Wednesday, March 31, 2010

2 Kings11-15: Polarization of Judah and Israel

I'm going to tell you in advance, in this passage we have a series of good Judean kings and bad Israelite kings.  Actually, not to spoil the surprise for you or anything, but all Israel's kings are bad.  I think Jeroboam set a precedent.  Jehu apparently was the closest thing they had to a good king.

So remember that witchy Athaliah?  When her son (Ahaziah) dies, she sets herself up as ruler of Judah, and moreover, she goes on a rampage and kills all the possible heirs to the throne - I'm guessing she was planning on living forever? - except one escapes.  Ahaziah's sister takes Ahaziah's son Joash and hides him for six years.  He was about a year old when he was hidden, by the way.  For some reason, God has the priest, Jehoiada, proclaim Joash king when he is seven.  The people probably don't like Athaliah, because when they see that Joash is king they put her to death.  Jehoiada makes a covenant between God and the people and the new baby king, and the people go tear down all the altars of Baal.  So Joash's reign starts off on a good solid foot, and we find out that he follows God for as long as Jehoiada lives.  That's kind of a bad omen to me, because these priest guys tend to be old, and if he's going to stop following God when Jehoiada is gone, it means that, like possibly Solomon, Joash didn't have his own relationship with God.  Instead his relationship with God depended on somebody else, or else he was just content to let another person make his decisions for him.

But for now Jehoiada is alive, and so Joash has the temple repaired.  It takes 23 years for the work to actually get started, and that's when Joash has the bright idea of asking people to provide money to pay for the repairs.  But then Hazael, the king of Aram (remember the guy that Elisha anointed?) comes and threatens Jerusalem, so Joash sends all the valuable stuff that's in the temple to him so he'll leave.  It works, but it sucks.  He just spent 23 years trying to get the temple looking nice again, and now he's emptied it out to ward off an enemy.  You'd think he could ask God for some kind of miraculous deliverance, right?

In his later days, Joash became very unpopular; in fact, he was assassinated by his own servants.  But then his son became king so I don't know what good it did.

Meanwhile, Jehu's son Jehoahaz becomes king of Israel, and like his father before him, he does evil.  As a consequence, Aram is constantly beating them.  So I think that is fulfilling God's word to Elijah that Hazael would kill the people Jehu didn't kill.  Jehoahaz dies, and his son Jehoash becomes king.  Now, Jehoash is synonymous with Joash, and the names are used interchangeably for the kings of both Judah and Israel.  To keep them separate, I'm calling Judah's king Joash and Israel's king Jehoash.  He also does evil and is also succeeded by his son, who is named Jeroboam (my header calls him Jeroboam II).  It doesn't seem like either of these kings does anything really significant, compared to Joash over here who is repairing the temple.

Okay, so here is where we find out about the death of Elisha.  Elisha actually dies of natural causes, remarkably - that is, he dies of an illness rather than by being murdered.  Before he dies, he tells somebody to shoot an arrow out the window and that represents victory over Aram, and then he tells him to hit the ground, and that represents how many times they'll beat Aram, but the guy doesn't know that so he only hits the ground 3 times, which means Israel will prevail over Aram only 3 times.  We don't hear anything about Elisha's actual death except that when he is getting buried, some dead guy gets thrown into his grave, and when he touches Elisha's bones he revives and gets up.  So I think that's a final sign that to the very end - and I mean the very end - the same Spirit of the LORD that resided in Elijah, was present in even greater measure in Elisha. 

Joash's son becomes king of Judah next.  His name is Amaziah, and he s also a good king.  The high places are still around, but nobody else has taken them away either.  He kills the people who killed his father, probably a good idea in case they didn't want him on the throne, but he doesn't put their sons to death because that's against the Law of Moses, which says that people cannot be punished for the sins of their fathers, but only for their own sins.  It's nice to see somebody actually following this law.  That leads me to believe that whenever God does some kind of generational punishment, like when he wiped out all Jeroboam's family, it probably was because they were all just as bad as him.

Amaziah wants to fight against Jehoash for some reason, but Jehoash sends him some flowery message that basically says "no."  But Amaziah goes out against him, so Jehoash fights back, and Israel wins.  Sorry Amaziah.  Just because you're not serving idols doesn't mean God necessarily will give you a military victory, especially since it doesn't appear that God had any desire for this battle to happen, and in fact he was the one who had said Judah and Israel should not fight against each other.  But then Jehoash captures Amaziah and also takes all the gold and silver and stuff that's in the temple, so now all of Joash's work has really been undone I think.

But Jehoash doesn't kill Amaziah; Amaziah actually outlives him, but when he dies (he's actually assassinated like his father was), his son becomes king.  Like both Joash/Jehoashes, Amaziah's son has two names too.  The name my Bible gives right here is Amaziah, but the name he's best known by is Uzziah.  If you know Uzziah's name, you probably know that, like his father and grandfather, he was a good king.  Meanwhile, Jeroboam II has just become king, and no surprise, he's a bad king, just like his namesake.  Interestingly though, God gives Jeroboam II some military victories or something because he's able to restore some of Israel's land that had been lost before.  Why would this happen, you ask?  Fortunately the Bible gives us the answer right here.  It says, "For the LORD saw the affliction of Israel, which was very bitter; for there was neither bond nor free, nor was there any helper for Israel."  Elijah and Elisha, remember, were prophets specifically for Israel; they didn't do much work in Judah.  Even though Israel had crappy kings, God still loved the people of Israel; they were still his chosen people, and it was actually hard for him to see them suffering because of their bad decisions and the bad decisions of their leaders.  This just reinforces the teaching of Peter that God doesn't want anybody to perish but all to come to repentance, and that God is patient with us.

Meanwhile, Azariah/Uzziah is a good king, and guess what happens to him?  He becomes a leper.  He has a super-long reign, but he doesn't have his health.  To me that almost seems backwards - Israel, under a bad king, enlarges its border, while Judah's king serves God and gets leprosy.  Sometimes bad things happen to good people, and God doesn't even always give us an explanation why.  See, the good and bad things that happen to us aren't necessarily the consequence of our actions.  Suffering and grace alike can be completely undeserved.

Meanwhile, Israel gets a bunch more kings.  The first is Zechariah, and he is the fourth of Jehu's descendants to rule, so just like God promised, he is the last of his line.  A guy named Shallum kills him and becomes king, but he only lasts a month before a guy named Menahem kills not only him, but also all the pregnant women in the city!  I already don't like him.  He rules for ten years and is, as you probably guessed, evil.  During his reign Assyria starts creeping in, and Israel begins to pay them tribute.  Amazingly, nobody kills Menahem, and his son Pekahiah becomes king.  A guy named Pekah kills him and becomes king, and during his reign Tiglath-pileser of Assyria captures some of Israel's cities.  Slowly, Israel is beginning to crumble.  Think it has anything to do with the fact that every single one of their kings has not followed God?  Personally I sure do.  God gave them a bunch of chances, and he even showed them grace by restoring their border, and they kept screwing up.  I think God is withdrawing his blessing from Israel now.  I think he is going to let them go their own way and see what life without him really is like.  Sometimes God does that too.  Pekah also gets assassinated by a guy named Hoshea.

Okay, so Uzziah's reign didn't cover quite all that time.  Around the same time Pekah came to the throne, Uzziah's son Jotham became king in Judah.  And guess what?  He was also good!  We've had five whole chapters of good kings in Judah - four in a row!  I think that is a record, and that is why I am stopping at chapter 15, because the one after Jotham will break the trend.  Anyway, Jotham rebuilds some part of the temple, the upper gate.  Still nobody has taken away the high places, but the fact that Israel has managed to stay more or less on track for four generations is really amazing to me.

I think that up till now it's been kind of even between Israel and Judah, as far as who was following God and who wasn't.  Sure, Israel had all the bad kings and Judah had a few good ones, but Israel had some kick-awesome prophets to keep the people on track.  But now things are kind of going  chaotic in Israel, and Judah is on a roll in the right direction, or at least they're trying to be.  So it's not surprising that Israel is the one succumbing to Assyria as the empire begins to move toward the Holy Land.

Monday, March 29, 2010

2 Kings 6-10: The Final Prophesies of Elisha

Okay, so I didn't exactly finish chapter 6 last time. The Arameans beseige Samaria, and the people inside run out of food, to the point that inflation skyrockets and people start cannibalizing their children, and when the king hears about it he blames Elisha (don't ask me why) and wants to kill him.   But then, in chapter 7, Elisha prophesies that food will be plentiful the next day.  What happens is that some lepers go out to the Aramean camp thinking that since they're about to die anyway, they might as well throw themselves at the mercy of the enemy.  They discover that the Arameans have abandoned their camp - God apparently made them hear the sound of an approaching army - and left all their stuff.  At first the lepers take stuff and hide it, but then they feel bad and tell the people of Samaria.  So the people go and find food and riches and stuff, and then Elisha's prophecy comes true - awesome, and totally unexpected.  Good thing the lepers had consciences.

But apparently the famine continues, because Elisha goes to that Shunamite woman and tells her that her family should take a vacation to another country, so she lives with the Philistines, who I assume aren't much of a problem anymore, for seven years.  When she comes back, the land where she lives is now occupied by somebody else, so she appeals to the king and tells him about how Elisha gave her a son and then resurrected him and all that, so the king says she should get her land back. I take it from this story that the woman's husband has now died.

Remember at the end of 1 Kings, when God told Elijah to anoint 3 people? - Hazael as the new king of Aram, Jehu as the new king of Israel, and Elisha as the new prophet?  The only person he anointed was Elisha.  I don't know if that was okay with God or not that he didn't do it, but God never reprimanded him for it or anything.  But anyway, now Elisha goes and finishes the job.  But he's really upset over anointing Hazael because he foresees all the destruction he's going to bring to Israel.  So then Hazael goes and murders the current king of Aram, who was very sick at the time, and becomes king.  Reminds me of Macbeth.

