The Book of Esther 

 

“I cannot defend myself.”  “I have no way to protect myself.” “I’m unarmed and vulnerable.”

These words may sound familiar as we have heard them on the news recently, but they were the cries of Mordecai and Esther and their people when the edict was given to kill all Jews. It wasn’t just a news clip – it was their actual lives at stake. When governments block people or there is a perception that the law of the land is not just, people cower and courage sinks. This week, we have seen pictures splashed over the nightly news of politicians, students and even police officers – helpless, vulnerable, and shaken. That takes a toll on our collective psyche. In the middle of all of this I noticed the similarities to this very story and how many years later the animosity still lives. While I would like to address these issues, that is not the purpose of the blog so I will move on, but I recommend this becomes part of the discussion as you delve into the fascinating book of Esther.

It seems like a very violent and retaliatory book. It seems callous  to our Western world mindset. That is probably because our lives are not daily threatened. It  is hard to relate when we sit in our comfortable, safe homes and our military fights for us. The reality came closer as we watched North Carolina police officers shot in the line of duty this week. We hope and pray that “good guys” win but it does not always work out that way.  Not all of the world is at peace. I read a quote today from Golda Meir that said, “You cannot negotiate peace with someone who has come to kill you.” Now more than ever, we are stepping into the realm of possibility for how Esther and Mordecai may have felt. Without divine interruption or a “God-cident” they were destined to die.

While studying for the blog, I paused to pray, and the song Graves into Gardens came on the radio. It is very appropriate for this story! God takes the impossible and creates miracles. He responds to prayer; He answers fasting and intercession. Our heroes risk their lives, our heroines risk their lives. Not just in the movies but daily in our neighborhoods and states. Surely, our just due or part would be at the very least intercessory prayer.

Jewish Mordecai and Jewish Hadassah lived in Susa, the capital of Shushan. They for all accounts were peaceful people, minding their own business. An evil man, remembered for his inflated ego, named Haman decided to try to make them bow to him, to honor him and when they did not (because God was higher), he not only plotted their demise (hanging on the gallows) but made plans to annihilate their entire people group. Not just bad guys, or criminals but moms, dads, teens, and babies. His power grab was so intentional, and he was so thirsty for revenge he was going to wipe out an entire group of people – because they were Jewish. The hatred ran deep, and scholars tell us it was because the feud started years prior. It was an ancient feud between Saul and Agag, the Amalekite King. Samuel 15 displays the disobedience that was the seed for this story. Tribes, gangs, political parties, church or family feuds – there’s good instructions in these verses.

Instead of reconciliation, people took sides. Instead of forgiveness, healing and talking, people slandered, assumed, gathered enemies and the thing grew. We can imagine this large scale because of the Holocaust. What I cannot understand is that many have forgotten that dark part of history. Some have even denied it happened. Annually the Jews celebrate Purim – a remembrance and celebration of the events of Esthers life and yet people across our nation today have forgotten it. Jewish history is Gods’ history and Jesus’ history as well. Throughout Esther, we will hear that the “fear of Mordecai” was on them. What that meant was the people found out that behind Mordecai was a strong and powerful God who defended him. He could not defend himself – but his God, could and did! Seasons change, leaders may change but God does not.

There is no way possible to skirt around the stories then or the stories now. To remember (zakar) in Hebrew is to recollect and repeat something in order to prevent it from happening again.  IF that had been done with the book of Esther, perhaps the first Holocaust would have been prevented. It’s a book about a princess, hardly theology some may argue. IF we read the truths of the Holocaust and understood the stories it would have given insight to the current crisis in the middle east. The Bible is not just a religious book – it is also a history book and war manual. One that has worked through the ages. One that is filled with wisdom.

I’ll leave the current event debates up to the media, but as for the book of Esther – God saw, God heard, and God moved. You cannot read this book without acknowledging the God of unusual circumstances and providence. It was not serendipitous- it was God ordained. Some have even said the name of Yahweh is spelled out in the first letters of the Hebrew text. I am not sure if that was intentional or not, but I do know that you can’t read this intense book without seeing a great and mighty God through its entirety- He is everywhere for anyone truly looking for Him. “GOD – cidences” can be seen on every page.

I studied providence and sovereignty while studying this book and found that there are few mentions of either word, in the entire Bible. Yet, no one can deny that something was taking place in this that is, well, not human. What does that mean for us today, now? It means our times are in His hands. It means we were not left up to some cosmic soup to figure us out. It means He has a purpose and a plan– even when we cannot see it clearly.

Those who cannot defend themselves – should be allowed to, whether that is in regard to their lives or their defense. Innocent and fragile people should be protected from death and those who are aware of it should speak up. There seems to be some common threads in this story with today’s headlines. We can pray for the fear of God to saturate our country. We can fast and ask God to heal our nation and its leaders for three days. We know what to do and why. The only question is, WILL WE? Tomorrow is the day of prayer across the nation, and it is symbolic and powerful but what will move the hand of God like Esther did, is

 

pure obedience and seeking Gods’ face for its’  salvation. Now is the time.

 

What will history record of you, of me, our actions? Will we be remembered like Saul, living in partial obedience, or will we be fully committed and ready?

True, we can hide our heads in the sands and pretend we do not hear or understand. We can brush it off and some other person will step up. But surely, God will bring deliverance for His people. But, just maybe we have been born for such a time as this. Maybe speaking up for those who are silent is good. Maybe speaking up for those who are persecuted will also bring us salvation.

“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
Esther 4:14

Instead of keeping this book as a historical book or memory– how does it impact your life? Do you have influence? Do you have a position? Do you have a title, or reach, or wealth? Ask God to use you for His glory and kingdom purpose now. You, along with others, can be greatly used. While God is not specifically mentioned, we all fully understood what is meant when Esther prayed for three days.

That stirring in your heart, that burning in your chest, that heavy hand on your shoulder? That is the Lord prompting you to do what you were born to do in this hour, at this time for HIM. 

Stepping forward with you,

Renae Roche 2024

 

First Chronicles is placed in our Bibles in the Old Testament after the books of First and Second Kings but in the Jewish Bible it is at the end of the Old Testament and serves as a summary. It lets us know what was most important to God: The People Groups, The Palace, and the Place of God’s presence. If you are looking for detailed information on authorship, date, setting, etc., a good book to read is the Handbook on the Historical Books written by Victor Hamilton. It is helpful to understand the structure and themes.

David’s public and private sins both had consequences. Here we see the contrast in how they were handled. See chapters 20 and 21.  While moral failings and their effects are tough to watch, we would do well to understand them. In seminary, one of my Pastoral Ministry classes was with Dr. Ken Swetland. We studied his book, The Hidden World of the Pastor. It was a case study on pastors who fell in various areas. It seemed very doom and gloom in the moment to a young student, and at the time it did not seem relevant, but over the years it has helped me navigate through some tough ministry appointments and counseling sessions with congregants. It also served as a warning for how people got into some of those traps in the first place. Forewarned is forearmed. Education doesn’t just teach us about God and theology but how to avoid mistakes others have made. Studying Biblical narratives is time well spent. My professor in Bible college, Dr. Don Meyers, used to tell us, “You never waste time sharpening your sickle.” If we understand these passages and apply them to real world situations, we will gain not only victory but spare ourselves much time and wasted pain.

I’ve thought a lot about the life of David this past month. I wonder how things would have been different if CNN or Fox News had covered his life. The public always seems to be blood thirsty to see printed stories of shame and fallen heroes. We forget that David, the predecessor of Jesus as King, the intimate worship leader and strong battle soldier, was still used and useful to God. In fact, much of his ministry happened after his greatest sins. That feels wrong somehow and cuts to the core of our sense of justice. One could argue grace is not cheap and David should have been benched, but Jesus literally died so grace could be effective. If his blood cannot cleanse the vilest sinner then his blood cannot make the likes of you and me clean. Oops, let’s slow the roll of punishment. We must be circumspect when judging others or we will train ourselves to not believe we too are in need of His grace. When we jump on the bandwagon of righteous posturing, “I just sensed something was off” and other such grandstanding in regard to other’s backsliding, we easily forget that without a Savior for our sins, we too would be in the proverbial pit of a sinner’s hell. The fallen one, David would one day make way for the King of Kings. Others may know your past but they do not know Gods decision about your future. Move Forward.  Keep Moving. Move Forward. 

David was contrite and repentant, and God saw his heart. When  others pressed delete or pause, God was getting ready to hit play. He paused to repent (essential) but he kept moving forward. Without that cleansed heart things –would have stopped. God does not throw His investments away.  We wonder, how did David go from intimate prayer warrior and worshipper to adultery and murder? Even the elect can be deceived, Matthew 24 tells us. Even the most trained, can fall into temptation. Maybe a better question, instead of being a voyeur into others lives would be, “Lord, how can I stay pure? ” How can I stay close to You?” or “Lord, Lead us not into temptation.” These very real kings and leaders are not much different than we are today. Reading this narrative can give us insight into what God values and what matters most to Him. A clean, contrite, repentant heart weighs more than a distant religious spirit. God was building David, even in the darkest days. God was building David even when he was not walking in Gods’ ways. God is not random* and God is infinitely postured  to right a life or make a course correction for His kids.  Only those who know grace, have received grace, truly believe that.

There are many “mantras” people have picked up for the New Year. Mine is,

“Jesus, may I know and desire You more in 2024.”

I’m asking for God to make me more thirsty, more hungry, this next year. Physically, I plan to drink more water and eat healthier. It’s a struggle to get that process working for hydration, vegetables, etc. The appetite has to be first stirred.  Spiritually it is similar. We can’t fill an appetite we have not first fostered. If we are satiated with junk food, trivial matters, and other things, we may never desire what is choice, supreme. What if we started crying out for more thirst, more spiritual hunger, more capacity to be filled with the living, the holy God? What if we prayed for our homes, the block we live on, the church, the city?

This month I just want to share a couple highlights that stirred us, from our study of 1 Chronicles:

 

1 Chronicles 12:32  tells us, “And of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do”. Those who follow hard after God will hear the joyful noise, the alert, alarm, military call, and Psalm 89:15 tells us that those who know it will walk before the face of God. Those of you praying for the Middle East will appreciate this. Intercessors and those who keep their nose in the Bible and ear tuned to the Spirit remind me of this verse. Do we want to be in tune with God’s plans? Will we be able to hear the Lord’s voice and alert or are we saturated with the sounds of the city, the television, or our cell phones? 

1 Chronicles 13

In this chapter David is seen to be very wise. He consults with the leaders, which suggests collaboration, listening to their ideas and sharing his. It was mutual and reciprocal. Consult here means to exchange wisdom, to deliberate and share counsel with one another and the text tells us that he did that with captains and leaders over large groups (thousands) and small groups (hundreds). He listened and he talked. He also gathered people together, he assembled them together. God deposits in each person different gifts and strengths and without hearing the collective group we cannot glean that information. The third wise thing David did was to inquire of the Lord. He wanted Gods’ heart and wisdom. He met with leaders, he gathered the regular people and he inquired of the Lord. That’s smart leadership.

David then shares a psalm (1 Chronicles 16) with the people. I’ve translated it so you can hear what it reads like in the Hebrew. It sounds Southern to my ears because of the plural you:

You all must cause yourselves to
Give thanks

Y’all must
cause yourselves to
Call upon His name

Y’all must
cause yourselves to
Make known His deeds among the people

Y’all must sing
Y’all must really sing loudly–sing the psalms!!!!!
Y’all must talk about all His wonderous works! 

