Wednesday, 25 May 2022

In the course of time, David defeated the Philistines and subdued them, and he took Metheg Ammah from the control of the Philistines. – 2 Samuel 8:1

Today's Scripture Reading (May 25, 2022):  2 Samuel 8

How good are you at identifying a city by its nickname? Let's start with an easy one. Where would you go to find "The Big Apple?" If you said New York City, you are right. Here is another easy one: The City of Angels? The correct answer is Los Angeles. Okay, maybe a little harder. (I will include the answers to the next few cities at the end of this post in case you want to play along.) Where is "The Emerald City?" What city often goes by the nickname "The City of Champions?" Where would I find "Whitestone?" Or maybe the city that goes by the name "First Throne?" One more, what about "Venice of the North?"

Cities are strange things, and some have even changed names over the years. Saint Peterburg, Russia, might be a good example of a city that has changed its name. Saint Petersburg, which originally had a slightly different spelling, Saint Petersburgh, became Petrograd at the beginning of World War I (1914). In 1924, the city's name changed once more, this time to Leningrad. And it stayed as Leningrad until 1991 when the powers that be decided to change the name back to Saint Petersburg with a slightly different spelling. But all these names refer to the same city.

Metheg Ammah has presented scholars with a problem. Part of the problem is that we have no idea where the city might be. In fact, this is the only mention of the city anywhere. And there is a possibility that it is a nickname, like "The Big Apple" or "The Windy City" (Chicago). Metheg Ammah means "Bridle of the Mother City." If it is a nickname, then it is likely a nickname for the city of Gath. Gath at the time was the central or mother city of Philistia, and it had reduced the other Philistine city-states into being merely vassals or subjects of Gath.

The hypothesis that Metheg Ammah is actually Gath is supported by a parallel passage found in 1 Chronicles 18. In that passage, the author of Chronicles commented, "In the course of time, David defeated the Philistines and subdued them, and he took Gath and its surrounding villages from the control of the Philistines" (1 Chronicles 18:1). In the process, David exercised control not only over all of Israel but also over his previous place of refuge, the place where he had hidden while he was running from Saul. The Philistines may have once dominated Israel, but with David, the slayer of Goliath, on the throne of Israel, the past was gone and everything had been made new once again. Life had seemed to come full circle. And David proved that there was no power that he was unwilling to confront with God by his side.

Tomorrow's Scripture Reading: Psalm 60

(Scroll down for the answers to the city nickname quiz.)










City Nickname Answers

The Emerald City – Washington, D.C., U.S.A.

The City of Champions – Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Whitestone – Moscow, Russia

First Throne (trick question) – also Moscow, Russia

Venice of the North – Saint Peterburg, Russia

Tuesday, 24 May 2022

Nathan reported to David all the words of this entire revelation. – 2 Samuel 7:17

Today's Scripture Reading (May 24, 2022):  2 Samuel 7

I recently received an email from someone who purported to be a prophet of God. He was an unknown to me, but attached to the message was a chapter from his book. I like to read, so I thought I would read a little of what this prophet had written. I was a little amused that the attached chapter of his book was written as if it were part of the Bible. The author had inserted verse numbers throughout the document. It was something that the original prophets had not done. The verse numbers in the Bible are a late addition and not part of the original document. But I felt that this contemporary prophet somehow believed that the addition of verse numbers gave him some form of authority.

The chapter from my prophet was pretty standard stuff. It was complete with warnings about the wrath of God if we did not change. There were warnings about the worship styles of the church, framed like a Hebrew Prophet writing in the Tanakh or the Hebrew Bible. Accusations that the church has moved to follow idols instead of the one true God. There was a plea for monetary support so that the prophet could continue. (No, I did not give him any.)

But there was a fundamental problem. I had no connection with this prophet except in his writing which seemed to be designed to get my trust simply by resembling the prophecies of the biblical writers. There is a reason why I often include personal details in my writing; if you read my blog regularly, I would like you to get at least a little sense of who I am. Why else would you place any trust in me? (And I try not to make any grandiose prophecies in my writing because you don't have any reason to trust what I might say.)

Nathan hears the word of God, and then he goes and tells David the entire revelation. But Nathan had an advantage; David knew Nathan and had come to trust, and even depend, on him. Nathan had never told David, "This is what God says," when God had not spoken. So, when Nathan speaks, David has the assurance that the words are true.

