shouted, “Hey, pops, back where you come from does everybody pray before they eat?”

Their laughter was silenced when the unmoved farmer answered, “No, the hogs don’t.”

Prayer is appropriate before mealtime and any time we can turn to God.  Because we can see their effects sooner, we mistakenly think our own efforts are more important than prayer.  That’s exactly backwards.  We’ll learn this morning that prayer is partner with action.  We don’t pray and then wait around for something to magically fall from the sky: we pray and then proceed in the direction God points out to us.  Prayer precedes action; it does not replace it.

CONTEXT: You’d assume a book named “Kings” would be about kings, but this chapter is part of a section that centers on the prophet Elijah and his successor, Elisha.

SHUNEM was one of the cities given to the tribe of Issachar (Joshua 19:18). An early church leader named Eusebius said Shunem was five miles south of Mount Tabor, which was in the northern part of Israel, near Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee. The name meant double resting-place, which is very appropriate to this account, as it was a place where Elisha received great hospitality from a woman of the village.

  1. The gifting of a child. (vs. 8-17)

The prophet was warmly welcomed in a prominent local woman’s home (8-10).  In that culture, hospitality was needed and expected, but this gal went the extra mile.  This is apparent in a couple ways.

First, she sought out Elisha and URGED HIM TO STAY FOR A MEAL.  This became a regular thing when the prophet was in the area.

Second, while a room on the roof may sound uncomfortable to us, it was one of the choice places at night when the heat of the day raised the interior temperature of the home.  The Shunnamite made sure the room was fully equipped.

In gratitude for her hospitality, Elisha offer to pull some strings to get her some unspecified favors.  This offer was met with polite refusal.  She showed independence in a deferential way proper to a woman in her culture.  In modern terms, she said, “No thank you, we country folk take care of our own.”

The prophet asked his servant, Gehazi, for advice.  He replied that the woman had not borne a son and as her husband was an old man, it was unlikely she ever would.  Since she is not called “barren” or “childless” we can assume she had only birthed daughters.  This culture valued sons as the inheritors of the father’s estate and a sign of God’s blessing.

From her reaction to Elisha’s pronouncement (16), we can infer she was disappointed about this.  Sometimes we can become so thoroughly disappointed we’re reluctant to allow ourselves even to have hope.  However, just as Elisha had predicted, she gave birth to a son about a year later.  Hope was realized.  A son was given.

  1. The re-gifting of the child. (vs. 18-37)

Something very tragic struck the child and he died (18-21).  Several years passed; enough time for the boy to become old enough to go be with his father and his workers at harvest time.  Suddenly he cried out with head pain and he was carried to his mother.  Imagine the tragic scene where the boy died, sitting on the lap of his mother.

The Shunammite woman sought out Elisha to either protest his death or see if the prophet might somehow save him (22-28).  This lady went into determined action immediately.  She laid her dead son out on the prophet’s bed and immediately left to find him. Elisha was at Mt. Carmel about 20 miles away.

When her husband asked why she was going to find Elisha, she did not even tell him their son was dead. His reference to a NEW MOON OR THE SABBATH were the usual times you’d want a prophet around, conducting a worship service.

Curiously, her reply was only, “It’s all right” (23), an English phrase translating the Hebrew word shalom.  As this is what she also said to Gehazi (26), it makes me think she think she wanted only to talk to the prophet.

The Shunammite woman’s emotions become plain when she finally sees the prophet.  Elisha can see for himself she was in BITTER DISTRESS, even though God gave him no insight into the reason for it.  She TOOK HOLD OF HIS FEET (27), a sign of surrender to his authority.  Her taking hold of the prophet’s feet reminds me of how the women took hold of Jesus’ feet at his Resurrection (MTW 28:9).  These were two extremely emotional situations as well.

Her BITTER DISTRESS was evident when she cried, “DID I ASK YOU FOR A SON, MY LORD?  DIDN’T I TELL YOU, ‘DON’T RAISE MY HOPES?’”  In effect, she is protesting the turn of events; “Why give me a son only to take him away?”

