They were dark days indeed. The nation of Israel kept rebelling against God. When they got into trouble, God would graciously respond by sending a man to deliver them. They were in one of those “recessions” when a man named Manoah and his wife were trying to get pregnant.
A common frustration among new parents is the fact that babies don’t seem to come with an instruction manual. Samson’s parents were blessed enough to be given specific instructions in raising their baby: “Now therefore, please be careful not to drink wine or similar drink, and not to eat anything unclean. For behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. And no razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines” (Judges 13:4–5). Samson wouldn’t grow up to be a perfect man, yet despite his flaws, God would work through him to bring help for Israel.
Parents, there’s no guarantee that our kids won’t make Samson-sized mistakes. Yet, Samson wouldn’t have been able to do anything in his life without the foundation he got at home. The choices you make in parenting are important. We, too, live in a dark world, and there may be a day when God will be looking for someone to take a stand. Give your kids the foundation they need to make a difference.
Things were just starting to get good. Paul had been fighting a doctrinal battle with the Judaizers, a legalistic bunch who troubled the Gentile churches by telling the people they weren’t saved unless they were obeying the Law of Moses. The churches were discouraged. Yet after a big church council was held in Jerusalem, the leaders straightened the Judaizers out and confirmed that salvation was truly by grace through faith (Acts 15). Paul went back to encourage the struggling churches. Things were looking up. That’s when Paul sensed that God wanted to start a new work in the unreached area of Macedonia. The people of Philippi seemed open to the gospel, at least until that incident with the demon-possessed slave-girl. When Paul cast out the demon, the girl’s owners got upset, and everything went south. Paul was arrested and beaten …And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. (Acts 16:23)
Does it seem like things are looking up when “another fine mess” comes into your life? I think Paul had learned that God was going to even use this next mess. He was even praising God at midnight while locked up in prison. Did it turn out okay? You’ll have to read the rest of Acts 16 to find out, but you will find that it’s not a bad thing to trust God in the middle of your mess.
The Israelites had begun the great task of conquering their Promised Land. Jericho was conquered in an unusual way: Blowing trumpets, shouting, walls falling down. The city of Ai was a lesson in holiness. Sin in their camp led to an initial defeat at Ai, but once they dealt with the sin, God gave them victory. The next city didn’t seem a threat at all. Ambassadors from a “distant” land showed up requesting a treaty with Israel. While Israel was not allowed alliances with local nations, distant ones seemed okay. It was obvious these ambassadors were quite “distant” since their clothes were worn out and their food was old. So the Israelites examined their food, but they did not consult the Lord (Joshua 9:14). It turned out that these ambassadors from Gibeon actually lived right around the corner, and theirs was the next city Israel was to conquer. The treaty led to a mess. When the rest of the cities in the area decided to attack Gibeon, Israel was now obliged by treaty to protect Gibeon, and they were drawn into a bigger battle than they should have been.
I know that some of the decisions we make seem pretty obvious. Some of the choices before us are simple common sense. Don’t forget, beloved, that things are not always what they seem. It’s not bad to look at what you see before you, but be sure you are taking the time to consult God as well. He can save you a world of hurt.
The book of Deuteronomy serves several purposes. The Israelites first received the Laws of God through Moses right after having been delivered from slavery in Egypt. Deuteronomy is a second telling of the Law of Moses, given to the Israelites at the end of their forty years in the wilderness, just prior to entering into the Promised Land. It is a reminder, but it is also a warning.
The Israelites had not only been provided for in the wilderness, God had also been protecting them from much of the evils of the world. That protection was coming to a close. When Israel conquered the Amorites on the eastern side of the Jordan, they began to see the extent of the world’s wickedness. So God warns His people not to get enticed by that same wickedness He intended to destroy… so that there may not be among you man or woman or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations, and that there may not be among you a root bearing bitterness or wormwood; (Deuteronomy 29:18)
Beloved, we live in similar times. The wickedness in our culture is not only growing exponentially, but it is getting easier and easier for the Christian to be enticed, deceived, and caught in it. Guard your hearts beloved. Keep yourself pure. Jesus is coming.
Fourteen hundred years before Christ, Moses had been negotiating with Pharaoh for the release of the Israelite slaves. It wasn’t until the death of all the firstborn of Egypt that Pharaoh finally relented and set the captives free. While the firstborn of all Egyptians died that night, not a single Israeli child died because each of their houses had the mark of lamb’s blood on the doorposts.
Every year, Jewish people remember this event with the celebration of the Passover. God gave Moses explicit instructions on how the celebration was to take place. The celebration would include the sacrifice of lambs, but they were not to be sacrificed in just any old place, but at the place where the Lord your God chooses to make His name abide, there you shall sacrifice the Passover at twilight, at the going down of the sun, at the time you came out of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 16:6)
All through His ministry, Jesus would remind people that His “time had not yet come”. His time came at the Passover. While some expected Jesus to set the Jews free from Rome, God planned to set us free from sin. Jesus not only died on the Passover, but He died in Jerusalem, the place God had chosen. It was where God’s people could see it. Over three hundred ancient prophecies described His coming. This is no fairy tale. He is the One. Do you believe?
It was one of the things that kept the Israelites from going into the Promised Land after they had been delivered from Egypt. When the first reconnaissance report mentioned that giants lived in the land flowing with milk and honey, the Israelites became scared and took a forty-year detour before finally crossing over.
The giants were real. One fellow had a bed that was thirteen feet long (Deut. 3:11). The giants went by various names. They were known as Rephaim, Zamzummim (the originators of Zumba), Emmim, Horites, and Anakim (not Skywalker).
