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Bible Reading Challenge continued

Bible Challenge: Day 314

Bible Reading: 2 Kings 1 & Psalm 55

2 Kings 1 records how King Ahaziah accidently fell through the lattice in the upper chamber of his palace. He was seriously injured and sent messengers to enquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether he would recover. God sent Elijah to admonish him for his apostasy and to tell him that he was going to die. He intercepted the king’s messengers who returned and informed the Ahaziah what they had been told. The king asked them to describe the prophet who had spoken to them and ‘They answered him, “He wore a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist.” And he said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.”’ Ahaziah sent a captain and fifty soldiers to apprehend Elijah but fire fell from heaven and consumed them at the word of the prophet. The king sent another fifty men, who met the same fiery end. Ahaziah sent another captain and fifty soldiers who pleaded with Elijah to accompany them. After receiving word from God, he did so, and told the king he would not rise from his bed but die. ‘So he died according to the word of the LORD that Elijah had spoken. Jehoram became king in his place in the second year of Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, because Ahaziah had no son.’

Psalm 55 is attributed to David, but it anticipated and has been traditionally applied to Christ. The Lord Jesus said after all, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Lk.24:26-27). And so, David’s cries and pleas can rightly be taken for the voice of Jesus in this Psalm. He prays, ‘Give ear to my prayer, O God, and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy! 2 Attend to me, and answer me; I am restless in my complaint and I moan, 3 because of the noise of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked.’ From his betrayal in the Upper Room and Garden to the Via Dolorosa and his Cross, Jesus experienced the ignominy, false accusations, hatred, mockery, and brutal opposition of his enemies. Like David, but even more so, he could have surely said, ‘For they drop trouble upon me, and in anger they bear a grudge against me. 4 My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me. 5 Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me. 6 And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; 7 yes, I would wander far away; I would lodge in the wilderness; Selah 8 I would hurry to find a shelter from the raging wind and tempest.”’ Unlike David, however, Jesus prayed to his heavenly Father from the Cross, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’ [vv.9-11]. Like David, Jesus lamented his betrayal by Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve whom he had chosen, a ‘companion and friend’ who had sold him out for thirty pieces of silver! [vv.12-14]. Sadly, Judas’ and others’ thoughts, words, and actions against the Son were evil and emanated from their fallen and rotten hearts [v.15]. Like David, Jesus cried to God (the Father) in faith, trusting his crown would follow his cross [16-18]. His enemies had violated God’s covenant of love and the unrepentant would be held accountable for the evil that they did [vv.19-21]. The Psalmist urges all God’s people to ‘22 Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.’ He concludes by way of contrast. ‘23 But you, O God, will cast them down into the pit of destruction; men of blood and treachery shall not live out half their days. But I will trust in you.’ Let us eschew evil. Rather let us trust and obey God.

To ponder! who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, 8 though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. 9 And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him… (Heb.5:7-9).

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Bible Challenge: Day 315

Bible Reading: 2 Kings 2 & Psalm 56

2 Kings 2 records Jehoash’s renovation work at the Temple. He reigned for forty years over Judah from Jerusalem, and he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD. Like his predecessors, however, he failed to stop some from worshipping at the ‘high places’. He gladly received instruction from Jehoiada, the high priest. And he commanded the priests, “All the money of the holy things that is brought into the house of the LORD, the money for which each man is assessed—the money from the assessment of persons—and the money that a man's heart prompts him to bring into the house of the LORD, 5 let the priests take, each from his donor, and let them repair the house wherever any need of repairs is discovered.” Nevertheless, after twenty-three years the work had yet failed to materialise. And so, the king confronted Jehoiada and his fellow priests and demanded to know why they had not renovated the Temple as commanded. He ordered them to take no more money from their donors but to get on with the actual work. Money from worshippers was collected at the Temple and distributed to the carpenters, stonemasons and stonecutters employed. Hazeal, the king of Syria, however, conquered Gath and then turned his attention to Jerusalem. Rather than face him in battle, Jehoash bought him off with the sacred gifts dedicated by Jehoshaphat, Jehoram, and Ahaziah his fathers, the kings of Judah, as well as his own sacred gifts, ‘and all the gold that was found in the treasuries of the house of the LORD and of the king's house’. Hazeal therefore spared the Holy City. Subsequently, Jehoash (Joash is an alternative spelling) was assassinated by some of his own political advisors or courtiers and was buried at Jerusalem. He was succeeded by his son, Amaziah.

Psalm 56 is a Psalm of David which reflects his experience after being captured by the Philistines at Gath. It can also be applied to Christ, the church, and the individual Christian when faced with trials, troubles, and tribulations. It reminds us of the importance of faith and of our need to trust in God through thick and thin. David cries out to God, ‘Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me; all day long an attacker oppresses me; 2 my enemies trample on me all day long, for many attack me proudly.’ Again, he looks on his extremity as God’s opportunity. His mental and physical suffering is all too real but in hope he looks to God to deliver him from it. He writes, ‘3 When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. 4 In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?’ The Lord Jesus would say in the days of his earthly ministry, ‘And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.’ David’s foes, like Christ’s, were formidable but they are no match for God. ‘5 All day long they injure my cause; all their thoughts are against me for evil. 6 They stir up strife, they lurk; they watch my steps, as they have waited for my life.’ However, David is confident that they will face God’s judgement. ‘7 For their crime will they escape? In wrath cast down the peoples, O God!’ By contrast, the omniscient God loves and therefore cares for his beloved children. And so, the Psalmist declares, ‘8 You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book? 9 Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call.’

He has assurance of God’s favour, goodness, and love. God will not forget or forsake him. ‘This I know,’ he therefore writes, ‘that God is for me.’ Thus, he will remain faithful. He will trust and praise the LORD who will not break his covenant with his people. ‘10 In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise, 11 in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me? 12 I must perform my vows to you, O God; I will render thank offerings to you. 13 For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.’ The same God came in the person of Jesus Christ that we might walk in love in the light. He came that we might have life, enjoy it abundantly, and have it everlastingly. Praise the Lord.

To ponder! The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. And he thrust out the enemy before you and said, ‘Destroy’ (Deut.33:27).

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Bible Challenge: Day 316

Bible Reading: 2 Kings 2 & Psalm 57

In the chaos of combatting Friday’s flood, I mistakenly commented on 2 Kings 12 rather than 2 Kings 2 and so today we turn back to 2 Kings 2 rather than 2 Kings 3. Here Elijah is translated to heaven without passing through death. The prophets of Bethel came out to meet Elijah and Elisha and told the latter, “Do you know that today the LORD will take away your master from over you?” And he said, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.” As they approached Jericho, prophets from there too also relayed the same message. At the Jordan River, Elijah rolled up his cloak and struck the water and it parted allowing him to pass over on dry land, accompanied by Elisha. ‘When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.”’ While they chatted and made their onward journey what seemed like chariots and horses of fire separated the two prophets and Elijah was carried up into heaven in a whirlwind. ‘And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more.’ Elisha tore his clothes and took up Elijah’s cloak. Returning via Jordan, he struck the river, and it parted as it had done for Elijah. And the prophets and people of Jericho saw that the spirit of Elijah now rested with Elisha. He there performed a miracle purifying the water of a nearby spring that the people depended upon. Passing by Bethel some boys mocked him and paid a heavy price when they were attacked by two bears after being cursed by the prophet. He returned to Samaria via Mount Carmel.

Psalm 57 is the prayer of David when he hid in a cave from the murderous intentions of Saul. Like other Psalms it prefigures or foreshadows Christ who willingly faced the storms of destruction for the sin of the world. David pleaded for mercy. ‘Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.’ David’s son and Lord also found refuge in God. And like David, he wholeheartedly trusted in God the Father’s plan and purpose for his mission and ministry. ‘2 I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.’

David looked to God for deliverance while Jesus looked beyond the cross to his crown. And so the psalmist writes, ‘3 He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. Selah God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!’ Like David, but even more so, Jesus faced the hostility and violent hatred of his enemies – both spiritual and temporal. ‘4 My soul is in the midst of lions; I lie down amid fiery beasts—the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.’ But they both anticipated God being glorified through their deliverance from the cave and tomb. And so, Christ could cry along with David, ‘5 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!’ they both recognised the folly of their persecutors who were bring judgement upon themselves by their opposition and oppression towards the LORD’s anointed. Hence, he writes, ‘6 They set a net for my steps; my soul was bowed down. They dug a pit in my way, but they have fallen into it themselves. Selah’ Therefore, despite their suffering they both praised the LORD and glorified his name. They rejoiced in him and his faithfulness towards them. They would not only be wholly vindicated but they would be exalted. And God’s name was and is glorified through all the earth. And so, the psalmist concludes, ‘7 My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast! I will sing and make melody! 8 Awake, my glory! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn! 9 I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. 10 For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. 11 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!’ Amen.

To ponder! Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings (Ps.17:8b).

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Bible Challenge: Day 317

Bible Reading: 2 Kings 3 & Psalm 58

2 Kings 3 records Moab’s rebellion against Israel during the reign of Jehoram, the son of Ahab. While not as bad as his father, he nevertheless did evil in the sight of the LORD by continuing the idolatrous religious policy and practices developed by Jeroboam. Mesha of Moab reneged on a contract to deliver a sizeable quantity of sheep and wool to Israel. And Jehoram responded my mustering his army and marching against Moab. He persuaded King Jehoshaphat of Israel to join in the assault via the wilderness of Edom. After sevens and in need of provisions, they sought word from Elisha, the prophet. For the sake of Jehoshaphat, Elisha told Jehoram, “Thus says the LORD, ‘I will make this dry streambed full of pools.’ 17 For thus says the LORD, ‘You shall not see wind or rain, but that streambed shall be filled with water, so that you shall drink, you, your livestock, and your animals.’ 18 This is a light thing in the sight of the LORD. He will also give the Moabites into your hand, 19 and you shall attack every fortified city and every choice city, and shall fell every good tree and stop up all springs of water and ruin every good piece of land with stones.” The next morning around the time of worship, water came from the direction of Edom as prophesied. The Moabite army marshalled its forces and marched against Israel and Judah but were defeated as Elisha had foretold. Mesha sacrificed his own son to his gods but to no avail. And the Hebrews returned to their own land.

Psalm 58 is an imprecatory Psalm in which David prays that justice would prevail against those that do evil, and that God and his ways would be wholly vindicated. He rhetorically asks, ‘Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods? Do you judge the children of man uprightly?’ And he provides the answer, ‘2 No, in your hearts you devise wrongs; your hands deal out violence on earth.’ We should note once again, the psalmist’s reference to the heart which speaks of the centrality or core of a person’s being. The fallen nature has corrupted man’s affections, emotions, understanding, and will and the evil give full expression to the sin nature. As the Lord Jesus says, ‘For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander’ (Mt.15:19). And thus our need of a new heart which is ours in the new covenant that Jesus, ratified and sealed through his life, death, and resurrection. ‘3 The wicked, David’s notes, ‘are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies. 4 They have venom like the venom of a serpent, like the deaf adder that stops its ear, 5 so that it does not hear the voice of charmers or of the cunning enchanter.’ Comprehending the damage done and the potential danger posed by those that do evil, David pleads with God to disarm, ameliorate, and nullify their power. ‘6 O God, break the teeth in their mouths; tear out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD! 7 Let them vanish like water that runs away; when he aims his arrows, let them be blunted. 8 Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime, like the stillborn child who never sees the sun. 9 Sooner than your pots can feel the heat of thorns, whether green or ablaze, may he sweep them away!’ He prays that the righteous may have cause to rejoice to God’s justice and that their faithfulness will be richly rewarded. ‘10 The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked. 11 Mankind will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth.”

To ponder! Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen.18:25).

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Bible Challenge: Day 318

Bible Reading: 2 Kings 4 & Psalm 59

2 Kings 4 records miracles attributed to the Prophet Elisha. He was God’s agent and instrument reminding the children of Israel of their need of God’s grace and of their obligation to walk by faith. He intervened to help a poor widow, who feared losing her sons to slavery due to her inability to meet the demands of her creditors. He ensured that she had an ample supply of oil to pay off her creditors and make ends meet [vv.1-7]. Elisha also returned the kindness and generosity shown to him by a Shunammite woman and her husband who provided him with food, drink, and accommodation. Through the mediation of Elisha (a type of Christ!), God enabled the childless couple to produce an heir, after the woman miraculously conceived [vv.8-17]. When their son was a boy, he appears to have suddenly been struck down dead by a brain haemorrhage or a stroke. The Shunammite woman swiftly travelled to Elisha at Mount Carmel. She persuaded Elisha to return with her. Gehazi, the prophet’s servant confirmed that the boy was dead. God worked through Elisha to restore the boy to life to the great relief of his parents [vv.18-37]. The chapter concludes with a famine at Gilgal and Elisha turning a harmful and therefore inedible stew into a nutritious meal for the sons of the prophets [vv.38-41]. Anticipating the Lord Jesus’ feeding of the 5000 he was also God’s agent there in the multiplication of food to feed a hundred men [vv.42-44].

Psalm 59 like Psalm 58 has obvious Christological overtures, but it was composed by David while Saul’s assassins were watching to take his life. He therefore earnestly prays to God, ‘Deliver me from my enemies, O my God; protect me from those who rise up against me; 2 deliver me from those who work evil, and save me from bloodthirsty men. 3 For behold, they lie in wait for my life; fierce men stir up strife against me.’ David pleads his innocence and herein acts as a type of Christ who alone was and is truly without sin. ‘For no transgression or sin of mine, O LORD, 4 for no fault of mine, they run and make ready.’ The psalmist urges God to intervene. To come to his aid. To punish the wicked and thereby establish justice. He therefore cries, ‘Awake, come to meet me, and see! 5 You, LORD God of hosts, are God of Israel. Rouse yourself to punish all the nations; spare none of those who treacherously plot evil. Selah’ David’s enemies, like the Lord Jesus’ were constantly conspiring to kill him and yet he like Jesus trusted in the sovereignty of God who upholds, strengthens, sustains, and shields his people. ‘6 Each evening they come back, howling like dogs and prowling about the city. 7 There they are, bellowing with their mouths with swords in their lips—for “Who,” they think, “will hear us?” 8 But you, O LORD, laugh at them; you hold all the nations in derision. 9 O my Strength, I will watch for you, for you, O God, are my fortress.’ Despite the virulent determination of his enemies, whom he likens to vicious pack of wild dogs seeking their prey, David, like Jesus, trusted wholeheartedly in the steadfast love and goodness of God. He is confident that God will guarantee his ultimate triumph over those that sought to take his life [vv.10-15]. He therefore concludes with adoration, admiration, and acclamation in heartfelt praise, declaring, ‘16 But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress. 17 O my Strength, I will sing praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love.’

To ponder! Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, 3 “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” 4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. 5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, 6 “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill” (Ps.2:1-6).

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Bible Challenge: Day 319

Bible Reading: 2 Kings 5 & Psalm 60

2 Kings 5 records the healing of Naaman’s leprosy by the instrumentality of Elisha. Naaman was a courageous and loyal commander in the Syrian army and was well respected by his king and the people of the nation. In his household was a young Israelite female servant who had been a victim of war between Syria and Israel. She informed Naaman’s wife of how the God of Israel worked supernaturally through Elisha and suggested he could cure Naaman of his leprosy. Naaman’s wife told her husband who in turn told the king who wrote to the king of Israel. Naaman took the letter to Israel’s king, along with gold, silver, and clothing. The king of Israel was indignant when he read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.” On hearing that the king had tore his rich garments, Elisha enquired into the reason why he had done so which in turn led to his encounter with Naaman. Elisha told Naaman via a messenger, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” Naaman, however, was enraged that Elisha had not received him in person. Disbelieving, he pointed out that there were rivers in Syria he could have washed in! Nevertheless, his servants reasoned with him and persuaded him to do as instructed by the prophet. ‘So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.’ Naaman went to Elisha afterward expressing faith in the God of Israel and as a token of his gratitude sought to lavishly reward him but Elisha refused his gift. Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, nevertheless caught up with Naaman, told him a lie, and received two talents of silver and two changes of clothes. Despite his denial, Elisha confronted him on his return and said, ‘“Did not my heart go when the man turned from his chariot to meet you? Was it a time to accept money and garments, olive orchards and vineyards, sheep and oxen, male servants and female servants? 27 Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and to your descendants forever.” So he went out from his presence a leper, like snow.’

In Psalm 60 David earnestly prays to God for Israel’s salvation and restoration in the land. In desperation, he asks, ‘O God, you have rejected us, broken our defenses; you have been angry; oh, restore us. 2 You have made the land to quake; you have torn it open; repair its breaches, for it totters. 3 You have made your people see hard things; you have given us wine to drink that made us stagger.’ David recognises God’s hand in the establishment of the nation and their utter reliance on the LORD for their prosperity and protection. God has temporarily forsaken them due to their folly, but the psalmist looks in hope to recovery by God’s grace and mercy. ‘4 You have set up a banner for those who fear you, that they may flee to it from the bow. Selah 5 That your beloved ones may be delivered, give salvation by your right hand and answer us!’ David takes hold of God’s promises, relying on the LORD’s covenant faithfulness and steadfast love. Expressing complete dependency on the sovereign LORD, he writes, ‘6 God has spoken in his holiness: “With exultation I will divide up Shechem and portion out the Vale of Succoth. 7 Gilead is mine; Manasseh is mine; Ephraim is my helmet; Judah is my sceptre. 8 Moab is my washbasin; upon Edom I cast my shoe; over Philistia I shout in triumph.” 9 Who will bring me to the fortified city? Who will lead me to Edom? 10 Have you not rejected us, O God? You do not go forth, O God, with our armies.’ In faith he therefore beseeches God, ‘11 Oh, grant us help against the foe, for vain is the salvation of man! 12 With God we shall do valiantly; it is he who will tread down our foes.’ Let us recognise our continual need of grace and walk by faith which is the way of faithfulness and fruitfulness to God’s glory and our common good.

To ponder! For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness. 29 For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall. 30 This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him (Ps.18:28-30).

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Bible Challenge: Day 320

Bible Reading: 2 Kings 6 & Psalm 61

2 Kings 6 begins with the story of the miraculous retrieval of the iron axe head from the River Jordan by Elisha’s intervention. The prophetic school that grew around Elisha were felling logs at the Jordan for the construction of dwellings when one of the prophets dropped his axe head into a deep part of the river. ‘Then the man of God said, “Where did it fall?” When he showed him the place, he cut off a stick and threw it in there and made the iron float. 7 And he said, “Take it up.” So he reached out his hand and took it.’ Afterward, Elisha became the focus of the king of Syria’s ire after it was told his that the prophet was relaying the mind and plans of the Syrians to the King of Israel. ‘And he said, “Go and see where he is, that I may send and seize him.” It was told him, “Behold, he is in Dothan.” 14 So he sent there horses and chariots and a great army, and they came by night and surrounded the city.’ When Elisha’s servant brought word that they were surrounded by the Syrian army, Elisha told him, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Elisha prayed to God to open the eyes of his servant so that he could behold the host of the LORD. And he saw the mountain full of horses and chariots of fire. Elisha further prayed to God to render the Syrians blind. He then led them away to Samaria. Elisha told the king of Israel to do them no harm but rather provide them with bread and water and they made their way peacefully back to Syria. Later, King Ben-hadad of Syria besieged Samaria with his entire army. A severe famine followed that resulted in escalating food prices and grave shortages compelling some to resort to cannibalism. The King of Israel was rightly horrified to discover that some in desperation had sacrificed and ate the vulnerable. He tore his clothes and mourned but foolishly attributed blame to Elisha whose head he demanded. The king therefore despatched an assassin but before he reached Elisha, the prophet declared to the elders, “Do you see how this murderer has sent to take off my head? Look, when the messenger comes, shut the door and hold the door fast against him. Is not the sound of his master's feet behind him?” 33 And while he was still speaking with them, the messenger came down to him and said, “This trouble is from the LORD! Why should I wait for the LORD any longer?”

In Psalm 61 David cries to God to strengthen and sustain him. His prayer anticipates and foreshadows Christ whom God raised to reign everlastingly. The psalmist pleads, ‘Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; 2 from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, 3 for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.’ David again expresses his need of God’s abiding grace. God is his rock and refuge, his shelter and strength. Without him he is helpless and without real hope. He expresses his chief desire and delight. He says, ‘4 Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Selah’ He prays in a faith that is experiential. He has experienced God’s goodness. God has answered previous prayers and therefore David prays with confidence and conviction. ‘5 For you, O God, have heard my vows; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.’ He asks the Lord, ‘6 Prolong the life of the king; may his years endure to all generations! 7 May he be enthroned forever before God; appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him!’ And while God blessed him richly, his words found ultimate fulfilment in Jesus Christ, his Lord, and ours. He concludes by praising and promising to faithfully serve God. ‘8 So will I ever sing praises to your name, as I perform my vows day after day.’

To ponder! But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Mt.6:33).

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Bible Challenge: Day 321

Bible Reading: 2 Kings 7 & Psalm 62

2 Kings 7 begins with Elisha prophesying the end of great scarcity. The following day flour and barley would be sold at the city gates of Samaria. The king’s captain expressed scepticism, but the prophet told him, “You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat of it.” Nevertheless, four lepers who sat at the city gate, fearing starvation decided to seek refuge in the camp of the Syrians in the hope of finding relief from the famine. However, they found that the LORD had made the Syrians to flee. Believing that a vast army was approaching they had fled in the night abandoning their tents, horses, donkeys, and provisions. The lepers ate and drank and made off with silver and gold which they hid. Their conscience awakened, they then returned to Samaria and informed the king’s household of what they had found. The king feared a Syrian trap to capture Samaria but was persuaded to send horsemen to take cognizance of the situation. They returned and confirmed that the Syrians had fled. ‘Then the people went out and plundered the camp of the Syrians. So a seah of fine flour was sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel, according to the word of the LORD.’ The captain that had doubted Elisha’s word from God was sadly trampled to death in the crush for food at the city gate fulfilling the prophet’s word.

In Psalm 62 David expresses his complete confidence in God alone. This Psalm, like others, has Christological overtones and is the prayer of the church militant. The psalmist begins, ‘For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. 2 He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.’ David speaks in quiet assurance for the people of God who may well have cause to tremble at times in their lives. However, they do so on the rock that is God who will never give way under their feet. The Christian finds stability and security in him through Christ. David expresses exasperation at the folly of fallen man who ignores God’s word and tramples his neighbour underfoot for power, prestige, and prosperity. He asks, ‘3 How long will all of you attack a man to batter him, like a leaning wall, a tottering fence? 4 They only plan to thrust him down from his high position. They take pleasure in falsehood. They bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse. Selah. By contrast, the psalmist speaks for God’s people when he declares, ‘5 For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. 6 He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. 7 On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.’ He therefore urges all, ‘8 Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah’ He furthermore points out the futility and folly of making an idol of wealth. ‘9 Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath. 10 Put no trust in extortion; set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, set not your heart on them.’ God, he reminds us, is sovereign. We must set our hearts on his steadfast love. All are answerable and accountable to him. ‘11 Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, 12 and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love. For you will render to a man according to his work.’ Amen.

To ponder! For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Rom.8:24-25).

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Bible Challenge: Day 322

Bible Reading: 2 Kings 8 & Psalm 63

2 Kings 8 begins with the restoration of the property and land of the Shunammite woman whose son Elisha had restored to life from death. Elisha had forewarned her, and her household, of the famine that would strike Israel for seven years. She consequently had found refuge in the land of the Philistines. She confirmed what Gehazi told the king about the miracles Elisha had done, and her property was restored by royal assent. Elisha was next confronted by Hazael who had been sent by Ben-hadad, the king of Syria, to enquire of the prophet whether he would recover from an illness that had left him bedridden. Elisha informed him that the king would indeed survive his sickness but would nevertheless die. He wept as he saw in a vision the death and devastation that was to be wrought on Israel by Ben-hadad’s killer and successor. Hazael returned and told the king that he would survive the sickness. Shortly afterwards, however, he suffocated his king and assumed control in his stead. Meanwhile, Jehoram succeeded Ahab as king of Israel at the age of thirty-two. He reigned for eight years and like his father, did evil in the sight of the LORD. His reign saw the revolt of Edom from Judah’s control and political and military turbulence throughout the region. In the twelfth year of his reign Ahaziah became king of Judah. He came to the throne at the age of twenty-two, but he followed the ways of Ahab and only reigned for one year. He joined with Joram in attacking the forces of Hazael of Syria at Ramoth-gilead. There Joram was injured in battle and was taken to Jezreel. The chapter concludes with Ahaziah on his way to visit him.

Psalm 63 was composed by David in the wilderness after fleeing for his life. It expresses his deep love of, desire for, and dependency on God. Like so many of the Psalms it anticipates and foreshadows Christ who triumphed over our greatest foe in the wilderness, and who later rose from the earth to reign over all. It also expresses the praise and prayer of God’s church whose desire and delight is to live ‘coram deo’ – before the face of God. The psalmist reveals his personal yearning for God’s presence. He begins, ‘O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.’ He prays in faith founded on personal experience reminding us that the Christian life is one of troughs as well as peaks in our earthly pilgrimage. ‘2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. 3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. 4 So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.’ David’s soul, his inner person, found contentment in God. Like Augustine of Hippo, his heart found peace, rest, satisfaction, and delight in God who was ever in his thoughts. And so, he writes in faith, hope, and love in anticipation of God’s gracious self-disclosure to him. ‘5 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, 6 when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; 7 for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.’ His faith to rooted in and routed to God to whom he adheres. ‘8 My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.’ And so it is with all that love the LORD. As the apostle reminds us, all things are working for the good of those that love God. ‘9 But, David ends, ‘those who seek to destroy my life shall go down into the depths of the earth; 10 they shall be given over to the power of the sword; they shall be a portion for jackals. 11 But the king shall rejoice in God; all who swear by him shall exult, for the mouths of liars will be stopped.’

To ponder! Here’s the first six stanzas of the old Scottish Metrical Version of Psalm 63. I used to regularly sing it to the tune ‘Jackson’, but any common metre tune should work just fine. Singing the psalms helps us to remember their content. These were the hymns that the Lord Jesus sang, and he is revealed therein.

1 Lord, thee my God, I'll early seek:

my soul doth thirst for thee;

My flesh longs in a dry parched land,

wherein no waters be:

2 That I thy power may behold,

and brightness of thy face,

As I have seen thee heretofore

within thy holy place.

3 Since better is thy love than life,

my lips thee praise shall give.

4 I in thy name will lift my hands,

and bless thee while I live.

5 Ev'n as with marrow and with fat

my soul shall filled be;

Then shall my mouth with joyful lips

sing praises unto thee:

6 When I do thee upon my bed

remember with delight,

And when on thee I meditate

in watches of the night.

7 In shadow of thy wings I'll joy;

for thou mine help hast been.

8 My soul thee follows hard; and me

thy right hand doth sustain.

