Wednesday, November 24, 2010

“Rizpah: The Influence of Faithfulness”

“Rizpah: The Influence of Faithfulness”
The story of Rizpah is told in two passages in 2 Samuel. In chapter 3 verse 1, we are told; “Saul had a concubine whose name was Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah…” In this passage she was implicated in an illicit liaison with Abner, Saul’s general. Abner vehemently denied any involvement. 
We hear nothing more of Rizpah until 2 Samuel 21. Here we learn that she was the mother of two boys, Mephibosheth and Armoni, by Saul. As such, she was considered Saul’s wife. This passage gives context to the story of Rizpah, and shows us who she really was. 2 Samuel 21:1 says, “Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year…”
How could there be a famine in a fruitful land under the reign of the one who was “a man after God’s own heart?” David consulted the Lord in 2 Samuel 21:1 to ask this question. God responded by saying, “It is because of Saul and his blood thirsty house because he killed the Gibeonites.” 
The incident to which God referred is told In Joshua 9. The Gibeonites, hearing what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, “worked craftily, and went and pretended to be ambassadors” (Joshua 9:4 NKJV) in order to avoid being slaughtered by the Israelites. They frankly lied, telling Joshua, “From a very far country your servants have come, because of the name of the Lord your God; for we have heard of His fame and all that He did in Egypt” (Joshua 9:9). Bringing gifts, they besought him to make a covenant with them that they would not be destroyed. In verse 16, Joshua and the whole congregation swore an oath of protection with the Gibeonites. But, 2 Samuel 21:2 says, “Saul had sought to kill them in his zeal for the children of Israel and Judah.”
David asked the Gibeonites how he might atone for this wrong. They requested that seven descendants of the house of Saul be given to them that they might be hanged before the Lord. The seven included the two sons of Rizpah and the five sons of Michal, Saul’s daughter. The execution of her two sons leaves Rizpah mourning in a very dramatic way from the beginning of the harvest until the rains came.
Two important points come to mind in this story: The first is the meaning of an oath, and the second is the power of a witness.
An oath, according to the Scriptures, was very serious and must be carried out at all costs (see Judges 11:30-39, 1 Samuel 14:24-28,43,44). The breaking of an oath meant certain death. The story in Judges is disturbing. A very distraught Jephthah declared, “For I have given my word to the Lord and I cannot go back on it.” Jephthah’s daughter was put to death as the result of his thoughtless oath. Even Jonathan would surely have died at his father’s hand for eating a little honey had not the people intervened for him and prevented the carrying out of the king’s oath.
All of this should remind us of another oath. It is an oath of eternal significance; one to which we owe our lives. In Genesis 22:16, God said to Abraham: “By Myself I have sworn says the Lord.” What did He swear to? Verse 18 continues, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed…” God guaranteed with an oath that Jesus, who at that time was pre-incarnate, would come to earth as a man, lay aside His divine prerogatives and become obedient to the death of the cross. 
But why would God use an oath? Hebrews 6:17 says “Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of His promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath.” The oath was for our benefit. 
E. J. Waggoner, in Present Truth, July 9 1896, puts it this way: “Think of it; God swore by Himself! That is, He pledged Himself and His own existence to our salvation in Jesus Christ. He put Himself in pawn, His life for ours…He has pledged His own existence to the performance of His word. If His word should be broken to the humblest soul in the world, He Himself would be disgraced, dishonored and dethroned.”  
The character of God was on the line. Was He a selfish being or was He, in fact, a loving and self emptying God? Hebrews 6:16 says that an oath was seen as a way to end all dispute. Because God wanted to make the strongest possible declaration of His promise to save man at any cost to Himself, and to demonstrate His character of agape, He could not just declare it as fact. He must swear to it. He condescended to use an oath, not for His benefit, but for ours, and also for the benefit of the on-looking universe. 
This brings us to our second point. Rizpah faithfully guarded the bodies of her sons. She did not allow “the birds of the air to rest on them by day nor the beasts of the field by night” (2 Samuel 21:10). David was watching, and his heart was touched as this mother set up camp and watched over her last remaining family members for a very long time, until the beginning of the late rains. The king was moved to bring back the bodies of Saul and Jonathan, and to “gather the bones of those who had been hanged” for the purpose of giving them a dignified burial. 
The Bible says “And after that God heeded the prayer for the land.” The rains “poured on them from heaven” (2 Samuel 21:10).
A witness is a powerful thing. God says in Isaiah 43:12 “…Therefore you are My witnesses, says the Lord, that I am God.” Proverbs 27:11 tells us why this is crucial. It says, “My son, be wise and make my heart glad, that I may answer him who reproaches Me.” The apostle Paul also understood this and proclaimed in 1 Corinthians 4;9 “For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.” 
As with Rizpah, the world is watching us. What kind of witnesses are we? 
--Andi Hunsaker

