When God Is Not Enough

16 But he said, “As the Lord lives, before whom I stand, I will receive none.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused. 17 Then Naaman said, “If not, please let there be given to your servant two mule loads of earth, for from now on your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the Lord. 18 In this matter may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon your servant in this matter.” 19 He said to him, “Go in peace.”

But when Naaman had gone from him a short distance, 20 Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said, “See, my master has spared this Naaman the Syrian, in not accepting from his hand what he brought. As the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something from him.” 21 So Gehazi followed Naaman. And when Naaman saw someone running after him, he got down from the chariot to meet him and said, “Is all well?” 22 And he said, “All is well. My master has sent me to say, ‘There have just now come to me from the hill country of Ephraim two young men of the sons of the prophets. Please give them a talent of silver and two changes of clothing.’” 23 And Naaman said, “Be pleased to accept two talents.” And he urged him and tied up two talents of silver in two bags, with two changes of clothing, and laid them on two of his servants. And they carried them before Gehazi. 24 And when he came to the hill, he took them from their hand and put them in the house, and he sent the men away, and they departed. 25 He went in and stood before his master, and Elisha said to him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?” And he said, “Your servant went nowhere.” 26 But he said to him, “Did not my heart go when the man turned from his chariot to meet you? Was it a time to accept money and garments, olive orchards and vineyards, sheep and oxen, male servants and female servants? 27 Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and to your descendants forever.” So he went out from his presence a leper, like snow. 2 Kings 5:16-27 ESV

Naaman’s miraculous healing by God made a profound impact on him. His lifelong battle with leprosy had come to an end thanks to the healing power of the God of Israel. Naaman was blown away by the fact that a deity he didn’t even worship had been willing to cleanse him from his disease. And this gracious act and dramatic demonstration of power convinced Naaman that there were no gods but Yahweh. He recognized the God of Israel as the one true God and vowed that he would give up his worship of the gods of Syria.

From now on I will never again offer burnt offerings or sacrifices to any other god except the Lord.” – 2 Kings 5:17 NLT

Naaman was overjoyed and attempted to express his appreciation to Elisha by offering him gifts. But the prophet politely refused to take any kind of compensation for his role in Naaman’s healing. This led Naaman to make a rather strange request of Elisha.

“…please allow me to load two of my mules with earth from this place, and I will take it back home with me.” – 2 Kings 5:17 NLT

It appears that Naaman desired to transfer some of the soil from Samaria back to Syria so that he could worship Yahweh. It was a common belief among the pagans that the gods were geographically bound and ruled over specific regions of the earth. If you recall, when Ben-hadad, the king of Syria had lost a decisive battle against Israel, his advisors convinced him that their defeat had been because they had fought on Yahweh’s home turf.

“The Israelite gods are gods of the hills; that is why they won. But we can beat them easily on the plains.” – 1 Kings 20:23 NLT

The pagans believed that the gods were restricted to certain geographic areas, so Naaman hoped to transfer some of the soil from Samaria back to Damascus. This would give Yahweh a foothold in Syria and provide Naaman a place to worship Him. Elijah made no attempt to correct Naama’s well-intentioned but misguided understanding of Yahweh. He allowed Naaman to load up his donkeys with dirt and then absolved him of any guilt for those times when he would have to join King Ben-hadad in the worship of the false god Rimmon.

At this point, the story takes a dramatic turn. As Naaman turns to leave, Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, decides to take advantage of the situation. Seeking an opportunity to profit personally from Naaman’s generosity, Gehazi approached the Syrian general and told him a completely fabricated story.

“…my master has sent me to tell you that two young prophets from the hill country of Ephraim have just arrived. He would like 75 pounds of silver and two sets of clothing to give to them.”  – 2 Kings 5:22 NLT

Gehazi had been frustrated by the prophet’s rejection of Naaman’s generous offer. So, he concocted a plausible plan that would allow him to enrich himself at Naaman’s expense and without his master’s approval. To Gehazi’s surprise, Naaman doubled the size of his request, providing him with twice as much silver and two additional sets of clothes. And ecstatic over his apparent good fortune, Gehazi promptly hid the ill-gotten gain in his house.

But when Elisha confronted Gehazi about his recent whereabouts, the servant lied yet again. He attempted to deceive the prophet of God but was shocked and dismayed to discover that Elisha knew exactly what had taken place.

But Elisha asked him, “Don’t you realize that I was there in spirit when Naaman stepped down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to receive money and clothing, olive groves and vineyards, sheep and cattle, and male and female servants? – 2 Kings 5:26 NLT

Poor Gehazi had failed to consider that Elisha, as the prophet of God, might be able to see through his little ruse. God had given Elisha a vision of Gehazi’s entire conversation with Naaman. He had seen and heard it all. And he knew all about the gifts hidden in Gehazi’s home. Elisha even revealed that he knew what had motivated Gehazi’s actions. The silver was only a means to an end. He had ambitious plans to become a prosperous landowner, complete with groves, vineyards, livestock, and a household full of slaves to serve his every need. Gehazi was not content to remain the servant of Elisha. He wanted more from life. But his discontent revealed that he had no desire to follow in Elisha’s footsteps. At one time, Elisha had been the servant to Elijah. But when God decided to bring Elijah’s prophetic ministry to an end, He chose Elisha to be his replacement. But it seems that Gehazi had no desire to be the next prophet of God. He had his own plans and they did not include taking up Elisha’s mantel of leadership.

But Gehazi’s dreams of possessions, power, and prominence were about to become a living nightmare. Elisha delivered the devastating news that the gifts he received from Naaman would be accompanied by another unexpected surprise: Naaman’s leprosy.

“Because you have done this, you and your descendants will suffer from Naaman’s leprosy forever.” When Gehazi left the room, he was covered with leprosy; his skin was white as snow. – 2 Kings 5:27 NLT

Gehazi still had the silver and fine clothes that Naaman had given him. But his greed and blatant disregard for God had earned him a permanent reminder of God’s disfavor and judgment. Naaman returned home healed, whole, and ready to worship the God of Israel. But Gehazi would spend the rest of his life bearing the mark of God’s divine judgment. And his ill-fated decision to profit from God’s power would have long-lasting implications that would impact his family for generations to come.

There is another powerful lesson to be learned from this story and it comes from the lips of Jesus. Luke records it in his gospel account. Jesus had returned to His hometown of Nazareth where He visited the local synagogue on the Sabbath. While there, He was invited to do the daily reading from the scroll. On this occasion, Jesus read from the book of Isaiah.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
   and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” – Luke 4:18-19 NLT

Having finished His reading, Jesus sat down and declared to those in the synagogue, “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” (Luke 4:21 NLT). This statement surprised them because He seemed to be claiming to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the long-awaited Messiah. They found that hard to imagine because they knew Jesus as the son of Joseph. He had grown up in their town and there was no way that He could be the Messiah. And Jesus sensed their doubt and disbelief. He knew that they would never accept Him as the Messiah unless He agreed to perform miracles that proved who He claimed to be. That’s when He told them, “no prophet is accepted in his own hometown” (Luke 4:24 NLT). Then Jesus reached back into the history of Israel and used Elijah and Elisha as evidence against His neighbors’ stubborn refusal to believe in Him. 

“But I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown. Certainly there were many needy widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the heavens were closed for three and a half years, and a severe famine devastated the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them. He was sent instead to a foreigner—a widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon. And many in Israel had leprosy in the time of the prophet Elisha, but the only one healed was Naaman, a Syrian.” – Luke 4:24-27 NLT

Jesus reminds His Jewish audience that, back in their day, both Elijah and Elisha were used by God to minister to non-Jews. Elijah rescued the widow of Zarephath, a Sidonian who was suffering from the effects of a famine brought on by the disobedience of the people of Israel. And Elisha had healed a pagan, unbelieving Syrian general, cleansing him from leprosy and restoring him to full health. But it had been Gehazi, the Jewish servant of the prophet of God, who had found himself judged by God and condemned to suffer from leprosy for the rest of his life.

Jesus’ words made an impact on His listeners. They were offended by His inference that they were somehow undeserving of God’s mercy. He seemed to be saying that God would rather show mercy on Gentiles than waste His time with disbelieving Jews. And they were so upset that they attempted to throw Jesus off a nearby cliff. The story that Jesus related concerning Elijah and Elisha had shamed them. They had never made that connection before, and they didn’t like it. In the midst of Israel’s rebellion against Yahweh, the prophets of God had been sent to the Gentiles. And now, Jesus was claiming to be the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel, but His fellow Jews were rejecting His message and ministry. Hundreds of years later, the nation of Israel remained just as stubborn and disobedient as they had been in the days of Elijah and Elisha. So, once again, God would take His offer of salvation and redemption to the Gentiles.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:11-13 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Getting to Know God the Hard Way

16 And they went out at noon, while Ben-hadad was drinking himself drunk in the booths, he and the thirty-two kings who helped him. 17 The servants of the governors of the districts went out first. And Ben-hadad sent out scouts, and they reported to him, “Men are coming out from Samaria.” 18 He said, “If they have come out for peace, take them alive. Or if they have come out for war, take them alive.”