This great leader is admonishing them, encouraging, and exhorting them to stir themselves up to give thanks, call on God’s name and make God’s deeds known. There are some timid folks who get wiggy if someone praises. They are supposed pride busters and arrogance checkers. Ignore them. God’s word and here King David, is teaching us about warfare and living in God’s light. God is sovereign and all things come from Him, but we also have a part and it’s to PRAISE Him, to make known His deeds among the people. We cannot do that by sitting under the stairs silently. David tells us to sing and to sing LOUDLY, to tell of ALL of His wonderous works. This was part of his strength. Get your testimony of how you came to Christ written out. Prepare praise reports and share them with whoever will listen. Sing melodies in the elevator, in the mall and in the streets. Talk about All of Gods wondrous works and then loudly sing praises.

This summary book is filled with wisdom from God in the lives of His people and especially His chosen Shepherd boy and His chosen son, then King who would build the Temple. We can gain wisdom by reading it. I do not believe that these were mere religious words or things to do in church. His admonition to praise was part of his “secret to success” and battle plan. In battle- he kept praising, in tough places, he kept praising, in conflict- he kept praising. After deep, devastating, career blowing sin – he kept praising. Not because he was righteous but because he knew One who is.  Not because he was worthy but he worshipped one worthy of all worship. Whether you have been successful last year or if you have major blown it, keep praising. God sees the long– term trajectory of your life and what HE needs for the Kingdom, season after season. Keep praising, keep following, keep believing.

If you have no pithy saying or mantra for 2024 – you can borrow mine. Jesus, we want to  know and desire YOU more in 2024. More wisdom, more grace, more singing, praising, proclaiming and ALL that you have for us.

Seeking with you,

Rev. Dr. Renae Roche 2024

Jesus, we want to  know and desire YOU more in 2024.

 

 

 

 

*Thanks to Ruth Hall for her devotion–“God is not random”. Thanks to Editor Virginia Bridges. 

The book of 2 Kings is fascinating, tangled, and dark at times. Right at the beginning, we are told that the voice of God was withdrawn, absent. The impatient sought to inquire after a false King, rather than wait on the Lord. It is shocking to see such blatant idolatry, especially when they were expecting a godly King to arise. We hold on, chapter after chapter, hoping one of these kings will step up and lead with righteousness. Each section reveals kings who are evil, self-centered and involve their sons in their debauchery. While it is tempting to compare that to our current state of political events, I will not– other than to point out that there is nothing new under the sun. Our hope for change, direction and wisdom must be found in a sovereign, holy God. Anytime we place our trust in someone or something other than God, we will come up short. Humans can never do what God was meant to do. Seeking Him, inquiring of Him is a good place to start. Even a good place to stay.

While those who needed to inquire of the Lord- did not, there was one man who showed loyalty in spite of the disloyalty of his culture and that was Elisha. He persisted. He repeatedly told his mentor, “I will never leave you.” You might say he got “double for his trouble” as God rewarded him for his obedience and his loyalty. His life is a comparison of what Kingly behavior looks like and it had nothing to do with a title or crown. Elijah and Elisha continued to point to a higher authority. They stand in stark contrast to the  kings  and the prophets of their time.

Today – will we ask God what His will is for our lives and what direction we should take? Will we put down our cell phones, computer and let Google take a rest? Can we simply ask God for His  will? We would all benefit from that. A Facebook post said recently, “almost everything works better if you unplug it for a few minutes – even you.” I don’t think Elisha could have functioned as he did if he had been wrapped up in media or other distractions. It takes time before the Lord to see and hear His perspective and get aligned.

God does not change, and He is the same yesterday, today and forever. In 2 Kings 6:17, Elisha prayed and said, “Lord I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the eyes of the young man and he saw. And behold the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

Those who follow after God will have their spiritual vision adjusted. 

In chapter seven Elisha says, Hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord: “Tomorrow about this time a seah of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria.” God will give us insights on tomorrow– if we will listen. Later in the chapter we are told, “For the Lord had caused the army of the Syrians to hear the noise of chariots and the noise of horses- the noise of a great army so they said to one another, Look, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of the Egyptians to attack us!” God has many ways of fighting our battles –if we listen.

Those who follow after God will have their spiritual hearing adjusted. 

Remember Bing Crosbys recorded song, “Do you hear what I hear”? Did you know that song was written by Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne? They were a song-writing couple and penned the words to it in the late sixties. The background to their lyrics was the Cuban Missile Crisis. Their sights were on the crisis and hope in the government to take action. The star in the night expressed their fears of a nuclear attack, as they fearfully listened to the radio for what might take place. The double meaning to the song is especially relevant when we consider the trouble in the Middle East and other threats of war. We want peace but face crisis. We hear the Nativity story and wrongly think things were trouble free in early Bethlehem but in reality, their story was filled with danger and fears. God lifted their sights upward and gave them a new song to hear as the angels rejoiced. Christ came to bring peace into their circumstances, to be God with them –Emmanuel. That is still His task today – to be with us. It is more than a Christmas carol – it is a promise of support and ultimate victory.

Do we see what God wants us to see? Can we hear what God wants us to hear through faith? If scripture does not give us Gods perspective, we cannot grasp what God is doing in our day. It seems that those who  inquire of Him, who choose His will  have a different understanding of life and the circumstances around them. God promises to be with those who seek Him.

If we draw near, He draws near to us. If we go after sacred places, high places, false gods and false solutions, God will most definitely back up or let us go into Exile until we remember who we are and WHOSE we are. He will withdraw and remove His presence from us, which is a literal definition of hell. A place without God. When we pray, we align ourselves with Heaven and the Kingdom of God. We cease to live merely for our own end or pleasure.

This month as I read  2 Kings and watched the nightly news, I saw many similarities.  Horrific stories of abuse and violence abound. We are in the midst of a very intense and rocky time nationally and  internationally.  Many are trying to find any peace possible. The land is filled with confusion  as people grasp for truth and answers from people and places that can not satisfy.  Lawsuits, anger, and injustice seem to reign in our cities as never before. Those wanting “justice” are often those who act very unjust.

Maybe you too are trying to make sense of things  that just are not reasonable or understandable. 2nd Kings reminds us that even in the midst of  wicked  Kings, God was still active. He sent a picture of Himself — two bright lights emerged – Elijah and Elisha. Doug Stuart in his book, “How to read the Bible for all its worth” points out that “Through them (Elijah and Elisha) God demonstrates that He is still Lord over all the earth — in 

Creation, nature; the nations, –Israel.

Today we have Superpowers at war, leaders  misbehaving, people presenting themselves as holy but living dual lifestyles, people morally falling … it is disappointing. It grabs our heart and emotions as we hear stories and look on the carnage. Where are our eyes and ears? In our current darkness,

I wonder — where are the Elishas of the Lord God?

Whether  it’s Dr. Rand Paul and the Festivus report, or Navy Vet Michael Cassidy or even a 90 year old Sunday school teacher who says “enough is enough” – God still  uses people to speak up for holiness.  What is hte cost and what does it look like in this moment to be a God fearer? In our home, our church, our city, our nation?   Every once in awhile someone reminds us that God is greater, bigger than public opinion or the crowds. Firebrands do not lay down when everyone else is tolerating wickedness or sin. They stand up. Not because they are people with a cause but because they are people of presence, people obeying God. Who reminds you of Elijah and Elisha? Their passion and fire grew the more they were persecuted. This isn’t permission to be radical, disobedient or weird but to obey a holy God. Elisha was God directed. 

What if the calm Christmas story reflected things, like we read in 2 Kings? It would make Christmas plays vastly different. A dangerous journey and miracles would be included. Inquiring Anna rejoicing and Zacharias going mute would be included. What if  children were taught that Anna and Zacharias were not just coincidental participants, but that God chose them because they were  waiting, holy and righteous? What if we taught that God does not play favorites, but He does favor and answer those who are seeking HIM. That’s very contrary to the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality we see in todays schools.

Last Christmas our family got the flu while staying at a hotel.  It was horrendous. I gained a new appreciation for Innkeepers and management. Loud body functions, noise, and constant medical care are not conducive to your other guests getting a good night’s sleep. It is very disruptive. The innkeeper should get credit for squeezing them in the only available space left. He was flexible and could have just say no altogether. The manger scene of Jesus’ birth  was not a matter of hospitality but functionality to quarantine a worried father and very pregnant, screaming mother. What was impolite to the young couple was very protective of a house full of guests who needed their sleep and peace. Jesus’ introduction into the world was anything but calm or sterile. The “interruption” of the silent night was foretold in  Matthew (chapter 2), “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Who wants to be saved from their sin at 2 A.M. in a hotel while sleeping?

2nd Kings is a cycle of ignoring God, seeking other gods, then doing their own thing. All these examples  point us to the One, true King to come – Jesus. He will not be wicked or capricious. Luke 2 tells us, “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” The long-awaited King was right there – at the door, next to the hotel with warm beds and food to eat, water to drink. He was right there, for them to seek after but the little family running from danger and preparing for birth (mother, father, luggage) was just too much –so the Inn, put them in a set apart place. still on the property.  A place out of the way so they would not “bother” anyone or interrupt their respite. A distant place was preferred so as not to interrupt the “gold star” guests. Oh if only they knew Jesus was the finest “gold star” visitor. We don’t know if those regular guests got free breakfast and gym benefits, but what they didn’t get was the smell of donkeys, manure and sheep. They also did not get the presence of the King of kings and Lord of Lords come down from Heaven to visit them that night. Only the bargain barn folks got that benefit. God wanted ALL to know that this was the One they were to seek, so He shines a big holy spotlight on His son so they couldn’t miss it. Seek THIS ONE. This is the one you have been waiting for and this is the KING that will bring ultimate peace. The one sent by the King of the Universe, his father. Chariots of fire that surrounded Elijah didn’t appear when baby Jesus arrived,  but a whole host of heaven did. There was room in the sky for them.

Maybe God doesn’t mind the mess.  Maybe He is not worried about the right time, the right place, and the right people for others opinions as much as to fulfill His word and promise. Maybe He can still move in spite of wicked leaders, nations and those claiming to be “religious.” Maybe loyalty and love meant more to God than finery on that Holy day. He found them; He led others to them. Son of Heaven, yet God let them stay in a less than five-star hotel. Maybe God was more concerned with His  eternal kingdom than their temporal comfort.  The loyal king and prophet who would tell them “I will never leave you” had come and the king of ALL kings was near. 

Those who step up will be remembered not for their perfect words or clothes or actions but for following the will of the Father and obeying His commands. First we have to see and hear what those are in our generation. These stories are not that different from those who walk with Christ today. 

In all our searching, in all our political quagmires, in all our disappointments and pain,  we can read 2 Kings and be very grateful that Christ, the TRUE King, and example has come. That should give us hope. That leader and King, is still reigning, still saving and still Lord.

Do you see what I see? Do you hear what I hear? The child, no longer a babe, still calls to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. In Revelation that King says, “I’m coming back soon.”

May we respond and in hope,  bring light to the world as  Elisha did — prepare His way.

RenaeRoche 2023

 

 

While reading the commentaries for this book I realized that my hubby Joseph had been teaching the same message over this last year, which is “God is on the throne, and we must surrender to HIS will.” What is God’s agenda and how are we to follow it? We need to do God’s will and work rather than just any ol’ good works, so it glorifies the King. It’s become a mantra at our house.

