1 Chronicles 7:6-12

Descendants of Benjamin

If the Lord can use me to be a preacher, then, it validates that grace is enough. When reading about the descendants of the tribe of Benjamin in this passage, I was taken back to all the bad stuff that came out of this tribe. During the period of the Judges, we find the rape of the concubine of a Levite by numerous drunken members of the tribe of Benjamin. It was an ugly scene. She ended up dying from the brutality and frequency of her rape. If you think of the worst gang rapes of a woman that you have read in the news over the years, this was like that. King Saul came from this tribe who was a self-centered, self-seeking man that did not follow God’s directions as king. However, from this same tribe comes Saul who later became Paul. Paul is most likely the second most important person in the history of Christ’s church behind Jesus Christ himself.

So, if he can take a tribe of men who were responsible for the brutal rape of a woman that caused a civil war within Israel and put forth a king who was not after God’s heart, but then have it all redeemed by producing one of the most important men in Christian history, then he can redeem whatever you have done in the past. As for me, that’s an important lesson from the tribe of Benjamin. They were redeemed and made useful to the kingdom. In Revelation, we see 12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin will spread the gospel along with 12,000 each from other tribes of Israel. That means to me that me, all of us, have hope of being redeemed through Jesus Christ. No matter what we have done in our past, no matter how far we have strayed from God, no matter how ungodly we have behaved, all it takes to cry out to Jesus Christ to be the Savior of our lives and the Lord over it all and we will be saved. We will be redeemed. We will and can be made useful to the kingdom. If he can take me from my life of partying and self-seeking and living in the mess of those consequences and eventually turn me into a pastor, then He is still in the miracle business. He is still in the redemption business.

How do you get that from a genealogy? Well, you have to have read the story of Israel before this genealogy and remember the stories. You have to remember some of the low points that the honest portrayal of the people of Israel before this in the previous books of the Old Testament. One of the reasons that I love the Old Testament is that it a story that shows all the warts of the people of Israel. It’s an ugly picture so real that we can see ourselves in the stories of the Old Testament and the people of Israel. God’s own chosen people were far from being what God intended them to be. That’s us, too. Yet, God remained faithful to them as He does with us. These stories prior to 1 Chronicles and through the reprise and remembrance going on in 1 Chronicles, it is a reminder that you and I are like the people of Israel – capable of unimaginable sinfulness but yet God relentlessly pursues relationship with us. He can take us from our desperate self-seeking sinfulness and redeem us and wash away all of that horridness and make us into something that He can use to bring glory to His name. If he can take me, save me, then mold me, and instill a desire in me to serve the Lord, and then make me into a preacher of the gospel, then He can redeem you too. Nobody is too far gone from the Great Reclaimer, the Great Recycler. He did it for the tribe of Benjamin. He did for me. He can for you, too.

With that in mind, let’s us remember the past and the future of the tribe of Benjamin as we read their genealogy here in 1 Chronicles 7:6-12:

6 The sons of Benjamin: Bela, Becher, and Jediael, three. 7 The sons of Bela: Ezbon, Uzzi, Uzziel, Jerimoth, and Iri, five, heads of ancestral houses, mighty warriors; and their enrollment by genealogies was twenty-two thousand thirty-four. 8 The sons of Becher: Zemirah, Joash, Eliezer, Elioenai, Omri, Jeremoth, Abijah, Anathoth, and Alemeth. All these were the sons of Becher; 9 and their enrollment by genealogies, according to their generations, as heads of their ancestral houses, mighty warriors, was twenty thousand two hundred. 10 The sons of Jediael: Bilhan. And the sons of Bilhan: Jeush, Benjamin, Ehud, Chenaanah, Zethan, Tarshish, and Ahishahar. 11 All these were the sons of Jediael according to the heads of their ancestral houses, mighty warriors, seventeen thousand two hundred, ready for service in war. 12 And Shuppim and Huppim were the sons of Ir, Hushim the son[c] of Aher.

In this passage, we are reminded that, in Genesis 49, the patriarch Jacob, sensing his impending death, gathers his sons to his bedside to bless them. Each son became the progenitor of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Benjamin, as the youngest, receives his father’s blessing last: “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil” (Genesis 49:27). The warlike nature of the small tribe of Benjamin became well known, as exhibited in their swordsmen (Judges 20:15–16; 1 Chronicles 8:40, 12:2; 2 Chronicles 14:8, 17:17) and in their ungodly defense of their extreme wickedness in Gibeah (Judges 19—20).

Benjamin’s blessing has three parts. Compared to a wolf, his blessing has two time frames, morning and evening; it has two actions, devouring and dividing; and two outcomes, prey and spoil. This sets up a type of “before and after” experience for Benjamin and his offspring. Scripture shows that at least four great people came from Benjamin’s tribe, even though it was the smallest of the twelve tribes (1 Samuel 9:21). First, Ehud, a great warrior who delivered Israel from Moab (Judges 3:12–30). Next, Saul becomes the first king of Israel (1 Samuel 9:15–27). In later Jewish history, many Jews lived in Persia, God used Mordecai and Esther, from the tribe of Benjamin, to deliver the Jews from death (Esther 2:5–7). Finally, in the New Testament the apostle Paul affirms he, too, came from Benjamin. “I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin” (Romans 11:1). Paul repeats this affirmation in Philippians 3:4–5.