19 So these went out of the city, the servants of the governors of the districts and the army that followed them. 20 And each struck down his man. The Syrians fled, and Israel pursued them, but Ben-hadad king of Syria escaped on a horse with horsemen. 21 And the king of Israel went out and struck the horses and chariots, and struck the Syrians with a great blow.

22 Then the prophet came near to the king of Israel and said to him, “Come, strengthen yourself, and consider well what you have to do, for in the spring the king of Syria will come up against you.”

23 And the servants of the king of Syria said to him, “Their gods are gods of the hills, and so they were stronger than we. But let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they. 24 And do this: remove the kings, each from his post, and put commanders in their places, 25 and muster an army like the army that you have lost, horse for horse, and chariot for chariot. Then we will fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they.” And he listened to their voice and did so. 

26 In the spring, Ben-hadad mustered the Syrians and went up to Aphek to fight against Israel. 27 And the people of Israel were mustered and were provisioned and went against them. The people of Israel encamped before them like two little flocks of goats, but the Syrians filled the country.

28 And a man of God came near and said to the king of Israel, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The Lord is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord.’”1 Kings 20:16-28 ESV

King Ahab found himself in a strange predicament. His capital city, Samaria, was under attack by a confederation of 32 kings, led by King Ben-hadad of Syria. But much to Ahab’s surprise, a prophet of Yahweh had appeared with a plan for Israel’s deliverance.

“Thus says the Lord, Have you seen all this great multitude? Behold, I will give it into your hand this day, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” – 1 Kings 20:13 ESV

The very God whom Ahab and Jezebel had attempted to replace with their false gods had announced that He was going to rescue His disobedient and unfaithful people. And God had told Ahab exactly how the victory would take place.

By the servants of the governors of the districts.” – 1 Kings 20:14 ESV

God was not going to utilize Ahab’s army to fight the Syrians. This is significant because Ahab, like all his predecessors, had assembled a large military force. There is even evidence to that fact, found on an ancient Assyrian stone tablet. It bears an inscription describing the battle of Qarqar between Ahab and his enemy King Shalmaneser III of Assyria. The tablet records the size of the army that assembled to do battle that day: “2,000 chariots and 10,000 men of Ahab king of Israel.”

But on this occasion, God chose to place Ahab’s formidable resources in a secondary position, choosing instead to use “servants” – a group of common people who, when assembled, amounted to only 7,000 in number.

Confident that he would defeat the Israelites, Ben-hadad and his vassal kings were drinking themselves drunk in a pre-victory celebration. So, when scouts arrived with a report that Israelite forces had been seen leaving the city, Beh-hadad had assumed they were bringing news of Israel’s surrender or their decision to continue the battle. While he and his military commanders continued to toast their inevitable victory, the 7,000 servants made their way to the Syrian camp, followed by Ahab and his army.

This surprise attack caught the Syrian forces completely unawares and unable to respond. Led by the 7,000 servants, Ahab’s army quickly routed the Syrians, forcing them to abandon camp and run for their lives. Quickly sobered by this unexpected reversal of fortunes, Beh-hadad managed to escape. But the rest of his forces didn’t fare as well.

And the king of Israel went out and struck the horses and chariots, and struck the Syrians with a great blow. – 1 Kings 20:21 ESV

Notice that the author conveniently eliminates any mention of Ahab’s name. He simply refers to him as “the king of Israel.” He repeats this obvious slight in the very next verse, refusing to give Ahab any credit for the victory. He simply warns him that the battle may be done, but the war is from over.

“Come, strengthen yourself, and consider well what you have to do, for in the spring the king of Syria will come up against you.” – 1 Kings 20:22 ESV

Ben-hadad would be back. He had suffered a devastating defeat, but once he had time to assess what had happened that day, the Syrian king would return, more determined than ever to avenge his loss by destroying the Israelites. And his advisors encouraged his plans by suggesting that his loss had been divinely ordained. In their pagan way of thinking, the only thing that could explain a loss of this magnitude was the intervention of the gods. They rationalized away their defeat by concluding that they had chosen the wrong place to do battle.  They absolved Beh-hadad of any responsibility for the loss by assuring him, “Their gods are gods of the hills, and so they were stronger than we. But let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they” (1 Kings 20:23 ESV).

Little did they know how right they were. Their defeat had been the result of divine intervention, but geographic location had played no role in it. Yahweh was the God of the hills and the valleys. He was sovereign over all the earth. Unlike their false gods, Yahweh was unbound by time and space. The extent of His power was limitless. To the God of Israel, the location and the size of the opposing army made no difference. And so, when Ben-hadad’s advisors counseled him to rebuild his army and restructure his military command, it would prove to be futile advice. They had no idea what they were dealing with and their ignorance led them to make some very dangerous assumptions. First, they assumed that the God of Israel was similar to their own gods – limited in power and vulnerable to defeat. After all, their gods had failed to deliver them. So, if they could find Yahweh’s weak spots, the next battle would go their way.

And Ben-hadad, eager to avenge his loss, took their advice and spent the winter rebuilding his army. He replaced the 32 kings with seasoned military commanders. He ordered the construction of new chariots. And he made plans to take the fight to the valley, where the God of Israel would have no power and play no role in the outcome of the battle.

It is fascinating to consider that all of this was in the sovereign will of God. He had orchestrated all the details concerning the original battle, including Ben-hadad’s escape. God had even told Ahab that the Syrians would return. Ben-hadad’s rebuilding and reconfiguring of his army had been part of God’s plan. The original battle had been intended to restore the Israelites’ belief in God. Prior to their victory, God had told them, “I will give it into your hand this day, and you shall know that I am the Lord” (1 Kings 20:13 ESV).

But God knew that little had changed in Israel. Even after their miraculous defeat of the Syrians, the people still remained unconvinced of Yahweh’s status as the one true God. When spring rolled around, they found themselves facing their former foe again. This time, Beh-hadad showed up with a much larger and better-equipped army than before, and rather than laying siege to the city, they gathered in the Valley of Aphek. Ben-hadad had brought a bigger, better army and had chosen a battleground that was outside the reach of Yahweh’s power. Or so he thought.

The stage was set. The enemy of Israel had returned. And the author paints a rather bleak and foreboding picture of the situation.

Israel then mustered its army, set up supply lines, and marched out for battle. But the Israelite army looked like two little flocks of goats in comparison to the vast Aramean forces that filled the countryside! – 1 Kings 20:27 NLT

Here was Israel, outnumbered and underequipped yet again. They were no match for the Syrians. And this time, they would not have the walls of the city to protect them. They would be fighting on open terrain, facing an army equipped with chariots and horses and motivated by revenge.

But God sent another prophet with a promise of His presence and power.

“Thus says the Lord, ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The Lord is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord.’” – 1 Kings 20:28 ESV

Despite the overwhelming odds, God would provide another victory over their enemy. By the time this day was over, they would know that He was the one true God. But notice that in verse 28, the author leaves out Ahab’s name again. He simply refers to him as “the king of Israel.” God was going to deliver this victory despite Ahab, not because of him. Not only did Ahab deserve to lose this battle, but he also deserved to die for his blatant rebellion against God. But God was acting on behalf of His covenant people. He was doing this to protect the integrity and honor of His name. He had made covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He had given His word to Moses and David. And while Ahab had failed to use his position as the shepherd of Israel to lead them in faithful obedience, God would prove Himself true to His word and committed to His covenant promises.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Prophet Pity Party

But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.

There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” 11 And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. 13 And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” 1 Kings 19:4-14 ESV

While everything had gone extremely well for Elijah on Mount Carmel, he soon found himself disappointed in how things turned out. His challenge of Baal and his false prophets had proven to be successful and, from the immediate reaction of the people, it had appeared that revival had come to the land. And this spiritual renewal of the people seemed to be symbolized by the torrential rain that had brought an end to the three-and-a-half-years of drought. It all appeared as if the nation was headed in the right direction. And as a prophet of God, Elijah longed to see the repentance and restoration of the people of God.

But upon his triumphant return to Jezreel, he was met with intense opposition from the very woman who had begun all this trouble in Israel. Queen Jezebel had become incensed when she heard what had Elijah had done to the 450 prophets of her god. So, she sent Elijah a life-threatening message.

