Borrowing Trouble

At that time Merodach-baladan son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a gift to Hezekiah since he heard that Hezekiah had been sick. Hezekiah gave them a hearing and showed them his whole treasure house—the silver, the gold, the spices, and the precious oil—and his armory, and everything that was found in his treasuries. There was nothing in his palace and in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them.

Then the prophet Isaiah came to King Hezekiah and asked him, “What did these men say, and where did they come to you from?”

Hezekiah replied, “They came from a distant country, from Babylon.”

Isaiah asked, “What have they seen in your palace?”

Hezekiah answered, “They have seen everything in my palace. There isn’t anything in my treasuries that I didn’t show them.”

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord: ‘The time will certainly come when everything in your palace and all that your fathers have stored up until this day will be carried off to Babylon; nothing will be left,’ says the Lord. ‘Some of your descendants who come from you will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.’”

Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good,” for he thought: Why not, if there will be peace and security during my lifetime? (2 Kings 20:12-19)

Don’t borrow trouble. God’s words to Hezekiah, that the Babylonians that had just visited him as guests, would in the future return as conquerors, came as good news to him. He recognized that the predication of future doom was just that: something for another day. He knew that in his time everything would be well, so that’s all that fundamentally mattered.

Was he self-absorbed? Was he uncaring of his descendents? Not at all. The future was beyond his control. Each day had enough trouble of its own. All he could do was seek God and his righteousness. God was already in the future and so it was only God’s concern. The reality was, God was in the present, too—and the present was only his concern as well. God had rescued Hezekiah from Sennacherib. He had rescued him from a serious illness. Why should he worry about anything? Whatever God spoke was good and he would rejoice in the fact that God was speaking to him and would take care of him.

We don’t need to worry about the future. God will take care of our needs and he knows what tomorrow holds. What we need to do is never forget that God holds us.

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Not Impressed

‘We have fasted before you!’ they say.
‘Why aren’t you impressed?
We have been very hard on ourselves,
and you don’t even notice it!’
“I will tell you why!” I respond.
“It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves.
Even while you fast,
you keep oppressing your workers.
What good is fasting
when you keep on fighting and quarreling?
This kind of fasting
will never get you anywhere with me.
You humble yourselves
by going through the motions of penance,
bowing your heads
like reeds bending in the wind.
You dress in burlap
and cover yourselves with ashes.
Is this what you call fasting?
Do you really think this will please the LORD?
“No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
“Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
and the glory of the LORD will protect you from behind. (Isaiah 58:1-9)

It is human nature to imagine that depriving ourselves makes us better people. Office workers often one up one another describing how hard they had to work, how many hours of sleep they missed, how many weekends they spent in the office, as if those things prove that useful labor actually happened.

God was not impressed by his people wearing uncomfortable clothing or going without food, because all that did was build their egos. They could pat themselves on the back for their suffering, for how good they must be for what they had given up, for how much God must owe them. But God really cared only about how people treated each other, not what they imagined constituted piety.

How many religious bumper stickers are on our cars, how big our Bibles might be, how loud or frequent our prayers, doesn’t matter. What matters is what we have done for those who can’t advance our careers or status. God cares about love, not the trappings of piety.

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Consequences

Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders. Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. Unlike their fathers, they quickly turned from the way in which their fathers had walked, the way of obedience to the LORD’s commands. Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the LORD had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them. But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.

Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel and said, “Because this nation has violated the covenant that I laid down for their forefathers and has not listened to me, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the LORD and walk in it as their forefathers did.” The LORD had allowed those nations to remain; he did not drive them out at once by giving them into the hands of Joshua. (Judges 2:16-23)

There’s nothing new under the sun. Joshua’s conquest of the Promised Land was incomplete. Before he died, he told the people of Israel that they needed to make a choice about who they would worship. They responded by promising to worship Yahweh. They even ratified a treaty with God. According to that treaty, if the people were not faithful in worshiping Yahweh and treating one another with love, then God would no longer give them victory over their enemies.

So when God stood before the Israelites after Joshua had died he reminded them of the terms of their agreement with him. But, as the generations passed they repeatedly forgot about the treaty, so God repeatedly punished them with foreign conquerors. But whenever they repented, God raised up leaders—the judges—to rescue his people from those oppressors. But as the book of Judges so sadly relates, every time they were rescued, they quickly reverted to their old behavior.

