The Unjust Steward

The parable of the unjust steward is not new to me.  I’ve spent almost my whole life as a regular church attender, hearing sermons based on scripture passages, week in and week out.  I can’t say that I remember any one sermon focused on this parable, it’s not one of the favorites of preachers, I guess, but I do know the story and have known it for some time.  You’ve got an accountant type who is cheating the boss; moving numbers around on the books to cover up his own embezzlement from the company.  The boss finds out and gives the accountant two weeks to clean out his desk and be gone.

The accountant, who is too weak to dig and – contrary to the Temptations’ hit song – is too proud to beg, immediately considers his own dire situation and acts immediately to create for himself a soft landing.  He calls the company’s debtors and gives them big breaks, thinking that they’ll remember his kindness when he is out of a job.

No surprise there.  The punch line is in the reaction of the boss.  Instead of coming down even harder on the accountant, the boss praises him.  There are some commentators who suggest that the accountant wasn’t really cheating the boss in this.  What he was doing, they argue, is merely subtracting his own cut from what the debtors owed.

I have a couple of problems with that interpretation.  First, who believes that the accountant’s share of the incoming revenue would be that high?  Fifty percent on the olive-oil bill and twenty percent on the wheat bill.  Good night.  Private law firms working on contingency would not get that big a cut.  More importantly, if the accountant had really gone straight and was only cutting his own commissions, the boss might have been appropriately pleased, but his pleasure would not have been surprising.

In fact, if we would read the parable to mean that the accountant merely subtracted his own share from the accounts receivable, then the story becomes quite tame.  What we have is a moralistic tale that would have fit right in with the audience’s expectation: crooked dealer gets caught red-handed, goes straight and is praised by the boss for learning his lesson and accordingly falling in to line.   Now there is a story that might be told by Mr. Roberts.

It occurs to me that if an interpretation of one of our Lord’s parables makes that story acceptable for the Mr. Robert’s show, then that interpretation is wrong – way wrong.  Jesus did not use parables in an effort to reinforce what his hearers already believed.  He told the stories to shake his hearers – disciples and Pharisees both – to change their thinking.

(I challenge any of you readers to point to one place in the New Testament where Jesus tells a story or makes a statement and his hearers look around at each other smugly and say: “See, it’s just as we thought it was.”  Ain’t gonna happen.  If He’d been telling that kind of story, He’d never have gotten into the trouble that He did.)

So what is the point of the parable then?  If it is not just a nice little story to show us how we can learn from our mistakes – or, better yet, from getting caught in our mistakes – then what is it?

And here is one of the reasons I embarked on this essay.  Most standard translations I have read don’t do much in terms of explaining the meaning of the story.  The ESV, in verse nine, says:

And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

What?

On the other hand, when we read Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message, we get this:

Now here’s a surprise.  The master praised the crooked manager! And why?  Because he knew how to look after himself.  Streetwise people are smarter in this regard than law-abiding citizens.

Now we are talking.  But it gets better:

They [the “streetwise people] are on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits.

Amen to that.  I have spent a career as a federal prosecutor, chasing down fraudsters and schemers in southern West Virginia, and I know just what is being said here.  There are men in these little counties with little education and no real technical skill who get filthy rich and they do it by playing angles and taking advantage of every little opening the world – and the sleepy, unassuming community around them– affords.  Sometimes they don’t even have to break the law.  They are always just looking around, making wise judgments about their situations and the real value of things around them.

Peterson continues to translate:

I want you to be smart in the same way – but for what is right – using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior.

Wow.  That resonates.  For one thing, this must be how the operators of the world, be they crooked or straight, look at the rest of us.  They look at the nine-to-fivers commuting all around them and shake their heads and wonder how anyone could be satisfied with such an existence.  No adventure.  No risk.  No drama.  No reward.  No payoff.  Life becomes mere habit; mere routine.  Is that all they want?

These guys I am talking about do in fact focus like a laser on the “bare essentials.”  They know by hard experience and animal instinct what it takes to make things work and that is what they keep their minds set on.  I remember watching a college basketball game on television twenty years ago when Coach John Wooden was doing some of the commentary.  The other announcers were doing their usual thing, talking in jargon, talking about players “utilizing their physicality” and on and on and when Wooden – the greatest basketball mind of all time – got a chance to put a word in edgewise, his analysis was profoundly simple, perfectly expressed and absolutely right.

