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 – 15 June 2017 (Deuteronomy 34:7)

Although Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, his eye was not dim, nor his vigor abated.

Deuteronomy 34:7

In the midst of a miracle-filled life, it might be an easy thing to overlook this miracle that was ongoing in the life of Moses until the last. Moses, despite being advanced in age, was just as vigorous and sharp-eyed as he had been in his youth. I have seen reports of people who pass 100 years of age and they are not usually as vigorous as in their youth. They are often spry for their age, but nothing compared to their younger days.

This is what I sometimes think of as a “minor miracle;” something God does that might make the news, but is not often going to set off alarm bells about how far beyond the pale it is. Medical science would want to take tissue and fluid samples to try to figure out how this came about.

I cannot generalize this out into a promise of health or longevity or both. That is not the principle. And there are few, if any, other accounts of such a thing in the rest of scripture.

What I can state as a principle is that God gives what is necessary to accomplish the task He has given us. Moses’ task was to deliver the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt then lead the Israelites around in the wilderness for 40 years. To do these things, he needed clear vision and bodily vigor. Moses needed to be able to be the first one up in the morning and the last one to bed at night. He needed to be able to see landmarks clearly so he could follow God’s directions. His undimmed eye and unabated vigor were provision for the task set before him.

Whatever work God has called me to, God will also provide what is needful for me to accomplish it. I have often heard stories from missionaries or evangelists about how God provided exactly the right thing at exactly the right moment for the ministry to go forward; for that person to fulfill the commission of God in their lives.

Let me trust that God will provide what is needful when it is needful and I will never be disappointed (as long as I understand the difference between needful things and desirable things).

One last note, before leaving this book. I was looking for the idea of loving God and following some command to be repeated. It was not, to my recollection.

Father, thank You for providing all our needs according to Your riches in Christ. Thank You for giving us instruction and providing what we need in order to carry out that instruction. Please keep my eyes on Your provision, not on what I perceive myself to be lacking.

Fat Sheep. Lean Sheep. (Ezekiel 34:20)

Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them, “Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.”

Ezekiel 34:20

God has been speaking to Ezekiel about the shepherds of Israel; the leadership, particularly the religious leadership. God has already said that the leadership have been feeding themselves and not taking care of the flock, making them the worst kind of shepherds. After that, God turns His attention and His discourse to the fat sheep.

I know that God is speaking in metaphor here. I know this because God explains His metaphor in verse 31. It is one of those places in scripture where God just comes right out and says, “This is metaphor.” Since the metaphor is equating people to sheep (or goats), what does it mean that there are fat sheep and lean sheep?

God gives some insight, but it is also metaphorical, so this interpretation is subject to revision in light of better understanding. God speaks of the fat sheep feeding on the good pasture and trampling the rest; drinking the clear water and fouling the rest; pushing with shoulder and butting with horns.

My understanding of pasture and water is twofold. First, those terms, in their most obvious sense, refer to the basic needs of life. It is entirely possible that God is calling out people who not only have plenty of the basics, but also ruin what basics remain so they become unusable. Essentially, they grow prosperous while ruining the livelihoods of others. It is possible, and God knows there are plenty of people — even, I am sad to admit, believers — who do this today. Second, those terms might refer to the basics of spiritual life. The people might have been pushed away from nourishing spiritual fodder for things that kill; from worshiping the True and Living God to worship of idols and things that cannot really accomplish anything on our behalf.

The other images — those of jostling and butting heads — feel a little on the nose to me. There are plenty of instances in life where we jostle one another for position; for what we perceive to be something good. Examples abound of places in life where we lock horns and butt heads with one another. We even use that very language to describe the action.

All of the imagery boils down to a couple truths that come to my mind. I am sure that others will see it differently, but it is metaphor and can hold up to multiple interpretations.

Truth number one is that God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble. This truth is reiterated all over The Bible, so I am confident that it is true, regardless of whether or not it is what was intended to be communicated by this metaphor. Pride lifts us up in our own eyes and makes us think that we are more important than others. This self-importance can and often does lead to the kinds of behavior God describes: taking for yourself and ruining for others, jostling for position, butting heads with others. Humility recognizes the importance of others over self. Pride asserts the self over others. As Paul wrote: Do not just look out for yourself, but also look out for your brethren (Philippians 2:4).

