Archive for the ‘OT Narrative’ Category

I grew up loving stories. I loved listening to my uncle tell funny ones of the sneaky hare and the scary ones of giants and ogres. I loved reading any story I could find in our school textbooks and would pause everything for a storybook. There’s just something in a good story that not only excites the mind but grabs the heart. Stories can teach your most complex ideas and moral lessons in a very simple and yet compelling way.

When I came to the Bible even before I could say I was a believer those Old Testament narratives always got my attention. In Sunday school they informed our training curriculum. I wonder who in this country has not been taught about Joseph, Samson, Father Abraham, Moses, David, Samuel… And I think here in the African church the Old Testament remains an important text for many pulpits today. Our preaching is in many ways storytelling and there’s a lot of merit in that when it’s done well and faithfully.

But the problem with the stories in the Bible is they don’t end up where other stories end. In our African storytelling, a good story has done its job when the moral lesson is arrived at. You can actually change a few details to make the story do the work for you. You can change character names and give it a more modern feel. In the end, people don’t stand and say that would never happen. They ask, what I’m getting out of it. There would also be more than one lesson from a good story and it’ll work for any group of people.

The Gospel interprets Bible stories

But Bible stories are to be understood a bit differently because they are not just mere stories to draw out moral lessons from. As Christians, we believe them to be historical and they are not just crafted for moral lessons. God is the one telling his redemption story to us through them and he has a specific lesson for us as reflected within the grand narrative of the Bible. But more importantly, we need to remember that we are living in a different time today to when the story happened and was first told. We are in the era of the new covenant of grace not the old covenant of the law.

Here I find the book of Hebrews is really helpful in understanding the transition between the Old to the New Covenant. This is probably the one book every preacher must read and understand though I know I say the same for a lot more others in the New Testament. This is where the preacher gets his theology right as we see right from Hebrews 1:

1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. Hebrews 1 NIV

This is a great place to comment on how God speaks to us today. But another implication is that teaching the Old Testament to people in the New Covenant calls for us to ask, how does this passage point us to Jesus and his Gospel? That’s a good rule for teaching any passage in the Bible but even more important in the Old Testament. A better way to put it is, what is Jesus our New Covenant teacher, saying to us today in this passage about himself and what he came to do? This doesn’t mean we ignore what the Old Testament passage had in mind for the original audience but we cannot stop there as New Covenant believers. We must always come to that point when we ask, how does this point us to Jesus and the Gospel message?

Samuel points us to Jesus

For instance, if we read the story of the calling of Samuel in 1 Samuel 3, we meet God speaking to a young boy while ignoring the old Eli who’s obviously failing in his job as a priest and parent. If we stop here we’ll get the lesson that God is about to replace the wicked priesthood of Eli and his sons. We’ll see Eli’s indifference to God and his voice. But if we stopped there in our preaching then we are likely to end up only with good moral lessons. Depending on our theology we can say almost anything at this point and there’s no way of saying some are more right than others if it’s all about our take from the story.

But if we read this story as New Covenant disciples we’ll see a lot more here. We’ll actually be amazed what Jesus is teaching us about himself and his Gospel this early in the Bible story. We’ll see that Samuel in many ways is like Jesus. We’ll remember the popular Luke 2:52 from Sunday school days. His encounter with the teachers of the law early in life will come to mind. But more than that we’ll see what Hebrews tells us, that Jesus is a better leader and high priest. He’s the one who is better than Eli and his sons who are wicked. But also better than Samuel because he won’t die. In Jesus, we have the perfect high priest who is sinless and eternal. The one who guarantees our eternal salvation and is always present to hear our prayers. There’s a good lesson for today’s leaders within the church to take away here. But even that is to be seen in the light of the Gospel and Jesus example, not from a good moral lesson perspective.

