Archive for January, 2020

1 Chronicles 7:30-40

Descendants of Asher

There is a Christian contemporary song that has been popular for a while now. The group who sings it is called Rend Collective. It’s lyrics go something like this:

I was blind, now I’m seeing in color
I was dead, now I’m living forever
I had failed, but you were my redeemer
I’ve been blessed beyond all measureI was lost, now I’m found by the father
I’ve been changed from a ruin to treasure
I’ve been given a hope and a future
I’ve been blessed beyond all measureI am counting every blessing, counting every blessing
Letting go and trusting when I cannot see
I am counting every blessing, counting every blessing
Surely every season you are good to meOh, you are good to me
Oh, you are good to meYou were there in the valley of shadows
You were there in the depth of my sorrows
You’re my strength, my hope for tomorrow
I’ve been blessed beyond all measure

Have you ever really thought about your blessings? There’s an old saying about how you should count your blessings. However, most of us focus on the negative things that befall us. We focus on the things that we don’t have or think we should have but don’t. In our opulence here in the United States, even our poorest among us have it better than 90+% of the world. However, we tend to get wrapped up and have angst about what’s wrong with our country and what’s wrong with our individual lives. Have you ever really sat down to count your blessings?

In this passage, we see the descendants of Asher, one of the twelve tribes descended from Jacob. Even though they were richly blessed – having been given the lands along the Mediterranean coast of the Promised Land – they did not always follow through on their obedience to the Lord. Even though we have been richly blessed in this nation and in our own lives, we fail to obey God often like Asher. Asher probably did not join in on some of the battles that Israel was called to fight because of business relationships. It would have harmed, in their minds, the business relationships they had with the foreigners among them on the coast. They first failed to drive them out when the Israelites were conquering the Promised Land and then they would refuse to fight if it meant costing them business relationships.

We too have been richly blessed in our own lives in ways that we do not deserve. We just happened by the grace of God to be born at this time in history into the most powerful nation on the planet and the wealthiest nation human history has ever known. Did we earn the right to be here? No. We were simply born here without merit by the grace of God. Is that not enough alone to understand what we have been given by God and then give Him obedience as a result. We are blessed beyond measure with the resources even the most common man can enjoy here. Why then, do we get so focused on things that don’t matter in eternity? We get so focused on what we think we have a right to have and don’t. Let us begin to view our blessings more often and see if that will change our outlook on life. When you look at the fact that we have been planted here in the richest country on the planet and that we have pretty much unfettered ability to become whatever we set our minds to, can we then begin to think how truly blessed we are.

That’s what I thought of this morning as I read through the genealogy of the tribe of Asher and did the research about what we could learn from this tribe. They were richly blessed by their land grant from God. But yet, they often failed to obey His commands because they got so wrapped up in themselves and worried about what God’s commands would do to their business relationships. Sometimes, we too get focused on controlling our outcomes ourselves that we forget to trust God through our obedience to Him. With that thought in mind, let us read this passage, 1 Chronicles 7:30-40, now:

30 The sons of Asher: Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi, Beriah, and their sister Serah. 31 The sons of Beriah: Heber and Malchiel, who was the father of Birzaith. 32 Heber became the father of Japhlet, Shomer, Hotham, and their sister Shua. 33 The sons of Japhlet: Pasach, Bimhal, and Ashvath. These are the sons of Japhlet. 34 The sons of Shemer: Ahi, Rohgah, Hubbah, and Aram. 35 The sons of Helem[h] his brother: Zophah, Imna, Shelesh, and Amal. 36 The sons of Zophah: Suah, Harnepher, Shual, Beri, Imrah, 37 Bezer, Hod, Shamma, Shilshah, Ithran, and Beera. 38 The sons of Jether: Jephunneh, Pispa, and Ara. 39 The sons of Ulla: Arah, Hanniel, and Rizia. 40 All of these were men of Asher, heads of ancestral houses, select mighty warriors, chief of the princes. Their number enrolled by genealogies, for service in war, was twenty-six thousand men.

