Sermon by Teresa Coulthard for Parkview United Church May 29, 2016. Sermon Topic: “Surprising Teachers”


Sermon by Teresa Coulthard May 29, 2016. Sermon Topic: “Surprising Teachers”

Luke 7:1-10

There is an old saying that goes: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I’ve always liked this saying because it suggests that we are always surrounded by teachers, whenever we become ready to see them. It also allows us to wonder who our next teacher might be. We’ve probably all experienced “surprising teachers” in our lives – such as hearing a wise observation come from the mouth of a very young child or hearing thoughtful words from an elder or perhaps an insight that was revealed to us while having a friendly chat with a next door neighbour. God reaches out to us using surprising teachers.

For instance, parents and grandparents are usually our first teachers. I was very lucky to have my grandmother in my life well into my adult years. I enjoyed dropping in to share a cup of tea and a visit with her and was always welcomed with a big smile and a hug.

I can remember chatting with her about one of her favourite pastimes – reading. She was an avid reader of pocket books – not the murder mystery kind, but rather the feel good, happy ending sort of novel. She mentioned that she was starting to have trouble with her eyesight and found it more and more difficult to read.

I wanted to do something to help, so I made some inquiries and found out that a company called Harlequin published larger print, happy ending type pocket books. Perfect! That’s exactly what I was looking for. I bought several and took them straight over to my grandmother’s place. She was excited at the possibility of reading again and thanked me for the books.

But as it turned out, unfortunately she was not able to read the larger print books either, and eventually the books were given back to me when the time came for her to move to an assisted living home. I took the books home, put them on the bookshelf in my bedroom and promptly forgot about them. But God reaches out to us using surprising teachers.

A number of years later, I was having trouble sleeping. Night after night I would toss and turn & lay awake and worry…and it was because I had just lost my job. I had been working for a company in Toronto for five years when they shut down suddenly, and declared bankruptcy. It felt like the rug had been pulled out from under my feet. I really liked that job, I liked my coworkers, and hundreds of us instantly found ourselves out of work. The economy was terrible and in a recession at that time and there were no jobs to be found. I know losing a job is not the end of the world, but it sure felt like it was at the time.

Since I was not able to find a job, and was not sure what else to do, I decided to move back to Stratford to try to figure out a new plan for my life. But I seemed to be stuck. I felt like I had lost my direction and purpose in life and couldn’t seem to figure out how to get back on track. I was floundering – which was why I was having trouble sleeping. But God reaches out to us using surprising teachers.

Night after night I would lay awake and stare at the clock… midnight… 1 am… 2 am. Finally I switched on the light to look for a book to read – and that’s when I saw the pocketbooks by Harlequin that I had purchased for my grandmother many years before. So I picked one and started reading – and I was surprised to find that the story was about a woman who was working in the business world and climbing the corporate ladder. She was completely immersed in her career but had suddenly found herself downsized right out of a job. She was experiencing the same feelings of sadness, loss, and confusion that I was feeling.

But there was big difference between her and I. In the middle of her difficult situation, she was giving her troubles over to God, praying about them, and then expressing her gratitude, faith and trust that everything would work out. Not me. At that time in my life, I felt like I didn’t need God at all. I felt I was in control of my own life – but it was obvious by the turmoil I was feeling that I was not in control. I was too stubborn to admit it, show faith or ask for guidance. But the message about faith in this Harlequin pocketbook that I picked up to read in the middle of a sleepless night – seemed to be just what I needed to hear, at just the right time.

I longed for the faith and trust that was shown by the woman in the book. How can I get faith like that? Where can I get faith like that? Looking back to that difficult time, I find it remarkable that a Harlequin pocketbook was a surprising teacher for me. It was a turning point, the beginning of my journey back to a faith community – back to church. God reaches out to us using surprising teachers.

The Roman officer turns out to be a surprising teacher, as well. The Romans were generally very unpopular with the Jewish people because the Roman army had invaded Jewish lands. They were there to rule, to ensure taxes were collected and to keep the peace, using violence and brutality if necessary.

Given the harsh reputation of the Roman army, it is a surprise to learn that this particular Roman officer had great care and concern for his slave who was sick and near death. After all, slaves were usually considered property, not people. It is also remarkable that when the officer heard about Jesus and his healing abilities, the officer went out of his way to seek help for his slave. The officer sent some friends of his, not Roman friends – but friends that were respected Jewish elders – to go and ask Jesus to come and heal his slave.

The elders went and earnestly begged Jesus to help the Roman officer. ‘If anyone deserves your help, he does,’ they said, ‘for he loves the Jewish people and even built a synagogue for us.’

Right away, Jesus went with them. And as they were going to the house, the officer sent some other friends to intercept them to say, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself by coming to my home, for I am not worthy of such an honour. I am not even worthy to come and meet you.”

The Roman officer was a man used to being in charge and in control and yet he was humble. He was willing to ask for help. And he demonstrated unshakeable faith when the message he sent to Jesus was:

Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed.”

The Roman officer seemed to understand that all Jesus had to do was speak words of healing from a distance, and it would be done.

When Jesus heard the faith of this Roman officer, he was amazed. Amazed! Jesus was so amazed, he turned to the crowd that was following him and said, “I tell you, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!” Jesus was surprised to realize that this foreign Roman officer recognized the truth of who Jesus was. Did the Jewish elders and friends even see it? God reaches out to us using surprising teachers.

And sure enough, when the officer’s friends returned to his house, they found the slave completely healed. The request had been granted, the slave had been restored.

No doubt this unlikely group of comrades made up of Jewish elders, Jewish friends, a Roman officer and his beloved slave were in awe as they thought about the miracle that just took place.

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I can’t even begin to count how many times this has been the case for me. We are always surrounded by teachers, and it all hinges on us – are we ready? Do we have faith? What surprising teachers have you had in your life? Sometimes they appear during good times and joy. Other times they may find us in the depths of our despair.

In hindsight, I am grateful that things worked out for me just as they did – that experience opened my eyes and my heart to how others might feel facing a job loss, or how it might feel to lose your way after any loss. The sign in front of the Arden Park Hotel often has sayings on it, and last week I noticed that the sign read, “Every ending is a new beginning. We just can’t see it at the time.”

God is always reaching out to us through all kinds of surprising teachers – such as a young child, a grandparent, through books, music, or a Roman officer. The message of this story still applies today – God wants to restore, God cares about us, God loves us, God is for ALL people.

Ezra: Starting Over


What’s this book all about?

