Keep Your Eye On the Prize

35 “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, 36 and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! 39 But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

41 Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? 43 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 44 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 45 But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, 46 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. 47 And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. 48 But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. – Luke 12:35-48 ESV

Jesus is attempting to give His disciples a future-oriented mindset. He is not suggesting that they be so heavenly-minded that they are no earthly good, but that they realign their priorities with those of God. That is why He told them not to allow their minds to become focused on temporal concerns like food and clothing. Those are the kinds of things that “dominate the thoughts of unbelievers all over the world” (Luke 12:30 NLT). Instead, Jesus reminded His followers that since God already knows all their needs before they even ask, they can spend their time and energy focusing on the coming kingdom of God.

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.” – Luke 12:31-32 NLT

At this point, so much of what Jesus is revealing to the disciples is at odds with their expectations of the Messiah. They were expecting an immediate reversal of fortunes. Like the man who asked Jesus to intercede on his behalf and force his brother to divide the family inheritance with him, the disciples were expecting Jesus to enrich their lives by fulfilling all the promises of God – immediately. Once they had decided that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel, their hopes for national revival and political renewal had been energized. They fully expected Jesus to set up His earthly kingdom at any moment and were taken aback by His suggestion that it might not come for some time.

Yet, that is exactly what Jesus attempts to convey in this next section of His lecture. He warns His disciples to remain in a state of constant readiness, prepared for the future day when the kingdom comes in all its fulness.

Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning, as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast.” – Luke 12:35-36 NLT

Jesus packs a great deal of eschatological content into this one simple statement. With it, He begins to unveil some of the aspects of God’s divine redemptive plan of which the disciples were clueless. In their understanding of how the end times would work, the arrival of the Messiah would usher in the “last days” – a time in which the fortunes of Israel would be dramatically reversed. The Messiah would be a descendant of David who would reinstitute the Davidic dynasty by defeating all those who stand opposed to God and reclaiming the right to rule as Israel’s King. And they believed it was all going to happen in their lifetimes. That’s why James and John had asked Jesus to allow them to sit in places of honor next to Him, one on His right and the other on His left, when He sat on His glorious throne (Mark 10:37). They were fully expecting His earthly reign to begin at any moment.

But Jesus told them they were going to have to wait because what they were expecting was not going to come for some time. In fact, it would not happen in their lifetimes. Jesus provides His shell-shocked disciples with a parable that was intended to illuminate some of the details concerning the chronology of the end times. The “master,” clearly a reference to Himself, was going to go away but would one day return. As faithful servants, they were to live in a constant state of expectation and preparation, trusting in their master’s ultimate return. There would be other things that had to take place before He could come back, such as the wedding feast. This appears to be a reference to what has come to be known as the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. It is a key end-times event that involves Jesus and His bride, the Church. We read about it in the book of Revelation.

“Praise the Lord!
    For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.
Let us be glad and rejoice,
    and let us give honor to him.
For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb,
    and his bride has prepared herself.
She has been given the finest of pure white linen to wear.”
    For the fine linen represents the good deeds of God’s holy people.”

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” – Revelation 19:6-9 NLT

This event takes place immediately after the Rapture of the Church.

What John’s vision in Revelation pictures is the wedding feast of the Lamb (Jesus Christ) and His bride (the Church) in its third phase. The implication is that the first two phases have already taken place. The first phase was completed on earth when each individual believer placed his or her faith in Christ as Savior. The dowry paid to the bridegroom’s parent (God the Father) would be the blood of Christ shed on the Bride’s behalf. The Church on earth today, then, is “betrothed” to Christ, and, like the wise virgins in the parable, all believers should be watching and waiting for the appearance of the Bridegroom (the rapture). The second phase symbolizes the rapture of the Church, when Christ comes to claim His bride and take her to the Father’s house. The marriage supper then follows as the third and final step. It is our view that the marriage supper of the Lamb takes place in heaven between the rapture and the second coming (during the tribulation on earth). – http://www.gotquestions.org

Jesus is beginning to reveal aspects of God’s plan of which the disciples were unaware. They had no concept of the Church at this time. There was no way for them to understand that Jesus had come so that men of every tribe, nation, and tongue might come to believe in Him as their Savior. With His death, burial, and resurrection, salvation would be made available to all. And upon His ascension, the Holy Spirit would come upon the disciples, empowering them to take the Gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). That momentous occasion would usher in the church age, which will one day end with the Rapture of the Church. That will then bring about the seven years of Tribulation, at the end of which Jesus will return to earth as the conquering King of kings and Lord of lords.

It is to that event that Jesus wants His disciples to focus their attention. He was not suggesting that they would live long enough to witness it, but He wanted them to understand that His coming was tied to that future end-time event. Jesus continues to emphasize the idea of a reward, and that reward was the coming Kingdom of God. That’s why He told them, “it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom” (Luke 12:32 NLT). They were to focus their attention on the future fulfillment of the kingdom, not on some temporal version of it that they hoped would come in their lifetimes.

Jesus didn’t want the disciples to waste their time pursuing earthy pleasures and treasures. Instead, they were to store up treasure in heaven, where “no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it” (Luke 12:33 NLT). The idea was to live with the end in mind. Jesus had come, but He was going to leave. And yet, He would also return, first for His bride, the Church, then at the end of the seven years of tribulation. And it was to His Second Coming that Jesus refers throughout these verses. Every disciple of Jesus Christ is to live with their sights set on His future return. That is the end goal, the point at which Jesus will fulfill all aspects of His Father’s will.

During the Tribulation, there were be many who come to faith in Christ. God will continue to extend grace and mercy to those living on the earth. And those disciples will need to live in a constant state of readiness, prepared for the master’s return – in spite of all the persecution and distress taking place around them. That is why Jesus states, “be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected” (Luke 12:40 NLT). During those future end-times days, the circumstances will appear grim. All will look lost. There will be countless individuals martyred for their faith in Christ. And it will be easy to think draw the conclusion that God has forgotten all about His people. There will be those who begin to believe that Jesus is not coming back. The apostle John even records the pleas of the martyred saints as they stand before the throne of God in heaven.

“O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?” – Revelation 6:10 NLT

But God will not be done yet. His plan will not be fully fulfilled. And all those on earth who claim the name of Jesus will be encouraged to continue believing and trusting until the end. And that is exactly what Jesus is encouraging His disciples to do. He knows that when He ascends back into heaven, His disciples will find themselves facing unprecedented persecution. As they faithfully fulfill their commission, they will discover just how much the world hates them and how strongly Satan opposes them. At one point, Jesus warned His followers, “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22 ESV).

Endurance brings reward. This is not a promise of salvation based on works. It is simply an encouragement to remain faithful to the end. Jesus tells His disciples, “If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward” (Luke 12:43 NLT). Jesus is not suggesting that doing a good job ensures our future reward but that faithful service should be motivated by the promise of our future reward. If we keep our eye on the prize, we will run the race with endurance (Hebrews 12:1). The apostle Paul picks up this same racing metaphor.

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-26 NLT

Jesus wanted His disciples to understand the end game. There was a reward at the end of it all. The days ahead were going to be difficult. These men were going to have to stand back and watch their friend and Messiah be crucified. And even when He rose from the dead, He would eventually leave them. Yet He encouraged them to serve faithfully and live expectantly, keeping their eyes on the promise of His Second Coming and the final fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan.

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

Believing and Belonging

19 Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. 20 And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” 21 But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” – Luke 8:19-21 ESV

One of the keys to understanding this rather abrupt and bizarre statement from Jesus regarding His family is to consider the context provided by the other gospel authors. An examination of Matthew’s gospel reveals that there was an important encounter that had taken place between Jesus and the religious leaders that Luke chose to leave out of his account. Jesus had healed a demon-possessed man who was also blind and mute. This man’s miraculous restoration by Jesus was met with amazement from those who witnessed it, except for the Pharisees. These men accused Jesus of being in league with Satan.

