Discipleship: Calling, Apprenticeship, & Ministry II

Apprentice

Repro. of painting by Emile Adan, copyrighted by Braun & Co., N.Y.

When I felt the push to explore this theme of Discipleship throughout the Old Testament, I had initially purposed to move through the Old Testament chronologically. However, I think that as long as I do a good job of identifying the Calling of each individual, I can skip to the more popularized figures of the Old Testament so that we aren’t always introducing readers to new characters; rather, we can begin with individuals whose stories most Christians feel they know well. In today’s post, I’d like to take a look at Gideon.

Gideon

So, I’d like to move forward a bit into the era of the Judges. The Lord God has led Israel into the promised land under Joshua’s leadership. To this point, however, Israel has failed to fully eradicate the inhabitants of the Promised Land. So after Joshua’s death, Israel sins, God raises up a judge to deliver Israel, and then Israel sins again. Most recently, God delivers Israel from the hand of Jabin, king of Canaan and the land goes undisturbed for 40 years. Now, we pick up our story in Judges Chapter 6.

Judges 6:1-6 (ESV) 6 The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. 2 And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds. 3 For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. 4 They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. 5 For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number—both they and their camels could not be counted—so that they laid waste the land as they came in. 6 And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the Lord.

Oh my… another period of sin. The Lord God gives them over to Midian for 7 years. Discipline often requires punishment. The Midianites and the Amalekites are a ruthless, ungodly people about whom Israel was instructed to completely eradicate. The Lord God waits for His people to cry out for help. The answer He first sends comes in a formal rebuke (Discipline always involves rebuke of wrong-doing).

Judges 6:7-10 (ESV) 7 When the people of Israel cried out to the Lord on account of the Midianites, 8 the Lord sent a prophet to the people of Israel. And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of slavery. 9 And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10 And I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.”

Ouch. The Lord God heard the cry of Israel, and He was going to send help, but they needed to understand that their predicament was not “bad luck” or “neglect”; rather, it was punishment. The Lord God making it absolutely clear to them of His Sovereignty, His mighty hand, and His promise. Now, once again, the Lord God will call from among His people a Judge.

Judges 6:11-16 (ESV) 11 Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites. 12 And the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.” 13 And Gideon said to him, “Please, sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” 14 And the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” 15 And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” 16 And the Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.”

The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor… When men “call” on someone, we are limited in what we know of them, or in what we hope may be in them. The Lord God knows no such limitation. When the Lord God calls Gideon a mighty man of valor, He is not necessarily referring to that which stands before Him (or as some would call “seeing something undiscovered within him”)… threshing wheat in a wine-press rather than on a threshing floor… He is speaking it into existence, for He is with Gideon to make it so. I love how Gideon’s first response isn’t even about the irony in being called a mighty man of valor in his present circumstance, but he struggles to accept the first part of the statement, “The Lord is with you“. He knows full well the history of what the Lord God has done for Israel in the past (perhaps he even heard the rebuke that came from the prophet sent by God?) and he has fully accepted that Israel’s present condition is punishment for disobeying the Lord God. Additionally, notice how Gideon clearly makes the case that he had done nothing… nothing… worthy of the Call of the Lord God on his life. The youngest in his household, the weakest clan of the tribe of Manasseh.  We’ll find out later that his father, Joash, had built an altar to Baal and complete with the Asherah. Evil in the sight of the Lord. God demonstrates a great deal of patience with Gideon, as his response to the Call of the Lord God involves a lot of hesitation and requests for confirmation by signs. Definitely not a prescription for how one should respond to the Call of God… except… that Gideon answered the call and submitted to the calling of the Lord God.

As with any apprenticeship, the Master instructs, tests, admonishes, and rewards the apprentice in his growth. As you’ll read on (please, I urge you to read the rest of chapter 6 and chapter 7 on your own, so that I need not include it within the text of this post), you’ll see that the Lord gives Gideon step-by-step instructions and encouragement so that he will learn to trust in the Lord God and in the Calling God had placed upon him. The Lord delivers the camp of Midian into the hand of Gideon. Now let’s go to chapter 8:

Judges 8:1-3 (ESV) 8 Then the men of Ephraim said to him, “What is this that you have done to us, not to call us when you went to fight against Midian?” And they accused him fiercely. 2 And he said to them, “What have I done now in comparison with you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the grape harvest of Abiezer? 3 God has given into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. What have I been able to do in comparison with you?” Then their anger against him subsided when he said this.

