When a good man does something utterly stupid

Do you have what it takes to be a king or queen? How about president or prime minister?

Since Donald Trump took office in America, I’ve heard a lot of criticism of him. I was extremely critical of David Cameron during his tenure as prime minister in the UK. It is quite easy to criticise when our decisions and actions are not being scrutinised to the same extent.

As I’ve been reading through the books of first and second Kings I’ve noticed a large number of the kings of Israel and Judah are recorded as having done “evil in the eyes of the Lord.”

There are others who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord”, but often there is a caveat: “but not as his father David had done.”

David is held up as the High Standard of what God was looking for in the kings that ruled over Israel and Judah.

Then along comes Hezekiah, a man who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done.” 2 Kings 18 NIV

In fact Hezekiah may even have been a better king than David. Right up to the point where he did something so utterly stupid that I almost can’t believe anyone could have done that.

Can you imagine the leader of Iran inviting foreign diplomats to tour their nuclear research facilities? How about the leader of North Korea?

Can you imagine the tour guide: “Here’s where we enrich uranium. We discovered that if we tweak the process just so, we get a ten percent increase in yield. Now tomorrow we’ll go and look at the mobile launch unit factory. That’s in a secret factory in the town of … Is there anything else you’d like to see?”

It’s debatable whether those diplomats would even make it back to their embassies before the call went out: “Send in the drones!”

If there is one thing you do not do as the leader of any country, is reveal your state secrets to an unknown envoy. Yet that’s precisely what Hezekiah did.

Hezekiah showed these foreign diplomats all the treasure, answered all their questions, gave them everything they needed to make a report as to whether invading Jerusalem would be worthwhile.

He didn’t pay the price, but his country did, years later when Babylon invaded and sacked Jerusalem.

Occasionally I do dumb things, make stupid decisions. Many of us do. But many of us aren’t kings or presidents or prime ministers. We might say we would never have done something as rash as Hezekiah, perhaps even say we would never behave like Donald Trump, yet I find it a sobering thought that a ruler who in many regards was to be respected, could have made such an foolish mistake.

Parallels between old and new

I’ve continued reading from the books of Samuel, through into 2 Kings. There are so many passages that have stood out to me over the past few weeks, from disturbing stories to shocking ones to inspiring ones.

This morning I was struck by how so many of Jesus miracles are foreshadowed by the prophets. In 2 Kings 4 v 42 to 44 we’re told a man brings twenty loaves of barley bread and some ears of new corn to Elisha. Elisha tells his servant to give it to the hundred assembled prophets. The servant questions him saying, in effect, there’s no way this is going to feed so many men.

Elisha insists, saying “they will eat and have some left over.”

And they do.

A parallel story can be found in Matthew 14 where Jesus sees the need for 5,000 men to be fed. He gets by with just five loaves of bread and two fish and again there is food left over.

Both Elijah and Elisha raised people from the dead as did Jesus. Both Elijah and Elisha commanded the Jordan to dry up so they could walk through on dry land. Jesus simply walked on the water…

Elijah caused a drought, Jesus commanded a storm to calm.

Maybe there are more parallels, but these are a few that occurred to me after reading the initial passage today. What parallels do you see between the old and the new?

All that we can achieve

I was pulled up short this morning. I’ve continued reading past the two books of Samuel and am now half way through the first book of Kings.

The last few chapters have been quite a slog, king after king who did evil in the eyes of the Lord, each one failing to learn from the mistakes of those who went before them. Israel divided in two and for a time it seems like the new nations of Israel and Judah are being led by leaders who are as evil as each other.

Then I read this: “As for the other events of Baasha’s reign, what he did and his achievements…” 1 Kings 16 v 5

I generally consider achievements to be a positive. I have 100 goals and as I make progress towards achieving them I feel good about that. Yet if I gained the whole world and lost my soul…

All we can achieve may be worth recording in a book some day, may be worth people remembering, but if those achievements are side by side with a legacy of disobedience to God, of a life spent following whatever evil our hearts find to do, then what ultimately was the point?

What if none of it was fiction?

I published last Sunday’s post knowing that a good many people consider Genesis to be a work of fiction. I don’t. I believe it all happened as recorded, witnessed by the one doing the creating – God.

There are other portions of the bible I’m less sure of. I think that most people believe that Jesus was comfortable sharing made up stories, parables we call them about shepherds and muggings and lost coins and farmers. There is the book of Job which I suspect most people dismiss simply because it starts in a place no human observer has ever been – Heaven.