“It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” – Matthew 12:24 ESV

According to Matthew, Jesus had some very direct and condemning words for the scribes who had been so quick to dismiss His miracles as the work of Satan. Jesus used the metaphor of a tree. If a tree is good, it will produce good fruit. If it is bad, it will produce bad fruit. So, you can know the state of the tree by examining its fruit. Then, Jesus drove home His point.

“You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.” – Matthew 12:34-37 NLT

And Matthew adds that these very same scribes, accompanied by some Pharisees, would later approach Jesus and demand, “show us a miraculous sign to prove your authority” (Matthew 12:38 NLT). Now, they demand that He perform a sign to validate His authority. But Jesus called them out, exposing the true nature of their hearts.

“Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign…” – Matthew 12:39 NLT

There was nothing Jesus could do that would convince these men of His God-given authority. He even alluded to the fact that He would die and resurrect three days later, but they will still refuse to believe.

“…as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.” – Matthew 12:40 NLT

Even His death, burial, and resurrection would not convince these men. They would never accept His claim to be the Son of God.

“…you refuse to repent.” – Matthew 12:41 NLT

“…you refuse to listen.” – Matthew 12:42 NLT

And Matthew records that Jesus wrapped up His condemnation of the religious leaders by comparing them to someone who had been freed of a demon. With the coming of Jesus, they had been exposed to the truth and offered freedom from their captivity to sin and death. But while they had heard the truth, they had refused to accept it. So, Jesus indicates that their rejection of Him will have dire consequences. Their “demon” will return, bringing his companions with him, and leaving them in a worse state than before.

“…the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before. That will be the experience of this evil generation.” – Matthew 12:45 NLT

In his gospel account, Luke includes a series of parables that Jesus told to the crowds. One was the parable of the soils, in which He explained, “The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity” (Luke 8 14 NLT).

And Luke adds another insightful message from Jesus.

“So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.” – Luke 8:18 NLT

So, what does all this have to do with today’s passage? Everything. Because it provides context. The way Luke describes the arrival of Jesus’ family, it could leave the impression that they just showed up right after His parables concerning the soils and the lamps. But an examination of the other Gospel accounts reveals that Jesus had a few other salient messages He had delivered before their arrival. And what He had to say is crucial to understanding HIs response to the news that His mother and brothers were wanting to see Him.

John reveals that Jesus’ own family members were having a difficult time accepting that He was the Son of God. John flatly states, “…not even his brothers believed in him” (John 7:5 ESV). And, according to Mark, their disbelief had prompted them to conclude that Jesus had lost His mind (Mark 3:21).

None of the gospel writers tell us why Mary and her other sons showed up. According to Matthew, Jesus was given the message: “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, and they want to speak to you” (Matthew 12:47 NLT). Mark indicates that they stood outside the place where Jesus was teaching and “called him.”

Had Jesus’ brothers convinced Mary that her oldest son was crazy? Had they come to take Jesus away? Even though Mary had been given divine insight into the nature of her Son’s identity and mission, it is likely that she struggled with His strange behavior. News of His recent activities would have done little to validate the message she had been given by the angel Gabriel more than 30 years earlier.

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” – Luke 1:31-33 NLT

Since the day He had left their home in Nazareth, Jesus had been traveling throughout Judea and Galilee, preaching, teaching, and performing miracles. It seems certain that Mary had been keeping up with His whereabouts and had heard the rumors about Him healing and casting out demons. But she had also heard about the episode in Jerusalem when He had thrown out the money changers and overturned the merchants’ tables in the temple. She knew that He had become a target of the religious leaders. And it is likely that she had heard all the accusations leveled against Her son by the Pharisees, including that He was demon-possessed and a pawn of Satan. So, she had shown up with her other sons in order to talk to Jesus. As a loving and concerned mother, she wanted to see how He was doing.

But Mark records, that upon hearing that His mother and brothers were outside, Jesus responded, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” (Mark 3:33 ESV).

At first blush, this statement comes across as surprisingly harsh and uncaring. But we have to consider the context. Jesus has been speaking about hearing and believing. He has emphasized the tendency to reject His ministry and message. Luke records that Jesus quoted from Isaiah 6:9.

“When they look, they won’t really see.
    When they hear, they won’t understand. – Luke 8:10 NLT

John reports that Jesus “came to his own people, and even they rejected him” (John 1:11 NLT).

Jesus had been teaching, preaching, and healing. He had been calling the people of Israel to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4;17 ESV). And yet, there were still those who refused to believe, including His own brothers. So, when Jesus asked, “Who are my mother and my brothers,” He was indicating that there was another kind of relationship that was far more critical than that of mother to son or brother to brother. Being born into the same family as Jesus had not helped His brothers believe. Having a sibling relationship with Jesus was not enough to secure a faith relationship with Him. Even Mary and her sons were going to have to believe in who Jesus claimed to be. That is why Jesus responded, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21 ESV).

This brings to mind a statement made by John the Baptist to the Pharisees and Sadducees who had come to the Judean wilderness to watch him baptize. When John had seen them, he had called them a “brood of snakes”  (Matthew 3:7 NLT). Then he exposed the fallacy behind their assumption that, because they were blood descendants of Abraham, they were guaranteed a right relationship with 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 3:9-10 NLT

Notice his emphasis on the bad tree that produces bad fruit. And don’t miss that he tells these men that being a blood-born relative of Abraham was no guarantee of acceptance by God. John demanded that they repent and turn to God.

That was the very same message Jesus preached, and it applied to all, including His mother and brothers. They too would have to hear, receive, and believe. And Jesus turned and motioned to His disciples, saying, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:34-35 NLT).

According to John’s gospel, Jesus gave the only “work” or requirement that God has placed on mankind.

“This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” – John 6:29 NLT

Everyone, regardless of their social status, religious affiliation, economic standing, or educational achievements, was required to believe in Him as the one sent from God. And that included His own relatives. The disciples were struggling, but continuing to express their belief in Jesus. It’s likely that Mary and her sons were wrestling over the disconnect between Jesus’ behavior and their expectations. He wasn’t acting like a king. He wasn’t behaving like a Messiah. And the religious leaders were just flatly denying that Jesus was who He claimed to be.

But Jesus made it clear. For anyone to have a relationship with Him, they would be required to believe in Him.

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

When Circumstances Cause Our Faith to Stumble

18 The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, 19 calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 20 And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” 21 In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. 22 And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. 23 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Luke 7:18-23 ESV

All the while Jesus was traveling throughout Galilee, teaching and performing miracles, John the Baptist was locked in a dungeon, the prisoner of Herod Antipas. John had gotten himself in hot water with the Tetrarch of Galilee for having boldly confronted him about his illicit relationship with his brother’s wife.

Herod had arrested and imprisoned John as a favor to his wife Herodias (the former wife of Herod’s brother Philip). John had been telling Herod, “It is against God’s law for you to marry her.” Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of a riot, because all the people believed John was a prophet. – Matthew 14:3-5 NLT

During his imprisonment, John’s disciples had been keeping up with the activities of Jesus and relaying to their master all that they had seen and heard. Evidently, they had been in Nain when Jesus raised the dead man back to life and they delivered a full report on this unprecedented miracle to John. They probably included the reactions of the crowd.