From this passage, we are reminded that Asher is one of Israel’s twelve tribes. In the time of Moses, Asher was divided into five clans: the Imnites; the Ishvites; and the Berites; and, through Beriah, the Berite patriarch, two more clans: the Heberites and the Malkielites. The first three clans were named after Asher’s sons; the fourth and fifth after Beriah’s sons (Numbers 26:44-45). Asher was Jacob’s eighth son. His mother was Leah’s maidservant, Zilpah, and he was her second and last child with Jacob. When Asher was born, Leah said, “How happy am I! The women will call me happy” (Genesis 30:13). Asher’s name means “happy.”

When Jacob blessed his sons, he said, “Asher’s food will be rich; he will provide delicacies fit for a king” (Genesis 49:20). Later, Moses blessed the tribe, saying, “Most blessed of the sons is Asher; let him be favored by his brothers, and let him bathe his feet in oil. The bolts of your gates will be iron and bronze, and your strength will equal your days” (Deuteronomy 33:24). Washing one’s feet in oil was a sign of prosperity, and Jacob’s reference to Asher’s food being “rich” indicated that Asher would possess fertile lands. In Joshua 19:24-31, we learn that Asher received land along the Mediterranean coast.

Despite all its blessings, the tribe of Asher failed to drive out the Canaanites, and “because of this the people of Asher lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land” (Judges 1:31-32). In the time of Deborah and Barak, “Asher remained on the coast and stayed in its coves” rather than join the fight against Jabin, a Canaanite king (Judges 5:17). This failure to aid their fellow tribes could indicate a lack of reliance on God, a lack of effort, a fear of the enemy, or a reluctance to upset those with whom they did business. Thus, the example set here is a negative one: although Asher was richly blessed, they did not behave admirably; when the time for action came, they failed to trust in God and honor His plan.

Later in Judges, Asher does respond to Gideon’s call to repel the Midianites, Amalekites, and others from the East (Judges 6:35). In another important gesture, Asher accepts Hezekiah’s invitation to the tribes from the Northern Kingdom to join the Passover celebration in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 30:11). This was considered an act of humility, proof of a contrite heart before God.

In the end, we find that Asher received many great blessings from God. Having received a blessing, they were expected to obey the Lord’s commands. In this they sometimes succeeded and sometimes failed. We, too, have been blessed by God (Ephesians 1:3), and the Lord expects us to obey His commands (John 14:15). Just as Asher received a prophetic blessing from Jacob, God’s children have received this promise: “For I know the plans I have for you . . . plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Praise the Lord for His wonderful plans for us. What a comfort! When we trust the Lord with the outcomes of our obedience to Him, we will be blessed. It may be hard to see what those blessings are at the moment, but as time passes we often learn of exactly our obedience to Him brought forth in our lives.

Amen and Amen.

1 Chronicles 7:20-29

Descendants of Ephraim

When you review the history of the tribe of Ephraim, which this genealogical passage gives us an opportunity to do, the thing that you have to think of is pride. They were proud warriors and were often miffed if people did not recognize that. It reminds me of my first full-time position in ministry. After years of interning at my home church, getting my masters degree in Christian ministry, and applying for countless ministry jobs and interviewing for some, I finally got a position in full-time ministry at a non-denominational church in Moline, IL. I don’t know if promises were made or that’s just what I heard or wanted to hear. However, what I thought was going to be a true ministry position, such as an executive pastor role, within 6 weeks after I arrived there began to dissipate. What eventually turned out was that even though I had a title of staff pastor, I was nothing more than the church accountant.

