God In Heaven.

O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? And they have lived in it and have built for you in it a sanctuary for your name, saying,If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you—for your name is in this house—and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save.” And now behold, the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir, whom you would not let Israel invade when they came from the land of Egypt, and whom they avoided and did not destroy—behold, they reward us by coming to drive us out of your possession, which you have given us to inherit. O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you. – 2 Chronicles 20:6-12 ESV

Where do you turn when everything looks bleak and desperate? What is your natural reaction when difficulty shows up in your life? For Jehoshaphat, at least on this occasion, it was to turn to God. Jehoshaphat was the king of Judah and he was a reformer king. In other words, he had gone out of his way to bring the people of Israel back to God. He had personally traveled throughout the land of Judah, carrying a message of repentance and reform to the common people. He had commissioned the judges telling them, “ judge not for man but for the Lord. He is with you in giving judgment” (2 Chronicles 19:6 ESV). He had appointed Levites, priests and the heads of families to act as judges for the people as well, telling them, “Thus you shall do in the fear of the Lord, in faithfulness, and with your whole heart” (2 Chronicles 19:9 ESV). And yet, despite all of Jehoshaphat’s reforms, we read that “the Moabites and Ammonites, and with them some of the Meunites, came against Jehoshaphat for battle” (2 Chronicles 20:1 ESV). He had been faithful and done what was right and now he found himself surrounded by his enemies. This is the kind of circumstance that would cause most of us to ask, “Why?” We would want to know why God was doing this to us. We would demand to know what we had done to deserve this fate after all we had done for Him. We would see the circumstances before us as unfair and undeserved. But instead of complaining, questioning, or second-guessing God, Jehoshaphat turned to Him for help. “Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord” (2 Chronicles 20:3-4 ESV).

Jehoshaphat’s name means “The Lord will rule (judge)” and it seems that he actually believed that statement. He took His problem to the God in heaven. He appealed to the Lord God, the ruler and judge over all creation. As far as Jehoshaphat was concerned, God was not just the Lord over Judah, He was the king of the entire universe. “You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you” (2 Chronicles 20:6 ESV). God had given them the land in which they lived. He had done so in keeping with His promise to Abraham. It was their land by God-given right. And now that they found themselves surrounded by their enemies, they were going to need God’s help. Jehoshaphat appealed to God, reminding Him of the prayer Solomon had prayed when he had dedicated the temple in Jerusalem – “If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you—for your name is in this house—and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save” (2 Chronicles 20:9 ESV). That time had come. Disaster was at the door. The enemy was at the gate. So the people were crying out to God, counting on the fact that He would hear and save.

Verse 12 records two important admissions made by Jehoshaphat. He said, “we are powerless” and “we do not know what to do”. He admitted their weakness and confessed that they were clueless as to what to do. Too often, these two things are the hardest for us to admit as believers. We tend to try to solve all our problems in our own strength and according to our own wisdom. We come up with our own solutions and attempt to power our way through our problems in our own strength. But Jehoshaphat and the people owned up to their inadequacies. Far too often we find it difficult to say, “I can’t” and “I don’t know”. We see weakness and not knowing what to do as faults. Yet the apostle Paul said, “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT). And Paul was able to say this because God had told him, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT).

Not knowing what to do and lacking the strength to do anything are assets, not liabilities, for the believer in Christ. When we are weak, God is strong. When we don’t know what to do, God offers His infinite wisdom. He is never at a loss as to what to do and never lacks the power to see that it is done. But we must turn to Him. We must lean on Him. We must desire to see His power work through us and for us. We must learn to see difficulties as opportunities to see God’s power displayed and to learn His direction for our lives. When we can’t, He can. When we don’t know what to do, He always does. He is the God in heaven.

Less Than We Deserve.

And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, seeing that you, our God, have punished us less than our iniquities deserved and have given us such a remnant as this, shall we break your commandments again and intermarry with the peoples who practice these abominations? Would you not be angry with us until you consumed us, so that there should be no remnant, nor any to escape? O Lord, the God of Israel, you are just, for we are left a remnant that has escaped, as it is today. Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this. – Ezra 9:13-15 ESV

Ezra 9:6-15

God had mercifully and miraculously returned a remnant of the people of Judah to the land He had given their ancestors. After 70 years in captivity in Babyon, where they had been sent by God because of their rebellion against Him, they had been allowed to return. But when Ezra had arrived he had found things in a less-than-satisfactory state. The people had violated the command of God to refrain from intermarrying with the people of the land. Even after having experienced the mercy of God and having witnessed first-hand His power, they had disobeyed Him again. And Ezra was saddened and shocked. He was also amazed that God had not simply wiped them off the face of the earth. They fully deserved it. And God would have been fully in His right to do it. But instead, He had punished them far less than they had deserved. He had returned another remnant to the land. He had specifically sent Ezra, a scribe and an expert in the law of God to help the people reestablish their understanding of and obedience to God’s holy commands. God had allowed an earlier group of returning exiles to rebuild the temple. Now He was sending Ezra in order to help restore the faithfulness of the people. And while they stood before God as guilty and condemned, He was extending mercy and administering His grace.