Have you ever had to start all over on something?  Your computer crashes, taking with it a project you’ve been working on for months.  You get fired.  Your house burns down.  Your spouse leaves you.  You move to a different town where you don’t know anyone.  Your iPhone goes blank.

Imagine having to start over to rebuild a nearly thousand-year-old nation reduced to ashes and rock piles, with wild animals living in the ruins of once-thriving cities.   That’s the monumental task awaiting the Jews, newly released from their 50-year exile in Babylon.

Not since the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan have the Jews faced such a mission of magnitude.  They need God’s direct involvement every bit as much as their ancestors did in the days of Moses, when God miraculously freed them from Egypt, blew an escape path across the Red Sea, spouted water from desert rocks, and rained manna from the sky.

This new story is of Israel’s second great escape to the promised land.  And like before, God gets directly involved.  Over the span of about a century, He convinces several Persian kings to let the Jews (and all other foreign exiles, for that matter) return home.  Furthermore, the kings send these people away with supplies for the journey and the rebuilding ahead.

Back in Israel, the Jews will face the usual pile of obstacles: alluring women who draw many of the men back into idolatry, descendants of Assyrian pioneers who plot to destroy the rebuilding efforts, and weariness from the decades it takes to rebuild the temple, homes, and cities.   But God is with them, using the good people as well as the less-than-good people to  help them along.

If God is able to help the Jews rebuild a millennium-old nation, he can help us with whatever needs rebuilding in our lives.

Highlights from  the Book of Ezra:

The Jews come home (Ezra chapters 1-2):

For more than 50 years the Jews lived in exile, scattered throughout the Babylonian Empire, in what is now Iraq.  But after Persia conquers Babylon, Persian King Cyrus issues an astonishing decree.   All foreigners taken from their countries are free to return home.  Furthermore, the king decides to let each nation reclaim the temple furnishings that the Babylonians had stolen.

For the Jews – whose culture and worship had revolved around the Jerusalem temple for 400 years – this was the best possible news.  Not since the Exodus out of Egypt did the Jewish people have more reason to celebrate.  Some 42,000 Jews decide to return to Israel, in the first of many waves of returning exiles.  It’s a hazardous journey of nearly 1,000 miles.

This is a second chance most Jews probably never expected.  Because of their transgressions, they had lost nearly everything important to them: home, worship centre, country.  Now they would get it back.   Like the Jews, we serve the God of new beginnings.  Our transgressions in life can cost us dearly, but God is willing to forgive and restore us to a happy life.

The Jews rebuild their temple (Ezra 3:7-13 and 6:13-18):

Once the Jews arrive in Jerusalem, they take up a collection to start the temple construction.  They take in about half a ton of gold and almost three tons of silver – a fraction of the nearly 4,000 tons of gold and 40,000 tons of silver David stockpiled for the earlier temple that Solomon built.

The Jews rebuild the altar first, so they can renew their practice of offering sacrifices to God.  Then they start on the temple.  When the foundation is finished, the Jews celebrate.  But many cry, perhaps because they remember the magnificence of Solomon’s temple, and realize this one won’t come close in comparison.

Descendants of Assyrian pioneers now living in the region manage to halt the work by writing a letter of complaint to the king of Persia who replaced Cyrus.  The letter warns that the Jews are well-known rebels, and are now fortifying the city.  The king orders them to stop, and for about a decade the Jews do no more work on the temple. But prophets Haggai and Zechariah later arrive and urge them to finish the job – which they do, with approval from yet another Persian king.

With all the obstacles they face, it takes the Jews nearly 20 years to complete their mission of rebuilding the temple.  Today, we’re used to fast service and quick results.  However, God’s work often takes a long time and incredible perseverance, but it’s worth the patient effort.

Ezra condemns marriages to idol worshippers (Ezra 9:1 – 10-17):

About 80 years after the first wave of Jews arrive home, a priest named Ezra arrives.  His assignment, approved by the Persian king, is to make sure the Jews know and are following the laws of Moses.  To his horror, Ezra finds that many of the people have broken the very law that led to the exile in the first place.  Many of the men have married non-Jewish women. Ezra knows it was Israel’s association with non-Jews that led to  idol worship, which supposedly caused the exile.  And he fears that unless he can stop Jews from marrying people of other religions, the Jews are destined to suffer more tragedy.

Ezra goes to the temple courtyard and begins praying and crying on behalf of the people.  One by one, a crowd gathers around him.  Within three days a vast crowd gathered there.  The date is December 19, 458 B.C., and a cold rain begins to fall as Ezra speaks.

“You have broken God’s law by marrying foreign women,” he says.  “Now you must confess your sins to the Lord God of your ancestors and obey him.  Divorce your foreign wives and don’t have anything to do with the rest of the foreigners who live here.”  Ezra didn’t want the nation to fall back into idolatry and suffer another exile, so he ordered all the Jewish men who married non-Jews to divorce those women and send them away with their children.

The crowd agrees with him, and the Jews complied with this drastic measure.

This isn’t entirely a racial issue.  In fact, many foreigners in the region are from the same Semitic background.  The problem is a spiritual one.  Since the Jews first entered the promised land a thousand years earlier, they had married people who worshipped idols.  As a result, the Jews were lured into idolatry. According to the New Testament, believers shouldn’t “team up with those who are unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14, New Living Translation).

If you remember Ruth’s story, however, you’ll also see a compelling argument that foreigners are capable of embracing Israel’s faith in God.  And God is clearly willing to embrace them, as evidenced by the blessings he poured out on Ruth (King David’s great-grandmother).   So which side of this argument do we believe?

Background notes:


The writer of this book isn’t named – as is the case with most of the books of the Bible.  Ancient Jewish tradition said Ezra wrote it, along with writing Nehemiah and the two books of Chronicles.  Ezra was a priest as well as a scribe.  He was a scholar who studied scripture and taught it to others.

When this story was first written, Ezra and Nehemiah were one book.  The first ancient writer of speak of them was the Christian scholar Origen, who lived in the A.D. 200s.  He called the books 1, 2 Ezra.  The events described in both books suggest they were written sometime shortly after Ezra arrived in Jerusalem, in 458 B.C.


The stories in the book cover about 80 years, from the time Persia frees the Jews to return to Israel in 538 B.C. to the time Ezra arrives and begins his teaching ministry in 458 B.C.


The story begins in the newly established Persian Empire, centred in what is now known as Iraq. The Jews return to Israel by following the Euphrates River northwest, and then turning south along the Mediterranean coast.  This isn’t the most direct route home, and it requires the Jews to travel nearly a thousand miles.  But it keeps them near water.  The more direct route would have taken them nearly 600 miles directly across the Syrian Desert.  Most of the story takes place in Jerusalem, where the Jews begin to rebuild their city, starting with the temple.