Now, I know this example makes it sound like it should be so easy and obvious, and yet that is not the case. I also know there’s a danger of reading narratives backward when we only want to see Jesus in the pages not wrestle with the details of the passage. I know the route to Jesus and the Gospel can sometimes feel too simplistic. I’m aware certain people can make sermons all about getting things theologically right and not living it out. That this can make the church sound like a theological school, not a discipleship training ground. I also know we’ll only preach specific passages better when we have the grand narrative clear in our minds. But I think this is a good place to start. We already know how to get the moral lessons out. What I am suggesting is we go an extra mile to pay attention to the story while also asking the big picture questions. To be biblical and Gospel-minded in our preaching we need to point people to Jesus and the Gospel.

Only the Gospel bears lasting fruit

The challenge when we leave people with moral lessons even good Biblical ones is that we leave it all in their hands. It’s upon them to change and become better disciples. But if we do that we are not only missing the grand narrative of scripture we actually set people up for failure. New Covenant believers know they can’t do it by their own might and grit. It doesn’t matter how committed and theologically right we are, we just can’t do it without our Father’s help. Only the Gospel of Jesus can bear the fruits we desire in our audience.

We need Jesus to bear the fruit he demands in us. We need the Father to kill the sin he hates in us. We need the Spirit to remind us of the small respectable sins we overlook. New Covenant preaching converts moral lessons to Gospel lessons. It calls for prayerful action, not just a determined response. It demands careful attention to the word but reminds its audience that they can’t actually do what it requires unless the Lord works it out from inside out. Faithful preaching goes beyond moral lessons, it points people to Jesus and his Gospel, to the only one who can truly change them from within.

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As a young Christian brought up in a Christian background the kind of testimonies that showed God’s power are those of people like the Apostle Paul. It sounded powerful to say I was a drunkard and a criminal but when I heard the Gospel I run to Jesus for his mercy. Stories like I was a vehement atheist angry about God and I convinced many against him but one day God grabbed me by his loving kindness and I submitted to the Gospel message. It’s those who seemed to have lived in direct rebellion against God that have a story to tell. The rest of us good boys with respectable sins not so much.

Nobody said to me that indifference to God, living like God doesn’t exist and his Word doesn’t matter is such a grievous sin. You know those people you talk to and they quickly respond, I don’t subscribe to religion. I’m not into God and faith but I respect your need for it! Those who don’t mind having a Christian name and heritage but practice none of that. From our perspective we may not think that’s as sinful as cursing God and living in immorality. But that’s because we are not in the kind of relationship God is forced to be in with them. We are not the ones God has shown overwhelming love and grace and it’s been trampled upon with indifference.

In one of our Ministry Training Courses at iServe Africa, we are studying the book of Isaiah and right from Isaiah 1 God prosecutes Israel and Judah for her sin and rebellion against him. In Ch. 1-5 he shows that Israel and Judah are clearly culpable and deserve the coming judgement. He paints a vivid and gruesome picture that tells us these guys deserve the judgement God proclaims. And the picture and song of Isaiah 5 leaves us thinking these guys needs to be judged quickly and seriously.

But the sin that caught my attention is one we sometimes don’t see it’s depth and ugliness, that of indifference towards God. Ignoring what he has said and treating it with contempt like it means nothing to us. In a relationship, one might fear hate and anger but indifference is the worst of them all. When the other person shows you what you say and do makes no difference then you really do have a problem.

In the wider section of Isaiah Ch. 13-24 God prosecutes the nations and cities of the known world including Jerusalem in Ch. 22. An army is right on the door step of Jerusalem and you’d think now they’ll cry out to God and turn back to him. God has repeatedly called them out and sent his prophets like Isaiah to warn them of impending judgement. Perhaps now finally they’ll wake up from their drunken stupor. But to our surprise, this is how they respond:

12 The Lord, the Lord Almighty, called you on that day to weep and to wail, to tear out your hair and put on sackcloth. 13 But see, there is joy and revelry, slaughtering of cattle and killing of sheep, eating of meat and drinking of wine!
“Let us eat and drink,” you say,
“for tomorrow we die!”
Isaiah 22.

Like a rebellious teenager they do the complete opposite of that. And what’s worse, they don’t even care. God’s charge and clarion call is met with indifference. They don’t care how many times God has called them out. They don’t care about the fate that awaits them. They don’t care that even right now God is giving them a chance to repent. They go on with merry making, eating their last before taking on the disaster on their own. Can you imagine that? They’ve got to be crazy you say. But before you judge them too quickly have a look at our own world today.

