SOAP Journal – 26 March 2018 (2 Kings 6:24-7:20)

Then Elisha said, “Listen to the word of the LORD; thus says the LORD, ‘Tomorrow about this time a measure of fine flour will be [sold] for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria.’”

2 Kings 7:1

The northern kingdom of Israel was experiencing a famine made worse by a siege. A famine so severe that people had come to the point of cannibalism just to survive. The king was angry and decided to take out that anger on the prophet Elisha. When the king arrived, Elisha set him straight and let him know that God was going to supply abundantly; so plentifully that things that were non-existent that day would be sold cheaply the very next morning. It happened exactly the way Elisha prophesied.

There are two things that catch my attention as I consider this.

The first is that the king did what many of us are apt to do: he blamed God for his suffering. Suffering is a part of life and we see it everywhere. But, because it is not evenly distributed; because it seems unfair to us that someone else (who we think deserves to suffer more than they do) suffers less than we and another (who we think does not deserve it) suffers more, we seek to blame someone for this. It is not surprising. Adam and Even sought to blame others for their transgressions in the Garden of Eden. We — human beings — have been looking to blame others for things since there were things for which to lay blame.

Some suffering is circumstantial, like the famine. Weather patterns and natural events happen. While God can step in and alter their course, He does so far less often than people seem to think and more often for the good than we are willing to admit.

Other suffering is a consequence for our own action or inaction — the person who has health problems due to a life lived without regard for diet or exercise comes to mind.

And some suffering is actually caused by others. The amount of suffering caused by people with malicious intent is an incredibly small minority of the suffering in this life. Most suffering falls into the first two categories: things that just happened and things that we did to ourselves.

And our notion of God as come omnipotent sadist flies in the face of everything He shows Himself to be. In fact, C.S. Lewis once observed that God seems rather to be a sort of divine hedonist Who created so many more pleasures for us to enjoy than sufferings for us to endure.

Second, I see that God knows what I need and has more supply for it than I can imagine. The people in the account needed food. God was ready to supply and to supply abundantly.

Let me be mindful that most of the suffering in my life is just there. God did not send it or cause it, but curated it to be sure that I got only so much as would be beneficial for me in the end. Likewise, the need I feel has a matching supply in the storehouses of God.

Father, thank You for supplying my needs. Thank You, also, for filtering the suffering that gets through to me so that it works for my good. Please keep me mindful of all Your benefits.

SOAP Journal – 23 March 2018 (2 Kings 6:8-23)

So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

2 Kings 6:16

The King of Aram and the King of Israel had a long standing enmity between them and their nations. So, the King of Aram decided to get his forces together and go over to put a hurt on Israel. The trouble with his plan was that God told Elisha the plan and Elisha told the King of Israel the plan and the Aramean army was defeated. Over. And over. And over again. The King of Aram became so frustrated that he called all of his advisers together and outright asked who was sending secrets to the enemy. One of his counselors knew about Elisha and told the king that Elisha was giving the King of Israel the plans. So, the King of Aram sent a bunch of soldiers and chariots and whatnot over to capture of kill Elisha. Elisha’s servant woke up, saw the army outside the city, and was worried. Elisha told his servant not to worry, then prayed that God would let the servant see what Elisha saw. All around, there was an angelic army that far outnumbered the Aramean army. Elisha then asks God to make the Aramean army blind and Elisha leads them to the capital of Israel, leaving them in the hands of the King of Israel after he has gotten a commitment from the king to feed the soldiers and send them back to Aram. The king does and a period of freedom from raiders follows.

I notice two things in this passage that bear note.

First, I note that God enjoys a good prank. The Aramean army kept trying to launch a successful attack on Israel and God kept leaking their plans. Over and over, the Aramean army found themselves faced with a ready defense every place they thought they could surprise their enemy. More, when Elisha asks God to blind the Aramean army that came for the prophet, God does it and Elisha leads the army into the heart of enemy territory before asking God to give them their sight back. They went in thinking they would get the drop on the prophet. Instead, the prophet led them straight into the most fortified part of enemy territory. Not the best day for those soldiers. But they all went home alive.