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Bible Challenge: Day 323

Bible Reading: 2 Kings 9 & Psalm 64

In 2 Kings 9 Elisha sent one of the sons of the prophets to Ramoth-gilead to anoint Jehu, the son of Jehoshaphat, king over Israel. When Elisha’s servant arrived, he called out Jehu from the council of commanders and anointed him as instructed by the prophet. He told Jehu to strike down the entire house of Ahab. He informed Jehu that God said, ‘And I will make the house of Ahab like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah. 10 And the dogs shall eat Jezebel in the territory of Jezreel, and none shall bury her.” Jehu in turn told the commanders what Elisha’s servant had told him and they proclaimed Jehu king. Jehu consequently conspired to murder Joram, who lay injured of wounds of Ramoth-gilead. King Joram and King Ahaziah rode out in their chariots to meet him but he killed Joram with an arrow that penetrated his armour and heart. Ahaziah fled for his life, but Jehu and his men caught up with him and similarly hit him with their arrows. He escaped to Megiddo but died of his wounds there. Finally, Jehu travelled to Jezreel and on arrival ordered that Jezebel be thrown down from her palace window. She died from the violent fall and dogs ate her flesh and licked up her blood in fulfilment of Elijah’s prophecy.

Psalm 64 is another Psalm of David who prays to God, ‘Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from dread of the enemy.’ This is David’s response to the pursuit of those that sought to murder him. However, his words are equally and possibly even more applicable to the Lord Jesus Christ who was the victim of an evil conspiracy and the greatest miscarriage of justice ever. Unlike the Lord Jesus however, David asked God, ‘2 Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked, from the throng of evildoers, 3 who whet their tongues like swords, who aim bitter words like arrows, 4 shooting from ambush at the blameless, shooting at him suddenly and without fear.’ Jesus nevertheless was the truly and perfectly blameless one who was ever without sin. And hence he was the unblemished Lamb of God, sacrificed for the sin of the world. Like David’s adversaries, Christ’s were determined to destroy him. ‘5 They hold fast to their evil purpose; they talk of laying snares secretly, thinking, “Who can see them?” 6 They search out injustice, saying, “We have accomplished a diligent search.” For the inward mind and heart of a man are deep.’ The psalmist’s enemies failed in their wicked schemes because God preserved David. They only succeeded in executing Jesus because it was God’s will for the salvation of Jews and Gentiles alike. Nevertheless, God will judge the unrepentant. The psalmist therefore notes, 7 But God shoots his arrow at them; they are wounded suddenly. 8 They are brought to ruin, with their own tongues turned against them; all who see them will wag their heads. 9 Then all mankind fears; they tell what God has brought about and ponder what he has done.’ Let all God’s people ponder his wonderful providences and praise the LORD. ‘10 Let the righteous one rejoice in the LORD and take refuge in him! Let all the upright in heart exult!’ Let us rejoice in the Righteous One. He is the Lord our Righteousness. We have a future and a hope in and through him.

To ponder! The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” 23 And he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!” (Mt.27:21-23).

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Bible Challenge: Day 324

Bible Reading: 2 Kings 10 & Psalm 65

2 Kings 10 records how Jehu consolidated his reign by murdering his dynastic and political rivals. Ahab’s descendants were thereby annihilated fulfilling the prophecy of Elijah. Jehu wrote to the elders and guardians of the sons of Ahab challenging them to military confrontation but afraid of Jehu’s martial prowess and might they pledged their fealty instead. At his command they slaughtered Ahab’s seventy offspring and sent their decapitated heads to Jehu as proof. But their action did not spare them from Jehu’s sword. He ‘struck down all who remained of the house of Ahab in Jezreel, all his great men and his close friends and his priests, until he left him none remaining.’ At Beth-eked of the Shepherds Jehu encountered relatives of Ahaziah and their entourage and he similarly had them slaughtered also. He then proceeded to destroy all remaining support for Ahab throughout Samaria. Jehu then assembled all the worshippers of Baal in one place feigning a religious celebration to their god and had them killed by his soldiers. ‘So when they put them to the sword, the guard and the officers cast them out and went into the inner room of the house of Baal, 26 and they brought out the pillar that was in the house of Baal and burned it. 27 And they demolished the pillar of Baal, and demolished the house of Baal, and made it a latrine to this day.’ Ahab nevertheless failed to demolish the golden calves that Jeroboam had erected at Bethel and Dan and he did not walk in all the ways of the LORD. He therein caused Israel to continue in sin. During his reign Israel lost territory to the surrounding nations. Jehu reigned for twenty-eight years and was succeeded by his son, Jehoahaz.

Psalm 65 is another prayer of David expressing praise for God’s amazing grace. God alone is worthy of worship and his people exist to glorify him. David writes, ‘Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion, and to you shall vows be performed.’ God is the hearer of prayer, and the psalmist anticipates the new covenant era when all people will bow before him. ‘2 O you who hear prayer, to you shall all flesh come.’ He conveys gratitude for God’s saving grace, saying, ‘3 When iniquities prevail against me, you atone for our transgressions.’ God not only redeems but he restores and renews by bringing people into a right relationship with himself through Jesus Christ our Lord. And so, the psalmist declares, ‘4 Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple!’ He articulates awe at God’s sovereignty and at how he not only saves his people and reaches out to all, but how he also provides for and prospers them. ‘5 By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas; 6 the one who by his strength established the mountains, being girded with might; 7 who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples, 8 so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs. You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy. 9 You visit the earth and water it; you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide their grain, for so you have prepared it. 10 You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth.’ David concludes in exuberant admiration, and adulation at the abundant and abiding riches of God’s grace. ‘11 You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance. 12 The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, 13 the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.’ Let us do likewise.

To ponder! The LORD is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed. 9 Oh, save your people and bless your heritage! Be their shepherd and carry them forever (Ps.28:8-9).

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Bible Challenge: Day 325

Bible Reading: 2 Kings 11 & Psalm 66

2 Kings 11 records the murderous power grab by Athaliah, the mother of Ahaziah. When she received news of her son’s death, she ordered that all members of the royal family should be put to death. However, Joash was hidden from her death squads by Jehosheba, the daughter of King Joram. Athaliah ruled over Judah. After seven years however, Jehoiada, the high priest made a covenant with the captains of the Carites and the guards to protect the rightful heir to the throne. They proclaimed and anointed Joash, king of Judah. Athaliah cried treason but order was given to put her to death and all who had followed her. ‘And Jehoiada made a covenant between the LORD and the king and people, that they should be the LORD's people, and also between the king and the people.’ And they proceeded to purge the land of all Baal-worship and associated idols. And the Holy City enjoyed a period of peace.

Psalm 66 is a paeon of praise to God for his awesome grace. Reminding the children of Israel of their call to be a witness to all the nations, and anticipating the New Covenant era, the psalmist invites everyone, everywhere, to ‘Shout for joy to God, all the earth; 2 sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise! 3 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you. 4 All the earth worships you and sings praises to you; they sing praises to your name.” Selah’ The psalm then invites all to reflect and rejoice in God’s omnipotence and omniscience with specific reference to what he did for Israel. ‘5 Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man. 6 He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot. There did we rejoice in him, 7 who rules by his might forever, whose eyes keep watch on the nations—let not the rebellious exalt themselves. Selah’ The psalmist therefore calls upon all to worship God who powerfully protects and prospers his people. ‘8 Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of his praise be heard, 9 who has kept our soul among the living and has not let our feet slip. 10 For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. 11 You brought us into the net; you laid a crushing burden on our backs; 12 you let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.’ The psalmist representing God’s church in the Old Testament era, personally vows to worship and serve the Lord. Hereby reminding us that our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. ‘13 I will come into your house with burnt offerings; I will perform my vows to you, 14 that which my lips uttered and my mouth promised when I was in trouble. 15 I will offer to you burnt offerings of fattened animals, with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams; I will make an offering of bulls and goats. Selah’ He concludes by inviting all to hear and heed his testimony. The LORD has heard and answered his prayers. And he will receive all in his steadfast love who approach in faith and repentance. Therefore, ‘16 Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul. 17 I cried to him with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue. 18 If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. 19 But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer. 20 Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me!’ Let us ever draw near to God in and through Jesus Christ, our Mediator, Lord, and Saviour.

To ponder! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! (Ps.107:1).

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Bible Challenge: Day 326

Bible Reading: 2 Kings 12 & Psalm 67

2 Kings 2 records Jehoash’s instigating and overseeing the renovation of the Temple. He reigned for forty years over Judah from Jerusalem, and he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD. Like his predecessors, however, he failed to stop some from worshipping at the ‘high places’. He gladly received instruction from Jehoiada, the high priest. And he commanded the priests, “All the money of the holy things that is brought into the house of the LORD, the money for which each man is assessed—the money from the assessment of persons—and the money that a man's heart prompts him to bring into the house of the LORD, 5 let the priests take, each from his donor, and let them repair the house wherever any need of repairs is discovered.” Nevertheless, after twenty-three years the work had yet failed to materialise. And so, the king confronted Jehoiada and his fellow priests and demanded to know why they had not renovated the Temple as commanded. He ordered them to take no more money from their donors but to get on with the actual work. Money from worshippers was collected at the Temple and distributed to the carpenters, stonemasons and stonecutters employed. Hazeal, the king of Syria, however, conquered Gath and then turned his attention to Jerusalem. Rather than face him in battle, Jehoash bought him off with the sacred gifts dedicated by Jehoshaphat, Jehoram, and Ahaziah his fathers, the kings of Judah, as well as his own sacred gifts, ‘and all the gold that was found in the treasuries of the house of the LORD and of the king's house’. Hazeal therefore spared the Holy City. Subsequently, Jehoash (Joash is an alternative spelling) was assassinated by some of his own political advisors or courtiers and was buried at Jerusalem. He was succeeded by his son, Amaziah.

Psalm 67 is a paeon of praise that we sing periodically in worship to the tune Selma. It celebrates Israel’s commission and witness to the world and thereby anticipates and foreshadows the Great Commission and the witness of the church to the world in our New Covenant era. I write the day after reading that Christians are now a minority in the UK for the first time since the Dark Ages. And so, Christ’s call and commission to his church has rarely been of greater significance. And we need not go to the far-flung places of the earth but concentrate in the first instance on our homeland! The psalmist invokes God’s blessing, for unless the Lord builds the house its labourers build in vain (Ps.127). He therefore prays, ‘May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah 2 that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.’ He is reminding us that the church and all who comprise her is utterly dependent on grace – on God’s favour. We are called to go proclaim the gospel in his power. Only God can open hearts and give the increase. And the church must take confidence and find heart in Christ’s promise to build his church. And the goal is that all peoples may know, love and praise God in and through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. Therefore, ‘3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! 4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah’ God is good and just. He is calling people into a new relationship with him and one another that is rooted and built up in love. He has come into our world in the person of Jesus to put a-right what has been put so badly amiss by the Fall and the resultant sin-nature. And hence the church has good news of reconciliation, redemption, and renewal in Jesus’ name. ‘5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! 6 The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us. 7 God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!’ Worship is the ultimate goal. Let all revere and respect the living and true God.

To ponder! And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt.28:18-20).

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Bible Challenge: Day 327

Bible Reading: 2 Kings 13 & Psalm 68

2 Kings 13 records the respective reigns of Jehoahaz and Jehoash in Israel and the death of Elisha. Jehoahaz ruled for seventeen years and did evil in the sight of the LORD replicating the religious practices of Jeroboam and causing the people to sin. God’s anger was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to Ben-hadad, the king of Syria, whose raiding parties brought much heartache and hardships. Israel’s army was significantly depleted due to military losses and Jehoahaz consequently cried to God for help but failed to abandon his idolatrous ways. He was succeeded by Jehoash [Joash] who reigned for sixteen years. He followed the wicked ways of his father. He was succeeded by Jeroboam [II]. Joash sought Elisha’s intervention with God while Elisha was in poor health and on his deathbed. ‘Joash king of Israel went down to him and wept before him, crying, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!”’ Elisha instructed him to take a bow and arrows and to shoot an arrow eastward assuring him of victory over the Syrians at Aphek. Elisha admonished the king for only striking the ground three times with arrows. He told him, “You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Syria until you had made an end of it, but now you will strike down Syria only three times.” Elisha died shortly afterward. The body of a man killed by a marauding party of Moabites was later thrown into Elisha’s grave and the man was miraculously revived. God was gracious and showed compassion to Israel for the sake of his covenant with Abraham. Three times Joash defeated Ben-hadad and recovered the cities of Israel as Elisha had prophesied.

Psalm 68 is a celebration of God’s greatness and grace. David urges God’s church to joyfully praise God who will defeat his enemies and lead his people in triumphal procession [vv.1-3].

‘4 Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the LORD; exult before him! 5 Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. 6 God settles the solitary in a home; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.’ The psalmist recounts God’s saving grace in delivering Israel out of Egypt and providing for them in the wilderness. And he meditates and marvels at God’s witness to the children of Israel on Mount Sinai [vv.7-18].

David worships God as Lord and Saviour. ‘19 Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation. Selah 20 Our God is a God of salvation, and to GOD, the Lord, belong deliverances from death.’ God will judge the wicked and bring their schemes and opposition to naught [vv.21-23]. The psalmist rejoices with the church in the worship of God [24-27]. He anticipates the day when all the nations will honour the Lord (vv.28-31). And urges all to hear and heed the word of God and praise him in return. He concludes, ‘34 Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel, and whose power is in the skies. 35 Awesome is God from his sanctuary; the God of Israel—he is the one who gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God!’

To ponder! I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!” (Ps.122:1).

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Bible Challenge: Day 328

Bible Reading: 2 Kings 14 & Psalm 69

2 Kings 14 begins with a record of the reign of Amaziah as king of Judah. He was twenty-five years old when he ascended the throne and he reigned for twenty-nine years. He sought to live by the law of God but like his predecessors he did not prevent the people from offering sacrifices at the high places. He took revenge on those that had conspired in his father’s murder. He led a successful military campaign against the Edomites in the Valley of Salt and captured the city of Sela, renaming it Joktheel. Overconfident after his victory, he then challenged Jehoash of Israel to military conflict. Ignoring Jehoash’s warning, he was defeated in battle by the superior forces of the northern kingdom. He was captured, Jerusalem was sacked, and its treasures pillaged as a result. Released from being held hostage, Amaziah was deposed by a conspiracy and killed at Lachish. His body was returned to Jerusalem for burial, and he was succeeded by his son and heir, Azariah. Jehoash was also succeeded by his son, Jeroboam, who was to reign for forty-one years. He did evil in the sight of the LORD by following the religious policy and practices of his predecessors. God was merciful nevertheless, and Jeroboam II restored and consolidated Israel’s national borders against her enemies. He was followed on the throne by his son, Zechariah.

Psalm 69 is another Psalm of David which the church from the beginning of the new covenant era attributed to Christ’s passion. Jesus himself refers to it, as does the Apostle Paul. He underwent a baptism like no other for the salvation of the world. And so, the words of David are applicable to Jesus when he begins by crying to God, ‘Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. 2 I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. 3 I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.’ Like David, but even more so, the Lord Jesus could truly say, ‘4 More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause; mighty are those who would destroy me, those who attack me with lies. What I did not steal must I now restore?’ Unlike David, however, there was no folly in Jesus (5). It was for Love’s sake that he suffered and died and rose again (6-8). He came to his own and own received him not! (. Christ again could truly say, ‘9 For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.’ He humbled himself even to the point of death and bore the shame and ignominy of the people (10-12). However, he remained resolute in faith, hope, and love, looking beyond his cross to his crown (13-18, 29). His comfort and confidence were in God alone (19-20). Despite his grave thirst, he refused their sour wine to ease his suffering (22). While the psalmist calls for justice to be delivered to his enemies, the Lord Jesus called for grace and mercy for those that would repent and believe (22-28). Despite his imminent death, he would yet praise his Father in the land of the living (30-31). And after his resurrection the good news would provide not only life and liberty but would lead to rejoicing throughout heaven and earth (32-33). Therefore, ‘34 Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and everything that moves in them. 35 For God will save Zion and build up the cities of Judah, and people shall dwell there and possess it; 36 the offspring of his servants shall inherit it, and those who love his name shall dwell in it.’

To ponder! Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mk.10:38).

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Bible Challenge: Day 329

Bible Reading: 2 Kings 15 & Psalm 70

2 Kings 15 contrasts the political stability of Judah with the political turmoil of Israel. It begins with the reign of Azariah. He was sixteen when he assumed the throne and ruled Judah for fifty-two years. Although the people continued to offer sacrifices at the high places, he was nevertheless a good and faithful ruler in the eyes of God. Leprosy compelled him to live apart from his household however, and his son Jotham carried out public duties in his name. Jotham succeeded him. By contrast Zechariah, the son of Jeroboam II, came to the throne in Israel in the thirty-eighth year of Azariah’s rule over the southern kingdom but he was king for only six months. He did evil in the sight of the LORD and was murdered by Shallum in a palace coup. His death witnessed the fulfilment of the prophecy of Jehu. He was replaced by Shallum who only reigned for one month. He was murdered by Menahem who was crowned in his stead. His army sacked Tiphsah, sparing not even pregnant woman. He reigned for ten years in Samaria and like his predecessor did what was evil in God’s sight. He exacted a heavy financial burden upon the people of Israel to bribe Assyria not to attack them. Pekahiah, his son, succeeded him but reigned for only two years. He also displeased God by continuing the religious policy and practices of his predecessor. He was similarly killed and replaced in a coup by Pekah, the captain of Israel’s army, who reigned for twenty years. He also failed to correct the cultic practices of Jeroboam I. Assyria forcibly captured territory belonging to Israel during his reign and became an increasing threat to the nation and its dynasty. Pekah was similarly murdered by Hoshea in a conspiracy against his rule, who replaced him as king of Israel. Meanwhile, in the second year of Pekah’s reign, Jotham became king of Judah on the death of his father. He reigned for sixteen years and did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, although the high places were not removed. ‘In those days the LORD began to send Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah against Judah.’ When he died, his son, Ahaz, ascended the throne.

In Psalm 70 David cries to God for deliverance. The Psalm has Christological overtones and is the prayer of the church when faced with persecution and oppression in the world. The psalmist begins, ‘Make haste, O God, to deliver me! O LORD, make haste to help me!’ His earnest plea is a prayer of faith that looks to God to help him and deliver him from the hands of his enemies. It is a witness to God’s omnipotence and omniscience. It is a cry for justice in an unjust world. ‘2 Let them be put to shame and confusion who seek my life! Let them be turned back and brought to dishonour who delight in my hurt! 3 Let them turn back because of their shame who say, “Aha, Aha!”’ By contrast it is also a prayer of supplication for the church. The psalmist understands that man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. And so, he expresses his desire that all God’s people may have cause to rejoice in their Lord and Saviour. He prays that the people of God may ever praise the LORD for his grace and greatness. He therefore writes, ‘4 May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you! May those who love your salvation say evermore, “God is great!”’ He concludes, ‘5 But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O LORD, do not delay!’ David’s prayer is a model prayer. It is the petition of the humble believer who recognises his or her dependency on God.

To ponder! Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth (Ps.124:8).

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Bible Challenge: Day 330

Bible Reading: 2 Kings 16 & Psalm 71

In the seventeenth years of Pekah’s reign over Israel, Ahaz came to the throne in Judah. He ruled for sixteen years and did evil in God’s sight, going so far as to sacrifice one of his sons to a foreign deity. King Rezin entered a coalition with Pekah of Israel and they waged war on Judah, besieging Jerusalem. The Syrians made advances into Judah, conquering Elath which was later occupied by Edomites. Ahaz purchased an alliance with Tiglath-pileser of Assyria with the treasures of his house to help repulse the invading armies of Syria and Israel. The Assyrians captured Damascus and killed Rezin. Ahaz went to meet Tiglath-pileser at Damascus to thank him for his intervention and to congratulate him on his victory. He was greatly impressed by an altar to a foreign god he discovered at Damascus and despite the teaching of God’s word, he had Uriah, the high priest, replicate it in the Temple at Jerusalem. There he made offerings to God and encouraged others to do likewise. And so, Ahaz made changes to the worship of God not in accord with God’s instructions. Ahaz was succeeded by his son, Hezekiah.

In Psalm 71 the psalmist prays to the Lord our Righteousness as his rock and refuge, his strength and stability, and his help and hope (vv.1-3). David’s words are the voice of the church in every generation. He continues to trust in God and therefore cries out to him to rescue him from the schemes of the wicked. He praises God for grace (vv.4-8). The psalmist’s chief desire is to delight in God – to glorify him in thought, word, and deed. He therefore asks God never to forsake him but rather speedily deliver him from his enemies (vv.9-12). His words hereby anticipate and foreshadow those of Jesus whose enemies caballed and conspired to seize him and have him put to death. The psalmist prays that God would judge his accusers (v.13). His hope is resolute, and he is determined to go on worshipping and witnessing to God (vv.14-18). He enthusiastically asserts, ‘19 Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you?’ Despite his trials and troubles, the psalmist is confident that God will restore and revive his fortunes (vv.20-22). He therefore devotedly declares, ‘23 My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed. 24 And my tongue will talk of your righteous help all the day long, for they have been put to shame and disappointed who sought to do me hurt.’

To ponder! But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor.12:9-10).

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Bible Challenge: Day 331

Bible Reading: 2 Kings 17 & Psalm 72

2 Kings 17 records the fall of Israel. During Ahaz’s reign over Judah, Hoshea came to the throne in Israel and he reigned for nine years. Like his forebears, he did evil in the sight of the LORD. Despite his diplomatic endeavours and financial inducements to keep the advancing Assyrian Empire from encroaching on Israelite territory, Shalmaneser invaded Israel. Hoshea’s attempt to muster Egyptian help failed and he was captured and incarcerated by the Assyrians who besieged the capital for three years. The land was conquered and populated by Assyrians. Many of the people of Israel that survived the onslaught were taken back to Assyria as slaves. And this we are told was God’s judgement upon Israel for its continuing apostasy and idolatry. The kings and the citizens turned their backs on God, and he in turn removed his protecting hand and gave them over to a foreign nation. He had sent prophets to call them to repentance and faith but they had ignored his word and stubbornly persisted in their wicked ways which included child sacrifice (vv.13-17). Only the southern kingdom of Judah remained of the tribes that settled the promised land. Assyria resettled the land with various peoples. Made aware of God’s displeasure the new occupants known as Samaritans introduced a syncretistic or hybrid religion which accommodated aspects of Israel’s ancient faith and cultic practices. ‘So they feared the LORD but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away... So these nations feared the LORD and also served their carved images. Their children did likewise, and their children's children—as their fathers did, so they do to this day.’

Psalm 72 is a prayer of David that was possibly included among the praise items at royal coronations. Taking hold of God’s covenant promise that one of his descendants would reign forever (2 Samuel 7) David poetically anticipates that day. It is therefore a messianic psalm that prefigures God’s Christ and the reign of the Lord our Righteousness. David prays that one of his descendants will establish justice for all (vv.1-2, 14). He longs for the day when the people will practice and prosper in righteousness and end evil (vv.3-4) and provide for and protect the poor and vulnerable (vv.12-13). He looks for that day when all will reverence God and will keep his law of love forever (v.5). When God’s greatness and goodness are universally acknowledged and celebrated (vv.6-11). The psalmist foresees Messiah’s reign of peace, prosperity, and piety (vv.15-16). And so, he enthusiastically concludes, ‘17 May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun! May people be blessed in him, all nations call him blessed! 18 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. 19 Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory! Amen and Amen!’ Here ends the prayers of David, the son of Jesse.

To ponder! I often used to end a Communion Service by the congregation singing Psalm 72:17-19 in the words of the old Scottish Metrical Version. Here’s the said verses which were regularly sang here in Scotland to the tune ‘Effingham’ but most common metre tunes will fit.

His name for ever shall endure;

last like the sun it shall:

Men shall be blessed in him, and blessed

all nations shall him call.

18 Now blessed be the Lord our God,

the God of Israel,

For he alone doth wondrous works,

in glory that excel.

19 And blessed be his glorious name

to all eternity:

The whole earth let his glory fill.

Amen, so let it be.

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Bible Challenge: Day 332

Bible Reading: 2 Kings 18 & Psalm 73

2 Kings 18 begins with the reign of Hezekiah who was king of Judah for twenty-nine years. He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD. He removed the high places and the idols to foreign deities. He even smashed the bronze serpent that Moses had made because it had become an idol to the people. Hezekiah ‘trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. 6 For he held fast to the LORD. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses. 7 And the LORD was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered.’ He refused to kowtow to the Assyrians and repelled the Philistines. It was during his reign that the Northern Kingdom fell to the Assyrians under the command of Shalmaneser and its people carried off into exile ‘because they did not obey the voice of the LORD their God but transgressed his covenant, even all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded. They neither listened nor obeyed.’ In the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s reign, King Sennacherib of Assyria attacked Judah compelling Hezekiah to confess his fault in making an alliance with Egypt. Hezekiah made reparations of gold and silver which he extracted from the Temple. Rabshakeh, one of Sennacherib’s commanders, addressed Hezekiah’s advisors and the men guarding the city walls of Jerusalem and said, ‘do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you by saying, “The LORD will deliver us.” 33 Has any of the gods of the nations ever delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria?’ The people remained silent, and the advisors reported Rabshakeh’s words to the king.

Psalm 73 is the first of the psalms of Asaph. In it the psalmist affirms God’s goodness to his people, but he confesses how his faith had been severely tested by the power, prestige, prosperity, and pride of the wicked (vv.1-9). They appeared to flourish at the expense of the poor and the pure in heart whom they exploited. And rather than criticise or condemn them, more often than not, the people venerated them and fed their bloated egos. ‘10 Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them.’ They even claimed that God was either ignorant of them or indifferent to their ways, and so the wicked appeared to be always at ease (vv.11-12). Exasperated by the ways of the world, the psalmist declares, ‘13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. 14 For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning.’ He entertained the thought of compromising his convictions in order to prosper like the wicked but was suddenly struck by God’s revelation in the place of worship (vv.15-17). He realised that God set such people in slippery places and would bring those that remained unrepentant to ruin (vv.18-20). Asaph confesses the fallacious and foolish nature of his ungodly thoughts and turns to God in trust and obedience (vv.21-23). He believes that God will continue to guide him and receive him to glory in the fulness of time (v.24). He concludes with words that have provided comfort and confidence to God’s people ever since by asking: ‘25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. 27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. 28 But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.’

To ponder! Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths (Pro.3:5-6).

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Bible Challenge: Day 333

Bible Reading: 2 Kings 19 & Psalm 74

In 2 Kings 19 Isaiah provides reassurance to King Hezekiah. Hezekiah, in a state of grief, had sent messengers to Isaiah in response to the Assyrian army’s siege of Jerusalem and Rabshakeh’s vaunted boasting. He asked the prophet to pray for Judah. Isaiah told his emissaries, ‘“Say to your master, ‘Thus says the LORD: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me. 7 Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumour and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.’”’ Rabshakeh duly returned to Assyria having after receiving word that Sennacherib had left his capital in pursuit of the Cushites. He had failed to capture the capital. Yet Hezekiah again received word from Sennacherib that Judah was no match for their Assyrian army and therefore it would be better to surrender than fight and face annihilation. Hezekiah went to the House of God and earnestly prayed. “Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands 18 and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men's hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 19 So now, O LORD our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O LORD, are God alone.” Isaiah sent word to the king that his prayer had been heard, and the prophet proceeded to prophesy Sennacherib’s downfall on account of his mocking pride (vv.21-28). God assured his servant, the king, via Isaiah, that the Assyrians would not capture the Holy City and that Judah would prevail and prosper because the LORD was with them and would protect and provide for them. An Angel of the LORD then struck down 185,000 Assyrians and Sennacherib was assassinated by his sons while offering sacrifice to one of his gods.