“So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” – 1 Kings 19:2 ESV

She swore an oath to her gods that she would avenge the deaths of the prophets of Baal by killing Elijah within 24 hours. If she failed to do so, her gods could take her life as payment. Despite the abject failure of her god to defeat Yahweh on Mount Carmel, she was still very much a believer. She exhibited no remorse or repentance but instead, warned Elijah that while he had won the battle on Mount Carmel, the war was far from over. She was willing to fight to the death – either his or her own.  And Elijah did not take this news well.

…he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. – 1 Kings 19:3 ESV

The man who had run from Mount Carmel to Jezreel after his victory over the prophets of Baal was now running for his life. But this time, he was powered by fear, not faith. And Elijah didn’t stop running until he had reached Beersheba, the last town of any size in the southernmost region of Judah. Then, leaving his servant behind in the city, Elijah traveled another day’s journey into the wilderness, where he finally stopped to rest.

In a state of deep depression and disillusionment, Elijah asked God to take his life. Since Ahab and Jezebel remained fully committed to their false gods, Elijah had concluded that his prophetic mission had been an abysmal failure. There would be no revival in Israel as long as those two wielded all the power and influence over the people. They were calling the shots and determining the nation’s religious affiliation.

Elijah had run out of faith and energy. He was physically, emotionally, and spiritually spent. And in his despondent state, he cried out to God, saying, “I have had enough, Lord.…Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died” (1 Kings 19:4 NLT). Exhausted, he fell asleep. But he was soon awakened by an angel who commanded him to eat. There beside him was a loaf of bread and a jar of water. Rather than taking Elijah’s life, God had provided his faith-famished prophet with sustenance, miraculously delivered by the hand of an angel. Elijah may have decided that he was done, but God was not done with Elijah. The prophet ate and fell back asleep. 

But his rest was disturbed yet again by another visit from the angel, who had brought more food and a message.

“Get up and eat some more, or the journey ahead will be too much for you.” – 1 Kings 19:7 NLT

Elijah had not reached his final destination. He had run, but not far enough. And when he had abruptly fled Jezreel, he had done so because he thought his life was over. Either Jezebel was going to take his life or God would. But God had other plans. He sent Elijah on a 40-day journey further south, all the way to Mount Sinai. And the food God provided miraculously sustained Elijah for this long and arduous journey.

…the food gave him enough strength to travel forty days and forty nights to Mount Sinai, the mountain of God. – 1 Kings 19:8 ESV

This trip should have taken no more than 15-20 days by foot, but Elijah found himself wandering in the wilderness for 40 days and nights. This number is significant because it corresponds to the 40 years that the disobedient Israelites had spent wandering in the wilderness because they had failed to obey God and enter the land of Canaan (Numbers 13-14). Having heard the report of the spies that the land was full of giants and well-fortified cities, the people of Israel had refused to trust God and made plans to return to Egypt.

“If only we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!” they complained. “Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” – Numbers 14:2-3 NLT

Now, centuries later, Elijah, the prophet of God, had chosen death in the wilderness rather than face the “giants” in his day. He had determined that Jezebel was too big for God. But God had brought Elijah to the very place where He had revealed Himself to the people of Israel. It had been at Mount Sinai that God had given His law to Moses. And it had been on Mount Sinai that God had displayed His glory and demonstrated His unparalleled power.

And when God had safely sequestered Elijah in the recesses of a cave, He asked His doubting prophet a question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9 ESV). He was wanting Elijah to explain the motivation behind his most recent actions, and the prophet responded with a pitiful portrait of his Don-Quixote-like quest to defeat the enemies of God. He deemed himself the last-man-standing, the sole survivor of an ill-fated battle against the forces of evil.

“I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.” – 1 Kings 19:10 NLT

Elijah was throwing himself a pity party and he had invited God to attend. But God was not interested in celebrating Elijah’s accomplishments or validating his woe-is-me mentality. Instead, God instructed His despondent prophet to step out of the cave and into the shadow of Mount Sinai. And as Elijah stood there, God revealed Himself. At first, He came in the form of a fierce windstorm so powerful that it blew boulders off the face of the mountain. Then He appeared in the form of a massive earthquake that shook the ground under Elijah’s feet. Finally, God disclosed Himself to Elijah in the form of fire. And all of these manifestations of God’s glory and power were exactly what the people of Israel had seen when God had appeared to them centuries earlier at the very same spot.

On the morning of the third day, thunder roared and lightning flashed, and a dense cloud came down on the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram’s horn, and all the people trembled.… All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a brick kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently. – Exodus 19:16, 18 NLT

But in Elijah’s case, these dramatic revelations of God, while impressive, were not meant to represent the presence of God. The text clearly states that the Lord was not in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire. Yes, they were manifestations of His greatness, but they were not how God was going to speak to His prophet. After the ear-piercing blast of the wind, the earth-shaking rumble of the earthquake, and the roar of the fire, Elijah heard “the sound of a low whisper” ( 1 Kings 19:12 ESV). Evidently, the three previous displays of God’s power had driven Elijah back into the recesses of the cave. But upon hearing the gentle sound of the whisper, he timidly made his way back outside. And there, in the quiet of that moment, he heard God repeat His previous question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:13 NLT). 

And, once again, Elijah gave the same well-rehearsed reply. And don’t miss the focus of Elijah’s response. It was all about him. He alone had zealously served Yahweh. While everyone else in Israel had turned their backs on God, Elijah had remained faithful and fully committed. He was the last line of defense against the forces of evil, and now he was as good as dead.

Where was God? Even after the dramatic displays of divine power on Mount Sinai, Elijah had been unable to get his mind off of himself. For some reason, he believed that the future of Israel had been dependent upon him, and he had failed. He had let God down. Despite his victory over the prophets of Baal, Ahab and Jezebel were firmly entrenched and in charge of the affairs of the nation, or so Elijah thought. From his perspective, all was lost. But God had news for Elijah. And He had plans for Ahab and Jezebel. God was about to whisper His sovereign secret for Israel’s future in the ear of his self-consumed prophet. And Elijah was going to discover God’s answer to the question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Man of Divided Allegiance

10 At the end of twenty years, in which Solomon had built the two houses, the house of the Lord and the king’s house, 11 and Hiram king of Tyre had supplied Solomon with cedar and cypress timber and gold, as much as he desired, King Solomon gave to Hiram twenty cities in the land of Galilee. 12 But when Hiram came from Tyre to see the cities that Solomon had given him, they did not please him. 13 Therefore he said, “What kind of cities are these that you have given me, my brother?” So they are called the land of Cabul to this day. 14 Hiram had sent to the king 120 talents of gold.

15 And this is the account of the forced labor that King Solomon drafted to build the house of the Lord and his own house and the Millo and the wall of Jerusalem and Hazor and Megiddo and Gezer 16 (Pharaoh king of Egypt had gone up and captured Gezer and burned it with fire, and had killed the Canaanites who lived in the city, and had given it as dowry to his daughter, Solomon’s wife; 17 so Solomon rebuilt Gezer) and Lower Beth-horon 18 and Baalath and Tamar in the wilderness, in the land of Judah, 19 and all the store cities that Solomon had, and the cities for his chariots, and the cities for his horsemen, and whatever Solomon desired to build in Jerusalem, in Lebanon, and in all the land of his dominion. 20 All the people who were left of the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, who were not of the people of Israel— 21 their descendants who were left after them in the land, whom the people of Israel were unable to devote to destruction—these Solomon drafted to be slaves, and so they are to this day. 22 But of the people of Israel Solomon made no slaves. They were the soldiers, they were his officials, his commanders, his captains, his chariot commanders and his horsemen.

23 These were the chief officers who were over Solomon’s work: 550 who had charge of the people who carried on the work.

24 But Pharaoh’s daughter went up from the city of David to her own house that Solomon had built for her. Then he built the Millo.

25 Three times a year Solomon used to offer up burnt offerings and peace offerings on the altar that he built to the Lord, making offerings with it before the Lord. So he finished the house.

26 King Solomon built a fleet of ships at Ezion-geber, which is near Eloth on the shore of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom. 27 And Hiram sent with the fleet his servants, seamen who were familiar with the sea, together with the servants of Solomon. 28 And they went to Ophir and brought from there gold, 420 talents, and they brought it to King Solomon. 1 Kings 9:10-28 ESV

Solomon doesn’t realize it, but he is at the midway point of his 40-year reign. He has just completed the construction of the temple, his royal palaces, and all the buildings that will house his administrative offices.

With these projects behind him, Solomon turns his attention to other pressing matters. First, he makes an attempt to compensate King Hiram of Phoenicia for all the material and financial aid he had provided over the years. Early on in his reign, Solomon had made an agreement with Hiram that provided Solomon with all the lumber he needed for his many construction projects, while Hiram received much-needed grain and olive oil in return.