Ezra knew that they were guilty and deserved nothing but the full extent of God’s wrath. But He also knew that God had determined to send back a remnant for a reason. It was all part of His divine plan. It was in full keeping with His original covenant with Abraham. God was going to bless them in spite of them. He was accomplishing something that was going to have far greater implications than they yet realized. God had originally told Abraham, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice” (Genesis 22:18 NASB). The apostle Paul would later explain the true implications of this promise when he wrote, “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as referring to many, but rather to one, ‘And to your seed,’ that is, Christ” (Galatians 3:16 NASB). God’s promise to bless the nations through Abraham was to be fulfilled through a specific individual, a future descendant whom Paul identified as Jesus, the Christ or Messiah. God was restoring the people to the land, not because they deserved it, but because He was divinely orchestrating human history in order to arrange for the birth of His Son in the land of promise. By the time Jesus arrived on the scene the people of Judah would have been living back in the land for some time. Jerusalem would have been restored and reoccupied. The land of Judah would once again be occupied by the people of God. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5 ESV). God’s grace and mercy on the people of Judah had a point. His restoration of the people to the land had far greater implications than they could even comprehend. It was about far more than just the restoration of the people to the land. It was about the ultimate restoration of sinful people to Himself. Paul explains the unbelievable nature of this good news. “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation” (Romans 5:6-9 NLT).

God has given us less than we deserve. We all stand before Him as guilty and condemned. But rather than judge us as we deserve and sentence us to death as His law requires, He sent His Son to die in our place. Not because we were righteous and deserved it, but because God loved us, even as we willingly sinned against Him. Ezra knew that they did not deserve to be back in the land. They had done nothing to earn that kind of favor from God. And even once they had been returned, they had continued to sin. God’s grace was amazing to him. And the grace of God extended to us as believers in Christ should never cease to amaze us. Each of us has received far less than what we deserve. We were sinners against a righteous and holy God, and yet He showered us with His love, grace and mercy. We have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ. “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 NLT). The incredible reality of that news should never escape our notice or fail to illicit our gratitude and obedience. We deserve wrath, but have been given redemption. We had earned God’s rejection, but have enjoyed restoration. Far, far less than what we deserved.

What Shall We Say?

And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken your commandments, which you commanded by your servants the prophets, saying, “The land that you are entering, to take possession of it, is a land impure with the impurity of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations that have filled it from end to end with their uncleanness. Therefore do not give your daughters to their sons, neither take their daughters for your sons, and never seek their peace or prosperity, that you may be strong and eat the good of the land and leave it for an inheritance to your children forever.” – Ezra 9:10-12 ESV

Ezra 9:6-15

As far as Ezra was concerned, all the people could say was, “Guilty as charged.” They had clearly violated God’s command. It was right there in black and white. God had told them when they first took possession of the land He had promised them that they were NOT to intermarry with the people living in the land. But hundreds of years later, even after having just spent 70 years in captivity for their many violations of God’s laws, the people had broken this command once again. And there was nothing they could say. No amount of rationalizing or justifying could change the fact that they had disobeyed God. It was not just that they had intermarried with non-Jews, it was the dangerous spiritual outcome of their decision to do so. God had warned them, “You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the Lord will burn against you, and he will quickly destroy you” (Deuteronomy 7:3-4 NLT). Obviously, there was far more going on here than Jews and non-Jews being tied in wedlock. It was all about allegiance to God. The banned marriages had resulted in exactly what God had warned would happen: Forsaking of God and His ways.

There is no doubt that this was a different context than the one in which we live. But there are some fascinating parallels and some important lessons we can learn from this story. It was the apostle John who wrote, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life — is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:15-16 ESV). As believers, we live in a constant state of tension. We are to resist and reject the things of this world and yet we are called to live among and love those who make up this world. We are called to remain distinct and different, set apart from the influences of this fallen world; while at the same time sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with all those who live in the world. Jesus prayed for us, saying, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:15-17 ESV). We are not of this world. Yet we have been called to live in it and yet not become part of it. We must constantly walk the fine line between being those who influence and those who are being influenced. Our job is to be salt and light. Yet there are many believers today that seem to think that it is impossible to love while maintaining our saltiness and refraining from keeping our lights hidden. There is a growing sentiment that we must love others by loving what they love – regardless of whether those things are offensive to God or not. There is also a growing movement toward assimilation and acceptance of the culture. We are becoming increasingly “married” to the ways of this world – all in an attempt to love them. But Jesus, while loving the lost, never lowered His standards or compromised His convictions. He loved while demanding change. He would embrace and welcome sinners, all the while demanding, “Go and sin no more.” His mission was a transformation of the heart. He loved so that He could redeem and restore. At no point did He embrace the sins of those He came to save. As He did with the woman at the well, He exposed their sin. “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true” (John 4:17-18 ESV).