“A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” – Luke 7:16 ESV

But this news left John in conflict. He had clearly believed that Jesus was the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel. He had declared Jesus to be “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV). After his baptism of Jesus, John had confidently proclaimed, “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (John 1:34 ESV). Yet, now John found himself locked in a prison cell and he must have wondered about the prophetic promises regarding the coming Messiah. He had plenty of time to think about how his own circumstances seemed to contradict what Isaiah had said would happen when the Messiah appeared in Israel.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
    he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and the opening of the prison to those who are bound. – Isaiah 61:1 ESV

As John looked around at his less-than-ideal surroundings he must have begun to have second thoughts about Jesus’ identity. During his confinement, he had become conflicted and his former confidence in who Jesus was had begun to weaken. At one point, John had boldly proclaimed his unwavering belief in Jesus’ identity as the Messiah and the Son of God.

“I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.

“He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” – John 3:28-36 ESV

But as John languished in prison, his certainty was shaken. So, he sent two of his disciples to Jesus with a message.

“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” – Luke 7:19 ESV

You can sense John’s confusion and concern. He is not denying the supernatural nature of Jesus’ miracles. But he is simply trying to reconcile what he has been told about Jesus’ activities with what he had been expecting of the Messiah. There was little doubt that Jesus had been doing Messianic-like miracles. He had fulfilled all of the prophetic predictions concerning the anointed one of God.

In that day the deaf shall hear
    the words of a book,
and out of their gloom and darkness
    the eyes of the blind shall see.
The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord,
    and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. – Isaiah 29:18-19 ESV

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. – Isaiah 35:5-6 ESV

“I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness;
    I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
    a light for the nations,
    to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
    from the prison those who sit in darkness. – Isaiah 42:6-7 ESV

It is easy to understand John’s conflicted state. While he knew that his role would greatly diminish with the coming of the Messiah, he had never considered that it would include his imprisonment. Like every other Jew, John was looking for a Messiah who was going to re-establish the David dynasty and return Israel to power and prominence. John was looking for the Kingdom of God on earth. And while Jesus’ miracles were impressive and provided undeniable evidence of God’s power, John seems to have been waiting for proof that Jesus was the Warrior-King who would put an end to Roman rule and reinvigorate the fortunes of God’s chosen people.

Luke indicates that when John’s disciples arrived and delivered his question to Jesus, they were treated to a demonstration of Jesus’ miraculous power.

At that very time, Jesus cured many people of their diseases, illnesses, and evil spirits, and he restored sight to many who were blind. – Luke 7:21 NLT

Jesus seemed to be answering John’s question with visible, tangible proof. But just to make sure that the two disciples of John understood what they had seen, Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard—the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor” (Luke 7:22 NLT).

Jesus provides John with a list of miracles He had performed that clearly demonstrate His fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. All of these things were meant to provide evidence of His Messianic role. But it seems clear that John had been looking for something more. He had a clear expectation that the Messiah would come in judgment, delivering the wrath of God against the enemies of Israel. But Jesus would later clarify the nature of His first advent.

“I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark. I will not judge those who hear me but don’t obey me, for I have come to save the world and not to judge it. But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken.” – John 12:46-48 NLT

Like most Jews of his day, John had conflated the predictions concerning the Messiah’s first and second comings. He had been expecting Jesus’ miracles to be followed up by military action against the Roman occupiers of Israel. He had been hoping that Jesus would use His growing popularity among the people and His divine power to lead an insurrection that would finally put an end to Israel’s misery.

But Jesus encouraged John to remain patient and not lose hope.

“…blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” – Luke 7:23 ESV

Jesus could sense that John was beginning to have doubts. So, He encouraged Him not to be offended by what he saw. The Greek word translated as “offended” is skandalizō, which carries the idea of stumbling over a rock or impediment. John was not to allow his unfulfilled expectations concerning the Messiah to trip him up. Jesus was fully aware of John’s predicament and most likely knew that John would never leave the prison alive. But He did not want John to lose heart. John was allowing his personal circumstances to determine his belief in the Messiah. And Jesus was encouraging him to do just the opposite. John was to examine his circumstances based on the clear evidence of Jesus’ Messianic power and authority. No, John had not personally experienced deliverance from the dungeon in which he was imprisoned but that did not negate the fact that Jesus was who He claimed to be. Not every lame person in Israel had been healed. Not every blind person had received sight. There were still countless people suffering from deafness and leprosy. And it’s unlikely that John was the only occupant of Herod’s prison.

Jesus was not yet done. His ministry had just begun. And all those who would continue to believe would not be disappointed. In fact, they would be blessed. In time, they would find that Jesus was exactly who He claimed to be. But for now, they were going to have to trust and believe, regardless of the circumstances.

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

It’s An Inside Job

43 “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45 The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

46 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? 47 Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: 48 he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49 But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.” Luke 6:43-49 ESV

Whether they realized it or not, Jesus was presenting His disciples with a radically different standard for measuring a righteous life. Inclusion in the coming Kingdom of God was not going to be based on ethnicity or outward adherence to a set of rules and regulations. The disciples, as Jews, had grown up believing that their Hebrew lineage and their personal attempts to keep the Mosaic Law would somehow earn them entrance into the Kingdom. But as they listened to Jesus speak, it must have seemed like He was raising the bar and the entrance requirements, demanding from them a much higher standard than was humanly possible. One can almost visualize the 12 disciples glancing at one another in confusion and with growing concern as they listen to Jesus speak. All His talk of loving their enemies, suffering for His name’s sake, and removing the log from their eye must have left them scratching their heads and questioning their decision to follow Him. They had signed up to be early adopters of the Kingdom life, but now they must have been having second thoughts. And Jesus was far from done.

He follows up His parable about the blind leading the blind with another parable about two kinds of trees. But with His change of illustration, Jesus remains focused on the topic of inner transformation. For a blind man to effectively and safely lead another blind man, he will have to have his sight restored. For a disciple to become an effective teacher, he will first have to be an obedient and attentive student. He will need to internalize his teacher’s wisdom before he can impart it to others. And before a man can be qualified to point out the flaws in another, he will first need to get his own moral house in order.

Now, Jesus uses the metaphor of a fruit tree to convey the same idea of the need for inner change.

“A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. – Luke 6:43 NLT

This simple analogy is meant to communicate a much deeper truth concerning the inseparable link between outer conduct and inner character. In his gospel account, Matthew records another occasion where Jesus used this same imagery to address the Pharisees, who had just accused Him of casting out demons by the power of Satan.

“A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad. You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. – Matthew 12:33-35 NLT

Jesus exposed these self-righteous Pharisees as “bad” trees that produced unacceptable fruit. They were incapable of producing good fruit because they had evil hearts. In essence, they were plagued by a deadly disease that went from their roots all the way to their fruit. It was all-pervasive and rendered everything about them unacceptable and unprofitable.

The lesson is a simple one: Good fruit cannot come from a bad tree. But the implications of this simple illustration are profound. Jesus is telling His disciples that it is the inner character that determines the quality or acceptability of one’s outer conduct. A diseased tree may produce fruit that looks good and appears edible, but that fruit will be contaminated and rendered useless. That’s why Jesus said it is impossible for a bad tree to produce good fruit.

And just to make sure that His disciples understood the analogy, Jesus explained the connection between fruit and followers.

“A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart.” – Luke 6:45 NLT

It all starts on the inside. Or, as Jesus put it, “What you say flows from what is in your heart” (Luke 6:45 NLT). Speech is a byproduct of the heart. So is behavior. Our words and works are the fruit that our lives produce, and if our heart is diseased, we will produce unacceptable fruit. It may look good, but it will be contaminated by the evil intent of a wicked heart. As the prophet Isaiah put it, we are “all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 NLT).

Jesus makes it perfectly clear that the condition of a tree can be judged by the quality of its fruit. So, in other words, the true state of a man’s heart can be measured by his conduct. Just as one would never expect a thornbush to produce figs, so we should not expect righteous behavior from a person with an evil heart. And Jesus would later expand on this idea, providing His disciples with a list of the contaminated “fruit” that flows from a diseased heart.