Truth number two is that God is the One Who will ultimately judge between us all. If I think I have been wronged, I need to let it go — God will render judgment in the end. This does not mean I should not confront my fellow believers and speak the truth in love, but that I need to let go of the butt hurt that came with it. This both unburdens me of the emotional distress and sets me on a path to being able to exhort my fellow believer. I am much more likely to be able to speak truth in love if I have let go of the hurt that the action caused.

This whole thing makes me think it could be written up as a Seussian bit of rhyme, à la:

Fat sheep, lean sheep,
Kind sheep, mean sheep

I will have to consider that as I go through the day. With that, I need to meditate on the reminders that I need to be humble and look out for my fellow believers as well as let go of the hurt that comes with others not being obedient to this command, since God will render judgment.

God’s Work in God’s Way (1 Kings 3:7-9)

“Now, O LORD my God, You have made Your servant king in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. Your servant is in the midst of Your people which You have chosen, a great people who are too many to be numbered or counted. So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?”

1 Kings 3:7-9

This is Solomon’s famous request that God give him wisdom. There are three things in this request that bear note for me today.

First, Solomon recognizes his limitations. He says that he is but a little child. The idea, I think, being that he is inadequate for the work set before him. But more, I think this is a recognition of his dependence, because a child is dependent on his parents to provide food, shelter, nurturing, moral guidance, and so on. An adult has passed out of the stage of dependence has become self-reliant. While there are children who become, by necessity, self-reliant, that is not the natural order of things. Solomon’s father, David, only recently ceded the throne to his son, so it is possible that Solomon feels, at this point, as if he is still riding on his father’s coattails.

Second, Solomon recognizes the magnitude of the task. He recognizes that these are God’s people who are a great people who are too many to be numbered or counted. Just prior to this event, the book of Kings described Solomon consolidating his power base by executing potential enemies of the throne and his rule. He is likely a young man and has already had to mete out death to people who would otherwise have been dangerous to the kingdom. While the executions were just, that is unlikely to ease Solomon’s heart on the matter and he might be wondering whether or not he is going to be required to keep killing off potential threats inside the kingdom while defending against enemies outside. The task is behemoth and Solomon sees it as such.

Third, Solomon asks for what is needed. He could, as God notes in the verses that follow these, have asked for the lives of his enemies or a long life for himself or wealth or power or notoriety or any of dozens of possible things that a king might conceivably want or need. Instead, Solomon asks for an understanding heart to judge [God’s] people to discern between good and evil. Solomon’s need is understanding of what is right and wrong not just for himself but for the entire kingdom. He is not making decisions that only impact a single life or a single family, but the entire nation. In this, he sees the need for understanding and discernment. He can see difficult and nebulous decisions floating off in his future, so he asks to be able to see through the fog and to make the right call.

This, I think, gives me a model for how I should be praying in various situations. James tells me that I have not because I do not ask or because I ask with the wrong motives. Solomon was asking for wisdom so he could be the king that God wanted him to be and reign over God’s people in God’s way. That is the perfect motivation. Once I have my motivation squared away (a more difficult task than this sentence makes it seem), I need to assess the situation rightly. I need to realize my inadequacy to the task and my reliance on God. I need to rightly understand the task before me and to evaluate what is needed to accomplish this task in God’s way. Then I need to ask God for what is lacking in me that is needed to get God’s work done in God’s way. Yesterday, the task was keeping my head while every circumstance was conspiring to make me lose it. Circumstances won out because I did not take the necessary step back, evaluate the situation, and ask God for the peace that was needed in the midst of things. I allowed myself to be caught up in the madness of other people ratcheting up the urgency of a thing until I was also angry. And the anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God. I need to see my inadequacy and dependence on God, recognize the task for what it is, and come to God for the resources I lack. Only then will I get God’s work done in God’s way.