Nevertheless, no matter how often the Israelites turned away from God, no matter how often they sinned, God was always ready to forgive them and rescue them from all their troubles. There was no end to God’s mercy and grace. God gives us never-ending second chances. It’s never too late with God.

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Trying to Kill Us

There was no water for the people to drink at that place, so they rebelled against Moses and Aaron. The people blamed Moses and said, “If only we had died in the LORD’s presence with our brothers! Why have you brought the congregation of the LORD’s people into this wilderness to die, along with all our livestock? Why did you make us leave Egypt and bring us here to this terrible place? This land has no grain, no figs, no grapes, no pomegranates, and no water to drink!”

Moses and Aaron turned away from the people and went to the entrance of the Tabernacle, where they fell face down on the ground. Then the glorious presence of the LORD appeared to them, and the LORD said to Moses, “You and Aaron must take the staff and assemble the entire community. As the people watch, speak to the rock over there, and it will pour out its water. You will provide enough water from the rock to satisfy the whole community and their livestock.”

So Moses did as he was told. He took the staff from the place where it was kept before the LORD. Then he and Aaron summoned the people to come and gather at the rock. “Listen, you rebels!” he shouted. “Must we bring you water from this rock?” Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with the staff, and water gushed out. So the entire community and their livestock drank their fill. (Numbers 20:2-11)

Once before, the people had found themselves short of water. And just as they had reacted to everything that had ever been the least bit hard—they accused God and Moses of seeking their ruin. Once again, they waxed nostalgic over their prosperity in Egypt—that place from which for generations they had begged God to rescue them.

God responded by satisfying their needs. Never once, when they were hungry or thirsty, did God ever leave them in that state. God always provided for them.

Moses, however, being a human being, had finally had enough. After all the crabbing and complaining, after all the negativity, he finally snapped. He let his temper get the better of him. Despite his disobedience, God still delivered what the people needed. Bringing water out of the rock was something God did. It was not a consequence of saying the right magic words with just the right hand signals.
God will do what he wants to do for us whether we obey him or not. But there are still potentially negative consequences for disobedience. In Moses’ case, he had to die.

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Complaints

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,

“Speak to the sons of Israel, and get from them a rod for each father’s household: twelve rods, from all their leaders according to their fathers’ households. You shall write each name on his rod, and write Aaron’s name on the rod of Levi; for there is one rod for the head of each of their fathers’ households.

“You shall then deposit them in the tent of meeting in front of the testimony, where I meet with you.

“It will come about that the rod of the man whom I choose will sprout. Thus I will lessen from upon Myself the grumblings of the sons of Israel, who are grumbling against you.”

Moses therefore spoke to the sons of Israel, and all their leaders gave him a rod apiece, for each leader according to their fathers’ households, twelve rods, with the rod of Aaron among their rods. So Moses deposited the rods before the LORD in the tent of the testimony. Now on the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony; and behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds. (Numbers 17:1-8)

Some people just never learn. After the Exodus from Egypt, after the manna, after losing the Promised Land for a generation, a group of discontented people approached Moses and Aaron. Korah and about two hundred fifty men decided to challenge Moses and Aaron for leadership. In the end, God had the ground open up and swallow Korah and his followers. An additional 14,700 people died in the plague that followed.
But even after God had done all that, there were still those who wondered if Aaron was really the one who should be the high priest. After Aaron’s staff alone had budded, showing clearly who God had chosen to offer sacrifices—the response of the rest of the people was to finally be terrified. At long last they wondered if God might strike them down, just as he’d killed Korah and the rest. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

God’s will is rarely hard to discern. If God wants something done, if he has in mind who is to do it, he will make it abundantly clear. A person must be willfully obtuse to resist God. Too often when we say we don’t know God’s will, it isn’t so much that we don’t know it, it’s just that we don’t like it.

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Living on Mars?

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Is Unhappiness a Choice?