Psalm 74 is a lament and a plea for help. Expressing a sense of abandonment, Asaph cries, ‘O God, why do you cast us off forever? Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture?’ He asks God to mercifully remember his people and restore their fortunes. God had dwelt in their midst, but the Holy City has been trodden underfoot by their enemies and the Temple has been pillaged and desecrated and its interior destroyed (vv.2-6). Their enemies have profaned God’s name in word and action without apparent consequence. God has been silent. He appears indifferent (vv.7-9). And so, the psalmist pleadingly asks, ‘10 How long, O God, is the foe to scoff? Is the enemy to revile your name forever? 11 Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the fold of your garment and destroy them!’ Asaph invokes the memory of God’s saving power and wondrous works in the past. He poetically acknowledges God’s sovereignty over his creation and beseeches the LORD to intervene for the glory of his name and the good of his people (vv.12-19). He prays, trusting in God’s faithfulness to his covenant with his church. And therefore, he concludes by begging the LORD to ‘20 Have regard for the covenant, for the dark places of the land are full of the habitations of violence. 21 Let not the downtrodden turn back in shame; let the poor and needy praise your name. 22 Arise, O God, defend your cause; remember how the foolish scoff at you all the day! 23 Do not forget the clamour of your foes, the uproar of those who rise against you, which goes up continually!’

To ponder! Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth (Ps.124:8).

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Bible Challenge: Day 334

Bible Reading: 2 Kings 20 & Psalm 75

2 Kings 20 begins with Hezekiah bedbound with a serious illness. Isaiah informs him that he will not recover. The king wept and prayed earnestly to God who heard his cries and responded via Isaiah. “I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD, 6 and I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and I will defend this city for my own sake and for my servant David's sake.” And Isaiah ordered that a cake of figs be applied to Hezekiah’s boil that helped to heal it. The king also asked and was given a sign to reassure him that Isaiah’s word was from God. Having heard about Hezekiah’s sickness, the king of Babylon sent an envoy with letters and precious gifts and Hezekiah provided them with hospitality, showing them around his house. Isaiah later told him, “Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the LORD. 18 And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” Hezekiah built a pool and conduit to provide Jerusalem with water. He was succeeded by his son, Manasseh.

Psalm 75 is a paeon of praise to God for his righteous judgements. The psalmist is the voice of the church and therefore he writes in the plural, ‘We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near. We recount your wondrous deeds.’ He hereby expresses gratitude to God for his abiding presence (immanence) and for his amazing grace shown to his people. God is sovereign. And he will judge all impartially and fairly. ‘2 “At the set time that I appoint I will judge with equity.’ The proud wicked who boast in their power and prosperity will not escape his judgement (vv.3-5). The psalmist expresses his confidence that God is in control and that his people should trust him rather than political and military alliances. ‘6 For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, 7 but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.’ God will pour out his judgement upon those that do evil. ‘8 For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.’ The psalmist, in the voice of Christ’s church, will therefore ever praise God who will condemn the wicked but exalt his righteous people. ‘But I will declare it forever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob. 10 All the horns of the wicked I will cut off, but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up.’

To ponder! “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats (Mt.25:31-32).

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Bible Challenge: Day 335

Bible Reading: 2 Kings 21 & Psalm 76

2 Kings 21 records that Manasseh was twelve years of age when he began his reign over Judah. He ruled for fifty-five years, and he did much evil in the sight of the LORD. He reintroduced the foreign deities that Hezekiah, his father, had purged from Judah. He introduced a statue of Asherah into the Temple at Jerusalem and encouraged apostasy. He even sacrificed one of his sons to the false gods and consulted fortune-tellers, mediums, and necromancers. He led his subjects ‘astray to do more evil than the nations had done whom the LORD destroyed before the people of Israel. His rule was also characterised by violence and murder. Manasseh provoked God to anger. The LORD declared, “And I will forsake the remnant of my heritage and give them into the hand of their enemies, and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies, 15 because they have done what is evil in my sight and have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came out of Egypt, even to this day.” After his death, his son, Amon, who was twenty-two years old, succeeded him as king. He followed his father’s religious policy and practice and abandoned faith in the LORD altogether. His reign was cut short when he was murdered by his own courtiers in the royal palace and his son, Josiah ascended the throne under the rule of guardians.

Psalm 76 is another song of Asaph that commemorates and celebrates God greatness and goodness to his people. It is a reminder to all that gratitude, trust, and obedience are the rightful response to grace. The psalmist begins, ‘In Judah God is known; his name is great in Israel. 2 His abode has been established in Salem, his dwelling place in Zion.’ God dwells amid his church. He is ever with his people. He is with us and for us in Immanuel, typified, foreshadowed, and anticipated in the Old Testament scriptures. He preserved and protected his ancient people and dumbfounded and defeated their enemies. ‘3 There he broke the flashing arrows, the shield, the sword, and the weapons of war. Selah 4 Glorious are you, more majestic than the mountains full of prey. 5 The stouthearted were stripped of their spoil; they sank into sleep; all the men of war were unable to use their hands. 6 At your rebuke, O God of Jacob, both rider and horse lay stunned.’ Consequently, Asaph extols God’s immanence and invincibility, his power and justice, and calls all people to rightly fear and reverence him. ‘7 But you, you are to be feared! Who can stand before you when once your anger is roused? 8 From the heavens you uttered judgment; the earth feared and was still, 9 when God arose to establish judgment, to save all the humble of the earth. Selah.’ Reflecting on God’s sovereignty, the psalmist asks, ‘10 Surely the wrath of man shall praise you; the remnant of wrath you will put on like a belt.’ He therefore bids all, ‘11 Make your vows to the LORD your God and perform them; let all around him bring gifts to him who is to be feared, 12 who cuts off the spirit of princes, who is to be feared by the kings of the earth.’

To ponder! The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction (Prov.1:7).

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Bible Challenge: Day 336

Bible Reading: 2 Kings 22 & Psalm 77

2 Kings 22 records the reign of godly King Josiah. He came to the throne at eight years of age and ruled Judah for thirty-one years. He did what was right in the sight of God. He rebuilt and reordered the Temple which had been desecrated by his father, Manasseh. Hilkiah, the high priest, discovered the Book of the Law while the renovations were taking place. Shaphan, the king’s secretary, read it to Josiah. The king declared, “Go, inquire of the LORD for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the LORD that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” And so, Shaphan, Hilkiah, Ahikam, and Achbor consulted Huldah, the prophetess. She confirmed that disaster would come upon Judah, Jerusalem, and the Temple but it would be delayed on account of Josiah’s faith and penitence.

In Psalm 77 Asaph laments his feeling of forsakenness. Despite his cries to God, day and night, God appears distant to him in a time of trial and trouble. ‘I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me. 2 In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. 3 When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah’ The psalmist can find no rest as he reflects on the past in the dead of night – a symbol of the dearth of peace in his soul. ‘4 You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. 5 I consider the days of old,

the years long ago. 6 I said, “Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart.” Then my spirit made a diligent search:’ He asks himself, ‘7 “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favourable? 8 Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? 9 Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah’ Just then, Asaph reminds himself of God’s goodness, greatness, and favour towards him and his people. ‘10 Then I said, “I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.” 11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. 12 I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds. 13 Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? 14 You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples.’ God changes not. He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever! His faithfulness is infinite and everlasting. Therefore, the psalmist takes comfort and finds confidence in the covenant keeping God, his Saviour and Helper. Just as God redeemed his people in the past, so he will come to his aid also. He will guide and direct him to pastures green and still waters. He will restore his soul (vv.15-20). And what God will do for Asaph he will do for all his beloved children who turn to him in faith and repentance.

To ponder! I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. 2 He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure (Ps.40:1-2).

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Bible Challenge: Day 337

Bible Reading: 2 Kings 23 & Psalm 78

In 2 Kings 23 Josiah assembled the people at the Temple and read the Book of the Covenant to them. ‘And the king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people joined in the covenant.’ And Josiah ordered Hilkiah and the priests to purge the Temple of all idols which were incinerated outside of Jerusalem. He then proceeded to destroy all idols to foreign deities and purge the land of all places of worship contrary to those established by God as contained in the Book of the Law. He even demolished the altar at Bethel set up by Jeroboam I. He then proceeded to purge Israel as he had done Judah before returning to Jerusalem. Josiah then restored the Passover Feast which had been neglected since the days of the Judges. And yet, despite Josiah’s love and loyalty to the LORD judgement was coming upon Judah for the sins of his father, Manasseh. Josiah was killed by Pharaoh Neco at Megiddo and was succeeded by his son, Jehoahaz who was twenty-three when he ascended the throne. He did what was evil in the sight of God but ruled for only for three months. Pharaoh Neco had him taken hostage at Libnah and made Eliakim, his brother king in his place. Jehoahaz died while in captivity in Egypt. Jehoiakim (Eliakim)

was twenty-five years old when he became king. He reigned for eleven years and similarly did what was evil in the sight of the LORD.

Psalm 78 is a Psalm of Asaph in which he teaches the church of God the importance of its history, heritage, and inheritance. It recounts the remarkable story of the children of Israel whom God had chosen and called apart to be a light to the world. It rehearses God’s revelation of himself to them and others in his deliverance of them from slavery in Egypt and the gracious provision he made for them during their wandering in the wilderness before bringing them into the Promised Land – a land overflowing with milk and honey. It not only recounts God’s grace, love, and mercy but it also records the stubbornness and sinfulness of Israel so that Asaph’s generation and subsequent ones might learn not only from the good but from the bad in their history. Therefore, Asaph begins, ‘Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! 2 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, 3 things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. 4 We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. 5 He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, 6 that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, 7 so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; 8 and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.’ Let us be acquainted with the biblical story and its teaching. Let us know our history. We have a wonderful heritage and an even more glorious inheritance awaiting us. And let us pass these things on to our children and our children’s children until the Parousia. That is our God-given responsibility.

To ponder! And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise (Deut.6:6-7).

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Bible Challenge: Day 338

Bible Reading: 2 Kings 24 & Psalm 79

2 Kings 24 records the capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and the subjugation of Judah as foretold by the prophets. King Jehoiakim broke his treaty of obligation to Babylon thereby leaving Judah vulnerable to attack from various hostile nations. Jehoiakim was succeeded by his son Jehoiachin at a time when Babylonian power was unmatched throughout the region. Even the mighty Egyptians were no match for it and retreated from the international arena of power politics. Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he ascended the throne, but he only ruled for three months in Jerusalem. He did evil in the sight of the LORD. He and the royal household were captured and taken into captivity by the Babylonians who looted the palace and the Temple. ‘And the king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon all the men of valour, 7,000, and the craftsmen and the metal workers, 1,000, all of them strong and fit for war. 17 And the king of Babylon made Mattaniah, Jehoiachin's uncle, king in his place, and changed his name to Zedekiah.’ Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he was appointed a vassal king and he occupied the throne at Jerusalem for eleven years. He eventually rebelled against Babylon but did evil in the sight of God, and consequently the LORD cast Jerusalem and Judah from his presence.

Psalm 79 is a Psalm of Asaph and was a particular favourite among French Huguenots and Scottish Covenanters in times of fierce persecution in the 16th and 17th centuries. It is particularly appropriate for today’s Bible Challenge given we have just been reading and reflecting on the Fall of Jerusalem, the Holy City, to the Babylonians. In it the psalmist’s cry is understandably full of pathos and lamentation for what has taken place. For what he has witnessed. ‘O God, the nations have come into your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins. 2 They have given the bodies of your servants to the birds of the heavens for food, the flesh of your faithful to the beasts of the earth. 3 They have poured out their blood like water all around Jerusalem, and there was no one to bury them. 4 We have become a taunt to our neighbours, mocked and derided by those around us.’

He therefore earnestly prays, ‘5 How long, O LORD? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealousy burn like fire?’ He pleads with God to turn his wrath against their enemies who have desecrated the Temple, murdered the priests and people, and brought such devastation upon the city and the land (vv.6-7). For love’s sake, Asaph prays on behalf of the remnant to God for mercy, forgiveness, and salvation from the brutal and bloody hands of their enemies. He pleads, ‘8 Do not remember against us our former iniquities; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low. 9 Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name's sake!’ The psalmist asks God to vindicate his name, restore his church, and vanquish their enemies that mocked and poured scorn upon the name of the LORD (vv.10-12). He concludes, ‘13 But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise.’ Such is the way of faith, hope, and love.

To ponder! Have you not brought this upon yourself by forsaking the LORD your God, when he led you in the way? 18 And now what do you gain by going to Egypt to drink the waters of the Nile? Or what do you gain by going to Assyria to drink the waters of the Euphrates? 19 Your evil will chastise you, and your apostasy will reprove you.

Know and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the LORD your God; the fear of me is not in you, declares the Lord GOD of hosts (Jer.2:17-19).

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Bible Challenge: Day 339

Bible Reading: 2 Kings 25 & Psalm 80

2 Kings 25 continues the story of Jerusalem’s fall. Nebuchadnezzar lay siege to the Holy City. The inhabitants not only faced an imminent threat from the Babylonians but confined within the city walls and cut off from external provision, they also faced famine. When a breach was finally made in their defences, Zedekiah and the royal household attempted to escape but were pursued and captured. Zedekiah’s sons were slaughtered in his sight and then his eyes were gouged out before he was bound in chains and transported to Babylon. A Babylonian army under the command of Nebuzaradan torched Jerusalem, including the Temple and the King’s House. The people that survived were taken into exile except for some of the poorest who were left to cultivate and harvest the land. Gold and other precious items were pillaged and everything else was destroyed. Seraiah, the chief priest, and other leading officials were similarly taken back to Babylon and were executed before the king. ‘So Judah was taken into exile out of its land.’ Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedaliah governor of Judah. He was murdered by Ishmael and many fled to Egypt afraid of the Chaldeans. In the thirty-seventh year of exile, Jehoiachin was freed from incarceration by King Evil-merodach of Babylon and was given a place of privilege in the kingdom. He even dined at the king’s table.

Psalm 80 is a prayer for the restoration and renewal of Israel’s fortunes. The psalmist pleads with Almighty God, ‘Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth. 2 Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up your might and come to save us! 3 Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved!’ The psalmist cries out to God in faith and hope. He believes that the church’s extremity is God’s opportunity. God must save them. Salvation is of grace. He longs for a return to the days when God’s people walked before him in the beauty of holiness. When they walked ‘coram deo’ – before the face of God. They have been under judgement for their folly and failure to keep God’s commands. They have suffered greatly at the hands of their enemies, but the psalmist sees the hand of Providence in the nation’s fall. Asaph therefore asks, ‘4 O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people's prayers? 5 You have fed them with the bread of tears and given them tears to drink in full measure. 6 You make us an object of contention for our neighbours, and our enemies laugh among themselves. 7 Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved!’ He recounts the history of God’s remarkable favour towards the children of Israel, of how he had brought his people into the Promised Land and made rich provision for them. ‘8 You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. 9 You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. 10 The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches. 11 It sent out its branches to the sea and its shoots to the River.’ And then he asks, ‘12 Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit? 13 The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it.’ The psalmist entreats God to glorify his name in the restoration of his people. He pleads with God, ‘14 Turn again, O God of hosts! Look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine, 15 the stock that your right hand planted, and for the son whom you made strong for yourself. 16 They have burned it with fire; they have cut it down; may they perish at the rebuke of your face!’ Anticipating and foreshadowing the coming of Messiah, Asaph adds, ‘17 But let your hand be on the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself! 18 Then we shall not turn back from you; give us life, and we will call upon your name!’ That life, along with light and love are to be appropriated in the Son of Man whose life, death, and resurrection were for the life of the world. Asaph concludes with the refrain, ‘19 Restore us, O LORD God of hosts! Let your face shine, that we may be saved!’

To ponder! And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. 12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in (Isa.58:11-12).

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Bible Challenge: Day 340

Bible Reading: 1 Chronicles 1 & Psalm 81

1 Chronicles 1 records genealogical lists from Adam to Abraham, and from Abraham to Jacob. It includes the kings of Edom who reigned before Israel had a king of its own. It sets the scene for what will follow and is a reminder of the importance of lineage, heritage, and inheritance in the biblical narrative. Moreover, it indirectly highlights God’s covenant faithfulness to his people and anticipates and prepares the way for God’s Christ.

Psalm 81 is a paeon of praise that recounts God’s gracious interaction with the children of Israel. It evidently serves a didactic function in teaching God’s people their history and reminding them of God’s greatness and goodness, and of their need to trust and obey him. The psalmist begins, ‘Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob! 2 Raise a song; sound the tambourine, the sweet lyre with the harp. 3 Blow the trumpet at the new moon, at the full moon, on our feast day. 4 For it is a statute for Israel, a rule of the God of Jacob.’ God’s people are called to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Worship is not peripheral to the church but primary. And God alone is worthy of it. The church responds to God’s amazing grace with gratitude and gladness. ‘5 He made it a decree in Joseph when he went out over the land of Egypt. I hear a language I had not known: 6 “I relieved your shoulder of the burden; your hands were freed from the basket. 7 In distress you called, and I delivered you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder; I tested you at the waters of Meribah. Selah’ God’s people are called to hear and heed him, even when, especially when his word reproves, rebukes and corrects them. Therefore, God says, ‘8 Hear, O my people, while I admonish you! O Israel, if you would but listen to me!’ Alas the church of the Old Testament like the one of today foolishly failed to keep God’s commands and brought much needless hardships and heartaches upon itself. The psalmist reminds us of these things so that we might learn from the past and not repeat the errors of our forebears, and contemporaries! God declares, ‘9 There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god. 10 I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it. 11 “But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me. 12 So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels. 13 Oh, that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways! 14 I would soon subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes. 15 Those who hate the LORD would cringe toward him, and their fate would last forever. 16 But he would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”’ Praise God for the riches of his grace towards us.

To ponder! But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Eph.2:4-7).

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Bible Challenge: Day 341

Bible Reading: 1 Chronicles 2 & Psalm 82

1 Chronicles 2 provides a genealogy of David. It again reminds us of the importance of heritage and inheritance in the biblical storyline. And more importantly it reaffirms God’s covenant faithfulness in fulfilling his promise to his people and preparing the way for the Seed of the woman who would come in the fulness of time to defeat, disarm, and destroy the Serpent. Through David’s line came God’s Christ, the only begotten Son of the Father, who would be given the name Jesus because he would save his people from their sins. How perilous the line of descent through which he came appeared at times, and yet God preserved it, and David’s son and Lord was indeed born in the little town of Bethlehem in God’s time. He is now King of kings and Lord of lords. One day every knee will bow to him, and every tongue confess that he is Lord.

Psalm 82 is a plea for justice. In it, Asaph laments the injustice of those in authority – the powers that be ordained of God (cf. Rom.13:1-4). It also has Christological significance, as is clear from the Lord Jesus’ words in John 10:34. He was the victim of the greatest and gravest injustice ever and yet its final verse, ‘8 Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!’ anticipates and foreshadows his glorious resurrection to reign at God’s right side. He will one day judge the world in perfect righteousness. The psalmist reminds us that God is not ignorant of or indifferent to injustice. He begins, ‘God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment’. He therefore asks of the authorities that showed partiality, ‘2 “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah’ He reminds them of their duty before God and their neighbour. ‘3 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. 4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”’ Yet, the psalmist complains, ‘5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.’ The powers that be have forgotten and forsaken their duty and responsibility under the heady influence of power, prestige, and prosperity. And yet they will one day face God’s judgement. ‘6 I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; 7 nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.”’ Asaph pleads with God to intervene and establish equality and fairness before his law of love. ‘8 Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!’

To ponder! And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment (Heb.9:27).

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Bible Challenge: Day 342

Bible Reading: 1 Chronicles 3 & Psalm 83

1 Chronicles 3 records the descendants of David down to the time of its compilation, including his royal successors. It was through this line of descent that the promised Messiah, David’s son and Lord, would eventually come. And therefore, it is designed to demonstrate God’s providential preservation and faithfulness in keeping his promise to his people. God keeps his word.

In Psalm 83 Asaph cries to God on behalf of the Old Testament church to come to their aid. He prays for God’s deliverance from the violent hands of their enemies who have conspired and formed a military coalition against them to supplant them in the Promised Land. He therefore pleads, ‘O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God! 2 For behold, your enemies make an uproar; those who hate you have raised their heads. 3 They lay crafty plans against your people; they consult together against your treasured ones. 4 They say, “Come, let us wipe them out as a nation; let the name of Israel be remembered no more!”’ Their coalition against God’s children is a direct attack on God and his kingdom. The psalmist is specific in prayer and so names those that have made a covenant to capture the land and destroy Israel (vv.5-8). Citing historical divine interventions (vv.9-15, Asaph petitions God to ‘16 Fill their faces with shame, that they may seek your name, O LORD. 17 Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever; let them perish in disgrace, 18 that they may know that you alone, whose name is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth.’ The psalmist is only too conscious of Israel’s need of God and his grace. His confidence is in God alone who must protect and provide for his people lest they perish. They in turn must trust and obey God as their Hope and Help. What was true of God’s people in the Old Testament period is equally true in this New Covenant era.

To ponder! God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Ps.46:1).

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Bible Challenge: Day 343

Bible Reading: 1 Chronicles 4 & Psalm 84

1 Chronicles 4 lists the descendants of Judah and Simeon respectively and highlights once again the importance of heritage and inheritance in the Old Testament sacred scriptures. These ancient genealogical records would have been particularly precious and useful when the people returned to the land after the Babylonian captivity. Of note, is verse 10 which mentions the example of Jabez who prayed to God, ‘“Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!” And God granted what he asked.’ Here is a prayer of faith asking God for grace to be both faithful and fruitful in the service of God and others.

Psalm 84 is a praise song by the sons of Korah. It is a psalm that we are likely familiar with as it features periodically in our corporate worship. In it the psalmist extol the presence and praise of God. ‘How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts!’ Speaking in the voice of the church, the psalmist declare his desire and delight in the LORD. ‘2 My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.’ Poetically pondering how the sparrow and the swallow nest within the Temple precincts, he highlights how there is a place for all in the worship of God. ‘3 Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God. 4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! Selah’ Accompanying ‘belonging’ is God’s blessing upon his people – upon all who call upon his name in truth and love. They are recipients of his grace, and they go from strength to strength in the faith. ‘5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. 6 As they go through the Valley of Baca [a desert place] they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. 7 They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.’ The psalmist therefore prays to God acknowledging his dependency on God and God’s goodness in return. ‘8 O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah 9 Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed! 10 For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. 11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favour and honour. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.’ He concludes hence, ‘12 O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!’ May our faith be firmly in the living and true God and may his rich blessings flow into and out through our lives for his glory and our mutual good.

To ponder! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! (Ps.107:1).

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Bible Challenge: Day 344

Bible Reading: 1 Chronicles 5 & Psalm 85

1 Chronicles 5 continues with genealogical lists and includes those of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. Reuben was the firstborn, but he lost its privilege and place to Joseph. By the time of Saul, the Reubenites had dispossessed the Hagrites and occupied the region east of Gilead. The son of Gad lived over against them in the land of Bashan as far as Salecah. These tribes provided good fighting men, highly skilled in the use of sword and shield. The half-tribe of Manasseh lived in the land from Bashan to Baal-hermon, including Senir and Mount Hermon. These tribes departed from the ways of God and found themselves carried off into exile like others in Israel.

Psalm 85 is another Psalm of the sons of Korah. It is a prayer for revival and restoration. The psalmist looks back on better days and calls God to turn away his indignation from the Old Testament church on account of its folly and failures to hear and heed him. He begins, ‘LORD, you were favourable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob. 2 You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin. Selah 3 You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.’ And therefore, just as God showed Israel grace, love, and mercy in the past, he pleads for more of the same. ‘4 Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us! 5 Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations? 6 Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?’ The psalmist recognises how dependent God’s people are upon his grace. He asks God, ‘7 Show us your steadfast love, O LORD, and grant us your salvation.’ The psalmist prays in faith and hope that God will hear and answer his prayer in the affirmative. He prays moreover, not only for himself but for the church. ‘8 Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly.’ Longing for and anticipating better days, he declares, ‘9 Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land. 10 Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. 11 Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky. 12 Yes, the LORD will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. 13 Righteousness will go before him and make his footsteps a way.’ The good news is that these things are ours in and through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. Amen.

To ponder! Oh sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvellous things! His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. 2 The LORD has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations. 3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God (Ps.98:1-3).

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Bible Challenge: Day 345

Bible Reading: 1 Chronicles 6 & Psalm 86

1 Chronicles 6 contains the genealogical lists of the priestly tribe of Levi. One and Two Chronicles are written from a priestly perspective and are primarily concerned with the worship of the Tabernacle and Temple. It follows the line of descent from Levi to Jehozadak who was forcibly exiled during the Babylonian captivity, and beyond. It names those that King David put in charge of the praise of the Tabernacle after it was brought to Jerusalem and was replaced by the Temple in his son, Solomon’s prosperous reign. The Levites enjoyed exclusive command of the worship and all things pertaining to it at the Tabernacle and Temple. They had responsibility for the furnishings and the holy things pertaining to the Temple worship. The high priest also came from their order. And he was charged with offering sacrifice within the Holy of holies once a year on the Day of Atonement anticipating Christ’s once and for all sacrifice for the sin of the world. The chapter delineates their dwelling places among the tribes when not on active service.

Psalm 86 is a personal prayer of David in a time of trial and trouble. In it the psalmist acts as the voice of the church when faced with dark and difficult providences. He prays, ‘Incline your ear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. 2 Preserve my life, for I am godly; save your servant, who trusts in you—you are my God.’ David cries to God consistently and continually for grace, confident in God’s goodness and willingness to answer his pleas. ‘3 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day. 4 Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. 5 For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you. 6 Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace. 7 In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you answer me.’ The psalmist extols the uniqueness and greatness of God as well as his goodness which gives him confidence in prayer. ‘8 There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours. 9 All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name. 10 For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.’ He asks God to enlighten and encourage him. ‘11 Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.’ He will yet express his gratitude to God for his amazing grace. ‘12 I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever. 13 For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.’ Confronted by a ruthless and wicked conspiracy against him, David is determined to trust in God. ‘14 O God, insolent men have risen up against me; a band of ruthless men seeks my life, and they do not set you before them. 15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. 16 Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant, and save the son of your maidservant. 17 Show me a sign of your favour, that those who hate me may see and be put to shame because you, LORD, have helped me and comforted me.’ God is the Helper and Comforter of his people. In him we must trust.

To ponder! Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Cor.1:3-4).

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Bible Challenge: Day 346

Bible Reading: 1 Chronicles 7 & Psalm 87

1 Chronicles 7 provides genealogical lists for Issachar, Benjamin, Naphtali, Manasseh, Ephraim, and Asher. The narrative records the number of fighting men each tribe was able to provide in the event of war. Again detail is provided regarding territory occupied by certain tribes.

