Saturday, August 26, 2017

The True Kingdom--by Linden Malki

God's concept of "King" is different than ours.  The Word of the Lord had come to a series of people called to learn and follow Him over a series of years--Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and then Moses, Joshua, and a series of Judges culminating in Samuel.  During the years in the wilderness, God had given Moses the instructions on formalizing the sacrifices  under Aaron and his descendants from the tribe of Levi.  Samuel was a Levite who had grown up in the sanctuary at Shilo, and served as a judge, one of the sages who were sent by God as advisors and tribal leaders  There was no central political authority during this period--the continuing theme of the book of Judges is "In those days, Israel had no king; everyone did what was right in his own eyes."

Finally, we read that the people of the land came to Samuel and asked him to appoint a king, like all the other nations.   This displeased Samuel, so he went to prayer. "The Lord said to Samuel, Obey the voice of the people in relation to all that they say to you. For it is not you they have rejected, but Me they have rejected from reigning over them.  Just as all the deeds which they have done to Me, from the day I brought them up from Egypt even to this day, in that they have forsaken Me and have served other gods, so they are doing also to you now.  Now then, obey their voice. Only you will testify against them and proclaim to them the judgment concerning the king who will reign over them.” (I Samuel 8:7-9) Samuel then warned them of what a king would be like: taxation, conscripted labor, bureaucracy..(sound familiar?)

It looks like God's concept of King is Himself--with messengers to teach, but with the intention that people voluntarily recognize His authority to rule.  In just a few hundred years, it was apparent that this wasn't happening.  The subsequent history of the  kings after the split at Solomon's death  includes only a few kings in the southern kingdom of Judah who followed God, and none at all in the north.  Within a few hunded years, both kingdoms were overrun by foreign empires, and there were no kings of Judah or Israel until 163 BC, with a revolt against a Greek successor to Alexander the Great.  There was a century of war and intrigue, and then the Roman general Pompey attached this area to Rome.  The people of Judea recalled the glory days of King David, and the ideal grew of a king anointed by God who would rise up, kick out all the pagan rulers, and re-establish a Godly kingdom.

This is the atmosphere into which Jesus came, talking about the Kingdom of the God of Heaven.  Looking all the way back, we can see God's original ideal of a people who would come to Him, follow the leadership of His called people, and under the words of God spoken by His people bring all the world into knowledge of Him.  Many of the people whom Jesus taught saw him as heralding the return of the ideal King David, and even his handpicked disciples asked, as their last question as he was returning to His father, if he was going to restore the kingdom to Israel, obviously thinking of a human kingdom.  We see now that this didn't happen the way they expected; we need to look past David, to the words of God to Samuel: a kingdom of this world is a rejection of His spiritual Kingdom; that power and glory comes by total allegience to Him.  

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Gateway to the Promised Land--by Linden Malki

Jericho is a very ancient city located in the lower Jordan Valley just above the Dead Sea, at a place that the Jordan River can be crossed.  When Joshua and the Israelites were ready to enter the Land that God was leading them to, the first major obstacle was the fortified city of Jericho. The people living in the area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan river were commonly referred to as "Canaanites", possibly referring to descent from Noah's grandson.  They spoke a related language, but there was one huge difference between the Israelites and the other tribes in the land. Abraham had lived in that area 500 years earlier, and at that time there was a priest in Jerusalem, then a city of the Jebusites, who knew the true God.  By the time of the Exodus, that knowledge had been lost, and the people who then lived there worshipped the pagan gods of the surrounding tribes.  (The worst of these were Molech, to whom children were sacrificed, and Ashera, the goddess of fertility.  Jericho was later rebuit by a Canaanite King who sacrificed two sons in the rebuild: 1Kings 16:34.  Archeologists have found tiny skeletons in the walls and gates of Canaanite buildings.  This is part of why God judged these tribes, and was so strict with the Israelites about becoming involved.)

We read that Joshua's spies, sent to Jericho as they prepared to begin their conquest of the land, met a local woman, an innkeeper and prostitute (Canaanite morality was different). She had heard from travellers about the invaders who had overcome other tribes as they moved north toward the Jordan crossing point, and something about their God, so she made the decision to throw her lot with the invaders, because "I know God is with you."

We see that God planned for all mankind to know Him. God made a covenant with Noah that is for all of Noah's descendants: "I am now establishing my covenant with you and all your descendants after you.." (Genesis 9). God's covenant with Abraham is that he will be the father of a host of nations.  Moses was told "When an alien resides with you in your land...treat him no differently than the natives born among you, have the same love for him as for yourself." (Leviticus 19:33-34). Solomon, when the Temple was being dedicated to God, prayed that God would listen to foreigners who came to learn of God (I Kings 8:41-43).  David, in Psalm 22, prophesied that " All the ends of the world will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will worship before You.  For kingship belongs to the Lord, and He rules among the nations."  God told Isaiah to tell His people that  " I will also make you a light to the nations so that My salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6) God's calling was not only for Israel, even before the coming of Jesus; they were called to witness to God to all nations.  It is not suprising that there was an admixture of "outsiders" coming into the family of Israel: Joseph's sons were part Egyptian; Moses' wife was Midianite, and here we have Rahab and her family becoming part of Israel, and then we see Ruth becoming part of the family.