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

“Joab: David’s Weak Strongman”

“Joab: David’s Weak Strongman”

Joab, whose name means “Jehovah is father,” was the son of David’s sister, Zeruiah. Joab’s parents named him in the hope that he would be like the name. They desired him to be a child of God by faith. In his early days Joab may have had a conversion experience. Later on he talked about God, but his actions show that he had no saving connection with God. Strong in military might, Joab became weak in moral power. A lesson we learn from his life is that evil pursues unrepentant sinners and will overtake them at the last.

After becoming king, David set out to conquer Jebus, a city of the Jebusites, and to make it his capital. David captured the city by defying a curse and by overcoming a seemingly impassable natural barrier. Before the battle David declared, “Whoever attacks the Jebusites first shall be chief and captain [of the army]. And Joab the son of Zeruiah went up first, and became chief ” (1 Chronicles 11:6). Thus Joab became second in command in David’s administration.

2 Samuel 10 records another “impossible” predicament. Joab’s men were between two enemy armies. He and his brother, Abishai, vowed to support each other, leaving the results in the hands of God. To Abishai Joab said, “If the Syrians be too strong for me, then thou shalt help me: but if the children of Ammon be too strong for thee, then I will come and help thee. Be of good courage, and let us play the men for our people, and for the cities of our God: and the LORD do that which seemeth him good” (2 Samuel 10:9, 11–12).

Over time, Joab became a cold blooded murderer. There is no record that Joab ever felt remorse or repentance for his willing participation in David’s premeditated murder of Uriah the Hittite or any other of his murders. When Joab’s jealousy conflicted with the orders of the king, Joab plotted his own course, committing murder for personal revenge as in the case of Abner.
In a time of peace, Joab used deceit to kill Abner, the king’s guest, in revenge for the death of his brother Asahel whom Abner had killed during the war. Joab, like all false-hearted men, assumed that Abner and all other men were as false as he was. David understood this and distanced himself from Joab. He mourned over Abner’s death, and pronounced a wide-ranging curse upon Joab and his descendants (2 Samuel 3:28-31). Later when Absalom rebelled against David, Joab disobeyed the king’s direct command to spare Absalom’s life. This final indignity finally led David to depose Joab as commander-in-chief of the army. 

Infuriated and jealous, Joab determined to kill his rival, Amasa. Joab concealed his hatred and greeted Amasa with a kiss. Amasa trusted Joab’s gesture of reconciliation, and Joab used the opportunity to eliminate his rival (2 Samuel 20:7-10). David again spared Joab from punishment. He continued as commander-in-chief. Whatever his faults, he was the most able man for the position, and David still assumed mistakenly that Joab would be loyal to him. It was not until David turned the kingdom over to Solomon that Joab was appropriately punished.
Adonijah attempted a coup, claiming the rights of eldest surviving son of the king. Joab, deliberately going against David’s wishes, joined with Abiathar, the high priest in this traitorous act. The prophet Nathan and another priest, Zadok, foiled Adonijah’s attempt on the throne. Solomon was made king according to the word of the Lord. Thus Joab’s final act of treason insured that he would reap what he had sown. 

Though Joab was a mighty man of valor, his allegiance to the king was always contingent upon his own personal agreement with David’s decisions. Therefore, he did not actually serve at all. He essentially held the king hostage because of the unstable political and military situation and hiss own personal influence over the army. Joab’s treasonous acts were many, but in the end, David’s only recorded charge against him was regarding the assassination of Abner and Amasa. David told Solomon to not let Joab die a natural death for he knew that Joab was not repentant. He knew that Joab would do even more damage to the kingdom under Solomon’s reign.

