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 – 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.

SOAP Journal – 06 June 2017 (Deuteronomy 24:19-21)

When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow.

Deuteronomy 24:19-21

There is a conversation — a sometimes loud and none too civil conversation — about welfare and what Americans often call Entitlement Programs. Believers are divided on the subject and I think that we might do well to come back to what God has to say to the Israelites on the subject.

There are many tidbits in The Law about how to treat one’s countrymen. There are laws about whether or not to charge interest (not) and what to do with the collateral for a loan (make sure the poor person has anything that is necessary in hand when it is needed) and there is this morning’s instruction to leave something behind for the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan.

The three harvests called out are the staples of the time. The field generally referred to the grains that were grown and was an instruction to leave behind whatever you did not get on the first go around. This would provide grain that the needy could harvest for themselves and make bread. The olive tree was both a source of food (olives are delicious) as well as a source of a necessary ingredient (olive oil used in the breads and for cooking and flavoring things). Again, the needy were required to do the same work as the one getting the olives off the tree the first go around. The grapes were again a food source as well as the source of another staple: wine. To get olive oil or wine, the needy person would still need to press the fruit and do the same manual labor as those who were not in need.

There are a couple things I note about this provision. First, it is commanded by God of believers. There is no such requirement in the Ten Commandments and this is, therefore, not a general command to all of humanity. Second, it is a command given to the individual. This is not a case of everyone bringing in a percentage of their harvest and that being given out to others, but a case of those who have excess individually and voluntarily leaving that excess for those in need. There were tithes and offerings brought into the temple, but those were to have fellowship with God and one’s fellow believer and to provide for the supply and maintenance of the temple and the priests.

This has a couple of very practical applications for me.

On a personal level, there needs to be a recognition of where God has provided me with more than I need. Where this is true, I need to be ready and willing to be directed by God as to where He wants that excess. I want God to bless [me] in all the work of [my] hands. Not just the work that brings material gain, but in the labor of love that is trying to be a good husband and a good father and a good friend and a good steward of the things that God has entrusted to me like house and car and whatnot. If I want to invite God’s blessing on all my works (and I do), then I need to be mindful of where I can supply the needs of others.

There is a social application which boils down to me not supporting any program or plan that aims to help those in need without addressing their fundamental human need to earn their wage. Help those in need, absolutely. But do so in a way that respects their human dignity and gives them a chance to maintain that human dignity by earning what they get.

Father, thank You for supplying all my needs and for sometimes giving more than I need. Please keep me mindful of those times when I have an excess and to be attentive to You to know how You want that excess used. Please give me a heart that is willing and ready to help those in need and to do so in a way that respects the dignity You have afforded them as a person made in Your image.

SOAP Journal – 08 May 2017 (Deuteronomy 8:3)

He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.

Deuteronomy 8:3

Moses is still not past the point where he is reminding the Israelites of all the things that God has already done for them. And I cannot find fault. Moses has 40 years’ worth of God’s work in lives of and on behalf of the Israelites of which to remind them. Such a thing is likely to take a while. I have not yet lived 40 years and recounting all of the things that God has done just for me, let alone for my family and friends, could fill pages.

This verse also happens to be the one quoted by Jesus when He was tempted in the wilderness. Satan tells Jesus that He (Jesus) should turn stones to bread to ease His (Jesus’) hunger. Jesus quotes back that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD. Knowing what precedes that part of the statement — He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know — adds a whole new dimension to Jesus using this verse as His reply. He knew that the Father let [Him] be hungry and that His (Jesus’) hunger would be taken care of by that same Father.

In both instances, there is a single message: Where God has led me, God will sustain me. God is not surprised by my circumstances or wringing His hands over how to meet my needs. He, Good Shepherd that He is, has already walked this ground and prepared places for me to eat my fill — spiritually and physically — and places for me to slake my thirst — again, spiritually and physically — and places for me to lie down and rest in safety.

I had lost sight of this truth. It is not that I never knew it, but that my focus wavered and my gaze wandered. I looked around at the wilderness instead of seeing the manna right in front of me. I saw the desert and ignored the water pouring from the Stone. I saw and was distracted by the obvious lack and thereby overlooked the equally obvious provision.

Sometimes, God is going to let me suffer lack. It may be food or drink or any of a number of things. The purpose of the lack is not to deprive me, but that He might be my supply and that He might make [me] understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.

Father, please forgive me for looking at my lack instead of Your abundance. I am wrong when I focus on those things instead of Your provision. Thank You for providing for me every good and necessary thing and some things that are not necessary. Please teach me to keep my eyes focused on Your provision and sustaining and not on the things I think I am lacking.