So Hiram supplied as much cedar and cypress timber as Solomon desired. In return, Solomon sent him an annual payment of 100,000 bushels of wheat for his household and 110,000 gallons of pure olive oil. – 1 Kings 5:10-11 NLT

This agreement had lasted for 20 years, and during that time, Solomon had compensated King Hiram for all the lumber and he had paid wages to all the Phoenician wood-workers who had helped with the various construction projects (1 Kings 5:6). But now that all the work was done, Solomon wanted to make a gesture of goodwill to his friend in Phoenicia. So, he gave Hiram 20 cities located in the land of Galilee along the border between Israel and Phoenicia. This appears to be a gracious act of generosity on Solomon’s part, but it quickly becomes apparent that his gift was a bit disingenuous. When Hiram personally inspected the cities Solomon had given him, his response reveals his deep disappointment.

“What kind of towns are these, my brother?” he asked. So Hiram called that area Cabul (which means “worthless”), as it is still known today. – 1 Kings 9:13 NLT

Evidently, these towns were located in a region of Galilee that was not conducive to agricultural production. Since Phoenicia occupied a narrow strip of land along the Mediterranean Sea, they were woefully deficient in arable farmland. That’s why Solomon’s compensation for the lumber had taken the form of grain and olive oil. At first glance, it would appear that Solomon had given them what they had always needed: Land on which to grow crops. But Hiram described Solomon’s gift as “Cabul,” a word that means “bound” or “sterile.” And while these 20 towns expanded the range of Hiram’s kingdom, they were essentially worthless. They provided no practical value. And what makes Solomon’s gift that much more egregious is that, over the years, Hiram had given Solomon 120 talents of gold. To put that in perspective, that’s nearly 5 tons of gold.

One could almost draw the conclusion that Solomon was somewhat of a Scrooge, a financial tightwad who was more than willing to spend money on himself, but was a bit stingy when it came to others. And it’s interesting to note that Solomon had given away land that had been part of the inheritance given by God to the people of Israel.

It’s most likely that the 20 towns were located in territory that had belonged to the tribes of Asher, Naphtali, and Zebulun. In awarding these cities to Hiram, Solomon was guilty of giving away land that belonged to the people of God. His willingness to give it away, coupled with Hiram’s poor assessment of it, reveals that it held no real value to Solomon.

One of the things that can be learned from studying the history of the Israelites is that every decision they made had long-term ramifications. The book of Judges reveals that, at one point, the tribes of Asher, Napthali, and Zebulun had been given the opportunity to conquer and occupy the land allotted to them by God, but they had failed.

The tribe of Zebulun failed to drive out the residents of Kitron and Nahalol, so the Canaanites continued to live among them. But the Canaanites were forced to work as slaves for the people of Zebulun.

The tribe of Asher failed to drive out the residents of Acco, Sidon, Ahlab, Aczib, Helbah, Aphik, and Rehob. Instead, the people of Asher moved in among the Canaanites, who controlled the land, for they failed to drive them out.

Likewise, the tribe of Naphtali failed to drive out the residents of Beth-shemesh and Beth-anath. Instead, they moved in among the Canaanites, who controlled the land. Nevertheless, the people of Beth-shemesh and Beth-anath were forced to work as slaves for the people of Naphtali. – Judges 1:30-33 NLT

One of the reasons the Phoenicians even existed was because of the failure of these three tribes to do what God had commanded them to do. As a result of their failure to drive out the inhabitants of the land, the Phoenicians occupied territory that was supposed to belong to the people of God. Now, Solomon had just awarded the Phoenicians with even more of Israel’s God-given inheritance.

Solomon’s main focus was the city of Jerusalem. Having willingly forfeited the cities located in the north, Solomon poured his time and energy into expanding his royal capital. To do so, Solomon enslaved thousands of non-Jews to work as laborers on his various rebuilding and enlargement projects. He conscripted Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites who were living in the land of Israel to provide slave labor for his ambitious expansion program. These people were used to extend the walls of Jerusalem, connecting the old City of David with the newer area surrounding the temple complex and the royal palaces and administrative headquarters. They “built towns as supply centers and constructed towns where his chariots and horses could be stationed” (1 Kings 9:19 NLT). Solomon was constructing a virtual theme park dedicated to his greatness; replete with palaces, terraces, stables for his many horses, and barracks for his growing army. 

And it’s important to remember that God had warned that His kings were not to refrain from certain actions.

The king must not build up a large stable of horses for himself… – Deuteronomy 17:16 NLT

The king must not take many wives for himself… – Deuteronomy 17:17 NLT

And he must not accumulate large amounts of wealth in silver and gold for himself… – Deuteronomy 17:17 NLT

Solomon was in violation of each of these commands. And while at this point, it appears that the daughter of Pharaoh was his only wife, it wouldn’t be long before he expanded his household greatly.

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. The LORD had clearly instructed the people of Israel, “You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.” Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines. And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the LORD. – 1 Kings 11:1-3 NLT

Whether it was wives and concubines or horses and chariots, Solomon always seemed to be in building mode. Enough was never enough. He even built a fleet of boats and began an aggressive trading venture that netted him 16 tons of gold. For Solomon, bigger was always better. And yet, late in his life, Solomon would make a sad but telling admission.

I increased my possessions:
I built houses for myself;
I planted vineyards for myself.
I designed royal gardens and parks for myself,
and I planted all kinds of fruit trees in them.
I constructed pools of water for myself,
to irrigate my grove of flourishing trees.
I purchased male and female slaves,
and I owned slaves who were born in my house;
I also possessed more livestock—both herds and flocks—
than any of my predecessors in Jerusalem.
I also amassed silver and gold for myself,
as well as valuable treasures taken from kingdoms and provinces.
I acquired male singers and female singers for myself,
and what gives a man sensual delight—a harem of beautiful concubines.
So I was far wealthier than all my predecessors in Jerusalem,
yet I maintained my objectivity.
I did not restrain myself from getting whatever I wanted;
I did not deny myself anything that would bring me pleasure.
So all my accomplishments gave me joy;
this was my reward for all my effort.
Yet when I reflected on everything I had accomplished
and on all the effort that I had expended to accomplish it,
I concluded: “All these achievements and possessions are ultimately profitless—
like chasing the wind!
There is nothing gained from them on earth.” – Ecclesiastes 1:4-11 NLT

They say, “hindsight is 20-20,” and that would prove to be true in Solomon’s life. He would one day discover that his obsession with constant expansion, endless pleasure, and rampant materialism would never satisfy. But at the midway point of his reign, he didn’t know any better. So, he continued to try and balance his love for the things of this world with his love for God.  He kept accumulating material goods, while at the same time, offering sacrifices to God. Without even realizing it, he was worshiping two gods. Solomon was living out the very thing Jesus would later warn His disciples about.

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.” – Matthew 6:24 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Call to Commitment

54 Now as Solomon finished offering all this prayer and plea to the Lord, he arose from before the altar of the Lord, where he had knelt with hands outstretched toward heaven. 55 And he stood and blessed all the assembly of Israel with a loud voice, saying, 56 “Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he promised. Not one word has failed of all his good promise, which he spoke by Moses his servant. 57 The Lord our God be with us, as he was with our fathers. May he not leave us or forsake us, 58 that he may incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his rules, which he commanded our fathers. 59 Let these words of mine, with which I have pleaded before the Lord, be near to the Lord our God day and night, and may he maintain the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel, as each day requires, 60 that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no other. 61 Let your heart therefore be wholly true to the Lord our God, walking in his statutes and keeping his commandments, as at this day.” 

62 Then the king, and all Israel with him, offered sacrifice before the Lord. 63 Solomon offered as peace offerings to the Lord 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep. So the king and all the people of Israel dedicated the house of the Lord. 64 The same day the king consecrated the middle of the court that was before the house of the Lord, for there he offered the burnt offering and the grain offering and the fat pieces of the peace offerings, because the bronze altar that was before the Lord was too small to receive the burnt offering and the grain offering and the fat pieces of the peace offerings.

65 So Solomon held the feast at that time, and all Israel with him, a great assembly, from Lebo-hamath to the Brook of Egypt, before the Lord our God, seven days. 66 On the eighth day he sent the people away, and they blessed the king and went to their homes joyful and glad of heart for all the goodness that the Lord had shown to David his servant and to Israel his people. 1 Kings 8:54-66 ESV

After Solomon had finished his prayer of dedication for the temple, he turned to address the crowd of spectators who had gathered to witness this auspicious occasion. But it’s interesting to note what the author of 1 Kings leaves out of his description of this event. For some strange reason, he chose to ignore what appears to be a rather significant meteorological phenomenon. Evidently, the close of Solomon’s prayer was accompanied by an extremely powerful sign from heaven that would have been hard to miss or misinterpret. And, fortunately, the book of 2 Chronicles fills in the gaps, providing a detailed description of exactly what happened.