After weeks of watching the news and the Republicans quest for leadership, we all got to watch this month as a new Speaker of the House was chosen – Congressman Mike Johnson. I was surprised when he told the world that he was a Christian and then asked for God’s wisdom. That takes much bravery and courage, and it was refreshing to see someone give glory to God. His track record suggests that he is a just and fair leader. It reminded me of the book of 1 Kings. Could God bless a nation once again that surrendered to His Lordship? Would that service look like a surrender to God or would it, like in times past, just be an excuse to polarize people and attach God’s name to whatever viewpoint or agenda someone had in that moment? Leaders now, like in 1 Kings, can sometimes get an idea and then demand that God bless, anoint, and put His seal of approval on it with little gratefulness or continued seeking for His will.  

Jesus gives us the best picture when He surrenders to God and then simply states, “Follow me.” That phrase is not meant to say run alongside or surpass but to walk lock-step behind. This is only possible with the help of the Holy Spirit. Accompany means to go along with the One leading the way. It is rare in our society and sadly, even more rare in the church. Unity comes when hearts are postured to obey Christ and pursue Kingdom goals. When the King is given first place, the rest of the company gets in order quickly.

Huang Sabin in his commentary on 1 Kings, tells us:

Most of us live in countries that are republics. To us, the throne has very little meaning. Some of us live in countries where there is still a king or queen. But they possess very little real power or authority. We have no idea how a real kingdom should be ruled. But God is King of His Kingdom. The Church is not a democracy. It never was, it never has been, and it never will be. Many Christians have relegated God to a symbolic headship. We do what we want. Oh yes, sometimes we get His approval for our plans. But we do not wait for His instructions to carry out His plans. The books of 1 and 2 Kings focus on the throne of Israel. But this throne had a unique feature – God promised that He would preserve that throne ONLY if the one sitting on it realized that there was another higher throne above it. That higher throne belongs to the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  [1]

In spite of our numerous opinions and belief systems, God is still KING and still enthroned. He is sovereign and He IS Lord.

I greatly appreciate Bill Bright’s visual on letting Jesus rule from the throne of one’s heart. He (in his writings and leadership) would show a picture of a chair and ask, “who is on the throne of your heart?” Who leads your life most – your family, friends, enemies? The opinions of others? When Jesus is the authority on the throne of our hearts, life can be peaceful. When we cater to others’ ideas and opinions our lives run amuck. First Kings is a good reminder of this. The various Kings allowed wives, friends, and others to dictate how they led. Idolatry and adultery greatly impacted their lives. Are we any different today? Holiness is not just a good idea – it’s essential for carrying out God’s orders. We look at the culture, the government, and even the church and can see that lives led by so many “voices” have left us shipwrecked and stuck in the sand.

The contrast between these Kings and the two wild prophets also mentioned in 1 Kings is great. The King of Heavens two princes, Elijah and Elisha had one mission – follow God and lead His people. They were not self-appointed; they had no crown or palace, but they were appointed by God and in a mirky mix of Kings– they followed THE King.

Two things that caught my attention this month: the Judean Kings were required to say who their mothers were when accepting their title. This intrigues me. Mothers who were not idolatrous or adulterous were important. I also ask champions I meet (athletes, preachers, etc.) what they fed their kid for breakfast and how did they do devotional times. I’ve learned a lot from these answers.

The other thing that caught my attention was the wording “princess Jezebel.” I love princesses and royalty and every little girl grows up at some point wearing a tiara and twirling around. But this was no Disney princess. She was a domineering tyrant. Her character was one to not emulate, not a leader to follow. She was petty, paranoid, and cruel.  I was thrilled to hear recently that pop princess Taylor Swift showed a servant’s heart when she cleaned up the Chief’s viewing box when she visited Kansas City. She was picking up soda cans and serving the Kelce family. We all know real princesses are ambassadors but also servants. We live through them and pretend somehow they are different than us at our core. Jezebel was the opposite of a real princess and negatively impacted an entire nation. Her spirit lives on in women (and men) who covet, envy, gossip, hate, and act wickedly today. The Prince of Peace gave us the best example – a combination of God surrendered leadership and a servants heart.

The prophets were intimidated by Jezebel and Ahab — but they kept going.

The prophets did not get their marching orders from people– but from God. Jezebel (and those like her) do not get their marching orders from God. They do the things that feel good or tickle their fancy. They manufacture things from their own will or spirit. Jezebel did not have the mind of God and her jealousy, hatred, and ambition forced her, compelled her to do things opposite of God’s will and God’s heart. She not only envied Naboth, but her envy turned into murder. These are not small things. Wicked thoughts, words, and actions are not neutral — they grow, they supplant, they take over. Instead of worship, they plotted. Instead of praise, they slandered. They spread their opinions instead of God’s truth. But this is not Jezebel’s problem – it is our problem — if we do not go to God in prayer.

If we do not continue in prayer.

 If we do not repent for harbored thoughts, words, and actions. Throughout the years I’ve studied this book and it’s been interesting to me the numbers of people that apply these characters flaws on others, but rarely themselves. I’ve cried many tears over the women falsely characterized by them for merely trying to step out in ministry. Surely those character assassinations grieve God’s heart. We should be asking, “how am I like or unlike these Biblical examples?”

Personal altars in devotion daily, family altars of devotion weekly, church altars — are not for counting heads or giving bucky beavers badges for stepping forward. It can’t replace real repentance. God’s not looking for a roll call, He’s looking for surrendered hearts. Altars are intended to deeply invoke repentance, calls for renewal, exhortations for change and growth.

RESTORE THE ALTARS – personal, family, church, nation.

We see fiery Elijah and Elisha and they seem like crazy, wooly old men fighting for God in the midst of a royal mess. They are not “normal” church folk. Show me where normal is even a thing in the Bible. Next, we see Jesus, turning over tables, crying out on God’s behalf to restore the temple and prayer. He never was “normal” church folk.  Where are we in this picture? IF God is restored to His proper place, it looks like we have cleared our hearts, adjusted our spiritual posture, and renewed our minds to let the King come and sit upon our lives as Lord. There’s nothing normal about that. If normal means “tepid, lukewarm, apathetic” then we should choose anything but that. We must be prophetic worshippers and pray-ers who know that God is up to a challenge, up to defending His own name and showing Himself to the people that He is a not only powerful but LORD.

              If we want God to be restored to our family, we need to clean out our homes, physically but also spiritually. I have a friend who went to her house, took down the T.V. and smashed it in front of her children, declaring that their house needed to be dedicated to Christ. Radical? Perhaps but her children are honoring God now. Throwing out anything that hinders is an act of contrition and worship. What if we scrubbed every app on our phone that kept us from prayer? What if our church altars were swept clean of decorations, advertising and other things and tissues, pillows, Bibles littered the room for those wanting to return to the Sovereign, holy God? [2]

Let’s not just casually rest, talking about these Kings as if we were any different. We too have listened to our spouses and friends and cultural norms and ignored Biblical wisdom and the Holy Spirit. If that were not true, our churches and government would be different. We disregard truth and allow junk in our hearts and homes. Where are the whips, the prayers, the fiery prophets? I’m not sure how the grace of God and the mercy of Jesus wraps itself around these instructions. I don’t know the exact lessons on how to confront a bad princess or horrible king, but I do understand letting Christ sit on the throne of my heart. I can measure how long it’s been since He was completely LORD in my life. I can measure how long it’s been since altar ministry was common and frequent. I can think of and miss the feel of carpet on my face at the altar and the wetness on my face from flowing tears (repentance, forgiveness, and grace).

Elisha prayed for a double anointing and received it. He got twice the miracles Elijah did. Our nation needs a godly king. The odds of you or me being that person is very slim but the possibility of being a prophetic voice – much higher.

There is no ceiling on the possibility of wanting to be a prayed-up Christian who affects the nation, however. Where did the prophets, pastors, and preachers go when Biden became president? Did their marching orders change? I think not. Should we blame then the president or those who shrunk into the caves? God is not lacking for Ravens or thirsty dogs. He is lacking for people to hear Him, submit to Him and obey.  I don’t see people stepping in line to be the next Elisha either, yet. What if this night is YOUR night of reckoning? What if this night is YOUR night to say yes to God? Would you ask, would you accept the mantle, would you speak forth?

Watch all the news you want, but then please gather some wood, some buckets of water, and remember your God. Three buckets, six buckets, nine buckets…..

 If we want more than that . . .  we first place God back in charge. We surrender to the Lordship of His son, and we invite the Holy Spirit into our hearts and lives. It doesn’t matter if you are a day or a year rusty (or more). The way back is the same – Jesus, forgive me for my absence. Forgive me for looking or listening to others instead of you. Forgive me for my sin, pride, xyz (whatever that looks like in your life). Make me whole, cleanse me, forgive me, free me, and make me useful for your Kingdom, YOUR will, Your purposes. I give you my life. Direct my steps, my will, my tongue, and be on the throne of my heart. I’m yours – glorify Yourself through me. I yield to you now. Amen.

1 Peter 2:9 tells us: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

The replacement for prophet, priest, and King is Jesus.  Elijah and Elisha are great examples. Who will be examples for this generation? Who will yield themselves  in this hour? Where are you and where is YOUR God?

Surrendering with you, RenaeRoche2023

 

[1] Huang Sabin. OT Made Simple. P. 69.

[2] Renae Roche.

2nd Samuel is the “rest of the story”, and it is not preached as often as some other books. The stories of Nathan the prophet, Gad the Seer, and the book of Jasher were all part of the collaboration to make it possible. I’ve been around folks that don’t believe in all that “Spirit stuff” and it strikes me as odd that we see lots of spiritual things in this  Old Testament book. Prophets and seers are in Gods’ word. Back in the day we were asked how long would the Spirit dwell among men and signs and wonders be in effect. Some said spiritual manifestations ended with the apostles, some said it ceased after Pentecost. I was taught from Ephesians 4:13-15 – “until we ALL attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. If you’ve done any ministry in the church lately you will know that all unity has not taken place and all knowledge has not been dispensed, we have a ways to go. We need the Spirit, we need the offices, we need the gifts – some days more than others.  Unity in the church and the city is really important.

When you systematically study a book, you get to see the triumphs and the tragedies. We need to go through the entire book, so we learn all the lessons – not just the super-hero narratives or the victories but the suffering, pressures, etc. This book has a combination of both wins and losses.

This month, I was horrified by some of these stories and for some reason they  seemed so much more violent than I had realized.  I read numerous commentaries that talked about Davids’ dynasty and its place in history. I read about the pressure he was under and how he cracked under that pressure breaking Gods’ heart and the peoples resolve. It is a fine book of leadership. How many sermons have we heard on Davids’ mighty men? I don’t recall  however, ever hearing one about the wise woman in this book. She has challenged me.

There was one phrase that stuck in my heart and pulled me back to the text. I’ll apologize up front because this may seem like a soapbox or perhaps even a political appeal, but I promise you, it’s not– it is more of a passionate plea to step up and to obey God.

Listen to this story in 2 Samuel 22. The context is that David’s’ military leader Joab has a rebel (Sheba) and his men, cornered in the town of Abel-Beth Maacah. They have chased him inside, with his troops, and they are building a way to go in and capture him and possibly all the fortified cities inhabitants.

Then came the desperate cry of a woman in the city, “Hear, hear, say I pray you, unto Joab, come here that I may speak with you”. Wise here does not just mean smart but one who is learned, prudent, crafty, shrewd, and educated. It is also used of sailors who know how to maneuver their ships. She’s been around awhile and understands how things work. She cries out twice HEAR, HEAR. The soldiers let her speak – they made room for her to say what she had to say but first she intreated, beseeched and requested that she be heard. This was her Esther moment.

The word for city in Hebrew is “ir” (pronounced ear). This woman in the city is yelling out Shama, Shama, which is an imperative and means listen, listen or hear, hear! She is imploring them to hear her. She pleads and demands that they come near her so she can speak with them.