And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who complain against Me? I have heard the complaints which the children of Israel make against Me. Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the LORD, ‘just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will do to you: The carcasses of you who have complained against Me shall fall in this wilderness, all of you who were numbered, according to your entire number, from twenty years old and above. Except for Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun, you shall by no means enter the land which I swore I would make you dwell in. But your little ones, whom you said would be victims, I will bring in, and they shall know the land which you have despised. But as for you, your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness. And your sons shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years, and bear the brunt of your infidelity, until your carcasses are consumed in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for each day you shall bear your guilt one year, namely forty years, and you shall know My rejection. I the LORD have spoken this. I will surely do so to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die.’ ” (Numbers 14:26-35)

Sometimes people just don’t want to be happy. The Israelites never faced a crisis without panicking. Rather than thinking that God would take care of them as he had in all the previous crises, they instead assumed the worst. Rather than embracing the challenge, they rejected hope. As nice as the Promised Land might be, they decided it was simply impossible to get. Surely God had brought them this far just to kill them.

Given that time after time they had responded with the same thought, that they were in the wilderness to die, God finally decided to grant them what so obviously was their fondest desire. They thought they were going to die? Then fine, they could die. They would stay in the wilderness until the last of their ungrateful generation had succumbed to old age. Only then, would their children and their descendents after them get to enter the place God had promised to give them. God would fulfill his word—and he would fulfill their word too.

It is very human to assume the worst when facing a crisis. But it is both irrational and ungrateful to assume that God won’t take care of us.

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Living on Venus?

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Out Your Nose

So the LORD said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you. I will come down and talk with you there; and I will take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you so that you will not bear it all by yourself. And say to the people: Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat; for you have wailed in the hearing of the LORD, saying, ‘If only we had meat to eat! Surely it was better for us in Egypt.’ Therefore the LORD will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall eat not only one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you—because you have rejected the LORD who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?’ (Numbers 11:16-20)

Consistency is a good thing—unless you’re consistently wrong. The Israelites were consistent in how they responded to every crisis they faced: they blamed Moses, they blamed God, and they assumed the worst motives. When they faced a problem, the people of Israel always believed that there was no solution. They were certain that the only possible outcome was their miserable deaths.

God did not take kindly to their continuing ingratitude. He didn’t like the fact that they always assumed that his goal was to harm them. Pessimism was not the right attitude to have with God. But ever since the first two humans in the Garden of Eden assumed that God was holding out on them, that God didn’t have their best interests in mind, human beings have had a hard time trusting God to take care of them. The Israelites, like all of us, became natural pessimists at the first sign of pain.

And what did God do in the face of the Israelites’ bad attitude? He gave them exactly what they asked for. In fact, he gave them too much of a good thing: he gave them so much of what they asked for that they would finally get sick of it.

God will bless us, even more than we can imagine, and sometimes more than we want.

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Swift to Forgive

Every time the Israelites would plant crops, the Midianites invaded Israel together with the Amalekites and other eastern nations. They rode in on their camels, set up their tents, and then let their livestock eat the crops as far as the town of Gaza. The Midianites stole food, sheep, cattle, and donkeys. Like a swarm of locusts, they could not be counted, and they ruined the land wherever they went.

The Midianites took almost everything that belonged to the Israelites, and the Israelites begged the LORD for help. Then the LORD sent a prophet to them with this message:

I am the LORD God of Israel, so listen to what I say. You were slaves in Egypt, but I set you free and led you out of Egypt into this land. And when nations here made life miserable for you, I rescued you and helped you get rid of them and take their land. I am your God, and I told you not to worship Amorite gods, even though you are living in the land of the Amorites. But you refused to listen. (Judges 6:3-10)

God didn’t just punish his people for breaking the terms of the agreement he had with them. He also lectured them, by means of the prophets. When they cried out to him because of the Midianite raiders, he didn’t immediately stop the raiders from taking their stuff; instead, he talked to them about what they were doing. He reminded them of where they had come from, how he had taken care of them, and what he expected from them. Nothing very complicated. It was good that they had finally decided to talk to him again, after abandoning him for the other gods; but they needed to be reminded of just why they found themselves in the circumstances they were in, and what they needed to do to get out of them and to keep it from happening again. The Midianites were the same people who had taken Joseph into slavery in Egypt.

After his lecture, God raised up Gideon to deliver his people. Unfortunately, of course, the people would soon enough revert back to their old ways. But for a time—all the years that Gideon would live—the people would be faithful to God.

God is not one to judge people quickly. He knows how weak we are and he gives us a long time to repent before he begins overt attempts to get our attention. But he is swift to forgive, always, because he loves us so much. All he asks is that we love him and love one another.

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