“…the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you.” – Matthew 15:18-20 NLT

At this point in their relationship with Jesus, the 12 disciples were all “bad” trees. Yes, they had chosen to follow Jesus, but they were not yet filled with the Holy Spirit. It would be three years before Jesus paid the price for their sins by dying in their place on the cross. His death, burial, and resurrection were future events that would provide the means for their inner heart change. But for now, they remained just as they were when Jesus called them: Dead in their trespasses and sins, condemned, unclean, and in need of the life-transforming, heart-restoring, and soul-sanctifying gift of God’s grace made possible through the sacrificial death of His Son.

Jesus knows these men desperately want to believe that He is their Messiah and Lord. But He also knows that they are going to have a difficult time accepting and going what He has said because they lack the necessary power to pull it off. He even seems to challenge their willingness to obey His teaching when He says, “why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say?” (Luke 6:46 NLT). They haven’t even had time to put any of Jesus’ words into action, and yet He knows they are already questioning the validity and feasibility of His words. It all sounds impossible to them. But Jesus wants them to know how just vital it will be that they obey His commands.

I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. – Luke 6:47 NLT

And He provides them with yet another illustration designed to explain the importance of trusting His words even when they can’t fully understand them. They are just beginning their relationship with Jesus and the days ahead are going to be a roller-coaster ride that will test their faith, challenge their loyalty, and disrupt all their preconceived notions regarding the Messiah and His Kingdom. But Jesus wants them to know that if they listen and obey what He has to say, they will one day discover the life-saving nature of His words. Jesus describes it as a man who builds the foundation of his house on solid rock. He takes the time and effort to dig deep and secure the future state of his home, not knowing what the days ahead have in store. But Jesus assures them that their efforts to trust Him will prove profitable.

When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built.” – Luke 6:48 NLT

These men have no idea what storms lie in their path, either literally or figuratively. But if they will simply trust what Jesus is telling them and place their hope in the rock-solid nature of His word, they will not be disappointed when the weather of life takes a turn for the worse. And that day is coming.

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

Robbing God of Glory

12 At that time Merodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that Hezekiah had been sick. 13 And Hezekiah welcomed them, and he showed them all his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them. 14 Then Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah, and said to him, “What did these men say? And from where did they come to you?” And Hezekiah said, “They have come from a far country, from Babylon.” 15 He said, “What have they seen in your house?” And Hezekiah answered, “They have seen all that is in my house; there is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.”

16 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord: 17 Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. 18 And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” 19 Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?”

20 The rest of the deeds of Hezekiah and all his might and how he made the pool and the conduit and brought water into the city, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 21 And Hezekiah slept with his fathers, and Manasseh his son reigned in his place. 2 Kings 20:12-21 ESV

Hezekiah shows the Babylonian messengers his treasures (2 Kings 20, 13). Wood engraving, published in 1886.

For whatever reason, the author of 2 Kings provides no details concerning Hezekiah’s reaction to his miraculous healing or to God’s gracious gift of 15 more years of life. This man had been near death and had been told by the prophet of God that his days were numbered. He was deathly sick and helpless to do anything about his situation, so he cried out to God. And Yahweh responded by restoring his health and promising to extend his reign by 15 years. Yet, the author simply skips to the next story without providing any insight into Hezekiah’s response to this wonderful gift from God. But if we turn to 2 Chronicles 32, we discover that the newly healed king did not respond with humble gratitude, but with pride.

Hezekiah did not respond appropriately to the kindness shown him, and he became proud. So the Lord’s anger came against him and against Judah and Jerusalem. – 2 Chronicles 32:25 NLT

Perhaps Hezekiah’s new lease on life had gone to his head. He had narrowly escaped the clutches of death and was back to full health. On top of that, the Assyrian menace had all but disappeared. His kingdom was secure and he was enjoying an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity. But he failed to remember the one who had made it all possible. He neglected to offer any form of sacrifice to express his thanks to Yahweh. And this arrogant display of ingratitude brought God’s anger against the king, his capital, and the nation of Judah.

Once again, we’re given little in the way of details. The author does not tell us what form God’s judgment took. But it had its intended effect.

Hezekiah humbled himself and repented of his pride, as did the people of Jerusalem. So the Lord’s anger did not fall on them during Hezekiah’s lifetime. – 2 Chronicles 32:26 NLT

God’s wrath was abated but it seems that Hezekiah’s pride was not. It seems that Merodach-baladan, the king of Babylon, had heard of Hezekiah’s illness and sent emissaries to visit him. By the time these men had made the long trek from Babylon to Jerusalem, Hezekiah had been healed. So, when they arrived, the newly revived king decided to impress his guests by giving them the grand tour of the royal capital. And he showed them everything.

Hezekiah received the Babylonian envoys and showed them everything in his treasure-houses—the silver, the gold, the spices, and the aromatic oils. He also took them to see his armory and showed them everything in his royal treasuries! There was nothing in his palace or kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them. – 2 Kings 20:13 NLT

But to better understand what is going on here, we need to turn back to 2 Chronicles 32 for context. It would appear that King Hezekiah not only enjoying renewed health but a revitalized kingdom with a reinvigorated economy. Things were booming in Judah.

Hezekiah was very wealthy and highly honored. He built special treasury buildings for his silver, gold, precious stones, and spices, and for his shields and other valuable items. He also constructed many storehouses for his grain, new wine, and olive oil; and he made many stalls for his cattle and pens for his flocks of sheep and goats. He built many towns and acquired vast flocks and herds, for God had given him great wealth. He blocked up the upper spring of Gihon and brought the water down through a tunnel to the west side of the City of David. And so he succeeded in everything he did. – 2 Chronicles 32:27-30 NLT

Hezekiah had it all: Health, wealth, and prosperity. And he was more than happy to display the full extent of his power and possessions to his foreign guests. But the author 2 Chronicles reveals an important detail that must not be overlooked. The visiting Babylonian emissaries wanted to know “about the sign that had been done in the land” (2 Chronicles 32:31 ESV). Evidently, upon their arrival, they had been told how the king had been healed by God. Someone had shared with them about the miracle of the shadow reversing itself on the steps of Ahaz. And they were intrigued and eager to hear more. In other words, Hezekiah was being given a chance to brag about his God. But the passage tells us that “God left him to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart” (2 Chronicles 32:31 ESV).

God stood back and watched to see how Hezekiah would respond to this opportunity. But rather than declare the glory and the goodness of Yahweh to his pagan guests, Hezekiah bragged about himself. He said nothing about his miraculous healing or of God’s promise to extend his reign an additional 15 years. And he fails to even mention the miraculous sign. His entire exchange with these men was centered upon himself. Look closely at how the author describes Hezekiah’s actions:

…he showed them all his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them. – 2 Kings 20:13 ESV

It was all about him. And when Hezekiah is confronted by the prophet Isaiah, he further confirms the self-centered nature of his interaction with the envoys.

“They have seen all that is in my house; there is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.” – 2 Kings 20:15 ESV

Not once does Hezekiah mention Yahweh. He doesn’t even acknowledge God as the source behind all his possession, including his very life. And with this incredible display of self-adulation, Hezekiah failed the test and revealed exactly what was in his heart. So, Isaiah delivered what should have been a devastating bit of bad news:

“Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord.” – 2 Kings 20:17 ESV

And, as if that was not bad enough, Isaiah adds another element to God’s divine judgment against Hezekiah and Judah.

“…some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” – 2 Kings 20:18 ESV

And to our shock and surprise, Hezekiah responds favorably to the prophet’s words. He isn’t even fazed by the news that his sons will be taken as captives and forced to become eunuchs to the king of Babylon. He hears all of this as good news. Why? Because all Hezekiah really cared about was himself. Look closely at his response to Isaiah.

