Chapter 4 EMPIRE: Kingdoms Established Part 2: Solomon and the Kingdom Divided

June 6 All Praise to Jesus Whom God Has Blessed Forever

One of the explanations of this poetic psalm is that it was written in the time of King Solomon about the Messiah yet to come.  Jesus the mighty Warrior, victorious in truth, humility and justice, will be established on a throne that will never be shaken.  His position and authority are solid. And one day there will be a great wedding as Jesus is united with His bride, the church.

The time leading up to our oldest daughter, Hannah, and her fiancée Andrew’s wedding was full of happy preparations.  Lists were compiled and double-checked to be sure that all of the meaningful details were adequately cared for as we kept a joyful wedding day in our sights.  The morning of the wedding, we gathered in the renovated neighborhood fire station to decorate it for the reception. I love remembering how Hannah and her bridesmaids laughed as they practiced the line dance they would do together later that night.  Evening came, the church filled with guests, and Hannah was a joyful, stunning, composed bride.  Her mind was free to focus on their marriage vows and to savor the festivities of their wedding.

Are we, as the church, the Body of Christ, mindfully preparing for the wedding yet to come?  Do we live in happy anticipation, waiting for Jesus our Bridegroom?  The psalmist writes,  You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace, since God has blessed you forever.”  God’s blessing mentioned here is to His Son and the poem continues on to show His strength and justice.  The words form a picture of a wedding in which beauty and honor are elevated and joyful praise is the outcome.  May the excitement build as each day brings the wedding celebration closer.

Psalm 45:2 NIV

June 7 Blessed to Find Wisdom

Proverbs are succinct statements that can bring about a change in thinking.  Frequently, opposing views are presented so the informed reader can make decisions with more awareness of potential outcomes.  Who other than Solomon could be better suited to be the primary author of the Book of Proverbs?  I love how, at this point, God’s Story is divided into thirty-one chapters, a whole month’s worth of daily wisdom just waiting for us!  Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold…She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed…The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the dwelling of the righteous.

It is interesting that blessing often comes after wisdom is applied. God, Your Word is rich and You are so generous to give us truth that remains stable no matter if the economy rises or falls.  Rather than anxiously looking at the stock market every day, we can look to Your Word and live a life that is profitable, alive like a healthy tree, and blessed. Wisdom and blessings go hand-in-hand. May we seek both like we are hunting for treasure.  Amen.

Proverbs 3:13-14, 18, 33 ESV

June 11 Blessed to Share with Neighbors and the Poor

Jesus says that whenever we feed those who are hungry it is as if we are feeding Him. When we are hungry and someone gives us some of their food then blessings flow.  When we see someone who is hungry and we share with them, we both are blessed. The early church shared their meals with each other and the Book of Proverbs indicates that this is a good way to live life. Proverbs 14:21 encourages us to ask and identify, “Who is my neighbor?”  It is a sin to belittle one’s neighbor; blessed are those who help the poor.  Another way to say it is, “A generous person will be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.”  Want to be blessed?  Share.

This simple concept can become a joyful way of life and all it takes is a little awareness of the needs of those around us in our local community and the needs of people all over the world.  That is step one.  Step two is to intentionally practice generosity.  By trusting in the Lord, listening and obeying what He says, we are better equipped to know how and what to give. This life-style pattern can help us remain focused on the One who blesses us with the desire, the ability, and the means by which we can share.

Proverbs 14:21 NLT; Proverbs 22:9 HCSB

June 16 Blessed to Do What Is Right

Under the reign of King Solomon the magnificent Temple was completed and everything was ready for its dedication to God’s glory.  Before Solomon addressed the masses, the people celebrated with trumpets and cymbals, and raised their voices together to sing out praises to God,  “He is good; His love endures forever.”  This familiar chorus shows up in about a half dozen other psalms and is still sung by God’s people today. Reading a little further in Psalm 106 we discover yet another blessing.   Blessed are those who act justly, who always do what is right. 

Justice is important to God.  The Temple was a reminder to the people of their covenant relationship with a just God.  God is faithful, that is without a doubt.  The question is: are we faithful to Him?  Do we value justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God each day?  If so, we are blessed.  Do we practice patience, exercise gentleness, overflow with gratitude?  If not, why not?

