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THE HOUND OF HEAVEN

(A Narrative Commentary)

Section Three

by Morris A. Inch


The Hound Of Heaven
(A Narrative Commentary)

Section Three

by Morris A. Inch



TABLE OF CONTENTS

SECTION THREE

Turbulent Times
The Transition
Change of Command
The Chase
The Shepherd King
The Sage Ruler
The Prophets
Covenant Renewal
Into Exile
Sentimental Journey

Section One

Preface
Where are You?
My Brother’s Keeper
The Rains Came
Tower of Babel
Retrospect and Prospect
By Faith
The Akeda/Binding
Arranged Marriage
For Better & Worse

Section Two

Murphy's Law
The Favored One
Favored Still
Turn of Events
Let My People Go
A Vassal Treaty
The Spies’ Report
The Crossing
Jericho
The Unfinished Task

Section Four

The Silent Years
Drama of Decision
Glad Tidings
The Early Years
Prelude to Ministry
Ministry Motif
The Rabbi
Wonder Worker
The Messiah
Suffering Servant

Section Five

He Is Risen!
The Ascension
Pouring Out
The Apostles’ Teaching
Greater Things
Pot Holes
Christian Nurture
Running the Race
The Appearance
Shalom

Endnotes Bibliography

Turbulent Times

“The people served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel” (Judg. 2:7). “After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals.”

Unwilling to restrain the evil within, they were unable to contend with the circumstances without. “Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders.” Whereupon, they enjoyed peace for the time-being, before relapsing again into their sinful ways. So the cycle continued, with painful predictability.

As an example, “the Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the Lord. So the Lord sold them into the hands of Jabin, a king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor” (4:1-2). His commander Sisera cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, inciting them to cry out to the Lord for deliverance.

“At this point we are introduced to Deborah, the savior of her people and the only woman in the distinguished company of the judges. In the tribal structure of Israel women normally occupied a subordinate position, but they could and did on rare occasions rise to prominence.”47 Nothing is known of her husband, other than the mention of his name.

“Go!” she emphatically enjoined Barak. “This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands.” “At Barak’s advance, the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and (he) abandoned his chariot and fled on foot.” He was subsequently welcomed by Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite. Then while he slept, she drove a tent peg through his temple. “And the hand of the Israelites grew stronger and stronger against Jabin, until they destroyed him.”

“Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelter for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds” (6:1-2). Whenever they planted crops, the invaders would descend on them in a manner resembling a plague of locusts. Accordingly, they cried out to the Lord for redress of their grievances.

Now the angel of the Lord came upon Gideon as he was threshing wheat. “The Lord is with you,” the former announced; while commending him as a mighty warrior.

“But sir,” Gideon protested, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened?”

In response, he was admonished: “Go in the strength you have, and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not with you?” As engagingly expressed, “One with the Lord is in a majority.”

The same night the Lord instructed him, “Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. Then build a proper kind of altar to the Lord your God on top of this height.” Since he was afraid of retaliation from his family and neighbors, he elected to do so under the cover of darkness.

When it became known that he was the culprit, a hostile crowd demanded that he be put to death. “Are you going to plead Baal’s cause?” his father caustically replied. “If Baal is really a god, he can defend himself. They were thus persuaded to let things take their course.

Gideon was still not convinced, and asked for a sign—and then another. When he at last had gathered a force to encounter the enemy, the Lord informed him that they were too many. Were they to succeed, they would be inclined to attribute it to their own prowess. Consequently, anyone who was fearful was allowed to turn back. So twenty-two thousand men left; while only ten thousand remained.

“There are still too many men,” the Lord observed. “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues like a dog from those who kneel down to drink.” The former were to be preferred because they would not let their attention be diverted from the task at hand. As a result, only three hundred were left.