How many people are writing today and drawing big followings by telling us, in this particular or that, that we are living like some herd-driven creatures, playing the sucker to the advertisers and as a result are ruining our health and our finances and our relationships.  Think of Mr. Money Mustache.  How many people has he converted to the idea, expressed more directly in the movie “Fight Club” that the mass of men spend their lives:

Working at jobs they hate to get money to buy [things] that they don’t need.

Of course, Jesus here is taking about The Gospel and not directly about personal finance or diet and fitness and lifestyle.  I get that.  But if we have not “sold everything and given all to the poor” and most of us haven’t and never will, then personal finance, diet and lifestyle and all of that is all one piece.  It’s all of a piece.  Our finances, our diet, our lifestyle, it all has to do with our possession of real life or not.  It is all a part of discipleship. Creative survival!

And so, and so, this parable is telling us to wake up to our own situation; to come out from under the blankets of insulation that the advertisers and society try to cover us up with.

To realize and be concerned with essentials, not appearances.

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Today’s Sunday School Lesson

Old Testament Lesson:  Micah 3: 5-7
5-7Here is God’s Message to the prophets, the preachers who lie to my people: “For as long as they’re well paid and well fed, the prophets preach, ‘Isn’t life wonderful! Peace to all!’ But if you don’t pay up and jump on their bandwagon, their ‘God bless you’ turns into ‘God damn you.’ Therefore, you’re going blind. You’ll see nothing. You’ll live in deep shadows and know nothing. The sun has set on the prophets. They’ve had their day; from now on it’s night. Visionaries will be confused, experts will be all mixed up. They’ll hide behind their reputations and make lame excuses to cover up their God-ignorance.”

 

New Testament Lesson: Revelation 13

 

 

The Bible consists of many different books, written at many different times.  There are many different kinds of writing in the Bible.

 

There is God’s revealed law as recorded in Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.  There are the Psalms – the poetry of David and others that became the hymn book of the Second Temple.  There is history – Exodus, Nehemiah, Ezra, Kings, Chronicles, and the Acts of the Apostles.   In one sense, the four Gospels might be considered biography.  There are the writings (oracles) of the prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, etc.  There are, of course, letters sent from the Apostles – Paul, Peter, James, Jude – to young churches or to individuals involved in the growth of the church.

 

And there is what is called “apocalyptic writing.”  Scholars agree that the book of Revelation and certain parts of the books of Daniel, Ezekiel and the Gospels are apocalyptic writing.  In our contemporary milieu, we have come to think of Apocalyptic writing as writing pointing to or having to do with the end of time.  But the word “apocalypse” actually means “unveiling.”   An apocalyptic writing, then, is one that pulls the curtain back from the surface of things and allows one insight into what is really going on.  That is, what is the spiritual truth behind the appearances

 

It may be helpful to understand that this genre or type of writing was common in the ancient world and that there are several ancient apocalyptic writings, some of which make great claims about themselves, which are still extant but which were never approved by the church for inclusion in the canon.

In addition to Daniel and Revelation, prominent literary apocalypses include 1 Enoch, 2 and 3 Baruch, 4 Ezra, the Apocalypse of Abraham, the Shepherd of Hermas, and the Apocalypse of Peter.

 

Carey, Greg. Ultimate Things: An Introduction to Jewish and Christian Apocalyptic Literature. St. Louis, MO: Chalice, 2005.

E-mail Citation »

A textbook-level survey of the most important ancient Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature. Defines apocalyptic discourse not as a literary genre but as a flexible set of topics and literary devices. Recommends interpreting apocalyptic texts as creative literary and religious responses designed to influence communal beliefs and behaviors.

 

 

When we study the one apocalyptic book in the New Testament, we can be quite certain about what community the writer intended to influence.  Although the book is often mysterious and dense it is very clear to whom it was written and it is also clear, from the text and from other historical sources, what this community was facing at the time the book was written and sent to them.

 

In our day and time the book has often been interpreted as a message that the end is coming soon.  That the world is coming to an end.  What the classic interpreters have said about the book, however, is quite nearly the opposite:  The message of the book is not that the world is coming to an immediate end, but that it is not coming to an immediate end and that the churches will be facing a long trial of persecution for which they must steel themselves.