You’d think disaster would finally wake our world and everyone would run to the Lord for help. And yes we ought to rejoice when we hear of those who have been interested to hear the Gospel from last year. We praise God for those COVID-19 came as a wake up call whether they were unbelievers, nominal or backsliding Christians. And for many of us who saw God’s love and grace amidst the pandemic and were strengthened in our faith and resolve to live for God and the spread of the Gospel.

But do not be surprised that you didn’t see the revival our churches have been seeking for years. Don’t be surprised that some of your attempts to reach friends and family fell on deaf ears despite the clear wake up call about the fragility of life under the sun. And right now when things are getting better in most parts of the world let it not surprise you how quickly we’ll move on away from what God started last year. To continue living like he doesn’t exist and his word is null and void to us.

Sometimes I wake up in the morning and the first thing that hits me is just how kind God has been over my life. I see his goodness all over, his breath of life, his provision, the beauty of his creation and that he’s given me a chance through the preaching of the Gospel. It makes me feel so lucky and privileged and then so sad to know I don’t always live up to that kindness. To know sometimes I make plans and start projects with little to no regard to him. I remember how often I take charge with little regard to his word and without seeking his help. It pains me deeply and yet I forget so quickly. May the Lord have mercy on us and work by his Spirit that we may see things clearly by the light of the Gospel.

It’s a sad reality when we see God’s people face judgement while we know it could have been avoided. When we realize all they needed was to heed and turn back to God. We get a small view of how God sees our world like a father seeing his children go astray despite calling them out repeatedly. And then we walk right ahead indifferent of his clarion call. How it must pain God to be in this relationship. If it were me I would have walked out years ago. But as we see in Isaiah and repeatedly across scripture God is not like man. He’s slow to anger and quick to forgive those who’d turn to him however indifferently we have lived our lives until now. The question is will you learn from Judah and act differently, to turn to him for salvation and to live in light of his Word? Or will you continue ignoring his clarion call of the Gospel, indifferent of his overwhelming love and grace and unconcerned of the coming Day of Judgement?

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What are we supposed to learn as we read the narratives of Abraham and Moses and David and all the rest? What are we supposed to emulate? How should they help us?

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses, let us… run…” (Heb. 12:1a)

Question: What are the great cloud of witnesses witnessing?

If we don’t know the answer to that then we risk missing a great motivation and guide to running the Christian race well.

Hebrews 12:1a is clearly the bridge between Hebrews 11 (the hall of fame) and Hebrews 12:1b about running the race marked out for us. “Therefore, since we are surrounded… let us…”

So it clearly can’t be that these are non-Christians witnessing our lives (a common interpretation in our context). The witnesses in Heb. 12:1 are those in Heb. 11.

But what or who are they witnessing? Are they witnessing us or something/someone else?

Let’s look at the guys in Hebrews 11. Where was their gaze fixed? In the summary verse 13 it says that they saw what was promised them even though it/he was still far off (cf. Heb. 10:36-37). Moses faith meant ‘seeing the Unseen One’ (Heb. 11:27). In fact most of those mentioned in the ‘hall of fame’ here are notable in the Old Testament as those who ‘saw the LORD’ (e.g. Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Gideon, David and Samuel).

This would fit with the primary use of ‘witnesses’ throughout the Old and New Testaments. The ‘witnesses’ in Isaiah 43:12 are of the LORD and his mighty words and deeds. John picks up on this understanding of witness in his Gospel and presents us with various witnesses to Jesus (e.g. John 5). The Apostles are send out as witnesses of Jesus (Acts 1:8). The secret of their joyful courage was a vision of the glory of God and of Christ (Acts 7:55).

So I would conclude that the witnesses of Heb. 11 and Heb. 12:1a are those who witnessed Christ. They were not necessarily exemplary (think of Jephthah and Samson). It is not so much a hall of fame as a hall of faith. They saw something. They saw Christ. They witnessed Him. And so they did the only logical thing, they counted this world as rubbish and perishing, they looked forward to Christ and his resurrection day, they obeyed the heavenly voice, they ran towards their saviour God.