God's calling was not only for Israel, even before the coming of Jesus;  Israel was called to witness to God to all nations.   The real breakthrough was not teaching Jewish Law to Gentiles, but to break the power of sin and enable everyone who believed to live a more powerful life through His death and resurrection.  He became the true Gateway!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Ruth, the Good Example--by Linden Malki

Across the Jordan  Valley and the Dead Sea to the East there were several tribal kingdoms that were related to the Israelites. One was the Edomites, who descended from Jacob's brother Esau; the others were Moab and Ammon, descended from Abraham's nephew Lot, whose family barely escaped the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. They apparently married into pagan Canaanite peoples and ignored anything they'd known of Abraham's God.  When Moses and the Israelites were migrating back to the Promised Land, the route they took was east of the the Wadi el-Araba, the rift valley below the Dead Sea. It was high ground and included good pasture land for sheep. Moses contacted the various kings and asked for safe passage through these territories, promising that they would not attack or damage the countryside.  The Amorite king refused,  attacked the Israelites, and was defeated.  The king of Moab saw this, and  hired Balaam, a prophet, to come and curse the Israelites. Instead, Balaam received only blessings from God for Israel--which annoyed the King of Moab,  but then  Balaam suggested that Moabite women go to the Israelite camps and invite the menfolk to their religious festivals--which included fertility rites and child sacrifices. Not anything that was healthy for anyone. The Israelites did not travel through Moab, but their political relationship was mixed, and there were  hostilities between them.   Later, when David became King, he annexed Moab, who later rebelled, were defeated, and eventually absorbed by the invading Assyrians.

Apparently at the time of Ruth,  relations were good enough that Elimelech and his family did not have problems living in Moab during a famine in Judah, and David sent his parents to Moab for safety during the years he was hiding out from Saul.  We see Ruth accepted in Judah when she came back with Naomi, but she had accepted Naomi and Judah's God as her own.  She is also depicted as a loyal and responsible daughter to Naomi, willing to work at a job kept for the poor.

There were continuing problems with Israelite men marrying outsiders, and allowing them to continue their worship of pagan gods.  This was the downfall of Solomon, who even built sanctuaries for his political wives' gods.  We see King Ahab marrying a aggressively pagan Phoenician princess, who not only kept her own gods, but tried to eliminate the prophets of God and the worship of Israel's God from the kingdom. Jezebel's daughter Athaliah, who had married King Jehoram of Judah, was her mother's daughter, and brought the worship of Baal to Jerusalem.  After the "premature" deaths of her husband and son, she  killed off all the other heirs to the throne of Judah, including all but one of her own grandchildren. The infant Joash was rescued and hidden by an aunt, who was married to the high priest. Six years later, the high priest brought out Joash for his coronation, and Athaliah was killed by the temple guards as she tried to escape.

When the Jews returned to rebuild Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity, Nehemiah, the governor, and Ezra, the leading priest, were concerned about the number of foreign wives among the returnees.  Looking back at the "bad examples", it was  decreed that they all had to be divorced and deported; there is no record of any consideration given to the religion of the wives.  The Book of Ruth was written and promoted during this period as an antidote to the wholesale discrimination against foreigners.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

BIGGER THAN LIFE--by Linden Malki

King David was a man who knew and loved God; a strong man who had, as we all do, amazingly good sides, and less-than- good sides.
  We see him first coming in from the fields, where he has been shepherding his father's flocks. Samuel the prophet was led to anoint him as being called of God.  He was recommended to Saul as a musician, when Saul was having attacks of depression.  He became Saul's armor-bearer, and after his defeat of Goliath, a leader in Saul's army, the best friend of Saul's son Jonathan, and eventually Saul's son-in-law.  Everything appeared to be going his way.
Success has its dark side--David was so successful that Saul became worried that David was going to take over the kingdom, and tried to kill him. David, on the advice of Jonathan, fled for his life. He spent the next several years in exile, moving around in remote hiding places, accompanied by men who had also left their homes or were unhappy with Saul's leadership. There were several times that David could have killed Saul, but each time he refrained, saying that Saul was still God's appointed King.
One thing we know about David is that he was a gifted musician and poet, and about half of our book of Psalms are credited to David. There is a group of them from this period of being on the run from Saul, and we see David's faith and confidence in God overcoming the discouragement and fear of his situation, as we see in others his thanksgiving and prayers that grew out of other events in his life, the good and the bad.
Saul eventually finds himself in a full-scale war with the Philistines, a group of sea people who had migrated to the coast adjoining Judah over the previous several hundred years. (They are the source of the name that came to be used for the whole area: Palestine.) He and his son Jonathan were killed, we have David's lament for them in II Samuel 1.:19-27.
On God's instructions, David went to Hebron, the central city of tribal area of Judah, and was anointed King of Judah by the local leaders.  After seven years of political and military strife and the death of Saul's surviving son Ishbaal, David became the king of the northern tribal federation of Israel, after which he conquered the fortress city of Jerusalem (which was not part of the Judah/Israelite territory at this time, but was in a strategic central location), and had the Ark of the Covenant brought to Jerusalem.  He expanded and fortified the city, subdued the Philistines, Moabites, and most of the other surrounding tribes, as far as the  Euphrates River, but not the Ammonites on the east side of the Jordan.
           And then things didn't go so well. His family was a mess. He blew it with the Bathsheba affair, had his oldest son Amnon killed by his brother Absalom for the rape of Absalom's sister , and then Absalom led a revolt against David and David had to flee the city. David's army was able to put it down, but Absalom was killed and David grieved over that until his general Joab chewed him out for showing more concern for a criminally rebellious son than the supporters that had saved his kingdom.           David has left us a great legacy of both heroism and mistakes, but he never lost his faith in God, and was willing to repent when confronted with his sins. The Psalms we have from his life have been called "The Gospel of the Old Testament", for the number of times he makes prophetic statements that are part of the lead-in to the Messiah, who is also said to be the Son of David.  David shows us that we don't have to be perfect; we do need to be humble and honest about what we do. And always he shows an amazing faith and dependence and obedience to God--which has inspired people for 3000 years, and is still as fresh as the young man who started out as a shepherd,became the Shepherd of the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel, and the ancestor of Jesus.