Psalm 87 is a paeon of praise to God by the sons of Korah for Zion, the Holy City, which acts as a type of which the church is the anti-type and fulfilment. One can imagine the pilgrims singing this psalm as they made their way up to Jerusalem for the annual feasts. This was the place where God chose to dwell with his people in a unique and special way symbolised in the presence of the Temple, which is turn anticipated and foreshadowed Jesus Christ, our Immanuel. The psalmist writes, ‘On the holy mount stands the city he founded; 2 the LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob. 3 Glorious things of you are spoken, O city of God. Selah’ God’s church like his city is the work of God’s grace. He founded it, and it belongs to God in Christ. He loves his people with a love that is infinite and eternal in Jesus. And bestows his grace and glory on his church. Others recognise the divine favour given to it. ‘4 Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon; behold, Philistia and Tyre, with Cush—“This one was born there,” they say.’ The living God not only establishes his Zion, the church but he builds and beautifies her. The names of all his children are written in his book of life. ‘5 And of Zion it shall be said, “This one and that one were born in her”; for the Most High himself will establish her. 6 The LORD records as he registers the peoples, “This one was born there.” Selah’ And this is cause for celebratory praise. ‘7 Singers and dancers alike say, “All my springs are in you.”’ We are again reminded that our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

To ponder! So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple,[c] and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken (Jn.2:18-22).

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Bible Challenge: Day 347

Bible Reading: 1 Chronicles 8 & Psalm 88

1 Chronicles 8 records the genealogy of Benjamin, the smallest of the tribes of Israel. They played an important role in the history of the nation, particularly in the days of King Saul who was a Benjaminite.

In Psalm 88 the psalmist expresses fear and despair at the thought of death. A superficial reading of the psalm might conclude that the writer is without faith and hope but that is not the case as he begins, ‘O LORD, God of my salvation, I cry out day and night before you. 2 Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry!’ This prayer echoes the first part of Psalm 22 with its cry of dereliction, and like it has evident Christological overtones. One of the beloved companions of the Lord Jesus not only shunned him but betrayed him! Here the psalmist expresses his worries and woes. He writes, ‘3 For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. 4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength, 5 like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand.’ Recognising that God is sovereign, he sees the hand of Providence in his predicament but also its solution. ‘6 You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep. 7 Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah’ Even his companions have abandoned him, and he feels the despair of loneliness. ‘8 You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a horror to them. I am shut in so that I cannot escape; 9 my eye grows dim through sorrow.’ And yet, the psalmist continues to pray in earnest, looking to God to come to his aid and deliver him from the depths of dejection and despondency. ‘Every day I call upon you, O LORD; I spread out my hands to you.’ He asks God, ‘10 Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah 11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon? 12 Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?’ He tells God, ‘13 But I, O LORD, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you.’ Despite his incomprehension, concerns, and fears he will continue to plead before God knowing that his help must come from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth. ‘14 O LORD, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me? 15 Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless. 16 Your wrath has swept over me; your dreadful assaults destroy me. 17 They surround me like a flood all day long; they close in on me together. 18 You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness.’ Psalm 88 reminds that we must continue to pray to God when the clouds of anxiety block the joyous rays of the light. God is still present in the darkness. He is our Comforter and Deliverer. And we have his promise in and through Jesus Christ that he will never forsake us.

To ponder! Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isa.41:10).

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Bible Challenge: Day 348

Bible Reading: 1 Chronicles 9 & Psalm 89

1 Chronicles 9 records the genealogy of those that returned from exile in Babylon. And the first to return were the priests, Levites, and temple servants. They were accompanied by some from Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh who reoccupied Jerusalem. There follow the names of those the served the House of God and a description of their roles with emphasis given to the Temple worship. The chapter concludes by repeating the genealogy of Saul.

Psalm 89 is a song of praise written by Ethan the Ezrahite. He gladly declares, ‘I will sing of the steadfast love of the LORD, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations.’ Speaking of King David but anticipating and foreshadowing the Lord Jesus Christ he extols God for his everlasting covenant. For his Chosen One will reign forever as King of kings and Lord of lords (vv.2-4). The psalmist praises God’s holiness. He is altogether unique, great, and glorious (vv.5-8). He is sovereign over the heavens and the earth which he made and sustains (vv.9-13). ‘14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.’ Ethan expresses the blessedness of God’s people who exist to glorify and enjoy God forever. They show gratitude for grace in their worship, work, and witness (vv.15-18). Speaking of God’s Christ, who will address God and say, “You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation”, the psalmist anticipates his triumph over the wicked (vv.19-26). ‘27 And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. 28 My steadfast love I will keep for him forever, and my covenant will stand firm for him. 29 I will establish his offspring forever and his throne as the days of the heavens.’ Yet, God will discipline his followers that fail to keep the faith by departing from God’s commandments (vv30-37). Ethan then turns to the present and laments Israel’s fortune. The people had defied, and disobeyed God and he has disciplined them sorely (vv.38-45). He therefore desperately asks, ‘46 How long, O LORD? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire? 47 Remember how short my time is! For what vanity you have created all the children of man! 48 What man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol? Selah’ The psalmist pleads God’s precious promises and further asks, ‘49 Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David? 50 Remember, O Lord, how your servants are mocked, and how I bear in my heart the insults of all the many nations, 51 with which your enemies mock, O LORD, with which they mock the footsteps of your anointed.’ Trusting in God, the psalmist concludes, ‘52 Blessed be the LORD forever! Amen and Amen.’

To ponder! O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (Jn.17:25-26).

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Bible Challenge: Day 349

Bible Reading: 1 Chronicles 10 & Psalm 90

1 Chronicles 10 records the death of King Saul and his sons who were killed by the Philistines in battle. Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malchi-shua were slain on Mount Gilboa. Saul fell on his own sword after incurring a fatal injury by an arrow which penetrated his armour. His army and the Israelites in the region retreated and the Philistines conquered territory. The Philistines also located the bodies of Saul and his sons. They placed Saul’s armour in the temple of their gods and fixed his severed head to the Temple of Dagon to declare their superiority. Brave men from Jabesh-gilead nevertheless retrieved Saul and his sons’ remains and buried them with due ceremony at Jabesh. ‘So Saul died for his breach of faith. He broke faith with the LORD in that he did not keep the command of the LORD, and also consulted a medium, seeking guidance. 14 He did not seek guidance from the LORD. Therefore the LORD put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse.’

Psalm 90 is a prayer of Moses in which he pleads with God to turn away his righteous anger and show instead his divine favour and steadfast love to the children of Israel. He begins by acknowledging Israel’s dependence upon the Lord who is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. He writes, ‘Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. 2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.’ He ponders man’s mortality in comparison with God’s immortality. ‘3 You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” 4 For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. 5 You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning:

6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. 7 For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed.’ Moses also reflects on God’s omniscience. Man’s sin is therefore not hidden from him. ‘8 You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. 9 For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh.’ He muses on the brevity of life and asks God to teach people his ways – to grant wisdom to use their time faithfully and fruitfully. ‘10 The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. 11 Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you? 12 So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.’ Moses prays on behalf of the Old Testament church for restoration and renewal in their relationship to God and one another. He concludes, ‘13 Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants! 14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. 15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil. 16 Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. 17 Let the favour of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands! Grace is not a reward for our worship, work, and witness but must precede as well as follow them. Let us like Moses acknowledge our dependence on the living God.

To ponder! ‘Give what you command, and command what you will’ (Augustine of Hippo).

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Bible Challenge: Day 350

Bible Reading: 1 Chronicles 11 & Psalm 91

1 Chronicles 11 records Samuel’s anointing of King David at Hebron and the covenant made between Israel’s new king and the people. Unsurprisingly it focuses on David’s conquest of Jerusalem and of how he built it up as his capital city. It became known as the City of David. ‘And David became greater and greater, for the LORD of hosts was with him.’ The chronicler then provides a record of David’s mighty men and describes their exploits in defending, consolidating, and expanding the kingdom against Philistines, Moabites, and Egyptians. And so, Jashobeam, Eleazar, Abishai, Benaiah, and others are named and their exploits documented.

Psalm 91 is a prayer of confidence in God’s provision and protection. It has obvious Christological overtones as the Lord Jesus defeated, disarmed, and will destroy the forces of darkness on behalf of his church. The Evil One himself, familiar with scripture, sought to twist the meaning of its words when he confronted our Lord in the wilderness. However, he was no match for Jesus who used the occasion to teach his people about presumptuous sin (see Mt.4:5-7). This Psalm was prayed by the religious in the West at compline but in the East in the morning and at noon. It is appropriate at any time of the day and has often provided comfort to Christians at a funeral. The psalmist begins, ‘He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”’ These are the words of biblical faith which comprises confidence, conviction, and commitment to God. Therefore, the psalmist, writing from personal experience assures his readers, ‘3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. 4 He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.’ God is our Protector. ‘5 You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, 6 nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. 7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. 8 You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked. 9 Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place—the Most High, who is my refuge—10 no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.’ Writing poetically, the psalmist adds that God will providentially look after his people. ‘11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. 12 On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. 13 You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.’ Finally, he speaks prophetically on God’s behalf and concludes, ‘14 “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. 15 When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honour him. 16 With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”’ That salvation is ours in and through Jesus Christ who triumphed over our foes to provide everlasting love, light, and life. Blessed are all that trust in him.

To ponder! “Pray also at the sixth hour, because when Christ was attached to the wood of the cross, the daylight ceased and became darkness. Thus you should pray a powerful prayer at this hour, imitating the cry of him who prayed and all creation was made dark for the unbelieving Jews” (Hippolytus, from The Apostolic Tradition, c.AD 210).

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Bible Challenge: Day 351

Bible Reading: 1 Chronicles 12 & Psalm 92

1 Chronicles 12 continues the theme of the mighty men that served under David in warfare. They were not only courageous on the battlefield, but they were highly skilled in the use of the weapons of war. Many are named as a lasting memorial. The words of Amasai, a chief of thirty men, are applicable to all those that served with David. “We are yours, O David, and with you, O son of Jesse! Peace, peace to you, and peace to your helpers! For your God helps you.” We are further informed that ‘For from day to day men came to David to help him, until there was a great army, like an army of God.’ Then follows a record of the sizeable numbers of soldiers that joined in service to David from various tribes of Israel. ‘All these, men of war, arrayed in battle order, came to Hebron with a whole heart to make David king over all Israel. Likewise, all the rest of Israel were of a single mind to make David king.’ His coronation was a time of great feasting and festivities.

Psalm 92 is a song that was written for the Sabbath Day. It has been regularly sung or prayed by Christians individually and the church collectively on the Lord’s Day in this new covenant era. The psalmist begins, ‘It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; 2 to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night, 3 to the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre.’ Day and night sacrifice of praise is offered to God in gratitude to him for his amazing grace. And so, the psalmist speaking on behalf of God’s people, writes, ‘4 For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy. 5 How great are your works, O LORD! Your thoughts are very deep!’ He laments the folly of the wicked who flourish only for a season but are doomed to destruction unless they repent. ‘6 The stupid man cannot know; the fool cannot understand this: 7 that though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they are doomed to destruction forever; 8 but you, O LORD, are on high forever. 9 For behold, your enemies, O LORD, for behold, your enemies shall perish; all evildoers shall be scattered.’ By contrast, the LORD exalts the humble and holy. And therefore, the psalmist concludes, ‘10 But you have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox; you have poured over me fresh oil. 11 My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies; my ears have heard the doom of my evil assailants. 12 The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. 13 They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. 14 They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, 15 to declare that the LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.’ God’s people continue to flourish by faith in Jesus Christ in whom they have access to the Father and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Even into old age they continue to bear fruit which is the Father’s will for our lives. They do so by his faithfulness and favour. He alone is worthy of worship. It is our privilege and pleasure to call upon his name and serve him in worship, work, and witness.

To ponder! Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life (Pro.16:31).

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Bible Challenge: Day 352

Bible Reading: 1 Chronicles 13 & Psalm 93

1 Chronicles 13 begins with David gathering the people and priests together. He urged the assembled throng, “let us bring again the ark of our God to us, for we did not seek it in the days of Saul.” And the people consented. And so David brought the Ark of God from Kiriath-jearim and they transported the Ark of the Covenant to the house of Abinadab, Uzzah, and Ahio with celebratory praise. However, on route to the City of David, Uzzah took hold of the Ark to steady it after the oxen had stumbled and was struck down by the LORD. Afraid of further repercussions, David had the Ark kept at the home of Obed-edom, the Gittite. ‘And the ark of God remained with the household of Obed-edom in his house three months. And the LORD blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that he had.’

Psalm 93 is a paeon of praise to Almighty God, extolling his glory and greatness. As the catechism reminds us, he is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. The psalmist therefore begins, ‘The LORD reigns; he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed; he has put on strength as his belt.’ He is omniscient – all powerful. He is regal and rules over his creation. ‘Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved. 2 Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.’ God is sovereign and his plans and purposes cannot be thwarted. The psalmist writes, ‘3 The floods have lifted up, O LORD, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring.’ But concludes, ‘4 Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the LORD on high is mighty!’ He is holy, holy, holy. He is steadfast in his covenant love and is therefore ever faithful. ‘5 Your decrees are very trustworthy; holiness befits your house, O LORD, forevermore.’ He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. He changes not. He alone is worthy of faith and the worship that flows from it. Praise the LORD.

To ponder! “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Rev.4:8).

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Bible Challenge: Day 353

Bible Reading: 1 Chronicles 14 & Psalm 94

1 Chronicles 14 begins by informing the reader that David built a suitable royal palace at Jerusalem with skilled masons, craftsmen and cedar sent by Hiram, the king of Tyre. ‘And David knew that the LORD had established him as king over Israel, and that his kingdom was highly exalted for the sake of his people Israel.’ It then explains how David took wives and fathered sons and daughters which are named, establishing his dynasty. By God’s enabling, he also repulsed and defeated a Philistine armies at Baal-perazim and from Gibeon to Gezer. David incinerated the Philistine idols that were left behind. ‘And the fame of David went out into all lands, and the LORD brought the fear of him upon all nations.’

In Psalm 94 the psalmist cries to God for vengeance against the wicked. He desires God to vindicate his name, protect his people, and provide justice for all. He begins, ‘O LORD, God of vengeance, O God of vengeance, shine forth! 2 Rise up, O judge of the earth; repay to the proud what they deserve!’ He poses the perennial question of how long the wicked are permitted to flourish by exploiting and doing evil to others. ‘3 O LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult? 4 They pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast. 5 They crush your people, O LORD, and afflict your heritage. 6 They kill the widow and the sojourner, and murder the fatherless; 7 and they say, “The LORD does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.”’ The psalmist points out the folly of wickedness. God takes note of such wrongdoing and will judge the wicked for their actions. He reminds them of the brevity of life considering eternity. ‘8 Understand, O dullest of the people! Fools, when will you be wise? 9 He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see? 10 He who disciplines the nations, does he not rebuke? He who teaches man knowledge—11 the LORD—knows the thoughts of man, that they are but a breath.’ By contrast, blessed are those whom the LORD disciplines and who keep his commandments. He will not forsake the righteous. ‘12 Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O LORD, and whom you teach out of your law, 13 to give him rest from days of trouble, until a pit is dug for the wicked. 14 For the LORD will not forsake his people; he will not abandon his heritage; 15 for justice will return to the righteous, and all the upright in heart will follow it.’ The psalmist, foreshadowing the Lord Jesus Christ, is therefore heartened that God upholds and sustains him against the wicked who conspire to take his life. He asks, ‘16 Who rises up for me against the wicked? Who stands up for me against evildoers? 17 If the LORD had not been my help, my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence. 18 When I thought, “My foot slips,” your steadfast love, O LORD, held me up. 19 When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul. 20 Can wicked rulers be allied with you, those who frame injustice by statute? 21 They band together against the life of the righteous and condemn the innocent to death.’ He expresses his confidence in God as his shield and shelter, his rock and refuge. The LORD will condemn the unrepentant wicked.

To ponder! And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment (Heb.9:27).

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Bible Challenge: Day 354

Bible Reading: 1 Chronicles 15 & Psalm 95

1 Chronicles 15 records how King David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. A place was prepared for it and David in accordance with the divine law instructed the Levites and priests only to transport the Ark to his capital city. ‘And David assembled all Israel at Jerusalem to bring up the ark of the LORD to its place, which he had prepared for it. 4 And David gathered together the sons of Aaron and the Levites’. Conscious of what happened previously, David commanded the priests to consecrate themselves for this special task. ‘So the priests and the Levites consecrated themselves to bring up the ark of the LORD, the God of Israel. 15 And the Levites carried the ark of God on their shoulders with the poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the LORD.’ David also commanded the priestly singers and musicians to praise God before the Ark enroute to the Holy City. He, along with the elders and commanders of Israel accompanied the Ark and its priestly procession with celebratory worship. ‘And as the ark of the covenant of the LORD came to the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David dancing and celebrating, and she despised him in her heart.’

Psalm 95 is a paeon of praise and summons to worship God. Traditionally, referred to as The Venite’ (Oh come) it was daily sung at matins in the church catholic. It continues to be a favourite among Psalm-singing congregations in Scotland to this day. The psalmist begins, ‘Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!’ Here the psalmist reminds us that worship is the right response to God’s saving grace and greatness. He here urges God’s people to draw near to the LORD in celebratory praise like David and Israel in today’s other reading. ‘2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!’ Thanksgiving and gratitude are the appropriate response to grace. Moreover, we are summoned to praise him for who he is as well as for what he has done. He is our Creator, Benefactor, Ruler, and Judge as well as Saviour. ‘3 For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. 4 In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. 5 The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.’ Therefore, our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. We are to praise him in the beauty of holiness and humility. And so the psalmist adds, ‘6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! 7 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.’ He provides for and protects his people. The psalmist concludes with a warning not to take God’s grace for granted but learn from the church’s history. ‘Today, if you hear his voice, 8 do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, 9 when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. 10 For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.” 11 Therefore I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest.” God’s people are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ for good works done in love. Therefore, the psalmist urges all to remain faithful and not to forsake the LORD and his ways. While saints, we are sinners still this side of the grave and must guard our hearts.

To ponder! The words of a classic country song spring to mind and are a useful summary of what the psalmist conveys concerning our relationship with God in the latter part of Psalm 95. ‘I keep a close watch on this heart of mine. I keep my eyes wide open all the time. I keep the ends out for the tie that binds. Because you're mine, I walk the line. (Johnny Cash).

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Bible Challenge: Day 355

Bible Reading: 1 Chronicles 16 & Psalm 96

1 Chronicles 16 records how the Ark of the Covenant was placed in a specially prepared tent at Jerusalem. There King David offered burnt and peace offerings before the LORD, blessed the people of Israel, and had a loaf of bread, portion of meat, and cake of raisins distributed among them. He appointed Levites to minister before the Ark, and musicians and singers praised God regularly from the Tabernacle. There follows David’s song of praise where he begins by urging the people to worship God – to express gratitude for grace. He therefore calls upon all Israel. ‘Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! 9 Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! 10 Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice! 11 Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually! 12 Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles and the judgments he uttered, 13 O offspring of Israel his servant, children of Jacob, his chosen ones!’ He urges the people to remember the covenant that God has made with them. He reminds them of their history, heritage, and inheritance and of how God their Saviour provided for them and protected them. However, recognising Israel’s call and anticipating the New Covenant era, he invites all people everywhere to worship God. ‘Worship the LORD in the splendour of holiness; 30 tremble before him, all the earth’. The people of Israel gladly added an amen in response. And David and the people departed to their homes leaving the priests to continue the daily rounds of sacrificial worship and praise.

Psalm 96 is another paeon of praise to the LORD. The psalmist urges all the earth to praise God who is the only Lord and Saviour of all the world. He begins, ‘Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth! 2 Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. 3 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvellous works among all the peoples!’ As our forebears remind us, based on this Psalm and other portions of sacred scripture like it, our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. We were made by him and are saved by him alone to be new creations that are rooted and built up in love. ‘4 For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. 5 For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens.’ He alone is worthy of worship as Creator, Benefactor, Judge, and Redeemer. ‘6 Splendour and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.’ Therefore, the psalmist invites all people to ‘7 Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength! 8 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts! 9 Worship the LORD in the splendour of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!’ Extolling not only God’s sovereign grace and faithfulness but also his righteousness or justness, the psalmist poetically adds, ‘10 Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.” 11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; 12 let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy 13 before the LORD, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness.’ Praise the LORD indeed! Our Lord and Saviour is coming again to judge the world in perfect righteousness and lead his people into everlasting blessedness, peace, joy, and glory.

To ponder! “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever!” (Rev.5:13)

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Bible Challenge: Day 356

Bible Reading: 1 Chronicles 17 & Psalm 97

1 Chronicles 17 contains God’s covenant with King David and David’s response in prayer. David sought the counsel of the Prophet Nathan concerning the construction of a Temple for the Ark of the Covenant. God however, revealed his will to Nathan and told him “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD: It is not you who will build me a house to dwell in.” God promised to be with David and to bless him with progeny, but his son and successor would build the House of God. Nathan therefore conveyed God’s word to David saying, “When your days are fulfilled to walk with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. 12 He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. 13 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from him who was before you, 14 but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever.’” God’s covenant was and is ultimately fulfilled in David’s son and Lord, Jesus Christ our everlasting King and Saviour! David humbly prayed in response and gave thanks to God for his grace and greatness. He concluded, “And now, O LORD, you are God, and you have promised this good thing to your servant. 27 Now you have been pleased to bless the house of your servant, that it may continue forever before you, for it is you, O LORD, who have blessed, and it is blessed forever.”

Psalm 97 is a song of praise extolling God’s sovereignty, righteousness, and grace. It begins, ‘The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!’ God is on his throne and his will be done. Echoing the imagery associated with God on Mount Sinai in the days of Moses, the psalmist continues by highlighting something of the mystery, holiness, and glory of God, ‘2 Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. 3 Fire goes before him and burns up his adversaries all around. 4 His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees and trembles. 5 The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, before the Lord of all the earth. 6 The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory.’ While those that worship false gods are shamed, God’s people rejoice in him and take confidence in his judgements. ‘7 All worshipers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in worthless idols; worship him, all you gods! 8 Zion hears and is glad, and the daughters of Judah rejoice, because of your judgments, O LORD.’ The psalmist makes clear that God alone is LORD. ‘9 For you, O LORD, are most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods.’ He therefore urges those that love God to hate evil and trust wholeheartedly in the LORD. ‘10 O you who love the LORD, hate evil! For God, he declares, ‘…preserves the lives of his saints; he delivers them from the hand of the wicked. 11 Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.’ Therefore, ‘12 Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name!’ And lest we forget, God is truly with us and for us in Emmanuel, Jesus Christ whose kingdom is everlasting.

To ponder! Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. 5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings[a] and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God (Rev.4:4-6).

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Bible Challenge: Day 357

Bible Reading: 1 Chronicles 18 & Psalm 98

1 Chronicles 18 charts King David’s victories, as well as his territorial and material gains over the Philistines, Moabites, Syrians, and Edomites. It records the numerical strength of the armies and the armaments that David and the Israelites triumphed over. We are specifically told that ‘…the LORD gave victory to David wherever he went.’ He acquired gold and bronze which Solomon would use in the construction of the Temple. Rather than face David in the field of battle, Tou, the king of Hamath, paid tribute to him in gold, silver, and bronze which David dedicated to the LORD. He did the same with precious metals acquired from the Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, Philistines, and Amalekites. ‘So David reigned over all Israel, and he administered justice and equity to all his people.’ The chapter concludes by naming some of David’s key administrators. He was not only dependent upon God’s grace but on reliable ministers which were given key roles in the government of the nation.

Psalm 98 is another song of praise exalting God for his amazing grace. It begins, ‘Oh sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvellous things! His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.’ The psalmist extols God for the revelation of his salvation and righteousness. He has definitively demonstrated his covenant love and faithfulness to his people. ‘2 The LORD has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations. 3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.’ In response, the psalmist urges everyone, everywhere to ‘4 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises! 5 Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody! 6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD!’ Anticipating God’s righteous judgement of the world, he poetically concludes, ‘7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! 8 Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together 9 before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.’ God is not only gloriously gracious, but he is impeccably just.

To ponder! Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2Cor.5:17).

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Bible Challenge: Day 358

Bible Reading: 1 Chronicles 19 & Psalm 99

In 1 Chronicles 19 King David travelled to Ammon to pay his respects to King Hanun on the death of his father, Nahash. There had been good relations between the two monarchs and their respective kingdoms which David hoped would continue. Hanun’s advisors, however, convinced him that David’s intentions were bad and that he was merely surveying the lay of the land in readiness for an invasion. ‘So Hanun took David's servants and shaved them and cut off their garments in the middle, at their hips, and sent them away; 5 and they departed.’ David was understandably disgusted and when word reached the Ammonites, they prepared for war by hiring additional mercenaries from the surrounding nations to bolster their army. They won the support of the Syrians who agreed to assist them militarily. David marshalled his forces under the commands of Joab and Abishai and they met the Ammonites and Syrians on the battlefield. The latter armies fled before the mighty men of Israel. The Syrians attempted to reinforce their army for another assault on Israel but David received intelligence of their intention and rose to meet them in the field on the far side of the Jordan River. There David won a decisive victory and killed Shophach, the Syrian commander. The Syrians were compelled thereafter to break their alliance with the Ammonites and seek peace with Israel and serve their interests.

Psalm 99 is another paeon of praise to God in which the psalmist exalts the awesomeness, holiness, righteousness, and mercy of God. He calls upon the people to worship God who is great and gracious. He begins by reminding the church that God is on his throne. He is the sovereign ruler of all. ‘The LORD reigns; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!’ He highlights the majesty as well as the goodness of God. He is altogether perfect and unique – ‘infinite, eternal, and unchangeable’. ‘2 The LORD is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples. 3 Let them praise your great and awesome name! Holy is he!’ The LORD delights in and delivers justice to his people. ‘4 The King in his might loves justice. You have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.’ The psalmist therefore bids the church, ‘5 Exalt the LORD our God; worship at his footstool! Holy is he!’ He invokes Israel’s history to remind God’s people of the greatness and graciousness of God as well as their heritage and inheritance. ‘6 Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel also was among those who called upon his name. They called to the LORD, and he answered them. 7 In the pillar of the cloud he spoke to them; they kept his testimonies and the statute that he gave them. 8 O LORD our God, you answered them; you were a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings.’ He concludes by again urging the church to worship their holy God. ‘9 Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the LORD our God is holy!’

To ponder! “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Rev.4:8).

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Bible Challenge: Day 359

Bible Reading: 1 Chronicles 20 & Psalm 100

1 Chronicles 20 records the capture of the Ammonite city of Rabbah under David’s army commander, Joab. David subsequently stripped the local king of his crown and wore it himself as a symbol of his conquest. And the Ammonite people were forced to serve Israel in manual labour. ‘And thus David did to all the cities of the Ammonites. Then David and all the people returned to Jerusalem.’ The remainder of this short chapter details subsequent victories in war against the Philistines and the triumph of certain courageous men of Israel over the descendants of Goliath of Gath in combat. ‘These were descended from the giants in Gath, and they fell by the hand of David and by the hand of his servants.’