Her city is besieged. People will die if this continues. In order for salvation to come to the nation someone must stand up. She asks the question –”Art thou Joab”? He answered, “I am”.  David’s right hand man is on the scene.   

Then she said unto him –HEAR-  the words of thine handmaid and Joab answers, “I do hear”. He’s defensive but still listening. Then she spoke saying, “They were wont to speak in old times, saying they shall surely ask counsel at Abel; and so, they ended the matter. (In contrast) -I am one of them that are peaceable and faithful in Israel;

thou seek to destroy a city and a mother in Israel;

why wilt thou swallow up the inheritance of the LORD?”

Hold up now- Joab, these are the good guys. He needs to slow his roll because he is about to make a big mistake and she points out to him exactly who they are dealing with. It is a crucial moment in time.

He tells her I AM LISTENING. His response is like that of a child being addressed by his mother which is very interesting. She is thwarting his military advance and does not seem to be what he was expecting.

Joab answers “far be it from me, that I should swallow up or destroy”.

…”then the woman went unto all the people in her wisdom. And they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri and cast it out to Joab. And he blew a trumpet and they retired from the city, every man to his tent. And Joab returned to Jerusalem unto the King.”  Note that these relationships would have been fostered and developed before this crucial moment. Talk about courage, boldness and faith! 

Who saved the city? The wise woman and her plan. Salvation came to the city because this woman intervened. Her skills were not known but our hint is that she was a mama, which speaks volumes to me. Her physical muscles may or may not have been large, but her emotional muscles surely were in that moment. Her title was unknown and yet she interceded, negotiated, and won deliverance for the people within the city walls. That’s impressive on many levels.

Yet, she has no name, and we are never told her credentials. We read of David’s men after this story. We are told her attributes- faithful and peaceable.  We are told that she is wise. Gail Wallace from the Junia project tells us about her title, “Wise” in her article on Abel- Beth Maacah:

“Some scholars believe the “Wise Woman” title represented a civic leadership role that existed during the period of the judges and early monarchy. It appears this role was filled by women known for wise judgment, rhetorical skills, and the ability to negotiate difficult situations (see Camp, Frymer-Kensky, and Youngblood). The story of this wise woman’s approach to a critical situation (and Joab’s response) gives some clues about this wise woman tradition. The decision by English translators to change this title to “a woman who was wise” or a “wise woman” (no caps) obscures this possibility.” [1]

No name lady. If you read the entire book she really stands out. She didn’t cause the fight; she didn’t ask for the fight and yet she steps up and brings salvation to her city through her negotiation and position. It seems she is a mighty prayer woman –but the text does not tell us that. I do not know of any woman who would have the guts to step up and prevent a national disaster that is not a praying woman, just saying. Her credentials are peaceful and faithful. Good qualities –and they give her some serious credibility.  

Mighty or wise? She was pro-David, pro-Israel, and savvy in negotiation. Her appeal was not to seek the diviners or other gods but to declare her Gods character and allegiance to Him – I am peaceable and faithful. Respect. She saved her city by speaking up. She saved David’s integrity by preventing the blood guilt that would have landed on his soldiers. To Joab’s credit, he listened. Did he know about the  woman from Tekoa in chapter 14? The Bible includes these stories, and we would be wise to “hear” them as well. This wise womans’  leadership was essential to Israel. I’m not taking a woman stand or a political stand here, this is the word of God – 2 Samuel. I am saying that these stories need to be added to our repertoire and given for encouragement for both men and women.

How do these passages impact our political landscape? How will these examples inspire the way we pray or vote for our city or national leaders? Are there people using their influence, skills and prayer in our churches and cities today?

David in 2 Samuel 22 goes on to tell us that he was compassed with waves of death and that the floods of ungodly men made him afraid. What did he do? He called upon the Lord, he cried to his God and God heard his voice out of His temple and his cry entered the ears of His God. There is no greater power than to say that you have the very ear of the God who created the Universe. Power and strength.

In the next verses we get to see the “underbelly” of this strong leader. We see his secrets for success:

The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me. For I have kept the ways of the Lord; and have not wickedly departed from my God. For all His judgments were before me; and as for his statutes, I did not depart from them. I was also upright before Him and have kept myself from my iniquity.” He speaks on and then says in vs.29, “For thou art my lamp, o Lord and the Lord will lighten my darkness. He speaks eloquently and passionately letting us know that God is his strength and power, and that God makes his way perfect.

This month as an object lesson, we got the boys lights for their heads so they could explore at night and even ride their bikes. They felt more safe since they could see where they were going. They could go more quickly because they could see anything in their path. It makes the darkness bearable to be able to know what is coming up. In a world full of LED’s we miss the message that in that day, they could not travel, fight or do anything without oil or lamps. They were essential. It meant life or death. In earlier chapters we hear the people saying that David was their lamp. He could have rejoiced in that and taken all the credit but in the end of this book he glorifies God and lets us know the source of his strength. God was David’s avenger. God was David’s shield and salvation. God was David’s lamp.

The lamps of that day were shallow bowls filled with oil and a wick to light. They would hold the bowls in their hand and sometimes put them on the wall to see in the night and darkness. David led the people in victory because he was following after God and his ways. He demonstrated Gods ways for them to follow. They called him a lamp because he was a vessel filled with Gods oil being lit up for Gods purposes. There would be no light if there was no oil or no vessel. David led them to victory because David was following God– until he wasn’t and then he had to choose his own consequence. We can’t understand grace unless we understand the consequences of sin in the Old Testament. In spite of all this, David continued to inquire of the Lord and seek His heart. That is a great sign of good leadership.

He finishes this book by telling us the “Spirit of the Lord spoke by him, and the Spirits word was in my tongue”. The God of Israel said, He that ruleth over men MUST BE JUST, ruling in the FEAR of God. Gods’ requirements for leadership are straightforward. Wait a minute Renae this is just a spiritual blog, are you saying Gods interested in politics? He is interested in the salvation of the city, the nation and whether God uses a learned woman who is wise, a military leader who is listening or 30 rough mighty men, God wants to be our shield and salvation. Those who rule over men MUST BE JUST, ruling in the fear of God. You decide and please let these passages impact how you vote.

David’s dynasty will continue and one day the PERFECT ruler will appear, and He will tell His disciples YOU are the light of the world. You are the ones who will bring salvation. You are the ones who will shine in the darkness. You are the ones who will be filled with my Spirit to show others the way.

The wise woman had spiritual authority because she was first peaceable and faithful. Joab had spiritual authority because he was listening and stopped to hear what was being said. David had spiritual authority because he was representing Gods light instead of his own – filled with the spirit and shining Gods power in the midst of a very cruel and evil world.

Is it dark where you live? Is it dark where you go to school? Is it dark where you go to church?

Call upon the Lord. Let Him be your lamp and power and strength.
Who is worthy to be praised? Who needs salvation from their enemies?

Are we hearing, are we listening?

One city, a resourceful, unified city for God. That comes from leaders in unity, women and mothers praying and leading in the gifts and strength and wisdom God has given them. Mighty men standing on their walls in intercession and faith. Walls of division and suspicion broken down. God almighty lifted up. May we be the lamp of our families, churches, cities, and nation to illuminate Jesus.

For further study, read Proverbs 2. Lord, give us your wisdom and light the path you have placed before us. Eph.2:10.

Standing with you,

Renae Roche 2023

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] The Junia project: Gail Wallace March 31, 2014

 

1 Samuel 

Remember when the stores were boarded up, the protests were in full swing, the news was full of riots and such? It seemed like things couldn’t get worse – and then they did. Dark days, violence, crime, etc. have been overshadowed recently by threats of wars and natural disasters. We look back to the darkness of the book of Judges and the chaotic time when “everybody did what was right in their own eyes.” Then, we reflected on a man whose name meant “My God is king – Elimelech” as he moves away from God’s people to obey a calling, we aren’t privy to hear about in the book of Ruth.

Behind the scenes – God was preparing a Messianic line. He was constantly at work. Behind the scenes God was preparing a people for Himself, behind the scenes God was getting ready to reposition the Ark which symbolized His presence but only we, the 2023 people, get to see things full circle. We can trust the God of this story because we have heard it many, many times, right? 

I’m not sure why God allows us to get a glimpse into the life of little Samuel but I’m so very glad we can. Long before the prophet of the hour shows up, we get to see the backdrop. Peninnah (Elkanah’s first wife) has several kids, and she mercilessly persecutes Hannah – Samuel’s mom. It is not just on any day – she ramps things up every time Hannah goes to worship the Lord with her husband. It’s intentional and very painful. Hannah could probably tolerate the jabs but the discouragement right before going to the Lord was just too much. One day, she stood up. Yes, it means rising from a sitting position, but she also stands up and gets some fire in her heart because she cries out to God with such zeal, the priest notices. Have you seen those types of prayers in your church recently?

There are wonderful stories in this book about the prophet who hears God. He pauses to hear, then he obeys. Little Samuel is redirected from the old cleric to the very presence of God to find out what God will say. The God we saw in the previous books is now focused on speaking and the characters in our story are called to hear what God is saying. What is God saying to YOU today? Lift it all up to the Lord, who HEARS you when you pray.

In Psalm 25 we hear David praying to:

Lead me in Thy truth and teach me: for Thou art the God of my salvation; on Thee do I wait all the day.” (verse 5), and “Let integrity and uprightness preserve me; for I wait on Thee.” (verse 21)

The rest of 1 Samuel tells us about the tribes uniting as one and God selecting Samuel to be a spiritual leader and then anointing Saul as King to be their national leader. Imagine being an anointed, spiritual leader who does a great job only to be replaced by one that tries to kill you! Samuel must have had some serious questions for God in his prayer life! At one point the god of the Philistines comes into view (Dagon), and we see a hilarious contrast between their god and the living God of Israel. 

I got stuck on the story about Hannah:

10 In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. 11 And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”

12 As she kept on praying to the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk 14 and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.”

15 “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord16 Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.17 Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”

Hannah had deep anguish. Her pressures drove her to her prayers. She did not have the ability to change her situation. There was no Facebook, therapy, anti-depressants, support groups, etc. Her plan of action – She wept bitterly. She did not hide her hurt from God so she must have trusted He was a good God. SHE PRAYED and she kept on praying. “See Your servant God, see my misery God, remember me God, give me a son God.”

What Hannah did not do: She did not call her girlfriends to attend her pity party. She did not blame her husband or priest or family. She did not go to a conference. She did not burn her garments, protest, or run through the village telling everyone her opinion. 

She took her heart, her pain, to her Lord. 

She poured out her pain and her requests to her Lord.

This is not a platitude or biblical anecdote or panacea. Hannah received her request – she was blessed with a son. God answered her prayer. It may seem simplistic or even childlike to say it like this but:

We hurt, we pray, we receive our answer, we thank God. 

The world was full of chaos, power struggles, violence, and a huge vacuum of leadership. It was devoid of a prophetic voice. Long before Suzanna Wesley came on the scene, or Ruth Bell Graham or your mama, there was a barren woman who would change the nation with her prayer and spiritual care for her anointed son. That’s huge stuff. Parenting on steroids so to speak. 

But first. . . . She was disgusted with her plot in life, her situation. She had to get tired of the persecution, tired of the opinions and sneers, tired of the carnal thinking and worn-out judgments. When she finally had her fill of the pain and sorrow – Hannah stood UP. Not just physically, she stood up to reach out to God. God saw it. God heard it, Eli witnessed it. God answered.