With this encounter, Gideon has graduated his apprenticeship and is now walking in his calling (his ministry) as a mighty man of valor. When the men of Ephraim accuse him of basically seeking to deprive others of their share of the glory, Gideon remembers the Word of the Lord, and that it must be known that to God be the glory for this victory. God fulfills His promise to Gideon, and to Israel and saves them from the hand of Midian. At the end of Gideon’s ministry, he again credits everything to the Lord God

Judges 8:22-23 (ESV) 22 Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.” 23 Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.

Sadly, the nation of Israel does not remain faithful, and even Gideon falters. For you see, what Gideon did right, was to believe in the Lord God. Everything else, was accomplished by God, and through God, to preserve the Promise of God to one day bless all the nations of the earth through the offspring of Abraham, that is, Jesus Christ. And with that thought, I’d like to leave you with this thought from the Apostle Paul:

Philippians 1:1-11 (ESV) 1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Amen. I pray you have a wonderful weekend, and may the Lord bless and keep you always,
In Him,
Jorge

Discipleship: Calling, Apprenticeship, & Ministry

Apprentice

Repro. of painting by Emile Adan, copyrighted by Braun & Co., N.Y.

So, we’ve spoken a bit about delegated authority within the Scriptures. I’d like to continue in that thought by looking at several examples throughout the Old Testament. But I don’t want to lose sight of the end-goal of this series, so I want to anchor each post in this series in the Great Commission found in the book of Matthew:

Matthew 28:16-20 (NASB) The Great Commission
16 But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. 18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

This is our mission. All of the scriptures are about Jesus Christ, and He left us with this charge before He ascended into Heaven. The book of Mark also records the Great Commission and summarizes the portion that I want to focus on for this study. The two accounts should be taken together. I believe that a strong case can be made for the modern church having made huge strides at following the “preaching the Gospel” as summarized by Mark (though the argument wains a bit when we look at the signs that follow believers)… but what I struggle to find is a modern-day understanding of “making disciples”. I suspect it will become increasingly difficult to connect or appreciate what it means to make disciples or to even be a disciple, because I believe that culturally we have lost sight of the concept of apprenticeship. Why? I blame individualism; however, having something to blame does not in itself address the problem. So, to explore the concept of Discipleship, I want to start out by breaking down discipleship into 3 major steps or phases: the calling, apprenticeship, and ministry.  Taking the 2 accounts of the Great Commission, we are called by Him through the preaching of the Gospel, then we are to become disciples of the Word (apprenticeship) and then go out and be partakers in the Great Commission ourselves. I’m breaking this down only as a generalized theme, and am in no way trying to make hard-lined separations so that you must be in one phase or the other.

Adam

Let’s start by returning to the Genesis account of Adam and the Garden of Eden.

Genesis 1:26 (NASB) 26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Here we have God announcing the purpose of man before He creates man, “…let them rule…”. We have our calling. Our purpose was determined before we were created. Now, on the grand scale, since we know that in the Kingdom of Heaven we will reign and rule with Christ; therefore all of man’s earthly existence fits in the apprenticeship phase… sure, but that is not where I want to go. For apprenticeship, and what that means in our daily walks, lets look at the individual call of Adam.

Genesis 2:8,9,15 (NASB) 8 The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. 9 Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food…15 Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it…

Here, we have a garden that God planted and caused to grow, and then He places Adam in the garden to cultivate it. Here we have our first apprenticeship. God showed Adam how to cultivate His garden. Adam sins against God and fails his task, sending all of mankind into darkness and cursing the very ground he was supposed to cultivate and forfeiting his delegated authority over to whom had fathered Adam’s sin, the devil.

Genesis 3:21-23 (NASB) 21 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them. 22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken.

Now, here our phases are broken somewhat, because the story of Adam is one of man’s failure and of God’s Sovereignty, Grace, Love and provision. We’ve already looked at how Jesus came to fulfill God’s plan and redeem all of mankind by paying the debt of Adam, by offering Himself as the Pure Spotless Lamb of Sacrifice. However, even after the fall, we have Adam being given his ministry, “to cultivate the ground from which he was taken“. I also like that we still have Adam being taught by God in that He, “made garments of skin…and clothed them“.