Like so many things in life, desired results require disciplined resolve.  We won’t become physically fit overnight.  No matter how much one might dream of being in shape, if we want to see a change in the outcome, we most likely need to change our input. Imagine this cycle: treasure wisely, put off the bad, put on the good, live this out.  Treasuring wisely, in this case a strong fit body, leads us to put off the habits that keep us from achieving that goal, maybe laziness and poor food choices.  We then add exercise, get proper rest and nutrition and repeat the pattern until it becomes the new norm.  In time we enjoy the benefits that come from our disciplined resolve to have a healthy body.

We follow this same cycle to train our minds to master a new language or a musical instrument or a computer program, but what about our most important endeavor, the maturity of our souls?  Are we putting on justice and mercy or are we ignoring those qualities?  Our soul’s health can improve as we put off such things as contempt and pride, and practice living peaceable, pure, humble lives.  God, help us to see that it is a blessing to consistently do what is right.  Help us to treasure this blessing enough to joyfully endure our workouts.  When we get resistance may we see it for what it is, and press on into You.  Amen.

Psalm 106:3 NIV

June 27 The Valley of Blessing

We have discovered that somewhere along the journey of leading Israel as their third king, Solomon took his eyes off God.  One thousand marriage partners was not enough, and tragically Solomon’s disobedient choices had grave consequences for himself and for Israel after him.  The large nation that began with Abraham was now divided in two: the Northern Kingdom, which was still called Israel; and the Southern Kingdom, Judah. Peace became a rare thing; outside kingdoms attacked the newly divided kingdom with a vengeance, and even Israel and Judah fought against each other.

Fear, instability and destruction continued for generations.  When Judah’s fourth king, Jehoshaphat, heard that three mighty armies had joined to fight Judah, he knew his people were in grave danger.  He also knew idols could not save them; they needed God.  King Jehoshaphat begged for the Lord’s guidance and called his people to fast.  After the king’s prayer, the Lord spoke and the people of Judah obeyed.  The enemies would have won if not for God’s intervention.  The Lord fought this battle and not one enemy escaped.  With singing and great praise to God, it took Judah over three days to collect all of the valuable plunder.  On the fourth day they gathered in the Valley of Blessing, which got its name that day because the people praised and thanked the Lord there.   All glory went to the Lord, and news of this event spread.  And for a while everyone, God’s enemies as well as those who trusted Him, were in awe of God.

2 Chronicles 20:26a NLT

June 29 Will God Give Us a Blessing or a Curse?

A prophet speaks the truth concerning present or future events. In the Bible a prophet is often called a man of God, and the prophet Joel was certainly a man of God used by God, to point people back to God.  We need to remember that although prophets are prophets, they are also people, and like all people they live in time and space.  At this point in God’s Story, Joel’s time and space was in the middle of great destruction.  An army, not of men but of locusts, devastated Judah. Every aspect of life was changed.  I have a feeling Joel got the people’s attention when he went on to explain that an even greater devastation would come at the hand of the Lord if the people did not return to Him with all their heart; with fasting, weeping and mourning.  Who knows?  Perhaps he will give you a reprieve, sending you a blessing instead of this curse.”

The passage continues with encouragement of how the Lord is compassionate, and present, and everyone who calls on the name of Yahweh will be saved.  Centuries later, both Peter and Paul quoted the prophet Joel as they preached to people and offered God’s good news.

Some days it may feel as if we too are living in a time of great devastation.  It may be on a nation-wide level, or maybe the hardship is personal. God offers us the same promise He gave those living in Old Testament times.  Will we properly assess our situation and realize that without Him we have no lasting rescue?  Will we call on Him?

Joel 2:14a NLT

July 1 Please God, Bless Our Children

Hosea’s ministry lasted over sixty years as God’s people lived in and out of faithfulness.  National leaders were not strong for the Lord, and even the priests did not faithfully follow Him or teach others to do so.  God said through Hosea, “My people are being destroyed because they don’t know me. Since you priests refuse to know me, I refuse to recognize you as my priests. Since you have forgotten the laws of your God, I will forget to bless your children.”  God said that the destruction that was taking place was related to His people not knowing Him.  Knowing God changes everything.

Geographically speaking, China is closer to the land that Jesus walked than America is yet when we arrived in China in 1996, the number of people I met who had never even heard of Him was phenomenal.  News of Jesus reached those in China in the seventh century, so why didn’t more Chinese people, centuries later, know Him?  The basic answer is the sad truth for all of mankind: we turn from our Creator to worship creation instead.  We choose to refuse to know God.