I was not, in my opinion, groomed to take on roles and activities of spiritual leadership for our congregation. I was eventually told that my role for the church was just not compatible with taking on those type functions within the church. I felt that I had been told one thing but demonstrated another. It hurt my pride. It really bothered me that I was not allowed to have more influence in the discipleship efforts of our church, at least from an official standpoint. It angered me and bothered me. Why are these people recognizing that I have some depth to give, something to offer, other than counting beans? Add to that, the transition from corporate accrual accounting to non-profit cash basis accounting was more difficult than I had thought it was going to be. Further, the style of management control of the senior pastor was something completely foreign to me. It was a micro-management style that I was completely unaccustomed to after a decade of working on the east coast and my boss being on the west coast when I worked at my last corporate job. All of these factors played into a time of fear, loss of confidence, and anger/sadness of not being mentored toward being a true pastor. It was a time of hurt pride. It was time where I was angry with God for leading me to a place where I was not allowed to become what I thought I should be. It was a very difficult 1 ½ years in Illinois from a professional standpoint and certainly from a ministerial standpoint. I felt like Jacob must have felt when, after working 7 years for Laban in order to gain Rachel’s hand in marriage, he found out that he was being married off to Leah. He then had to work another 7 years to gain Rachel’s hand in marriage.

I felt I had paid my dues in working hard in ministry in volunteer capacities at my home church in Lyman, SC over the previous 8 years (to the point I was considered part of the leadership team of the church) and had become trusted enough to lead discipleship efforts in addition to my finance responsibilities at the church. During the 1 ½ years at Illinois, I would think to myself that I was able to do more actual ministry as part of the leadership team, on a volunteer basis, at my home church than I was being allowed on a compensated basis in Illinois. I questioned why I had even gone to Illinois at times and why I had even left the corporate world. It was a tough time spiritually for me. It was a tough time for my pride because of all the  hard work I had put in. Interning for 8 years at LifeSong (which at times was like having a second full-time job), going to seminary (which at times was like having a 3rd full time job). I thought I should win the professional spoils of that. Recognition of the hard work. Allowed to grow into pastoral ministry. It didn’t happen. It was the whole Leah and Rachel episode for Jacob for me.

However, what I did learn from that whole experience and what makes me appreciate having been there for that year and a half is several-fold. I am now thankful for having had the experience even though it was a tough time. I do not hold any ill will toward the senior staff leadership at the church in Illinois because it taught me something about ministry (and it was not that I believe that the senior leadership there was trying to teach me that, but rather God was). What God was teaching me there was that ministry is not always about the title that you hold. Ministry is about seeing what God wants you to see. That ministry is about relationships that you develop with the people that you serve. What Elena and I came to learn in Illinois was that God put us there to just love on the people at that church. We did much ministry there on a one-on-one relational level that we may have not learned otherwise. During our time there, we were able to develop some intense relationships with couples within that church that were profound not just for them but for us as well. We began to see that this simple fact was the reason that we were put there by God – to have relationships. To impact people’s lives not because what position I held, not because I was this or was that at the church, but because people learned that we genuinely loved and cared about them and for them. It was worth the trip. It was worth the coldest winters I had experienced. It was worth being something less than I had anticipated to have had all those relationships. To meet the people we met, to be impacted by them, and to impact them. That experience taught me so much.

So here I am now in Lamar, SC at small church in a small town and dealing with the challenges of a church that is a crossroads in its development. We were sent here by God to try to awaken this church to its potential for the kingdom. We may fail miserably in that effort. We many succeed wildly in that effort. We may be somewhere in between. But through it all, our Illinois experience gives me a sense that no matter how things turn out for me professionally as the pastor in the sense of my title and my job here but God’s definition of success may be some of the relationships we develop here. It may be a God-defined success here if we impact one couple to become passionate about the things of God, to be on-fire for their local church, to put God first in their lives rather than one of many options in their live, it will have been an successful appointment. Conversely, there may be people here, maybe an individual, maybe a couple that impacts Elena and me in a way that could have never happened if we were not here in Lamar, SC for this season. Then, it will have been a God-success of an appointment.