And that is the way they are an encouragement to us. I suspect that it is not so much that we are running and the saints of old are watching us from the sidelines and cheering us on (though that’s possible), rather we are supposed to look at them and see how they ran and then notice that their eyes are fixed straight ahead, on Christ. We are to see them and see what they are looking at, and run like that.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every weight and the sin that entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus

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tower of babel

Schools, NGOs, even politicians and businesses talk about being guided by ‘Christian values’. We want ‘value-based leadership’. Parents want to inculcate ‘good values’. Churches promise ‘kingdom principles’ which will transform your life.

  • Value (in pl.) one’s principles or standards
  • Principle – 1. A general law; 2. a personal code of conduct

The Bible doesn’t seem to be big on values and principles.

A couple of problems with values and principles:

  1. They are cut free from the story line of salvation history and turned into general truths and laws like gravity. I was reading an otherwise very good book on mission recently which was drawing lessons from the mission of the Apostle Paul. Loads of helpful stuff. But then a friend pointed out the flaw in the argument. It was all about getting principles from Paul which we could then follow to achieve the same results (church planting, church growth) as he had. This is turning a narrative into a set of principles which are then treated as laws which can be tested in the laboratory with the same results every time. What it was not considering was whether maybe the early days of the church in the book of Acts might have been a special point in the story of the history of Israel. Perhaps those days correspond, as a number of commentators have noted, to the early chapters in Joshua – the entry to the land. Even by the end of the book of Joshua and the end of the book of Acts the spectacular explosion of victories and miracles seems to be lessening. So maybe we should not demand exactly the same results as Paul (healing hankies, thousands converted) when we preach the same gospel from the Scriptures.
  2. They are cut free from the person of Jesus. Not always but very often you find that people and institutions that talk a lot about Christian principles and values are much less keen to talk about Christ. It’s understandable. Almost everyone, from all religions and none can sign up to Christian values. Just don’t give us Christ. Christ divides people. And yet he is the spring of all the so-called ‘values’. They are organically connected to him. They are the fruit of his Spirit. And crucially they flow from his gospel. Again and again in the NT letters it is the logic of the gospel which gives rise to the new Christian life. At the last MTC we found in Colossians that it is our death and resurrection with Christ which is the reason why we should put off the old self and evil desires and put on the new Christ-like self (Col. 3:1-11). It is as ‘God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved’, forgiven by the Lord, that we are to love and forgive others. Once you cut values away from Christ then you have cut the flower from the root – it begins to wither and die (witness the UK in the last two years since the prime minister made his ‘Christian values’ speech). They become powerless legalism and hypocrisy and then a redundant nonsense. As John Gray argues very powerfully in Straw Dogs, you cannot maintain Christian values when you have rejected a Christian worldview. The only source of true love and humility is a God of love and humility who has acted in history and is in the business of conforming his people to the image of his Son.

What does this mean for preaching?

Is it ok to preach values from Old Testament texts?

That was the question asked by one of the apprentices at the last MTC. And he answered his own question with a very helpful example from Genesis 11 – the tower of Babel. It’s a text often used to preach on the value of unity:

Nothing they propose to do will be impossible for them. (Gen. 11:6b)

So unity is a great value because it allows us to do more together than we can do alone. Indeed nothing will be impossible for us if only we have unity as a school, a church, a nation…

But as Fidel reported in his recent post (here) the point of the Babel story is the big problem of humanity seeking self-praise, self-sufficiency and security. In this context unity is a dangerous idolatrous evil thing. We could mention the Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) – great marital unity but not in a good cause. Or we could think of Nazi Germany in the 1930s – impressively united. So unity in itself is not a great value. I wonder (come back at me) whether any unity outside of Christ (nationalism, ethnocentrism etc.) is dangerous…

True unity is seen in the Trinity and then in Genesis 2 – the man and the woman became one, “and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32). And then at the Cross the Second Adam in his death created one new man – Jew and Gentile united to one another and to God (Eph. 2:16). In view of that gospel Paul urges the Ephesians, “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father…” (Eph. 4:3-6)

‘Principles’ are what the world does – in fact they’re part of what Christ saved us from (Gal. 4:3; Col. 2:20) so let’s not go back to them (Gal. 4:9; Col. 2:8). Let’s just value Christ and see what happens…

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return christ

What really struck me from the last few days of the ministry training course last week was the emphasis that came out on the future, eternity, our great Hope.