Abram (Abraham)

Let us now jump ahead a bit to another individual about whom we’ve discussed recently. Paul writes in Romans 4 about how Abram’s faith in God was credited to him as righteousness before the covenant of circumcision. Let us turn now to Genesis 12 which starts out with God’s calling of Abram:

Genesis 12:1-4 (NASB)
12 Now the Lord said to Abram,
“Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
2 And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
3 And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
4 So Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

Seventy-five years old when God first calls Abram! I remember wringing my hands unsure of what God wanted from me as a 20yr old college failure. But I digress, here in Genesis we have a rather sudden and out-of-the-blue call of God to Abram. In Chapter 11 we have the lineage from Noah to Abram, Sarai, and Lot. Aside from some basic family data, the only thing we know about Abram at this point is that God has a plan and a calling for Abram… and its BIG. To this point, Abram has done nothing deserving of the call of God, just as Adam had done nothing to deserve his calling. The Bible… is about God. Also notice that there is no delay in moving from Calling to Apprenticeship, “So Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him“. What we will see here is that Abram has a long way to go before he can start experiencing the call on his life. He lies to Pharaoh in Egypt which almost leads to adultery (however, God intervenes), he and Lot have to part ways due to land not supporting both their wealth, and Lot takes the better looking land. Not exactly an explosive start to his calling, eh? Then the Lord speaks to him again

Genesis 13:14-17 (NASB) 14 The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; 15 for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever. 16 I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth, so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered. 17 Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you.”

So, we see here God is continuing to reveal to Abram all that He intends to do in Abram’s life, and for his descendants. In Gen 14, we see 4 kings (Chedorlaomer’s team) come against 5 kings in the region (Bera king of Sodom’s team), and prevail against them, ransacking Sodom and taking with them Lot and his possessions. Abram rises up and defeats Cherdorlaomer and the kings with him and rescues Lot. That’s no small feat, not in the slightest. The Bible is quick to point out to whom goes the credit for such a feat…

Genesis 14:18-23 (NASB)
18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High.

19 He blessed him and said,
“Blessed be Abram of God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
20 And blessed be God Most High,
Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”

He gave him a tenth of all. 21 The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give the people to me and take the goods for yourself.” 22 Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have sworn to the Lord God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, for fear you would say, ‘I have made Abram rich.

Abram declines the “fulfill your calling quick” scheme. No doubt with all of the spoils of war, Abram could indeed have made himself a great nation. But he knew better, because he feared the One who had called him, and remembered that it would be He who would bring His Will to pass. Abram’s faith was not in the schemes of men (though he will still falter on this point regarding his wife… but hey… God’s Grace is truly amazing!); rather, it was in the Word of God. In Chapter 15, we see Abram ask God directly, “Oh Lord God what will you give me since I am childless…” and God answers him with a promise that his heir would come from his own body. It is then, that Abram believed in the Lord God and it was credited to him as righteousness (now we’ve come full-circle to Paul’s explanation of justification by faith in Romans 4). God’s call to Abram was a mighty call. And God had to work with Abram for many years. God changed Abram’s name to Abraham after establishing the covenant of circumcision and He had to deal with Abraham both in blessings and in rebukes. Twenty-five years after being called by God, Abraham finally has his son, Isaac. Abraham is 100 years old by the time a son is born to him. In the very next chapter, God tests Abraham. Now, I pray that we never have to deal with this level of testing to move on from apprenticeship to ministry, but Abraham passes the test for which he had been studying for 25 years (since the God called him):

Genesis 22:15-18 (NASB) 15 Then the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16 and said, “By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18 In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.

Abraham didn’t do anything to invite God’s call on his life, anymore than Adam did. But what Abraham did after God initiated the call on his life: he believed in the Lord, and obeyed His voice. As Christians, we’ve been grafted into God’s everlasting covenant with Abraham through Jesus Christ, who bore within Himself the punishment for the sin of all mankind. We’ve been granted an inheritance in the Kingdom of Heaven, where we will reign and rule with Christ as heirs and joint heirs.

But what is our calling now? Remember the Great Commission (Mark 16 & Matthew 28). That is a calling for all of us who’ve answered the call of the Holy Spirit on our lives, to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. That is not to say that we don’t have individual callings. God has a plan for each of us made before we were born (Psalm 139:16) and when we are made alive in Christ, He gives us gifts and callings:

Ephesians 4:11-16 (NASB) 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

It takes time, we will stumble along the way, but God is faithful to complete His work in each of us. Not everyone has the same calling, and we really have no say in what our calling will be, nor can we randomly pick a calling from the Bible and implore to grant us that calling. God does the calling, and the teaching, and the perfecting. What do we do? In closing this post (we’ll be revisiting this topic), let us turn to James 4:

James 4:7-10 (NASB) 7 Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.

We submit to God. Please know that I am in no way claiming to have succeeded in this myself. I struggle as you. I stumble just as you stumble (maybe even in the same areas). And like you, I put my hope in Jesus Christ. For apart from Him, I am nothing.