It is natural to pass on good news about someone we really know and love.  If our children and their children after them don’t hear about the greatness of our God from us, maybe it is because we do not think God is that great.  If we all knew and loved God and really lived out that love in the way we treated people, would there still be a need for missionaries to go to China or to the US?  If we really know God, we will want to make Him known.  If I really love God, and God and I have a great relationship, how can that not come out in conversations with my children, my friends, and even strangers?  We may or may not be priests, but we can certainly heed the message that Hosea sought to make clear during his lifetime.  For our own sake and for the sake of our children, I pray we do not get all caught up in “life” and forget God who blesses us with breath.

Hosea 4:6 NLT

July 4 Restored for Blessings

God’s wrath on unrepentant rebellious people is real.  And so is His forgiveness, restoration, and blessings for those who return to Him with all that they have.  Only a holy God has the perfect way to give mercy and justice, and He is trustworthy.  If we choose to live as if He does not exist we are choosing to be His enemy and He will faithfully honor that decision.  A time is coming when those disloyal to God will no longer have access to Him or the good that He graciously provides.  I pray we seek His face while we still can.

Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine and all the hills shall melt [that is, everything heretofore barren and unfruitful shall overflow with spiritual blessing].  That is a picture of restoration.  But it is not for everyone, it is for those who call out to God for help.   What do we value more, our pride which will eventually lead to barren lives or humility that comes before overflowing blessing?  Oh how good life can be when we connect to the Giver of all things good.  God, please continue to extend Your mercy and fill us afresh today with spiritual blessings as we seek Your Presence.  Amen.

Amos 9:13 AMP

July 6 God Desires to Bless and to Lead

Through the prophet Micah, God tells the rebellious to plead their case against Him, and then He gives them a quick reminder of His faithfulness throughout His Story.  He says, “Don’t you remember, my people, how King Balak of Moab tried to have you cursed and how Balaam son of Beor blessed you instead? And remember your journey from Acacia Grove to Gilgal, when I, the LORD, did everything I could to teach you about my faithfulness.”   God tells us to be just, merciful and humble and too often we think that living in our own “wisdom” is all we need.

Yet as humanity we go astray like sheep, as if we had no Good Shepherd.  God, please continue to have mercy, all the while knowing judgment is coming. Thank You God, that even in the dark times You give a glimmer of hope with prophecies fulfilled through Jesus.  Amen.

God knows the direction of His Story and we as His people can have hope in our future, even on days when our present feels uncertain.  What can help us is to intentionally remember God’s past faithfulness and in doing so, be thankful. The faithful shepherds, teachers, preachers and prophets continue to seek to assist people so all can see and experience the blessings that God has in store for those who hear His voice and choose to follow.

P.S. While in her fifties, German Mary came to live with our family in Thailand for several months to learn English. In the evenings we played a dice game called Yahtzee. Mary, in her halting English, after rolling three of a kind, would say, “It is enough”. I love how dice games can springboard to conversations about God, and how He is more than enough.

Micah 6:5 NLT

July 11 Blessed to Wait for God’s Help

Israel, the nation, was not healthy.  Her founding fathers held to godly principles but they were not valued in Isaiah’s time and this abandonment was having its due effect.  Scoffing, arrogant evil plotting, and outright lying dominated the times and people of authority perverted righteousness.  God said to the people of Israel, hold on.  In God’s timing justice will come. “My people will no longer be ashamed or turn pale with fear. For when they see their many children and all the blessings I have given them, they will recognize the holiness of the Holy One of Israel. They will stand in awe of the God of Jacob.”  God extends hope that the wayward and the confused and the complainers will gain instruction and understanding.

Is He still waiting all these years later for humanity to humbly come to Him? So the Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion.  For the Lord is a faithful God. Blessed are all those who wait for his help. God waits for us.  We are not fully grown spiritually.  We often demand immediate justice; we do not want to wait for God to administer it.  But when we wait, trusting Him, we are blessed.  Stand in awe and recognize God for His many blessings; wait for Him to deliver justice and with open hands and hearts receive His compassion.

This is easier to write than to do, but life is better when individuals and groups are restored to a vibrant and healthy relationship with Holy God.  Because growth is a process, restoration takes place on one level, and that new rebuild then prepares us to see where more renovation is needed.  Our hearts are complex and our faithful God is compassionate.  Let’s keep growing, for He is willing to help us.

Isaiah 29:22b-23 NLT; Isaiah 30:18 NLT

 Continued:

Chapter 5 EXILE and RETURN: Into Captivity and Back Again