I’d never noticed what Fidel brought home so powerfully from 2 Tim. 4:1-2 that the number one reason to preach the word is the return of Christ. We are preaching in the last days a gospel of eternal life in view of the coming Day (cf. 2 Tim. 1:1, 10, 18; 2:10; 3:1; 4:8).

We found that the reason to put to death our ungodly desires (Col. 3:5) is because Christ, who is our life, is about to appear and we will be glorified with him (Col. 3:4).

Sammy reminded us from Job that the end comes at the end, and in the same session one of the apprentices very movingly shared how she had been through times when she desired to depart and be with Christ more than cling to this life. This in turn resonated very strongly with the account we read from John Paton’s autobiography:

At last the child literally longed to be away, not for rest, or freedom from pain — for of that he had very little — but, as he himself always put it, “to see Jesus.”

How badly do we need this powerful injection of eternity into our Christian lives and churches?


Notes and resources:

Intro to Expository Preaching – Context

Christ-centred youth ministry

Being pro-active in mentoring

Preaching Christ from the Gospels (esp Matt)

How to manage email with filters and folders

2nd year programme:

The church as mission agency

Lessons from the life of John Paton

Doctrine of Salvation (2) – Predestination, Justification and the glory of God

Preaching from OT narratives

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If you want to see some hardcore moralism where should you go? Sadly, the answer is most likely Sunday School. This is not to say that there aren’t some brilliant brilliant Sunday School teachers. There are children’s pastors who have committed their lives to feeding children with the Word of God. We’re privileged to have one of them often come and train the apprentices at iServe Africa on children’s ministry – passionate about Jesus and the importance of children’s work, wonderfully clear on the children’s need of the gospel, careful Bible handling and presenting the Word of Christ in a well-prepared, appropriate, engaging way. But sadly, as she herself says, often children’s work is massively under-resourced, under-supported, treated as child minding and colouring, and left to completely untrained volunteers. Here are a couple of  real examples of Bible teaching for 2-3 year olds. I relay these not to mock or condemn but just to remind of us of an issue which often gets ignored in analyses of the church.


Genesis 27: Jacob steals Esau’s blessing

Main point: Jacob did a bad thing – he lied to his daddy and he stole something from his brother.

Application: Don’t lie to your parents and don’t be unkind to your brothers and sisters. Obey your parents and do nice things for your brothers and sisters.

Luke 1:26-30: The angel Gabriel appears to Mary


Main point: Mary was a good, beautiful, obedient girl who said her prayers every day and was kind to everyone. The angel came to tell Mary that she was more blessed/nice/beautiful/obedient than all the other girls and boys around.

Application: Be good like Mary – read your Bible, pray and obey your parents.


My first response is a great sadness. A great sadness that there was no mention of Jesus to these children, no gospel for these children. And the massively frustrating thing is that He was there in those passages just waiting to give life but he was ignored and replaced with a ‘moral’ that ran completely contrary to the text.

In the Genesis passage, surely the big point is that God’s blessing goes to the sinner, the deceiver, the one who doesn’t deserve it. Just as had been decided before his birth (so without works) now in Genesis 27 Jacob is blessed despite his works. The ancient commentators have long seen in Jacob wrapping himself in his elder brother’s clothes a picture of how we are to approach the Father clothed in our elder brother Jesus. Election, grace, union with Christ – it’s all there. Obviously you wouldn’t use those words with 2 year-olds but could we not tell them that God is a God who gives massive hugs to bad children.