Psalm 100 is a song of praise that the church continues to sing regularly in its public worship. The psalmist, anticipating our new covenant era, begins by urging all people to join in celebratory praise to the LORD. ‘Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!’ He calls us to ‘Serve the LORD with gladness!’ and to ‘Come into his presence with singing!’ Worship is our ultimate end. God alone is worthy of it. And it is the goal of the church’s mission – to bring people into a right relationship with God that they might worship him in spirit and in truth. The psalmist therefore bids God’s people to ‘3 Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.’ The Good Shepherd laid down his life and took it up again for his flock. He leads us to green pastures and still waters. He restores our souls. He gives us eternal life. Let us therefore show our gratitude to him for his amazing grace. Let us ‘4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!’ Why? ‘5 For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.’ Praise him now and always.

To ponder! My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand (Jn.10:27-28).

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Bible Challenge: Day 360

Bible Reading: 1 Chronicles 21 & Psalm 101

1 Chronicles 21 begins with David who was incited by Satan to number Israel. He therefore commanded Joab “Go, number Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, and bring me a report, that I may know their number.” He dismissed Joab’s objections and insisted he carry out his order which he did. Joab reported back to the monarch that there were 1,100,000 fighting men in Israel and 470,000 in Judah. David’s action, however, not only displeased his chief commander but it also angered God who gave the king a choice of punishment. David chose disease! ‘So the LORD sent a pestilence on Israel, and 70,000 men of Israel fell. 15 And God sent the angel to Jerusalem to destroy it, but as he was about to destroy it, the LORD saw, and he relented from the calamity.’ David earnestly repented before God and urged him, “Please let your hand, O LORD my God, be against me and against my father's house. But do not let the plague be on your people.” The angel of the LORD also communicated God’s will via Gad and so David travelled to and purchased the threshing floor of Ornan, the Jebusite, and there built an altar to God and offered burnt and peace offerings and called upon the name of the LORD for mercy. God consumed his offerings by fire as a sign of acceptance and forgiveness and David saw the angel of the LORD sheath his sword. Nevertheless, the fear of the LORD prevented him from going up to Gibeon where the Tabernacle was then located.

Psalm 101 is a Psalm of David in which he praise’s God for his covenant love and righteousness. He begins, ‘I will sing of steadfast love and justice; to you, O LORD, I will make music.’ David reflects on God’s justice, and yearns for a heart aflame with love for God and others so that he might walk before God and the people with integrity, moral probity, and wisdom. He desires to live ‘coram Deo’, before the face of God, or in the presence of God, ever conscious of his nearness as well as his transcendence. ‘2 I will ponder the way that is blameless. Oh when will you come to me? I will walk with integrity of heart within my house; 3 I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.’ The psalmist expresses a loathing of apostasy and the abandonment of God and his ways. He pledges to avoid such wickedness that emanates from the fallen nature. He writes, ‘I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. 4 A perverse heart shall be far from me; I will know nothing of evil.’ He vows, moreover, as king of Israel, to uphold and implement God’s moral law. He therefore declares, ‘5 Whoever slanders his neighbour secretly I will destroy. Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart I will not endure.’ On the contrary, he will show favour to and fellowship with the faithful. ‘6 I will look with favour on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; he who walks in the way that is blameless shall minister to me.’ However, he gives a warning that ‘7 No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes. 8 Morning by morning I will destroy all the wicked in the land, cutting off all the evildoers from the city of the LORD.’ David hereby anticipates the fulfilment of Christ’s kingdom and the eternal state where God’s people will live forever in the presence of God in perfect righteousness, peace, and joy.

To ponder! My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places (Isa.32:18).

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Bible Challenge: Day 361

Bible Reading: 1 Chronicles 22 & Psalm 102

1 Chronicles 22 focuses on the preparation and building of the Temple in Jerusalem in the respective reigns of David and Solomon. Although God prohibited David from building the Temple, he nevertheless took the initiative in providing materials and setting masons, loggers, and blacksmiths to work cutting stone, gathering timbers from afar, and making nails in readiness. ‘For David said, “Solomon my son is young and inexperienced, and the house that is to be built for the LORD must be exceedingly magnificent, of fame and glory throughout all lands. I will therefore make preparation for it.” So David provided materials in great quantity before his death.’ David explained to his son, Solomon, how it was God’s will that he should build the Temple. He urged him, moreover, to keep God’s commandments and to exercise wisdom in the form of discretion and understanding. He told his son, “Be strong and courageous. Fear not; do not be dismayed.” David furthermore provided sizeable quantities of gold, silver, bronze, iron, stone and timber, along with skilled craftsmen and workmen for the project. And commending Solomon to God he bid him arise and work. King David commanded the leaders of Israel to support his son in the building of the House of God in the Holy City.

In Psalm 102 the psalmist expresses faith and hope in God in a day of deep distress and dejection. Anticipating the Lord Christ’s cry of abandonment from the Cross, he cries, ‘Hear my prayer, O LORD; let my cry come to you! 2 Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress! Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call!’ The psalmist feels demoralised, desolate, and drained. He is unable to sleep on account of his worries and woes. And his enemies taunt and curse him (vv.3-8). He feels the weight of God’s judgement upon him and seeks relief. ‘9 For I eat ashes like bread and mingle tears with my drink, 10 because of your indignation and anger; for you have taken me up and thrown me down. 11 My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass.’ The psalmist aware that God does not change, earnestly prays for grace and mercy not only for himself but for the Israel of God, the church. ‘12 But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations. 13 You will arise and have pity on Zion; it is the time to favour her; the appointed time has come.’ He looks to God for revival, restoration, and renewal and trusts wholly in the LORD to bring these to pass (vv.14-17). And anticipating the new covenant era, he desires that his words and example be recorded for the benefit of future generations that will worship God (vv.18-22). Pondering his physical mortality in comparison with God’s immortality, the psalmist contrasts the brevity and transitory nature of our world with the infinite, eternal, and unchangeable nature and purpose of God and concludes, ‘23 He has broken my strength in midcourse; he has shortened my days. 24 “O my God,” I say, “take me not away in the midst of my days—you whose years endure throughout all generations!” 25 Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. 26 They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, 27 but you are the same, and your years have no end. 28 The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you.’

To ponder! He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. 30 Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; 31 but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint (Isa.40:29-31).

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Bible Challenge: Day 362

Bible Reading: 1 Chronicles 23 & Psalm 103

1 Chronicles 23 records David’s organising the Levites twenty years old and above in readiness for service in the Temple worship. There were 38000 and they were divided into three divisions based on ancestry through Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. There follow the names of the most prominent among them within this tripartite division. King David addressed them and said, “The LORD, the God of Israel, has given rest to his people, and he dwells in Jerusalem forever. 26 And so the Levites no longer need to carry the tabernacle or any of the things for its service.” Their duty was now to solely assist the priests in the service of the Tabernacle and the forthcoming Temple. They had responsibility for the fabric and furnishings, as well as the offerings made in worship. ‘And they were to stand every morning, thanking and praising the LORD, and likewise at evening, 31 and whenever burnt offerings were offered to the LORD on Sabbaths, new moons, and feast days, according to the number required of them, regularly before the LORD.’

Psalm 103 is another paeon of praise to God for his glorious grace, limitless love, and measureless mercy. It is a particular favourite of mine, probably on account of its prominence at Communion Seasons. The psalmist begins, ‘Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!’ Herein, we are reminded that our chief rather than subordinate end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Worship is not only primary; it is also our ultimate end! The psalmist praises God for his goodness, forgiveness, and fellowship. ‘2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, 3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, 4 who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, 5 who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.’ It is God who redeems and renews his people, who in turn bless him for his amazing grace. The psalmist reminds the church that the LORD is righteous and is a God of justice. ‘6 The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. 7 He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.’ Because we fall short of the glory of God and fail to keep his commandments, he wonderfully adds, however, that ‘8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 9 He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. 10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.’ This he does for Christ’s sake who died for our sins and rose again for our justification. ‘13 As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. 14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.’ The psalmist reminds us of our frailty and of the brevity of our lives in this world. ‘15 As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.’ However, God is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. Therefore, the psalmist edifies and encourages the church in the knowledge, ‘17 But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children's children, 18 to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.’ God not only saves but he calls us to good works done in love. We are called to faith, faithfulness, and fruitfulness, ever dependent on God’s grace and guidance to persevere and prosper not only in the present but everlastingly. Look up and praise the LORD. ‘19 The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.’ Let all creation praise the Creator, Benefactor, Judge, Ruler, and Saviour. ‘20 Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! 21 Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! 22 Bless the LORD, all his works, in all places of his dominion.’ Let each of us gladly say along with the psalmist, ‘Bless the LORD, O my soul!’

To ponder! But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Eph.2:4-10).

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Bible Challenge: Day 363

Bible Reading: 1 Chronicles 24 & Psalm 104

As in the previous chapter which records how David organised the Levites to serve in the Tabernacle and forthcoming Temple and there assist the priests, so in 1 Chronicles 24 the aged king organises the priesthood. The chapter begins, ‘The divisions of the sons of Aaron were these. The sons of Aaron: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. 2 But Nadab and Abihu died before their father and had no children, so Eleazar and Ithamar became the priests.’ David set the priesthood in sixteen divisions depending on their genealogical descent. There follow the names of the heads of the priestly families. ‘These had as their appointed duty in their service to come into the house of the LORD according to the procedure established for them by Aaron their father, as the LORD God of Israel had commanded him.’

Psalm 104 is a song of praise extolling the greatness and glory of God in poetic language. The psalmist begins, ‘Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendour and majesty, 2 covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent.’ The psalmist paints a beautiful word picture of God as sovereign maker and sustainer of his creation. His rich provision is abundant and abiding (vv.3-12). The psalmist gladly proclaims, ‘13 From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work. 14 You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth 15 and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man's heart.’ The psalmist not only delights in God’s natural revelation in the form of flora, fauna, and topography but he marvels at the seasons as well as the ordering of day and night via the sun and the moon (vv.16-23). After surveying God’s creation, he concludes, ‘24 O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.’ He then turns his attention to the sea which also teems with life (vv.25-28). And reflects on the creatures dependency on God (vv.29-30) and exclaims, ‘31 May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works, 32 who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke!’ The psalmist ends with a paeon of personal praise. ‘33 I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. 34 May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD. 35 Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more! Bless the LORD, O my soul! Praise the LORD!’ His pledge ought to be the declaration of the church in every day and generation. We are called to worship God and labour for his kingdom of love.

To ponder! Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven (Mt.6:10).

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Bible Challenge: Day 364

Bible Reading: 1 Chronicles 25 & Psalm 105

1 Chronicles 25 records how after organising the Levites and the priests for service in the Tabernacle and forthcoming Temple, King David turned his attention to the musicians responsible for the praise therein. The chapter therefore begins, ‘David and the chiefs of the service also set apart for the service the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who prophesied with lyres, with harps, and with cymbals.’ There follow the names of the chief of these by genealogical descent who would lead the singing of psalms and the playing of musical instruments. ‘The number of them along with their brothers, who were trained in singing to the LORD, all who were skillful, was 288. 8 And they cast lots for their duties, small and great, teacher and pupil alike.’ The remainder of the chapter lists the division of labour among the musicians and singers.

Psalm 105 is another song of praise that recounts God’s amazing grace to the Old Testament church. The psalmist begins, ‘Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!’ Reminding us that God’s people are called to worship and witness. ‘2 Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!’ And we are to do so enthusiastically and joyfully. ‘3 Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice!’ The church is to seek the LORD consistently and continually as dependent upon his grace, love, and mercy. ‘4 Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually!’ She is to read, reflect upon and remember his saving deeds on behalf of his elect. ‘5 Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered, 6 O offspring of Abraham, his servant, children of Jacob, his chosen ones!’ The church is to keep in mind God’s covenant faithfulness always and the favour he has shown towards them (vv.7-15). There follows an account of God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt through the instrumentality of his chosen servants, Moses and Aaron. And of his rich provision and protection of his people through the wilderness to the Promised Land, despite their dearth of faith and folly, at times (vv.16-41). We are hereby again reminded of the importance of the biblical story, and particularly of the Exodus which anticipated and foreshadowed Christ’s gospel and kingdom that awaits its culmination and fulfilment at the end of our New Testament era. Moreover, we are taught indirectly here to value our church history. It is not incidental but rather important to our understanding of our heritage. The psalm concludes by rightly focusing of the faithfulness and grace of God. ‘42 For he remembered his holy promise, and Abraham, his servant. 43 So he brought his people out with joy, his chosen ones with singing. 44 And he gave them the lands of the nations, and they took possession of the fruit of the peoples' toil, 45 that they might keep his statutes and observe his laws. Praise the LORD!’ God’s people are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ for loving service to God and others – for worship, work, and witness.

To ponder! Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you (Deut.32:7).

‘Christian faith is being touched by God and witnessing to him’ (Benedict XVI).

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Bible Challenge: Day 365

Bible Reading: 1 Chronicles 26 & Psalm 106

1 Chronicles 26 records King David’s organisation and division of the gatekeepers who were the descendants of Korah, Meshelemiah, and Asaph. ‘These divisions of the gatekeepers, corresponding to their chief men, had duties, just as their brothers did, ministering in the house of the LORD. 13 And they cast lots by fathers' houses, small and great alike, for their gates.’ Afterwards, he made a further division among the Levites, assigning some treasury and other officials for the Tabernacle and forthcoming Temple in Jerusalem. These had oversight of income, expenditure, donations, and gifts set apart for a holy use. Others were appointed to external duties as administrators, officers, and judges throughout the kingdom.

Psalm 106 is a song of praise thanking God for his goodness and greatness. It begins, ‘Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!’

God is love and he calls his people to walk before him and one another in love which is the summation of the moral law contained in the 10 Commandments. The psalmist asks, ‘2 Who can utter the mighty deeds of the LORD, or declare all his praise?’ And adds, ‘3 Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times!’ Dependant of God’s grace and understanding that he is a member of the church, the psalmist prays, ‘4 Remember me, O LORD, when you show favour to your people; help me when you save them, 5 that I may look upon the prosperity of your chosen ones, that I may rejoice in the gladness of your nation, that I may glory with your inheritance.’ The psalmist then asks God’s forgiveness for his own and Israel’s sins, past and present. ‘6 Both we and our fathers have sinned; we have committed iniquity; we have done wickedness.’ He then goes on to recall and rehearse the sins of his fathers in the Exodus and Wilderness period remembering their faithlessness and folly in engaging in apostasy and idolatry and God’s resultant judgements but he also more crucially reflects of God’s grace, love, and mercy (vv.7-42). And so, he writes, ‘43 Many times he delivered them, but they were rebellious in their purposes and were brought low through their iniquity. 44 Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress, when he heard their cry. 45 For their sake he remembered his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love. 46 He caused them to be pitied by all those who held them captive.’ In remembering these past events, and understanding that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, the psalmist prays to God to intercede in the present. He cries, ‘47 Save us, O LORD our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.’ The Bible teaches that God saves in order that his people may glorify and enjoy him forever! The psalmist therefore concludes, ‘48 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! And let all the people say, “Amen!” Praise the LORD!’ The work of gathering in God’s people continues in the Gospel Commission to all nations. One day every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.

To ponder! Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15).

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Bible Challenge: Day 366

Bible Reading: 1 Chronicles 27 & Psalm 107

1 Chronicles 27 continues the theme of King David’s spiritual and temporal organisation of his kingdom. It begins, ‘This is the number of the people of Israel, the heads of fathers' houses, the commanders of thousands and hundreds, and their officers who served the king in all matters concerning the divisions that came and went, month after month throughout the year, each division numbering 24,000’. There follows the said division among the leadership of David’s army and the soldiers under their command so that Israel was ever ready to defend her borders and repulse invading forces. The names of the leaders of the tribes or clans called to serve for each month of the year is therefore recorded. Nevertheless, ‘David did not count those below twenty years of age, for the LORD had promised to make Israel as many as the stars of heaven. 24 Joab the son of Zeruiah began to count, but did not finish. Yet wrath came upon Israel for this, and the number was not entered in the chronicles of King David.’ The remainder of the chapter lists those charged with the king’s treasury and stewardship offices.

Psalm 107 is another beautiful song of praise celebrating God’s goodness and steadfast love towards his people. The refrain, ‘Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!’ perfectly encapsulate the purpose of the song as a Psalm of thanksgiving. I used to regularly take verses 23-30 to be sung to the tune ‘Loch Broom’ when ministering in the Western Isles. Anticipating our New Covenant era, the psalmist begins, ‘Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! 2 Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble 3 and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.’ The Psalm expresses joy in and gives thanks for God’s person, presence, promise, providences, provision, and protection and implicitly reminds its reader of the importance of faith and repentance and that gratitude is the rightful response to grace. ‘7 He led them by a straight way till they reached a city to dwell in.’ Let everyone praise the LORD ‘9 For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.’ God hears the cry of his people and comes to their rescue. He is the LORD our Helper. Let us bear witness to his salvation in songs of joy. Let us trust him who stills the storms and calms the waves. His name is Jesus. He will bring us to the desired haven. God makes our deserts bloom and provides us with the water of life. He ‘raises up the needy out of affliction and makes their families like flocks. 42 The upright see it and are glad, and all wickedness shuts its mouth.’ Therefore, ‘43 Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the LORD.’ Thank God.

To ponder! I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? 2 My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth (Ps.121:1-2).

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Bible Challenge: Day 367

Bible Reading: 1 Chronicles 28 & Psalm 108

1 Chronicles 28 records King David’s charge to the leaders that served the kingdom of Israel. He explained that while he had desired to build the Temple in Jerusalem, and had made appropriate preparations, God had intervened and informed him that he was not to build a house for his name because he was a man of war who had shed blood. Nevertheless, God promised David that Solomon his son would build the said house. He assured David, ‘I will establish his kingdom forever if he continues strong in keeping my commandments and my rules, as he is today.’ David urged Israel to study and keep the commandments of God ‘that you may possess this good land and leave it for an inheritance to your children after you forever.’ The king then addressed Solomon and urged him to serve God wholeheartedly and added, “Be careful now, for the LORD has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary; be strong and do it.”. He then acquainted Solomon with his plan and preparations for the Temple, including its ministry and furnishings which he had received from God. He told his son, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the LORD God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the LORD is finished. 21 And behold the divisions of the priests and the Levites for all the service of the house of God; and with you in all the work will be every willing man who has skill for any kind of service; also the officers and all the people will be wholly at your command.”

Psalm 108 is another paeon of praise. The psalmist acting as the voice of the church, expresses his wholehearted love and devotion to God. He begins, ‘My heart is steadfast, O God! I will sing and make melody with all my being! 2 Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn!’ He begins the day with praise making this an appropriate prayer or song for matins. He extols God’s love and faithfulness. ‘3 I will give thanks to you, O LORD, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. 4 For your steadfast love is great above the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.’ Anticipating and foreshadowing the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ and the salvation that is uniquely found in him, he exclaims, ‘5 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth! 6 That your beloved ones may be delivered, give salvation by your right hand and answer me!’ The psalmist praises God for and asks God to fulfil his promises to his people, reminding us of God’s commitment to his covenant. God keeps his word. He writes, ‘7 God has promised in his holiness: “With exultation I will divide up Shechem and portion out the Valley of Succoth. 8 Gilead is mine; Manasseh is mine; Ephraim is my helmet, Judah my sceptre. 9 Moab is my washbasin; upon Edom I cast my shoe; over Philistia I shout in triumph.”’ God is sovereign over the nations. The psalmist concludes by again affirming his and the church’s total reliance upon God’s grace. ‘10 Who will bring me to the fortified city? Who will lead me to Edom? 11 Have you not rejected us, O God? You do not go out, O God, with our armies. 12 Oh grant us help against the foe, for vain is the salvation of man! 13 With God we shall do valiantly; it is he who will tread down our foes.’ We are hereby reminded that the Christian’s comfort and confidence is in God. He is the way, the truth, and the life.

To ponder! And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt.28:18-20).

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Bible Challenge: Day 368

Bible Reading: 1 Chronicles 29 & Psalm 109

1 Chronicles 29 records King David’s last words and his son, Solomon’s, anointing as his successor. The chapter begins with David making precious resources available for the construction and beautification of the House of God. The leaders of Israel followed his example. ‘Then the people rejoiced because they had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the LORD. David the king also rejoiced greatly.’ David praised the LORD and prayed before the people. He firstly expressed adoration to God for his greatness and goodness. He prayed, “Blessed are you, O LORD, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. 11 Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. 12 Both riches and honour come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. 13 And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name.” David went on to humbly thank God for the favour he had shown to him personally and to the children of Israel collectively. He acknowledged that out of the abundance of good things that God have given to them they were giving back to God out of their time, talents, and treasures for the construction of the Temple. He similarly acknowledged God’s call upon their lives to walk before him in uprightness of heart. And he asked God to bless his son and successor. “Grant to Solomon my son a whole heart that he may keep your commandments, your testimonies, and your statutes, performing all, and that he may build the palace for which I have made provision.” He concluded by urging the assembly to praise the LORD. And they all worshipped God with gladness. David reigned for forty years and died at a good age. Solomon was formerly anointed a second time by Zadok the High Priest in the presence of the people. ‘And he prospered, and all Israel obeyed him. 24 All the leaders and the mighty men, and also all the sons of King David, pledged their allegiance to King Solomon. 25 And the LORD made Solomon very great in the sight of all Israel and bestowed on him such royal majesty as had not been on any king before him in Israel.’

Psalm 109 is a Psalm of David when he was confronted with betrayal and rebellion. As is clear from the New Testament Gospels and chapter 1 of the Acts of the Apostles (v.20) this psalm anticipates and foreshadows the betrayal of the Lord Jesus Christ by Judas Iscariot, and others. David begins, ‘Be not silent, O God of my praise! 2 For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me, speaking against me with lying tongues. 3 They encircle me with words of hate, and attack me without cause.’ And so it was with the Lord Jesus, especially in Holy Week. David pleads his innocence. His enemies were returning evil for good and hatred for love as they would to Christ. David’s cry for vindication and vengeance is a cry for justice against those that unjustly speak and act against him and therein trample God’s law of love underfoot (vv.4-20). The Lord Jesus similarly will warn the wicked of the condemnation that awaits them if they continue unrepentant and faithless but unlike David, he will cry from the Cross, “Father, forgive them for they no not what they do.” Nevertheless, the same Lord Jesus also said with reference to Judas Iscariot, “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” David prays to God to graciously intervene and save him from his enemies. His words will be echoed by Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of his betrayal and on the Cross when confronted by his detractors and accusers (vv.21-25). David confidently looks to the LORD, as Jesus would later do, conscious that his Cross had to precede his Crown. Confident that God would intervene and give him cause for rejoicing (vv.26-31). As we read above in 1 Chronicles 29, God delivered and blessed David who praised God in the great assembly of his people. So, God raised Jesus that every knee should bow, and tongue confess that he is Lord. He is coming again to judge the world in righteousness. He assures his church not only of vindication but more gloriously, of victory.

To ponder! It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb.10:31).

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Bible Challenge: Day 369

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 1 & Psalm 110

2 Chronicles 1 begins, ‘Solomon the son of David established himself in his kingdom, and the LORD his God was with him and made him exceedingly great.’ That opening verse reminds the reader of God’s promise to David and his faithfulness to keeping his word. Solomon assembled the leaders and people of Israel and lead them to the high place at Gibeon where the Tent of Meeting established by Moses at God’s prompting was located. And there they offered sacrifices to God and gave thanks to him for his goodness to them. Later, God appeared to Solomon at night and bid him “Ask what I shall give you.” Solomon prayed to God, “Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can govern this people of yours, which is so great?” And God additionally promised him in return, “riches, possessions, and honour, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like.” Subsequently, Solomon and his kingdom prospered. ‘He had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen, whom he stationed in the chariot cities and with the king in Jerusalem. 15 And the king made silver and gold as common in Jerusalem as stone, and he made cedar as plentiful as the sycamore of the Shephelah.’ He furthermore imported the finest commodities from the surrounding nations ensuring his fame spread internationally.

Psalm 110 is a messianic psalm attributed to David. Traditionally it was prayed or sung at vespers on the Lord’s Day throughout the Western Church. The Lord Jesus Christ reveals his identity by quoting its opening verse in the New Testament synoptic Gospels (Mt.22:44; Mk.12:36, Lk.20:42). ‘The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” Here we are made mindful of the Lord Christ’s divine and hence eternal nature as well as his human one – for to us a child is born, to us a Son is given. It communicates his great triumph over the forces of darkness and his subsequent coronation and reign at the right hand of the Father in glory as King of kings and Lord of lords. Where he must reign until his enemies are made his footstool. He came forth from Zion and has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. ‘2 The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty sceptre. Rule in the midst of your enemies!’ His church, as the recipients of grace, will gladly trust, obey, and follow him who is our wisdom from God, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. Therefore, the psalmist proclaims, ‘3 Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours.’ David also reminds his readers of the unchangeable commission and covenant faithfulness of God in Christ. ‘4 The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”’ The Apostle Paul (or undisclosed author) in chapter 7 of his Epistle to the Hebrews expands upon the significance of these words and they should be read in conjunction with this psalm. Melchizedek was the Priest-King of Salem who appeared to and received homage from Abraham (see Gen.14:17-24). He had no beginning and no end, symbolising and foreshadowing God’s Christ who is God’s Servant and the one and only Mediator between God and man. He is the King of Righteousness and Prince of Peace who bestows these graces upon all who receive and rest in him. He will defeat and destroy the powers of evil and judge the world in perfect righteousness. ‘5 The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. 6 He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth. 7 He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head.’ And he will lead his people in triumphant procession. Praise be his high and holy name.

To ponder: Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs (Heb.1:1-4).

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Bible Challenge: Day 370

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 2 & Psalm 111

2 Chronicles 2 records Solomon’s preparations for building the Temple and his royal palace. He assigned 70,000 foreign resident men to bear burdens and 80,000 to quarry in the hill country, and 3,600 to oversee them. He secured and purchased skilled craftsmen and workers, along with raw materials from King Hiram of Tyre. He nevertheless humbly acknowledged, ‘The house that I am to build will be great, for our God is greater than all gods. 6 But who is able to build him a house, since heaven, even highest heaven, cannot contain him? Who am I to build a house for him, except as a place to make offerings before him?’ Hiram, responded favourably stating, “Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, who made heaven and earth, who has given King David a wise son, who has discretion and understanding, who will build a temple for the LORD and a royal palace for himself.” He sent Huram-abi, an architect and skilled builder to assist in the construction of the Temple. The chapter concludes by informing the reader how Solomon had ordered a census of all resident foreigners in Israel before putting the men to work quarrying stone and bearing burdens.

Psalm 111 is a beautiful paeon of praise to God. It was traditionally referred to as one of the ‘Hallelujah Psalms’ (111-118) and was prayed or sang during the Passover Meal and later throughout the Western Church at Sunday Vespers. It extols God’s greatness and glory, faithfulness and favour, holiness and justice. He is altogether worthy of worship. And so, the psalmist begins, ‘Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.’ We exist as the church to glorify God and enjoy him individually and corporately as the body of Christ. We are called to reflect and rejoice in his common and saving graces. ‘2 Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them. 3 Full of splendour and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.’