Dividing the contingent into three companies, Gideon furnished them with trumpets and jars—with torches concealed within. “When I and all who are with me blow our trumpets, blow yours and shout, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon,’” he instructed them. As for a plausible reconstruction: Those not involved in the first or second watches would be in the deep sleep of the earlier part of the night, whilst those who had just been relieved would still be moving about the camp, thus increasing the fear of those awakened by the din, that the enemy had already penetrated the camp. The clamor would also cause unrest among the large numbers of camels, possibly leading to a stampede. It is not surprising that in the resultant confusion soldiers lashed out at everyone who loomed up in the darkness, not knowing who was friend or foe.48

In any case, the Midianites took flight.

“In those days Israel had no king,” the chronicler observes; “everyone did as he saw fit” (21:25). In other words, lacking a credible authority, a virtual anarchy existed.

Even so, God had not absented himself.

* * *

The Transition

Samuel provides a transition from the judges to the monarchy. Elkanah had two wives: Penniah and Hannah. The former bore him children, while the latter remained barren. In bitterness of soul, Hannah vowed: “O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head” (1 Sam. 1:11).

This appears to be associated with the Nazarite vow, whereby one as devoted to the Lord for either a limited time or throughout life. The devotee was to abstain from drinking wine, allow his hair to grow, and conscientiously avoid contact with the deceased. Sampson was cited as exemplary.

“So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son,” whom she named Samuel. “I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him,” she allowed. “So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.” Accordingly, she entrusted him to the priest Eli.

“In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions” (3:1). “Nothing indicated that the Lord was about to inaugurate a new era; times of blessing had evidently been known, when people had more readily received guidance from the Lord.”49

Now the Lord revealed to Samuel, “I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears it tingle.” Then the Lord continued to reveal himself to Samuel, who shared his insights with all Israel. This was in contrast to former times, when the word of the Lord was rare.

When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons judges over Israel. “But his sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice” (8:3). This, coupled with the uncertainty of the times, encouraged the elders to petition: “now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

The notion of a monarchy played to mixed reviews. On the one hand, it reflected the temptation of mimic the ways of those around them; and in so doing, to depreciate their reliance on the Lord. On the other, it was seen as a providential means to further their covenant objectives.

Although the Lord sanctioned the monarchy, he gave advanced notice of the high price Israel would pay for this innovation. Each family had been autonomous, under the leadership of its elders. It had been beholden to no-one, whereas under a king military and agricultural conscription would restrict Israel’s liberty. Nor would the women of the family escape, for they would serve the royal house. Taxation, which had been unknown, would become increasingly oppressive. But having made a deliberate choice of this form of government, Israel would have to live with its restricting demands.50

It remained to select one to rule. In this regard, there was a man of standing named Kish—who had a son named Saul. The latter was “an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites—a head taller than any of the others” (9:2).

Now the donkeys belonging to Kish were lost, so Saul was instructed to look for them. In this connection, he encountered Samuel. As he was about to take his leave, Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on his head. “Has not the Lord anointed you leader of his inheritance?” he rhetorically inquired. Moreover, he informed him that the lost donkeys has been found.

As Saul turned away, God changed his heart. This was in anticipation of the service he would render, and the need to cultivate a relationship with the Almighty.

Now Samuel summoned the Israelites before the Lord at Mizpah, so as to formalize the appointment. Then he brought forth the bribe of Benjamin, clan by clan. When Saul was chosen, “he had hidden himself among the baggage” (10:22). “Saul’s changed character had not yet increased his self-confidence. God’s choice, (nontheless) once made, could not be set aside by running away.”51

Consequently, they ran and brought him out; and as he stood among the people, he was a head taller than any of the others. Whereupon, Samuel enthusiastically inquired: “Do you see the man the Lord has chosen? There is not one like him among the people.” In retrospect, superficial considerations can be misleading.

Then the peoples shouted, “Long live the king!” Thus the transition to the monarchy was realized.

* * *

Change of Command

“After Saul had assumed rule over Israel, he fought against their enemies on every side. Wherever he turned, he inflicted punishment on them” (1 Sam. 14:47). Moreover, “whenever Saul saw a mighty or brave man, he took him into his service.”