“At least there will be peace and security during my lifetime.” – 2 Kings 20:19 NLT

According to 2 Chronicles 32:27, “Hezekiah was very wealthy and highly honored.” He enjoyed great prestige, power, and a time of unprecedented peace. And as long as he was able to keep what he had, he was willing to sacrifice the future, even if it meant that his sons would suffer so that he could prosper.

What makes this story even more disheartening is the fact that, at one time, Hezekiah had penned a poem to Yahweh, expressing his gratitude for his healing. Immediately after receiving the news that God would graciously deliver him from death, Hezekiah had taken the time to put his thoughts in writing. Look closely at what he said:

Lord, your discipline is good,
    for it leads to life and health.
You restore my health
    and allow me to live!
Yes, this anguish was good for me,
    for you have rescued me from death
    and forgiven all my sins.
For the dead cannot praise you;
    they cannot raise their voices in praise.
Those who go down to the grave
    can no longer hope in your faithfulness.
Only the living can praise you as I do today.
    Each generation tells of your faithfulness to the next.
Think of it—the Lord is ready to heal me!
    I will sing his praises with instruments
every day of my life
    in the Temple of the Lord. – Isaiah 38:16-20 NLT

They say time heals all wounds. But in Hezekiah’s case, time became his enemy. The further he got away from his near-death experience and his miraculous healing by God, the more forgetful and ungrateful he became. His focus shifted from the goodness and greatness of God to his own power and possessions. He became self-obsessed and myopic in his outlook and, as a result, he lost sight of the glory and grandeur of God. And it would be the prophet Isaiah who would write his own poem concerning Yahweh, that should have served as a wake-up call to the pride-filled and self-possessed king of Judah.

The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
    No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
He gives power to the weak
    and strength to the powerless.
Even youths will become weak and tired,
    and young men will fall in exhaustion.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:28-31 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

You, O Lord, Are God Alone

1 As soon as King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the Lord. And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, covered with sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz. They said to him, “Thus says Hezekiah, This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. It may be that the Lord your God heard all the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the Lord your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.” When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, ‘Thus says the Lord: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.’”

The Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria fighting against Libnah, for he heard that the king had left Lachish. Now the king heard concerning Tirhakah king of Cush, “Behold, he has set out to fight against you.” So he sent messengers again to Hezekiah, saying, 10 “Thus shall you speak to Hezekiah king of Judah: ‘Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. 11 Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, devoting them to destruction. And shall you be delivered? 12 Have the gods of the nations delivered them, the nations that my fathers destroyed, Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Telassar? 13 Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, the king of Hena, or the king of Ivvah?’”

14 Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord and spread it before the Lord. 15 And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord and said: “O Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 16 Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 17 Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands 18 and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 19 So now, O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.” 2 Kings 19:1-19 ESV

When King Hezekiah’s three emissaries returned with a report of all that the Rabshakeh had said, he was overwhelmed with grief. This self-absorbed and overly confident commander of Sennacherib’s army had ridiculed Hezekiah for placing any hope of rescue in Egypt. Pharaoh would prove to be an unreliable source of help against the much larger and better equipped Assyrian army. And Sennacherib’s cocky commander scoffed at any notion that the God of Judah would come to their aid. Speaking on behalf of his equally arrogant king, the Rabshakeh had boldly declared, “What god of any nation has ever been able to save its people from my power? So what makes you think that the Lord can rescue Jerusalem from me?” (2 Kings 18:35 NLT).

Demoralized by this devastating news, King Hezekiah immediately entered into a state of mourning and sought refuge and solace in the house of God. From there, he sent a  message to the prophet Isaiah.

“Today is a day of trouble, insults, and disgrace. It is like when a child is ready to be born, but the mother has no strength to deliver the baby. But perhaps the Lord your God has heard the Assyrian chief of staff, sent by the king to defy the living God, and will punish him for his words. Oh, pray for those of us who are left!” – 2 Kings 19:3-4 NLT

These were dark days for the nation of Judah, but Hezekiah held out hope that Yahweh would still come to their aid. From his vantage point within the walls of God’s house, Hezekiah must have recalled the prayer that Solomon had offered up to God when he had dedicated the newly constructed temple.

“If your people Israel are defeated by their enemies because they have sinned against you, and if they turn to you and acknowledge your name and pray to you here in this Temple, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and return them to this land you gave their ancestors.” – 1 Kings 8:33-34 NLT

While Judah had not yet been defeated by the Assyrians, things were not looking good. Their massive army was camped outside the eastern walls and Hezekiah knew it was just a matter of time before the siege brought Jerusalem to its knees. But he still held out hope, turning to the prophet of God and begging him to seek Yahweh’s divine assistance. And the message he received from Isaiah must have sounded far-fetched and too good to be true.

“This is what the Lord says: Do not be disturbed by this blasphemous speech against me from the Assyrian king’s messengers. Listen! I myself will move against him, and the king will receive a message that he is needed at home. So he will return to his land, where I will have him killed with a sword.’” – 2 Kings 19:6-7 NLT

God had heard every boastful and blasphemous word the Rabshakeh had said. And Isaiah assured Hezekiah that he had nothing to fear because God had something in store for Sennacherib that would throw a major wrench into his global conquest plans. The great king of Assyria would suddenly find himself facing unexpected attacks on a number of fronts that would eventually force him to abandon his siege of Jerusalem. But even though Sennacherib had reallocated his forces to other battlefronts, he was not going to give up on his plan to conquer Jerusalem. So, he sent another message to King Hezekiah, demanding that he give up his Don Quixote-like quest for divine rescue. Sennacherib treated the God of Judah with contempt, declaring that He would prove just as powerless as all the other gods of all the other nations that had fallen to the Assyrians.

But Hezekiah took Sennacherib’s letter into the temple and spread it out before the Lord. Then he prayed, “O Lord, God of Israel, you are enthroned between the mighty cherubim! You alone are God of all the kingdoms of the earth. You alone created the heavens and the earth. Bend down, O Lord, and listen! Open your eyes, O Lord, and see! Listen to Sennacherib’s words of defiance against the living God” (2 Kings 19:15-16 NLT).

Hezekiah reminded Yahweh that all the other gods had failed because they were nothing more than the figments of man’s fertile imagination.

“They were not gods at all—only idols of wood and stone shaped by human hands. – 2 Kings 19:18 NLT

But Yahweh was the living God. He was the all-powerful creator God who had made the heavens and the earth. He was seated on His throne in heaven and fully capable of dealing with King Sennacherib and his seemingly unstoppable army. And Hezekiah called on Yahweh to intervene and demonstrate His sovereign power by rescuing His chosen people. And when the one true God does what no other god could do, delivering Judah from the hands of Sennacherib, all the nations of the earth will recognize “that you alone, O Lord, are God” (2 Kings 19:19 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 Day of Good News

Now there were four men who were lepers at the entrance to the gate. And they said to one another, “Why are we sitting here until we die? If we say, ‘Let us enter the city,’ the famine is in the city, and we shall die there. And if we sit here, we die also. So now come, let us go over to the camp of the Syrians. If they spare our lives we shall live, and if they kill us we shall but die.” So they arose at twilight to go to the camp of the Syrians. But when they came to the edge of the camp of the Syrians, behold, there was no one there. For the Lord had made the army of the Syrians hear the sound of chariots and of horses, the sound of a great army, so that they said to one another, “Behold, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Egypt to come against us.” So they fled away in the twilight and abandoned their tents, their horses, and their donkeys, leaving the camp as it was, and fled for their lives. And when these lepers came to the edge of the camp, they went into a tent and ate and drank, and they carried off silver and gold and clothing and went and hid them. Then they came back and entered another tent and carried off things from it and went and hid them.