That’s what I thought of this morning as I read the genealogy of the tribe of Ephraim and did research on what we can learn from that tribe. The thing that came up in the research is that pride was a particular problem for the warrior tribe of Ephraim. But when we shed our pride and learn what God wants us to learn, then, we have had success. Things don’t always go the way we want them to go, but God has lessons in any situation that He puts us in. Valuable lessons. Things that prepare us for the next thing. Things that mature us in our walk with Him. If we can just shed our pride at things not turning out like we want them to, then, we can learn those things, beautiful things, that God needs to teach us in that season of life. So, now, let’s read the genealogy in 1 Chronices 7:20-29 and then read about what I learned about what we can learn from the tribe of Ephraim after that:

20 The descendants of Ephraim were Shuthelah, Bered, Tahath, Eleadah, Tahath, 21 Zabad, Shuthelah, Ezer, and Elead. These two were killed trying to steal livestock from the local farmers near Gath. 22 Their father, Ephraim, mourned for them a long time, and his relatives came to comfort him. 23 Afterward Ephraim slept with his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. Ephraim named him Beriah[d] because of the tragedy his family had suffered. 24 He had a daughter named Sheerah. She built the towns of Lower and Upper Beth-horon and Uzzen-sheerah.

25 The descendants of Ephraim included Rephah, Resheph, Telah, Tahan, 26 Ladan, Ammihud, Elishama, 27 Nun, and Joshua.

28 The descendants of Ephraim lived in the territory that included Bethel and its surrounding towns to the south, Naaran to the east, Gezer and its villages to the west, and Shechem and its surrounding villages to the north as far as Ayyah and its towns. 29 Along the border of Manasseh were the towns of Beth-shan,[e] Taanach, Megiddo, Dor, and their surrounding villages. The descendants of Joseph son of Israel[f] lived in these towns.

In this genealogical passage about the tribe of Ephraim, we are reminded that Israel’s twelve tribes were named for Jacob’s children or, in the case of Ephraim (and Manasseh), his grandchildren. Ephraim was born in Egypt to Joseph’s wife, Asenath. Joseph named his second-born son “Ephraim” because “God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering” (Genesis 41:52). When Jacob gave his blessing to his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh, he chose to bless the younger Ephraim first, despite Joseph’s protests. In doing so, Jacob noted that Ephraim would be greater than Manasseh (Genesis 48:5–21).

Throughout the Old Testament, the name Ephraim often refers to the ten tribes comprising Israel’s Northern Kingdom, not just the single tribe named after Joseph’s son (Ezekiel 37:16; Hosea 5:3). The Northern Kingdom, also referred to as “Israel,” was taken into captivity by the Assyrians in 722 BC (Jeremiah 7). The Southern Kingdom, also known as Judah, was conquered by the Babylonians nearly 140 years later (586 BC). We learn from the tribe of Ephraim (and the other tribes) about our human essence, who we are as people. The history of the early Israelites reflects our universally flawed and sinful nature. As the book of Romans says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). There are several specific events regarding the tribe of Ephraim that we can learn from. While God gifted the tribe as warriors and valiant fighters (1 Chronicles 12:30), Ephraim failed to follow God’s order to remove the Canaanites from the Promised Land (Exodus 23:23–25; Judges 1:29; Joshua 16:10).

During the time of the judges, the Ephraimites became angry with Gideon because he had not initially called for their help in battling the Midianites (Judges 8:1). Gideon wisely displayed godly kindness and extolled the tribe’s commitment and willingness to serve the Lord, thus diffusing what could have become an ugly situation (Judges 8:2–3). However, ugliness did arise later, and again it can be linked to Ephraim’s pride, jealously, and self-centeredness. When Jephthah chose to fight (and defeat) the Ammonites without the aid of the proud Ephraim warriors, a civil war erupted, and 42,000 warriors from Ephraim were killed. As Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount, we are to seek first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33). Do not seek glory for yourself; all honor and glory always belong to God, not to man.