The psalmist again reminds us that gratitude is the rightful response to grace. ‘4 He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and merciful. 5 He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever. 6 He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the inheritance of the nations.’ We must hear and heed his voice and do his revealed will. Why? Because ‘7 The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy; 8 they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.’ He has saved us in and through Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, for this purpose – that we might walk before him and serve him in reverence and love. ‘9 He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name! 10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.’ Lest we forget in today’s secular culture, ‘His praise endures forever!’

To ponder! And when they had sung a hymn (one of the Hallelujah Psalms), they went out to the Mount of Olives (Mt.26:30).

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Bible Challenge: Day 371

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 3 & Psalm 112

2 Chronicles 3 provides a record of the Temple built by Solomon on Mount Moriah at Jerusalem where God provided a ram for Abraham as a sacrificial substitute in place of his son, Isaac. ‘He began to build in the second month of the fourth year of his reign.’ There follow details of the Temples measurements, design, and its beautiful adornments with gold and precious stones.

Psalm 112 praises God for the blessed man (male or female) who walks before God in faith, hope, and love. The psalmist begins, ‘Praise the LORD! Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in his commandments!’ The blessed man reveres and respects God as his Maker, Redeemer, Benefactor, Lord, and Judge. He delights in God and desires to glorify him by keeping his commandments. This is the way of faith and love. We are called to walk by faith. And the Lord Jesus insists that our love for him is displayed in trust and obedience – by keeping his commandments. The blessed man prospers thereby. He sets an example to his children in faith, integrity, and righteousness. ‘2 His offspring will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. 3 Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever.’ The blessed man is not only enlightened but he lets his light shine before others. He not only loves God, but he loves his neighbour and thereby makes a positive contribution to both church and society. The psalmist writes, ‘4 Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; he is gracious, merciful, and righteous. 5 It is well with the man who deals generously and lends; who conducts his affairs with justice.’ The blessed man is steadfast in the faith. He trusts wholeheartedly in God. ‘6 For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever. 7 He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD. 8 His heart is steady; he will not be afraid, until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.’ The blessed man gives freely and generously of his time, talents, and treasures. He is compassionate, considerate, and caring towards others. He is honourable. ‘9 He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever; his horn is exalted in honour.’ The blessed man eschews the ways of the wicked which will ultimately perish. ‘10 The wicked man sees it and is angry; he gnashes his teeth and melts away; the desire of the wicked will perish!’ God bless.

To ponder! Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honourable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation (1Pt.2:12).

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Bible Challenge: Day 372

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 4 & Psalm 113

2 Chronicles 4 provides another record of the lavish and decorative furnishings of the Temple made for King Solomon under the oversight of Huram-abi. It itemises their dimensions and the materials they were made from. The chapter concludes, ‘So Solomon made all the vessels that were in the house of God: the golden altar, the tables for the bread of the Presence, 20 the lampstands and their lamps of pure gold to burn before the inner sanctuary, as prescribed; 21 the flowers, the lamps, and the tongs, of purest gold; 22 the snuffers, basins, dishes for incense, and fire pans, of pure gold, and the sockets of the temple, for the inner doors to the Most Holy Place and for the doors of the nave of the temple were of gold.’

Psalm 113 is a Song of Praise, a Hallelujah Psalm, extolling and exclaiming the glory and goodness of God. It is titled, ‘Who is like the LORD our God?’ He is incomparable and hence beyond superlatives. The psalmist therefore urges all God’s people, ‘Praise the LORD! Praise, O servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD!’ Again, we are reminded that our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. He alone is altogether worthy of worship. And accordingly, the psalmist invites us to praise his omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. God is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being. He writes, ‘2 Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time forth and forevermore! 3 From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the LORD is to be praised! 4 The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens! 5 Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, 6 who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?’ He marvels at God’s grace and how he can wonderfully transform peoples’ fortunes to enable them to flourish. ‘7 He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, 8 to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people. 9 He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children.’ Such is the goodness of God. He exalts the humble. Let us like the psalmist, ‘Praise the LORD!’

To ponder! For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD (Isa.55:8).

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Bible Challenge: Day 373

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 5 & Psalm 114

2 Chronicles 5 recounts the completion of the building of the Temple, along with its fabric and furniture and the placement of the Ark of the Covenant within the House of God. Solomon assembled the elders and leaders of Israel for this special ceremony. ‘And all the elders of Israel came, and the Levites took up the ark. 5 And they brought up the ark, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the tent; the Levitical priests brought them up.’ And Solomon and the elders offered sacrifice of thanksgiving and the priests in solemn procession placed the Ark of the Covenant within the inner sanctuary of the Temple known as the Most Holy Place. Inside the Ark were the Ten Commandments on the two tablets of stone Moses had received from God. The Levitical musicians and choir praised the LORD singing, “For he is good, his steadfast love endures forever.” And the glory cloud, a symbol of God’s presence, filled the Holy Place.

Psalm 114 is another song of praise that poetically recalls God’s deliverance of the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, through the wilderness to the Promised Land. The psalmist begins, ‘When Israel went out from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language, 2 Judah became his sanctuary, Israel his dominion. 3 The sea looked and fled; Jordan turned back.’ By God’s grace, the people of Israel retained their identity in a foreign land and God rescued them and remained with them. He was their strength and shelter. Likened to rams and lambs they were no match for their enemies, but God was with them and for them and despite their faithlessness and folly at times, he graciously and wonderfully brought his people over Jordan to a land flowing with milk and honey. Hence the celebratory poetic or picturesque language that follows. ‘4 The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs. 5 What ails you, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn back? 6 O mountains, that you skip like rams? O hills, like lambs? 7 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, 8 who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water.’ God is sovereign. Nothing is impossible for him. God’s people have cause to take heart through the Lord Jesus Christ who will lead his church in triumphal procession into the everlasting Land of Promise – the new heavens and new earth. Praise God who does all things well.

To ponder! Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen (Eph.3:20-21).

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Bible Challenge: Day 374

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 6 & Psalm 115

2 Chronicles 6 contain King Solomon’s prayer of dedication for the Temple in Jerusalem. He firstly gives thanks to God for graciously and faithfully fulfilling his promise to David his father. He then blessed the people of Israel and declared, “Now the LORD has fulfilled his promise that he made. For I have risen in the place of David my father and sit on the throne of Israel, as the LORD promised, and I have built the house for the name of the LORD, the God of Israel. 11 And there I have set the ark, in which is the covenant of the LORD that he made with the people of Israel.” Then Solomon, knelt in front of the altar of the LORD on a raised bronze platform constructed for the special occasion. And before God and the assembly he lifted his hands heavenwards and prayed. Pleading God’s promise to his father, he prayed that his dynasty would remain faithful to God by keeping his commandments and would forever sit upon the throne. His prayer was ultimately fulfilled in the everlasting reign of the Lord Jesus Christ. Solomon prayed for God’s blessing upon the Temple and that God’s ears would be ever open to the prayers that ascended to heaven from it. He asked God to judge the wicked and vindicate the righteous. He prayed that God would be merciful and forgiving to Israel when she sinned but repented. That God would also provide, protect, and preserve them in times of famine, disease, and invasion. He asked the LORD to bless non-Israelites who acknowledged God and visited the Temple to pray and praise his high and holy name. Solomon concludes his prayer, “Now, O my God, let your eyes be open and your ears attentive to the prayer of this place. 41 “And now arise, O LORD God, and go to your resting place, you and the ark of your might. Let your priests, O LORD God, be clothed with salvation, and let your saints rejoice in your goodness. 42 O LORD God, do not turn away the face of your anointed one! Remember your steadfast love for David your servant.”

In Psalm 115 the psalmist asks God to glorify his own name, reminding the church that her primary purpose is to glorify God and enjoy him. Our praise and perspective like the psalmist’s ought to be Theo-centric or God-centred. He alone is worthy of worship. Mention of his ‘name’ communicates all that God reveals himself to be – God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. The psalmist therefore begins, ‘Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!’ He asks, ‘2 Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?”’ The psalmist’s desire and delight are for God not only to be known near and far but to be trusted and obeyed. He praises God’s dominion and sovereignty. ‘3 Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.’ Surveying the idols of the surrounding nations, and the folly of worshipping them as gods, he adds, ‘4 Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. 5 They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. 6 They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. 7 They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. 8 Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.’ He therefore passionately urges God’s people to eschew idolatry and apostasy by trusting wholeheartedly in the LORD. ‘9 O Israel, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield. 10 O house of Aaron, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield. 11 You who fear the LORD, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield.’ God will provide, protect, preserve, and prosper his church. He confidently declares, ‘12 The LORD has remembered us; he will bless us; he will bless the house of Israel; he will bless the house of Aaron; 13 he will bless those who fear the LORD, both the small and the great.’ The psalmist then intercedes for God’s people asking God to richly bless them. ‘14 May the LORD give you increase, you and your children! 15 May you be blessed by the LORD, who made heaven and earth!’ He urges the Israel of God to worship and serve God always. ‘16 The heavens are the LORD's heavens, but the earth he has given to the children of man. 17 The dead do not praise the LORD, nor do any who go down into silence. 18 But we will bless the LORD from this time forth and forevermore.’ Let his concluding words be ever upon our lips, ‘Praise the LORD!’

To ponder! “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me (Jn.14:1).

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Bible Challenge: Day 375

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 7 & Psalm 116

2 Chronicles 7 begins, ‘As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple.’ This visible manifestation of God’s power and presence struck awe in the people of Israel, and they bowed down and worshipped the LORD saying ‘For he is good, his steadfast love endures forever.’ King Solomon and the people offered sacrifices to God and then proceeded to dedicate the House of God to the worship of God. It was a holy place set apart for praise and prayer. Singing accompanied by music followed from the Levites. The king consecrated the court area before the House of the LORD after which there was celebratory feasting for seven days. ‘And on the eighth day they held a solemn assembly, for they had kept the dedication of the altar seven days and the feast seven days. 10 On the twenty-third day of the seventh month he sent the people away to their homes, joyful and glad of heart for the prosperity that the LORD had granted to David and to Solomon and to Israel his people.’ Afterward, God appeared to Solomon and said, ‘When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, 14 if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.’ God assured the king of his blessing upon the Temple and that he would hear the prayers of his people. He furthermore reassured Solomon that he would keep the covenant he made to his father, David. God however gave a solemn and serious warning that if Israel abandoned the faith and failed to keep God’s commandments, they would bring disaster upon themselves.

Psalm 116 anticipates, foreshadows, and finds its fulfilment in the passion of God’s Christ. It is for that reason that it has featured prominently in traditional Scottish Presbyterian Communion services, being sung as communicants make their way and take their place at the Lord’s Table. It is an expression of the believers’ love and faith which are but an echo of the Lord Jesus’ love for his people, and faith in his Father and the mission he came to accomplish for the salvation of the world. The psalmist hence begins, ‘I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.’ And adds at verse 10 ‘I believed’. Faith and love ought to adorn the lives of the followers of Jesus Christ. The psalmist anticipating Jesus’s sorrow and suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, prayed, ‘2 Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live. 3 The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. 4 Then I called on the name of the LORD: “O LORD, I pray, deliver my soul!”’ He does so, trusting wholeheartedly in God who is gracious, righteous, and merciful (v.5). God strengthens, sustains, and saves. He comforts, consoles, and gives confidence to his people. ‘6 The LORD preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me. 7 Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you. 8 For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.’ Therefore, the psalmist declares, ‘9 I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living.’ Jesus came that we might have life, have it abundantly, and enjoy it everlastingly. He willingly took the cup of martyrdom that his people may take up the cup of salvation. ‘10 I believed, even when I spoke: “I am greatly afflicted”; 11 I said in my alarm, “All mankind are liars.” 12 What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me? 13 I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD, 14 I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people.’ Christ has defeated and disarmed death of its sting. He has gone to prepare a place for his people, referring to the intermediate state, when the souls of believers at death enter the presence of God and their blissful rest. Moreover, the psalmist’s words anticipate the eternal state, when Christ leads his church clothed in resurrection bodies into the new heavens and new earth. And so, ‘15 Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.’ The word ‘saint’, means sanctified, set apart, and special – by grace through faith, in Jesus Christ. Let God’s people therefore love and serve God in the present in preparation for eternity. Let us show gratitude for grace. Let us praise and thank him for his limitless love, measureless mercy, and glorious grace, now and always. Let us say along with the psalmist, ‘16 O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant. You have loosed my bonds. 17 I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD. 18 I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people, 19 in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the LORD!

To ponder! For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes (1Cor.11:26).

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Bible Challenge: Day 376

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 8 & Psalm 117

2 Chronicles 8 records Solomon’s achievements after the completion and dedication of the Temple. He consolidated and embellished his reputation throughout the region. He further built up the nation of Israel inherited from his father, David, expanding her borders, fortifying, and beautifying her towns and cities. He secured supplies of food and improved trade links. His army contained skilled charioteers and horsemen. He built an effective administration to oversee good government throughout his dominion. And yet, in keeping with the culture of the time, he relied on the slave labour of non-Israelites for menial tasks like quarrying and carrying stone. These included Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites whose descendants had formerly inhabited the land. He built a house in Jerusalem for Pharoah’s daughter who became his wife. He worshipped at the Temple and dutifully kept the feast days appointed in the law. He organised and oversaw the division of the priests and Levites for service in the House of God. He received gold as tribute from neighbouring kings, like Hiram. And the kingdom flourished under his rule.

Psalm 117 is the shortest song of praise or prayer in the psalter. It reminds us of God’s call upon Israel to be a light to the nations and anticipates our New Covenant era, the Great Commission, and the catholicity or universality of the church. It summons all people to adore and express adulation to God. The psalmist begins, ‘Praise the LORD, all nations!’ Worship is our chief and ultimate end. The word ‘nation’ does not refer to political, geographically defined and contained states as such but rather to ethnic groups. And hence the Lord Jesus’ command to his church to disciple the nations. As if to provide confirmation, the psalmist adds, ‘Extol him, all peoples!’ Again, he uses the plural ‘peoples’ to emphasise that all people everywhere throughout the earth are called to worship God. Why? Because God is Creator, Benefactor, Lawgiver, Judge, Ruler, and Redeemer. The universal call corresponds to the universal need! The psalmist therefore acting as the voice of the church catholic declares from personal experience, ‘2 For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.’ God is love. His love is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. He summons all to receive and reciprocate his love in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes on him will not perish but have eternal life.’ God’s faithfulness endures forever. Praise him for ever keeping his covenant of grace. Praise him for fulfilling his promises to us in Christ. God keeps his word. We can trust wholeheartedly in him. Let us therefore, ‘Praise the LORD!’ Let all people everywhere praise him now and forevermore.

To ponder: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

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Bible Challenge: Day 377

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 9 & Psalm 118

2 Chronicles 9 records King Solomon’s death but before doing so it retells the story of the Queen of Sheba’s visit. She came with a vast retinue and gifts of spices, gold, and precious stones for Solomon after she had heard of his great wisdom. She was hugely impressed by what she witnessed of Jerusalem, of the etiquette and opulence of Solomon’s palace, and of the Temple of God. And she was astonished by the king’s knowledge and wisdom and told him so. She added, “Blessed be the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and set you on his throne as king for the LORD your God! Because your God loved Israel and would establish them forever, he has made you king over them, that you may execute justice and righteousness.” Solomon exhibited hospitality and generosity to Sheba before her departure. The chapter goes on to emphasise and itemise Solomon’s wealth. Not only the king but Israel prospered politically, economically, socially, and spiritually under his rule. She enjoyed good trading links and lived in peace with the surrounding nations. ‘Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. 23 And all the kings of the earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind.’ And lavished gifts upon Israel illustrious monarch. Solomon reigned for forty years. After his death, his remains were interred in Jerusalem and Rehoboam, his son, succeeded him as king.

Psalm 118 is the last of the Hallelujah Psalms. It is another Messianic Psalm, and I have often wondered if the last words that the Lord Jesus sang on the night of his betrayal after celebrating the Passover meal with his disciples in the Upper Room, where he instituted the Lord’s Supper, were ‘I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD’? The psalmist begins with what might be described as the refrain of the Psalm, ‘Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!’ God fulfils his promises to his people in and through his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. And his steadfast love is most wonderfully displayed in the Passion of the Christ, who is God’s love gift. He is Love personified. This Psalm understandably was traditionally sung or prayed at Sunday matins throughout the church catholic. And featured prominently in Scottish Presbyterian Communion services because of its focus upon Christ’s saving work – his defeat of the Devil and Death and triumphant resurrection on the first day of the week which the church renamed the Lord’s Day in his honour. The psalmist therefore bids the church to praise God for his steadfast love which endures always (vv.2-4). Speaking from personal experience but also as the voice of the church, the psalmist anticipates Christ’s victory over the forces of darkness and death. ‘5 Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me free. 6 The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? 7 The LORD is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.’ Jesus willingly took the cup of martyrdom that we might take the cup of salvation! We are therefore reminded in the words of the psalm and the example of the Lord Jesus that ‘8 It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. 9 It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.’

The psalmist reminds us of how God’s Christ faced the opposition and persecution of Jew and Gentile alike as he died for the sin of the world. God the Father strengthened and sustained him therein (vv.10-14). Moreover, he saw beyond his Cross and death to his deliverance and Coronation (15-17). And therefore, anticipating his glorious resurrection, the psalmist adds in the voice of the Saviour and his church in him, ‘18 The LORD has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death. 19 Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD. 20 This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it. 21 I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. 22 The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. 23 This is the LORD's doing; it is marvellous in our eyes. 24 This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. 25 Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success! 26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD.’ Let the church delight in him and devote themselves to his kingdom and cause. Why? Because, ‘27 The LORD is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us.’ Let us rely wholeheartedly on the Lord Jesus Christ and worship, work and witness to his everlasting praise and glory. ‘Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar! 28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you.’ Let us summon everyone, everywhere, ‘29 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!’ Now, that’s good news!

To ponder! Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Lk.24:22-27).

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Bible Challenge: Day 378

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 10 & Psalm 119:1-8

2 Chronicles 10 records the rebellion against King Rehoboam. Returning from exile in Egypt, Jeroboam confronted Rehoboam at Shechem and implored the king, “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you.” Rehoboam consulted his elder advisors who were men of experience and wisdom. And they advised him to lighten the tax burden on his subjects to win their approval and loyalty. Rehoboam, however, rejected their counsel and responded, “And now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’” Jeroboam and the people pleaded with the king to reconsider but he dismissed their pleas. He was determined to reign with an iron fist. The people of Israel under Jeroboam’s leadership rebelled against his rule, murdering one of the king’s chief taskmasters. Rehoboam retained the loyalty of the tribe and territory of Judah.

Psalm 119 is a song of praise comprising twenty-two stanzas corresponding to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. It calls God’s people to faith and faithfulness as the means to fruitfulness. It reminds its readers of the importance of hearing and heeding God’s word. And summons the church to worship God and do his will revealed in the word in scripture and the Word Incarnate. We shall examine each stanza in turn. And so, our focus today will be upon verses 1 through 8. The psalmist begins, ‘Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD!’ Blessedness is the fruit of grace, but it is achieved through trust and obedience to God in Christ. The blameless keep God’s commandments. This is the way of love and it ought to be a way of life. Hence, we are to ‘walk’ therein which strongly implies that this is to be a regular or constant manner of being and doing. It suggests progression thereby. We grow in grace, knowledge, and service as we trust and obey God. We similarly grow in sanctification, which is Christ-likeness. The psalmist anticipates the Lord Jesus herein because he is truly and definitively the only blameless one who personally, perpetually, and perfectly kept and fulfilled God’s law of love. The psalm also reminds us that we must seek God wholeheartedly. It states, ‘2 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, 3 who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways!’ God graciously gives his people a new heart, comprising the affections, emotions, intellect, and will, in the New Covenant, that we might walk before him and one another in love by keeping his commandments. These, we are taught, are to be kept conscientiously and dutifully. ‘4 You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.’ And therefore, the psalmist speaking in the voice of the church faithfully and sincerely declares, ‘5 Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! 6 Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.’ By these means the believer glorifies and enjoys God and can meaningly say, 7 I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules. 8 I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me!’ Even when we sin and fall short of the glory of God, we are here reminded of the need for regular repentance before God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. By these means we continue in the way of faith, righteousness, peace, and joy.

To ponder! “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Mt.22:36-40).

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Bible Challenge: Day 379

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 11 & Psalm 119:9-16

In 2 Chronicles 11 Rehoboam returned to his capital and marshalled an army of 180,000 from the men of Judah and Benjamin to put down the revolt of the other tribes of Israel. However, God communicated his will via the Prophet Shemaiah, saying, “Thus says the LORD, You shall not go up or fight against your relatives. Return every man to his home, for this thing is from me.’” Rehoboam obeyed the word of God which averted civil war in the nation. Nevertheless, Rehoboam fortified and provisioned the cities of Judah and Benjamin as a precautionary measure against attack from the ten other tribes that comprised Israel. Priests and Levites settled in Judah and Jerusalem for service in the Temple. Many were expelled from the region of the rebellious tribes ruled by Jeroboam, who established cultic worship at Dan and Bethel and prohibited the people from going to the Temple in Jerusalem. Rehoboam had eighteen wives and sixty concubines by whom he produced many progeny, strengthening his dynasty. He ‘appointed Abijah the son of Maacah as chief prince among his brothers, for he intended to make him king.’ We are furthermore told that ‘he dealt wisely and distributed some of his sons through all the districts of Judah and Benjamin, in all the fortified cities, and he gave them abundant provisions and procured wives for them.’

In Psalm 119:9-16 the psalmist teaches God’s church by precept and personal example of how to grow in knowledge and grace. He hereby provides a simple formula or recipe for faith and faithfulness to enable every Christian to deepen their love for and adoration of God. This is the goal of our daily Bible Challenge. He begins by asking, ‘How can a young man keep his way pure?’ Living, as we do, in a fallen world that is estranged from God and often at enmity with him, and confronted by endless temptations and the vestiges of the fallen nature how can God’s people walk before him and one another in love, righteousness, peace, and joy? Well, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit he provides us with the answer, ‘By guarding it according to your word.’ God’s word, in other words, which the Spirit applies to his people, challenges, convicts, compels, changes, keeps, and guards us in the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The word in scripture not only reveals the Word Incarnate to us but it refashions us in his image and likeness. The psalmist therefore declares, ‘10 With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!’ For Love’s sake we are called to keep God’s commandments and God has given us a new heart in the New Covenant to do so. The Word is not only Righteousness but is our Sanctification. We are to read and respond to God’s word that we might eschew sin and walk before God and one another in love. Therefore, the psalmist writes, ‘11 I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.’ Recognising his dependence upon grace, he praises God and asks God for the Spirit of enlightenment. ‘12 Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes!’ He is determined to fulfil his chief end thereby. ‘3 With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth. 14 In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches.’ Let us like the psalmist take delight in God and walk in his ways. His paths are peace and pleasantness. Let us say along with the psalmist, ‘15 I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. 16 I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.’

To ponder! But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Mt.4:4). Therefore, “Tolle lege, tolle lege” which is Latin for “Take up and read.”

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Bible Challenge: Day 380

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 12 & Psalm 119:17-24

2 chronicles 12 informs the reader that five years into Rehoboam’s reign he neglected and rejected God’s commandments. Judah and Benjamin were attacked by Shishak, the king of Egypt whose army was bolstered by the inclusion of Libyans, Sukkiim, and Ethiopians. The towns and cities he had fortified fell to the invaders who surrounded Jerusalem. The Prophet Shemaiah, told the Rehoboam, “Thus says the LORD, ‘You abandoned me, so I have abandoned you to the hand of Shishak.” The king, his family and courtiers humbled themselves before the LORD in repentance and God protected Jerusalem but let it be known that they would be subject to Egyptian political influence to do their ruler service. The Egyptians also acquisitioned the treasures from the Temple and Royal Palace, including the shields of gold Solomon his father had made. King Rehoboam and the kingdom of Judah, despite their satellite status, nevertheless recovered and prospered to a degree. Rehoboam was forty-one years old when he ascended the throne and he reigned for seventeen years. Sadly, ‘he did evil, for he did not set his heart to seek the LORD.’ There was perpetual warfare between Rehoboam and Jeroboam who commanded the Northern territories. When Rehoboam died, he was buried alongside his Solomon and David in Jerusalem and was succeeded by his son, Abijah.

The author of Psalm 119 is not divulged but tradition attributes the Psalm to either David or Daniel. It is certainly written by someone who experienced significant opposition and enmity for keeping the faith. Herein it anticipates the Lord Jesus who perfectly kept and fulfilled God’s law of love in the face of vociferous and violent hostility before laying down his life and taking it up again for the salvation of the world. In verses 17-24, the psalmist prays to God ‘Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word.’ The psalmist recognises his need for God’s enlightening and enabling grace in order to faithfully serve the Lord and others. Herein he provides a good example to the church which is called to trust and obey God’s word. He asks God, ‘18 Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.’ Like the psalmist we ought to come to the sacred scriptures prayerfully and purposefully to learn about God and his will for our lives. God speaks to us therein. The Bible gives up its treasures to those that mine for them. It rewards regular reading and reflection. The psalmist likens himself to a pilgrim in this world. He must, like all of us, journey by faith and therefore he writes, ‘19 I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not your commandments from me! 20 My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times.’ He is determined to walk the narrow way, looking to Jesus, the Word made flesh, as the Author and Finisher of his faith. He furthermore observes the recklessness of those that neglect and reject God’s commandments and is determined to avoid their path to calamity and condemnation. ‘21 You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones, who wander from your commandments.’ Notwithstanding the conflicts and pressure to conform to the ways of the world, like those that conspired against him, the psalmist is resolved to remain faithful. He therefore pleads with God to ‘22 Take away from me scorn and contempt, for I have kept your testimonies . 23 Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes.’ Let us, along with the psalmist, meaningly declare, ‘24 Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counsellors.’ It is for our good, the good of others, and the glory of God. Amen.

To ponder! For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God (1Cor.7:19).

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Bible Challenge: Day 381

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 13 & Psalm 119:25-32

2 Chronicles 13 records the reign of Abijah. He succeeded his father Rehoboam and ascended the throne when Jeroboam had ruled the northern kingdom of Israel for eighteen years. Abijah marshalled an army of 400,000 valiant soldiers and confronted the army of Jeroboam which was twice its size in battle. Abijah taunted Jeroboam and his army from Mount Zemaraim in the hill country of Ephraim declaring them rebels and making clear that God was on the side of Judah and its rightful royal descendant of King David. He highlighted Jeroboam’s religious policy which had no warrant from and was contrary to God’s word. He concluded, “Behold, God is with us at our head, and his priests with their battle trumpets to sound the call to battle against you. O sons of Israel, do not fight against the LORD, the God of your fathers, for you cannot succeed.” Ignoring Abijah’s counsel, Jeroboam ordered his army to engage by stealth but their manoeuvre was repulsed and Judah’s decisively defeated Israel which lost 500,000 solders slain. Abijah pressed home his victory by recapturing cities and villages thereby extending his territory and influence. With his fourteen wives he fathered twenty-sons and sixteen daughters.