 

Because the book is canonical, we may assume that it has something to tell us.  That is, its value was not limited to its original audience, but has continued to speak through the ages to every generation of the church.  Nonetheless, the first step in attempting to understand this sometime puzzling book is to consider what it meant to its original audience – the first century churches to which John addressed the book.  We may quickly go astray in our interpretation and application of the book if we ignore its original purpose and forget what it meant to those who heard and read it first.

 

In the last few weeks, we have been considering John’s vision of the woman and the dragon.  There is no room for confusion about what the dragon represents.  John does not hide that at all – he tells us that the dragon is Satan.   There are different interpretations about what the woman in the vision represents.

 

Is the woman of Revelation 12 Mary?

Many will object at this point and deny “the woman” of Revelation 12 is Mary. They will claim it is either the Church, or, as do dispensationalists, they will claim it is the Israel of old.

The Church acknowledges Scripture to have a polyvalent nature. In other words, there can be many levels of meaning to the various texts of Scripture. So, are there many levels of meaning to Rev. 12? Absolutely! Israel is often depicted as the Lord’s bride in the Old Testament (cf. Song of Solomon, Jer. 3:1, etc.). So there is precedent to refer to Israel as “the woman.” And Jesus was born out of Israel.

Moreover, the Book of Revelation depicts the New Covenant Church as “the bride of Christ” and “the New Jerusalem” (cf. Rev. 21:2). “The woman” of Revelation 12 is also depicted as continuing to beget children to this day and these children are revealed to be all “who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (vs. 17). The Church certainly fits this description.

In fact, we argue as Catholics “the woman” to represent the people of God down through the centuries, whether Old Covenant Israel or the New Covenant Church, “the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16).

 

Eugene Peterson writes that this chapter in Revelation is the Apostle John’s version of the nativity.

 

The woman is hidden away in the desert on earth and the dragon goes after her and in his own power is frustrated:

 

13 And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. 14 But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. 15 The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. 16 But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth.

 

Having failed in his own power, the dragon seeks or conjures other creatures to help in persecuting God’s people.

 

The doctrine of Satan.  Contrary to the modern mindset – Freud and Marx and Nietzsche

The sea beast and the land beast as aides to Satan.

Politics as the exercise of power.  Worldly power is exercised through manipulation of force – militarism or police action – or through a kind of seduction – the manipulation of words (propaganda)

The politics of Jesus.  Peterson, Page 118

Politics of Satan, page 122 – confusion and fear.

Worship

Preaching

Holy Living “For not with swords loud clashing

Or roll of stirring drums

With deeds of love and mercy

The heavenly kingdom come

Learning to Glide

Home Economics

I’ve ridden bicycles all of my life.  But a set of fortunate circumstances – including available time, beautiful weather, a first-rate bicycle and a good riding partner – have resulted in my spending more time and miles on two wheels lately than ever before.  With a good fifty years of riding behind me, I have learned only lately one technique that can reduce the amount of work required and also multiply the pleasure and thrill of riding.

I ride on rural roads in West Virginia and so my circuits are filled with ups and downs, some of them steep and some of them long.  You learn quickly to try and maximize your speed on the downhills so as to give yourself the best boost possible for the next, immediate uphill climb.  Until just recently, I did that by shifting into a high gear and pedaling like mad on the downhills.  That works, to some degree…

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A White Stone

 

The keynote address for the St. Albans High School Hall of Fame induction ceremony, July 23, 2016.

 

 

Revelation 2: 10b

 

“I will give him a white stone and on it a new name is inscribed, known only to him who receives it.”

 

This passage has intrigued me for a long time.  There is something mysterious and wonderful about it. Something glimpsed but not comprehended.  What can it mean?  And, better yet, what relevance can such an obscure passage have to our ceremony this evening?

Well, maybe we should start by taking a look at something a bit more obvious.

 

The late Pat Conroy started at point guard for the Citadel in the 1966-67 season and went on to become one of this country’s finest novelists.  All of us know his books: The Prince of Tides; The Lords of Discipline; The Great Santini.

