Our marathon reading session is almost half completed… pause, get a drink, and let’s head off to the finish!
DAY ONE – 1 Kings 7-8, 2 Chronicles 4-6, Psalm 11
Creator God has always had a plan to save the world. As we read through the Bible, we are getting to know Him as He wants to be known. King David found a unique relationship with Yahweh God which he expressed fully in the songs he wrote so prolifically. Solomon his son, succeeding him in the throne as King of Israel, received as a gift from God a wise and understanding heart to solve problems and reveal mysteries. Now he has completed a project his father initiated to build a house for God in which to dwell among His people. After King Saul, David’s predecessor, fell in battle, the Ark of God was stolen by the Philistines. A few months later they sent it back, but it rested in the house of Obed-Edom for some time. David finally, after a failed first effort, retrieved the Ark and brought it to the City of David, in Jerusalem. There it was placed in the tent David had established as a house of worship and praise. And it remained there until the new temple was finished. So after many years the time has finally come–time for the Ark of God representing His Presence to find a permanent resting place. A great assembly is called. The elders and priests begin the procession, the Ark on their shoulders, and make their way to the new temple. It is a magnificent edifice, nothing like it anywhere. The Ark is carried into the Holy of Holies and placed beneath the sheltering wings of the gold cherubim. And then… then the Presence of the Lord fills the house, and the priests who were busily carrying out their duties are stunned by the weight of God’s glory and Presence. They can’t stand up. Everything gets still as they try to comprehend what they are experiencing. King Solomon goes before the people on a great bronze platform standing outside in the temple court and gets on his knees before Yahweh God and begins to pray. His prayer is like no other–filled with praise, honor, humility, petition, thanksgiving. Solomon looks down the years and calls out to God over the past, the present and the future. When he is finished, he blesses the people and declares a festival that lasts throughout the land for two weeks! Israel’s Golden Age has arrived–they have rest on every side, abundance in the land, good government, and a bright future. Solomon’s declaration seals it… Not a single word of God’s good promises to Israel through Moses and Joshua have failed. The Lord has done all He said He would do. Now God will wait to see if His people will do all that they said they would do. Repeatedly the elders of Israel told their leaders over the years to find out what God wanted, and they would do whatever the Lord said. And repeatedly they went back on their word. “God, forgive!” cried Solomon in his great prayer. And God did forgive. Now the temple is built; the land has rest. What will happen next?
DAY TWO – 2 Chronicles 7, Psalms 134, 136
Fire came down out of heaven! That was God’s answer to Solomon’s prayer. Everybody saw it. It burned up the sacrifice on the altar; it covered the temple. The glory (splendor, weight, majesty) of Yahweh God filled the temple, and the priests could not enter. The physical manifestation of God’s Presence was overwhelming. The people got down on the pavement and put their faces to the ground in humility and worship to God. Their response? “For He is good, and His mercy endures forever!” Worshipping saint, can we for one minute pause and contemplate this astonishing scene? Now… say with me, “Father God in heaven, You are good, and Your mercy endures forever!” I want to start today with that, fresh in my spirit and mind.
That night–I love the way God takes the initiative–that very night the Lord appeared a second time to Solomon. Remember… remember when he first became king and was very young? God appeared to him and asked what he wanted. That’s when Solomon asked for wisdom to rule over such a great people. Pleased with the young king, God gave him not only a gift of wisdom but added wealth, prestige and honor. And now Yahweh is reminding Solomon where all of this splendor and might he enjoys comes from. And he renews the warning that it is ALL directly related to Solomon’s willingness and determination to walk in God’s ways and honor His commandments and instructions. That’s it, isn’t it? Willingness… determination… If you will, says the Lord, then I will. Remember, God always steps in first. He appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He appeared to Moses. He appeared to David. And He visited Solomon twice. Why? Because from original creation, our God has a plan to save the world. It is His by right of creation. And He stakes a second claim by right of salvation. God saved Israel from destruction in Egypt. He chose that nation to bear His Name and make it known to the world of nations. That plan, which becomes obvious as we read the eternal Word of God, is in place right now, and we are asked to live within its boundaries and enjoy its wonderful provisions. Only, it is contingent on our rejection of idolatry. Whichever idols in our world hold our fancy and divert our attention from God are a threat to both us and our witness of Him to the nations. THE LORD IS GOOD, AND HIS MERCY ENDURES FOREVER. I will never doubt that. I will always, however, doubt my ability to live up to His mercy without His divine help. So here we are again today, seeking His face and asking His help for us, our families, our friends and yes, our world. God is serious about the boundaries, and I am serious about seeking Him today for added grace to live within them. Praise Yahweh, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever!