Seeing his danger, Joab ran to the tabernacle and grasped the horns of the altar, claiming God’s protection (1 Kings 2:28). In this action, Joab showed his ultimate disrespect, not merely for David as king, but for God. The sacred act of taking hold of the horns of the altar as a claim for protection was for those only who had taken a life accidentally (see Exodus 21:12-14). According to the command of David, and in harmony with the Word of God, Solomon sent Benaiah, commander of his armed forces to take Joab from the altar, and to bring him to the judgment seat where he could make his defense. Joab, knowing that he had nothing to say, refused leave the altar, but insisted on dying there (see 1 Kings 2:28-34).
Had Joab been truly repentant, his life might have been spared. At the least, God in His mercy would have given Joab eternal life. But he had persisted in self-will and determined rebellion until he was so corrupted that his conscience was seared beyond repair.

David’s patience and longsuffering towards Joab seems almost unbelievable. Yet it only faintly mirrors Christ’s love. God is unwilling that any should be left to perish (2 Peter 3:9). No matter how monstrously a person has betrayed the Lord, he may flee to the Christ whom his sins have wounded. Jesus is both altar and sacrifice. If we take hold of the horns of the altar in true contrition – willing to be changed into submissive and obedient children of God, He will give back to us the joy of salvation and favor with God. 

And yet, the infinite justice of God which includes in its scope the full depth of mercy, puts a limit to the forbearance, even of God. Those who claim His protection while refusing to render Him service will eventually reap all that they have sown. The servants of the King of Kings may do many “good” things in Christ’s name, thinking to further His Kingdom. But if they operate outside His direction, they despise His mercy. 

Men who exalt themselves against God are still left to themselves until they are corrected with a scourge not of their own choosing, but of their own making. An example of this is seen in the late 1800’s when God sent to His church a most precious message of righteousness by faith. Those who rejected that message and mistreated the messengers exalted themselves and crucified Christ afresh. Seen in the light of eternity, the results of this rejection of truth will be recognized as treason against God. Those who remain unrepentant will reap all that they have sown, as surely as did Joab (see the chapter entitled “Rejecting the Light” in volume 14 of Manuscript Releases beginning on page 126).  

I pray that the people of God today will set aside personal preferences and unite fully with the King of Kings so that the work of God may be finished quickly in the earth.
--Jerry Finneman

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

“Abiathar: The Priest”