“When Samuel appeared suddenly to Saul, it was to point that he was king, not primarily by popular acclaim, but by the Lord’s appointment. His duty, therefore, was to carry out the commands of the Lord, and in particular the command (to utterly destroy the Amelekites).”52 Utterly destroy is employed seven times in the account, so as not to leave a shadow of a doubt concerning the intent. Not only was this meant to eliminate a resolute enemy, but discourage selfish intrigue.

Conversely, Saul “spared everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.” This was along the line of those who selectively abide by God’s directives, so long as they coincide with their preferences.

Early the next morning, Samuel went out to greet Saul on his return. “The Lord bless you!” Saul exclaimed. “I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.”

“What then is the bleating of sheep in my ears?” Samuel protested. “What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”

“But I did obey the Lord,” Saul insisted. “The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”

Whereupon, Samuel rhetorically inquired: Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like th sin of divination, and arrogance lie the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.

Then Saul acknowledged, “I have sinned; I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them. Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord.”

“I will not go back you,” the seer insisted. “You have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you as king over Israel.” Further entreaty also proved useless.

“How long will you mourn for Saul,” the Lord subsequently inquired, “since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king” (16:1).

“How can I go?” Samuel responded. “Saul will hear about it and kill me.” At this, the Almighty instructed him to sacrifice there, and invite the family of Jesse to the proceedings.

When they arrived, Samuel appreciatively appraised Elias and thought to himself, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stand here before the Lord.”

“Do not consider his appearance or his height,” the Lord cautioned him, “for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” This was calculated to recall the occasion when Saul was chosen, and his subsequent defection.

Starting from the eldest, Jesse had seven sons stand before the seer—only to have each rejected. “Are these all the sons you have?” Samuel inquired.

“There is still the youngest,” Jesse allowed, “but he is tending the sheep.”

The youngest, considered so unlikely that it had not been deemed necessary to call him from the sheep, is the one of the Lord’s choice. The Lord has a way of choosing the person people think the least likely, but nevertheless David was good-looking; ruddy implied light-skinned in comparison with is companions, and therefore striking in appearance.53

Then the Lord prompted Samuel, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.” So the seer anointed him “in the presence of his brothers, and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power.”

Conversely, “the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.” This observation “follows the statement that David had received the Lord’s Spirit and may record that although Saul remained king, he could no longer function as a representative of God. David had replace him in that role and would eventually replace him as king.”54 As expressed at the outset, there was a decisive change of command.

* * *

The Chase

Saul was determined to retain his position in one way or another. As noted earlier, Samuel was reluctant to anoint a replacement for fear that he would be put to death. His concern was likely legitimate. Then, once David was recognized as an alternative, his life also became endangered.

The plot continues to unfold. “Saul’s courtiers, concerned for his well-being, persuade him to look for a court musician; for music was recognized as having beneficial effects in some instances. David, apparently having some renown as a harpist, is sent for. The music therapy was apparently, if only temporarily, successful.”55

Now the Philistines had gathered their forces to wage war on the Israelites. They “occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the (Valley of Elah) between them” (1 Sam. 17:3). An imposing warrior named Goliath issued a challenge for individual combat, which none of the Israelites were disposed to accept.

Meanwhile, David arrived in camp with provisions for his older brothers. Upon hearing the challenge repeated, he offered to accept it. The matter “is reported to Saul, and David reassures the king that he is capable of killing Goliath, despite his comparative youth and inexperience of warfare. The Philistine has sealed his own fate by pitting himself against the armies of the living God.”56

Goliath was quite unimpressed with the shepherd lad, armed only with a staff and sling in hand. “Come here,” he boasted, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field.”

“You come against me with sword and spear and javelin,” David countered, “but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” In this regard, David did not mean to take credit for the victory he anticipated.

“So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone,” and without all the resources at the disposal of his foe. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they took flight—with the Israelites in pursuit.

Upon their return, women greeted them with the acclaim: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands” (18:7). “They have credited David with tens of thousands, but me with only thousands,” Saul bitterly reflected. “What more can he get but the kingdom?” From that time on, he kept a jealous eye on David.

