Like Other Nations

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“But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel.  And they said, ”No!  But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations…”  (I Samuel 8:19, 20).

The Israelites have a story like no other nation.  They were slaves.  They wandered in the desert for 40 years.  They walked between walls of water on dry ground not once but twice while following a cloud.  They ate bread that fell from heaven.  They drank water that came from a rock.  As they wandered in the desert for 40 years, their shoes never wore out.  Above all else, they are called “God’s people.”

The Israelites will never be like any other nation.

They have a story and a history that is rich with the hand of God seen in many ways.  The hand of God was obvious to all the nations surrounding them. This is what Rahab told the two spies that were spying in the city of Jericho.  “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you.  For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond they Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction.  And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, He is God in heavens above and on the earth beneath.” (Joshua 2:9-11).

If God who had done all these wondrous, magnificent, and mighty acts on behalf of the Israelites which had struck fear in the hearts of the nations surrounding the Israelites, why did they want to be like all the nations?

They had the Creator of the Universe leading them.  They had God who divided the waters of the Red Sea directing their steps.  They had Jehovah Jirah who provided for their basic necessities.   They had God who is rich in love and mercy protecting them and fighting for them against their enemies.  They stood out among the nations.  “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God.  The LORD you God has chosen you to be a people for His treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 7:6).

Why would these people want to be “like all the other nations?”  They were unique, special, and chosen.

They wanted a king who would “Judge them and go before them and fight their battles.” (I Samuel 8:20).  It seemed God had done this for them and yet they were not satisfied with the leadership God had provided them.  They were not satisfied with the care that God had provided them.  They wanted what they thought they were missing out on.

Rather than enjoy the uniqueness of their nation, they desired to be like everyone else.

As the history of Israel is traced throughout Scripture, this desire to be like all the other nations caused them great heart ache, captivity, wars, separation of families, slavery, and death.  The blessings that God had so richly bestowed on them vanished in the presence of their desire to be like the other nations.

People of God cannot be like other nations and a treasured possession of His too.

Today, in our culture many strive to be like the world in the way they dress, the way they talk, and the way they live their lives.  Rather than strive to be set apart before God, they strive to be the same as the world.

God did not call Christians to sameness, He called us to uniqueness.  “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness in His marvelous light.”  (I Peter 2:9).

As Christians God has called us to be different.  If we live like the world, we have lost our uniqueness.  The whole purpose of being different is so that we can proclaim the Excellencies of God.  If we live like the world, God’s excellencies cannot show through our lives.  As the Israelites followed the king, the great and awesome works that God had done to bring them to the Promised Land stopped.

God allowed the Israelites to have a king.  He gives us each a choice.  We either follow Him or live like the world.  Those around us can see how we are living.

“Choose you this day whom you will serve…” ( Joshua 24:15).

The Tapestry of Trials

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Trial, tribulation, pressure, anguish, burden, trouble, test.  What are the purposes of these in our lives?  We all go through various kinds of trials in our lives with varying levels of difficulty.  We all ask similar questions when going through these trials:  why, how long, what’s the cost, what did I do wrong, what lesson am I supposed to learn, etc.

 

When I went to nursing school, I had various tests to study for throughout the years, but then in order to become a registered nurse, I had to take a State Board exam.  While studying for this test, one of the things the review class taught me was how to take the test.   Not only was there information to learn, review, and study; but it was also important to understand how to take the test.  Understanding how to take the test is just as important as knowing the information.

 

When we encounter various trials in our lives, we must understand “how to take the test.”  When Job completed his test, “the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.” (Job 42:10).  Job endured his test for the simple fact that God wanted to prove to Satan that Job was faithful to Him.  God has also used this man’s life as an encouragement to many. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4).  II Corinthians 1:4 also shows us that the purpose of Job’s suffering was “so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”  How many people have looked to Job in the midst of his suffering and been encouraged to press on and not give up hope?

 

James 1 and Romans 5 both tell us that our attitude toward the trial is to be one of joy. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” (James 1:2).  “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings…” (Romans 5:3).  Joy is not a passing feeling that comes and goes.  Joy is an attitude, a perspective, a conscious decision.  In the midst of a trial, the last thing we feel like doing is making a decision to be joyful.  As I was riding with our daughter, Denise, to Children’s Hospital in the ambulance knowing she had a mass in her brain, the last thing I felt was joy.  Rather, I felt anguish.  All I knew to do was to cry out to God, and be as reassuring and comforting to her as I could.  My choice was not anger, but rather total and complete dependence on Him for what was to come.  I made a conscious choice.