Jehoshapat's son Jehoram now becomes king in Judah, and since two generations of good kings was apparently too good to be true, Jehoram is pretty much like all the kings of Israel, probably because he marries Ahab's daughter (and I'm sure she was the spitting image of dear mother Jezebel).  Maybe helping out Ahab and Ahaziah wasn't such a good idea, eh Jehoshapat?  Now, if you're confused, yes, you have heard the name Jehoram before - he's the brother of Ahaziah who is now the king of Israel.  Get this - when Jehoram of Judah dies, his son becomes king, and guess what his name is? Ahaziah.  And you thought all the Henrys of England and Louis (Louises?) of France were confusing.  Anyway, he's also bad, but even worse is his mother.  Her name is Athaliah.  That name makes me cringe, because one time a guy told the story of Athalia and Ahaziah and his son, and to make it more interesting he said Athaliah's name in a high-pitched, freaky, cackly voice.  So I always remember her name, and it sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Then Elisha anoints Jehu.  In another stroke of irony, Jehu's father was named Jehoshaphat.  He basically tells him that he's going to destroy Ahab's family.  So Jehu gets right to business: he tells his people what Elisha said, and they proclaim him king right then and there.  Only then do they go about killing the current king.  Jehu makes short work of Jehoram.  Then he has Jezebel thrown out the window, and he basically runs her over with horses.  Then he kills all the males in Ahab's family after tricking them into coming to him under the pretense of peace.

Jehu is a pretty tricksy character.  He pretends to be a devoted Baal-worshiper and gathers all the priests and worshipers of Baal together for a big sacrifice, but he kills them all.  It almost looks like he's going to follow God, right? Wrong.  He still worships other gods, he just has a thing against Baal apparently.  God commends him for destroying the altars of Baal and the house of Ahab, and promises that he'll have four generations of sons on the throne, which I don't totally get because Jehu was still bad.  He even brought out the golden calves that Jeroboam made and worships those.  Do you ever notice yourself making a really big deal about getting rid of one evil in your life, while ignoring others?  God, it seems, is amazingly patient with us, but unless we tear down all the altars in our lives and eradicate all the false gods from our hearts, we will not really accomplish anything good in the end.

So what did we learn in this passage?  I think this passage was mainly about fulfilling God's prophecies through Elisha.  It's sort of tying up loose ends, because I think this is the last we hear about Elisha.  I don't know how he died or anything, although I'm pretty sure he was killed (all the prophets were, except obviously Elijah).  I think we'll have to wait until Chronicles to find out. Anyway, so we find out that God is serious about what he promises, whether it's for good or for bad.  He provided food as he promised to Samaria, and he also executed judgment on Ahab's family as he promised.  And he was pretty gracious with Jehu, and Jehu is the only Israelite king who was promised a legacy (although Jeroboam was offered a lasting legacy in the beginning).  Sometimes God's promises are unconditional, like the food for Samaria in the midst of the famine.  But sometimes they're based on what we do, like how Jehu destroyed the altars to Baal and killed off Ahab's family.  He doesn't always act exactly in the same way, so don't try to predict him, but he does always keep his promises, so you can definitely count on him.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

2 Kings 4-6: There Can Be Miracles When You Obey

It's time for more stories about Elisha! One day Elisha meets a widow who is broke, and about to lose her sons to slavery, so Elisha makes her fill up a bunch of pots with oil, and all she has is a tiny little jar, but it fills every pot and jar and jug that she owns or could borrow from her neighbors, so she can pay off her debts and keep her sons. Now, what I find interesting is that when this woman came to Elisha, he didn't make a sack of gold drop from heaven, or the creditor drop dead. He made her do something. And the miracle only happened because she did what she was told. Sometimes when we look for miracles, I think we assume a miracle happens when we sit back and do nothing, when in reality, God is often calling us to do something that he will use in a miraculous way.

Now we meet another woman, and Elisha's always passing through her town of Shunem, so she invites him to dinner whenever he comes through, and then she convinces her husband to prepare a guest room for him so he'll have a place to stay. Elisha is so grateful that he asks her what he can give her as a thank-you, but she says she is perfectly fine. Elisha asks his servant what he should do, and his servant, Gehazi, points out that her husband is old and they don't have any kids. So Elisha tells her she'll have a son, and she does. Then when the son gets older, he gets sick and dies. She runs for Elisha and tells him what happened. First Elisha sends Gehazi off with his staff to see if that will cure the kid, while he follows the woman back. Gehazi is unable to resurrect the child with Elisha's staff, so when Elisha gets there, he goes into the room and prays and lies right on top of the kid, then stands up and walks around, then repeats, and the kid sneezes seven times and is fine. Talk about a funny resurrection story! Maybe he had a posthumous allergic reaction to Elisha's beard.

Next there's a famine, and some people make a stew, but it's poisonous. Elisha happens to be passing by and asks for meal, and he throws that into the stew and tells the people to eat it. Now, I don't know much about cooking, and I'm guessing these people didn't either since they made something poisonous, but I don't think that adding more ingredients typically cancels out a poisonous one, and I'm pretty sure the people knew that. So this was a very counter-intuitive move, and probably took a lot of faith in Elisha to obey. I mean, what if he was wrong? But they ate it, and sure enough, it was fine. Once again, in this case, obedience was required for a miracle to take place.

Another famous story happens in chapter 5. Remember that country Aram, that Israel's been fighting for the last several chapters? Well, there's a guy in the Aramean army who has leprosy, named Naaman. His wife has a little girl slave who's an Israelite, a captive from a raid. Now first of all, the fact that the Bible calls her a "little girl" tells me that she really is a little girl. Girls were women around 13 (and boys were men at the same age). Anyway, this little girl is so beautiful to me. She's been taken away from her mommy and daddy to be a slave to some pagan woman and her husband in a foreign land, and her master has a disease which, in her homeland, people got banished for, and yet she has compassion on him. Is that amazing or what? I love this little girl. She says she wishes that Naaman could be with the prophet in Israel (Elisha) because he could be healed. And Naaman, far from simply patting the girl on the head and saying "isn't that nice," actually goes to the king of Aram and tells him about it.

Now remember, Israel and Aram have been at war for the last several chapters, spanning a few generations at least. Yet for some reason the king says Naaman should go find this prophet guy – not only that, he volunteers to write a letter himself to the king of Israel, who, remember, is his enemy.

Now, the king of Israel isn't quite as cucumber-cool as the king of Aram. He sort of freaks out when he reads the letter because he thinks the king of Aram is demanding that he heal Naaman, or something like that I guess. He thinks it's another incitement to war. But Elisha hears about it – seems like word traveled fast in Israel, even without the Internet – and he sends a message to the king to invite Naaman over.

Anyway, you know the story. Naaman comes and Elisha sends a messenger to tell him to wash in the Jordan River seven times. Apparently the Jordan is really muddy and gross. Naaman gets angry because he wanted to see the real prophet and get a magic show. But one of his servants, who seems to be more sensible than Naaman, points out that if the prophet had asked Naaman to do something really hard, Naaman would have done it. So why can't he do something retardedly easy? So he does, and he gets healed! And a third time, the miracle was a result of obedience. And from what I can tell, Naaman wasn't 1/7 healed after his first dip, then 2/7, and so forth. He had to completely finish, and then he was completely healed – more than that, his skin became baby smooth! Seriously, it says his skin became like the "flesh of a little child."

Okay, so this is my favorite part. Naaman offers to give Elisha a present, but Elisha doesn't want anything. Naaman asks for some dirt, I guess to make an altar? Because from now on he is only going to sacrifice to the LORD and not to the pagan gods of Aram. Can you believe it?! Naaman didn't come here to be converted or to encounter God; he just wanted to get rid of his leprosy and go on with his life. But having been healed, Naaman has also been washed on the inside. He even goes on to explain that he helps the king into their temple to worship and he has to bow down for the king to lean on him, so he asks for God's pardon when that happens. I just can't believe the change in Naaman. He was angry before that Elisha didn't come out himself to see him and wave his hands and pull birds out of his hat. Now he seems really humble and grateful. I can see why he was well respected in Aram though; he's a dedicated guy.

Anyway, remember how I said Elisha doesn't want anything? Well, his servant Gehazi does. He goes out behind Elisha's back and asks for the gifts that Naaman had offered, lying and saying they're for somebody else (the sons of the prophets again, to be exact). Naaman gives him twice what he had offered to Elisha (also a very generous guy), and Gehazi takes it. But Elisha knows he took it, so he fires him, and more than that, he gives him Naaman's leprosy. Greed doesn't pay.

Then there's a short weird story about the sons of the prophets. They are building a new neighborhood, and while they're cutting down trees, somebody's axe head flies off the handle and sinks into the water, and he freaks out because it was borrowed. Have you ever lost something that you borrowed from somebody else? It is the worst feeling in the world. Especially when it was something important or valuable. But Elisha is a really nice guy and he makes the axe head float up to the top of the water so the guy can get it back. I wish that would happen to me when I lost something.

Okay, so now we go back to the Arameans. The king of Aram – Naaman's boss, the guy who sent him to Elisha – is at war with Israel already again. Israel is winning so badly that the king things there's a traitor among his servants. But his servants are like dude, that prophet in Israel, he can hear the things that you whisper in your bedroom and tell them to the king of Israel. Remember when Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah's spirit? I think this story confirms that he's got it. The king tries to capture Aram, but he can't because Elisha asks God to let them see all the angelic warriors who are surrounding Samaria, and then he makes them go blind and leads them right into the middle of the city so they can get captured. But he doesn't let the Israelites kill them. On the contrary, he feeds them and sends them home, and they never come back – at least, not the "marauding bands" of the Arameans. 