So what shall we say? Are we guilty of compromise? In our efforts to be relevant and relational, have we confused tolerance with love, diminishing the holiness of God? Have we lost our saltiness and hidden our lights under a basket, all in order to “love” the lost? For many of us, the acceptance of this world is far more important to us than the approval of God. We want to be thought of as tolerant, progressive, inclusive, and always in keeping with the times. But some things never change. We have been called to live lives that are set apart and distinct from the world. We are to live in the world while remaining apart from its influences. We are to love the lost while never accepting or approving of their sin. No one said that would be easy. No one said we would find a ready reception if we lived that way. In fact, we were told that the world would hate us. We would be called intolerant and inflexible. We would be accused of everything from radicalism to irrationalism. But the greatest expression of our love for the lost is our desire to tell them the truth – about God, their own sin, and the one and only source of salvation: Jesus Christ.

And Yet, God.

But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery. For we are slaves. Yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to grant us some reviving to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us protection in Judea and Jerusalem.Ezra 9:8-9 ESV

Ezra 9:6-15

Ezra was in mourning over the sorry state of the people of Judah. They had been returned the land by God after 70 years in captivity due to their own sinfulness, and here they were, still living in rebellion against Him. Ezra, having just returned to Judah from the land of Babylon, was appalled and devastated by what he saw. So he took it upon himself to confess the corporate sins of the people to God. Ezra was personally ashamed for their conduct. As a scribe, an expert in the Mosaic law, he was well aware that what they were doing was in direct violation of God’s commands. And he knew that God would not take their disobedience lightly. The most amazing thing to Ezra was that the people were doing all of this in spite of God’s amazing grace and mercy. He had shown them favor. He had taken a remnant of them and arranged for them to return to the land to rebuild the temple and to restore the city of Jerusalem. God had not forsaken them, but had fulfilled His promise to restore them to the land after their 70 years of captivity were complete. They hadn’t deserved it or in any way earned it. Even their time as slaves in Babylon had been marked by continuing rebellion against God. They had regularly worshiped false gods. They had continued to reject and rebel against the one true God. And yet, He had kept His word. He had fulfilled His promise.

Ezra did not take God’s grace lightly. He was shocked that the people who had experienced that grace could so easily snub their noses at God and blatantly live in open rebellion to His commands. Their lives were marked by compromise. Rather than separate themselves from the other nations that had taken up residence in the land during their absence, they gladly coexisted with them, marrying off their sons and daughters to them. Not only that, they compromised their allegiance to God by taking on the false gods of their neighbors, diluting their faith and offending the very One who had rescued them from captivity.

In a very real way, this parallels the experience of so many of us as believers. God has redeemed us from slavery to sin. He has made it possible for us to be restored to a right relationship with Him, and yet we find ourselves comingling with the world around us. Rather than remaining separate and set apart, we determine to blend in and, in the process, end up compromising our convictions. Many of us, having been set free by God, find ourselves enslaved to the world. We seek our self-worth and satisfaction from what the world can offer. We long to be accepted by the world. Rather than stand out for our faith, we prefer to blend in. And slowly, steadily, we begin to make compromises and concessions. We find ourselves rationalizing our behavior and excusing our actions. We refuse to accept Jesus’ warning that we would be hated by the world. Instead of living as strangers and sojourners in this land, recognizing that we are citizens of another kingdom, we choose to get to cozy and comfortable with this world. We gladly adopt their ways and accept their standards as our own. The convictions of the culture around us slowly begin to influence and infect us, and we begin to lose our distinctiveness. Chosen and set apart by God, we find ourselves looking more and more like the world around us. Our distinction as Christians becomes more a label than a lifestyle. That was the problem Ezra encountered when he arrived in Judah. The saints had lost their saltiness. The intensity of their light had diminished and they were close to being overwhelmed by the surrounding darkness.