 

According to James and Paul in Romans the purpose of these trials is also to produce patience in our lives.  How difficult this is because we are finite creatures.  God who is eternal is not bound by time.  His patience is limitless, but ours is very shortsighted.  During a trial, we just want it to be done.  Yet in the midst of these trials, God “knows that suffering produces endurance (patience), and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” (Romans 5:4).

 

All of the nursing exams I took, were for one purpose: to become a Registered Nurse.  God has a purpose in each and every trial we endure, each and every challenging circumstance we face, and each and every dilemma we encounter.  “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13).

 

We will never truly understand God’s purposes. “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?…For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:34-36).

The trials we endure will produce something in our lives.  What it produces is up to us.  Will face each trial with a decision to learn and be fully dependent on God, or will we face the trials with bitterness and anger.  I have had various trials in my life, and I have faced them both ways.  When we are bitter, there can be no joy.  When there is joy, it chases away the bitterness.  Satan makes us think that by holding onto the pain and the injustice of the situation we will feel better.  That is a lie.  Holding onto the pain, takes away the joy we may have in other areas of our lives.

 

I have two friends who are currently battling cancer. My sister has endured much with her children.  The list could go on.  We have all been through trials, and it seems the trials we have endured have been enough, but God’s plans are not ours. When I pray for those that are enduring these difficult trials and ponder these thoughts that I have written, I come back to how little I understand and how great God is.  The tapestry of our lives is woven by an infinite God who has the pattern for the finished product.  We only see a small portion.  So we must “walk by faith, and not by sight.” (II Corinthians 5:7).

The Tables are Turned…by God (Esther 9)

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In the blink of an eye, the tide changed in the Kingdom of Persia.  No longer was the second in command a man who hated the Jews.  Now the second in command actually was a Jew.  God’s plans will not be thwarted no matter who is on the throne or second in command.  God unfolded the events in the life of Esther, King Ahasuerus, Mordecai, Haman, and the Jews exactly how He planned it:  the Jews would not be destroyed.  Haman could have treated the Jews with respect and been humble not wanting anyone to bow before him, but that is not the path he chose.  Life brings about many choices each day and it is our decision which choice we are going to make…how we spend our time, talents, and treasure.  Out of pride and selfishness Haman made a choice that was destructive.  Mordecai and Esther made a choice based on humility and love.

Esther 9 reveals how these choices played out with the Hand of God guiding the steps of His people.  “Now in the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day of the same, when the king’s command and edict were about to be carried out, on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, the reverse occurred:  the Jews gained mastery over those who hated them.” (Esther 9:1).  Instead of the Persians gaining victory over the Jews, the Jews gained mastery over the Persians.  “The Jews gathered in their cities throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus to lay hands on those who sought their harm, and no one could stand against them, for the fear of them had fallen on all peoples.” (Esther 9:2).  Just a few days before, Haman was leading the way in hatred with preparations to destroy the Jews, now the Persians were fearful.  How can this rapid change of attitude and direction be attributed to anyone besides God?  Only God could orchestrate a plan so masterful that hatred with intent to kill could turn into fear and respect.

Mordecai became great in the King’s house.  He became more powerful, and as his fame grew throughout all the provinces, fear of Mordecai fell on all the officials.  This radical change of events did not happen because Mordecai was authoritative and demanding with the assumption that he was owed this as Haman’s attitude had been.  Rather Mordecai’s attitude of humility along with his wisdom brought about this dramatic change in his position.  When God is on our side, and we exhibit an attitude of submission to the will of God, He can use us for great things.

It would be nice to read this chapter and see that this respect for Mordecai, a Jew, resulted in peace and harmony between all the Jews and their fellow countrymen in Persia.  Even though Mordecai had been promoted to second in command and “fear for Mordecai had fallen on all the officials, satraps, governors, and royal agents,” (Esther 9:3), sadly, peace and harmony was not how the story progressed.  Instead death was on the path to the peaceful ending.  The Jews protected themselves from those who hated them and brought death to many.