Saul decided to send David on a military campaign. Not only might this result in his demise, but it would hopefully draw attention from him. However, “In every thing that he (David) did he had great success, because the Lord was with him.”

Saul then proposed that David marry into the royal family, thus to assure his loyalty. However, once he realized that his daughter Michel loved David, and the Lord continue to bless him, he “became more afraid of him, and he remained his enemy the rest of his days.”

Saul then incited his son Jonathan and his attendants to do away with David. But Jonathan was fond of David, and warned him of the danger. Moreover, he interceded on his friend’s behalf, and his father momentarily pledged not to kill him. This was before David had continued military success; after which, the ruler attempted to take his life.

The ruler now decided to take things into his own hands. He “sent men to David’s house to watch it and to kill him in the morning.” But Michel alerted him, so that he fled. She bought time by saying that he was ill. Saul was beside himself.

The chase would continue. David took refuge with the priests of Nob. It was reported to Saul, “I saw the son of Jesse come to Ahimelech. (He) inquired of the Lord for him; he also gave him provisions and the sword of Goliath the Philistine.” Whereupon, Saul ordered that the priests be executed.

“David stayed in the desert strongholds and in the hills of the Desert of Ziph.” Saul searched for him day after fay, but was not able to apprehend him. At long last, the obsessed ruler was critically wounded and took his own life–rather than fall into the hands of the enemy. Thus the chase was concluded.

* * *

The Shepherd King

David emerges as a genuinely exceptional leader, “an amalgam of many disparate qualities—warrior, statesman, poet, and musician. Not only does he successful unite the Israelite people, establish the city of Jerusalem as their capital, and lay the plans for the Temple, he is also the founder of an (an impressive dynasty).”57This would climax with the coming of the Messiah.

Now the Lord prompted David to settle in Hebron, along with his followers. “Then the men of Judah came to Hebron and there anointed David king over the house of Judah” (2 Cam. 2:7). “After becoming king of Judah, (he) probably wants to win the support of the tribes of the north. A message of gratitude to the people of Jabesh-gilead for what they did for Saul and his sons when they fell in battle would be an appropriate act in that context.”58 Even so, there was an on-going struggle between those loyal to Saul and David.

Elders from all the tribes of Israel subsequently came to David at Hebron, and allowed: “We are your own flesh an blood. In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the Lord said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel. And you will become their ruler’” (5:1-2). Accordingly, they anointed him king over Israel. He was thirty-years of age, a time when it was thought appropriate to assume public responsibilities (cf. Num, 4:3; Luke 3:23).

While David aspired to build a suitable edifice to house the ark of the covenant, this was deemed improper because of his status as a warrior. Instead, God declared: “When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your off-spring to succeed you, and will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”

In the course of time, David defeated his enemies. He also “reigned over all Israel, doing what was just and right for all the people.” He thus served as an unifying and constructive influence.

It was customary in the spring to wage warfare, so David deployed the Israelite forces under the command of Joab—while he remained in Jerusalem. One evening when he was waling around on the roof of the place, he saw a beautiful woman bathing. Upon inquiring concerning her, he found that she was the wife of Uriah the Hittite.

Not deterred by this information, he sent for her and she came to him. Bathsheba conceived, and sent word to David that she was pregnant. The ruler set out to conceal his indiscretion. Summoning Uriah from the military campaign, he inquired as to how it was progressing. He David urged him, “Go down to your house and wash your feet” (11:8). He meant by this that Uriah should enjoy his marital privileges.

Instead, Uriah slept at the entrance of the palace. When confronted by David, he resolutely replied: “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my master Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open fields. How can I go to my house to eat and drink, and be with my wife.”

Further efforts proved fruitless, so David sent word for Joab to put Uriah in a vulnerable situation, withdraw, and leave him to his fate. “When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.”

In this regard, Nathan the prophet gave an account of two men, one who was exceedingly rich and other correspondingly poor. “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but (he) refrained from taking one of his won sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him” (12:4).