May the Lord bless and keep you,
In Him,
FS

Context of Christmas: from kings to the King of kings

ImageIf it is fitting that we Christians celebrate the Birth of the Jesus (Christmas), then we should endeavor to do so in Truth, the Word of God. It isn’t enough to simply reject the santaism that competes with the message of Jesus, or the materialism that robs us of our peace and joy and even goodwill toward men. I’d like to devote the next few articles to the wonder of the birth of Jesus. Luke 2 and Matthew 2 are wonderful passages chronicling the birth of our Savior, but I’d like to look at this event as the centerpiece of the bible, rather than simply the beginning of the New Testament. This will be my humble attempt at an overview of the Bible in many ways. As such, I will be using a lot more references to scripture (without including the texts here) than I am accustomed. I pray you will find the time to look up the passages referenced for your edification.

Today, I want to look at the significance of title “King of kings”. It is a title of the ultimate supremacy of God over all of the kings of men, and it is a title specifically worn by Jesus in Revelation 19:

Revelation 19:16 (NASB) 16 And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”

In the Beginning, when God created man, His desire was to be with us. He desired to have us freely choose to love Him, and live in His presence. To do so, we simply needed to obey Him (Gen 2:15-18). Adam failed in that regard, seeking rather to be like God knowing both good and evil. God immediately spared man from eternal separation from Him by removing man from the garden (Gen 3:22-24), and promising to make a way for the redemption of man by the seed of woman (Gen 3:15). As an aside, I’d like to point out that the enmity is between Satan and mankind. We too often falsely elevate Satan to being the opposite God. He is merely “in opposition” to God, but by this time he had already been cast out (defeated) by God. He remains a viscous foe only to created beings (men and angels, and the lesser creatures). We know that he opposed Jesus to the cross, at which point Jesus crushed Satan’s head and gained victory over the darkness. A second victory for God, the first victory for man, for He was both fully God and fully man (the seed of woman, but not of man, for He was born of a virgin. Isaiah 7:14, Matt 1:18-25; John 1:1-4,14).

What follows next is a long succession of mankind demonstrating their desire to do evil, all the while God is reaching out to creation to return to Him. Finally, one man finds favor with God and seeks to serve Him faithfully. God makes a covenant with Abraham:

Genesis 17:1-8 (NASB)
1 Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him,
“I am God Almighty;
Walk before Me, and be blameless.
2 “I will establish My covenant between Me and you,
And I will multiply you exceedingly.”
3 Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying,
4 “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you,
And you will be the father of a multitude of nations.
5 “No longer shall your name be called Abram,
But your name shall be Abraham;
For I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. 7 I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. 8 I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”

Notice that God’s promise is to be the God of Abraham’s decedents. Kings will come from him, and a multitude of nations, but God promises He will be their God “throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant”. Again, God’s purpose remains to be our God and to make us fruitful. This takes place roughly 2100 years BC. So then we have Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (whose name gets changed to Israel in Gen 32:28). This whole time, there are other peoples who worship false gods and have their own kings. God uses Egypt to preserve Israel through a terrible famine, but the Children of Israel tarry too long in their comfort under Pharaoh… a situation that declines rapidly once Joseph dies and a new Pharaoh chooses to treat Israel harshly. And so, God raises up a leader (Moses) from among them, raised within the very house of Pharoah until his exile… an exile where Moses meets God in a burning bush (Exodus 3), and is called by God to rescue God’s chosen people, the children of Israel. God identifies Himself as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. He was moving mightily to rescue Israel and honor the covenant. In Exodus 12, God delivers Israel out of Egypt, just as Jesus’ sacrifice delivers us from the kingdom of darkness (1 Cor 5:7; Heb 11:25-28). The exodus beings in roughly 1446 BC.

But Israel would have a terrible time walking in freedom. The generation that was pulled out of Egypt just couldn’t let go of Egypt, it’s rulers or its gods, and for their sin God had to wait for the next generation to lead them into the promised land. Joshua follows God (and so leads Israel) into the promised land… but Israel failed to follow God completely, and as soon as Joshua dies, they chase after false gods and marry foreigners. And so begins a period of raising up judges to rescue Israel from oppression, only to see a period of piece, followed by sin and its consequential oppression once more (the book of Judges and 1 Samuel).

So it continues until the time of Samuel. The story of Samuel is awesome, but that’s for another time. Though Samuel served God faithfully, his sons did not. Samuel appointed his sons as judges over Israel, and they fell into sin, seeking dishonest gain and taking bribes for perverting justice (1 Sam 8). It is at this point that the elders of Israel came to Samuel and demanded that he appoint a king to judge over Israel. This greatly troubled Samuel.