Yet Benjamin’s tribe had its dark side. Their warlike nature came out not only in defense of their country but also in depravity within their country. In Judges 19—21 Benjamin takes up an offence against the other eleven tribes of Israel, and civil war ensues. This period had the reputation of everyone doing what was right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25). What led to the civil war was the horrific abuse and death of an unnamed Levite’s concubine (Judges 19:10–28). The eleven tribes turned against the tribe of Benjamin and nearly annihilated them because of their refusal to give up the perpetrators (Judges 20:1—21:25). Eventually, the tribes restored Benjamin’s tribe, greatly diminished due to the war, and the country reunited.

In Jewish culture the day begins at evening. Here begins the “after” for Benjamin. Benjamin’s prophecy ends in the evening, the beginning of a new day, in which he will “divide the spoil.” This has two aspects. First, through the apostle Paul, who testifies, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15). In the apostle Paul Benjamin’s tribe had a citizen who served God mightily, as he says of himself, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith“ (2 Timothy 4:7).

But Benjamin’s “dividing of the spoil” has another fulfillment yet future. In Revelation 7:8, during the tribulation period, 12,000 men from Benjamin, along with 12,000 from each of the other tribes of Israel, will reach the world’s population with the gospel. The result will be a multitude of the saved “that no man could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9). The second dividing of the spoil for Benjamin comes in the millennial kingdom when they will have a place in the land of Israel, along with a gate that has their name on it in the city of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 48:32). They, along with the other tribes of Israel, will find the ultimate dividing of the spoils in the New Jerusalem as each gate has a name of one of the tribes, Benjamin included (Revelation 21:12–13). What a glorious finish! What grace is this!

Benjamin has great truths to teach. First, God doesn’t see as men see, for God looks on the heart. God saw a warrior inside of Benjamin. Outwardly, others saw him as the youngest son and his tribe as the smallest tribe. But God saw more, a man who would both devour and divide. The second lesson for us lies in the two Sauls who came from the tribe of Benjamin. King Saul, the epitome of the sin nature and its war against God, and Saul/Paul whose nature was changed by God from a murderous Pharisee to the apostle of grace. Paul is the example of what God does for those who come to Christ in faith. God is still in the redemption business in the 21st century.

Amen and Amen.

1 Chronicles 7:1-5

Descendants of Issachar

When I think of my childhood, I often think of the fact that sure we had it easier than my dad did (he grew up on a farm and was the oldest of 5 boys). As well, I think too that the expectations my dad had of us as children were different from what I see today. When I was growing up, we had chores that we had to accomplish each week to gain an allowance and to keep our freedoms to do what we wanted on the weekends and so on. We had to wash dishes, vacuum, dust, take out the trash, cut grass and any of a number of things that dad decided that we needed to do to help mom around the house (seeing as how we were not farmers and lived in a preacher’s home). He would make us help him do mechanical stuff with the cars and other stuff. Especially that stuff, I am sure that Dad could have gotten it done quicker without always trying to teach us stuff, but that was just the way he was. He was always trying to teach us stuff. As well, he would never let us quit on stuff whether it be participating in youth league sports or schoolwork or whatever. He taught us that sometimes our responsibilities are hard to the point that you just want to quit, but you keep at it no matter what until the end, until you’re finished, until it’s over. When we were teenagers, he said if you want spending money, you gotta get a job and earn it. He said I provide all the basic necessities of life for you (food, clothing, shelter, etc.) but it want the extras, you gotta work for it.

I didn’t like it back then, especially when some of my friends did not have to work at all. But looking back on it now, I see the value of all that Dad was doing with us growing up. We were not spoiled. We were taught responsibility at an early age and then me having to work for my car and spending money as a teenager really taught me about working hard to get what you want. That’s what struck me this morning about reading about Issachar. He’s not the most popular of Jacob’s sons in the Bible but he’s there. He’s working hard. His clan was known for being hard working farmers. It’s not glamorous always to be a hard worker. But the Bible does constantly praise those who work hard. Working hard in life teaches that life is not always fair. Working hard teaches us that it’s not glamorous and you will not always get a lot of notoriety for taking care of your responsibilities but the Bible praises those who take care of their family and give Him the glory quietly as they go about their daily lives. That’s what I thought about this morning as I read about Issachar. Let’s read the passage, 1 Chronicles 7:1-5, now:

Chapter 7

1 The sons[a] of Issachar: Tola, Puah, Jashub, and Shimron, four. 2 The sons of Tola: Uzzi, Rephaiah, Jeriel, Jahmai, Ibsam, and Shemuel, heads of their ancestral houses, namely of Tola, mighty warriors of their generations, their number in the days of David being twenty-two thousand six hundred. 3 The son[b] of Uzzi: Izrahiah. And the sons of Izrahiah: Michael, Obadiah, Joel, and Isshiah, five, all of them chiefs; 4 and along with them, by their generations, according to their ancestral houses, were units of the fighting force, thirty-six thousand, for they had many wives and sons. 5 Their kindred belonging to all the families of Issachar were in all eighty-seven thousand mighty warriors, enrolled by genealogy.

This passage reminds us that each of the twelve sons of Israel received a blessing from his father, Jacob, just before Jacob’s death. The twelve sons were the progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel, and Jacob’s blessings contained prophetic information about each tribe. In the case of the tribe of Issachar, Jacob prophesied, “Issachar is a rawboned donkey, lying down between two burdens; He saw that rest was good, and that the land was pleasant; He bowed his shoulder to bear a burden, and became a band of slaves” (Genesis 49:14-15). The first part of the prophecy about the tribe of Issachar, whose name means either “he will bring a reward” or “man of wages”. As for the second part of the prophecy, some commentators believe it is an indication that the descendants of Issachar would be farmers—the reference to “a band of slaves” means they would be servants of the land.

