They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Here I Raise My Ebenezer

"Stone of Help"

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far has the LORD helped us.”
— 1 Samuel 7:12

A line in the wonderful and popular old hymn, “Come Thy Fount of Every Blessing”, says, “Here I raise my Ebenezer, here by thy great help I come.” What is an Ebenezer? And, how do you raise one? What was the song’s author trying to convey by using these phrases? If we knew our Hebrew Testament better, we would easily catch the meaning that the song writer was trying to give to his listeners. Let’s take a look and see what we find.

During the time of the Judges in Israel’s history, the conquering of the Promised Land was often in danger of being a failure. Lack of strong leadership, and lack of devotion to YHVH had left the people in serious jeopardy. The Philistines, who were much more advanced technologically and militarily, were constantly routing the Israelite forces. During one particularly low point in the battles, Israel was in danger of being completely wiped out. Samuel, the judge who was leading Israel, summoned the people together and exhorted them to confess their wickedness, rid themselves of their foreign gods and commit themselves to YHVH only (see 1 Samuel 7:2-4).

The Israelites finally did what Samuel said – they got rid of their items that were keeping them from being wholeheartedly committed to the God of Israel. Samuel then had a ceremony where he poured water out before the Lord and had the people fast and confess their sins before the Lord and ask God to forgive them. God was gracious and forgave them for what they had done.

If you will continue reading the story (1 Samuel 7:7-11), you will see that God showed up in a powerful way and the Israelites were able to defeat and rout the previously unbeatable Philistine army. What had looked hopeless, turned into a mighty victory for YHVH and the Israelites.

To celebrate this change of heart of the people and the awesome display of power by YHVH, Samuel set up a standing stone at the battle site, and named the stone, “Ebenezer.” The word, “Ebenezer”, means ,”stone of help”, or thus far the Lord has helped us” (read vs 12).

So when the author of the song says, “Here I raise my Ebenezer, he was saying, “I have confessed my sins, gotten rid of the things that stand between me and God and I have asked for and received his intervention in my life. He has miraculously come and given me victory over my enemies, so to celebrate that I want to raise a standing stone to say to all who will look and listen, Here’s what God has done for me.”

I had heard that phrase in the song for years , but never took the time to find the meaning. If we only knew our Bible better! People are singing this song every week and not knowing what it is saying. They need to know the story and apply it to their walk. We need to confess our sins and get rid of the things that are standing between us and God. We also need to be that standing stone, that Ebenezer, to a world that needs to know about God. As we tell how God has helped us, we will be a witness to others so that the world may know that there is a God in Heaven and that he is active in our lives. Let’s raise an Ebenezer to our God and tell people how he has been our help!

Sea of Gallilee vs. the Dead Sea

Sea of Galilee

Sea of Galilee

The Sea of Gallilee is a beautiful fresh water lake that is fed from rain runoff from the mountains of Gallilee and the Golan Heights. It is 695 feet below sea level and is five miles wide and thirteen miles long.  The lake is only 150 feet deep  at the deepest point and is really a lake more than a sea.  However, it is the main water source for all of Israel. It is filled by the Jordan River, which has it’s beginnings on Mt. Hermon, an often snow capped peak at the north end of the land of Israel.  The Jordan then flows out of the Sea of Gallilee, down to Dead Sea.

Dead Sea

Dead Sea

The Dead Sea is much larger than it’s northern counterpart.  It is forty eight miles long and eleven miles wide and reaches a depth of over 1000 feet. It is the lowest place on the face of the earth  at 1300 feet below sea level.  The Dead Sea is dead because it is so salty. Twenty five percent of the water’s contents are salts. The water is clean and beautiful looking, yet it is bitter and nauseuous  to the taste.  The salts in the Dead Sea are worth billions of dollars and are as valuable as any oil field.

The Dead Sea is so salty because it has no outlet. The reason the Sea of Gallilee is so sweet, is that it has both an inflow and an outflow.  It both receives and gives. The Dead Sea, however, only receives and never gives. It is full of riches but there is no life in it.  The difference between the two lakes make for a very good spiritual life  lesson. The desert continues to speak!!

Deceived By Appearances

Abraham & Lot

Abraham & Lot

The story of Abraham and Lot separating is a great story that contrasts the life of two men who had choices to make. Abraham made the right choices, while Lot made the wrong ones.  Lot was deceived by appearances and it cost him dearly.

Lot was Abraham’s nephew, and Abraham invited Lot to follow him and help him.  While Lot was with Abraham and served Abraham’s God, he became rich in possessions (see vs. 5&6). When problems arose, Lot and Abraham were forced to make some choices.  Abraham, always generous and the peace maker, gave Lot the opportunity to choose the land he wanted.  Abraham knew he could not obtain wealth except by the Lord’s blessing anyway, so he let Lot have the choice (Gen. 14:22-24).