In Psalm 119:25-32 God’s people are taught that in times of trials and troubles they must continue to trust and obey the word of God. The psalmist implicitly reminds the reader that it is God that revives and renews his beloved children. He therefore begins by humbly beseeching God to restore and revitalise his soul. ‘My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!’ He approaches God as the hearer and answerer of prayer. He comes before him with experiential faith of God’s love and goodness. He writes, ‘26 When I told of my ways, you answered me; teach me your statutes!’ We too must pray relying on our Mediator, Intercessor, and Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, who empathises and sympathises with our needs and the needs of others. The psalmist, furthermore, desires a better understanding of God’s word which like the balm of Gilead comforts, heals, and strengthens. ‘27 Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works. 28 My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word!’ Dependant on grace, he prays that he might mortify sin and remain faithful to God by keeping God’s commandments. ‘29 Put false ways far from me and graciously teach me your law! 30 I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I set your rules before me. 31 I cling to your testimonies, O LORD; let me not be put to shame!’ Recognising his reliance on God renewing his heart (inner being), he confidently declares, ‘32 I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart!’ May God so work in all of us by his Spirit in and through his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.

To ponder! And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules (Ezek.36:26-27).

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Bible Challenge: Day 382

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 14 & Psalm 119:33-40

2 Chronicles 14 highlights the reign of Asa, son of Abijah. He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, keeping God’s commandments and purging his kingdom of idols. The country enjoyed comparative peace and prospered during his reign. He sought to re-fortify its cities and towns. He declared, “Let us build these cities and surround them with walls and towers, gates and bars. The land is still ours, because we have sought the LORD our God. We have sought him, and he has given us peace on every side.” He rearmed his army comprising valiant men from the territories of Judah and Benjamin. By God’s enabling he repulsed a numerically superior Ethiopian army under the command of Zerah in the valley of Zephathah that had sought to invade his kingdom. He cried to God, “O LORD, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O LORD our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude. O LORD, you are our God; let not man prevail against you.” God heard his prayer and gave Judah victory. Asa and his army returned to Jerusalem greatly enriched by the plunders and spoils of war.

In Psalm 119:33-40 the psalmist is again the voice of the church and every Christian who is part of it. He begins, ‘Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end.’ Recognising his call to hear and heed the voice of God, he approaches the word of God humbly, prayerfully, and hopefully. Acknowledging his dependence upon God he prays for the Spirit of enlightenment that inspired the sacred scriptures to grant him understanding of them. God is teaching us herein that we too must read the Bible prayerfully in order to know God and understand his will for our collective and personal lives. Hereby, like the psalmist, we discover what it means to walk by faith. The psalmist desires understanding and is wholeheartedly determined to follow God’s ways. He writes, ‘34 Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.’ We are here reminded that if the heart is right with God then everything else falls into place. God must have chief place in our hearts. His flame of love must burn brightly therein. Then we will delight in God and the ways of God. The joy of the Lord will be our strength. And so, the psalmist adds, ‘35 Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. 36 Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! 37 Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.’ Our focus, like the Psalmist’s, is on the Author and Finisher of our faith. We are called to live ‘coram Deo’ - before the face of God. As his beloved children we are commanded to walk before him and one another in love. We are to put on Christ and keep his commandments for Love’s sake. He are to adorn our worship, work, and witness with the beauty of holiness. Let us like the psalmist affirm God’s steadfast love and goodness. Let us plead God promises as recipients of the New Covenant that was ratified and sealed by the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us trust in the Lord our Righteousness now and always. ‘38 Confirm to your servant your promise, that you may be feared. 39 Turn away the reproach that I dread, for your rules are good. 40 Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life!’

To ponder! But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children's children, 18 to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments (Ps.103:17-18).

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Bible Challenge: Day 383

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 15 & Psalm 119:41-48

2 Chronicles 15 records Asa’s religious reforms. God’s will was communicated to the king via Azariah who told Asa, “The LORD is with you while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.” Asa was left in no doubt as to the magnitude of the work before him but he was called to be faithful and exercise fortitude for God’s blessing upon his reign and kingdom. Asa responded positively and courageously began the work of reformation by purging the land of idols erected to false gods. He repaired and renovated the Altar of the LORD. He assembled his subjects and after offering sacrifices to God they made a covenant on pain of death to faithfully serve God and keep his commandments. ‘And all Judah rejoiced over the oath, for they had sworn with all their heart and had sought him with their whole desire, and he was found by them, and the LORD gave them rest all around.’ Asa even stripped his mother of her royal title and prerogatives for her idolatry, destroying her image of Asherah. He generously provided treasures for the Temple. And while the high places remained, Asa’s reformation was good in the sight of God and his kingdom enjoyed peace and prosperity for thirty-five years.

In Psalm 119:41-48 the psalmist expresses confidence in God’s steadfast love and covenant faithfulness. Therein he not only anticipates the Lord Jesus who delighted in and fulfilled God’s law, but he also again acts as the voice of the church. And he provides a good example to those that comprise her. He begins, ‘Let your steadfast love come to me, O LORD, your salvation according to your promise; 42 then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me, for I trust in your word.’ The psalmist’s faith in God is resolute. And faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. God’s word is the sword of the Spirit by which his people can defend themselves against the taunts of the wicked and make progress in their pilgrimage of faith. Thereby we grow in knowledge and grace. And so the psalmist pleads with God, ‘43 And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your rules. 44 I will keep your law continually, forever and ever, 45 and I shall walk in a wide place, for I have sought your precepts.’ God’s word is the path of peace and pleasantness. It is the narrow way. It is our compass and light to lead us to Christ and keep us in him. The word in scripture reveals the Word Incarnate, God’s definitive and everlasting Word. God’s word is a call to action. It demands our application and affirmation. Thereby we worship, work and witness. Therein we discover the regulative principle for our profession and practice. It is the way of orthodoxy and orthopraxy. And therefore, the psalmist concludes this stanza by declaring, ‘46 I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame, 47 for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love. 48 I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.’ Let us, like the psalmist, regularly read and reflect upon the word of God. May it regulate our belief, belonging, and behaviour.

To ponder! But he [Jesus] answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Mt.4:4).

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Bible Challenge: Day 384

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 16 & Psalm 119:49-56

2 Chronicles 16 focusses on the later years of King Asa’s rule over Judah. Confronted by the building of Ramah by Baasha on the border of Israel-Judah, he made an alliance with Ben-hadad of Syria by enticing him with treasures. Consequently, the Syrian army launched an attack on Israel, compelling Baasha to abandon the construction of Ramah and turn his immediate attention on the Syrian invasion. Asa therefore acquisitioned the stone and timbers that were being used in in building of Ramah and put them to good use in constructing his own cities of Geba and Mizpah. Hanani the Seer, however, told Asa, “Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the LORD your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you. 8 Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the LORD, he gave them into your hand. 9 For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.” Enraged, Asa, imprisoned God’s messenger, Hanani, and inflicted unjust cruelties on others. In the final two years of his reign, Asa became incapacitated through illness. While he sought a cure from his doctors, he did not pray to God. He died in the forty-first year of his reign and was buried with his fathers in Jerusalem.

Psalm 119:49-56 reminds us of the importance of faith and faithfulness in the face of afflictions and provocations. The psalmist again hereby represents God’s beloved children. He will adhere to and plead God’s precious promise – his steadfast love and covenant faithfulness. His trust and hope are firmly in God whom he gladly serves by obedience to his word. He therefore prays, ‘Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope. 50 This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.’ God’s word not only provides conviction and confidence but is also gives him comfort and consolation in a day of dark providences. God in Christ says to his church, and behold, I am with you always. I will never leave you nor forsake you. Nothing and no one can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord and Saviour. Despite the derision of those who know not the LORD or who have forsaken him, the psalmist is determined to abide by God’s law of love. He hereby provides us with a good example to model in our increasingly secular and antagonistic western world. He notes, ‘51 The insolent utterly deride me, but I do not turn away from your law. 52 When I think of your rules from of old, I take comfort, O LORD. 53 Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked, who forsake your law.’ Like the psalmist, may we all be able to affirm ‘54 Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my sojourning. 55 I remember your name in the night, O LORD, and keep your law. 56 This blessing has fallen to me, that I have kept your precepts.’ Faith, with repentance when we fail and fall, is the way to God’s benediction and benefaction upon our lives. Let us thereby say along with the psalmist elsewhere, ‘The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.’

To ponder! What is your only comfort in life and death? That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death to my faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me. (Q & A 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism).

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Bible Challenge: Day 385

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 17 & Psalm 119:57-64

2 Chronicles 17 records the faithful and flourishing reign of Jehoshaphat, the son of Asa. ‘The LORD was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the earlier ways of his father David. He did not seek the Baals, 4 but sought the God of his father and walked in his commandments, and not according to the practices of Israel.’ He removed the high places and the idols erected to foreign deities through his kingdom. He fortified Judah’s defences against Israel. He personally and the country collectively prospered financially during his rule. In the third year of his reign he sent officials and Levites to teach and implement the law of the LORD from the sacred scriptures. Respected near and far, Judah enjoyed peace and prosperity. Philistines and Arabians brought tribute to Jehoshaphat who strengthened Judah’s defensive capability against would-be invaders.

Psalm 119:57-64 is part of a prayer or song that again reminds the church of the necessity of faith and faithfulness and of showing gratitude to God for his amazing and abiding grace. The psalmist begins by highlighting the privilege of being a beloved child of God. He writes, ‘The LORD is my portion; I promise to keep your words.’ God chooses and calls his people to walk by faith as he did the great cloud of witnesses whose names are recorded in Hebrews 11. The priority for the Christian is to trust and obey. Our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy his forever and that must start in this present earthly life. And the Christian life is one of dependence on God characterised by prayer and the application of his word and sacraments. The psalmist therefore adds, ‘58 I entreat your favour with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise.’ He genuinely seeks the LORD and desires to grow in knowledge, grace, and service to God. God’s word is a lamp to his feet and a light for his path. ‘59 When I think on my ways, I turn my feet to your testimonies; 60 I hasten and do not delay to keep your commandments.’ Hardships, heartaches, provocations and even persecution will not deter or dissuade him from the truth. ‘61 Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me, I do not forget your law.’ On the contrary he will praise God at the end of the day. ‘62 At midnight I rise to praise you, because of your righteous rules.’ He is moreover determined to keep fellowship with the family of God which is the faithful church – his brothers and sisters in Christ. He recognises and reminds us of the value of communion, crucially with God but also with his people. Thereby we share in one another’s gifts and graces, and edify and encourage one another in the body of Christ. Therefore the psalmist rightly declares before God, ‘63 I am a companion of all who fear you, of those who keep your precepts.’ He praises God for his steadfast love and asks the LORD to enlighten him. ‘64 The earth, O LORD, is full of your steadfast love; teach me your statutes!’

To ponder! Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb.11:1).

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Bible Challenge: Day 386

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 18 & Psalm 119:65-72

2 Chronicles 18 records how Jehoshaphat, who enjoyed great wealth and respect, entered into a marriage alliance with King Ahab of the Northern Kingdom of Samaria. Ahab invited him to accompany and support him in warfare against Ramoth-gilead and he responded, “I am as you are, my people as your people. We will be with you in the war.” Jehoshaphat nevertheless asked Ahab to seek God’s will before taking up arms. Ahab gathered four hundred prophets, yes men, who assenting to their king’s will, gave their assurance of God’s approval. Unsatisfied by their response, and possibly doubting their sincerity, Jehoshaphat asked if there was yet another prophet that they could consult. He was told of Micaiah whom Ahab hated “for he never prophesies good concerning me, but always evil.” Micaiah was duly summoned while the other prophets continued to press their claim that God would show his favour and grant victory to Ahab and Jehoshaphat. Micaiah told the kings, “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd. And the LORD said, ‘These have no master; let each return to his home in peace.’” The prophet faithfully told Ahab that he would be killed at Ramoth-gilead and that a lying-spirit had entered the other prophets to entice him to his death. He again unequivocally and plainly said, “The LORD has declared disaster concerning you.” Zedekiah struck Micaiah in anger and King Ahab ordered that he be imprisoned and be fed meagrely. ‘27 And Micaiah said, “If you return in peace, the LORD has not spoken by me.” And he said, “Hear, all you peoples!”’ So, the kings went up to Ramoth-gilead. Ahab disguised himself but persuaded to Jehoshaphat to wear his royal robes into battle. The LORD protected Jehoshaphat, but a stray arrow mortally struck Ahab between his scale armour and breastplate. Propped up in his chariot he died at sunset. Just as Micaiah had prophesied.

In Psalm 119:65-72 the psalmist, as the voice of the church, expresses thankfulness for God’s favour and faithfulness. ‘You have dealt well with your servant, O LORD, according to your word.’ Understanding God’s call upon his life to serve him and others in love, he furthermore, asks God to edify and encourage him that he might continue to grow in grace, wisdom, and theological discernment. ‘66 Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments.’ He has learned from past failures to keep God’s commandments and is determined by God’s gracious enlightenment and equipping to remain faithful. ‘67 Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. 68 You are good and do good; teach me your statutes.’ Unlike his enemies who appear to wallow unconcerned in the mire of sin he will wholeheartedly keep God’s word. ‘69 The insolent smear me with lies, but with my whole heart I keep your precepts; 70 their heart is unfeeling like fat, but I delight in your law.’ He confesses that even his afflictions have benefitted him by compelling him to seek God and rely on his remedies and recipe for righteousness, peace, and joy. ‘71 It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.’ Finally, he concludes this section of the Psalm by declaring the immense value of God’s word which is more precious that gold or silver. ‘72 The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.’

To ponder! The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; 8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9 the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. 11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward (Ps.19:7-11).

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Bible Challenge: Day 387

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 19 & Psalm 119:73-80

In 2 Chronicles 19 King Jehoshaphat returned to Jerusalem and was confronted by the Prophet Jehu who asked him “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the LORD?” He told him that God’s wrath was kindled against him for his alliance with wicked King Ahab but God would show him mercy for he had set his heart on seeking the LORD. Jehoshaphat travelled the length and breadth of his kingdom to ensure that God alone was worshipped, and his commandments were kept. He appointed judges to uphold God’s law of love with impartiality and justice. He said to the judges, “Consider what you do, for you judge not for man but for the LORD. He is with you in giving judgment.” He similarly appointed priests and Levites, and heads of families to arbitrate and settle disputes among the people. He charged them: “Thus you shall do in the fear of the LORD, in faithfulness, and with your whole heart… Deal courageously, and may the LORD be with the upright!”

In Psalm 119:73-80 the psalmist acknowledges his indebtedness and dependence on God as Creator, Lawgiver, Benefactor, and Saviour. He represents the church which was purchased by the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. We not only have our being from God in Christ in the Covenant of Grace, but we belong to him. We are his beloved children by the grace of election and the Spirit of adoption. And so, the psalmist begins this stanza, ‘Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments.’ He wants to please God. He desires to lead a purposeful and productive life in the service of God and others and therefore he asks God to enlighten him. He is determined to set a good example for others. This is what it means to be salt in an unsavoury environment and light in a dark world. He therefore declares, ‘74 Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice, because I have hoped in your word.’ He expresses spiritual maturity in recognising the hand of Providence even in trials and troubles which cause him to trust and cling to God’s promises for comfort and consolation. ‘75 I know, O LORD, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. 76 Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant. 77 Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight.’ The psalmist takes great delight in God’s grace, love, and mercy. He knows that God will convert or condemn his enemies who are arrogant and speak lies. He will continue to eschew their wicked ways but rather he will read, reflect, and respond positively to God’s word. And he urges others to do likewise. He writes, ‘78 Let the insolent be put to shame, because they have wronged me with falsehood; as for me, I will meditate on your precepts. 79 Let those who fear you turn to me, that they may know your testimonies.’ He concludes this section of Psalm 119 in the voice of the church praying that he might wholeheartedly always trust and obey God. ‘80 May my heart be blameless in your statutes, that I may not be put to shame!

To ponder! “Other masters teach me by rote to speak parrot-like of heavenly things. But, by these three masters alone (oratio [prayer], meditatio [on God’s word], and tentatio [affliction – trials, troubles, and temptations], I learn to speak with feeling and understanding.” – Martin Luther.

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Bible Challenge: Day 388

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 20 & Psalm 119:81-88

2 Chronicles 20 records King Jehoshaphat’s prayer after a coalition of hostile nations attacked Judah from Edom. Jehoshaphat commanded a fast be held throughout the land and assembled God’s people to seek the LORD’s provision and protection. The king prayed before the people. Acknowledging God’s sovereignty over the nations and his goodness to the children of Israel in delivering them from their enemies and blessing them with a land flowing with milk and honey, he pleaded with God, “O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” After his prayer the Spirit of the LORD moved Jahaziel to declare, Thus says the LORD to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God's.’ The prophet told the king and people of Judah not to be afraid or dismayed but rather they were to stand firm and face the enemy in the knowledge that God their Saviour would give them victory over the coalition forces. Jehoshaphat, the priests, and the people humbled themselves before God and worshipped him with thanksgiving. The following day Jehoshaphat led his troops into the wilderness of Tekoa and addressed them saying, “Hear me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the LORD your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed.” And they sang as a great congregation, “Give thanks to the LORD, for his steadfast love endures forever.” The LORD then set an ambush for their antagonists who in confusion routed one another. Judah enjoyed the spoils of war and Jehoshaphat returned to Jerusalem with great rejoicing. And the fear of the LORD gripped the surrounding nations, ensuring that Judah enjoyed peace. Jehoshaphat reigned for thirty-five years and kept God’s commandments. ‘The high places, however, were not taken away; the people had not yet set their hearts upon the God of their fathers.’ Moreover, he failed to learn from his previous folly when he entered an alliance with King Ahab of Israel, because he agreed to a joint enterprise to build ships to go to Tarshish with King Ahaziah. Subsequently, Eliezer prophesied against him, and his ships were wrecked in a storm.

In Psalm 119:81-88 the psalmist as the voice of the church expresses his longing for God to fulfil his promises. He earnestly desires the fulness of God’s salvation for himself and all God’s people in and through Jesus Christ our Lord. And therefore, his hope is in God’s word. His comfort is found in the God of all comfort. He prays, ‘My soul longs for your salvation; I hope in your word. 82 My eyes long for your promise; I ask, “When will you comfort me?”’ The psalmist, nevertheless, presently feels bereft of spiritual life. His soul feels shrunken and dried up like a wineskin in the smoke but he is determined to cling to God’s word by faith faced, as he is, with trials and troubles. ‘83 For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, yet I have not forgotten your statutes. 84 How long must your servant endure?’ He pleads with God to judge his persecutors and vindicate his truth. He therefore cries to God for help. ‘When will you judge those who persecute me? 85 The insolent have dug pitfalls for me; they do not live according to your law. 86 All your commandments are sure; they persecute me with falsehood; help me!’ Anticipating and foreshadowing Christ, the psalmist concludes this stanza by stating that while his enemies had almost succeeded in their evil schemes, he has remained faithful. ‘87 They have almost made an end of me on earth, but I have not forsaken your precepts.’ Wholly reliant on grace, he supplicates God asking, ‘88 In your steadfast love give me life, that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth.’

To ponder! Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil.2:12-13).

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Bible Challenge: Day 389

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 21 & Psalm 119:89-96

2 Chronicles 21 focuses on the reign of Jehoram who succeeded his father Jehoshaphat. Fearful of their wealth and potential political influence and challenge to his crown, he cruelly had his brothers murdered. He ascended the throne at the age of thirty-two and ruled Judah for eight years. He eschewed the godly example of his father and instead followed the religious ways of the kings of the northern kingdom of Israel. He married a daughter of the wicked King Ahab and did evil in the sight of God. ‘Yet the LORD was not willing to destroy the house of David, because of the covenant that he had made with David, and since he had promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever.’ Jehoram warred against the neighbouring nation of Edom when it rejected and rebelled against his hegemony in the region. He re-established the high places and promoted apostasy and idolatry. The Prophet Elijah confronted Jehoram and condemned him in God’s name. He declared moreover, “behold, the LORD will bring a great plague on your people, your children, your wives, and all your possessions, 15 and you yourself will have a severe sickness with a disease of your bowels, until your bowels come out because of the disease, day by day.’” God withdrew his beneficence and protection. Consequently, the Philistines and Arabians invaded and plundered Judah, capturing and taking Jehoram’s wives and children into captivity. Only his youngest son, Jehoahaz evaded the enemy. Afterward, in fulfilment of Elijah’s word, Jehoram was struck with an incurable bowel disorder and died in agony. ‘And he departed with no one's regret. They buried him in the city of David, but not in the tombs of the kings.’

Psalm 119:89-96 is a reminder to us that God is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable and that his word abides forever. And so, the psalmist begins, ‘Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.’ God’s covenant and hence his promises are established and must be fulfilled. History is his story. He created the heavens and the earth and all that is within them. He knows the end from the beginning and will bring to pass his plans and purposes. Lest we should forget in a day of small things or a time of trials and troubles, all things are working for the good of those that love God (Rom.8:28). The psalmist therefore confidently declares, 90 Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast. 91 By your appointment they stand this day, for all things are your servants.’ The psalmist speaks for the church in expressing his gratefulness to God for the grace, guidance, and gladness he finds in God’s word. ‘92 If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.’ And he is determined to hear and heed the word of God as a means of light and life. ‘93 I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life.’ The psalmist looks to the Lord his Saviour as a beloved child of God. He writes, ‘94 I am yours; save me, for I have sought your precepts. 95 The wicked lie in wait to destroy me, but I consider your testimonies.’ He concludes by noting the limitation and finitude of all things in the present but God’s word, like God himself, transcends all things and has no bounds. ‘96 I have seen a limit to all perfection, but your commandment is exceedingly broad.’ Similar sentiment is expressed by the wise man in Ecclesiastes where he similarly concludes, ‘The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man (Eccl.12:13).

To ponder! 'His decrees are the spring of our happiness (Eph.1:4-5). His providence carries us with full sail into the ocean of glory.' - David Clarkson.

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Bible Challenge: Day 390

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 22 & Psalm 119:97-104

2 Chronicles 22 records the respective reigns of Ahaziah and Athaliah over Judah. Ahaziah was the youngest and only surviving son of Jehoram. His older brothers had been killed by Arabian invaders. He was twenty-two years of age when he became king but only ruled for one year. Sadly, he followed his father in doing evil in the sight of the LORD and was heavily influenced therein by his mother, Athaliah, the daughter of wicked King Ahab. Swayed by his counsellors, he willingly entered an alliance with the Northern Kingdom of Israel and went to war with them against Hazael, the king of the Syrians. Joram, king of Israel was injured in the battle at Ramoth-gilead and Ahaziah went to visit him. While there he, along with his nephews were pursued and put to death by Jehu who executed judgement on the House of Ahab and its allies. ‘And the house of Ahaziah had no one able to rule the kingdom.’ When word reached Athaliah of her son’s death, she acted swiftly to seize and consolidate power over Judah. She executed all members of the royal household with the exception of Joash, Ahaziah’s son, whom Jehoshabeath, a daughter of Jehoram and wife of Jehoiada, the high priest, rescued and hid him in the House of God where he remained for six years. Thereby ensuring in the Providence of God that the royal line through which the Christ was to be born would continue as God had promised.

In Psalm 119:97-104 the psalmist represents the voice of God’s Christ and his people by expressing his heartfelt admiration and affection for the word of God. It is love that moves and motivates him to read and reflect regularly upon it. Therein he encounters Love personified. Therein he learns God’s will for his life. Therein he discovers the path of peace and pleasantness. Therein he finds the way of faith, faithfulness, and fruitfulness. And so, he begins this section, ‘Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.’ God’s word makes him wise. It is his light and rule. He recognises his indebtedness to it and how much he benefits from its counsel and commandments. He writes, ‘98 Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. 99 I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.’ He hears and heeds the voice of God in the written word. It provides him with comprehension, confidence, and strengthens his commitment to God, his church, and cause. It enables him to say, ‘100 I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts.’ It teaches him the difference between good and evil. ‘101 I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word.’ The psalmist is determined to follow God’s word as the perfect rule in matters pertaining to faith and morality, and practice. ‘102 I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me.’ God’s word, he declares, is a treasure trove of innumerable blessings. ‘103 How sweet are your words to my taste,’ he writes, ‘sweeter than honey to my mouth! 104 Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.’

To ponder! But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God (Mt.22:29).

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Bible Challenge: Day 391

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 23 & Psalm 119:105-112

2 Chronicles 23 records the successful revolt against Athaliah’s rule over Judah that was led by Jehoiada and a coalition of prominent leaders with the support of the priests and Levites. In the seventh year of Athaliah’s tyrannical governance, Jehoiada assembled opposition and declared, “Behold, the king's son! Let him reign, as the LORD spoke concerning the sons of David.” And so a plan was devised and was implemented at the Temple in Jerusalem that protected Joash, the surviving son of Ahaziah, and had him anointed king although still a minor. Athaliah cried treason but she was swiftly seized and was put to death by the sword at the entrance to the King’s House. Jehoiada, acting as regent, entered a covenant with the young king and the people to govern by God’s law. He offered support to the priests and Levites and encouraged the worship of God at the Temple. He purged the capital and the kingdom of Judah of idols to foreign deities and put a stop to Baal worship. ‘And he took the captains, the nobles, the governors of the people, and all the people of the land, and they brought the king down from the house of the LORD, marching through the upper gate to the king's house. And they set the king on the royal throne. 21 So all the people of the land rejoiced, and the city was quiet after Athaliah had been put to death with the sword.’

Psalm 119:105-112 begins with the psalmist expressing his dependence upon God’s word to govern his life and guide him on his journey of faith. He again speaks for the church when he declares before God, ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.’ God’s word not only leads us to the Way, the Truth, and the Life, but it is the way of faith and faithfulness, of grace and glory, of light, love, and life. The psalmist has resolved to faithfully keep God’s word as a rule of life. ‘106 I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to keep your righteous rules.’ Despite facing trials, troubles, and temptations he hopes in God’s promises found therein. ‘107 I am severely afflicted; give me life, O LORD, according to your word!’ It is the regulative principle of his life and he freely praises God for it and asks God for enlightenment thereby. He hereby reminds us again that it is a treasure trove that continues to deliver its riches. We are but disciples and therefore we are ever learners this side of glory. He therefore prays, 108 Accept my freewill offerings of praise, O LORD, and teach me your rules. 109 I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your law.’ Anticipating Christ who perfectly fulfilled God’s law and ever trusted his word, the psalmist is determined to remain true to God, even in the face of unjust persecution by the wicked. ‘110 The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts.’ God’s word is his and our heritage and inheritance and ought to be our chief joy and delight. Like the psalmist therefore, let God’s people gladly affirm, ‘111 Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart. 112 I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end.’ Thereby we follow the Lord Jesus Christ.

To ponder! My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me (Jn.10:27).