Not all prophets had the same advantage. When Elijah walks into the presence of King Ahab, Elijah is a complete unknown. And, in some ways, it is no wonder that Ahab didn't believe him when Elijah announced the approaching drought. He had no reason to think that Elijah told him what God had said. But by the time of the encounter at Mount Carmel, Ahab should have known that Elijah was a prophet of God.

And it is this same problem that exists with the modern phenomenon of the traveling or email prophet. We need more Nathans who are willing to spend their entire ministries in one place. Or even a Paul, who was prepared to go and spend enough time in one place that the people could get to know them and trust that what he said was really the word of God.

Tomorrow's Scripture Reading: 2 Samuel 8

Monday, 23 May 2022

It was because you, the Levites, did not bring it up the first time that the LORD our God broke out in anger against us. We did not inquire about him how to do it in the prescribed way. – 1 Chronicles 15:13

Today's Scripture Reading (May 23, 2022):  1 Chronicles 15

The story of Charles I of England (1600-1649) is a tragic tale. Charles seems to have been a tyrant to the very core of being. He strongly believed that God had placed him on the throne of England and that God ordained everything that he did. Much like the popes at the time, Charles thought that he was infallible and that to oppose him was the same as opposing God.

And yet, there were plenty of people who did oppose him. Charles presided over a devastating civil war in England. Historians have maintained that Charles's civil war was one of the bloodiest ever fought on English soil. Eventually, Charles was arrested and put on trial for treason. But charging a King with treason was a novel and interesting idea. In an era when the King and nation were often identified as one, the thought that it might a King could commit treason against the country had never before occurred to anyone. During the trial, Charles was given several opportunities to own up to the errors of his reign, but he steadfastly refused. He was the King, the head of the government, and Charles believed that he was the author of all the authority to arrest and try the people of England. Because of that, no power in England could put him on trial. Charles was above the law. And he considered the trial itself to be an act against the God of the English Church. But regardless of Charles's belief about his power and the legitimacy of the charges against him, on January 30, 1649, Charles I was executed in Whitehall, London, after being found guilty of treason. (The reigns of Charles I and then his son, Charles II, which ended with the King being deposed and replaced by a military government, make it unlikely that England's heir apparent, Prince Charles, will ever reign as Charles III. Conventional wisdom argues that he will choose another regnal name.)

David had made an error when trying to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. He had sent soldiers to place the Ark on a wagon and have it unceremoniously dragged back to David's capital. The problem was that that was not how God had instructed that the Ark was to be moved. He had declared that his Levites were responsible for carrying the Ark. And it was to be carried and not dragged. Rings were placed on the side of the Ark, and a pole was to be slipped through the rings so that it could be carried by the Levites. But it was not something of which David had thought to enquire the first time that the Ark was moved.

And so, David did something that seemed very unpolitical and against what Kings would normally do. David admitted that he was wrong, which was why Uzzah had died. David knew something that Charles I and others seemed not to understand. He was a human King, and nothing he did was infallible. David was smart enough not to do the same thing twice. This time, he would get it right.

Tomorrow's Scripture Reading: 2 Samuel 7

Sunday, 22 May 2022

Then David was angry because the LORD's wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah. - 2 Samuel 6:8

Today's Scripture Reading (May 22, 2022):  2 Samuel 6

Many years ago, a good friend passed away somewhat unexpectedly. She was young and vibrant, a phenomenal mother to her children, and a great wife to her husband. She died of a disease that actually ran in her family, although no one realized that she was sick until it was much too late. And I admit that, in the wake of her death, I was upset. I remember well-meaning Christians who prophesied that she would live and that God would heal her even during her last days. And on the day that she died, my anger burned against these Christians for prophesying something that was so obviously false. And I remember commenting that on my first day in heaven, I was going to sit down with God over a Diet Coke (there has to be Diet Coke in heaven, right) and discuss the death of my friend. And I admitted, at least to my circle of friends, that I was also angry with God.

My words caused a stir. Some people around me started to discuss the things that angered them and the conversations that they wanted to have with God. Others cautioned that being angry with God was close to committing an unforgivable sin and that we can sin against God in our anger. And I admitted that I believed that the truth is located somewhere between the two views.