When Solomon finished praying, fire flashed down from heaven and burned up the burnt offerings and sacrifices, and the glorious presence of the Lord filled the Temple. The priests could not enter the Temple of the Lord because the glorious presence of the Lord filled it. When all the people of Israel saw the fire coming down and the glorious presence of the Lord filling the Temple…– 2 Chronicles 7:1-3 NLT

Solomon had been kneeling before the bronze altar that stood in the courtyard, outside the entrance to the temple. Hiram had constructed. On it, there had been placed the bodies of the sacrificial animals which had been dedicated to God. When Solomon closed his prayer,  fire came down from heaven and completely consumed the carcasses of the animals. At the same time, the glory of the Lord filled the temple, most likely in the form of a dark cloud. God had heard the prayer of Solomon and signaled His answer in a powerful and demonstrative way. By consuming the sacrifices, God deemed them to be acceptable. By filling the Holy of Holies with His Shekinah glory, He placed His seal of approval on the temple itself. And this unexpected display of power made a powerful impression on the people.

…they fell face down on the ground and worshiped and praised the Lord, saying,

“He is good!
    His faithful love endures forever!” – 2 Chronicles 7:3 NLT

They were blown away by what they witnessed. And their amazement turned to shouts of praise as they reflected on God’s goodness and unfailing love. He had graciously deemed to accept their sacrifices and to grace the temple with His presence. And they were overjoyed at being able to witness this mind-blowing demonstration of HIs covenant commitment to them. Solomon put into words what the people were thinking.

“Praise the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the wonderful promises he gave through his servant Moses. – 1 Kings 8:56 NLT

Their very presence in the land was evidence of God’s faithfulness. Hundreds of years earlier, He had made a promise to Moses that He would give the people of Israel the land of Canaan as their inheritance. And that promise had been a reiteration of the one He had made to Abraham centuries before that.

Speaking to the audience gathered before him, Solomon expressed his hope that God would show Himself just as faithful to them as He had been to their ancestors. But he also declared his understanding that, besides God’s abiding presence, they would need His divine assistance to remain faithful themselves. He knew that, without God’s help, they were powerless to live in obedience to commands outlined in the Mosaic Law.

“May the Lord our God be with us as he was with our ancestors; may he never leave us or abandon us. May he give us the desire to do his will in everything and to obey all the commands, decrees, and regulations that he gave our ancestors.” – 1 Kings 8:57-58 NLT

As a people, they were completely dependent upon God for all their needs. He was to be their provider, sustainer, and protector. And, as illustrated by the content of his prayer, Solomon was well aware that the people of Israel would falter and fail. Their hearts would wander. Their commitment to God would wain. There would be moments marked by disobedience and rebellion. So, he expressed his hope that God would not forget the content of his prayer.

“may these words that I have prayed in the presence of the Lord be before him constantly, day and night, so that the Lord our God may give justice to me and to his people Israel, according to each day’s needs.” – 1 Kings 8:59 NLT

He was asking that God faithfully fulfill His covenant commitment to them – in spite of them. And Solomon called the people to strongly assess their commitment to God as well.

“may you be completely faithful to the Lord our God. May you always obey his decrees and commands, just as you are doing today.” – 1 Kings 8:61 NLT

After the amazing display they had just witnessed, there was no reason they should ever doubt the faithfulness of God. And the proper response to such a powerful reminder would be a heartfelt commitment to remain obedient to the One who had already done so much for them. And their determination to live in faithful obedience to their good and gracious God would become a witness to the nations around them.

“Then people all over the earth will know that the Lord alone is God and there is no other.” – 1 Kings 8:60 NLT

That was the bottom line. While the temple would serve as a physical manifestation of God’s glory, their lives were meant to be a visible demonstration of how sinful men could have a relationship with a holy God. They were to be witnesses to the world of God’s gracious love and, through their adherence to His commands, they were to illustrate their submission to and faith in His divine will.

Solomon’s address to the people was followed by the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of cattle, sheep, and goats. Gallons upon gallons of blood were spilled. Countless unblemished animals were sacrificed one after the other as offerings to Yahweh. They also offered up burnt offerings, grain offerings, and the fat of peace offerings. And this went on for days – “fourteen days in all—seven days for the dedication of the altar and seven days for the Festival of Shelters” (1 Kings 8:65 NLT).

And when the festivities finally came to an end, “They blessed the king and went to their homes joyful and glad because the Lord had been good to his servant David and to his people Israel” (1 Kings 8:66 NLT)

This was a high point in the history of the Hebrew people. They had a king, just as they had always hoped for, and he was wise, powerful, and wealthy. They were living in a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity. And now, their seven-year effort to complete the temple had culminated with God’s divine seal of approval. He had graciously renewed His covenant commitment to them, and now, all they had to do was remain faithful in return.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”

10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11 And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12 behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. 13 I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. 14 And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.”

15 And Solomon awoke, and behold, it was a dream. Then he came to Jerusalem and stood before the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and offered up burnt offerings and peace offerings, and made a feast for all his servants. 1 Kings 3:5-15 ESV

Early on in his reign, Solomon was a man who loved and honored Yahweh. His devotion to God shows up in the regular trips he made to Gibeon where the tent or tabernacle was located. There he would offer burnt offerings to God, sometimes as many as 1,000 at a time. The divine regulations concerning these sacrifices are found in the book of Leviticus, where they are described as “a burnt offering, a gift of a soothing aroma to the Lord” (Leviticus 1:17 NET).

One on such occasion, after a day of offering unblemished sacrificial animals on the altar to Yahweh, Solomon went to bed that evening and had a dream. In his dream, he was visited by God, who made Solomon a gracious and magnanimous offer: “Tell me what I should give you” (1 Kings 3:5 NET).

Solomon had spared no expense when giving to God the thousands of unblemished animals from his royal flocks and herds. He had willingly offered the best of what he had as a way of expressing his gratitude and devotion to God. And now, God was offering to give Solomon a gift in return. As a blessing for his faithful obedience, Solomon was being extended a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ask for whatever he wanted from God. He was being given carte blanche, a literal blank check from God, to name his own blessing. The God of the universe was opening up the doors to His royal treasuries and telling Solomon that he could have whatever he wanted.

The gravity of this moment should not be overlooked. In a sense, Solomon was being given a test by God, designed to reveal the true nature of his heart. He could ask God for anything, and whatever he ended up requesting from God would expose his hidden desires and priorities.

What would we do if faced with the same opportunity? How would we respond? What would we request from God? Would we ask for wealth, power, popularity, good health, long life? The problem is that many of us already think of God as some kind of cosmic genie-in-a-bottle, an all-powerful, divine being who exists to fulfill our wishes. We would relish the thought of being in Solomon’s sandals, faced with the chance to tell God our one request for Him to fulfill. But this was Solomon’s dream and, when given the opportunity to make his request known to God, he didn’t hesitate for a second.

First, Solomon expressed his gratitude to God for everything He had done already.

“You showed great and faithful love to your servant my father, David, because he was honest and true and faithful to you. And you have continued to show this great and faithful love to him today by giving him a son to sit on his throne. – 1 Kings 3:6 NLT

Solomon was grateful for God’s faithfulness and unfailing love. He was well aware of the many ways in which God had blessed his father, David. And now, he was sitting on the throne of David because it had been ordained by God. His newfound position of power and authority had been a gift from God. He had not deserved it. If anything, Solomon felt ill-equipped and unprepared for such an important role.

“I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around. And here I am in the midst of your own chosen people, a nation so great and numerous they cannot be counted!” – 1 Kings 3:7-8 NLT

When faced with a situation that could have easily exposed his greed and opportunism, Solomon displayed remarkable humility. His mind was not immediately filled with thoughts of riches or glory. His first thoughts were not of a new royal wardrobe, a faster chariot, a bigger palace, or a larger kingdom. His mind focused on his inadequacy and inability to do the job he had been given by God. So, he asked Yahweh for the one thing he knew he lacked: Wisdom.

“Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?” – 1 Kings 3:9 NLT

Solomon already possessed unsurpassed power and tremendous wealth. He didn’t need more of either one. In the short time he had ruled over Israel, he realized that what he lacked was the wisdom to govern God’s people. It had been said of David, that he shepherded the people of Israel with “integrity of heart” and he had “guided them with skillful hands” (Psalm 78:72 BSB). Solomon wanted to do the same thing but knew he was deficient. He did not have what was required to govern wisely and well. So, he asked God to provide what he lacked, and it pleased God to do so. 

“Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies—I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have!” – 1 Kings 3:11-12 NLT

In essence, God said, “Good answer!” He liked what He heard and was more than willing to give Solomon exactly what he had requested, and more.

“And I will also give you what you did not ask for—riches and fame! No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life!” – 1 Kings 3:13 NLT

God blessed Solomon. First, by giving him what he needed most. God provided this newly crowned king with wisdom that would set him apart from every other king on the planet. Solomon would become world-renowned for his wisdom. And, even today, he is often referred to as the wisest man who ever lived. But God also gave Solomon something he didn’t request and didn’t really need. He blessed him with riches and fame. But those unrequested gifts would actually come as a result of Solomon’s wisdom. God didn’t suddenly fill Solomon’s royal treasuries with gold and silver. His great wealth was a byproduct of the wisdom given to him by God. One of the proverbs later collected and compiled by Solomon personifies the voice of wisdom, declaring its many residual benefits.

Riches and honor are with me,
    enduring wealth and righteousness. – Proverbs 8:18 ESV

Solomon would grow wealthy and he would become famous. But those were side benefits. The gift of wisdom, given to him by God, would allow Solomon to govern his kingdom according to divine principles. Every aspect of his decision-making was divinely influenced and inspired. As long as he relied on God, he would experience the blessings of God that accompany the wisdom of God.

God gave Solomon very great wisdom and understanding, and knowledge as vast as the sands of the seashore. In fact, his wisdom exceeded that of all the wise men of the East and the wise men of Egypt. He was wiser than anyone else, including Ethan the Ezrahite and the sons of Mahol—Heman, Calcol, and Darda. His fame spread throughout all the surrounding nations. He composed some 3,000 proverbs and wrote 1,005 songs. He could speak with authority about all kinds of plants, from the great cedar of Lebanon to the tiny hyssop that grows from cracks in a wall. He could also speak about animals, birds, small creatures, and fish. And kings from every nation sent their ambassadors to listen to the wisdom of Solomon. – 1 Kings 4:29-34 NLT

Fame and fortune were not the gift. Wisdom was. And as Proverbs 8 clearly points out, the wisdom of God is of far greater value than any residual benefits it may bring.

Take my instruction instead of silver,
    and knowledge rather than choice gold,
for wisdom is better than jewels,
    and all that you may desire cannot compare with her. – Proverbs 8:10-11 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

To God Be the Glory

27 And they came again to Jerusalem. And as he was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him, 28 and they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” 29 Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30 Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” 31 And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 32 But shall we say, ‘From man’?”—they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet. 33 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” Mark 11:27-33 ESV

For the disciples, it probably didn’t take long before the image of the withered fig tree was replaced with the thought of being able to wield power that could cast mountains into the sea. These men had a habit of hearing only what they wanted to hear when Jesus spoke. The true meanings behind most of His lessons tended to escape them. And this one had been no different. When they had heard Jesus say, “I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours” (Mark 11:24 NLT), they were probably thrilled. The very thought of having their every wish fulfilled, only by asking God, would have been a dream come true. And it’s fair to assume that the initial ideas that filled their heads were not what Jesus had in mind.

So, as they left the withered tree behind and continued their trip into the city of Jerusalem, the disciples were probably deep in thought about all the incredible implications behind what Jesus had just told them. But soon, they found themselves back in the temple courtyard, standing in the very place where Jesus had staged a one-man riot the day before. Less than 24-hours earlier, Jesus had ransacked the booths of the vendors selling overpriced sacrificial animals. He had overturned the tables of the moneychangers who were charging high fees to the thousands of foreign pilgrims who needed temple currency to purchase their sacrificial offerings. Driven by righteous indignation and motivated by zeal for the holiness of His Father’s house, Jesus had turned the carnival-like atmosphere of the temple courtyard into chaos and confusion.

Now, He had returned, and the first people to greet Him were “the chief priests and the scribes and the elders” (Mark 11:27 ESV). These were the representatives of the Sanhedrin, the high council of the Jews. This august body was comprised of some of the most wealthy and influential men in the city of Jerusalem. They also happened to be members of the primary religious sects within Judaism: The Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes. Some were experts in the Mosaic Law. And all were knowledgeable of the Hebrew Scriptures. They were powerful men who wielded great authority and saw Jesus as a threat to their way of life. And His little escapade the day before had been a public attack on the entire system of greed and graft for which they were responsible.

So, when they saw Jesus, they immediately confronted Him, demanding to know the reasons for His unacceptable and costly actions the day before.

“By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” – Mark 11:28 ESV

By this time, the damage Jesus had done the previous afternoon had been repaired, and things had returned to normal. These men were probably there to protect their investments and to ensure that there would be no repeat performance of the previous day’s disruptive and costly episode.

Their question to Jesus revolved around authority. In essence, they were asking Jesus to explain why He thought He had the right to do what He did. And they seem to fear that He might try to do it again. The actions of Jesus had been a direct assault on their authority as the religious leaders of Israel. In their minds, Jesus had invaded their territory and begun a war on their way of life. And as the supreme rulers over the nation, they saw His actions as nothing less than insurrection. He was attacking their right to rule, and they wanted to know what possessed Him to do such a thing.

Jesus could have answered their question by declaring Himself to be the Son of God. He could have told them that He was the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. He was “the anointed one” (Hebrew – mashiyach). But He knew they would refuse to accept those answers. In their minds, they had already determined that Jesus had no authority. He was a loose cannon, operating on His own initiative and in direct opposition to their authority. And nothing Jesus could say would change their minds.

So, Jesus made them a proposition. He offered to answer their question, but only if they could answer one He had for them.

“Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” – Mark 11:30 ESV

Jesus subtly changes the focus from Himself to John the Baptist. But notice that He kept the emphasis of His question on the topic of authority. By shifting their attention to John the Baptist, Jesus was forcing them to consider the true source of all authority.

John had burst onto the scene more than 33 years earlier. This strangely dressed man had suddenly shown up in the Judean wilderness, preaching a message that the Kingdom of Heaven was near and calling the people of Israel to repentance. And a large part of his ministry involved the baptism of all who were willing to repent and confess their sins.

People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. – Matthew 3:5-6 NLT

John had attracted large crowds of people, who believed him to be a prophet of God. Even Herod Antipas, the Roman-appointed puppet-king of Israel, had understood John’s reputation among the people.

Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of a riot, because all the people believed John was a prophet. – Matthew 14:5 NLT

Herod ultimately put John to death, but even this did nothing to diminish John’s standing among the people. So, when Jesus asked the religious leaders to state the source of John’s authority to baptize, He knew they would refuse to answer. No matter what they said, they would find themselves in a no-win situation. These men had no love affair with John. After all, while he had been alive, he had treated them with disrespect and disdain. At one point, he had publicly humiliated them, calling them a “brood of snakes” and exposing them as spiritual frauds.

“Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.” – Matthew 3:8-10 NLT

But if they gave the answer they wanted to give and said that John was operating on his own initiative, they faced the ire of the people. On the other hand, if they tried to placate the people by admitting that John’s authority was from heaven, it would reveal that their opposition to John had really been aimed at God.

After weighing all their options, the religious leaders decided that an admission of ignorance was the safest route to take. But when they failed to answer Jesus’ question, He refused to answer theirs. Their silence condemned them.

John had been a prophet sent by God. Everything he said and did was on behalf of God. His entire mission had been to herald the coming of the Messiah.

“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” – John 1:23 ESV

And yet, the religious leaders of Israel had rejected his mission and message. When John had announced Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV), the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes had refused to believe it. They attributed the miracles of Jesus to Satan. They condemned Him for His association with sinners. They accused Him of being a drunk. They spread rumors that He was illegitimate. They declared Him to be guilty of blasphemy for repeatedly claiming to be the Son of God. And this charge had led them to try and stone Him to death.

These men refused to accept Jesus because they could not bring themselves to believe that His power and authority were from God. While they were unable to explain how Jesus did all the things He did, they refused to even consider that He might actually be the Messiah. To do so would require that they relinquish their own authority, and their over-inflated egos wouldn’t allow them to do that.

Since they were unwilling to answer His question, Jesus responded, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things” (Mark 11:33 ESV). He owed them no explanation. He had provided them with ample evidence that He was who He claimed to be. His miracles had spoken for themselves. And yet, time and time again, these stubbornly self-righteous men had refused to recognize and acknowledge the God-given authority of Jesus. And one of the greatest assessments of the sheer stupidity of their spiritual blindness came from the lips of a man who had been the undeserving recipient of Jesus’ divine authority.