When David heard this, he protested: “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for the lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”

Nathan exclaimed, “You are the man!”

Then David allowed, “I have sinned against the Lord.” In greater detail, he pled: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love, according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” (Psa. 51:1-2).

He did not admit to making a mistake, but having sinned. He did not ask for a definition of sin, but stated the obvious. He did not blame his behavior on others, but took full responsibility for it. He did not attempt to hide from himself what he admitted to others. “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts,” he readily concluded, “you teach me wisdom in the inmost parts” (v. 6).59

His grievous sin was thus matched only by contrite repentance.

* * *

The Sage Ruler

“I am about to go the way of all the earth,” David confided in his son Solomon. “So be strong, show yourself a man, and observe what the Lord your God requires” (1 Kings 2:2). Having finished speaking, “Then David rested with his fathers and was buried in the city of David.”

The Lord subsequently appeared to Solomon in a dream, saying: “Ask for whatever you want me to give you” (3:5).

“Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David,” Solomon observed. “But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.” This was meant to express his lack of experience.

God was pleased with his request. As a result, he responded:

Since you have asked for this and not for long live or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both riches and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in my ways and obey my statues and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.

“The occasion of Solomon’s famous demonstration of discernment is a legal case involving two prostitutes living in the same house who both claim a particular newborn child as their own. It is probably insignificant in the context that they are prostitutes.”60 “Cut the child in two and give half to one and half to the other,” Solomon instructed his attendants.

“Please, my Lord, give her the living baby!” his genuine mother pled. “Don’t kill him!”

“Neither I nor you shall have him,” the other gloated. “Cut him in two!”

Then the king gave as his ruling, “Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother.” When this became public knowledge, the people “held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice.”

It took Solomon seven years to erect the temple. Upon its dedication, he earnestly prayed: “May the Lord our God be with us as he was with our father; may be never leave us nor forsake us. May he turn our hears to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep his commands, decrees and regulations he gave our fathers” (8:57-58).

Hearing of the king’s reputation, the queen of Sheba decided to observe for herself. When she “saw all the wisdom of Solomon and the palace he had built, the food on his table, the seating of his officials, the attending servants in their robes, his cupbearers, and the burnt offerings he made at the temple of the Lord, she was overwhelmed” (10:4-5).

Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter” (11:1). His harem reflected extensive political alliances. Then, too, the critical insertion however anticipates a tragic turn of events. Thus “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart to other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. As compelling evidence, “On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods.”

So the Lord informed the recalcitrant ruler: “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime.”

Then God raised up Hadad the Edomite as a seriously adversary. “Also, Jeroboam revolted against the king.” Solomon’s efforts to do away with him were unsuccessful, and he was able to find sanctuary until after the king’s death. After Solomon had passed way, he was buried in the city of David his father, and his son Rehoboam succeeded him.

Qualifications aside, the reign of all three kings had begun well, but ended in tragedy. “The sin of David and the material splendor of Solomon’s court did not give much hope for better things in themselves. The prophetic response, however, gave occasion to the faithful to hope for better things. David’s sin would be punished, but (his) promise would be preserved.”61

* * *

The Prophets

The most striking feature of the monarchy concerned the prophets. It was their unenviable task to fine-time the monarchy to its convenient ideals. This often involved personal sacrifice and resolute opposition. In more graphic terms, The Hound of Heaven seems to quicken his pace with the prophetic era.

How would one characterize the prophets? For one thing, they sensed the serious consequences of sin. “To us a single act of injustice—cheating in business, exploitation of the poor—is slight; to the prophets, a disaster. To us injustice is injurious to the welfare of the people; to the prophets it is a deathblow to existence; to us, an espisode; to the, a catastrophe, a threat to the world.”62

In this regard, “Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 33:11). Conversely, do not continue in your present course. Procrastination would proved to be their undoing.