And yet, God was still showing them favor. He was still extending to them mercy. He had sent back Ezra with the sole task of reestablishing His law in the land. He had allowed them to rebuild the temple. He would eventually send back Nehemiah with another wave of exiles to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem and reoccupy the city. God was not done. And He is not done today. In spite of all we see happening around us and the distinct feeling that the darkness is overwhelming us, God is on His throne. He is still in charge. But He is looking for a remnant of His people who will boldly stand apart from the crowd and speak up for the truth. He is calling His people to come back to Him, to reject the ways of this world and renew their commitment to live lives of holiness. For the believer, compromise is deadly. And the temptation to do so is greater than it has ever been. The world wants to silence our voices, stifle our faith, compromise our convictions, and distract us from our devotion to God. But we must never forget that God has redeemed us from the world. We can live in it and yet not become part of it. We have been called to make a difference, not blend in. We have been saved so that we might tell others of the truth regarding man’s sin and God’s plan of salvation. Some of us have compromised our faith. Others of us have allowed ourselves to succumb to defeat and despair. We live as if all hope is lost and the enemy is winning. But our God reigns. He wins in the end. His victory is assured. We must live like we believe it. All is not lost. But it is time for the called out to stand up and to live out their faith.

Shame On Us.

O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. From the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt. And for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as it is today. – Ezra 9:6-7 ESV

Ezra 9:6-15

In 537 B.C., 50,000 Jews were allowed to return to the land of Judah from after 70 years of captivity in Babylon. It was all made possible by a decree from Cyrus, the Persian king. They were led by Zerubbabel and their task was to rebuild the temple of God. In 487 B.C., at the decree of the Persian king, Artaxerxes, Ezra and some 2,000 other refugees returned to the land with the responsibility to restore proper worship in the temple and to reestablish and enforce God’s laws. Ezra was a scribe, an expert in the law. When they arrived in Jerusalem, they did not find things as they had expected. Ezra received a report informing him of some rather disconcerting news. “Many of the people of Israel, and even some of the priests and Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the other peoples living in the land. They have taken up the detestable practices of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians, and Amorites. For the men of Israel have married women from these people and have taken them as wives for their sons. So the holy race has become polluted by these mixed marriages. Worse yet, the leaders and officials have led the way in this outrage” (Ezra 9:1-2 NLT).
When Ezra heard this news, he was appalled. The Hebrew word Ezra used to describe his state is shamem. It means “to be stunned, horrified, appalled, and stupified” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance). He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. The exiled who had returned to the land thanks to a miracle of God and allowed to rebuild the once destroyed temple, had been breaking one of God’s cardinal laws: intermarriage. Not only that, they had been taking up “the detestable practices” of the pagan people who had occupied the land in their absence. Rather than live set apart and holy lives, dedicated to God, they had compromised their convictions and powerfully diluted their influence as the people of God. And their leaders had set the tone for this shocking display. Ezra went into mourning. Then he took the issue before the Lord. Standing before the people, he raised his hands and prayed. “O my God, I am utterly ashamed; I blush to lift up my face to you” (NLT). He came before God in a state of utter dismay and embarrassment on behalf of the people of Judah. While he had not participated in their sin, he felt a responsibility for it. He knew that, as a people, they represented God’s children. Their sin was corporate in nature. Rather than living as the chosen, set apart people of God, they had decided to become like the world around them, taking on their sinful practices and bringing shame to the very name of God.
How serious was all of this? Ezra put it in very stark terms, saying, “our sins are piled higher than our heads, and our guilt has reached to the heavens.” This was serious business. He knew that God was fully aware of their sin and was not pleased. In fact, this latest transgression against God was a reminder of all the sins the people of Israel had committed over the centuries and that had led to their many defeats and their ultimate fall to the Babylonians. But here they were, even after 70 years of captivity, doing it all again. Ezra couldn’t believe his eyes. He couldn’t gloss over what he had seen and heard. He couldn’t act as if it hadn’t happened or it didn’t matter. Years earlier, when God had prepared to send the people into the land of Canaan for the very first time, He had told commanded them regarding the people living in the land, “You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the Lord will burn against you, and he will quickly destroy you” (Deuteronomy 7:3-4 NLT). God had known that the outcome of these marriages would be devastating to the spiritual well being of the Israelites. But they had failed to obey God then, and they were repeating the same mistake again. And the saddest part was that they were unashamed of their actions. It reminds me of a statement made by God before the fall of Jerusalem. Speaking of the religious leaders of Israel, God said, “Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush” (Jeremiah 8:12 ESV). But Ezra was ashamed. He was mortified by the actions of his fellow Jews and he brought his shame before God. 
There comes a time when we must accept the reality of our corporate sin as the people of God. While we may be free from personal guilt, we still bear a responsibility to accept and acknowledge the guilt we share as part of God’s family. We cannot afford to overlook the transgressions committed by fellow believers and believe it has no impact on ourselves. Ezra knew that God’s blessings on the people of Israel would be directly influenced by their behavior. Their sin would bring His displeasure. Ezra knew that and so he too personal responsibility to confess their sins before God. Rather than simply claim his own innocence, Ezra confessed their corporate culpability before God. What good was a rebuilt temple and a restored people if they refused to live their lives set apart to God? Perhaps it’s time that we began to see our corporate sin as the people of God with greater clarity and take personal responsibility before God. Or do we feel no shame? Have we forgotten how to blush at our sin?