Second, I note that the forces that God can bring to bear are far superior in number and strength to anything man can. An American general once observed that victory could be secured by focusing an overwhelming force on a single point. That has been God’s strategy throughout the whole of The Bible. God set up His plan of redemption and kept focusing in on that one point and person. At first, the Messiah would come through the line of Abraham, which was pretty broad. Then it was through Jacob/Israel, then through his son Judah, then through the line of David. God kept the laser focus and constantly refocused as time progressed and room for confusion crept in. God focused in on specific locations and points in time, bending His entire plan and focusing His might on that one person and place: Christ on Calvary.

God has this same focus in my life, whether I see it or not. He has a will and a plan for what He wants to accomplish in me and through my life. Elisha saw the forces of Heaven arrayed to his defense. While I may not see them, those same forces are marshaled to defend me and every other believer. We are not left defenseless, though the world may think we are.

Father, help me to see Your protection and plan for my life. Please give me a willing heart, that I cooperate with Your will.

SOAP Journal – 22 March 2018 (2 Kings 6:1-7)

Then one said, “Please be willing to go with your servants.” And he said, “I shall go.”

2 Kings 6:3

The story in 2 Kings 6:1-7 is pretty straightforward. The sons of the prophets got too numerous for where they were living, so they decided to move and asked Elisha to come with them. He agreed and they moved, building themselves new houses. While building, one of the men lost his ax head in the river and was upset, because he had borrowed the ax. Elisha goes to the area where the ax head fell into the river and takes part in the miracle of the ax head floating to the surface of the river.

It seems like an almost frivolous use of God’s power to make an ax head float so one of the sons of the prophets could return a borrowed tool, but it is a powerful reminder that God is concerned about every detail of the lives of those who are His. This son of the prophets would have been unable to return the tool and probably lacked the resources to replace it — Why borrow a useful tool if you have the resource to buy one? — so God intervened and returned the tool so it could be returned to its owner. God is concerned about every detail of my life, no matter how seemingly trivial.

Thank You, Father, that You are concerned about even the small details. Please forgive my worry. I too often lose focus on Your concern for me and become concerned myself. Teach me to trust You in everything and to remember that You are concerned with everything in my life.

SOAP Journal – 21 March 2018 (2 Kings 5:20-27)

Then he said to him, “Did not my heart go [with you], when the man turned from his chariot to meet you? Is it a time to receive money and to receive clothes and olive groves and vineyards and sheep and oxen and male and female servants?”

2 Kings 5:26

After Naaman was cleansed of his leprosy, he tried to convince Elisha to take a gift from him. It was not unheard of for prophets to receive gifts from those who benefited from the prophet’s ministry. But Elisha refused any gift. Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, thought that Elisha was letting Naaman off too easy by not taking something from the man. So, Gehazi ran after Naaman and lied, saying that Elisha had received visitors and was asking for something to give them as a gift. Naaman did not think it at all strange and sent Gehazi back with twice as much as he asked. The price of those gains was that Gehazi became a leper and the leprosy would remain in his family line forever.

The heading inserted in the Bible I am reading from titles this section “Gehazi’s Greed” and I am sure that greed played a part in what Gehazi did. But it is possible that there was another motivation behind what Gehazi did. Verse 20 tells me that Gehazi thought, “Behold, my master has spared this Naaman the Aramean, by not receiving from his hands what he brought. As the LORD lives, I will run after him and take something from him.” It seems that the primary motivation was not greed. Instead, it appears that Gehazi felt that Elisha had spared Naaman. The word that is rendered spared in English could also mean to withhold, keep back, keep for oneself, keep from, hold in check, refrain, reserve, restrain, or check. It is entirely possible that Gehazi had a good intent. He may have thought that Elisha was holding back Naaman’s generosity. Whatever his reasoning, it was human and not Godly. And the issue, whatever the motivation, is disobedience.

I can have the best or worst motivation and neither one turns disobedience into obedience. If God tells me to cut off a relationship and I continue it, I may have all the best intentions for remaining in that relationship yet still be disobedient and out of God’s will. If God tells me to walk away form some golden opportunity and I pursue it despite His instruction, I am disobedient. It does not matter if my income does not change because I give the difference to God’s work. I still disobeyed. Samuel asked King Saul if God took as much pleasure in sacrifice as in obedience, then answered the question: To obey is better than sacrifice. Whatever my motivation for disobedience; whether noble or ignoble, God will not be pleased with my disobedience. To obey is better.

Thank You, Father, for another reminder that obedience is best. Please give me an obedient heart; one that seeks to please You by doing as You command.

SOAP Journal – 20 March 2018 (2 Kings 5:1-19)

Then his servants came near and spoke to him and said, “My father, had the prophet told you [to do some] great thing, would you not have done [it]? How much more [then], when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”

2 Kings 5:13

The story of Naaman is important in The Bible for more than one reason.

First, it is one of the very few recorded instances of a leper being cleansed in Old Testament (OT). The only other that comes to mind is the case of Miriam (Numbers 12:9-15). Jesus cleanses lepers in the New Testament, but the OT has precious few instances of a leper being cleansed.

Second, this healing is of a non-Jew. Naaman was, in fact, a captain in the Aramean army.

Third, this miracle is referenced by Jesus (Luke 4:27).

What is said about Naaman explicitly is that he was a great man with his master, and highly respected … [he] was also a valiant warrior, [and] he was a leper (v. 1). I learn some things about him by what is implied, too. For example, he took captive a young Israelite girl and the girl waited on Naaman’s wife (v. 2). This captive is the one who says that Naaman should go see the prophet Elisha and be healed (v. 3). So I can infer that his household was run in such a way that the servants felt free to offer advice and cared about the well-being of the heads of the household. I also infer that he is a proud man. When he meets Elisha, the prophet tells Naaman, via messenger, to go wash in the Jordan River seven times. Naaman is initially offended and angry about this instruction, but is prevailed upon by his servants to do what the prophet says (vv. 8-14). Good counsel prevails and pride is defeated, because he humbles himself to do what the prophet said instead of insisting on his own way. I also see that Naaman is wise. When he is healed, he goes back to Elisha and confesses that the LORD is the only God. He also looks ahead to the times he knows are coming when the king he serves is going to order him (Naaman) to stand in a place of idol worship and Naaman asks to be pardoned. He does not plan to participate, but he will have to be present.

I am not a leper. Not physically. However, like everyone, I began my life as a spiritual leper. I was walking around with the sentence of death hanging over my soul. It was not a matter of if, but when I would pass from this world and my soul pass into eternal punishment. Like Naaman, we are all presented with a very simple task: wash and be clean. Naaman was told to wash in the Jordan. I am told to wash in the blood of Christ. Naaman’s washing cleansed his body and the resulting faith enlivened his soul. My washing in the blood of Christ gives life to my soul.

As I walk with God, He may tell me to do things. Like Naaman, I am wont to become offended when God commands a simple thing. It seems too easy and I can think of better ways to do that same thing. Let Naaman’s servants speak to me, too. If God had commanded some great thing, would I not have striven to rise to that challenge? How much more when God commands me to do some simple thing?

Father, thank You that Your commands are simple. Seldom easy. Often simple. Your commands require me to put away pride and to humbly do the thing You tell me. Please remind me that I feel stirred to rise to the great tasks — to slay the dragons and such — but feel offended by the small tasks — to make sure that my armor is in working order. The great task, I have learned, is impossible without the small, but still the pride within me rails. Please, as the hymn says, pour contempt on all my pride and bring me to the place where I can be washed and cleansed and live. Bring me to the place of simple obedience to simple instruction so my faith reigns in me and my pride is put to death.

SOAP Journal – 19 March 2018 (2 Kings 4:38-44)

So he set before them, and they ate and had left over, according to the word of the LORD.

2 Kings 4:44

There are two miracles recorded in these verses, but only one of them stands out to me.

Verse 38 sets the stage by telling us that there was a famine in the land. The people were hungry. So Elisha told his servant to put on the large pot and boil some stew. One of the sons of the prophets went out to gather herbs to season the stew and saw some wild gourds (v. 39) which he gathered and sliced into the pot. The trouble was that this particular man’s botany was suspect and the gourd happened to be poisonous (v. 40). Elisha told them to bring some meal and toss it into the pot. They did as he instructed and the stew was no longer poisonous.

Some indeterminate time later, a man brings an offering of first fruits and gives it to Elisha. Elisha tells his servant to Give them to the people that they may eat (v. 42). His servant replied that twenty loaves of bread and ears of fresh grain were not enough for a hundred men. Elisha reiterated the instruction and added that the LORD said there would be leftovers.

And it is this second miracle that catches my attention. The miracle that Elisha participates in here is a foreshadowing of what Jesus will do later. On two different occasions, Jesus fed thousands with nothing more than a few loaves of bread and some fish. Here, Elisha feeds a hundred or more with twenty loaves of bread and some fresh grain. This is far from the only time that a prophet was part of a miracle that was later echoed and amplified by Jesus. In fact, those miracles that are echoed and amplified act as a connective tissue between Jesus and the prophets. The similarity between them helps me see that the same God is acting in both instances and the differences between them cause me to pause and reflect on why that difference might be there.

This leaves me with two thoughts.

One, God is able to supply my needs. He can even supply them when some well-intentioned people accidentally poison that provision. This caveat reminds me to look for the best intentions of people who are trying to help. They may mess up (we all do) and their mistake may be potentially catastrophic, but God can fix anything. Even death is not final for Him.

Two, the same power that was at work in the prophets — viz., God’s power — was at work in the life of Jesus. The same power that was at work in the life of Jesus is promised to every believer. That includes me. Do I see that power at work in my life?

Father, thank You for this connection between the prophets and Jesus. Thank You for this reminder that it is Your power and Your Spirit at work through all. Please work through me.

SOAP Journal – 16 March 2018 (2 Kings 4:8-37)

The woman conceived and bore a son at that season the next year, as Elisha had said to her.

2 Kings 4:17

Elisha frequently passed through Shunem and a woman and her husband in that city often hosted the prophet and his servant as they passed through. She went so far as to ask her husband to build an addition onto their home for Elisha and Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, to stay in when they came to visit. Elisha appreciates the generosity and hospitality and asks what good turn he can do for her. She is well situated, but Gehazi mentions that she has no son and her husband is getting on in years. Elisha tells her that she will have a son about that time the following year. And she does.

The years go by and the boy grows and one day visits his father in the fields, telling his father that his head hurts. His father sends him home and the boy dies in his mother’s arms. The situation looks grim, but the woman heads over to see Elisha. As did the widow in the previous account, the woman does not ask for anything, only tells Elisha the situation. But there is an additional element to this story, the Shunammite refuses to go back to her home and the body of her son without Elisha. She is not going back to the situation that sent her to seek God via the prophet unless God, as represented by the prophet, comes back with her. Elisha does go with her and raises the boy from the dead, giving him back to his mother.

This story contains elements that are similar to others. The woman being given a prophecy of a son when her husband is on in years echoes the account of Sarah and Isaac. The woman receiving her son back from the dead echoes the experience of Mary with Jesus. Interesting to me is the sort of negative of this story in Jairus coming to Jesus. In that account, it is a father coming to Jesus to raise his daughter from the dead. In a way, it is a reminder that resurrection stories are rather more common in The Bible than one might think. And rightly so, resurrection is the hope of the believer.

In addition to that, this Shunammite woman’s story is also an allegory of a life with God. She invites the prophet, the representative of God, into her home and life and even makes more room so he can stay longer and more comfortably. I, as a believer, should be rearranging my life — inner and outer — to accommodate Jesus. The woman is not looking for anything more than to be in the presence of God’s representative. When Elisha asks what should be done for her, she answers with the verbal equivalent of a shrug. She is well situated in life and does not need anything. Which gives God, through Elisha, the opportunity to give a blessing that the woman was not expecting. I, too, often receive unexpected and delightful blessings when I am at my most content in simply living in God’s presence. The woman goes to Elisha when tragedy strikes and does not leave him until something has been done to make the situation right. She is in that an example of persevering prayer. She refused to go back to the body of her son until Elisha went with her. She may have been looking for comfort. She may have been looking for a miracle. All she says is, “I told you not to lie to me.” It is possible for me to feel like God has lied to me; like He made a promise and started to fulfill it only to pull back. I ought also to cling to the feet of God until He comes into the situation in which I feel hopeless or abandoned or like God is not making good on His promises. He will make good on every promise He has made and He will walk with me into the difficult situation if only I will persevere.

Let me make room for God in my life — my time, my thoughts, my plans, my all. Let me not limit God to blessings that I can conceive of, but leave room for Him to bless as He sees fit. Let me continue to pursue God’s presence in difficult times until He enters the situation and makes it right, however He chooses to make it right.

Father, thank You that You have made room for me. Please teach me to do the same for You. Thank You that You have blessings I cannot conceive in mind for me. Please give me a heart and mind that look for You as my chief blessing and all else will be a pleasant surprise. Thank You that You are near to those who are hurting and in difficult times. Please remind me to cling to You and not let go until You have made the rough ways smooth.

SOAP Journal – 15 March 2018 (2 Kings 4:1-7)

Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?” And she said, “Your maidservant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.”

2 Kings 4:2

The miracle of the widow’s oil is fairly well known. A widow of one of the sons of the prophets comes to Elisha to let him know that she is deep in debt and her creditors want to take her sons as payment. Elisha tells her how to miraculously solve the problem. She goes in faith and does what she was instructed and her immediate problem — deep debt — as well as long term problem — provision for the future — is solved. I want to consider the request, the response, and the result.

The request was not so much a request as a simple statement of need. This widow had debts enough that the creditors were coming to collect whatever she had. She needed her sons. Sons were the ancient world’s retirement program. Sons inherited the land and worked it to supply the parents when the parents grew too old to work the land themselves. For women, this was even more vital, since women could not generally inherit land or work the farm. There were exceptions, but the rule was that women did not inherit and could work very few professions. So taking her sons would be roughly analogous to seizing all of the assets left by her husband. She was in a difficult spot.

The response came in two parts.

The first part was an inquiry. She just said she did not have enough to pay the creditors. But what did she have? God often poses this question before doing something miraculous. For example, He asked Moses what was in his hand before turning the staff into a snake. And Jesus asked the disciples what food they did have at both of the miraculous feedings of thousands. It may be that God wants us to be reminded of our absolute need. It may be that God is showing us how little He can work with in order to meet our needs. It may be for so many other reasons of which I cannot conceive. Regardless of His reasons, God is recorded to call attention to what those in need have.

The second part of the response was an instruction: go borrow as many jars and pots and whatnot as you can and pout out what you have into them.  God has been known to do things like this, too. He will make the provision or the scope of the miracle proportionate to the faith of the individual. He tells kings to tear up bits of cloth and chides them for not going further and receiving greater blessing. This widow had some hardcore faith, because she borrows jars and pots and whatnot and pours oil.

The result of her request and her response in faith was enough oil to sell and pay her debts and live on the rest of the proceeds. The result was provision for her present and future needs. And that result was in direct proportion to how much she thought God could do. She might have borrowed only a few vessels and so received little provision. Instead, she borrows so many that she and her sons sound a little surprised when they run out.

This is a reminder to me that God does not need me to prescribe how to meet my needs, He only wants me to acknowledge my needs and leave the method of supply to His discretion. He may, as with this widow and in many other instances, use what I have on hand to supply what I do not. He may supply in another way. He is not limited so long as I do not limit Him. And I should go as far as my faith will take me if He involves me in the supply of my needs. I never know what blessing I forfeit by trusting God too little.

Father, thank You for supplying all our needs. Please forgive the littleness of my faith and grow it.

SOAP Journal – 14 March 2018 (2 Kings 3)

But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there not a prophet of the LORD here, that we may inquire of the LORD by him?”

2 Kings 3:11a

The book of Kings hits a soft rewind in this chapter. Back in 1 Kings 22:50, we are told that Jehoshaphat slept with his fathers and was buried with his fathers in the city of his father David, and Jehoram his son became king in his place. In 2 Kings 3, the account goes back to a specific battle that Jehoshaphat and Jehoram the son of Ahab were involved in as allies. Moab rebelled against the rule of Israel and Jehoram decided to go out and put down the rebellion. He asked his ally, Jehoshaphat, to help and Jehoshaphat agreed. En route, the army came to a place with no water and Jehoram attributes the lack of water to the LORD bringing failure on the allied kings. Jehoram chooses not to remember that he chose to route without consulting the LORD. Jehoshaphat asks for a prophet, just as he had done with Ahab, and Elisha talks with the kings for Jehoshaphat’s sake. The LORD provides water and the water provided acts as bait to lure out the Moabites and bring victory to the kings of Israel and Judah.