“He healed my eyes, and yet you don’t know where he comes from? We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he is ready to hear those who worship him and do his will. Ever since the world began, no one has been able to open the eyes of someone born blind. If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it.” – John 9:30-33 NLT

Now, back to the lesson of the withered fig tree. When the disciples had witnessed the remarkable power of Jesus to condemn the tree to death, they had been amazed. And when He had told them, “you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen” (Mark 11:23 NLT), they had been thrilled. He was offering them access to the same kind of authority He had. All they had to do was ask, and anything was possible. But there had been a caveat. Jesus had told them to “have faith in God” (Mark 11:22 ESV). This was not about their authority; it was about God’s. All that John had accomplished had been by God’s authority and for God’s glory. The same was true of Jesus. And the same was to be true of His disciples. The availability of God’s authority would be so they might accomplish God’s will and display His glory. The scribes and Pharisees were in it for their own glory. And Jesus was trying to help His disciples understand that faith in God was the key to bringing God glory, rather than self.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Men on Mission

And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. 10 And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11 And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. Mark 6:7-13 ESV

In the closing half of verse 6, Mark reveals that Jesus “went about among the villages teaching.” At this point in His ministry, Jesus is concentrating His energies and efforts on the region of Galilee. Having been rejected by the citizens of His own hometown of Nazareth, Jesus has moved on, taking His message of the Kingdom to other towns and villages where He will find a more receptive audience.

In this section, Jesus, as Master and Teacher, begins to prepare His disciples for the role they will play when the time comes for Him to return to His Father’s side in heaven. These men had been hand-picked by God (John 17:6) and assigned to serve by Jesus’ side, but their greater contribution to the Kingdom would come after the Son’s eventual departure.

For some time now, they have been witnesses to the witnesses of Jesus. They have seen Him cast out demons, heal the sick, minister to the needy, display His power over the elements of nature, and confound the people with His preaching and parables. But now, they were going to become participants rather than spectators. These men were going to be given an opportunity to practice what Jesus has preached. Instead of standing in the background safely observing the ministry of Jesus, they will find themselves on the frontlines of the effort to declare the arrival of the kingdom of heaven. And to validate their message, they will be given unprecedented power to perform miracles, just like their Lord and Master.

Jesus chooses to send them out in pairs, most likely in keeping with the Old Testament teaching concerning witnesses. Since these men would be declaring the news regarding the kingdom’s arrival and the reality of Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, a second witness would serve to validate that message. And Jesus knew that these men would need the strength and encouragement that comes with companionship.

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. – Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 NLT

This entire enterprise was intended for the benefit of the disciples. While the nature of their message and ministry was vital, Jesus was giving them this assignment to prepare them. As He has been doing all along, Jesus is attempting to strengthen their faith. Despite their constant exposure to His teaching and their front-row seats to His amazing displays of power, they still struggled to comprehend His true identity. Even after witnessing Him calm the winds and waves on the Sea of Galilee, they had expressed their shock and displayed their uncertainty.

“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” – Mark 4:41 ESV

Jesus knew that His disciples remained unconvinced as to who He was. They wanted to believe He was the Messiah of Israel, but so much of what He said and did seemed to contradict their expectations and aspirations. They couldn’t deny His power and it was clear, from the crowds that followed Him wherever He went, that Jesus was growing in popularity. But His ongoing disputes with the religious leaders confused the disciples. How did He expect to unite the people and lead them in victory over the Romans if He continued to alienate the most powerful men in the nation?

But the disciples had much to learn about the Kingdom and the reign of the Messiah. They were going to have to repent of their preconceived ideas concerning God’s plans for His people. They had their own visions of the future and when Jesus did not do things the way they expected, they found themselves wrestling with doubt.

So, this brief mission on which they were being sent was meant to put them on the frontlines of the battle and bolster their belief in the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. As He prepared to send them, He gave them “authority over the unclean spirits” (Mark 6:8 ESV). They would find themselves possessing the very same power He had displayed and that had allowed Him to cast out the demons from the Gadarene demoniac (Mark 5:1-20). But, while they would have access to great power, they were to place themselves on the mercy and provision of God. Jesus instructed them to travel light and to trust God for all their needs.

He told them to take nothing for their journey except a walking stick—no food, no traveler’s bag, no money. He allowed them to wear sandals but not to take a change of clothes. – Mark 6:9 NLT

Matthew reveals that Jesus provided strict instructions regarding the destination of the disciples. They were to focus their efforts on the Jews and were prohibited from ministering among the Gentiles and Samaritans.

“Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.” – Matthew 9:5-8 ESV

Their message was clear. They were to declare the same news that John the Baptist had preached in the wilderness of Judea. It was the same message of the kingdom that Jesus had been spreading throughout Galilee. And to validate their message, they were given the power to perform the same kind of miracles that Jesus did. These signs and wonders would provide proof that their message was from God and that its content should be heard and heeded.

And, Jesus warns, if anyone should refuse to listen to their message, the disciples are to walk away. They are not to waste their time on those who reject the message of the kingdom and the call to repentance. He instructs them to “shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them” (Mark 6:11 ESV). This symbolic act was meant to condemn the unrepentant Jews as unbelieving, defiled, and subject to divine judgment. And Jesus knew that there would be plenty of Jews who would refuse to listen to His disciples. These men would experience the same level of rejection Jesus had encountered in Nazareth.

All of this is in keeping with the words of John found in the opening chapter of his gospel.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:11-13 ESV

Sadly, all those Jews who believed themselves to be the children of God but who refused to accept Jesus as the Son of God would find themselves rejected by God.

Equipped with divine power and a clear message, the disciples made their way into the far reaches of Galilee. They called the people to repentance and “cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them” (Mark 6:13 ESV). This brief but eventful venture would do wonders for the disciples’ confidence and go a long way in solidifying their faith in Jesus. It would provide them with a glimpse of the future when they would receive the Great Commission from their resurrected Lord and Savior. The day was coming when He would depart and turn over the ministry of the gospel to these very same men. And they would take the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earth. But for now, they were being given a taste of things to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Resurrection and the Life

17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” 

28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. John 11:17-29 ESV

Jesus delayed. Lazarus died.

Those two statements sum up the first 16 verses of this chapter. After having received the news that His good friend Lazarus was ill, Jesus had chosen to delay His departure for two days. When He had finally decided to leave Bethany beyond the Jordan for Bethany near Jerusalem, it took another whole day to make the journey. So, by the time Jesus arrived on the scene, Lazarus had been dead and buried for four days.

This entire scene is intended to create an emotional disconnect in the mind of the reader. The mental picture John paints is meant to elicit feelings of pity, confusion, and even frustration. And these emotions are given voice by the two sisters who had sent word to Jesus about their brother’s desperate condition. Martha was the first to become aware of Jesus’ arrival, and she rushed out to greet Him, immediately expressing to Him her despair.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. – John 11:21 ESV

Martha’s if-then statement to Jesus reveals her firm belief that had He arrived sooner, He could have healed her brother. But He was too late. There are some who read a hint of anger in her words and assume that she is berating Jesus for His late arrival. While that reaction would be understandable considering the circumstances, it seems unlikely based on the rest of Martha’s statement to Jesus.

“But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” – John 11:21 ESV

She is not angry and she has not lost faith in Jesus. In spite of what has happened, she still believes that Jesus has the ear of His Heavenly Father and is able to ask and receive whatever He requests. With this statement, Martha is not suggesting that Jesus could ask God to raise her brother from the dead. She is simply expressing her continued belief in Jesus despite her devastating disappointment. That Martha harbored no expectations of resurrection is made evident when Jesus later commanded the stone to be moved from the tomb. Martha immediately responded, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days” (John 11:39 ESV). Her brother’s resuscitation was the last thing Martha expected.

This scene is filled with contradictions and contrasts. Mary and Martha are accompanied by mourners and friends who have gathered to console them. There is an overwhelming sense of loss and sadness because of the death of Lazarus. But for the reader, there should be a sense of eager expectation because the light of the world has just arrived on the scene. The words that Jesus spoke to His disciples take on a special significance at this point in the story.

“This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” – John 11:4 ESV

But the 12 men who had accompanied Jesus to Bethany would have wrestled with the meaning behind those words because they had just heard the same news that Jesus had: Lazarus was dead. How would God receive glory now? How did Jesus intend to be glorified through the death of His friend? It all made no sense. The entire situation seemed hopeless and maddeningly pointless.

Yet the reader has been provided with 10 chapters of information that should act as a corrective filter through which to view this unfolding scene. John had opened his gospel with the declaration that Jesus, the Word of God, had taken part in the creation of all things.

All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” – John 1:3-4 ESV

He was the original giver of life. And His incarnation had not diminished His capacity to bestow life. In fact, Jesus had told Nicodemus that He had come to earth so that He might provide eternal life.