Obviously, my comments at the time of my friend's death were an exaggeration. On my first day in heaven, the demise of my friend will be one of the farthest things from my mind. For one thing, I will be enjoying a phenomenal reunion with her and many other friends and family who have gone on before me. But I am also not sure that God doesn't understand our anger when bad things happen. I am convinced that God's first reaction when we are angry with him is not to judge us for our anger but rather to wrap his loving arms around us and whisper into our ears, "I know; let it all out."

One of the things that I have always appreciated about David is that the biblical record allows us to see all of the good things and all of the bad about Israel's Poet King. We see David in his best moments, times when he is in the grip of happiness, and in his anger, even when he is angry with God.

At least at first, David was angry because God's wrath had broken out against Uzzah. He didn't understand why Uzzah had to die. But as often true with us humans, David's real anger was with himself. And eventually, David would realize that Uzzah died because David had not considered his path and had not consulted God about how to move the Ark. He had just acted rather than taking the time to wait on God. There would be a second try to bring the Ark into Jerusalem. At that moment, David would do it the right way. But none of that would help David now.

David memorialized the place of his mistake by calling it Perez Uzzah, which means "against Uzzah." And maybe at first, he meant it as the place where God moved against Uzzah, but the reality was that it was the place where David's ignorance caused David to move against Uzzah.

Tomorrow's Scripture Reading: 1 Chronicles 15

Saturday, 21 May 2022

So David did as God commanded him, and they struck down the Philistine army, all the way from Gibeon to Gezer. – 1 Chronicles 14:16

Today's Scripture Reading (May 21, 2022):  1 Chronicles 14

Benjamin Franklin argued that "Wise men don't need advice. Fools won't take it." I think that he is half right. Franklin's latter point is correct; fools never seem to be able to take advice. But the first part is misstated. It is not that the wise don't need advice, but rather that they understand where they need to go to get advice, and they can discern good advice that should carry weight in their decision making from advice that can and should be disregarded. But a wise person who thinks they don't need advice is a fool in disguise.

I have often wished that I was wise enough to make that distinction. I have to admit that I have too often listened to advice from people that I thought had my best interests in mind, only to find out that they were plotting only to further their own power. And the reverse is also true. I have discarded advice from sources to which I should have listened. All of which is proof of my lack of wisdom. Maybe someday, I will grow to be wise, but I am still lacking right now.

David sought advice from God. God is always a good source of guidance. But David didn't just seek the advice of God, the author of Chronicles says that he did just as God had commanded him. He waited on God for the evidence of what God wanted him to do, and then he gave himself completely to the upcoming battle. And as a result, David defeated the Philistine armies.

Theologian J. Barton Payne summed it up this way.

Because he looked to the Lord for his strength and for his strategy, he was able to beat back the Philistine offences, to secure the independence of God's people, and to terminate forever the threat of Philistine conquest and oppression (John Barton Payne).

David's victory arose from David's obedience to God. David was never considered a fool because he accepted godly advice; David's foolishness was only evident when he rejected such advice. And as a result, David not only became feared among the Philistines, but he was feared and respected among all of the other neighboring nations. His status was raised among the people and in the eyes of his God.

And so are we. Seeking godly advice is the task of the wise, as is following that advice. We are never wiser than when we follow God's wisdom. And we are never more of a fool than when we reject God's wisdom or believe that we are so wise that we don't even need to seek God's instructions to accomplish what needs to be done in our lives and our world.

Tomorrow's Scripture Reading: 2 Samuel 6

Friday, 20 May 2022

The whole assembly agreed to do this, because it seemed right to all the people. – 1 Chronicles 13:4

Today's Scripture Reading (May 20, 2022):  1 Chronicles 13

Orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (right action) are sometimes entwined in a desperate battle in our lives. And the unfortunate truth is that often, at least in our minds, orthodoxy trumps orthopraxy, which is regrettable. When right belief and right practice are at war with each other, the result is that neither can win. Because the truth is that both are needed, both are required if we want to lead God-fearing lives.