 

About a year before his death, Conroy wrote a letter to his 13-year-old grandson who had made his middle-school basketball team.  Here is what Conroy told the boy about the game:

 

Basketball is a sport of inordinate nobility, and you owe it your deepest respect. Your character as a man and a player will be judged by how you comport yourself on the court in victory or defeat. By being gifted in a sport, you become a role model for everyone around you, your teammates, your family, your school, and your community. In sports, you will feel everything…elation, despair, wonder, failure. Sports can teach you everything you need to know about yourself. Carry yourself with immense pride.[1]

 

How is it that this paragraph, written in a letter in 2015, has anything in common with the passage of scripture written 2000 years before?

Here is the first hint:

In the ancient world and in the culture in which Saint John wrote, white stones had a particular significance.  They were a high and formal invitation and may have been small enough to fit comfortably in one’s hand.  They were tickets signifying admission to some celebration, to some honor.

 

We are here tonight to consider the past glory of some nine men who have received invitations of their own.  But tonight, even as we think on their past glory, I want each of you to think of your own.  That’s right, I am asking you to do the very thing that you are usually well advised not to do – to think of your own best days and years:  Your own moments of glory.  We might remember those days as being better than they actually were, but that’s okay tonight.  Go ahead, let yourself remember.

 

One of mine came in the eighth grade.  A year before I had failed to make it onto the St Albans Junior High School seventh-grade basketball team and from the moment of that failure I set my sights on making the team the next year and I devoted time and energy to improving my game so that I would survive next year’s cut.

 

I remember the tryouts very well.  At one point I was in a scrimmage game and I let go with all I had.  I was up and down the court like a mad man.  I may have even scored a basket.  After that scrimmage, we were put into two lines for a layup drill.  I was standing there, anxious as I could be, when I felt a hand on my shoulder.  I turned and saw Coach Alford, who was coaching the eighth graders that year.  I was surprised, to say the least, and worried until he asked me a question: Four words that, as far as I was concerned then, changed my destiny:

 

Son, what’s your name?

 

It may not seem like much now, but on that day that question meant everything.   There was only one reason the coach would have asked for my name.  He was going to put me on the team.   Those four words meant that I would get to play ball, but they meant much more than that.  They meant that my year of striving had succeeded.  Those exercises and that effort that I had applied myself to had paid off.

 

I may have thought at the time that my heart’s desire was to play ball for my school, but beneath that was something deeper and more basic and fundamental.  What I wanted more than anything else then was to be inside, to be accepted, and to take on an identity that I had imagined for myself –  the identity of an athlete who was brave and strong and noble.  I knew at some level that inclusion on the team would make others look at me differently – as a person who had ability and ambition and confidence.   Someone who had found his place.

 

I am not the only one who longs for that kind of inclusion and acceptance.  We all do.  That desire is a fundamental and universal human longing: to be inside the inner ring; to be included; to be accepted; to be fully and truly known; to be fully engaged in the expression of our talents and our loves.   That’s what all of us really want.

 

When the coach asked me my name, that primal desire for inclusion was met:  I felt that I had become the person I wanted to be, that I was meant to be.   When coach Alford asked me my name, he in effect gave me a new name.  He said that I was not someone who would be left outside.  He said:

 

“I know you.  I see something others have not.

 

Here is your new name.  This is who you really are.

 

 

For a time after that, my world was a warm and sunny place.   I was a new person.  With my new confidence, I walked a little taller.  I was less self-conscious.   I was, for a little while at least, fulfilled.  I felt accepted and respected and I had been given the opportunity to do what I loved to do.  I was kinder and more generous, because now I was rich.  I had everything I needed.  Life was at the full.

 

Here tonight, I feel some of that again.  And I suspect that those being inducted this evening feel something of the same.  In one way, we are being given a new name, we are being given an identity that signifies some measure of success and acceptance and respect.

 

As a prosecutor, I have spent my career working and waiting for verdicts.  I know how sweet they sound when they go your way and how bitter and final they are when they don’t.  Being inducted into one’s high-school hall of fame is a verdict of sorts.  It’s a different type of verdict.  It is not passed on one week’s worth of argument in a courtroom; it is a verdict passed on one’s whole life.  And it is not a verdict returned by twelve strangers in a jury box who were allowed to serve because they did not know me, but is pronounced by my peers: by people who have known me all my life.  That is a sweet reward and I am grateful to the hall of fame committee for returning it to me

 

But life returns verdicts for every one of us, every day.   Sometimes they are not so kind.  Sometimes, in fact, they are unjust.   We may apply our best efforts to any situation and get back a verdict of disappointment and frustration. We may feel that we have been left outside of those circles that we desperately want to enter.  We may aim high and labor long and the verdict that comes back to us, at least so far as we can tell, is this: “So what?” or “Close, but no cigar.”