SOAP Journal – 11 April 2017 (Numbers 35:1-3)

Now the LORD spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan [opposite] Jericho, saying, “Command the sons of Israel that they give to the Levites from the inheritance of their possession cities to live in; and you shall give to the Levites pasture lands around the cities. The cities shall be theirs to live in; and their pasture lands shall be for their cattle and for their herds and for all their beasts.”

Numbers 35:1-3

As God goes through and explains to Moses how the Promised Land is to be split up — and God is quite specific on more than a few points — God includes instruction to provide a place to live and a means of support for the Levites; those who would serve in the tabernacle. The Levites, who get no inheritance, are given cities scattered around amidst the other Israelites.

As a believer, the parallel is interesting. God orders things so that I have a place to live and a means of support, just as He did for the Levites. My wife and I recently went through the ordeal of house hunting because the new owners of the building we have lived in for years decided to do major renovations on the place. I am sure that there are people who enjoy house hunting, but we were on a deadline and a budget and neither one was terribly conducive to an enjoyable house hunt. But God opened a way and we have a place to live. The same has happened in my job. About six years ago, I was in the teaching profession and things were rough for teachers — particularly English teachers, since there are (or were) so many, apparently — and no doors were opening for me. I got this crazy idea to try my hand at something other than teaching and applied for jobs in the technical writing field. God opened a door with an awesome boss who saw potential and hired me on. I can go on recounting the times and ways that God has provided a place and a means of support for me throughout the years, but there is a second component that needs to be addressed.

The Levites were the tribe who received God as their inheritance. They served in the tabernacle and ministered to the LORD alongside the priests. Christians also receive God as our inheritance — Heaven is not Heaven if God is not there — and Christians are called to serve God in various capacities. The Bible does recount times when the priests and Levites left the service of God to support themselves, and those were dark times for the Israelites.

The application comes down to two things for me. First, I can rest confident that God will provide my needs. Second, I need to be found faithful in my service to God and His people.

Thank You, Father, for providing my needs and being my portion. Thank You also for the privilege of serving You and Your people. Please teach me to rest in Your provision and to be found faithful in ministering to You and my fellow believers.

SOAP Journal – 13 January 2017 (Exodus 33:2)

I will send an angel before you and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite.

Exodus 33:2

After the Israelites had broken several commandments at the foot of the mountain where God was talking with Moses about the tabernacle. After Moses crushed the golden calf into powder and poured it into the water and made the Israelites drink it. After the Levites went through the camp and culled the people. After Moses interceded for the people and God had performed a culling of His own, God tells Moses to lead the people on to the Promised Land. In the midst of this instruction — instruction that left the Israelites keenly aware of how badly they had messed up — God comes to this statement.

I do not intend to claim this promise or anything like it for myself. I am not an Israelite and I am not going to the Promised Land and all of those people groups named are long since gone. I do, however, see a couple of principles that I can consider this morning.

First, God prepares the way in which He sends us. The Israelites were told to go to the Promised Land. God is also promising to send a messenger; an angel ahead of them to clear the way. I recollect that Uriah — one of David’s mighty men and whom David left to die in battle over his (Uriah’s) wife — was a Hittite. And I seem to recall that the Amorites and Jebusites and Canaanites are all still in the Promised Land when the Israelites arrive. So what gives?

I looked up the tense of the verbs (yes, I am a word nerd) and the first — I will send — is in the perfect, which communicates a completed action and the stem used communicates the simple meaning of the verb. So this might be better rendered I have sent. The second — I will drive out — is also in the perfect, but the stem used can communicate an extended or repeated action. Which makes me think that the action is completed — God drove them out — but it will need to be done again and again to maintain its completion, like saying I mopped up the water left on the floor by the leaky pipe. Until the pipe was fixed or replaced, the action was repeated so as to maintain its completion. Best my mind can do at this hour.

So, too, God may sometimes prepare a way that needs maintenance once I get where He is sending me. In fact, this is often the case. I have heard testimony from missionaries and folks in various types and kinds of ministry for whom God prepared a way so miraculous that it could only be His doing. But that way, in order to be kept open, had to be maintained. It might have been a relationship that God made possible or a source of funding that requires regular attention, but God prepared the way for those He sent. Which is the second application: God’s provision often requires maintenance.

Once the Israelites reach the Promised Land, the manna stops and they eat from the crops growing in the land. But those fields will go fallow unless someone tills them and sows them and prunes fruit trees and vines and whatnot. That provision of food required maintenance. The manna required daily gathering. I can actually not think of an instance wherein God provided that He did not require upkeep. I mean, God planted the Garden of Eden and told Adam to tend the garden. Provision made, upkeep required.