Esther 9 records that 500 men in Susa, along with the ten sons of Haman were killed during this one day of fighting.  By royal edict, the Jews could now protect themselves from those who came to destroy them.  With God on their side, no Jews died but the citizens of Persia met with their demise.  After the day was over, the King came to the Queen and asked her if there was anything else she wanted.  Not too long ago, the Queen was fasting and praying for three days before entering the presence of the King unsure of how she would be received.  Again, the tables are turned and now the King is seeking an audience with the Queen.  The Hand of God is seen again and again throughout the story of Esther.  “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sins, and heal their land.” (II Chronicles 7:14).

Questions:

  1. What phrase is repeated three times in Esther 9? (Esther 9:10, 15, & 16).
  1. Read Exodus 17:8-16 then read I Samuel 15. (Haman was an Amalekite).  How do these stories relate to Esther?
  1. In Esther 9:,10, 15, & 16, the people took no plunder. In I Samuel 15:9, 15 what did the people do?
  1. How has the attitude of the Jews changed over the course of time?
  1. What did Samuel say to Saul in I Samuel 15:22, 23?
  1. Did the Jews seem to learn their lesson from these events in I Samuel 15?
  1. How many men were killed as the Jews defended themselves? (Esther 9:6-10, 15, 16). What is coupled each time with the number of men that are killed?
  1. As a result, Purim, which is a party, a celebration and holiday was established. It is still celebrated to this day.  The name of the holiday received its origin from the word “Pur” which means to cast lots, which is how the day that the Jews were to be “destroyed, killed, and annihilated” (Esther 3:13) was established by Haman.  Again, the tables are turned and what could have been a wretched and horrible day that would have gone down in infamy in the history of the Jews turned into a day of celebration.  The ending “im” in Purim makes it plural.  The intent was the celebration was to continue and the people were to celebrate each year the protection of God on their lives.  What is involved in this holiday? (Esther 9:20-22)

Courage or Fear

Confidence.  Lack of Fear.  Boldness.  New Adventures.  New Challenges.  We have all been faced with decisions or challenges that cause fear and trepidation.  The unknown scares us and when faced with a decision where the outcome is unclear, we fear to take the next step on the path of life.  We are filled with “what if’s.”  What if I fail, what if I make the wrong decision, what if I don’t like what I get myself involved in, what if my decision hurts someone else, what if…Fear and lack of confidence are hindrances to our faith.  As we read through history, we can see many instances where boldness caused big things to happen and changed the course of history.  As Americans, we are familiar with the Revolution and the beginning of our country.  If the Founding Fathers had lacked boldness and confidence, we would still be under Britain’s rule and paying taxes, quite possibly without representation.

As the story of Deborah and Barak continues to unfold in Judges 4, we see that Barak and Deborah received the same message from the Lord, “Has not the LORD, the God of Israel commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun.  And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand?’” (Judges 4:6, 7).  God told both Barak and Deborah the instructions for defeating Sisera, and Jabin, King of Canaan.  They both received the same message.  However, Jabin had 900 chariots and was an oppressive king, which caused fear in the hearts of the Israelites.  After being oppressed for twenty years, the mentality of the Israelites was one of weakness and fear and a feeling of powerlessness.  Now God wants Barak to take only 10,000 men from only two tribes to defeat this great king with his 900 chariots.  Barak had heard the message from God, but he had not begun to gather his men since “Deborah sent and summoned Barak…” (Judges 4:6).  Barak heard Deborah ask him the same message he had received from God, yet he continued to be unsure of the path he was to take.  Rather than hear the words of Deborah adding confirmation to the message he had already heard, he continues to need reassurance in the next step of the defeat of Sisera and Jabin.

The last part of God’s message to both Deborah and Barak was …”and I will give him into your hand.” (Judges 4:7).  Barak had all he needed to defeat Sisera and Jabin, God!  God had told him that all he had to do was gather the 10,000 men and go to Mount Tabor and God would do the rest.  The instructions were laid out and now all God needed was a willing servant to follow through with the instructions, but Barak was hesitant.  He had received the instructions, he had received confirmation through Deborah that he had heard the instructions correctly, yet he still hesitated.  Instead of going with courage to Mount Tabor and gathering his 10, 000 men, he asked Deborah to go with him.   “Barak said to her, ‘If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.’” (Judges 4:8).  Deborah agreed knowing that God was on their side and they had nothing to fear.