Lot got greedy, and in his greed, he chose what appeared to be the best land for himself. However, he knew by moving next to Sodom, he was leaving the God of Abraham and it’s blessings and security.  He sacrificed spiritual health for material possessions.  On the surface it seemed as though he had made a good decision. He got the best looking land, the plains along the Jordan River. The land looked green and fertile. Also, he gained position as a leader among the idolatrous people of Sodom, because the Bible tells us that he “sat in the gate” at Sodom which meant he was a judge and one of their important people (Gen. 19:1).

When Lot left Abraham, he not only left the wilderness, where a person had to depend upon God for survival, but he also left Abraham’s God.  This spelled disaster for Lot and his family.  Lot lost everything dear to him, his possessions and  his wife, and then found out that his daughters had become like the incestuous people of Sodom (Gen. 19:30-38). His grandchildren became the Moabites and Ammonites, who were infamous for their idolatry and evil ways.  They were bitter enemies of God’s people from this time forward.  Lot’s bad choices spawned generations of wicked results.

How does Lot’s situation apply to us? Satan paints a wonderful picture of the outside of our culture.  It looks desirable and healthy and “everyone is doing it”.  It is so easy to get caught up in the desire for wealth, material possessions and sexual attractions that look so great on the outside. We are constantly tempted to make the wrong choices.  Satan can’t wait to draw you in behind the curtain.  Once he gets you hooked, then you realize how sickening your choices were.

Abraham refused to compromise and continued to count on God for all his needs.  He made all his choices according to God’s standards.  Read Gen. 13:14-18 again. God blessed Abraham tremendously for his obedience. Don’t be deceived by appearances!!

Reclaiming the Importance of Scripture

When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, all the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel.So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. Ezra the scribe stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion….

Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground…

They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read. Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”…

Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.
Nehemiah 8:1-12

Background of this text: The Israelites had been taken captive to Babylon where they were mainly used as slaves. They had been prisoners in a strange land for nearly 100 years. During this time period, they weren’t allowed to practice their religion freely and were allowed few or no religious articles to practice with. There were few or no copies of the Torah scrolls available. There was certainly not a temple to YHVH to worship at. Their religion was being forgotten and many Jews were adopting the culture of the pagans they lived among. Very few talked of the old ways. However, some had a tremendous longing to worship YHVH back in the land that God had given them. They convinced the pagan king to let a remnant return to Israel to start rebuilding the old country. When the remnant got back to Israel and were settled in the land, they began to want to start the worship of YHVH anew. Ezra the scribe, and Nehemiah assembled the people together in Jerusalem. Ezra had found some of the old Torah scrolls and he began reading them aloud to the people. It had been a long time since many of them had even heard about YHVH and some had never heard his word being read.

As they heard God’s word being read, they began to be convicted of their sin and of God’s greatness. They began lifting their hands in worship and falling prostrate on the ground as the holy scriptures meanings were made known to them. They began to weep for forgiveness and then joy. They enthusiastically stood and listened to God’s Word being read from daybreak till dawn!

Oh, that America would come back to the holy scriptures of God! We are so comfortable in our pagan lifestyle! We haven’t heard or understood God’s word in a long time. There needs to be a reverence and a longing for the scriptures again. Only a remnant of the captives wanted to get back to God and his holy words. The rest were comfortable in their lifestyle because their material needs were being met. Sound familiar?

Can’t you picture the people standing from daybreak till noon while the scriptures were being read? We don’t like to stand too long for the song service, much less the reading of God’s Word!

Also, note in the story that the word,”Amen” is a Hebrew word that means, “May it be so”! May it be just as you’ve said”!

Won’t it be a great day when we hear the words of the Lord read and we spontaneously fall before Him in worship? Won’t it be great when we hear the Word read and all the people will be taught and understand what the Word means? America, I am afraid, hasn’t heard for a long time. We need to reclaim an importance for scripture and say “Amen” to it’s claims on our lives.

The Promised Land; In Heaven or Right Now?

Promised Land from Mt. Nebo

Promised Land from Mt. Nebo

What do you think of when you hear the phrase, “The Promised Land?” As western thinkers, many of us have been taught to think of this statement in a spiritual, heavenly sense. It is someplace that we are headed at the end of our lives. We are thinking of a heavenly city, with a mansion in it, that we hope to occupy when we die.  As we take our last breath, we will be transported to the Promised Land.  Our focus is on that destination. Our earthly experience is just a preparation for an eternity in the Promised Land.

While I am sure this thinking is accurate in some sense, the Promised Land as seen in the Bible is an “in the present experience” as opposed to “in the future.” The Promised Land experience in the Bible is in the form of and focuses on the journey rather than on the destination.