Where are your tears, modern-day Hannah? Where are your snot-filled Kleenexes by your chair? Where are your dog-eared Bible pages and prayer journal entries? Have you had enough sweet Hannah? Have you had your fill of the way things are yesterday, today, and tomorrow? God’s waiting. . . . Lift it all up to the Lord, who HEARS you when you pray.

“Oh, my people, trust in Him at all times; pour out your hearts to Him; for God is our refuge.” Psalm 62:8

 Now where does it say in the Bible to turn off the culture, avoid CNN, collect a pile of bricks, join the xyz political party? It does say Pray, beg Him to remember you and your plight. Then receive the answer.

Where are your tears Hannah? Has God heard your anguish, your cries and pain?

Hannah named little Samuel “Heard of God.” She trained him to meet every problem with prayer. Hannah could not see the glory that would fill Samuel in the latter days. She could not see the future where Samuel would prophesy over the nation and leaders. She could not foresee that he would anoint a King named Saul or a ruddy shepherd boy named David who would stand up to Goliath. 

All she had was pain, tears, and anguish. That was enough. 

And she gave them to God. 

Dear Reader, we cannot all be Samuels but we can all be like Hannah. Do not keep bottled up in your heart what belongs to your heavenly father. Those tears are for Him. Those words are stored up for Him. HE’s not shy, or hesitant or afraid to hear. He is listening to every single whisper, whimper or sigh and He loves you. He wants to hear from you – every battle, situation, circumstance that causes you pain.

Samuel would forever be God’s mouthpiece and the answer to prayer for those in the time of trial. He would be the prophet impacting Saul, Jonathon, David, and the Messianic line. But he would not have come, he would not have been birthed or anointed or released if one woman had not made the choice to:

STAND UP, enough, I will not live in the prison of my thoughts and complaints and other’s opinions ANYMORE!  

PRAY – I will not stifle my voice, my heart, my wishes, and dreams or sacrifice them on the altar of convenience or complacency ANYMORE.  Enough is enough.

Lord – we need more Hannahs in our land today! Our families and nations need those prayers and tears.

Space prevents me from writing about all the other wonderful stories, but for you men reading this, the ones who don’t like to blubber like babies or cry in public, there are also male role models in this prophetic book that cover the lifespan of Samuel, the prophet and two Kings. You can be like Hannah, or you can take your cues from the valiant men in the end of the book. The valiant ones who did the right thing even when no one told them to do what was right. These valiant men were distinguished from the rest of the nation because they followed hard after God, they were loyal, and they CRIED OUT to God – with prayer and fasting.

Dear brothers, push that hamburger away. Find yourself wandering around the altar and through the grocery store looking for soup and fruit instead of at home looking through Netflix and ESPN. God waits to HEAR your words. He wants you to HEAR HIS words. Skip some meals and FIND HIM. Your family and nation need you desperately to fast and pray!  Lift it all up to the Lord, who HEARS you when you pray.

Maybe we take a break from crazy news discussions for a while and cry out to a holy God for trans-formation. It’s time for a new identity – one that is like Hannah and these valiant men. Biblically it begins in moments like they had – with great pressure, not pretty, not polite, not PC, but essential and desperately needed in this hour. It starts with fasting and prayer.  God doesn’t need our “read on the culture” as much right now as He wants a “read” on our hearts and for us to hear HIS heartbeat. 

We can leave 1 Samuel and say, “what a nice little book on calling and leadership” or we can stand up and follow Hannah’s and the valiant men’s example and earnestly wait on God to do miracles in our homes, nation, and world. 

Anybody got some pain they want to lift up? He’s listening.

Anybody got some irritation or anguish they want to lift up? That’s the stuff God is looking for.

Anybody want to experience breakthroughs? Fasting prepares us to hear Him.

 

This month’s post is shorter, and I didn’t include any fancy theological arguments. It is child simple but PhD appropriate. These folks in this book were wise – they cried out to the only One who could change things – God. Cry out, fast – prepare your heart to hear from God. We can apply this book right now, the only question is, are we tired of being barren, tired of being persecuted? Sick and tired of being sick and tired as some would say. Lift it all up to the Lord, who HEARS you when you pray.

You’ll like the results. Please do share them.

RenaeRoche2023

                                                                             “The Other Ruth” — Orpah

Along the dusty road of Bethlehem, one ordinary day, Joseph’s parents (Jacob and Rachel) traveled many years ago. God had gifted them with another child, and they more than likely were anticipating this child with great joy. As they traveled along that road, Rachel went into labor and scripture tells us that she succumbed to the pains of labor and on that path, died. Genesis 35 tells the story of the baby first named “son of my sorrow,” then renamed “Benjamin, son of my right hand” by the father, who was left alone to care for this little guy. It was a shocking, jarring story before Joseph’s disappearance.

The road to Bethlehem was traveled by two of the greats—Jacob and Rachel. They and this road were famous. Stories were written, songs were sung that rehearsed their story. The road to Bethlehem was not exactly a place a pregnant woman would want to travel. The story may have even elicited fear. Years later that same path was traversed by another ordinary couple named Elimelech and Naomi—going the opposite direction. Perhaps their hometown thought they were going outside of God’s will or providence. Perhaps they doubted God’s call to Elimelech to go to Moab, creating even more distress as they traveled on. The background to their story is that they were related to a people waiting for Messiah. There was a promise attached to their descendants—but in the darkness of the time of the Judges, a time when a deliverer was needed most, Elimelech went the opposite direction. Naomi had a lot of explaining to do with her women friends. Did this couple somehow miss the prophecies? Did they know of the coming Messiah? When they traveled, they brought their two children named sickly and wasting away. The community was more than likely affected by this change of events. It limited the pool of possibilities. We are not told why their sons were named as they were, but their names were not Messianic type names. Was God worried, upset? Did their departure mean His plan would stop? It all but looked that way to those who did not know God’s  plan. We know on this side of it, that it was providential to seek a young lady whose descendants would bear a future king. An ordinary lady who we will come to learn  was very extraordinary indeed. Only it was not to be in this season of time.

Elimelech’s name means, “My God is King.” This was in the time of the Judges when there was no king and the people continued to rebel against God. It sounded pretentious, his name sounded like his God was higher or better than the ones in Moab. His wife, named pleasant one—Naomi—had accompanied him on this trip with their two sons, but they were only planning to stay for a little while. Days turned into months and soon ten years had gone by. God’s plans are never thwarted.

What greeted them in Moab? A lush, green hill area that provided some food. The culture was led by cultic beliefs and wicked practices. Elimelech and Naomi would have practiced the Jewish festivals and Sabbath. Community Feasts, dancing, fellowship, scripture, worship of the one true God, blessing others with gifts and kindness faded into the sunset as they trudged on to Moab. 

Moabites were known for their wicked deeds and idolatrous worship of the god Chemosh. He was capricious and cruel. His followers practiced human sacrifice, killing of infants, and more. Elimelech’s customs would have been very calm in comparison to the wild parties and celebrations these people engaged in week after week. The two boys grew up and became men. They chose for themselves foreign wives—even though that was forbidden to do so. Considering the prophecies, this may have been heartbreaking for Naomi. Was this part of her life becoming bitter, disillusioned?

We are not told that Naomi continued her worship and festival celebrations, but it would be reasonable to say she did. Somehow the new brides got a flavor for Naomi’s God and His character. We are not told whether Elimelech continued in his faith and traditions or if he became jaded and joined in with the celebrations of Chemosh.

Syncretism quickly kills out what is true, like a cancer.

What we are told, is that two women joined their family system and in a culture that killed infants, God in His sovereignty allowed both women to be barren, thus stopping the blood line of Elimelech’s family while in Moab.

Our family studied each precious word in Ruth and there is more material than would fit into this blog. We hope to share it in a different format in the days ahead. For the blog I wanted to write about something I did not read in any of the commentaries. Many say there are three main characters in this book, but actually there are eight: Elimelech, Naomi, Mahlon, Chilion, Orpah, Ruth, the other kinsman and Boaz.

Why is Orpah left out of most commentaries? Her life certainly tells a story worth hearing. We have volumes on every other character except her. The verb endings may suggest Aramaic language or feminine authorship.  It no longer is believed to be Samuel. Some say it is possibly his mom or another author. There is great care to look at things any grandma worth her salt would notice. Hmm?

Orpah lived in two cultures—straddling Jewish festivals and cultic pagan practices led by Chemosh followers. Her husband Chilion was named the “wasting away” one so probably not a big win in the trophy department. She is not as impressed with Naomi, at least not to devote herself for her entire life as Ruth had done. Her husband’s character had not made a big “I must convert” impression on her. This young wife lost her father-in-law, who once knew the God of Israel. She may have heard of the Messianic promises and had a glimmer of hope that through their union (Chilion and Orpah), Messiah would come into the world. Naomi left feeling empty but Orpah, her whole life was empty. Her husband died; she was barren. Her new world was shattered.

“Grief is the loudest silence I have ever heard” P. Ryters once wrote. Silence would be Orpah’s world as she did not have a relationship with El Shaddai. She had not known Him to be mighty as Naomi had known. Orpah was still grieving, away from her husband’s family and her family was  wicked to some degree. Any inspiration from the men from Bethlehem in her life died with them, and Naomi, the pleasant one, had now lost hope. Where did her God go? Why isn’t He rescuing her? Just when Orpah may have started to believe, Naomi falls into discouragement and depression on some level.

When we cannot see God, when we cannot feel God, we must speak and stand on what we remember. Those moments are critical for others who are watching. We may be their only lifeline. We cannot let the enemy of our souls use us to do his bidding in times like these. The storm may not be about us; it may be about those watching on the sidelines.

Proverbs 26:11 tells us “As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool returns to his folly.” Orpah did not have the wisdom of Proverbs as it had not yet been written. She could use that excuse, but we cannot.

Orpah follows alongside Ruth down the road. Was it then, on that familiar road, that perhaps the story of Rachel is shared? Was it then the reality of robbers and criminals hiding in the shadows became a reality to eclipse her high hopes? Did she question if she could really live in the religious world of Bethlehem where they were going? Was she more afraid of that or missing a carnal life back in Moab? She could go either way on that road. Weary, grief-stricken Naomi implores her to go back. Insists even. She addresses her possible false hope that Messiah will come through their family line because Naomi absolutely cannot have children any longer, and remember Rachel? Orpah (name meaning gazelle), kisses her and bolts.

Relieved she no longer has to comfort the two women in their grief, or face a new culture with all its difficulties, Orpah will go home, alone, to deal with her unbearable grief over the loss of her entire family system. She chose isolation and what was familiar rather than fellowship and what was unknown. The road home may have been shorter—but it was not better. Nor was it holy. Her two friends faded in the distant sunset and her moral compass was still set to the cruel, perverse god Chemosh.

I write about her in this short story because not all stories end in a baby being born into a Messianic line with grand reveal parties and celebration. Orpah could be any one of us. Ordinary, but with options. This was a barren woman, overcome by grief not once but three times over. I would suggest five times over as her closest women friends Naomi and Ruth walked away from her and stepped into their new destinies. The Sabbath candle would now be her only representation of the God of Israel in her life—IF she continued to light it.

What are your choices today? Have you come to a fork in the road with who you will serve? Who will you follow? What will you do with your grief or new set of circumstances? We can learn from this woman. She obeyed her mother-in-law, but she did not obey her mother-in-law’s God. She had hope—but it was in what she wanted and willed, rather than in trusting a Sovereign God and HIS will.

In our Sunday school class, we have been talking about conditional clauses. In 1 Kings 3 God tells Solomon, “If you do this, then I will do that.” In 2 Chronicles 7:14 God tells them “If my people, who are called by my name humble themselves (follow my voice), seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, THEN I will. . . .” If you read on to verse twenty-two the story takes a dark turn. It reflects the period of the Judges when everyone did what was right in their own eyes. Consequences are heavy when one turns from God. IF Orpah had followed Naomi and her God, Orpah’s outcome would have been far better.