Again, how would on characterize the prophets? “The prophet is human, yet he employs notes one octave too high for our ears. He experiences moments that defy our understanding. Often his words begin where conscience ends.”63

He is no less human, but perhaps more human as a result of his prophetic activity. He is thus able to touch the human pathos in greater depth, and tap its inhibited resources. This results from being turned into a heavenly frequency, which serves to heighten reality.

Isaiah serves as a classic case in point. “In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the rain of his robe filled the temple” (Isa. 6:1). “Under the reign of Uzziah, Judah reached the summit of its power. His success as king, administrator, and commander in chief of the army make him ruler over the largest realm of Judah since the disruption of the kingdom.”64

This, in turn, contributed to his tragic downfall. He became proud and disregarded his covenant obligations. When rebuked, he became angry and resentful. He was eventually afflicted with leprosy, and lived out his life in isolation.

Even so, his passing brought an end to a relatively prosperous era, and left the future in doubt. We are thereby subtly cautioned against substituting God’s means for the Almighty himself. Isaiah’s vision thus came at a critical moment, to focus his attention and that of his people on the Almighty—as the ultimate refuge. Accordingly, kingdoms wax and wane, but the promises of the Lord remain assured.

“Above him were seraphs, each with six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’” They thus appear as angelic beings, occupied with the praise and worship of the Almighty.

In particular, they acclaim God’s holiness. The primary term derives from the separation from all that is impure. As applied to the Lord God, it conveys the idea of moral perfection. It goes without saying that humans suffer by way of comparison.

“At the sound of their voices the doorposts and threshold shook and the temple was filled with smoke.” The awesome character to the Almighty manifestly comes to the fore. It terms of the refrain, “Our God is an awesome God.”

“‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” In this manner, he allows for both personal and corporate guilt. These are painfully revealed in the presence of a holy deity.

Then one of the seraphs flew to him with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. “See,” he observed, “this has touched your lips; your guilt it taken away and your sin atoned for.” Isaiah is thus alerted to the fact that holiness can express itself in forgiveness. As a result, justice and mercy prove to be eminently compatible.

“Whom shall I send?” the Lord inquired. “And who will go for us?”

“Send me!” Isaiah exclaims. Initially, he seems enthusiastic over the prospect.

Go,” the Lord enjoined him, “and tell this people: Be ever hearing, but never understanding; he ever seeing, but never perceiving.’” This sounds a satirical note, in anticipation of their unresponsiveness.

“For how long, O Lord?” Isaiah asks—now intimidated by the mission.

“Until the cities be ruined and without inhabitant,” the Almighty solemnly replies, “until the Lord has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken.” Even so, the holy seed will remain as a stump in the land. Whereupon, it can renew its growth.

* * *

Covenant Renewal

The northern kingdom went into a tight spiral, from which there was no recovery. The Assyrians dispersed the people in its customary fashion to discourage revolt. The southern kingdom fared better, enjoying periodic revivals of corporate piety. However, it would eventually succumb to the Babylonians.

Now Josiah “called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. He went up to the temple of the Lord with the men of Judah, the people of Jerusalem, the priests and all the prophets—all the people from the least to the greatest” (2 Kings 23:2). Whereupon, “He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant which had been found in the temple of the Lord. The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant.” This was in keeping with the provision for renewal previously instituted.

“Josiah’s grandfather (Manasseh) had installed all sorts of pagan idols in the temple and his father (Amon) had reinforced idol worship; but now Josiah ordered the idols all removed, burned outside the city, and the ashes taken away to Bethel. Bethel was a defiled place from which idolatry had spread.”65 This, then, was meant to repudiate the incursion of idolatry into Israelite society.

Not content with purging the temple precinct, Josiah “desecrated the high places that were east of Jerusalem on the south of the Hill of Corruption—the ones Solomon king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the vile goddess of the Sidonians, for Chemosh the vile God of Moah, and for Molech the detestable god of the people of Ammon.”

“Even the altar at Bethel, the high placed made by Jeroboam, who had caused Israel to sin—even that altar and high place he demolished.” Then, looking around, he inquired about a certain tomb. When he learned that it contained the remains of the man of God who came from Judah to censor the proceedings at Bethel, he ordered that it not be disturbed.