Not By Might.

He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall a man prevail.  The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed. – 1 Samuel 2:9-10 ESV

1 Samuel 2:1-10

As Hannah wraps up her prayer of praise and thanksgiving to God, she stresses His strength and dominion over everything and anyone that exists. She also emphasizes His constant care over those who remain faithful to Him. It is not by our own strength that we are to survive and thrive, but by resting in the power and on the provision of God. Those who stand against Him will ultimately fail. Those who remain faithful will be exalted. This is not a blanket promise that every child of God will live a carefree life devoid of all trials or troubles. It is a statement of faith in the ultimate sovereignty and justice of God. He will right all wrongs and see to it that all injustices are one day paid for in full. Even in her prayer, Hannah reveals her belief that God will one day send “his king” to rule over the nation of Israel. The people of Israel knew that God had made a promise to Abraham that included a long line of kings, but to this point in the story, there had been none. “I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you” (Genesis 17:6 ESV). Hannah believed that God would fulfill His promise to Abraham and to His people. Just a few short chapters after Hannah prayed this prayer, the people of Israel would demand that God give them a king (1 Samuel 8:4-7). For the people of Israel, a king was seen as a deliverer, protector, leader, and warrior. He would be God’s human representative, providing them with justice, guidance and protection from their enemies. He was act as God’s agent on behalf of the people, standing against the enemies of God and bringing peace and prosperity to the land.

But ultimately, Hannah knew that it would not be by human might that the nation of Israel would stand. It would be by God’s power. He alone was sovereign. Any king God might provide would find success only as long as he relied upon God. It is God who guards the feet of His faithful ones. It is God who cuts off the wicked. It is God who breaks His adversaries in pieces. It is God who will judge the ends of the earth. But the sad truth is, the Israelites would end up forgetting this most important detail regarding God’s sovereignty over them. In demanding a king for themselves, they would be rejecting God as their king. When the prophet Samuel heard the people’s demand for a king, he was displeased, but God told Him, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them” (1 Samuel 8:7-9 ESV). Even after Samuel warned them of what would happen if God granted their request, the people said, “No! But there shall be a king over us,  that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:19-20 ESV). Rather than trusting God to be their judge, King and protector, they were demanding a flesh-and-blood king. But it wasn’t their request for a king that was wrong, it was their rejection of God.

Hannah’s simple prayer reminds us that our faith and hope are to be in God and in Him alone. Our strength and security are to come from Him alone. We are not to turn to anyone or anything else. Even a divinely appointed human king was not to be a replacement for trust in God. David, while hand-picked by God to be the king of Israel, was never to be a substitute for God. He was simply God’s representative. It was the king’s who remained faithful and committed to God who saw their reigns blessed and their kingdoms flourish. Those, like Saul, who rebelled and against Him, saw that their might was insufficient and their reigns, short-lived. God has called each of us to acknowledge His rule and reign over our lives. He has earned the right to be our Lord and Master. It is to Him we must turn in times of trouble. It is He we must trust when things look bleak. It is His power on which we must rely when our strength grows weak. As God told Zerubbabel, when he was faced with rebuilding the destroyed temple in Jerusalem, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6 ESV). Our hope, strength, and salvation must always come from the Lord. He alone is sufficient for all that we may face.

He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands.

The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord‘s, and on them he has set the world. – 1 Samuel 2:6-8 ESV

1 Samuel 2:1-10

The world can be a very frustrating place to live – especially if you are a Christian. We say we believe in a God who is all-knowing, all-powerful and sovereign over all. We claim that He is creator of the universe and that He has full control over everyone and everything. And yet, when we look around, so much of what we see seems out of control. There is sickness and evil everywhere. Floods, famines, wars and injustice of all kinds are taking place all around us. From our perspective it can feel like the crazies are running the asylum. But Hannah’s prayer reminds us that we must have a much more biblical view of God. It is dangerous to attempt to assess God’s character based solely on what we can see. A glance around our planet can easily leave one with the mistaken impression that God is ether indifferent or incapable of doing anything about the injustices taking place. It would be easy to assume that God either lacked the power or the initiative to remedy the problems of the world. But that is where the Bible comes in. It contains a history of God’s interactions with mankind, from the beginning of the world. It shows us just how God operates behind the scenes accomplishing His divine will. In it we read story after story of God’s relationship with His creation, as He sovereignly orchestrates affairs, sometimes blatantly and, at other times, secretly.