Once again, I'm going to stop early because this is just going to be too long. I think I've made the main point of my post clear: miracles are not just the result of believing something good can happen. Sometimes they are the result of doing what God tells you to do. Sometimes they require doing things that are illogical, like the woman with only enough food for her and her son, or downright stupid, like washing in a river that's dirtier than you are. I think the point is, if God asks you to do something, you should do it, because you never know what will happen. Sometimes God does miracles when we don't do anything, like the Shunamite woman who got a son just because she was nice to Elisha. Contrary to the popular belief that "there can be miracles when you believe," I think that there can be miracles regardless of whether you believe or not, because if God wants to do a miracle, I think he's just going to. However, it sure does seem to help if you believe, because belief leads to obedience, and God blesses obedience.

I think we have also learned that it's best not to borrow or lend something valuable to another person, unless you have a prophet handy to recover it when it gets lost.

Friday, March 26, 2010

2 Kings 1-3: The Rise of Elisha

Now we're on to 2 Kings. Ahab has died and his son is on the throne, but he's gotten sick. He wants to know whether he'll recover, so he sends somebody to ask of some random god, Baal-zebub (is this the good later known as Beelzebub or Belzebul in the New Testament, a synonym for the devil?). God tells Elijah to say to King Ahaziah, are you asking Baal-zebub for help because there is no God in Israel? And also, you're going to die. Elijah sends the message, and Ahaziah sends fifty men to go bring Elijah to him. This is really funny. The captain of the fifty says to Elijah, hey man of God, come down right now. And Elijah says, if I'm a man of God, fire will come down and burn you up. And it does. So then Ahaziah sends another fifty men, and the same thing happens. He sends another fifty men (whatever happened to "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me?), and the captain of the third fifty really doesn't want to die, so he goes to Elijah and bows down and begs for his life and the lives of his men. Smart guy. So Elijah knows this guy is going to show him respect and not kill him, so he goes with them. And he tells the king exactly what he already told him. Ha! I like Elijah. And of course, Ahaziah dies, but he doesn't have a son, so his brother, Ahab's other son, becomes the king.

As far as we know, only two people have ever made it out of this world alive. One was named Enoch. The other was Elijah. I wonder why these two are the ones who never died, and why not anybody else. Ever wonder about that? Well, the Bible doesn't tell us why. But Elijah knows ahead of time that it's about time to go, and so apparently does everybody else. Now, there's this group of guys collectively called "the sons of the prophets." I don't know who they are or why they all hang out together, but they show up from time to time in these books. When Elijah and Elisha pass by them, the sons of the prophets say to Elisha, "do you know that the LORD will take away your master from over you today?" and he says, yes I know; shut up. I like him already. Elijah and Elisha cross the Jordan with a cool river-parting move, and then Elijah asks Elisha if there's anything he wants. Elisha asks for a double portion of Elijah's spirit to be given to him. I don't know if he meant Elijah's supernatural power, or his ability to speak with God, or his courage, or his vitality, or something like that, but apparently he gets it. And a fiery chariot – I'm thinking that Elijah rode in style, like a stretch limo chariot – comes down from heaven and takes Elijah up.

  After Elisha can't see his master anymore, he takes Elijah's coat that he dropped, and he says something funny. He says, "Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?" Why on earth did he say that? He just saw Elijah get taken up to heaven, so obviously God is pretty close by. What did he mean by asking that? But anyway, he touches the water of the Jordan River with Elijah's mantle, just like Elijah had done to get the water to part on the way over, and the river parts again. Now, to me, when they crossed over the first time, I thought that was a totally pointless stunt. "Hey Elisha, look what I can do!" something like that. But now that Elijah is gone, Elisha needs to know that God really is with him and Elijah wasn't just speaking off the cuff. When he is able to do the same miracle Elijah did, maybe he knows that God truly is with him. And maybe that answers his question.

  So Ahaziah's successor, Jehoram, is just as bad as he and their dad were. But when Moab rebels against Israel, he goes to king Jehoshapat (who is good, remember) for help, and Jehoshapat says he'll help again. Now, we haven't heard a whole lot about Jehoshaphat, mostly just a paragraph saying he was good, and a little anecdote about him and Ahab fighting Aram together, but I'm inclined to like him. He wants peace between Judah and Israel, because remember, God wanted peace between Judah and Israel. Every time a king of Israel asks for his help, this is what he says: "I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses." In other words, your battle is my battle because we are all God's chosen people. He isn't uppity and elitist like "no, you Israelites seceded from Judah, so we don't want to have anything to do with you. We're the good side and you're the bad side." That's not the way it is, and Jehoshapat knows it. This, I think, is how we should treat other Christians, even the ones who belong to churches we may not fully agree with. I'm not talking about cults or living in sin or anything like that (although that would more accurately describe Israel); I mean other people who are believers, just as the Israelites were just as much God's chosen people as the people of Judah. At least, that's what I take away from this.

So they go, and the king of Edom joins them, and they get stuck in a place without water. So they need to call a prophet for help, and somebody suggests Elisha, the former servant of Elijah. So far, Elisha is kind of an unknown – the person has to say that he was Elijah's helper or nobody would know who they were talking about. Anyway, Elisha doesn't want to talk to the kings of Israel or Edom, and only does so because of Jehoshapat, but he won't prophesy to them. Instead he makes a minstrel do it, and the spirit of the LORD comes on the minstrel. Weird! Anyway, so they go into battle, and Moab is losing, and so the king of Moab sacrifices his oldest son as a burnt offering, which is gross and evil, but then a great wrath comes against Israel – super freaky. Maybe because Israel didn't follow God, they were not protected from the dark forces that Moab served. Now, up to this point in the story (meaning the whole Bible), pagan gods have been portrayed as relatively impotent. God made a mockery of Egypt's gods, the gods of Canaan were powerless to save them from destruction, the Philistine idol of Dagon can't even stay upright in the presence of the ark of the covenant, and 6+ hours of screaming and cutting doesn't arouse the attention of Baal. For pretty much the first time, here we see a result, and it comes from what God depicts as one of the most heinous acts a person can do, human sacrifice. These people may just be serving blocks of wood and stone, but there are other powers in this world than good and other supernatural beings besides God and the angels. The darkness is real and so is its power. And that, I believe, is why God wanted Israel to stay far, far away from it. This is a scary part of the story to me.

I was going to go through chapter 8, but this seems like a good place to stop to me.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

1 Kings 17-22: Ahab v. Elijah!

Ready to hear about a prophet you've actually heard of?  Well, look no further, because Elijah the Tishbite is here!  Now, I think "Tishbite" is a really funny word.  But even people with funny names can serve God and do awesome things.  Check this out.  The first thing Elijah does ans go to Ahab and tell him that there is not going to be rain or even dew unless he says so, and that it's going to last a few years.  Luckily, God has a secret hiding place for Elijah where he can get food and water.  First God uses ravens to give Elijah food, but later he uses more traditional means, namely, a person.  There's a widow in a place called Zarephath that God wants to provide for him.  But when Elijah finds her, she's getting ready to bake the very last food she has in her house, and there's only enough for her and her son, and after that they're just going to starve to death.  So Elijah says something really inconsiderate considering that: he asks the widow to make food for him first, and then for her and her son, and he tells her that she won't run out of flour or oil.

Now, if I were in this widow's position, I would probably think this was a crazy guy.  Maybe she knew who Elijah was.  But amazingly, she immediately does exactly what Elijah asked, and sure enough, her flour and oil jars don't run out for the entire length of the drought.  You know how I said maybe she knew who Elijah was? I'm not sure, because once the miracle happens, then she says "Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth."  She didn't know that for certain before, but she still obeyed.  Now, I have a feeling that if she'd made food for herself and her son first, and then for Elijah, the results would not have been the same. What do you think?  Also notice that the miracle allows the widow to continue making bread, but nothing else.  Elijah doesn't promise for a stray deer to wander onto her property, or for a vegetable truck from the future to slip through a wormhole and land on her doorstep.  Sometimes God's miracles are overwhelmingly huge, and sometimes God's miracles are just keeping us alive.

Now three years have passed, and God tells Elijah that he's finally going to send rain, but first he's got a project.  On his way to tell Ahab, Elijah runs into Obadiah.  Obadiah is one of Ahab's people, but he worships the true God and even saved the lives of 100 prophets when Ahab's wife Jezebel (we'll hear more about her; she's a real gem) is killing them all.  Remember that fact, by the way.  So anyway, Elijah has Obadiah tell Ahab that he's on his way, and very reluctantly, he does.  Elijah tells Ahab to assemble all the people of Israel, including the prophets of Baal (all 450 of them) and the prophets of Asherah (all 400 of them) on Mount Carmel.  So he does, except the prophets of Asherah don't show up for some reason.

This is my favorite story in this book.  Elijah calls the people out and says they need to decide whether to follow the LORD or Baal, and they're going to have a test to see which one is the true God.In true Mythbusters fashion, Elijah sets up identical experiments: two altars, two oxen, no fire.  The god who sends fire from heaven to burn the offering, is really God.

The prophets of Baal spend all day long trying to get Baal to answer him.  They take so long, in fact, that Elijah starts making fun of them.  They even cut themselves because they believed that Baal was drawn to the scent of blood (part shark?).  But the Bible tells us "there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention."  Whatever celestial beings may be up in heaven, Baal is not one of them.

Then it's Elijah's turn, and he tips the scales against his favor by dousing the entire altar with several gallons of water.  He prays one time, in two sentences, and immediately fire comes from heaven and not only burns the offering, but also burns the wood, the stones, and the run-off water that Elijah had poured on the altar.  That would have been freaky.  The highly intelligent people of Israel immediately cry, "The LORD, He is God!"  I'm glad they came to that conclusion given the evidence.  So then Elijah takes all 450 prophets of Baal down the hill and kills them, and he tells Ahab that it's going to rain pretty hard soon.