“Abiathar: The Priest”
This week’s main character is a priest who ministered before the ark of the covenant; a priest who prayed to God and received direct aswers to his prayers. And yet, after a lifetime of faithful service, he did not remain faithful to the end. If a man of such high rank fell, what hope is there for us? Is it possible to be sure that we will still be with our Lord to the end?
Let us look at a brief overview of the the story. The ruling King is Saul. Because of his disobedience, God had to choose another man to lead His people. The maddened king hated his soon-to-be successor, and sought to kill all who aided David. The priest’s family unwittingly fell into this category. Abiathar, the only survivor of all his father’s house, fled for refuge to David. With a deep feeling of guilt for the innocent souls who had died, David brought Abiathar into close association with himself.
Abiathar suffered much with the King. When David's son Absalom revolted, the priest remaind faithful to the King. But when the time came to choose David's successor, Abiathar supported David’s eldest living son, Adonijah. Surely he knew that Solomon was God’s choice, and that David planned for Bathsheba’s son to take the throne after he died. Yet Abiathar put his influence and support behind the man whom tradition would have made king. Everybody else who supported Adonijah was put to death. Solomon said that Abiathar also deserved to die, but in consideration of the fact that he had “carried the Ark of Covenant” in David’s time, he was spared. Even so, he was removed from the priesthood and placed under house arrest.
What was Abiathar's error? Was he a bad politician who could not forsee which of David's sons would be on the throne? Surely God did not leave Abiathar in ignorance on such an important topic. On the contrary, the Lord blessed the coronation of Solomon. Abiathar was guilty before God. But what where did he first go wrong? It is important for us to get the answer to this question because it relates to our own lives.
Two thousand years ago in Israel, a whole nation failed to accept its Savior. Why? The people had the Scriptures. They saw the miracles. The only answer is that tradition had become the substitute for a living relationship with the Lord. Everything that undermined Israel’s usual pattern of religious life was interpreted as a threat. The Son of God Himself became such a “threat.” Compliance with rites and traditions has always been a way of setting up a surrogate god. Such worship deprives people of a chance to learn and love the character of God, and then to dwell in the center of God's will.
The same tendency is seen in the story of Abiathar. Something in his life led to formalism. Did he begin to take the rites and ceremonies of the priesthood for granted? Did he slip into a meaningless formalism? We do not know. But we do see that he chose tradition when deciding whom to support as successor on the throne. According to long-accepted custom, the direct successor would have been Adonijah. Abiathar seems to have forgotten that the will of God is more important than tradition.
God had said, “Behold, a son shall be born to thee, who shall be a man of rest; and I will give him rest from all his enemies round about: for his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quietness unto Israel in his days. He shall build an house for my name; and he shall be my son, and I will be his father; and I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel for ever” (1 Chronicles 22:9-10). It is clear that the priest Abiathar not only rejected David’s plan, he opposed God’s revealed will. In the same way the Jews opposed the Son of God.
Are there the parallels between this story and our time? What is our ministry? Is there a danger that we may be followers of tradition instead of followers of the living God who has clearly revealed His will?
Because of man's sinfulness, he is tempted to put ceremonies in place of a personal relationship with God. Ceremonies, in the course of time, become “holy traditions.” To put it simply, we like to keep the “usual” rules and assume that we are enjoying a sense of personal salvation.
God raised up the great Advent movement for a purpose. Many truths were opened to the understanding of those who were searching the Bible. After this came the danger of prideful superiority and exclusiveness. The world, wallowing in sin, failed to notice the substitution of the “day of rest” (Sabbath day). Very few people recognized the beginning of the “investigative judgment.” We rushed to prove to this world that its forms of worship were purposelessness, lame and blind. We thought that in doing this we were spreading the gospel. But many of us forgot that what God entrusted us as the “people of judgement” was the ministry of reconciliation. This ministry is, indeed, the true gospel of Jesus Christ. We, the people of God, have become accustomed to our exclusiveness. We have kept our “holy tradition” and have not felt the quiet impressions of the Holy Spirit. God's plan remained unfulfilled by most of His people in 1888.
God sent His precious message of reconciliation through A.T. Jones, E.J. Waggoner and their supporter Ellen White. It was a beautiful and inspiring message, encouraging people to be reconciled to God. This is the message which we have lost sight of: “Now the just shall live by faith.” Neither knowledge of the investigative judgement, nor strict Sabbath keeping, nor conformity to other regulations can give us salvation. Only God is able to save us, and He has done it already. Our work is to accept this wonderful fact “Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (John 6:29).
How can we be sure that we will not find ourselves in the same situation as Abiathar? How can you be sure that you are still with the Lord? It depends on what you will choose: to follow “holy tradition” or to surrender freely to God's ministry of reconciliation.
1 Peter 2:9 says, “But ye are ... a royal priesthood.” It is assumed that every believer is, in a sense, a priest. This is a great responsibility and carries great significance. But what must the modern priest do? The usual answer is, “He must tell about God.” This is true, and even important. Yet there is something more.
“Every man who receives the grace of God, at the same time receives with it the ministry of that grace to all others. Every one who finds himself reconciled to God, receives with that reconciliation the ministry of reconciliation to all others. Here also the exhortation applies, "We. . . beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain." Are you a partaker of grace? Then "minister the same" to others; do not receive it in vain. Are you reconciled to God? Then know that he has given to you also the ministry of reconciliation” (A.T. Jones, Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, September 29, 1896 page 621).
“And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).
                                   --Dmitry Dolgozhitel

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

“Uriah: Faith of a Foreigner”