How are we to understand these references to Issachar, and what do they mean to us as Christians? First, it’s important to understand that Jacob’s prophecies to his sons were just that—prophecies to his sons. We should be very careful when applying Old Testament passages to the Church Age or to Christians in general. We can, however, glean certain general principles regarding work and its rewards. The Bible makes it clear that work is a gift from God for the benefit of His people (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13; 5:18-20) and those who don’t work shouldn’t eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10). The Bible contains numerous references to those who work as reaping rewards, both in the temporal and spiritual realms (2 Chronicles 15:7; 1 Corinthians 3:8,14; 2 John 1:8; Revelation 2:23; 22:12).

So, I thank my Dad for not spoiling us, for making us earn things, even when we were little kids. I even thank him for making me work to pay for my own car, my own gas, my own spending money as a teenager. As a teenager, my first job was as janitor in the Dining Hall at Furman University from 1976-1978. It was there that I learned to humbly do work that many people didn’t want to do. It taught me to take pride in working and doing your job to the best of your limited abilities and just plugging through even when you didn’t want to do it. The things I learned in that job about responsibility, humility on the job, and all that stuff served me well when I entered the professional world after college. However, it was the work ethic that my dad instilled in us even as little boys that set it all up. Thanks Dad! It is biblical to work hard and we were taught that by my Dad.

Amen and Amen.

1 Chronicles 6:54-81 (Part 2 of 2)

Territory for the Levites

I remember when I was in high school back in the late 70’s which was before the medical world and parents became extremely concerned about heat exhaustion and heat stroke for football players. Now, high schools in South Carolina actually have to monitor the combination of temperature and humidity levels all afternoon before the typical 7:30pm kickoff times of high school football games on Friday evenings. It is not a factor so much after September but those games in August and September, it sure is. If it is above 86 degrees Fahrenheit and over 50% humidity at kickoff, the kickoff of the game will be delayed until those numbers come down. Every high school in South Carolina is required now to have the equipment to monitor the heat and humidity at football games. Even at practice during the week, coaches have strict regulations as to how much and how intense of physical activity that they are allowed to put the players through during those hottest months of the year in South Carolina (August and September).

Not so back in the day when I was a high school football player. I remember pre-season practices, particularly those before school started up. When practices began for the new season, it was usually about 2-3 weeks before school started for the new school year. During those weeks, we would have two-a-day practices. One practice in the morning. You had to be dressed and ready on the field at 9am. Morning practice would run to noon. We would get a three hour break and then have another practice from 3pm-6pm.

Those August two-a-days were horrid. If you are familiar with South Carolina in August, it is hot and it is humid. Temperatures even in the dead of night do not dip below the mid-70s. So, even at 9am in the morning it is already in the low 80’s. In the afternoon session it would be in the mid-90’s most days and sometimes even in the low 100s. August in South Carolina is like a sauna from which you cannot escape. You start sweating just by walking outside for no more than a minute. The air is heavy. There is an old joke that the air is so thick that you can cut you a piece of it and chew on it during the dog days of August and September.

Usually, that morning session was dedicated to physical conditioning. Running the track around the practice field. Running the hill at the end of the practice field up to where the property of the Presbyterian church next door began. Running the steps in the football stadium (that was the worst – our football stadium was built in a depression in the topography so you had to walk down into the stadium from the gates. It was surrounded by pine trees. All that combined with the reflective heat coming off the aluminum seats fastened to the concrete rows made for even more of a sauna effect). Doing calesthenics for what seemed like hours on end. I hated the exercise called “six inches” where you are laying flat on your back and you have to raise and hold you legs up off the ground by six inches and hold it til the coach’s whistle blew. Morning practices during two a days were an exercise in pain and sweat. The afternoon practice was just as bad but it seemed more fun though because we were running plays and hitting each other.

During those two-a-day practices, you sometimes wondered why you went out for football in the first place. And you wondered if the coaches had like some sadistic streak in them and that they were literally trying to kill you by overwork and heat exhaustion. It all seemed kind of pointless during two-a-days. But we loved football and we put up with it. We didn’t understand why it was so freaking demanding but we loved football and did it anyway. It was only during those August and September games where the heat and humidity are high that it really came into focus. In the heat and humidity of those ball games which comprise about 60% of the high school football season, it is often that the team in the best condition wins the game – provided of course the teams are reasonably equal in talent.

That’s what I thought of this morning as I read through the passage a second time. I thought about those two-a-day practices where it seemed that our coaches just wanted to see when we would fall over dead. But there was a purpose in their requirements. We had to have the stamina for the football games of August and September that went a long way toward determining which team would be in position to win the conference title. A lot of times, it is that way with God’s instructions and commands. Let’s read this passage, 1 Chronicles 6:54-81, for the second time this morning of two blogs on this passage:

54 This is a record of the towns and territory assigned by means of sacred lots to the descendants of Aaron, who were from the clan of Kohath. 55 This territory included Hebron and its surrounding pasturelands in Judah, 56 but the fields and outlying areas belonging to the city were given to Caleb son of Jephunneh. 57 So the descendants of Aaron were given the following towns, each with its pasturelands: Hebron (a city of refuge),[a] Libnah, Jattir, Eshtemoa, 58 Holon,[b] Debir, 59 Ain,[c] Juttah,[d] and Beth-shemesh. 60 And from the territory of Benjamin they were given Gibeon,[e] Geba, Alemeth, and Anathoth, each with its pasturelands. So thirteen towns were given to the descendants of Aaron. 61 The remaining descendants of Kohath received ten towns from the territory of the half-tribe of Manasseh by means of sacred lots.

62 The descendants of Gershon received by sacred lots thirteen towns from the territories of Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, and from the Bashan area of Manasseh, east of the Jordan.