Bottom-line summary:

The Babylonian Empire is gone, defeated by the Persian Empire.  Persian king Cyrus frees all the people that the Babylonians deported from their homelands.  Among these are Jews, now free to go home and rebuild cities the Babylonians had leveled.

Not only does Cyrus free the Jews, he returns the temple furnishings confiscated by the Babylonians: thousands of sliver dishes, gold bowls, and other sacred objects.  In addition, their neighbours help by giving them gifts of gold and silver, supplies for the trip, and livestock to start herds.

Tens of thousands of Jews return in the first wave.  Rebuilding begins with the temple.  But the work stops abruptly after local descendants of Assyrian pioneers write to the next Persian king and convince him that the Jews are refortifying Jerusalem, perhaps for a rebellion.  Work resumes when a third Persian king reinstates Cyrus’ original decree.

Priest Ezra arrives later and teaches the people about the laws of Moses.  His sermons put a quick stop to Jewish men marrying non-Jewish women and adopting their wives’ foreign religions.  Worshipping false gods, Ezra reminds the people, is why God punished them with the exile.  It could happen again.

Influential people:

Ezra, a priest and a scholar of scripture (a scribe), returns to his homeland to teach the Jews about the laws of Moses.  Because Ezra devotes himself to “studying and obeying the Law of the Lord and teaching it to others” (Ezra 7:10), God is able to use Ezra to help others.

Cyrus, Persia’s king, and the man who frees the Jews to return home, is a perfect example of why a reference in the New Testament urges believers:  “Obey the government, for God is the one who put it there” (Romans 13:1, New Living Translation) . . . although I, personally, find that kind of hard to swallow.

Nonetheless, we see that God is fully able to work through other people, even those who don’t worship him.

Interesting fact:

Synagogues probably got their start during the Jewish exile in Babylon.  With no temple to go to for worship, the Jews gathered on the Sabbath in homes and outdoors, where they sang, prayed, and learned about their traditions.

Quotes from the book of Ezra:

“The Lord God has helped me” (Ezra 7:28).  Ezra’s reaction to news that the Persian king is authorizing him to return to Israel to teach God’s law to the people.

“I asked the people to go without eating and to pray” (Ezra 8:21).  Before the long and dangerous journey home to Jerusalem, Ezra asks the people to fast and pray for safety.  Many believers still fast in times of great need.


That’s it for this week!

Paul S.





Sermon by Rev. Nancy Wetselaar for Parkview United Church May 15, 2016. Sermon Topic: “Come, Holy Spirit”

Dove flying

Sermon by Rev. Nancy Wetselaar May 15, 2016. Sermon Topic: “Come, Holy Spirit”

The wildfires that have destroyed parts of Fort McMurray, Alberta and displaced its thousands of residents have shocked our entire nation. The scope of the fire, the number of homes lost, the narrow escape of so many people through sparks and flames with nothing but the clothes on their backs, has been hard for me in our lush green Southern Ontario to fathom. The generosity of so many Canadians near and far has warmed my heart.

As I prepared this sermon this past week I decided that preaching about the flames and fire of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost did not seem appropriate.

So I want to take us back to that period of human history called the Dark Ages. The Dark Ages, began in the fifth century and extended to the beginning of the eleventh century. It was a time of cultural bleakness, after Rome had been sacked and its empire destroyed. It was essentially a six hundred year Great Depression, when food was scarce, people lived hand-to-mouth, and Western Civilization barely hung by a thread. The one bright spot in the culture was the local cathedral, which was like a church-sponsored works project, reminiscent of our own government make work projects during our Great Depression.
The work gave thousands of people, several generations, jobs, and the cathedrals, which were built even in small towns, became the cultural, social and spiritual centers of life. Ironically, it was these Dark Ages that produced some of the most beautiful murals, sculpture, stained-glass windows, and pageantry, which, in a time of great illiteracy, helped to teach the stories of the faith.
The cathedrals were centers of community life, the court-house for local lawmakers, a place where travelers could find a meal and safe lodging. On the outside, booths selling everything from flowers to sausage surrounded the cathedral, as they do in most European cities even today. The presence of a large, busy cathedral in the center of a village guaranteed a relatively stable economic base, and was the center of life for most people.
Pentecost was one of the great holidays celebrated in these cathedrals. In fact, many of them were built with special consideration for this great festival. The great domed and vaulted ceilings, so richly painted, disguised a number of trap doors that were used expressly for Pentecost celebrations.
During worship, some unlucky parishioners would be drafted to climb up on the roof. At the appropriate moment during the liturgy, they would release live doves through the trap doors, through the painted skies and clouds of the cathedral ceiling. These doves would come swooping down on the congregation as living symbols of the presence of the Holy Spirit.
At the same moment, the choirboys were encouraged to make whooshing and drumming sounds, like a holy windstorm.
Then, finally, as the doves swooped and the winds rose, the trap doors were again opened, and bushels of rose petals were showered upon the congregation, symbolizing tongues of flame falling upon the faithful below.
The holes through which this was done were called, “Holy Spirit holes.” You can image the wonder and delight that an event like that would bring into the hard, drab lives of those medieval Christians!
Today, we don’t have any holes in the ceiling like that. I suppose if we did something like that today, we’d have to use a laser display and some special audio-visual effects – a little “smoke and mirrors.” It still would not create the same kind of impression – people are so used to having exciting entertainment experiences.
Yet today, I think we need “Holy Spirit holes” more than ever. Not the kind that serve as props for a medieval worship experience, but openings and conduits through which God’s Spirit can enter, permeate and revitalize people who are caught up in this violent, narcissistic, hedonistic, materialistic-oriented culture. We need Christians to serve as “Holy Spirit holes” – witnessing to the power of God’s love in this world. We need Christians who are willing to be conduits of God’s grace in a graceless world.
On Pentecost, Peter and the other disciples were in the Upper Room when the Spirit descended upon them like flames of fire. Their first response was to go out into the market and proclaim the good news. The gift of the Spirit enabled them to cross over boundaries of ethnicity and race, so that each person in the marketplace could hear the Good News of Jesus, in a language that they could understand.
Since that time, the church has continued to try to do that, although sometimes it has also become captured and trapped in its own language and culture, unwilling or unable to proclaim the Good News in languages that others can understand.
Today we also face that challenge. Because today, people need to hear the Gospel proclaimed in language they understand, and boundaries need to be crossed to do that. We need to proclaim it to those in our community that have not generally been a part of this church.
We need to proclaim it in the context of a culture that knows little about the church, let alone the United Church, as well as to people who have grown up in the church.
We need to proclaim it using worship forms and music that are understandable to those who live around us. We need to proclaim it with loving deeds and words that enable people in our neighborhood to understand what God is trying to tell them through us.
Whether that means adopting different worship forms, or just crossing the street and making friends with the people in our neighborhood – we need to do it, because God doesn’t work without his people – God needs “Holy Spirit holes,” to reach out to the community, and to the world that surrounds our community, with God’s love and grace.
I want us to think about something this week. I want us to think about being a “Holy Spirit hole.”
Yes, I want you to envision yourself as a conduit through which the Spirit passes to proclaim God’s love to the world. I want you to think of yourself as a holy trap door, through which tongues of the Spirit’s fire descend upon our community. I want you to think of at least one individual that you can touch, in some way, with the grace of God this week. And I want you to not just think about it, but to do it.
That is the excitement of Pentecost. Twelve disciples, fearful and cowering, were huddled in the Upper Room. Then suddenly there was a roaring wind, and flames of fire danced over their heads, and the Spirit descended upon them. And the world has never been the same since.
The Holy Spirit empowers our lives too, deepens our faith, and motivates our mission. She demonstrates beyond the shadow of a doubt that God has a plan for all people – to know Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
On Pentecost, God’s promised Holy Spirit descended on all. At our baptism God’s Spirit descended upon us. Maybe we’ve become a little blasé, a little lackadaisical, a little lukewarm. She wants to work in you – in all of us – to make us into a church that is living, renewed, refreshed, revitalized to do Christ’s work – to be the church, ready with gospel, ready to draw all people into the warmth of God’s presence.
May you be filled with that same Spirit.
Our church, our community, our world needs it more than ever! Amen.