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Bible Challenge: Day 392

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 24 & Psalm 119:113-120

2 Chronicles 24 records King Joash’s renovation of the Temple. He was seven years old when he was crowned king and he reigned for forty years and did what was right in the eyes of the LORD under the supervision and support of Jehoiada, the high priest. His two wives gave him sons and daughters to consolidate his dynasty. He consulted and commanded the priests and Levites to collect the taxes designated for the Temple and its worship in the law that had been misappropriated during the rule of Athaliah. The revenue raised purchased materials and craftsmen for the refurbishment of the House of God. And once the renovation was completed the remainder of monies collected was used to fashion new utensils and vessels of gold and silver for use in the place of worship. Jehoiada died at the age of one hundred and thirty. And afterward, in the absence of his influence, the king, princes, and leaders increasingly grew careless and complacent in keeping faith with God. They turned back to idolatry and worshipped foreign deities. God sent prophets urging them to repent but they refused to listen, incurring the wrath of God. ‘Then the Spirit of God clothed Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, and he stood above the people, and said to them, “Thus says God, ‘Why do you break the commandments of the LORD, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the LORD, he has forsaken you.’” The king and others conspired and had Zechariah murdered. The high priest’s last words were, “May the LORD see and avenge.” Within a year, and in the providence of God, the Syrians invaded Judah and defeated a larger Judean army and plundered the nation. Joash was badly injured and was put to death by his own servants while confined to his bed in revenge for Zechariah. He was buried with his fathers in Jerusalem.

In Psalm 119:113-120 the psalmist expresses his hatred of hypocrisy. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he hereby reminds God’s church that orthopraxy must follow orthodoxy. In other words, our conduct must match our confession, our practice, our profession of faith. He begins, ‘I hate the double-minded, but I love your law.’ His hope is firmly in God’s special revelation which is his word. God is his shelter and strength. In God he trusts. ‘114 You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word.’ He is determined to shun evil doing. Rather he will keep God’s commandments. ‘115 Depart from me, you evildoers, that I may keep the commandments of my God.’ He clings to God’s covenant promises and finds confidence and comfort therein, despite the provocations of the wicked. He therefore cries to God, ‘116 Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live, and let me not be put to shame in my hope! 117 Hold me up, that I may be safe and have regard for your statutes continually!’ He is mindful of the folly of those that ignore or forsake God’s commandments who bring condemnation upon themselves. 118 You spurn all who go astray from your statutes, for their cunning is in vain. 119 All the wicked of the earth you discard like dross, therefore I love your testimonies.’ The psalmist is resolved to walk in the fear of the Lord. He concludes this section of the Psalm by declaring, ‘120 My flesh trembles for fear of you, and I am afraid of your judgments.’ He hereby reminds us that ‘The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight’ (Pro.9:10).

To ponder! But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses (1Tim.6:11-12).A

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Bible Challenge: Day 393

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 25 & Psalm 119:121-128

2 Chronicles 25 records the reign of Amaziah. He was twenty-five years old when he ascended the throne of Judah and he reigned for twenty-nine years. He was half-hearted in his service to God and his people. Once he had secured the crown, he put to death those that had conspired and murdered his father, Joash. Amaziah marshalled the fighting men of Judah and Benjamin and prepared them for war against the neighbouring Kingdom of Edom with its king of Seir. Seeking to strengthen the fighting strength of his army, he purchased a large mercenary force from the Northern Kingdom of Israel. However, to the consternation and anger of the mercenaries he was persuaded to dismiss them by a prophet of God. The LORD gave Judah victory over Seir but the Israelite mercenaries raided cities of Judah enroute home, plundering and killing three thousand people. Tragically, Amaziah brought home with him idols from Edom and worshipped and made sacrifice to them. God’s prophet admonished him but he paid little heed. Full of pride after his military victory, Amaziah then sought to make an alliance with Israel but the King Joash of Israel rebuffed his overtures. The two nations then clashed militarily and Amaziah was defeated in battle and taken captive by Joash. Jerusalem besieged and plundered of her riches. Amaziah lived for another fifteen years after the death of Joash of Israel. He was forced to abandon his capital by a conspiracy of own people who killed him at Lachish. His remains were brought back to Jerusalem and interred with his fathers.

In Psalm 119:121-128 the psalmist pleads for God’s help, confronted as was with vociferously unjust and violent opposition and persecution. He hereby provides a model for the church to follow in a day of dark providences. Anticipating the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, he has only ever sought to keep God’s commandments by loving God and his neighbour and yet the wicked wish him harm. He therefore prays, ‘I have done what is just and right; do not leave me to my oppressors. 122 Give your servant a pledge of good; let not the insolent oppress me.’ He seeks a sign that God is still with him and for him. God is his Rock and Refuge, and he looks to the LORD for renewed comfort and confidence in the storms of life. Faith and hope compel him to trust in God his Saviour. ‘123 My eyes long for your salvation and for the fulfillment of your righteous promise.’ He trusts in God’s abiding love and guidance. He not only enlists God’s aid but he asks God to enlighten him. ‘124 Deal with your servant according to your steadfast love, and teach me your statutes. 125 I am your servant; give me understanding, that I may know your testimonies!’ The psalmist longs for God to act on his behalf and to vindicate his name. ‘126 It is time for the LORD to act, for your law has been broken.’ God’s commandments are precious to him, and he is therefore determined to keep them by God’s enabling grace. And so, he concludes this section of the Psalm, ‘127 Therefore I love your commandments above gold, above fine gold. 128 Therefore I consider all your precepts to be right; I hate every false way.’ Let the church of today be so minded.

To ponder! For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.” – Isaiah 41:13.

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Bible Challenge: Day 394

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 26 & Psalm 119:129-136

2 Chronicles 26 records the reign of Uzziah as king over Judah. He succeeded his father Amaziah at the age of sixteen and ruled Judah for fifty-two years. ‘He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the LORD, God made him prosper.’ He extended his wealth and kingdom by the acquisition of territory and possessions formerly belonging to the Philistines and Arabians whose armies he defeated in battle. He reorganised, reformed, and rearmed his army and fortified his nation’s defences. He similarly improved irrigation networks and added towers in the wall at Jerusalem. He gained the respect of nearby nations. Nevertheless, power corrupted him, and he became proud. He ignored God’s commandments concerning worship and the ceremonial duties reserved for the priesthood alone, and despite the protestations of the priests at the Temple, he usurped their place and burned incense before the LORD. Spurning their rebuke, God struck him with leprosy. ‘And King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death, and being a leper lived in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the LORD. And Jotham his son was over the king's household, governing the people of the land.’ When he died, he was buried in a field belonging to the royal household. He was succeeded by his son, Jotham.

In Psalm 119:129-136 the psalmist conveys the experiential faith of God’s people. He has tasted and found that God is good, and that God’s blessing flows from trust and obedience. He begins, ‘Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them. 130 The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.’ God’s word, in other words, has come to regulate his belief and behaviour. This is what it means to walk by faith. This is what is means to hear and heed the Word made flesh – to follow Jesus. The psalmist earnestly desires to please God. He is determined to walk in God’s ways for God’s glory as well as his own and others’ good. ‘131 I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments. 132 Turn to me and be gracious to me, as is your way with those who love your name.’ He loves the LORD and is ever reliant on his grace. He therefore prays, ‘133 Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me.’ Hereby, the psalmist speaks for the church and reminds the saints that they are sinners still this side of glory. We must put on the full gospel armour and cleave to God to keep his commandments. As the apostle Paul makes clear, we must mortify the poisonous fruits of the flesh and cultivate the wholesome fruits of the Spirit (Gal.5). The psalmist reminds us that good works are the fruit of grace. He writes, ‘134 Redeem me from man's oppression, that I may keep your precepts. 135 Make your face shine upon your servant, and teach me your statutes.’ It grieves him greatly that so many bring misery and woe upon themselves and others by their failure and rejection of God and his law of love. He thus concludes, ‘136 My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law.’ Let us trust God. Let us keep his commandments. Let us thereby show that most excellent way – the way of love.

To ponder! Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein (Jer.6:16).

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Bible Challenge: Day 395

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 27 & Psalm 119:137-144

2 Chronicles 27 highlights the reign of Jotham who succeeded his father Uzziah as king over Judah. He was twenty-five years of age when coronated and he ruled as king for sixteen years. He followed the ways of God and sought to keep God’s commandments. Yet many of his subjects continued in ungodliness and immorality. Jotham, like his father, commissioned building projects throughout the nation. He constructed cities and improved his kingdom’s fortifications. ‘He built the upper gate of the house of the LORD and did much building on the wall of Ophel.’ He won decisive victories over the Ammonites in battle, compelling the neighbouring nation to pay significant reparations and tribute in silver and cereals. After his death his remains were interred at Jerusalem and he was succeeded by Ahaz, his son.

In Psalm 119:137-144, the psalmist extols the LORD for his perfect justice. God is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his moral perfection and purity. He is altogether righteous, holy, and good. There are no imperfections or impurities in God. He is infinitely wise, his word is true, and his commandments are for the blessing of his people. They articulate righteousness. The psalmist therefore begins this section of Psalm 119 by declaring, ‘Righteous are you, O LORD, and right are your rules.’ God has revealed his righteous standards. ‘138 You have appointed your testimonies in righteousness and in all faithfulness.’ God’s moral law not only shows fallen humanity what is good, but it demonstrates how we all fall short of the glory of God and are dependent on his grace, love, and mercy in Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. God’s people are called to keep his commandments for Love’s sake in order that they might grew in love or Christ-likeness, which is our sanctification. The psalmist is again the voice of the church in expressing his earnest desire that all people would trust and obey God. ‘139 My zeal consumes me, because my foes forget your words. 140 Your promise is well tried, and your servant loves it.’ He speaks not merely in a theoretical fashion but from personal experience having tasted and found that God is good. Despite ongoing trials, troubles, and temptations the psalmist wills to remain faithful to God by God’s enabling grace. ‘141 I am small and despised, yet I do not forget your precepts. 142 Your righteousness is righteous forever, and your law is true.’ He takes great delight and finds inner contentment in keeping God’s commandments ‘143 Trouble and anguish have found me out, but your commandments are my delight. 144 Your testimonies are righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live.’ He prays for greater illumination of the word by the Spirit that he might live before the face of God, enjoying fellowship in righteousness, peace, and joy.

To ponder! Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth (Jn.17:17).

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Bible Challenge: Day 396

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 28 & Psalm 119:145-152

2 Chronicles 28 records the evil reign of Ahaz. He inherited the throne from his father, Jotham, at the age of twenty and ruled over Judah for sixteen years. As if to demonstrate that grace or godliness does not run in the blood, he rejected the faith of his fathers and reintroduced Baal worship with its idols and wicked practices which included child sacrifice. God removed his gracious and providential protection and Judah was invaded and militarily defeated by the Syrians, who also took captives back to Damascus. God also gave Judah into the hand of the king of Israel whose army decimated Judah’s defence force, killing 120,000 fighting men. Ahaz’s son and closest commanders and confidantes were also killed. Israel plundered Judah of her treasures and took captive over 200000 women and children. The Prophet Obed admonished Israel for attacking Judah and commanded them to send back those taken captive “for the fierce wrath of the LORD is upon you.” Certain leaders in Israel responded positively to the prophet’s words, and showing compassion and kindness to the captives, escorted them back to Jericho. Meanwhile, weakened by military defeats and depleted of capable fighting men, Judah suffered further attacks from the Edomites and Philistines. Ahaz sought help from the king of the Assyrians, but rather than assist Judah, Tiglath-pileser merely took advantage of the situation to enrich himself at Ahaz and Judah’s expense. Rather than turn to the LORD in repentance and faith, Ahaz foolishly embraced the gods of his enemies and made sacrifices to them. He stripped the House of God to make altars for idols throughout Jerusalem and his kingdom. After his death, his remains were buried in Jerusalem but not in the tombs of his fathers. He was succeeded by his son, Hezekiah.

In Psalm 119:145-152 the psalmist invokes God’s grace to strengthen and shelter him against those that sought him harm. He seeks the LORD wholeheartedly, determined to remain faithful in the face of unjust hatred and persecution. And herein he anticipates and foreshadows the Lord Jesus Christ who was ever faithful to complete his saving mission, turning the evil that was against him to the greatest good imaginable. The psalmist is similarly the voice of the church militant in a day of vociferous and violent opposition. He earnestly prays, ‘With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O LORD! I will keep your statutes.’ He is resolved to remain faithful, but he recognises his need of God’s help therein. And so he pleads, ‘146 I call to you; save me, that I may observe your testimonies.’ As an aside, we are indirectly reminded here in the psalmist’s words that God saves his people not because they have faithfully kept his commandments but in order that they might do so. Grace precedes good works done in love (Eph.2:8-10). The psalmist finds confidence and comfort in God. His hope is in God’s words of promise. And so he prayerfully and regularly reads and ruminates upon sacred scripture. He even ponders its meaning while in his bed. ‘147 I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words. 148 My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise.’ Trusting in God’s covenant love he asks God to justly intervene - to come to his aid against his unjust accusers and antagonists. ‘149 Hear my voice according to your steadfast love; O LORD, according to your justice give me life. 150 They draw near who persecute me with evil purpose; they are far from your law.’ He trusts in God who’s word is truth through thick and thin. He has personal experience of God’s goodness and the blessing that follows obedience. He understands that God’s word and promises stand firm. ‘151 But you are near, O LORD, and all your commandments are true. 152 Long have I known from your testimonies that you have founded them forever.’ May we similarly hear and heed the word of God and thereby faithfully follow the God of the word.

To ponder! Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, 25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you (1Pt.1:22-25).

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Bible Challenge: Day 397

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 29 & Psalm 119:153-160

2 Chronicles 29 records the reign of godly King Hezekiah. He was twenty-five years of age when he inherited the throne from his wicked father, Ahaz, and he reigned for twenty-nine years. He renovated, reformed, and restored the House of God and the true worship of God in Jerusalem and throughout his kingdom. He reassembled and reconstituted the priests and Levites to serve the LORD and his people. He told them, “My sons, do not now be negligent, for the LORD has chosen you to stand in his presence, to minister to him and to be his ministers and make offerings to him.” Consequently, the ministry and place of worship were duly consecrated and cleansed by recourse to the word of God. And so, Hezekiah purged the Temple and the land of the idols erected by his father and re-established the church’s worship on the basis of the word of God. This is what theologians refer to as the regulative principle. Burnt and sin sacrificial offerings were made when the work was completed along with celebratory praise. The whole assembly of priests, Levites, king, and people worshipped the LORD with thanksgiving, with Temple singers and musicians leading the praise. ‘And Hezekiah the king and the officials commanded the Levites to sing praises to the LORD with the words of David and of Asaph the seer. And they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed down and worshiped.’ Then the people brought their sacrifices. So many, that the priests struggled to cope. However, all rejoiced in the restoration and reformation.

In Psalm 119:153-160 the psalmist prays to God for deliverance from the afflictions caused by his antagonists. He is suffering persecution for his faithfulness, and he hereby anticipates and foreshadows the passion of the Lord Jesus Christ. ‘Look on my affliction and deliver me, for I do not forget your law.’ Trusting God’s word, he seeks his intervention and mediation. ‘154 Plead my cause and redeem me; give me life according to your promise!’ The wicked are estranged from God and have little or no concern with God’s commandments and hence with the morality of their actions. But the psalmist by contrast while a saint is a sinner still, and he therefore looks to his merciful Saviour to preserve his life that he might continue to serve the LORD. ‘155 Salvation is far from the wicked, for they do not seek your statutes. 156 Great is your mercy, O LORD; give me life according to your rules.’ Despite that fact that he feels isolated and alone and his enemies are many, he is determined to remain faithful. The faithlessness of the wicked is loathsome to him because they foolishly violate the law of their Creator, Lawgiver, Benefactor, Redeemer, and Judge. ‘157 Many are my persecutors and my adversaries, but I do not swerve from your testimonies. 158 I look at the faithless with disgust, because they do not keep your commands.’ The psalmist is reliant on God’s love and his chief desire is to glorify God by walking before him and others in love. God’s word is truth and abides forever. The psalmist acts as the voice of the church when he expresses his implicit trust and commitment to read and reflect, to hear and heed what it teaches. ‘159 Consider how I love your precepts! Give me life according to your steadfast love. 160 The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.’

To ponder! For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

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Bible Challenge: Day 398

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 30 & Psalm 119:161-168

2 Chronicles 30 records Hezekiah’s reintroduction of the keeping of the Passover Feast at Jerusalem. He sent word throughout his kingdom calling the people to keep the celebration. It had been postponed due to the dearth of priests consecrated to serve at the Temple. Now that all was reformed and reconstituted the king sent courtiers throughout the land commanding the people to make their way to the capital for the Feast. Hezekiah summoned his subjects: “O people of Israel, return to the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, that he may turn again to the remnant of you who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria. 7 Do not be like your fathers and your brothers, who were faithless to the LORD God of their fathers, so that he made them a desolation, as you see. 8 Do not now be stiff-necked as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the LORD and come to his sanctuary, which he has consecrated forever, and serve the LORD your God, that his fierce anger may turn away from you. 9 For if you return to the LORD, your brothers and your children will find compassion with their captors and return to this land. For the LORD your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.” Lamentably, many people of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Zebulun spurned and scorned Hezekiah’s decree, others heard and heeded his call, as did the people of Judah. And so a massive crowd assembled to commemorate and celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread at Jerusalem in the second month of the year. Hezekiah prayed for those celebrants that had kept the Feast while yet ceremoniously unclean. He pleaded, “May the good LORD pardon everyone 19 who sets his heart to seek God, the LORD, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary's rules of cleanness.” And God heard his prayer and healed the people. The king made rich provision, the priests and Levites ministered at the Temple, and the people worshipped the LORD with great rejoicing for another seven days. Not since the reign of Solomon had they experienced such joyful spiritual fellowship. The chapter concludes, ‘Then the priests and the Levites arose and blessed the people, and their voice was heard, and their prayer came to his holy habitation in heaven.’

In Psalm 119:161-168 the psalmist gives expression to his faith, hope, and love. Unjustly persecuted by the powerful, he wholeheartedly trusts in God. His fear (reverence and respect) of the Lord is greater than his fear of man. ‘Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of your words.’ He takes delight and finds assurance in God’s covenant promises. ‘162 I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil.’ He loves the LORD and his ways and is resolved to keep them. But he loathes those that are deceitful and duplicitous and who speak and act contrary to God’s commands. ‘163 I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law.’ He regularly and daily prays and praises God for his goodness and guidance and therein finds righteousness, peace, and joy. ‘164 Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules. 165 Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.’ Knowing that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent and that all things work for the good of those who love God, he trusts and obeys the LORD. ‘166 I hope for your salvation, O LORD, and I do your commandments. 167 My soul keeps your testimonies; I love them exceedingly. 168 I keep your precepts and testimonies, for all my ways are before you.’ Let us do likewise, understanding that the psalmist herein acts as the voice of Christ’s church.

To ponder! But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:29-32).

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Bible Challenge: Day 399

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 31 & Psalm 119:169-176

2 Chronicles 31 records how after the Feast of Unleavened Bread the people went home and destroyed the idols to foreign gods that had been erected throughout the kingdom in the reign of Hezekiah’s father, Ahaz. Afterward, Hezekiah reorganised the priests and Levites in their various divisions for service in the worship of God at the Temple in Jerusalem and elsewhere. He moreover sought to ensure that they were properly remunerated in the people’s freewill offerings. The people generously gave of their firstfruits of the field and flock and there was an abundance of good things to be thankful for. Responding to Hezekiah question, Azariah the chief priest said, “Since they began to bring the contributions into the house of the LORD, we have eaten and had enough and have plenty left, for the LORD has blessed his people, so that we have this large amount left.” Chambers were constructed at the Temple to store produce and personnel appointed to oversee their distribution. The chapter concludes, ‘Thus Hezekiah did throughout all Judah, and he did what was good and right and faithful before the LORD his God. 21 And every work that he undertook in the service of the house of God and in accordance with the law and the commandments, seeking his God, he did with all his heart, and prospered.’

In Psalm 119:169-176 which concludes lengthy Psalm 119, the psalmist as the voice of the church earnestly prays to God for the illumination and correct comprehension of the word of God. God’s people require the Spirit who inspired the word to illuminate it for them. And so we must come to sacred scripture prayerfully. The psalmist pleads, ‘Let my cry come before you, O LORD; give me understanding according to your word!’ He pleads the promises of God therein. ‘170 Let my plea come before you; deliver me according to your word.’ He praises God in accordance with what has been revealed in the word. His prayer is evidence of an active and abounding faith. It bears witness to his desire to be faithful in the application of God’s word. And it produces praise to God for his greatness, goodness, and wisdom. ‘171 My lips will pour forth praise, for you teach me your statutes. 172 My tongue will sing of your word, for all your commandments are right.’ The psalmist is determined by God’s grace to faithfully follow the Lord always. ‘173 Let your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts.’ He takes delight in God and the things of God and longs for the fulness of salvation. He seeks to please God by keeping his law of love as a child of grace. ‘174 I long for your salvation, O LORD, and your law is my delight. 175 Let my soul live and praise you, and let your rules help me.’ He concludes by confessing his sin reminding us that repentance accompanies faith in the earthly pilgrimage of God’s people. What is repentance but the reorientation of one’s life in a God-ward direction. He seeks in other words to live in communion with God and his people who comprise the flock of the Good Shepherd’s pasture. ‘176 I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.’ We persevere by the paternal love and grace of God. Praise his name. Amen.

To ponder! I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice (Eze.34:15-16).

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Bible Challenge: Day 400

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 32 & Psalm 120

2 Chronicles 32 records Hezekiah’s response to the invasion of Judah by King Sennacherib of Assyria. He cut off the springs of water to deny the Assyrians supply of fresh water. He marshalled the people and fortified the walls of the Holy City and built up city defences throughout his kingdom. He also sought to ensure that his fighting force was well equipped to repulse the invaders. He organised his army into divisions under capable and competent commanders and urged all, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him, for there are more with us than with him. 8 With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God, to help us and to fight our battles.” Responding to Hezekiah’s resistance, Sennacherib began a propaganda campaign to disturb and divide the people of Judah. He told them their king was misleading them and that they could not withstand the Assyrian army and their gods. The Assyrians poured scorn on the LORD God and sought to spread fear and foreboding among the people of God. King Hezekiah and the Prophet Isaiah shaken, nevertheless, turned to God in prayer. Their extremity was but God’s opportunity. And God came to their rescue. ‘And the LORD sent an angel, who cut off all the mighty warriors and commanders and officers in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned with shame of face to his own land. And when he came into the house of his god, some of his own sons struck him down there with the sword.’ The people of Judah praised God and brought their gifts to the House of God and to King Hezekiah whose fame spread near and far. Sometime afterwards, Hezekiah became seriously ill and was at the point of death, but God healed him. Nevertheless, Hezekiah temporarily became proud and failed to humble himself in thanksgiving before God. He was only spared God’s righteous anger when he repented. He enjoyed great power, prestige, and prosperity and Judah flourished greatly under his godly rule. After his death, his remains were interred with his fathers at Jerusalem and his son Manasseh succeeded him as king.

In Psalm 120 the psalmist cries out to God in great distress for deliverance. Anticipating and foreshadowing God’s Christ, who was also falsely accused, and representing the church militant in our fallen world which is also often a target of misrepresentation by her enemies, he asks God to rescue him from those that were slandering him. ‘In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. 2 Deliver me, O LORD, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue.’ We note that the LORD answered him. He is the hearer and answerer of our prayers. As the hymnwriter reminds us, ‘What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!’ Moreover, as James later did in his New Testament Epistle, the psalmist reminds us here of the folly and the evident dangers of such duplicitousness and deceit. Not only are the innocent wrongly maligned and maliciously pained but those that spread falsehoods bring judgement upon themselves! ‘3 What shall be given to you, and what more shall be done to you, you deceitful tongue? 4 A warrior's sharp arrows, with glowing coals of the broom tree!’ The psalmist laments the vociferous and violent environment in which he dwells. ‘5 Woe to me, that I sojourn in Meshech, that I dwell among the tents of Kedar!’ Such is life in our fallen world. He practices a life of separation in the sense that he seeks to be salt in an unsavoury environment, and light in a dark world. He will engage with and witness to the more excellent way without following the immoral behaviour of his enemies. He desires the common good and that all would live in peace, but lamentably his adversaries and antagonists continue in the way of hatred and hostility. ‘6 Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace. 7 I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war!’ He cannot change the hearts of the wicked but he can pray to the one who turns sinners into saints! And we must do likewise.

To ponder! So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell (Js.3:5-6).

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Bible Challenge: Day 401

Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 33 & Psalm 121

2 Chronicles 33 records the respective reigns of Manasseh and Amon. Manasseh was twelve years old when he ascended the throne of Judah and he reigned for fifty-five years, making him the longest reigning king in Judah or Israel’s history. Unlike his father, godly King Hezekiah, he did evil in the sight of the LORD. He reintroduced the pagan idols to the capital and its Holy Temple and throughout the land and led the people of Judah astray. He was not only guilty before God of apostasy and idolatry, but he even sacrificed his own children in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom to those foreign deities. Moreover, he consulted with mediums and sorcerers. ‘Manasseh led Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem astray, to do more evil than the nations whom the LORD destroyed before the people of Israel.’ Ignoring God’s call to repent from his wickedness, Manasseh only did so after he was taken captive in chains and hooks back to Babylon after his nation had been invaded by an Assyrian army. There in desperation he humbly and penitently sought the LORD God in prayer and was converted to the faith of his fathers. On returning to Judah and his capital, Jerusalem, he purged the land of the idols to foreign deities that he had introduced, although the people continued to offer sacrifices on the high places. And he restored the Temple and reintroduced the true worship of God. He also fortified his city by building up her walls to protect the inhabitants from potential future sieges. After his death his remains were buried in Jerusalem and his son Amon ascended the throne. Amon was twenty-two years of age when he inherited the crown of Judah but he only reigned for two years. He followed the wicked example of his father Manasseh but failed to humble himself and repent like his father had done. He was murdered by men that served in his household. And Josiah, his son, was made king in his stead.

Psalm 121 is one of the better-known psalms. The old Scottish Metrical Version continues to be sung regularly within the church, typically to the Scottish tune, ‘French’. Understandably, it is particularly a favourite at funerals here in Scotland. It is a ‘Song of Ascents’ and would have been sung by the Old Testament saints as they made their way up to Jerusalem to worship the LORD at the House of God. That holy place symbolised God’s presence amid his church. It was where God had promised to meet with his people in a unique and special manner. Not that God can or could have been so contained and confined to a building made by human hands but the Temple symbolised God’s abiding presence and anticipated and typified the Lord Christ, Immanuel, who is God with us. And so, the psalmist begins, ‘I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? 2 My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.’ The psalmist gazes on, and no doubt reflects and marvels upon all that was symbolised and communicated in the House of God as he approaches the place of worship. He lifts his eyes heavenward in faith confident that God is his Rock and Refuge, his Strength and Shield. The Creator and Sustainer of heaven and earth is with him and for him. God is his Lord and Saviour. And he here expresses his complete and continuing reliance on God’s grace, love, and mercy. He trusts wholeheartedly in God’s provision and protection in order that he might persevere in the faith. ‘3 He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. 4 Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.’ God is an ever-present reality in the lives of his people. He is not only omnipotent and omniscient, but he is also omnipresent. The LORD is not only with his people but like a loving parent he watches over his beloved children. He not only guides them, but he also guards them. ‘5 The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand. 6 The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.’ God will never forget or forsake his people. He will guard and guide them to glory. 7 The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. 8 The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.’ We can only remain faithful because he is faithful. Great is his faithfulness.

To ponder! And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Phil.4:19).