63 The descendants of Merari received by sacred lots twelve towns from the territories of Reuben, Gad, and Zebulun.

64 So the people of Israel assigned all these towns and pasturelands to the Levites. 65 The towns in the territories of Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin, mentioned above, were assigned to them by means of sacred lots.

66 The descendants of Kohath were given the following towns from the territory of Ephraim, each with its pasturelands: 67 Shechem (a city of refuge in the hill country of Ephraim),[f] Gezer, 68 Jokmeam, Beth-horon, 69 Aijalon, and Gath-rimmon. 70 The remaining descendants of Kohath were assigned the towns of Aner and Bileam from the territory of the half-tribe of Manasseh, each with its pasturelands.

71 The descendants of Gershon received the towns of Golan (in Bashan) and Ashtaroth from the territory of the half-tribe of Manasseh, each with its pasturelands. 72 From the territory of Issachar, they were given Kedesh, Daberath, 73 Ramoth, and Anem, each with its pasturelands. 74 From the territory of Asher, they received Mashal, Abdon, 75 Hukok, and Rehob, each with its pasturelands. 76 From the territory of Naphtali, they were given Kedesh in Galilee, Hammon, and Kiriathaim, each with its pasturelands.

77 The remaining descendants of Merari received the towns of Jokneam, Kartah,[g] Rimmon,[h] and Tabor from the territory of Zebulun, each with its pasturelands. 78 From the territory of Reuben, east of the Jordan River opposite Jericho, they received Bezer (a desert town), Jahaz,[i] 79 Kedemoth, and Mephaath, each with its pasturelands. 80 And from the territory of Gad, they received Ramoth in Gilead, Mahanaim, 81 Heshbon, and Jazer, each with its pasturelands.

In this passage, we are reminded that God had told the tribes to designate specific cities of refuge (see Numbers 35). These cities were to provide refuge for a person who accidently killed someone. This instruction may have seemed unimportant when it was given – the Israelites had not even taken possession of the Promised Land yet. Sometimes, God gives us instructions that do not seem relevant to us at the moment. Later, though, we can see the importance of those instructions. Therefore, when we read the Bible let us not discard certain lessons that it teaches us because they seem not to apply to us at this phase of our lives. We must obey God now even when we do not understand the significance of complying with His Word at the moment. Clarity, as to why God expects us to obey His commands, will come in the future – and we will have already established our pattern of behavior of obeying God’s Word in this area.

Amen and Amen.

1 Chronicles 6:54-81 (Part 1 of 2)

Territory for the Levites

Yesterday, I preached a very important sermon in the life of our church. It was called “20/20 Vision 2020”. In that sermon, I assessed where are at in each of our church’s ministry areas (the 20/20 vision piece) and then set the vision, the goals, for each ministry area for 2020 (the Vision 2020 piece). You can’t get where you want to go unless you (1) know where you are starting from and (2) know where you want to go from there. During the first six months of our pastorate here, we have been reviewing, observing, and building toward this Sunday when we could lay out a real vision for the next year of this church as God has placed it in my heart. The key thing about yesterday’s sermon was about being where the people are and providing ways to engage them and keep them once they are inside our doors. We can’t be an effective church for the kingdom if we are not intentional about engaging the world around us.

We may well fall far short of our goals for 2020 but the message yesterday was about not having a defeatist attitude because (1) we live in an increasing anti-Christian world or a world that is increasing ambivalent or even hostile toward things of Christ or because (2) we are a relatively, small and aging church. The first step to greatness is belief. The first step to glory is believing that you can. In sports, there is a percentage of the total make-up of a team is that will to win, that belief that victory can be yours, regardless of what the outside world or the oddsmakers think. It is the same in church, you gotta believe than you CAN instead of believing that you CAN’T. You have already lost if you believe that you CAN’T. We must believe that we can be a growing and impactful church for the kingdom. When you look at the Roman Empire, they began to decline once they quit advancing the empire and began to get caught up with internal things. They quit advancing and began building walls around the empire. That’s when the decline began. They no longer had a WE-CAN attitude. They had a WE-NEED-TO-PROTECT-WHAT-WE-GOT attitude. My message yesterday was that we must engage and advance and we must believe that we can. We must be where the people are. We can no longer expect them to come to walls of the kingdom and knock on the door to be let in. We must leave the walls and go out and we must believe that we can advance the kingdom and we must believe that WE CAN.

When I read this passage, it reminded me of my sermon yesterday. This idea of the Levites being in each tribe’s region of allotted lands and not having a separate land of their own was what struck a chord with me this morning. Let’s read this passage, 1 Chronicles 6:54-81, for the first time this morning of two blogs on this passage:

54 This is a record of the towns and territory assigned by means of sacred lots to the descendants of Aaron, who were from the clan of Kohath. 55 This territory included Hebron and its surrounding pasturelands in Judah, 56 but the fields and outlying areas belonging to the city were given to Caleb son of Jephunneh. 57 So the descendants of Aaron were given the following towns, each with its pasturelands: Hebron (a city of refuge),[a] Libnah, Jattir, Eshtemoa, 58 Holon,[b] Debir, 59 Ain,[c] Juttah,[d] and Beth-shemesh. 60 And from the territory of Benjamin they were given Gibeon,[e] Geba, Alemeth, and Anathoth, each with its pasturelands. So thirteen towns were given to the descendants of Aaron. 61 The remaining descendants of Kohath received ten towns from the territory of the half-tribe of Manasseh by means of sacred lots.

62 The descendants of Gershon received by sacred lots thirteen towns from the territories of Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, and from the Bashan area of Manasseh, east of the Jordan.