2 Chronicles: A Message for the Unraveled


What’s this book about?

When a rope comes unraveled, it doesn’t look like a rope anymore – it looks like a worthless tangle of used twine.

The Jewish nation had become completely unraveled.  First, it split into two countries.  Next, the nation in the north was destroyed.  And finally, the southern nation was cleaned off the world map, too.

The northern survivors never returned.  Instead, they most likely intermarried with their conquerors and were assimilated into other cultures.  The southern Jews were allowed to return.  But after more than 50 years in exile, probably only a relatively small remnant was willing to go back and rebuild their nation.  Most grew up in the foreign culture, and it became their home.  Those few who returned to Israel, and were old enough to remember how it used to look, must have been crushed when they saw the stone piles and ashes that was once their nation.

For these Jews, struggling with doubts about whether God would help them rebuild their nation – a land that God supposedly took from them as punishment for centuries of their misdeeds – the writer of Chronicles offers a history lesson mingled with a message of hope.  He reviews highlights of their long history with God, to assure them they have a long future ahead.

What makes the two books of Chronicles a timeless classic is its core message: if there is hope from God for a people who came as unraveled and unrecognizable as the Jews, there’s hope for us even when personal wrongdoing or tragedy has torn us apart.   God can put us together again.

Highlights from the Book of 2 Chronicles:

Solomon builds the temple (2 Chronicles 3:1-17):

On a hilltop overlooking Jerusalem, Solomon builds the first of only three temples the Jews have ever had. He assembles a huge workforce of 150,000.  Stonecutters quarry massive white limestone blocks.  Lumberjacks travel to Lebanon to harvest the finest cedar trees available. Artisans from throughout the Middle East design furnishings of gold and ivory.

Seven years later, the job is done.  Israel has one of the most beautiful and expensive temples in the ancient world – a worship centre with golden ceilings, walls, and floors.  This is the only place in the world where Jews are allowed to offer sacrifices to God, because this temple represents God’s presence among His chosen people.

Today we can worship God anywhere.  As Jesus told a non-Jewish woman who worshiped in Samaria, “The time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father here or in Jerusalem . . . The time is coming and is already here when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (John 4:21, 23 New Living Translation).

The place we worship isn’t especially important.  What’s important is that wherever we are, we understand we’re in the presence of God who loves us.

The Jewish nation is destroyed (2 Chronicles 36: 9-21):

After Solomon’s reign, the Jewish nation splits in two.  Judah, in the south, is ruled by descendants of David and Solomon.  Israel, in the north, is ruled by an assortment of riffraff not associated with David’s family.  “The Lord sent prophets who warned the people over and over about their misdeeds.  But the people only laughed and insulted these prophets.”  After about 200 years, the northern nation falls to Assyria.  The survivors are most likely assimilated into Assyrian cultures.  About 150 years after that, in 586 B.C., the southern nation of Judah falls to Babylon.   And the survivors are uprooted and deported to Babylon where they can be closely watched.

Since Adam and Eve screwed up in the Garden of Eden, God has punished people for their transgressions. Whether the punishment comes from natural consequences or direct intervention by God, these transgressions produce painful effects and drives us from God.  Even so, God is never out of range of our voice.  He never abandons us.  Though the Jews broke their covenant agreement with God, and according to ancient covenant-protocol God had every right to utterly destroy the Jews, He didn’t. When they were ready to ask for forgiveness, He was there.  And what was true for the Jews then is true for everyone now.

Persia frees the Jews (2 Chronicles 36:22-23):

About 50 years after the Jewish nation dies, so does their conqueror, the Babylonians.  The Persian empire swallows up Babylon.   The Persian ruler, Cyrus, issues an emancipation proclamation: “The Lord God of heaven has made me the ruler of every nation on earth.  He has also chosen me to build a temple for him in Jerusalem, which is in Judah.  The Lord God will watch over any of his people who want to go back to Judah.”

After a generation abroad, many Jews have grown accustomed to their new land – so they decide to stay.  But others do return home to rebuild their temple, the city of Jerusalem, and their nation of Israel from the ashes.  They return an annihilated nation to life.

For the Jews who remembered their homeland, their greatest desire was to go home and rebuild their nation.  At times, their greatest desire seemed the most hopeless wish of all.  But with God, there’s always hope – for any one of us.

Background notes:


Although the writer is unnamed, ancient Jewish tradition says a priest named Ezra wrote the two books of Chronicles (which was actually one book at the time), along with the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.  References in the books (to people and historical events such as the rebuilding of the temple) suggest they were probably written in the 400s B.C., about a century after the Jews returned from exile in Babylon.


The stories in 2 Chronicles span roughly 400 years, from Solomon’s reign that began about 970 B.C. to the fall of Jerusalem in 586.B.C., to Cyrus’s proclamation of freedom for the Jews 50 years or so after that.