Deborah, willing to serve however and wherever God would have her serve; Barak, fearful to serve unless all the conditions were met.  The battlefield was not a place a women went to in these times, yet Deborah had full confidence in God and the victory that God promised that she did not waiver when asked to go to the battlefield.  Barak, wavering in his faith needed the confidence of Deborah to lead the army of God against the Canaanites. Courage and fear are enemies of each other.  God knew each of their hearts and the demands He placed on each, and He gave both Deborah and Barak the ability to perform the task He placed before them.

Questions:

  1. Does God lead without giving us the faith to perform the task He lays before us?
  1. Read Romans 8:31, 32 and apply these verses to Barak and Deborah.
  1. Read Luke 16:10 and ply this verse to Barak and Deborah.
  1. God allows things to come into our lives for the purpose of building our faith and giving us confidence in the coming events in our journey of life. Can you see the building blocks in your life and how they continue to prepare you for what is ahead?  Take some time to write a few of those events.
  1. How have those events prepared you for the next step? Write down the lessons you have learned.
  1. Was Deborah’s question in Judges 4:6, 7 enough to confirm what Barak had alredy heard from the Lord?
  1. Do you look at someone else and their relationship with God and think they have something you don’t have? What do you do to improve your relationship with God rather than wallow in the fact that yours is not as close to your Creator as someone else’s?
  1. Is there something that God has been asking you to do and you have lacked the faith and courage to take the step of action? What will it take to be a Deborah instead of a Barak and move forward with confidence in your God?

Pride

Pride.  I am reading through the chronological Bible with my daughters and we read Isaiah 14 yesterday.  As I was reading, I was struck between the similarities in Isaiah 14:12-13 and Genesis 3.  I love to see how the Bible works together and continues to teach me new things even though I have spent many years reading and studying it.

Pride.  Isaiah 14:12-13 is a written record by the prophet Isaiah of the fall of Satan.  Satan was created by God as an angel.  His name was Lucifer.  According to Isaiah 14:12-13, “You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God, I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’”  Satan, as an angel created by God, decided that He wanted to have the power and prestige of God so he said he would “make himself like the Most High.”   The errors in thinking abound in this short phrase.

Pride.  “I will make myself like the Most High.”  God did not make Himself, He did not create Himself.  God always has been.  As finite creatures we cannot fully grasp the concept of eternality, no beginning or no end.  It is a concept bigger than our finite minds can process; however, the facts still do not change despite the fact that we cannot understand it:  God is eternal and was not created nor did He create Himself.

Pride.  “I will make myself like the Most High.”  Since Satan is a created being he cannot make himself into an infinite creature.  Since Satan was made by God, he cannot make himself like God.  A pot cannot say to the potter that it wants to make itself into the potter.  We understand the impossibility of this, yet Satan did not see the unachievable quest he was on as he led one-third of the angels to follow him as he attempted “to make himself like the Most High.”

Pride.  In this quest of making himself “like the Most High” Satan became less like the Most High as he fell from the status of perfection in the presence of God and took on the persona of evil.  As we compare this with Genesis 3:5 and the exchange between the serpent and the woman we can see the same trap that Satan fell for. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5).  “You will be like God” and “Make himself like the Most High” are the same thought.  Only in their pride they wanted to be like God, not in their humility.  Satan, in the form of the serpent, used the same words of deceit on the woman that he used on himself.  Neither instance resulted in what they had hoped for, rather their aspirations of being like God turned into them being less like God.

Pride.  The serpent and the woman, once they made their decision to be like God, now had in their make-up, evil.  God is holy and has no evil.  Instead of being more like God they are less like God.  This same trap that the woman fell for is the same trap the Satan uses on us today.  We want to be like God, we want the attention and the glory.  We have placed ourselves as the one to be worshipped, rather than the Creator of the universe.  Nothing has changed over the years.  Pride was the seed that sprouted into Satan’s fall, and pride was the seed in the fall of the woman.  Where has your pride gotten you?  Are you more respected, in a better position, have more wisdom, or “like God” because of your pride?  If I had to choose a person to spend my day with and the choice was between a person that was proud and a person that was humble, I would choose the humble person any day.  I would not want to listen to someone talk about themselves all day.  Pride…where has it gotten you?

Embarrassment

It only takes a minute to confess your sin, but it takes a lifetime to cover it up.

Embarrassment.  Shame should produce embarrassment.  There is a cascading effect in our feelings and behavior when we commit a sin.  We feel shame and guilt then we begin to act embarrassed by the wrong we have done and then there is the cover-up that adds more sin to the original sin.  By lying or blaming someone else we dig ourselves into a bigger hole than we were previously by the original sin.