The Psalms are simply songs, there are a few books that simply contain words of wisdom: Proverbs, The Song of Songs, and potentially one of the most depressing books of all: Ecclesseasties… So, neither fiction, nor history. Perhaps you could even class them as the first Dummies Guides To… Well, The Song of Songs would be the first Dummies Guide to Sex. I really should re-read that…

There are a lot of books of prophecy in the Bible. Kind of hard to classify that using the Dewey method. Non-Fiction that hasn’t happened yet? Alternative Future History? Actually, that might be exactly the right classification as the impression given throughout the Bible is that whatever the blessing promised through the prophecy, it can be lost if we insist on rebelling against God and whatever destruction is warned against could potentially be avoided if we seek our creator, turn from evil, start showing love and kindness to those around us, especially the poor and the weak.

Back to the original question though. What if none of the Bible was fiction?

Genesis and Job share one common factor, they both begin from God’s perspective. Recorded outside of human experience. It shouldn’t really surprise us that the God who is so involved throughout the rest of the Bible would share a little of events outside of our experience, especially since the entire direction of our history seems to involve God trying to lead us back to a place where he can walk and talk with us as he did in Eden.

I wonder sometimes if even Jesus, when he told those parables, was actually using illustrations he’d witnessed. It’s not hard to imagine him turning real events into generalised stories in order to make a point.

Regardless, the Bible remains the most powerful book available to us today. Are you reading it?

Obedience and Reverence

There is a scene [SPOILERS] at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark where the lost Ark of the Covenant is opened. Everyone who looks into it dies in – if I remember correctly – a fairly grotesque manner. Only Indiana Jones has the sense to warn his companion to close their eyes, they both look away and are saved.

A fictional story based on history. As I’ve been reading the first book of Samuel recently, I came across this passage again:

“But God struck down some of the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh, putting seventy of them to death because they looked into the ark of the Lord.” from 1 Samuel 6 NIV

I can imagine many people today reading this for the first time and questioning how a loving God could slaughter seventy “innocent” people, just for looking in a box…

Well, what if the box contained plutonium? What if every person who even touched that radioactive substance contracted cancer and died? Whose fault would it be that those people died? The people who disobeyed a simple command to keep clear of the box, or the God who lovingly warned them to stay away?

Every person in Israel knew what the Ark was – the very throne of God on Earth. They knew they were to stay away, that the punishment for touching the Ark was death, that only the priests had permission to approach the Ark and even they were to be very careful when they did so. There’s a useful summary of the laws surrounding the Ark on Rational Christianity

It seems clear to me that God has given us certain commands for our own protection, but hasn’t always given us reasons why those commands exist. The God who created the universe and designed every living creature on our planet has to be more intelligent and have far more knowledge than we are yet able to comprehend. Quite often, even the most intelligent among us are nothing more than simple infants who have been told: don’t play with fire. We can either choose to be obedient to this command, or we can face the consequences of disobedience.

Yet I don’t think simple obedience is enough when dealing with God. Our curiosity, our doubts, our questions may get the better of us if all we rely on is obedience. I also think we need to develop reverence. The root of reverence appears to be “stand in awe of”

You were created by God. Every cell in your body was designed by him. You are a miracle of creation. One day you will stand before God and will be judged for your actions on this Earth. If you have followed his commands, if you have shown love to the poor and helpless, if you are sealed with God’s Holy Spirit, you will be welcomed into a second life on a renewed Earth where “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain”. Or you will be cast outside into darkness…

Your creator has the power to offer you life or death. I think he deserves our respect, our obedience, our reverence.

[Spoilers] – The End Is Revealed!

I don’t like spoilers. Not for books, not for movies or TV. I want to be surprised, caught up in the story and blown away by the reveal.

At least when enjoying fiction. I’m quite happy knowing what’s going to happen in real life and conversely can get quite stressed by uncertainty.

Which is one of the many reasons I like the Bible so much. It contains spoilers. Lots of them. From the moment the first book (Genesis) was written down, hints and reveals and clues towards the end were added. As the books (66 individual books make up the Bible) were written down, more spoilers for events yet to happen were given and while a good many of those have now indeed happened, there are still a number we’re waiting for. Spoilers for the end of history…

Right at the end of the book of Revelation, the final spoiler is given. No matter what happens between now and the end, this world will be transformed and made new, we will all face judgement and some will receive entry into this transformed world while others will be cast out, the God who created us will walk among us, healing and eternal life will be freely given to all who are welcomed.

We are living with the end revealed. Everything we do contributes to how we will be received by God. It places an awesome responsibility on us to keep that end in mind.

The word of the Lord

I was reading the book of first Samuel this morning and was struck by this verse: “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, neither was the word of the Lord yet revealed unto him.” 1 Samuel 3 v 7 KJV If you’re not familiar with the story, Samuel was a young boy who had been conceived after his barren mother had prayed at the temple. After he had been weaned, his mother had given the boy back to God to serve him in the temple.

