Thursday, May 17, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: 1 Kings 13 and Philippians 3

1 Kings 13 – As Jeroboam begins to offer sacrifices to the gold bull-calves he set up at the Bethel altar, a “man of God” (“prophet” in other versions) from Judah “denounced the altar and predicted that it would fall apart. He also prophesies that someday a child named Josiah will be born to the family of David and will slaughter those “serving at the pagan altars who offer sacrifices” and he “will burn human bones.” There are a few key prophecies in this confusing declaration. Some are immediately realized and others, like the eventual killing of the false priests and the burning of human bones to make the altar unclean or off-limits in some way will not come to pass until the time of Josiah in 2 Kings. When Jeroboam goes to seize the prophet, his [Jeroboam’s] hand withers. And the altar does collapse as prophesied, so Jeroboam rethinks what he is doing and asks the prophet to pray for him and restore his hand. The prophet does this, and the king asks him to come home with him and be rewarded.

The prophet of Judah declines this offer, saying he must return to Judah by a different path. On the way he encounters another prophet, this one an old man from Bethel. Hearing from his sons what the prophet of Judah had done, he goes out and finds the man and invites to his home. The man of God tells him that he can’t because God has told him not to go back, but the old prophet claims he too has had a word from God telling him to bring the man back—so he convinces him to go back. 

At the dinner table, the word of God comes to the prophet from Judah and reproves him for not obeying his original direction.  It is revealed that he shall not return to his home. And sure enough, on the way back a lion kills him.  The old Bethel prophet learns of it when people traveling the same road tell him they saw him dead between his donkey and a lion (13:25). The old prophet goes and gets the body, brings it back and mourns over it. He realizes somehow that the prophecy the man made against the altar at Bethel and all the “high places” will be fulfilled. He instructs his sons to bury him alongside the man of God when he dies.

Jeroboam continues setting up the high places: “This sin on his part brought about the ruin and total destruction of his dynasty” (13:34).

The competing “openings” or revelations we see here in the “man of God” fro Judah and the “old prophet” of Bethel are interesting. Each man acts out of his sense of what God is opening to him and neither really can “know” which one will prove to be authentically from God. The “man of God” defers to the other prophet, and finds in the end that it was wrong to do so. The other seems sure God meant for the “man of God” to visit with him, but in the end he seems to see that God really had wanted something different – that the instruction the “man of God” told him he had to NOT come to the his house, was the true prophecy. One doesn’t get the feeling that either one was insincere. Time is a necessary dimension to truth just as it is to physicality (a la Einstein). 

Philippians  3 - Paul begins to conclude his letter with a renewed call for his readers to rejoice. But he warns them not to be misled by those whom he call “those dogs” (3:2), those “who insist on cutting the body” (3:2). The people who have “received the true circumcision” are those who “worship God by means of his Spirit and rejoice in our life in union with Christ Jesus” (3:3). He [Paul] has the “fleshly circumcision” and every other “fleshly” connection with the people of Israel, but these are not seen as strengths by him any more—now that he has come to know Christ.  “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (3:8-11).

These are beautiful words that capture so well the overriding vision Paul has of salvation.  For him salvation seems eminently personal, being gathered up into the very person, life and work of Jesus Christ.  In that is his (and our) glory. 

Paul addresses the matter of whether his sense of salvation amounts to “perfect maturity” and he declines to make this claim.  But he continues to live and act on the faith that he will attain to it (like an athlete who strains for the victory at the end of all his striving). The people whose minds “are set on earthly things” will end in a hell of their own making. 

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