Ahab goes home to the wife and tells him what the big mean prophet did to him.  Now, Jezebel is a witch.  She's not even Jewish.  Jezebel sends a sweet little note to Elijah that basically says, what you did to the prophets of Baal, may the gods do all that and more to me if I don't kill you by tomorrow.  Now, Elijah has been pretty tough up to this point.  He's faced down 450 prophets of Baal and an evil king without so much as flinching.  He knows God is on his side.  But one telegram from the wicket witch of Israel, and Elijah runs for his life.  He runs to Beersheba, and then he goes into the wilderness, and finally he walks all the way down to Mt. Sinai (also known as Horeb).  So it's no wonder that when he gets there, the first thing God says to him is, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"  Elijah whines that he's done everything for God and Israel has been bad and has killed all the prophets and he's the only one left and they're trying to kill him too.

Now, remember that guy Obadiah?  Thanks to him, there are at least 100 prophets of God alive still.  Maybe Elijah just doesn't know about them.  But the person who wrote this book knew about them, so somebody knows what he did.  Do you ever feel like you're the only one of your kind?  Like you're the only person in the world trying to do the right thing and follow God and you're all by yourself?  I've felt like that.  But the truth is, you're not alone.  Chances are, there are other people in the exact same situation, but you might have to look for them.  This is why I think that it's important for Christians to be part of some kind of church.

God does something interesting next.  He tells Elijah that he's going to pass by.  There's a huge earthquake, but God's not in the earthquake.  Then there's a fire, but God's not in the fire.  And after that there's a tiny, tiny wind - my Bible says "a gentle blowing," and others call it a "still, small voice."  When Elijah hears it, he knows that it is God.  Now, I don't know exactly why God did this, but I think it means that God doesn't always appear with a band, like He did at Mt. Carmel.  Maybe God is telling Elijah that He's going to provide for him the same way He provided for the widow at Zarephath - not with a lot of fanfare and bells and whistles, but by just quietly keeping him going.

So God doesn't even answer Elijah's pity party, except to say that when all is said and done, there will still be 7000 in Israel loyal to Him.  Instead of a "poor baby" and a pat on the back, God tells Elijah to go all the way back to Israel, and stop in Damascus to anoint a new king over Aram (not part of Israel), a new king of Israel, and a new prophet/apprentice for himself.  God says that Hazael (new king of Aram) will kill a bunch of people, and the people Hazael doesn't kill, Jehu (new king of Israel) will kill, and the people Jehu doesn't kill, Elisha (new prophet) will kill, and after all that there will still be 7000 followers of God left.  So Elijah goes back and does those things.

In the next chapter, Israel has a couple wars with the aforementioned country of Aram.  At the time, the king is named Ben-hadad.  Ahab actually wins, and Ben-hadad escapes.  His servants tell him that the Israelite kings are merciful.  Isn't that cool, that even though Israel has turned bad, they still have a good reputation?  Anyway, so Ben-hadad goes groveling to Ahab, and Ahab makes a covenant with him and lets him live.  But then a prophet tells Ahab that he was supposed to kill Ben-hadad and now he and Israel are going to be in trouble because of it.

Next, we have a lovely story about Ahab.  It seems there's this guy named Naboth who has a vineyard near Ahab's palace.  Ahab wants the vineyard, not because it's a good vineyard - he wants to turn it into a vegetable garden - he just wants it because it's close to his house.  Naboth says no, because it's his inheritance.  That might not make a lot of sense to us today - I mean, I were Naboth, and the king offered me money and a better vineyard for it, I would say sure! but inheritance and land were really important to people back in the day.  They were things you just did not give away.

So Ahab goes home to mope, and delightful Jezebel hears the story and says she will get the vineyard.  Unlike Ahab, though, Jezebel is not a fair player.  She just sets up for Naboth to be murdered, and that's what happens.  So then Ahab gets his precious vineyard.  But then Elijah comes back and tells Ahab that, like Jeroboam and Baasha before him, every male in Ahab's family is going to be cut off, and that dogs are going to eat Jezebel's body.  Then the Bible has rare bit of commentary: "Surely there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do evil in the sight of the LORD, because Jezebel his wife incited him."  How would you like that legacy?  Ahab, it seems, didn't so much set out to do evil, as he let evil happen and didn't say a word.  He married a woman who served false gods, he let her set up 850 false prophets who ate at her table, he let her go after Elijah, and he had to have known what she was going to do to Naboth.  Ahab sold himself to the devil so that he could plant a vegetable garden next to his house.  What a dip.

Fortunately for Ahab, he realizes he's a dip.  When Elijah tells him this, he tears his clothes and puts on sackcloth and fasts.  Beloved Jezebel probably kicked him and told him to get up and be happy, but if she did, he finally didn't listen to her.  Anyway, God is so impressed by Ahab's humility that He decides to be merciful and not to cause this rampant destruction in Ahab's days, just in the days of his son.

Finally, another war with Aram.  Israel and Judah go out together.  The king of Judah at this time is Jehoshaphat, who's a good guy, and he wants to ask one of the LORD's prophets whether they'll win.  All the other prophets in the world are telling them that they're going to win.  But along comes another prophet, named Micaiah, and he says they're going to lose.  What's weird about this story is that the people act like it's Micaiah's decision for Aram to win.  When he comes to the king, the messenger tells him to prophesy favorably because that's what everybody else has been doing.  And when he does otherwise, Ahab tells Jehoshaphat, see, I told you he'd say something negative.  And he has him thrown in prison until his safe return.  But I guess he's going to stay there a while, because just like Micaiah said, Aram wins - I assume the king of Aram is the same one that Ahab let live - and Ahab gets randomly shot  and killed.

Last of all we hear more about this Jehoshaphat guy.  He was the son of Asa, a good king, remember?  Jehoshapat is also a good king.  Finally! Asa has succeeded where so many other leaders of Israel have failed, in raising a godly son.  So Judah is on the mend.  In contrast to that,. Ahab's son becomes king, and he's bad just like his father.  Ahab's humiliation may have been sincere, but the text doesn't say anything about repentance or about Ahab serving only the LORD after this point, so in the end, nothing changes in Israel.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

1 Kings 12-16: DIvision of the Kingdom

When Solomon dies, his son Rehoboam becomes king.  The people of Israel tell him that they were pretty heavily taxed during the days of Solomon (probably to pay for the temple and the palace), and if the new king will just lighten the load a little, they'll faithfully serve him forever.  Rehoboam initially responds well to this request; he calls the elders who had been  on Solomon's advisory panel and ask them what they think.  But when they tell him to listen to the people, he doesn't seem too impressed.  So then he calls in his friends, the young spoiled rich kids who grew up with young spoiled Rehoboam.  They tell him, no way man!  You should tax them even harder, and make a wisecrack about your dad to boot!  Oh yeah, that comment about "my little finger is thicker than my father's loins"?  That was probably a lewd comment intended to mock his father's masculinity, if you don't know what I mean (if you don't, know that the word translated "loins" could have been translated to mean what's between the legs).

So Rehoboam turns out to be a jerk, because this is his response to the people.  A word of advice: when you're in a leadership position, try not to do something that will make the people under you quit, because they can.  And they do.  Ten out of Israel's twelve tribes secede and form their own country, and do you know who they make king?  That's right, Jeroboam from last time.  Now remember, God had told Jeroboam that he would become king of Israel, and promised him that if he followed God, he would have basically the same deal that was promised to David: a descendant on the throne forever.

Anyway, so as soon as Israel secedes, the people of Judah and Benjamin prepare to go to war - you know, your typical civil war situation.  But God tells a random prophet (ever hear of Shemaiah?) that the Jews can't fight against their own people.  They've never made a habit of listening to God before, but this time they do.

Let's go see how Jeroboam is doing as king.  Oh look, he's commissioned two golden calves and altars on the high places, and appointed non-Levite priests, and set up holidays to honor his calves.  What happened was, he was afraid that if the people continued to follow the LORD, they would be continually going to Jerusalem to sacrifice, and that would eventually reunite the kingdom - in spite of what the LORD himself promised Jeroboam.  So he created an alternative religion for his people so that they would stay out of Judah, thereby securing his reign - or so he thought.  See, there's a problem whenever we think that we can secure our own future.  God had already offered Jeroboam as good of a deal as anybody can have, and instead of trusting God to keep his word, he sets up his own security system. But God wants to give him a second chance, so an anonymous man of God visits him and warns him that there is impending doom because of his idolatry.  Jeroboam stretches out his hand to order that the man of God be seized, but God strikes his hand so that some weird affliction happens to it (my text says it "dried up" but I don't know what that would have looked like).  So of course, then Jeroboam begs the prophet to pray to God so his hand would be healed.  Now, if I were the man of God, I would say, no way!  You just tried to kill me, and you aren't going to listen to God.  Why should I help you, since I'm about to die anyway?  But this guy is a better guy than me, apparently, so he prays to God and Jeroboam's hand is healed.  Oh joy.  So then Jeroboam invites the prophet to come back to his house and get a "reward."  Now the prophet wises up and says no way man, there is nothing on earth that could make me go with you or eat your food.  Well, it's actually because God had told him not to eat any food or drink any water until he gets home.  So he goes home.

But on the way home something really weird happens.  There's this old prophet in Bethel, and his sons tell him the story above about Jeroboam and the man of God, so the old prophet goes out and meets the first prophet and invites him home to dinner.  The prophet at first says no way, but then the old prophet lies and tells him that God had spoken to him and told him to invite the first prophet to dinner.  So he does, but because he's disobeyed God, God tells him that he won't be buried in his father's grave.  And sure enough, on his way home, he's attacked by wild animals, dies, and gets picked up and buried in Bethel instead of his hometown.  Remember how serious the Jews were about death?  Being buried not in your family's grave, apparently, is kind of a disgraceful thing.