“…whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 ESV

The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life…” – John 3:35-36 ESV

Yes, Lazarus had died. But in spite of what Martha, Mary, their friends, and the disciples of Jesus believed, Lazarus’ death was not the end of the story. Yet when Jesus informed Martha, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23 ESV), the full import of His words escaped her. From her limited perspective, Lazarus’ death had been final, but she believed that she would one day see him again at the final resurrection. Her belief in the future bodily resurrection of the dead was based on several Old Testament passages.

Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise.
    You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
For your dew is a dew of light,
    and the earth will give birth to the dead. – Isaiah 26:19 ESV

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. – Daniel 12:2 ESV 

That Martha was thinking of this future form of resurrection is made clear by her response to Jesus.

“I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” – John 11:24 ESV

And rather than refute her belief in that future reality, Jesus provides her with additional information intended to clarify the nature of that future resurrection.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” – John 11:25-26 ESV

While Martha’s mind was focused on a future event, Jesus was redirecting her attention to a present reality: Him. The very one who was life and had the power to give life was standing right in front of her. And He declared Himself to be the resurrection and the life. There was no present life or future resurrection apart from Him. His power had not been impacted by the death of Lazarus. And while physical death was an inevitable and unavoidable reality for every human being, it was not the end. The death of Lazarus was not final. It was not the end of the story. And Jesus makes it perfectly clear that, though Lazarus had died, he would live again. It was just as Jesus had told the religious leaders.

“For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” – John 5:29 ESV

But the key to resurrection and eternal life was belief. Jesus had made that point perfectly clear: “everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:26 ESV). And when Jesus asked Martha whether she believed, she responded, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (John 11:27 ESV).

Martha responded affirmatively. She verbally confessed to her belief that He was the Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. He was the fulfillment of all the prophets had promised. But it seems clear that Martha had not fully comprehended all that Jesus had said to her. His declaration that He was the resurrection and the life had gone over her head. And the way she describes Jesus to her sister seems to verify that little had changed regarding her assessment of Jesus and His identity. John describes Martha as running to get her sister Mary and telling her, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you” (John 11:28 ESV).

Martha says nothing about Jesus being the resurrection and the life. There is no hint in her words that she anticipated something supernatural was about to happen. She simply informed her sister that “the Teacher” had arrived.

But little did Martha know that Jesus was about to back up His words with action. He was going to put on a never-before-seen display of power that would not only defy their limited expectations but the laws of nature. The Teacher was about to give them a lesson they would never forget.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Disbelief of Family and Foes

1 After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him. Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand. So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” For not even his brothers believed in him. Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.” After saying this, he remained in Galilee.

10 But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private.John 7:1-10 ESV

In John’s gospel, Jerusalem appears to be ground-zero. While he dedicates a good portion of his narrative to events that took place outside of Judea, he repeatedly refocuses the reader’s attention back to the capital city. Jerusalem was the home of God’s house, the temple that had been reconstructed by Herod. It was where the annual feasts and festivals, prescribed by God to Moses, were celebrated. This celebrated city, while just a shadow of its former glory under the reigns of David and his son, Solomon, was still the epicenter of the Hebrew nation. It was home to the revered and feared Jewish religious council, the Sanhedrin. And it had become the focal point of the conflict between these well-established religious leaders and Jesus, whom they viewed as nothing more than a charlatan and a troublesome threat to their power and authority.

With the opening of chapter seven, John establishes the inherent danger the city of Jerusalem posed for Jesus. This was the very place where, in the early days of His ministry, Jesus had caused an uproar in the temple courtyard.

In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. – John 2:14-15 ESV

This emotional display had won Jesus no friends among the religious elite of Israel. They questioned His authority to do what He had done, and they began to view Him as nothing more than a showboating, attention-grabbing troublemaker from Galilee. This unknown Rabbi from Galilee had been drawing larger and larger crowds with His so-called miracles and ridiculous claims to be the Son of God. To the Pharisees and Sadducees, Jesus was a lunatic and possibly even demon-possessed. And He had clearly committed the sin of blasphemy by claiming equality with God.

This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. – John 5:18 ESV

As John continues to chronicle the life and ministry of Jesus, he purposely builds the sense of tension between the Messiah of Israel and those who had set themselves up as the religious gatekeepers of the nation. And Jerusalem becomes center-stage for what will be the ultimate showdown between Jesus and these men. But as will be revealed, this conflict will prove to be a spiritual battle between Almighty God and Satan, the prince of this world.

As chapter seven opens, John reveals just how dangerous things had become for Jesus. Due to the growing animosity of the Sanhedrin, Jesus had determined to spend most of His time in Galilee, rather than in Judea because He knew they were out to kill Him. Jesus did not fear death, but He was simply sticking to the divine timeline given to Him by His Heavenly Father. It was just as He had told His mother at the wedding in Cana, “My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4 ESV).

John reveals that the “Feast of Booths was at hand” (John 7:2 ESV). This was one of three annual feasts that required the mandatory attendance of all Jewish males.

“Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths. They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed. – Deuteronomy 16:16 ESV

But these festivals became annual pilgrimages for the Jews, drawing large crowds to Jerusalem. The Feast of Booths was to be a commemoration of God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt and a joyous celebration of His provision and protection of them during their 40 years in the wilderness. And when they gathered in Jerusalem, they were not to come “empty-handed,” but they were to bring tithes and offerings to present to God.

The key theme of these opening verses is that of disbelief. It seems quite clear that the Jewish religious leaders did not believe in Jesus. They had even discounted His miracles by describing them as the work of Satan, not God (Matthew 12:24). But John adds another interesting group to the list of the unbelieving: The half-brothers of Jesus. These were men who had grown up in the same household with Jesus. They were intimately familiar with Him. And yet, they were not quite convinced that Jesus was who He claimed to be. In fact, at one point, they described His actions as those of a madman (Mark 3:21). Yet, in this case, they seem to be goading Jesus to use the Feast of Tabernacles as the opportunity to make a name for Himself.

“Leave here and go to Judea, where your followers can see your miracles! You can’t become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!” – John 7:3-4 ESV

It’s impossible to know the motivation behind their words. Were they sincere or merely being sarcastic? John doesn’t tell us. But he does make it clear that “not even his brothers believed in him” (John 7:5 ESV). It would appear that they were prompting Jesus to use the Feast of Booths as a platform for displaying His miraculous powers. He was wasting His time doing miracles in Galilee. If He wanted to be famous, He was going to have to go prime-time, and what better venue than Jerusalem during one of the most popular feasts of the year?

But Jesus responded to their goading by saying, “My time has not yet come…” (John 7:6 ESV). There is probably a double-meaning to His response. First of all, it was not yet time for Jesus to be “glorified.” They were wanting Him to put on a display of His glory by performing miracles in Jerusalem. But that time had not yet come. Jesus was on God’s schedule, not man’s. Their counsel was eerily similar to that of Satan when he had tempted Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-10) He had attempted to get Jesus to display His glory ahead of schedule and out of keeping with God’s will.

But the second meaning behind His response was that it was not yet time for Him to attend the feast. Jesus told His brothers, “your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. You go up to the feast…” (John 7:6-8 ESV). They had nothing to fear. Because they did not believe Jesus to be the Messiah, they were not at risk. They could walk into Jerusalem unafraid and unmolested. But Jesus knew that He would receive a dramatically different welcome. So, He delayed His entry into Jerusalem. John makes that point clear in verse 10.

But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private. – John 7:10 ESV

Jesus would be obedient and obey the law requiring all Jewish males to attend the feast. But He would not do so in a way that might jeopardize His mission. His half-brothers were wanting Jesus to make a “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem, to show up in a blaze of attention-getting miracles. But it was not yet time. Everything Jesus did was in keeping with His Father’s will and in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. And it all had to be done according to plan.

But central to these opening verses is the theme of disbelief. The Jewish leadership refused to believe in Jesus. But so did His own family members. And jealousy and pride were probably determining factors for both groups. The Pharisees and Sadducees were envious of Jesus’ popularity. They felt threatened by His growing fame and frustrated by their inability to discredit His claims. But there was likely a bit of jealousy and pride motivating Jesus’ own family members. Here was their older brother becoming a celebrity and they were left in the background, wondering just how famous their sibling would become and whether they would benefit from His meteoric rise to fame and fortune. But they did not believe in Him. They refused to accept Him as the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel. To both groups, Jesus was just a man. To the religious leaders, He was a man who posed a threat to their power and authority. To His half-brothers, Jesus was a man who offered them an opportunity to enjoy fame and possible fortune. But both groups failed to recognize who He was and what He had come to do.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson