SOAP Journal – 29 May 2018 (1 Chronicles 12:1-22)

For day by day [men] came to David to help him, until there was a great army like the army of God.

1 Chronicles 12:22

The account of David’s army began with his Mighty Men – a group of choice warriors who were David’s inner circle and some of the first to join with him. Afterward, The Bible turns its attention to those who defected from Saul’s army to join David’s. At the time, David’s “army” was little more than a company or a band, but they had proven to be a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield. When the defectors added their strength to David’s company, still more battlefield exploits followed.

What is curious to me is that this second wave of joiners comes from among the Israelites. The first round of people to support David and his cause were the non-Israelites. As the time drew nearer for David to take the throne, more and more of the Israelites defected. In a bit of a twist, the defectors were actually supporting what God had said through Samuel and choosing David to be their leader. David had already been anointed king and David, good man that he was, tried to stay out of Saul’s way and let him complete his time as king. The defectors could see this and recognize that they would be considered traitors until David took the throne.

So, too, the disciples of Jesus Christ when He came on the scene. They could see plainly from the miracles of Christ and hear evidenced in His Words His divinity. They knew, as Peter stated, that Jesus is the Christ; the Son of the Living God. They were convinced that it was only a matter of time before Jesus took the throne of David. More, they were convinced that Jesus is the only One able to save. They must have known — and learned, if they were not already aware — that they would be seen as traitors and defectors in their own time. But they, like those who defected to David, were looking forward to a time when their King would sit on His throne and their allegiance to Him would be vindicated.

The same is still true of believers in many places today. It is often the case that believers must walk away from everything they have known and follow Christ. And it is a choice that is made knowing what the cost may be. It may be as cheap a cost as to lose a few friends. It may be that the cost is one’s own life.

To live Godly may cost me. It may be that people who might otherwise count me among their number will see me as a defector. It may be that I will be seen as an outsider. If I believe; if I am fully convinced that my allegiance to Christ will be vindicated, then none of this will move me. I will remain loyal to my King, come what may.

Father, thank You for the example of David and his men. Thank You for the record of Jesus’ disciples going after Him in a similar fashion. Thank You for those today who count the cost and walk after You. Please cause me to live out my conviction that Jesus is Who He claims to be — God incarnate. Please cause that to change me and the way I live so that I am known as one of Yours.

SOAP Journal – 24 May 2018 (1 Chronicles 11:10-47)

These [constitute] the list of the mighty men whom David had ….

1 Chronicles 11:11

The list of David’s Mighty Men appears elsewhere in The Bible. This list is comprised of men who individually did amazing things and as a group stood beside David through thick and thin. There are names on the list that are familiar — Joab, Abishai, Uriah — and names that I may have read, but never really noticed. Some of these men were Israelites. Many were not.

I could spend a good long while researching and considering each of these men individually and may do so one day. This morning, I am only going to observe that the ability that all of these men had in common was availability. They followed David when the opportunity presented itself and stayed with him. If I take these men as a model, then I should consider whether or not I am stepping up when God calls me to serve or to act in some capacity and whether or not I see that call through to its conclusion.

Father, thank You for people that step forward and see their commission through until the end. Please make me one such.

SOAP Journal – 23 May 2018 (1 Chronicles 11:1-9)

David became greater and greater, for the LORD of hosts [was] with him.

1 Chronicles 11:9

The first nine verses of chapter eleven are the account of the establishing of David as king of Israel and David capturing and rebuilding the city of Jerusalem and making it the capital of the kingdom of Israel. One item of note is that The Bible records a people group living in the city of Jerusalem before the Israelites — under David’s leadership — conquer and rebuild it: the Jebusites.

This is noteworthy, in part, because it is consistent with The Bible‘s complete portrayal of things. The Bible does not pull punches on its heroes or villains. People are on display as being completely human — even the greatest men and women of faith. Locations are not given into the ownership of the Israelites without them dispossessing another people group. Our modern Western sensibilities often recoil at thoughts of that sort of conquest, but the truth is that it was commonplace in the ancient world. And the Israelites would later be dispossessed of the very same land by other nations. It is not an endorsement or a condemnation by The Bible, though some of the property swaps are foretold by prophets. It is merely a statement of fact.

Which brings me to this morning’s verse. Since I take the rest of this passage as being simply factual, I also take the statement that David became greater and greater, for the LORD of hosts [was] with him as fact. And that is where I find my application. God being with David is was made him (David) great. If I want to be great, then I must live in such a way as the LORD can be with me.

Not all of David’s greatness is the greatness to which I want to attain. I do not want the military prowess or the governmental authority or even the notoriety as a great writer, though I am grateful for being able to make my living with my pen, as it were. The greatness to which I would attain is that David is known as the man after God’s own heart. I would have that said of me. The great men and women of faith received titles to which I ought to want to attain: friend of God, father of faith, man after God’s own heart. The only path to this sort of greatness is the path walked beside God in fellowship with Him.

Father, thank You for the men and women whose titles challenge me to seek more in my relationship with You. Thank You that Your Word does not flinch from speaking Truth, but does so plainly. Please stoke the fire in my heart that I might burn for more; might seek to, as the song says, see You more clearly, follow You more dearly, love You more dearly day by day.

SOAP Journal – 21 May 2018 (1 Chronicles 10)

The battle became heavy against Saul, and the archers overtook him; and he was wounded by the archers.

1 Chronicles 10:3

Samuel details the reign of Saul more than Chronicles does. Chronicles spends nine chapters on genealogy and one on the reign and demise of Saul. In fact, Chronicles is not even concerned with Saul’s reign, per se, but makes passing remarks about Saul’s transgression and asserts that it was due to a few specific transgressions that Saul was killed on the battlefield. This chapter also devotes some space to the exploits of the men of Jabesh-Gilead in retrieving the bodies of Saul and his sons.

One thing that did catch my attention is the statement that the archers overtook [Saul]. When Paul wrote to the Ephesian church, he spoke of the armor of God and wrote of the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil [one] (Ephesian 6:16).

One of the things that I often find myself thinking on is the method of warfare in the ancient world. The phalanx was already an old method of war by the time the Romans came along and made it more effective than it had ever been before. It is entirely possible that Saul and the ancient Israelites knew and practiced the phalanx.

The thing about a phalanx is that it must be executed by a group in order to be effective. In fact, it must be done by a group of like minded individuals, with the same goal, and moving in the same direction for it to be at its most effective.

Saul was overtaken by the archers when there was no one else around but his armor bearer. He was isolated. Whether the Israelites knew and practiced the phalanx or not, being isolated on a battlefield is often a recipe for defeat.

And the same is true in spiritual warfare.

I am convinced that Paul wrote of the Christian life as spiritual warfare for more than one reason. The imagery had been used by others, including King David, but the Roman Empire’s mastery of the phalanx would have been something that every believer in Paul’s time was familiar with. The imagery, particularly the shield, would have brought with it the implication that a shield is most effective when used in conjunction with other shields borne by fellow soldiers. I, as a believer, am not at my safest — as I have often heard — when I am daily reading and praying and practicing the other Christian disciplines. These disciplines are necessary and vital to my ability to be effective when God calls me to action and I should be practicing them. But I am at my safest when I am in the company of fellow believers who are also practicing Christian discipline. It is when our shields; our faith is used to protect one another as well as ourselves; to occupy its place in the phalanx that our faith is most effective in sheltering us — all of us — from the attacks of the Enemy.

Father, thank You for this reminder that I need to stand with my brothers and sisters and be a help and shelter for them just as You want them to also be a help and shelter for me. Please restore such fellowship to my life. I know that I have become isolated and that it is a mixture of circumstance and my own choice. Please sort out the circumstance and I will choose not to isolate myself, that I might stand firm beside my fellow believers.

SOAP Journal – 18 May 2018 (1 Chronicles 1-9)

So all Israel was enrolled by genealogies; and behold, they are written in the Book of the Kings of Israel. And Judah was carried away into exile to Babylon for their unfaithfulness.

1 Chronicles 9:1

I try not to cut through huge swaths of The Bible like this, but the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles are genealogy — such-and-so begat so-and-so. Genealogy is useful, particularly when you are looking backward to a prophecy that says that the Messiah will come through a particular bloodline or dividing up property along ancestral boundary lines or determining who is allowed to serve as a priest based on their forebears. Genealogy is also some of the most dry content in all of scripture.

My past, as noted above, plays a part in determining my present. If I was born to loving parents, then I have been afforded certain advantages because of that. Everything about my genetics — my ethnic origin, my biological sex, my vision, and so on — and my circumstance in life — social station of family, economic status of parents, country of birth and residence, and so forth — comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. But my past is material, not an edifice.

It is up to me to build with what came to me. Sometimes, the kings of Israel and Judah had fathers who were Godly men. Sometimes their fathers were idolatrous in the extreme. Neither of these turns out to be a reliable indicator of how the next king will live and rule. Some priests were devout and careful about the things of God. Others were on the lazy side. Aaron was hit or miss as a priest. Two of his sons were rebellious while two were devout. Same father. Different sons.

Genealogies are a reminder that we come from somewhere; that there are others who have gone before us; that our experience does not exist in a vacuum, but in relation to everything that has gone before and will follow after.

And the same is true of my lifetime. Today does not exist in a vacuum. Today can be traced back to a few thousand yesterdays — a little over fourteen thousand yesterdays, in my case. And today will become one of those yesterdays. Today is the only guaranteed chance I have to try to make something better of myself and my life, because I will eventually have spent all of my tomorrows.

Father, please keep me anchored in the knowledge of where You have brought me from and keep my eyes fixed on the place to which You want to take me. Let me build, today, toward that goal.

SOAP Journal – 15 May 2018 (2 Kings 23:31-25:30)

Surely at the command of the LORD it came upon Judah, to remove [them] from His sight because of the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, and also for the innocent blood which he shed, for he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood; and the LORD would not forgive.

2 Kings 24:3-4

The closing chapters of 2 Kings are an unbroken string of bad kings and defeats of Judah at the hands of her enemies. Ultimately, none of it was really a surprise, because God told the Israelites in advance that all of it was coming. And it all traced back to wrongs done.

There are things that stand out in this parade of terrible moments: Judah being pressed between two warring empires on either side — Egypt and Babylon; one of the kings who rebelled against Babylon witnessing the slaughter of his children then being blinded by his eyes being gouged out; the conspiracy against and murder of the governor who tried to get the people to just accept their judgment from God and make the best of things. Over and over, the people display just how deserved their judgment was. Over and over, the people refused to repent. These chapters are saddening and a somber way to start the day.

These passages remind me that God is just. Josiah repented and God held back the coming judgment. Neither the next king nor the people repented and judgment came. It is a simple calculus: repentance invites God’s mercy. And God longs to be merciful.

These passages also remind me that actions have consequences. Manasseh’s horrific actions had consequences, viz. judgment. Josiah’s repentance had consequences in the form of mercy. And the utter lack of repentance after Josiah had consequences in the form of the judgment on Manasseh and the people who had gone along with him that had been held at bay by mercy during the reign of Josiah.

This book and its companion also remind me that Godly parents do not guarantee Godly children and unGodly parents do not guarantee unGodly children. Each of us makes our own choices.

Father, thank You for these reminders and these examples. May they teach me the things that You would have me learn from them. May they encourage, exhort, and warn as appropriate.

SOAP Journal – 14 May 2018 (2 Kings 22:1-23:30)

Before him there was no king like him who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him.

2 Kings 23:25

Josiah became king at the age of eight. Both his father and his grandfather had been wicked kings, but Josiah was different. At eighteen, he saw the deteriorating state of the temple and ordered that the money in the temple treasury be counted out and the temple restored. The Law was found while the priests were emptying out the treasury and brought to the king. When Josiah heard The Law, he knew that things had to change. So he sent messengers to a prophetess who told him that God would not bring about the judgment in his time.

Unlike his great grandfather, who was content with peace and truth in his own time, Josiah went on a cleanse. He tore down altars to false gods, ground stone statues to powder and burned wooden statues, desecrated shrines, and generally removed every trace of idolatry and worship of false gods that he could find. Josiah modeled true repentance. Every trace of idolatry was removed — violently, in some instances — and obedience to God re-established.

This morning’s verse highlights that. It was not Josiah’s dedication to God or his obedience that was remarkable, but his repentance. He turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses. He turned from what had been going on and turned to God. He wiped the slate clean, making sure that going back to the way things had been would be costly in both time and resource.

What of me? I feel that I should examine myself and see whether or not I have repented as Josiah did. I know that there are those who would say that I should not burn bridges. The trouble with that line of thinking is that it assumes that the place from which I came is a place to which I want to return. When it comes to repentance, I need to burn the bridges and kick the ashes into the floodwaters. And I do not always do that.

Father, thank You for Josiah’s example of repentance. Please give me a heart that is tender to Your Word and prompting and a will that aims to repent when any offensive way is found in me.

SOAP Journal – 10 May 2018 (2 Kings 21:19-26)

For he walked in all the way that his father had walked, and served the idols that his father had served and worshiped them.

2 Kings 21:21

Manasseh’s son, Amon, was just as wicked as his father. He did all the same things that his father had done. The only reason I think that he was not as bad as his father is that his reign was brief. Manasseh reigned as king and seduced the people to idolatry for fifty-five (55) years (v. 1). That is a long period of time and a massive pile of wrongs to heap up. By contrast, Amon reigned for only two (2) years (v. 19). Manasseh managed to seduce the people over to his side. Amon was killed by conspirators (v. 23).

There is a demotivational poster I saw (and love) that says “It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others.” That might just be the poster for Amon and Manasseh. Neither one is a good example and neither one should be emulated.

And that is where the application for this morning’s passage is. Not every account in The Bible is an example to follow. Not every person recorded is righteous and good. If those were the only people included, then The Bible would be massively one-sided and read like a work of fiction. But The Bible includes all manner of people — all of our good, bad, and ugly bits. Let me look for the examples that ought to be followed and seek to emulate those. Let me take those like Amon and Manasseh for what they are: examples of what NOT to do.

Father, thank You for including all manner of people in Your Word. Thank You that You give bad examples as well as good so that I know You see us as we are and not through some filtered lens that washes out all the wickedness. Thank You, also, that You are not content to leave me as You see me this moment, but continue to complete the work that You began in me. Please cause me reciprocate Your faithfulness.

SOAP Journal – 09 May 2018 (2 Kings 21:1-18)

But they did not listen, and Manasseh seduced them to do evil more than the nations whom the LORD destroyed before the sons of Israel.

2 Kings 21:9

After Hezekiah died, his son, Manasseh, took the throne. Manasseh was as wicked as Hezekiah was righteous. While there was no king before or after Hezekiah who was like him in dedication to the LORD, there was also no king before or after Manasseh who was like him in finding new and inventive ways to do wicked things in the sight of the LORD. It is quite the stark contrast between father and son.

But Manasseh did not stop with simply doing wicked things on his own, he seduced the Israelites to join in wickedness with him. Most people are inclined to certain forms of wickedness — men in modern America, for example, are statistically likely to watch pornography (approximately 60-70% of men admit to having watched it at some point) — but few people are as inclined to as many varieties of wickedness as Manasseh was. And he did not, it appears, want to transgress alone.

Leaders can be a Godsend when they show us how to become more Godly. Manasseh was no such leader. Manasseh is an object lesson in why leaders can be dangerous.  He led people to do increasingly wicked things.

The modern Westernized world has many leaders. And dangerous leaders are sometimes easier to spot than others. There are political leaders whom people follow with the sort of fanaticism that borders on being a cult. There are religious leaders whose followers are, in fact, cults. There are media icons whose opinions are no more or less valid than anyone else’s, but whose followers parrot as if it were God’s own truth.

Anyone with an open eye can see that those folks need to be kept at a safe distance … I would say no closer than I would follow a nuclear waste disposal vehicle. But there are others who are less obvious, and these are like rocks in a harbor. Sometimes, the tide is high and the rocks are underwater. But the tide rolls out and the rocks become obvious. Some leaders enter our lives while we are riding the high tide of pleasant financial situation and good health and all manner of other pleasant and easy thing. We do not always see them as the jagged rocks on which our ship will run aground and become damaged. This is where we need God’s insight; we need discernment to know whether or not the place those individuals lead is Godly or no.

My social media is awash with people shouting past each other. Some are following leaders and want others to do the same. Some are championing causes about which they know next to nothing because some leader told them it was so. God has been teaching me — and I have been slow in learning — that the only Leader I should follow without worry that He will lead me astray is God Himself. All men — even righteous men like Hezekiah — are flawed and will fail me in some fashion. God never fails.

Father, thank You for this rather vivid reminder that human leaders should be followed with caution, if at all. Please help me to see Your footsteps before me and to follow in them. I want my ears to be trained to hear Your voice telling me, “This is the Way. Walk in it.”

SOAP Journal – 08 May 2018 (2 Kings 20)

Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the LORD which you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “Is it not so, if there will be peace and truth in my days?”

2 Kings 20:19

King Hezekiah had fallen ill and God sent the prophet Isaiah to let the king know that the illness would be fatal. Immediately after receiving the news, Hezekiah prayed that God would remember how he (Hezekiah) had walked and God sent Isaiah back to let Hezekiah know that the king would recover from his illness and live another fifteen years. After he had recovered, a messenger came from Babylon and Hezekiah showed the messenger all of his (Hezekiah’s) wealth. Isaiah was sent to the king again to let him know that everything the messenger had seen would wind up in Babylon after the king had died. Hezekiah finds this perfectly acceptable as it means that there will be peace and truth in his days.

His response reminds me of how righteous men are still imperfect.

His response is shortsighted. Hezekiah only looks forward for another fifteen years or less. During that time, everything will be fine for the kingdom, but the people will be taken into exile afterward. While he may have been satisfied that some of his children would be officials in the court of the king of Babylon (v. 18), he does not even ask what will become of the regular folk.

His response is selfish. He is pleased that things will be good in his time and apparently unconcerned that those who follow him will go into captivity. Unlike Thomas Paine, who said If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace. There is a stark difference between the selfless person who would prefer to leave their child an inheritance of peace and the selfish person who wants peace in their own time, regardless of whether that peace remains for those who follow.

I want to be a parent like Thomas Paine, who preferred that he face the trouble so his child could live in peace. I want to have a view that stretches to the horizon and beyond — eyes on the river that flows from the throne of God and aware of all the expanse between. It is possible to be accounted righteous and be so completely in the moment that there is no thought to what lies ahead. What I need is balance. A solid grounding in the here and now with a destination in mind so that I chart my course accordingly.

Father, thank You for Hezekiah as an example of a righteous man who was not perfect. He reminds me that being grounded in the now is a good thing, but that it must be balanced with looking forward or I will never strive toward the upward call. Please help me to be firmly in the here and now with eyes fixed on a future with You.