DAY THREE – 1 Kings 9, 2 Chronicles 8, Proverbs 25-26
What do you give to the man who has everything? Ask Solomon. Describing his exploits, our text reveals: 2 Chronicles 8:5-6 Also he built Beth Horon the upper and Beth Horon the lower, fortified cities, with walls, gates, and bars; and Baalath, and all the storage cities that Solomon had, and all the cities for his chariots, the cities for his horsemen, and all that Solomon desired to build for his pleasure in Jerusalem, in Lebanon, and in all the land of his dominion. Kings typically went to war to satisfy their need to conquer, but Israel was at rest all around; there were no wars to be fought. So Solomon instead kept building houses and cities, finally capping it off with ships that went out to Ophir and returned with four hundred twenty talents of gold. He did have everything he could possibly want. So what was Solomon’s life purpose? His father David was sometimes called the Shepherd King, and the sweet psalmist. He led Israel and established worship as a lifestyle. Solomon’s task as given by God was to acquire wisdom and pass it along to future generations. How was he to acquire this wisdom? He said, Proverbs 25:2 It is the glory of God to conceal a thing, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter. He had to LIVE. He had to experience life, to dissect it, to try to understand it. As we have read through his proverbs, he had much to say about fools, and much to say about wisdom. Solomon wrote the primer on how to live–things to practice, much to avoid. Wouldn’t it make sense for our generations to carefully study his words, learn his wisdom, use it to craft a life with which we can be satisfied? Must we repeat those common mistakes and sins that have injured and destroyed countless souls before us? Cannot we live in such a fashion as to create peace and prosperity for ourselves and others? That’s not for me to say except to myself. Every one of us has to answer that question for one’s self. Whatever it is we want out of life, whatever we feel our purpose to be, there is a way, said Solomon, that seems right to a man, but it ends in death. LIFE IS NOT EASY. “Father God, help me today to search for you, find you, and follow you. Grant me wisdom from the things I experience. I am reading through your living Words in order that I may know you better. Lead me in the way I should go, for I trust you with my life; I believe what you have said; and I learn from my folly. Father, hear our prayer today and add grace to our life!”
DAY FOUR – Proverbs 27-29
Ethics: 1) A set of principles of right conduct. 2) A theory or a system of moral values. Community: 1) A group of people living in the same locality and under the same government. The district or locality in which such a group lives. 2) A group of people having common interests. 3) Similarity or identity. Sharing, participation, and fellowship: a sense of community. 4) Society as a whole; the public.
It must seem a given when we look around us that community exists. What is not so apparent, at least any more, is what holds the community together. Observing the two words listed above, in order for any community to function at a high level, ethics must be in place and must be recognized as a common standard. By definition, ‘principles of right conduct;’ as well as ‘moral values.’ And “therein lies the rub,” as we can well surmise. Whose principles, whose theory, we might ask, do we recognize as the standard? Without getting too philosophical (I prefer to be practical), one might suppose that we go back to the beginning to find the answer. “In the beginning God…” Suppose we use that as a basis for ethics, values, and community. “In the beginning God created…” Biblical history records that the first man and woman obviously were the first community. Their togetherness was a natural expression of who God is. And since their world was pristine, unmarred by sin or transgression, their principles and values could easily be understood as coming forth from God’s own personhood. Only when sin entered their universe did it become necessary to define a ‘set of principles of right conduct,’ or ‘a theory or a system of moral values.’ How do we know that? Well, their firstborn son, Cain, rose up in the heat of his anger and killed his brother, Abel. The first man ever born on the earth was a murderer! That makes pretty clear that we have to LEARN HOW TO LIVE TOGETHER.
These proverbs guide our thinking regarding values and ethics. They were written by a man the Bible says was gifted by God to observe life and offer wise words for living together. And necessarily they hark back to God–our Creator. May we not then suppose that a workable system of ethics and values INCLUDES GOD? If we do, then we shall necessarily revert to God’s Word to find our value system; and we shall do well to teach it to our children and grandchildren. Anything else is a threat to community and society. Is that what we are seeing now–the ‘anything else’? By leaving God out of the equation, have our newly defined ethics and values imperiled the very foundations of community? Maybe we should go back to the beginning.
DAY FIVE – Ecclesiastes 1-6
How is THAT working out for you? It takes courage and honesty to ask that question, because things don’t always work out well. And then we must decide if we wish to pursue the same course or make corrections that might lead to a better outcome. THE PREACHER–that’s what ‘Ecclesiastes’ means–asked that question often. “How is this working out for me?” The Preacher was King Solomon, gifted by God with unusual insight and wisdom. He tried just about everything there was to try… because he could! Most of us, due either to time constraints or limited resources, experience a rather repetitive life; but not King Solomon. Blessed by God with both time and resources, he enjoyed wide-ranging experiences of industry, pleasure, acquisitions, relationships, entertainment, government, and on and on. But he didn’t just DO those things. He paused every now and then to ask himself, How is this working out for me? And he came to this astonishing conclusion–it isn’t. I’ve tried everything imaginable, and it isn’t working! He called it ‘vanity,’ or emptiness, and compared his experiences to a wind that blew through and was gone. How is that possible? He could do or have anything his heart desired; and in the end, after getting what he liked, didn’t like what he got! That IS astonishing to those of us who live most of the time with some restraints. So what is the ‘Preacher’ trying to tell us? Perhaps one of the things he wants us to know is that life IS restricted; we don’t always get to have or do what we want. Perhaps another is that IT’S OKAY, because things may be much more inviting in our fantasies and dreams than they are in real life. Finally, he must want us to know that nothing lasts forever, and once we have experienced a thing, it turns out to have only temporary meaning for us.
So what is it that gives our life meaning, regardless whether it is limited or expansive? According to the Preacher, that something… or rather Someone, is God. Living life apart from God has a tremendous downside. At the end, there is nothing left, and even if we have amassed a fortune, it is left to others; we can’t enjoy it! On the other hand, living life in God’s Presence–that is, with full recognition of Him as Creator and Life-giver, is to find meaning in the most humble circumstances and restricted places. To learn that Yahweh God made us, loves us and has plans for our life puts us out in front of the pack. To love Him back, serve and trust Him, puts us leap years into a future filled with promise and possibility. Maybe we should listen to the Preacher.