63 The descendants of Merari received by sacred lots twelve towns from the territories of Reuben, Gad, and Zebulun.

64 So the people of Israel assigned all these towns and pasturelands to the Levites. 65 The towns in the territories of Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin, mentioned above, were assigned to them by means of sacred lots.

66 The descendants of Kohath were given the following towns from the territory of Ephraim, each with its pasturelands: 67 Shechem (a city of refuge in the hill country of Ephraim),[f] Gezer, 68 Jokmeam, Beth-horon, 69 Aijalon, and Gath-rimmon. 70 The remaining descendants of Kohath were assigned the towns of Aner and Bileam from the territory of the half-tribe of Manasseh, each with its pasturelands.

71 The descendants of Gershon received the towns of Golan (in Bashan) and Ashtaroth from the territory of the half-tribe of Manasseh, each with its pasturelands. 72 From the territory of Issachar, they were given Kedesh, Daberath, 73 Ramoth, and Anem, each with its pasturelands. 74 From the territory of Asher, they received Mashal, Abdon, 75 Hukok, and Rehob, each with its pasturelands. 76 From the territory of Naphtali, they were given Kedesh in Galilee, Hammon, and Kiriathaim, each with its pasturelands.

77 The remaining descendants of Merari received the towns of Jokneam, Kartah,[g] Rimmon,[h] and Tabor from the territory of Zebulun, each with its pasturelands. 78 From the territory of Reuben, east of the Jordan River opposite Jericho, they received Bezer (a desert town), Jahaz,[i] 79 Kedemoth, and Mephaath, each with its pasturelands. 80 And from the territory of Gad, they received Ramoth in Gilead, Mahanaim, 81 Heshbon, and Jazer, each with its pasturelands.

In this passage, we are reminded that the tribe of Levi was not given a specific area of land as were the other tribes. Instead, the Levites were to live throughout the land in order to aid the people of every tribe in their worship of God. Thus, the Levites were given towns and pasturelands within the allotted areas of the other tribes (see Joshua 13:14 and 13:33).

As we can see here in this passage, it was part of God’s plan for his priestly clan, the Levites, to be among the people. He did not give them a separate land and force the other tribes to come to them. He placed the Levites among all the peoples. He wanted them to be in the communities and regions of the other tribes so that they could be the teachers and leaders of the worship of God to the everyday Israelites of the other tribes of Israel. God knows what He is doing. Even this ancient text screams out to us that we have to be out among the people and not withdraw into our churches. We must be out there among them so that they know of Jesus Christ. Our churches are to be the launching point for us to do ministry from. Our churches should be our filling stations for us to refuel and go back out amongst the people. We should view our churches as that rallying point from which we reach out into the world. Our churches should not be the end game, they should be the starting point. We have our church buildings as gathering places where we are equipped, encouraged, challenged, and led to reach out to the world around us both individually and corporate as members of the church. That was the embedded message of yesterday’s sermon.

But it all first begins with the belief that WE CAN do it. WE CAN make a difference in our community. WE CAN spread the gospel. WE CAN reach out to the world around us. WE CAN do things in new and different ways to engage an increasingly secular world. WE CAN because we believe in an awesome God through whom nothing is impossible. Just read His Word, even in how he structured the society of his chosen people in ancient Israel was … like wow … God thinks of everything. He wanted the Levites in and among His people. There was shrewd reason behind not giving them there own separate compartment of land. It was so that His priestly tribe could be in and among His people. That’s what we are supposed to do too and God with all his great knowledge will lead us in doing that as long as we believe that nothing is impossible with a great and mighty God – really, really, believe that!

Amen and Amen.

1 Chronicles 6:49-53

Aaron’s Descendants

The thing that you notice in this passage is not so much the listing of the names of the genealogy of high priest position from the first one, Aaron, down the line to the time of the exile. The thing that struck me in this passage was the final sentence of the first verse in the passage (v.49). In particular, in that sentence, the phrase that struck me was “by doing everything that Moses, the servant of God, had commanded them.” There’s no wiggle room in that phrase. They did everything that Moses commanded them to do. And that was passed down from generation to generation of high priests.

That was what struck me as it is a reminder that sometimes we pick and choose what we want to obey in the Bible and what we do not. I know that I was that kind of Christian and as a result an immature one for the first 8-9 years I was a child of God. I accepted Christ as my Savior in December 2001. But instead of the skies parting and the sun coming out on my life and everything being perfectly rosy, my life actually got worse for a time and I did not handle it well. My marriage fell apart because the age-old issues in second marriages of your kids vs. my kids. So, within three years of accepting Christ as my Savior, I was own my own again and living partially for God and mostly for myself. The Holy Spirit had a long way to go with me. It was the first time in my life that I had been really on my own. From my parent’s house to my first marriage, from my first marriage to my second. The space in between those things was pretty small. Finally, at the end of my second marriage, I was alone for a good long time. It was six years after the end of my second marriage before I met Elena, who would become my third (and FINAL) wife. During those six years I did not mature very much as a Christian. I was a baby Christian for a long time. I was one of those that thought God and I had a deal on many of the things that I was choosing not to obey in His Word. It as ok for me because I had been through so much in those previous two marriages. I deserved happiness and to do what I wanted, right?

Even after Elena and I got together as a couple (and that whole story is a God-thing that we can discuss another day), and we moved to California, we were picking and choosing what we wanted to believe. I moved out to California, related to my job with Fujikura America, Inc., about a year and a half before she came to join me. It was not until after she moved out there to be with me when we settled in the one of the furthest out of the Bay Area suburbs, Livermore, CA (about an hour or so east of the Bay), that we found a church in California that we connected with. But it was there that the game changer happened.