And yet we often sacrifice orthopraxy and depend on orthodoxy. We know that lying is wrong, yet we pad our resumes because we believe that if we are truthful, we will never get the job we want. We know that love is important, yet we still hold those around us who are different from us in disdain. We know that God wants the best for us, yet we still sin because we think we know better. In each case, we believe right things, but we fail to do what is right, and as a result, what we believe fails to make a difference in our world

David has decided that he wants to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. But that is not really where the Ark belonged. It belonged in the tabernacle, which at the time was likely located at Nob. But it was all part of David's plan. He had already made Jerusalem the center of secular power in Israel, but that was only part of what David wanted to accomplish. He intended to make Jerusalem the center of spiritual worship as well. In David's mind, Jerusalem would eventually become the most important city in Israel, if not one of the most important cities in the world.

The people agreed that bringing the Ark to Jerusalem was a good idea. The support of the people was essential to David's plan. And there was nothing wrong with the idea of bringing the Ark to Jerusalem. The Ark was supposed to be at the center of religious worship in Israel; it had been on the sidelines of Israel's worship since the days of Samuel, long before the days of Saul. It was long past time for the Ark to be brought back to the center of Israelite consciousness, and Jerusalem was a much better place for the Ark than the place where it had resided over the past few decades.

It was an orthodox thought, but the problem was that no one had inquired of God as to how the Ark of the Covenant should be brought back. The orthodoxy of the move might have been in order, but they didn't realize that there was a right way and a wrong way to carry the Ark. If they had inquired of God, a sad chapter in the history of Israel could have been avoided. But because no one bothered to ask God or even consult the holy writings, this event would not have the happy ending that David and the people had anticipated. And even the support of all the people was not enough to change that outcome. 

Tomorrow's Scripture Reading: 1 Chronicles 14

Personal Note: Happy Birthday to my wonderful daughter-in-law, Michelle.

Thursday, 19 May 2022

All these were fighting men who volunteered to serve in the ranks. They came to Hebron fully determined to make David king over all Israel. All the rest of the Israelites were also of one mind to make David king. – 1 Chronicles 12:38

Today's Scripture Reading (May 19, 2022):  1 Chronicles 12

I admit that I am a bit of a monarchist. As a citizen of a country that is still within the British Commonwealth, Canada, I have no problem acknowledging that I am an admirer of Queen Elizabeth. Over the past seven decades, Elizabeth has been an able leader in a world that is swiftly moving away from the need of Kings and Queens. I think that Queen Elizabeth has been a stabilizing influence in a world that is out of control. But, after seven decades of rule, she is also an aging monarch. And the day of her death, which will be greeted with the code name "London Bridge has Fallen," is, unfortunately, swiftly approaching.

I admit I am a bit of a monarchist. But I don't believe that any of the possible immediate successors to Queen Elizabeth will be able to measure up to the standard that she has raised. Maybe I am wrong. I really hope that I am and that King Charles and/or King William will be even greater monarchs than Elizabeth, but I don't hold out that hope right now. The day we hear the announcement that "London Bridge has Fallen" will be a sad day. And I fear that that day might herald the beginning of the end of the British monarchy.

The author of Chronicles tells us everyone in Israel stood behind the leadership of David, and they rallied to make him King. Chronicles reminds us that that there was a day, after the reigns of Saul and Ish-Bosheth, when the fighting men of Israel rallied behind the standard raised by David. And when they came to David's side, they brought the people of Israel with them.

But that wasn't the first reaction of Israel. Seven years earlier, Saul had died, and the people had rallied behind the standard of Ish-Bosheth. David was still there, but apparently, the people were unsure of David's leadership. The people eventually came to the support of David, even asking him to be their King, but it didn't happen immediately. And most of Israel was extremely late in coming to the party.

For David, nothing came quickly. But that was okay with David. He was willing to play the long game and wait for God's timing. There is still a lesson to be learned today. Maybe, when it comes to the British monarchy, I have more in common with the follower of Ish-Boseth than I do with the early followers of David. I might not have much faith in the monarchies of Charles or William, but maybe they will surprise me. And perhaps they will be able monarchs, ready and willing to play a positive role in our world, making a difference just like Elizabeth has. And, maybe, as a bit of a monarchist, I will eventually see values in their reigns just as Israel finally recognized the value of David and came to rally behind his standard. But as in everything, it has to happen in the divine timing of God  

Tomorrow's Scripture Reading: 1 Chronicles 13