So basically, I think this story has a valuable lesson to teach us: that is, you can't always trust when somebody else tells you God has spoken to them.  Especially if it contradicts what you know God has told you.  Keep in mind, the guy who lied was also a prophet - he was a guy who spoke the words of the LORD that he heard directly from the Big Guy.  But prophets are not infallible, nor are they above doing something presumptuous and stupid like this guy.  You can't just rely on a person's reputation as a follower of God, a prophet, or a pastor, or on their word that God spoke to them, especially if you don't know the person very well.  You have to listen to God yourself.

Now we go back to Jeroboam.  Jeroboam's son has gotten sick, so he sends his wife in disguise to another prophet, named Ahijah.  Is it just me, or are there an awful lot of prophets in this country?  Anyway, this prophet is blind, so he wouldn't have been able to recognize Jeroboam's wife anyway, but God tells hm that she's coming so it doesn't matter.  Anyway, so Ahijah tells the wife that because Jeroboam rejected God's word and caused Israel to sin by building idols and high places, God is going to cut off all the males in Jeroboam's whole family and put somebody else on the throne in his place.  And moreover, as soon as the wife re-enters the city, her son will die.  Now, if I were a mother, and God told me that, I would stay out of the city for the rest of my life.  But this woman is none too bright; she goes straight home, and of course her son dies right away.

So later Jeroboam himself dies, and his son reigns in his place.  But we don't find out about him yet because now the text switches over to Rehoboam.

Now, as much bad as Jeroboam did to keep Israel away from God, Rehoboam and Judah do just as much and even worse.  They build up the high places and put Asherim on every big hill and under every big tree.  Asherim are a kind of idol, by the way.Moreover, they have male cult prostitutes in the land.  So then the king of Egypt comes against Jerusalem and makes off with all the treasures that were in the temple - remember all the riches of Solomon?  They're all gone now.  Rehoboam replaces Solomon's gold shields with bronze shields.  And finally, we find out that there is war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam continually, in spite of what God had said.  And that's all the significant stuff that happened in Rehoboam's reign.  In other words, he was a flop.

So then his son Abijam becomes king, for only three years, and he's pretty much the same as his dad - idolatry, war with Israel, etc.  But then when he dies, his son Asa becomes king, and Asa is as good as Rehoboam and Abijam were bad.  He got rid of the cult prostitutes and removed all the idols, and he de-throned his mother because she had made an Asherah (female deity) image, and he also destroyed that.  He didn't take down the high places, which I don't understand, but it says that his heart "was wholly devoted to the LORD all his days." He also put silver and gold back into the temple.  Unforutnately, there was war between him and the king of Israel (who by this time is a guy named Baasha - we'll hear about him soon).  Asa forms a treaty with Aram to prevent Israel from attacking him anymore, and it works.

So Jeroboam's son only lasts two years, and he does evil, and then he gets assassinated by Baasha, the guy we just heard of, who then becomes king.  And Baasha not only kills Nadab, but he also kills every male related to Jeroboam, just like God has said.  And Baasha is just as bad as Nadab and Jeroboam, so God sends the same prophecy (by another new prophet named Jehu) to Baasha that he gave to Jeroboam's wife:
every male in Baasha's family is going to be cut off.  And that's what happens. Baasha gets murdered by one of his army commanders named Zimri, who kills everybody in Baasha's family. But he only lasts for seven days - then a guy named Omri is set up as king, and he beseiges Tirzah, which is where Zimri was living, so Zimri actually sets his own house on fire so that he won't be killed by somebody else.  Omri reigns for twelve years, and dies, and his son Ahab becomes king.  Does that name ring a bell? It should.  We're going to hear a lot about him next time.  For now, just know that he is just as bad and even worse than all the kings who have been before him, and it says that "he did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel than all the kings of Israel who were before him."  This guy sets the new record for bad.  So it's time for God to send in the big guns - no more little prophets who speak up once and then disappear forever (well, that's probably not true; it just seems that way).  God's about to raise up the biggest prophet since Moses.  Tune in next time to see how that plays out.

Friday, March 19, 2010

1 Kings 5-11: The Reign of Solomon

King David got a whole book to describe his reign; Solomon reigned just as long and gets seven chapters.  This This is because ancient biographers were not concerned with chronicling every detail of a significant person's life, but only with recording the parts of the person's life that made them significant.  I wish that modern biographers would take this approach; I hate reading biographies.

Anyway.  The most significant event of Solomon's life, as we all know, was the building of the Temple.  This was a huge undertaking, and to accomplish it, Solomon had to get outside help from the king of Tyre, a guy named Hiram.  Solomon bought cedar and cypress timber from Hiram in exchange for lots of food.  Solomon also hires some of Hiram's servants in addition to his own tens of thousands of laborers.  It took this many people, I suppose, because they had to transport the materials, and that could not have been easy.  Solomon, being a smart dude, had 30,000 people divided into 3 rotating shifts - each shift of 10,000 would work 1 month and be home for 2 months, which is a pretty nice deal I think.  I don't know what his other workers' hours were.

Anyway, the book gives general specs on the building - dimensions, materials, rooms, some of the decorations, etc.  But it's not a blueprint, so we don't know exactly what it looked like, although a lot of people have made good educated guesses.  Wikipedia has an article about it.  The point is, this was supposed to be the most beautiful building in Israel - just about everything in it was overlaid with gold, and there were cherubim statues and engravings of palm trees, flowers, and more cherubim.  It took seven years to build and all 38 verses of chapter 6 plus 39 verses of chapter 7 to describe.

In the next chapter Solomon builds himself a house, which is much smaller and much less impressive, and only takes 12 verses to describe.  Clearly, the house of God was more important to Solomon than his house was, and that is as it should be.

Then the ark is brought into the temple, and Solomon addresses the people to tell them why he built the temple, and gives a very long prayer of dedication, asking God to hear the prayers of His people and have mercy on them when they are in distress or when they have turned from Him and then repent.  He finishes with a benediction and then a really huge sacrificing party - 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep.  I don't know how long it took to sacrifice each animal, but using a little bit of basic math I figured out that they definitely needed multiple priests sacrificing at once or they'd be there for like a week.

Now God appears to Solomon again, like he did before when Solomon asked for wisdom.  God tells Solomon again that if he lives as David did and follows God all his life, his throne will be established forever and everything will be good; but if he doesn't, the land will be taken away from him and the temple will be destroyed.  That makes me wonder, if Israel had never sinned, and if all the kings had been good, would Jesus have been born in a palace?

Now that all the temple work has been completed, Solomon gives fellow king Hiram twenty cities in Galilee, just to have.  I think that is really generous, because remember he's also been giving him food for the last 7 years.  But Hiram doesn't like the cities he got (maybe he doesn't like Galilee).  This, to me, is kind of like looking a gift horse in the mouth, don't you think?  But we don't know if Solomon did anything to make him more grateful.  We just know that those 20 cities were nicknamed Cabul, meaning "as good as nothing," and that Hiram sent Solomon 120 talents of gold.

Earlier, we heard that kings came from around the world to meet with Solomon because he had a reputation of being so wise.  Now the queen of Sheba comes to visit Solomon.  Sheba is apparently where Ethiopia is today.  The queen and Solomon seem to hit it off, to the point that many people believe the queen returned to her country carrying Solomon's child.  And to this day, I believe the Ethiopians claim to be descendants of the queen of Sheba and Solomon, to some extent.  And maybe that's why they accepted Christianity so readily.  I don't know.

Now we get a description of how rich Solomon was - the armor, the chariots, the armies, the goblets, etc.  Apparently Solomon made Israel so rich that silver because a common metal.  How would you like to live in a land where there was as much silver as gravel!

Unfortunately, the other thing Solomon has a lot of is women.  300 wives and 700 concubines - seriously, that's disgusting.  How is it that the wisest ruler in the world is probably the stupidest husband?  Well, God didn't say he'd give Solomon wisdom for everything in life, just for ruling.  I don't believe that Solmon was the overall wisest person ever to live, because he made really foolish mistakes in his relationships - namely, that he had so many.  And guess what?  Since Israel apparently ran out of single women for Solomon to collect, he started turning to foreign women, including women from countries and religions that God said never to intermarry with.  And wouldn't you know it, all those women eventually turned Solomon's heart away from God.  If your heart is divided among 1000 women, I think it's only natural to suppose that it would become divided from God sooner or later as well.  Really, really stupid idea, wise guy.

So of course, trouble starts to come, and it comes from Israel's cousin, Edom.  Edom rebels against Solomon, and there was strife between the two nations for the rest of Solomon's life.  Now God tells a prophet named Ahijah that he's going to divide the kingdom between David's descendants and another guy named Jeroboam, and he'll even give Jeroboam the majority of the kingdom.  Ahijah tells Jeroboam that if he follows God, things will go well for him and he'll have a descendant on the throne of Israel forever - kind of like what God said to Solomon.  God doesn't want to destroy Israel, but he is going to use it as an illustration of what a heart divided looks like.  But out of love for David, God's decided to wait until after Solomon's death to do this.

Solomon dies, and I don't know what the state of his heart was.  God told Solomon himself that he's going to take the kingdom away from him, and we don't hear whether Solomon repents or not.  That's kind of discouraging, because God had been so important to him before - or maybe it was that he was preoccupied with David's vision, without ever making it his own.  I suppose we'll never know on this side of heaven.  Either way, it's clear that the old saying is true: God doesn't have grandchildren.  Just because David followed God wholeheartedly, doesn't mean that Solomon could do whatever he wanted.  Maybe Solomon was basing his relationship with God off his father's relationship, figuring that being the son of David was good enough to keep him in God's good graces.  And you just can't do that.