It was there that we found Livermore Alive Community Church and its pastor, Luke Brower, and his wife, Felisha. Even though they were 10 years our younger, they were our spiritual mentors. Through our relationship with them that I began to grow up as a Christian. And, it was under their care that Elena accepted Christ as her Savior. And we become so heavily involved in that church. We were all-in. So much so that when Luke thought the church had developed enough, he wanted to begin an elder team to surround him at the church. It was the logical next step to me. So, I applied to be an elder. And it was that elder interview that changed the game for Elena and me, forever.

It was at that elder interview, Luke flat out told me that he appreciated me applying for eldership at the church but that I could not be an elder at the church. Why? Because I was living with Elena and not married to her. My combat to that was that she and I both had been married twice before and we were not super-hyped up about the whole marriage thing. We loved each other and we were engaged but we did not want to make that final commitment because we had been burned badly in the two divorces each that we already had on the books. Luke lit into me about picking and choosing what I wanted to believe about God’s Word and that marriage was one of those things. The Bible is pretty clear that sexual relations are only condoned by God inside the marriage covenant between a man and a woman. Outside that, it is unrepentant sin, plain and simple. You could have knocked me over with a feather at that moment.

It led to Elena and I getting married within two weeks right there in Livermore, CA at our church right after church. With out whole church as witnesses to event. The marriage moment was significant but it was also a beginning. Luke’s words about picking and choosing what we wanted to believe about God’s Word led us to examine every area of life in comparison to God’s Word. It was that challenge that led to take God’s Word seriously in our lives and begin molding our life toward its pattern for life rather than the other way around – the way that we had been living. Taking that road, to slightly misquote Robert Frost, has made all the difference in the world.

With that idea of doing everything that God commanded, let’s read this passage, 1 Chronicles 6:49-53, together now:

49 Only Aaron and his descendants served as priests. They presented the offerings on the altar of burnt offering and the altar of incense, and they performed all the other duties related to the Most Holy Place. They made atonement for Israel by doing everything that Moses, the servant of God, had commanded them.

50 The descendants of Aaron were Eleazar, Phinehas, Abishua, 51 Bukki, Uzzi, Zerahiah, 52 Meraioth, Amariah, Ahitub, 53 Zadok, and Ahimaaz.

In this passage, we see a listing of Aaron’s descendants. Aaron was the first high priest of the Israelite people. Aaron and his descendants followed the details of worship commanded by Moses. They did not choose only the commands that they wanted to obey. Note what happened to Uzziah when important details in handling the Ark of the Covenant were neglected (1 Chronicles 13:6-10). We should not try to obey selectively, choosing those commands that we will obey and those we will ignore. God’s Word has authority over every aspect of our lives, not just the areas that we select.

That reversal of molding our lives to better match God’s Word from making God’s Word conform to our lives (i.e., picking and choosing what we wanted to believe in God’s Word) has led us to a deeper and deeper relationship with God. It has led us to giving Him control over our lives, our finances, what we do to make a living. We have given it all over to Him. We have followed His call on our lives to several different places now and we will continue to follow Him wherever He leads. Our trust is in Him for our very existence now. He has and always will provide a way for those who love Him and obey Him. The trajectory of our lives was changed by a conversation that challenged me to no longer pick and choose what I wanted to believe in the Bible. In that conversation, I was challenged to trust God and His Word and do things His way even when what I want is the opposite, even when I am scared to do what God wants, even when I think doing things God’s way is going to fail. What I have learned is God never fails. He is always there to provide a way. He is always there right on time. That road has made all the difference in the world.

Are you picking and choosing what part of God’s Word you are willing to obey and which that you are not? I’ve been there. I’ve lived that. How’s that working for ya? Not so much, huh? May you now step out in trust in the Lord and trust God enough to comply your life with His Word and stop trying to make it work the other way around!

Amen and Amen.

1 Chronicles 6:31-46

The Temple Musicians

Yesterday, we had our Christmas Sunday service and a major part of it was the music. Although my message, my sermon, was one of hope based on Jesus’ sinlessness even in his conception and birth and a message that I thought was one of my best, it would have all fallen flat if it were not for all the elements of the worship service. Without out the pastoral prayers and corporate prayers, without the hymns, without the special music by the pianist and without the anthem by the choir and the pianist, we would just be left with my message. And that would have been a boring service. We must have it all – the entire combination of elements to a worship service.

Yesterday, our music director, Ann Hudson, is one of the most humble servants of the Lord that you will ever meet. She is just precious. She has been a church musician for decades and has taught piano to probably two generations of people here in the Lamar area and southern Darlington County. She is aging now but man has she “still got game!” Yesterday, during her offertory musical piece, she tore it up. Even though I come from a decade of guitars and drums and modern worship songs, her dedication to her craft and the beauty with which she plays piano is unrivaled. To have a talent such as hers in my first appointment as the lead pastor of a church and for our church to be no larger than it is, my church and I are extremely blessed. She played an embellished version of Oh Holy Night where she simply used the music from the hymn but wow all the stuff she added to it. She brought tears to the eyes of many in the house of God yesterday morning. It was just beautiful no matter what generation you are from. It was amazing. And to watch the intensity on her face as she was playing was as moving as the music she was playing. She was in her own space. We were probably not there to her. She was simply in a zone and worshiping the Lord in a way that only she can. We were just witnesses to it and we were moved closer to God as a result.

That is the purpose of all the elements of worship outside the message. It is to melt away your cynicism and to focus you on the beauty of God. It is to melt away the cares of the world and focus you on what you may have forgotten during the week, that we are placed on this earth to worship our Creator. Music and the other elements of a worship service are to open the locked doors of our heart and allow us to say to our souls, “Ok, let’s listen to God now!” Music and the other elements of worship are essential and equal to the message. They go hand in hand. One without the other and Sunday morning worship is not complete.