And in the Luke passage surely Jesus should be absolutely unmissable. This is the incarnation! Mary is highly favoured / blessed / lucky because she gets to be the mother of God (Luke 1:43)! Has she earned that privilege? How could you possibly earn that? The God in her womb is her Saviour (Luke 1:46-47). Again and again in Luke’s Gospel, this God shows he does not come to rubber stamp the good works of the ‘righteous’ (“Yes, well done, you really are very good”) but to save lost sinners (Luke 5:27-32; 7:47; 15:7; 19:1-10). If Mary is an example to us it is as a sinner receiving words of grace with faith (Luke 1:45 cf. 1:20) – to do that is to find a blessing even greater than being the mother of God (Luke 11:27-28).

Can we not give this grace, this Jesus, this loving God to children? Do we not trust them with grace? Do we think we must give them law and moralism till they are 12 or 18 and then, perhaps, we can give them a bit of the gospel? Are we surprised when as young adults they constantly fall back into legalism and self-righteousness when that has been their food and drink throughout their childhood; when they have been trained to read the Bible as Pharisees, to find a law they can keep rather than to find Jesus and have life in him? And even if they do grasp the gospel as teenagers, can we justify enslaving children under the yoke of joyless moralism for year after year, denying them the bread of life? Do we value our children as Jesus does (Matthew 18:5-6)? Do we let the children come to Jesus (Matthew 19:14)?

My second thought is, we really need to invest in training Sunday School teachers. I know there are a number of churches and organisations that are passionately concerned about this and are doing great work. And, as I said at the beginning, there is some brilliant children’s ministry going on. But the need is massive; the harvest field is vast. Teaching children is far harder than teaching adults. To teach the Bible message simply and clearly – one point that gets to the heart of a child – you have to get it very very clear in your own head and that is exceptionally hard work. To handle the word of God carefully, particularly to handle Old Testament narrative texts well; to do the extra work of boiling it down (without watering it down) so that you can put it on a teaspoon and feed it to a three year-old – that is very very hard. We should have the highest possible esteem for those who labour to teach children faithfully and engagingly. In some ways it is not ‘rocket science’ – it’s mainly about context and letting the story make the point and spending sufficient time reading and praying over the text, sufficient time thinking carefully about how it relates to the listener, sufficient time preparing how to make it as visual and engaging as it is. In the meantime, maybe we’d be best simply reading the Bible to children, telling the stories and forget trying to find the ‘moral’.

Then my third thought is, there’s a deeper problem here. It’s not that teachers don’t believe in Jesus, it’s not that they don’t love their children (they manifestly do, pouring out their time and energies), it’s not (always) that they don’t have enough time to prepare or enough skills in Bible interpretation, the big issue lurking behind this is, Do we really grasp the gospel? Do teachers have strong gospel instincts – so when faced with a Bible story and a class of children, even without any preparation, their instinct is to preach Jesus, the Cross, a loving, outpouring God of grace – so that, even if it isn’t the most technically ‘correct’ exposition or the most well constructed lesson, the children go away not thinking ‘God blesses good people’ but with some sense that the Bible is about Jesus, that he is amazing and that he has a ferocious love for them.

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At the last First Priority prayer meeting Harrison preached from 2 Chronicles 20. A few things that came across very clearly…