Monday, March 15, 2010

1 Kings 1-4: The King Is Dead; Long Live the King!

We start 1 Kings with David being on his death bed, or at least very near it.  He's very old and he gets really cold just lying around in bed all day.  So his advisers advise that they find a virgin to take care of David and sleep in his bed to keep him warm.  Now, my question is, where are all David's wives?  He's got at least eight, but none of them volunteer to take care of him - not even Abigail, the smart one.  Guess we know how committed those relationships are.  So they hire some pretty girl to be David's nurse, and good boy, he doesn't sleep with her (in that sense).  Maybe he's finally learned his lesson.

Then Adonijah, one of David's sons sets himself up as king - before David is even dead - even though David had already declared that Solomon would be king after him.  So the prophet Nathan talks to Solomon's mom Bathsheba and tells her to talk with David to make sure Solomon becomes king.  Sure, now the loving wife wants to spend time with her husband.  But David doesn't really mind too much; he declares that Solomon is going to be king, and he orders Nathan to set up a party anointing Solomon.  So they do.

Oh yeah, guess who else was behind Adonijah's becoming king?  That's right, Joab.  Finally, David tells Solomon not to let Joab die in peace, but he doesn't kill him himself (though I wish he would've). So David dies, Solomon becomes king, and Adonijah wants to keep his place in the land of the living, so he surrenders to Solomon, or rather to Bathsheba, and says all he wants is David's nurse, the cute girl who David fortunately didn't sleep with.  Bathsheba asks Solomon's permission, but Solomon isn't too thrilled with the idea - actually he says that Adonijah must be put to death.  He also fires the priest, since he was in cahoots with Adonijah, and apparently he's a relative of Eli - remember him from 1 Samuel?  God told Eli that He would judge his house.

Then finally - finally - Solomon order his new army commander to kill Joab, who has run away, and he does.  Solomon also kills the guy who had cursed David that David had let go.  Now all the resistance has been put down and Solomon's rule is secured.

Then God appears to Solomon in a dream and tells him to ask for something.  Solomon, wisely, asks for wisdom to rule.  God is really pleased with this request, so in addition to giving Solomon wisdom, He promises him wealth and long life and rest from his enemies, as long as he continues to be devoted to God.  Then we have an example of Solomon making a really wise decision - two women claim the same baby and Solomon figures out whose kid that baby is.

The next chapter basically tells us Solomon's kingly stats: who his officials are, what the extent of his territory is, and how his reputation as a wise ruler grows.  Solomon had 3000 proverbs, 1005 songs, and knew about trees, animals, birds, and all kinds of stuff basically.  And you thought your parents were know-it-alls.

So things are going well for Solomon.  His country has grown and it's at peace, he's got lots of money, and he's making good decisions for his people.  That means only one thing: It's time for a project.  But we'll find out about it next time.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

2 Samuel 22-24: David's Last Days

We're coming to the end of another book, and at the same time we're coming to the end of David's reign.  He's just returned to Jerusalem after Absalom chased him out and after the other guy revolted against him, so he sings a psalm praising God for delivering him from all his enemies, from Saul onward.  The song is also found in Psalm 18, by the way.  The heading in my Bible calls it "David's Psalm of Deliverance," and it's all about the faithfulness of God, the greatness of God, and all the ways that God has saved David.  It talks about how God delivered David because David was righteous and kept God's commands.  This kind of runs contrary to what we're generally told about how God deals with people, that it's not about how good we are.  And when it comes to our eternal salvation, that's true, because nobody is beyond needing to be saved.  But with life's problems, the truth is that it pays to do the right thing.  God does reward obedience - he rewarded the Israelites, he rewarded David, and He rewards us too, although we don't always know when or how it'll happen.

Next, David sings a song declaring the greatness of God and rejoicing in God's covenant with him.  Things are good.

Then the story shifts to talking about David's "mighty men."  These are the heroes of David's army, the bravest of the brave and the strongest of the strong.  It lists all the names of the Thirty (there are 37 of them), but it talks in greater detail about the Three, who are the bravest of the bravest of the brave and the strongest of the strongest of the strong, and it briefly mentions each of their military exploits.  But then it tells about another adventure they had that was of a different nature - one time when they were at war, David said something about wishing for water from the well at his hometown, and his three mighty men sneak through the Philistine ranks and risk their necks to get David some of the water.  When they come back and present him with the water, he is too overwhelmed with their sacrifice to drink the water, and he pours it out as an offering to God.  This might sound like a really ungrateful thing to do, but I think offering it to God was really a way of honoring the men for what they did - kind of like, just saying thank you would not have been enough.  One time in college, I wasn't feeling too well.  I tend to crave apples when I'm not feeling well, but our college cafeteria only had icky mushy apples.  My favorite apples in the world are Galas.  I said something at dinner about wishing I had a Gala apple.  A few moments later Justin left the table without a word.  He returned an hour later with a giant bag of Gala apples.  I was so grateful that I think I was speechless for a minute.  Unlike David, though, I ate the apples.

Then something weird happens: David takes a census of Israel.  What's weird is, I don't understand this first sentence of chapter 24.  It says, "Now again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, 'Go, number Israel and Judah."  What did Israel do to make God mad, and why did David's anger give him the idea to take a census?  Was that such a miserable experience that he thought it would teach them a lesson or something?  I have no idea.  But David tells Joab to do it, and Joab warns David that it's not a good idea, but David wants to do it anyway so they do.  For some reason God doesn't like this, and David feels guilty about it.  I'm not sure why - maybe God doesn't want David to know the size of his army, kind of like the Gideon situation where he wanted the people to know God was the one who won their victories.  Whatever the reason, God gives David a choice of 3 punishments for his actions.  The choices are basically between natural disasters or or being chased by enemies.  David says he'd rather fall into the hands of God than men, so God sends a plague.  Then David feels guilty because a bunch of people are sick and dying for his stupid mistake, so he prays and builds an altar, and God hears him and ends the plague.  And that's how this book ends.  Kind of a sudden ending, huh?

I think the idea with this last passage is the faithfulness of God in spite of the faithfulness of man.  That is to say, David acted righteously, and God was faithful.  Then David acted unrighteously, and God was still faithful.  It's like that verse that says that when we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.

So it pays to do the right thing, but the truth is that we don't always do the right thing.  Even when we mess up, though, we can turn to God and rely on His mercy.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

2 Samuel 11-21: Things Go Downhill

In an effort to catch up to where I've read, I'm doing a very large section today.  The good news is there's a theme to these 11 chapters: bad stuff happens.

Now, I am going to disagree with the heading my Bible has for chapter 11.  It calls this chapter "Bathsheba, David's Great Sin."  I would like to inform Zondervan that Bathsheba was not a sin, she was a person; David sleeping with her and murdering her husband, was a sin.  Remember what I said about David and his relationship with women?  This is the part where we see what happens when power goes to a guy's head and when he gets into the habit of having any woman he wants, no matter how recently widowed she is (Abigail) or who else she's currently married to (Michal, although to be fair she was David's wife first).  As much as I love David, at this point he's gotten kind of fat and lazy.  He's supposed to be out at war (apparently it was a regular yearly function for kings, maybe like the Olympics?).  But he stays home - mistake #1.  He's checking out his view and he sees a lady on the roof taking a bath.  Why she was taking a bath on the roof, I have no idea.  Now, I don't want to be too hard on David.  I'm sure it would have been hard not to look.  But he was a married guy - actually a multiply-married guy - and he could look at any of them any time he wanted.  But instead of remembering that, he kept looking at Bathsheba - mistake #2.  Then he asked about her and found out she was married, to one of his best soldiers, no less (he's listed at the end as one of the "mighty men"), which should have been a major red light, but no, he invites the married woman to his house - mistake #3.  He sleeps with her, mistake #4.  When she gets pregnant, he tries tricking her husband into sleeping with her, but he is too honorable to have a good time while his fellow soldiers are at war.  Uriah is a more righteous dude than David is at this point.  So David arranges with dear Joab for Uriah to die in battle - mistake #5.

Now David's got a dead guy and a pregnant widow on his hands; at least he has the decency to marry her after her period of mourning is over (a courtesy he didn't make with Abigail, but her husband was a jerk and it doesn't say anything about mourning him).

Anyway, you know what happens.  His pastor comes and tells him a story to get David to realize what an idiot he is; he wises up and repents.  God forgives him, but there is a consequence: Bathsheba's baby dies.

But since Bathsheba isn't David's only marital sin, she's also not his only problem.  Some time after that, one of his sons falls in love with one of David's daughters (they're half-brother and sister) - yet another reason why polygamy is a bad idea.  He rapes her and sends her away in disgrace.  The woman's name is Tamar - ironically, the last Tamar we saw in the Bible was also a victim of incest - and she happens to have a big brother named Absalom.  Ring a bell?  It should.  Absalom kills his half-brother (Amnon) for raping his sister, and then he gets banished.  But clueless David only cares about how much he misses Absalom, so he mopes around until Joab convinces him to un-banish Absalom.  Then Absalom starts a conspiracy to take over the crown.

Absalom gets pretty much all Israel (minus Judah) to support him, and things get tense to the point that David has to evacuate Jerusalem and go into hiding again.  David goes on the run once more.

Remember our friend Meph from last time?  He has a servant - well, he was really Saul's servant - named Ziba.  Ziba comes to David and tells him that Meph has stayed in Jerusalem thinking he was going to reclaim Saul's throne.  David then decrees that all Meph's property will go to Ziba.  This story really discouraged me because I liked Meph, but the story isn't over yet; there's a twist later on.