Often, God chooses to use us in a manner less glamorous or spectacular than we would like. Do we pout? Do we yearn for glory? Do we control our pride and jealousy and accept God’s will? Many of us, like the Ephraimites, have difficulty learning those lessons well. God says that we should accept what happens to us as His will, regardless of how good or bad those circumstances seem to us (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18).

Help me, oh Lord, to see in every situation even the ones that don’t turn out the way we want them to that you have something to teach us. Help me to be humble enough to see the beautiful things that you want to teach me. Help me to see that, Lord, even on days when I have suffered what I consider a defeat but really is you teaching me something new that is valuable to my later ministry down the road.

Amen and Amen.

1 Chronicles 7:14-19

Descendants of Manasseh

The thing that came to mind this morning as I was taking my shower this morning was weird. You know how random ideas come to your mind and you are not sure why that particular idea popped into your head. I was just doing the mundane things of getting ready for my workday this morning, washing my body after an 1:45:00 workout on the stairs in the education building at the church I serve. Then, washing my hair. Rinsing. Drying off. Picking out underwear and undershirt, my clothes for the day, my shoes. Standing there drying my hair, a word came to me. Riptide. Riptide. Riptide. I was like what the….. Riptide. Riptide. I was wondering what that meant for me or my people or, well, my blog readers (the vast army that this represents! LOL!).

At first, I was thinking about that being a cool Christian contemporary song because of what it represents. If you are at the beach, you leave the shore and go play in the water. But if you do not pay attention to how the water movement, you can find yourself in a riptide. Riptides, or rip currents, are long, narrow bands of water that quickly pull any objects in them away from shore and out to sea. … Most riptide deaths are not caused by the tides themselves. People often become exhausted struggling against the current and cannot make it back to shore. That reminded me that often in life, by the choices that we make we often get caught up in riptides of our own making. Our free will choices lead us away from God, just as a riptide will pull you away from shore. Often we struggle against our own mistakes and try by our own power to get back to where we used to be, like trying to swim directly to shore in the midst of a riptide. We struggle with all our might, our will against that which is pulling us out to sea. In that swimming against the current of the riptide, we exhaust ourselves, literally, and often die in the attempt to go in our own power. There are only two ways to get out of a riptide and in both help comes from the shore itself.

When struggling in a riptide, we can hope that someone notices and help comes from the shore in the form of lifeguards with their emergency inflatable boats and so on. Help coming from the shore. Another way the shore can help us too is if there is no lifeguard coming, we must focus ourselves on the shore and horizontally with the shore instead trying to swim to shore through the riptide. By focusing our eyes on the shore and swimming parallel to shore so that you can eventually swim out of the narrow band of the riptide’s current pulling away from shore. In spiritual terms, the shore and the help from it represents God to me. When we try to do things in our own power and swim against the consequences of our free will choices, we will fail. When we focus on the shore, God, we take our eyes off our own power and look to Him for help. It may come from an intervention of others or a miracle from Him (similar to the lifeguards coming to your aid). It may come from God giving us the answer that we must execute on our own (similar to remembering to swim parallel to shore to get out of the band of the riptide).

What we can learn from this thought that God put in my head is that we have free will to make the choices that we make. Sometimes, our choices place us in situations in currents of life that take us away from God and we often do not realize it until we are in danger and we notice finally that we are rapidly being pulled away from God, away from His safety, away from his solid ground, away from his terra firma. We often get so caught up in the consequences of our choices, our sins, that we can drown in them. Only then often we realize that we need help from God, from his safe shores. He is faithful to us. He will rescue us when we cry out for help. It may be a miracle. It may be an intervention from a friend. It may be God giving you the path to escape the effects of the sins that ensnarl you. He will be faithful to lift you out and give a new chance at life. You must cry out to Him for help. Many of us are too proud and struggle against the riptide and lose our life in the process. We must lose our pride in our own strength and rely on a God that is surely faithful to each of us even when we think we do not need Him. Realize it. Realize that you need Him. Swallow your pride and ask Him to save you from your riptides.