  • The story makes the point – As Harrison said, just reading the story, from impending disaster to amazing deliverance (with the final twist of another disaster) it preaches itself. The tension builds unbearably to the great turning point – the Word of God proclaiming, “You do not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf” (2 Chron. 20:17 cf. Exodus 14:13-14). What a great Bible theme – “Salvation belongs to the Lord”, “He saved us”, “Not by works”. And here it is beaten into our heads by a wonderful story.
  • The engagement of the whole person in prayer and worship – Earlier in the prayer meeting, Harrison exhorted us to engage our mind, body and emotions in prayer for the persecuted church and mission in Egypt and Algeria. We are to engage our mind – being well informed on what’s going on in our world (see 2 Chron. 20:2) and praying specific requests (2 Chron. 20:10). We are to engage our bodies – speaking aloud (2 Chron. 20:6), maybe standing or bowing down (2 Chron. 20:5,18). And we are to engage – our emotions, praying for persecuted brothers in N. Africa not in some cold disconnected way but as if we are there with them in prison, as suffering members of our body (Hebrews 13:3). It’s this engagement of emotions that most challenged me. Wary of whipped up emotions, wary of the frantic shouting of the Baal worshippers, and wary of the idea that volume equals power, I can tend to the other extreme of avoiding emotion. But in 2 Chronicles 20, the reason the story is so powerful is largely that it is full of raw emotion. Fear drives Jehoshaphat to prayer (v3 – and Harrison gave us a personal testimony of that experience). Jehoshaphat’s prayer is full of passion (why else the ‘redundant’ ‘O’ at v6 and v12?). The overjoyed praise of the Levites is with ‘a very loud voice’ (v19). Returning from the plunder there is a God-given joy (v27). So the question is not so much, “To shout or not to shout?” The question is, are we engaging our minds, bodies and emotions in genuine prayer and praise?
  • The contradictions of a true believer – Jehoshaphat is a true believer. In 2 Chronicles 17 he leads a greater revival than his father. In chapter 19 he again goes out among the people to ‘bring them back to the LORD (v4) and he rolls out the wonderful blessing of a God-honouring justice system. In chapter 20 he turns to the Temple and prays a model prayer of humble dependence on the Lord (fulfilling 2 Chron. 7:14). So Jehoshaphat is the real thing. Even a prototype of the great Jeho-Shaphat (Jehovah-Judges). And then you get 2 Chronicles 20:35-37 and he’s in league with a wicked king of Israel again (as in ch. 18). What do we say? “He obviously wasn’t a real believer after all” or “He’s fallen from grace”?  Do we tell him to “Get born again (again!)” I don’t think so. Aren’t all Christians contradictory? Don’t we all have contradictions in our lives? We believe one thing and we also believe something else that is completely contradictory. Or we say we believe one thing but our behaviour says something else completely. Talking personally, I am a mass of contradictions. Yes we should seek consistency – a consistent mind and consistent behaviour – our life’s work must be conforming ourselves to the Word of God – but at the same time the Word itself tells me that until I die I will always be fighting the sinful nature which desires what is contrary to the Spirit. Which is why 2 Chronicles 20:17 is such good news. It’s not about me – it’s God’s salvation of sinners all the way home.

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We’re still working through 1 Kings in our staff morning devotions. Here are some more thoughts..

2 Kings 17:7-23 is a good way into the book(s) of Kings. It drives home the author’s big theme – why Israel got vomited out of the land – and it gives us a good steer on how to preach Kings (and Old Testament narrative in general):

  • History with a point. “All this occurred because…”  (2 Kings 17:7). There is a point – a lesson to learn. Greg Prior was really helpful on this at Raising the Bar back in February – “This history is prophetic history… this is a prophet preaching to us: turn to God and obey him!” In particular, Greg showed us, the author/preacher/prophet is giving God’s answer to two questions: (1) “Why did God allow his people to go into Exile?” (2) “What future is there for God’s people now?”
  • Them not us. “All this occurred because the people of Israel…”  (2 Kings 17:7). Yes there are strong connections between us as the church and the children of Israel but first we need to hear this as the real history of people who are not us, who are not living in Nairobi in the 21st century. One of the great paradoxes is that it’s as we take ourselves out of the picture and make the effort to travel back in time to Samaria that we will hear God speaking powerfully to us right here and now.
  • Idolatry. “…the people of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God…”  (2 Kings 17:7). That’s the heart of the problem. Leaving the fountain of living waters and digging out pathetic, cracked, putrid cisterns. Israel forsakes her husband, flings herself at tawdry suitors and arouses the Lord’s jealous anger. He seeks to woo his beloved back but “They would not listen” (2 Kings 17:14). As we prepare to preach on Kings it would be the greatest irony if we fall foul of the same idolatry that is all over the book. We must beware the idolatry of putting ourselves at the centre of everything, beware the common idols of preachers and above all listen to the voice of the true and living God from the text. Rather than use God’s Word as a pagan priest would perform divination (2 Kings 17:17) as a means to my own end, we are to submit to His message and let him speak.
  • Part of a bigger story. “…their God who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh…” (2 Kings 17:7). It’s crying out, “Put me in a Bible overview!”  We need to ask, ‘How are the promises going?’  ‘Where is the story headed?’  ‘Who is it all about?

Part 3

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