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Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Unseen Enemy

Hezekiah led one of the greatest returns to the worship of Jehovah in all of history of the divided kingdoms. His father, Ahaz, had completely abandoned the worship of Jehovah and led the nation into complete ruin and disaster over a period of 16 long years. Hezekiah’s grandfather, Jotham, though not perfect, had been  determined to follow the Lord: “Jotham grew powerful because he was determined to please the Lord his God” [2 Chron. 27:6 NET] The influence and heritage of the grandfather as well as great grandfather [Uzziah] perhaps made the difference in young Hezekiah’s life. As a young adult of 25, his first act as king was to reopen the Temple, have the priests & Levites consecrate themselves and then clean out the Temple.

After the temple had been re-consecrated, the young king assembled the city officials for worship and to consecrate themselves to the Lord.
    “As they began to offer the sacrifice, they also began to sing to the Lord, accompanied by the trumpets and the musical instruments of King David of Israel. The entire assembly worshiped, as the singers sang and the trumpeters played. They continued until the burnt sacrifice was completed.” [2 Chron. 29:27-28 NET]
Notice that the singing was part of the sacrifice and that they all worshiped. This was not for entertainment or show; this was a re-consecration to the Lord so that the leadership of the city would realize God was their ultimate authority. This preceded their own personal sacrifices for worship [v. 31] initiating the regular sacrifices in the Temple once again. 
Hezekiah’s next act as king was to send out messengers throughout the lands of all 12 tribes inviting them to return to the Lord and celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem. [Some did return, but most did not. Little did they realize that in less than five years the Assyrians would carry the Northern Kingdom into captivity.] The celebration of Passover initiated by leadership was almost always tied to great revival in the Old Testament and this was no different. Not only was the celebration great, they decided to extend the length another entire week. Afterward, they destroyed the other altars dedicated for pagan worship.  The king called for the restoration of the offerings so that the priests and Levites could do the work of the Lord without having to work outside of their assigned responsibilities and God richly blessed.

Rumors began to fly that the Assyrians were about to invade the land, so Hezekiah began to make preparations: re-routing water supplies, manufacturing weapons and rebuilding the walls. The representative of the Assyrian king came mocking Jehovah God and declaring that the situation was hopeless, that no god could stop the powerful Assyrian king. Hezekiah cried out to God in prayer and God struck down the Assyrian army, leaving the few survivors to return to Assyria in shame.  Revival had come, the people and their king were worshiping and depending on God. It seemed as if no enemy could touch them.

However there was one enemy that Hezekiah failed to see. It was the same enemy that had defeated his great grandfather, Uzziah,  years before— pride. Listen to what Scripture says about Uzziah:
    “But once he [Uzziah] became powerful, his pride destroyed him. He disobeyed the Lord his God.” [ 2 Chron. 26:16]
Now compare that to Hezekiah:
     “In those days Hezekiah was stricken with a terminal illness. He prayed to the Lord, who answered him and gave him a sign confirming that he would be healed. But Hezekiah was ungrateful; he had a proud attitude, provoking God to be angry at him...” [2 Chron. 32:24-25]   
How do we know that Hezekiah was proud? Later when visitors from Babylonia came to see him, he tried to impress them with everything he had and had done. Verse 31 of the same chapter offers great commentary about the visit and Hezekiah’s response: “God left him alone to test him, in order to know his true motives.” Not long after, Isaiah the prophet declared that everything the visitors had seen would be carried off to Babylonia. No where in the biblical account did Hezekiah explain that he had recovered from his illness as a direct result of God’s gracious intervention. He might have thought that because he had done so much, God owed him his health. The spirit of entitlement very well could have been the source of leading the king toward his fall.

Pride had been the enemy of worship in the life of Uzziah, as he disregarded God’s commands to worship in a way the he as king wanted. God struck him with leprosy and he could never enter to worship again. [2 Chron. 26:16-23] Sadly, all the reforms Hezekiah led, the revival he promoted, and the great victory over the Assyrians could not prepare him for the enemy he did not see, his own pride and the consequences of letting that pride rule his actions.  Hezekiah's greatest battle was not lost during difficulty, but in prosperity, looking to what he saw as his own accomplishments, rather than as God's grace and blessing.

So what? That’s a tragic story, but what difference does mean for me, thousands of years later? I’m glad you asked. I imagine that books could be written, or may even have been written just on these chapters in 2 Chronicles. To get the entire background, go back and study the parallel passages in 2 Kings 15-20. For right now, I would just like to highlight some lessons as they might apply to worship and leading worship.

1. God decides what worship is and how to do it; we don’t. Uzziah learned the hard way and we can learn from his mistake.
2. Worshiping anyway we please has serious consequences. Again, Uzziah serves as an example of what not to do.
3. Past victories do not guarantee future ones. We must praise and thank God for what He has done in the past, but there is never a time when we can let down our guard, thinking that we cannot be defeated. Hezekiah had displayed amazing spiritual leadership in worship and in war, yet was totally caught off guard by his own pride.
4. Times of blessing can be the times we are most vulnerable. We cry out to God in our need, and we should. Yet, when we do not sense great need, it is easy to forget that we still are dependent on the Father for our “daily bread.”
5. Music used in worship should facilitate worship, not be done for entertainment.
6. Pride is a enemy of everything God wants to do in our life. It is directly opposed to the will and purposes of God. One of the fruits of pride is a spirit of entitlement, thinking because we have done so much, God owes us.
7. Sincere praise and thanksgiving can help remind us all that God is and what He has done and avoid allowing pride and a spirit of entitlement to control our actions and attitudes.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Hymn Stories to the Biblical Songs