That’s the thing that I thought of this morning as I did research on what we can learn from the tribe of Manasseh. Two things came forth, free will and God’s faithfulness. Then, those two thoughts made the word that God placed in my head this morning, riptide, make sense. Let’s read about the genealogy of the tribe of Manasseh in 1 Chronicles 7:14-19 and then read the results of my research after that:

14 The descendants of Manasseh through his Aramean concubine included Asriel. She also bore Makir, the father of Gilead. 15 Makir found wives for[c] Huppim and Shuppim. Makir had a sister named Maacah. One of his descendants was Zelophehad, who had only daughters.

16 Makir’s wife, Maacah, gave birth to a son whom she named Peresh. His brother’s name was Sheresh. The sons of Peresh were Ulam and Rakem. 17 The son of Ulam was Bedan. All these were considered Gileadites, descendants of Makir son of Manasseh.

18 Makir’s sister Hammoleketh gave birth to Ishhod, Abiezer, and Mahlah.

19 The sons of Shemida were Ahian, Shechem, Likhi, and Aniam.

Again, in this tribal genealogy, this time, Manasseh, Israel’s twelve tribes were named for Jacob’s children or, in the case of Manasseh (and Ephraim), his grandchildren. After Jacob wrestled with Him all night, God renamed Jacob “Israel,” which means “you have struggled with God and men and have overcome” (Genesis 32:22–30). The name Israel represents not only the modern-day country but also, originally, Jacob’s offspring to whom God promised a great nation whose “descendants will be like dust of the earth . . . spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south” (Genesis 28:14). Jacob’s grandson, for whom the tribe was named, was born in Egypt to Joseph and his wife, Asenath, daughter of the priest Potiphera. Joseph named his firstborn “Manasseh” because God had made him “forget all my trouble and all my father’s household” (Genesis 41:51).

Free Will of Man

This tribe provides us with many lessons; chief among them are messages about free will, obedience, faith, and the nature of God. Early on, we learn that Manasseh is frequently referred to as the “half-tribe” of Manasseh. This designation highlights the choice made by some of the tribe to reside east of the River Jordan (Numbers 32:33; Joshua 13: 29–31). They believed the Transjordan was the more suitable land to raise their flocks. The rest of the tribe settled west of the Jordan, in Canaan, following Joshua’s command to enter and possess the Promised Land. As is evident throughout Scripture, God endows His children with the freedom to choose. Exercising free will can lead to undesirable or even disastrous results, especially if we disobey God or make selfish choices. Manasseh learned this lesson—painfully—when they failed to obey God’s command to destroy the Canaanites. Part of this failure was due to a lack of faith that God would give them strength to overcome a seemingly unconquerable foe. Manasseh illustrates other human failings as well, such as greed and covetousness. The (half) tribe of Manasseh desired more land because they were “a numerous people.” They may have had the numbers, but they were unwilling to follow Joshua’s exhortation to clear “the land of the Perizzites and Rephaites” (Joshua 17:12-18).

Faithfulness of God

On the other hand, the tribe of Manasseh at times exhibits faithfulness to God. Gideon, who would later become one of Israel’s best judges, questioned God when called to “save Israel out of Midian’s hand.” One of Gideon’s objections was that his “clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family” (Judges 6:15). Gideon required proof from God—twice—before he acted (Judges 6:36–40). Once convinced of God’s will, Gideon moved forward with 32,000 troops to conquer the Midianites. But then God told Gideon that he had too many troops for the job, and God reduced his corps to a mere 300 men. Following God’s lead, this paltry force routed the enemy. The battle proved God was with Gideon and the half-tribe of Manasseh.