It is why my music director and I met once a month to plan out the music for each Sunday in the next up month. In those meetings, I explain to her what each sermon in the coming month is going to be about. We pick hymns that go along with each sermon’s theme. She then plans her offertories and the choirs anthems around that theme. In this manner, each Sunday’s worship service is more cohesive and has a central gathering point theologically. That is the experience that I have been a part of in the two previous churches that I had been heavily a part of over the previous decade. Both of those churches were modern worship style churches but that idea of sitting down between pastor and worship leaders to plan out the music to match the idea of the sermon I brought with me to this traditional style church that I now pastor. Yesterday, reminded me of the power of music to set the stage for the sermon. The last two Sundays, so many of my church’s people have said that the totality of the service was awesome – that everything fit together and complemented one another. And, that, is what a worship service is to do. Soften the heart through music and prepare it for God’s Word and how it applies to our daily life.

That’s what I thought of this morning when I read what basically amounts to a hall of fame of the musicians that played at the Temple from David’s reign to the time of the exile. Let us read this who’s who list of musicians at the Temple now here in 1 Chronicles 6:31-46:

31 These are the men whom David put in charge of the service of song in the house of the Lord, after the ark came to rest there. 32 They ministered with song before the tabernacle of the tent of meeting, until Solomon had built the house of the Lord in Jerusalem; and they performed their service in due order. 33 These are the men who served; and their sons were: Of the Kohathites: Heman, the singer, son of Joel, son of Samuel, 34 son of Elkanah, son of Jeroham, son of Eliel, son of Toah, 35 son of Zuph, son of Elkanah, son of Mahath, son of Amasai, 36 son of Elkanah, son of Joel, son of Azariah, son of Zephaniah, 37 son of Tahath, son of Assir, son of Ebiasaph, son of Korah, 38 son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, son of Israel; 39 and his brother Asaph, who stood on his right, namely, Asaph son of Berechiah, son of Shimea, 40 son of Michael, son of Baaseiah, son of Malchijah, 41 son of Ethni, son of Zerah, son of Adaiah, 42 son of Ethan, son of Zimmah, son of Shimei, 43 son of Jahath, son of Gershom, son of Levi. 44 On the left were their kindred the sons of Merari: Ethan son of Kishi, son of Abdi, son of Malluch, 45 son of Hashabiah, son of Amaziah, son of Hilkiah, 46 son of Amzi, son of Bani, son of Shemer,

In this passage, we are reminded that David did much to bring music into worship. He established song leaders and choirs to perform regularly at the Temple (see 1 Chronicles 25). Some of those who served with music in the Temple are recorded here. This passage also reminds us that you don’t have to be an ordained minister to have an important place in the body of believers. Musicians at a worship service are as important to the success of a worship service as the pastor delivering a message that interprets Scripture and applies it to everyday life.

In this passage, we have evidence of how important music was in the biblical era Temple in Jerusalem. They were named as musicians at the Temple. The Holy Spirit guided the writer of Chronicles to They were as important as any lineage of the high priest position. And it reminded me of the fact that Ann Hudson is as important to the success of Sunday morning as any sermon that I preach. Her music and my message are God appointed intersections each Sunday to prepare the heart, to soften the heart, to challenge the soul, to take us to the places of the highest heavens and to see the face of God and then to be challenged by His Word. And then to send us forth emboldened to take on another week in a fallen world in a way that honors the One who we just finished worshiping.

Amen and Amen.

1 Chronicles 6:1-30

The Priestly Line & The Levite Clans

The priestly line of the Levites. They were without land because of something Levi did when he was younger. Levi’s descendants defended God’s honor at Mt. Sinai after the Israelites pursued idolatry in Moses’ absence. Levi’s descendants did not have land in the Promised Land, but had cities that became cities of refuge for people accused of high crimes until their trials could be heard. The Levites had no land they could call their own, but yet they were the ones who interpreted God’s Word for the people. They were different and they were set apart. None of them were perfect. Even the original priestly family Aaron, Moses and Miriam, all had their troubles and their weaknesses. However, the priestly line of the Levites continued through this family of descendants who all had their flaws, made mistakes, but even in all their flawed humanity, God used them to achieve His purposes.

This passage is a reminder of several things. First, God does call and set apart those that will minister to His people and interpret His Word to the practical day-to-day workings of peoples’ lives. Second, he does not call perfect people to be set apart for this purpose. He sets them apart despite their flaws and imperfections. Third, you don’t have to be perfect to be used by God. You have to be willing and available.

It is the calling of a pastor to minister to his people under his care. We are called to take God’s Word and make it practical to the day to day. If we are not doing that, we are not serving God. If our leadership of the people in our care is not about the real world application of biblical texts and biblical principles then what are we doing here? We must make God’s Word come alive. If we are not making God’s Word practical and it seems of weird little exercise that we do on Sunday morning that has nothing to do with our day-to-day lives, then, we have missed the bus, missed the boat, and other such metaphors. The Levites were charged with caring for the Tabernacle and later the Temple but they were also charged with interpreting God’s Word for the day-to-day life of God’s people. And, that is why God set them apart for specific service and not owning land. He wanted them concentrating on God’s Word. He wanted them to observe life and be able to recall God’s Word and how it applies to a given thing that they observed in life. You can’t do that when you are preoccupied with other things.