Then they said to one another, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news. If we are silent and wait until the morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come; let us go and tell the king’s household.” 10 So they came and called to the gatekeepers of the city and told them, “We came to the camp of the Syrians, and behold, there was no one to be seen or heard there, nothing but the horses tied and the donkeys tied and the tents as they were.” 11 Then the gatekeepers called out, and it was told within the king’s household. 12 And the king rose in the night and said to his servants, “I will tell you what the Syrians have done to us. They know that we are hungry. Therefore they have gone out of the camp to hide themselves in the open country, thinking, ‘When they come out of the city, we shall take them alive and get into the city.’” 13 And one of his servants said, “Let some men take five of the remaining horses, seeing that those who are left here will fare like the whole multitude of Israel who have already perished. Let us send and see.” 14 So they took two horsemen, and the king sent them after the army of the Syrians, saying, “Go and see.” 15 So they went after them as far as the Jordan, and behold, all the way was littered with garments and equipment that the Syrians had thrown away in their haste. And the messengers returned and told the king.

16 Then the people went out and plundered the camp of the Syrians. So a seah of fine flour was sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel, according to the word of the Lord. 17 Now the king had appointed the captain on whose hand he leaned to have charge of the gate. And the people trampled him in the gate, so that he died, as the man of God had said when the king came down to him. 18 For when the man of God had said to the king, “Two seahs of barley shall be sold for a shekel, and a seah of fine flour for a shekel, about this time tomorrow in the gate of Samaria,” 19 the captain had answered the man of God, “If the Lord himself should make windows in heaven, could such a thing be?” And he had said, “You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat of it.” 20 And so it happened to him, for the people trampled him in the gate and he died. 2 Kings 7:3-20 ESV

A protracted siege by the Syrians had left the royal city of Samaria in dire straits. The people inside the walls were starving to death due to the lack of food and some had even resorted to cannibalism, eating their own children to survive. Jehoram, the king of Israel, was powerless to do anything about the situation. He recognized that this was some form of punishment from the hand of Yahweh, but he refused to repent of his apostasy and idolatry. Defenseless against the Syrians and completely powerless to thwart the divine wrath of Yahweh, Jehoram turned his anger and frustration against the prophet Elisha.

Jehoram knew that Elisha was somehow to blame for the devastating conditions in Samaria. And he fully expected the prophet to bring nothing but bad news regarding the ultimate outcome of the siege. But to his surprise, Elisha predicted a dramatic and virtually instantaneous reversal of fortunes.

“By this time tomorrow in the markets of Samaria, six quarts of choice flour will cost only one piece of silver, and twelve quarts of barley grain will cost only one piece of silver.” – 2 Kings 7:1 NLT

Elisha informed the king that within 24 hours, the conditions within the walls of Samaria would improve so dramatically that it would be as if the siege never took place. But Elisha provided no explanation as to how this remarkable transformation would take place. And at least one individual responded to his words with doubt and derision.

The officer assisting the king said to the man of God, “That couldn’t happen even if the Lord opened the windows of heaven!” – 2 Kings 7:2 NLT

The author then transitions his story from the doubting officer to four lepers who sat at the gate of the city. Because of their disease, these men were social outcasts whose survival was based on the generosity of others. They were forced to beg for handouts in order to survive. And the siege had made their circumstances worse than ever. Their appearance in the story at this particular point in time is purely intentional. In a sense, they serve as proxies for the entire nation of Israel. Their disease reflects the spiritual state of God’s people. And their abject state of hopelessness and helplessness is meant to mirror the plight of all those who have abandoned Yahweh.

As they sat at the gate of the city, these four men assessed their situation and determined to do something about it. They could stay where they were and starve to death, or they could risk entering the Syrian camp and placing themselves at the mercy of the enemy. So, sometime before sunrise, they made their fateful decision and walked the short distance from the walls of Samaria to the Syrian encampment. Fully expecting to encounter a Syrian sentry somewhere along the way, they were surprised to find that they were able to walk into the camp uninhibited and unaccosted. The place was a virtual ghost town with not a single Syrian sight. It was as if the entire Syrian army had just evaporated into thin air, leaving behind all their tents, equipment,  and provisions, including mass quantities of food and wine. These four starving lepers found themselves living in a dream come true. Suddenly and unexpectedly, these men who had spent their entire lives begging for food, found themselves surrounded by a seemingly endless supply of delicious delicacies and fine wines.

…they went into one tent after another, eating and drinking wine; and they carried off silver and gold and clothing and hid it. – 2 Kings 7:8 NLT

Like kids let loose in a candy store, they greedily stuffed their faces and their pockets. They had no idea what had happened to the Syrians, and they didn’t seem to care. Their minds were focused on the perpetual feast in front of them and all the silver and gold that had been left for them. Little did they know that their good fortune had been an act of God.

For the Lord had caused the Aramean army to hear the clatter of speeding chariots and the galloping of horses and the sounds of a great army approaching. – 2 Kings 7:6 NLT

Sometime before the lepers had made their decision to enter the Syrian camp, God had performed a miracle. He had caused the Syrians to hear what sounded like a large army headed their way. They immediately concluded that the Israelites had somehow gotten word to their allies and help was on the way.

“The king of Israel has hired the Hittites and Egyptians to attack us!” they cried to one another. So they panicked and ran into the night, abandoning their tents, horses, donkeys, and everything else, as they fled for their lives. – 2 Kings 7:6-7 NLT

There were no Hittites or Egyptians. There were no chariots or horses. It had all been a divine ruse. And when the four lepers finally stopped pillaging long enough to consider the incredible nature of what they were witnessing, they had second thoughts.

“This is not right. This is a day of good news, and we aren’t sharing it with anyone! If we wait until morning, some calamity will certainly fall upon us. Come on, let’s go back and tell the people at the palace.” – 2 Kings 7:9 NLT

But when their good news reached the ears of King Jehoram, he reacted with derision. He saw it as nothing more than a clever ploy by the Syrians to lure the Israelite troops out of the safety of the city. It was all too good to be true. Jehoram could not bring himself to believe that victory could come that easily. There was no way that the long-standing siege could end without a fight and the fall of the city. So, he sent scouts to verify the report of the lepers, and they discovered “a trail of clothing and equipment that the Arameans had thrown away in their mad rush to escape” (2 Kings 7:15 NLT).

It was true. The Syrians were gone and the siege was over. But not only that, the Syrian camp was filled with more than enough food to feed the citizens of the city. And when the Israelites had finished plundering the camp, the conditions within the walls of Samaria were instantaneously reversed.

Then the people of Samaria rushed out and plundered the Aramean camp. So it was true that six quarts of choice flour were sold that day for one piece of silver, and twelve quarts of barley grain were sold for one piece of silver, just as the Lord had promised. – 2 Kings 7:16 NLT

And the author makes sure that we understand the nature of this amazing turn of events.

…everything happened exactly as the man of God had predicted. – 2 Kings 7:17 NLT

God had intervened on behalf of His disobedient children. He had graciously and mercifully delivered them from their enemy and rescued them from imminent death. Overnight, the four lepers had experienced a dramatic shift in their fortunes. They not only had full stomachs but they had hidden enough treasure to transform themselves from paupers to princes. And the people of Samaria were blessed with food they didn’t deserve and riches they had not earned. Their good and gracious God had lovingly spared them – one more time.

But the one man who had expressed doubt concerning God’s ability to deliver His people would find himself suffering a different fate. Elisha had warned him, “You will see it happen with your own eyes, but you won’t be able to eat any of it!” (2 Kings 7:2 NLT). And when the starving masses flowed out of the city to plunder the Syrian camp, this man was crushed to death. He never lived long enough to see what God had done. And not one morsel of the fine Syrian cuisine or one drop of their wine ever touched his lips. He had doubted the power of God and suffered the consequences. The day of good news turned out to be very bad news for him.