 

Paul Simon said it this way:

 

I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered

I don’t have a friend who feels at ease

I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered

Or driven to its knees

 

Over time, verdicts like that can rob us of the best parts of our personalities.  They can sap us of our energy and diminish our confidence, sometimes even to the point where we are ready to give up trying, even give up hoping.  They may cause us to become resentful or jealous of those around us who seem to prosper.   And after a while we may feel like we are not the same person we were in our best days and years.

 

And that is why I have asked each of you to think back tonight on your glory days, whenever they were – long ago, or just yesterday – on that time of your life when you were fulfilled; when your best efforts had paid off.  When you found yourself inside the circle that mattered to you – fully accepted, fully respected and completely engaged in those things that you excelled at and loved.   That time when our bodies were the perfect instruments of our will, that time when all the songs on the radio were our songs.

 

I want us to think together of those days when we were surrounded by friends who connected us to life:  Those who believed in us, who encouraged us, who shared our dreams and confidences; the kind of friends that we could stay up all night talking to; the kinds of conversations where our thought really sparked and found focus.

 

Because if each of us could do that, even if only for a few hours this evening, our time together tonight will be the best of times.   If we could all for one night be what we were in the day of our brightest glory, what a night we would have together.  We could for the moment forget about disappointment and frustration.  We could, every one of us, walk tall.  We could, every one of us, be generous and gracious.  Tonight would be the best of nights.

 

And that brings me back to our mysterious text this evening.  On the white stone a new name is inscribed and that name is known only to the one who receives it.   When we are talking about names in this context, we don’t mean just the few syllables that are used to greet a person – John Smith or Mary Jones – we’re talking about that person’s character.  When we say that John Smith had a good name in town, we don’t mean that we liked the way his name sounded when said aloud, we mean that John was a good man, a man of honor.

 

So the name on the white stone is known only to the person who receives it because it is his or her true name:  The true representation and summation of that person’s character.   It is not that name that the world knew us by.  It is not that name associated with disappointment and frustration and failure.  It is a name that encompasses every struggle and every desire we have known and brings us fully home. When the Spirit of God gives the white stone, he tells the one who receives it:

 

“I know you

 

Here is your new name.  This is who you really are.

 

 

And this white stone is an invitation – a ticket bought and paid for – into that circle and company that is the perfect fulfillment of heart’s desire.  It is an invitation into everlasting acceptance and love and complete and perfect enjoyment of every talent and strength owned.

 

The very things we celebrate tonight in this induction ceremony – the complete expression of life, the full exercise of our talents, the unstinting recognition of our gifts and our efforts, the deepest acceptance and inclusion – these are the very things that the Gospel promises. Do you doubt that?  Then listen to these words of the Psalmist:

 

Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him and He will do this:

He will bring forth your righteousness as the dawn and the justice of your cause as the noonday sun.

Psalm 37: 4-6

 

If we look back to our past glory, we may be inspired enough to have one great night together, but if we, believing God’s promise, rest in his grace and look forward to the glory that is ours there, we should be filled with courage and confidence, hope and gratitude and thus inspired for great living, not only tonight, but every day of our lives.

 

 

[1] Garden and Gun Magazine

Ahab and Jehoshaphat

Today’s lesson is set in the period of the divided kingdom. Israel did not last very long as a single kingdom. There were only three kings who reigned over a united Israel – Saul, David and Solomon – and after Solomon the kingdom split north and south and the king of Israel sat in Samaria in the north and the king of Judah in the south sat in Jerusalem.
The period of the divided kingdom is not particularly glorious. Both kingdoms fell into apostasy, adopting the culture and customs of the surrounding tribes and worshiping their gods. The kingdom of Judah had a good king every now and then and this kingdom lasted about three hundred and fifty years before falling to Babylon in 586 BC.
In the northern kingdom almost all of the kings were corrupt and this kingdom lasted for only about 200 years before falling to the Assyrians in 722 BC.

Our lesson today takes place during the reign of King Ahab in Samaria. Ahab was one of the worst kings in Israel’s history and was encouraged in his evil by his wife Jezebel whose very name has come to mean evil woman.