David passes some city and a guy curses him.  One of his followers requests permission to impale him, but David says to just let it go.  Around this time, Absalom enters Jerusalem.  It looks like he's going to become king.

Then Absalom's people get advice from two counselor-type people.  One of them, who is like a really important prophet , tells Absalom to sleep with David's concubines, and so he does - in view of all the city.  This is actually a fulfillment of something God told David would happen as a result of his sin with Bathsheba.  But this prophet also tells Absalom to send an army after David's men until they run away and David is left alone.  Absalom considers this, then gets advice from another guy.  The other guy says David's men will never desert, and that Absalom himself should ride in battle with everyone in the whole country and basically overwhelm David's tiny crew.  Absalom decides this advice is better.  Then the author gives us a little commentary: he says that the first guy's advice was actually better, but that God was planning to thwart the good advice and bring calamity on Absalom.

Then the second guy who gave advice goes and warns David about the advice he gave, so David is prepared ahead of time.  He tells all his soldiers to spare Absalom for his sake, and everybody knows everybody hears it.  Then somebody tells Joab that Absalom got stuck in a tree and is hanging there.  Joab tells the guy he should've killed him but the guy says no way, you heard David.  So what does our pal Joab do?  He finds Absalom and sticks him with three javelins, then has his minions finish the job.

David finds out about this, and of course he is really sad.  Joab mouths off to David and tells him not to mope about his son's brutal murder, and does Joab get in trouble? No!  David actually listens to Joab and tries to brighten up to improve his P.R.  But finally, when David gets back to Jerusalem, he replaces Joab with another army commander.  Maybe he doesn't know Joab killed his son.

Then we hear from Meph again.  We fight out that Ziba is a dirty liar and Jerusalem only didn't leave with David because, well, apparently he couldn't.  He's crippled, remember?  So David has Meph and Ziba divide Saul's property - I'm not sure why, because Ziba lied.  Maybe David couldn't tell who was telling the truth.    But Meph actually offers for Ziba to take all the land, because all he cares about is that David is home safe.  I like Meph.  I think he's a good guy.

So, we think that things are going to settle down now, but some random person revolts against David.  Amasa, the new army commander, takes all the people out.  But Joab, the little weasel, goes up to Amasa to hug him, and whilst hugging him, he stabs him with a sword and kills him.  What a jerk!  And so Joab assumes command over David's army, just like he did before.

Finally, there are some Gibeonites who have a grudge because Saul tried to kill them all, so David says he'll give them whatever they want.  They want seven men from Saul's family to be given to them to kill them, and David says okay.  What?  I don't know why that's okay, but there you go.  He doesn't give them Meph, but apparently there are 7 other relatives of Jonathan that David didn't provide for.  I find that really interesting.

So almost everything that could have gone wrong for David, has gone wrong now.  The moral of this story is, what goes around comes around.  David was messed up in his relationships with women, and it came out in his children's relationships with him and with each other.  The other moral of this story is, Joab is a jerk and he should be fired!  I am really upset that he's still alive right now.  Hopefully that won't last for long.

Friday, March 12, 2010

2 Samuel 7-10: Things Are Looking Up

So now that the ark of the covenant is back in Jerusalem, David wants to build a temple for it.  I guess he felt bad that he was living in a big cedar house and "God" was "living" in a tent.  Silly David, God lives in heaven - which I've never seen, but I hear it's much nicer than cedar.  Anyway, David tells the prophet Nathan, who basically acts as David's pastor in this book, and Nathan tells David to go for it.  But then God tells Nathan that was a bad idea and that He never actually asked for a house for Himself.  But then God says that David will have a son who will build God a house, I guess as sort of a compromise since He could tell David really wanted to do it and had good motives and all.  So Nathan gives David the message.  We humans have a tendency to speak too hastily - even pastors and prophets and people like that.  Just because somebody is really close to God doesn't mean they're above speaking presumptuously, and that means you and me too.

David takes the news well and says a really long prayer praising God and thanking Him for His faithfulness to him.

The next chapter is about all David's military victories, and it says that Joab becomes the army commander - bet he was happy about that - and then it says who the priests and so forth were.

The next chapter is one of my favorites.  At this point David thinks about how Saul has been killed, Jonathan's been killed, and even I.B. has been killed, and he asks if there is anybody else alive in Saul's family that he can be nice to before Joab somebody kills them.  And somebody tells them that there is one guy, named Mephibosheth, who is one of Jonathan's sons.  Mephibosheth, on top of having the world's worst name (seriously, it means "exterminating the idol" - what kind of name is that?), is completely lame in both feet because his nurse was a klutz and dropped him when he was a baby.  So Mephibosheth - I'ma call him Meph - is really freaked out to see King David, knowing that most of his relatives have been killed already.  So when David tells Meph that he's going to treat him like a son for the rest of his life, it probably rocks his world.  David kept his covenant with Jonathan after all these years and in spite of all the destruction that's happened in his family so far.  And Meph is grateful - David has won himself a lifelong ally.

Finally, another military story.  David's feeling pretty good about this being nice to others stuff, so he sends a big gift package to the newly crowned king of the Ammonites, whose father has just died, because the king's daddy was friends with King Saul.  But the new king treats David's messengers pretty scandalously, so David sends goes and beats the tar out of them.

So basically these last two chapters tell two stories of doing the right thing, doing something nice for somebody who needs it.  Sometimes when we do the right thing, it works out for us.  The other person is grateful and we get a big happy feeling inside for being generous.  But sometimes when we do the right thing, it's not appreciated.  Sometimes when we do the right thing, people treat us like crap, and there's nothing we can do about it.  Well, we can go beat the tar out of them, but I don't think that's the best thing to do in every situation (or in most situations).  But I think we still have to do the right thing anyway, regardless of how it's going to be taken.

Just don't go to war against people if they're not grateful for your kindness.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

2 Samuel 6: The Ark

Somehow in writing this blog I got stuck on chapter 6, so I'm going to stick with it.  I know I'm behind (I'm reading 1 Kings now), but this passage stuck out to me.

Remember the ark of the covenant?  It's been sitting in a guy's house up on a hill for a while.  Well, now David is going to bring it into Jerusalem to stay permanently.  What they do is they put the ark on a cart, hitch the ark up to some oxen, and move it down the hill that way.  If you've ever ridden in a wooden cart over a dirt road, you know that this can get bumpy.  Well, it did, and so the ark started rocking pretty precariously, so this guy named Uzzah, who lived in the house where the ark was staying, reached out and touched it.  God struck him and he died.

At this point you might be thinking, what the heck?  Well, let's back up.  I remember reading in the Law about the ark of the covenant and how it was supposed to be made.  It had these four rings on the bottom with poles that ran through them so the ark could be carried.  And God specifically said that the rings were to remain in the ark and never be taken out.  The Levites would carry the ark, like they did when they crossed the Jordan; they were the only people who were supposed to handle it, as far as I remember.  And this is how it always was carried, up until it was stolen by the Philistines.  Remember that?  When the Philistines returned the ark, they put it on a cart and shipped it off to Israel.

So when the ark is being carried into Jerusalem, I see a few problems already.  First is that the Israelites know the proper mode of carrying the ark, and they have the proper means - the poles are, presumably, still in the ark.  Second is that not only are they breaking the rule, they're copying the Philistines.  Since when is that a good idea?  Third, for the past 20 years it's been in a guy's house.  If I'm not mistaken, it's supposed to be in the tabernacle.  And if I'm also not mistaken, the ark of the covenant played a very significant role in the sacrificial system - what with the sprinkling blood on the mercy seat and all that.  I wonder how that's been working out for the past 20 years?  I don't know who Abinadab is; it doesn't say whether he's a Levite or not.

Anyway, so what happened here?  I think that Uzzah and family, having the ark in their house for 20 years, kind of lost their sense of reverence for it.  Remember, the ark of the covenant was the earth's one physical dwelling-place of the presence of the Most High God.  The golden carved cherubim on the top of it had their faces covered because the angels who stand in God's presence cannot even see His face.  The ark is not a mascot, which is how they're treated it in the past; and it's not a pet, to be taken care of.  So when the ark is being toted down the hill on a cart and it starts to tip over, Uzzah feels like he has to take care of it.  He reaches out and touches, as it were, God, the God that cherubim in heaven don't even have the guts to look  at.  So that's why Uzzah died.  It's not that God has a thing for arbitrary rules of transportation; it's about reverence.

I think this is what happens to us sometimes.  We know what God expects of us, we have the means of obeying, but we think somebody else's stupid method is better than what we know we're supposed to do.  And sometimes, our idea of God gets really mutated.  We think that God is a lucky charm, a lamp to rub when we need something.  Or we think that God is a fragile little trinket that we have to protect, like if we don't, He won't be able to take care of Himself.  God is none of that, and we shouldn't treat him that way.

After Uzzah dies, the ark stays at another guy's house for three months (presumably he lived close to where Uzzah was killed).  Then David tries to bring the ark into Jerusalem again.  This time they have people carry it, and more than that, every six steps they stop and David sacrifices two animals.  They do this all the way to Jerusalem.  And nobody dies this time.  David is so psyched that the ark is coming to Jerusalem and nobody's dying that he has a party in the street as they go.  He and some girls start dancing, and David for some reason isn't wearing tons of clothing, and well, you can imagine how that would go.  His beloved wife Michal sees him from her window and gets really put off seeing her husband dancing the way he is.  I think she would rather the King of Israel be a little more dignified (maybe like her own father, although we all know how his reign turned out).  They have a fight, and David tells her that worshiping God is not about being dignified, and he would be even more of a disgrace if that's what worshiping God meant.  And guess what, we find out that David has kids with every woman in Israel, except Michal.  Either God made Michal barren, or Michal gets to sleep on the couch for the rest of her life.