How are songs written? How do these things happen? Is there a magic spell that comes on someone, or just do angels deliver words and music? What is this thing called “inspiration” from which some of the great songs are born? 
Some songs were written through new insights of the Scripture, like Thomas Chisholm’s “Great is Thy Faithfulness, ” as he was reading Lamentations 3:22-23.  Sometimes when we hear words, God illuminates them and new meaning seems to jump out at us. It is like hearing them for the first time. Sometimes just emphasizing different words does this. Take for example I Kings 19 when Elijah is fleeing from Jezebel and is hiding in a cave at Horeb.  Twice God asks him, “Why are you here, Elijah?” More than just to repeat a question, it might be that God was emphasizing different words each time he asked. For example: Read the statement emphasizing this way: “Why are you here, Elijah?” “Why are you here, Elijah?” or even, “Why are you here, Elijah?”  Such happenings provide new understanding and help us gain new insights into what God might have been trying to say to the prophet.  New insights and understandings are often the seed bed for new songs and texts.

Another source for understanding how a song is written can come from the circumstances surrounding its composition. Most everyone is familiar with the moving story how the great hymn, “It is well with my soul” by Horatio Spafford was written, from tragedy to faith in the midst of suffering and grief. And there are many more stories behind so many great songs, in fact there are entire books just on these stories.

Understanding can help us with a new and deeper appreciation for even the biblical songs in Scripture. Although David didn’t write them all, many of the psalms tell how or why they were written:

Psalm 18
For the director of music. Of David the servant of the LORD. He sang to the LORD the words of this song when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.

Psalm 30
A psalm. A song. For the dedication of the temple. Of David.

Psalm 34
Of David. When he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he left.

Psalm 51
For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.

Psalm 52
For the director of music. A maskil of David. When Doeg the Edomite had gone to Saul and told him: "David has gone to the house of Ahimelech."

Psalm 54
For the director of music. With stringed instruments. Amaskil of David. When the Ziphites had gone to Saul and said, "Is not David hiding among us?"
Psalm 56
For the director of music. To the tune of "A Dove on Distant Oaks." Of David. A miktam . When the Philistines had seized him in Gath.

Psalm 57
For the director of music. To the tune of "Do Not Destroy." Of David. A miktam . When he had fled from Saul into the cave.

Psalm 59
For the director of music. To the tune of "Do Not Destroy." Of David. A miktam . When Saul had sent men to watch David's house in order to kill him.

Psalm 60
For the director of music. To the tune of "The Lily of the Covenant." A miktam of David. For teaching. When he fought Aram Naharaim and Aram Zobah, and when Joab returned and struck down twelve thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt.

Psalm 63
A psalm of David. When he was in the Desert of Judah.

Psalm 70
For the director of music. Of David. A petition.

Psalm 102
A prayer of an afflicted man. When he is faint and pours out his lament before the LORD.

Psalm 142
A maskil of David. When he was in the cave. A prayer.

Although we do not know the circumstances surrounding all of the psalms that David composed, we do have these that preface the reason or circumstances for their writing. Most of these were written related to David fleeing for his life from Saul (18, 52, 54, 57, 59, 63, 142), some were from celebrations (30, 60), while still others are prayers of confession and petition (51, 70). Only one psalm was not written by David that give the background, and is listed as “A prayer of an afflicted man” (102).

However, of the many here that are interesting to ponder, perhaps one of the most interesting is the comment before Psalm 34, “when he pretended to be insane...” What’s that about? What kind of song is written when you are faking insanity? The encounter is found in I Samuel 21.  Put yourself in David’s sandals. David is in front of the King of Gath [Goliath’s hometown] trying to run away from Saul, when he realizes that he has jumped out of the frying pan into the fire. He begins allow saliva to run down his face and beard and begins to scribble on the walls, pretending to be insane. Fearing insane people, the King kicks David out from his presence. What was David’s response? Did he say, “Look how clever I was, I sure fooled that Philistine!” No, look at verses 6-8:
    6 This poor man called, and the LORD heard him;
           he saved him out of all his troubles.
     7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him,
           and he delivers them.
     8 Taste and see that the LORD is good;
           blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.
When you understand that David felt that he was literally at the end of his rope, Saul was out to kill him, and that this all this King could think of was getting rid of “David the giant-killer,” you can understand how discouraged and broken he felt. It makes verse 18 come alive:
    18 The LORD is close to the brokenhearted
           and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
No wonder that he says in verse 8, “Taste and see that the Lord is good”!

This is a tremendous story and we can be moved as we understand how David came to write the words of the Psalm, but if that is as far as it goes, we are missing another lesson in learning how to apply Scripture to our lives. Look at Romans 15:4, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”                                   
These passages can become the basis for our prayers when we find ourselves in impossible situations or in circumstances beyond our ability to comprehend. Consider paraphrasing Scripture in prayer when you face such difficulties:
    Father, I will praise You at all times            [verse 1]
       and I will magnify Your name!                 [verse 3]
    I call out to you and ask that You
      deliver me from my fears.                         [verse 4]
    Thank You, that You surround me
      with Your presence and protection.          [verse 7]
    Thank You, that You hear my cries
       for help.                                                 [verse 15]
    Thank You, that You are near to me
     when broken hearted and discouraged.     [verse 18]
    I trust You for Your provision and
      deliverance.                                             [verse 22]
The Psalms have been an encouragement to many, but understanding the background can add depth to the meaning and help us as we apply Scripture to our own lives. Let’s step in a little deeper and understand the context and content and apply the Word of God to our everyday lives.