1 Kings 21:25-26English Standard Version (ESV)
25 (There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited. 26 He acted very abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the Lord cast out before the people of Israel.)

Our lesson today starts with Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, making a visit to Ahab’s court in Samaria. Jehoshaphat was a good king and had enjoyed military victories during his reign in Judah:

Jehoshaphat Reigns Well in Judah
II Chronicles 17: 2 He placed troops in all the fortified cities of Judah, and set garrisons in the land of Judah and in the cities of Ephraim which Asa his father had captured. 3The LORD was with Jehoshaphat because he followed the example of his father David’s earlier days and did not seek the Baals, 4but sought the God of his father, followed His commandments, and did not act as Israel did.…
10The fear of the Lord fell on all the kingdoms of the lands surrounding Judah, so that they did not go to war against Jehoshaphat. 11Some Philistines brought Jehoshaphat gifts and silver as tribute, and the Arabs brought him flocks: seven thousand seven hundred rams and seven thousand seven hundred goats. 12Jehoshaphat became more and more powerful; he built forts and store cities in Judah 13and had large supplies in the towns of Judah. He also kept experienced fighting men in Jerusalem.

So here comes Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat into Ahab’s kingdom. Jehoshaphat, the great warrior who was feared by the kingdoms about. Bad King Ahab starts working the situation immediately.

There is some reason to believe that Ahab’s Israel actually had a legal right to the city of Ramoth Gilead, perhaps because of a treaty with the Syrian King Ben Haddad. But until old Jehoshaphat came to town Ahab had apparently decided to leave well enough alone and not venture east against the city of Ramoth Gilead. But as soon as Jehoshaphat and his entourage arrive in sunny Samaria, Ahab sees his opportunity and goes immediately to work. He starts his political maneuvering in a rather devious way, speaking not to his equal and peer, King Jehoshaphat, but to Jehoshaphat’s servants. The account of this episode in II Chronicles tells us more of Ahab’s manipulation or seduction of Jehoshaphat:

2 Chronicles 18 King James Version (KJV)
18 Now Jehoshaphat had riches and honour in abundance, and joined affinity with Ahab.
2 And after certain years he went down to Ahab to Samaria. And Ahab killed sheep and oxen for him in abundance, and for the people that he had with him, and persuaded him to go up with him to Ramothgilead.
3 And Ahab king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat king of Judah, Wilt thou go with me to Ramothgilead? And he answered him, I am as thou art, and my people as thy people; and we will be with thee in the war.

While we know that Jehoshaphat was a good man, a God-fearing man whom the Lord had blessed, there is reason to believe that he was naïve, at least when it came to his dealings with Ahab.

Ahab was a man who ought to have been avoided, and if Jehoshaphat had had his eyes open, he should have known that, yet Jehoshaphat makes a trip to Samaria, apparently of his own volition.

Jehoshaphat is quick to pledge his troops in the support of Ahab’s venture. A more prudent and sophisticated king might have been more reluctant here.

In this negligence, Jehoshaphat is not a good example for the Christian. We are to be is “Wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.” Matt 10: 16 Some have said that Christians these days are very good on the harmless as doves part, but not so great when it comes to being “wise as serpents.” We are to be a discriminating people. Not racial discrimination, but the ability to discriminate or discern good from evil.

The spiritual gift of discernment is also known as the gift of “discernment of spirits” or “distinguishing between spirits.” The Greek word for the gift of discernment is Diakrisis. The word describes being able to distinguish, discern, judge or appraise a person, statement, situation, or environment. In the New Testament it describes the ability to distinguish between spirits as in 1 Corinthians 12:10, and to discern good and evil as in Hebrews 5:14.

Jehoshaphat is nonetheless sober enough to request that they seek the counsel of the Lord before going into battle and he is smart enough to see through the charade of “prophesy” that Ahab’s court put on.
Look at the total corruption in Samaria. Ahab has surrounded himself with 400 yes men who act under the guise of faithfulness to God but who are empty suits who think of nothing but the favor of the corrupt king.