Sometimes we get really caught up in what we look like, especially around other people, and sometimes we let that matter more than our love for God.  Actually, I'm going to back that up.  I think that if we look down on people who are so free in their worship in adoration of God, maybe it's because we are not free in our worship of God.  Have you ever noticed that the things that bother us the most about other people, are often things that we ourselves are guilty of?  I've noticed that about myself.  How lame is it to criticize other people for the way they worship God?  And if I do, maybe it's not their problem, but mine.  So maybe the next time somebody does something that really bothers me, instead of deriding them for it, I should check my own heart.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

2 Samuel 1-5: David Is King!

When I said last time, the book ends with Saul's death and the valiant men recovering the body of him and his sons, that wasn't entirely true.  I mean, that's how 1 Samuel ends, but the original Book of Samuel was not divided into parts like it is today; it was just written on two scrolls.  So now we're on the second scroll.

It starts out with an Amalekite coming up to David - who's in his house in Philistia still - and telling him that Saul and his sons are dead.  David asks him how he knows, and the Amalekite says that he killed Saul himself.  Now, this might be true - Saul might not have killed himself immediately when he fell on his sword, and he might've seen the passing Amalekite and asked him to finish the job - or, the Amalekite might be lying in order to get some kind of reward from David for killing his mortal enemy and paving the way for him to become king.  Not so!  David is so mad that he has the guy killed on the spot, and all David's people fast and mourn and weep all day long.  David sings a dirge for Saul and Jonathan.  This is where that famous saying, "How the mighty have fallen" comes from.  I didn't know that.

Now one line in this dirge thing is interesting.  David says that Jonathan's love was better than the love of women.  Considering the kind of relationships David had with his wives and concubines, I find that really easy to believe.  Jonathan and David had a friendship based on mutual respect and a commitment to one another; David's relationships with his wives were not really based on much of anything.  The exception to this, I think, is Abigail, whom David seemed to admire for her brain and her graciousness, but the others? not so much (otherwise, why would he keep taking more wives?).  But we'll find out more about David's wives later.

So David then asks God if he should go to Judah, and God tells him to go to Hebron.  Hebron is one of those major cities during this time, by the way.  David goes there, and the people of Hebron anoint David king over them.

But meanwhile, Saul's army commander Abner anoints one of Saul's other sons, Ish-bosheth, king of Israel.  Ishbosheth was not one of the sons of Saul who was killed in battle, so either he was lucky that day, or he was too young to fight.  Either way, he lasts two years, but meanwhile all the people of Judah are following David - no surprise, because David is from that tribe.

Then Abner and Joab, who takes on the role of head of David's army, start a fight to see who will be king.  Joab's side is winning, and Abner runs away.

Then we get a list of the kids David has had during this time: there are six of them, and each of them is from a different woman.  Go figure.

Meanwhile, Abner gets really angry at Ish-bosheth, hereafter I.B., because I.B. accuses Abner of sleeping with one of Saul's concubines.  So for that reason alone, Abner decides to follow David and turn the whole army of Israel over to him.  David says great, just give me back my wife (Michal, who's been living with some other guy this whole time that David's been gone).  So they do.

Now, Joab doesn't like this turn of events.  I think it's because Abner is the commander of the army, and now that he's on David's side, he's probably going to be the commander of David's army, and Joab was just starting to take the title for himself.  Also, Abner killed Joab's brother earlier in that battle.  So Joab and his brother kill Abner.  David mourns him, which is good for his PR with the people of Israel - the ones who have been following I.B.  When I.B. hears about all this, he gets really freaked out that he's going to be next - and he's right!  Some people come in the middle of the night and murder I.B. by cutting his head off while he's in bed.  Now, can you get much lower than killing a guy in his own bed?  I don't think so.  They take I.B.'s head to David, for some reason thinking he'll be happy - weren't they paying attention this whole time?  Didn't they see what happened to the Amalekite when Saul died?  Yeah.  Big surprise, David kills them too.

So at last, with I.B. out of the way, David becomes king over all Israel, and it's David who moves the capital city to Jerusalem.  People build David a house, and David takes even more wives and concubines - because apparently six isn't enough - and he has eleven more sons and some number more daughters.  Now, I know David is a man after God's own heart, but this is really not what God had in mind when he invented marriage.  God made one Adam and one Eve, not one Adam and twelve Eves, and when He gave instructions in the Law for kings, He specifically said they weren't supposed to take a bunch of wives.  David has done that, and it's going to get him into trouble eventually.

Finally we have one more battle with the Philistines.  David may be crummy with women, but he is consistent when it comes to asking God about war.  God tells him to go up against the Philistines, and they win.

Wow, so it really took a long time to get to this point.  David has really grown up from the puny adolescent who had the guts to mouth off a giant.  He's experienced many joys and many sufferings, but one thing has remained constant: his devotion to God.  Unlike Saul, who started to drift away after not very long, David is always seeking God's will when he makes executive decisions as king.  Being in a position of leadership is tough, because you are responsible not just for you, but for everybody under you.  Leaders are held to a higher standard of accountability for that reason.  Saul didn't get that; David, for all his faults, does.

Monday, March 8, 2010

1 Samuel 27-31: David in Philistia?

That's kind of like the ultimate irony, isn't it?  David got famous by killing Goliath, champion of the Philistines, and now, having been chased by Saul for some time (apparently he didn't put too much hope in Saul's second moment of clarity, as discussed in the last post), he runs away to Philistia.  Go figure.  But it works - Saul stops looking for David.  And David does well in Philistia for about a year and four months.  At first the Philistines are pretty leery of him - can't for the life of me think why - but then David tells them that he's killed some people from around Judah and the surrounding area (in reality it was the Amalekites and some of those), and that makes the Philistines think David and his people are on their side and they think he's going to be on their side for the rest of his life, which would be a major plus, as evidently he's pretty handy with a weapon.

Then the Philistines go to war with Israel - big surprise, right? and Saul is scared because there are a lot of them.  So he does something majorly wrong.  You know how I said before that whenever David was about to attack someplace, he inquired of God to see if he should or not?  Saul does almost the exact opposite; he goes to a medium.  We know from the Law that mediums were not supposed to be allowed even to live in Israel, so somebody clearly hasn't been doing their job because there's at least one, and Saul goes to her.  He wants to talk to Samuel.  Remember, the last time Saul asked God something, God didn't answer him, so Saul is probably thinking Samuel is the only person who would listen to him, except he's dead.

Now, apparently opinions are divided as to whether or not this woman really conjured up the spirit of Samuel.  I have heard that the word for "medium" in Hebrew is the same as the word for "ventriloquist," although I don't know if there were such things as ventriloquists in ancient times.  Also, if you read the passage, Saul doesn't see Samuel.  He asks the woman who she sees, and she replies that she sees an old man with a robe, so then

Saul immediately believes it's Samuel.  Like, really?  How would you describe Abraham then?

But let's say, for the sake of argument, that it really is Samuel.  Samuel gives Saul a mini-lecture for calling him up just because he can't get a hold of God, and tells him the Philistines are going to win and he and his sons are going to die.  Considering that this is exactly what happens, it just might have been really Samuel.

Meanwhile, the Philistines start to mistrust David again, probably because they're going to war with his people, and they think that David's going to turn on them.  So the guy who's basically David's boss tells him that he can't go into battle with them.  David acts all sad like he wants to fight against Israel, but then he goes back to his Philistine home while the Philistines all go out to battle.

When they get there, though (they meaning David's people), they find that the Amalekites have raided their city and burned it and taken all the women and children (cuz those are the only people who were there once everybody went to battle) captive.  So David and his people go and get them back.  They run into an Amalekite deserter (well, he was actually left behind), who tells them where his people have gone in exchange for his life, and some of David's people get too tired to go after them so they stay behind with the stuff while the rest of the people go get the women and children and spoils.  When they come back, there's an argument over whether the tired people should get any of the spoils or not, since they didn't help fight.  David says they should because they were protecting their stuff, so they still deserve a reward.  The moral of this story is, don't leave the stuff you care about unprotected, or somebody will steal it.  Also, staying behind and defending what you have can be just as important as going out after what you've lost/what you don't have.

So then we shift focus back to Israel, fighting against the Philistines.  Three sons of Saul die, including our beloved Jonathan.  It's hard for me to picture Jonathan dying in battle like that.  He was the guy who sneaked out and killed Philistines for fun, after all.  And we don't even find out how he died, just that he did.

Saul has been hit by archers, his sons are dead, and his army is losing.  Rather than go out in a blaze of glory, Saul commits the ultimate act of cowardice: he asks his armor-bearer to kill him.  But his armor-bearer is like, no way.  So Saul falls on his own sword.  His armor-bearer, seeing that his master is dead, does the same.  That, to me, is like the ultimate act of loyalty, although I don't necessarily think it was the right thing to do.

The Philistines take Saul's body and his sons' bodies and cut their heads off and basically put the bodies on display for all the Philistines to mock.  But then the valiant men of Jabesh-gilead hear about it, and they steal the bodies of Saul and his sons and burn them, but then bury the bones and fast for seven days. And that's the end of the story.  Really, that's how the book ends.

The Jews were pretty much rotten people for most of their history, but they were good when it came to one thing: honor.  Saul may have not been a very good king, and he may have lost the battle, but the valiant men - those are like the knights - would not allow his body to rest in dishonor.  They risked their lives to bury their dead king.  That's pretty amazing to me.  And I guess that's why the Bible calls them valiant.  Valor goes beyond mere bravery; it's (according to "boldness or determination in facing great danger, esp. in battle; heroic courage; bravery."  These men were heroes, and it was the heroes who respected the dead so tremendously.  I don't know what to say about that, but it's something to think about.