At first, Elisha tried to affect a resurrection by “remote control” but it didn’t work (29-31). This is a curiosity to me.  I don’t know why he sent the staff with his servant, instructing him to lay it on top of the boy, but there are three possible explanations.

First, in the Bible, inanimate objects are sometimes imbued with divine power, like Moses’ staff.  Elisha may have expected something similar to happen here.  In Acts 19:11-12 we read that cloths that Paul had touched cured illnesses and exorcised demons.

Second, it would keep them from burying the boy before they could get there: no one would dare to touch the prophet’s staff or move it off the body.  No one would dare touch the prophet’s staff.

Third, Gehazi was a kind of trainee or apprentice in the school of prophets, so this may have been on-the-job training.  This also explains why Elisha constantly spoke with the Shunammite through Gehazi.

However we understand Elisha’s reasoning, the boy’s mother was not having it.  She was entirely focused on Elisha as the cure.  She vowed she would not leave his side (30).  The text is not clear whether she was blaming him or had faith in him.  Whatever her motive, the woman and Elisha left for Shunem together.

Gehazi traveled to Shunem as quickly as he could, but Elisha and the woman went at a pace more reasonable to an older man.  The servant got there much sooner, attempted the instructed cure, and still had enough time to meet Elisha and the boy’s mother on the road to Shunem.  He reported the attempted cure failed: he got no response from the boy (31).  As “sleep” was a polite euphemism for death, he said, “THE BOY HAS NOT AWAKENED.”

When he went there to pray in person, God gave a miracle (32-37).  All three of them went to the rooftop room, but Elisha shut Gehazi and the mother out of the room.

Verse 33 is key to the passage.  Elisha PRAYED TO THE LORD.  All that follows is a product of prayer.  However, the prophet did not only pray, he did something.   Though some would look at Elisha’s actions to see if there is some medical explanation, some scientific reason why his laying atop the boy’s body would help him, they are missing the point.  These are symbolic actions.  Like circling around the city of Jericho, the action cannot be a cause of what happens.  The outcome is entirely up to God.

This account is very similar to Elijah restoring the son of a widow who lived in Zarephath (1 Kings 17:17-24).  On that occasion, the prophet also laid atop the boy’s body.  Elisha may’ve been familiar with that account and attempted something similar.

I believe that occasionally God tests our obedience by requiring us to do things that don’t make sense in our earthly wisdom.  Elisha’s actions seem weird to us.  The strange action had to be repeated before the boy’s life was restored. Elijah had to do it THREE TIMES to restore the widow of Zarephath’s son!

The boy “awoke” with a sneezing fit (seven, the number of completeness) and opened his eyes.  You’d sneeze too if you awoke to find a bearded old prophet lying on top of you!

After expressing her gratitude, we read an understated account of the  touching reunion of mother and son in vs. 36-37, a great end to the story.  I probably should repeat this sermon on Mother’s Day!

Real prayer changes things.

This account perfectly illustrates the principle of prayer we want to take home with us.  When first confronted with the problem, the prophet Elisha didn’t want to have to do anything himself.  He attempted to have God do a miracle without any effort on his part.  We saw that didn’t work at all.

The prophet was face to face with a determined woman and that wasn’t going to be good enough for her.  She vowed she would not leave his side until he got off his fanny and went to her son.  After sending his servant with his staff in hand on a fast horse, the prophet himself reluctantly rode with the mother back to Shunem.

It was when he arrived that Elisha got involved.  The text tells us the first thing he did was pray to the LORD!  Then he went into action.  It was not his actions that restored the boy’s life; it was his attention to prayer and obedience to what God showed him.

What we learn about prayer here is encouraging: pray first then act.  Don’t wait until after you act and then have to plead with God to “bless your mess!”  Make prayer your priority and then see what God will do through you!

 

RESOURCES:

Expositor’s Bible Commentary, R.D. Patterson and Hermann J. Austel

The Daily Study Bible, A. Graeme Auld

Zondervan Bible Commentary, F.F. Bruce (Ed.)