Most of the stories take place in what is now Israel.  As the book opens, the nation also includes parts of what are now Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.  But after Solomon dies, the nation divides into two nations, with Israel in the north and Judah in the south.  Gradually, the nations shrink as their neighbours take away part of the land.  Eventually, both Jewish nations are wiped off the map.

Bottom-line summary:

Part two of this version of Israel’s history begins with the 40-year reign of Solomon, described as the wisest and wealthiest king who ever lived.  During Solomon’s reign, Israel enjoys the greatest peace and prosperity in the nation’s history.  But after Solomon dies, the northern tribes reject his son as king when he vows to draft the people for government building projects and work them harder than Solomon ever did.  These tribes start a new nation that survives 200 years, until Assyria wipes them out.  Survivors are deported and never return to reestablish their nation.  This should have provided a wake-up call for the southern nation of Judah, reminding them that God punishes them for their transgressions.  But Judah has only a few kings who are on the ball (which is more than the northern nation had).  So about 150 years after the destruction of the northern kingdom, the southern nation of Judah is also destroyed, and the people deported.  Some of these Jews, however, eventually return to the ruins of their homeland after their exile in Babylon.

Influential People:

Solomon, famous as Israel’s wisest king, builds the temple, opens international trade, and generates the greatest prosperity the nation ever experiences. Solomon’s heyday is an example of the wide-ranging blessings God enjoys showering down on His people.

Hezekiah, a king whose godliness leads many Jews back to God, and prompts God to protect the nation of Judah from Assyrian invaders.

Manasseh, son and successor of Hezekiah, is described as the worst king in Jewish history.  He turns the nation to idols and sacrifices his own sons to idols.  However, he later repents, is forgiven, and turns his people back to God – a tribute to God’s amazing grace (and patience).

Josiah, king of Judah and a religious reformer.  After centuries of chronic idol worship in Judah, Josiah’s reforms are too little, too late.  Because of Josiah’s faithfulness, however, God does delay Judah’s destruction for about 25 years after Josiah’s death.  Our faithfulness can help those around us.

Joash, king of Judah, leads religious reforms and orders repairs on the neglected temple.  But later in life he turns from God and is assassinated by his own people – a warning that a good start in life can be ruined by screwing up in the end.

Ideas worth considering:

Do God’s promises to Israel apply to us?  The broad principles do.  For example, when God says if Israel repents of their sins, He will forgive them and life will be better for them – that’s a timeless principle that probably still applies to us today as individuals and as nations.   It’s basically cause-and-effect.   Our misdeeds release a swarm of problems.   Kindness and compassion, on the other hand, keep us in sync with creation, and tend to make life go more smoothly.  We can see evidence of this by looking over our shoulder at our own personal history as well as the history of others.  The trouble often is, we’re so focused on getting ahead that we don’t often take the time to reflect on the past and how we can learn from it.

Why were the Jews limited to worshiping God only at the temple in Jerusalem?  Jews could offer sacrifices of worship only at the Jerusalem temple.  This was probably to help them resist the temptation of worshiping false gods.  People from other cultures who lived in and around Israel worshiped gods in scattered temples as well as at simple altars built on hilltops.  But as long as the Jews worshiped at only one centre – a facility directed by trained priests – it was harder for these foreign gods and concepts to infiltrate Jewish religion.  Israel’s ongoing problem, however, was that they often worshiped at pagan shrines anyhow, sometimes in addition to worshiping at the Jerusalem temple.   Some Israelites thought of the Lord as just one of many gods.

Interesting fact:

The Bible says Persian king Cyrus freed the Jews.  A clay cylinder from Cyrus’ reign confirms that he freed all foreign prisoners so they could go home: “I returned to these sanctuaries on the other side of the Tigris (River) – the sanctuaries which had been ruins for a long time – their images which they used to live therein and established for them permanent sanctuaries.  I also gathered all their former inhabitants and returned to them their homes.”

Some quotes from 2 Chronicles:

“If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and see my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins” (2 Chronicles 7:14 New Living Translation).  God’s promise to forgive those who repent.

“If you are good to the people and show them kindness and do your best to please them, they will always be . . . loyal” (2 Chronicles 10:7 New Living Translation).  Good advice of royal counselors to King Rehoboam.  The king (Solomon’s son and successor) ignored the advice and lost half his kingdom when the northern tribes split off. 

“The Lord will stay with you as long as you stay with him!  Whenever you seek him, you will find him” (2 Chronicles 15:2 New Living Translation).  God’s promise to Asa, a king of Judah.



That’s all for this week!

Paul S.



1 Chronicles: For People Who Simply Want to Belong


What’s this book about?

You know what it’s like to stand on the outside – unwanted or ignored.  We all do.  At one time or another we’ve all felt left out.  Not invited. Overlooked. Politely asked to leave.

The Jews felt unwanted by God.  Once, they had been God’s chosen people.  Now, they feared they were the un-chosen.   And they had compelling evidence in losing their promised land.  Although they returned after decades of exile in Babylon, what they came back to was a collection of ghost towns – a nation in ruins. Israel had been founded on an agreement between the Israelite people and God: they would serve Him, and He would preserve and bless them.  But they broke the agreement and suffered all of the curses written into the contract: famines, disease, and in the end a destroyed homeland and banishment for survivors (Deuteronomy 28).

Where did they stand now, in God’s eyes?  Were they still the chosen?  Was Israel still the promised land? Was the covenant with God still valid? Would God forgive the people and take them back?  The two books of Chronicles answers all these questions with an unmistakable yes.  The Jews had compelling evidence.  They were back in the promised land.  The temple was rebuilt. The priesthood survived, and so did the royal family of David’s descendants.  God had not deserted Israel.

We sometimes feel on the outs with God, often because of the wrong things we have done.  We tend to feel most alone when we’re suffering the consequences of the errors of our ways.  But even then, God is with us – ready to forgive and lead us home where we belong.

Highlights from the Book of 1 Chronicles:

Israel’s family tree (1 Chronicles 1-9):

Starting with Adam, the writer of this particular history of Israel traces highlights of the Jewish family tree all the way up to his own time: just after the Jewish exile in Babylon.  That’s thousands of years of history compressed into a nine-chapter list of family names that begins this book.

This sounds like an incredibly boring way to start a book.  And it is, for most of us today.  But for the Jews standing among the ruins of their homeland, this genealogy sends a powerful message: From the beginning, God has been with them.  They have a past with God, and a future as well.  God’s ancient promise to His people holds true: “No matter what you have done, I am still the Lord your God, and I will never completely reject  you” (Leviticus 26:44).