Finally, I note that God’s messengers are powerful. God names six people groups that His one messenger is going to kick out of the Promised Land. One messenger. Singular. If God has sent someone — this includes little old me — to perform a particular task, then God is going to make sure that His messenger is successful in that task. Later in The Bible, God sends one angel to defeat an army. Just one angel. I need to let the magnitude of God’s power really sink in and make itself real to my heart and mind. When I do, I will never think that anything is too difficult for God to handle. Not my fears. Not my hangups. Nothing.

So, three principles. One: Where God sends, God prepares the way. Or, as Chuck Smith put it, where God guides God provides. Two: God’s provision requires upkeep. Three: God is so powerful that one messenger sent by Him is sufficient to conquer armies and entrenched nations.

Father, thank You for these reminders. Please open my ears to hear where You are guiding and strengthen my hands to maintain what You have provided. Keep me mindful of Your power and reliant on You and Your power to overcome the difficulties in my life.

SOAP Journal – 19 December 2016 (Exodus 23:10-11)

“You shall sow your land for six years and gather in its yield, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the needy of your people may eat; and whatever they leave the beast of the field may eat. You are to do the same with your vineyard [and] your olive grove.”

Exodus 23:10-11

God has finished giving the Ten Commandments and is in the process of giving The Law, which feels like several chapters of God going back over the various Commandments and giving color and scope to them. In these verses — the some verses following — God gives color and scope to the command to keep the Sabbath.

The Sabbath; the Rest was not just a once a week thing, it was a once every seventh year kind of thing. The teachers I have heard over the years have been quick to point out that harvesting for six years and doing no harvesting in the seventh year was a call to trust God to provide and to work diligently, particularly in that sixth year. And I am quite sure that is a part of what God had in mind. But He also gives some scope in verse eleven (11). He says that the reason for the rest is (a) so the land can rest (let it rest), (b) as a form of workfare (so that the needy of your people may eat), and (c) as provision for wild animals (the beast of the field may eat).

Letting the land lie fallow would later be borne out by history as a viable method for increasing the productivity of land. Give the land some time off and it produces more in the years it is sown and harvested. There were studies done a decade ago or more in which machines were shut down about once a week and the studies found that the machines lasted longer, had fewer breakdowns, and were just generally better machines. I find myself wondering what the Israelite farming family were doing during that year in which they did not work the fields. Did they improve their homes? Did they pursue the arts or better themselves with all that time? I see a lot of burnout in the modern workplace and wonder if some portion of that is due to us working the same job day-in and day-out for years and years without a respite. Just curiosity.

The Old Testament did not really have a welfare system as we know it today. There was, however,  a workfare system. The Israelites were commanded to leave the corners of their fields unharvested and not to pick up the bits that dropped from the carts and bundles during harvest. The corners and the dropped things were to be left for the poor to gather up. The book of Ruth shows this system in action. The Bible‘s model for providing for a person or a family is simple: Work. No work? No food. Before I go nuts on this, Israelites also received a parcel of land as inheritance and then split it up among the family as the years went by, so a place to live was handled. But food and clothing had to be handled by the individual or family. Every seventh year, there should have been a few fields that were left completely unharvested by the owners so that the poor could have a go. It would be a chance for the poor to put in that bit of extra effort to try to get ahead of things, maybe even make some headway toward getting out of poverty.

Finally, the wild animals. Some thoughts presented themselves here. First, God provides even for the wild animals. The idea being that God wanted the Israelites to have a constant reminder that the wild animals were taken care of by God, how much more would He take care of the Israelites, His Chosen People. Second, we have problems in the modern world with wild animals coming into cities looking for food. If there were areas outside the cities — which is where these fallow fields would have been — where the wild animals could find food, we might have fewer problems with wildlife entering cities. Third, the wildlife eating the food in the fields might have provided a bit of fertilization of those fields.

This brings me around to the question of application. I am not a farmer and I have no land to let lie fallow, so that strict interpretation is out of the question. On the other hand, I am a working person and I do recall that Jesus later says that man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for man. So this whole resting thing — including the hardcore taking a year off part — is meant to benefit people. The application I take from this is that I need to keep work and rest in their proper place. There should be more work than rest — a 6:1 ratio, or thereabouts — but the rest must be included. Let me work when it is time to work and rest when it is time to rest.

Father, thank You for this reminder that You take care to provide for everyone, including even the wild animals. If You care enough to provide for even them, how much more will You provide for Your children. Thank You for so great a love and for so clear an example of Your provision. Please teach me to keep work and rest in their proper relationship and to include both in my life as You would have them.