We spend much time talking about the beauty of the Ruth story, but there is a strong case for looking at the two women’s lives and the contrast of choices they made on that ordinary road on that ordinary day. At the crossroads, we see two decisions that were vastly different.

Today—you can choose Christ and follow Him, worshipping, seeking fellowship and asking Him to be your God—or—you can go back to serving idols and living in wild, wicked debauchery. I’m going to spell this out, even though that might not make some comfortable. Debauchery means getting drunk, high, living in open fornication, adultery, stealing, lying or any violation of the Ten Commandments. You are either living holy or living a lie.  There’s not a side road or detour. It’s a narrow road. We all choose life or death. Walking away doesn’t end our story, it just determines the finale. Choose better.

Orpah will eventually get remarried and live in a land that is not God fearing. Other writings from that time and possibly a verse in Samuel suggest that she is given four sons who become warriors. One of them you might recognize—Goliath. The reach to exterminate the birth line of the soon-coming King of Israel continued even up to that battlefield. One moves toward victory and the other moves toward defeat.  Our decisions affect our lives, our children, our communities and more. Choose better.

Is there a place in this story about God’s loving kindness for Orpah? Yes, and it was offered. She had free will and a choice. It is understandable that she was disappointed. It is understandable that she had much grief and made a hasty decision in that grief. Who would fault her for wanting to stay where it was safe, familiar? Her parents still lived there; her traditions may have called her back. What must be remembered in this short story, with long impact, is that we are ALL given choices. Hear the call of “whosoever will.” We can follow and go forward despite much fear and anguish, trusting God has a plan we may not see, or we can run back to our idols and our own ways. Choose better.

Ruth converted when she said, “Your God will be my God too.” Ruth dared to trust. Ruth had a glimpse of a loving, sovereign God and left everything to find Him, to seek that God. Naomi did so out of sheer desperation and memory power. How you return is not as important as IF you return. Ruth and Naomi chose to go for God, will you?

“Jesus, I give you my life. I repent for my sins and idols. I turn away from my past. I want to follow you. I want your people to be my people. I want you to be my God for life. I surrender to you and trust in Your sovereign plan. Make me born from above into Your heavenly family today I pray.

Please let me know if you said that prayer. I want to introduce you to something called the Roman Road, which will help as you walk in a new direction. Great things can be ahead. IF you turn to Him and follow, THEN . . . He will lead and bless you. Choose Best.

Walking with you,

Renae Roche ©2023

 

 

Our family loves studying the word of God together, but this month was a bit intense. It made for some odd morning devotions. I am not sure if the nightly news was more heinous or the book of Judges. Violence, treachery, cruelty, and horrendous acts of murder were daily reminders that we need more than a leader, we need a Savior. The beauty of going through the Bible systematically is that you cannot erase the bad parts or pick and choose what you want to read—or obey. It works itself into your body, soul, and mind when it becomes central to your life. After doing this for many years, I was surprised how many new things jumped out in the text. It is possible that we are in new territory in this generation so things make sense now that we could not appreciate in the past. My big takeaway was this:

Instead of looking at the violence, crime, and bloodshed in the text, I looked for God. The gruesome stories when I had read this in the past seemed to overshadow Him. They even caused me to wonder where He was in the midst of them. Then I looked in my own life and saw how trials were eclipsing what He was doing in our lives. Sometimes we want to have great faith, but challenges dim our hope. Many are speaking about the “end of the age.” The prevailing thought is that things are going to continually get worse. Conspiracies, prophecies, opinions may be right to some extent but there seems to be those who are also adding to the script in this fear-mongering culture.

Judges, in the very first chapter, gives us an intro for the rest of the book. Hear it afresh today: “After the death of Joshua, the Israelites (no mediator mentioned) asked the Lord, “Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Canaanites?” This implied a collective prayer meeting. Good start. . . .

Looking back at Israel’s journeys, we realize that again and again and again, God’s people ignored His voice and word. Here, at the outset there is a people pausing to find God’s wisdom for who is to be their leader and how they are to proceed. That is significant once we realize the answer came before the darkness. Timely? I believe so. Do we need to choose a leader, to ask God who is to go in first? Do we need collectively, as a family, church, or nation to seek God? Do we need His wisdom? Are we wise enough to pause and listen to what He has to say? It does not take a scholar to realize that if we do not do that—a period of time worse than the Judges, will soon be upon us. In this present darkness, that is clear. When I recalled reading this book, this first promise was not even on the list in times past.

Here is my favorite verse in the book: “The Lord answered, ‘Judah shall go up; I have given the land into their hands.’” Remember Judah? They marched and they worshipped but most of all—they obeyed.

We can read that and immediately see a promise. Israel was in the age of the Judges, enduring suffering for over four hundred years. Moses, in comparison, looks like a track star at this point with his forty-year journey! Come on guys, how long are we going to go around this same mountain? Now, it stretched out into four hundred years—murder, mayhem, hopelessness, cruelty, darkness, violence, rape, and just pure evil. Pure evil? In spite of the atrocities, beams of light can still be seen of God’s movement.

The key: the Lord answered. He heard; he heard what they asked. He was listening, He was present, and He ANSWERED! This God is unlike any other God. He is not dumb, deaf, or weary. He showed Himself to be an active listener, active responder. He HEARD their prayers. The next twenty chapters will look like proof after proof that God had forsaken them, left them. Like a parent who gives a command and then sits back to wait and see if it will be followed, God continued to watch. If ONE person would have paused, if ONE person would have looked back, if ONE person would have remembered that at the beginning of this very dark period, God sent them and gave them direction, things might have gone very different. If someone dared to ask God what His opinion was, what HIS will was for them, they could refocus. Where were the people recounting the promise of victory? Where were memorial stones to mark this word of the Lord? Had they forgotten how to remember? God made them a promise—“I have given (past tense) the land into their hands.” They transitioned from one leader Joshua to Judah and his crew. God gave the order, they just had to walk it out.

We think we are way different than these folks but the crime rates and situations in our land say otherwise. So, how do we remember? Psalm 2:1 says, “he delights in the Law of the Lord and meditates on it day and night.” Meditate means to study, examine, ponder, and reflect—to speak and mutter. If someone had done that regarding this first prayer and response, it may have served to remind them that God had spoken—that He answered them and gave them the truth they needed to stand on. We pray—He answers. We do what He says, He speaks more. I think that may be the part they (and we) forget. When in doubt, go back to square one and find out what you missed. Can you repeat that please? What did you say? Seeking God should not be a one-time event but an ongoing process.

If you want a double dose of this verse play Elevation’s new song “Trust in God.” I heard it after reflecting on this chapter and it refreshed my heart greatly. The friend who introduced it has lived its words during a season of suffering and her light continues to shine. Amid darkness and trials, it is AMAZING to realize God hears us and answers. I have been soaking in the song line “I sought the Lord and He heard, and He answered.” Maybe the hero leaders, these Judges, held on to God’s original word? Some of them were even blessed with visitations and reminders. God is faithful and hears our prayers.

Instead of rehearsing all the hardships of this book this time around, I wanted to know where God was and His expectations of His people before, during, and after these dark days. I spent some time meditating on these verses: “The men of Judah then said to the Simeonites their fellow Israelites, ‘Come up with us into the territory allotted to us, to fight against the Canaanites. We in turn will go with you, into yours.” So, the Simeonites went with them. This reads like a narrative, and I am sure my Bible teachers will appreciate a recommendation to understand it as such, but I am also a parent and a minister. Let me share the practical lesson written here that you may not get from just reading it as history. This battle plan—seek God, listen, for His response is wonderful but when you add—gather the troops and let us do this together—it puts meat on those bones. You succeed when you join with others.  Not with great ideas but with Jesus and His kingdom plan. This means first God and then sold-out folks who have your back and are willing to go into the fray with you. More than just a journal entry, this is their formula for winning. Come with us and we will fight for you also. Teamwork makes the dream work may have started long before John Maxwell! Go team Judah! Helen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

Although this next verse is not considered a main point, at least not in most commentaries, I do believe it was placed in this chapter to show us a different version of “taking the land” and God’s reward system. And Caleb said, “I will give my daughter Aksah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures Kiriath Sepher.”13 Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, took it; so Caleb gave his daughter Aksah to him in marriage.14 One day when she came to Othniel, she urged him to ask her father for a field. When she got off her donkey, Caleb asked her, “What can I do for you?”15 She replied, “Do me a special favor. Since you have given me land in the Negev, give me also springs of water.” What a businessperson and leader. She was not timid in her request. Come on somebody! Faith wells up into bold actions. So, Caleb gave her the upper and lower springs. In that day and age this was amazing! Consider the livestock that needed water as well as the military crew. What a beautiful inheritance—The father choosing to bless the daughter—directly. She asked for what she needed, and she received it. This is the backdrop for all the other Judges. What is possible, when we go to the Father and ASK!

This is Joshua’s buddy Caleb—the one who spied out the land. A spy certainly knows who is most likely to win his contest, right? I bet Aksah had amazing stories of grapes and wars and winning. They stand as a shining example, amid much despair and heartbreak. It is at the forefront, in the beginning of this desperately ugly and bloody book. What a contrast. It was her father’s good pleasure to give her of his kingdom. She asked, He answered and gave the land. We miss a lot if we doubt God’s character or stare at the enemy wreaking havoc instead of the goodness of the Father.

What are you staring at in your world today? Is it the Delight of God? The eyes of Jesus? The movement of the precious Holy Spirit? What you look for—you see. What you pray for will be answered but you first must turn from the violence and drama and go where real answers are given. See Psalm 16:11—take a minute and put that on a 3×5 card or a mirror. Get it deep down in your soul and share it with others. Actively shine this week. Memorize it, sing it, text it. It comes after a very dark verse.

God set the leaders (Judges) in place to help the people take the land. He set up women and men to lead. Theological Point—God does not change—no matter what denomination you are in. They failed time after time after time because they forgot what He said and did not do exactly what He told them. Leaving out instructions is just as costly as ignoring them. That is serious—then and now. It is risky. It proved tragic. The people in the book of Judges often ignored His warnings. The last verse in this tragedy says, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

While focusing on tragedy and failure in Judges we got caught up in watching the underwater sub tragedy. It was so sad. Some called it an epic failure. They ignored every heart check, scientific warning, and protocol, just to view a past shipwreck. The Titanic was a textbook case of stubborn hearts and self-will. Sound familiar? My Navy husband gave us a play by play as it was taking place. He commented, “the deep ocean is very unforgiving” and in his eyes I realized they would not be returning home. Those in charge stated they did not “need” fifty-plus-year-old white, ex-military guys and planned to do their own thing. It was short-sighted and arrogant to not connect with the Coast Guard or Navy. Innovation does not need to cancel out education. Sound advice was not only refused but mocked. It was more than ironic, it was chilling. We also may have similar stories on lesser scales. Stories of past sins, mistakes, failures. Or maybe refusing support and help? If we learn from our and other’s mistakes, they can teach us, but if we keep going back to view or forcing ahead without caution—it is to our detriment. Judges helps us understand each of these dynamics and their outcomes.

God will never fail. He is constant, merciful, and unlimited.