Oh Father, help us to remember that we can get caught up in the riptides of our mistakes and Satan will draw us away from God, but God is faithful to rescue us if we cry out to Him. Let us remember that we must seek God even in our free will. He is faithful to never lead us away from shore. However, if you are in the midst of the riptides of your life, focus on God and cry out to Him for a way out. He is faithful to rescue you by miracle, by intervention of others, or by enlightening your mind on how to find your way out and back to Him, back to safe shores.

Amen and Amen.

1 Chronicles 7:13

Descendants of Naphtali

There are times when you are a second career pastor where you just feel totally inadequate not just in your own parish, your own local church, but also when you are mixing with those pastors that have been career pastors. Guys that are the same age as you are but have 30 years or so more experience than you. I have been in full time ministry for two years now. For the last 7 months, I have been the solo pastor at the church that I currently serve (Lamar United Methodist Church in Lamar, SC). Prior to that, I was an associate pastor at a church in Illinois for about a year and a half. When I am with pastors at district gatherings here in the Hartsville District of the South Carolina United Methodist Church or with local pastoral gatherings of Lamar area pastors, these guys have all got years of experience on me. They all seem to have that “preacher-speak” that I do not have. You know, they speak in preacher-speak, as I call it. It is a language that always seems to have the right spiritual ring to it. It is a language that has scriptural recall easily at hand. They just seem to know stuff that I do not know. Preacher-speak flows easily from their lips. I am sure that this will all come to me as I gain full-time ministry experience, but, sometimes you just ask God, what I am doing here. I know that I have been called by Him to ministry, but sometimes you just feel like wow, what I am I doing here! Maybe, I guess, that is where God wants me. To show me that I must depend on Him the rest of the way. I was on top of my game in corporate accounting. I guess there with 30 years of experience, it could have and was easy for me to feel self-assured. Now, in ministry, He has me humbled and dependent. Maybe, that’s a good thing.

That’s what I thought of this morning when I thought about what we can learn from the tribe of Naphtali. They were kind of an unknown, quiet tribe of the tribes of Israel. But they were the people that quietly did a lot of good things. They were big supporters of King David. They were the people that gave a home to the headquarters of Jesus’s earthly ministry and it is in this land, among the descendants of Naphtali, the people of Galilee, those that the high and mighty Judeans thought of as second class, that Jesus began his earthly ministry. They were humble compared to the mighty Judeans, but we often now refer to Jesus as Jesus of Galilee when talking in biblical terms. That’s where He called home when He was an adult and He was in the midst of His ministry. Humble, quiet and not high and mighty, that’s the idea that came to me this morning when I thought about the tribe of Naphtali. They may have not had all the fanciness of other tribes but they are still significant to the story of Jesus Christ. Maybe, that’s the thing that God wants me to see today. I might not be the fanciest preacher with all the right buzz words to say, but I am following my calling. The humility that comes from being a youngster again and rubbing elbows with the experienced, more confident preachers in this business of being a preacher is what may in the end be an advantage. Thinking that I have so much to learn may be an advantage. Maybe in knowing that I don’t know nearly enough is the thing that will make me a good second career pastor. Just being faithful is the key and depending on God for the rest is the key. That’s a lesson worth learning for all of us. Here’s the quick verse, the one verse, the humble verse about the tribe of Naphtali, 1 Chronicles 7:13:

13 The sons of Naphtali were Jahzeel,[a] Guni, Jezer, and Shillem.[b] They were all descendants of Jacob’s concubine Bilhah.

Israel’s tribes were named for Jacob’s children. Naphtali, being the sixth son of Jacob, is one of Israel’s twelve tribes. In the time of Moses, Naphtali was divided into four clans: the Jahzeelites, the Gunites, the Jezerites, and the Shillemites, named after Naphtali’s sons (Numbers 26:48–49). Naphtali was borne by Rachel’s maidservant, Bilhah. He was her second and last child with Jacob. When Naphtali was born, Rachel said, “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won” (Genesis 30:8). Naphtali means “my struggle.”