The corruption is broad – 400 prophets

The corruption is sophisticated and subtle, employing the methods and
look of the true prophets of God. Thus Zedekiah uses a common religious formula, adopting the practice of symbolic actions (see I Kings 11:40) and using the horn as a symbol of power:

Study Bible
The Blessings of the Twelve Tribes
…16And with the choice things of the earth and its fullness, And the favor of Him who dwelt in the bush. Let it come to the head of Joseph, And to the crown of the head of the one distinguished among his brothers. 17″As the firstborn of his ox, majesty is his, And his horns are the horns of the wild ox; With them he will push the peoples, All at once, to the ends of the earth. And those are the ten thousands of Ephraim, And those are the thousands of Manasseh.” 18Of Zebulun he said, “Rejoice, Zebulun, in your going forth, And, Issachar, in your tents.…
New American Standard Bible

The corruption of Israel is audacious. Even in the face of a true prophesy from God, the yes men of Ahab are bold:
24Then Zedekiah son of Kenaanah went up and slapped Micaiah in the face. “Which way did the spirit froma the Lord go when he went from me to speak to you?” he asked.

Zedekiah is a false prophet. He has no word from the Lord. Yet he is bold enough to humiliate God’s true prophet and to deny God’s truth that has been put immediately before him. There is no fear of God here!
The corruption of the nation is so deep that the lie is enforced by the power of the state. The one man who is true to God is imprisoned.

The corruption of Israel leads to confusion. Even the godly King Jehoshaphat is at last persuaded to act against the true counsel of God.

The corruption of Israel leads to catastrophe and defeat. Israel is defeated at Ramoth Gilead and the nation is scattered like sheep without a shepherd. They are men without a master, which is a recipe for chaos and weakness.

Finally, the truth of God is unaffected by public opinion. Despite the fact that the experts and the majority supported the idea that Israel would prevail in the battle, they were routed, just as Micaiah had prophesied.

Psalm 65

A Christian might turn to the Psalms for several reasons. First, we think of the Psalms as a means of private devotion. These poems, as they are collected in the Bible, were the hymn book of the Second Temple and thus originally used in formal, corporate worship. But today they are often read by individual Christians in connection with private prayer as we face the challenges of life on this earth. Thus, in the Psalms, we may find comfort; we may find emotions that we identify with – frustration, disappointment, grief, happiness, joy.

But the Psalms may not be the first book of the Bible we think of when we think of theology.

But in today’s lesson, in this little, thirteen-verse Psalm about midway through the book, we might find plenty.

At first glance, this Psalm may seem rather generic. It begins, like many other Psalms, with an expression of praise. The Psalmist goes on to praise God for His many gifts to mankind and ends the Psalm with a poetic, almost romantic, description of the land and God’s role in bringing forth its bounty.
But on closer examination we find a remarkable thing. This Psalm, written perhaps a thousand years before the birth of Jesus Christ, is chock full of the Gospel.

I. Like in the Gospel, this Psalm makes clear that God’s revelation of himself is not limited to Israel, but extends to and is aimed at the entire world.

First of all, this Psalm makes clear that God is not merely the God of Israel; he is God over all the Earth, over all of creation. Moreover, Israel does not have the experience of God all to itself: “To you all flesh shall come.” (verse 3) The God of Israel is “the hope of all the ends of the Earth.” (verse 5) And those who dwell at the ends of the earth (the nations, the gentiles) have some intimation, intuition or knowledge or anticipation of Him as they are “in awe of [His] signs.” (verse 8)

We see much of the same thought in Paul’s writing:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him . . .
Romans 1: 18-21

II. Just as in the Gospel, this Psalm makes clear that salvation is of God.

Paul writes to the Ephesians:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2: 8-9)

We know this verse to have been the rallying cry of the Protestant Reformation some 1400 years after Paul wrote it. But did we know that a Psalmist, writing a thousand years before Paul, had said much the same thing.

In Psalm 65 we hear that
You [God] atone for our transgressions. (verse 3)
The Hebrew word that is here translated “atone” is the word “kaphar.” A form of that word is used in Deuteronomy 32: 43 “ . . . he [God] will make atonement for his land and people”

Although the verb “kaphar” is translated as “forgiveness” in some translations, the idea in the original may connote something more active than forgiveness. As the notes in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance say of the verb:
It is conceived that God in His sovereignty may himself provide an atonement or covering for men and their sins which could not be provided by men.

If that is not a statement of the Gospel, I don’t know what is.

More on this Psalm as it is developed in class . . .