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 Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

41 Jehoshaphat the son of Asa began to reign over Judah in the fourth year of Ahab king of Israel. 42 Jehoshaphat was thirty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Azubah the daughter of Shilhi. 43 He walked in all the way of Asa his father. He did not turn aside from it, doing what was right in the sight of the Lord. Yet the high places were not taken away, and the people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places. 44 Jehoshaphat also made peace with the king of Israel.

45 Now the rest of the acts of Jehoshaphat, and his might that he showed, and how he warred, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 46 And from the land he exterminated the remnant of the male cult prostitutes who remained in the days of his father Asa.

47 There was no king in Edom; a deputy was king. 48 Jehoshaphat made ships of Tarshish to go to Ophir for gold, but they did not go, for the ships were wrecked at Ezion-geber. 49 Then Ahaziah the son of Ahab said to Jehoshaphat, “Let my servants go with your servants in the ships,” but Jehoshaphat was not willing. 50 And Jehoshaphat slept with his fathers and was buried with his fathers in the city of David his father, and Jehoram his son reigned in his place.

51 Ahaziah the son of Ahab began to reign over Israel in Samaria in the seventeenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and he reigned two years over Israel. 52 He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and walked in the way of his father and in the way of his mother and in the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. 53 He served Baal and worshiped him and provoked the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger in every way that his father had done. 1 Kings 22:41-53 ESV

Once again, the author shifts the focus of his narrative from Israel to Judah. With Ahab’s God-ordained demise, the northern kingdom of Israel found itself with a new ruler, Ahaziah, the son of Ahab. But in Judah, Jehoshaphat, who had survived the failed battle against Ramoth-gilead, continued his long reign over the southern kingdom. While Ahab’s exploits clearly portray him as the most wicked of all the kings of Israel, Jehoshaphat provides a refreshingly stark contrast. The author provides a brief, yet positive summary of his reign:  “Jehoshaphat was a good king, following the example of his father, Asa. He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight” (1 Kings 22:43 NLT).

But two significant stains marred Jehoshaphat’s 25-year reign. First, while he remained committed to the worship of Yahweh, he failed to remove all the pagan shrines dedicated to the false gods of the Canaanites. As a result, the people continued to offer practice idolatry in direct violation of God’s command. Secondly, Jehoshaphat had made a treaty with Ahab, the king of Israel. Like his father before him, Jehoshaphat put his faith in an outside power rather than trust in Yahweh. In Asa’s case, he had chosen to align himself with Ben-hadad, the king of the Syrians, hoping he could protect Judah from the ongoing threat of Israelite aggression. But he had been reprimanded for placing his trust in someone other than God.

“Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you. Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the Lord, he gave them into your hand. For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.” – 2 Chronicles 16:7-9 ESV

Now, his son, Jehoshaphat, was guilty of the same sin. Rather than making a treaty with the Syrians, he had chosen to work hand-in-hand with Ahab, the king of Israel. According to 2 Chronicles 19:1, Jehoshaphat made a marriage alliance with Israel, agreeing for his son, Jehoram, to marry Ahab’s daughter, Athaliah. And this decision would end up putting Jehoshaphat in an awkward position, forcing him to side with Ahab in his ill-fated battle against Ramoth-gilead. While Ahab lost his life in the battle, Jehoshaphat was able to return to the safety of Jerusalem, where he was immediately confronted by the prophet of God over his role in the whole affair.

“Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord? Because of this, wrath has gone out against you from the Lord. Nevertheless, some good is found in you, for you destroyed the Asheroth out of the land, and have set your heart to seek God.” – 2 Chronicles 19:2-3 ESV

Yet, despite these two rather egregious mistakes, Jehoshaphat was a good king who tried to encourage the people of Judah to worship God. Early on in his reign, he had sent a contingent of officials, including Levites and priests, to all the cities of Judah, with instructions to teach the Book of the Law to the people (2 Chronicles 17:7-9).

He also appointed judges in the land, instructing them to do their jobs with integrity and honesty, providing the people with just and wise decisions.

“Always think carefully before pronouncing judgment. Remember that you do not judge to please people but to please the Lord. He will be with you when you render the verdict in each case. Fear the Lord and judge with integrity, for the Lord our God does not tolerate perverted justice, partiality, or the taking of bribes.” – 2 Chronicles 19:6-7 NLT

But sadly, the righteous reign of Jehoshaphat did not end well. Once again, he made an unholy and unwise alliance with the king of Israel – this time with Ahaziah, the son of Ahab. We get a more detailed explanation of this failed agreement in the book of 2 Chronicles.

Some time later King Jehoshaphat of Judah made an alliance with King Ahaziah of Israel, who was very wicked. Together they built a fleet of trading ships at the port of Ezion-geber. Then Eliezer son of Dodavahu from Mareshah prophesied against Jehoshaphat. He said, “Because you have allied yourself with King Ahaziah, the Lord will destroy your work.” So the ships met with disaster and never put out to sea. – 2 Chronicles 20:35-37 NLT

What makes this decision by Jehoshaphat so difficult to understand is that it came after God had provided Judah with a stunning victory over the Ammonites and Moabites. The people of Judah had found themselves outnumbered by their enemies, but God had given His assurance that He would fight for them. They had no reason to fear.

“Listen, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Listen, King Jehoshaphat! This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid! Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow, march out against them. You will find them coming up through the ascent of Ziz at the end of the valley that opens into the wilderness of Jeruel. But you will not even need to fight. Take your positions; then stand still and watch the Lord’s victory. He is with you, O people of Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid or discouraged. Go out against them tomorrow, for the Lord is with you!” – 2 Chronicles 20:15-17 NLT

And God had kept His word. Not only did He destroy their enemies, but he blessed the people of Judah with an abundance of unexpected wealth.

When Jehoshaphat and his people came to take their spoil, they found among them, in great numbers, goods, clothing, and precious things, which they took for themselves until they could carry no more. They were three days in taking the spoil, it was so much. – 2 Chronicles 20:25 ESV

Their God had not only protected them, but He had provided for them. They lacked nothing as long as they placed their hope and trust in Yahweh. Yet, for some reason, Jehoshaphat chose to join Ahaziah in the construction of ships to bring back gold from Ophir. But those ships never made it to sea. They were destroyed before they could ever leave the port. Like his father before him, Jehoshaphat placed his trust in someone other than God and paid a high price for his mistake. And his unwise decision left a permanent stain on his legacy.

But as 2 Chronicles 17-19 reveals, there were many positive aspects to Jehoshaphat’s reign. All in all, he was a good king who loved Yahweh and tried to shepherd the people of Judah as his ancestor David had done. Yet, the same thing cannot be said of Ahaziah, the son of Ahab and the king of Israel. The author paints a rather bleak portrait of his short and sin-stained reign.

He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and walked in the way of his father and in the way of his mother and in the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. He served Baal and worshiped him and provoked the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger in every way that his father had done. – 2 Kings 22:52-53 ESV

And with that assessment, the book of 1 Kings comes to an abrupt and less-than-flattering end. The two kingdoms continue the downward spiral that began with the reign of Solomon. There have been brief glimpses of faithfulness, but for the most part, the nations of Israel and Judah remain plagued by infidelity and idolatry. Their kings are revealed as flawed men who tend to use their God-given power to promote themselves and their own agendas rather than lovingly shepherd the flock of God according to the will of God. And that pattern will continue as the author begins the second half of his history of the divided kingdom.