There are times when we, too, feel cut off from God – supposedly banished from His presence because of something disagreeable we may have done.  (I was framed, I tell ya!)  But we have a past with God.  He has been reaching out to us all our lives.  Like the Israelites of old, we have a future as well; “God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you'” (Hebrews 13-5, New International Version).

Saul kills himself when the battle is lost (1 Chronicles 10:1-14):

After the family tree comes Israel’s history as a nation – beginning with the death of Israel’s first king, Saul.  At first, Saul is a humble and shy man.  But he lets the power and prestige of his office transform him into an arrogant tyrant who repeatedly ignores God’s instructions.  For this, God rejects him as king and orders the prophet Samuel to secretly anoint David to become the next king, when Saul dies.  Saul and his three sons die in a battle that is lost to the Philistines.  With his three sons dead and himself mortally wounded by an arrow, Saul kills himself by falling on his sword.

This depressing story follows immediately after Saul’s short genealogy.  The point that the writer may be making is that our life determines our legacy.  This could be unsettling news if you’ve lived a long time in a life of crime or just plain not-niceness. But turning to God, asking forgiveness, and living your remaining years devoted to God can be part of your legacy, too.

Three soldiers risk their lives to get water for David (1 Chronicles 11:10-19):

While David and his soldiers are preparing for a battle against the Philistines, David mentions in passing that he would enjoy a drink from his hometown well in Bethlehem.  David’s camp is probably about 10 miles west of this village.  But the Philistines control Bethlehem and have set up camp in the valley between Bethlehem and David’s camp.  Even so, three of David’s bravest soldiers – known as the Three – take it upon themselves to grant David’s wish.

When they return with the water, David is deeply moved.  He says, “This water is as precious as the blood of these men who risked their lives to bring it to me” (1 Chronicles 11:19 New Living Translation).  Instead of drinking it, he pours it out in a sacrifice to God.  By doing this, David is showing that he is more of a servant than one who expects to be served.  He and his men serve each other with selfless devotion – models of how we should all treat each other.

David prepares for the temple his son (Solomon) will build (1 Samuel chapters 22, 28-29):

After David and his army secure Israel’s borders by defeating the neighbouring enemies, David asks God for permission to build a temple where the Israelites can worship.  God denies the request, explaining, “You have killed too many people and have fought too many battles.”  The temple would be built in peacetime by a peaceful king: David’s son, Solomon.

David graciously accepts God’s decision.  Then with God’s blessing, David starts making construction plans for Solomon, and begins stockpiling supplies the builders will need.  David even develops a business plan for the temple, setting up a strategy for managing the work of priests and support staff.  Among the temple positions he creates are musicians, judges, guards, accountants, and custodians.

Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves about what we aren’t able to do, we can make a valuable contribution to God’s work by turning our attention to what we can do.  You may have limits you think are unfair.  Perhaps you’re limited physically, intellectually, or socially – and it leaves you frustrated and angry. But you have opportunities, too.  Go there and pursue them.

Background notes:


Ancient Jewish tradition says a priest named Ezra wrote both books of Chronicles, along with the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.  In fact, all of these books seem to have been written about the same time – around 450-400 B.C. This is about a century after the Jews returned from exile in Bablyon.

No one is actually sure who wrote the books, however, because the writer is never named.  Whoever he was, he drew from a wealth of written sources – some of which are in the Bible and some of which aren’t.  About half of 1 Chronicles comes from the books of Samuel and Kings.  Other material is taken out of the first five books of the Bible, along with several books of prophets, as well as Psalms.  Sources outside the Bible, which are mentioned by name in the books of Chronicles, include history books about kings and records by prophets.

Like the books of Samuel and Kings, the two books of Chronicles were originally a single book later separated so each would fit on a single scroll.  In Hebrew, both books fit on one scroll because Hebrew doesn’t use vowels – only consonants.  The books doubled in size when translated into Greek a few centuries later, since Greek – like English – uses both vowels and consonants.  Blah, blah, blah – I know, you’ve told you all this before.


The genealogy in 1 Chronicles starts with Adam and traces the Jewish family tree to what is probably the writer’s time – shortly after the Jews return return from Babylonian exile, about 450-400 B.C.  The stories that follow the genealogy, however, cover primarily the 40 year period of David’s reign – from Saul’s death in about 1010 B.C. until David’s death in about 970 B.C.


Most of these stories take place in what is now Israel, although David’s military victories extend the boundaries of their nation into what are now present-day Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.

Bottom-line summary:

The book begins with nine chapters of boring names – a genealogy tracing the Jewish family tree from Adam, at creation, through Zerubbabel, King David’s descendant and leader of the nation after the exile in Babylon.  The point of the genealogy is to show that God has a long history with Israel, and that he hasn’t given up on them even though they broke their covenant agreement with Him and lost the promised land for a while.  God has brought them home and preserved David’s family of kings.  They have a future.

Israel’s story picks up with the death of King Saul, followed by the crowning of their nation’s most adored king: David.  The rest of the book spotlights the bright moments in David’s reign.  Israel’s enemies are beaten, including the Philistines who have plagued them for centuries.  Israel’s most sacred relic, the chest containing the Ten Commandments (the ark of the covenant), is brought out of seclusion in a private shrine and carried – in a parade of singing and dancing – to the worship centre in Jerusalem.  Plans for construction of Jerusalem’s future temple begin.

Influential people:

Saul, Israel’s first king, is remembered most for his repeated disobedience to God, and for his insane jealousy toward David, which drove him to try to murder the young fella.  Saul dies on the battlefield in a tragic end to a tragic life.  William Shakespeare would have been proud.

David, Israel’s most celebrated king, devotes himself to God and to God’s people by securing the nation’s boundaries, bringing to Jerusalem the ark of the covenant, and making plans for Israel’s first temple.  Some people are just big talkers, but David wasn’t that kind of leader.  David got things done.

Ideas worth considering:

History with a happy spin.   If you’ve read the books of Samuel and Kings, then Chronicles will sound like deja vu.  But this book isn’t just a rehash of old stories.  The earlier books are written for Jews in exile, to show them how they got there.  So Samuel and Kings spend a lot of time talking about Israel’s misdeeds and screw ups.  The two books of Chronicles, however, are written for Jews who have come home from exile and are wondering if God is still with them.  So Chronicles focuses less on Israel’s miserable history and more on their godly heritage.

In retelling David’s story, for example, the writer leaves out most of the sad scenes: the conflict with Saul, adultery with Bathsheba, the cover-up murder of her husband, troubles in the royal family that include rape and murder, and the attempted coup by the crown prince.