Naphtali was one of six tribes chosen to stand on Mount Ebal and pronounce curses (Deuteronomy 27:13). By means of these curses, the people promised God they would refrain from certain behaviors. For example, one curse says, “Cursed is the man who moves his neighbor’s boundary stone” (Deuteronomy 27:17). Another states, “Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien or fatherless or the widow” (Deuteronomy 27:19). Still another: “Cursed is the man who kills his neighbor secretly” (Deuteronomy 27:24). In all, Naphtali helped deliver twelve such admonishments (Deuteronomy 27:15–26). When Jacob blessed his twelve sons, he said, “Naphtali is a doe set free that bears beautiful fawns” (Genesis 49:21). The image presented is of one who springs forth with great speed and provides good news. Later, Moses blessed the tribe: “Naphtali is abounding with the favor of the Lord and is full of his blessing; he will inherit southward to the lake” (Deuteronomy 33:23). In Joshua 19:32–39, we learn that Napthali’s land was in northern Israel, bordering Asher’s territory, and the Sea of Kinnereth (or Galilee) touched the southern portion of its territory.

Despite all their blessings, the tribe of Naphtali failed to obey God’s command to drive out all the Canaanites living in their territory. Therefore, “the Naphtalites too lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land, and those living in Beth Shemesh or Beth Anath became forced labor for them” (Judges 1:33).

In Judges 4:6–9, we learn that Barak was a Naphtalite. He had been chosen by God to lead a military force of 10,000 of his tribe against their Canaanite oppressors. However, when the time came for action, Barak responded in fear and cowardice, agreeing to fight against King Jabin’s army only if Deborah the judge would accompany him. Deborah consents, but she prophesies that the honor for the victory would go to a woman and not to Barak. The prophecy was fulfilled in Judges 4:17–22. “The Song of Deborah and Barak” (Judges 5) relates that the tribe of Naphtali risked their lives “on the heights of the field” (verse 18) and so was honored in the victory over the Canaanites. Later, Naphtali responded to Gideon’s call to repel the Midianites, Amalekites, and others from the East from their encampment in the Jezreel Valley (Judges 6:35). Along with the tribes of Asher and Manasseh, Naphtali followed Gideon into battle and chased the Midianites to Zererah and Abel Meholah (Judges 7:23). When the time came for David to assume the throne, the tribe of Naphtali provided “1,000 officers, together with 37,000 men carrying shields and spears,” along with a caravan of food, to help him (1 Chronicles 12:34, 40). When King Solomon was building the temple, he hired Huram, a man whose mother was a Naphtalite, to do the bronze work (1 Kings 7:13–47).

In the time of Christ, the land of Naphtali was part of the area of Galilee, and it was viewed by the Jews in Judea as a place of dishonor, full of Gentile pagans (see John 1:46; 7:52). But Isaiah had prophesied that Naphtali would be honored: “In the past he humbled . . . the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan” (Isaiah 9:1). This honor came with the coming of Jesus Christ. All Jesus’ disciples but Judas, who betrayed Him, hailed from Galilee, and much of Jesus’ ministry took place there. Thus, “on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2). The tribe of Naphtali had its ups and downs. Its history includes incomplete obedience and shades of cowardice, but it also includes bravery under Gideon and a godly support of King David. Probably the greatest lesson we can take from Naphtali is that God exalts the humble. Naphtali (as part of Galilee) was despised, and Nazareth was the lowest of the low. Yet Nazareth was Jesus’ hometown, and Galilee was exactly where Jesus chose to begin His ministry. For our sakes, He became “despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53:3). The King of kings had the most unpretentious start. He is truly “humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29).

That’s the heart of Jesus, humility. That’s the history of Naphtali. That’s the lesson to be learned. Be humble and faithful and depend on God to do with it what He will.

Amen and Amen.

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.