All the Levite line, even Moses, Aaron and Miriam, all had flaws. They were all imperfect. To be called to ministry does not mean that you had to have been perfect before nor after God’s calling. God can redeem what was wrong and make it right. He can take your mess of your life and make it part of His message. He can make the worst into His best. He can take a murderer and make him the leader of His people out of Israel, in Moses. He can take a murdering persecutor of Christians and make him the greatest voice in Christianity other than Jesus in Paul. He can take a murdering adulterer and make him the greatest king Israel has ever known and make him the writer of some of the most beautiful verses in the Bible, the Psalms. He can redeem the lowest of the low and make it the highest of the high.

All the bottom line is that God can redeem but we have to be willing to let him do it. We must be all-in when He calls us to ministry. We must want to shepherd, love, challenge, interpret and even say hard things that need saying as we ministry. If ministry is just a job like it seemed to become in later generations of the Levites, that ability to be in tune with what God has to say to His people through us gets cloudy and messy. However, when we simply have a heart that wants to serve God no matter what the culture is doing (like the descendants of Levi at Mt. Sinai) and just want to glorify God, He can use us. If we want to satisfy people and not God, the ministry becomes about something other than God’s Word. But if we put God’s Word and the things of God first, He can use us!

With that idea in mind, let’s review these names, and remember the flaws and imperfections of the major names in this list, in this passage, 1 Chronicles 6:1-30. Let’s read it now:

6 [a] The sons of Levi: Gershom,[b] Kohath, and Merari. 2 The sons of Kohath: Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel. 3 The children of Amram: Aaron, Moses, and Miriam. The sons of Aaron: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. 4 Eleazar became the father of Phinehas, Phinehas of Abishua, 5 Abishua of Bukki, Bukki of Uzzi, 6 Uzzi of Zerahiah, Zerahiah of Meraioth, 7 Meraioth of Amariah, Amariah of Ahitub, 8 Ahitub of Zadok, Zadok of Ahimaaz, 9 Ahimaaz of Azariah, Azariah of Johanan, 10 and Johanan of Azariah (it was he who served as priest in the house that Solomon built in Jerusalem). 11 Azariah became the father of Amariah, Amariah of Ahitub, 12 Ahitub of Zadok, Zadok of Shallum, 13 Shallum of Hilkiah, Hilkiah of Azariah, 14 Azariah of Seraiah, Seraiah of Jehozadak; 15 and Jehozadak went into exile when the Lord sent Judah and Jerusalem into exile by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar.

16 [c] The sons of Levi: Gershom, Kohath, and Merari. 17 These are the names of the sons of Gershom: Libni and Shimei. 18 The sons of Kohath: Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel. 19 The sons of Merari: Mahli and Mushi. These are the clans of the Levites according to their ancestry. 20 Of Gershom: Libni his son, Jahath his son, Zimmah his son, 21 Joah his son, Iddo his son, Zerah his son, Jeatherai his son. 22 The sons of Kohath: Amminadab his son, Korah his son, Assir his son, 23 Elkanah his son, Ebiasaph his son, Assir his son, 24 Tahath his son, Uriel his son, Uzziah his son, and Shaul his son. 25 The sons of Elkanah: Amasai and Ahimoth, 26 Elkanah his son, Zophai his son, Nahath his son, 27 Eliab his son, Jeroham his son, Elkanah his son. 28 The sons of Samuel: Joel[d] his firstborn, the second Abijah.[e] 29 The sons of Merari: Mahli, Libni his son, Shimei his son, Uzzah his son, 30 Shimea his son, Haggiah his son, and Asaiah his son.

With this passage, we must recall several things. While Moses was receiving the law on Mount Sinai, the Israelites rebelled and made a Golden Calf (Exodus 32:1-6). Moses interceded for Israel but made the Israelites drink the water with the ground up powder of the calf (Exodus 32:7-20). Moses then stood in the gate of the camp and said, “Who is on Yahweh’s side? Come to me.” And the Levites, Moses’ own tribe, gathered around him (Exodus 32:26). So Moses called for the Levites to slaughter their fellow Israelites—“Thus says Yahweh God of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.’” And the Levites killed about 3,000 men (Exodus 32:27-28). This episode recalls the violence of their ancestor Levi (Genesis 34:25-31). But here such righteous zeal brought the Levites blessing, as they were “ordained for the service of Yahweh” (32:29). This is the origin of the priesthood in Israel. The Levites were given the responsibility of the priesthood because of their zeal in defending God’s honor. Whereas God originally consecrated the firstborn sons of the Israelites (Exodus 13:11-15), now He chose the tribe of Levi to take that place in His service (Numbers 3:11-13, 41, 45).

So we see that the same violent nature that lost the Levites land also gained them the priesthood. Of course, there is a major difference—Levi acted foolishly by slaughtering foreigners in defense of his sister’s honor (Genesis 34), while the sons of Levi acted righteously by slaughtering Israelites in defense of God’s honor (Exodus 32). In this way, we see God’s redemption of the line of Levi. While the Levites did not receive land as an inheritance in Canaan, this was also used for good. In fact, the biblical text (post-Jacob’s curse in Genesis 49) focuses on the positives of the Levites not having land. God turned Jacob’s apparent curse for the Levites’ good. Thus the Book of Joshua states that the Levites received no inheritance of land because Yahweh Himself and the “priesthood of Yahweh” were their inheritance (Joshua 13:14, 33; 18:7).

May we as pastors to strive to hand over our imperfections to God and have Him mold them into something useful for the kingdom. May we as pastors strive to seek deep understanding of God’s Word so that we can make it real to day to day life for our people. May we strive to be humbled by our choosing such that we always seek Him and not ourselves. When we have those combination of things together, God can use us in His service.

Amen and Amen.