I love the way God is sometimes described as The Word. The first verse of the book of John especially uses this description to associate Jesus as being The Word of God: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1 v 1 KJV

I relate this to the first chapter in Genesis where God said… And then there was. Without God’s words, nothing around us would exist. Without God’s words, we would not have life. Without The Word of God, without Jesus, we would not be able to know God, to talk to him, to hear him.

Until this point in Samuel’s life, the word of the Lord had not been revealed to him… Which seems really important to me. Samuel had been living in God’s temple, had been sleeping next to the Ark of the Covenant. It seems inconceivable that Samuel did not know of God, did not know who he was. Samuel must have hear about God from the priest Eli, must have heard and maybe even read some of the books of the law. Yet the word of the Lord had not been revealed to him…

Reading on, we see that after Samuel had been told to tell the Lord that he was listening, the Lord – the Word of the Lord – came and stood next to him. The Lord spoke and Samuel listened and finally we read “And the Lord appeared again in Shiloh: for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the Lord.” 1 Samuel 3 v 21 KJV

It seems to me that it is not enough to know about God, not enough to read his word and hear about him. If we don’t have a relationship with God where we are able to talk, where we are listening and waiting for him to speak, then we do not know him.

God is speaking to us, to me, to you. Will you take time to listen, to hear what he has to say?

A strong tower

The name of the Lord is a strong tower

I woke up this morning to a disturbing article. One I won’t share here yet – please forgive my reticence, what is the saying: “fools rush in where angels fear to tread…”

This morning I was able to go for a jog (at the speed I’m moving I don’t feel I can class it as a run!) and was able to take the photo above. I love to see ancient walls and towers being preserved and remembered, symbols of strength, of protection.

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.” Proverbs 18:10 KJV

A long weekend

We arrived back in Scotland yesterday after a long weekend driving down to a reunion and back again.

If you’ve been following this blog you’ll have seen I didn’t manage to schedule in a post for early on Sunday. The first day of my 100 words in 100 days challenge that I was unprepared for.

On Thursday I finished a contract with a client, not knowing for certain whether they wanted me to come back in this week to do some more work. I find it hard to plan ahead when I don’t know if I’ll be working or even where…

Fortunately we’d been planning to take this weekend away for months. A chance to catch up with friends that ended up being a perfect round up to the contract and preparation for beginning the new project – writing the sequel to Fallen Warriors.

There’s a lot of uncertainty in my life right now. I don’t know for sure what direction this novel will take. I don’t know when I’ll next be working. I’m not even sure what I’ll post on this blog over the next few days…

I see that uncertainty mirrored in National and World events. Will Britain leave the European Union? Will our economy collapse?

There’s a disturbing chapter in the Bible – Matthew 24. It records Jesus responding to his disciples questions about when the temple would be destroyed and what would be the sign of Jesus returning and of the “end of the age?”

Jesus tells them of a series of sign posts events, many of which have already happened and are calamitous enough, but then goes on to talk about even more disturbing events that call into question the nature of our reality.

Given that Jesus kept messing with our understanding of reality – healing the sick and disabled just by placing his hands on them, raising the dead back to life, commanding a storm to be quiet and even cursing a tree so it shrivelled and died – when he talks about the sun being darkened and the stars falling from the sky, he does so from a position of authority.

To all those who love Jesus, this chapter is one of hope, a promise that no matter how bad things get, Jesus will return and will reward us for faithfulness to him. If you do not love Jesus then this is a warning to you, that any leader who promises things will only get better is lying to you, that war and turmoil will get worse, that one day you will be judged by the God who created you.

Jesus was sent by God to call us back to him, to take our place receiving the punishment we deserve for rejecting our creator, for the sin we have committed.

Jesus calls us to repent of sin, to seek him, to seek his forgiveness and follow him.

Will you follow Jesus today?

God loves a good story

Take the book of Esther. You have a beautiful young woman, sent to work for a rich and powerful man who seduces her and… (Wait a minute, just where did the idea for Fifty Shades come from?)

Anyway, we have a classic villain, Haman, who wants to kill every single Jew everywhere. (Genocidal villian – Ian Fleming could have based a few characters on him…)

We have the wizened old man, Mordecai, acting as mentor and spiritual guide… (A source for George Lucas’ Obi Wan Kenobi?)

The heroine risks her life to save her people, tricking her enemy and eventually leading a revolt that sees the Jews rise up to overpower those who would have slaughtered them.

Without doing too much reading between the lines, you have an orphan story, romance, sex, political intrigue, thriller and violence.

Someone should really make a movie out of that book!