I also want to point out that one of the people who came alongside them was a source of joy we may not recognize at first glance, but the people of that day certainly would. “The descendants of Moses’ father-in-law, the Kenite, went up from the City of Palms with the people of Judah to live among the inhabitants of the Desert of Judah in the Negev near Arad.”  We may be tempted to gloss over it to get to the deeper stories of Jael, Deborah, and Sampson. If we were visited by a great leader, a hero who encouraged us, we would be strengthened to possess our promised lands as well. Gather around those on the frontlines and stand with them. Oh, the value of praying and fellowshipping saints!

When I was in seminary a solid, godly mentor of mine came to visit me. She heard my heart, visited my house, and prayed with me. I learned things that weekend that still impact me in powerful ways to this day. It made my dark days brighter and helped me to shine on. Yes, I want visits like that, but I also want to mature and be that for other people, especially as the days grow darker. Find someone older and someone younger. Do not wait 403 years to obey—make some calls today.

We are not all that different from the Israelites. The God that listened to them, is waiting to listen, in this dark age with horrific events unfolding—to the weary, heart-heavy likes of you and me. What will He say? Who will listen and obey? His directive then and to us today is that we are to do what He has given us to do, today. Who will partner with His plan to brighten the landscape of His will, as He plays out His Kingdom plan in this generation?

When you go to prayer—remember confident Aksah—who boldly trusted that her good father would give her what she asked of him. She stated her request. Not to another person or through another person but directly to her father. I believe our good Father is more than willing to give us what we request. We must turn away from evil and remind ourselves that God is sovereign and goes with us to accomplish His purposes in the earth. That brings victory. He promises.

Anne Graham Lotz wrote in Worship Makes a Difference:

In the storm, You are our Anchor.
In the face of terrorism, You are our Shield.
In time of war, You are our Peace.
In our weakness, You are our Strength.
In our grief, You are our Comfort.
In our despair, You are our Hope.
In our confusion, You are our Wisdom.

No matter the trial, we look for God to send us and help us possess the land. Keep meditating, worshipping, praying—God is listening, and His track record is that He will answer and respond with instruction. Let us know about your journey, so we can stand with you.

RenaeRoche2023

*Special thanks to editor Virginia Bridges

It is difficult for a nation when one president leaves and another steps in. Even when it goes smoothly. Whether it be a king or any change of leader. It can be clean and swift, a coup d’état or a nightmare. Power will shift in the rank and file, not just in the top leadership. This book is reflective of that. There are land assignments and military conquests and genealogy notes. Who would have ever thought Rahab would become part of the victory crew? Or her children the future relatives of Jesus?

In our generation we can see all these things with a front seat view. We have the republicanites and the democratites and the monarchites, with great variation. Our hearts get swayed through emotion, shared history and the possibility of financial changes. In modern times we have dueling tribes and family clans also, not safe enough to mention here. Back in the day the old- time saints would sing, “whose side are you leaning on?” New to this song, I was not sure if it meant a theological issue or battle over new carpet in the sanctuary.

I remember as a child reading Dr. Seuss’ book The Sneetches and getting a clear understanding of most of life. It was good preparation for current culture. Now there are so many options for sides there is no majority, not even for those who are blue or red. So how can this help us today? Joshua, and all those being human at any time—are all subject to jealousy, sides, power mongering and pride. It is literally in our DNA.

One of my favorite leaders recently shared a sermon contrasting disobedient Eve with obedient Mary. My sanctified imagination wondered all week–what was her excuse? Eve, I mean. There was no peer pressure, no culture war, no nightly news to sway her. No, even her amazing garden savvy, nature-loving husband could not be blamed. Her internal pressure or “level” was set correctly. So was his. Truthfully, she could not even blame the slithering enemy in the garden because she was forewarned.

As tempting as it is, I will leave politics aside and get to the core of my point. She talked with the enemy and her husband threw her under the bus, but God lets her know that she disobeyed Him. In contrast, Mary said, “Be it unto me according to Your word” and then birthed the second Adam–the Christ. Powerful comparison. Instead of taking sides, both were cast out of paradise. God’s side counts.

In Joshua’s day, Moses, the “Make Israel great again” guy has failed, then he died. The people are in a new location, they have a new set of rules, a promise and most everyone has forgotten the trip and its meaning coming out of Egypt. Then, a new guy shows up. Even though Joshua gets this book named after him, he is not the hero. Spoiler alert. This “warrior” is the one who saves the day.

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” “Neither,” he replied, “but as Commander of the Army of the Lord, I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” Joshua 5:14

Even though Joshua tried to side with this warrior, a ploy, the warrior does not yield but continues to pull Joshua out of the side mentality and directs him to look up where the real battle is being fought and the real Commander is in control. Whose side was this warrior on? Neither.

The Canaanites were blocking the plans and progress of the people of Israel. They were supposed to rid them from the land. To receive the promise of land they had to deal with each of these groups. We see that the ites and the people of God are not mutually exclusive. Sometimes the ites are them and sometimes the “ites” are us. Sadly, the church at large often looks like the world and sometimes the people in the streets look more like Jesus. God does not play favorites or take sides. He commands that we take His side.

No individual has  a corner on God’s market. While He favors and loves those who delight in Him, He still sent His son, only begotten son that whosoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life. Why? For God so loved the whole world. That person down the street we disagree with could believe in the next five minutes and now you have a brother. That machete-wielding woman who ticked you off could, right in this millisecond turn to Him and you would have a new sister. We do not know where anyone is on the spectrum of God’s grace. We need to tread lightly on why we are righteous, and “they” are not. They will come in at various levels of faith and we do not get to determine that. God is not our special circus monkey or interest group delegate–He is sovereign and He’s God and thank heavens not on any group’s side. The name Sovereign makes that clear.

Does that mean all these “others” are o.k. with God? Poor, rich, educated, not educated? Android or iPhone user? Even the ones who wear tie-dye shirts or voted for so and so? Humility is not milk -toast people being quiet, it is people who know God is in control and the Boss. God’s criteria has always been different than those in organized religion. Before people start writing me, let me emphasize that God draws, saves and cleans each individual. They are His workmanship, created for His glory. Even the ones that do not look like us or look like someone we would disagree with in our community. If the believers of the last generation had taken this stance, perhaps our world would not be vying for place or identity. This is our Father’s world.

When He does draw someone close, this is what that looks like:

The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is HOLY.” And Joshua did so.

Note there is no debate here. God’s warrior lets Joshua experience what Moses had with God. He is holy. Yes, its true God is Sovereign and does not take sides, but His kingdom is preeminent and will not cater or sway to anyone’s personal belief or opinion. God’s presence makes everything holy. That is God’s criteria, not any specific churches. The disciples’ prayer “Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed by Thy Name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven” reminds me of the warrior in this story. Military people understand the importance of walking in cadence with the Commander. The warrior today has left us the Holy Spirit to walk alongside us and represent the Kingdom.

Victory outside of looking to God and obeying Him, does not end well as the Israelites found out in this book. They had to take a beat, remember the instructions, then get back on track. The things God wanted to root out of the “ites,” and our lives as well, were immorality and murder–specifically child sacrifice. See Lev. 18 and Deut. 12 for more information.[1]

My son was on the football team last fall. I was nervous and not sure how to navigate in this arena. It was literally “new territory.” Uniforms, schedules, grass stains, new smells, equipment, and passionate parents jolted me into a whole new world. I accidentally cheered for the other side, sat on the wrong bleachers. Ugh! Clearly, football was not my forte–but I meant well. There were some grumpy students that made a couple of the games tense. One day after other attempts at peace had failed, a seasoned gospel- type grandma came to the bleachers and when the kids started heckling people, she got her tough face on and let them know Jesus would not be o.k. with that and much to my surprise everyone simmered on down. It was beautiful. Nonsense was not tolerated for either side and she made it clear who was boss. I was able to see boldness in action! Oh my and oh yes! No one misunderstood what she said. A warrior stood up inside that precious saint.

Whose side are you on this political season? What pastor are you for in this revival? Oops. . . . It stings when the lesson comes off the page and into our hearts, doesn’t it? What neighbor or parent is right? Whose side are you leaning on? Be like Joshua’s warrior friend–neither. I am leaning on the Lord’s side. His response? Worship. Wise man. The NIV calls it reverence but both would fit this passage nicely.

The throne is not empty today. The office has not been evacuated. God is clearly, still ON HIS THRONE, active, unchanging, limitless, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, ruling, reigning, guiding, sovereign, holy, active, merciful, compassionate. THAT commander is the leader of not just my and your battles but ALL battles and the Final battle. His word says God WINS.

We know that but how do we live that day to day? Do those words still apply now? Just because one leader does great like Moses getting them out of Egypt, how do they trust the new guy, Joshua? What if Moses was a one-time anomaly? The Red Sea was cool, right? Joshua comes along and God does a “redo” of sorts for the children of those who saw but failed to remember or repeat. Now we are talking pattern. The theology of these two were the same–same God. It begs the question–so is this repeatable? We follow, we ask, we obey, God moves and shows up. It is more than a leader doing well– it is an eternal promise. Well, that is a whole different playing field. If He did it once, God is capable of doing it again. Remember, repeat.  Whole heart, whole devotion.

Joshua tells the people in 1:8-9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” I used to think this was a “go guys” type cheer. It is so much more. Let’s break it down.

Have I not commanded you–This is the Lord speaking to Moses. It is authoritative. When God speaks–worlds are formed, light, stars, oceans. His word carries the most weight in our lives. It is not a suggestion or self-help tip. It is one of the strongest verbs commanding the people then and the people now.

Strong and courageous. Both are imperatives. Imperatives are orders given directly to a person that absolutely must be carried out–it’s essential. Strong means to prevail, to be firm, secure, and be resolute. Courageous is to be bold, alert, and brave. These words are printed in the book of Joshua. They have been there a long time. It is the word of God. Even in our own strength and courage, if we are not following the Commander’s orders we can get in trouble, if we are posturing for our side, our party, our family, or our church. We must posture ourselves under this commander–the Host of the Lord’s army. If we doubt this word is for us or for today, read the verse before it:

This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; but you shall meditate therein day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall have good success. Joshua 9:8

Here we see that God describes to Joshua how to have success. To their demise, they ignore it and must be pulled back to repeat and remember it and then go forward again. Many Christians today are only halfback or quarter Christians. We read a fourth of a chapter one time a day or week. The battle plan, the soldier’s due diligence, according to the Lord through Joshua is to meditate (Ponder, imagine, mutter, study, talk) on the word day AND night.

“Fill my cup three quarters full Lord, I lift it barely up Lord, come and partially quench this thirsting of my soul.” This cracks me up, but I fully believe that when Joshua worshipped, he was fully engaged. His theology just needed to be refocused on the Lord instead of his plans and loyalty. Before we find ten other people that do this and leave ourselves out of the equation, are we that much different?

As misguided as we may believe Joshua was in his response to the warrior–he is still one of the top leaders in the Bible and history. Faith came in somewhere because we see God answering a big prayer in Joshua 10. It is an incredible praise report–there are also scientific studies that have seemed to confirm the events.[2] Though fallible, Joshua 10:14 tells us, “There was not a day like that before it or after it, that the Lord hearkened unto the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel.”[3]  

Joshua tells the Israelites and us today to not “passively be caused by others to become discouraged, (broken, beaten down, terrified or dismayed).”  One morning I woke up and needed a “word” from God. It was before coffee and my new workout had caused much muscle pain. I opened my Bible and read Joshua thirteen, verse one: “Now Joshua was old and stricken and the Lord said to him—thou art old and stricken.” True word but not necessarily one you would want to hear. The end of that verse however is encouraging. God has already used Joshua, given him commands, honored his prayers and promised to be with him. He tells him the unvarnished, straight up truth. Hear this in your spirit, “yes you may be old and stricken but THERE REMAINS VERY MUCH LAND TO BE POSSESSED!” His weakness, lack, limitations did not limit the all-powerful God. Why? Because He goes with us in HIS strength, courage, and power. That is a sure victory. The battle belongs to the Lord. Thy Kingdom come Lord, Thy will be done.