Here in the U.S., we are far removed from having a king. We have a veritable pantheon of elected officials to whom we give great power over us, but we do not have a solid concept of a king. The Israelites had over them the priests, judges, and prophets. Each office was a position of authority over the people of Israel; however, the seat of their authority was firmly established in God. The priests, prophets, and judges were advocates of the people to God. A king is something different. What the Israelites were saying was that they no longer wanted to be judged and ruled over by God or His advocates, they wanted to carve out their own identity, have their own kingdom, patterned more after the kingdoms around them that served false gods. So God gave them over to their desire for a king, with a strong warning of what would come of it (read the remainder of 1 Sam 8). Saul becomes the first king of Israel in roughly 1050 BC.

When Saul sins against God, the Lord leads Samuel to anoint David as King. Now David being a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22) serves God mightily and wanted to build for God a Temple. God denies his request (1 Chr 28:3) but David gathers up materials for the Temple that would be built later by Solomon in roughly 970 BC.

1 Chronicles 28:6-7(NASB) 6 [God] said to [David], ‘Your son Solomon is the one who shall build My house and My courts; for I have chosen him to be a son to Me, and I will be a father to him. 7 I will establish his kingdom forever if he resolutely performs My commandments and My ordinances, as is done now.’ (emphasis mine)

Solomon did not keep God’s commandments, and as a result, he was the last king over a unified Israel. Israel was split into 2 kingdoms, “Israel” to the north, and “Judah” to the south. Jerusalem, where the Temple was built, remained the capital city of Judah, and Samaria became the capital of Israel. In 722 BC, the Assyrians invaded Israel and scattered its tribes in exile. These are known as the lost tribes of Israel, because they never again returned to the land of Israel as a people. Their final king was Hosea. Judah lasts a bit longer until approximately 586 BC, when Babylon takes Jerusalem and destroys the Temple. King Nebuchadnezzar takes as captive “some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles, youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans” (Daniel 1:3b-4). But not all of Israel was taken to Babylon. Those that remained, suffered greatly. Without a king, without their nobles, best craftsmen leaders, intellectuals… they were left to starve and fend for themselves. The book of Lamentation was written in Judah during the Exile.

Now Cyrus, a Persian king, had conquered all of the kingdoms. The book of Ezra picks begins with a proclemation made by Cyrus:

Ezra 1:1-4 (NASB)
1 Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying:
2 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 3 Whoever there is among you of all His people, may his God be with him! Let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel; He is the God who is in Jerusalem. 4 Every survivor, at whatever place he may live, let the men of that place support him with silver and gold, with goods and cattle, together with a freewill offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.’”

Cyrus was a Zoroastrian, so in his mind, he was simply supporting all “good gods” in the epic struggle against the “evil gods”. Aside: How awesome is it that God can use and has used pagans and pantheists to work His Will! But God used Cyrus and the Persian empire to not only put an end to the Exile, but to commission the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple using Persian funding! Ezra and Nehemiah cover the rebuilding of the Temple and Jerusalem. This second temple is dedicated in roughly 516 BC, but Israel does not regain its independence, only it’s Temple and its identity under Persian rule. Alexandar the Great defeats the Persian empire, and the Greeks then rule over Jerusalem beginning roughly 333 BC. The Greek ruler Antiochus Epiphanes reigned over Judah from about 175 BC to about 164 BC and tried to destroy the Jewish religion and copies the Torah. He also defiled the Temple in Jerusalem by making it a temple to Zeus and demanding pigs be sacrificed within the temple (Daniel 11:31-35). The Maccabees revolted and gained some independence until  the Romans took over in 63 BC.

Now the stage is set. The throne of David seems all but abandoned. Israel is but a shadow of what it once was. For nearly 400 years now, the Prophets have been silent… and the people are looking for a Messiah. When the Romans took over, they placed Herod as governor over Jerusalem. He commissioned many an architectural wonder in expanding the Temple Mount (actually enlarging the mountain around the Temple, we’ll discuss this in greater detail later). But many Jews suffered under Herod. He would appoint High Priests in the Temple of his choosing, and should any of them disagree with Herod, He’d remove them and place another. Israel, wanted to be made free. This is why the message of Jesus was so completely difficult for the Jews to accept… especially for those who recognized Him as possibly the Christ:

John 10:22-24 (NASB) 22 At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; 23 it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon. 24 The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

Now that we have established a historical and biblical context for the birth of Jesus, in the next blog I plan on looking at some of the really cool statements made in the Luke and Matthew accounts of the birth of our Savior. We will be looking at prophecies from Daniel and Isaiah for sure. In the meantime, I hope this has been at least interesting for some of you.

May the Lord bless and keep you in His Will,

FS

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