The Bible would have us remember that God is in control. It does not matter what we think, believe, see or feel. “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand” (Proverbs 19:2 ESV). “The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples” (Psalm 33:10 ESV). “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9 ESV). “For the LORD of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?” (Isaiah 14:27 ESV). Even God Himself said, “Only I can tell you the future before it even happens. Everything I plan will come to pass, for I do whatever I wish” (Isaiah 46:10 NLT). The Bible reveals to us the sovereignty of God through the lives of the individuals found on its pages. So much of what we read in the Bible seems unjust and unfair. We read of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers. Then we watch as time after time this seemingly unlucky young man finds himself facing setback after setback. He appears to have the worst luck in the world. But the story is less about Joseph than it is about God, who is working behind the scenes, orchestrating every aspect of Joseph’s life in order to accomplish His sovereign will regarding the people of Israel. When we read the story to the end, we realize that God was in control all the time. He had planned every aspect of Joseph’s life in order to put him in place to provide a safe place for His people to live during the coming famine. Even Joseph recognized the hand of God on his life. He was even able to tell his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20 ESV).

Hannah had suffered and struggled with her barrenness. There had to have been times when she wondered where God was in all of this. She had to have had moments of doubt when she questioned God’s care for her. But ultimately, she took her concern to God, because she knew He was the only one who could do anything about it. And she learned that God was in control. He has control over everything from the barren womb to who reigns in the throne room. He lifts up and Her brings down. He humbles and He exalts. He gives life and He takes it away. And while this view of God may make us uncomfortable and raise all kinds of ethical and theological questions, it is the key to understanding the world in which we live. There are those who find this view distasteful and unsatisfactory. They say it paints God as some kind of an evil ogre who sits in heaven wreaking havoc on mankind, indiscriminately taking life and allowing injustice to take place. Their conclusion seems to be that if God puts all kings on their thrones, then He must be held responsible for all the tyrants, dictators and corrupt despots who bring pain and suffering on so many. The question is really whether God causes evil, and the answer is no. All that God does is just and right. He is holy and righteous. He can do no wrong. He can commit no evil. But evil exists because sin entered into the world He had made. Man rebelled against God and the result has been a steady increase in sin, to the point where all looks lost and the world seems to be spinning out of control. But we must remember that God is in control. He is behind the scenes working His divine plan in ways we cannot see or comprehend. What we see with our eyes may not make sense to us. It may seem unfair and unjust. But we must always remember that our God is loving, just, merciful, gracious and sovereignly working His plan – for our good and His own glory.

God is in control. We must believe that truth. He is not done yet. He has a plan and He is working that plan to perfection. We must not allow ourselves to be deceived by what we see. The Bible tells us that God has a plan in place and that He is working out that plan. He has an end in sight. He has a future resolution for all pain, suffering, injustice and sin. We must give God time to do what He has planned to do, and trust that He really does have the whole world in His hands.

God Knows.

Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. – 1 Samuel 2:3-5 ESV

1 Samuel 2:1-10

“The Lord is a God of knowledge.” What an interesting statement for Hannah to make. But it came from her own experience with Him. He had seen her distress, heard her cry for help and He had answered. Now Hannah was expressing praise to Him for all He had done, but also for who He was. Her God was all-knowing. Nothing escaped His notice. He saw all that was going on. He knew of Hannah’s plight. He was fully aware of her barrenness. He also knew of her ill-treatment at the hands of her husband’s second wife. The God to whom Hannah prayed was wise, caring, compassionate and just. He cared for the humble and the hurting. He came alongside the hungry and the hopeless. How did Hannah know this? She had experienced it. She had been the recipient of God’s grace, mercy and love. She had been downcast and He had lifted her up. She had been barren, but God had give her a son. She had downcast and God had lifted her up. She had cried out and God had answered.

This prayer is not a promise that God is going to right every wrong in our lifetime. It is not a guarantee that God will eliminate every problem we face. It is certainly telling us that every barren woman who cried out to God will bear a child. But it is a sobering reminder that our God is sovereign. He knows all. He is fully aware of all that is going on in our lives. If we are facing injustice or ill-treatment, God knows. If we are suffering from hunger or facing unemployment, God knows. If our spouse treats us with contempt, God knows. If our child is living in open rebellion against us and God, He knows. And while God’s answer may not come in just the same way as it did for Hannah, He will answer us when we call out to Him. We can cry out and know that He hears us. He sees us. He cares for us. He has a plan in mind for us. Hannah had no idea what kind of role her son, Samuel, would play in the future affairs of the nation of Israel. She was clueless as to what was going to happen as a result of her dedication of Samuel to God. But she knew that God knew. Just as God had told the people of Israel living in exile in Babylon, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV), we need to learn to trust God with our circumstances. We need to see Him for who He is: a sovereign, just, all-powerful, merciful and loving God. He can exalt the lowly, humble the prideful, bless the barren, knock the arrogant down to size, protect the weak, defeat the strong, and right wrongs.