Three men and each one has something to teach me.

Jehoram teaches me not to blame God when my plans go awry. It is easy to make plans and think that they are just not what God wants when things go pear shaped. In truth, it could be my poor planning and lack of consultation with God that leads to my failure. Jehoram was victorious, but that was despite him, not because of him.

Jehoshaphat teaches me that I need to turn to God when I need something. Previously, Jehoshaphat wanted God’s counsel on whether or not to even go up to battle. In this instance, he wants God’s provision for a need. Jehoshaphat is often recorded and going to the LORD when he had a need, great or small, and finding provision there.

Elisha teaches me that I should be willing to speak to anyone for the sake of God’s people. It is because of Jehoshaphat that Elisha talks with Jehoram. It is because of Christ that I ought to be willing to speak to anyone God brings across my path. I do not know why God has brought them across my path and it may be that something I say might help them in some way.

Father, thank You for these lessons. Please cause them to find good soil in my heart that they might take root, grow, and produce fruit in my life to Your glory. Please teach me to accept blame for the times when my plans go awry and not to blame You or think that my poor planning is Your disapproval of the plan. Let me, instead, seek Your counsel and every other need I have. I lack wisdom and should seek it in You. I have many other needs that You are abundantly able to supply if I will but ask. And please control my tongue; that I speak when and to whom You want me to.

SOAP Journal – 13 March 2018 (2 Kings 2)

Now when the sons of the prophets who [were] at Jericho opposite [him] saw him, they said, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” And they came to meet him and bowed themselves to the ground before him.

2 Kings 2:15

All along the journey to the place where God took Elijah up in a fiery chariot, the sons of the prophets had been telling Elisha that God was taking Elijah from him that day. Every time they said it, Elisha told them that he knew. When the time came, Elijah asked Elisha what he (Elijah) should do for him (Elisha). Elisha asked for a double-portion of the Spirit that rested on Elijah and Elijah said that Elisha could have it on condition that he saw Elijah when God took him up to Heaven. Elisha made sure that he saw that event — Who would not have wanted to see that? — and the Spirit that had been on Elijah was doubly on Elisha. Elisha demonstrated this at the Jordan, where Elijah had been taken up, and the sons of the prophets recognized what had happened. The account goes on to record a couple more miracles performed by Elisha —healing bitter water and cursing some young men who were mocking God’s prophet (some of those young men were eaten by a pair of bear sows).

The place where I want to focus is where the sons of the prophets recognize Elisha and the spiritual successor to Elijah.

Good leaders and counselors are difficult to come by and Elijah was a good counselor. He spoke the truth to the king and the people. He squared up with false prophets and proved the falsehood of their gods. He told king and commoner what wanted: Stop waffling between idolatry and worship of the True and Living God. Such a counselor would be extremely difficult to replace and his successor could easily be called into question.

But that is not the case. God makes abundantly sure that the successor to Elijah is clear to anyone who is paying attention. Where Elijah spoke the truth to all, Elisha did the same. Where Elijah squared up against false prophets, Elisha squared up with the armies of idolatrous kings. And Elisha continued to tell everyone what God wanted: Worship the LORD.

Too often, God making succession clear is lacking in spiritual movements. Since God does not change, the failure must be on our side. Instead of looking for the man or woman whom God attests as the successor to a great leader or counselor by examining the work of God in their lives, we look at other measures or simply look to who seems to be the next in the chain of command. This only leads to strife. And we have the chutzpah to be surprised when it happens.

Let me look not so much to organizational succession or who said what about whom. Instead, let me examine the fruit of God in the life of anyone who would try to lay claim to leadership or offer counsel. If God’s Spirit confirms anyone as a trustworthy counselor or a good leader, then I can bank on that. Otherwise, I am just taking unadvised chances.

Father, as there are places in my own life where spiritual leadership and counsel is needful, please give me Your eyes and mind when I consider whose leadership and counsel I should trust. In the movement in which I have grown up, please give our pastors and teachers this same mind and restore the unity that comes with the leading of Your Holy Spirit.