God gave the children of Israel the Promised Land so that they would live on the crossroads of the world.  Daily, they were supposed to live in such a way,”that the world would know” that there was a God named YHVH, that was the one, true God.  The “walk” was what got you to the destination  and was the key element.  The “walk” started in Egypt and came to the Promised Land.  They went in and possessed it. Their faith, or lack of it, was constantly on display.

As westerners, we have a tendency to separate our walk with God from our responsibility to the world in which he has placed us.  Our emphasis seems to be on our personal experience rather than on our responsibility to the world in which he has placed us.

We see the Israelites Exodus experience as a metaphor for salvation.  We see that they were hopelessly mired in slavery and bondage (sin) and that they were on the banks of the Red Sea with no way out.  Their backs were against the Sea and the Egyptians (Satan) were closing in.  God saved the Israelites by opening up the sea and transporting them safely to the other side (salvation). The Israelites contributed nothing to being saved, it was all God (grace).  But he didn’t leave them standing on the other side.  He required something out of them.  He immediately led them out into the desert to start working out their salvation experience (faith walk).  If we continue the parallels, the Israelites went in and possessed and lived in the Promised Land. By faith, they trusted God to fight for them and give them rain, etc. to live in and possess the land on a daily basis. The life of faith was not some vague, philosophical goal that they strove for in their mind.  It was being faithful to God in the place and time they were in, in the present. They were on the crossroads of the world for all to see and observe. We are to love the Lord with all our heart,soul and mind as we go about our daily walk in the area of the Promised Land that we live in.  The Promised Land , in a very real sense, is right now , in the present as we walk and live in such a way that “the world may know that there is a God in Heaven” and we are his witnesses as we  daily live our lives.

And the King Will Take a Tenth

If you’ve ever read 1 Samuel 8, it is a sobering reminder of where we are as a country here in the USA, today. As we go through the story, listen for the similarities to our current situation. Here is the storyline: The people were tired of the corruptness of the judges in Israel, so they told Samuel that they wanted a change. Instead of our old system, “we want a new one”. “We want a King who will give us more of what we need and who will take better care of us”. “We want to be like all the other nations”, said the Israelites. God issued a warning to the people through Samuel. He said, “If I give you a King, you will end up becoming a slave to him and his system of government”. This warning should have awakened them from their wrong thinking, because just a few generations past, their forefathers were slaves to the Egyptians. Surely they would not have chosen that kind of path again! But they insisted on having an earthly King and in the process rejected God as their provider and King. Unfortunately, for them, God granted their wish. The warning that God gives is a negative blueprint of what government is not supposed to look like. Look at the warning, beginning in verse eleven. It does not warn of the King being brutal or torturing people, or setting up idols, or failing to protect his subjects from their enemies. The warning consists of three words – “he will take“. Six times (I don’t think that this is coincidental – remember what the number six means) in the next eight verses he says the same three words,” he will take”. It’s the focal point of the entire warning.

What is really interesting about this warning is that God doesn’t say that the king will take everything you have. He says the King will take the “best” and a “tenth”. What is God saying here? What did God asked the people to give to him in the book of Leviticus? A tenth and the first fruits of your increase was what God required. The Scripture is implying that the King will begin to act as if he is God. He( the King) is the one who is entitled to your first fruits, your best. The first fruits, which were supposed to go to God, now go to the government. Does this speak to the position we are in today in America? We cannot give our first fruits to God because they are already withheld from our checks! By the time we get our money, the first fruits are already spent. I wonder if God is happy with the second fruits?

Look at the “he will take’s”. He will take our sons for his army. He will take our daughters to be in his palace for his own use. He will take the best of our land, produce, and livestock. And the final warning is the most sobering of all “and you will become the government’s slaves. In that day, you will cry out for relief from the King you have chosen and the Lord will not answer.”

God’s warning in 1 Samuel 8 is that the government can end up operating and acting like God and we will eventually become slaves to it. Without trying to be too political, I think we can see the handwriting on the wall here. We now look to the government to provide what we should be asking and counting on God to provide. Because we have done this over a period of time, our people have now become slaves to the state. It is demanding more and more of the fruits of our labor to help keep the cycle going. Now that we are in a “mell of a hess”, we are crying out for relief and God is not answering.

A postscript from this that even makes the point even closer occurs in chapter nine. The people elect Saul to be their king, not because he was necessarily the wisest or best choice, but because he was impressive looking (of kingly stature) – tall dark and handsome. He turned out to be a terrible mistake, because the people had not sought God and had picked him for the wrong reasons.

You can draw your own conclusions of how it fits the pattern we are in today. Obviously, God does not want the government acting like him and trying to be our caretaker. For what it’s worth, I wanted to share the story with you and see what you thought. Is this where we are? Is the Old (Hebrew Testament still speaking to us today?