The key to faith is believing these truths without necessarily having seen them or experienced them. It is to pray expectantly to God, hopefully waiting on His answer because we trust in His character. It is why Hannah cried out to God in the first place. “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head” (1 Samuel 1:11 ESV). She was appealing to God based on what she believed about Him. He looks on the affliction of His servants. He remembers and does not forget. He knows. He sees. He answers. He is just, righteous, good and gracious.

It is interesting to note that in this prayer recorded in verses 1-10 of chapter two of 1 Samuel, there is NOT petition. Hannah does not ask for anything. She simply praises God for who He is. It is a prayer of thanksgiving for what He has done. It is an acknowledgement of His sovereignty and a statement of His character. While Hannah was grateful for the son God had so graciously given her, she would be going home without him. He belonged to God now. And yet, her prayer is one of joy, gratitude and worship. Because the real gift she had received was the knowledge that God loved her and cared about her. Rather than make her son the object of her worship, she focused her attention of the one who had made his birth possible. Too often we worship the gift rather than the Giver. We can end up focusing less on God than on what we hope to get from Him. Our desire for blessings from God can overshadow our worship of God. When we are faced with a difficulty or trial, it is enough to know that God knows. We can share our requests. We can make known our desires. But our faith grows as we learn to trust Him for the outcome. He knows what is best. He will do what is right. We can trust Him.

Our Incomparable God.

And Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the Lord; my horn is exalted in the Lord. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation. There is none holy like the Lord: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God.” – 1 Samuel 2:1-2 ESV

1 Samuel 2:1-10

Hannah’s in one of the more fascinating, yet little known, stories in the Bible. She was a wife who had the unlikely lot of having to share her husband with another woman. To make matters worse, she was barren and unable to have kids, but her husband’s other wife had been prolific. And the cause of her infertility? According to the Scriptures, it was God, because we read, “the Lord had closed her womb” (1 Samuel 1:5 ESV). And as if that was not enough, her trouble was compounded by the ridicule she received from wife number two. “And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb” (1 Samuel 1:6 ESV). As a result of all this, Hannah was distressed and disturbed, and while visiting Shiloh one year to worship and offer sacrifices to God at the tabernacle, Hannah took her problem to God. “And she vowed a vow and said, ‘O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head’” (1 Samuel 1:11 ESV). In due time, and in answer to her prayer, Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son, whom she named Samuel. And when Samuel reached the age of about three years old, Hannah kept her vow to God and brought him to the tabernacle. “For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:27-28 ESV). 

You would think that this would have been a very sad day in Hannah’s life. After all, she had waited so many years and suffered so much ridicule, and now that she had been blessed by God, she was having to give the most precious thing in her life to God. She was having to leave her small child in the hands of others and simply walk away. And while there was no doubt a high degree of sadness in Hannah’s heart that day, what she expressed to God reveals no regret, remorse and unhappiness. Instead, she said, “My heart exults in the Lord; my horn is exalted in the Lord” (1 Samuel 2:1 ESV). Having just placed her young son in the hands of the priest to raise, she rejoiced. She expressed joy in the Lord, thanking Him for what He had done. Not only had He given her a son, God had exalted her horn. That is a unique expression that doesn’t mean a whole lot to us in a modern context. But in an agrarian culture, the horn of an animal was a symbol of strength. An animal lifting up its horn became synonymous with strength and virility. Hannah’s strength had been renewed by God. She was confident and content with her lot in life because God had blessed her. She had once been childless, but now she could rejoice in the fact that God had showed her favor. And she was more than willing to keep her vow to God. He had saved her from her humiliation and allowed her to experience the joy of giving birth to a son.

In all of this, Hannah’s main takeaway was the uniqueness of her God. He was incomparable. Her God was not distant or disinterested in her problems. He cared for her greatly and took a personal interest in her life. He had taken her barrenness and turned it into blessing. He had replaced her humiliation with hope. Yes, she had just given her son to God, but she did so because God had given her son to her. It was the least she could do. She viewed the Giver as greater than the gift. And she could do all this because she recognized the greatness of God. She knew Him to be holy, set apart, and without peer or comparison. Her God was her rock. The Hebrew word she uses is tsuwr and it refers to a rocky cliff where one can find shelter. For Hannah, God was a refuge and protector from her enemies. No more would she have to suffer ridicule and endure the shame of her barrenness. God had done the impossible for her. And again, while she had handed over her son to Eli, the priest, Hannah didn’t wallow in regret and sadness, she rejoiced. She praised God. She was more than willing to give back to the one who had given to her. God hadn’t just given her a son, He had given her hope, joy, strength, and a new capacity to face the future with confidence. Her God was with her. He heard her. And He answered her when she called. As far as Hannah was concerned, her life and her son were both in good hands, because they were in God’s hands.