Embarrassment. “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” (Genesis 3:8).  We can look at this and realize how ridiculous this was.   The man and the woman hid themselves from the Creator of the universe who is omnipresent.  Did they really think they were hiding from God?  They were embarrassed, so they covered their nakedness and tried to hide the fact that they had sinned against God.  In their embarrassment, they were essentially admitting their guilt.

Embarrassment.  The woman and the man hid themselves from the presence of God amongst the trees that God Himself had created.  When sin enters our lives we can try to hide behind any number of things, and this works for a season with the people in our lives but it never works with God.  We can never run or hide from God.  He is omniscient, He knows all; and He is omnipresent, He is everywhere.  We may be able to cover our embarrassment with good works or fancy words, but when faced with the “presence of God” we cannot hide our sin.

Embarrassment.  When the embarrassment begins to subside, and the sin is not dealt with through confession to God and the people involved, then hardness begins to take place. God has given each person a conscience so that when we sin our conscience is pricked and we feel guilt and embarrassed by our sinful actions. If we choose to ignore these feelings our heart begins to harden and we no longer feel guilt and embarrassment over the little things, but rather we feel freed to commit “bigger” sins.

Embarrassment.  We may be embarrassed and try to hide our sin, but God does not give up on us especially if we are one of His children.  “The Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” (Genesis 3:9).  Since God is omnipresent, God knew where the man and the woman were.  As a parent, we do the same the thing with our children.  We know the truth, we are trying to get our children to admit their guilt.  In admitting their wrong themselves, they become a stronger person realizing that “sin will surely find you out.”  (Numbers 32:23).  God knew where the man and the woman were and He already knew what they had done.  The embarrassment they felt was based on their guilt.  Wrong committed produces a shame and guilt that leads to embarrassment and a desire to cover over the offence.  God wants the truth exposed.  As long as the guilt is covered, it will fester and grow causing more problems and greater guilt. You must admit your sin, and be free from the shame and embarrassment.  It only takes a minute to confess your sin, but it takes a lifetime to cover it up.

Male and Female

Male and Female.  Man and Woman.  Gentleman and Lady.  Masculine and Feminine.  Each of these words conjure in our minds different thoughts or emotions.  Male and female remind us that there are two different genders in the world and these two distinct genders are needed for procreation even in the plant and animal world.  A gentleman and a lady remind us of the actions of a male and a female while masculine and feminine remind us of characteristics of these two separate genders.

Male and Female.  Two distinct genders with many similarities and many differences.  If we look simply at the physical characteristics of a male and female each has a heart, brain, skin, eyes, feet, legs, etc.  Yet, in these many similarities of their physical qualities there are also differences in their physical appearance and genetic makeup that makes them distinct from each other. Distinct yet similar. 

Male and Female.  When we compare the male and female of the human race with the animal and plant world there are similarities but there are also many differences.   As male and female of the human race, we have attributes that cause us to be distinct from animals: self-conscious, abstract thinkers, emotional, morally conscious, distinct language, conversant, and relational.  I know first-hand that animals have the ability to be loyal to their owners, make great companions, and can understand communication and can also communicate with humans.  However, their communication is not to the complexity of humans, nor is their level of relationship to the degree that we share as humans. 

Male and Female.  Genesis 1:27, 28 reminds us that man and woman were made in the image of God, given a command to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, and to have dominion over the earth.  These verses summarize who we are and what our responsibilities are as human beings.  The problem we face in our world today is that we have strayed so far from the original intent of our Creator.  When a painter paints a picture, his intent is for it to hang on a wall and be admired.  When a baker makes a cake, his intent is for the cake to be eaten and enjoyed.  When an author writes a book, his intent is for the book to be read.  None of these people have the intent of their creation to be anything other than their original design.  Since the original design of the baker is to make a cake to eat and enjoy, and we decided to use the cake to paint the walls of our home we would have missed the original intent of the baker.  In order to understand our roles and responsibilities as humans we must look at the original intent of the Creator. 

Male and Female.  When life began on the earth, things were uncomplicated and straightforward.  There was simply a garden with animals and plants; a sky filled with stars, a moon, and the sun; and trees full of delicious fruit to eat and enjoy.  Life was simple, and so was the original design of the Creator.  Looking at our lives today through the lens of original intent will help us to be who the Creator made us to be.