Just before the Israelites are to cross into Canaan and face the Land of the Giants, Moses reminds them of something they have learned in their forty years of wandering. Others have faced giants before and defeated them. In fact, those giants were … a people great and many, and tall as the Anakim; but the Lord destroyed them before the Ammonites, and they dispossessed them and settled in their place, (Deuteronomy 2:21 ESV)
The life that God desires for us is like a land “flowing with milk and honey”. While God has a wonderful life of promises for us, don’t think that this land comes easily. You will have to face some giants, but know that you won’t be the first to face a giant, let alone defeat it. God is more than able to give you victory.
Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding (John 2:2). We don’t know who it was that was getting married in Cana, but we do know some of the people on the guest list. Jesus’ mother Mary was there. Jesus was there. The disciples must have been Jesus’ “plus twelve”, because they were there as well. Judging from John’s description, it must have been a fairly large wedding, or at least it was larger than had been originally planned. Then the worst of all things happened. Right there in the middle of the feasting, they ran out of wine. I don’t know about you, but when I throw a party, I’m always afraid of running out of something. I always feel good when everyone’s eaten and there are plenty of leftovers. Though it was probably just a quick moment of panic when they ran out of wine, all I can say is that it was a good thing that Jesus was invited.
The hosts didn’t realize what Jesus had done, but when it was all said and done, Jesus had taken over a hundred gallons of water and turned it all into wine. In fact, it wasn’t just any wine, Jesus had made the finest wine, causing one man to exclaim that they had kept the best wine for last.
This is our God. He takes ordinary things like water and turns them into something wonderful like wine. Just when you think the joy is gone from a marriage, He can extend it on and on. In fact, when Jesus is an active part of your marriage, you find that it just gets better and better. He saves the best for last.
He wasn’t the most likely candidate for someone to be following Jesus. He was a wealthy man, and Jesus’ encounter earlier with a rich young ruler had already demonstrated how difficult it was for someone with wealth to enter into the kingdom of God ((Luke 18:24). Zacchaeus had one other thing working against him. He was a hated tax collector. He was even a “chief” tax collector. Tax collectors were Jewish men who betrayed their fellow Jews in order to collect taxes for Rome. They would charge exorbitant rates and keep the excess for themselves. They were hated by everyone in Israel.
On the morning of their encounter, Zacchaeus was curious about this Jesus. Luke records that he was “seeking to see who Jesus was” (Luke 19:3). Being a small man, Zacchaeus had to climb up a tree in order to see over the crowd and get a glimpse of Jesus as He passed by. But Jesus didn’t pass by. Jesus stopped and addressed Zacchaeus by name and then invited Himself over to Zacchaeus’ house for lunch. While the crowd was aghast that Jesus would talk to such an evil man, Zacchaeus was thrilled. He was so moved by Jesus that he voluntarily promised to give away half of his wealth and pay back any he had cheated (in contrast to that rich young fellow). While Zach was seeking Jesus, he found that Jesus had been seeking him. Jesus Himself said, for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). What do you think of lost people? What if some of those around you are among those Jesus is seeking to save?
Therefore you shall consecrate him, for he offers the bread of your God. He shall be holy to you, for I the Lord, who sanctify you, am holy. (Leviticus 21:8)
Our English translations use several different words (consecrate, holy, sanctify). In Hebrew, God uses the same word over and over in His instructions to the priests, qadosh (ka-D?sh). It’s the actual theme of the book of Leviticus. It occurs over 150 times in various forms. God’s desire was holiness for all His people, not just the priests. God wants His people to be “holy” because He is “holy”.
What is “holiness”? For some people their idea of holiness is to be pure or clean. Really, really clean. If you were a plate, God would want your plate to be clean. In fact, in order to keep the plate clean, some people would suggest it be locked away somewhere on a shelf where it can never get dirty.
Another aspect of holiness is the idea of being “set apart”. It means that you are set apart for God’s use. Though God wants the plate to be “clean”, He doesn’t want you locked up on a shelf where you just sit. He wants to take the plate off the shelf, load it with the Bread of Life, and use it to feed a hungry world. When a plate is clean, it has no taste to it. It doesn’t change the taste of the bread sitting on the plate. A dirty plate makes the bread taste like last night’s spaghetti. God wants to use you. God also wants people to taste what He’s like. Be holy. Be clean. Be set apart for His use.
For our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:29)
We often talk about people being “on fire” for the Lord, and though Nadab and Abihu were definitely on fire, they are not the examples to follow. They were literally on fire. Burnt to a crisp.
Nadab and Abihu were the two older sons of the high priest, Aaron. Moses and Aaron were in the process of setting up the Tabernacle as a place of worship and were beginning to offer the initial sacrifices to God. Everything was going according to plan until God Himself showed up. The offerings had all been laid out on the altar when fire came unexpectedly from the Lord, and the sacrifices were burnt up (Lev. 10). Nadab and Abihu were apparently caught by surprise by the whole thing and thought they needed to add to what was going on, so they added some “strange fire” of their own. And that’s when they too were consumed by fire.
It might seem a little harsh to be toasted just for a little “strange fire”, after all, how bad can a little “strange fire” be? The priests were to be men who gave people an idea of what God was like. God is holy. God is pure. He is not “strange”. Apparently Nadab and Abihu were tipping the bottle a little just before coming to church (Lev. 10:9). Ever since Driver’s Ed, I’ve been hearing how alcohol can impair a person’s judgment. I’ve since learned that alcohol isn’t the only thing that can impair judgment. Strange fire doesn’t seem so bad when you are “under the influence”. If you’re going to be under the influence, be under His influence. Represent Him well.