“Uriah: Faith of a Foreigner”
It is impossible for us in our own strength to maintain the conflict; and whatever diverts the mind from God, whatever leads to self-exaltation or to self-dependence, is surely preparing the way for our overthrow. The tenor of the Bible is to inculcate distrust of human power and to encourage trust in divine power” (Ellen G. White, Conflict and Courage, page 177).
This week’s lesson contrasts the fidelity, loyalty and principled life of Uriah the Hittite, one of David’s “mighty men,” with the treachery and evil behavior of the subsequently repentant King. David was a man after God’s own heart with this exception: “Because David did that which was right in the eyes of the LORD, and turned not aside from any thing that he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite” (1 Kings 15:5).
Names have significance in the Bible, and Uriah’s name followed this pattern. The literal translation is “God is my light,” or “flame of the Lord.” 
How could a Hittite with a pagan heritage, a resident of the conquered territory of Canaan, gain a Hebrew name and identity with God’s people? Uriah’s identity was formed by beholding and dwelling in the light that God revealed through His faithful messengers in Israel. The promise of the everlasting covenant was clearly in force for the world prior to its articulation by Isaiah:
Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant; Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer.for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.
--Isaiah 56:6,7.
As we read the exploits of the mighty men of David in 2 Samuel 23:8-39, we can readily see that their accomplishments were of such a nature as to show divine power acting through human agencies. These men knew what it was to trust in God, and not in self, for victory. God could do much through men such as these. They were true sabbath-keepers, resting in His power, and as such, were themselves “flames” of the Lord, active in the battle against evil.
The contrast between the effects of living after the Spirit as opposed to living after the flesh is stark in this story and in its aftermath. In the context of the great controversy, many lessons can be learned:
·       While mercy and grace are freely given, the consequences of sin are serious lasting.
·       Where sin abounds, grace much more abounds.
·       Self-reliance in any form will topple the ladder of Christian growth in 2 Peter 1:5–7.
·        In the final judgment, Uriah’s faith will justify the “flaming fire” against those who use David’s unfaithfulness as an excuse for sin.
·       Faithfulness is more important than sex -- indeed, more than life itself.
·       Past success in the Christian walk is no guarantee of success today.
·       Life here can be unfair -- only God can and will bring true justice to the oppressed.
·       Indirect evil is just as heinous as personal action.
“Whoever under the reproof of God will humble the soul with confession and repentance, as did David, may be sure that there is hope for him. Whoever will in faith accept God's promises, will find pardon. The Lord will never cast away one truly repentant soul. He has given this promise: ‘Let him take hold of My strength, that he may make peace with Me; and he shall make peace with Me’ (Isaiah 27:5). ‘Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon’ (Isaiah 55:7)….’He shall restore fourfold,’ had been David's unwitting sentence upon himself, on listening to the prophet Nathan's parable; and according to his own sentence he was to be judged. Four of his sons must fall, and the loss of each would be a result of the father's sin” (Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets, Page 726, 727).
“There was a great change in David himself. He was broken in spirit by the consciousness of his sin and its far-reaching results. He felt humbled in the eyes of his subjects. His influence was weakened….Now his subjects, having a knowledge of his sin, would be led to sin more freely. His authority in his own household, his claim to respect and obedience from his sons, was weakened. A sense of his guilt kept him silent when he should have condemned sin; it made his arm feeble to execute justice in his house. His evil example exerted its influence upon his sons, and God would not interpose to prevent the result. He would permit things to take their natural course, and thus David was severely chastised” (Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 723).
“‘He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool’ (Proverbs 28:26). There is, indeed, a Christian independence which passes among men for self-reliance; but it is only trust in God. The man who distrusts himself, and depends wholly on God, can be the boldest, and the most unmoved by the opinions of others; but the worst folly any man can commit in this world is to depend on himself” (E. J. Waggoner, The Present Truth,  November 21, 1901).
“‘FOR so [in this way, by this means] an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.’ There is no other way opened, there is no other means provided by which that abundant entrance can be ministered unto us. Here is our work set before us each day as it comes. We live but a day at a time, and the Lord wants us to live in to-day. ‘To-day if ye will hear his voice harden not your hearts.’ Each morning as we arise set our faith anew upon Christ as our Saviour; then show the virtue, the worth of our faith by confessing him before men, both in our words an our lives; then study the words of God for knowledge to guide us during the day; then practice the temperance—the self-control—that is enjoined everywhere and in all things in the word of God; then add patience in all the affairs of the day; add godliness by exemplifying the life of Christ among men by doing good; add brotherly kindness in all our associations with our neighbor; and all crowned by adding sweet charity, the bond of perfectness; the love of God shed abroad in the heart, loving him with all the heart, and loving our neighbor as ourselves, thus completing the day with a well-rounded Christian character. Can it not be done one day? Can it not be done to-day? That is all the Lord asks of us. Do ‘these things’ to-day ‘while it is called to-day,’ and so to-day each day as God gives us opportunity to do. And we shall then never fall, but unto all such an abundant entrance will be ministered into the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (A. T. Jones, Signs of the Times, June 11, 1885).
--Todd Guthrie