This isn’t whitewashing history as the people of Israel already know these stories painfully well.  The writer is simply plucking out scenes that will help the Israelites see God has been with them in the past, and is with them now.

It’s an uplifting exercise, even for us today.  When we’re feeling spiritually low, we count our blessings, and name them one by one.

WTF? Why did God kill someone who was only trying to help out?  God struck dead an oxcart driver named Uzzah when the driver steadied the ark of the covenant (the chest containing the Ten Commandments), to keep it from falling out of the cart.  King David had enlisted the drivers to transport the ark (Israel’s most sacred object) to Jerusalem.  During Moses’ day, God had given specific  instructions about how to transport this chest.  An oxcart was not in the instructions.  Priests were supposed to carry it with poles inserted into rings built into  the chest.  It was never to be touched – by anyone.  The penalty for touching was death (Numbers 4:15).

At this important moment early in Israel’s history, God was reminding the people to take his laws seriously.

Although many of the Old Testament laws are no longer relevant today, the most fundamental laws such as the Ten Commandments are.  Knowing and following these laws can mean the difference between life and death.  Although God might not strike you dead for having an affair with another man’s wife, her husband might.  And even if he didn’t, the affair would damage countless lives in both families.

Interesting fact:

There are 39 books in the Old Testament.  As many as 23 others – all named in the Old Testament – are lost.  Eighteen of the lost books are mentioned in the books of Chronicles (such as the Book of the Kings of Israel, and the Record of the Prophet Nathan).  However, some names are so similar that scholars suggest they refer to the same book, and that the actual number of lost books is closer to half a dozen.

Some quotes from 1 Chronicles:

“You belong to the family of Israel . . . you are his chosen ones” (1 Chronicles 16:13).

“Get to know the God of your ancestors.  Worship and serve him with your whole heart and with a willing mind . . . if you seek him, you will find him” (1 Chronicles 28:9 New Living Translation).

“Tell every nation on earth, ‘the Lord is wonderful and does marvelous things'” (1 Chronicles 16:24).



That’s all for this week!

Paul S.




2 Kings: Religion Ain’t a Private Matter


What’s this book about?

Do you think your religion is nobody else’s business?  That it’s solely a private matter between you and your maker?

If you don’t discover anything else in the stories of spiritual success and failure in the two books of Kings, discover this: Your beliefs can and will change the people around you and what happens to them – both for better or worse.  Your beliefs can change history.

Second Kings is full of examples from both sides of that coin.  Hezekiah was a godly king. His faith was not only a model that others followed, but according to the Bible it protected Jerusalem from being overrun by the Assyrians.   Then there’s his great grandson, Josiah. “No other king before or after Josiah tried as hard as he did to obey the Law of Moses” (2 Kings 23:25).  God had already decided to wipe out the Jewish nation because of the people’s long centuries of offenses.  But because of Josiah, God delayed judgement day for Israel.

On the flip side of the coin are leaders like Ahab.   He and his compassion-challenged wife led their nation into idol worship.  Second Kings tells how their royal line came to a bloody end.  There’s a long list of other bad leaders, and the consequences their warped selves and beliefs had on history. Usually, God sent enemies to raid the nation – one of the punishments that the covenant (contract) between God and Israel permitted.

You don’t have to be a king for your beliefs to influence others and change history. An Israelite slave girl in Syria urged her master – the army commander – to go to God’s prophet for healing of his leprosy.  That girl’s faith changed the commander’s personal history.

Our beliefs make a difference.

Highlights from the Book of 2 Kings:

Elisha raises a boy from the dead (2 Kings 4:8-37):

The prophet Elisha occasionally travels about the country, sometimes passing through the village of Shunam.  There, an older couple without children prepare a permanent guestroom for him.  Whenever he visits the area, he’s welcome to stay there and eat.  In gratitude, Elisha promises the woman a child.  The next year she gives birth to a son.  Years later, her young son complains of a terrible headache, then dies.  The woman rushes to Elisha at Mount Carmel, about 20 miles away.  He returns with her, stretches his body over the boy “with his mouth on the boy’s mouth.”  The boy sneezes and opens his eyes.

We may not necessarily receive miracles for our troubles.  But the kindness we show others can become kindness we receive.

A Syrian general is cured of leprosy (2 Kings 5:1027):

Naaman commands the Syrian army that God is evidently using to punish Israel.   But he has the horrible disease of leprosy. An Israelite servant girl in his house tells Naaman’s wife that if he would go see Elisha “he would be cured of his leprosy.”

Naaman has nothing to lose since leprosy is incurable, so he goes.  Elisha tells him to wash seven times in the Jordan River, which Naaman reluctantly does.  He is cured, and vows to worship only the God of Israel.

The faith of even a child can produce wonderful results.  So think about the needs of the people around you, and offer them assistance if they are in need.  Amazing things could result from your actions.

Jezebel (the murderer) is murdered (2 Kings 9:30-37):

Jezebel’s husband (former King Ahab) is dead, but her son is now king, and the Queen Mother (Jezebel) continues to wield great influence.  She leads the nation in worshiping idols and ordering the slaughter of many Israelite prophets.  As we saw in 1 Kings, she once masterminded the murder of a farmer so her husband could confiscate the land and use it as a vegetable garden.

An Israelite solder named Jehu (who would become the next king of the northern nation of Israel) kills her son then rides to the palace.  “Why do you come here, you murderer?” she demands from an upper window.  Jehu says if the servants with her are on his side, to throw her from the window.   They do, and she falls to her death, whereupon her body is eaten by dogs.

Whether we treat others with contempt or kindness, we can usually expect the same treatment in return.

God changes His mind and lets Hezekiah live (2 Kings 20:1-11):

The prophet Isaiah stands by the bedside of King Hezekiah and delivers a grim message: “This is what the Lord says: Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die.  You will not recover from this illness” (2 Kings 20:1 New Living Translation).   With this, Isaiah leaves.

Hezekiah turns to face the wall and prays, “I have always tried to be faithful to you and do what is pleasing in your sight.”  Then he breaks down and cries.  Before Isaiah gets out of the palace, God stops him with this new message for the king: “I heard you pray, and I saw you cry.  I will heal you… I will let you live 15 more years.”

The Bible doesn’t explain why God changed h is mind.  But this story – and others like it – show that prayer makes a difference.  Some theologians argue that prayer doesn’t change God.  But, instead, it somehow changes us and provides God an opportunity to change his plans for us accordingly.   You can pick how you feel this mechanism works, because it’s a mystery.