Me-Centered Praying.

Why are you treating me, your servant, so harshly? Have mercy on me! What did I do to deserve the burden of all these people? Did I give birth to them? Did I bring them into the world? Why did you tell me to carry them in my arms like a mother carries a nursing baby? How can I carry them to the land you swore to give their ancestors? Where am I supposed to get meat for all these people? They keep whining to me, saying, “Give us meat to eat!” I can’t carry all these people by myself! The load is far too heavy! If this is how you intend to treat me, just go ahead and kill me. Do me a favor and spare me this misery! – Numbers 11:11-15 NLT

To be honest, things had not been going very well for Moses. Just recently, the people had been complaining about how difficult things were for them. As a result, God had sent a raging fire to consume them. This had gotten their attention and had led them to cry out to Moses. His pray on their behalf had stayed the hand of God. Then, not long after this incident, the people began to complain about the manna that God had provided for them to eat. They were sick of it and began to reminisce about how well things had been back in Egypt. “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!” (Numbers 11:5-6 NLT). Of course, Moses took the brunt of their complaints because he was their leader. But this complaining was heard by God and He became angry yet again. And this time, Moses shared his anger. He took it personally. Just look at all the personal pronouns he uses in his prayer: Me, myself, I – over and over again. The entire prayer is about himself. He was fed up and worn out. It had been over two years since they had left Egypt and, from Moses’ perspective, it had been filled with days just like this one. He told God he would rather die than put up with another day of this nonsense.

I appreciate Moses’ honesty. This is a man who knew from first-hand experience just how angry God could become when faced with disobedience. Yet he felt somehow safe sharing his anger and frustration with God. From the day God had called him at the burning bush, Moses had grown accustomed to dialoguing with God. He had spent days on the mountain getting the law directly from the mouth of God. He had had countless conversations with God over the years. But at this particular moment, Moses let his frustration be known. He was tired, physically and emotionally. Leading a group of well over 1 million people through the wilderness was anything but easy. That they were doing it reluctantly and unwillingly much of the time made it even more difficult. But the danger of praying during these moments of extreme fatigue is that we can lose sight of the bigger picture. We can suddenly find ourselves making the plan of God all about us. Not once in his prayer does Moses pray for the people of God. He does not intercede on their behalf, even though he knew full well what God would do when He heard their complaints. No, rather than intercede, Moses turns inward. He becomes focused on self. And he begins to question God’s integrity and intentions. He asks, “Why are you treating me so harshly?” He wants to know what he did to deserve this burden? He sarcastically comments, “Did I give birth to them? Did I bring them into the world?” He lets God know that this task is too much for him. He can’t do it. In fact, he tells God that if this is the way He is going to treat him, God might as well just go ahead and kill him now.

This prayer is driven by disappointment and discouragement, but borders dangerously on disrespect. Moses is walking a fine line between being real and rebellious with God. It is one thing to share your fear and frustration with God. It is another to question His motives or doubt His integrity. But it’s interesting to note that God did not reprimand Moses. He didn’t punish him for his insolent behavior. Instead, God gave Moses some instructions. “Gather before me seventy men who are recognized as elders and leaders of Israel. Bring them to the Tabernacle to stand there with you. I will come down and talk to you there. I will take some of the Spirit that is upon you, and I will put the Spirit upon them also. They will bear the burden of the people along with you, so you will not have to carry it alone” (Numbers 11:16-17 NLT). It seems that God saw Moses’ heart and knew that his diatribe had been motivated by exhaustion and extreme fatigue. What Moses needed was help, not punishment. But God’s solution was not based on Moses’ needs alone. His concern was for the well-being of the entire tribe of Israel. He was providing a means by which the people could be led without the leadership being worn out in the process. God was going to take care of Moses, but not at the sacrifice of the well being of the people. God had a greater agenda. He had a bigger plan in mind. So it is important that we recognize that me-centered prayers are not necessarily wrong, but we must remember that God’s answer will be much more global in nature. His Kingdom does not revolve around us. His plans include far more than our personal happiness or comfort. Usually, when the words me or I show up in our prayers, it is a sign that God has taken a back seat in our lives. We have made life all about ourselves rather than about Him. But mercifully and lovingly, God will bring our thoughts back into perspective.