“Just as he had done at Bethel, Josiah removed and defiled all the shrines of the high places that the kings of Israel had built in the towns of Samaria that had provoked the Lord to anger.” He also did away with the priests who had carried on their adulterous rituals, and thereby led the people astray. Ast noted in a prior context, idolatry was thought to be the source of all evil. Only then did he return to Jerusalem, having purged the land of its contagion.

Whereupon, he enjoined the populace to celebrate the Passover—in accord with the provisions of the covenant. “Not since the days of the judges who led Israel, nor throughout the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah, has any such Passover been observed. But on the eighteenth year of King Josiah, this Passover was celebrated to the Lord in Jerusalem.” This provided a positive counterpart to the destruction of the pagan centers of worship.

“Furthermore, Josiah got rid of the mediums and spiritualists, the house-hold gods, the idols and all the other detestable things seen in Judah and Jerusalem.”

Consulting the dead through mediums and spiritists in order to foretell the future is an ancient practice that still prevails today. It was always forbidden (but often tolerated). (The images) were of various sizes, big enough to be mistaken for a man in a bad light (1 Sam. 19:13-16), or small enough to be packed in the saddle bags of camels (Gen. 31:32, 34).66

“Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.” He thus served as a prime example of a God-fearing monarch, whose convictions were translated into practice.

“Nevertheless, the Lord did not turn away from the heat of his fierce anger”—which was prompted by Judah’s defection. Accordingly, he insisted: “I will remove Judah also from my presence as I removed Israel, and I will reject Jerusalem, the city I chose, and this temple, about which I said, ‘there shall my name be.’” It was simply a manner of time before the people where whisked away into exile.

“The death of Josiah was a disaster of the highest magnitude for Judah. The nation mourned him greatly (2 Chron. 35:25). All this happened at Megiddo, which in Greek is called Armageddon. This battle field came to be the traditional site for the last great fight against the enemies of God (Rev. 16:16).”67Thus one event paves the way for its successor in the course of salvation history.

* * *

Into Exile

“In the third year of the reign of Jehoakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and he besieged it” (Dan. 1:1). Thus the city of David fell to the Babylonian invaders. The socially privileged were carried away into exile, while others were left to cope with chaotic conditions.

As imaginatively reconstructed: The caravan had made its way up the slopes of the Trans-Jordan Plateau. From there it would travel the King’s Highway toward Damascus and eventually Babylon. The column paused long enough to look back toward Jerusalem. The torched city was bellowing smoke into the air. Daniel, among the other deportees, wondered what the future held with the temple in ruins and Jerusalem devastated.68

Of course, this was not the initial crisis in the corporate life of the chosen people. They had suffered oppression at the hands of the Egyptians; their desert sojourn was a demanding venture; a precarious situation encouraged them to establish the monarchy; the division of the kingdom left them more vulnerable.

Even so, the exile presented an unique challenge. In brief, “Almost all the old symbol systems had been rendered useless. Almost all of the old institutions no longer functioned. What kind of future was possible for people who had so alienated their God that categorical rejection was his necessary response?”69

Along with those taken in exile were Daniel and his associates: Hananiah, Michael and Azariah. They were to be trained for three years, before entering into the king’s service. In keeping with this directive, they were assigned a portion of food and wine from the king’s table. Not only was this calculated to violate Jewish dietary law, but had political implications which might compromise one’s loyalty to the Almighty.

Consequently, Daniel asked that they be excused. This introduced a probationary period, “At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food.” Moreover, God enhanced their grasp of all kinds of literature and understanding — so that they excelled more than their peers.

Thus the stage was set for a dramatic event that would soon transpire. The king was troubled by a dream, which he could not recall. Accordingly, he summoned those specialized in such matters to reconstruct the dream and provide its interpretation. They, however, protested that his request exceeded their abilities.