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

When Faith Turns to Fear

41 And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink, for there is a sound of the rushing of rain.” 42 So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees. 43 And he said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go again,” seven times. 44 And at the seventh time he said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.’” 45 And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel. 46 And the hand of the Lord was on Elijah, and he gathered up his garment and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel. 

1 Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “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.” Then 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 18:41-19:3 ESV

Chapter 18 opened up with the words God spoke to Elijah: “Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth” (1 Kings 18:1 ESV). This statement contains a command as well as a promise from God. After his three-and-a-half-year absence, Elijah was to return to Israel from Sidon and confront King Ahab one more time. But while this command would likely involve great risk to the prophet, his obedience would result in a tremendous blessing on the people. God would end the long drought and restore rain to the land.

It is impossible to know if Elijah was aware of all that would have to happen before the rain returned. There is no indication as to when God divulged the rest of His plan and Elijah’s role in it. But before the physical drought could end, the spiritual drought afflicting the people would have to come to a decisive conclusion that involved a dramatic confrontation between Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal. But the real battle would be between Yahweh, the God of Israel, and Baal, the god of Ahab and Jezebel.

And God had won the day. He displayed His power by sending fire from heaven that “consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench” (1 Kings 18:38 ESV). This demonstrative exhibition of God’s omnipotence brought the people to their knees in fear and worship of God. What they had just witnessed left them thoroughly convinced that Yahweh was the one true God, and that newly revived awareness left them crying out, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God” (1 Kings 18:39 ESV). And as if to put an exclamation point on the whole scene, Elijah had ordered the capture and execution of all 450 of Baal’s so-called prophets. When they had cried out to their god, he had remained silent. Now the prophet of Yahweh silenced them – for good. They would no longer deceive and mislead the people of Israel with fallacious promises concerning their false god.

But there was still one thing missing: The rain that God had promised. Baal had been discredited, his prophets had been eliminated, and the peoples’ reverence for Yahweh had been rejuvenated. But the land remained under the God-ordained drought that had turned Israel into a dust bowl where water and food were scarce and daily survival had become critical. The land that God had once described as “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 33:3 ESV) had become fruitless and lifeless, reflecting the spiritual state of the people who occupied it.

Hundreds of years earlier, long before the people of Israel took possession of the land of Canaan, Moses had warned them what would happen if they proved unfaithful.

“And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. And he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you shall eat and be full. Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them; then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the land will yield no fruit, and you will perish quickly off the good land that the Lord is giving you.” – Deuteronomy 11:13-17 ESV

And years later, when God’s people continued to display their propensity for unfaithfulness, His prophet, Joel, would offer this promise of divine restoration even in the face of their disobedience.

Surely the Lord has done great things!
    Don’t be afraid, O land.
Be glad now and rejoice,
    for the Lord has done great things.
Don’t be afraid, you animals of the field,
    for the wilderness pastures will soon be green.
The trees will again be filled with fruit;
    fig trees and grapevines will be loaded down once more.
Rejoice, you people of Jerusalem!
    Rejoice in the Lord your God!
For the rain he sends demonstrates his faithfulness.
    Once more the autumn rains will come,
    as well as the rains of spring.
The threshing floors will again be piled high with grain,
    and the presses will overflow with new wine and olive oil.

The Lord says, “I will give you back what you lost…” – Joel 2:20-25 ESV

That day on Mount Carmel, the people had seen the fire of God fall from heaven, completely consuming the altar, sacrifice, and water. But they had not yet seen or felt His blessing. As Joel stated, “the rain he sends demonstrates his faithfulness.” Their land was in desperate need of restoration and rejuvenation, and so were they. After three-and-a-half-years of spiritual drought, their hearts were parched and hardened. They had lost the capacity for fruitfulness and faithfulness and they needed an outpouring of God’s grace and mercy.

Elijah knew what God had in store. So, he informed the shell-shocked king to “Go get something to eat and drink, for I hear a mighty rainstorm coming!” (1 Kings 18:41 NLT). There was a blessing on the horizon. In spite of Ahab and Jezebel’s wickedness, God was about to pour out His goodness on the land.

The fact that Ahab had food to eat is symbolic of his self-centered approach to leadership. His sins had brought God’s curse upon the nation. But while they suffered severely from the lack of rain, Ahab and Jezebel lived in royal comfort and ease. God would later issue an indictment against the leaders of Israel, warning them of their blatant disregard for the care of His people.

“What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep?” – Ezekiel 34:2 NLT

And as Ahab was busy satisfying his own needs, Elijah interceded on behalf of the people of Israel. He “climbed to the top of Mount Carmel and bowed low to the ground and prayed with his face between his knees” (1 Kings 18:42 NLT). At one point during his prayer, he stops and sends his servant to look toward the Mediterranean Sea in the east. But the servant sees nothing. This pattern repeats itself five more times with the same disappointing result. But the seventh time, the servant returns with a different report.

“I saw a little cloud about the size of a man’s hand rising from the sea.” – 1 Kings 18:44 NLT

Out on the distant horizon, the servant had seen what appeared to be a small glimmer of hope. It was a small and seemingly insignificant cloud. But Elijah knew what it meant. The blessing of God was about to fall and, when it did, it would come in torrents. So, he instructed his servant to warn Ahab to leave immediately or he may not make it back to his winter palace in Jezreel. When Elijah’s servant had looked to the east, he only saw a faint possibility. But through his eyes of faith,  Elijah saw something altogether different. He perceived the imminent arrival of the outpouring of God’s blessing. And before long that small cloud had developed into a massive storm that brought strong winds and torrential rains. And as Ahab tried to outrun the storm in his chariot, “the Lord gave special strength to Elijah. He tucked his cloak into his belt and ran ahead of Ahab’s chariot all the way to the entrance of Jezreel” (1 Kings 18:46 NLT).

Because Jezreel was anywhere from 10-20 miles east of Mount Carmel, some commentators attempt to explain this last verse by saying that Ahab’s chariot got caught in the mud and delayed his arrival. Others speculate that Elijah simply took a shortcut over the ridge of Mount Carmel. But everything about this story has been focused on the matchless power of God. And it should not seem out of the question that God might endow his prophet with a supernatural capacity to outrun the chariot of his arch-nemesis. God had defeated Baal. Now, the prophet of God had defeated the benefactor of Baal.

But while Elijah had won the victory at Mount Carmel and the race to Jezreel, he would have little time to celebrate. Upon hearing the unexpected news of all that had transpired on Mount Carmel, Jezebel was outraged and directed all her anger at Elijah.

“May the gods strike me and even kill me if by this time tomorrow I have not killed you just as you killed them.” – 1 Kings 19:2 NLT

Despite all that Ahab told her about the day’s events, she remained unconvinced of Yahweh’s power. She even called on Baal and his queen mother, Asherah, to come to her aid so that she might avenge the deaths of the prophets by killing Elijah. She was still putting her hope and trust in her false gods. Even the sudden arrival of long-awaited rain did nothing to diminish her misplaced trust in her lifeless and powerless gods.

But even more surprising than Jezebel’s stubborn resistance to God was Elijah’s sudden display of fear and doubt. This man who had called down fire from heaven and had singlehandedly executed 450 prophets of Baal found himself intimidated by the idle threats of this self-absorbed, idol-worshiping queen. Her vow to avenge her false god should have made Elijah laugh with scorn. Her god had proven himself to be speechless, powerless, and utterly helpless in the face of Yahweh. Yet, the formerly faithful Elijah was suddenly fearful, and this time, rather than running to the problem in the strength of God, he ran away from it. He fled for his life, covering the 25 miles from Jezreel to Beersheba motivated by fear and in the strength of his own flesh. Faced with the threats of Jezebel, Elijah took his eyes off of God and took his fate into his own hands.

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