Israel is wiped off the map (2 Kings 17:1-41 and 25:1-26):

The northern nation of Israel falls first, to Assyria, an empire in what is today northern Iraq.  The citizens are deported as slaves, and the ten Israelite tribes that once made up the nation disappear in history  forever – becoming known as the “Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.”

“All this happened,” says the Bible, “because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God.”  For centuries of idol worship, God invokes the punishment clause in his covenant (contract) with the Israelites, which allows him to destroy the nation and scatter the survivors to other lands (Deuteronomy 28:15-68).

About 150 years later, the same thing happens to the southern Jewish kingdom of Judah, and for the same reason.  Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar overruns all the cities, then makes an example of Jerusalem by tearing it and Solomon’s temple to the ground.  Survivors are taken captive to Babylon, a Persian Gulf empire that replaces Assyria.  The great nation that God promised to make of Abraham’s descendants is gone. POOF!

Wrongdoing leads to tragedy.  We can lose everything important to us because of our misdeeds – everything except God.  He didn’t give up on the Jews, and He won’t give up on you.  He eventually restored Israel, just as He restores broken lives today.

Background Notes:


The writer of this book is unnamed, although ancient Jewish tradition says the two books of Kings were written by the prophet Jeremiah, who witnessed the fall of Jerusalem.  The stories were compiled by someone after the two Jewish nations of Israel and Judah were wiped off the map.  The writer may have drawn on several ancient sources of history, including books about the kings and maybe official palace records.


The stories span three centuries, from about 850 B.C., when Ahab’s son ruled in the north, to 586 B.C., when Babylon leveled Jerusalem and eliminated any semblance of a Jewish nation on the planet.


The main events of this book take place in the Jewish nations of Israel (in the north), and Judah (in the south).  When Israel falls to the Assyrians in 722 B.C., the Israelite survivors are taken captive to Assyrian communities (in what is now northern Iraq).    A hundred and fifty years later, when Judah falls to Babylon (the Iraqi-based empire that defeated and replaced the Assyria), the survivors are again taken captive and scattered throughout Babylonian communities.  This book concludes with the Jews scattered away in a foreign land.

Bottom-Line Summary:

2 Kings picks up where 1 Kings stops.  Godawful rulers, such as Jezebel, are leading a complacent people into idol worship and other wrong practices… such as… oh, say… having sex with priests and priestesses to entertain and appease Canaanite gods. On God’s order, prophets are delivering His message: “Stop doing these things and start obeying my laws and teachings!”  But the people ignore it.  There are isolated pockets of devout rule in this span of history, especially in the southern nation of Judah.  But most kings don’t care about God.

The Israelites have struggled with idol worship since the beginning of their nation, when Moses led them out of Egypt.  Now, about 700 years later, God’s prophets warn that enough is enough.  If the Israelites don’t stop with this crap they will lose their nation.  They don’t believe it, and they don’t stop.

In 722 B.C., Assyria destroys Israel.  Judah survives another 150 years, thanks to virtuous kings such as Hezekiah and Josiah.  But in 586 B.C., it, too, falls to centuries of wrongdoing.  Babylon invades and overruns all the fortified cities, saving the capital of Jerusalem for last.   The Jewish nation is toast.

Influential People:

Elijah, devoted prophet who doesn’t die, but is carried to heaven in a whirlwind.  Although he performs dramatic miracles, nothing he does convinces Israel’s kings to turn from idol worship.  Still, he never gives up hope or thinks of his ministry as a futile effort.

Elisha, Elijah’s student and successor, learns from his master and follows in his footsteps.  He helps the powerful and the poor alike, a reminder that all people are equal in God’s eyes.

Jezebel, queen of mean, is the murderous bride of King Ahab.  Her evil influence over Israel spans the reign of her husband and those of her two sons.  Famous for murdering people to get her own way, she is thrown to her death and her body eaten by dogs.

Hezekiah, a good and virtuous king of Judah.  God protects Judah from Assyria because of Hezekiah’s upright leadership.

Manasseh, son and successor of Hezekiah, is nothing like his dad.  He becomes king at age 12 and turns the nation back to Canaanite gods, even sacrificing his own sons as burnt offerings.  Described as the worst king in Jewish history, Manasseh serves as a grim reminder of how swiftly the tide of faith can shift in a nation.

Josiah, Manasseh’s grandson, is more like his great-grandfather, Hezekiah.  He points the nation back to God and restores the neglected, deteriorating temple.  For this, God delays the destruction of Judah.  But the nation’s bad habits are deeply ingrained, and when the king dies, the people return to their bad old ways.

Naaman, a Syrian commander skeptical of God’s power to heal him of leprosy.  His healing, and subsequent vow to worship only God, is a testimony of hope for the skeptic in all of us.

A key idea worth considering:

Punishment for personal wrongdoing doesn’t always wait for ‘Judgement Day’. Romans 14:10-12 teaches that when this life is over, we’ll all stand before God and be held accountable for our actions.  However, in the meantime, God sometimes fires warning shots over our bow, to steer us away from danger.  For the Israelites, those warning shots came in many forms: prophets predicting disaster if the nation didn’t reform, droughts, diseases, raiders, occupying forces that took over the land and milked it for all they could get.  Sometimes this approach worked, and the Israelites turned back to God.  But usually, they proceeded as though they were doing nothing wrong.

Trouble in our life doesn’t always mean we’ve done something wrong.  The suffering of Job, an innocent man, demonstrates that.  And Jesus once said a man was born blind not because of anyone’s sin, but to allow others to see God’s power – then Jesus healed him (John 9:3).

Even so, troubles in life can prompt us to re-evaluate our relationship with God, to make sure nothing’s wrong spiritually.  Misdeeds often have some relatively immediate negative consequences.  We need to see these as warnings that should prompt us to change our ways.  As individuals and nations, we have a chance to learn from Israel’s mistakes and our own.

Some quotes from 2 Kings:

“Stop doing sinful things, and start obeying my laws and teachings” (2 Kings 17:13).  God’s message to the Israelites, delivered by prophets.

“I will not take anything from you” (2 Kings 5:16). Elisha’s response to a military commander (Naaman) he healed of leprosy.  The commander offers Elisha an extravagant gift of 750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold, and ten new outfits!  But Elisha refuses to take advantage of the man.

“I will rescue you and your city” (2 Kings 20:6 New Living Translation). God’s promise to King Hezekiah, in response to the king’s prayer.  When Assyria later attacks, God repels them because of Hezekiah’s faith.



Hey, that’s all for this week!
Paul S.