The king was furious, and determined that they should be executed. However, Daniel interceded on their behalf, saying: “No wise man, enchanter magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries” (2:27-28).

He went on to explain, “You looked, O king, and there before you stood a large statue. The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and things of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet party of iron and partly of baked clay.” After that, a rock struck the statue—so it came crashing down. This represented successive kingdoms, after which the kingdom of God would take their place.

“Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries,” the king enthusiastically declared. Then he assigned the prophet a prominent position, which would entail supervision of all the wise men. At his request, his associates were also given administrative posts.

“Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom” (16:3). At this, those in opposition attempted to find a charge to bring against him, and realized that it would have to be something of religious nature. Consequently, they encouraged the king to set aside a period of thirty days in which persons must pray only to him.

“Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.” He was subsequently cast into a den of lions, from which the Lord delivered him. This incited the king to issue a decree “that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel, (since) he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end.”

All things considered, the lingering disposition of the exiles is perhaps best expressed by a text from the Psalter: “How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land? May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you; if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy” (137:4, 6). The prophets, who had warned of impending exile, now nourished a confident hope in their restoration.

* * *

Sentimental Journey

The return from exile recalls the haunting World War II lyrics: “Gonna take a sentimental journey, gonna set my mind at ease. Gonna take a sentimental journey, to renew old memories.” In this instance, it constituted an anticipated return to the promised land.

Accordingly, Cyrus king of Persia issued a decree:

The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Among of his people among you—may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem. And the people of any place where survivors may be living are to provide him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill ofterings for the temple of God in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:2-4).

Its wording alerts us to the fact that the ruler recognized regional gods, along with their limited authority. Conversely, the Israelites perceived this as an initiative of their sovereign deity—characterized as The Hound of Heaven.

Even as the Lord prompted Cyrus to issue the decree, he moved a segment of the exiles to respond favorably. Then, when the builders had laid the foundation of the temple, the populace appropriately sang: “He is good; his love to Israel endures forever” (3:11). “But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud while others shouted for joy.” While the construction was modest in comparison to the former structure, it marked a new beginning.

“Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him,” those settled by the Assyrians implored. However, their deference to the Lord was not to the exclusion of other deities, but in recognition that he was the patron deity of the region.

Accordingly, Zerubbabel replied: “You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us” (4:3). This was in keeping with the admonition: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lore your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:4-5). All else in Jewish tradition was said to resemble commentary.

Having been rebuffed, the settlers crafted a letter to slander the Jews, and impede their activity. In this regard, they attributed to them a reputation “for independence and rebellion (4:12, 15); therefore, if they are allowed to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem they will not pay the tax owed the king (v. 13). As a result, not only would the king’s treasury be diminished, but he would lose his authority over the entire region (v. 16).”70

The construction was put on hold until the matter could be thoroughly researched. In the process, the decree concerning the return from exile was discovered, and permission to continue the construction was granted. So they continued to build and prosper, encouraged by the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah.

They were also able to complete their endeavor, according to the command of the God of Israel, and the related decrees. “Then the people of Israel celebrated the dedication of the house of God with joy. And they installed the priests in their divisions and the Levites in their groups for the service of God in Jerusalem, according to what is written in the Book of Moses” (6:16, 18).

Ezra now appears on the scene. Artaxerxes allows that he is “a priest, a teacher of the Law of the God of heaven,” and instructs him “to inquire about Judah and Jerusalem with regard to the Law of your God” (7:12-13). In addition, he was deliver funds to support the venture. He was also to purge the community of unacceptable behavior.

It was subsequently reported to him, “The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples in their testable practices. They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them” (9:1-2).

After Ezra had interceded on their behalf, the people repented of their sin. The instances were then carefully investigated, before guilt was assigned. While the narrative concludes on this painful note, “a postscript will follow, when Ezra will present the positive and festive aspects of the law: its gift of light to the mind (Neh. 8:8), and its witness to God as liberator and provider (Neh. 8:9-18).”71In proverbial terms, “There was a light at the end of the tunnel.”

* * *

Proceed To Section Four



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