Dear reader–The Commander of the Lord of Hosts and His warrior Jesus will lead you. Follow Him. There are no sides–we follow, obey the Lord. He will lead us into battle and holiness and whatever else HE requires of us. If we all work from that perspective, maybe more unity, grace and progress would happen in the Kingdom? May we all get and stay on the Lords’ side.

Renae Roche 2023

P.S. Go to “contact us” to give your input on this months blog. We’ve added internal captcha so please leave only comments related to the post.  Also fill in your email if you would like blog updates. Also see the Life Coaching page for a special we are running on Strength Quest and stress management for the month of June. Ads from those in ministry or related fields can be sent to that email as well. Donations are much appreciated. You are welcome to use the post for Bible studies.

 

[1] Book of Joshua summary: Bible Project Animated, accessed 5/25/23

[2] David Sedley. Royal Astronomical of Astronomy and Geophysics Journal, quoted by the “Times of Israel” article. October 2017.

 

[3] Note: Joshua did not command this, he spoke to the Lord and made his request to the Lord first–see verse 12. The verb there suggests that it was not a small ask but an intense request

When we lived in the woods, my husband and I would sit out in the backyard in the mornings and listen to hundreds of birds. It was quite the symphony. When we moved, I missed those familiar sounds. This morning, our cat meandered out onto our porch, leaving the door ajar. My ears were delighted to hear brand new sounds, unlike any I had heard before. I drew closer so I could hear each distinct sound. As they sang, the cat sat nearby making chattering noises. Before the sun rose, silence had been awakened with sounds unique to this area. I commented to the family that perhaps our cat meditated more than we had this week! It was a crazy, busy week.

Our culture has been characterized as not only hard of hearing but “not being willing to listen” to one another. Partisan politics, special interest groups, and a new generation of youngsters who have forgotten the “war stories” of their grandparents has all culminated in this characterization. The loud protesters who line our streets with deafening demands to “be heard” come from all kinds of lifestyles. The writer of Deuteronomy yells out through history: Hear! Listen up! Hear this now—the Lord thy God is One. He is priority, worthy of attention, and an audience. He is greater than all our individual needs and demonstrations. More than anyone, God wants to be “heard” in this hour.

Unlike a waffling parent, God speaks truth and delivers consequences. You can count on it. While there is grace, He is still a jealous, holy, and angry God. To know Him is to know these aspects also. In His mercy, He waits, warns, and strives but as Genesis 6:3 tells us—there is a limit, and only God knows when that limit will be. Check out 2 Peter 3:9 also.

The message of Deuteronomy was God’s second attempt at helping the nation of Israel know and follow Him. He wanted them to go into the Promised Land, yet only Caleb and Joshua seemed to have received the message. All those who left in the Exodus had aged (or rebelled) out and this new group would need a refresher on what was essential for this next phase of the journey. God had sort of pulled over on the side of the road until the kids in the backseat got the message, and they would not continue if the behavior did not change.

Step One: HEAR.

As I write this, my cell phone ringer is turned to silent and all I can “hear” is the steady rhythm of a dishwasher and washing machine gloriously drowning out the sounds of the city.  Also vying for my attention is a smart TV, Alexa, a tablet, and traffic noise. It is imperative to get away to “hear” God and one’s own heart, soul, and mind. If we don’t intentionally set that time aside, the loudest voice will win. Many times, that loudest voice is the enemy. God’s signature is usually a whisper or nudge.

Sometimes the absence of a voice can be loud as well. This week we no longer hear the thoughts of Tucker Carlson on Fox News or the pontifications of Don Lemon on the morning show—at least not for now. It was reported that 60 million people were searching for Tucker’s voice Thursday night. The financial loss for the news program was in the millions—imagine the absence of your voice costing that much!

What is the absence of God’s voice costing us in this generation?

No search report was done for Mr. Lemon that I am aware of.  Some are relieved, some angered, and some were not listening in the first place. Life will go on; parents will travel to work; teens will trudge into school, and countless others will proceed with their routines. While they do, in courtrooms around the country, the law (nomos) will be tested as righteous (and unrighteous) lawsuits will be brought—trying not only the constitution but our hearts as well. We will question what was said, done, and heard—and then go back to our routines. While this swirls daily, the focus on God, the priority of communion, the story of God’s Covenant will fade further, further into the past. . . . 

Currently, news about the Nashville families has been muffled more than previous similar tragedies. I remember the tears though and they still speak to me. It is noteworthy that the school in Nashville is named Covenant. I was just studying about Covenant in Leviticus and Deuteronomy when this took place. Morality, love for life, and dignity/honor of each human is a necessary topic in today’s world. Maybe we have lost something when we replaced God’s word with people’s opinions and polls? While children and teens will watch the Avengers on television, how many know who the first blood Avenger was and how he impacted the Israelite cities? Our very laws were founded on passages like Deuteronomy 19 and speak much louder than any news sound bite, yet we spend most of our time glued to the smart, but not wise, television screens, dooming the next generation to miss their God- given destinies.  It’s not too late to remember, to remind, to hear.

Then, like now, we will face the choice of turning a deaf ear or asking questions. George is no longer curious because he has been playing video games for hours. Deuteronomy still calls us to “Pay attention, focus, hear”—what the Lord is saying in this hour. To us, to the Church, to the Nation. God laid out a plan for His people as they traveled out of Exodus, through the Red Sea, past Mount Sinai, and into the Promised land. They, like us, are concerned that this next generation will not be equipped for the trials, will not know where to turn in moments of darkness. God’s “redo” of Deuteronomy included more heart, but they still missed it. They were instructed to really hear what God wanted so He focused on one word—“SHEMA.”  It means to really focus. It means to listen with the intent to understand and DO what is said. It means to not just physically listen with your ears or mind but to embrace with your whole life. It means to HEAR—obey the One speaking—the One True God. These corrections and invitations of divine love were imperative to follow. It will mean life or death—not a small matter.

Today—we must hear also.  The choice is ours—rehearse the Covenant and obey it or miss God’s rewards. Choose life or choose death, neutrality is not an option. God’s voice is not just another opinion it is authoritative. Romans 8:14 tells us that “Those who are led by the Spirit are the sons of God.” If only there were 60 million people missing GOD’S voice tonight, longing to hear His instructions and willing to follow His heart!

Jesus, the master Teacher still says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. This is the first and greatest commandment and the second is like it, Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matt. 22

Remember, they had heard the commandments already in Exodus—but blew them off. They knew the letter of the law but not the “guts” behind it or the spiritual application for their hearts, families, or neighbors. You can take a guy out of Egypt, but it takes a lot longer to take Egypt out of the guy. They might have had Pharoah syndrome—we’ll obey “tomorrow.” Let’s look at some of these instructions:

Love the Lord with your whole heart.

What we prioritize, what our checkbooks and calendars detail—is what we truly love. My youngest son is currently studying anatomy in school and shared the importance of a healthy physical heart. Perhaps living long enough to love others should be included in our dialogue. Do we plan to love God in a year while tempting fate with high cholesterol, blood pressure, or A1C counts? Is loving with our whole heart impacted by our choices and decisions to love? If we let sin run rampant (or bitterness, lust, anger) can we still have room in our hearts to love God and others? Lesser loves take a toll on our spiritual pulse.

Love the Lord with your whole mind.

Feelings are fickle. My husband shared with us that “Having the mind of Christ greatly affects our walk and living out Philippians 4:8 influences how we love and serve God.” I agree and feel convicted that I spend more time on Facebook than I do on scripture memorization.  Opening the floodgate to news daily could be advantageous if we are informed intercessors, but what if we just focus on the enemy’s spoils or chaos? Can we freely love God if our minds are inundated with crime? Fearing tragedy, the unknown, or countless other things keeps our minds so full it’s hard to keep our minds stayed on Jesus (Isaiah 26:3-6). What if our minds instead became seed beds for ideas, creativity, and intelligence just waiting to be used by the Father? How are we stewarding our thoughts? In Deuteronomy 31:8, God commands us to not fear or be discouraged. Not suggests—He commands. Do we heed that instruction and guard our minds?

Love the Lord with your whole soul.

It has been said that “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Each of us is driven either by the Lord or our passions, desires, and appetites. These and the whole range of emotions are common to the most sinful and most saintly person. We ALL will encounter anger, joy, sadness, etc., throughout the course of our lives and on any given day. Are our feelings and motives surrendered to His Lordship? Do the intents of our souls line up with His Kingdom? Is His will supreme or merely an afterthought? While Jesus tells us that he “sits with us in Heavenly places,” are we more content to leave him in the pew as we exit church on Sunday? What would it look like if we did life, and soul care from His perspective, in the spiritual realm? “Come up higher” would change some of the ways we do business, wouldn’t it?

Love the Lord with all your strength.

I included this one because the New Testament does. My oldest son added “We need to use our strength to serve not only the Lord but others for Him.” That really stirred my heart! What if how we serve Him is also how we serve others? Do we use our strength—first thing in the morning, to kneel and pray? To loudly worship? To dance with abandon at the altar? To bring food to the poor and water to the weak? Is our strength reserved for baseball games and shopping and housecleaning or—to be ready in a moment’s notice for the service of the King? How exactly do we love the Lord with all our strength? Are we surrendering our best hours to fasting, to outreach?

Each of these categories can also be influenced by psychological, biological, and environmental factors. One author stated that over 90% of all our behaviors are influenced by our subconscious. I believe our upbringing and spiritual walk impacts these as well.  God in His sovereignty gave the solution for empowering each of these—Hear oh Israel, Listen to ME. He called them to love Him in each of these areas. The Master of the Universe knows exactly what we need and when. He knows how we can run at optimum speed and high performance and desires to help us complete our journey. He doesn’t just bring us out (Egypt), His greatest desire is to bring us in (Promised land, Heaven).  He is the ONLY one who has the map. Maybe that’s why Jesus tells us that he is The Way, The Truth, and The Life.

While studying this I put on the top of my notebook page the letters A.D.  It stands for absolute devotion. I used to think Christians were just people who wore WWJD bracelets and put fish logos on their cars. After years of serving Him, I think it looks more like AD—absolute devotion. That’s what Deuteronomy is prescribing for us. It’s what Jesus had for the Father.  Devotion—to His heart.

Years ago, as a spiritual training discipline, I offered five people $100 to read and reflect on Deuteronomy 28. Two that took the challenge are still walking in blessings and continual overflow. They not only accepted the challenge but followed the instructions written therein. The other three who scoffed at the suggestion, have lost everything. One died. Their excuses ranged from “I’m too busy” to not being “very religious.” We are guaranteed so many blessings by doing things God’s way, in covenant with Him. He knows all, He sees all, He sustains all, and the will of God will prevail.

We will never know how much impact we would have had, if we had lived “full throttle.”  I think God in His wisdom can reign us in, if needed—but will we ever really, fully know Him or ourselves if we don’t hear (Shema) and listen? Not just tomorrow or on the journey, but today. Hear oh Israel. Hear oh America. Hear oh (insert your nation . . . and family).

How can we love God? By giving Him our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. That’s His desire. How we wholly love God and ourselves will determine how, when, and why we love our neighbor.

Shhh. . . .  He’s speaking now. Please share how you follow. . . .

RenaeRoche2023

Ps. Shout out to our friends in Deaf ministry. This month is national deaf awareness month. So glad that the God who calls us to hear Him, also promises, to hear us!